3 September 2015 — Lenin’s Tomb
Dead children by Richard Seymour
My social media feeds are filled with dead children. Small bodies, washing up on the shores of a Mediterranean beach.
Why are they washing up on the shores? European governments want us to blame traffickers. The advantage of blaming traffickers is that it actually licenses those governments to implement even more repressive measures. But traffickers are only out to make a quick buck off the system that European governments have created.
At long last, there is a backlash. People may get swept up in racist propaganda, but no one likes to think of themselves as so brutally inhumane that they’d let cheerfully let children drown at sea. The European governments are being shamed into accepting some refugees, although the British government remains intransigent. The Financial Times reports:
During the negotiations on relocating 40,000 refugees earlier this summer, one EU diplomat said British officials joked that they would take zero people “and double that if they were really pushed”.
But it’s important to say that these refugees only constitute a small minority of the immigrants within and to the European Union. The success of anti-immigrant racism depends on us accepting the idea that Europe “can’t take” so many migrants. But the fact is that most immigrants to Europe arrive by air, with work visas. When you see statistics claiming a large number of “illegal immigrants”, the majority of that is migrants whose visa ran out while they were at their work placement.
Thus, it is not that Europe “can’t take” the number of immigrants that arrive, which consideration can only be temporarily set aside in emergencies. It is that European economies need, and depend upon the immigrants that arrive. The determination of the European Union to maintain a ‘fortress’ has nothing to do with the supposed material burden that refugees place upon the those states, and far more to do with the political management of the labour force.
But in setting up non-nationals as parasites, as a burden, as usurpers of national resources, and so on, European governments and their loyal media are generating a dangerous political fantasy.
Ultimately, if migrants coming here are a problem, then the ones who are already here (first, second or third generation, depending on how one is racially coded) must also be a problem. No matter that they have citizenship, the mere fact that we put up with such a burden, according to this logic, is a sign of ‘our’ benevolence, generosity and tolerance.
But that can only be pushed so far, and in moments of crisis, when the economy is depressed, when newspapers tell us that Europe is being driven to the bring of ‘civil war’ by immigration, when cultural diversity is no longer a bland multicultural shibboleth but actually fighting talk… well, if ‘they’ are a problem, wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow, not have to live with ‘them’ any more? That’s the fantasy which ultimately grounds support for Farageism, Trumpism, or at worst Marine Le Pen and the Golden Dawn.
And that is also the limitation of humanitarianism in this situation. As I see it, it is not that despite all the racism and xenophobia some baseline, fundamental human sympathy has kicked in.
Rather, what we are witnessing playing out is what in good old-fashioned marxist terminology might be called the contradictions of the dominant ideology. The liberal-humanitarian element of European ideology has come into stark and obvious conflict with the nationalist and racist elements.
And it is good that the liberal-humanitarian reflex is prevailing for now. That does give anti-racists a breathing space to and an angle from which to attack the fortress: for now, the slogan “Refugees are welcome here” has a clear resonance. But it doesn’t in itself affect the underlying ideological coordinates according to which immigrants are a burden, and a menace, and a problem population to be controlled.
We shouldn’t expect the momentary shock of devastation and disaster to do our political work for us.