Capitalism and Immigration
Method behind madness
It would be wrong to conclude from the foregoing that there is no method in the madness of the ruling bourgeoisie. Immigration controls, with their implied message that immigrants, not capitalism, are the problem, divide the working class by pitting its indigenous section against the foreigners. As such they are a powerful ideological weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie – a weapon directed against the proletariat in its entirety. In addition by creating the conditions for illegal entry of foreign workers, and the resultant distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, these controls create nightmarish conditions for those entering illegally, thus making them the perfect material for super-exploitation, resulting in slave-like working conditions and leading, in a large number of cases, to dependence on criminal gangs, sexual slavery, child prostitution and child labour. They are the source of wage subsidies to the employers and price subsidies to the general public.
Bridget Anderson, the author of an early 2005 TUC report on immigration, clearly demonstrates that conditions of most shameful exploitation, to which foreign workers are often subjected – particularly in the areas of contract cleaning, care homes, construction and agriculture – are crucial to the functioning of the economy. In this report she provides a wealth of detail on the exposure of foreign workers to conditions of forced labour mediated by violence, intimidation, debt bondage, confiscation of identity documents with the resultant restriction of movement, and work permits (if they have any) that bind foreign workers to a particular employer. Capital needs a vast reservoir of workers who can be hired and fired instantly. The Morecambe Bay tragedy of 5 February 2004 when 21 Chinese cocklers were drowned and 58 Chinese would-be immigrants suffocated in the back of a lorry in June 2000 are just two of the examples of the tragic consequences of imperialist immigration controls.
In a remarkably candid article in the Financial Times of 22 November 2003, Mr Christopher Caldwell accused David Blunkett (British Home Secretary at the time, and who had boasted that there was “no obvious limit” to the number of immigrants Britain could absorb) of demagogy for drawing a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigration. And this because “… if mass migration is a natural outgrowth of the global economy, it is precisely illegal immigration – not legal – that provides the economic bonanza. A Bangladeshi physicist who joins a university in Los Angeles or Paris on a work visa will probably produce as much – and get paid as much – as his American or French colleagues. It is his impoverished compatriot, the illiterate Bangladeshi janitress working for less than the minimum wage, who is the revolutionary figure. She and others like her enable lifestyles that would otherwise be impossible.
“You can see why the leftist insistence on the term ‘undocumented immigrant’ for ‘illegal alien’ is not mere political correctness. To call immigrants ‘illegal’ is just to misname the subsidy they provide to employers through their ineligibility for insurance and minimum-wage laws”.
Mr Caldwell adds: “Economically, it is worth having such immigrants only if they live under a different political regime” (our emphasis).
Let us take the example of the US in this context. There are reliably said to be 12 million illegal (undocumented) immigrants in the US, including 6 million Mexicans, with a continued annual inflow of undocumented Mexicans estimated to be in the order of 500,000. Illegal Mexicans represent 18% of Los Angeles’s construction workforce and account for 10% of the total labour force in a region that generates 30% of California’s gross product. In California, the leading food producer, with the heaviest concentration of legal and illegal Mexican-born workers, 400,000 work on farms that generate more than $20 billion a year. California is believed to be home to about 50% of all illegal Mexicans in the US, although the demand for labour is taking them all across the US. In Washington State, where farming is the third largest industry, fruit growers claim that up to 70% of the 70,000 they employ at peak harvest times are illegal.
Reliable estimates have it that it that 600,000 of the US’s farm labour of 4 million carry no documents.
Driven by desperation and destitution, on average 300 Mexicans lose their lives every year as they run the wire to undertake the lowest-paid jobs in the US. And their contribution to the US economy may be gleaned from an estimate by the Cato Institute, according to which the cost of fruit and vegetables would increase by 6% if the US farms were denuded of illegal farm workers. And their role as unrecognised fighters against inflation was acknowledged by Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman in January 2000, when he suggested that immigration policies would need to be relaxed if growth was to be sustained at the then-existing pace. (Most of the information in the preceding paragraph is drawn from Financial Times, 23 February 2000).
Thus it can be seen that illegal immigration is a source of huge enrichment to the bourgeoisie, while at the same time serving as a scapegoat for the ills of capitalism and as an instrument for sowing deep divisions within the working class.
Finally, the anti-immigrant hysteria and demagogy are a convenient ploy routinely used by bourgeois parties in all the imperialist countries for gaining electoral advantage. Every British election since the passing of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act has been preceded by the spectacle of the two major bourgeois parties, Labour and Tory, tripping over each other in an effort to appear tougher on immigration.
“Ever since the Smethwick election it has been quite clear that immigration can be the greatest potential vote-loser for the Labour Party”, so wrote Richard Crossman, in his Diaries, adding that he saw nothing but disaster if it (the Labour Party) was “seen to be permitting a flood of immigrants to come in and blight the central areas of our cities” (cited by Ruth Brown).
As it had been an imperialist and a racist party right from its inception, Labour has had little difficulty following Crossman’s advice, as we shall see. From then on it was to be an auction between the Conservatives and Labour as to which one of them was tougher on immigration.
Whereas Dennis Healey, on behalf of the Labour opposition’s front bench, was prepared, as late as the committee stage of the 1962 Bill, to tell a mass meeting of commonwealth and immigrants’ organisations in Britain that a Labour government would repeal the Tory legislation, by the end of 1962, Labour leader Harold Wilson was busy assuring parliament that Labour no longer opposed the need for immigration controls. Increasingly Labour MP’s in the early 1960s enthusiastically asserted that Britain could not afford to be “the welfare state of the whole of the Commonwealth” (Paul Foot, p.177).
During the 1964 election campaign, twice as many Labour candidates as Tory included the question of immigration in their election addresses, with nearly all of them stating clearly that Labour was keen to continue the immigration policies of the Conservative government. In the Wandsworth Central constituency, the Labour candidate went to the length of issuing a leaflet headed “Things about Immigration the Tories want you to Forget!” The leaflet stated, inter alia, that “large-scale immigration has occurred only under this Tory government. The Tory Immigration Act has failed to control it – immigrants of all colours and races continue to arrive” (Paul Foot. p.181).
Labour’s election manifesto clearly stated that it would retain immigration controls whatever the circumstances, while negotiating with the governments of Commonwealth countries over means of putting an end to immigration “at source”. The reasons for Labour’s volte-face were its racism and electoral opportunism; it feared the loss of electoral support unless it took a tough stance on immigration.
Having won the 1964 election, far from repealing the 1962 Act, Labour went on to strengthen it further.
The year 1968 saw a major immigration scare with the expulsion of Asians from Kenya – a scare which had more to do with the political battles between Harold Wilson’s foundering government and the Tory opposition than with the 27,000 Kenyan Asians who eventually managed to settle in Britain.
Labour’s response to the arrival in Britain of a few Kenyan Asians, and to the hysteria provoked by it on the part of the Conservative party and the gutter press, was to rush through parliament the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act in a record three days. Although they held British passports, the Kenyans were denied the right of entry into Britain under this legislation. At a stroke, 150,000 Asians were rendered effectively stateless. Feeling upstaged by Labour, Enoch Powell, then a member of the Conservative front bench, made his infamous “rivers of blood” speech in response to the 1968 Act with the intention of inflaming racist sentiments and luring voters away from Labour. Shamefully, not only Smithfield meat porters but also dockers, hitherto one of the most militant sections of the British working class, demonstrated in support of Powell’s calls for further draconian restrictions on immigration (especially from the New Commonwealth). At the same time an opinion poll revealed that 74% of the British population backed Powell’s views.
Powell’s flagrantly racist pronouncements, in view of his membership of the front bench, proved embarrassing for the Conservative party. As a result he was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, although Powell, in a manner characteristic of him, had done no more than draw the logical conclusion form what both the major parties, Labour and Conservative, had stated about immigration and the Kenyan Asian scare in the run up to the 1970 General Election.
Labour lost the 1970 election all the same, leaving behind a shameful legacy of racism, which even the right-wing Conservatives could view only with envy. On returning to power in 1974, it continued its racist policy – only much more openly and flagrantly. While the government ordered gynaecological exanimations of Asian women supposedly to determine their virginity, its leading spokesmen became more brazen by the day in expressing their racist views. Joining the racist hysteria surrounding the expulsion from Malawi in 1974 of a mere 250 Asians who held British passports, Bob Mellish said that people “cannot come here just because they have a British passport – full stop”. The case of the tiny group of Malawi Asians also served to furnish proof that immigration controls have little to do with numbers and everything to do with inflaming racist tensions, dividing and weakening the working class, and gaining electoral advantage through appeals to the basest sentiments of the most backward sections of the population. By 1978 Labour spokesmen were no longer ashamed of admitting, as did Merlyn Rees on television, that all immigration legislation was designed to stop “coloured” immigration. Doubtless, this had been the accepted premise of Labour’s policy on immigration, which had been put forward by its own committees in the early 1950’s and which was enshrined and institutionalised in the 1962 Act and every subsequent piece of legislation on immigration. The major difference was the audacity with which its spokesmen were, by 1978, admitting it openly.
Less than a decade later, at a time when primary immigration had been reduced to negligible levels, the Conservatives revived the race scare in the approach to the 1979 General Election. Appealing to the basest instincts of the most backward sections of British society, Margaret Thatcher spoke thus: “The British character has done much for democracy, for law, and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped, people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in … if you want good race relations you have got to allay people’s fear on numbers”.
The implication of the above remark, saturated through and through with racism and imperialist chauvinism, is clear: the voters had better opt for the Conservatives, for they were the true party of race, nation and empire. Thatcher’s statement helped the Conservatives, on the one hand, to outbid the equally racist Labour government which had earned notoriety for having introduced virginity tests on Asian brides, and on the other hand, to undermine support for the National Front, which had secured 120,000 votes in the 1977 London Council elections.
For its part, Callaghan’s Labour government sent thousands of policemen to protect a provocative fascist ‘election’ rally in the predominantly Asian West London suburb of Southall and to attack the 5,000 anti-fascists demonstrating against the presence of a few dozen fascists in a town where nobody, for obvious reasons, votes for them. In the resulting carnage, 1,000 people were injured, Blair Peach was killed, 800 arrested, 342 prosecuted; 85% of those charged were convicted and received in most cases stiff fines or jail terms. Prime Minister Callaghan perversely blamed the troubles on “outside agitators”.
In spite of this shameful behaviour, Labour went on to lose the 1979 General Election, for during its term of office it had attacked working-class living standards through the Social Contract with the trade union leadership, presided over the tripling of unemployment from 500,000 to 1.5 million, instituted savage cuts in health, education and welfare services, at the same time as galloping inflation further eroded the purchasing power of pensioners as well as of those in work. All these factors created a fertile ground for the renewal of a racist offensive, which Thatcher’s Conservatives were successfully able to manipulate to their electoral advantage.
Labour’s parting contribution to further tightening immigration controls was its Green Paper on nationality law, several proposals of which were later incorporated into the Nationality Act 1981 by the incoming Thatcher Conservative government. This Act took away the right of citizenship from a large number of the New Commonwealth citizens, who had until then been classed as British citizens.
The Nationality Act was introduced to the accompaniment of boastful, not to say shameful, claims by many a Conservative MP that racism amongst British people was a “natural” instinct. Conservative MP Tony Marlow had these delightful words to utter in this context: “People have criticised these measures because they say they are racialist, as if a word of abuse. What does racialist mean? It means tribal. After all, man is a tribal animal. We have a feeling of kith and kin for people like ourselves, with our background and culture” (quoted in R Miles and Phizacklea, p.96 White Man’s Country, Pluto Press, 1984).
With this open wearing of the racist badge with pride by mainstream Conservative MPs, not surprisingly groups further to the right felt much encouraged and emboldened during Thatcher’s first term as prime minister. The notorious Monday Club was reactivated by the likes of Enoch Powell and Harvey Proctor, both Tory MPs, and the Club’s Immigration and Repatriation Policy Committee regularly advocated in the early 1980s the forced repatriation from Britain of 100,000 New Commonwealth immigrants every year.
There was a parallel shift to the right in ‘academic’ circles in the 1980s with publications such as the Salisbury Review routinely supporting forced repatriation, as well as coming up with pseudo-scientific claims linking black immigrants to “vastly disproportionate” amounts of violent crime. The reactionary imperialist gutter press popularised the caricature figures of the West Indian mugger and the “Wily Asian”, with the latter being accused of abusing the arranged marriage custom so as to evade immigration laws. As a result the police were given the nod by the government to harass black people in Britain, with frequent raids by the police and immigration officials, principally on Asian business establishments with large workforces. Although they had committed no offence, many were arrested and questioned under a plethora of immigration laws and rules.
In the run-up to the 1986 General Election, the last to be fought under Thatcher’s leadership, the Conservatives started a new immigration scare, with the government bringing in new restrictions for visa applications from Asia, thus knowingly creating hold-ups at Heathrow as the intended targets of these restrictions hurried to beat the deadline. The government then used the chaos as ‘proof’ that Britain was in danger of being swamped by a new wave of immigration. The government’s actions led to a spate of racist attacks. A headline in the Sun screamed: “3,000 Asians flood Britain”. Not surprisingly, the same night, some local racist thugs daubed “3,000 Moore” and “Packie Patel” across the entrance door of an Asian newsagent. Notwithstanding the deplorable spelling there was no ambiguity about the message behind these slogans.
In the run-up to the 1997 General Election, which brought Blair’s Labour into office, in the auction over race and immigration, while the Conservative spokesman, Michael Howard, desperately tried to put “clear blue water” between his Conservative Party and Labour, in an attempt to play the race card yet again, Jack Straw, then Labour’s shadow home secretary retorted by truthfully asserting that “you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories over the question of immigration” (Guardian, 3 March 1995).
Thus by its own admission, Labour’s policy on immigration is identical to that of the Conservative party. They are as racist as each other. Labour had correctly characterised the 1993 Asylum Act, enacted by the Conservative government, as “shabby and mean”. Since coming to power, it has gone much further.
Enduring bond between state and unofficial racism
Racism has been at the heart of immigration legislation in Britain. A Cabinet Committee set up by Labour as far back as 1951, when the demand for immigrant labour was extremely high, and British politicians and businessmen were engaged in the active recruitment of foreign workers, recommended that the immigration restrictions in the future would “as a general rule, be more or less confined to coloured persons” (see R Miles and A Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, Pluto Press, 1984 pp 148-49). These recommendations were to be built on by successive British governments in a series of legislative measures.
This fact is of cardinal importance, for it summarily disposes of the myth that if governments do not take decisive action against the entry of foreign workers, extreme right and racist organisations will exploit public fears. Better then, so runs the argument, Jack Chirac and Tony Blair, construct the new European fortress than hand the keys to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front Nationale.
The truth, however, is that there is a close, strong and enduring bond between state racism and the racism of the unofficial fringe organisations. Each time the state enacts restrictive and racist legislation, it not only takes on board and implements a part of the policies and programme advocated by the racist groups, it also encourages the latter to make further demands in the area of immigration policy. For every piece of immigration legislation, with its implicit message that the arrival of foreign workers, especially black, is an unmitigated disaster, that it is these foreign workers, not capitalism, who are responsible for all the ills of present-day society, constitutes a standing incitement to racism.
Labour and Conservatives alike have resorted to the demagogic pretext that strict immigration controls are essential for good relations and to keep fascism at bay. In the memorable phrase of Labour’s Roy Hattersley in 1965: “Without integration, limitation is inexcusable: without limitation, integration is impossible”. In modern speak, Roy Hattersley’s syllogism parades as “firm but fair” immigration controls. While the explicit basis of Hattersley-like assertions is that the fewer the immigrants the better it is for harmonious race relations, their implicit message is that only the total absence of foreign workers can keep racial peace. The truth is that these assertions are made by bourgeois politicians to lend a veneer of respectability and moral legitimacy to the racist immigration legislation and controls instituted by the state. For it is crazy to believe that unleashing immigration officers to practise racism at the point of entry, and to let the police loose on ethnic minorities in fishing raids, is the best means of promoting integration and good race relations and keeping the racists at bay.
In the name of saving Britain from the far right, the two major bourgeois parties, Labour and Tory, are tripping over each other to adopt the policies advocated by insignificant fascist organisations. Writing in the Observer of 13 October 2002, Nick Cohen presents the Blair government’s position on immigration and asylum in these sarcastic terms: “Unless they are tough on crime and drive asylum-seekers into prisons and beggary”, say the Blairites, “the streets will be filled by men in black leather itching to invade Poland. The only way to save us from neo-fascism is to triangulate [sic] with neo-fascism”. Mr Cohen added that David Blunkett had been “raising the phantom menace of the far-Right” in an attempt to provide “political cover for policies he would push for if the BNP did not exist”. He, as Home Secretary, justified instructing immigrants to speak English at home and his plans to hold the children of asylum-seekers in segregated classrooms on the pretext that if he did not act this way, the “Right will step into the gap”. Of course the real reason was that once children go to a local school and form friendships with local children and community bonds develop between their parents and those of the local population, it becomes very difficult to expel foreign workers. David Blunkett stated it frankly in parliament: “The difficulty sometimes with families whose removal has been attempted is that their youngsters have become part of a school, making it virtually impossible in some circumstances to operate the managed system to which we should all sign up”.
During the 1990s, before the BNP won a seat on Burnley Council, the Conservative and Labour party vied with each other in announcing crackdowns on criminals and asylum-seekers in every session of parliament. Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, acknowledged their help in these words: “The asylum-seeker issue has been great for us. The issue legitimises us”. Nick Cohen makes the correct observation that “If Blairites believe they are responding to a future BNP threat, then they must acknowledge it is a threat they helped create” and that today “we are getting a touch close to far-Right policies from a party which doesn’t actually call itself far-Right”. In other words, Labour is the BNP it pretends to be saving us from.
Far from being ‘alien’ to the traditions of British bourgeois ‘democracy’, the BNP is a product of it; it does not manufacture racism; it lives off it. And over the past four decades, through their pronouncements and legislative measures, Labour and Conservatives alike have carefully prepared the conditions for making racism respectable and making it far easier for the BNP to feed off this state racism. Here are two examples of attacks on the British Muslim community, indistinguishable from each other, the first from despicable Nick Griffin, Chairman of the BNP, and the second from the equally despicable Peter Hain, presently Labour Northern Ireland Secretary and Minister for Europe at the time of his utterance on Muslims:
“None of this should be held against ordinary Muslims, many of whom are not much more ‘Muslim’ than Britain is ‘Christian’. Any hostility directed to them can only drive them into the arms of the fundamentalists. But … an understanding of what the Koran really says … should lead anyone with an ounce of common sense to realise that a growing Muslim population is a recipe for communal strife and violence, particularly in a country where Political Correctness prevents the political Establishment from closing the gates to the immigration flood, taking steps to reverse the tide, and saying to a minority which sees expansion and domination as its religious duty: ‘Mend your ways and keep yourselves to yourselves – or get out!'” (The real face of Islam, Nick Griffin, October 2001).
“Some Muslims, he says are cutting themselves off and feeding both rightwing politics and their own extremists: ‘We need an honest dialogue about the minority of isolationist, fundamentalists and fanatics who open the door to exploitation and who provide fertile ground for al-Qaida extremist’. Muslims are welcome but Muslim immigrants could be ‘very isolationist’ and need to integrate more, he argues” (Peter Hain, interviewed in The Guardian, 13 May 2002).
Such is Labour’s position on immigration and asylum that in 2002 we had the bizarre spectacle of the Conservative shadow minister, Oliver Letwin, criticising Labour’s David Blunkett for using the expression ‘swamp’ in regard to immigrants and asylum-seekers.
It is the same with the foul British press. Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, which in the 1930s shouted “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, defends his paper’s relentless characterisation of refugees and asylum-seekers as thieves leading a luxuriant life at the expense of a hard-working and cheated Middle England by asserting that unless he tackles the issue “you are going to give rise to the ugly right wing”. “The goof doesn’t realise”, retorts Mr Cohen, “that he is the ugly right wing”.
While the BNP received 0.2% of the vote in the 2001 General Election and won 3 of the 5,878 seats up for grabs in the May 2002 Council Elections, the Labour Party are busy, as were the Tories earlier, carrying out the programme of the BNP. And yet, the Troto-revisionist fraternity are in favour of canvassing support for the Labour party on all kinds of pretexts including the need to keep the BNP out!
Immigration controls stoke up racism by creating, on the one hand, the division between immigrant and non-immigrant workers, and on the other hand, the division between legal and illegal immigrants. While the immigrants are blamed for unemployment, housing shortages and other social problems under capitalism the so-called illegals bear the brunt of the state’s repressive machinery and the vitriol of the bourgeois politicians and the popular press alike. Not only they, but the entire communities they are associated with, are spied on and harassed by the machinery of law enforcement.
Here is just one example of the hysteria surrounding these unfortunate victims of imperialism. Under the provocative and racially inflammatory banner headline “LUNATIC ASYLUM”, the Sun of 14 February 2001 stated that whereas 3,200 new illegal immigrants were setting up home in Britain every month, “SWAMPED immigration officials are kicking out just TWELVE new bogus asylum seekers a month”, adding that the “fiasco” was a bitter blow to Home Secretary Jack Straw, who had claimed that he was “winning the war on illegal immigrants”. The scoundrels of the Immigration Service Union joined this racist campaign, stating that the “Home Office [was] stretching the truth. People on the streets know exactly what’s gong on and can see it day by day”. 100,000 people applied for asylum in 2000, out of which 79,000 were judged to be bogus. Of these 9,000 were deported. The Immigration Union declared these removal figures to be misleading as they made no distinction between voluntary and forced removals. The Union’s claim was clearly aimed at undermining the government’s efforts to be seen as being tough on asylum-seekers and was eagerly seized upon by the opposition Conservatives as an electoral windfall with which to portray Labour as a soft touch on immigration. The Immigration Union obviously relishes far more the spectacle of forced removals, with all the attendant publicity and the racist hysteria, than the voluntary and quiet departure of rejected claimants.
Through a division between legal and illegal workers, ethnic minorities, especially non-white workers, are perceived, and targeted, by the police and immigration service as potentially illegal whose immigration status must be checked before allowing them access to jobs, housing, education, healthcare and benefits – thus effectively turning employers, doctors, benefit officers and local government employees into immigration officers. This is not the road to integration. On the contrary, it is the surest means of institutionalising and firmly entrenching racism in every school, hospital, doctor’s surgery, benefit office and local authority.
For our part, we are firmly of the opinion that it is not in the interests of the proletariat to stand for privileges for any nationality, national or racial grouping. The proletariat stands for and “welcomes every kind of assimilation, except that which is founded on force or privilege” (Lenin, Critical remarks on the National Question). The seven-long decades of the existence of the Soviet Union shall for ever bear eloquent testimony to the fact that it is capitalism – not racial, religious and national differences – which prevent people from living in fraternal harmony and friendship and which cause fratricidal warfare between people of diverse backgrounds. Socialism alone can bring real peace and friendship among the masses of people by removing the conditions of insecurity which surround the working people everywhere under capitalism – crises of overproduction, unemployment, homelessness, destitution, poverty and war. The problem can be solved only by proletarian revolution, through the seizure of state power by the proletariat and, by means of this, the transformation of the socialised means of production into public property and organising socialised production on the basis of a predetermined plan and thus lay the basis for “… an unbroken, constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself” (Engels, Anti-Dühring, p387).
“To accomplish this universal act of emancipation” Engels goes on to say, “is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish – this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism” (ibid p391).
Immigration, productivity growth, imports, outsourcing
Besides, the question of immigration cannot be considered in isolation from technological change, growth in productivity, export of capital, outsourcing and growing cheap imports. In all the imperialist countries, there are varying degrees of clamour against all or some of these phenomena, which are inextricable from capitalism in general – and imperialism in particular.
One of the principal characteristics of imperialism is the export of capital. This is because of the emergence of the “monopolist position of a few rich countries, in which the accumulation of capital has reached gigantic proportions”, giving rise to “an enormous ‘surplus of capital'” (Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, p.60). The necessity for exporting capital arises because in these handful of countries “capitalism has become ‘overripe’ and capital cannot find a field for ‘profitable’ investment” (ibid). Hence the need to export this “surplus of capital”.
Doubtless, there would be no question of surplus of capital if capitalism could raise the living standards of the masses – an argument all too frequently deployed by the petty-bourgeois critics of capitalism. But capitalism would not be capitalism if it did such things. Imperialism is in the business of making the maximum profit. It therefore exports ‘surplus capital’ to places where an opportunity for making such a profit presents itself.
Since Lenin’s day the export of capital has accelerated enormously – especially during the past three decades. In the 13 years between 1983 and 1995, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) grew five times faster than trade and ten times faster than world output (The Economist, 24 June 1995).
Whereas FDI stood at $225 billion in 1990, it shot up to $464 in 1997 and topped $1,000 billion in 2000. Of these colossal sums, three-quarters are accounted for by flows between imperialist countries – these flows almost entirely going towards mergers and acquisitions (M&A), while a quarter is exported to the developing countries. The importance of the latter as an avenue for imperialist export of capital and thus for enhancing the latter’s profitability, may be judged from the fact that FDI flows into the developing countries, while running during the second half of the 1980s at an annual average rate of $15 billion, rose to a peak level of $241 billion by 1996. Following the turmoil in Asia in 1997, FDI flows into the developing countries fell sharply to about $150 billion in 1997, but have recovered since then and stood at $233 billion at the end of 2004 (Financial Times, 30 September 2005). Between 1980 and 1996, global FDI stock rose from 10% to 21% of global GDP, while the share of trade in the global GDP remained broadly constant, thus proving that global integration “is being accelerated more through investment [i.e. export of capital] than trade [i.e. export of commodities]” (Financial Times 4 September 1998). In 1997, the accumulated stock of FDI was estimated to stand at $3,500 billion (more than twice the sum of $1,700 billion it was in 1990) – 90% of it accounted for by the Multinational Companies (MNCs) from the rich imperialist countries and 69 % from just five usurer imperialist countries, namely, the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan.
Two-thirds of the FDI to developing countries goes to just a handful of them. China alone receives a quarter of the annual outflows, on average being the recipient of $50 billion a year. In the 20 years to September 2004, China alone received $500 billion in FDI, all because of the abundance of cheap labour. That in turn has fuelled an export engine that in 2003 stacked up a $124 billion trade surplus with the US. This figure climbed to $202 billion in 2005. China’s foreign exchange reserves at the end of 2005 stood at $800 billion and are increasing at the rate of $200 billion a year.
Capital is exported to the developing countries, for there, while capital is scarce, wages are low, land and raw materials cheap, labour regulation flexible and tax benefits high – all making for very high profits.
In the imperialist countries, approximately 70% of the costs of a company come from labour and 30% from capital, the situation in countries such as China and India is diametrically the opposite. There capital is expensive and labour cheap. Hence the export of capital and jobs from the imperialist countries to the developing countries (see Financial Times, 27 September 2004).
Large chunks of manufacturing have been transferred by all the imperialist countries to the low cost developing countries, especially since the 1980s. This trend is now being extended into skilled office occupations – it is a kind of “hollowing out” not faced before. Forrester, a research body, has stated that 3.3 million US business processing jobs will go offshore by 2015, joining the 400,000 already gone, while a Berkeley University estimate puts the loss of white-collar jobs at 14 million. Garther, another consultant, predicted in March 2004 that up to 25% of traditional IT jobs will be relocated from the developed (imperialist) to the developing countries by 2010 – a scenario not too unlikely in view of the fact that job losses will no longer be confined to call centres, an area which has courted much controversy recently, as countries such as India are likely to move up the value curve, into areas such as newspaper sub-editing, law, accountancy, design, engineering, tax consultancy and financial services.
Half of the European companies plan to move more services offshore. Presently UK companies account for 61% of the service jobs shifted offshore, followed by Germany and the Benelux countries with 14% each. According to Forrester Research, 1.2 million European IT and service jobs will move offshore by 2015, nearly three-quarters of these from the UK. Developed countries which fail to relocate these jobs abroad, says Forrester, will simply be left behind and become far less competitive.
On the opposite side, the headcount at Indian Call Centres quadrupled in the three years to September 2004 to more than 350,000 and has been rising. India turns out 2.5 million English-speaking graduates a year. As such, it provides a vast reservoir of competent but cheap labour force which lures companies in Europe and America to relocate their back office jobs there. Not just Bangalore and Hyderabad, but many other towns are becoming centres for such relocated activity. Be it said in passing that India has more than 50 towns with a population of 500,000 or more. While causing loss of jobs in Europe, America and Japan, and enabling large corporations to make huge profits, offshoring brings, as do cheap imports, real benefits to the consumers through the cheapening of goods and services. Besides, it must not be forgotten that Britain and the US are themselves popular offshoring destinations. In 2002, they (the US and UK) were the two largest exporters of commercial services. Britain has a growing trade surplus in business services, including research and development, advertising and legal activities. All the same, it is undoubtedly the case that offshoring (outsourcing), as well as cheap imports and capital exports, are a source of job losses and lowering levels of pay in the imperialist countries.
Large though the job losses are through outsourcing, cheap imports and capital exports, they are as nothing compared with the job losses in the imperialist countries through routine rounds of savage restructuring and increases in productivity. For instance in the US, output per hour in the non-farm business sector rose at a rate of 4% in the three years between 2001 and 2003 inclusive, while the economy grew at a little over 2%. The resulting fall in employment was inevitable. The decline in manufacturing employment, at 2.63 million between March 2001 and January 2004, was higher than in the entire economy, at just 2.35 million. By January 2004, employment in manufacturing was 17% below that in June 2000. During this period, the cause of job losses was a 17% increase in output per worker, while the output fell by a mere 3%. The US today produces twice as much manufactures as it did two decades earlier – and with even fewer workers.
Information technology decimated the jobs of armies of clerks, replacing them with educated and relatively better paid workers. It is reliably estimated that between seven and eight per cent (7 to 8 million) of US private jobs are lost every quarter. Attacking the cheap imports of goods and services is no more sensible than the export of capital and rises in productivity. Since rising productivity is a far greater source of job losses under capitalism then cheap imports, why is there not such a hue and cry against productivity growth? Writing in the Financial Times of 25 February 2004, Martin Wolf answers this question thus: “The only relevant difference between productivity and trade is the all too visible involvement of foreigners, who do not have votes. They make wonderful scapegoats for unscrupulous politicians”.
No wonder, then, that in the US as a result of the workings of all these factors, “… corporate profits were now taking a higher share of the growth in national income than employee compensation for the first time since the Second World War”, while the real wages of those in work have “… started to fall behind inflation”. “Prolonged weakness in the labour market”, says a study by the Economic Policy Institute “has left the nation with over a million fewer jobs than when the recession began . This is a worse position, in terms of recouping lost jobs, than any business cycle since the 1930s” (see Financial Times, 27 September 2004). (Information in the last five paragraphs is drawn from the Financial Times of 12 February 2004; 25 February 2004; 27 September 2004 and Sunday Times 1 February 2004)
An outmoded system
Anti-immigration hysteria, expressed in Thatcher’s words about “our” country being “swamped” by immigrants and asylum-seekers, is often countered by what passes for the left in Britain with statistics showing immigrants to be only a small portion of the population, and that Britain is not merely a recipient of immigrants but also a source of emigration. However unwittingly, those who play this numbers game risk making a fatal concession to capitalism by unjustifiably linking immigration and social problems, such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment and deteriorating social services. It is difficult to see what possible connection can there be between immigration and the wholesale decimation of the UK’s car, steel, shipbuilding, textile and mining industries, the destruction of jobs in banks and Britain’s docks. The truth is that it is capitalism, not foreign workers, that creates unemployment and it alone is the source of inadequate housing, under provision of education and health, derisory pensions for most retired people, a run-down transport system, and so forth.
There is no shortage of resources. The only problem is the continued existence of a historically outmoded system of production which is incapable of pressing those resources into service unless it can make a profit. “… in capitalistic society the means of production can only function when they have undergone a preliminary transformation into capital, into the means of exploiting human labour-power. The necessity of this transformation into capital of the means of production and subsistence stands like a ghost between these and the labourers. It alone prevents the coming together of the material and personal levers of production; it alone forbids the means of production to function, the workers to work and live …” (F Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1954 p.383).
Under this system of organised robbery, destitution and homelessness goes hand in hand with an abundance of material and human resources, hunger and want sit cheek by jowl with abundance and overproduction. Capitalism is characterised by accumulation “… of wealth at one pole” and “accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality and mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital” (Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, Moscow 1954, p.645) (our emphasis).
The absurdity of this system is particularly revealed in its lurid light during periods of economic crises, during which “commerce is at a standstill, the markets are glutted, products accumulate, as multitudinous as they are unsaleable, hard cash disappears, credit vanishes, factories are closed, the mass of the workers are in want of the means of subsistence, because they have produced too much of the means of subsistence …” (Anti-Dühring, p.381).
In view of the above, scapegoating the immigrants is a crude, yet very successful, attempt to blame the worst victims of capitalism and divert attention from the latter’s responsibility for all the economic and social ills of present-day society. Workers who fall for this bait effectively become, whether they will it or not, accomplices and tools of the foreign and domestic policy of their imperialist ruling class, which, in an endeavour to maintain imperialist domination of the oppressed nations, violently intrudes into the latter’s lives through predatory wars and imperialist-inspired civil strife. And when the victims of this super-exploitation, war and occupation, which are the driving forces behind periodic waves of immigration, manage to escape their miserable lot by reaching the centres of imperialism, they are vilified as scroungers and blamed at the same time for stealing jobs from local workers. This horrible and racist treatment of the foreign workers in Britain and other imperialist countries is merely a reflection, and an extension, of the foreign policy of imperialism – imperialism’s violent interference in the countries of origin of the immigrants followed by draconian legislation against, and ill-treatment and super-exploitation of, its luckless victims. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the lakes region of Africa, Somalia and Sierra Leone, which over the past 15 years have been a major source of emigration into the imperialist countries, furnish excellent proof of this our assertion. The foreign and domestic policy of imperialism are inextricably linked and the one cannot be arbitrarily separated from the other. They are two side of the self same policy of imperialist plunder and oppression – one abroad and the other at home. Since modern-day racism is a product of the colonialist and imperialist system, an ideological outgrowth of the colonial plunder and imperialist super-exploitation of the vast majority of the people of Asia, Africa and Latin-America by a handful of exceptionally rich and powerful states, it is only natural that this division between the oppressor and oppressed nations finds it reflection in racist legislation and ill-treatment of foreign workers within the imperialist countries. Racism in the imperialist countries is merely the reflection within the imperialist countries of the division between oppressing and oppressed nations – a duplication in a somewhat altered form of the imperialist oppression abroad.
Racism is at the heart of the immigration policy of imperialism. Imperialism needs foreign labour and imports it at will. The immigration legislation is not aimed at excluding altogether foreign workers, nor is it able to do so. It is used by the ruling class for two purposes. First, to attempt to regulate the reserve army of labour – strict during periods of rising unemployment and relaxed in periods of heightened economic activity. Second, to divide and weaken the working-class movement.
In an effort to prevent resistance on the part of the working class against imperialist plunder, robbery and predatory wars abroad, and exploitation at home, and thus to divide and weaken the working-class movement, imperialism resorts to racism and immigration legislation, with its unstated, but clear, message that foreign workers, especially from certain parts of the world with particular religious affiliations or pigmentation of skin, are not welcome and that they are to blame for every social and economic evil attendant upon life under the conditions of capitalism.
The working class in the imperialist countries falls prey to imperialist propaganda for, without exception, the leadership of the working-class movement in these countries is in the hands of the upper stratum, the labour aristocracy, who are bribed by imperialism “… in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, over and covert”. This labour aristocracy, “… philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook” is the principal “social prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small number take the side of the bourgeoisie, the ‘Versaillais’ against the ‘Communards'” (Preface to the French and German editions of Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism).
In Britain this has been the case since the defeat of the Chartist movement in the middle of the 19th century. The formation of the Labour Party in 1900 (originally known as the Labour Representation Committee but called the Labour Party from 1906) gave political expression to this stratum, whose interests it has always defended. As these interests cannot be defended without defending imperialism, the Labour Party has been prepared to be a willing servant of British imperialism. In view of this, the struggle of the proletariat against racism and for working-class unity and socialism is inextricably linked with the struggle against social democracy and opportunism.
Towards the end of 1913, Lenin had the opportunity to examine the question of immigration. In his remarkable article Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration, he makes some truly penetrating observations, which have a bearing on the present-day controversies on this issue. It is therefore worth our while bringing Lenin’s analysis to the notice of the proletariat, in Britain and in other imperialist countries, in the following slightly summarised version.
Lenin says “Capitalism has given rise to a special form of migration”, whereby “rapidly developing industrial countries”, attract workers from the backward countries through a combination of higher wages in the advanced capitalist countries and destitution in the backward countries, for there “can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner”.
Lenin regards this phenomenon, whereby advanced capitalism literally drags millions of workers “into its orbit”, as very progressive indeed, for through this forcible process it “… tears them out of the backwoods in which they live, makes them participants in the world-historical movement and brings them face to face with the powerful, united, international class of factory owners”. He goes on to say that “… only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations”, which draws “the masses of the working people of the whole world” into the arena of class struggle by breaking down “… the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth”.
At that time, as indeed today, the US was the largest single importer of foreign workers. Lenin looks at the immigration figures for America over a period of nine decades and notes the important change in the country of origin of emigrants to that country. See Table 1.
TABLE 1: Immigration figures for America over nine decades (Lenin)
1821 – 30
1831 – 40
1841 – 50
1851 – 60
1861 – 70
1871 – 80
1881 – 90
1891 – 1900
1900 – 09
He comments that, whereas up to 1880 the overwhelming majority of the workers emigrating to the US came from the old civilised countries of Europe, such as Great Britain, Germany and partly Sweden, that even up to 1890, Britain and Germany supplied in excess of half of the total immigrants, from 1880 onwards, there took place “an incredibly rapid” rise in new immigration from eastern and southern Europe, from Austria, Italy and Russia. He produced figures (Table 2) for the number of people emigrating from the last-mentioned three countries to the US.
TABLE 2: Figures for people emigrating from Austria, Italy and Russia to the US (Lenin)
1871 – 80
1881 – 90
1891 – 1900
1900 – 09
Lenin greets these figures, and the phenomena they represent, with his characteristic youthful joy. “Thus”, he says, “the most backward countries in the old world, those that more than any other retain survivals of feudalism in every branch of social life, are, as it were, undergoing compulsory training in civilisation. American capitalism is tearing millions of workers of backward Eastern Europe (including Russia, which in 1891-1900 provided 594,000 immigrants and in 1900-09, 1,410,000) out of their semi-feudal conditions and is putting them in the ranks of the advanced, international army of the proletariat”.
Relying on Hourwich’s “extremely illuminating book”, Immigration and Labour, which had only just appeared then in English, he says that the number of emigrants to the US increased specially after the 1905 Revolution, the figures being: 1905 – 1,000,000; 1906 – 1,260,000; 1907 – 1,400,000; 1908 and 1909 – 1,900,000 respectively. This large movement of Russian workers to the US had had a beneficial effect on the American working-class movement and American capitalism alike. As to the former, “workers who had participated in various strikes in Russia introduced into America the bolder and more aggressive spirit of the mass strike”.
As for American capitalism, it could only benefit from this movement of workers from backward countries to the US. “Russia is lagging farther and farther behind, losing some of her best workers to foreign countries; America is advancing more and more rapidly, taking the most vigorous and able-bodied sections of the working population of the whole world”.
Turning to Germany, Lenin says that she was more or less keeping pace with the US in the import of foreign workers and “changing from a country which released workers into one that attracts them from foreign countries”. While the number of German emigrants to the US declined sharply between 1890 and 1909, that of foreign workers in Germany registered a significant increase. Analysing the figures relating to foreign workers in Germany, and dividing them according to occupation and their country of origin, Lenin concludes that the “… more backward the country the larger is the number of ‘unskilled’ … labourers it supplies. The advanced nations seize, as it were, the best paid occupations for themselves and leave the semi-barbarian countries the worst paid occupations”. While six-tenths of Austrian immigrants in Germany and eight-tenths of workers from “other countries” were industrial workers, a mere one-tenth of the workers from Russia, then the most backward country, were industrial workers – the remaining nine-tenths being employed in German agriculture. “Thus”, says Lenin, “Russia is punished everywhere and in everything for her backwardness”. But, he adds, alluding to the virile revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat, “it is the workers of Russia who are more than any others bursting out of this state of backwardness and barbarism, more than others combating these ‘delightful’ features of their native land, and more closely than any others uniting with the workers of all countries into a single international force for emancipation”.
In the face of bourgeois attempts at dividing and weakening the working-class movement by pitting workers of one nation against those of another, and recognising the inevitability and the progressive nature of the break-down of all the narrow national barriers by capitalism, the proletariat has but one option – to unite under the banner of proletarian internationalism and the joint fight of the workers of all nationalities for socialism and communism through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
“The bourgeoisie incites the workers of one nation against those of another in the endeavour to keep them disunited. Class-conscious workers, realising that the break-down of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow- workers from the backward countries” (Above article of V.I. Lenin, Volume 19, pp.454-456).
1. Systematic and large scale migration is unique to capitalism;
2. Immigration is an integral part of the European landscape and Europe is a continent of immigrants (the Americas and Australasia even more so);
3. Only dire poverty or persecution forces people to leave their native land;
4. Imperialist predatory wars against oppressed people and imperialist-inspired civil strife force millions of people to seek asylum abroad, including in the heartlands of imperialism;
5. There is a direct link between immigration and the availability of jobs (in the country of origin and destination of immigrants respectively) and the operation of the labour market is capable of regulating the flow of immigration;
6. Immigration laws enacted by the imperialist countries are inherently racist and intended to divide and weaken the working-class movement;
7. By creating the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, these laws are a continuing incitement to racism, setting the indigenous workers upon the newly-arrived foreigners;
8. Illegal immigration is a source of huge enrichment to the bourgeoisie, while at the same time serving as a scapegoat for the ills of capitalism and as an instrument for sowing divisions within the working-class movement;
9. There is an enduring link between state and unofficial racism, as well as the racism of the front bench and the back benches in the parliaments of the imperialist countries;
10. Unemployment, poverty, homelessness, rundown social services, deteriorating infrastructure, public health and education, are not the fault of the workers – indigenous or foreign – but entirely due to the operations of capitalism, which has long been an outmoded system which needs to have funeral rites performed on it and given a decent burial;
11. Immigration is not only inevitable under capitalism but also progressive, and “… only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations”. Which “draws the masses of working people of the whole world” into the arena of class struggle by breaking down “… national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries” in huge workplaces in America, Europe and so forth;
12. And finally, while the bourgeoisie “… incites the workers of one nation against those of another” in order to disunite and weaken the entire working class, for their part, class-conscious workers, “… realising that the breakdown of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive”, must do their best “… to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers from the backward countries”.