We deconstruct the ‘givenness’ to show the cracks that sutures have patched, to demonstrate that what is taken as privileged discourse is merely a construction that conceals power and self-interest (Aronowitz, 1989: 55).
The year of 1997 saw the appearance of two concentric events in German radical artistic and activist milieus; the inaugural publication of the Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla (Handbook of Communications Guerrilla), and the genesis of the Kein Mensch ist Illegal (No one is Illegal) campaign. The Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla represented the first comprehensive guide to methods and histories of direct action and political intervention utilising aesthetic and creative techniques. It drew out a tactical paradigm from the Dadaists through the Situationists, Kommune 1 and Gruppe Spur to the Yippies, the Neoists and various European and American squatters, pranksters and libertines continuing the legacy of subversion well into the 1990s. The Kein Mensch ist Illegal campaign (which was initiated in the Hybrid Workspace at the Documenta X in Kassel) was inspired by the velocity of the French ‘Sans Papiers’ movement and signalled the inception of one of the most sustained networks of autonomous resistance to German and European anti-migration politics.
I prologue this essay with Aronowitz’s maxim, parallel to these two contemporaneous events, as they articulate a specific moment of convergence between political and aesthetic conceptualisation and praxis in the German radical left. While in themselves both events may be considered innocuous, together they demonstrated the emergence of a new vernacular around cultural, social, and artistic practices concerned with human mobility and migration. Subsequent to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Soviet communism, the German socio- political temperament began to illustrate the changes that were to become harbingers in the attitude of the state. Two arenas in which these changes were evinced were in the government’s draconian responses to asylum seeking and refugees, and in the crisis of the popular and radical political left. The unprecedented influx of reuniting ‘foreigner’ families, returning ethnic Germans and Jewish people from Eastern Europe, settlers from the GDR and asylum seekers from civil wars was instrumentalised as justification for public and parliamentary controversy and xenophobia (Marshall, 2000: 1). This influx of migration coincided with a dramatic escalation of anti-foreigner sentiment further agitated by media rhetoric with the result that between 1990 and 1992, attacks on foreigners had increased by 800 percent (Human Rights Watch, 1995). Consequentially state apparatuses set in motion further strategies for ceasing the potential for cross border mobility. With the fall of the wall came substantial increases in asylum applications, with received applications almost doubling in 1992. The majority of these were either rejected or lost within bureaucratic processes, and in order to combat the increase in asylum applications and racist violence, severe restrictions were passed on the Basic Asylum Law to limit the right of asylum (initial propositions of which included the abolishment of constitutional rights to asylum). Under such oppressive measures, ‘illegal’ immigration became pervasive with estimates of up to 1.5 million undocumented migrants living in Germany (No One is Illegal, 2000).