Monday, March 29, 2010

Considering the immigrant crackdown in the context of the Chinese Exclusion Act

The other day I revisited a chapter in Christian Parenti's excellent book "The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror". The cause of my return was the recent awakening of the local right libertarian movement to the connection between the demand for the policing of immigrants and the steady march of the police state in general. Local anti-immigrant hothead and state Senator Russell Pearce has recently come under fire from within the Right for an anti-immigrant bill that libertarians believe, with good justification, will open the door to the imposition of the Real ID or similar national ID card.

Parenti's book, a good read overall, has a truly amazing chapter on the relation between the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act and other similar laws and the rise of the first ID cards (the chapter can be read online for free). Likewise, it goes into a good amount of detail about the ingenious ways that Chinese immigrants developed for resisting and overcoming increasingly onerous State regulation of their movements and relations. Forgery, bribery, flaunting of the law, lying, reliance on familial relations, mass resistance and refusal -- all of these and more constituted the tool box from which Chinese immigrants drew upon in their fight to define for themselves the terms of their lives in the land of the Flower Flag Country.

The story parallels so precisely the situation here in Arizona that the chapter ought to be required reading for anyone organizing against controls on movement, not least of all right libertarians interested in understanding the roots of the national ID card and the ever-present excuse of policing people of color that makes it possible. Parenti writes, "Ultimately Chinese exclusion was the first campaign of mass identification and registration of a civilian population by the US federal government. Conversely, the paper sons industry was the first largest informal anti-surveillance movement in US history."

So, the awakening on the right to this scam is a very important development. We at PCWC have engaged that movement several times over the question, what we see as the contradiction between the demand by the Right for a police regime for immigrants at the same time it demands immunity for itself and declaims the increasing infringement by the state on their own freedoms. This contradiction stands in stark relief when that same movement insists that the demands it makes -- against all evidence -- are somehow not racist. Being interested in contradictions, PCWC has focused on revealing this incongruity and pointing out that, contrary to what many on the Right say, it is in fact the latent white supremacist immunity from policing that is the hidden solution to the conundrum.

To us it's obvious: one can't support the expansion of police power in one sector without expecting it to expand generally. The support by the white population for increasing controls on immigrants, from eVerify to the border wall, has allowed the State the cover it needed to vastly expand the overall system of policing. Now, these controls are being generalized in the forms of freeway speed cameras, national ID cards, national police powers for local cops, internal checkpoints, etc. Lacking an analysis of white supremacy and its affect on the working class (and similarly without a true understanding of class), libertarians have had a hard time recognizing this contradiction.

The white supremacist influence on their politics blinded libertarians on the Right to the encroaching police state under their very nose. They assumed -- perhaps only unconsciously in the case of many -- that, as whites tend to be generally, they would be exempted from the unblinking gaze of the surveillance state as its domain grew. Indeed, as we have analyzed here in the past, some of their attempted resistance to enhanced policing, because it is perverted by the system of white supremacy, has indeed sought precisely to undermine the broadening of the police apparatus and technology only to demand a return to older methods that tended to land disproportionately on people of color. Not very libertarian!

That is, their fight uses the false cover of a fight against tyranny to obscure what is in reality a demand for a "get out of jail free card" from a system that they hope will focus on people of color specifically and leave them, the "good citizens" that "don't break the law" alone. For example, the dominant tendency within the fight against freeway cameras reflects this tendency, since it demands the removal of a relatively "democratic" policing system (in the sense that it tickets anyone who goes over the limit regardless of race) and its replacement with more human police who will, naturally, tend to reflect the general anti-people of color biases that dominate in other spheres. Of course, some in the struggle against surveillance have dissented, most notably the Santas who disabled speed and red light cameras in December 2008. Overall, however, their position was an extreme minority at the time.

The dominant dialog on the Right with regard to the question of immigration is of course problematic not just because it allows the unobstructed -- even welcomed -- advance of the police state, but also because strategically this blind spot undermines class unity by turning one section of the working class into the complicit police officer and jailer of another section. Under these conditions the kind of unity that is required to project a real working class power against Capital becomes impossible. The white part of the working class, then, is in many ways operating within a cross-class alliance with the capitalists, serving the function of a hammer on people who should naturally be their comrades in struggle.

What's important is not just the way that the ruling class exploits or encourages this backstabbing, but also the way that white workers demand the protection of the nanny state's policing apparatus in order to preserve their privileged status in the workplace and other areas. This should be noted because it reveals the common cause of white workers and the capitalist elite. For instance, in the case of Chinese exclusion white workers wanted regulation of the workforce in their favor and the ruling class wanted a timid, marginalized and exploitable foreign labor pool. The two complemented each other and form, in the case of the white working class, a kind of white welfare system, guaranteeing higher wages and other social benefits in exchange for loyalty to the cross-class alliance of whiteness.

So the realization amongst some in the libertarian Right milieu of the true nature of the anti-immigrant agenda -- at least as far as the policing angle goes -- is a very positive development. They may reject the point I am going to make next, but I don't think that makes it less true. When libertarians support resistance to the application of special police powers over immigrants (and thus people of color in general) by seeing within that attack an assault on themselves as well, they are defying the traditional political bonds of whiteness. And, in doing so, they open the way for broader struggle that can further bring the attack on capitalism and the state.

1 comment:

dr. jluu said...

these were my thoughts as well and i knew there HAD to be others out there with the same understanding.
thank you for this piece.