New Year: champagne in the glasses and celebration of the new year with its promises and hopes. But there is not much hope and optimism in the Danish media. The New Year started with the introduction of ID-control on the Danish-Swedish border. Not since 1954 has it been necessary to show identification between the two Scandinavian countries. For more than 60 years you could travel freely between them. This is extremely indicative of the situation at the dawn of 2016.
As I write these lines refugees are being driven in busses to tent camps in Denmark while the snow is falling. Not for lack of places in the asylum centers, but because the Danish politicians think it is the “right” signal to send: A signal to the men, women, and children who have risked their lives fleeing wars and the problems that the Danish politicians have played their part in creating. The Danish right-wing government continues unabated and rejects any criticism of their inhumane asylum policy, including the latest from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) that the government’s policy “puts refugees in distress in mortal danger.”
The Swedish Social Democratic/Green government introduced a law making the transportation companies responsible for checking the IDs of their passengers before transporting them across the border from Denmark to Sweden. Concretely, it means that the train normally going from Denmark to Sweden across the bridge now stops at Copenhagen airport (close to the bridge), where all passengers have to show legitimate ID before entering a new train taking them to Sweden. Lack of ID means they are kept in Denmark, and thereby unable to seek asylum in Sweden. Not long ago, Sweden was portrayed as the “humane” bulwark of Europe. The Green Party minister shed crocodile tears as she announced these measures—tears do not help the refugees the least bit, and do not alter the fact that the policies of the Swedish government are now used as an excuse for governments all over Europe.
The Swedish ID controls are used by the Danish government as an excuse to introduce border control on the Danish/German border, and so the dominoes begin to fall in open and boundless Europe. Schengen and the entire project EU is crumbling. The one million refugees who have come to the EU amount to less than two refugees per thousand Europeans. That this number can bring one of the richest areas in the world to its knees reveals the deep crisis of European capitalism.
The Swedish ID check is convenient for governments across Europe: “If the oh-so-humanistic Sweden can do it, so can we.” The Danish government had, however, already started to do what they could to keep refugees away from Denmark, long before Sweden closed the border. As late as November, the government hastened a bill on refugees through Parliament in 3 days. This bill included many restrictions on the legal rights of refugees. For example they can be detained without being offered seeing a judge (they have to know to request it themselves). The bill also makes it possible to accommodate refugees in tent camps, which they were very quick to apply.
They delayed action on some of the 34 parts of the bill. The rest will be discussed next week in the Danish Parliament. The next part of the asylum package includes ordering police to seize the refugees’ valuables, including jewelry. The discussion in the media now is on how far to go: if this bill also includes wedding rings or not, and how the police are to assess what is valuable or not, and what has affection value. Also, the new bill delays the right to family reunification from 1 to 3 years for war refugees (the refugees whose families need most to escape their conditions). At the same time they tighten the rules for gaining permanent residence, they reduce benefits for refugees (that are all ready now very low), and make it illegal for refugees to live outside detention asylum centers. That the Danish government introduces border control on the border with Germany is "just" a small part of their total brutal attacks on refugees.
The pace with which attack follows attack is breathtaking. That the politicians, in all seriousness, suggest and most likely decide to confiscate the refugees’ private property and isolate them in camps would not very long ago have seemed like something from a dystopian novel, not the evening’s edition of the news. The attacks on refugees now are a harbinger of the future of the entire working class.
Whipping up a mood
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke and Secretary of Integration Inger Støjberg gave as the reason for the need of border controls that we should never again see the chaos that occurred in September, with refugees walking on the highways. Alas, how terrible! They talk as if it was the beginning of the collapse of civilization that a few hundred people walked on the highway. The politicians themselves did nothing to help the thousands of people who needed help. People who are fleeing wars, where bombs have destroyed much more than highways: homes, schools, and entire cities, not to mention hundreds of thousands of lives. The government uses the classic scapegoat to divert attention from their extreme unpopularity and the enormous dissatisfaction that exists with their policy. The Liberal minority government was elected in June with less than 20 percent of the votes. The populist right-wing Danish People’s Party became bigger than the Liberals but did not want to enter government, because it would discredit them completely. The government is in fact incredibly weak, but that is exactly why they cannot stop, but must go further and further.
The right wing, with the Danish People’s Party leading the way, is obviously whipping up a mood. But the Social Democrats do not lag behind. Negotiations on the government’s asylum package fell before Christmas, because the Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats called for the creation of the refugee villages. In a December 18 article in the Danish paper Politiken, Henrik Sass Larsen, group leader for the Social Democrats, wrote:
“We will do everything we can to limit the number of non-Western refugees and immigrants coming to this country. Therefore, we have gone a long way—and much longer—than we had dreamed of going.
“We have done that, because we do not want to sacrifice the welfare society in the name of Humanism. For the welfare society is . . . the political project of the Social Democratic Party. It is a society built on the principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity. A mass migration—as seen in, for example, Sweden—will economically and socially undermine the welfare state.”
Henrik Sass Larsen is not the only Social Democrat who uses the welfare state as a battering ram against the refugees. In an article entitled “No, we Social Democrats are not Danish People’s Party light,” the authors Peter Hummelgaard, Member of Parliament (S), Kasper Fogh Hansen, former party counselor, and Thomas Gyldal Petersen, Mayor of Herlev (S) proved exactly the opposite of what the title claims. Just like the Danish People’s Party, they lay the responsibility for austerity on the refugees. Not only that, in the most disgusting way—just like the Danish People’s Party—they portray the refugees, i.e., workers from other parts of the world, as the enemy and a problem for Danish workers.
“We have not spent a century building a harmonious society characterised by high equality to abolish them again through uncontrolled immigration. It will not be the top of society, who will pay the price, they are probably just happy at the prospect of even cheaper labor. The consequence of accepting refugees has very quickly become cuts in the municipal welfare. It will be the most disadvantaged who are paying.”
They claim that they differ from the Danish People’s Party, because they want to help the refugees, but among other things they propose “ To organise reception centers for refugees on the borders of Europe. Maybe even huge refugee cities, with hospitals, schools, universities, agriculture, businesses, and so on, which can be home to many of those who have left their home countries. Until they can return home.”
For the tops of the Social Democrats, the principle of liberty, equality, and solidarity openly only apply to Danish workers—the labor movement’s original international solidarity has long since been thrown on the dunghill. It was thrown on the dunghill concurrently with the Social Democrats becoming the foremost pillar of capitalism. They defend a system that is in a blind alley. The crisis of capitalism means a crisis of reformism. The only defense the Social Democrats can put up around the welfare society that is left, after their own harsh austerity when they were in government, is to try and build high walls. International competition sentences this strategy to death, but they have nothing else. The Danish workers, through battle, won the welfare state, which was progressive and meant a semi-civilized life for awhile. That is over now. And the Social Democrats now use welfare to defend reactionary racist policies.
They whip up hateful sentiment against refugees and immigrants to move the focus away from the problems of capitalism and their own failed policies. It has its own internal logic. The next step in the cycle is attacks, as we have already seen in countries like Sweden, Germany, and France, where asylum centers have been burned down, mosques vandalized, etc. The media helps to inflame hatred, not least after the terrorist attacks in Paris both at the entrance and exit to the year 2015, and after the sexual harassments in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, when the media focused at least as much on the background of the perpetrators as the monstrous attacks themselves, and politicians in Europe were very quick to catch the ball and link it to the refugees. The hateful rhetoric from the establishment incites the most radicalized right wing to go from words to action. We have to say things as they are: the same rhetoric today resembles that which has throughout history been a prelude to pogroms.
The other side
All is not black and pessimistic, after all, at the beginning of 2016. The historically high number of refugees in the world is an expression of capitalism being in a historical dead end. The fact that the year began with the Chinese authorities suspending stock trading twice during the first week because of falling stock prices is just another symptom of the extreme turbulence that exists worldwide. The strategists of capital have no idea what to do. They do not have a solution to the crisis, but stumble blindly with an extremely short-term perspective to keep the skin on the nose here and now. We increasingly see a split in the bourgeoisie on the way forward, but no roads ends in a solution on a capitalist basis.
On the other hand, we see that the crisis of capitalism has awakened the consciousness of the masses to the fact that something is fundamentally wrong, and the realization that politicians do not have any answers. The old established political parties are rejected—a process we see throughout Europe, also in Denmark. General confidence in the political system is historically low. The latest survey from the weekly newsletter A4 from Dec. 22 showed that Danish public confidence in politicians in Parliament has not been lower in recent times. In the study, six out of ten Danes declares that they have “very little” or “little” confidence in politicians in general. And the proportion who responded that they have “very little” trust in politicians is historically high, at almost one in four voters, which is an increase from one in ten voters in 2011, and one in six a year ago.
When the politicians in September were terrified of refugees walking on the highway, the Danish population took matters into their own hands and did what they could to help with food, clothing, and transportation. Normal Danes drove to the border, giving lifts to refugees even though they risked being charged with “human smuggling.” In August and September there were two large demonstrations against the policies of the government. It is dangerous for the bourgeoisie when the masses reach the conclusion that the political establishment is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
The massive demonstrations in the autumn against the government’s immigration policy broke several years of stagnation, and put pressure on the politicians. But as the movement died down, the politicians continued their attacks on refugees with even greater brutality. However, it must not lead us to conclude that the movements were in vain; we have not gone back to the status quo. The deadlock is broken. It has in particular had an effect on the many young people who have not previously participated in any movement. Many have felt that they were the only ones in the world who were dissatisfied. Their isolation is now beginning to crack. The next conclusion is that it is not enough to go on the street; it is necessary to organize and to have a political programme.
A system in crisis creates polarisation, both to the right and to the left. The fact that the right wing can grow as successfully as in Denmark, for example, where their xenophobic policies gain ground far into the labor movement, is due to the total absence of answers and an alternative from the left wing. In countries like Spain, Greece, and the UK, where alternatives from the left have emerged, the populist right wing have received very little support. But as we saw in Greece, the Left reformism that Tsipras stood for also has limitations. Promises are not enough to stop austerity and privatisations. The only thing that can stop the crisis of capitalism and stop this barbarism we see now is a break with capitalism, and the revolutionary transformation of society on socialist lines.