A British general election is looming, likely to be held in May this year.
Enthusiasm for voting among the electorate is at an all-time low, as 8 years of Labour government have been more than enough to convince everyone that there really is nothing to choose between the major parties, while voting for others is generally considered a “waste of a vote” as they stand no chance of winning.
The drive to boost racism
Nevertheless, this does not prevent these parties from trying to court electors by pandering to their prejudices, thereby at the same time strongly reinforcing these prejudices. The prejudices that the bourgeois parties are prepared to promote are those that help to blind the masses of British people to the fact that their problems – in finding adequately remunerated employment with acceptable working conditions, in securing good housing, pensions and social facilities, etc. – are problems intrinsic to capitalism, and only the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism can lay the basis for solving these problems.
The Achilles heel of most exploited and oppressed sections of society, the British working class unfortunately being no exception, is racism. Ever since society split into minority exploiter and majority exploited classes some 2-3 thousand years ago, the minority has -successfully for the most part – deployed the maxim “Divide and Rule”. This encourages sections of the exploited class to blame each other for the misfortunes that are inherent in being exploited – in being a slave, serf or wage slave. State ideologues of course orchestrate campaigns of idolisation of the rich, alongside denigration of the poor -everything that is popular among poor people is stigmatised as being in bad taste, while the expensive gewgaws with which the rich bedeck their homes and their persons, we are expected to believe are indicative not only of their wealth, but primarily of their superiority as people. But in addition to this. these state ideologues encourage sections of the poor to consider themselves “better” than others – in the sense of being more like the rich. Thus the unfavoured sections of the poor – generally the poorest, but also those whose colour, religion or language, etc. differ from those of the majority of the ruling class – are presented as boorish, ignorant, dishonest and/or vulgar (and thus well-deserving of their poverty or marginalisation), while others are encouraged to think that they share the same refinement, culture, high moral standards and good taste as do the rich. If you are the same colour as the rich, share their religion and language, then you are likely to be in the favoured section
All over the world exploited and oppressed communities fall for this kind of propaganda, not realising that by so doing they are strapping fetters to themselves and condemning themselves to a perpetuation of their slavery.
Racism, then, makes the bourgeois world go round. It expresses itself in a million ways – sometimes conflicting, e.g. where divergences arise among the bourgeoisie, or as the interests of the bourgeoisie change over time.
This, then, is the background against which the current electioneering posturing by the various bourgeois parties must be understood. The next election campaign is clearly going to focus heavily on boosting racist sentiment among the masses, whether in the end they cast their votes for the parties in question or just don’t bother to vote at all. Underneath this xenophobic smokescreeen, the government is anxious to step up still further its campaign of introducing measures designed severely to restrict civil liberties. In other words, the Hitler formula is being applied.
Asylum seekers take the place of Jews and blacks
The racism that is being promoted, however, does not take exactly the same form as Hitler’s anti-semitic racism. This would be less successful, in all probability, in the current climate because important sections of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, as well as proletarian forces, have been seeing to it that most people do understand the vile nature of anti-semitism. Not all those forces are progressive, certainly not the Zionists and black nationalists included among them, but their agitation has undoubtedly limited the scope for anti-semitism and has probably also weakened the open and overt racism directed against black people, since it is fairly obvious that there is no significant different between persecuting Jews and persecuting people who happen to be black. But racism, like a flu virus, is capable of mutating in order to be able to carry on inflicting its pestilence on the exploited masses. Today in the UK only the lowest of the low are anti-semitic or anti-black, but being anti-asylum seeker is quite another matter.
Asylum seekers, whether “genuine” or “economic” do us no harm. While various bourgeois rags, the Daily Mail in particular, try to tell us they cost a lot to maintain, Johann Hari in The Independent of 3 February 2005 correctly points out that “if you add up how much immigrants and asylum seekers cost us, and how much they put back into the economy, you’ll find they make a net contribution of £2.5 billion.” There was a time when low-wage immigrants brought down the level of wages of the native-born workers with whom they competed for jobs. This phenomenon is no longer as significant as it was. Nowadays an employer who finds wages too high for profitability ups sticks and takes his jobs to another part of the world where wages are lower, with the result that hundreds of native-born workers lose their jobs. And plenty of immigrants are employed in service industries providing services to the relatively low-paid: if there were no immigrants to provide these services at low wages, the services simply would not be provided. This is true not only of various cheap catering establishments, it is, more importantly true of our schools and hospitals which would respond to higher wages by lowering the quality of the service provided, such as it is!
Nevertheless, despite the positive benefits received from immigration by everybody – not just the rich – the bourgeois parties are indulging in an orgy of anti-immigrant hate promotion. The prime minister Tony Blair, a ‘socialist’ whose party is eternally presented as the party of the working class throughout the opportunist left, is leading this racist drive against immigrants and asylum seekers with a proclamation that the public are “rightly worried” about asylum and immigration and that Britain’s “traditional tolerance” is being tested by “abuses”.
Apparently the voters lap up this kind of thing. According to Benedict Brogan in the Daily Mail of 7 February (‘Asylum: you’re right to worry’), “a poll for Migrationwatch UK [totally unbiased, of course] suggested that half all voters will decide which party to support based on its immigration policy.” As the reporter Benedict Brogan, who is surely of Irish descent, demonstrates by the very fact he is prepared to put his name to an article bearing such an inflammatory title, even people from communities which have in the past been victims of persecution, such as the Irish, can be mobilised for this new form of racism directed against mainly black asylum seekers and other recent immigrants. Actually, even black communities, despite their bitter past experiences, can be infected.
Immigrants benefit the community
However, while the various bourgeois parties are insistently rapping out their message of hatred in a thousand different beats and tones as a means of mesmerising the British proletariat, the bourgeoisie itself has nothing against immigrants and, indeed, welcomes them as cheap labour. John Philpott, writing in The Times of 3 February, reports that “figures compiled by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) show that about one employer in three intends to recruit overseas workers to fill all manner of job vacancies. Larger businesses, public service organisations and employers in thriving metropolitan centres are those most dependent on hiring immigrants. Bars and restaurants in London would probably grind to a halt without immigrant staff, as might some farms and food processing plants in rural areas.”
In Scotland the enthusiasm among the bourgeoisie to import foreigners is even greater. The Glasgow Herald of 7 February (Deborah Summers) reports “Radical ploys to allow the Scottish Executive to sponsor skilled foreign workers to counteract a dwindling population have been included in the government’s blueprint on immigration and asylum to be unveiled today … The Scottish parliament will be able to call on foreign workers to fill huge gaps in the Scottish labour market.
“The move will be seen as a success of John McConnell, the first minister, whose Fresh Talent Initiative aims to attract 8,000 new people annually to Scotland by 2009 when experts predict that the nation’s population will fall below 5 million.”
Surely there can be nobody who can fail to see the sheer hypocrisy of the bourgeois politicians and media as the bay for the blood of asylum seekers, demanding they be locked up, left without resources, deported without delay, forced to learn English and “Britishness”, sent home as soon as their work permits terminate even if they’ve been here most of their lives, but preferably kept out altogether – as if their very presence presented a danger to the well-being of the people of this country, when self-evidently it does not, quite the contrary. We cannot but agree with the words quoted in the Independent of 8 February, of Shamim Chowdhury, a disgruntled ex immigration officer whose job was to harass as many foreign visitors as he could at London Heathrow Terminal 3, and who, while complaining that there are not enough officers to do the job properly (!), concludes: “The fact is, neither Labour nor the Tories are remotely concerned about the daily grind involved in manning the points of entry. Nor are they bothered about the real reasons behind the importance placed on immigration by certain sections of the British public – that is, the ever-prevalent, xenophobic fear that the fabric of British society will be undermined by too many dark-skinned immigrants”. We would only add that not only are they not bothered by these real reasons, but they are concerned to inflame them.
Racism leads to acceptance of loss of civil liberties
By a slender thread of perverse reasoning, the anti asylum-seeker xenophobia is mobilised to gain support – or at least to neutralise the opposition – in the government’s drive to undermine traditional British civil liberties. It is in the name of civil liberties and democracy that British imperialism claims to act when illegally invading foreign countries, but we can see with what little regard such values are held by it even in its British heartland.
Such is the crisis of overproduction in the world today that the government knows full well that “our” imperialist masters are only going to be able to survive the battle of competition if even deeper inroads are made into the living standards of workers in this country than have been made up to present. In particular it knows that sooner or later unemployment and welfare benefits are going to have to go, and that this will certainly cause social unrest. It has been tooling up to deal with this anticipated unrest in a hundred different ways – removal of the right to silence, the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, CCT cameras everywhere, identity cards to be introduced, impossibility of having any bank account or buying any property without identification, DNA testing, etc. The public is persuaded to accept all these on the basis that they can be used effectively to combat crime, as indeed they can. But their real purpose is when the time comes to keep an enraged working class under control.
After 9/11 the government used the red herring of “war against terror” actually to introduce the concept of indefinite incarceration without trial, and without the detainee even being informed of the charges levied against him or what the evidence is supposed to be. These measures, which only applied to foreign nationals – the thin end of the wedge – have now been in force for 3 years, and several people have been languishing, without charge, in prison or in Broadmoor for all this time, without any charges being preferred and without any trial. However the House of Lords recently declared these laws to be illegal, being against the European Convention on Human Rights which was incorporated into British law by the Human Rights Act that came into force in 2000. Lord Hoffman rightly concluded in that case that “the real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from law such as these”. The House of Lords’ decision led to the government trying to substitute house arrest for imprisonment, to introduce a whole raft of further repressive measures (tagging, curfews, and the like) and to use the opportunity to extend the provisions so that they cover British citizens as well as foreign nationals. Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister responsible for combating terrorism, has stated that Britain is now threatened more by its own people than by those of other countries – as a justification for suspending the democratic rights of everybody! The government tested out its repressive legislation on foreign nationals and found there was no public outcry, let alone mass action, against its outrageous fascistic behaviour. This has encouraged it, despite the Law Lords’ ruling, to extend its fascistic powers to British people too.
The proposals were ably summarised by the Guardian’s legal correspondent, Clare Dyer, on 28 February:
“The new law will apply to British citizens and foreign nationals alike, but it would violate virtually all the elements of a fair trial – the right to know the charges against you, to see and rebut the evidence against you, to have a legal representative of your choice, and to have equality of arms between you and the might of the state.
“The state will not be required to prove involvement in terrorism beyond reasonable doubt, the criminal standard of proof. For house arrest, the civil standard of proof – ‘on the balance of probabilities’ – will be enough. The home secretary will have to prove only that it is ‘more likely than not’ that you were involved. For lesser types of control order – electronic tagging, bans on the use of telephones or computers, confiscation of passports, restrictions on the people you can associate with – mere reasonable suspicion will be sufficient to brand you a terrorist.”
As if this were not bad enough, Ms Dyer continues:
“The ‘evidence’ produced will not be like that put forward in a criminal trial, but a mass of intelligence information and assessments – which neither you nor your lawyers will be allowed to see. A special advocate – an independent barrister appointed by the attorney general – will be able to see it and try to put forward your case, but won’t be able to tell you or your own lawyers what’s in it or find out if you have an answer to it.
“Take the Tipton Three, held at Guantanamo Bay for two years and later released without charge. They were accused by the Americans of being in a video shot with Osama bin Laden in 2000. At the time, one was working in an electrical store in the Midlands, and the other two were in trouble with the British police. Under the special advocate procedure they would not be told about the video and would not be able to produce genuine alibis.
“As Ian Macdonald QC, a former special advocate who resigned in disgust at the ‘odious’ regime, told MPs on the constitutional affairs committee, the system carries ‘an inherent risk that you end up with quite shoddy and misleading intelligence. There is no way you can ever be sure that that is accurate information on which you are acting.’ Even more disturbingly, it allows the use of information extracted by torture – notoriously unreliable – as long as the torture happened outside Britain”.
Crazed by xenophobia, and in the belief the laws will be deployed only against black British, especially Muslims, the public is expected not to notice that under the government’s latest proposals EVERYBODY can be locked up at home, making their homes a cheap form of prison. How long before anybody who opposes the government on any issue can be confined to house arrest “on suspicion” on the basis of no real evidence? How long before anybody who dallies with a minister’s spouse could meet a similar fate! How long before it is decided that all these people are simply too expensive to feed? But most of all, these laws will apply to all of us if we dare take action, as we did against the poll tax, to defeat the government’s attempts to push the cost of economic crisis on to the shoulders of the poor.
A fake controversy is raging in Parliament over these proposals that so undermine our civil liberties. The “opposition” is not at all opposing house arrests without trial and without adequate evidence, oh no! What it is opposing is that the decision to put somebody under house arrest would be taken by politicians rather than by judges. One is left to imagine that if a judge made the decision, he would only do so on the basis of convincing evidence. However, the experience of the northern Irish Diplock courts should be sufficient to convince anybody that, from the point of view of protecting freedom of opinion, there is no problem in finding the ‘right’ sort of judge who will lock up anybody his political masters tell him to lock up. Once the government “gives in” and “reluctantly” admits that these decisions should be taken by judges, the “opposition” have each and every one of them endorsed the legitimacy of indefinite penal sanctions being imposed without open public trial where the evidence – or lack of it – is open to public scrutiny. For the moment, however, it seems that while the Home Secretary has “succumbed” to the opposition on the question of house arrest – that is likely to need to be ordered by a judge – he is reserving to any persons he cares to authorise the right to tag anybody in Britain and to impose restrictions on their movements – without trial and without evidence. Furthermore, as the proposed legislation stands, so few have been the concessions to the so-called “opposition” that ‘terror suspects’ could still be held indefinitely under house arrest pending a judicial decision (i.e., rubber stamp) !
Incidentally, some former ‘radicals’, who were supposedly left-wingers joining the Labour Party in order to transform it from within (and incidentally to advance their career prospects) were incapable of even the type of ‘opposition’ outlined in the previous paragraph. Michael Portillo in the 27 February edition of the Sunday Times reveals, no doubt with some relish, how far Peter Hain, hailed as an “anti-racist campaigner” in the 1970’s, has fallen:
“What impact can it have on a boy if a repressive state serves a banning order on his parents, which among other things requires them to seek permission even to speak to one another?
“In the case of Peter Hain, then living in South Africa, and now Leader of the Commons, it helped turn him into a plucky political activist. If his parents’ experience had not yet instilled in him a thorough fear of injustice, he later faced a 10-day trial in Britain, suspected of robbing a bank. Fortunately suspicion was not enough to deprive him of his liberty. In a court of law he had the opportunity to contest the evidence and prove that he had been falsely accused.
“It was indeed ironic that it fell to Hain last week to tell the Commons that legislation to allow Britons to be detained in their homes for an indefinite period and without charge or trial would be rushed through the Commons with only a few hours debate”.
One might note in passing that this whole debate has been brought forward at a time when it will be impossible for these fascistic measures actually to be implemented. Before they can be, a special derogation has to be obtained from the European Union from Europe’s Human Rights legislation. Why these debates are taking place NOW is undoubtedly in preparation for elections, in which the government wants to show the electors that it is taking their safety seriously and is prepared to lock up lots of Muslims, however innocent, in order to keep Britain safe. Of course, these measures will not prevent attacks, for what is causing there to be a threat at all is people’s reaction to Britain’s illegal wars against and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars and occupations, seeped as they are in illegality, injustice, callousness and greed, cause people to desire to strike back with equal violence at the countries who have attacked them. If the government was truly interested in making Britain a safer place, it would withdraw all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the government does not care about the safety of ordinary people at all. Its one concern is the safety of the multinationals as they squeeze millions of pounds in profits out of all of us and to get re-elected and continue to be firmly lodged on the gravy train.