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Editorial: The climate and refugee crises: for a socialist internationalism

THE march in Glasgow demanding justice for refugees and rejection of Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill could not be more timely.

It highlights the fact that the refugee and climate crises are interwoven.

It turns attention to the reality of Britain’s reactionary, racist immigration policy just as Tory ministers are trying to promote themselves as clean, green and internationalist using Cop26 as a global stage.

And it reminds us of the ongoing struggle to change government policy of which the impressive left mobilisation in Glasgow over the past fortnight must form a part.

The ruling class and its media prefer to present these issues in isolation, for good reason. 

If it is impossible to deny the reality of global warming, then hiving it off as a standalone problem hides its relation to the capitalist system generally. 

Corporations and their political flunkies can then present technological fixes such as electric cars as all that is required, sidestepping anything approaching economic restructuring. 

At the same time this compartmentalisation process means other government policies can be presented without reference to their impact on climate change, which is seen as a distinct policy field unconnected to foreign policy, military policy, immigration, housing and the rest. 

This is how the Tories get away with a fossil fuel-subsidising Budget just a week before posing as climate saviours, and why we cannot expect Establishment journalists to ask how, for instance, sending aircraft carrier groups to the China seas affects our carbon footprint.

Making the case for fundamental change means explaining the connections between these crises and their common origin in a capitalist world order.

Climate change is causing desertification, sea level rises and an increase in extreme weather events. Alongside war it is the main driver of the global refugee crisis.

Britain is a close ally of the world’s leading imperialist power, the United States, and is complicit in the succession of devastating wars visited on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria since the so-called “war on terror” began two decades ago.

A list of the countries of origin of the majority of refugees trying to reach Britain or Europe would almost be a roll-call of the US’s recent wars — especially when their role in the spread of jihadist terror groups that have gone on to destabilise Nigeria, Somalia and many other countries is taken into account.

Similarly, as the first industrialised country and one of the developed imperialist powers, Britain bears a far greater share of responsibility for global warming than its size would suggest.

These factors combine to place a special responsibility on the British left when it comes to the refugee crisis. Not from guilt, since neither the wars nor the greenhouse gas emissions are the fault of working-class people but of the ruling class’s choices. But because we have greater leverage to challenge that ruling class.

That challenge can only succeed if it takes on the exploitative economic system itself. 

Confusion over this has led to confusion between capitalist globalisation and international solidarity, most notably in a left opposition to Brexit which depicted the European Union as a guarantor of racial harmony and tolerance.

The same EU that describes refugee families freezing to death on the Polish border as part of a “brutal attack,” moots erecting a Trump-style border wall to keep them out, funds the Libyan coastguard to seize desperate migrants and return them to camps in a warzone where many are raped, tortured and trafficked into slavery and the sex trade.

Britain’s ruling class and the EU’s are both our enemies. The horrific treatment of refugees is common to both, and capitalist globalisation is not anti-racist nor an ally in the struggle against racism.

The fight for climate justice and migrant justice are intertwined. And they depend on socialist internationalism and working-class power.

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