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Anti-Racism and the Fight against the Bosses’ Immigration Controls

Socialist Internationalism or National Chauvinism?

The questions of fighting racism and stopping the fascists organising are key for any socialist. Our Socialist Labour Party must champion the rights of all immigrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers and seek unity of all workers. An important part of this fight is campaigning against immigration controls imposed by ‘our’ British ruling class (and their related import controls). The SLP must fight reactionary and divisive demands such as ‘British jobs for British workers’ or ‘Buy British, boycott foreign goods’. These demands tie workers in Britain to the British bosses, and turn worker against worker. This is why, in the end, they are the deadly rallying cries of the fascist gangs. Socialists must educate and agitate that capital is international, and so must labour be. The working class cannot win on a national basis alone.

The debate in our party around our attitude to the immigration controls of the British capitalist state has been heated since our founding Congress in May 1996. There has also been much upset about the one-year residency clause in our founding constitution. Both issues will be debated at our second national Congress in December.

Race and class are closely entwined in an imperialist state like Britain, for historical and material reasons, from the time of slavery and colonialism to today. Comrade Imran Khan put it well:

‘There is not a single area of life untouched by racism in this country.... What is also clear is that the fight against racism is inextricably linked to the fight against capitalism.’ (Socialist News no.1, Sept 1996)

The position we take on immigration and anti-racism will help determine whether our SLP goes forward towards being an internationalist workers party, or goes backward towards becoming a nationalist, social chauvinist party of the Labourite type.

The historical roots of racist ideologies

Racism is not primarily a question of ‘bad’ people or ‘bad’ ideas, although it is necessary to oppose such ideas through anti-racist propaganda and education. Racism is an ideology reflecting the material reality of the British bosses’ history of colonial plunder and imperialist development through their Empire. This ideology aided their exploitation of peoples around the globe by defining them as ‘uncivilised’ or ‘un-Christian’.

The tremendous wealth stolen and created by British colonialism and imperialism allowed the ascendant British capitalist class to buy off the working class at home with higher living conditions, crumbs from ‘our’ masters’ table. Racism permeated deep into the consciousness of the working class in Britain, and was openly used to divide English from Irish workers, and British from dark-skinned workers in the colonies.

Britain today is a multi-national island, a former colonial power and a declining imperialist power. Today the SLP and all socialists must fight to overcome all racial divisions in the working class in Britain. We must win British workers to see that Black workers here and abroad are a key party of the forces capable of destroying this racist, capitalist system. The SLP must stand up clearly against English chauvinism and British racism. We must break white workers from racism through common work in the class struggle, and block the appeal of the fascist gangs.

It is still common for dark-skinned people, immigrants and refugees from civil wars and communal massacres to be harassed by white racists, or to be killed by the police or fascists. Remember Joy Gardiner, a Jamaican mother killed by suffocation during a struggle with police officers deporting her from her north London home in July 1993. Remember Stephen Lawrence, a Black youth murdered by a gang of white racists in south east London. And many more. The SLP must campaign to stop racist harassment and to stop racist murders!

The bosses’ legal system and immigration

The legal system has always reflected the class interests of the ruling class, and indeed the need for laws reflects the tensions between the classes. Socialists support campaigns to reform oppressive laws, such as the Asylum Act, whilst pointing out these are preliminary skirmishes in the war to overthrow the rule of the capitalist class.

Immigration law has always been determined by the requirements of the capitalist economy. Initially the needs of the British capitalists for extra labour in their expanding industries was supplied by dragging the rural poor to the growing towns, and then from their oldest and nearest colony, Ireland.

After the slaughter and destruction of the Second World War the British economy needed rebuilding, and expanded again in the post-war boom, and was once again short of labour. Kick-started with help from American capitalism, and conscious of the need to curb Soviet expansion in Europe, and counter rising Communist influence in west Europe, the British capitalists looked to their colonies for more labour. They actively recruited in the West Indies and on the Indian sub-continent for cheap labour to fill up the jobs British workers could now afford to turn down. When the HMS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury on 22 June 1948 and 492 Jamaican workers came ashore, the London Evening Standard headlined ‘Welcome Home’! And jobs were found straight away for 202 skilled workers! These immigrant workers filled vacant jobs in transport, the health service, factories and mills. Contrast this with the treatment of Black workers arriving today, to get some idea of how British bosses use racism to suit their own convenience.

By the late 1950s the demand for extra labour was slowing down, and racist resentment over competition for homes and jobs was fuelled into racist riots like Notting Hill, west London in 1958. But immigration continued from India, Pakistan and east Africa in the 1960–70s, and from Bangladesh in the 1980s. By 1962 we see the Tories pass the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, the first in a whole raft of ever-tightening immigration controls. There was also rising popular racism against ‘unwanted foreigners’. These immigration controls were overtly racist as their aim was to restrict and prevent Black and Asian immigrants from the colonies, even though most people held British passports! The descendants of white settlers in the former colonies would not be subject to the same immigration restrictions as Black indigenous peoples. These racist controls succeeded and primary immigration has been zero for many years.

The formation of the Labour Party, half a step forward

In 1900 the Labour Representation Committee was formed to represent organised labour, the trades unions, in the bosses’ Parliament, and in 1906 this became the British Labour Party. Undoubtedly, this was a step forward for working class independence as

it was a break with the bosses’ Liberal Party. But the Labour Party was never avowedly socialist and was always politically backward . It was and remains, just, to this day what Marxists call a bourgeois workers party, i.e. pro-capitalist in policy and leadership, but proletarian in the mass of its members and supporters – a contradictory party, representing two antagonistic classes.

While British capitalism was wealthy and expanding the Labour Party could be pressured by the masses into granting reforms of the worst effects of capitalism. Some important reforms were won. But the Labour Party never fought for socialism and always, in the end, supported the British ruling class.

British Labour Party supports racism and capitalism

The Labour Party, true to its capitalist masters, supported, and when in government, introduced many exclusionary and racist immigration controls against Black and foreign-born workers. In 1965 Labour prime minister Harold Wilson renewed the Tories’ 1962 Act, specifically adding a rule restricting ‘coloured immigration’. In 1968 the Wilson Labour government brought in another Act, which banned Kenyan Asians, who held British passports, from entering Britain. In 1971 the Tories banned primary immigration altogether. After 1974 Labour home secretary Merlyn Rees introduced the hated ‘virginity tests’ on Asian women arriving to marry their fiancees!

The SLP was born out of a fight against the Labour Party, and was founded upon principles of socialist struggle. But we must break with social democratic policies, otherwise we will end up, like the Labour Party, supporting this racist capitalist system. Reformism leads to national chauvinism, and our socialism must be different, it must be internationalist.

The foundation of the Socialist Labour Party and our constitution

At our founding Congress there was no debate on our draft constitution, and most comrades were not aware of its details. Now most comrades have seen it and realise that many parts need improving and reforming. One clause, amongst others, that urgently needs changing at our next congress in December is Clause 2, part 6:

‘Individual members shall be persons who have resided in Wales, Scotland, England or Ireland for more than one year and who...’ (emphasis added)

This exclusionary clause should be scrapped. The SLP is strongest in the main cities where there are large, militant immigrant communities. People from these communities must be welcome to join our Party, to strengthen our fight for socialism. Anyone who wants to fight for socialism should be able to join our SLP as soon as they step onto these shores at the port, airport, station or beach. The clause should be replaced with: ‘Individual members shall be persons living or working in Wales, Scotland, England or Ireland.’ Clearly, we should welcome any prospective members as soon as they arrive!

The party debates anti-racism and immigration policy

At our pre-launch policy conference in March 1996 a draft anti-racism policy was written. This policy document was then taken to our founding Congress in May 1996. This policy document rightly commits our Party to an anti-racist position. However, there were flaws, specifically with one demand:

‘The area of immigration is one of the most overtly racist aspects of British law. The SLP will scrap the Asylum Bill and re-examine in the cold light of day all existing immigration controls within the framework of establishing a humane and non-racist immigration system. A socialist Britain would welcome Asylum seekers who are in flight from any oppressive regime without restriction.’ (Socialist Labour: Our Policies, 1996, emphasis added)

Many comrades from South London, Manchester and Birmingham put forward a number of amendments to this policy of keeping ‘humane’ and ‘non-racist’ immigration controls. They rightly pointed out that given the historical legacy of British colonialism and imperialism it is impossible to have ‘humane’ exclusion or to have ‘non-racist’ discrimination. One Asian comrade powerfully stated she had left the Labour Party precisely because it supported immigration controls, and she expected the SLP to oppose all the capitalist parties’ immigration laws.

Comrade Brian Heron defended the existing policy against the amendments, arguing that Cuba had immigration controls, and that Britain would need them, citing a hypothetical mass exodus of rightist white South Africans escaping a workers’ revolution there. This seems to almost deliberately confuse the question that was being debated. Does the SLP defend or oppose the British capitalist state’s immigration laws? Yes or no? Socialists clearly do not advise the capitalist class in Britain how best to keep foreign-born workers out. This is ABC for any socialist! The SLP should loudly and proudly oppose all capitalist immigration laws.

On the other hand there is Cuba, a deformed workers state. Socialists defend Cuba from capitalist counter-revolution and attack. Cuba belongs to the international working class, despite its leadership. It has the right to defend itself and this mean it must tightly police its borders as it is encircled by hostile capitalist enemies led by the US. This means restricting immigration and more importantly emigration of its trained professionals and skilled workers.

Down with all capitalist immigration controls!

The SLP should be against all capitalist Britain’s immigration laws, and for the right of Cuba to defend and police its borders. There is no contradiction here, as Britain and Cuba are two different, antagonistic, types of state. In capitalist Britain all immigration controls are necessarily discriminatory, racist and anti-working class.

People do not lightly uproot themselves and move across the globe. They will have good reason. They could be refugees fleeing persecution at home like the Jewish people early this century escaping pogroms in eastern Europe. The first legal regulation of immigration into the UK this century, the Aliens Act 1905, was aimed at such Jewish refugees, and Britain’s objection was that they might be a burden on the state! Or they could be refugees fleeing communalist massacres such as in the former Yugoslavia, or in Rwanda and Zaire/Congo. Socialists should campaign for the right of refugees from racist or right-wing persecution to enter Britain.

We oppose the capitalists’ immigration laws for many of the same reasons the capitalists support them. Our interest are opposite. Most people who try to come to Britain are refugees from terror or economic migrants escaping poverty at home. They are mainly working people, and they will strengthen our class here. They will strengthen our links with workers and socialist parties in such places as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. The capitalists oppose their entry because they are poor, and if they don’t require the extra labour see them only as a drain on their economy.

We do not demand the ‘right’ of rightist, white South Africans to come en masse to the UK. The SLP would not be pleased about such possibilities. But it is not socialists’ job to design ideal immigration laws for the bosses. We do not run this country. We would rather campaign for real solidarity, such as blocking armed intervention against a South African workers state.

The SLP should be very clear on opposing capitalist immigration laws and harassment of our foreign-born comrade workers. Any SLP local councillor who does not oppose any sacking or police roundup of so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants, however ‘humanely’ or ‘non-racially’, should be denounced and expelled immediately as a traitor. Any future SLP MP who does not oppose all capitalist immigration laws, however ‘liberal’, should also be denounced and expelled immediately as a traitor.

In a future Socialist Britain we would have to have strict border controls, both emigration and immigration controls, to survive in a hostile capitalist world.

Let’s be clear, a socialist Britain could only happen if our class had taken state power. This would not mean a ‘left’ Labour government. Can anyone possibly think the election of the Blair New Labour government means Britain is in any way socialist? This would not even be the election of a SLP government under capitalism, as in order to survive such a government would have to mobilise the working class to dismantle the old capitalist state and replace it with the direct rule of the working class. Socialists in Britain would only support border and immigration controls if the class nature of the British state had changed to a workers state. And then we wouldn’t be keeping immigrants out so much as hostile armed forces!

Full citizenship rights for all immigrants

The comrades who rightly opposed ‘humane’ and ‘non-racist’ immigration controls narrowly lost the debate by only 68 votes at the founding Congress in May 1996.

Some comrades who opposed capitalist immigration laws went on though, perhaps in over enthusiasm, to call for an ‘open the borders’ policy. This sounds radical and does reflects a better impulse than those who defended ‘humane’ controls, but it is nevertheless mistaken, because it is utopian. Until socialism eliminates the ancient problem of economic scarcity it is impossible to abolish the state, even in an economically advanced workers state. So it would be impossible to abolish or open the borders.

This is why, instead of the slogan ‘open the borders’ Marxists call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and foreign-born workers. We demand an end to all deportations, and for the closure of all detention centres like Harmondsworth, Campsfield and Haslar. About 10,000 people are detained under Immigration Act powers each year and detentions can last from minutes to months. The SLP must take the above demands into the trades unions as part of our fight for socialism.

Break with New Labour, and fight labourism within our party

The Tories led a frontal attack on all working class gains from the welfare state to the trades unions and campaigned against what Thatcher called ‘swamping’ by dark-skinned workers from overseas. In the May general election the hated and vindictive Tories were swept from office. So far, so good – but instead we now have Tony Blair and a New Labour government!

Blair spent the last few years gutting the Labour Party of any socialist pretensions, transforming it into New Labour to appeal to floating and middle-class voters. He turned his back on Labour’s traditional working-class base and Black community supporters.

Our Socialist Labour Party stood up for basic socialist principles when it counted, and correctly stood against New Labour in the recent general election. We are now in a good position to grow politically and numerically.

New Labour in government is wasting no time showing its true colours. Their Immigration Minister Mike O’Brien denounced his Tory predecessor for doing nothing to ensure deportation orders for failed asylum-seekers and so-called ‘illegal’ entrants were carried out. New Labour’s Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an immediate increase in the rate at which ‘illegal’ entrants are removed from the UK. This moved the Daily Telegraph (16 July), no less, to agree that despite tough talking during Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard’s time, the Tories were not prepared to enforce their own rules. But Labour is happy to do so! Immigrant welfare groups are rightly alarmed as up to 50,000 people could be affected.

We say to any socialists still in the New Labour Party – now is the time to break with Blair and his ‘one nation’ Liberalism. Don’t wait to be kicked out by the ever tightening reforms! Blair is gunning for the trades unions link at their stage-managed rally, sorry, conference, in October. Join the fightback for socialist principles and class independence now, with the SLP!

SLP Marxists will continue to press for socialist internationalism, and to engage comrades still influenced by Old Labourism and reformism in political debate. Comrades who cannot see beyond the existing divisions of the world, and who believe that workers in the UK should support measures against labour from poorer countries are taking the wrong road. The SLP should learn from the experiences of earlier fighters for Black freedom and socialism, like the 1920s Communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala, the 1930s Trotskyist CLR James and the 1960s founder of the Notting Hill Carnival Claudia Jones. Workers of the world unite in the fight for global socialism!