Beyond State Watching

This is the text of a talk given to the ‘Statewatching the new Europe’ Conference, London, 27 March 1993.

State-watching Europe is a futile business – unless you are going to do something about it. They watch us, we watch them – that’s no big deal. Getting to know what the new Euro-state is up to, or even why and how, does not stop it from doing whatever it wants to do. 

We have known about the secret goings on, the clandestine meetings from as far back as 10, 15 years ago. We have known about Trevi and Schengen and the Ad Hoc Committee on Immigration and the Dublin Convention. We have even known about the secret proposals, made at the prime ministerial meeting at Edinburgh last year. But Trevi and Schengen and all that informal network is now being formalised into a new Euro-state, a new Eurobureaucracy, unaccountable to the European parliament, unaccountable to us, the people. And we have not been able to make a dent in their plans. 

Why? Firstly, because our counter-information services, pressure groups, operate in a vacuum. There is no movement any more, no working-class movement, no Left movement, to contextualise them in a larger politics, to give them a larger frame of reference than their particular concern, afford them a larger area of support, translate their thinking into doing, make them effective, give them clout. In fact, Statewatch (State Research as it then was), the National Council for Civil Liberties (which now fondly calls itself ‘Liberty’) and the present Institute of Race Relations came out of the political movement of its times – the first in order to stop state infringement of the rights of Agee and Hosenball who had blown the whistle on the counter insurgency operations of the CIA, the second to defend the right to demonstrate on the part of the hunger marchers of 1934, and the third to invigilate the rise of state racism and the fillip it gave to popular racism and fascism. 

In the second place, there is no political culture today which informs and coheres the various aspects and strands of our struggles against the state. Instead, we have what the pseudo-marxists term cultural politics – the enclosed, ad hoc, one issue politics of the so-called new social forces. But then the pseuds deny that there is any such thing as a state, only power blocs. 

Thirdly, there is no overall climate of political analysis, which allows the work of organisations like Statewatch to become grist in the mills of activists – against racism, sexism, the poll tax, whatever. There is, that is, no understanding of where the state fits in into each one of our struggles – and therefore no concerted attack on the state. In the event, the state is able to repel or buy off each one of our struggles individually. 

What we have today in the place of political analysis is political commentary, political “discourse’, a discussion of political ideas qua ideas – and even then, the emphasis is not on the ideas themselves, but on how they should be dressed up, on their presentation. Representation is all. And, according to the pseudo-marxists, reality itself is a matter of interpretation, construction, presentation – of words, ideas, images. ‘Philosophers’, they might have said with a nod to Marx, ‘have interpreted the world; our task is to change the interpretation’. 

Fourthly, there is no Labour Party, or its equivalent in Europe, which is answerable to a labour movement, and is therefore centrally concerned with the poor and the powerless and the disempowered. It has become, instead, a free-floating entity with no loyalty, no commitment, no values – and has turned the Parliamentary Labour Party into a despicable bunch of tired opportunists in weary search of the Holy Grail of Power – for what purpose, when their policies are no different from the Tories, I do not know. 

Finally, there is no Left – to speak to our changing times, to catch history on the wing. Instead, they have either let themselves become fossilised in some troglodyte past or taken refuge in the navel-gazing single issue politics of the new social forces. 

So what should we do? What should Statewatch do – more? What should those of us gathered here today – anti-racists, anti-fascists, anti-statists, students, do? How do we come together after this conference to develop a concerted struggle against the encroachments of an increasingly authoritarian Euro-state? (For that I see as the burden of my talk here today.) What are the things that unite us? What are the things that connect us to each other? It is not enough to understand that racism and fascism are connected, that racism and imperialism are connected, that fascism and state authoritarianism are connected, without also understanding the ways in which they are connected today, and how much more formidable those connections have become – and how much more invisible. 

What are the changes that have taken place in the world since we last had a movement? And how do we, in understanding those changes, go some way towards creating a movement which moves with the times and is, therefore, effective? 

We are caught in a trough between two eras. The era of industrial capitalism, with its thousand factories and 10,000 workers, all assembled under the same roof, is over, and we are moving into an era where industrial manufacture is based not so much on living labour as on the brains of dead labour, fed into robots and computers and other micro-electronic gadgetry – like CAD (computer aided design) and CAM (computer aided manufacture) and who knows what tomorrow. 

Where once muscle power was replaced by steam power and then by electricity, and so instigated the industrial revolution, today electronics replaces the brain. That is the size of the technological revolution of our times. And look at the implications

.Firstly, Capital (I expect that the term is still in fashion) is no longer captive to Labour. Not only can it do with less labour, but also with less variety of labour, with the unskilled or semi-skilled at one end of the production process and the highly-skilled at the other. The skills have been taken into the machines, leaving it to the highly skilled to programme them and the unskilled to operate them. The heavy labour-intensive industries of the period of industrial capitalism – iron, steel, ship-building – are dead or dying, or have passed on to the so-called Newly Industrialising Countries where labour is still cheap and plentiful or could be made to be so. Coal is a-dying. Industries which employed thousands of workers on the factory floor and in the pits and bound them in communities of resistance to capital are gone or going – and traditional labour organisations rendered ineffectual and effete. Thatcher’s war against the unions was not won by genius or guile or sheer bloody-mindedness, but by changes in the production process which were already making the craft or industry-based union a thing of the past.

Secondly, Capital is no longer fixed to one place. It can take up its plant and walk to wherever labour is cheap and captive, and that is invariably in the Third World. It can move from free trade zone to free trade zone in Malaysia, Taiwan, Brazil, Sri Lanka, from one reserve pool of cheap, captive labour to another extracting maximum profit, discarding each when done.

The factories themselves can now be broken down into smaller units and scattered all over the world, in global assembly lines, stretching (in the microelectronics industry, for instance) from Silicon Valley in California or Silicon Glen in Scotland to the free trade zones of the Third World.

And the countries of the Third World, for their part, enter into a Dutch auction with each other to offer transnational corporations cheaper and cheaper labour, deunionised, captive labour, rightless, female labour and child labour, tax incentives, and unencumbered land rights and mineral rights and rights to raw materials.

But what keeps the labour cheap and captive and takes the land away from the peasants and hands it over to agri-business, and the natural resources to mining companies, is the installation and/or maintenance in Third World countries of military regimes and/or parliamentary dictatorships by the western powers.

Trade no longer follows the flag; the flag follows trade. Capital has broken its national bonds, technology allows it, and the governments of the west must follow in capital’s wake to set up the political and social orders within which it can safely and profitably operate.Not necessarily this time by force of arms, but by the force of an economic logic preached by the World Bank, sustained by the International Monetary Fund, worked by Structural Adjustment Programmes, and mediated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

These are the new agents of imperialist plunder. These are the new conquistadors who lay waste the Third World and move whole populations from countryside to urban wastelands and from urban wastelands to the inner cities of Europe – there to do the shit work of silicon age capitalism as cleaners and porters, house-maids and waiters, sweat-shop workers and piece-workers, and the peripheral, peripatetic, hire and-fire-at-will workers of manufacturing industry. These are not economic refugees looking for a better life in western economies. These are political refugees fleeing from the devastation that western economies have caused in their countries. It is your economics that makes our politics that makes us refugees in your economies. 

Hence, the distinction that European governments continue to make between economic and political refugees is meaningless, false – statutory lies. But you and I don’t have to believe them; the refugees and asylum seekers thrown up on Europe’s shores are our responsibility, and the responsibility, particularly, of black people, of Third World people, who were once refugees and asylum seekers themselves. For to have the experience and forget the meaning is to lie against oneself. 

The fight against racism, therefore, must be centrally concerned with the right of entry for refugees – and the right, at least, to a fair and impartial hearing, and time to hear it in. I am not interested in the fight against racism – in the Asylum Bill, for instance – at the level of whether or not visitors from Third World countries are allowed to visit their families, when there’s a deeper, more profound racism which keeps refugees out. I am not interested in the fight against racism at the middle-class level of equal opportunities (or equal opportunism as I prefer to call it), I am interested in the fight against racism at the level of the unhoused, the unemployed, the unrefuged. I am interested, above all, in the fight against racism at the level of life and death – and that includes racial attacks, murders on the street, deaths in custody, and sending off of refugees back to their countries of death.

And these are not issues ‘out there’, which concern only “them’, ‘their rights and their freedoms. These are issues that are of vital concern to all of us, and affect our rights and our freedoms, because the clandestine non-accountable, hush-hush way in which policies on these issues are being decided by the European community augurs ill for democracy.

You have heard of the secret goings on at Trevi (which, as Tony Bunyan has pointed out, does not refer to the fountain in Rome but is an acronym for terrorism, radicalism, extremism and violence) and the Ad Hoc Group on Immigration. And you know about the inter-governmental deals made under the Schengen Accord – and the Dublin Convention. You probably know about the leaked draft resolution (presented at the Inter-Prime Ministers’ meeting in Edinburgh last October) which required that those who feared human rights violations should stay in their own country and seek protection or redress from their own authorities’. Refugee status, it added, should not be granted in Europe, “merely because levels of security, economic opportunity or individual liberty are below ours’!

But apart from the fact that these meetings and resolutions are setting the basis for an international code of institutional racism, which defines all Third World people as immigrants and refugees, and all immigrants and refugees as terrorists and drug runners and cannot tell a citizen from an immigrant or an immigrant from a refugee, let alone one black from another – for, as I’ve said before, we all carry our passports on our faces – apart from all that, what should be of the greatest concern to all of us is the steady, silent growth of an European state apparatus which has no legislative mandate, no mechanism to make it accountable, and no due processes by way of law to protect the interests of its citizens against it. And that signals the first steps in the establishment of an authoritarian European state.

But such a drift was on the cards already, because transnational corporations need to transgress national boundaries and set up a transnational state, a Euro-state, which serves their interests rather than the interests of the governed, on the basis that only through serving business interests does one serve the interests of the economy as a whole and, therefore, of the people, thereby lifting unemployment! That is the new economic orthodoxy, right across Europe, and no one challenges it, least of all the so-called ‘Socialists’. 

Where, in other words, the nation state was the political expression of industrial capitalism, the Euro-state is the political expression of post-industrial capitalism. But where in industrial capitalism, there was a working-class movement to challenge the depredations of Capital and keep it from establishing an authoritarian state – all the so-called bourgeois freedoms, such as freedom of speech, of assembly, the right to withhold one’s labour, universal suffrage, even the welfare state sprang not from bourgeois benefice but from working class struggles – today, there is no organised opposition to Capital in sight.

But that lack of opposition stems partly from the lack of information, of investigative journalism, of whistle-blowing, of the suppression of news items, documentaries, programmes that are not conducive to the authority of the state, that are not palatable to the government, or to the controllers of the communication industry. And that control is being concentrated, more and more, in fewer and fewer hands. A handful of transnational corporations like IBM and a handful of mega media moguls, like Murdoch and Springer, own and/or control the means of mass communication. And they decide, through the two minute TV and the three minute tabloid, what information we should have, or, more precisely, what disinformation we should be fed, what thoughts we should think, what values we should uphold, what commodities we should consume, what lives we should lead. 

In a word, they shape the dominant culture of our times. Thatcher did not create the individualist, consumer-oriented, dog-eat-dog society we live in. They did. She was their willing instrument. And the thrust of such a culture is to weaken the social fabric, fragment society (was it any wonder that Mrs Thatcher should declare that there was no such thing as society), break up community, destroy collectivity, and dissipate opposition. Conversely, to reverse that culture we must return to the values of community and the collective interest.

Let me come at it from another angle. The post-industrial society has been correctly termed the Information Society. But we have to understand information in two ways. Firstly, as I’ve said before, as data used in the labour and production process, as the ‘brains of the dead’ fed into robots and computers. Secondly, as data fed to you and me through the mass media, as brains for the dead, to create popular culture. Information fed into software to programme robots, computers, etc and information fed into the communication process to programme popular culture. Information, that is, is the raw material both of the production process and the cultural process. And the people who control the one, control the other. The control and/or ownership of both are concentrated in the same hands, and those same hands shape not only the economy and popular culture but the governments of the day. It is no accident that ministers in our governments often came from giant corporations and/or go back to giant corporations or into industry that they have helped to privatise while in government: water, gas, electricity, transport. In a word, the hands that shape the information, shape our economy, shape our culture, shape our politics. 

And it is that concentration of power that we have got to address ourselves to – by concentrating our own efforts, by unifying our own struggles. The objective connections are there, as I hope I have shown. And, in sum, what they mean is that: 

  1. Anti-statists must understand the changing nature of post-industrial society and go beyond investigating the state apparatus to see how the state operates in the interstices of civil society. 
  2. Anti-racists must have an understanding of imperialism in order to understand the political reasons for taking up the cause of refugees and asylum seekers: if they come for us in the morning, they will come for you that night. 
  3. Anti-fascists must have an understanding of how the state itself is veering towards authoritarianism by using the Right as a ploy to bolster its own authority – as Kohl’s use of the Nazis to revoke Clause 16 of the Constitution (and so close the gates on refugees) shows. Or the numbers argument of the British government’s Asylum Bill, which holds that less refugees means less fascism (which carried to its logical conclusion leads to the ‘final solution’). 

We have not only to connect our different struggles but open out to each others struggles, learn from each others’ struggles – not making our particular struggle the gauge of other peoples’ struggles, our commitment the measure of everybody else’s – and so create not coalitions and alliances but a growing, organic unity. 

On the practical level, we need to enunciate programmes that will bring us together and politicise the public, enlarge our constituency right across Europe. That is why, for instance, CARF and Race & Class and the Berlin Anti-Racist Initiative put out a set of 15 proposals as part of an anti-racist policy programme addressed to the European governments. Not because we expected those governments to take them up, but to challenge them on basic rights – such as the reform of clause 116 of the German constitution which bases citizenship on blood – and so broaden our struggle, unifying our different strands, and strengthen the hand of long-time foreign residents in Germany, for instance, in the fight against racism and fascism.

At the grassroots level, we need to take up the cases in our local communities – turn cases into issues, issues into causes, causes into a movement. And we can begin here, now, today – with the case of Omasase Lumumba, the nephew of Patrice Lumumba, the great Zairean revolutionary who was murdered over 30 years ago by the Belgian government. Omasase Lumumba was tortured in Zaire, sought refuge in Switzerland where he lived for 10 years, lost his residential rights through the break up of his marriage, fled to England to seek political asylum, and died in custody in Pentonville prison.

Thank you.