Wednesday, September 2, 2009

'Bloody foreigners'

Book Review from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bloody Foreigners – The story of immigration to Britain. By Robert Winder. Abacus

“In 1859 Friedrich Engels poked a man in the eye with an umbrella and soon heard from the man's lawyers. 'Needless to say', he wrote, 'these blasted English don't want to deprive themselves of the pleasure of getting their hands on a bloody foreigner.'”

This book is an account of the 'tangled roots' of history that make up the mongrel ‘British nation’, pointing out that from the amalgamation of Jutes, Saxons, Romans, Danes etc. up to the present time one would be hard-pressed to find a true (pure) Englishman. Immigration, and conversely emigration, has been an intricate part of its development. In the 12th century came French Jews to London, Lincoln, York and Norwich; in the Elizabethan age Italian musicians, German businessmen and the first African slaves; then Protestants from the Low Countries seeking religious tolerance; Huguenot refugees from France 'en masse' in the 17th century; likewise Greek Christians fleeing from the Turks. In 1768, courtesy of the slave trade, there were 20,000 black Londoners out of a total population of 600,000 and in 1840 400,000 Irish escaping the potato famine came to Manchester, London, Liverpool and Glasgow. By the end of the 19th century 40,000 Italians and 50,000 Germans had settled here plus 150,000 Jewish evacuees from Tsarist pogroms in Russia. At the time of their arrival most of these groups suffered hostility of varying degrees but as the generations rolled by they were gradually accepted.

Some of the well-known immigrants and their institutions include Rothschilds, Reuters, Marks and Spencer, Trust House Forte, Tesco, Joseph Conrad, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Simon Schama and Linford Christie.

Kings were imported from Germany and Holland, queens from France and Spain and fighting forces from the wide world were drafted to fight in World Wars 1 and 2 and then post-WW2 large numbers of workers were actively recruited from the colonies.

As a result of intricate research Winder exposes the manipulations, lies and exaggerations of media accounts of more recent waves of immigration and asylum seekers, e.g. in the Thatcher era, with immigrants making up 4 percent of the population, she gave her vision of what made Britain 'Great' – 9 percent felt there were too many immigrants before she expounded compared with 21 percent who admitted to being worried afterwards. Other examples reveal the actual state of monetary and housing benefits to immigrants which are wildly different from the stories abounding in the media.

Poor bloody foreigners – they're just used as a convenient group, easy to label and point the finger at. Instead of falling for the divide and rule tactics which weaken us all, workers should recognise who their real enemy is and work together to defeat the system that enslaves us all.

Janet Surman

Weekly Bulletin of The Socialist Party of Great Britain 111

Dear Friends,

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    Socialist Party of Great Britain

    March of the far right

    The Material World Column from the September 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    In many parts of Europe far-right populist, as well as fascist and neo-Nazi political parties, have increased their support in local, national and European elections recently (though not everywhere, not in Poland for instance).

    In many areas hundreds of thousands of workers have voted, not for socialism, as the economic crisis and downturn of international capitalism deepens, but for localism, nationalism and racist policies. What has happened in part of northern England, has likewise been mirrored in northeast France—the British National Party in England and the Front National in France. An extreme example of the trend was the municipal by-election in June and July in Hénin-Beaumont.

    Poverty and Corruption

    Hénin-Beaumont, just north of Arras and half-way between Lens and Douai in the Pas-de-Calais, is a former mining town with a population of 27,000; and in the words of Jason Burke, “one of the poorest parts of France, a wasteland of red-brick terrace homes, crumbling blocks of public housing, half-deserted industrial estates and vast fields of wheat bisected by six-lane motorways taking holiday-makers elsewhere” (Observer, 5 July).

    Although a recent film, “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (“Welcome amongst the Ch’tis”, the popular name for people from this part of France), about a postal worker sent there from the south of the country, which I saw (in western France), popularised the locals, it made no difference to the unemployment, now officially 20 percent, alcoholism (mostly cheap beer), drug abuse and domestic violence; and with the lowest levels of education in the country.

    As in many areas of Britain, with the Labour Party, this part of France, including Hénin-Beaumont, was a long-time fiefdom of the reformist Parti Socialiste, which has become thoroughly corrupt, subject to cronyism and patronage. The PS, running the municipal council for almost 60 years, is split into a number of allegedly left and right factions; and the mayor is in jail, charged with corruption, fiddling expenses and local taxes, resulting in cuts in the municipal budget. It can’t get much worse.

    Enter the Front National

    For the first time in recent years the FN decided to field a candidate, for the municipal authority. The party's local candidate Steeve Briois hoped—probably expected—to become mayor, reversing a general decline since 2002. Marine Le Pen, the 40-year-old daughter of the FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, canvassed the area, popularising the slogan “France for the French” (shades of Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers,” supported by the BNP), and claiming to be the natural inheritors of working-class politics in France. Since 1990 the FN has in fact increased its influence and support within the working class by beating the nationalist drum and playing the anti-Islam card.

    Like the BNP, Marine Le Pen and her supporters, have tended to soften (but not abandon) the FN’s anti-immigration language, and tone down its racism and anti-semitism. She promotes a populist, “Strasserite”, image rather than her father’s former neo-Nazi views (see the Socialist Standard, February and March, 1993).

    In the first round of the Hénin-Beaumont election the Front National polled just under 40 percent, more than double that of any other candidate. Briois assumed his mayoralty was “in the bag”. Unfortunately for him, however, the left and right formed an alliance, and collectively polled 52 percent in a 62 percent turnout, thus squeezing the FN out.

    Europe

    The Front National did not fare particularly well in this year’s European elections either. It won just 6.3 percent, down from 1,684,792 in 2004 to 1,091,681 this year in a low poll.

    It has three seats, down from seven in the last Parliament (just one more than the BNP), occupied by Jean-Marie Le Pen, his daughter, Marine, and Bruno Gollnisch, a friend of Nick Griffin. Jean-Yves Camus, writing in the July number of International Searchlight, observes: “The result leaves the FN weaker than before, but not yet dead. It was notably ahead of the two parties of the alternative left, the New Anti-Capitalist Party and the Left Front”.

    The Front National in France, like the British National Party, has nothing to offer the working class, but the same old worn-out reformist policies and slogans that have failed, time and time again. The workers of Hénin-Beaumont, France, Britain and worldwide, will have to look, and act, beyond the petty nationalisms of such parties and politicians.

    Peter E. Newell