Drowning in the Mediterranean: the ‘crime against humanity’ is capitalism

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On 12 and 19 April, two overloaded boats carrying migrants fleeing from the most extreme misery sank in the Mediterranean, taking with them up to 1200 lives. These tragedies have been repeating themselves for decades: in the 1990s, the well-guarded fortress of Gibraltar was already a tomb for many migrants. Since 2000, 22,000 people have disappeared while trying to get to Europe by sea. And since the Lampedusa drama in 2013, in which 500 perished, the migrations and their fatal consequences have been growing at an unprecedented rate. With nearly 22,000 crossings and 3500 deaths, the year 2014 broke all records. Since January 2015, the sea has already claimed 1800 migrants’ lives.

An expression of decomposing capitalism

In the last few years, we have been seeing a kind of industrialisation in human trafficking. The testimonies paint an edifying picture of refugee camps, of people crossing war zones, of beatings, rapes, slavery…The brutality and cynicism of the smugglers seem to have no limits. And the migrants go through all this in order to be welcomed to humiliating conditions in Europe, where they are defined as a “burden”, to use the expression of the head of operations at Triton, which is supposedly there to save the migrants at sea.

If people are prepared to go through such ordeals, it’s because what they are escaping from is even worse. At the root of the increasing waves of migrations are the unbearable conditions of life in more and more areas of the planet. These conditions are not new, but they have been getting worse and worse. Hunger and disease, and above all a society that is rotting on its feet is what all these masses of people are running away from: the accelerating decomposition of Africa and the Middle East, with their intractable conflicts, permanent insecurity, the reign of armed gangs, rackets, mass unemployment….

The great powers, driven by the logic of an increasingly irrational and murderous capitalism to defend their imperialist interests by using the most sordid methods, have a major responsibility for the frightful situation facing so many parts of the world. The chaos in Libya is a caricatured example: western bombs have replaced a tyrant with the reign of lawless militias. As well as illustrating the only perspective that capitalism can offer humanity, the dislocation of the country has provided the soil for the flourishing of the unscrupulous gangs of smugglers who are often connected to various imperialist agencies: mafia cliques, jihadists and even the self-proclaimed governments which are engaged in a bloody struggle against each other.

In the period of decadence, the great powers have become anti-immigrant fortresses

Like the migrants crossing the Mediterranean, being uprooted is inscribed in the history of the working class. From the very beginnings of capitalism, part of the rural population formed in the mediaeval period was torn off the land to provide the first source of man-power for the process of manufacture. Often the victims of brutal expropriations, these pariahs of the feudal system, too numerous for nascent capitalism to absorb, were already treated like criminals: “Legislation treated them as ‘voluntary’ criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed” (Marx, Capital, Vol 1, chapter 28) . With the development of capitalism, the growing need for labour power gave rise to numerous waves of migration. In the 19th century, when capitalism was prospering, millions of migrants took the path of exile to fill the factories. With the historical decline of the system, which was marked by the First World War, the displacement of populations didn’t stop and even increased. Imperialist wars, economic crises, climatic disasters – there are plenty of reasons for trying to escape from hell.

And with the permanent crisis of the system, immigrants are constantly faced with capital’s problem of absorbing extra labour power. Administrative, legal and police obstacles have gradually increased, aimed at preventing migrants from reaching the territories of the most developed states: limited stay, deportation, harassment, police tracking, air and navy patrols at the frontiers, detention camps, etc. Before the First World War, when the USA was looking to expand its work-force, it was the symbol of the land of asylum. Today the American border with Mexico is guarded by a gigantic wall. Europe has not escaped this dynamic. In the 1980s, the very democratic European states have begun to deploy an armada of warships in the Mediterranean and didn’t hesitate about collaborating with the “Guide of the Revolution”, Muammar Gaddafi, and his esteemed equivalents, His Majesty the King of Morocco and Algeria’s president for life, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with the aim of pushing migrants back towards the desert. While the bourgeoisie was triumphantly dismantling the Iron Curtain, other “walls of shame” have been going up on numerous frontiers. The hypocrisy about freedom of circulation in the European space covered by the Schengen agreement can be seen very clearly in all this. As for those who do survive the crossing, it’s another round of police harassment and humiliation, awful detention centres, etc. Behind their crocodile tears, the cynicism of the democratic states is as boundless as that of the smugglers.

What’s behind the media frenzy about the plight of the migrants?

Overcrowded boats capsizing, hundreds drowning – this has been going on for years now. The growing number of deaths in the Mediterranean doesn’t date from April. So why the media frenzy right now?

It responds to a logic of ideological intoxication which is mobilising all factions of the bourgeoisie. Parallel to the transformation of states into fortresses, a nauseating anti-immigrant ideology is being spread, seeking to blame “foreigners” for the effects of the crisis and to present them as hordes of criminals undermining public order. These often hysterical campaigns try to divide the proletariat by making it identify with the cause of the Nation, i.e. those of the ruling class. They are based on the pernicious idea that the division of humanity into nations is normal, natural and eternal. Furthermore, the hypocritical attempt to talk about “good” and “bad” immigrants is entirely part of this logic: those who are judged “good” are those who can be useful to the national economy, the “bad” ones being those judged to be a burden on it.

As can be seen from the expressions of solidarity by workers in Italy towards the migrants who finally reached the coast of Sicily, many proletarians are in fact indignant about the fate the bourgeoisie reserves for the immigrants. But who better to channel this legitimate reaction towards a dead-end than the patent experts in this kind of work – the left of the bourgeoisie’s political apparatus. These so-called “friends of the people” take advantage of real indignation to trap the workers in the talons of the capitalist state. The Non-Government Organisations, acting once again as scouts for imperialism, haven’t got words strong enough to demand a military response from the state, all in the name of human rights. After the “humanitarian war” in Africa, we now have the “charitable control of the frontiers”! What loathsome hypocrisy! In France, the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvrière illustrate this approach very well in its article ‘Capitalist Europe condemns migrants to death’[1]: “By reducing the number and scope of the patrols, the leaders of the EU have made the choice to allow those who attempt the crossing to die. This is the policy of non-assistance to people in danger. The 18 warships and two helicopters which were sent to the place the drama took plac, but after the drowning, increases the ignominy”. In a word, this bourgeois party, which claims to be marxist, also calls for more warships to “save” the migrants. Thus, the bourgeoisie is instrumentalising the hecatomb to strengthen its means of repression against the migrants, increasing and developing the means available to the Frontex agency which is in charge of coordinating military deployment at the frontiers of Europe and the anti-immigrant operations inside its borders: patrols, raids, arrests. It seems that the bourgeoisie has organised everything to “help” the migrants. Air strikes in Libya are also envisaged! Behind all this, the bourgeoisie is trying to stoke up the threatening atmosphere which enables it to carry out its repressive policies against the working class.

Truth Martine, 5.5.15



[1] Lutte Ouvrière 2438, 24.4.15