Dan O’Brien, Ranjeet Brar: immigration and the new ‘stop the boats’ bill

Who is to blame for declining living standards, and what is the role and purpose of immigration legislation?

Is it immigration, or exploitation of wage-labour, that is causing the cost of living crisis in Britain and the west, and the deepening poverty of the masses of humanity around the world?

Since poverty and war cause the modern phenomnon of mass migration, who is responsible for the difficulties caused to workers as a result? And what, if anything, should we be doing about it?

Capitalism and immigration

The video above consists of two presentations. In the first, Comrade Daniel O’Brien summarises the content of our party’s essential pamphlet Capitalism and Immigration, originally written by Harpal Brar in response to an inner-party debate in 2008.

Nothing much has really changed in the substance of this issue since that pamphlet was written, but our rulers so their best to keep the subject fresh in people’s minds with a constant stream of ever-more hysterical news items whose only real purpose is to scare workers into support for ever more draconian anti-immigration legislation and into believing the longstanding trope that immigration is the fundamental cause of declining living standards in Britain.

Dan looks at how immigration has been presented as a polarised ‘love them or hate them’ issue: those who oppose immigration generally focus on the constantly-propagated myths that immigrants are ‘taking our jobs’, ‘straining our public services’, ‘freeloading on our benefits‘ etc – that they are somehow to blame for the falling living standards of poor workers in Britain.

On the flip side, the liberal ‘supportive’ position focuses on the idea that immigrants ‘do the jobs we don’t want to’ (ie, are prepared to subsidise British living standards by working for very low wages in very poor conditions).

As living standards fall for workers, the level of anti-immigration hysteria we are being fed by mainstream politicians and media is constantly rising. It behoves us to look deeper into the various myths that are propagated and understand what motivates our rulers to spend so much time and energy spreading racism and division within our ranks.

Daniel points out that it is particularly ironic that anti-immigrant demagogues try to scare British workers with the narrative that there is a ‘British gene pool’ and a ‘British culture’ that are under threat as a result of mass migration to our shores. As a small island on the edge of Europe, our entire history is one of waves of migration. There is no ‘British’ genotype and no homogenous or stable ‘British culture’. Britain has always been a melting pot, and its culture and people have always been in flux. Moreover, the culture of the British ruling class is not the same as the culture of the British working class.

Mass migration in the modern world is entirely created by finance capital – in particular by its need for a cheap and mobile workforce that can be brought to wherever it is needed. The first mass migrations took place from the countryside to the newly-forming industrial cities. Later, populations were moved from the colonies to the imperial heartland to keep up the flow of labour.

The key role of anti-immigration propaganda by our rulers, who have no real intention of stopping the flow of labour, is to keep workers divided and blaming each other for their problems – problems like poverty, inequality and unemployment that inevitably stem from the system of capitalist production for profit.

Rishi’s ‘Stop the boats’ bill

In the second presentation, Comrade Ranjeet Brar discusses the new bill being proposed to Parliament by Rishi Sunak and Suella Braveman – its provisions, and its real political purpose.

He points out that those socialists who support an anti-immigrant position in the name of ‘defending workers’ pay and conditions‘ have misunderstood the nature of both capitalism and imperialism. Since imperialism has sucked so much of the world’s wealth into Britain, it is inevitable that immigrants from those impoverished lands should find themselves forced to follow their looted wealth in the hopes of being able to earn the decent living that has been denied to them at home.

Those countries that try to preserve their wealth where it is – by nationalising their core industries, for example – find themselves targeted by imperialist war as a result. This inevitably creates a further flow of refugees and asylum seekers as the infrastructure and economy of entire countries are laid waste by F-16 bombers and depleted uranium rounds.

The new ‘stop the boats’ immigration bill being proposed by Rishi Sunak’s government seeks to stigmatise refugees from war as ‘fake’ asylum seekers by penalising them for the fact that they are unable to apply for asylum in their countries of origin. Since war inevitably makes this process impossible, the bill in effect is deliberately and brutally closing off what remains of the ‘legal’ routes for seeking asylum in Britain.

All this really does is to reinforce the concept of ‘real’ and ‘bogus’ asylum-seekers, asking us once again to distinguish between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ immigrants. We may be kind and supportive towards ‘legal’ migrants (of whom there are vanishingly few, usually from populations that have served British imperialism in some way or other), while hostility towards the ‘illegal’ is officially sanctioned and encouraged.

But the only real purpose of creating and reinforcing such concepts is to reinforce the lie that immigrants are causing poverty to British workers, and that our rulers are trying to protect us from these ‘invaders’. That is: it aims to tie British-born workers to their own ruling class and to divide them from their fellow workers.

Ranjeet reminds the audience that we shouldn’t be confused about the essence of the bill because of the skin colour of those proposing it. Racism doesn’t have to come from a white man, and brown-skinned people are quite capable of serving the system of imperialist rule. Racism is a necessary tool of a minority exploiting class that needs to keep workers divided in order to stay in power, and using dark-skinned people to promote it is just one of many ways our ruling class tries to hide its true nature.

Our rulers are criminalising poor workers and inciting racial hatred for one reason only – to keep the working class divided and stop us from uniting in common cause against our capitalist rulers and their bloodsoaked system of production for profit.

Ranjeet talks about the role of Rwanda in the present bill, and the way that country’s government has had a long history of acting as a stooge for British imperialism on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose rich mineral resources it has helped imperialist corporations to loot under the cover of constant warfare – all so that the tech companies can make huge profits through the mass marketing of smartphones and PlayStations.

Ten million people have died in this ‘guerre sans fin‘ (war without end), but no media outlet is talking about this horrific genocide, and certainly not about what has motivated it.

Understanding how these various issues intersect and overlap, Ranjeet points out, can help us understand how the whole system of imperialism operates, and why we should be wary of accepting the narratives we are offered by mainstream corporate media at face value.

Meanwhile, the provisions of the bill itself aim to destroy the right to aslyum in Britain and to criminalise those who attempt to come here, creating an inhuman machinery of scapegoating, imprisonment and deportation that even the United Nations has described as a violation of the 1951 convention on refugees and the right to asylum.

The ruling class’s agenda becomes clear when one considers that the cost of imprisoning refugees is far higher than the cost of settling them and allowing them to work and support themselves.

The working-class programme

One of the pitfalls some on the left fall into when opposing immigration to Britain is to conflate the conditions of capitalism and socialism, talking about the border controls exercised by socialist countries that are surrounded by aggressive imperialist powers. But since we don’t have state power, we are in no position to construct an immigration policy based on how we might run a socialist society, whose possible external conditions we have no way of knowing.

The job of all our policies in the present conditions is to promote demands to our class that will facilitate its unity and strengthen its struggle for socialism. Once we understand that the immigration debate is not aimed at stopping immigration but only at promoting racist divisions and diverting workers’ anger away from the capitalist ruling class, we can see that our primary duty is to bring this fact to workers’ attention and promote the demand for an end to all immigration legislation, which creates racism and a superexploited underclass unable to be unionised and brought into the struggle.

That is why our party programme says:

“The party firmly believes that immigration is not the cause of the ills of the working class in Britain, which are solely the result of the failings of the capitalist system. Immigration and asylum legislation and controls under capitalism have only one real goal: the division of the working class along racial lines, thus fatally weakening that class’s ability to organise itself and to wage a revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of imperialism.

“These controls have the further effect of creating an army of ‘illegal’ immigrant workers, prey to superexploitation and living in dire conditions as an underclass, outside the system, afraid to organise and exercising a downward pull on the wages and conditions of all workers.

“The scourge of racism, along with all other ills of capitalism, will only be finally abolished after the successful overthrow of imperialism. But since immigration can no more be abolished under capitalism than can wage slavery, the party calls not for the further control and scapegoating of immigrants, but for the abolition of all border controls, as part of the wider fight to uproot racism from the working-class movement and build unity among workers in Britain, so strengthening the fight for communism.”