Crisis, War and Migration: Capitalism’s Real “Hunger Games”

"In the conflict between the gigantic concentration of capital on the one hand and growing mass poverty on the other hand, there is only one solution: social revolution" (Friedrich Engels)

After the Paris attacks it was clear that state emergency laws would be extended and the day to day hostility against immigrants would increase. Even now the so-called “refugee crisis” continues to dominate the headlines. “We are at breaking point”, “uncontrolled immigration” and “a threat to internal security” – are just some phrases from the media’s propaganda machine. Fear, hysteria, cultural stereotyping and racist sentiments add up to a dangerous mixture. This clouds minds and results in daily verbal violence and assaults on the defenceless. There is no end in sight to this furore. One thing is certain: the lives, or the survival, of people fleeing war and misery becomes more difficult with every day that passes ...

Capitalist Crisis

A look behind the headlines shows there is no "refugee crisis" but there is a crisis of capitalism. From the start the development of capitalism has been accompanied by migration flows. Poverty, hunger and destitution have always forced people who depend on wages to migrate in order to struggle to sell their labour power. It is this class who produce the enormous wealth on which the system is based. Largely disenfranchised migrant workers have always faced discrimination and have been the first to be put on the streets and used as scapegoats in times of economic crisis. And so it is once again as they become the target of racist propaganda. The capitalists often declare that such racism has ended, been solved or overcome, but in 2007/2008 the crisis intensified with the bursting of the speculative bubble. It has determined the pace of world events ever since. Global debt increases ever more dramatically. One austerity programme follows another. Everywhere the working class is confronted with wage cuts, job losses and increased exploitation.

Imperialist Wars

At the international level, the crisis has brought an increased intensification of inter-imperialist tensions. The US is doggedly trying to defend its leadership role in the world against a growing number of challengers. China aims to back up its international economic rise both politically and militarily. Germany seeks to lead a European imperialist bloc, in order to enforce its economic interests. Russia does not want to give way here and increasingly emphasises its great power ambitions through outright aggression. From the South China Sea to Syria the armed conflicts of the great powers increase in number and intensity. In this race for spheres of influence and energy resources, it is everyone for themselves and they do anything they can to weaken their rivals. As a result of intensified local conflicts and proxy wars that never end, entire regions and state formations are being, and will continue to be, torn apart. The massacres caused by the manoeuvres and interventions of various imperialist powers in Syria are just one example of the fatal dynamics which could lead to an open confrontation in the future, a global war on an unprecedented scale.

Capitalism, the Cause of the Refugees’ Flight

From Sudan to Syria, from the Congo to the Crimea, from Myanmar to Mexico, imperialist rivalries and the crisis of capitalism have led so many places on this planet to death, rape and destruction. Since 2011, 60 million people have had to flee from war and violence. An estimated 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes due to the war. Half of them are children. As refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, 4 million Syrians struggle to make ends meet. At first most hoped that the war would not last long. However, after 5 years of war, many have given up any prospect for peace. Like many refugees from other countries, they entrust their lives and their last savings to unscrupulous people traffickers to get them to Europe in any way possible. Over 85% of refugees who make the perilous journey to Europe, come from war-struck regions, which became such either through direct military interventions of the great powers (Iraq, Afghanistan), or by their arming and support of local gangsters and warlords (Libya, Syria, etc.). The response of those states chiefly responsible for this misery is not to end the bombing and looting in the refugees’ countries of origin. Instead, they set the wheels in motion to make the flight from hunger and war even more difficult.

Fortress Europe

For years European countries have had a Janus-faced policy. While some politicians railed against immigration, business leaders were very happy to be able to exploit the labour of illegal and disenfranchised people at will. Now falling commodity prices and the global economic downturn exacerbates social distress everywhere. This makes itself felt even in Europe where unemployment is high and there is less demand for a migrant labour force. With new selection mechanisms, capital is trying to design effective measures through which it hopes to regain control of migration flows. 26 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, new border fences are being built and the Fortress Europe project is being extended across the Schengen zone. Every year, 90 million euros are invested in the “European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union”, or “Frontex” Its task is the organised manhunt to intercept migrants at the external borders of the EU. In this vein, over the last ten years, various operations have been carried out on land and at sea (with melodious names such as Poseidon, Nautilus, Hera or Aspida). Refugees have been deported under threat of violence without an asylum examination procedure by so-called push-back actions. But that's not enough. According to statements by European Commission President Juncker, “ambitious plans” should be drawn up in order to further expand Frontex as an “operational border and coastal guard system”. Simultaneously, more and more laws on asylum and [resident] foreigners are being brought in, to guarantee the control of immigration based on the criteria of the economic usefulness of migrants.

The Racism of the “Right”...

In a climate of growing instability and insecurity reactionary politicians and parties stoke fears and prejudices. In their speeches they give the impression of “hordes”, “floods” and “swarms” of refugees storming Fortress Europe and threatening all civilised life. The spectrum ranges from openly racist attacks on refugee homes, such as in Heidenau, to the bigotry of the Hungarian and Polish governments who see “Christian values in Europe” under threat and fulminate against alleged "Islamisation". This finds an echo in the racism of the Front National, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), PEGIDA, UKIP or the Lega Nord. But more and more the mainstream protagonists such as Horst Seehofer of the CSU or the British Home Secretary Teresa May openly play the racist card. Their common aim is to find scapegoats for the crisis of capitalism and project all the problems onto the “foreigner”.

... And the “Left”

By contrast it is true that most representatives of the capitalist left appear cosmopolitan and humanitarian, but this is more than dishonest and hypocritical. So, for example, the SYRIZA government in Greece does nothing to help the refugees, but actively supports Frontex policies. Tsipras personally took part in the annual manoeuvres at the Turkish border to loudly proclaim that Europe's borders are secure. At the same time, the anti-racist and refugee support movement has failed many times. The self-organisation of refugees in the past has often played a subordinate role or has not even been considered. Often these initiatives have taken a purely “supervisory” or even paternalistic approach. Not infrequently, political support has been limited to people who – in the eyes of their supporters – can come up with “political” (and therefore “honourable”) justifications for flight. Even in the current debate, some initiatives have not been above referring to the usefulness and utility of many refugees for the economy in order to justify their commitment as "voluntary refugee helpers". If the much-touted slogan "Refugees are welcome" is not intended to become a completely hollow phrase, they should think about what we are actually “welcoming” people to: a society in which wage cuts, welfare cuts and precarious employment dictate everyday life. Some well-trained people might be able to get a job, but most will be cooped up in camps for a long time and end up facing unemployment and misery. In fact, for capital they represent a welcome reservoir of labour, mostly without any rights, who can be played off against other sectors of the class at any time.

Welcome to the Global Class War

Those who caused the problem through austerity, raising rents and cutting wages are blaming the refugees in order to increase the pressure of exploitation. In fact all factions of the ruling class are doing this. Their debate is only about how best to select the migrants. They also have good reason to highlight the lack of “the necessaries” they themselves have created. After all those who fight their colleagues cannot struggle alongside them. As long as workers see each other as competitors for jobs, housing, etc., as long as they buy into nationalist and racist ideologies, as long as capitalism is not called into question, then the floodgates are open to more exploitation and impoverishment. But precarious working and living conditions are, just like the plight of the refugees, products of capitalism. We are one world class. An internationalist perspective against racial division and exploitation can only lie in the unconditional political struggle: not just for the complete abolition of all exceptional laws, regulations and bureaucratic practices directed against foreigners such as deportations and expulsions, but in the destruction of the system that produces them. The capitalist profit motive has nothing to offer us except further immiseration, unemployment and wars. Only a society which is rationally organised for the satisfaction of human needs will be able to solve the problems of humanity’s existence. Such an “association of the free and equal” has nothing to do with the state capitalism of the Soviet Union or China. To achieve it requires a radical break with capitalism’s logic and with existing conditions. It requires the development of an international communist organisation that is able to articulate the consciousness and perspectives implicit in the struggles against the state and capital. This is a daring endeavour, but it is the only way out of the current mess. Against capitalism and exploitation, against fences and barbed wire, against borders and wars ...

… for a stateless and classless society!

Statement of the affiliates of the Internationalist Communist Tendency

Il Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Italy)

Communist Workers’ Organisation (UK)

Gruppe Internationaler SocialistInnen (Germany)

Internationalist Workers Group/ Groupe Internationaliste Ouvrier (Canada/USA)

January 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016


Several points come to mind from this article. First of all, it says "Only a society which is rationally organised for the satisfaction of human needs will be able to solve the problems of humanity's existence". In terms of that being not just an aspiration, largely based on yet-to-be-formed 'workers' councils', what are workers to make of that ? We are generally told that it is too early to make plans, so presumably it is hoped or expected that something or other will emerge in due course, subject to worldwide proletarian consciousness developing sufficiently from gaining experiences of revolutionary struggle, so that revolutionaries will both run and start to plan a socialist economy simultaneously. Blank sheets of favourable conditions are unlikely to emerge from the turmoil of overthrow of any status quo, as was soon realised in Russia from 1917 onwards.

Another point to consider is that no matter how dire were the circumstances there by then for workers and peasants, they didn't seek salvation by emigrating en masse, nor relied upon outside help, but did what they could where they lived.

Human beings are bound to be consumers basically, of food, clothing, footwear and shelter. From being hunter-gatherers we advanced to being producers etc, but being aquisitive of necessities continues. Even amidst 'overproduction', when supplies are cut off, competitive scrambling in desperation for resources arises. Knowing this, it is no surprise that numbers of workers, normally good natured, become concerned when they see large numbers of incomers to their localities, and that cannot just be blamed on Tory media propaganda, even though the overriding cause is imperialism.

T34 We agree that things are more likely to get worse rather than better in the short term. That makes it all the more important for us to propagandise for a communist society. We are not being helped in this by the liberal Left (read the article) who we criticise for their blanket and thoughtless "refugees are welcome" here. We have to realise what we are welcoming them to - our declining living standards. The people coming from Syria have waited in camps in and out of the country for 5 years for the war to stop - they are in no rush to get to a crisis-ridden Europe but the recognition that imperialist rivalry in the Middle East will only prolong their misery for ever has forced them into it. Our aim is to get workers on all sides to recognise their common interest and common foe. Of course we are not helped by this by the actions of the capitalists (the city of Hamburg for example evicted tenants from social housing in order to house refugees and the policy of Cologne police of letting anything happen around the station all feed into the racist agenda - all designed to get workers against workers).

You are, though, historically wrong about mass migration from the former Russian Empire. This was in millions too (and there are a few members of the CWO descended from such migrants!) BUT capitalism was not in a long and deep recession during most of that period (there was one in the 1880s). It is the crisis today which is not only preventing the integration of migrants into the workforce (after 5 years in Germany 90% of migrants are still unemployed and after 10 years it is not much better) but is also making the workers who have been there for some time (there is no such thing as an indigenous worker) poorer and more precarious. We are one class here and we will keep banging away at that until we are silenced or we have won.

Thank you, Cleishbotham, for your reply and for explaining that millions of people left Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution. ( Incidentally, some Kalderach Roma moved from there to Paris, where their new home area 'du cote de la Porte de Clignancourt' became known as 'little Moscow'. I mustn't blog, but can provide details of a recent CD of music.). Whilst accepting your explanation, but also noting that sufficient workers of revolutionary intent remained there and applied it, do you think that, nowadays, oppressed impoverished workers should stay where they are and make revolution, or try to escape to other lands ? Of course it would be easier to say "stay" than be done, but is that not a valid and serious political question ?

I point out to people that I meet who show hostility towards migrants and refugees that these refugees wouldn't be here if "our" imperialist overlords hadn't created the problem in the first place. You can turn this back on the regime and the capitalist class that is responsible for it, against the imperalist war that is responsible for it. Nobody can choose the ground they fight on as a revolutionary, first you must try to survive, then you must try to fight back.