Legalisation instead of Blanket Computer Searches Migration, Racist Regime and Leftist Anti-Racism - A Conversation with Kanak Attak
In the summer of this year, the border camps prompted Kanak Attak to suggest an initiative which focuses on the social status of the undocumented migrants. The demand for legalisation is an intervention in the official debate on immigration. At the same time, as a one-point programme, its intention is to give new orientation to antiracist work in Germany. In this conversation, Kanak Attak discuss the relevance of this attempt to bring anti-racist politics out of the defensive. Today the demand for legalisation represents a confrontation with the current, repressive new order of the migration regime.
Subtropen: According to your analysis, the starting conditions for a legalisation campaign were still extremely positive a few weeks ago. Do the attacks in New York and Washington and Nato's declaration of war mean that the ground has been cut from beneath the feet of this initiative?
Kanak Attak: Certainly, the alteration in the situation since September has forced us to reconsider these starting conditions. In particular, the pressure of crimination has increased considerably. As a result, the conditions for a discussion about legalisation are no longer as good as they were before. At an estimate, five million undocumented immigrants live in the EU. You don't need a particularly vivid imagination to picture how much worse the conditions of their existence have become in the context of the blanket searches, the new so-called anti-terror laws, the extension of the police apparatus and other measures. The "lasting war" which has been announced limits the echo experienced by a demand for legalisation. Instead, space is being given to all kinds of suspicion. The urgency of such legalisation, in this situation in particular, is matched by the unwillingness of public opinion to accept a demand in this direction at present. But if we reconsider the starting conditions, this rethink still includes the analyses and estimates which we developed before September. Our estimate of the crisis of anti-racism in the Federal Republic most certainly constitutes part of these new starting conditions. To take up your phrase, therefore, the ground has not been entirely cut from beneath our feet, but the present political constellation calls for further development of our ideas.
Subtropen: Okay, but before we return to this aspect, let us first attempt to clarify the conditions under which anti-racist work has taken place over the past years. You talk of a division of anti-racist labour, which tends to hinder anti-racist work rather than furthering it. What does this division of labour look like, how did it develop, and what are its effects?
Kanak Attak: This division of labour is demonstrated in the fact that each of the different groups has its own special theme. They concern themselves with asylum policy or the supervision of asylum-seekers, with refugee regimes and the practice of deportation, or with the auto-organisation of refugees, with left-wing anti-racist work or anti-fascism. They are all concerned with the racist regime, but with individual aspects of it. A structure of labour division has evolved within which the competencies and responsibilities are fixed, a structure which it seems impossible to challenge. We see this fixed division of labour itself as an expression of the crisis in the anti-racist system. It has been dragging this structure about with it for around ten years. And the division of labour had already developed before that, if you think of the charitable associations. In a certain sense, the left has adopted this structure. In this way, however, certain political forms are also fixed, such as non-government organisation or selforganisation, and these are bound up with a political practice which is directed towards supervision or selfdefence. We are not criticising the individual elements of this policy, but its structure. A defensive attitude is already written into its structure. The decisive point of our criticism is that anti-racist work does not go beyond a reaction to transformations in society. Every tightening up of laws leads to a counter-reaction, but this is always calculable. The political forms available still correspond to those of charitable associations. They lag behind the initiative of those in power because it does not seem to be possible to consolidate the various elements of anti-racist activities.
Subtropen: But surely this attitude is something far more fundamental, to be found in the defensiveness of emancipatory politics. The reactive stance towards the conditions of state apparatus and the government, towards racist campaigns by the conservatives and towards fascist politics was surely connected at the outset to the fact that it is not really possible to clarify a society-changing process which could bring these elements of anti-racist activity together. Your criticism of the limitations of certain activities - for example of the supervising function or the constitution of non-government organisation or of the limitations of auto-organisation among those directly involved - will not be able to overcome these deficits of its own accord. And in addition, precisely these anti-racist groups organise a minimum of contact, of relations and direct dealings. Would it not be possible for anti-racism to find a new orientation on this narrow, but at least existing basis?
Kanak Attak: That would only be possible if the various elements really were considered together on this basis, if it were possible to develop a position here which one might refer to as "universal anti-racism". But the structure of labour division obstructs this. It is correct to point out the lack of leftist emancipatory options. Anti-racism has thus inherited the burden of a defeat which took place far earlier. Anti-racism as we know it and within which we ourselves experienced our political socialisation is the product of the genealogy of the German left's past defeats. In many respects it seems something like a compensatory project for an emancipatory policy. It is still held spellbound by the shock which many leftists experienced when nationalism and racism spread perceptibly after 1989. It is still difficult to articulate anti-racism and anti-capitalism, we still observe a certain animosity towards theory which shrinks from criticism of capitalism because it does not believe that this can be communicated. These are results of the historical defeat. Problematic relations to questions of migration and towards the migrants and their communities is also connected to the state of the German left. The lack of emancipatory options for this society leads to a nonreaction towards these social phenomena, instead people hold fast to already established organisational structures. We start out with the assumption that the racist regime of the FRG has changed in recent years. New relations of power were produced during this transformation, but these have not been fully perceived. We refer to this as the crisis of anti-racism.
Subtropen: How would you pin down this change in regime? It's true that now the FRG has officially declared itself to be an immigration society, a serious difference to the conservative government under Kohl, which always rejected that notion. But in concrete terms, this long overdue concession only means the control and limitation of immigration. And in the question of citizens' rights there is also a move away from the principle of descent, from blood rights towards a territorial principle, birth rights linked to place - but the introduction of dual nationality as a possibility for immigrants has been completely stopped. What new opportunities for action have resulted from these changes?
Kanak Attak: The fundamental transformation of the racist regime becomes evident when one looks at the state's relation to migration. The difference between the earlier denial of immigration and the new definition as an immigration society today has effects which we do not so much link with the change in government, but with a shift in political climate. The churches, the state representatives for foreigners and the Federation, and the charitable associations have now been heard; standpoints expressing a friendly view towards migrants could be heard publicly. These standpoints had already crystallised prior to the change of government in 1998. A new code has emerged as a result of the Red-Green government. The debate on the immigration law created a contingent situation which could not be reduced to definite positions from the start. The government attempted to organise civil agreement from all sides. The S?ssmuth commission sought to involve the rightwing parliamentary camp, but opportunities also emerged for critical voices to be raised which had had no chance before. This change in climate even extended into the CDU. Last summer the process of negotiation was not yet finished.
Subtropen: But didn't the CDU in Hesse mobilise the racist consensus in society against the government's policy with its campaign against dual nationality at the beginning of 1999, a campaign which enjoyed massive support from the mass media? In structural terms, is there not a conservative hegemony in the FRG?
Kanak Attak: The background conditions are clear, and in the case of dual nationality they were well marked out: the government only pursued its project halfheartedly, as could be seen from its hurried retreat. 2 The question is, did Red-Green really want to make progress with their own project? Using the concept of integration, they provided constant points for a mobilisation of the right-wing. And there is another aspect: it became obvious in the Green Card discussion that the government was concerned first and foremost with a new division and segregation of immigrants according to categories of potential capitalist usefulness. Here it was sure of support from dynamic, internationalised factions of capital. We do not have any illusions about the new immigration law. But from the perspective of migrants in particular, the change in political climate was not insignificant. The transformation of the racist regime brought a simplification of the section referring to residence. The situation was relaxed and some space was made for involvement. A contingent situation means that there are opportunities for intervention. That is what the demand for legalisation is aiming for. It is an attempt to formulate - in a suitable way in this context - the justified demand for open borders in a concrete situation, in order to facilitate political action. The formula is quite simple: legalisation before amendment. First those made illegal by immigration must receive a different social status, and only then can there be legislation regarding immigration. In the question of legislation, political pressure from the left must aim in this direction. At present, an attempt appears to be being made to abolish the contingency again completely, keeping the discussion under control. If this succeeds, the only remaining alternative is that of those in power - that is, to make immigration impossible or to dose it according to the requirements of capitalist exploitation.
Subtropen: That is, the alternative between nationalists and economists. You have already mentioned the perspective of the migrants. On other occasions you have spoken about the autonomy of migration. Up until now we have only taken into account the changed conditions of racist rule. Is migration independent of the ruling nationalist or economic political forms? In this sense, does it follow rules of its own? In brief, what does the autonomy of migration mean in your view?
Kanak Attak: An example of this was immigration to the FRG after the recruitment stop in 1973. The legal possibility of reuniting families was employed, whereby "the family" was subjected to an original interpretation by immigrants, or at least the pattern they used was not the Fordist, German small family. It was possible to observe a similar attitude in the handling of asylum law. Put in another way, autonomous practices by which migration was organised developed within the legal possibilities. The autonomy of migration was revealed primarily in the totally chaotic and decentralised manner in which cheap labour forces were ethnicised, and also the way in which these labour forces used the opportunities available to them for entering the country. It was impossible to foresee and to control this process. Initially, the control policy had no effect; up to a certain point, the reuniting of families and the asylum law were unassailable. The second aspect is that presence has altered the conditions under which the immigrants' struggle for survival takes place - for example, the way in which ethnic communities emerge. An important thread in the legislation concerning immigration is concerned with regulating the migration which took place in such a chaotic way in the past. But every new regulation, every new legal codification may also lead to new, autonomous tactics employed by individuals and collectives. These tactics remain unforeseeable. They cannot be strategically planned, although one may presuppose the dominance of the ruling migration regime in the final instance.
Subtropen: The tactics you are talking about can only be described as autonomous in a very limited sense. At least they have very little in common with an emphatic concept of autonomy. These tactics are employed under the dominance of the ruling migration regime, as you yourself say, so they have only a short-term, partial effect before the controlling mechanisms take over. But that is only one aspect. One might go even further and say that these tactics are the opposite of autonomy. They are subject to the heteronomy of the migration regime, and not only in the final instance. They are also heteronomous because of their informal character, which does not necessarily have anything to do with individual autonomy, but may be determined by clan structures or governed by an ethnic identity policy. You brought up the ethnic communities. But there you face the problem of the reflecting relation between ethnicising and self-ethnicising. The bourgeois notion of autonomy was full of images of identity; with notions of personality and education, of nation and culture. Racism and ethnicising have always had the function of supporting an authoritarian, homogenising formation of collectives. Shouldn't the criticism be aimed at both sides: at the racist regime of those in power and at the ethnic identity policy of those ruled over? Would it not be possible to find a link between the autonomous tactics you have listed and an extended social, individual and collective autonomy in the perspective of double criticism?
Kanak Attak: Yes, but we reject an abstract form of criticism which gives orders from behind a desk as to how people may or may not conduct their lives. For the figure of the reflecting relation between ethnicising and self-ethnicising is already problematic. It 3 implies an equal value and a simultaneity regarding the structure of this subjection. Ethnicising from outside and of the self cannot be separated analytically, and it is certainly not possible to oppose them separately. Always, the identity policy of those ruled over is also a strategy of self-authorisation under the conditions of a misery stratified according to race. This means that when we refer to the ethnic communities, we are well aware that they provide immigrants 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. We support a non-polemic relation in which criticism keeps an eye on other possible practices, according to each individual situation. It is necessary to work out the dialectic aspect. We have positive possibilities for a different form of socialisation here, just as we have negative, reactionary ones which we don't want. By autonomous tactics we understand something which takes place in everyday life anyway. We are attempting to present a dimension of materialisation which cannot be reduced to the moral-ideological sphere. The materiality of the tactics can never be fully worked out with respect to identity policy. This presents the opportunity for left-wing criticism. The tactics have materiality in the concrete conditions of production and reproduction. The shaping of identity and its fetters can only be set aside if internal aspects in the reproduction of living conditions are altered. We plead in favour of practical criticism which uses what is inherent in the possibilities and articulates this use politically.
Subtropen: It is very obvious - for example in the revue "Opelpitbulautoput" at the Kanak-Attak event at the Volksb?hne in April - that in this context you refer to the labour struggles of late Fordist formation, for example the strikes at Ford during 1973. But what about a reference to the last decade?
Kanak Attak: Certainly, those were the struggles of the first generation. Today the factory as a location of production is no longer the focus of immigrant struggles. But more has changed. There is a different qualification structure of ethnicised work; for example the second generation, by contrast to the first, can now assert itself in terms of industrial law. This has something to do with what has been accomplished by antiracist work and by ideas of normality regarding possible migrant everyday life in the meantime. It is not possible to supervise these people, their everyday practice does not fit into the stigmatised clich? of the migrant victim. Many have a legal residence permit - that is, they have fairly safe residential status. They are able to use the German language as a matter of course, and this opens up quite different opportunities to articulate their interests. These changes came about as a result of two aspects we can establish by taking a look back: firstly, from settling into the existing society, awful as conditions might be, and on the other hand from resistance. This is not expressed in a primarily political way - although there is that as well -, but it is possible to observe an astonishing legacy of resigned indifference. First and foremost, resistance is demonstrated in everyday practices. In this respect as well, the reproduction of living conditions becomes the focal point. The symbolic, imaginary or also ideological level is of especial significance here. We can observe a paradoxical relation, for example in the "migrant jet set". This visualises social mobility in an ethnicising way, but in its realisation and performativity it cannot be traced back to the ethnic. In the contradictory nature of reproduction, therefore, there are points to be taken up. In addition, there is the fragmentation of ways of living. One cannot concern oneself with immigrants per se. Those seen as undocumented, migrants of the second generation and the still-to-be-recruited Green Card holders cannot be tied down to a single political line. This would only lead to universalizing which would in turn remain empty. Far more, a common position would represent a certain general precondition.
Subtropen: Is the demand for legalisation aimed at the creation of such a position? Is it intended to produce a certain degree of generalisation?
Kanak Attak: The demand for legalisation is not aimed at representation and not at participation. Indeed, its intention is to express a political position rather than fix a line. It is raised with reference to a process of negotiation taking place concerning the legislation on immigration. It does not require any political subject, it is suggested as an open concept by which means a political subject may constitute itself; one which could be workable through to all social milieus. It is a matter of mobilising unexpected resources of power. Starting from this position - or at least this was our opinion in the summer - it would be possible to produce conditions of communication which overcame the division of anti-racist labour for a time; and in this way it would have exemplary character.
Subtropen: So let's return to the beginning of this conversation. How has the state of affairs changed in this respect since September? You laid stress on a political offensive, on an offensively presented political position. How can we estimate this claim's political potential at present? How might the demand for legalisation be developed in today's situation?
Kanak Attak: Today we have a situation in which the conditions for an offensive policy - as we saw them during the summer - no longer exist in the same way. The topic of immigration has been shifted completely into the field of controlling policies, and of course this poses new demands. It is not a matter of adopting the position "now more than ever", which would be both abstract and helpless. Far more, an attempt must be made to grasp what aspects of the present economic situation may enable us to oppose the racism which is at present articulated in the guise of anti-Islamic feeling and debates on security. Schily's anti-terror package No. 1, for example, is only nominally directed against terrorism. The central register of foreigners - which has already existed for a long time and ensures the full registration of information concerning the entire life of a group of the population defined according to origins - now permits online comparisons between the authorities, whereby the individual's basic rights are threatened, not only in abstract terms. The creation of a file for naturalised ex-foreigners makes the revanchist target of these measures even more obvious. This is the political withdrawal of the postulate of equality for naturalised immigrants. But above all, the situation for the undocumented immigrants is aggravated. In the context of the current computer searches and the hassling which preceded these, around 1500 illegalised immigrants have already been deported throughout Europe, and this although it was not possible to prove incriminations in the majority of cases. In this respect in particular, the campaign for legalisation needs to be reconsidered. Whilst during the summer it was necessary to demand legalisation as a one point programme, today we should be focusing on the "side effects" - chance arrests in the course of the computer searches and the enthusiasm for denunciation within the population - and demanding compensation for immigrants in the form of legalisation.
Participants in this discussion were Manuela Bojad˙zijev, Serhat Karakayalõ and Vassilis Tsianos (Kanak Attak) and Thomas Atzert and Jost M?ller (Subtropen).