Massacres in Syria, refugees in the Mediterranean: Capitalism is war, poverty and barbed wire

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On the one hand, incessant, murderous wars, whole regions bombarded, terrible massacres of the population. On the other hand, barbed wire fences, walls, boats hunting down migrants and camps set up for the tens of thousands of people trying to flee the destruction of their homes, from misery and starvation.

Syria in the spasms of imperialism and decomposition

Eastern Ghouta in Syria, to the east of Damascus, is once again at the epicentre of the bloody conflicts raging across the planet. Like others, especially those in other parts of the Middle East, this conflict is dominated by an imperialist free for all. This is a war of each against all, implicating both global powers and regional states[1]. It is an expression of the historic dead-end reached by the capitalist system.

Further north, bringing its own sinister contribution to the military chaos, to the spreading slaughter of civilians and the mass exodus of populations, we have Operation “Olive Branch”, launched on 20 January by the Turkish army against the enclave of Afrin, in the province of Aleppo, where the Kurdish forces of the YPG are dug in and have been reinforced by pro-Assad militias[2]. Alongside these rivalries between local gangs and factions, there are the manoeuvres of imperialist powers trying to take advantage of the situation. The putrefaction of the capitalist system is expressed by the bloody actions of all the different protagonists, whether we are talking about the troops and current allies of Assad, the various opposition factions, Isis and other jihadists, or the big democratic powers.

As for the new offensive of the Syrian army, supported by pro-Iranian militias and Russian air cover, against a region that has been occupied by Isis and other jihadist groups fighting the Assad regime, it has given rise to a concert of protests, each more hypocritical than the other. The false indignation of the western media, the NGOs and the so-called “international community” in the face of attacks which systematically make use of chemical weapons (which the “international coalition” has also used without shame[3]) is only equalled by the ineffectiveness of the resolutions voted by the UN, against the use of chemical weapons, for the protection of the civilian population and respecting cease-fires. This once again shows the lack of credibility of what Lenin, describing the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, called a “den of thieves”. None of this is new in Syria: since 2012 at least, chemical weapons have been used regularly in aerial bombardments, notably in the siege of Aleppo and Homs, and then at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017. They have also been used massively in eastern Ghouta since March 2013, notably in the raid of 21 August of that same year, which left around 2000 dead. The balance sheet of death and suffering has been further increased by the continual bombing of hospitals, which are supposedly used as a shield by rebel forces, and the systematic destruction of homes. Between 2013 and October 2017, 18000 deaths have been counted, including around 13,000 civilians and 5000 children, to which must be added 50,000 wounded. Between 18 and 28 February 2018, the death toll of the aerial offensive has officially been another 780 deaths, at least 170 of them children. All this leaves out the numberless victims of the lack of essential supplies which is a direct result of the war. The Assad regime is now beginning a land offensive in Ghouta which threatens to be no less barbaric.

Migrants and refugees, victims of capitalist states

This situation can only be aggravated by another phenomenon which has in turn been amplified by the decomposition of capitalism: the mass deportation or exodus of populations fleeing massacres and misery in the Middle East, Africa or Latin America. Masses of impoverished people are heading towards the richest countries, desperately searching for a place of shelter, mainly in Europe or the USA. But none of these states have a real solution for this wave of migrants, except to block them at all cost, to set up walls and barbed wire fences, to send them back to their deaths. And the western governments have continually played on the fear of “foreigners”, even punishing those who have tried to help them.

The cynicism of the states involved, especially the European ones, knows no bounds. Turkey, seeking economic and financial aid, has the job of blocking the passage of migrants towards Greece and parking them in refugee camps where inhuman conditions prevail. This agreement is based on a real commodification of human beings, in which a select few are allowed to reach a European country while the vast majority stay in the camps. This also is nothing new. We should recall, for example, the hypocrisy of Zapatero’s “Socialist” government in Spain. In 2005, in Spain’s Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, a triple row of barbed wire fences was set up, snagging many migrants, while others were simply shot, and still others ended up on deadly bus journeys through the desert, but it was the Moroccan government which was fingered as the bad guy in all this. All the western bourgeoisies (including the Spanish government) orchestrated an intense media campaign against this “flagrant violation of human rights”[4]. The more recent contracts of this ilk, which have been drawn up with Turkey and, more discretely, with Libya, have had an immediate impact on the efforts of migrants to reach Europe.

All the media, no doubt to their immense satisfaction, have also celebrated the reduction by a third of illegal immigrants landing in Italy. In fact, “the EU has chosen to stop the influx of migrants at source instead of continuing to maintain reception centres in Italy and Greece - a strategy which seems very dubious morally” (Courrier International, no 1414). But in spite of these “good” figures from Italy, Spain saw a significant increase in those arriving by sea in 2017, so much so that a new prison built in Malaga is now being used as a detention centre.

A report by CNN which shows migrants being sold as slaves in Libya has provoked a lot of indignation internationally, the press also tells us. But the same media don’t tell us much about the joint measures adopted by the EU and Libya which have contributed to this situation. The same article from Courrier International tells us: “On 3 February 2017, the 28 EU countries agreed on a ‘declaration’ supporting the recent accord between Italy and the Libyan government of Faiez Sarraj. The principle is the same as the one between the EU and Turkey drawn up two years earlier: Europe will supply funds, training and material to the Libyan coastguards who, in exchange, will intercept migrant boats and take their occupants to detention centres in Libya…human rights organisations and the press very quickly denounced the limitations of this plan, questioning the capacity of the Sarraj government (which is only one of the rival forces on the ground in Libya) to put it into practice, and the consequences it would have for the migrants who are already known to be suffering from inhuman treatment on Libyan soil”. The concerns of the “human rights organisations” serves to pull the wool over our eyes, just like the supposed humanitarian concerns of the Spanish government in 2005. These gesticulations merely hide the repressive agreements which already allow 700,000 African migrants to be stuck in camps in Libya.

But for all the agreements and measures aimed at barring the migrants more effectively, it is clear that the accumulation of regional wars, massacres, famines, and social dislocation all over the planet, can only dramatically increase the whole refugee phenomenon[5].

Proletarian solidarity offers the only perspective to the drama of the migrants

The crisis of the capitalist system is undoubtedly at the heart of this historic wave of migration. Faced with the barbarity of its system, the bourgeoisie can only offer more chaos, more exclusion and division, all in the name of the “national interest”, that ideological mask for the cold calculations of capital.

However, for the exploited there are no frontiers. The workers have no country. The working class has always been a class of immigrants, everywhere forced to sell its labour power, from the countryside to the town, from one territory to another, from one country to the next. An immigrant class, it is also an exploited class. It can only resist the barbarism of capital by drawing on its greatest strength: its international unity, cemented by solidarity and class consciousness. Against the xenophobic, fear-mongering campaigns of the ruling class, the proletarians of Europe and of all the developed countries must become aware that the migrants and the refugees are victims of capitalism and the cynical policies of its states. They are our class brothers and sisters who are being bombed, massacred, or shut away in open-air concentration camps.

The affirmation of this solidarity can only come through the development of the class struggle, through resistance against the attacks of capital. Behind the question of the migrants is the question of the international struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. And the proletariat remains the only revolutionary class, the only social force capable to doing away with the contradictions of this dying system, of tearing down all borders and ending exploitation in all its forms.

PA, 3.3.18



[1] In another article we will look in more depth at this fragmentation of the imperialist situation in Syria, which is a symptom of the present decomposition of society

[4] Ceuta et Melilla : l’hypocrisie criminelle de la bourgeoisie démocratique, Révolution internationale n°362 (November 2005).


[5] See our series on the history of this phenomenon under capitalism, “Migrants and refugees, victims of capitalist decline”, parts 1 to 4.