September 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard
The persecution of minorities in many countries has made more acute the problem of the refugee, seeking a land where he will be permitted to live in comparative peace. But with hardly a single exception there are no countries which will freely admit the penniless wanderer, no matter how good his credentials or how great his need. A London magistrate, in passing a heavy sentence on some refugees who were smuggled in without the consent of the Government, angrily denounced them and upheld the policy of punishing before expelling those who try to break in. He was only echoing what many people and many newspapers say. One of the common arguments against giving refuge is that some refugees are "undesirables," but those who say this do not go on to advocate admitting the "desirable" refugees freely nor indeed do they examine what does and what does not constitute an "undesirable." If it meant professional burglars it would at least be clear, but more often than not it means anyone who may be described as an "agitator"—that is one who wants to make the world a better place by exposing existing evils. A sensibly run community, anxious to improve itself, would welcome assistance from any quarter, but capitalism is not a sensibly run system of society, and the capitalists want to maintain capitalism more than they want anything else. So in their eyes a Socialist is an "undesirable," whether born in Germany of Jewish parents or born in London of the native blend of invading races of long ago. Not so a member of a foreign ruling class. If a Baron Franckenstein wants refuge in England then the formalities which the penniless refugee must observe can be waived, and he can have a knighthood bestowed on him, all without a murmur of protest from the magistracy or the capitalist Press. Not that the Austrian Baron is a criminal, but, after all, he does belong to a thoroughly undesirable class, the class which lives on property incomes—that is, by the sweat of the brows of the working-class. To the clear-sighted worker the capitalist class are all undesirables, no matter where they originate.
The problem is, of course, obscured by arguments about unemployment. We are asked if we want foreign workers to take jobs away from British workers, and on the surface it looks like a reasonable point of view. Actually it is baseless. It is true that if an Italian waiter comes to London he may get a job in preference to a British waiter, just as hundreds of thousands of British workers have in the past managed to get jobs in America and many other foreign countries. But unemployment in the mass is not caused by the size of the population and does not increase because the population is increased, whether by births or by immigration. Capitalism everywhere normally has its unemployed, no matter what the population figures may be. If unemployment disappeared, then the workers would be able to demand more wages, and this would reduce profits to the vanishing point. Unemployment is, therefore, a capitalist necessity. The capitalist himself deliberately creates it by installing labour-displacing machinery in the effort to keep costs down and profits up.
The truth is that capitalism to-day is an anti-social arrangement and produces anti-social ideas, even contradictory ones. Human beings intelligently carrying on the production of wealth for all to consume would welcome additional willing hands, quite apart from the natural desire to give refuge to the persecuted. Instead, the competitive struggle arising out of capitalism makes the worker shun his foreign fellow-workers in distress, and makes him welcome the wealthy idlers born at home or abroad who consume the wealth produced by the working-class without giving any help in the process of production.
As for contradictory ideas born of capitalist economic contradictions we see the very newspapers and public men who are now crying out about the falling birth rate and consequent decline of population opposing the entry of able-bodied, industrious refugee whose numbers would help to arrest the decline.
A few years ago these same people—before the scientists got busy on population trends—were preaching smaller families as a way to get rid of unemployment. Now they first forget the unemployment and demand larger families, then remember the unemployment again as a reason for keeping out the poor refugees (but not the Baron Franckensteins).