Communist Youth Organization

The Youth Branch of The Workers’ Communist Party of Iran

Chia Barsen: Understanding the migration crisis through capital contradictions

There are currently 3 million Syrian people that have fled Syria to the neighbouring countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan) and another 6 million Syrians displaced within Syria who are fleeing the war and trying to procure a basic standard of living. Every week Syrians along with other refugees are found dead on European shores and in trucks traveling across borders. The displacement of myriad number of people is currently the next phases in the global class struggle and can be in part explained through the lens of capital accumulation and the contradictory relations within the formula of capital accumulation.

Capital is a process, not a thing. Capital accumulation via the creation of surplus value is predicated on capital’s ability to overcome major barriers in the process of capital. One of the most important obstacles/barriers that circumscribes capital accumulation is the political and social power of labour, such as the politically conscious working class in Syria that are demanding a larger share of the social wealth and political power. The displacement of millions of people is a surface manifestation of latent, and foundational, contradictory relations within capital accumulation. The contradictory relation between labour and capital in Syria, as witnessed through the repression of the Syrian protesters by the Syrian armed forces (the state of Syria), where the working-class, inspired by the Arab spring, struggled against the Assad regime to procure a larger share of the surplus/wealth via exercising political influence through months of street protests and general strikes (and demanding to overthrow the Assad regime), became tantamount to an absolute contradiction: total civil war and a significant pause to the process of capital accumulation in Syria. 

The foundational contradictory relation between labour and capital, as well private vs. common appropriation of wealth, is insoluble (within the context of capitalism) and is ossified in the heart of capitalism. This contradiction which is normally mitigated in a palliative way through concessions made by either the state or the working-class, does not always escalate to an absolute contradiction where the process of capital is no longer possible. However in Syria, the Assad regime, seeing the demise of neighbouring despots in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, chose to diplomacy via the military and war machinery: slaughtering hundreds of thousands and displacing millions of others in order to discipline the working class of Syria.

The Syrian civil war is a conspicuous proxy war between major imperialist powers in the East and the West: Syria is an essential part of a larger geo-political economic plan in imperialism’s division of the world. Syria, a country that was only several years ago teeming with revolutionary spirit and aspirations for a better future, is now ransacked by war and is bereft of many social institutions, basic infrastructure and working class organizations. Further, this conflict, added to the neighbouring conflicts, has created the vacuous space necessary for the inexorable growth of groups such as ISIS.

The social and political effect of the displacement and migration of millions of Syrians in the Middle East as well as Eastern and Western Europe, has further augmented the power of capital over labour. With the large unemployment numbers, or what Marx calls the “industrial reserve army”, capital has the power to pressure its resident working class to sell its labour at a cheaper price and/or to accept a lower standard of living. Further, nascent right-wing anti-immigration parties will flourish through creating divisions in working-class via nationalism, racism and the creation of the outside “other”. Capitalism will do almost anything to deny and to occlude these migrants from accessing social services and the welfare state (that the working-class has procured through decades of class-struggle in Europe). 

Through racism and nationalism, capitalism is attempting to dehumanize the migrant and refugee population in order to lessen its responsibility.  The responsibility of capital is essentially to pay the cost of the social reproduction of labour (the necessary cost to reproduce the worker’s social labour, day after day, via social services such as subsidized housing, education and healthcare) that capital has a penchant for billing the wages of the working-class itself. In this way, capitalism is attempting to frame the refugees as “burdens” on the social services (which after decades of neo-liberalism assault on the working-class, is mostly paid through the taxation of the working-class) and only to grant them entry where it fits capitalism’s class interests.

Anther inexorable outcome of the unbridled mass migration is the dissolution of Europe as a closed community. The latent inequality within capital (foundational, via the contradictory relation between labour and capital), as a process, and capitalism, as a system, manifests itself in relative inequality within domestic markets (between capital and labour). It also manifests itself in absolute inequality via global markets, such as the inordinate inequality of power and wealth between the Northern and Southern hemisphere of the world as well as the West and the East.  This is to say that a human being (in the working-class) born in Western Europe is likely to have a better standard of living than a person born in central Africa. The mass migration from a deprived, war torn South and Middle East will further erode these boundaries in standards of living. Socially, the working-class and the European community will no longer be impervious to the lower standards of living as experienced in other places in the world. The European working-class in Western European countries, the 99%, will now, more than ever, experience the untrammelled force of capitalism’s dehumanizing machine as more and more drowned corpses of refugees wash upon European shores. Conversely, the 1% will create ever smaller communities to isolate and protect themselves from the deprived and dehumanized masses of working -class.

Capitalism does not solve its crisis but moves it around geographically. The crisis of capitalism in the Middle East, Central and North Africa is now found ubiquitously in Europe via the masses of migrating refugees, as the global class struggle between capital and labour to augment a greater share of the wealth in society continues. The European working-class must stand united with the migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe and pressure the European states to fulfill their responsibility for providing a humane standard of living for all: the refugee crisis is produced by capitalism and capitalism must be made responsible for its cost.

Chia Barsen

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