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.