Of privilege, guilt and solidarity

An examination of the migration apparatus of Switzerland demonstrates, more clearly than other forms of government, the violence with which our society can treat people. Legitimized by a bureaucratic apparatus, under the guise of democracy, people are crowded into camps and categorized according to their future utilization, all whilst having any possibility for independent action severely restricted. There are countless reasons for criticizing and rejecting our current migration regime, as well as for standing up against it in support of migrants. At the same time, an examination of the migration regime forces us to confront our own privileges and the contradictions in our lives, and raises the issue of what it means to be in solidarity.

Being confronted with the misery of others can lead to feelings of impotence and guilt. These stem from the awareness that the privileges enjoyed by Swiss citizens are completely arbitrary, and based on the oppression and exclusion of thousands of people; and further, that the lifestyle we lead is only available to a very exclusive part of our society. Guilt is a response to how we (don‘t) act, to how we lead our own lives. These feelings are often tackled with actions of charity, by trying to share one‘s privileges and make use of them by helping others – be it by teaching the language, providing material aid, or making complaints heard, against the system which is oppressing them. It is certainly not my aim to dismiss these forms of support as useless, per se. Still, before taking action, a critical confrontation with one‘s own position and privileges should take place. The examination of one‘s own position presupposes an analysis of social power structures, as well as the political and legal institutions maintaining these power structures. While these institutions can only work with the implicit support of every member of society accepting them as authoritative, in the end they also strongly influence every individual’s life. If one comes to the conclusion that this kind of society needs to be rejected, this should automatically entail a critical investigation of one‘s own way of life and the rejection of any position designed for them by the state. By simply rejecting this society and all participation in it, we would all become oppressed, as we would therefore have no say in the conditions in which we would find ourselves. Being privileged in comparison to others, in this case means being comparably less subjected to oppression and exploitation than others. Many would argue that in Switzerland we live in a relatively „progressive“ country. If by „progressive“ we mean that technical and economic innovations enable a higher consumption for its citizens, this might be true. Switzerland is certainly a country where you can enjoy a life of material safety and consumerism – given that you occupy a social position which enables you to do so. However, if progress is a term measuring the extent to which we can form free alliances with others, seek selffulfilment and follow our own initiatives, then we live in an unfree and backward state, a country of (self-)discipline and restrictions which permeate every aspect of our lives. We need to ask ourselves, to what degree is every one of us living a conformist life, integrated into this society we have; to what degree we criticize the conditions which our society produces, while not being able to let go of the privileges we hold. Of course, no one can just give up the privileges he*she has, but one can reject them, by stepping into conflict with structures and mechanisms which categorize and subordinate people, making a personal conflict part of the fight against the migration regime. The rejection of one‘s own position in society is not a purely individual act; it should be undertaken in collaboration with others. Nevertheless, the individual decision, to dismiss and fight the very institutions creating the given power structures, is the first decision to make. To come back to the topic of resistance against the migration regime, the question arises: what different forms can solidarity take in this case? In no case should solidarity be viewed as a service based on guilt. It is not the individual who is guilty before others; it is the social order that forces their roles on them. We only become guilty by accepting the social order as it is, by simply filling the space predetermined for us by society. If, however, solidarity means living with our fellow human beings as equals, and finding ways to meet our common needs and interests, solidarity must also mean the rejection of those conditions which still prevent a life based on voluntarism and mutual disposition. As long as there are states, laws, norms and an economy which de ne and regulate our actions, the relations between people will always be awed. As long as power structures in uence our actions, as long as categorizations separate us, we cannot speak of self-determination. A basic prerequisite for active solidarity with less privileged people is the personal clash with this society, a clash which should manifest itself in daily life, as well as in the search for ways of standing up to oppression. Solidarity naturally also means being aware of, and permanently taking into account, the different situations we are in. It means breaking the isolation of the excluded, and searching for ways of joint action; it is nding a practice which is not based on integrating excluded people into a society we, in fact, reject, but a method which refuses and challenges this society, whilst experimenting with other forms of living together.

The intention of this articles is to raise the discussion about how solidarity translates in the context of migration struggles support. The author of this text came in contact with this struggles through differents supportive groups which often lack of reflexion of ones privileges. The author is a swiss citizen, born an raised in Basel.