The Refugee issue: Deontologists Inadvertently Kill

This article comes in from Tim Pendry of the TPPR public affairs group. Tim (see video link below for more information on the man and his views) is a longstanding member of the NCF.

It has been suggested that migrants are to be treated as a ‘gift’ to Europe and that the current crisis can be resolved with a change of ‘attitude’. Unfortunately, matters are not so simple if only because most people’s ‘attitudes’ cannot be transformed when they feel anxious about their situation and they no longer trust those who claim to rule them. The scale of current and future refugee migration may mean political and economic disruption that Western welfare states with sophisticated benefits systems simply cannot cope with in an age of austerity.

Anti-austerity Leftists will want to deal with this by dismantling the warfare element in the welfare-warfare states initiated by the likes of Bismarck and Lloyd George, legally expropriating middle class wealth through inflation and taxes, while petit-bourgeois national-populists will respond with aggressive appeals to the protection of cultural identity under conditions where welfare is being reduced for indigenous populations because of existing German neo-liberal policies.

It is not widely known that the original National Socialist Workers’ Party was founded before Hitler arrived on its scene because German workers were being out-competed on jobs by Slavs. Cheap labour has its political costs in the long run.

Further destabilisation of Europe serves no one because we are in danger of importing the factionalism, cultural conflict and class conflict that partly underpins the recent waves of violence in the Middle East – all it requires is a trigger. In the case of the Middle East, it was blundering Western intervention. In the case of Europe, it may be mass migration caused by blundering liberal Western intervention. Liberal internationalists triggered the first crisis and the sentimentality of their domestic counterparts is in danger of compounding the second with further blunders.

There are two central problems, once you sweep away the sentiment and emotion. The first is that refugee status and economic migration are not clearly demarcated: being persecuted and displaced and being poor and ambitious for a better life overlap. The second is that the Syrian War is only part of a complex of small wars that are triggering ‘just cause’ for population movements that confuse escape from violence with aspirations for a better life.

This dynamic has not been seen with this intensity in Europe since the end of the Second World War and possibly (if it continues through 2016 and into 2017 and beyond) since the fifth century. Of course, the whole problem may peter out but my correspondents on the Greek Islands tell of something very different – a situation where Western ‘open arms’ are piling up further movements of people that may not come to a conclusion for many months. This may be succeeded by a new crisis coming up through the South from Africa. People have not stopped trying to cross from Libya just because our attention is on Syria. Human traffickers are now accumulating capital down there.

The first problem emerges from the failure by the West to fund the refugee camps properly or work to ensure a settlement of the Syrian Crisis alongside Russia (a matter ably reviewed by the Ambassador earlier this week). This has created an ‘economic’ incentive for a push to the West where conditions offer (on paper) economic opportunities no longer available elsewhere. It is not just the case that the refugees want to get inside Europe and feel safe – they want to get to Germany or London or the North where there is opportunity and greater potential state care.

Other economic migrants – mostly young males but also women and children pushed forward to create a wedge by trafficking gangs or by their families – follow on the tails of those most desperate. And who can blame them? They are rational actors – they are poor, someone is offering a better life so seize it. The question is not whether they are right to come to Europe (they would be fools not to) but whether Europe is right to try to manage this in such a sentimental and unplanned way.

Categories become confused. German sympathetic observers have noted that the women and children are followed and accompanied by jubilant young males. They are no less refugees or migrants than the vulnerable. Sentiment may begin to falter when these able-bodied refugees start competing for houses and jobs and refuse to abandon value systems that are problematic to dour right-wing northerners. Personally, I want these people cared for but I am pragmatically aware that others do not and that, when it comes to democratic choices, nice Mr. Tim is not superior to them in his opinion. I don’t get ten extra votes for being nice or a ‘holy fool’.

The second problem is linked to the first in that the Middle East may be the current problem but the bigger one is Africa where the small wars are certainly present (especially in Eritrea) but where UN figures for population growth also show massive disparities between the scale of local population growth and the ability of local economies to absorb the work-force over the next two decades.

We have a precedent for what is about to happen. British and Irish and then European unemployed simply flooded out of Europe in massive waves of ‘colonisation’ across the world as healthcare and industrialisation created more babies and opportunities but not enough opportunities to absorb every baby (after all UK net migration only became positive inwards for the first time in history as late as 1994).

In that case, the ‘colonists’ faced far less developed and less numerous cultures and simply exterminated them or drove them off the land. Imagine if the Sioux Indians had had our hardware and level of political organisation. In this case, the migrants are coming into extremely complex highly developed societies where the culture of the villages with its Islamic or Pentecostalist mores clashes with a post-Enlightenment world which feels simultaneously great sympathy with the human beings involved and deep anxiety about the eventual voting power of new traditionalist blocs, cultural difference and job competition. This is what Marxists call an ‘internal contradiction’ within Western liberalism.

These African populations will be on the move to the best nearest economic zone of opportunity – not, in this case, the relatively unsettled agricultural lands and new cities of the empires but the old cities of Europe. Any block to migration will now be classed as ‘racist’ as a thesis (in a Hegelian model) to which the antithesis will be that Europe cannot cope with such numbers. The campaigning of the NGOs has not helped – NGO’s are skilled at positioning women and children first to engage with sentiment but so are traffickers and gangs.

The perfect storm arises from the facts. There has been no structural preparation for these movements under the incompetent neo-liberal capitalist governments of the centre – no political education of the masses except in terms of rhetoric and sentiment, no investment in housing and infrastructure (housing competition will be more politically dangerous than job competition and it is interesting to see Jeremy Corbyn major on this issue as a critical potential urban vote-winner), no strategy for raising the status and prospects of the depressed native white working class, no realisation that liberal humanitarian intervention and armed destabilisation of ‘regimes’ would create its own nemesis, and no economic policy in which the migrant could be positioned as an added value element to the Western economy alongside the struggling ‘man in the white van’ rather than as potential traditionalist voting blocs for the centre-left and a potential feared security threat in urban areas for those who read tabloids.

Liberal sentimentalism on this issue has failed both the working classes and the lower middle classes of Europe on the one hand and the victims of war in the Middle East on the other. It wills the ends but not the means. It will not take responsibility for the consequences of its actions. It is classically anti-consequentialist and deontological and so criminally unaware of the effects and harms on others of its position. It ‘busks’ its way through crises much as it has done since Blair’s Chicago Speech and Kosovo – and so we reap what we sow.

The point is that nice religio-sentimentalists – with all the talk of ‘taking in a refugee’ – already presuppose in the offer that they make that they are bourgeois – that is, that they have the space in their house to take in a refugee (yet who have not dreamt of taking in an indigenous homeless person at any time in the last two decades). It is worse than posturing for social media. They do not consider how this sounds to the larger number of unsentimental people who have not only no space in their houses because they are poor or who are struggling to get homes that are big enough for their growing families. The young cannot even get houses – Wilhelm Reich identified the desire to have their own private space as a primary driver for young working class people in Berlin in the 1920s and house-building was central to European socialism until the 1980s. Modern liberals have become brutally class-blind.

And all this because (behind the niceness of it all), free labour movement was actually designed to lower the price of labour to ensure a certain model of economic growth that has enabled increasingly fewer people to get richer and so have enough comfort to be ‘kind’, leaving millions behind with a decaying common infrastructure, working harder than ever just to stand still in increasingly insecure conditions.

Worse, that same system required a radical expansion of markets which led to the armed responses that have destabilised the total system as borders have been opened. Centrists should be ashamed of themselves. After Kosovo, they got into bed with and provided rhetorical cover for the neo-conservative Right and they still persist in not calling out the international system that is undermining the most advanced cultural system of all, our own.

I re-joined the Labour Party this week after twelve years or so because at least the neo-socialists are prepared to open up this debate and face off the national-populists. A pragmatic approach to helping the refugees that does not destabilise the homeland is what is required, not wittering on about refugees being a ‘gift’. They are not – they are poor sods like us screwed over by a dysfunctional post-Soviet international system. It will take a generation to undo the damage both to them and to us and that is what we should be working together to correct.

Attitude is not everything. Reason is everything. Rhetoric is nothing.


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