Where is the love?

The liberal stance on free speech, immigration and internationalism is confusing everyone, says Commissaress

British schools are such enlightened places.

They are so internationalist and culturally accepting that they have noticeboards in their corridors extolling the virtues of ‘British values’. They are so welcoming of others’ views that they have assemblies dedicated to explaining why Jeremy Corbyn should not have ‘disrespected our country’ by actually sticking to his principles and refusing to sing ‘God save the queen’. They are such free, liberal, tolerant places that they each have to send a representative teacher to a course on anti-radicalisation; their students can say that immigrants are ‘naturally lazy’ and only a handful of people will disagree, and students with brown skin and Muslim names - like my brother - are called ‘terrorist’ in the playground. As the above examples demonstrate, we are extremely fortunate in this great nation of ours to have an education system which encourages the freedom to express oneself and accepts all people, regardless of their race, religion and culture.

What? You don’t think that sounds like freedom and acceptance? Well you are obviously a Muslim conspirator trying to destroy Britain. I’ll tell my teacher, so that you can be considered for an anti-radicalisation programme. And then I’ll get a reward from school for helping to save my country! Sweet!

Seriously, though. Liberalism is perhaps the best ideology when it comes to saying one thing and doing another, and the attitudes schools in the UK have towards culture, free speech and all related matters is perhaps the best example of this. For all their rhetoric, people are only allowed to say what they want at school if the authorities approve of it, and, for all their talk of inclusion, among both the staff and the students there is covert, if not overt, racism, which, once you know it is there, can be seen everywhere. Yet the education system fools its victims - I mean, students - into thinking that what they have is the epitome of a free, progressive, inclusive environment. What wonderful conditioning.

The environment in which someone grows up teaches them implicit lessons. If someone grows up in a racist society, they will turn out to be racist, even if they are never sat down and given a lecture about the superiority of a certain race. This is why, for instance, most people assume prima facie that humans are naturally selfish: because this is what people are implicitly taught by their experiences of the way in which society, reasoning and human interaction work under capitalism. The same process of implicit teaching is behind the way young people think about the relationships between different cultures, and by extension, about immigration and the current refugee crisis. In an atmosphere of as much - ahem - tolerance as the average British school, it is impossible not to pick up some of it.

So when you ask the average, fairly politicised student their views on immigration or the refugee crisis, chances are there will be some contradictions in their answer. They might say that they do welcome other cultures and want Britain to be more diverse and accepting, but also talk about the threat of jihadism (as though it exists in a vacuum) as something inextricably linked to immigration. They might express a desire to let in refugees from Syria, but not economic migrants, because they think the latter are going to be ‘welfare queens’, or they will say that they would like to let in more immigrants, but that there are not ‘enough resources’ and never think about the root cause of this lack of resources. They may even use the ‘I’m not racist, but …’ card. In short, people are confused. They are torn between the liberal values, which they have been taught to hold dear, and the practical implications of these liberal values, which they would prefer not to have.

I do not have as much experience discussing this with older people, but I imagine their views are generally much the same, seeing as the aforementioned confusion is in essence a reflection of the confusion of ‘ruling class ideology’ on the question of immigration. The European Union talks up the virtues of freedom of movement (within the EU only, of course) and (sometimes) internationalism because they know these things abstractly appeal to people, but when it comes down to allowing genuine freedom of movement and actually being internationalist by opening up to anyone who wants to come in, whether they are fleeing from persecution or just looking for a better life, they fall short.

A parallel can be drawn here with the European response to the events in the Balkans in the 90s; the EU condemned Serbia for its oppression of Kosovars, but then refused to allow refugees from these areas to claim asylum because they were not part of the European club. All of this goes to show how these ideas liberals profess to favour, which sound fairly acceptable, cannot be put into practice in a system as inherently nationalist and reactionary as capitalism: a system which necessarily involves the subjugation of certain nations, thinking of people as nothing but disembodied labour-power, and somehow fostering a feeling of national identity at the same time as one of support for ‘ever-closer union’ of peoples.

So how should we, as socialists who genuinely do support freedom of movement and bottom-up internationalism, respond to such confusion? On the one hand, this confusion can be viewed as beneficial to our cause. The fact that liberals are claiming to promote (and have been claiming to do so for some time) progressive thinking and anti-racism shows that people have some appetite for these things, which should make them more receptive to our message, and drawing attention to the gaping contradictions in liberal theory and policy with regards to immigration should not prove too difficult.

But holding what appears, on the surface, to be the same stance as liberals on this issue could come with some drawbacks. Because our stance is not the same as liberals’. Firstly, we actually intend to adhere to our principles in practice, unlike them. And secondly, we are not, as the EU is, using a facade of internationalism to justify excluding everyone who is not in ‘the Europe club’ from access to freedom of movement and the opportunity to better their life. We want to liberate oppressed people, regardless of which arbitrary borders they exist between. These are nuances in our stance which people will miss if we merely talk about ‘freedom of movement’ and ‘internationalism’ in the abstract, in the same way as liberals do.

Finally, once again, we need to make a break with moral approaches. The entire immigration debate is becoming one of ‘morals vs pragmatism’, because of the way in which freedom of movement, to capitalists, is an abstract, moral argument - as opposed to a way to physically and materially help facilitate the liberation of oppressed people. We need to demonstrate that a pragmatic approach need not involve leaving refugees to drown in the Mediterranean or stranded at border camps in Calais or fearing for their lives in their home countries, which have been ripped apart by western imperialism.

However, it must involve the end of capitalism, which is both the reason why crises recur and the reason they cannot be permanently resolved.