Refugees, War and Capitalism

Refugees and Political Ignorance

In recent months there have been physical attacks in Britain on refugees by far right thugs. A refugee was attacked as he came ashore in Kent (METRO 18 August 2020). This is not new. Many refuges are attacked along their long journey, usually from Afghanistan and Syria. There were 600 attacks alone, for example, on refugees in Germany in the first half of 2019.

As Hope Not Hate noted on the attacks against refugees in the UK:

"Britain First [...]activists stormed into a hotel in Birmingham, currently being used to house refugees and migrants. Cameras in hand they walked down the corridors, banged on room doors and confronting residents when they opened. Similarly, BF leader Paul Golding went to Epping and harassed migrants at a hotel there which has already been the target of For Britain activists in recent months" (Migrant Arrivals 24 August 2020)

Attacks on refugees in the UK have followed on from a continuous stream of anti-refugee articles in the media, notably the SUN, DAILY EXPRESS and DAILY MAIL. This anti-refugee propaganda has been re-inforced by government ministers like the Home Secretary, Priti Patel and a plague of Tory politicians.

The refugee problem has created a politics of hatred and class division. One far right media commentator, Katie Hopkins, suggested using gunships to prevent refugees reaching Europe and denouncing them as "cockroaches".

How politically cowardly it is to blame the vulnerable, the poor and the helpless. After travelling thousands of miles to escape poverty, war, and violence refugees are tormented by the politically stupid who visit their accommodation at night to threaten and menace refugees and their families in their homes. And refugees are confronted by organised gangs at sea who taunt frightened men, women and children desperately trying to avoid drowning.

The refugees are portrayed as "invaders by the far right when they are nothing more than members of our class - the working class. As socialists we call for class solidarity not class division. The refugees are members of our class with the same class interests. We share their problems of poverty: poor housing, lack of health care, utilitarian schooling for exam factory and the job’s market, and the constant day-to-day struggle to put food on the table and raise our children.

The hardship of refugees was described in a 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians:

"Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution have travelled from the Middle East to Europe. Arduous journeys and poor living conditions are causing myriad health problems and access to basic healthcare is extremely limited for those on the move. At every stage of the journey, people are suffering, including after they settle in Europe. The difficulty in managing non-communicable diseases means that some refugees are not getting the treatment they need, which in the long term can have a significant adverse impact on their health. Pregnant women are frequently unable to access antenatal care in Europe and the vaccination rate for refugee children is worrying low. Those who have suffered traumatic experiences in their home country are highly susceptible to developing psychological problems; an issue compounded by poverty, their displacement and being victims of violence"
(The Health Impacts of the Refugee Crisis, October 2016)

And why do refugees risk coming to England in the first place? The answer is simple: capitalism and its wars generate refugees fleeing from conflict, imprisonment and torture. This is where workers who ignorantly blame refugees for their own social problems should turn their attention. The refugee problem is caused by wars in Afghanistan and Syria, wars actively engaged in by the UK through the use of drones and aircraft. You sow what you reap.

Blaming refugees is a successful tactic used by the Far Right, conservatives and politicians like Nigel Farage, because the workers who follow them have not understood the cause of their own poverty. Their poverty is not caused by refugees but by capitalism. It is capitalism, a system based on profit and not directly meeting human need, which leaves workers in poverty and wanting someone to blame.

Capitalism forces workers to live in the wages system which rations what they can buy by the wages they receive. What workers receive in wages and what they and their families need to live worthwhile lives are two different things. It is capitalism that forces workers to live in substandard, mean and insecure housing. It is capitalism which forces them to receive inadequate health care. And it is capitalism which forces them and to seek help from food banks and charities.

The poverty facing workers in Britain places the refugee problem in its correct context. For the workers in Britain, refugees coming to this country are not their concern and it is not their problem. Workers have no country; they have no borders to defend. Workers do not own the land, oil reserves and coal, the means of production and distribution. Workers are just an exploitable class. The reality for our class under capitalism is that the refugees and those who despise and blame them for their poverty are all in the same boat!

Why are there Refugees?

Why are there refugees moving across the planet in fear of their lives?

In his article ""Of Course refugees will come if we ignite bloody conflicts" (INDEPENDENT 12 September 2020) Patrick Cockburn wrote that:

"As a result of their "global war on terror" launched following the al-Quaeda attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, no less than 37 million people have been displaced from their homes"

Cockburn draws upon a Brown University study, "Costs of War" published in September 2020 by the Costs of War Project. The study examined eight wars started since the beginning of the 21st century; Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, North West Pakistan and the Philippines.

The Brown University Protect has already released papers showing that the cost of war for the US alone is running at $6.4 trillion and has led to 801,000 deaths.

The Costs of War Project and Patrick Cockburn article ignored both Russia's and Iran's contribution to the refugee problem. Russia's and Iran's war in Syria, has also contributed to refugees pushing into adjoining Turkey. In April 2020 the UN said that there were 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey including almost 3.6 million Syrian nationals and close to 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities. Over 98% of Syrian refugees live across Turkey in 81 provinces. Syria surpassed Afghanistan in 2013 as the country in the world producing the most refugees.

Russia has also invaded the Crimea and displaced workers in that region. According to the Migration Policy Institute:

"Following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 after a period of civil unrest and the subsequent onset of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military, civilians fled en masse to unoccupied territories in eastern Ukraine as well as central and western parts of the country. At the peak of military operations in 2015, the Ukrainian government reported some 1.5 million IDPs [Internally displaced persons], with the vast majority from eastern Ukraine and around 50,000 from Crimea."

Russian capitalism is just as part of the problem of war and the creation of refugees as other capitalist countries such as the US and UK.

Yet journalists like Cockburn and research units such as the Costs of War Project, weight the blame for war and concentration of refugees on the United States and other Western countries. In this respect they are similar to the mis-named Stop the War coalition, which has never stopped a war and not likely to do so.

The capitalist left are always selective in who they are going to blame for capitalism's conflicts; a trend going all the way back to the Cold War. United States Imperialism, it appears, trumps all else. US Imperialism is the problem not world capitalism. The capitalist Left follow the doctrine "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" even if it means supporting genocidal tyrants and terrorists.

Socialists do not take sides in capitalism's wars. We do not support one capitalist country against another. We say: "a plague on both your houses. We are under no illusion to what the action is needed to end war and the problems caused by war like refugees. To end war means ending capitalism.

As for the refugees, what have they got to look forward to for when they arrive at the White Cliffs of Dover? If they survive the crossing over the English Channel they face arrest, imprisonment and deportation. If refugees avoid deportation they either become part of the industrial reserve army of the unemployed or join the majority of workers as exploitable wage slaves.

Life for refugees in Britain is pretty grim. Until you get refugee status refugees receive £37.75 for each person in their household. And refuge in Britain is refuge in a class based society of capitalists and workers, where a minority own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the majority working class.. And although the refugee has escaped from war and torture they increasing are confronted by the politics of hate from a fractured working class looking for individuals to blame rather than the profit system itself.

The problem facing refuges and why they take the dangerous journey towards Europe is linked to wars prosecuted by major capitalist countries. The Libyan War to depose Muammar Gaddafi, for example, launched by Britain and France with US backing in 2011, left the country in civil war with warlords and gangsters controlling the lucrative refugee trade from North Africa to Europe.

As Cockburn pointed out in his INDEPENDENT article:

"Even leaders as dim-witted as David Cameron, Nicholas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton should have foreseen the politically disastrous consequences of these wars. They generated an inevitable immigrant wave that energised the xenophobic far right across Europe and was a deciding factor in the Brexit referendum of 2016".

Libya is host to 635,000 migrants and 48,627 refugees. Refugees are exposed to serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, slavery, extortion, kidnapping and torture (OPEN DEMOCRACY 18 May 2020).

The refugees are the consequence of capitalism's wars. War and capitalism is the real issue not refugees.

Cockburn concludes his article by saying that the refugee question will only end "... when the wars themselves are bought to an end..." Cockburn is half right. What he should have concluded his article with is that refugees of war moving across the world to escape conflict, imprisonment and torture, will only end when the capitalist cause of war is abolished.

Capitalism and War

The refugee crisis is just one problem among many generated by capitalism. However, capitalism and war are inseparable.

Wars reflect the determination of Governments to defend or to gain control of valuable possessions by armed force when other means have failed. The purpose of modern war is to gain control of territories where there are rich mineral deposits, vital land, sea or air routes or where commodities can be sold or capital invested.

In the SPGB pamphlet WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS we said:

"The Socialist party of Great Britain, like a voice crying in the wilderness, has always maintained that capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest. From these arise the national rivalries and hatreds, the fears and armaments which may at any time provoke war on a terrifying scale"

War is caused by capitalism. The causes are economic in as much as they are about trade routes, spheres of influence, places of strategic importance, access to coal, iron ore and oil.

Socialists are completely opposed to war but realise the problems facing refugees can only be addressed by first abolishing capitalism. The establishment of socialism - a world without countries, borders and international rivalry is the only solution to the conditions that breed war. Socialism will be a global system in which the people of the world will work harmoniously together for their mutual benefit.

The socialist case against capitalism is that the profit system forces the majority of us to sell our labour power as commodity in exchange for a wage or salary. We produce, what Marx called, "surplus value". We produce more social wealth than we receive in the form of wages and salaries. We have no interest in preserving capitalism: we have every interest in abolishing it.

Only by ending capitalism can we end class exploitation. And by ending the profit system, we end the economic conflicts of interests which cause wars and problems like refugees having to seek safety and shelter elsewhere in the world.

Capitalism, as a social system of war and class exploitation, creates insoluble social problems like refugees. And because capitalism is a system of class exploitation it is in the interest of all workers; workers in the UK, refugees and workers elsewhere in the world, to abolish capitalism.

Only by ending the class ownership of the world's resources, will we be able to establish a global social system where production takes place directly and solely to meet human need. Socialism will be based on co-operation, not on competition and conflicting interests. Because socialism will be based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society, it is the only answer to the cause of war and the problems war creates.

Because the establishment of socialism is in the interest of the worlds working class and capitalism is not, we believe there is nothing standing in the way of the working class to organise itself worldwide democratically and politically to replace capitalism with socialism. All that is required is socialist understanding. The establishment of socialism requires workers forming socialist political parties, sending socialist delegates to Parliament and securing the machinery of government so it "...may be converted from a instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation..." (Cause 6 of DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, Socialist Party of Great Britain).

As we said to workers in our pamphlet WAR AND CAPITALISM:

"The choice you have is between capitalism and socialism, between competition and war, on the one hand, and co-operation and peace, on the other. Capitalism has no solution to the problem of war. Only socialism - World socialism - is the answer" (p. 33).

And the establishment of socialism will not only end war but the problems associated with capitalism's wars - the desperate plight of millions of refugees.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.