#09- 33: Against slavery
This issue of Chto Delat deals with migrant labor, an issue today at the center of not only Russian, but also world politics. Although our world has always been “globalized,” the numbers of people migrating in order to better their existence, whether economically or otherwise, are unprecedented. Discussion of this issue is complicated by the fact that we immediately find ourselves on slippery terrain occupied by the shadowy figure of the immigrant, who like the Wandering Jew in its time has come to function as a synonym for danger, contamination and the alien per se. Racists and nationalists of all stripes and lands rally round (so to speak) this fictional villain as they defend the supposedly homely but no less fictional spaces of nation, race and tribe from invasion by aliens. Judging by recent election results in certain “liberal democratic” European countries and legislative innovations in US states such as Arizona and Georgia, the “commonsensical” and “down-to-earth” slogans and prescriptions of the tribalists really are sometimes capable of generating a “groundswell” of “grassroots support.”
Some people have always found it hard to share their homelands, hometowns and neighborhoods with different languages, skin colors, and ways of understanding world, self and community. However, it is all too easy to accuse “the common folk” of being the source and support of xenophobic sentiments. As British sociologist Paul Gilroy has argued, when left to their own devices the “working classes” and “common folk” (whatever their “primary” tribal allegiances) are just as often capable of creating a “convivial” existence together, a life where each person’s allegedly essential difference informs and shapes a totally unexpected common good, a new commons. In reality, it is more often the liberal (or, now, neoliberal) talking and ruling classes, whose experience both with conviviality and the (non)realities of ethnic difference is frequently limited to a fondness for certain cuisines and holidaymaking in the global south, who shape the xenophobic and nationalist agenda via the media they produce and control, via the obscurantist norms and repressive laws they promulgate in the public space. It is this “common sense” from above that is the main instrument for stigmatizing and excluding people who sometimes lack the right language to tell us both about their plights and their joys, who frequently lack the right papers to exercise their individual civil rights and their collective right to struggle for a better lot in life.
Amidst this latest flowering of xenophobia, leftists often invoke the spirit of internationalism, which is supposed to immediately infect everyone with love and solidarity for the newcomers. Just like the old appeals for communism, the slogan “No Borders!” is not enough for those of us who want to popularize and implement the ideas of equality and emancipation. To resurrect the legacy of radical universal emancipation (as Ћiћek writes) we need to fundamentally reassess the world we have made and attempt step by step to free ourselves from the prison of post-colonial and “post-imperial melancholy” (as Gilroy calls it).
But this task is not simple. Wars, hot and cold, rage around us. The difference in living standards between the first and third worlds grows, and each of these worlds “colonizes” the other, producing Mogadishu-like slums amidst the west’s great cities, and oases of luxury and refinement in the deserts of the Middle East. These contradictions can and do provoke a radical rejection of any emancipatory project, especially when it comes dressed in the idioms of culture, art and critical thought, often perceived as the latest projection of a faltering western hegemony.
That is why today, both in Russia and elsewhere, we need to set ourselves the “modest” task outlined by Badiou: to loudly and visibly manifest our respect for working people, especially immigrant workers. They are doubly exploited, even though our present prosperity is largely underpinned by their ceaseless, invisible labor. Their presence in our midst is an object of scorn and neglect, just like the uncomfortable fact that we share the same planet with billions of people in the Third World who do our dirty work, whose countries are poisoned by our toxic factories, and whose own essentially slave labor provides us with our beautiful consumerist idyll, an unsustainable (anti)utopia incapable of recognizing limits and borders.
We imagine that intellectuals, artists, and all other people of good will and sound mind should constantly expose these fundamental inequalities. Collective repentance and charity are probably wonderful things, but they are beside the point here. The real point is that if our planet is to have a future, it can only be a common future. And this common future will be possible only if we learn how to build it in common. By trying to figure out how we can do this, we immediately call into question the current capitalist system and force ourselves to seek ways of moving beyond it.
Kirill Medvedev // The Welfare State and Multiculturalism: An Ambivalent Legacy
Although all of today’s anti-neoliberal campaigns naturally appeal to the waning achievements of the welfare state, it is clear that neither this phenomenon in its previous form nor the specific ideological and psychological climate in which reflection on the Nazi catastrophe, Europe’s colonial past and the national liberation struggles in the Third World were entangled, will ever return. Certain qualities and contradictions of this system are thus manifested more clearly today, during its collapse, forcing us to reinterpret both the active solidarity demonstrated during the period of the Algerian War and the Vietnam War, and the passive tolerance that has come to the fore during the neoliberal period, a tolerance based rather on the European intelligentsia’s sense of guilt over colonialism and Nazism than on a solidaristic, equally empowered struggle for rights inspired by the universalist project of the sixties. The multiculturalist politics of the coexistence of different cultures and identities has been fully in keeping with this passivity.
Hito Steyerl // Right in Our Face
First published at http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/210
There is something deeply disappointing about the contemporary moment: it projects the past into the future.
I recently met some emigrants from Germany. I am not talking about йmigrйs who left in the 1930s to escape National Socialism. The people I met quietly decided they could no longer put up with Germany’s endless, debilitating, and deeply racist debates on immigration, and left the country in which they had been born and lived most their lives. These so-called debates had been going on least since the early 1980s, when anti-Turkish graffiti started appearing in the streets. Fueled by the so-called reunification in 1989, racist riots became the norm throughout the 1990s. I still vividly recall the accounts of a television crew in Rostock trapped in the elevator of a burning hostel for Vietnamese guest workers that had been attacked by a fascist mob for days on end—to the great amusement of the police forces standing by.
Olga Zhitlina // Description for the board game "Russia – The Land of Opportunity"
Russia – The Land of Opportunity board game is a means of talking about the possible ways that the destinies of the millions of immigrants who come annually to the Russian Federation from the former Soviet Central Asian republics to earn money play out.
Our goal is to give players the chance to live in the shoes of a foreign worker, to feel all the risks and opportunities, to understand the play between luck and personal responsibility, and thus answer the accusatory questions often addressed to immigrants – for example, “Why do they work illegally? Why do they agree to such conditions?”
On the other hand, only by describing the labyrinth of rules, deceptions, bureaucratic obstacles and traps that constitute immigration in today’s Russia can we get an overall picture of how one can operate within this scheme and what in it needs to be changed. We would like most of all for this game to become a historical document.
Ivan Ovsyannikov // A Leftist Response to the Immigration Question
A Leftist Response to the Immigration Question
Russian Marxists do not often raise the issue of immigration. When the latest explosion of anti-immigrant passions puts the issue on the national agenda, leftists as a rule limit themselves to general declarations in the spirit of internationalism and humanism. However, a simple refutation of xenophobic myths or stating the obvious truth that the problems associated with immigration are the product of capitalism is not enough to counter nationalist propaganda and prejudices. A program is needed that would oppose both right-wing and neoliberal “solutions” to the issue of immigration.
Thomas Campbell // The Persian Ambassador’s Cardiff Album
Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, in 1959, Babi (Babakhan) Badalov is a living embodiment of cosmopolitanism’s dark and spontaneously convivial underbelly. In his world, people do not travel from one country to another with polished ease, flashing their passports to the guards as they pass effortlessly through frontiers and effecting the shift from one language to another with fluency and grace. On the contrary, when you are a refugee, exile, migrant worker or itinerant artist, you manage these transitions as best you can, mangling the new idioms you learn and fusing them with half-remembered tongues you picked up along the way, mingling them with memories of a mother tongue that never matured into adulthood because at a tender age you left your mountain village for the capitals, where encounters with countrymen were few and furtive and somewhat beside the point. In the provincial capital, you learned the official language of artificial nationhood along with the (un)official language of the anti-imperial empire, neither of them your own, both of them suspicious (of you and of themselves). This was violence to be sure, but you turned this violence back upon itself, never fully learning any of these codes well enough to pass for a native. Nativity, after all, is naпvetй, an identification both outwardly enforced and grimly self-willed. For an artist, whether of life or the brush, submitting to too many of these identity checks means submitting to kitsch and clichй.
Thomas Campbell /// What Are Deportees Doing in a Museum?
published at the catalogue "Towards the Other" edited by TOK, St. Petersburg 2011
Chto Delat’s Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX is a scary film, not least because it coldly and blithely illustrates how the current democracies (whether “social,” “liberal” or “sovereign”) disappear the undesirables in their midst, the refugees/asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, and “lawbreakers.” In this sense, the film – despite its flimsy gesture toward a dystopian future as its setting (“20XX,” “European National League,” “euthanasia” experiments carried out by scientists, etc.) – is not science fiction. It is firmly situated in the present: this happens nearly everywhere almost every day, however much we would rather not know about it. (And the scary part, as the film shows, is how conveniently we forget that we do know.) What makes it “science fiction,” however, is not these stock elements from a threadbare genre, but its resort to a wholly fantastical plot premise: the deportees seek to claim asylum, of all places, in a contemporary art museum. What are the deportees doing in a museum.