From A World to Win News Service

Refugees Bring Europe the Message of an Intolerable World

September 14, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


September 7, 2015. A World to Win News Service. Why are so many people forced to leave their homes and seek safety in Europe?

Immigrants at the port of the island of Lesvos, Greece, on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Immigrants at the port of the island of Lesvos, Greece, September 5, 2015.
AP photo

First, let’s look at some particulars: almost half of the more than 300,000 people who have crossed into Europe so far this year are from Syria. Why are inhabitants of a country noted for its great culture, people proud to be Syrians, and far from the most impoverished lands in the Middle East—in fact, people of all social classes, including many professionals and others from the middle class—fleeing their country, knowing that many will die along the way and few can be sure of what awaits them?

Only people who understand nothing about the world—or politicians with the most malign intentions—could claim that the aim is to eke out an existence on social benefits (“welfare”) in cold, dreary and hostile Europe.

The real answer is basically simple, although complex factors are involved: The Western powers have turned Syria into such a disaster that a huge portion of its 18 million people have been killed (250,000), displaced (at least 7.6 million in camps and other places of refuge in Syria) or driven abroad (more than 4 million).

Over the last decade, although the reactionary Bashar al-Assad government did its best to integrate the country into the Western-dominated world market, largely at the cost of its rural population, the U.S. sought political domination and did not tolerate the regime’s ties with Russia, an imperialist rival, or with Iran, whose power structure they also considered a political problem.

Under cover of the 2011 movement against the Assad regime, the U.S. used its money, arms and agents to kindle a war intended to replace Assad with other Syrian ruling class elements often referred to as “moderates” or “pro-Western.” In pursuit of this goal, the West and the countries that joined in this undertaking, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, each with their own reactionary political and ideological interests, financed and armed Islamist groups, setting into motion forces that are now mostly out of anyone’s control.

The rise of armed jihadis, especially Daesh (ISIS), is considered a problem for the monopoly capitalists who rule the U.S., but nothing more than that. At least so far, these imperialists have followed a policy of perpetuating the civil war to weaken the Assad regime while also trying to figure out how the Western powers themselves could eventually pick up the pieces and control a future Syrian regime while bringing the Islamists to heel.

The disastrous consequences of this policy were very predictable. But for the U.S. and its European allies, there was no crisis until hundreds of thousands of Syrians showed up on Europe’s doorstep.

How, today, are the Western powers reacting to this situation? By stepping up the civil war that brought all this into being in the first place! The problem, for them, is not what happens to Syrians but whether or not they can control Syria, as a key part of trying to control and reorder the Middle East and beyond. These are the same motives that drove the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which set the Islamic world on fire in the first place.

British Chancellor George Osborne said it openly: to deal with the refugee “problem,” the UK would participate in bombing Syria. French President Francois Hollande came out and said more or less the same.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used this occasion to warn Russia against sending more aid to the Assad regime. (Significantly, according to the New York Times, one of Washington’s main concerns is the Russian provision of new air defense systems, which would be of no use in the current civil war but could be employed against or deter an all-out NATO attack.) The U.S. announced it would step up its campaign to organize a mercenary army in Syria that could directly represent its interests.

Rather than take warning from the civil wars and the way Western intervention has fueled jihadi forces, the U.S. and its accomplices are playing double or nothing, escalating an intolerable, genocidal situation in a desperate attempt to come out on top one way or another, no matter what the human cost.

Imperialist interests are also determining the way European governments are dealing with the refugees, especially their conflicting national interests and political visions for how to serve those interests. The bitter dispute about the German-Swedish proposal that the European Union allocate a percentage of today’s total number of refugees to each EU country is closely connected to different agendas about the future of the EU and power relations between the European countries.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron clothed his opposition to accepting mandatory EU immigrant quotas in moral terms. He claimed it would be wrong for the UK to accept any of the refugees entering Europe, because “We want people not to make that dangerous crossing in the first place.” This sudden fit of concern for non-British lives stinks of hypocrisy. Cameron long ago adopted a radical rhetoric against immigrants, including those from the EU, calling for ordinary Britons such as landlords to police the status of suspected foreigners and for criminalizing immigrants working on the black market. Now he is continuing to combine anti-immigrant lunacy with his crusade against more European political and economic integration, specifically insofar as that favours Germany and France.

France’s Hollande loudly joined the voices criticizing the UK for not letting in more refugees. His claim for the moral high ground is undermined by his own government’s cruel policies toward immigrants—for example, forcibly stranding people in the no-man’s-land between the French and Italian borders last summer, and the standardized police violence against Roma (Gypsies). The position he announced was almost the same as Cameron’s in terms of stinginess in saving human lives: France would accept a few tens of thousands of Syrian requests for asylum over the next several years. But unlike the UK, it would accept the German proposal to accept asylum requests from Syrians already in Europe and not just those still in Syria and refugee camps in adjacent countries.

German imperialism is using the situation to try to spruce up its looks, thanks to the wiliness of Chancellor Merkel. She welcomes Syrians for the same reason that she led in the devastation of Greece: German economic and political interests. Many commentators have pointed out that the number of newcomers Germany has offered to admit every year corresponds almost exactly to the number of people needed annually to renew its shrinking workforce. There is undoubtedly a mix of need, chance and other interests involved: Germany didn’t specifically seek to import Syrians, but once they were next door, Merkel may have seen a way to simultaneously bolster the country’s economy, push for EU integration at a time when this means increased German predominance, and take the high moral ground Germany needs (and sorely lacks) to justify a place at the head of Europe.

It should be noted that under U.S. leadership, both Germany and Sweden are continuing to play an active role in the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan with ground troops and aid in setting the targets for air strikes. Afghans are still the largest group of refugees in today’s world, and the second largest entering Europe.

More generally, in this situation Merkel and her counterparts alike have adopted an attitude of trying to make a big distinction between refugees (Syrians) and immigrants (South Asians, Africans and others). The point is that some might be granted rights, when in the rulers’ self-interest, while others are undeserving and have no claim to justice. This is an extremely poisonous and potentially very dangerous position.

Morally, if some human beings are born with rights, some can be gifted them, and yet others have no claim to justice, then where does this end? Can’t these same arguments be used to justify border repression, mass expulsions and worse? Politically, does this mean Germany will accept some often middle class people and trained professionals deemed “assimilatable” and kick out or block the rest? Are Hungary, with its Gestapo-like open violence, Austria, with its on-and-off spigot, and places like Greece being used to do the dirty work for Germany and other better-off European countries by restricting and repressing mass migration?

When 3,000 people were known to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014, and 2,500 deaths at sea were recorded in the first six months of this year—more than 700 in one capsized ship alone—there was no political crisis in Europe. No head of state in Europe or the other major imperialist powers lifted their voice to cry out that this was intolerable. Cameron more or less said that it would be better if they drowned than if they reached the UK, and Hollande, shamefaced, waddled on behind him. Merkel was mainly silent. There was no “immigration crisis” until hundreds of thousands of people literally marched into the middle of Europe. Why should we believe that any of these ruling classes have the slightest humanitarian motives now?

Whether they are called refugees or immigrants, these travellers are bearing a message: the world has become unbearable. While that is felt far more sharply in some places than others, the problem is not any particular group of people or country, but the whole world as it exists today, the global order. The idea itself of “protecting” European and North American borders is illegitimate. It is an attempt to justify and enforce that order by declaring that those who happen to be born in the “wrong” place can’t expect to enjoy the privileges shared by those whose “rightful” place happens to be in countries where the rulers are enriched by that order and have bought some social peace with the crumbs.

The attitude of the ruling classes, openly anti-foreigner in some countries and more hypocritical but still viciously imperialist-nationalist in others, has greatly encouraged unofficial physical attacks on immigrants in parallel with the official use of tear gas, stun grenades, beatings, dogs and razor wire. The most vile, potentially genocidal ideas have become mainstream. The governing parties in the UK, France and other better-off countries argue that they can’t be seen as too pro-immigrant to avoid provoking the rise of fascist parties. This reasoning is utterly corrupt because it amounts to using the threat of worse to justify horrendous and unjustifiable policies. What is true is that the terms of the immigration debate the mainstream parties have accepted, along with other factors, make it likely that fascist parties will greatly benefit from this situation, which is likely to get more acute despite the efforts of Merkel and others to turn it to their advantage. At the same time, many thousands of people have come out to warmly welcome the newcomers in Germany, Austria and other countries, including those whose governments are the most openly hostile to immigrants.

At a demonstration in Paris, thousands of people chanted, “Open the borders, we want air.” Solidarity marches were also held in Spain, Poland and the UK, and a major protest is planned when European Union ministers meet in London on September 14. Those people are right and millions more should be brought to join them. Such crises bring out the best and the worst in people, revealing diverging but equally possible future paths for these societies and the world.


A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.


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