Hirbohd Hedayat reviews a new book on immigration and solidarity, more relevant than ever in light of the debates of the last few months and weeks.
Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak Jørgensen (eds.), Solidarity without Borders: Gramscian Perspectives on Migration and Civil Society Alliances (Pluto Press, 2016) 256pp.
The major dilemma at the heart of this work is how to form alliances of immigrants and non-immigrants at the level of civil society that can act as a counter-bloc to a hegemonic regime that seeks to restrict immigration and integration and preserve physical and conceptual borders. The 2007/2008 financial crisis is viewed as an organic crisis (a description in Marxist theory of a situation in which the inherent contradictions of capitalism reach a head, and cause a crisis of base and superstructure) that brought with it the end of political consensus and the inability of the ruling class to lead society forward. This analysis uses a framework based off of the work of Antonio Gramsci, especially his essay “Some Aspects of the Southern Question” (1926), in which he divides Italy geographically between an industrialized north and dependent south in order to argue that the proletarians of the north and peasants of the south should unite as a means by which to combat the hegemonic order of the time. This call for unity of the subaltern classes is one that is under investigation in this collection.
There are four parts in the book, each of which corresponds to a different topic born out of “Some Aspects of the Southern Question”. The first part looks at the heterogeneity of political actors, the second looks at solidarity across and around borders, the third is concerned with misplaced alliances (and how to avoid them), and the fourth deals with spaces of resistance—each of these sections contains three chapters by different authors that deal with the topic at hand.
In looking at the heterogeneity of political actors, the authors are concerned with the complex composition of class, invoking Gramsci’s call for the unity of proletarians and peasants, and Stuart Hall’s claim that: “we cannot expect a homogenous class to be decisive when an organic crisis occurs” (8). It is here that the authors are especially concerned with laying out an idea of class composition that is inclusive, whether this be done through concepts such as ‘multitude’, ‘precariat’ or ‘the 99%’. An interesting chapter in this section is one by Nazli Senseş and Kivanç Özcan that looks at the role of internal migrants and minorities, especially Kurds and Alevis, in the Gezi protests in Turkey. They persuasively argue against the presentation of the Gezi protests as a purely middle class movement and instead look at the role of migrant neighborhoods, in order to argue for an understanding of the protests as one of solidarity amongst heterogenous political actors. .
This part also contains “Gramsci in Slices” by Miguel Mellino, the most interesting and important chapter in the work, especially to those interested in postcolonial studies. Mellino is concerned with the reading of Gramsci’s work done by postcolonial scholars, and the title engages with the notion that Gramsci’s work has only served as a reference point in postcolonial studies, and not a dominant position/school of thought. This is not meant to be an exercise in how to engage with Gramsci as a postcolonial theorist, but to show how his work was taken alongside the work of other critical theorists in order to: “sketch a theoretical-political approach to cultural history…explicitly breaking with that economistic and Eurocentric Marxism historically promoted by Communist Parties and their own organic intellectuals” (60).
It is also through the evocation of Gramsci being read in slices that Mellino makes a statement about the political work of these theorists using ‘post’ as a prefix, they are looking at specific political questions instead of trying to create a theoretical system, for the espousal of a grand-theory system: “would be to fall back into the philosophy of history, colonial historicism or orientalism at the base of Western knowledge” (61).
It is from this point that Mellino then takes on the work of Stuart Hall, to show how Hall seeks to decolonize Western Marxism and the historicist/teleological reading of the development of capitalism. It is here that the heterogeneity of political actors is especially pronounced, for in Hall’s theory, the globalized movement of capitalism does not homogenize labor power, but instead, creates heterogeneity, difference, and hierarchies. It is then that Mellino argues that the idea of different forms of labor also applies to the “advanced economies” of the world; calling for the study of globalized capitalism as postcolonial capitalism. It is through the study of postcolonial capitalism that one can begin to understand what is at stake when mentioning issues of citizenship and the status of migrants in Europe. In this way, recognizing the heterogeneity of labor serves as a central locus upon which to engage contemporary conflicts.
In the second part, “Solidarity and Alliances,” the authors are especially concerned with alliances between civil society actors and migrants, and one way this can be done is equating immigrant struggles for rights with the anti-austerity movement. “Gramsci, Migrants and Trade Unions: An Irish Case Study” by Mark Hyland and Ronaldo Munck shows how the trade unions united workers and migrants through the figure of the precarious worker migrant, so as to form a new bloc that worked against xenophobia and promoted the formulation of migrants as the “new Irish.”A further study by Laurence Cox articulates the complexity of Irish social movements around the role of Irish emigrants and a growing immigrant population in Irish domestic politics. It is here that the transnational aspect of migration and the movement towards a study of migration that avoids a nationalistic discourse, especially around the idea of borders, is brought to the fore.
The third and fourth parts of the book respectively look at misplaced alliances and spaces of resistances. In terms of misplaced alliances, what is especially under attack is a xenophobic and fascistic discourse that uses the precarity of workers to call for the limitation of migration and perceived enemies. This part of the book is especially enlightening in the age of the financial crisis, as it provides an analysis of movements such as Pegida in Germany, the Tea Party in the United States, and Fidesz in Hungary within the context of an economic restructuring that is only increasing social divisions and precarity. For Gramsci, misplaced alliances would have to be combated through an educational strategy, as he believed precarious workers would be attracted to joining misplaced alliances. What then becomes an issue is the way in which to resist these misplaced alliances. One way is to combat a discourse that is focused on race and racist conceptions of migration. In engaging in a historic analysis of these contestations, one can have a better idea of how to engage in a movement towards solidarity. The authors also look at the ways in which migrants become organized political actors, especially as seen through the work of the group Lampedusa in Hamburg; and the ways in which local solidarities are formed across class barriers, as done through the urban justice movement Orten in Sweden.
Overall, this book is well organized and cohesive, and makes a convincing case for the relevance of the neo-Gramscian framework to be employed, especially in the study of transnational migration. However, much of work’s emphasis on solidarity and alliance formation relies on a recognition of precarity that can itself be framed in certain ways. In this case, it would have been especially interesting for this work to contain an extra chapter that takes on the work of Judith Butler, especially her Frames of War, to present an aesthetics of the counter-hegemonic bloc. Perhaps showing how a misplaced alliance would frame worker precarity and the articulation of enemies and perceived threats, and how a counter-hegemonic bloc would then be able to present the same precarity. However, this does not take away from the work done in this book, but adds yet another element to the framework provided and the analyses conducted, moving towards a workable presentation of new solidarities that incorporate immigrants.
Hirbohd Hedayat is a Master’s student in Political Science at Virginia Tech.