Autumn/Winter 2012

– Autumn/Winter 2012

Contextual Essays


Events, Works, Exhibitions

Crisis, Migration and the Death Drive of Capitalism

Vassilis S. Tsianos, Dimitris Papaopoulos

Tags: Karl Marx

Bouchra Khalili, The Constellations, Fig.6, 2011, silkscreen print on BFK Rives paper, 40 × 60cm. © Bouchra Khalili– Galerie Polaris, Paris

Since we met Sapik in the summer of 2009 in the Pagani refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, we have been regularly talking to him on the phone or via the internet.1 He became a co-researcher and adviser for our research project of Mig@net.2 Sapik has a very active Facebook account, which is linked to a well-informed and useful blog about mobility and transit issues relevant to the Afghan community. Suddenly, while writing this essay, it became impossible to contact him. We were very concerned. For many years there has been a steep increase in fascist and racist attacks in Greece, and Sapik — a well-known and active figure in the migrant community — could have been targeted. Fortunately, he contacted us again and said that he was doing well. He had moved to Athens. Though the race riots there in March and April 2011 were frightening, he said, he needed to go to the capital because he wanted to understand ‘what is happening in this country’. He was not hopeful that the large-scale mobilisa- tions against the government and the imposed austerity measures from May and June 2011 would be successful. His voice was quiet. We asked him when he would go back to Lesbos, where, at least in comparison to Athens, things were much more secure. He didn’t reply; the silence indicated that we didn’t understand what he was saying. He was in Athens in order to understand the current situation in Greece. He said that he didn’t know when he would be able to contact us again, and that he’d

  1. Sapik is one of the three pseudonyms that he has used since his arrival in Europe.

  2. Mig@net is the acronym of a border-crossing research group in the framework of the EU-research project ‘Transnational Digital Networks, Migration and Gender’, funded under FP7 Co-operation Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities. For more information, see (last accessed on 12 July 2012).

  3. The understanding of the relations among mobility, labour and sovereignty probably represents the most important insight of the autonomous perspective on migration. The autonomy of migration approach attempts to see migration not simply as a response to political and economic necessities but as a social movement that becomes a constituent force in the formation of contemporary polity and social life. See Nestor Rodríguez, ‘The Battle for the Border: Notes on Autonomous Migration, Transnational Communities, and the State’, Social Justice, vol.23, 1996, pp.21—37; Yann Moulier- Boutang, De l’esclavage au salariat. Économie historique du salariat bride, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998; Serhat Karakayali and Vassilis Tsianos, ‘Mapping the order of new migration: Undokumentierte Arbeit und die Autonomie der Migration’, Peripherie, vol.97/98, 2005, pp.35—64; Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson and V. Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century, London: Pluto Press, 2008; and Sandro Mezzadra, ‘The Gaze of Autonomy: Capitalism, Migration and Social Struggles’, in Vicki Squire (ed.), The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity, New York and London: Routledge, 2010, pp.120—44.

  4. See Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

  5. See Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

  6. For a provocative analysis, see Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism, 2009, trans. Kristina Lebedeva), Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011.

  7. See Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times, London: Verso, 1994; and G. Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century, London and New York: Verso, 2007.

  8. See Angus Maddison and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, The World Economy: Historical Statistics, Paris: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003.

  9. See Yilmaz Akyüz, Developing Countries and World Trade: Performance and Prospects, Geneva and London: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and Zed Books, 2003.

  10. See Gerard Duménil and Dominique Lévy, ‘Neo-liberal Dynamics: Toward a New Phase?’, in Leo Assassi, Dylan Wigan and Kai van der Pijl (ed.), Global Regulation: Managing Crises after the Imperial Turn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

  11. See Özgür Orhangazi, Financialization and the US Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2008. 

  12. See Karl Heinz Roth, ‘Global Crisis — Global Proletarianisation — Counter-perspectives’, Wildcat [online journal], 2008, available at (last accessed on 28 May 2012).

  13. Michel Foucault, Geschichte der Gouvernementalität I: Sicherheit, Territorium, Bevölkerung. Vorlesungen am Collège de France 1977—1978, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2004. 

  14. See the concept of ‘porocracy’ as discussed in Chapter 11 of D. Papadopoulos, N. Stephenson and V. Tsianos, Escape Routes, op. cit. 

  15. See Antonio Negri, Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999; A. Negri, The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge: Polity, 2005; and Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004.

  16. Theo Nichols, ‘Capital and the Capitalist Labour Process’, in T. Nichols (ed.), Capital and Labour: Studies in the Capitalist Labour Process, London: Fontana, 1980, p.35. Emphasis original.

  17. In emerging economies — in which informal labour conditions were always the rule — intensification and extensification correspond to the rise of manufacturing (especially through the relocation of low-technology, shipping, car and textile industries and chemical plants); the transition from peasantry to urban workers that has put large segments of the newly emerging working classes in poverty; the self-employment and self-subsistence of large parts of those classes; and their conditions of mass migration and cross-border existence. See, for example, Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Immaterial Labor’, in P. Virno and M. Hardt (ed.), Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp.133—46; Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, ‘From Precarity to Precariousness and Back Again: Labour, Life and Unstable Networks’, Fibreculture, vol.5, 2005, available at (last accessed on 3 July 2012); and D. Papadopoulos, N. Stephenson and V. Tsianos, Escape Routes, op. cit., Chapter 5.