Reject citizenship tests

Blunkett's new assault on migrants

Last week the recommendations on citizenship from an ‘independent’ advisory panel appointed by home secretary David Blunkett were released in a fanfare of publicity.

As readers will know, immigrants who apply for British citizenship will be obliged to sit a written test, where they will be required to show knowledge of “how the nation developed, an appreciation of its institutions and an awareness of its customs and laws”. Applicants must also demonstrate progress in speaking English (or, bizarrely, Welsh or Gaelic) to be judged good enough to be considered British.

Under these outrageous proposals a candidate who fails the test will be denied a British passport and the right to vote. So non-citizen residents - including those who have lived in the UK for many years - may work, contribute to their local community in any number of ways and be taxed just like everybody else, but will be permitted no formal voice in decision-making - not even in the pinched political process that masquerades as democracy in Britain.

Such immigrants - because of their precarious official position - are likely to be amongst the very people most subject to superexploitation. Often they will have been forced to sell their labour via the black economy, yet, because their grasp of what it is to be British is deemed to be lacking, they may be deprived the full rights to which all who live and work here ought to be entitled.

On Blunkett’s own insistence, the ‘independent’ panel, headed by professor Sir Bernard Crick, included the requirement of familiarity with British history, as well as British customs and ‘etiquette’. Helpfully the panel provided us with its own definition of Britishness: “To be British seems to us to mean that we respect the laws, the elected parliamentary and democratic political structures … and that we give our allegiance to the state, as commonly symbolised in the crown …”

Clearly then, foreign communists need not apply. Indeed, such a definition opens the way for all those born in Britain who refuse to “respect” certain laws and political institutions - the monarchy and the House of Lords spring to mind - and who, as internationalists, do not deign to offer their “allegiance” to the bourgeois state, to be deprived of their citizenship at some time in the future. For those who doubt this, it is useful to bear in mind that ‘citizenship’ has been a compulsory element of the secondary school curriculum for a year now (with guidelines also drawn up by Crick, answering to Blunkett). School students are already being indoctrinated in the qualities needed for true citizenship.

US-style naturalisation ceremonies will be introduced, where those passing the Britishness test will be made to take an oath: “I swear by almighty god that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law.” (Atheists are permitted to “solemnly and sincerely affirm” their loyalty to the monarch, but republicans are not granted any exemption.) The new citizens will then have to pledge: “I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom … I will observe its laws faithfully …”

While the package as a whole represents a further attack on migrant workers in particular, the tabloid press concentrated its fire on the ‘outrage’ of free English-language lessons at taxpayers’ expense (applicants can attend 10 two-hour classes). What is appalling about this is hardly the fact that prospective citizens will be able to learn English, or that they will not have to pay, but the fact that they will be forced to do so.

Communists favour the assimilation of all migrants - this is entirely positive - but this process must be voluntary. Of course, it is in any case natural for newcomers to learn the language (and the customs) of their adopted country in order to be able to operate in a normal way in a different environment. Therefore assistance in learning to speak, understand, read and write English is of vital importance and should be available as an elementary right. At the same time, though, everybody must have the right to use, and be educated in, their first language.

For Blunkett too assimilation is desirable - but he intends to force it through on terms favourable to capital. Absurdly, he pretends that the requirements will “make new citizens feel more welcome” and “give them a stake”. And, in a despicable attempt to blame the victim, he claims that by becoming British (in accordance with the demands of pro-establishment chauvinism) they will be less susceptible to racist abuse and racially-based criticism.

While the proposals are fully in tune with the British state’s official chauvinist ideology, they do not, as some on the left will doubtless claim, demonstrate its innate racism. In fact the bourgeois anti-racist consensus favours the integration and passive unity of the British population (of whatever origin, ‘race’ or ethnicity) in opposition to the rival ‘outsider’. These changes are designed to strengthen official anti-racist national chauvinism.

In fact they are fully in tune with Blairite political correctness. In addition to insisting that the definition of Britishness includes “tolerance”, the tests will assess candidates in respect of their awareness of the “changing role of women” and sexual equality.

There are, however, divisions among the establishment. Sir Bernard Crick, described in The Times as “impeccably liberal”, claimed that his proposals would help cement the new multicultural Britain (September 4). But his boss denounced the “trendy liberal multiculturalism” of the past, which he said had been encouraged to the detriment of integration.

In fact Blunkett is correct inasmuch as the celebration of cultural difference is hardly conducive to assimilation - voluntary or otherwise. In our view, however, democratic assimilation involves a mutually enriching process by which cultures gradually merge to the benefit of all.

The last thing Blunkett is concerned about is democracy for immigrants. We, on the other hand, champion the rights of all - particularly those of workers. Far from forcing migrant workers to submit to a ludicrous examination of their knowledge of the official chauvinist version of British history and customs, we demand that all migrants be given full citizenship rights after three months’ residence.

As internationalists, our aim is to forge a working class unity across the boundaries of language, culture and nationality. Blunkett’s citizenship tests are directly opposed to this aim.

From the CPGB’s ‘Draft programme’

Migrant workers

There are large numbers of workers who have migrated to Britain in order to improve their lives. Immigration is a progressive phenomenon which breaks down national differences and national prejudices. It unites British workers with the world working class.

The bourgeoisie of Britain uses migrant workers as worst paid labour and keeps them in that position by criminalising them through immigration laws, police raids and deportation orders.

The capitalist state in Britain has an official ideology of anti-racism. That in no way contradicts the national chauvinist consensus which champions British imperialism’s interests against foreign rivals and sets worker against worker.

Migrant workers are not a problem. The capitalists who use them to increase competition between workers are. The reformist plea for non-racist immigration control plays directly into the hands of our exploiters. It concedes the right of the state to bar workers from entering Britain. Capital moves around the world without restriction. Communists are for the free movement of people and against all measures preventing them entering or leaving countries.

It is in the interests of all workers that migrant workers are integrated. Assimilation is progressive as long as if is not based upon force. In order to encourage integration and strengthen the unity of the working class the following demands are put forward: