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Archive for April 20th, 2005

Badiou: from Worker to Immigrant

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WebaA paragraph from a brilliantly lucid piece by Peter Hallward on Badiou’s Politics.

The void left by
its disappearance [the term "workers], of course, has been filled by the obscure category of
‘immigrants’. Badiou has little trouble showing that ‘the hatred of immigrants
was established massively, consensually, at the level of the state, from
the moment when we began, in our representations of the world, to omit
the workers, the figure of the workers’ (LDP, 1.12.91: 3). It is obvious
that ‘the immense majority of immigrants are workers or people looking
for work’ (LDP, 1.12.91: 3) – hence the absurdity of current distinctions
between ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘economic migrants’. It is no less obvious
that the invention, as pseudo-political labels, of the terms ‘immigrant’,
‘foreigner’ ‘étranger’, ‘clandestin’, and so on, coincides
with the swing in global political economy over the 1980’s against organised
labour and popular movements generally.16
In France, Badiou points out, this movement can be dated quite precisely.
One of Mittérand’s first prime ministers, Pierre Mauroy, justified
the repression of a strike at Renault-Flins in 1983 on the basis that the
striking workers were ‘foreign to the social reality of France’ (LDP, 3.05.92:
12). The violent repression of another strike at Talbot later in the same
year confirmed the trend (LDP, 26-27.02.98: 18). Two years later, the socialist
Laurent Fabius confessed that it is ‘Le Pen [who] is posing the real questions’
(LDP, 19-20.04.96: 2), an admission effectively confirmed by Michel Rocard
(‘France cannot open its doors to the misery of the world’) and Mittérand
himself (‘we must struggle firmly against illegal immigration’) (LDP, 7.07.93:
6). The resulting consensus is indeed consistent, as the OP is at pains
to stress, with the general approach of the Front National. On the issues
of economic liberalism, immigration, crime, drugs, the banlieues,
the FN is ‘internal to the consensus’ established over two decades
of Mittérandisme (LDP, 22.06.97: 3).17
Hence the conclusion: ‘strengthen the workers, and thus limit Lepenism’
(LDP, 1.12.91: 3). Without a strong figure of the worker there can be no
effective response to the so-called ‘immigrant question’.

The common cause forged between the Front National and Mitterandisme found a precise mirror during the previous US election – in particular, during the process of determining the Democratic nominee. John Edwards’s economic populism, while not heading straight at immigrants, spoke the same code-words (tariffs, China, "free trade, but fair trade") that are aired nightly on Lou Dobbs’s show on CNN. (If you’re not familiar: a popular business tv-talking head from the (first) bubble period who tacked xenopopulist post-9/11 with recurring, actually almost complusive attention to "America’s Broken Borders."

Anyway, the issue of immigration is one of the many issues where US politics is distinctly in flux, with every side on the wrong side for the wrong reasons. The Democratic Party, pressured by the appeal of the North Carolinian Edwards (North Carolina has both been particularly hard hit by Chinese furniture imports and is facing up to their first wave of latin american lawn cutters and busboys) is lilting towards an anti-immigration, xenophobic stand. While Bush, against the grain of his patriotic rhetoric and against the wishes of his bubblefuck constituency, seems to have come to grips with the fact that the American economy instantly crumbles without the downward wage pressure of our hard-working uninvited guests… (The socially conservative lean of second generation latino voters doesn’t hurt either…)

At any rate, things have only gotten more complicated since the initial collation Badiou, via Halliward, describes above… In a certain sense, it’s not just the name "workers" – but their reality – that’s been taken over by the "immigrant," especially in New York, but actually nearly everywhere in the USA today… But Badiou’s point nonetheless holds: there’s something (everything) lost in the translation…

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April 20, 2005 at 1:34 am

Posted in Politics