Refugees' struggle and working class solidarity at the gates of the EU - 3 days in Horgos

"When you sell the American or European Dream to the rest of the world, while at the same time turning the lives of the peoples outside those continents into the darkest nightmares imaginable, it is really no surprise that at some point you’ll have a mass movement towards the self-proclaimed promised lands."

The so-called refugee crisis has been in the centre of the public eye for some time now, and nowhere more than in the countries which saw those desperate people pass through them in pursuit of a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future. Initially, I thought I’d go to Belgrade and volunteer with the Refugee Aid organisation and help distribute provisions, while at the same time interviewing the refugees and spreading the news of their situation. However, the clash at the Hungarian border in Horgos, where Hungarian police cracked down on the refugees with unprecedented panicking brutality made me change my plans and head there with some other comrades. We arrived after the clash, brought as many provisions as we could, and I decided to stay and offer a hand.

Who are these refugees?

When I and the comrades from Crveni and Sombor Antifa first arrived to bring aid to the Horgos 2 border crossing–turned-refugee-centre, at night on Sept 16th, we encountered thousands of people from all over the Middle East, all of them struggling to secure basic provisions for themselves and, very often, their families, who follow them on this journey into the unknown. It took us a while to get our bearings, and a while more for me to gather the nerve to approach the refugees and talk to them, not because I felt any sort of fear of them—I didn't feel afraid for one second—but because it seemed at first a little intrusive to chat up the people who seemed in such a race for survival that every minute of their time was precious. Apart from sporadic assistance to the people I randomly ran into, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, who needed a “local” to help them get tents, blankets, or internet (I activated the mobile hotspot on my telephone and it pretty much stayed on until the end), it was only the following morning that I started proper conversation with the inhabitants of the Horgos refugee camp.

Things seemed calmer in the morning. There was almost no trace of the chaos that happened just hours before, when Hungarian police beat and gassed the refugees trying to cross the border, regardless of age. I approached several groups of people camping outside and asked to hear their stories. There was a Hazara family from Afghanistan, fleeing the perpetual war brought upon that country by imperialist meddling. The Hazara are a Shiite minority in Afghanistan and Pakistan, believed to be of Mongol origin, and as such they face multiple forms of oppression as both a religious and an ethnic minority—they're abused by imperialism, by the new regime, by the Taliban insurgents. In fact, all these factions were seen for what they were by the Hazara man I talked to. When I asked him if he left his home because of America or because of the Taliban, he joined his hands and said “America and Taliban—one. Bin Laden was a CIA child.” As we talked, the man was putting on sanitary gloves and preparing to clean up the area around his family's tent. Self-organised cleaning was very common and, although it was impossible to actually have a clean environment in a tent village where garbage just keeps piling up, along with human waste, such attempts showed discipline and cooperation—they showed that these people might have lost everything, but they hadn't lost their dignity.

The camp was full of all kinds of families. Some travelling together from the beginning, some newly formed families of friends who met on the road and decided to stick together and watch each other’s backs. One such newly formed family was a group of Syrians I met. They invited me to sit with them, around the fire they built to keep warm in the morning, and told me they were Sunni Arabs who chose not to fight for either side in the Syrian Civil War. The thing I noticed about them and other Syrians, except for Kurds, was that they were very reluctant to take photographs, still fearing the reach of Assad’s secret police. Still, they agreed to take a private selfie with me, as a memento, if I promise I won’t publish it.

Despite the common prejudice that refugees are young, able-bodied men, the people I saw in the camp included numerous children, women, and elderly, as well as a shocking number of people handicapped by congenital defects, or people disabled due to war injuries, lacking arms and legs, and moving around in wheelchairs or on clutches.

Not all of the refugees I’ve met came here to escape war, though. Many embarked on a journey to Europe to escape poverty and seek a prosperous life which was denied to them in their countries. Such people most often come from African countries, like Sudan, and also countries of the Maghreb. Western right-wing press has often tried to introduce the false distinction between refugees and so-called economic migrants. This preposterous distinction even exists in international law. It is based on the faulty premise that one’s life is only endangered enough for them to be treated as a refugee if they live in a war zone. In reality, everyday life in poverty brings equal or even greater danger to working people trying to make a living. Stress, disease, crime, destitution—all these things are an enormous threat to human life, and nothing is more cynical than to tell people, “you’re not in a war zone, therefore you’re fine.” Such legal trickery only serves as an excuse to narrow down the range of responsibility of the so-called international community and its institutions, which act much like insurance companies—they claim their business is to help people in need, when in reality they are more concerned about finding ways to avoid or minimize their obligations.

The barbed wire fence of “open society”

However, such obligations are not always easily avoided. When you sell the American or European Dream to the rest of the world, while at the same time turning the lives of the peoples outside those continents into the darkest nightmares imaginable, it is really no surprise that at some point you’ll have a mass movement towards the self-proclaimed promised lands.

For decades now, imperialist countries of Western Europe and North America have presented their liberal democratic systems as “open societies,” societies of “free individuals” and “free movement of people and commodities.” That was all good when the times were good and when the markets were expanding, during the so-called golden age of reformism, made possible by the post-WWII boom and the integration of the former Stalinist states into the world market.

Once capitalism entered into crisis, and the world of capital scrambled to stop the profit rate from falling, the façade of openness and alleged freedom was all but declared for what it was from the start—a fig leaf of abstract “freedom” to cover up very concrete and ruthless forms of exploitation. This veneer had its purpose during the Cold War, when the goal of imperialism was to present itself as a bright and colourful alternative to the dreary “communist” life in the deformed workers’ states. However, once those deformed workers’ states reverted to capitalist states, ripe for “transition”—i.e., the plunder of privatisation with the aid of local bureaucratic cronies and oligarchs—the veneer had no purpose whatsoever. The smiling face of “democracy” and “free choice” was swiftly replaced by the whip of “there is no alternative”; the reformist policies of concessions to the working people were replaced by austerity and privatisation, which denied millions of people access to basic achievements of civilisation, such as affordable, quality healthcare, education, and housing.

Imperialist wars started in the Middle East and Africa were never really about dealing with any genuine threat to Western peoples. From the very beginning, they were a way to prop up the failing markets and make a quick buck, without any long-term strategy for those regions, without a care as to what happens to the people there once their resources have been milked and once Western big-business “liberators” have satisfied the bottom line.

However, our planet is round, regardless of the efforts these fine gentlemen put into forgetting this simple fact, and the mess you make in one part of the world will unavoidably come back to bite you in your comfortably seated behind. The EU concept of “free movement of commodities and people” was originally designed to boost German exports and secure cheap, non-unionized labour via controlled immigration. It was a tactical decision of Western European capital, which facilitated their effective colonisation of Eastern Europe through the process of “European integration.” However, in order to sell it to the masses of Eastern Europe and the rest of the world, this tactical business decision had to be presented as a principle, as a “European value,” part of Europe’s dominant ideology. It is no wonder, then, that millions of utterly desperate people fleeing for their lives decided to take this principle at face value and demand that European countries fulfil their lofty promises.

Unfortunately, in the world of free market economy, a promise is only as good as the power that enforces it, economic or political. If the refugee masses bring no profit to European capital, if they, in fact, put more pressure on the welfare state—not just financially, by demanding more social welfare upon arrival, but also politically, by demanding its preservation as an institution—and if they do so en masse, as a large collective, instead of as atomized individuals who come via controlled immigration, then they pose a new natural ally to the European anti-austerity movement, led predominantly by the European working class. What’s more, such a natural alliance will tend to turn into full integration of the majority of the refugees into organised labour, once they’ve become more employable and their stay in EU countries is made secure. There are several reasons to expect such development.

First of all, the shrinking labour market inside core European countries will not be able to absorb all the refugees, or even the majority, for a longer period of time. Many of them will be hardly employable before they can settle at a permanent address, verify their skills, learn the language of the country in which they settle, etc. Also, many refugees have family members who cannot fend for themselves—be they children, or disabled adult relatives. Making them (more) employable, and thus self-sufficient, will take time and financial aid by the state. The same can be already said about millions of unemployed, undereducated, and/or homeless people who already live in Europe. Already there is a need for an all-encompassing solution to these economic hardships that affect millions of refugees and locals alike.

Secondly, no amount of education and training can be of help if there is a chronic shortage of work. The shrinking labour market will push organised labour further towards seeking political solutions to the unemployment crisis—solutions that cannot be found within the confines of the market economy. Organised labour is driven more and more towards either totally capitulating to, or else overthrowing capitalism. This crossroads will be influenced in no small manner by how organised labour treats the refugee workforce. If met with competition and hostility, the bourgeoisie will have an easier task in trying to use the refugee workforce to undermine working conditions. On the other hand, if acquainted with their labour rights and integrated into organised labour structures, these brave and enduring people could actually become one of the most militant layers of the working class.

Thirdly, their integration would also counter the cultural division and bankrupt the whole “clash of civilizations” myth that the ruling class is so eager to maintain as a justification for its imperialist interventions worldwide. Lack of support for imperialist war will make it very hard, even impossible for the ruling class to use the “national unity” pretext to introduce more police state elements and force the labour movement to retreat before the jackboot of “national security” and accept further attacks on its rights.

12022591 10154214372147598 7961439465326901409 oSuch a scenario is something European capital would rather avoid, even at the cost of blatantly breaking its own laws and agreements, from the 1951 Geneva Convention to the Schengen Treaty.

It is therefore no wonder at all that EU border countries, like Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria were expected to act as EU sentry posts and do whatever they could to stop the refugees from reaching the core imperialist countries, such as Germany, Britain, and France, or the countries in Benelux and Scandinavia. Using these countries as a shield is also politically convenient because they are “new Europeans,” i.e., new EU members, still tutored in the ways of “democracy” and “human rights” by EU founders—and most of all by Germany. Because of that, any kind of brutal abuse and police state tactics applied by those countries against the refugees can simply be attributed to the overzealous nature of “young democracies” who have not yet completely embraced the so-called European values.

And there was no shortage of abuse. It was truly heartbreaking to see all the women, the children, the elderly, and the disabled being beaten and gassed by the hyped-up police of European Hungary. The scenes of immigrant prisons that resemble concentration camps, the fact that self-organised solidarity groups were prevented from providing food and other supplies to the refugees inside, and the excessiveness of brute force employed by the Hungarian police were most of all a sign of panicking obedience, of the overwhelming desire of Viktor Orbán to prove himself as the new anti-refugee field marshall of Berlin. The violence and disregard for human rights and international law were blatant, and not the slightest attempt was made to hide them. The Hungarian police went as far as to violate Serbian borders by firing teargas and arresting protesters on Serbian soil. Hungarian media contributed to the racist paranoia by publishing wild, sensationalist stories, such as the one about the refugee train from Croatia in which, they claimed, the refugees disarmed Croatian policemen and took the engineer prisoner! Such scary bedtime stories, which only a six-year-old would actually believe, tell volumes about the state of mind of the Hungarian right-wing government.

Thanks to Orbán’s “work,” Angela Merkel and the German establishment could initially afford to send welcoming messages to the refugees in public, while at the same time demanding that those people be stopped by the border countries with any means at their disposal. Only a naïve person would believe that both Hungary and Bulgaria started building fences at their borders almost simultaneously, independently of each other, at the whim of their countries’ leaders. And even that naïve belief is soon shattered by the fact that, once the initial line of defence of Fortress Europe has been penetrated by the combined strength and persistence of the refugee masses and a growing solidarity movement of European peoples eager to help them enter, the EU founders themselves started acting in the very manner of those “young democracies,” effectively scrapping Schengen and instituting the new rule when it comes to European borders—every state for itself.

Popular response

What most European states didn’t count on, however, was the incredible and amazing spontaneous reaction to the “refugee crisis” by the masses of ordinary working people all over the continent. Despite being fed all sorts of xenophobic and particularly Islamophobic lies for decades, the people of Europe rose up in a marvelous display of solidarity. Thousands donated surplus clothes and bought food and medical provisions, dozens volunteered to go to the refugee centres and help distribute them. When I first arrived, I expected most volunteers to be Serbian, but soon I realized I was mistaken. The majority of Serbian volunteers remained in Belgrade, where there was already a wide network of solidarity, with donations arriving on a daily basis, along with new volunteering applications. Even taxi companies offered a hand by providing free transportation of provisions to refugee centres. One of the focal points of the volunteer effort in Belgrade was definitely Miksalište, an alternative music club located in Savamala, a part of Belgrade occupied by multiple artist collectives and NGOs, on the south bank of the Sava River.

11999758 10154214371707598 6848533110475551893 oInternational volunteersAs for Horgos, volunteers from Czech Republic, USA, Sweden, Britain, and many other countries organised to come and do whatever they could to make the refugees’ lives more bearable. Throughout the night, with hardly any sleep, the volunteers—NGO and freelance alike—struggled to make sure the majority of refugees have tents, blankets, and sleeping bags, and that as many as possible can get at least one hot meal a day. In absence of any official infrastructure, we occupied an abandoned restaurant building at the border crossing, essentially turning it into a squat, where we worked and slept. Our accommodation differed from that of the refugees only in the fact that we slept—if we slept—in an enclosed space. Apart from that, we ate the same food, slept in the same sleeping bags, and struggled for the same goal.

Among the most sought-after goods in the camp were information and internet. Once the word spread that I could provide a hotspot for free, I abandoned all hope of ever charging my phone battery above 20%. WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook were huge sources of comfort, as it was only through these media that the refugees could find out what happened to the loved ones they separated from, or let those loved ones know they were alive and well (all things considered). Internet was also the main source of news about the migration routes, with new information on where to go and what to expect changing practically every 12 hours, while we tried to distinguish fact from rumour.

Also, a great personal source of strength and determination for me was the response of friends and comrades who couldn’t volunteer themselves, because they had to work or study, but who nevertheless spread the word of the events and contributed, each in their own way, to creating a mood of solidarity among the masses in Serbia—a mood which was determined and unwavering, despite all sorts of right-wing hysteria and conspiracy theories.

“Thank you, Serbia!”

At at first glance, the position taken by the government of Serbia, in regards to refugees, might seem peculiar and surprisingly progressive. While all other neighbouring countries first expressed varying degrees of official xenophobia, spearheaded by Macedonia and Hungary, Serbia managed to act as a safe haven for refugees, where their rights were respected, where even the police were unusually polite and helpful, and where the government and the mainstream media made a point to explain that the people passing through our country pose no threat to us and should be welcomed and helped as much as possible. Parallels were often made between the Middle Eastern and African refugees and our own refugees from the Yugoslav Civil War, and these parallels struck a nerve, prompting the vast majority of people to offer assistance. For this reason, “Thank you, Serbia!” was one of the most common slogans chanted by the refugees, repeated so often that even the little children learned it.

What is the main cause behind such behaviour? How is it that Aleksandar Vučić, a hardline chauvinist from the war period, now dressed in slightly softer, “patriotic” colours, decided to instruct Serbia’s institutions to treat refugees in a humane and dignified manner? The answer to that is pretty obvious, actually, as it is in most cases related to a bourgeois regime—short-term profit, in this case political. By building Serbia’s reputation as an inclusive and welcoming country, Vučić hopes to score important political points both with the electorate and with the so-called international community—points he could cash in afterwards, in regional conflicts, especially the question of Kosovo or the unsettled border dispute with Croatia, or the question of the way Albanian and Gypsy minorities are treated in Serbia. Each time a bourgeois politician smiles, he’s merely warming up his jaws for a bite.

The hypocrisy of Serbian Government was only thinly veiled: It offered minimal support, minimal organised supplies, and the whole effort was on the brink of collapse every day, despite the truly heroic efforts of the few official institutions that were sent to help, above all the healthcare workers, who successfully prevented any serious disease outbreaks despite impossible sanitary conditions. Not only did these selfless people do an incredible job to the credit of their profession, but they also did it without any tension, in a calm and polite way, displaying exemplary bedside manner. Apart from them, it was up to municipal governments and various self-organised groups, NGOs, and individuals to provide the much needed aid. The biggest achievement of the Serbian government was essentially that it didn’t try to prevent those efforts. I must admit that, as much as I felt proud of the popular solidarity expressed by ordinary Serbian people, I felt embarrassed about how little our government did to help. When the refugees would tell me, “Thank you so much, Serbia is so good to us!”, I couldn’t help but wonder: How good is really a government that builds its image of a “grand humanitarian” on the basis of mere lack of abuse? How welcoming to refugees is a country that still lets them sleep in the field, surrounded by filth and cold?

This thin humanitarian veneer was very soon blown away once the new corridors through Croatia and Slovenia were open, and once the Hungarian Orbán regime essentially capitulated and decided to allow the rest of the refugees coming from these countries safe passage to Austria. The very moment agreements were made, the government showed just in what a hurry it was to be rid of these guests towards which it had faked warmth and welcome. On the very last day, the police tried to send the remaining volunteers away as quickly as they could, while at the same time directing the refugees onto buses. The presence of volunteers and the media was a nuisance for them, since it made them limit their “efforts” to minimum use of force, without any actual physical contact with the refugees. All of a sudden (and yet, completely to be expected), polite and cooperative men were unleashed and turned into rude and threatening regime watchdogs, roaring and barking at anyone they ran into. Since I was one of the people who became especially close with the refugees and offered them advice on certain matters, I became a primary target for intimidation. It started by their attempt to take me aside and look at my identification. I was more than willing to oblige, as soon as they would show me their own. To this request, one of them answered by using vulgar language, making false accusations against me, how I, allegedly, tried to extort money from the refugees and, ultimately, telling me that his “chums” in my town will “handle” me. Upon my departure, they tried to frighten me by saying I could be arrested for trespassing near a border crossing, and that I better get some distance between myself and Horgos. I answered that there was no trespassing, since their superiors allowed the volunteers to settle there, and that I will leave once I’ve said goodbye to my refugee friends. They left me alone after that—for now.

Vultures

Governments aren’t the only ones to show fake solidarity with refugees in order to advance their own narrow self interest. Human misfortune has, unfortunately, too often been a magnet for all kinds of ticks and parasites. In Horgos, I had the immense displeasure to meet at least three species of those. One was, undoubtedly, the media, mostly detached and disinterested in the plight of the refugees (save a few honourable exceptions). Some, especially those from Hungary, were actually quite hostile and condescending. Their mission was clearly one of defamation, not of reporting. Apart from their lack of solidarity towards people in need, they also displayed a dog-eat-dog attitude, typical for upper-middle-class yuppies, between themselves and towards volunteers.

Another kind of vile creature was a group of Slovakian movie makers who approached the volunteers with an idea to make what they called a documentary, in which refugees would “walk down some highway, for about 20km,” and during that walk, the filmmakers in question would interview them and get their stories. When I told them that refugees usually travel by buses here, they pointed out that it would create a “better effect” to film them going on foot, and that such a “documentary” would “raise awareness.” They didn’t care about actual stories from the camp, about the refugees’ everyday life, which can fill a whole library of movies and novels alike. These people were a perfect example of the perverse and exploitative nature of art under capitalism—making dozens or even hundreds of exhausted and destitute people walk for kilometres to make a name for yourself sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan for them; they even convinced themselves that it was a way to help!

The third species of parasites is, of course, the ever sleazy Christian missionaries. For them, the horrid things that happened to the refugees are yet another “excellent opportunity to spread the Gospel.” Never lacking funds, they were only too quick to send their preachers to “help” the refugees by distributing not just provisions, but also copies of the New Testament, translated into Farsi and Arabic, hoping that poverty and destitution would turn some of the Muslims, or at least some of the Druze, Catholics, or Orthodox Christians to their church, and in the future, provide a source of donations or volunteers. Several nation’s disasters are several church’s opportunities.

Border demonstrations

To the surprise of all those ladies and gentlemen who see refugees as merely objects to be exploited or, in the best case, taken care of by external factors, a number of refugees decided to play an active role in fighting for their rights, by staging demonstrations.

12030462 10154214372612598 8885619503232398942 oProtest at the border, with the flag of Crveni/RedsAt first, on 16th September, the refugees clashed with Hungarian police and even managed to break through the fence in one place. However, such tactics proved too risky and too costly, ending in their being beaten back, with many hurt and/or arrested. The following day, the refugees decided to take a calmer approach, led by a very rational and intelligent man from Syria. The idea was to stage a performance-style protest, to attract media attention in a dignified manner. So, the refugees decided stage a sit-in, with a group of them forming a human fence just in front of the Hungarian border fence. They all agreed not to speak to the media for a time. This decision was nothing short of brilliant, because that way the protesters practically got the media begging to get interviews. The slogans written by hand on pieces of cardboard, in imperfect English, spoke of the refugees’ desires for peace, human rights, and safe passage.

When I saw that protest taking place, I asked if I could stand with the human fence, which they happily accepted, glad that there was a local willing to stand with them. As I stood with them, I held the flag of the IMT’s Yugoslav section, Crveni (Reds). I explained to the refugees what kind of flag it was and, even though many of them didn’t have too much knowledge about communism, they still embraced it and helped me unfurl and hold it—it soon became an integral element of the protest, just as I became an integral participant. Due to my display of solidarity and willingness to stand with them in protest (which, I am sad to say, no other volunteer would do), and because they noticed I could speak English, the refugee protesters decided to elect me as their spokesperson, to talk to the world media after the silence phase was over. One of the reasons I earned their trust was also the fact that I myself said nothing and obeyed the agreement to remain mute when approached by journalists. Such behaviour clearly showed them that I didn’t go there just to get my picture taken and then leave, that I was there to stay and help in any way I could. Since they didn’t know my name yet, they all called me “the Serb.”

The response of the media was predictably childish at first. An exceptionally conceited and daft Reuters reporter from the UK approached me, before the directive to remain silent was issued, while the refugees were still gathering, and actually asked, in a reprehensive tone, without any shame: “Did you organise these people?” The amount of condescension and racism in that sentence was truly staggering. He saw me as the only European there, and “naturally” assumed that they needed me to organise! It is precisely this kind of separation from reality that makes the mainstream media seem more and more like a ridiculous bunch of clowns in the eyes of ordinary people. Another British reporter tried to ask me some questions once the protest went silent. I put my hand over my mouth, showing that we’re not talking. She then tried to appeal to my vanity: “Ah, so you’re deaf and dumb,” she deduced. I nodded as she went away.

Once the period of silence was over, the protest leaders instructed the media to speak to me. I answered only in English, even when talking to Serbian and Hungarian TV channels, because it was important that the people who gave me the mandate understood every word I said.

I tried to speak to the media in the way that reflected the pride and the dignity of the refugees. Thus, I declined to answer stupid questions like “What are your demands?” and merely said that the refugees’ demands haven’t changed since the beginning of this crisis and that they’re well known to everyone, and that no clarification was necessary for anyone with a minimum of human decency.

Several reporters tried to divert the subject and talk about the flag of Crveni and me, instead of talking about the protest. That is why I refused to say anything about Crveni or about myself until a proper interview has been done about the refugee protest.

Naturally, the protest withered away as more and more people opted to take the buses to Croatia, despite the extortionate price. However, the protest did last until the very last day, and in the end, the barbed wire fence of Fortress Europe did fail to stop the refugees’ arrival. Hungary first agreed to open the border to let families with children in, and later it practically capitulated by opening a transit route from Croatia and Slovenia. I like to think that what we did at Horgos played a part, no matter how small.

The role of Marxists

12010480 10154214373782598 2246878328863070088 oThe Horgos border crossing may be abandoned, but the question of refugees is far from closed. The people who managed to reach core EU countries will now face a new set of challenges, such as integration and employment. In fact, these two should not be approached separately.

The working class of Europe and the world is heading towards huge events. The role of refugee workers in those events will be far from negligible, and it will be determined to a great extent (I would even say to the greatest extent) by the attitude of organised labour towards them and their issues. What the rank and file of the labour movement must understand is that no solution whatsoever can be achieved by any reactionary and xenophobic calls by labour bureaucracy to prevent or limit immigration. The more they try to go down that road, the more they try to present themselves as defenders of some imaginary “national interest,” the weaker the position of the working class will become. Capitalists profit by keeping the working class divided.

The labour movement was originally formed around the idea that workers can achieve more when they struggle collectively against their employers, instead of competing individually against each other. Unity is where the main power of the working class lies. You cannot have it half way; you cannot have it for a select group. That simple truth should be the very basis of the approach organised labour takes towards refugee workers—the only way to prevent the bourgeoisie from trying to use them in order to undermine working conditions and wages is to fully integrate them into organised labour as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Most refugee workers will not accept working for longer hours for less money if they are offered trade union guidance and protection, if they’re fully acquainted with their labour rights. Furthermore, the question of refugee employment can only be solved as part of a general strategy to achieve full employment.

On the other hand, the way a country treats refugees is always just an introduction to the way it will treat its “native” homeless, its unemployed, and, ultimately, its impoverished and weakened employed workers. For that reason as well, it is essential that the labour movement and the left abandon all illusions in a particularist solution and embrace the refugee workers as their natural allies, and even more—as their newest colleagues and comrades. The most dangerous trap the left can fall into in this situation is that of opportunism and the false notion that it will somehow boost its standing with the domestic working class if they express any form of understanding for xenophobia, no matter how watered down. Any such attempt will only create conflict, estrange the refugee workers, and push them further into the camp of the bourgeoisie, as it will push the leadership of organised labour, which will gradually withdraw before all sorts of anti-labour legislation in the name of “maintaining peace” and safeguarding “national security” as the conflict between the domestic workers and refugee workers intensifies. The only winner in such a scenario will be the capitalist elite.

During the protest at the Horgos border crossing, I discussed with the protesters, and we agreed, that our line should be to link up the problems of the refugees with the problems already affecting the domestic population of Europe. The refugees themselves asked me to chant slogans or sing songs in the Hungarian language, directed at Hungarian people and other European peoples, which would call for solidarity and show that the refugees pose no threat. For that reason, I sang a few Hungarian antifascist songs (which I previously explained to them), and they clapped to give it rhythm. After that, we agreed to chant “Free, free Hungary!”, implying that walls are not just meant to lock the refugees out, but also to secure the repressive Orbán regime. We also agreed to chant the old Yugoslav Communist slogan, “Bratstvo, jedinstvo!” (Brotherhood, unity!), in both Serbo-Croat and English, in order to remind the working people of Europe of their internationalist traditions.

The refugees, many of whom come from somewhat conservative and religious backgrounds, were more than open to hear about ideas of communism, not just because they make sense in and of themselves, but also because I put them forward after having demonstrated them in practice, after having shown them what they mean to our organisation and what they mean for them and their position. Even people who at first had a very negative reaction to the very mention of Karl Marx, as someone “godless,” were willing at least to hear me out, because I explained that it was precisely the ideas of Marxism that motivate people like me to stand in solidarity with them and join their cause. The more we prove ourselves in practice, the more open our Middle Eastern and African brothers and sisters will be to our ideas and traditions of organised labour.

The labour movement must, therefore, take an uncompromising stance against any restrictions to freedom of movement, and defend the policy of open borders and guaranteed rights for every refugee to live in the country of their own choosing, with access to a state-funded integration programme and a unionised job. Internationalism is not just the question of sentiment, but also the question of understanding political reality and embracing the very best way to defend the interests of the workers, which can only be defended successfully if they’re defended for all workers.

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