By Alfredo M. Bonanno
(More writings by Bonanno)
Translated from Guerra Sociale
We asked for labour power, men came.
No one emigrates from their country for pleasure – this is a simple truth that many want to hide. If someone leaves their land and loved ones peacefully, we don’t define them as migrants, but simply as travellers or tourists. Migration is a coercive form of moving, a roaming in search of better living conditions.
At the moment there are 150 million ‘foreigners’ around the world due to wars, ecological disasters, famine, or simply the management of industrial production (the destruction of countryside and forests, mass lay-offs, and so on). All these aspects form a mosaic of oppression and misery in which the effects of exploitation become more or less direct causes of suffering and uprooting in a never ending spiral that makes any distinction between “displaced”, “migrants”, asylum seekers, refugees, survivors, hypocritical. Just think how social so called ecological emergencies (lack of water, growing desertification, field sterility) are: the explosion of an oil refinery, together with the destruction of every local autonomy on which it rested, can sometimes change the fate of an entire population.
Contrary to what racist propaganda would have us believe, only 17% of immigration concerns the rich North, it involves all continents (the African and Asian ones in particular); that means that for every poor country there is an even poorer one which immigrants are running away from. The total mobilization imposed by economy and States is a planetary symptom, an undeclared civil war that crosses every national border: millions of exploited people roam through the hell of the commercial heaven, jolted from border to border, forced into refugee camps, surrounded by police and army, handled by so-called charity organisations – partners in tragedies whose causes they don’t denounce for the mere purpose of exploiting the consequences – piled up in “waiting zones” in airports or stadiums (macabre circenses for those who don’t even have bread), locked up in Lagers called “detention centres” and, finally, packaged and expelled in the most total indifference. For many reasons we could say that the face of these unwelcome people is the face of our time – and that’s also why we’re so afraid of them. Immigrants scare us because in their misery we can see the reflection of our own, because in their wanderings we recognise our daily condition: the condition of persons who feel more and more like strangers both to this world and to themselves.
Uprooting is the most widespread condition in our present society – we might call it its centre – not a threat coming from a terrifying and mysterious elsewhere. Only by directing our gaze at our daily lives can we understand what gets all of us into the condition of immigrants. First though we must define a fundamental concept: that of clandestinity.
The creation of the clandestine, the creation of the enemy
[…] what are you? […]
You are not of this castle, you are not of this village, you are nothing.
But you are something too, unfortunately, you are a foreigner, someone that is always
inopportune and in the way, one that brings a lot of troubles, […]
whose intentions no one knows.
An alien is simply someone who doesn’t have regular papers. And this is certainly not due to the pure pleasure of risk or illegality, but rather because in the majority of cases, in order to own such papers he or she would have to give certain guarantees the possession of which wouldn’t have made them aliens in the first place, but simply tourists or foreign students. If the same standards were forced on everybody, millions would have been thrown overboard. Which unemploy-ed Italian, for instance, could give the guarantee of a legal wage? What about all the precarious people here who work for temporary job agencies, whose contracts are not even worth a visa for immigrants? And by the way, are there as many Italians living in a 60 squares metres flat with no more than two other people? If we read all these decrees (from both the left and the right wing) about immigration, it will be clear that clandestinization is a precise project of States. Why?
An illegal immigrant is easier to blackmail, to make accept, under the threat of expulsion, even more hateful conditions of work and existence (precariousness, endless wandering, makeshift accommo-dation, and so on). With the threat of the police, bosses obtain tame wage slaves, or rather real forced labour workers. Even the most reactionary and xenophobic right wing parties are perfectly aware that hermetically closed borders are not only technically impossible, but are not even profitable. According to the United Nations, in order to keep the present “balance between active and inactive population”, from here to 2025, Italy should “take” inside its borders a quantity of immigrants five times the present yearly fixed amount. Confindustria, in fact, continuously suggest doubling the quantity fixed so far.
The granting or rejection of year-long or season-long permits contributes to creating a specific social hierarchy among the poor. The same distinction between immediate forced repatriation and expulsion (or the obligation, for an irregular immigrant, who shows up at the borders to be sent back home) allows them to choose who to make clandestine or to expel right away – a choice based on ethnic principles, economical-political agreement with the governments of the countries the immigrant comes from and the needs of the labour market. In fact, the authorities are perfectly aware that no one will ever spontaneously show up at the border to be expelled; surely not people who have spent all that they owned – sometimes even more – to pay for their trip here. Businessmen define the features of the goods they buy (immigrants are goods, like everything else after all), the State records data, police carry out orders.
The warnings of politicians and mass media, anti-immigration claims build up imaginary enemies to drive the exploited from here to lay on an easy scapegoat the growing social tension and reassure them, letting them admire the show of poor and even more precarious and blackmailed people than themselves, and let them feel part of a ghost called Nation. Making of “irregularity” – that same irregularity that they create – synonymous with crime and danger, States justify police control and the criminalisation of class conflict that is getting more and more seditious. In this context, for instance, should be seen the manipulation of consensus after September 11, summed up in the despicable slogan “clandestine=terrorist” which combines, if read in both senses, racist paranoia with the demand for repression against the enemy within (rebels, subversives).
They shout out, from the right as well as the left, against the Mafia that organises the journeys for clandestine people (described by the media as an invasion, a scourge, the advance of an army), when it’s by their very laws that they are promoted. They shout out against “organised crime” exploiting so many immigrants (which is true but only partially), when it’s they who supply it with desperate and ready-for-everything resources. In their historical symbiosis, State and Mafia stand united by the same liberal principle: business is business.
Racism, a means for economic and political necessity, finds room to spread in a context of generalised standardisation and isolation, when insecurity creates fears that can be opportunely manipulated. A moral or cultural condemnation of racism is of little use, since it is not an opinion or an argument, but psychological misery, an “emotional plague”. It’s in the present social conditions that the reason of its spreading ought to be sought and also, at the same time, the power to fight it.
The welcome of a lager
To call the detention camps for immigrants waiting for expulsion Lagers– centres introduced in Italy in 1998 by the left wing government by mean of the Turco-Napolitano law – is not rhetorical emphasis, as most of those who use this formula think. It is a strict definition. Nazi Lagers were concentration camps where people thought by the police to be dangerous for State security were locked up, even in the absence of criminally indictable behaviour. This precautionary measure – defined as “protective detention” – consisted in taking all civil and political rights away from certain citizens. Whether they were refugees, Jewish, gypsy, homosexuals or subversives, it was up to the police, after months or years, to decide what to do about them. So Lagers were not jails in which to expiate some crime, nor an extension of criminal law. They were camps where the Rule set its exception; in short terms, a legal suspension of legality. Therefore a Lager is not a consequence of the number of internees or of the number of murders (between 1935 and 1937, before the start of Jewish deportations, in Germany internees numbered 7500), but rather of its political and juridical nature.
Immigrants nowadays end up in the Centres regardless of possible crimes, without any criminal trial whatsoever: their internment, ordered by the police superintendents, are a simple police measure. Just as happened in 1940 under the Vichy government, when prefects could lock up all the individuals considered a “danger for national defence and public security” or (mind this) “foreigners in respect to the national economy”. We can refer to administrative detention in French Algeria, to the South Africa of apartheid or to the present ghettos for Palestinians created by the State of Israel.
It is not a coincidence if, with regard to the infamous conditions of the detention centres, the good democrats don’t appeal to the respect of any law at all, but to the respect of human rights – the last mask in front of women and men to whom nothing remains but belonging to the human species. It’s not possible to integrate them as citizens, so they are falsely integrated as Human Beings. The abstract equality of principles hides real inequalities everywhere.
A new eradication
Immigrants that for the
first time landed on Battery Park soon
realized that what they had been
told about the marvelous America
wasn’t true at all:
maybe land belonged to everybody,
but the first come
had largely served themselves already,
and to them there was nothing left
than to crowd together in tens in windowless
of the Lower East Side and work fifteen hours
a day. Turkeys didn’t fall roasted
straight in the dishes and the streets of New York
weren’t paved in gold.
Yet, most of the times, they weren’t
paved at all. And then they realised that
it was just to get them to pave these streets that they
were allowed to come. And to dig tunnels
and canals, to build up streets, bridges, big
embankments, railroads, to clear forests, to exploit
mines and caves, to make cars and cigars,/
carabines and clothes, shoes, chewing gum,
corned-beef and soap, and to build
than the ones that they discovered when they first arrived.
If we go a few steps back, it will become clear that eradication is a crucial moment in the expansion of the State and capitalistic domination. At its dawn, industrial production drew the exploited away from country and villages to gather them into the city. The ancient skills of farm workers and artisans were thereby substituted with the forced and repetitive activity of the factory – an activity impossible to control, in its means and its finalities, by the new proletarians. So the first children of industrialization lost both their ancient spaces of life and their ancient knowledge, that which had allowed them to autonomously provide for the most part of their means of subsistence. On the other hand, forcing millions of men and women to similar living conditions (same places, same problems, same knowledge), capitalism unified their struggles, got them to find new brothers and sisters to fight against that same unbearable life. The 20th century marked the apex of this productive and State gathering, whose symbols had been the factory-neighbourhood and the Lager, and at the same time the apex of the more radical social struggles for its destruction. In the last twenty years, due to technological innovation, capital has substituted the old factory with new productive cores ever smaller and more widely distributed throughout the territory, also breaking up the fabric of the society within which those fights had grown, thereby creating a new eradication.
There’s more. Technological reorganisation has made trade faster and easier, opening the whole world to the most ferocious competition, overthrowing the economies and the ways of life of entire Countries. So there is, in Africa, in Asia, in South America, the closure of many factories, mass lay offs. All this, within a social context that has been destroyed by colonisation from the deportation of inhabitants from their villages to the shantytowns, from their fields to the assembly lines, produced a crowd of poor people who became useless to their masters, of unwanted children of capitalism. Add to this the fall of self-styled communist Countries and the debt racket initiated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and we will get quite a faithful cartography of migration, of ethnical and religious wars.
What we now call “flexibility” and “precariousness” is the consequence of all this: a further progress in the submission to the machines, fiercer competition, a worsening of material conditions (deals, health, etcetera). We’ve seen the reason why: capitalism has dismantled the community that it created. Anyway it would be partial to see precariousness in an economic sense alone, as the lack of a steady work place and the old pride for professionalism. It is isolation inside standardisation, or a fanatical conformity with lack of common spaces. In the distressing void of meaning and perspectives, mystified, the unfulfilled need of community returns, giving birth to new nationalistic, ethnical or religious counterpositions, a tragic re-proposition of collective identities just where any real communality among individuals has diminished. And it’s exactly within this void that the fundamentalist argument finds its place, false promise of a redeemed community.
All this leads to a scenario that is more and more that of an ongoing civil war, with no distinction between “time of peace” and “time of war”. Conflicts are no longer declared – as the military intervention in the Balkans has shown –, but simply administrated to grant the establishment of the World Order. This endless fight goes through the entire society and the very individuals. Common spaces for dialogue and struggles are substituted by adherence to similar commercial models. The poor go to war against each other for a fashionable sweater or a hat, since the possession or not of particular goods creates the illusion of a social or clan-like hierarchy. Individuals feel more and more irrelevant, so ready to sacrifice themselves to the first nationalist blunderbuss or for whatever flag. Abused daily by the State, here they come defending zealously any Padania (desolated and polluted, with factories and mall everywhere – is this the “land of the forefathers”?). Tied to that mirage of property that is left to them, they are scared to face themselves for what they really are: interchangeable gears of the Megamachine, in need of psychotropic drugs to get to the end of the day, always more envious towards everyone who looks even just happier than themselves. To an always colder, more abstract and more calculating rationality, correspond increasingly brutal and untold drives. So, what better than someone different by colour of the skin or religion to throw their grudge upon? As a man from Mozambique said, “people have taken war inside them”. A few external conditions can be enough for all this to explode, just like in Bosnia. And these conditions are being carefully prepared. To capitalist Universalism is opposed, in a tragic game of mirrors, ethnic particularism. Under institutional order, with increasingly anonymous and controlled places, lies concealed the implosion of human relationships. It all looks like the same quicksand from whence in the 30’s totalitarian man arose.
Two possible ways out
Why have we talked so much about immigration and racism, as we are not directly touched by problems of wandering and expulsion? Dictated by some of its peculiarities such as precariousness and the impossibility to decide for our present, this same capitalism is joining our lives more and more: that’s why we feel like brothers, in deed, with the all the exploited who land on the shores of this Country.
In the face of the despoliation of millions of individuals towards a commercial imperialism that is forcing everybody to dream the same lifeless dream, there can be no appeal to dialogue or to democratic integration. Whatever the legalistic anti-racists might say, it’s too late for hypocritical civic education classes. When the fields in which misery is confined – from the shantytowns of Caracas to the suburbs of Paris, from the Palestinian territories to centres and stadia where aliens are locked up–are growing everywhere; when the state of exception – or the juridical suspension of every right – becomes the rule; when millions of human beings are literally left rotting into the reserves of the capitalist heaven; when entire neighbourhoods are getting militarised and armed (Genova doesn’t tell you anything?), to talk of immigration becomes a despicable joke. There are only two ways out from these conditions of desperation and fear, from this planetary civil war: the fraticidal clash (religious and clannish in all its manifestations), or the social tempest of class war.
Racism is the grave of every exploited individual’s fight against the exploiters, it’s the last trick – the dirtiest – played by those who would like to see ourselves killing one another. It can only evaporate in moments of common revolt, when we recognise our real enemies – the exploiters and their servants – and we recognise ourselves as exploited individuals that no longer want to be like that. The social fight that took place in Italy during the 60’s and 70’s – when the young workers immigrated from the South met those from the North in the field of sabotage, wild strikes and absolute disloyalty to the firm – has shown. The disappearance of the revolutionary struggles after the 70’s (from Nicaragua to Italy, from Portugal to Germany, from Poland to Iran) has crumbled the foundation of concrete solidarity among the dispossessed of the World. This solidarity will only be conquered again in the revolt, and not in the powerless words of the new Thirdworlders or the democratic anti-racists.
So, or religious and clannish massacre, or class war. And at the end of this we can only catch a glimpse of a world free from State and money in which there’ll be no need for money to live and no visa required to travel.
A machine that can be broken
A slogan in the 80’s said: “It’s not the noise of boot that should scared us today, but the silence of the slipper”. Now they’re both coming back. With a holy war speech (the police as “army of good” protecting citizens from the “army of evil”, as the Prime Minister said recently), day after day the State has put up curtains at the expense of immigrants. Their homes are devastated, aliens are rounded up in the streets, locked up in Lagers and expelled in total indifference. New detention camps are already under construction in many cities. The State, wants to limit the number of visas according to the exact length of the work contract, blacklist all immigrants, make being clandestine a crime and strengthen expulsion. The democratic mechanism of rights and citizenship, wide as that might be, will always presuppose the existence of excluded people. To criticise and try to prevent expulsions signifies realising a critique of racism and nationalism in act; it means creating a common space for revolt against the capitalist uprooting that affects us all; it means obstructing a hateful as it is important repressive mechanism; it means breaking the silence and indifference of the civilized ones who stand looking on; lastly, it means confronting the very concept of law dictated by the principle “we are all aliens”. Finally, it signifies an attack on one of the pillars of the State and class society: competition between the poor, the increasingly seditious substitution of social war with ethnic or religious wars.
In order to function the expulsion framework requires the collaboration of many public and private structures (from the Red Cross which cooperates in the management of Lagers, to companies which supply services, to airline companies which deport aliens, to the airports that put up waiting zones, to self-styled charity associations which operate in collaboration with the police). All those responsible can easily be seen and attacked. From actions against detention camps (as happened a couple of years ago in Belgium and a few months ago in Australia, when demonstrations ended up with the liberation of some clandestine immigrants) to those against “waiting zones” (as in France, against the Ibis hotels chain that supplies the police with rooms) or obstructing the flights of infamy (in Frankfurt, the sabotage of optic fibre cables some years ago put all the computers of an airport out of order for a couple of days) there are thousands of activities that a movement against expulsion can carry out.
Today like never before it’s in the street that it’s possible to rebuild class solidarity. In the complicity against police raids; in the struggle against military occupation of neighbourhoods; in the restless rejection of every division that the masters of society want to impose on us (nationals and foreigners, legal immigrants and aliens); aware that every outrage suffered by any dispossessed on Earth is an outrage to everyone – only in this way will the exploited people from a thousand countries recognise themselves.