The sound of clanging doors: European migration summit marks a dangerous turning point

Immigrants: These are our children!

A World to Win News Service for 1 July 2018 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.

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The sound of clanging doors:
European migration summit marks a dangerous turning point

1 July 2018. A World to Win News Service. The late June meeting of European Union country leaders may well mark a dangerous turning point. The vagueness and lack of detail in their signed agreement, and the secrecy surrounding the heated night-long joint session, are not just a reflection of unresolved clashes about how the accord could be implemented. They are also an attempt to cloak the radical and threatening change represented by what they seem to have agreed. That noise growing louder as if some future cataclysm were growing nearer is the slamming shut of borders, the clanging of prison doors and the nailing of coffins.

One of the two main concrete measures adopted is to set up special prisons (“controlled centres” for “secure processing”) to hold most visa-less people arriving in Europe and ensure that the few inmates not deemed “worthy of international protection” can be expelled. The other is the establishment of “regional disembarkation platforms” in Africa that can only be correctly described as concentration camps or killing grounds for the dumping of those captured before reaching Europe or deported afterwards.

What was first planned as a “mini-summit” was not scheduled to focus on immigration. That changed when representatives of the new fascist coalition government in Italy announced it would block any agreement on anything unless the attending heads of government agreed to meet its demand: that instead of migrants being considered the problem of the country where they first reach Europe, all EU countries should agree to a common “solution”.

Italy’s president walked out halfway through a one-on-one meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen as the main resistance to fundamental changes in EU migration policies. His insubordination sprang from more than the arrogance of the new coalition government in which the fascist party, although representing only a quarter of the voters, has gained the upper hand. Merkel, once the most powerful EU figure, was (and remains) vulnerable because her own Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has been threatening to bring her government down around the immigration issue. He has specifically warned that he would pull the roof down around them both if this summit didn’t end in an agreement to his liking. The results have been touted as a victory for the “Axis of the Willing”, a loose, informal grouping of Central European countries, Italy and political forces like Seehofer in the rest of the EU. This deliberately provocative self-chosen name doesn’t mean they intend to rerun the past (“Axis” is a reference to the World War 2 alliance of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan). It signals that its leaders don’t care if they’re called Nazis and fascists. French President Emmanuel Macron and especially Germany’s Merkel may have been less willing and happy about some aspects of the summit’s outcome, but they were not unwilling to go along with it.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that there is no “immigration crisis” in Europe. The number of migrants arriving has been falling sharply and now is only a small fraction of what it was at its peak a few years ago. But there is a political crisis. Fascist-type governments have now rapidly risen to power in Hungry, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy in the last few years. And the summit’s results demonstrate that they are now gaining the upper hand in Europe as a whole, setting the agenda and terms for political debate, at least on the critical issue of migration. This situation has come about not only because of the growing strength of more or less open fascists, but also because “centre-right” governing parties, in Germany, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere, have accepted these terms: that the question of the day is how to keep out migrants. This is described as something forced on these governments by their citizens’ concerns, but far more importantly, it’s what these governments, the media and other manufacturers of public opinion are telling citizens to think.

The defeat of fascist parties in elections in the past year is a key reason why Merkel and especially Macron are in office. Yet ironically, the deeply cynical Merkel appointed Seehofer to oversee immigration not despite his well-known fascist sympathies but because of them, in an attempt to appease supporters of the neo-Nazi AfD party and stabilise her coalition government.. Macron’s French government has enacted anti-immigration legislation and carried out inhuman treatment of migrants despite other laws to the contrary, also in the name of keeping the far right from profiting from “the immigration crisis”. The main result in most places has been to further legitimize and embolden fascist forces. This is happening on a European and to some extent global level, with Trump egging on the assault on Merkel, and leading and being propelled by the process as a whole.

There are others also at work shaping the results of this last-minute EU summit. One reason why the EU couldn’t come up with a concrete plan or even a roadmap for setting up immigrant detention centres in Europe itself is that history and public sentiment make it politically risky to bring back concentration camps on this soil. So far every country wants some other country to volunteer to host European-wide migrant prisons. The model there is some unity on is the migrant camps in Libya – the summit’s final communiqué piously declared that this has proven to be the way to “break the business model of the smugglers, thus preventing tragic loss of life”.

In fact, the EU has simply reversed the traffic flow and increased the number of dead. Instead of making money by extorting and transporting victims bound for Europe, Libyan militias and criminal gangs, armed, financed and recognized by Europe as the country’s “legitimate” government, keep thousands of would-be migrants in official and unofficial prisons. Many have been raped and tortured until their families – contacted via the victim’s phone and sometimes forced to listen to the screams – pay ransom by wire transfer. Others have been sold as slaves. This trade is so lucrative and works so well from the European point of view that the so-called “Libyan Coastguard” put together and led by Italy holds off NGO rescue boats at gunpoint and sometimes even boards these vessels so that they can kidnap the migrants. The summit specifically hailed and pledged stepped-up support for this “Libyan Coast Guard”. Threats are now emerging that any NGO ships that come to migrants’ aid will from now on be charged with a crime.

The summit also endorsed what France has been doing in its wholly-owned colony Niger. It’s using a combination of its money and its military to turn what was until recently a major transit point for global migrants bound for Europe into a giant detention camp. Migrants are delivered from all over Africa, especially by neighbouring Algeria, an unofficial French asset and along with Libya one of the two main exit points for global immigrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Tens of thousands of people have been officially expelled to Niger, and many more have been simply dumped in the deep desert to die. This is also happening in Mali. The International Office for Migration estimates that twice as many people have died and disappeared in the vast desert sands as have drowned in the Mediterranean.

This is what Europe’s “offshore platforms” for “processing asylum seekers” have looked like until now. How far is this from organized mass extermination?
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Immigrants: These are our children!

1 July 2018. A World to Win News Service. Lashing out at protests against the stealing of migrant children from their parents and abuses in detention that include strapping children to chairs with a bag over their head, a prominent U.S. broadcast personality defended this policy by saying, “These aren’t our kids… They’re from another country.”

This is not just a statement of extreme nationalist bigotry. It also represents a head-on attack on the doctrine of universal equality and human rights that has long been the officially proclaimed ideology in Europe and North America. It replaces what many ordinary people have considered right and just, with all its vague inconsistencies and mainly unconscious hypocrisy, with rigorous “racial” moral standards – the “white identity politics” that have not only come to power in Hungry, Austria, Poland., Slovenia, etc., now Italy and above all the U.S., but are setting the terms for debate about values among the “civilized nations” as a whole.

In her book The Nazi Conscience the historian Claudia Koonz examines the relationship between politics and morality. In order to implement their political programme, which eventually included the extermination of Europe’s Jews, Roma (“Gypsies”) and other peoples and groups, including gender non-conforming people and the disabled, the Nazis had to do much more than repress people. They had to overturn most people’s previous moral ideas and the ideals supposedly enshrined by law, along with those laws themselves. Even their ability to massively repress and eventually exterminate required that millions consider it right or at least tolerated it.

Koontz might as well be talking about today’s U.S., Poland and Italy when she describes how Nazi ideologists countered the doctrine of human brotherhood by proclaiming, “Not every being with a human face is a human.” Like today’s fascists, the Nazis set out to train people in what she calls an “ethnic fundamentalism” where the good of one’s “people” determines all ethical choices. A central idea in her book is that in the six years between when the Nazis took power and the beginning of World War, when, under wartime conditions, mass extermination became a reality, millions of Germans who were once merely somewhat prejudiced against Jews were conditioned to consider “the final solution of the Jewish question” a matter of survival for “their people”.

Today the same thing is happening in both countries with mass immigration and in those where there is practically none. The U.S. columnist Paul Krugman has compared Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria about “murderers” and “rapists” “infesting” the country to the “blood libel”, the anti-Semitic lie that Jews ritually sacrifice Christian babies, used as an argument for the extermination of the entire Jewish people in “racial self-defence”. Others have emphasized that there is only a short way, politically, morally and maybe practically, between the mass detention centres for immigrants such as planned by the U.S. and now the European Union, and concentration camps.

Fascism is qualitatively different than capitalist democracy. It resolves the howling contradiction between the reality and the promises of universal human rights by declaring war on the concept of human equality itself. Yet ever since the U.S. and especially the French revolutions proclaimed universal human rights, what has flourished has not been “brotherhood” but relations of exploitation and oppression among human beings.

Take Thomas Jefferson, the author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence that declared “All men are created equal”. Jefferson owned Sally Hemings, who lived and died his slave. They were “family'” biologically. She was his sister-in-law (her slavemaster father was also the father of Jefferson’s deceased “white” wife Martha, to whom she belonged), and became the mother of six of Jefferson’s children. But the only thing that mattered, legally and socially at that time, was that she and her children were Jefferson’s property. He had the right to do whatever he wanted with her and her children, rape or even kill them, just as he had the right to slaughter his livestock for his dinner and cut down his trees for firewood. Whatever affection that may or may not have existed was overruled by a social and legal fact that could allow no exception without the whole system collapsing: all children born to a slave mother became slaves.

As Bob Avakian delves into at some length in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, the democracy Jefferson envisaged and founded was one based on the formal equality (legal rights) between property owners within a social and economic system founded on oppression and exploitation. This was true in his time when the “right to property” Jefferson considered one of the most basic human rights included the right to own other people, not necessarily just because of his personal failings as a human being, as if they were inconsistent with his political outlook. He was a product and representative of a system of property relations that would fall into “convulsions”, as he wrote, if its moral structure were undermined.

This is still true today, when capitalism, based on a social relationship between people in which some people own the means of producing wealth and others have no choice but to sell them their ability to work. Even if they are no longer slaves, in order to be able to live they are obliged to “labour for [the owner’s] happiness”, as Jefferson wrote about his slaves, as if this were right and just. This “fundamental relation of inequality and domination,” as Avakian calls it, has developed into a global system in which “capitalism puts into the hands of individuals, as individual wealth and capital, that which has been produced by all of society – and today, more than ever, this takes place on a worldwide scale.” (BAsics, pp. 176-177) One fundamental feature of this imperialist system is the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor countries. This is the system that arose, as Marx incisively revealed, out of the wealth produced by the kidnapping and selling of Africans and their labour, the working to death of South America’s original population in gold and silver mines, and the looting of Asia.

This system is what has led to the unprecedented and rapidly multiplying numbers of forcibly displaced people around the world, now 65 million, more than half of them children. They include Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis fleeing imperialist-driven wars who have made up the bulk of refugees in Europe, and Central Americans fleeing the violence seeded by U.S. intervention and domination. They also include the millions in Asia, Africa and Latin America whose situation have become lethal as a result of the workings of the global economic system as well as the policies of imperialist-backed governments. Some people, seeking moral justification, try to make a distinction between “refugees” and “economic migrants”. But what morality does this belong to? Why is it considered laudable for some people in the rich countries to aspire to a certain way of life, even if that’s achieved through the exploitation of other people at “home” and abroad, while it’s considered criminal for people in other countries to flee to where that way of life is possible, where the wealth produced by worldwide exploitation is concentrated? Defending today’s war on immigrants means accepting an imperialist nationalist morality in which “we” deserve what “they” don’t because “they” are not “us”.

When today’s fascists talk about “survival”, they mean the survival of this system and especially protecting and advancing their privileged place in it. There is a perverse utility to this “ethnic fundamentalism”: it not only defends the existing property relations, relations of exploitation and oppression, but also prepares a fanatical hard core and people more broadly to accept and participate in the violent restructuring of societies and the world required by today’s convulsions of the global imperialist system.

It is crucial for increasing numbers of people to grasp what is happening today and to do everything possible to stop today’s fascist onslaught, and its programmes and ideology, including its morality, in its tracks. As Avakian writes, “Even in order to make a revolution, this is crucial, as well as for people not to be crushed and demoralized in immediate terms.” (The New Communism, pp. 118-119) This includes the need for people to not become crushed and degraded in their thinking, in what they consider acceptable.

A crucial battleline in that fight is to take a decisive stand right now that the oppressed and exploited everywhere are “our kids”, our sisters and brothers, our family in this fight.
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