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international bordercamp strasbourg

Post-Strasbourg reflections on the continued emergence of a global movement against borders [first draft]

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24.Sep.02 - 'It is criminal to embark upon even the slightest attempt to change society, no matter how limited, without bearing in mind certain old experiences of the "movement"' - Francis Pisani

Introduction and clarification of some terms

"This year Strasbourg will be the scene of the first Europe-wide noborder camp. This camp initiated by the noborder network ( and organized by activist groups from a number of European countries will consist of 10 days of actions, workshops and discussions around the central demand of 'freedom of movement and settlement' for everyone." - Extract from the call to the Strasbourg noborder camp

"Freedom of movement and settlement' for everyone", like a non-capitalist world, is something it is pointless to demand. By definition, no government can give us a world without borders and nations, that is a world we [we - the proletariat/ working class/ masses (call us what you want) - waged labourers, unwaged labourers, benefit claimants, peasants, refugees, students, prisoners, the landless, bums, etc. - those who would benefit from and are capable of the revolutionary transformation of society] must create for ourselves. WE [WE - 'direct action', libertarian, ANTI-CAPITALISTS (see below) - a fluid and incoherently defined network of groups and individuals who recognise how fucked up the world is and seek to develop activity through and within the network in the hope it will change something - a collection of people who think they share certain views and tend to (though by no means always) share certain sub-cultural aesthetic norms which may at times contribute to an exclusionary group identity] remain tied to the logic of single issue politics. ANTI-CAPITALISM [ANTI-CAPITALISM - The name popularly applied to OUR (as in 'WE') movement - Often confused with the struggle against capitalism] is perhaps the ultimate single issue style campaign, characterised as it is by militant liberalism [militant liberalism - sometimes also called militant lobbying - a form of political expression imbricated with existing political structures. An extension of the petition/ demonstration/ protest mentality, it can at times exert considerable pressure and is often confused with direct action as it is frequently illegal and repressed heavily - the battle of Genoa, F.E. (for example)] [direct action - originally unofficial industrial action but latterly other anti-political activity that does not seek the mediations of bureaucracy - often confused with militant lobbying] and minimal attention to revolutionary activity [revolutionary activity - activity that provides steps towards (establishment of a community council, F.E.), or encouragement, support and inspiration to steps towards (graffiti advocating claimants solidarity, writing a guide to wildcat strikes, F.E.), the self management of society in our interests, or which makes this process easier (anti-fascism, F.E.). The revolutionary potential of activity is endangered if it incurs the creation of political structures, formal or informal, that exist separate to our self-managerial experiments (the "anarchist" ministers in Spain or the sectretariat of People's Global Action, F.E.)]. Now that ANTI-CAPITALISM has been confronted by its own impossibility, it looks as though noborders might step in as the next big single issue style campaign and save a few professional activists from redundancy. We should be cautious- a world without borders is incompatible with capitalism and the nation-state system, it can only be created by global revolution which is unlikely to be helped very much by noborder days of action accompanied by militant liberalist campaigning.

Give up activism

The mistaken belief that enough of such activity will radically change the world belongs to the activist mentality discussed extensively in 'Give up Activism' (originally published in 'Reflections on J18', I think, and subsequently reproduced (often with additions) everywhere but the Telegraph). It seems incredible that there remains a widespread belief that were our ghetto only much bigger, this would somehow create revolution, but this thinking was apparent in Strasbourg. Our ghettoisation was pretty embarrassing and, although I know some people tried, there wasn't much interaction with the local population. When a demonstration in the market on Saturday was attacked by riot cops people who were hanging around (some even committing the crime of shopping!) boo-ed the cops, chanted "solidarite avec les sans papiers", some of them were up for linking arms and approaching the rear of the police lines, a group of young 'zombie consumers' all decked out in gold jewelery and designer clothes blocked the cops when they tried to grab me. WE could be so much more effective. But the answer is not to drag those who are currently not activists into OUR activities, but to recognise the futility of most of what WE do.

Creative resistance to the border system

However, while we should always consider how best to agitate for complete social transformation, the plight of asylum seekers and those with out papers is of immediate concern. I am not for one second suggesting that we should wait for the revolution to solve everything- if the spirit of solidarity and co-operation is to prevail tomorrow it must be practised today.

Aside from publicising the border issue, focusing on what causes mass migration, and integrating this into our critiques of the existing order that inspire us to build revolutionary alternatives to oppressive structures, there are a number of ways we can act:

(1) WE (we?) can use reformist militant lobbying to try and support those most oppressed by the border system. To give a random, fictitious example, we could focus on Australia as it practices the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. WE could attack Australian businesses, smash up Australian government property, have global days of action against Australian policy, we could convene en masse and smash up the center of Sydney. Through operating within their political sphere, we would quickly receive attention from Trotskyists and NGOs. If the pressure was sufficient, the NGOs (while denouncing our violence) might be able to achieve some compromise with the Australian government whereby less people will have to endure their concentration camps. This would be positive. However, we would create a confusing spectacle of resistance and such political lobbying, through inevitably tacitly diverting focus onto government policy, serves to strengthen the institutions responsible for the problems we seek to end.

(2) WE/ we can use direct action to try and support those most oppressed by the border system. For example, direct actions against air deportations have allowed people who would otherwise have been deported to remain in safer countries. Or, in an exceptional example, some detainees in the Woomera detention centre in Australia, with the help of activists, were able to escape. Individuals can be hidden from the state, helped across borders, and the very act of being 'illegal' is direct action. However, activists engaged in such work may experience a feeling of 'spitting in the wind'- for every individual with whom WE can offer practical solidarity, there are thousands of migrants, or potential migrants, WE will never even have contact with.

(3) There are a number of groups whose practices are consistent with and contributive towards revolutionary social transformation (practices, not necessarily ideology) while they simultaneously practically defy racist division as a matter of urgency. This includes many of the self-organisations, formal or informal, of 'illegals', detainees, etc. Those of us with legal citizenship may be able to work in practical solidarity with these organisations. I would also like to give the example of North Edinburgh Refugees Welcome Here Campaign (NERWHC). A group I've never been involved with and which wasn't represented in Strasbourg (I know there are many similar groups, some of whom were in Strasbourg, exchanging ideas and information).
NERWHC is run by some of the residents in a few North Edinburgh housing schemes which have been considered as mass dumping grounds for asylum seekers. Determined to avoid a repeat of the situation in Glasgow (thousands of asylum seekers were dumped in an already pissed off, underfunded, and impoverished working class area, without any consultation with local residents and very minimal provision of additional services. In a context of far-right agitation, racist media and a lack of constructive responses to the local's legitimate grievances, there were a series of clashes between asylum seekers and locals which culminated in the murder of a young Turkish man), NERWHC has sought to act in the interests of refugees and local residents. So, while they have been active spreading information about refugees' situation, challenging right wing interpretations and trying to ensure the local area is welcoming to refugees and other migrants, they have given equal attention to local people's concerns, have spread and debated radical interpretations of local people's problems in countenance to right-wing vilification of immigrants, and have tried to ensure that any mass dispersal of refugees to the area takes place following full consultation with local people. Instantly practical and potentially revolutionary, NERWHC breaks down barriers, spreads radical ideas and contributes to the establishment of community in areas where everything possible has been done to alienate people from each other.

Give up politics

ANTI-CAPITALISM also establishes communities but they are not revolutionary. WE establish political communities that exist distinct from most people's everyday lives and tacitly transcribe themselves transformative capability. Most alarming is the political class of professional activists that dominates ANTI-CAPITALISM in Europe- a fluid undefinable network of skilled, committed, hardworking and (sometimes) lovely people with the time, resources and abilities to become involved in the preparations, and consequently the decision making process, for major ANTI-CAPITALIST events. This class was very much in evidence in Strasbourg when it was proposed that we should pack up the camp a day early, all march into Strasbourg carrying all our stuff, get into cars and go and stay at a farm 40 KM away. No criticism is intended of people for being scared, mistaken, etc., the incident is of interest because of the power structures that meant this, frankly bizarre, proposal was given such serious consideration (it took several hours for a large majority, that had been clear from the outset, to put the proposal down). It is not a question of criticising individuals involved in this class, its existence is a consequence of OUR replication of the political sphere. OUR inability to break with the logic of protest politics. OUR desire for the spectacle of resistance. OUR impatience.

Derail the noborder bandwagon

Finally here is a fictitious 'beginners guide to building you own "direct action" movement' followed by a quote from a document advertising the European noborder network. Please consider the similarities and question the value of continuing to build the movement against borders which I believe is still only just emerging:

Build your own direct action movement!

(1) Choose an issue- climate change, capitalism, borders, etc.
(2) Explain why the thing is bad.
(3) Find some other groups working on the same issue.
(4) Set up a network.
(5) Use your contacts to recruit as many well resourced, influential buddies from the ANTI-CAPITALIST milieux as possible. Don't worry too much about what they believe in.
(6) Develop some slightly tokenistic links to especially oppressed people.
(7) You are now ready to play the numbers game- get a well designed electronic interface and publicise your movement relentlessly through the ANTI-CAPITALIST media.
(8) Call some global days of action.
(9) Pull off some (hopefully) spectacular mass actions.
(10) Having participated in such a successful movement you will be in a perfect position to choose another issue and start all over again.

REMEMBER- The success of your movement shall be determined by:
A- The total number of people who waste their time on it.
B- The total number of days imprisonment that result as a consequence.
C- The total inches of press coverage it inspires.

At all times your movements value shall be in itself and it shall be its own justification. A + B + C = credibility! So, ANTI-CAPITALISM is winning by miles right now.


"These border camps, which are characterised by diverse interventions and discussion groups have been documented on the first European noborder web site and an expansion to include groups from the UK and Spain is being planned for the upcomng year. "Furthermore, many calls for actions in the individual countries circulate on the noborder mailing list and attempts are being made to co-ordinate common activities, particularly in resistance to official European summits. This practical approach to co-ordinate actions as an expression of a fundamental critique of EU migration politics, is central to the noborder project. This involves continuous networking and information exchange. Because our aim remains not only to criticise but to create European-wide structures for practical and effective resistance." - Extract from 'The European Noborder Network: An Attempt for Practical Resistance'