Playing a fool's game
The ‘common sense’ consensus on migration stretches from Ukip and the Tories to the CPB and SPEW, writes Peter Manson
I have to say that the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain is having a little difficulty dealing with the UK Independence Party. Of course, the Star’s editorial has no problem identifying Nigel Farage and his gang as “Thatcherite Tories”,1 but what about Ukip’s main propaganda plank - the call for Britain to withdraw from the European Union? Here things are not so clear-cut, since for the CPB that is also a central demand. The CPB actually agrees with Ukip that Britain needs to reclaim its “national sovereignty” and “regain control over its own borders” by leaving the EU.
For the moment, the Star is intent on downplaying Ukip’s success in the May 22 local council and, in particular, European elections - where the party won the highest share of the vote (26.60%), as well as the largest number of seats (24), just ahead of Labour and the Tories. As a result, according to the editorial, “the two main parties remain obsessed with Ukip’s impact”. The Star, on the other hand, tries to downplay the result, describing it as “the Ukip landslide that wasn’t” - after all, only “nine voters in every hundred” supported Farage’s party in the Euro elections.
Yes, that figure is about right, when you take into account the 34.17% turnout. But who is the Star polemicising against when it rejects the term, “Ukip landslide”? Who in their right mind has used that phrase? If anyone had, it would have been just as absurd as the Star trying to dismiss Ukip’s 4,376,635 votes as being of no real consequence.
Mind you, the paper has not said a word about the campaign it and the CPB supported in the Euro elections - something called ‘No to the EU, Yes to Workers’ Rights’, I seem to remember. No2EU’s 31,757 votes (0.19%) represents the support of something like one voter in every 1,700, by my calculations. No wonder the Star prefers not to comment on its performance. It may have urged its readers to vote No2EU in a banner headline on polling day, but since then the only mention of the campaign has been in the table of results the Star published following the May 25 count. There has been no assessment of those abysmal figures or a discussion about the future of ‘official communist’ Euroscepticism. To be honest, this silence demonstrates the contempt in which the Morning Star holds its readers, many of whom will have followed their paper’s voting advice.
No2EU was, of course, formed prior to the 2009 European elections - it was then called ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ - on the initiative of Bob Crow, the then general secretary of the RMT union, who tragically died earlier this year. He brought on board not only the RMT, but also the CPB and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, as well as an assortment of individual lefts, such as Tommy Sheridan, Nick Wrack, Liz Davies and Pete McLaren.
But, since comrade Crow’s departure in March, No2EU’s website has been left virtually untouched - the last time it was ‘updated’ was a week before the elections. At least the Star provided its readers with the bare results, but No2EU cannot even mange that. It clearly has already gone the way of its mentor.
However, let us return to the Star’s June 2 editorial, which was headed (without, apparently, any trace of irony): “Aping Ukip’s a fool’s game”.
On the one hand, the Star mocks the Tories and Labour for “aping” Ukip and allegedly overstating its success; on the other, it slates them for not going far enough in Ukip’s direction. The Star complains: “… if the Tories are elected and they hold a referendum, [Cameron] and the majority of his party will back a ‘yes’ vote to remain in the EU.” Unlike Ukip, of course, which the CPB would follow into the ballot box to vote ‘no’.
As for Labour, its leaders “could match the Ukip/Tory bidding game to allow voters a choice on Britain leaving the EU, but they fear the verdict and prefer therefore to deny the electorate a democratic vote”. The editorial goes on: “Ed Balls has hinted at stronger anti-immigrant rhetoric, which would not only be shameful, but doomed to failure, since voters attracted by racism and xenophobia would trust other parties to carry this out.”
Note, by the way, the Star’s description of a straight yes-no referendum as “a democratic vote”, pure and simple. It is true that a choice will be offered - and the decision of the majority of those voting will presumably be carried through - but it will be a very limited choice indeed. Either you vote ‘yes’ to the EU as currently constituted - the EU of the bankers, the bureaucrats and big capital - or you vote ‘no’. But in reality that ‘no’ would also be a ‘yes’, of a different type - a ‘yes’ to an even more nationalistic United Kingdom (also of the bankers, the bureaucrats and big capital). In the same way, the September 18 referendum in Scotland will offer a choice between two ‘yeses’: ‘yes’ to an ‘independent’ Scotland under the British crown, Nato and austerity; or ‘yes’ to the current UK state under the British crown, Nato and austerity.
But what about the “anti-immigrant rhetoric”, which the Star is so quick to condemn? Neither the CPB nor No2EU has used such rhetoric, but both are part of the mainstream consensus which holds that immigration is a problem, and must therefore be ‘controlled’. Take a look at the No2EU website and the first message you will see is: “The EU is turning human beings into commodities to be shunted around Europe, while local workers are excluded from being able to provide for their families.”2
In other words, the movement of “human beings” across borders is indeed a problem, since migrants take the jobs of “local workers”. The fact that, if these ‘official communists’ got their way, it would be migrant workers who would be “excluded from being able to provide for their families” is of no concern. This is an expression of anti-migrant national sectionalism - in other words, we must ‘look after our own’ first and foremost.
In fact the policy of the ‘official’ Communist Party of Great Britain (and, after it, the CPB) has been one of ‘non-racist immigration controls’ for over half a century. Here I am grateful to Dr Evan Smith and his website, Hatful of History, for having collated the statements of the CPGB on this question since the early 1960s.3 For example, Evans quotes the Communist Party weekly, Comment, which in 1963 stated that the previous year’s Commonwealth Immigrants Act must be opposed, because it was “not an act to control immigration in general”, but constituted “colour discrimination in immigration”.4
This CPGB policy of non-racist (or, to use the terminology of the time, ‘non-racialist’) border controls was most clearly laid down in a 1965 statement, which declared: “Every government, whatever its character, and whatever the social system, will naturally make regulations concerning immigration and emigration. This is an understandable exercise of its power by any sovereign government. The Communist Party has never stood for general unrestricted immigration, but has always opposed racialism and racial discrimination in Britain.”5 In the same year a CPGB pamphlet informed its readers that the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was “not an act introduced for normal immigration purposes, but designed to introduce an element of racial discrimination into the system of immigration”.6
While still working within this template, a certain Tony Chater - who was to become Star editor in the 1970s and helped lead the Moscow-loyal rebellion against the CPGB’s rightwing Eurocommunist leadership in the 80s - stated in his 1966 pamphlet: “Restrictions on immigration should never have a racialist bias and in any case are only justifiable if immigration is threatening the country with political, economic and social harm.” However, comrade Chater added, “no-one can seriously maintain that this applies today.”7 This statement from a leading ‘official communist’ seems to be the only one of that period which declares that such restrictions should only be applied in exceptional circumstances - Chater’s implication was that in general there should be no immigration controls.
However, by the time of the next Immigration Act in 1971, it was business as usual: “Governments have the right to regulate immigration and emigration”, declared a resolution published in Comment, but immigration policies introduced by both Labour and the Conservatives had been “racialist”, since they were “directed specifically against black immigration”. This resolution demanded the repeal of the 1971 act, which was “a racialist measure”, and for Labour to “introduce new legislation relating to immigration on a strictly non-racial basis”.8
From CPGB to SPEW
In a CPGB pamphlet published at the end of the 70s, Vishnu Sharma actually engaged in a polemic (of sorts) against those to the party’s left who favoured open borders. Such people are just plain “foolish”, he said - they are “out of step with reality”. Although “Communists want to see … a world where there are no immigration controls of any kind”, the “first and urgent responsibility” must be to “turn the spotlight onto the racist character of the present laws”. Unity was needed to combat the “immediate causes of racial oppression”, but this cannot be achieved “under the slogan, ‘No immigration controls at all’”.9
What struck me about this was its similarity to the position of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, as can be seen from the relevant section of its 2013 perspectives document, which the Hatful of History site helpfully reproduces:
“Of course, we have to stand in defence of the most oppressed sections of the working class, including migrant workers and other immigrants. We staunchly oppose racism. We defend the right to asylum and argue for the end of repressive measures like detention centres.
“At the same time, given the outlook of the majority of the working class, we cannot put forward a bald slogan of ‘open borders’ or ‘no immigration controls’, which would be a barrier to convincing workers of a socialist programme, both on immigration and other issues. Such a demand would alienate the vast majority of the working class, including many more long-standing immigrants, who would see it as a threat to jobs, wages and living conditions ….
“We have to put forward a programme which unites the working class in dealing with the consequences of immigration.”10
This is, of course, pure opportunism: ‘While we in SPEW may believe in open borders (perhaps “may” is now the operative word), the working class is far too backward to agree with us.’ SPEW stands four-square behind the CPGB’s Vishnu Sharma: what matters is “unity”, and we just have to face facts - unity is only possible on the basis of ‘common-sense’ (ie, rightwing) ideas.
SPEW too is part of the mainstream consensus, which would have you believe that people should have no right to live, settle and work anywhere on this planet; that, far from the whole world belonging to all of its people, it must remain divided up; that each nationality must protect its ‘own’ patch at the expense of outsiders. But for communists, for whom the common interest of the international proletariat is an absolute principle, this consensus is poison.
In that sense, SPEW, like the Morning Star’s CPB, is “aping Ukip”. It too is playing the same “fool’s game”.
1. Morning Star editorial, June 2.
4. Comment November 16 1963.
5. CPGB, ‘Draft statement on Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962’, 1965.
6. H Bourne Racialism London 1965.
7. T Chater Race relations in Britain London 1966, p62.
8. ‘Resolution: the fight against racialism in Britain’ Comment December 1973.
9. V Sharma No racist immigration laws London 1979.
10. ‘British perspectives, 2013’: www.socialistparty.org.uk/partydoc/British_Perspectives_2013:_a_Socialist_Party_congress_document/16413.