A few facts are enough to show the horror of the situation facing the migrants:
- On 27 August, in Austria near the Hungarian border, 71 bodies (including 8 women and 4 children) were discovered in an advanced state of decomposition, locked into a lorry abandoned by the roadway;
- A few days later, the body of a little boy of three, drowned at the same time as his mother and brother, was washed up on a beach at Bodrum in Turkey.
These were both cases of migrants from Syria fleeing the nightmare of four years of war. This phenomenon of refugees has now been globalised on an unprecedented, going well beyond the exoduses of the worst years of the 20th century.
Propaganda and solidarity
One thing about this is striking. The media are not trying to hide the unbearable horror of the situation. On the contrary, they are headlining it and are coming up with more and more shocking images, like that of the little boy on the beach. Why?
In fact, the bourgeoisie is exploiting, for the purpose of its propaganda, both the barbarism for which it is itself responsible, and the feelings of indignation it provokes, and the spontaneous expressions of solidarity between local working people and migrants which in the last few months has begun to develop in several parts of Europe. The propaganda is aimed at strangling at birth any possibility of independent thought and to instil nationalist ideology in a more insidious way. In the eyes of the ruling class, left to themselves, proletarians in Europe are acting in a curious and even irresponsible way: they are helping and supporting the migrants. Despite the permanent ideological bombardment, we find that very often when these proletarians are in direct contact with the refugees, they bring them what they need to survive - food, drink, blankets - and sometimes even take them in to their homes. We have seen such examples of solidarity in Lampedusa in Italy, Calais in France and a number of cities in Germany and Austria. When, after being hassled by the Hungarian state, train loads of refugees have arrived at the stations, the exhausted migrants have been welcomed by thousands of people offering them support and material aid. Austrian rail workers have worked extra hours to transport the refugees towards Germany. In Paris, thousands demonstrated on 5 September to protest against the treatment of the refugees. They raised slogans like “we are all children of migrants”.
Faced with such massive and international expressions of solidarity from the civil population, when the main concern of the state has been to intimidate the refugees and keep them under control, the ruling class has had to react. Almost everywhere the bourgeoisie has had to modify the anti-immigrant discourse of the last few years and adapt to the situation. In Germany, the turn-around of the bourgeoisie has helped it to strengthen the image of the country as a very advanced democracy, to exorcise the ghosts of the past in response to those of its rivals who never miss an occasion to refer to Germany’s dark history. What’s more, it’s the trauma of the Second World War which explains the sensitivity of the German proletariat to the question of refugees. The German authorities have had to suspend the Dublin agreement which calls for the deportation of asylum seekers. In the eyes of the world’s migrants, Angela Merkel has become the champion of Germany’s openness and a model of humanity. In Britain, David Cameron has had to modify his hard line stance, along with the worst right wing tabloids which up till now have been describing migrants as a threatening and sub-human horde. For the bourgeoisie, one of the key issues has been the need to hide the fact that there are two totally antagonistic logics at work here: capitalist exclusion and ‘every man for himself’ versus proletarian solidarity; a dying system sinking into barbarism versus the affirmation of a class which bears within itself the future flourishing of humanity. The bourgeoisie cannot avoid reacting to the real feelings of indignation and solidarity which are appearing in the central countries.
The spectacular explosion in the number of refugees
The situation is not totally new. In 2012, the High Commission for Refugees (HCR) was already counting 45.2 million “displaced” people and was ringing the alarm bells about this growing human disaster. In 2013, 51.2 million were fleeing various kinds of horror. The threshold of 50 million had thus been crossed for the first time since the Second World War. The HCR explained this as the result of “the multiplication of new crises” and “the persistence of old crises which never seem to die down”. The year 2015 is about to mark a new record: 60 million refugees for Europe alone. Since January, appeals for asylum have increased by 78%. In Germany, according to the minister of the interior, these appeals have quadrupled, reaching the record figure of 800,000. Macedonia has declared a state of emergency and closed its borders. Officially, more than 2800 of these exiles, men, women and children, have drowned in the Mediterranean in the last few months. In Asia, the phenomenon is also massive. For example, a growing number of people have been fleeing repression and persecution in Myanmar and desperately seeking refuge in other southeast Asian countries. In Latin America, criminality and poverty have reached such levels that hundreds of thousands of people are trying to get to the USA. A goods train which goes from the south of Mexico to the north, nicknamed ‘The Beast’, has been regularly carrying thousands of migrants. They run the risk not only of falling from the carriage roofs or being thrown off in the tunnels, but also of being assaulted by the authorities; they are above all at the mercy of the drug gangs or other bandits who ransom them, rape them, kidnap women for prostitution, and as often as not kill them. And for those who have the fortune to get through all this, all along the US frontier they face a wall of barbed wire policed by armed guards who don’t hesitate to shoot at them.
In fact, the hypocritical and civilised speeches of the democratic states go very well with the nastiest and most xenophobic rants. The first encourages feelings of powerlessness, the second of fear. Both obstruct any real reflection, any real development of solidarity.
A phenomenon accentuated by the reality of decomposition
Entire zones of the planet are being devastated and made uninhabitable. This is particularly the case for the regions linking Ukraine to Africa via the Middle East. In certain of these war zones, half the population is in flight and are being held in gigantic camps, at the mercy of the most unscrupulous traffickers, organised on an industrial scale. The real cause of this hell is the decay of the world system of exploitation. The breadth of the refugee phenomenon is a clear expression of the downward spiral of capitalism, which brings in its wake pogroms and violence of all kinds, growing pauperisation linked to the economic crisis, and ecological catastrophes. Of course wars, crises and pollution are not new. All wars have led to people fleeing to save their lives. However, the intensity of these phenomena is growing all the time. Up until the First World War, the number of refugees remained relatively limited. The war then brought the beginning of massive displacements, ‘population transfers’ etc. This spiral took on a whole new dimension with the Second World War, when the number of refugees reached unheard-of levels. Then, during the Cold War, the numerous proxy wars between east and west generated a significant number of refugees, as did the famines in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 70s and 80s. But since the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989 a veritable Pandora’s box has opened up. The antagonism between the two imperialist blocs imposed a certain order and discipline: most countries obeyed the diktats of their respective bloc leader, the US or Russia. The wars of this period were inhuman and murderous, but in a sense they were ‘ordered’ and ‘classical’. Since the collapse of the USSR, growing instability has given rise to a multiplication of local conflicts, to all sorts of shifting alliances. Conflicts have gone on and on, resulting in the disintegration of states and the rise of warlords and gangsters, in the dislocation of the entire social fabric.
In addition, the contradictions between the imperialist powers (marked by the development of ‘every man for himself’, in which each nation plays its own imperialist card with increasingly short-term objectives), have led the latter to make military interventions in an increasingly regular, almost permanent manner. Each of the big powers support this or that mafia clique or warlord, this or that increasingly irrational band of fanatics, in the defence of their imperialist interests. What dominates in capitalist society today is the disintegration of entire regions, where the most crying expressions of social decomposition can be seen: whole regions controlled by drug gangs, the rise of Islamic State with its barbaric atrocities, etc.
The bunkerisation of the great powers
The states which bear the main responsibility for all this social, ecological and military chaos have at the same time become real fortresses. In a context of unemployment and chronic crisis, security measures are being stepped up to a drastic degree. States have become ‘bunkerised’. Only the most qualified migrants are allowed in to be exploited, to lower the cost of labour power and create divisions within the proletariat. The majority of refugees and migrants, the ‘undesirable’ ones, those reduced to misery and starvation, are cynically enjoined to stay where they are and die without inconveniencing anyone. The northern states have literally chased them into a corner, as in the case of France with its ‘Jungle’ near the Channel Tunnel at Calais. Gangrened by a crisis of overproduction, capitalist society can no longer them any perspective. Instead of opening up, the doors are being closed: states are barricading their frontiers, electrifying fences, constructing more and more walls. During the Cold War, the time of the Berlin Wall, there were about 15 walls defending frontiers. Today more than 60 have been built or are being constructed. From the ‘apartheid wall’ raised by Israel in the face of the Palestinians, to the 4000 miles of barbed wire separating India from Bangladesh, states are falling into a real paranoia about security. In Europe, the Mediterranean front is littered with walls and barriers. Last July, the Hungarian government began construction of a four meter high razor wire fence. As for the Schengen space in Europe, and the work of the Frontext agency or Triton, their industrial-military effectiveness is formidable: a permanent fleet of surveillance and war ships there to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean. A similar military machine has been set up along the Australian coastline. All these obstacles seriously raise the mortality rate among refugees, who are forced to take more and more risks to get past them.
The cynicism of the bourgeoisie
On the one hand, the bourgeois state is barricading itself in. It feeds to the maximum the warnings of doom coming from the most xenophobic populist parties, sharpening hatred, fear and division. Themselves facing deteriorating living conditions, the weakest sections of the proletariat are hit full on by this nationalist propaganda. In a number of countries there have been anti-migrant marches, physical attacks, arson attack on refugee centres. The refugees are the target of campaigns against ‘foreigners who threaten our way of life’. The state legitimises all this by setting up internment camps (over 400 in Europe), deporting those it can, patrolling the frontiers.
On the other hand, this same bourgeoisie fakes its indignation through the voice of politicians who talk about the ‘moral challenge’ posed by the refugees and offers them token support and assistance. In short, the capitalist state, the arch-criminal, poses as their saviour.
But as long as capitalism lasts, there can be no real solution for the migrants and the refugees. If we don’t fight against this system, if we don’t go to the roots of the problem, our indignation and solidarity will not go beyond the stage of basic aid, and the deepest and most noble human feelings will be recuperated by the bourgeoisie, turned into heavily publicised acts of charity which will be used to fuel a more hidden form of nationalism. Therefore, we must try to understand what’s really happening. The proletariat has to develop its own critical and revolutionary point of view on these questions.
In future articles, we will return in more depth to this historic issue.