Saturday, 10 May 2008

A Note on Balibar, Cosmopolitanism, and Immigration

Yesterday I went to a lecture by Etienne Balibar at King's College, 'Towards a Diasporic Citizen? Internationalism to Cosmopolitics'. I have also been in Balibar's masterclass at Birkbeck College this week (two more sessions to go next week). I plan to write more about this at some point, but for the moment only a note on a point I raised during the discussion and which Balibar did not take to all that well. My suggestion was that the failure of the universal rights of citizenship addressed to the individual in the great proclamations of our times (i.e. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and the severe restrictions on free circulation may stem from Marx's formulation that in bourgeois (capitalist) society, only capital has individuality and is independent; while the real human being has no individuality and is dependent on capital.

Of course there are various reasons why rights fail in their implementation and why free movement and circulation is restricted. But in the end, they are all trumped by capital. Example: as a matter of official policy and immigration law, if you invest $100,000 in the U.S. economy, you get a green card automatically. It doesn't matter who you are or what passport you hold. The usual restrictions don't apply. In the UK, the story is similar, though even less formal, but still a matter of official policy and law - here the Russian and Middle Eastern millionaires who buy up houses in Hampstead simply claim what is known as 'undomiciled' status, which is a way of saying "I'm filthy rich and I want to come and buy a house and live in your country", and the UK government just nods and says 'OK'. In fact, following the resurgent boom that put the City back on the map and made London Europe's (if not the world's financial capital), Peter Mandelson, a key figure of New Labour, was noted as saying "We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

What all this amounts to is that aside from all categories of immigration and citizenship, and all restrictions and borders, the underlying assumption beneath all the various forms of exclusion that categorize humanity in the eyes of immigration authorities is that the immigrants, the huddled third-world masses knocking on the doors of developed nations, have no money. If they do, or in the case of those few who do, it doesn't matter what nationality they are, where they come from, what passport they hold. So yes, Marx was right. It can all be reduced to one primary distinction. Only capital is independent. The universal rights addressed to individuals are ours to have in the measure in which we have access to capital - often not only as a matter of practice, but as a matter of law and official immigration policy.

My corollary point was that Deleuze and Guattari's formulation in Anti-Oedipus expresses precisely the paradox of the border: the idea that capitalism through its process of production strives continually toward its limit (globalization, full development of means of production, accumulation of capital) but at the same time expends a massive amount of energy to avoid reaching this limit - one might say, because it would be a step further toward socialism; because while the accumulation of capital requires free circulation, it also requires the restricted circulation of labour; therefore the border must be maintained at all costs, even while it is continually chipped away.

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