Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
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
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
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
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
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