Proletarian Internationalism and the Struggle against Fortress Europe

Defend refugees against terror and deportation!
Smash racist and fascist mobilizations!

Translation of "Proletarischer Internationalismus und der Kampf gegen die Festung Europa," first published in German in September 2015

The recent wave of racist violence against refugee shelters and the increase in right-wing anti-refugee mobilizations across Germany require a response by revolutionaries. That police in Heidenau in Saxony stood idly by as a racist mob went on the rampage for days, and only exercised their monopoly of force when anti-racist activists began to demonstrate, says a lot about the role of the capitalist state and police. Revolutionaries have no faith that the capitalist state will protect refugees against witch hunts, harassment and pogroms. The proposals to segregate refugees along ethnic lines made by Bodo Ramelow, Left Party premier of Thuringia, after rioting in overcrowded accommodation, demonstrate the impotence of the Left Party in resisting state racism. Many Left Party members and activists take part in anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrations, but wherever their party holds power, whether directly or in a coalition, it has acted as part of the state apparatus of repression and deportation.

The 50-60 million refugees forced to search for a country of refuge in recent years are victims of the imperialist world order. Global exploitation and oppression by the imperialist powers and their local proxies (dictators and terrorist militias), and the conflicts they deliberately foment, are the cause of this tragedy. Debate has been triggered by mass drowning of people from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia seeking a better life in Europe or Australia, as well as the rising number of refugees who, despite everything, somehow manage to make it to their destination. Marxists must be able to provide a revolutionary political analysis of these events and participate in the mobilization of international working-class solidarity in the fight against Fortress Europe.

A revolutionary answer to the refugee issue must be multi-layered. In addition to openly challenging Fortress Europe both internally and at its borders, it is necessary to struggle against racist sentiments within the working class that are fueled by the bourgeoisie and its political agents in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the trade-union leadership. Active proletarian solidarity with refugees should also be organized, recognizing that the majority are part of the global working class. Only by combining deeds with words can we develop an awareness that the problem is predatory capitalism and its subjugation of the world, not the people who are seeking to escape persecution, oppression and poverty.

The German bourgeoisie is split several ways on this issue. Pro-refugee liberals and Christians make moral appeals for responding to the suffering of the refugees. They argue that Europe is rich and we must use every legal avenue to reduce the obstacles in the way of those seeking shelter. They make much of the supposedly open and tolerant values of Europe, as well as its history of refugees and deportations, particularly following World War II. Another section of the bourgeoisie sees immigrants primarily as cheap material for exploitation and opposes the racist mobilizations of right-wing populists and fascists for that reason. Dead or wounded refugees are simply bad for business.

The misanthropic propaganda of the right-wing populists and fascists attempts to tap into racist attitudes in backward sections of the working class, resulting in repeated attacks on refugee housing reminiscent of the pogroms of the 1990s. The names of Heidenau and Nauen are now known well beyond the borders of Saxony. These events come as no surprise given the popularity of the (recently split) Pegida movement and the large vote for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in recent elections. Lutz Bachmann, Pegida's leader, who led a racist mob attack on refugee supporters in Freital in Saxony, was only acting out the logic of his political program. Groups like AfD are supported by a section of capitalists who find it convenient to blame refugees for the low wages, unemployment and social decline their own policies have created. Bavaria's governing party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has sought to promote racist sentiment in the working class with CSU chief Horst Seehofer’s claims that the asylum system is widely abused. While at present only a small section of the German ruling class supports the far right, the danger posed should not be underestimated. Revolutionaries must actively resist the fascists and right-wing populists and protect refugees and their homes.

Fortress Europe

The racist Fortress Europe project, based on the use of blockades and border security measures to prevent as many refugees as possible from entering Europe, is worth billions to the defense and security industries waging this grim war. The recent debate over EU military units destroying vessels that might be used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean addressed only one of many reactionary proposals. Billions of euros are being spent on attempts to reinforce the EU’s borders on land, sea and in the air. Because there is no legal way for refugees to apply for asylum in Europe from their home country, the price for getting into the EU is high, with refugees and routes into Europe turned into commodities. The people smugglers are already seen as the only realistic way for refugees to get to Europe and the higher the fences and more militarized the borders become, the more refugees will be forced to rely on the traffickers. The risks are extremely high - during the past 15 years over 23,000 people have died attempting to make the journey, according to the Migrant Files project.

The role of Frontex

The creation of Fortress Europe through systematic militarization of the borders is an ongoing process, led by Frontex, an EU agency headquartered in Warsaw. In an effort to create a common EU border policy, Frontex provides data and analysis and assigns individual nation states responsibility for particular EU border security measures. Revolutionaries call for the destruction of Frontex, a racist institution which cannot be reformed.

The level of cynicism involved in EU border security was displayed in the discussions of summer 2014 regarding Mare Nostrum – an operation in which the Italian navy rescued more than 140,000 people from the sea. When the EU refused to meet the Italian government’s request for funding, the operation was transferred to Frontex – and renamed Frontex Plus – without any statutory authority to carry out sea rescue missions.

Pull Back, Push Back: European values in border security policy

The following accurately describes the situation on the EU's external frontier prior to the recent headlines about drowned refugees:

“NGOs and other organizations have however reported for years cases where military vessels or the coast guard intercept refugee boats at sea, and so prevent the people on board entering Europe. At times this is done through the use of armed force, at others by hauling the boats back into waters that do not belong to the EU. Such operations are called Push Backs – and they can end fatally.”
—Schiffbruch, by W. Grenz, J. Lehmann and S. Ke▀ler, p. 86 [our translation]

“Push Backs” are integral to racist Fortress Europe. Italy, Greece and Spain all participate, despite it being contrary to EU law. On land routes, refugees arriving in Bulgaria and Greece from Turkey are frequently forced to turn back. Spanish guards attack anyone attempting to climb over the border fences at Ceuta and Melilla with rubber bullets and batons. Injuries and deaths are an inevitable part of the process. This unrestrained state violence is designed to deter those seeking refuge in Europe.

“Pull Back” is a term for collaboration between transit countries and EU authorities. Under Pull Back arrangements, EU member states request that these “third countries” detain refugees on their territory. This policy is underpinned by so-called readmission agreements with the countries concerned.

“There is no official overview of which individual EU member states have concluded such agreements with which third countries. Some of the texts are not even officially published. Each EU country can act as it pleases on this issue.”
ibid, p. 93 [our translation]

The distribution of refugees in Europe

Within the EU there is much dispute over how refugees are distributed between the member nations. The Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy are not happy with the existing arrangements, although this is not motivated by concerns over the right of refugees to enter or for their safety. EU policy is characterized by racist, rightist slogans, with refugees depicted as burdens and expenses, and the right to asylum undermined by mass deportations and expedited hearings.

The EU’s Schengen Agreement permits EU citizens to move freely and to live anywhere in the European Union. In contrast, under the Dublin Agreement, refugees may only stay in the country where they filed for asylum. Debates over accommodation, the administrative load and the treatment of refugees while their applications are processed are contaminated by cynicism, racism and attacks on democratic rights.

Hungary’s reactionary government, cheered on by racist groups in Germany, has erected a fence to block the oncoming wave of refugees. Revelations of the mistreatment of refugees by Hungarian police have been used to divert attention from similar actions by German federal police in Hanover. This exposes the bogus claims by the ruling class about how much Germany is doing for the refugees. Private security companies, well known in some parts of Germany for employing Nazis and racists, are assigned to protect refugee housing. It is unfortunately not surprising that photos and reports of continuing abuse of refugees have become commonplace.

Many refugees originate in countries shattered by crisis and war and are in need of psychological support. But German authorities, wielding the restrictive Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, refuse to provide such urgently needed help. Penny-pinching restrictions also limit the treatment of physical illnesses.

Brain drain as imperialist strategy

The repeated calls for "highly skilled migrants" and the use of this criterion to select refugees are hypocritical and racist. Most refugees stuck in agonizingly long asylum processes are unable to work. Even if an asylum seeker is offered a job, it is first necessary to check that no EU citizens or previously approved refugees want the position. Brain drain – imperialist countries skimming off workers who earned their qualifications elsewhere – undermines the countries of origin and parallels the exploitative acquisition of raw materials.

Refugee protests

Refugees have begun to resist this systematic harassment, raising their voices and staging political protests. In Berlin, the occupation of public squares has raised awareness. In Hamburg, tens of thousands have gone onto the streets in solidarity with “Lampedusa in Hamburg,” a group fighting for a future for migrants free of arbitrary bureaucracy, racist police street checks and the whole inhumane asylum process.

Since early 2015, Hamburg's SPD-dominated Senate has avoided addressing the crisis, joined by the Greens, despite some involvement in anti-racist and refugee protests. The SPD's feigned sympathy for refugees is clearly aimed only at restoring Germany's reputation from the damage done by imperialist diktats to Greece.

Revolutionaries stand in solidarity with the refugees. The social power of the working class is key in the struggle against Fortress Europe. International solidarity not only means support to global imperialism’s victims in the abstract, but also concrete assistance in Germany to those who have fled here. Revolutionaries should counter attempts by German capital to exploit refugees as cheap labor through recruiting them into the trade-union movement. This is the only way to prevent a “race to the bottom” in which refugees are blamed by local workers for falling wages and unemployment.

We stand for the abolition of all racist immigration laws and the special procedures for non-EU citizens. Racism and nationalism are ideological pillars which sustain capitalism and poisons which divide and cripple the global working class.

Fortress Europe must be destroyed from within. It safeguards the imperialist interests of Europe’s capitalist rulers. A revolutionary internationalist workers’ movement, along with each of its national components, must demonstrate to the victims of capitalist exploitation within and without the walls of the fortress that they have common interests. The suffering inflicted on refugees on a daily basis can ultimately only be ended by the overthrow of the entire global capitalist system.