One of the best bits of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was his defence of migrants.
“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages; it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.
“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS; it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.
“It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.
“Immigration can certainly put extra pressure on services… What did the Tories do? They… demonise migrants for putting pressure on services…
“We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working… And we will ease the pressure on hard-pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations”.
It should put to shame the Socialist Party, which has presented immigration controls as a sort of working-class “closed shop”, thus feeding the myth that migrant workers, and not the exploitation of migrant workers, drive down wages:
“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days”, declares the SP, “has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.
“It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists”.
Were those sentences a bit of bad writing? An aberration? Not at all. The SP has opposed free movement of labour consistently, in many articles, for instance this one by their leader, Peter Taafe, that contains the following:
“The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour, which can then be used to cut overall wage levels and living standards”.
“The EU’s free movement of labour rules… have helped the bosses to inflict a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions, rather than stemming from workers’ interests and a raising of living standards across the board”.
Even conventional academic research has shown that any depression of wage levels which follows increased immigration at a time of diminished trade union rights and inadequate solidarity is confined to particular categories of labour, and is much smaller than the wage gain which would result from stronger union rights and greater workers’ unity.
Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.
Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”
Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”
Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.
They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),
Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you understand, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.
The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.
Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)
In other words immigration controls- perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.
Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.
Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.
The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.
‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’
The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.
Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’
Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.
And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.
With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.
This is a tough issue.
I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.
The EU referendum result was a massive rejection of the capitalist establishment but voting Leave was not a vote for a governmental alternative. Now Jeremy Corbyn has the opportunity to use his Labour leadership re-election campaign to rally both Leave and Remain voters behind a programme for a socialist and internationalist break with the EU bosses’ club, argues CLIVE HEEMSKERK.
The Party is exultant.
‘Project Fear’ lost (project hysteria about Johnny foreigners won…).
The main forces of British and international capitalism did everything they could to secure a vote in June’s referendum to keep Britain in the EU. President Obama made a carefully choreographed state visit. The IMF co-ordinated the release of doom-laden reports with the chancellor George Osborne.
And then there was the shameful joint campaigning of right-wing Labour Party and trade union leaders with David Cameron and other representatives of big business.
A propaganda tsunami of fear was unleashed to try and intimidate the working class to vote in favour of the EU bosses’ club.
But to no avail. Pimco investment company analysts mournfully commented that the vote was “part of a wider, more global, backlash against the establishment, rising inequality and globalisation” (The Guardian, 28 June).
No mention of, er, Jeremy Corbyn’s position in favour of Remain..
The article is full of a lot of tiresome self-justification, and statistics that minimise the Labour voters’ support for Remain, not to mention that of the overwhelming majority of young people, (“Just two out of five people aged 65 and over backed staying in. In contrast, 75% of voters aged 18 to 24 plumped for Remain). They apparently do not see it as a problem that, as the Mirror put it, “Labour’s heartlands united with Tory shires” to vote Leave.
Accepting the present state of class consciousness – on this basis we could equally claim that the Tory shires were also voting “against the capitalist establishment” – is not a socialist standpoint.
Instead the so-called Lexit camp offered ‘understanding’ about fears about being swamped’ by migrants, and a cart-load of clichés about ‘Brussels’ links to big business, as if Westminster is not bound and foot to Capital.
We can also recall straightforward lies blaming the reform of the Code du Travail in France on the EU and the idea that Brexit would halt the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), when it’s been EU countries, and not the UK that have scuppered it for the moment.
The result was that during the Referendum campaign the Lexiters sided with the ‘sovereigntists’ who imagine that leaving the EU would ‘restore’ power to Parliament, and indeed the Nation.
In other words they stood on the same side as the most reactionary sections of Capital and the bourgeoisie, the Tory Right and the ‘populist’ nationalist-racists of UKIP.
If they are not always as honest as their virulently nationalist French allies, the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID), about this, the strategy of the Socialist Party, like the SWP, the Morning Star and Counterfire, ties class politics to national sovereignty and erodes the internationalist basis of a common European left.
Trotskyist POID pro-Brexit Rally in Paris May 2016 backed by the SP, Morning Star, Steve Hedley, Alex Gordon, Lexit campaign, and Co.
It is the task of the left to fight, not adapt to, the carnival of reaction that took place during and is continuing after the Referendum.
But no doubt the Socialist Party would have found class reasons to ‘understand’ those in the Victorian proletariat who celebrated the 1900 ending of the siege of Mafeking and this joyous meeting of toffs and East Enders.
To these high-minded people, all capitalist politicians are to blame for nationalist campaigns that feed on racism (“All capitalist politicians, defending a system based on the exploitation of the majority by a small minority, to some degree rest on nationalism – with racism as its most virulent expression – to maintain a social base for capitalist rule”). It’s never the ideology of others, who have no minds of their own. So they, the capitalist lot, are all to blame…
No doubt from the front page of the Daily Express, UKIP, to…the Liberal Democrats….
The SP would no doubt dislike this UKIP poster.
Instead the Socialist Party has no position on the problem – but is opposed to the free movement of labour.
Or to put it less indirectly: migrant labour and ‘foreigners’.
This is a real sticking point.
In the negotiations that are taking place, the Socialist Party lays down a few ‘principles’, apparently socialist and ‘trade unionist’, on the topic.
The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.
It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.
What is their position on the kind of ‘border control’ they do support.
The organised workers’ movement must take an independent class position on the EU free movement of labour rules that will be raised in the EU negotiations (see box).
What ‘free movement’ exists in the EU is used to allow big business to exploit a cheap supply of labour in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of low pay, zero-hour contacts and poor employment conditions.
Well there’s nothing here about pan-European efforts to end this ‘race to the bottom’.
Only a very British exit from the system.
We would like a specific answer: is the Socialist Party in favour of a “closed shop” controlling entry for European and other migrant workers entry into the UK?
How will this operate ?
Pre or post-entry?
To the whatabouters we ask: will ending freedom of movement from ‘Fortress Europe’ mean that you can make a ‘socialist’ Fortress UK?
Migrant labour deserves an answer on how the Socialist Party wishes to regulate their future.
“I am happy, like a myna/Life in a caravan, thinking about my friends/Let’s go to the garden,” go the upbeat lyrics from “Khandahar,” a poem first written in English and then translated to Farsi by two Afghan sisters, ages 9 and 12, who were living in a trailer in the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, known as the Jungle.
“Khandahar” is one of 13 tracks on “The Calais Sessions,” a benefit album recorded in the camp involving about 20 refugees and visiting professional musicians. The music ranges from Middle Eastern-inflected pop to Iraqi rap to tunes from the Balkans and Spain. Some pieces are love songs. One mourns the death of a Syrian brother. Others are joyful instrumentals set against a backbeat of traditional percussion.
Above: friends, families and onlookers at the scene
Saibo Sillah, Ousman Jabbie, Mohammed Jangana, Alimano Jammeh and Bangaly Dukureth were crushed to death at work in my home town of Birmingham on Thursday. They were all Muslims and EU migrants, working through an agency for the minimum wage and sending most of their pay back to their families.
The firm they worked at, Shredmet Limited, owned by Hawkeswood Metal Recycling, has previously been involved in three serious incidents and been fined £60,000 by the Health ad Safety Executive when a lack of guarding led to a man’s arm being crushed. The same site was hit by a huge, unexplained fire in 2011.
Hawkeswood Metal Recycling processes more than 500,000 tonnes of scrap metal each year. The firm began trading more than 40 years ago and has a customer base that includes local authorities, major PLCs and smaller independent companies.
It is a business with an annual turnover of more than £30 million, reporting a net profit in 2015 of £327,000 in accounts submitted in February this year. It employs 26 people.
The victims were the sort of hard-working migrants that the Brexiteers want driven out of Britain. And the inadequate health and safety legislation that failed to protect these men, will be even further watered down if the Brexiteers have their way.
The five men died when a huge concrete wall collapsed on top of them. The 15ft tall wall, made of one-and-a-half ton concrete blocks, came crashing down on the men at the Shredmet site in Aston Church Road, Nechells. As the wall fell, blocks of metal also rained down on the men: the five had no chance of survival.
A sixth man miraculously managed to escape, digging his own way out of the rubble despite his leg having been broken.
Detective Superintendent Mark Payne of West Midlands Police said: “I’ve seen the scene and nobody is alive in that scene. We have done absolutely everything as you’d expect to check there is no opportunity to save a life. Without being too graphic, there’s no possibility of anyone being alive in there.”
Meanwhile, families and friends gathered outside the gates of the plant, anxious for news of loved ones and workmates. Local residents put out drinks and food for the grieving visitors.
Manka Sawo was alerted to the tragedy by the man who managed to escape, and who was taken to hospital for treatment to his broken leg.
“I know all of them,” he said. “I knew Saibo Sillah from a community centre where we used to pray together.
“Saibo had seven children, including two-year-old twins. He was a very, very decent guy. I’m devastated. This is a sad day. They are all from The Gambia. Some of them lived in Spain and Denmark before coming here. I heard the news from the man who broke his leg. He phoned his family from hospital, and we came here to find out what had happened. I knew one of the men very closely; yesterday we celebrated Eid together. It’s very, very sad.”
A friend of Mr Jammeh and Mr Jabbie said: “Ousman only moved over here a week ago and moved in with Alimamo. He was waiting for his wife and family to come over, who are still in north Gambia. Alimamo’s wife and children are due to arrive on Sunday. They don’t have any phones so there’s no way of contacting them. We will only be able to tell them when they arrive that their husband and father has died. It’s going to leave them heartbroken.”
Meanwhile, Mr Jagana’s devastated friend Mohammed Kamarah said: “He has a wife and a daughter, who is less than one year old. His family are praying for him. They are distraught beyond words. He was a good hard-working man and a great friend.”
Scrapyard worker Matt Bowen, who was off work for the day because his son was ill, posted a poignant message on Facebook.
“I hope you rest in peace lads, I truly do. Part of me is sorry I wasn’t in today, the other half is glad my son was poorly. Words cannot describe the thoughts that are going though my head, let alone the lads that were in work today. My thoughts and prayers are with your families who you worked so hard for. God be with you brothers, I am heartbroken, to say the least.”
After the Leave vote: stand up for migrants, defend Corbyn, fight for unity and solidarity By Cathy Nugent
The vote to leave the EU reflects deep and growing social distress caused by years of vicious capitalist attacks against living standards, public services and democratic rights. But the vote was also a defeat for labour movements in Europe, for internationalism and for the left. The three million Europeans living, working and studying in the UK will now be fearful about their future. The response of socialists and the labour movement can only be to redouble our fight against austerity, defending migrants and for the socialist vision of a better world.
Any concessions by the left to the mood of national isolationism — such as justifying the strengthening of immigration controls — will be disastrous mistakes. Such policies would lead to more despair and a further shift away from the class politics we want the labour movement to champion and build support for in the working class — the politics of unity and social solidarity.
The referendum result has illuminated and deepened existing dangerous political fault lines and it has created new ones.
Cameron’s resignation will push the “star” demagogues of the Tory Leave campaign — Michael Gove and Boris Johnson — into government. This is a quasi-political-coup. The Brexit camp used the referendum, a vote on a limited issue, to lever themselves into governmental power. By bringing this referendum about Cameron is wholly to blame for his own fate. But getting rid of Cameron is not, as some on the left will argue, a victory for democracy! If a general election were soon held, as some on the left advocate, it would be fought under conditions of chaos, confusion, dismay and reaction. It would not be likely to result in a victory for the left.
The referendum result has already been used by the right-wing in the Labour Party as an opportunity to challenge the Corbyn leadership. We defend Corbyn! The huge democratic mandate on which he stood for and won the leadership of the Labour Party stands. Whatever the shortcomings of Labour’s campaign on the referendum, Corbyn was right not to tail-end the Tory’s big business message on Europe, was right not to appeal to traditional Labour voters on the basis of prejudice against migrants.
On 23 June, majorities in England and Wales, and not Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensured an exit from the EU. That in itself opened up more division in the working class of the “United Kingdom”. It has already given the green light to the SNP to push for a further referendum on independence for Scotland. While a move towards independence may be seen as making connections with Europe, it will also separate Scottish workers from others on this island.
Some of the vote for Leave was based on conservative nostalgia for a UK, or an England, that has never existed. Some of it was expression of outrage by working-class people against long-term insecurity and deprivation. But there was a broader social spectrum than this which saw the vote as a referendum on the general state of society. Not just the older, white working class, but also the younger under- and precariously-employed working class. And, anecdotally it seems, to a limited extent, people from more established migrant backgrounds also saw voting Leave as a way to express feelings of insecurity. And we have to face the uncomfortable truth that many who voted Leave were convinced by dominant racist themes of that campaign — that the way to resolve any and all of these social problems is by stopping or slashing inward migration.
The socialist message, that poverty and injustice can be overcome by working-class solidarity, has for many workers been eclipsed by another, meaner, much less ambitious and utterly false vision, which says that only the most limited improvements can be achieved, and then only by cutting out “foreigners”.
But none of the perceived social problems — crumbling public services, declining standards of living, worsening urban infrastructure, growing inequality — has anything to do with the EU, or the numbers of recent migrants. It was everything to do with capitalism — homegrown, UK capitalism.
Those of us who argued for a Remain vote on the basis of fighting for the working class — in all its diversity — across Europe, did not convince people of our argument. Our alternative — social solidarity and uniting workers across Europe — was not a strong enough message to win the day.
That is why the left that said “remain” must urgently come together in the weeks ahead to plan our response to these difficult times. We will oppose the right-wing attack on the leadership of the Labour Party. We will oppose accommodation to all forms of nationalism. We will defend migrants. We will fight for clear socialist solutions on the real issues facing the working class, whether they voted for Remain or Leave. It is especially important to take that message into the working-class communities which did vote for Remain. We will fight for unity across the working class – for jobs and housing, against privatisation and to rebuild the NHS.
If you want to join this urgent campaign, please get in touch. Or come to our Ideas for Freedom event on 7-10 July to discuss further with us.
Further responses to the referendum result will be posted soon.
In view of the horror and grief that all decent people have expressed following the murder of Jo Cox, and the suggestion that the Remain campaign has sought to use her death to further its cause, it is important to place her views on the EU referendum and immigration on the record. The following piece was posted by Jo at the Politics Home site on 13th June – a just three days before her murder. Readers should not assume that Shiraz Socialist agrees with all of it:
Brexit is not the answer to UK immigration concerns
By Jo Cox MP
With many voters still making up their minds about a decision that will shape the future of our country, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory offered a stark warning that despite offering the world the Leave campaign cannot guarantee what would happen to migration if we left.
Most voters recognise that our country has reaped many benefits from immigration, from the brilliant doctors in our NHS to the skilled workers helping our economy to grow. Yet across the country people face everyday worries about job security, school places and GP appointments.
In the last two weeks of the campaign voters should know that despite these legitimate concerns, Brexit is not the answer. Here’s why:
First, Brexit doesn’t guarantee that migration will come down. In fact a more liberal approach to non-EU immigration – as advocated by the Leave camp – could actually see it increase.
Australia – whose points-based system is so admired by Outers – has twice as many migrants per person than we do. The whole purpose of their system is to allow businesses to control who comes into their country. For us this would lead to an increase in cheap labour, bringing down wages and doing nothing to ease voter concerns about insecure employment.
Voters also need to know that that the free movement of EU citizens to Britain will not automatically stop if we left. The only way to do that is to leave the single market – an act of economic self-destruction that would be catastrophic for businesses and jobs across the country.
Second, we can do far more to deal with the pressures caused by migration from inside then EU. Labour has long pushed for an end to the payment of benefits to people who don’t live permanents in this country, and for a major extension of the time EU migrants have to wait before being able to claim benefits – a commitment secured by the Prime Minister as part of the renegotiation deal.
We can also help communities facing the greatest pressure from migration. Since 2001 EU migrants have contributed £20 billion more to our economy than they’ve taken out in benefits. This money must go quickly to areas where migrants are living, to fund schools and health services.
This will ensure that people come to this country knowing they need to play by the rules and work hard, and will reassure Brits that we have a fair, under control system that works for everyone.
And finally, the overall benefits of EU membership are massive. From businesses in Yorkshire to the President of the United States – and pretty much everyone in between – there is now an unprecedented consensus that leaving the EU would hurt our economy and hit our pockets.
We cannot allow voters to fall for the spin that a vote to leave is the only way to deal with concerns about immigration. We can do far more to address both the level and the impact of immigration while remaining in the EU. I very rarely agree with the Prime Minister but on this he’s right: was are stronger, safer and better off in.
The man accused of murdering Jo Cox gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. As he (allegedly) shot and stabbed the MP to death he cried “Britain First” or “Put Britain First”.
It is now established that he had links with the far-right. It seems very likely that he is mentally ill. We do not know to what extent the anti-Europe campaign fuelled his murderous hatred, but those of who believe that political rhetoric inevitably has practical consequences are obliged to point out that the poisonous, racist campaign for Brexit has created precisely the political context for murderous violence of this kind. Just a few hours before the murder, Farage unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia as though this was a threat to the UK: a clear incitement to racial hatred:
Remain campaigners have, on the whole, been reluctant to publicly link the murder with the racism of the Brexit campaign, but some have now had the guts to start doing so. I recommend Polly Toynbee here, Alex Massie here and Jonathan Freedland here.
Alan Woods at Socialist Appeal makes some good points here, but eventually bottles it by trying to argue that the official Brexit and Remain campaigns are equally culpable – something that is demonstrably untue.
On Saturday 14th May 2016 I attended the Sheffield TUC’s “Europe IN or OUT? The Big Debate”. Maxine Bowler of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) was the main speaker on the top table for the ‘out’ position. In my contribution from the floor I began by stating my critique of the European Union as a neoliberal capitalist club, which is hostile to migrants and refugees. I reasoned that one can be a fierce critic of the status quo and bureaucracy of the European Union whilst recognising that the alternative actuality of ‘Britain out’, in the face of a deeply chauvinistic wave coalescing through the Brexit campaign, would be a reactionary throwback which will impede the struggle for working class liberation. I then referenced the Marxist tradition (by Marx and Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, and others) for a socialist “United States of Europe” – a tradition which has been problematically displaced by Stalinism. Maxine replied: “I am angry that someone has used Marx and Engels to defend the European Union!” So she missed my point. But much worse still, she woefully neglected an important history and compass for the present from supposedly her own tradition. As the debate proceeded, a member of the audience tentatively made a case for ‘Britain out’ on the basis of a need to curb immigration. Maxine responded by making a case for open borders. And herein lies the political incongruity of the Lexit campaign: arguing against a Fortress Europe and for an open Europe, while effectively retreating to (a left-wing) nationalism; arguing against the European Union and for an internationalism, while ineffectively challenging the forces and conditions of existence that are fuelling xenophobia, racism, parochialism, and nationalism. In the fantasy politics minds of its campaigners, Lexit is the subversion of Brexit, yet in reality it is merely an inversion. Moreover, given the tsunami of Brexit, Lexit’s attempt to capsize Brexit continuously fails as wave after wave capsize Lexit.
“the EU isn’t about bringing people together across borders. It’s about bringing together the ruling classes of some countries to compete against the ruling classes of other countries – partly by putting up borders. The EU makes it harder to travel into Europe from Africa, Asia and South America. To do so it promotes scapegoating myths that can then be turned against European migrants. So can its machinery of border control and repression. Building a racist Fortress Europe is central to the EU project. Bringing down that fortress is essential for any real internationalism or anti-racism. Some activists argue that the bigger enemy is “Fortress Britain”. But the two aren’t in competition. Britain’s rulers use the EU to police their own borders.”
If we leave the European Union, further still, if it disintegrates under a tsunami of chauvinistic nationalisms, then what are the conditions of existence to then fight for an open Europe? If we succumb to a form of left-wing nationalism amidst waves of racist, xenophobic English and British nationalism, then what are the conditions of existence for a future of workers’ solidarity across borders? Maxine and other SWP members at the Sheffield debate defined those who spelt out the highly probable consequences of ‘Britain out’ as promoting a “politics of despair”. Instead, they speculated, Boris would oust Cameron, the Tories would look like a joke, the masses would then take to the streets, and socialism would be victorious.
II. The Marxist tradition for a “United States of Europe”
Jon Lansman, writing at Left Futures, shows how Labour’s commitment in 1944 to a Jewish national state in Palestine wasn’t due to Zionist agitation or imperialist self interest but the effects of the holocaust; an important and well-researched piece:
Who is responsible for the Middle East conflict? And how do we help resolve it? We can do worse than to begin by looking at Labour’s own history.
On this day [ie 30 May] in 1944, Labour’s annual conference was taking place in London. A week before D-Day and two weeks before V1s started hitting London, the Allies were making progress through Italy and were bombing targets in France in preparation for the invasion. And amidst all that, Labour delegates were focussed on “The International Post-War Settlement“, on how to build a post-war world.
They knew about the Holocaust though they had not yet really understood its magnitude. And in building a new world, they were prepared to contemplate some drastic measures. I recently purchased a copy of the NEC statement which was agreed at the conference. It included, in a section headed “Palestine”, the words I found profoundly shocking when I first read them:
There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home”, unless, we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, , less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.”
And so, without opposition, Labour’s conference committed itself to not only ethnic cleansing, but to a Greater Israel extending even beyond the boundaries that it currently occupies in 2016. It did so not because it was persuaded by the “Zionist lobby”, not in order to serve British imperial interests (which had been the only objective of the Balfour declaration in 1917), but because of the Holocaust, and the refugee problem that they expected.
This nevertheless shocking commitment to ethnic cleansing should be seen in the context of an earlier section of the report in a section headed “Frontiers“:
All Germans left outside the the post-War German frontiers, unless they are willing to become loyal subjects of the state in which they find themselves, claiming no special privileges, should go back to Germany. Indeed they will be well advised to do so in their own interests, for, in the early post-War years at any rate, there will be a depth of hatred against Germans in the occupied countries, which it is impossible for us or for Americans to realise.
Germans in many of those areas may have to face the choice between migration and massacre.
The organised transfer of population, in the immediate post-War period, may, indeed, be one of the foundations of better international relations in a later phase. Nor would this be a new departure. Between the Wars the transfer of population between Greece and Turkey was an undoubted success.
In any case, there will be a vast problem of repatriation and resettlement in Europe, when tens of millions of refugees, slave labourers and prisoners of war return to freedom and their own homes. Compared with this, the transfer even of substantial national minorites, German and other, to the right side of the post-War frontiers will be a small affair. “
Shocking as it may be to those of us who observe from a safe distance the fall-out from the ethnic cleansing that did in fact take place in 1947 in Palestine and the conflict that followed, it was seen as a relatively “small affair” in the context of the end of World War II. Ethnic cleansing had allegedly been an “undoubted success” in Greece and Turkey in spite of the deaths from epidemics in transit and the resulting poverty and hardship on arrival.
Churchill who had promised “that we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people” – with the backing of Labour’s leaders and conference – agreed with Allied leaders to back the ethnic cleansing of 12-14million Germans across central and eastern Europe after the war.
“The largest forced migration in history” was “accomplished largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” including being herded into camps including former Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz or Theresienstadt, victims being subjected to beatings, rapes of female inmates, gruelling forced labour and starvation diets.
Estimates of those who died in transit vary upwards from 500,000 though the German government clings to earlier estimates of 2million. This included those who died of disease or malnutrition which included a high proportion of children and the elderly. What’s more, other minorities were expelled on the back of this forced migration: Hungarians from Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Romanians by the USSR. And that is on top of the forced repatriation of Soviet POWs.
Labour was right to expect massacres from populations that had suffered German brutality under occupation. And the League of Nations and post-World War I treaties had utterly failed to protect ethnic minorities subjected to the racism of right-wing nationalist governments right across central Europe in the new ethno-centered nation states Western leaders had created in the dismemberment of the old empires. On the altar of “self-determination”, Allied leaders had handed multicultural cities and towns across Europe to be ruled by strident ethnic nationalists.
By 1944, they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Not in Europe, and not with the Jews. And so it was they that created Israel. Of the Allied leaders, it is true that both Bevin and Attlee were persuaded by the complexities of managing inter-communal conflict in the Mandate of British Palestine (rather than by Ernie Bevin’s antisemitic prejudices though he had them) to abstain on Israel’s creation. In addition to the pressure of US diplomats on countries like Haiti, Philipines and Liberia, it was the three votes controlled by Stalin (cast on behalf of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus) which ensured that the two-thirds majority for resolution 181 was achieved.
And so what of the role of Zionism? For all the diplomacy and organisation of the World Zionist Organisation for half a century, it was not that which led to the creation of Israel. It was the Holocaust, the plight of the survivors seeking safe refuge, and the guilt of the American, British and other Allied leaders who did not wish to take them in (though many would have been satisfied with that).
So they did for the Jews what they were not prepared to do for the Kurds, nor for the Roma. And the Jews, a majority of whom in almost all countries had not supported Zionism prior to the War, rejoiced at the prospect of a safe place to live. And who with the knowledge of their circumstances cannot understand that?
And the Palestinians understandably saw and still see the loss of their land as a catastrophe. The Nakba. And who that reflects on their circumstances and what they have experienced since cannot understand that?
If there is to be peace, justice, democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine, both of those realities need to be acknowledged. Only truth can bring reconciliation.