Speaking of Autonomy of Migration... Racism and Struggles of Migration
No one right in his or her mind would argue that migration takes place in a realm of peace and freedom. No one imagines a migrant calculating the degree of utilization on the global labour market in the morning, deciding on a country of immigration in the afternoon and enjoying the fruits of mobility ever since. That's how racist and fascists would like to see it when they call us the parasites of the European welfare system. The opposite is true: The process of privileging certain migrants goes together with the exclusion of others. Whether they appear as Acts and policy statements or through checks in pedestrian precincts, in train stations and on the streets, they all steal time and space from the people. To say nothing of the attacks on life and limb, that are an increasingly everyday reality everywhere in Europe. This is not only the business of jungle law on the streets, but also one of state asylum and deportation centres. Recently it has been critized that the concept of Autonomy of migration ignores this misery and the conditions of migration. Is this true? Can we not critise racist, postcolonial and capitalist structures when we talk about Autonomy of Migration? How can we fight those who white wash and tell us that racism has watered down in modern societies? What role does racism play in Europe today?
Throughout Europe, for quite some time, the current configuration of European racism is an anti-immigrant racism. Of course, we find different aspects and traditions in European states. But they ground - more or less - on two ideological schemes: the colonial and the antisemitic. This anti-immigrant-racism, also known as Neo-Racism, is far more flexible than the traditional racism that grounds on absolute categories of race and segregation. Through Neo-Racism ethnic groups are being gradually differentiated and hierarchised in everyday life practices and discourses. Far from working purely on culturalist grounds it shifts between biological and cultural patterns of explanation, ascriptions and stigmatisations. Superiority and inferiority, inclusion and exclusion are being aligned on cultural norms and then biologically essentialised - and vice versa. In this sense any configuration of racism in history is a projective conception that attempts to explain social differences, social hierachies and domination. These 'explanations' are inscribed in everyday life practices or in state regulations of populations.
In the case of anti-islamism the colonial and the antisemitic scheme join perfectly: here notions of racist superiority flash in with cultural and relgious rivalry. Of course, Anti-Islamism is not a new phenomenon. For quite some decades, even centuries, it has its base in Europe. Cultural ascriptions are central here as they are aiming at the immediate visibilisation of racist defined differences. Since 9/11 the veil has become the visible sign of talk about immigration, of talk about terrorism and when they fuse one with the other. One might add that whilst Islam historically was Europe's outside enemy, jews represented the inner. In both cases the conjunction of religion and citizenship helped drawing the line between inclusion and exclusion.
But racism doesn't exist without its counterpart, the struggles against it. This is not to downplay the dreadful impacts of racism, but to understand both the way racism changes throughout history and the way it constitutes the subjects of the struggles against racism.
Migrants and their descendants always resisted discrimination and disfranchisement. They still do. Whether it was the struggles of housing and labour in the 1960ies and 70ies in Britain, Germany and France or struggles for payment for "sans papiers", against deportation and for Legalization from the 1990ies until today. Often, new forms of oppression against migrants can be seen as reactions to these struggles, like the administrative regulations in the 1970ies in Germany that would ban migrants from moving to certain neighbourhoods, just because these neighbourhoods were considered to be uncontrollable due to their big migrant communities. When after the end of guest-worker-recruitment in the 1970ies legal entry to Europe seemed impossible, migrants organized it nonetheless through marriage and family reunion. Migrants fake their papers, states invent new alleged fraud-resistance documents and so on. These struggles imply a certain concept of autonomy, although not in the traditional, emphatic sense. Autonomy of migration is not supposed to mean sovereignty of migrants, but rather that migrants are not simply objects of state control - that migrants defy controls and resist racist discrimination. Autonomy of migration represents the rather complicated fact that struggles of migration constitute a specific level of the political.
Autonomy is thus not a tale about the new revolutionary subject called migrants, but tries to handle the contradictions related to racism and migration. By doing so we can perhaps create a third option beyond universalism and difference. Let us exemplify. One of the problems we face when fighting against racism are our own communities and identity politics. After the (re)unification of the two Germanies in 1990, the uprise of nationalism and racist attacks - hundreds of migrants or their offspring were killed, even more were injured - led to a trauma within the migrant communities. The attacks also provoked nationalist attitudes within these communities. More recently, the effects of Anti-Islamism on our communities and struggles can not be brushed aside. To cut a long story short: How to deal with veils or e.g. turkish flags, if they are part of a struggle against discrimination? In our struggles against racism we have to aim the criticism at both sides: at the racist regime of those in power and at the ethnic identity policy of those ruled over. Since racism and ethnicising have always had the function of supporting an authoritarian, homogenising formation of collectives. Would it not be possible to find a link between the autonomous tactics and struggles we have listed and an extended social, individual and collective Autonomy in this perspective of double criticism?
This can not be an abstract critic from behind a desk as to how people may or may not conduct their lives. The identity policy of those ruled over always is a strategy of self-authorisation under the conditions of a misery stratified in consequence of racism. When we refer to migrant communities, we are well aware that they provide migrants with protection under the conditions of the racist regime, and that this improves their conditions of survival. This aspect is often withheld, but it is very important. However, it does not mean that everything should remain as it is in these communities.
By autonomous tactics we understand something which takes place in everyday life anyway. The tactics can never be fully reduced to identity politics. Rather they have materiality in the concrete political and social living conditions. The shaping of identity and its fetters can only be set aside if internal aspects in the reproduction of living conditions are altered. That's why we plead in favour of practical criticism which uses what is already inherent in the present practices and articulates this use politically and in favour of a better life.
When we talk of the Autonomy of Migration we point to the transgression of borders and a life on the base and by means of networks of migration. Just as racism can not be fought directly, we can only gain autonomy by fighting for changes in our everyday lives and against the patronising and killing at or between the borders. Be it the combat for payment of illegalized workers on a construction site in Berlin and Hamburg, be it the campaigning against racist and anti-islamic laws in Paris, be it the disappearance of a whole handball team in the south of Germany, be it the struggle for better housing conditions in Trieste, be it the support for health care of illegalised migrants in Barcelona and Tel Aviv, be it the contesting of disenfranchisment and detention camps in Ljubljana, be it the fight for insurance of houseworkers in London, be it the squatting of churches or embassies for papers in Brussels and Paris. Thus for the Autonomy of Migration an understanding of historical and current Struggles of Migration is inevitable.