The plan to deport refugees to Rwanda conceived by Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel is an initiative worthy of Jack the Ripper. It’s the next best thing to Auschwitz in the eyes of Patel and their fellow sickos. But Auschwitz is in Poland and for its own racist and xenophobic reasons, Poland will not consent to being a deportation destination for the British. Rwanda was chosen as a symbolic destination because of its history of genocide. The perfect dog whistle that says: “we think that refugees should be murdered with machetes, or in gas chambers, but we don’t have the guts to openly say so”. It’s designed as a form of subliminal terrorism against those seeking asylum in Britain, that if they do, they will be sent to somewhere where they are likely to be brutally murdered. This is irrespective of conditions in Rwanda today, they are not the point here.
This is the shock-jock tactics of the far right today, which got a toehold in government through Johnson’s Brexit Tory government. Patel is a fanatical cheerleader for Zionist terrorism against the Palestinian people, who had to be sacked by Theresa May for secret meetings with Israeli politicians and officialdom aimed at promoting an agenda of bringing Zionist style repression against those considered untermenchen right into the centre of British politics. Not that British politics under previous Tory (and Labour) administrations was not usually uncritically pro-Zionist in any case, but this goes somewhat further and involves the importation of Zionist repressive techniques into British politics. Indeed, Israel tried the same ‘solution’ to African refugees seeking refuge there but had to abandon the idea.
Patel is also a firm supporter of the rapidly Islamophobic and fascist BJP Prime Minister Modi in India. After his election victory in 2019, she tweeted “Congratulations to our dear friend Prime Minister @narendramodi on your victory in the elections. Wishing you & the people of India every success under your dynamic leadership.” This for someone who is trying to deprive millions of Muslims born in India of their Indian citizenship, by means of discriminatory religious tests of ancestry to ostensibly determine citizenship. Just the sort of scheme Patel would approve of, as she has pushed through laws that give her similar powers to arbitrarily remove citizenship here.
As Marxists we advocate complete opposition to all immigration restrictions by imperialist states. These systematically destroy the lives of hundreds of millions in the Global South, through deadly, predatory wars for raw materials and ‘regime change’ against anyone who defies their economic diktats. Through the imposition of economic disasters, impoverishing privatisation, and attacks on the living standards of the poor, enforced by imperialist organisations such as the World Bank and IMF. The underlying purpose of these outfits is to maintain and expand the subordination of the bulk of humanity by the imperialist club of oppressor states – North America, Western Europe, and Japan, whose wealth is massively enhanced by economic and military plundering of lesser developed countries as prey.
Britain is not unique, unfortunately in its appalling bigotry against refugees. Terrible crimes are being committed by ‘democratic’ governments around the imperialist world and elsewhere driven by racism seeking to keep out ‘alien’ refugees– while those considered ‘deserving’ and ‘desirable’ in a racialised sense – for instance Ukrainians supposedly fleeing ‘Russian aggression’ – get preferential treatment. Others – mainly non-whites – get treated with incredible brutality. Recent instances include the massacre of at least 37 Black African migrants who were trying to enter Melilla, a Spanish colony/territory, and hence the EU, on the coast of North Africa, from Morocco on 24 June. They appear to have been massacred by Moroccan and Spanish border guards. Earlier, there was the suffocation of 51 Central Americans who crossed the US-Mexican border in a truck at San Antonio, California. Such smuggling and the dangers accompanying it are the product of imperialism which destroys whole countries and robs them of their wealth, and then expects populations to eat it and not try to move to where their filched wealth and living conditions have been taken. This is the ‘normal’ operation of today’s imperialism, under the warrior ‘liberal’ Biden, or the ‘socialist’ coalition of the Socialist Party and Podemos in Spain.
But even within this framework, some recent developments have a peculiar pathology, as epitomised by the Johnson regime in Britain, and recently Trumpism in the US. Priti Patel is one of the dregs of the Johnson Brexit regime, the kind of warped, fringe element that the British bourgeoisie would not in decades past have countenanced in government for a moment. This is an expression of the decay of bourgeois politics and the discrediting and exhaustion of the neoliberal paradigm. Unlike in the early years of the Thatcher and Reagan ‘revolutions’ large numbers of people cannot be mobilised by the imagined joys of privatisation and free market economics. The project is to a considerable extent discredited; it has led to the decline of the proletariat though large-scale outsourcing of industrial jobs, and a growth of lumpen demoralization in parts of the ‘traditional’ working class in Western countries, particularly the predominantly Anglo-Saxon countries of Britain and the US, but not confined to them. It has led to a major decline in the standard of living of the proletariat, and a great deal of demoralization in the core, often previously best organised sectors.
This has resulted in fertile grounds for the kind of demagogy often in the past associated with fascism, which is where politicians like Trump, Johnson and Priti Patel come in. Both Brexit, and the rise of Trumpism, were signs of despair at neoliberal attacks, and a casting round for a culprit for decaying conditions other than the ruling class at home. This really involved foreigners, migrants, or other ruling classes than our own, and the reassertion of privileges that workers in imperialist countries had been conditioned to believe were theirs by right, belonging to a master nation, that were recently snatched away by neoliberalism. Workers with this privileged aristocratic consciousness, in fact a kind of reformist consciousness, when these were taken away, naturally evidenced a nationalist response which such bourgeois dregs were able to exploit. Later they will certainly sober up and draw opposite conclusions, but that is for the future.
Organisations to the far right of the mainstream have never been that successful in Britain, but the Tories have at times discreetly co-opted such trends. As did Margaret Thatcher with her ‘concerns’ that the ‘native’ British feared being ‘swamped’ by those with an ‘alien culture’, which allowed her to absorb much of the base of the National Front of the 1970s. But there is little that is discreet about Johnson’s regime today, or Patel’s role within it. The fact that she comes from an immigrant family, and has even acknowledged that her own actions, if done in the past, would have excluded her own family, is just one more perverse provocation and indicative of the nature of Johnson’s cabinet, with a high percentage of freaks and perverts.
This obscenity was a means for Johnson’s regime to try to stave off collapse: the Rwanda issue was part of its desperate fightback against the Tory coup that just consumed him, pushed by the popular opprobrium his pathological lying gave rise to. But now the various Tory contenders, from Hunt to Javid, are falling over themselves to justify the policy and pledge to continue it. The reason is clear: they need the support of the same Tory membership that elected Johnson in 2019, which has basically absorbed much of the ultra-reactionary mass base of UKIP.
The Johnson regime’s attack, in progress when he quit, on the European Convention of Human Rights, whose court issued an injunction to stop the Rwanda deportations (and which the government is preparing to defy), will likely be continued his successor. It could however envelop them in contradictions as Johnson achieved his election in 2019 with not only a hint, to say the least, of electoral fraud in some places, but also by lying about the Brexit agreement itself, as a supposedly ‘oven ready deal’. The Rwanda attack on migrants goes hand in hand with his attack on the ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’ in the Brexit deal.
But the Brexit deal was formulated to be compatible with the Good Friday Agreement signed by the Blair government in the 1990s. The contradiction is that is Johnson’s central lie in the General Election in 2019, and would be successors, if they continue with this policy of unilaterally abolishing the customs checks between the island of Great Britain and the 6 County statelet that are central to that agreement, will be breaking that agreement, endorsing Johnson’s biggest lie, and breaking with the legal element of the Good Friday Agreement which includes the European Convention of Human Rights as a central element. It is not clear that the current gaggle of Tory MP’s will be capable of doing that, given that the new PM will have no popular mandate at all, and will be seen to be breaking a legally binding international agreement that Johnson freely signed. They will be in conflict also with the largest party in the 6 County statelet, Sinn Fein, which recently overtook the Democratic Unionists in that regard, and which also give popular expression to the rejection of Brexit by the 6 County electorate. A very tangled web indeed, and a powder keg.
And unless they break with the ECHR, the Rwanda policy looks untenable, as the European Court has already ruled it effectively unlawful. The Tory leadership election is already shaping up as ‘Wacky Races’ with a drive to convince the 100,000 Tory members, not the MPs, that they are in tune with the beliefs of many of these reactionary scum. But the Tory MPs, unlike the leadership contenders, fear the wider electorate within a short period, and being seen to be a continuation of Johnson’s lying pathology is not likely to endear them in that sense.
Outrage against this barbarism is natural and healthy, as is a desire for vengeance for all the crimes of Johnson, and the Tories from the last 12 years of mass murder through austerity under Cameron and May, mass murder though barbaric malign neglect and profiteering in the Covii-19 pandemic under Johnson, the years and years of ‘hostile environment’ abuses and persecution of migrant communities such as Windrush, and many more unspeakable abuses. Vengeance, and given their disdain for ‘human rights’, complete deprivation of such rights for the scum involved, is a completely laudable idea. But we should not be diverted into support for New Labour in doing so. A new Tory leadership could conceivably stymie Starmer’s pathetic attempts to ride into government on the back of Johnson’s collapse in popular esteem. A hung parliament seems a likely result.
And the migrant/refugee issue is one of many reasons why no socialist or anti-racist should be trying to elect New Labour, either under Starmer or some Blairite successor. Recall that like the austerity attacks on the disabled, the hostile environment for migrants did not begin under the Tories but was carried on from the Thatcher years by New Labour, who forbade refugees from working and issued vouchers for food etc. so they would be marked out for reactionary attack. New Labour in power was as vile in its chauvinism as Priti Patel: one grotesque chauvinist after another instituted deportations under Blair and Brown: Straw, Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Jacquie Smith, Alan Johnson, as vile a crew of abusers as you would find anywhere. Under Corbyn, Diane Abbot was mercilessly attacked by racists outside and within Labour simply for proposing to stop some of the worst abuses that were common to Tories and New Labour, but as part of Corbyn’s inner circle, which proved weak and incapable of waging war against the chauvinists in their own party.
We need an independent working-class party with a programme that opposes all imperialist measures against refugees and migrants more generally. Smash imperialism’s apparatus of repression and xenophobia! Solidarity with those fleeing imperialism’s crimes and those of its proxies!