1940s >> 1945 >> no-496-december-1945

The Foreigners in Our Midst

A young G.I., who seemed to think that he owned the earth, was behaving rudely to a tough-looking bus conductress. Instead of ticking him off as a rude young man the angry girl commenced a lengthy and colourful attack on all Americans. The “Yanks,” so it seemed to her, were responsible for most of the evils of this unhappy world. This unpleasant incident is typical of thousands that are occurring all over England and Europe to-day, and it is not only the Americans who are indiscriminately attacked.

Under the most unfavourable circumstances the workers of many countries have mingled. German, Russian, British and American conscripts have in their turn performed the unenviable duties of armies of occupation. Individually the conquerors and conquered cannot hate one another, and “fraternisation,” an old word with a new meaning, has been inevitable. But only the most romantic optimist can imagine that a real basis for international understanding can be established on the love-affairs of lonely and sex-starved British soldiers with the hungry women of Berlin. Armies of occupation cannot be ambassadors of goodwill.

But one might imagine that the mingling of allies might have more fruitful results. Let us look at the position in this country and judge for ourselves. For a decade or more England has become the permanent or temporary home of many opponents of Nazi Germany. First came the Jewish refugees, Germans, Austrians and Czechs who fled to avoid death, the Ghetto or the concentration camp, then the remnants of defeated armies, the Poles, the French, the Belgians, Dutch and Norwegians, and, lastly the American “champions of democracy.” Most of these men and women came to this country not on a heroic mission but because they had no choice. Individual friendships between some of them and the “natives” have grown up, but on the whole many British workers (who are not alone in this respect) still retain their illogical and almost unconquerable aversion to foreigners.

In the uncertain days of peace national prejudice increases. With the end of Lease-Lend, grumbles against the Americans became louder; a Scottish town council urges the Government to send the Poles home; 3,000 residents of Hampstead want the aliens living among them expelled; the shadow of unemployment draws near and thoughtless workers voice the fear that foreign Jewish workers will steal their jobs, forgetting that in 1931, when there were more than 2½ million unemployed, the refugees had not arrived. The foreigners in our midst are blamed for the housing shortage, and the Evening Standard (by the way why doesn’t Beaverbrook return to Canada), always quick to turn working-class discontent into reactionary channels, gives prominence to a series of articles dealing with the number of houses and flats still occupied by refugee Governments in London. These houses are mostly in Mayfair, Belgravia and Kensington, and one wonders if the homeless workers of Stepney and Wandsworth could afford the rents which will be charged for them when they are evacuated. The Evening Standard does not complain of the waste of space in British Government offices, of unnecessary buildings such as Banks, income tax offices and Labour Exchanges, and it does not point out, for example, that one member of the British ruling-class with quite a small family does not need a vast town mansion as well as country residences at Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor.

No, acquaintanceship at close quarters and under capitalist conditions with foreigners, however charming and well-behaved they may be, does not seem to further international friendship. But must the workers of the world always have feelings of suspicion, hatred and contempt towards each other? We Socialists do not think so. We are normal human beings, but we do not blame the strangers in our midst for all the minor and major evils of capitalism, and we address these words to our fellow workers for their consideration.

Workers must learn to think with their heads and not be guided by their feelings. They must understand, and they will do when they become Socialists, that there is a bond that unites them with their fellow workers, whether they are “enemies” or “allies”. This bond is not the superficial one of the same language, the same colour of skin, the same shape of nose, the same habits or allegiance to the same capitalist state, but the fundamental one of class interest. The workers of the world have one great task: to overthrow the system of their respective capitalistic masters and establish a world Socialist commonwealth, where the word “foreigner” will have no meaning.

John Moore