Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
After thirty years of well-earned exile in the moral wilderness, population politics is back. For Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch, immigration minister Phil Woolas’s headline-grabbing interview with The Times on 18 October 2008 was the turning point: ‘It is the first time that a government minister has actually linked immigration and population.’
Population politics doesn’t only threaten immigrants. It’s an us-and-them game where anybody can be ‘it’. If you become unemployed or a bit too ill, you may cease to be an individual with rights, and become part of a ‘population’ instead, and a suitable case for ‘management’. Nothing could make this plainer than the juxtaposition, in The Sun (8 December 2008), of Woolas’s latest pronouncement that ‘Immigrants will have to earn the right to UK benefits and council housing … [and] wait ten years before they get a penny’, with work and pensions secretary, James Purnell’s equally tough pronouncement that from now on ‘nearly all benefit claimants will be forced to work in exchange for state handouts’.
Population politics implies the ‘legalisation’ of humanity: the right to be treated as if one were human is conferred only by thorough legal process; it cannot be acquired lightly, for example by being born, or conceived, or just turning up on one’s own unauthorised, autonomous initiative.
As the Columbia University historian, Matthew Connelly shows in his new book on the subject (Fatal Misconception: the struggle to control world population; Belknap, 2008), birth-control and immigration control are the two faces of population politics. Some very bizarre and unattractive obsessions lie at its heart, including a sordid preoccupation with other people’s breeding habits – especially of ‘the poor’.
During a BBC Radio 3 discussion of neo-Malthusianism in ‘today’s crowded world’, in March this year, Connelly said:
‘Too often, alas, population projections are psychological projections … not that there are too many people but that there certain kinds of people, with whom we feel uncomfortable, who there are too many of. So when people say the US or the UK for that matter is overpopulated I want to ask them which people in particular they have in mind, who are in and of themselves a problem?
‘If the problem is consumption, then of course it’s the wealthiest people we need fewer of. I mean, Britain would do much better if it had 100 million subsistence farmers, say, than 50 million people who are doctors and lawyers and bankers and so on. It could have much less of a carbon footprint if it imported subsistence farmers from the Sahel, and exported bankers and lawyers to Africa. But nobody is proposing that’
Alas, Woolas isn’t proposing that. Instead, he seems hell-bent on subjecting us all to the same ghastly philosophy of population control and the warped psychology that drives it, that Connelly describes in his book.
Drawing on a previously untouched wealth of primary evidence (including private letters, minutes, and interviews with surviving actors in these dramas), Connelly follows the global population-control epidemic back to its origins in the USA in the El Niño years of the 1870s. Global climate and colonialism induced catastrophes were met head-on by new, toxic orthodoxies. Nascent eugenics, plus the teachings of Thomas Malthus, and ‘political projects to define nationalism and delimit citizenship through both state policies and popular violence’, as well as ‘faceless bureaucracies that were not even accountable to the federal courts’ (p.37).
Sounds familiar? The recent Queen’s speech, with its promise of even greater Home Office powers, should be a wake-up call for anyone who has still not noticed Britain’s expanding, parallel incarceration system, with its own dedicated networks of reporting centres and special, ever less accountable courts. Woolas’s pronouncements, since his arrival in Parliament as a Mandelson protegé a decade ago, have struck echo after echo from that Edwardian past: not just the obsession with human numbers (and the grandiose promise to limit the UK’s population to under 70 million); but also a textbook obsession with his Asian constituents’ breeding habits (his crusade against first-cousin marriages); and constant, gentle appeals to the threat of popular violence (in his case, from the not-very-popular BNP).
Just as in California in the late Nineteenth-century, all of this is done in the name of that most essential McGuffin of population politics: the ‘Indigenous Working Class’. (The only kind of working class population politicians acknowledge.) Woolas gives voice to their anger, when immigrants are (extremely rarely, he affirms, but mentions it anyway) given million pound houses at taxpayers’ expense; and at Muslim women who divide the community by wearing the hijab. These issues are raised as an ‘unfortunate duty’ that falls to him because others lack the guts to do it. He calls them ‘thorny issues’. We are tempted not to notice his failure to raise other thorny issues, such as the extraordinary shortage of decent housing and jobs in the very constituency he represents.
A shameful history
Today’s population controllers are a scary and powerful lot. But they have a great weakness in their own history, inextricably bound up with the massive, ghastly fertility control campaigns Connelly describes; always aimed at the poor, not just in poor countries, but also in the USA, Sweden and all over the world. It was a war (described and conducted as such, often by military men such as the USA’s General William Draper and China’s Xinzhong Qian) that ruined millions upon millions of lives – yet had no particular effect in the end on numbers: growth was already declining. ‘It turns out that about 90 percent of the difference in fertility rates worldwide derived from something very simple and very stubborn: whether women themselves wanted more or fewer children.’ All the evidence so far suggests that attempts to control world migration are equally futile. Will they meet the same fate, and if so, at whose hands?
At the apparent height of its power, the population control bandwagon suddenly collapsed. First, it hit mounting, massive grassroots resistance; then came the global reproductive rights movement, which utterly routed it at the UN’s Population Conference in Cairo in 1994. Population control became a tar baby. Organisations that had backed coercion, transformed themselves into champions of autonomy overnight. Others changed their names. The American Eugenics Society became the Society for the Study of Social Biology; Eugenics Quarterly became Social Biology. In the UK, in 1988, the Eugenics Society renamed itself The Galton Institute (after the founder of Eugenics, Francis Galton).
Will the wheels fall off ‘managed migration’ in similar fashion? This too is being challenged increasingly by the people it oppresses. And the bigger it gets, the harder it becomes to conceal its shameful underpinnings.
Migration Watch craves the spotlight but also fears it. It has fought hard to stop people knowing that its co-founder, Oxford University’s Professor David Coleman, has been a lifelong member of the Eugenics Society, and one of its high officials during the decades when sterilisation campaigns were at their peak. What, if any, part did he play in all that? He is known to have been a government adviser during the 1980s and examined the then fashionable question of state benefits for single, working-class mothers. But when this aspect of his past was brought to public notice by students in early 2007, his response was not to answer their concerns but to pillory them as ‘tyrannical’. The Daily Telegraph gave him a whole page in which to vent his indignation – which he managed to do without mentioning eugenics once, let alone explaining his role in it.
Increasingly people know about this connection and they cannot help joining the increasingly plentiful dots. Migration Watch’s other autumn coup – getting the imprimatur of a cross-party Parliamentary group (albeit an unofficial one) for their Balanced Migration report – came at the price of public association with anti-abortionist, anti-assisted pregnancy obsessive, Frank Field (not to mention the widely abhorred Nicholas Soames).
All the makings are here for the badly needed, total and indeed comical rout of Woolas, Smith, Green, Coleman, Field and all their friends and minions – and their replacement by people with the guts to tackle the real ‘thorny issue’: the rich.
Bob Hughes, No One Is Illegal
Fatal Misconception: the struggle to control world population; Matthew Connelly; Belknap/Harvard University Press 2008. Free sample chapter, here
The quotation above was transcribed from BBC Radio 3 Nightwaves, 19 March 2008
On unaccountable bureaucracies, Connelly cites Adam McKeown’s new book \’Melancholy Order: Asian migration and the globalization of borders, 1837-1937\’
For many further sources see
Shiar Youssef\’s analysis, on Indymedia (‘Immigration crunch? The Times’ and BBC’s anti-immigration agendas’) with links to his ‘anti-white racism’ and ‘inbred Muslim’ announcements:
David Osler’s blog \’He\’s not racist, but …\’(21/10/2008)
\’Migrants to earn dole and house\’ _ The Sun, 8 Dec 2008
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences