On migration, racism, and identity

[Sunday]

Some thoughts on the expanded EU, the effects of mass migration on settled and migrant workers, the anti-racist racism of New Labour, the crisis of identity in England, and the attitude socialists should take to devolution for the English (hint: positive). By no means definitive – I’ve left out a lot, come to think of it.

The establishment of the free movement of labour in EU states was to benefit the ruling classes rather than bequeath any freedom to workers. Though individual workers have gained from being able to travel to richer countries and earn comparatively more money, but as an international class, workers have been weakened by this development. Certainly, the economic situation in the ex-socialist countries has not been improved by young and skilled workers leaving in droves.

Meeting a gap in cheap and skilled labour by effectively importing workers from Eastern Europe has allowed sustained economic growth in the UK, along a massive increase in indebtedness. Cheap labour and cheap credit cannot last.

Sudden demographic changes can lead working people to believe that migrant workers are their enemy, and the bourgeoisie is keen to promote this rationale. I am not suggesting that this was planned, rather that, for the capitalists, it is an added bonus that mass migration disorients settled workers.

Working conditions for migrant workers are often worse than those of settled workers: cases of bonded labour have been exposed. Despite the subjective differences, the objective fact is that workers of all nationalities must struggle together against their common enemy if they are to improve their living conditions.

Bordering on racist?
Is it possible to have non-racist immigration controls? The most radical slogan is “no borders”, frequently deployed at anti-G8 demonstrations. But I feel this is a misguided call as it is not understood correctly by the wider population. To working class people who are not racists but are concerned about the effects of migration, the call for open borders might be interpreted as more of the same; I have spoken to many people who opposed the mass migration of Eastern European workers for non-racist reasons.

Calling these people racist or insinuating a racial subtext doesn’t help matters: my worry is that racism will become a positive label, a badge worn with pride. Instead of people starting off a rant with “I’m not a racist, but…” they will be upfront about it. Assuming critics of immigration policies are racist is as mistaken as assuming critics of the US government are anti-American or critics of Israel are Judeophobic or against the Israeli people.

Anyone would think from the frequent comments of New Labour types that the so-called “white working class” is inherently racist and has its roots in the UK. The truth is that working class white people have immigrant ancestors too. It is more accurate to talk about a settled population, which fits more comfortably into the discourse of the civic nation.

The fact is, of course, that immigration and asylum laws are racist – they are directed predominately towards working class people of colour – they are both classist and racist. The case in point being Boris Berezovsky a billionaire formerly of Russia, who with ease gained asylum in the UK after falling out with his clique around President Putin.

The problem is, I think, that immigration controls are not viewed in terms of class. The kinds of migrants that the capitalist class would like to limit are those it does not need: if a points-system is introduced to the UK it will prioritise skilled and professional workers, blocking those workers who are unskilled or whose skills are not currently required.

Class and colour
The only time the working class is mentioned by name these days is as part of a discussion on community cohesion. Most recently, there have been suggestions from New Labour MPs that there should be a points system in social housing allocation to assuage the concerns of the “white working class”.

What struck me, beyond the obvious unpleasant tinge to this debate, was that they had wrongly assumed that immigrants cannot buy houses. But there is no point in taking the aim of the proposals seriously, though the content must be challenged.

Any attempt to end needs-based provision of public services, by limiting migrants’ access to social housing, for example, must be met with resistance for it is an attack on the working class as a whole.

Since the coronation of Gordon Brown, the housing crisis has become a political issue. The increases in interest rates and consequent upward rates of repossession have prompted the political class to make noises about solving the problem. Supply-side measures would help ease things, but the housing bubble will hurt, whether it bursts or just deflates…

Race-baiting and no debating
It is interesting to contrast the floundering David Cameron with the flailing Michael Howard in the 2005 general election. The Tories’ ads in the campaign employed “dog whistle” tactics: “It’s not racist to talk about immigration” accompanied their main slogan, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” This was a direct appeal to people holding xenophobic or racist views.

I can’t imagine this happening again at the next general election, but it is worth noting that there has not been an open and honest debate on mass immigration. This is not because of the PC police ready to label racist anyone who expresses a negative view about an increased inward movement of people – but because the last thing the ruling class wants is an open and honest political debate about anything.

There has been plenty of overtly racist coverage of immigration in the British press, and awareness of the divide and rule tactics of the capitalist class is subdued by means of racialising the debate. One earnest BNP supporter I spoke to said “Yes, I know the problem is capitalism” before explaining that he was not a racist, he merely objected to multiple cultures existing within his country. When pressed, he could not clearly say whether he was English or British, something I find significant.

Identity crisis
Perhaps my acquaintance is telling the truth and he sincerely believes that voting for the fascists is a way of protesting. But lending support to reactionary British nationalism and overt racism will achieve nothing. He rightly countered that a protest vote for a left-wing party wouldn’t mean much either, and by doing so he conceded that his protest was passive rather than active.

The difference between a protest vote for the far right and the far left is great, as I explained to him. The reactionary politics of the BNP play into the hands of the ruling class, who seek to divide workers and undermine class unity. There is culpability on the part of those who vote BNP, of course. But my own discussions with people who have or would vote for a fascist party lead me to believe that the construction of an inclusive English national identity is of great importance.

In the coming years the Union of England and Scotland may come undone. The civic nationalism of the SNP may succeed in creating an independent Scotland, leaving the English with an identity crisis as Britain falls apart. The British national identity has been fostered by the ruling class over the last two centuries and exists in opposition to the sense of Englishness, Scottishness, etc. felt by working class people.

The Union flag, the monarchy, and the Empire are the hallmarks of British nationalism, and the discourse of “greatness” seeps into the political representation of English civic nationalism, as expressed in the English Democrats Party. This is perhaps because the issue of English identity has been neglected by socialists, though this might be a marginal factor in the choice of language used by the EDP!

Socialists of England unite?
Groups who tailed Labour never challenged the British nationalism of the party, and to this day the suggestion that there could be or should be a progressive patriotism (made most notably by the singer Billy Bragg) is met with disdain. The seemingly inclusive sense of Britishness pushed upon immigrants from the external colonies of the Empire was tolerated, perhaps because of this association with Labour. Most definitely, hostility to the inclusive nationalisms of the internal colonies of Wales and Scotland was motivated more by loyalty to Labour than the policies of Plaid or the SNP.

The “party question” has always been a fault-line on the left –I will take it as given that most socialists are outside and against the Labour party, whether in the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party, but I will leave the organisational issue to one side. For a time there was a single socialist party in Scotland which could have provided inspiration for a similar organisation in England, but now we must come to terms with the slow death of the Union and consider our approach to England.

Briefly, I will say that the problem socialists in England have with the issue of national identity rests with the confusion between England and Britain – a deliberate mix-up on the part of the ruling class, I might add. England is not a political entity – there is no English parliament to match the devolution in the other nations of the UK. Whether socialists speak or remain silent on the matter, the debate about devolution for England will proceed. It is not enough to say that Scottish or Welsh independence won’t happen or will only result in EU domination, and the silence on the English question is indefensible.

If we wish to see an inclusive and progressive English national identity, we must open our mouths. Constitutional affairs must be given parity with “economic” struggles and the left in England must adapt to the reality and process of devolution and make the case for a socialist England.

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21 Responses to “On migration, racism, and identity”

  1. Alan Jones Says:

    Charlie, concerning Immigration, read my story!!!
    Email: alanindyfed@yahoo.co.uk

    My wife and I were married almost 14 years ago in Manila, Philippines, and we have two children, Justin (12) and Martin (3). Until May 2006 we had been living overseas, and were granted residence in Cyprus, then Ireland and then Spain. We came to the UK last year for the sake of the children’s education.
    My wife entered the UK on a Visitor’s visa and applied to the Home Office for residence and this was refused. We were informed that she had to return to her home country, the Philippines, and apply for settlement from there. She had to leave by February 10th, and she left with Martin on 23 January 2007. On applying for settlement at the British consulate in Manila she was informed that the process would take 13 weeks. As she already had temporary residence in Spain and this was due to expire in April 2007 she decided to fly to Spain to renew residence there and apply for permanent residence, in order that she could then apply for British residence from Spain. She left Martin with relatives in the Philippines, and later returned to collect him and bring him to Spain.
    She commenced her application for renewal of Spanish residence but was informed that her husband had to be present for signatures and approval, and the only date that available from the Spanish authorities was July 11th 2007, as they have a strict appointments system. I agreed to fly to Spain for a few days to assist the application, as my wife would have otherwise been deported back to the Philippines, along with Martin. I arranged for Malcolm Davies, a trusted friend, to keep a watchful eye on Justin who was attending his last week at school, and to check on him every day, which he did. I know Justin to be responsible and to look after himself in the house.
    I spent five days in Spain attending to my wife’s application and signing documents at the Ministry in Malaga. However it will take three more months before the process of obtaining full permanent residence will be complete. On my return to Wales on Saturday, 14th July, I found that Justin was no longer at the house, and a note had been delivered requesting me to contact the Police. The local Police at Burry Port informed me that he had been taken from the house the previous day and taken to a foster home in Ammanford. I was to await a visit from Social Services on Monday.
    I am a responsible parent and have cared for my son alone for six months while awaiting my wife and second son to join us in the UK. We have resided legitimately in Cyprus, Ireland and Spain with resident status at different times over the past 12 years and have had no problems. This situation has arisen as a result of the stringent British immigration laws which have prevented my family from being together in the UK, yet these laws admit all kinds of undesirables and criminals into Britain. It now appears that it will take several months more for my family to be reunited, as the immigration for settlement process takes several weeks, after the granting of residential status in Spain, which as stated earlier will be three months in process.

    Alan S. Jones – Porth Tywyn. Dyfed

  2. charliemarks Says:

    The immigration and asylum laws are riduculous. I’ve yet to hear of Australian students getting rounded up and put in detention centres. At the same time however, British capitalism needs the cheap labour of exploited migrant workers, and has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people from the former socialist countries in europe to come to work in the UK. Many settled workers feel aggrieved about this, but that is because of a low level of class consciousness… the unions have been pro-active on signing up migrant workers and encouraging workers’ unity.

  3. lee Says:

    Communism has failed.
    Fascism has failed.
    Christianity is dead.
    Ethnic nationalism will have its day soon!

  4. charliemarks Says:

    Erm, communism has failed? What do you mean by communism? Failed In what way?

    Fascism has failed? What do you mean by fascism? Failed in what way?

    Christianity is dead? Not to the millions of christians…

    Ah, now ethnic nationalism? What do you mean by this?

    An ethnic group shares cultural, linguistic, and religious qualities. Ethnicity is discrete from the concept of race; a racial group shares physical features, such as skin colour. Nationalism was originally the doctrine that nations should be self-governing.

    I think lee, that you are a narrow-minded racist…

  5. lee Says:

    That’s it…close down discussion by calling me a racist. All I want to do is live in peace in England with my fellow Englishmen and Englishwomen without being overwhelmed by the millions of immigrants that have settled in this country. Communism, Fascism, capitalism and Christianity (or any other religion) area all globalist philosophies which I want no part of. If you think this makes me a fascist, you are mistaken and need to research the actual meaning of ‘ethnic nationalism.’

  6. charliemarks Says:

    Lee, I’m not interested in closing down debate — I just think your blog reads as if written by a racist, I didn’t call you a fascist. Are you an anti-racist like myself, then?

    I’m glad that you replied, by the way. I did ask what you meant by communism and fascism, etc, because they are loaded with different meanings, and I don’t understand what you meant by ethnic nationalism.

    “Britishness” is wholly reactionary, in my opinion, because it relates to Empire and to a denial of national culture (Irish, Scottish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and English)

    I think that Englishness is not about race or religion (I am an agnostic, somewhat anti-clerical but not antireligious, by the way) but about feeling English, living in England, etc. Do you agree?

    As a socialist, I think that working people should control the economy, not a parasitic capitalist class. What is your position on the economy as an ethnic nationalist?

  7. On the Price of migration, capitalism, and England « Rebellion Sucks! = a blog for socialism & self-determination Says:

    […] wrote as much in an essay “On migration, racism, and identity” which I wrote in July of this year: Sudden demographic changes can lead working people to […]

  8. Harry the Harry Says:

    quote: Calling these people racist or insinuating a racial subtext doesn’t help matters: my worry is that racism will become a positive label, a badge worn with pride. Instead of people starting off a rant with “I’m not a racist, but…” they will be upfront about it. Assuming critics of immigration policies are racist is as mistaken as assuming critics of the US government are anti-American or critics of Israel are Judeophobic or against the Israeli people.

    You can’t have it both ways: if you believe those Brits who DO oppose immigration on racial grounds are racist, then you are ‘against the British people’ – to use your phrase – since you won’t permit yourself to support that particular group’s efforts at survival free of forced racial and cultural transformation.

    The Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet movement are precisely the moral equivalents of Griffin and the BNP on the ethnic-national question and the type of threats their peoples face, though I accept the Chinese use hard totalitarian tactics and our Govt. soft-totalitarian.

    Consistency demands you either accept ethnocide (not genocide) to be morally neutral, or else support every peoples efforts at establishing secure control of their territories and defence of their communities.

  9. charliemarks Says:

    But Harry, my point was that not everyone who opposes further mass immigration does so for racist reasons, hence opposition to mass imigration should not be equated with racism.

    The BNP lump opposition to the EU and its policy of open borders with ethnic nationalism – British nationalism, note – though I gather they’re working more on the anti-Muslim angle nowadays.

    The point about “Free Tibet” is about national self-determination, not ethnicity. The Chinese government argue Tibet is an autonomous region of China, those who favour independence argue China is treating Tibet as a colony.

    Does the BNP believe Britain is a colony and the British face ethnic cleansing?

    I don’t accept that there is a British nation or a homogenous British people that faces oppression at the hands of an imperial power – the BNP are in a minority with Gordon Brown in believing in Britain and the British.

  10. Harry the Harry Says:

    But Harry, my point was that not everyone who opposes further mass immigration does so for racist reasons, hence opposition to mass imigration should not be equated with racism.

    My point was that if you attack as racist those who oppose further mass immigration for racial reasons you are by definition ‘against’ that people’s right to survive without being transformed racially and culturally. You are ‘against’ that people as a specific people. You are the racist.

    The BNP lump opposition to the EU and its policy of open borders with ethnic nationalism – British nationalism, note – though I gather they’re working more on the anti-Muslim angle nowadays.

    I would rather they were English nationalists and opposed all forms of universalism as vocally as they oppose Islam.

    The point about “Free Tibet” is about national self-determination, not ethnicity. The Chinese government argue Tibet is an autonomous region of China, those who favour independence argue China is treating Tibet as a colony.

    False.

    Statement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

    http://www.freetibet.org/info/file/file7.html

    I have made it clear that negotiations must centre around ways to end China’s population transfer policy which threatens the survival of the Tibetan people; the respect for fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms of the Tibetans; the demilitarisation and de-nuclearisation of Tibet; the restoration of control to the Tibetan people of all matters affecting their own affairs; and the protection of the natural environment. I have always emphasised that any negotiations must comprise the whole of Tibet, not just the area which China calls the “Tibet Autonomous Region.”

    I am deeply concerned about the Chinese Government’s intentions with regard to Tibet. Official Chinese statements are aimed at confusing the real issues and delaying any substantial discussion on the problem. While repeating the position that China is prepared to negotiate, the Chinese Government continues to seek a “final solution” to the question of Tibet: the flooding of Tibet with Chinese settlers so as to entirely overpower and assimilate the Tibetan people. This concern is heightened by the revelation last week of a secret meeting held on 12 May in Sichuan, in which a dual strategy was agreed upon by the Chinese authorities in order to suppress Tibetan resistance:

    1. To transfer ever larger numbers of Chinese into Tibet in order to make it demographically “impossible for the Tibetans to rise up”; and

    2. To manipulate important Tibetan religious persons, to infiltrate religious institutions and to create divisions in the Tibetan movement.

    If the Chinese Government is sincere about negotiating a solution to the question of Tibet, it must unequivocally reverse this decision, not only in words, but in practice. I call on the Chinese Government to start negotiations without delay and without preconditions.

    Does the BNP believe Britain is a colony and the British face ethnic cleansing?

    I’ll pass on the first, say yes to the second. I’m not a BNP spokesman – I just defend the rights of British peoples to survive unmolested in their homelands.

    I don’t accept that there is a British nation or a homogenous British people that faces oppression at the hands of an imperial power – the BNP are in a minority with Gordon Brown in believing in Britain and the British.

    You do not believe the English exist? They are ‘a’ British nation. Who oppresses them, and ignores their claim on England?

    I do agree that the belief in ‘Britain’ is misguided.

  11. charliemarks Says:

    If you agree that the belief in Britain is misguided, you should stop using the adjective “British”.

    Who is ethnicly cleansing people in this country? Where is the racial and cultural threat?

    Now, I’d count myself as English – I’ve only ever lived in England, but my family are from Ireland and other parts of Europe. There are people of all races and religions who consider themselves English – do you doubt their nationality?

  12. Harry the Harry Says:

    If you agree that the belief in Britain is misguided, you should stop using the adjective “British”.

    I thought I was clearly and specifically expressing disagreement with the idea of a single ‘British’ people, but affirming that Britain – a physical place – contains things, including ‘a’ people, the English.

    For the record I do believe Britain exists – and that the particular human societies of it can be said to be British. Don’t you?

    Who is ethnicly cleansing people in this country? Where is the racial and cultural threat?

    The government and immigrants. Everywhere.

    Now, I’d count myself as English – I’ve only ever lived in England, but my family are from Ireland and other parts of Europe. There are people of all races and religions who consider themselves English – do you doubt their nationality?

    I don’t know your nationality, I only know that you oppose my nationalism Mr. Marks, why is that?

    You’re asking me to comment on the position of people I cannot possibly know the circumstances of in the mistaken belief that the fact some people live in England yet are not English refutes the existence of an English people.

    If you want to make the claim that NO peoples exist a good target to attack is the English since they are one of the most long-surviving and historically documented. But how do you attack them without acknowledging them? That’s the only problem you’ve shared with us Mr. Marks.

    Is that an English name btw?

  13. Harry the Harry Says:

    I would better have phrased it:

    How do you deny their existence without acknowledging them?

  14. charliemarks Says:

    I don’t deny the existence of the English – I am English. I am born in England of Irish immigrants. Yet I am English. Is this desputed by you?

  15. Harry the Harry Says:

    My goodness, haven’t you withdrawn your argument to quite a staggering degree.

    Now our debate is reduced to whether or not you are English by my standard.

    My answer is no.

    Over the centuries there have been Irish individuals who assimilated into the English community, but you are evidently not one of them (in fact you’re evidently not Irish).

    You proudly declaim your multi-ethnicity and your loyalty to an ideal community non-people-specific. Have it, you’re entitled to it. But you aren’t entiltled to our country or our title – England and the name “English” belong to us.

  16. Harry the Harry Says:

    I reiterate:

    Consistency demands you either accept ethnocide (not genocide) to be morally neutral, or else support every peoples efforts at establishing secure control of their territories and defence of their communities.

    Which is it?

  17. charliemarks Says:

    My loyalty is to the majority of people in England – the English working class. I am sorry if you have a problem with my being English – I am not sorry if you cannot accept me as English, for I do not seek acceptance from bigots.

    You are going to have to accept that the nationalisms of Wales, Scotland, and England are civic – about national self-determination, not ethnicity.

    Enthnocide is not occuring in this country. The purpose of structural immigration is to provide capitalists with cheap workers, thus holding down wage demands through increased competition in the labour market, it is not a policy of wiping out the settled population.

  18. Harry the Harry Says:

    “My loyalty is to the majority of people in England – the English working class. I am sorry if you have a problem with my being English – I am not sorry if you cannot accept me as English, for I do not seek acceptance from bigots.”

    Are the bigots those of diverse backgrounds and origins who insist on appropriating the name, territory, cultural heritage, and common goods of a specific native people; or are the bigots the people who stay at home and say live-and-let-live, but what’s ours is ours? Hmm, tough question.

    You are going to have to accept that the nationalisms of Wales, Scotland, and England are civic – about national self-determination, not ethnicity.

    I don’t accept that those movements are nationalisms. If I wanted civic “nationalism” I’d be right behind the govt’s British project, not preparing their Plan B. for when the people start to act like people.

    Enthnocide is not occuring in this country. The purpose of structural immigration is to provide capitalists with cheap workers, thus holding down wage demands through increased competition in the labour market, it is not a policy of wiping out the settled population.

    My purpose in driving over the pavement and cutting that corner was not to mow down the pedestrians, I simply wanted to get to work earlier and boost productivity. Yes, I knew that people were there, and yes, I regularly kill a few people on my way to work, but I’m NOT a psychopath.

  19. charliemarks Says:

    Harry, I give up. This isn’t going anywhere.

  20. Australia visa Says:

    I’m a 25 year old professional teacher. Came to London 2 years ago to improve my English, met the love of my life and overstayed my visa. Why? Because my boyfriend was ‘illegal’, just as i am now, and knowing how hard it was to get my visa, i knew that it was a 50/50 chance for us to be together again had i gone back home, i just couldn’t risk it. He is a failed assylum seeker, has been here for almost 10 years now. A criminal, who has not commited any crime, waitnig any time to be punished for God knows what. He also is the most hardworking and decent guy i’ve ever known, and every day i respect and love him more. We dream of getting married and having children, we want to meet each over’s families – all we want is a normal and happy life together. We both work full time; he pays taxes, i don’t. We are a social couple with many friends, both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’, they know about our circumstances and symathise us to the point when we’ve been offered ‘marriages of convinience’ by some of our british and european friends. I do believe that the majority of so called ‘illegal immigrants’ deserve to become sitizens, many of them have earned this right and can prove it. I’d like to say thank you to people who support the regularisation and i hope for the best.

  21. Barry Says:

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    – Imigração em Geral
    – Apelação contra Recusa do Visto
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