Review: Standing on fascism

John Nicholson

Standing on the Shoulders of Fascism: From Immigration Control to the Strong State
Steve Cohen
Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books 2006
ISBN 1 85856 374 9
176 pp
£ 17.99

‘As soon as it became obvious that he (Jean Charles de Menezes) was
himself not involved in terrorism, the Home Office suggested he had
overstayed his leave in the UK – as though this somehow justified his
being shot dead’.

In this collection of essays, new and old, Steve Cohen demonstrates that immigration controls are not so much standing on the shoulders as seeped in every fibre of their being with fascist overtones. And that they have always been so. Fascist upsurges have prefaced all legislative and practical controls of movement of people. Just as ‘…the Nazi extermination programme was preceded in time by the forced, brutal, mass deportation of Jews’.

Three questions emerge. Can anti-fascist and anti-immigration control movements ever join together? Is it possible to argue for ‘fair’ or even ‘benign’ controls? And, can the success of individual anti-deportation campaigns translate into opposition to all immigration controls? In reverse order, the author first suggests that it is only through self-organisation of the ‘undocumented’, in militant campaigns, that victory can be achieved. This requires solidarity, not pity. Cohen states: ‘The struggle against controls is only politically effective when it is threatening, when it involves masses of people in struggle, when it refuses to make any concessions to the ideology of immigration control, when it represents a danger to the state’.

Second, the notion of ‘just’ or ‘humane’ controls is a contradiction in terms, and in the view of the author, a system of law built historically on fascist activity could never be humane. Reminiscent of Thatcher’s election-winning slogan, ‘Labour Isn’t Working’, Home Secretary Charles Clarke was removed recently because his system of deportation of non-British prisoners ‘wasn’t working’. But no one subject to immigration controls wants them to ‘work better’, when what this means is yet more, firmer, faster, and furious, unchallengeable removals. Including those ‘criminals’ who have been (re-)detained for crimes of fabricating documents simply because they wanted to work (aiming for legitimate work, paying taxes and national insurance, contributing to society – and the economy).

Indeed, the Immigration and Nationality Department employs 17,392 people – whose job in 2004 was to remove 56,920 other human beings. Not to mention the private contractors who manage removal centres and immigration ‘escort’ services. The latest Home Secretary assured Parliament that he had over 400 full-time staff now coping with the ‘problem’ of 1000 ‘foreign’ people (some of whom turned out not to be British citizens, as it were) who had served their time but were going to be rounded up, detained again, and then deported. This new triple punishment exceeds the objections of the ‘Manifesto of the Campaign Against Double Punishment’, of the early 1990s, usefully appended by the author.
Third, there is no choice. There is no third way. Collusion with the machinery of immigration control stands shoulder-to-shoulder with collusion with the fascists. Local authorities, voluntary services, even lawyers, all have to take sides. But the question of how - how anti-fascist and anti-immigration control movements can make effective common cause – is another story. Still waiting, still needing to unfold - and be told.




November 2006

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