On class and migrant solidarity
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
This is an article that we wrote after the Calais No Borders camp. It addresses some of the criticisms we received from some anarchists in Britain. The text was published in Black Flag magazine no.230 with the title 'In defence of migrants'.
On class and migrant solidarity
“Riot police stop anarchist assault on Britain's borders” was the Daily Mail headline about the No Borders camp in Calais. What happened at “Britain’s borders” and what has anarchism got to do with it?
While the quiet camp passed unremarked, newspapers from the Guardian to the Telegraph ran vivid features on what the camp encountered, documenting migrant lives in Calais with varying degrees of sympathy. These were prompted by government talks and the opening of the UN office, but reflected and refracted our experiences. In Calais, the externalisation of the British border to France creates a situation of direct struggle between authoritative oppression and people who do not obey these restrictions. On their way to Britain, thousands camp in the vicinity of Calais restricted in their agency by oppressive state policies.
In solidarity with those enacting their opposition to control and global inequality by moving across borders in search of better lives, the No Borders Camp aimed to demonstrate (and act) against the state’s hegemonic and arrogant claim to control the movement of people. The No Borders position and anarchism share a mutual enemy: borders as institutionalisation of authority.
Alas, upon our return from the Calais No Border camp we noticed a surprising development. While in continental Europe anarchists mobilise in solidarity with migrants facing the xenophobic responses to the recession (at the Calais demonstration there was a large turnout of French anarchist groups and CNT syndicalists), in the UK some anarchists have begun to question the fundamentals of that solidarity. To us it seems like this is the result of a false opposition of class and immigrant solidarity.
The 'English' anarchists – of that identity they seem to be proud – write on blogs and discussion forums that they will stand in defence of the working class when the “liberals” of No Borders abolish immigration controls in favour of capitalist exploitation. There is Matt D., member of the IWW and Liberty & Solidarity who blogs at ‘workers self organisation’. He draws a distinction that could have come straight from a primitivist or gated-communities pamphlet: “no borders… or community control of resources”. The No Borders position for him is “un-anarchist” as it “can only be realised if some large international body enforces it”. Or take 9/11 Cultwatch writer Paul Stott who finds it hard to believe that anarchists would “travel to another country” in solidarity with migrants rather than staying here in solidarity with workers facing recession. Even Class War founder Ian Bone on his blog defines class struggle in national terms: “it’s our England we will fight for”. Paul Stott again adds to this a typical expression of labour movement nationalism: “Is there anything more likely to drive down existing wages than mass immigration?”
We do welcome discussion and criticism, even and especially of the fundamentals of our theory and practice. We are not shy of debate and hope that in the near future we can continue and exchange with the ‘English’ class struggle anarchists. For now, in the constraints of a short article, we want to briefly respond to four frequent statements from within that movement that we have disagreed with.
1. No borders would benefit capitalism
You will have probably observed that, today, movement is increasingly free - just so long as it is profitable. To say that capitalism would benefit from no borders is to overlook the role border control has served and continues to serve in the maintenance of an exploitative status quo. It is one of the primary means through which labour-power is disciplined and global divisions of labour, privilege and power are enforced. At the border the abstract logic of profit confronts the lived reality of our lives. Hence the border, like the factory, is both a site of suffering and a vector of antagonism.
2. No borders is utopian
Yes, but only if you think like a state. ‘But how can you make this work, its unmanageable, its not practical,’ the anxious statesman will cry. From the perspective of the state, no borders is indeed utopian – a place that could not be. For us, no borders is an axiom of political action, a principle of equality from which concrete, practical consequences must be drawn. It means recognising, on the basis of our equality, solidarity in struggle irrespective of origins. There is nothing less utopian and nothing more immediately practical than this.
3. An anarchist society would have community borders
The border traces a threshold of inside and outside. What is outside is perceived as dangerous and a threat to the inside, hence the ‘need’ for a border. The security that the border offers is essentially imposed externally and with reference to this threat. But there is another kind of security, one created internally through cooperation and mutual support. There is nothing in this kind of security which necessitates the exclusionary and violent practices of bordering. It is this latter kind of cooperative security which we are hoping to create.
4. National culture should be reclaimed
The nation state is a modern/recent form of sovereignty based (not solely) on forms of cultural nationalism which in turn are achieved through the glorification of typically 'English' traditions and stereotypes. We do not aim to undermine or ignore the history and traditions of struggle in the UK. Rather our aim is to undermine static conceptions of culture or community that create imagined divisions between 'us' and 'them'; divisions that have very real consequences for those who find they cannot, or do not want, to fit into these rigidly defined identities.
For us it seems that rather than attempting to transcend notions of class (domination), this new 'English' anarchism appeals to an affirmative cultural identity of class. We feel that we need to abandon such sociological concepts of class for revolutionary perspectives of social struggle. Not everyone sees the distinction between class struggle and migrant solidarity. Let's conclude with a comment by 'Alessio', who defends the no borders position in a reply to Paul Stott: “As the 'English' anarchists ponder on their next move, it seems like every other anarchist movement across Europe strides confidently forward. I see a pattern emerging here, maybe we should be more confident in anarchist politics and how we express them rather than continuously feel that we should pander or apologise to certain sections of the class in the UK.”
Posted byManchester No Borders at 4:21 AM