Notes on the "immigrant question"


Everything is false in the "question of the immigrants," as is the case in all questions openly posed in current society, and for the same reasons: the economy -- that is to say, the pseudo-economic illusion -- has supplied it and the spectacle has treated it.

One only discusses stupidities. Must we keep or eliminate immigrants? (Naturally, the true immigrant is not the permanent inhabitant of foreign origin, but the one who is perceived and perceives himself as different and destined to remain so. Many immigrants or their children have French nationality; many Poles or Spaniards are finally lost in the mass of a French population that was different.) Like the waste products of the nuclear industry or oil in the ocean -- and here one defines the thresholds of intolerance slower and less "scientifically" -- the immigrants, products of the same management of modern capitalism, will remain for centuries, millennia, always. They will remain because it was much easier to eliminate the Jews from Germany in Hitler's time than the Maghrebians and others from here today: because in France there does not exist either a Nazi party or the myth of a native race!

Must we assimilate them or "respect cultural diversities"? Inept, false choice. We can no longer assimilate anyone: neither the young, nor the French workers, nor even the provincials or the old ethnic minorities (Corsicans, Bretons, etc.) because Paris, a destroyed town, has lost its historic role, which was making the French. What is a centralism without [a] capital? The concentration camp did not create any Germans among the deported Europeans. The diffusion of the concentrated spectacle only makes spectators uniform. In a language that is simply that of advertising, one gargles with the rich expression "cultural diversities." What cultures? There no longer are any. Neither Christian, nor Muslim; neither socialist nor scientist. Do not speak of the absent. If we face the truth and the evidence for a single instant, we find there is nothing but the worldwide-spectacular (American) degradation of all culture.

It is especially not by voting that one assimilates. A historic demonstration that the vote is nothing, even for the French, who are voters and nothing else (1 party = another party, an electoral engagement = its contrary; and, more recently, a program -- which all know will not be kept -- has moreover finally ceased being deceptive, since it can no longer envision any important problem. Who voted on the disappearance of bread?[1]). One recently confessed this revealing number (no doubt manipulated downward): 25% of the "citizens" in the 18-25 age group are not registered to vote, due to simple disgust. Add to them the abstentionists, who are different.

Certain people put forward the criterion of "speaking French." Laughable. Do the current French people speak it? Is it French that the illiterates of today speak -- Fabius ("Hello damages!") or Francoise Castro ("This inhabits you or this touches you?") or B.-H. Levy?[2] Even if there were no immigrants, does not one clearly head towards the loss of all articulate language and all reasoning? What songs do today's young people listen to? Which sects, infinitely more ridiculous than Islam and Catholicism, have easily acquired control over a certain fraction of the contemporarily instructed idiots (Moon,[3] etc.)? Without mentioning the autistics or serious mental defectives whom such sects do not recruit because there is no economic interest in the exploitation of this livestock; one thus leaves them in charge of the public services.

We have made ourselves Americans. It is normal that we find here all the miserable problems of the USA, from drugs to the Mafia, from fast-food[4] to the proliferation of minorities. Italy and Spain -- Americanized on the surface and even to a quite great depth -- are not mixed ethnically. In this sense, they largely remain European (as Algeria is North African). Here we have the troubles of America without having its strength. It is not sure that the American melting-pot[5] still functions (for example, the Chicanos have a different from [from English]). But it is quite sure that it cannot function for a moment here. Because it is the USA that is the center of the fabrication of the current way of life, the heart of the spectacle, which extends its pulsations as far as Moscow and Peking, and which in any case cannot allow any independence to its local subcontractors (the comprehension of this unfortunately reveals a submission that is much less superficial than the one that would like to destroy or moderate the customary critiques of "imperialism"). Here, we are no longer anything: the colonized who have not known how to revolt, the beni-oui-oui[6] of spectacular alienation. What pretense -- envisioning the proliferating presence of immigrants of all colors -- do we suddenly again find in France, as if one stole from us something that might still be ours? And what is it? That we believe or, rather, that makes us still seem to believe? It is the pride in their rare holidays, when the pure slaves are indignant that the foreigners threaten their independence!

The risk of apartheid? It is quite real. It is more than a risk; it is a misfortune that is already here (with its logic of ghettos, racial confrontations and, someday, bloodbaths). A society that is entirely decomposed is obviously less apt to welcome, without too much difficulty, a large number of immigrants than a coherent and relatively happy society. In 1973, we had already observed the striking adequation between the evolution of technique and the evolution of mentalities:

The environment, which is always reconstructed more hastily for repressive control and profit, at the same time becomes more fragile and more of an incitement to vandalism. At its spectacular stage, capitalism rebuilds everything that is worthless and produced incendiaries. Thus, its decor everywhere becomes as inflammable as a high school in France.[7]

With the presence of the immigrants (which has already served certain unionists who are capable of denouncing certain workers' strikes that they could not control as "religious wars"), one can be assured that the existing powers will favor the development in real grandeur of the small experiments in confrontations that we have seen staged by real or fake "terrorists," or supporters of rival soccer teams (not only English fans).

But one quite understands why all of the politicians (including the leaders of the National Front[8]) apply themselves to minimizing the seriousness of the "immigrant problem." All that they want to conserve prohibits them from facing a single problem directly and in its real context. While some feign to believe that this is only an affair of "anti-racist good will" to be imposed, others pretend that it is a question of winning recognition of the moderate right to a "just xenophobia." And they all collaborate by considering this question as if it were the most burning one, almost the only one, among the frightening problems that society will not surmount. The ghetto of the new spectacular apartheid (not the local, folkloric version from South Africa) is already here, in contemporary France: the immense majority of the population is enclosed and brutalized within it; and all this would exist even if there was not a single immigrant. Who decided to construct Sarcelles and les Minguettes,[9] to destroy Paris and Lyon? One can certainly not say that no immigrant participated in this infamous work. But they only executed strictly the orders that were given to them: this is the customary misfortune of the salariat.

How many de facto foreigners are there in France? (And not only by juridical statute, by policy, by facial features). It is obvious that there are so many that one must ask instead: how many of the French remain and where are they? (And what today characterizes a French person?) How would this person remain French? One knows that the birth rate is falling. Isn't this normal? The French can no longer support their children. They send them to school at the age of three, and at least until the age of sixteen, to learn illiteracy. And before they are three, there are more and more people who find them "unsupportable" and strike them more or less violently. Children are still loved in Spain, Italy and Algeria, and among the Gypsies. Not often in France at the moment. Neither lodgings nor towns are made for children (from whence comes the cynical publicity of the governmental urbanists on the theme of "opening the town to children"). On the other hand, contraception is widespread and abortion is available. Almost all the children in France today were wanted. But not freely! The voter-consumer does not know what he wants. He "chooses" something that he does not want. His mental structure no longer has the coherence to remember that he had wanted something when he finds himself disappointed by the experience of this very thing.

In the spectacle, a society of classes has very systematically wanted to eliminate history. And now one claims to regret this sole particular result of the presence of so many immigrants, because France thus "disappears"? Comic. It disappears for many other reasons and more or less rapidly on nearly all terrains.

The immigrants have the greatest right to live in France. They are the representatives of dispossession and dispossession is at home in France, as it is in the majority and almost universal. The immigrants have quite notoriously lost their cultures and their countries, without being able to find others. And the French are in the same situation, and hardly more secretly.

With the equalization of all of the planet in the poverty of a new environment and a purely mendacious intelligence about everything, the French -- who have accepted this without much resistance (except in 1968) -- are ill-advised to say that they no longer feel at home because of the immigrants! They have reason to no longer feel at home, it is true. This is because, in this horrible new world of alienation, there is no one other than immigrants.

People will live on the surface of the Earth, and even here, when France has disappeared. The ethnic mix that will dominate is unforeseeable, as are their cultures, their very languages. One can affirm that the central and profoundly qualitative question will be this: will these future peoples dominate, through an emancipated practice, the current technique, which is globally that of the simulacrum and dispossession? Or, on the contrary, will they be dominated by it in a manner that is even more hierarchical and pro-slavery than today? One must envision the worst and fight for the best. France is assuredly regrettable. But regrets are vain.


[1] See Debord's 1985 essay on hunger abatement.

[2] Laurent Fabius, a Socialist, was the Prime Minister when Debord wrote these notes. Francoise Castro was his wife and a film producer. Bernard-Henri Levy was a "New Philosopher" must despised by Debord.

[3] Sun Myung Moon, the Korean founder of a sect (the "Moonies") that he relocated to the United States in 1972.

[4] English in original.

[5] English in original.

[6] A mocking half-Arabic, half-French expression among Algerian immigrants in France, circa 1866, that means "the sons of he who always say 'yes.'"

[7] This passage appears in the film version of The Society of the Spectacle.

[8] Far-right, nationalist political party founded by Jean-Marie le pen in 1972.

[9] Locations on the outskirts of Paris that include immense, rent-controlled apartment buildings.

(Written by Guy Debord in December 1985 for Mezioud Ouldamer, who was working on his own book, The Immigrant Nightmare in the Decomposition of France, for Editions Gerard Lebovici. Published in the collection Guy Debord: Oeuvres [Quarto Gallimard, 2006] and in Guy Debord: Correspondance, Vol. 6, January 1979 - December 1987 [Librairie Artheme Fayard]. Translation from the French and all footnotes by NOT BORED! May 2007.)




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