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A spectre is haunting left nationalism: Angela Mitropoulos.

For some time, there has been an ongoing debate in Arena Magazine around border policing, and specifically around the efficacy of a 'no border' politics as one of the responses to it. In the most lengthy and recent piece, Rob Sparrow (No. 66) purports to summarise the 'no border' position as a prelude to delivering an argument against it, all without offering one citation or much historical accuracy. The expression 'no borders" emerged in 1997 at the Hybrid Media Lounge at Documenta X in Germany. It refers to a network of groups and individuals that campaign against the heightening of border controls and the emergence of a fortified Europe-Australia-US. It is most closely associated with <noborder.org>, which functions as a communications point, and 'border camps' such as Woomera 2002 and Strasbourg. It appeared locally in 2000 in the context of escalating protests inside the internment camps, and 'no borders' began widely circulating as part of a shared dialect in 'autonomist' networks in Melbourne around that time.

As Sengupta has noted elsewhere: The political cultures and traditions that the No Border Network embodies are as diverse as the 'multitudes' that inhabit it, but they visibly include anarchists, radical feminists, libertarian communists, greens, immigrant organizations, civil liberties groups, tactical media initiatives like some Indymedia groups as well as unaffiliated, even apolitical, individual dissidents. The network does not describe itself as a movement, it has no central committee of caucus, and is marked by a very alive tradition of internal debate, disagreement and a refusal to abide by any demands for what in left circles worldwide is known as "Unity in Struggle, and which, in reality, is the subordination of all opinions to the demands of the central party line.

It seems, therefore, unusual for Sparrow to claim that 'the call for open borders derives from a proud tradition of international socialism'. It is obvious--to anyone not captivated by the fissure between Stalin's 'socialism in one country" and Trotsky's internationalism--that inter-nationalism is still nationalism, indeed is a globally ambitious version of it. Previously in Arena Magazine, Trembath and Grenfell (No. 65) noted 'a preference for particular forms of direct action' among the noborder networks, but didn't explain further. It is quite simple: 'no borders' implies an organisational irreverence for the nation-state and the political practices that are beholden to it, as Sengupta (above) notes. If by 'international socialism' Sparrow does mean to imply some Trotskyite groups, though this is plainly absurd as an account, it may explain why he goes on to depict 'no borders" as a barely concealed (though ineffective) recruiting attempt, conveniently reducing it to its most superficial and self-contradictory manifestations. As "no borders' achieved some prominence (particularly after Woomera 2002), some of those groups did adopt a mediocre caricature of it, believing that they had to in order to compete with a perceived threat from 'autonomists'. Less clear is why Sparrow supposes 'no borders' expresses a desire for the generalisation of citizenship in the form of global citizenship and state. He is right to say that global citizenship is part of the 'conservative and totalising aspects of the Enlightenment tradition', but quite wrong to attribute the aspiration to 'no border' proponents, and misleading to suggest that he happens upon a critique of global citizenship in the course of an argument against 'no border' politics. Without any citation in over 4000 words, it is not clear who or what Sparrow imagines he is debating.

And yet the most telling aspect of this dispute is not the abundance of profound misinterpretations, but what an altercation with 'no borders' in such a spectral form accomplishes. It relieves left nationalism of its own burdens by reducing them to a debate over slogans between something akin to political factions. Any associations of 'good nationalism' (i.e. left nationalism) with 'bad nationalism' (such as chauvinism and racism) are treated as unfair accusations made by their political opponents, or an unfortunate consequence of the Liberal-National Government, and quietly sidestepped. In effect, it allows them to hold on to their national sovereignty and, as it turns out, the camps which make this possible while imagining that this convincingly distinguishes their version of nationalism from its bad mutations. Trembath and Grenfell's position becomes clear when they state that 'resistance can serve to humanise the process of mandatory detention' (emphasis added). Similarly, Sparrow opposes mandatory detention and the demonisation of boat arrivals and wants to expand the definition of 'refugee'. But nowhere do they say that the camps should be closed. Given this is a prevalent aim within the 'no border' networks, its concealment from the terrain of debate is remarkable.

It is not difficult to ascertain that national sovereignty requires the camps in order to function effectively as sovereignty. 'Sovereign is he who decides on the exception', as Schmitt insisted. The internment of undocumented migrants is extra-judicial--it is not subject to the rule of law. The terms 'detention centre' and 'migration facility' are historically palatable euphemisms for 'concentration camp'. Without those camps, the refugee determination process would not function to determine who is a refugee, by any definition. Moreover, the various anti-'no border' authors know that detainees have no option but to invoke the provisions of the Refugee Convention and the category of 'refugee' to gain some fleeting kind of freedom. But they do not explain why anyone outside the camps is automatically constrained to do likewise. The authority and power (or lack of it) that the refugee determination process summons are not the same on both sides of the wire, irrespective of whether the definition of 'refugee' is expanded or not.

It is important to think through the implications of this difference. For undocumented boat arrivals, making claims as a 'refugee' constitutes a very slim hope for release from the camps; for those on the outside, it amounts to making an explicit declaration of national sovereignty--a practical paraphrasing of Howard's 'We will decide who comes here and under what circumstances they come'. There might well be more charitable numerical outcomes in some reformed version of the refugee determination process available, but the political posture is the same: freedom is bestowed as benevolence upon people defined as not worthy of human rights--of being regarded as human--because they are not citizens.

As for the attempts (by Sparrow and, less recently, Paul James) to represent objections to "no borders' as a noble defence of a supposedly uncontestable Tibet, authentic Japanese rice farming and indigenous sovereignty, others have written more interesting things on sovereignty than I. In a particularly concise account of the history of national sovereignty and its application, d'Errico writes that "the expansion/imposition of the European state system during decolonialization' of Africa and the so-called Third World brought into question 'the very idea of sovereignty'. Decolonised peoples did not fit into the structure of the sovereign state. The result was (and is) extreme social dysfunction, as new states and their patrons tried to coerce peoples and fragments of peoples into sovereign allegiance. '[E]conomic development, an explicit goal of a sovereign state,' brought on repeated episodes of violence with:

highly politicized elites grasping for non-African models of governance that ultimately failed to fit African traditions and cultures.... [T]he failure of post-colonial states to be a vehicle for indigenous self-determination is not a moment and problem of adjustment to 'liberation'.... The classical attributes of 'sovereignty' already foreshadow the problem of applying this concept to American Indians and other non-state peoples: absolute, unlimited power held permanently in a single person or source, inalienable, indivisible, and original (not derivative or dependent). These are characteristics of power associated with divine right monarchy and the Papacy. They are the core concepts of state power that arose around monarchs and church. They were the brain child of Western political theorists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (especially Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes), as a solution to the problem of violent religious struggle. They are not the characteristics of power in non-state societies.

Simply because nationalism has been geographically and politically dominant since World War II does not mean it is eternal or natural. It explains why claims for power and independence from the exercise of power have habitually taken the form of a claim for national statehood or some version of it, but that does not amount to an argument for the ontological supremacy of the nation-state or national sovereignty. More specifically, given that it is precisely the disintegration of really existing 'third world nationalism'--which d'Errico mentions some of the circumstances of above--that has given rise to current waves of undocumented migration in historically unprecedented numbers and the development of Fortress Europe-US-Australia, it is not exactly 'the "no borders" position' which irritates left nationalists, I think. Surely everyone knows that 'no borders' is a tiny part of the Left here. The undeniable exhaustion of the apparently progressive aspects of left nationalism means that its geopolitical horizon and ontological attachments are called into question--not by a handful of writers in Melbourne but by actual events and concrete, rather than sociological, movements.
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Title Annotation:comment ... critics of Australia's immigration policy are divided by differences over global citizenship
Publication:Arena Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:1507
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