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Proletarian issue 41 (April 2011)
In defence of multiculturalism
Attacks on minority cultures are attacks on the whole working-class movement.
On 5 February, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that “state multiculturalism” in Britain had “failed”.

Cameron joins the ranks of overt Islamophobics

Echoing sentiments expressed recently by his German counterpart Angela Merkel, he asserted that the state’s “tolerance” of independent communities had enabled the growth of domestic terrorism and religious segregation.

Simultaneously, the US congress is holding highly publicised hearings on the radicalisation of muslim communities in that country, with the stated aim of debating the origins of Islamic extremism and appropriate methods for defeating it.

But what it is that is really being attacked?

The term ‘multiculturalism’, which should mean only that people from many different faiths and cultures can live side by side, tolerant and respectful of each other’s differences and able to learn from each other, has been perverted to suggest instead that anybody whose culture differs from that of the majority is a threat and a danger to the community.

Predictably, the discourse on multiculturalism has been characterised by a deliberate campaign of ‘othering’: the dominant class’s attempt to marginalise communities, scapegoating them for the capitalist system’s inherent problems and wedging differences among the population.

De facto, Britain is home to millions of people whose cultures are different from that of the majority of British people, and de facto people of different cultures have learnt to live side by side on the basis of mutual respect. Real integration and acceptance of immigrants on equal terms, however, has never taken place in capitalist Britain.

From the Irish who built Britain’s railways and canals and the African-Caribbeans and South Asians who propped up our post-war industries and social services to the Polish and Romanian labourers who fuelled the most recent construction boom, immigrants have always been seen by the ruling class as a useful supply of cheap labour precisely because they have not been allowed the same rights as Britons already living here.

Working people have never been encouraged to do more than tolerate the presence of migrants and their children by the state. Even during times of apparent economic stability, friction and suspicion have been fostered. Meanwhile, in times of capitalist crisis, when jobs and services are under attack, the immigrant ‘others’ have consistently been identified as being to blame, creating an artificial sense of commonality between the indigenous working class and the British bourgeoisie.

The corporate media play a decisive role in breeding intolerance between communities. By daily correlating cultural diversity with terror and conflict, they create fear and mistrust. And now our prime minister, David Cameron, anxious to keep the racist pot boiling, tells us that ‘multiculturalism’ has ‘failed’. Not because of this barrage of chauvinism and scapegoating from capitalist media and politicians, or because of the very real inequalities in British society, but because some other groups stubbornly refuse to surrender their strange traditions and have the audacity to voice opposition to domestic discrimination and a vicious foreign policy.

In the eyes of the ruling class, ‘successful’ migration is achieved through a migrant group’s cultural subordination to, and minimal deviation from, the traditions of the majority population, particularly its tolerance of exploitation and oppression. So long as the majority of those within any particular immigrant group are prepared to accept their second-class status and stick to the kind of jobs and conditions allocated to them, the group is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ and its ‘traditions’ are of no particular interest to the state.

Problems occur when second-generation immigrants, considering themselves British and entitled to whatever other Britons enjoy by right of birth, start to protest against their allocated position. This is further exacerbated when the jobs their parents were brought to Britain to do have gone, and when their relatives and related communities abroad are on the other end of British bombs and sanctions.

Thus are home-grown anti-imperialist activists created. It is this politicisation that the ruling class really objects to. And the fear that such politicisation may spread from the communities currently targeted by the state to others who may be next in the firing line.

Repressive legislation passed in the name of protecting the working class from minorities

The state is, of course, terrified of working-class unity and consciousness. The underlying causes of discontent, for migrants and citizens alike, are poverty, inequality and dissatisfaction with a blood-drenched foreign policy.

To minimise the chances of unity amongst its gravediggers, the ruling class has always produced and manipulated racism. It is now increasingly employing more overt forms of political and social control. The last decade was defined by a wave of oppressive legislation disguised as ‘protective’ measures needed in the interests of ‘national security’.

The 2000 Terrorism Act, the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 2006 Terrorism Act, all introduced by the Labour administration, gave the state unprecedented permissions to intrude into the lives of its citizens, intensifying surveillance, promoting house arrest, creating a range of new ambiguous offences, and giving police the right to imprison citizens without trial for weeks and months at a time.

In the United States, the Patriot Act offered similar far-reaching new powers for the state to dominate its population.

Inevitably, these new powers, which were presented as being essential and to be used only rarely against ‘extremists’ and in the interests of ‘national security’, have been used to suppress political opponents of all types. In 2009, a 70-page report published by a joint committee on human rights revealed that police were using counter-terrorist legislation to control protests and brutalise activists (‘heavy-handed’ policing, as the bourgeois media typically understate the case). The same is true across the imperialist world.

Since then, we have seen further examples of this aggressive approach to policing dissent; not least with the police murder of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London and its subsequent cover-up by a post-mortem that has been described as “dishonest” and “irresponsible”. (‘G20 pathologist Freddy Patel faces being struck off by Owen Boycott, Guardian, 17 March 2011)

State suppression, and the fear it generates, is now being extended into academia. Lecturers are being instructed to police their students in order to identify ‘extremism’ – another ambiguous term that can be manipulated to control political opponents.

Cameron’s attack on ‘multiculturalism’, conveniently occurring on the same day as an English Defence League march, contained worryingly fascistic language. He demanded that Europe “awaken” and “stand up” to “segregated” communities whose alleged aim is to establish an international sharia state. This disingenuous ploy to invoke fear and disunity amongst British workers occurs at a time when attacks on minorities, particularly muslims, are increasing and reports of arson attacks on mosques across Britain have become common.

Islamophobia draped in an American flag

Across in the United States, Congress is holding its controversial hearings on the rise of radicalism among the nation’s muslim population. Strongly reminiscent of the anti-communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era, these hearings are a precursor to the introduction of further oppressive measures against diverse groups and movements.

John Esposito, Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, has dubbed the hearings “state islamophobia draped in the American flag”. The hearings, he believes, are staged events concerned not with social cohesion but with promoting “ignorance ... bigotry and intolerance in the name of national security”. Absent from the debate during these hearings is, of course, American imperialist warmongering as a central cause of discontent. So too is the concomitant rise of neo-Nazism across the country.

The hearings occur at a time when many political groups are facing intense harassment from the FBI across the country. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression states that the authorities are systematically repressing progressives. Dozens of anti-war activists have had their homes raided and possessions confiscated, and have even faced imprisonment under anti-terror legislation.

It seems that the wolf-like American bourgeoisie is increasingly shedding its sheep’s clothing of ‘tolerance’ of political and religious plurality. As in the 1930s, the intensification of political repression across the imperialist heartlands goes hand-in-hand with the deepening economic crisis. It is both the result of the growing level of discontent among working people and an anticipation that such dissatisfaction is only going to grow, posing a direct threat to the ruling class’s grip on power.

The working class must unite and fight

It is clear that the bourgeoisie, across Europe and the US, at this time of crisis and war, have increasingly been identifying ‘multiculturalism’ with ‘terrorism’ in order to divide the working class and use the resulting mistrust to legitimise their political control. There is now even the perverse situation by which the privileged establishment accuses the masses, diverse and increasingly politicised, of reverse-discrimination and political correctness.

The latter is of little concern to the class-conscious individual who possesses an innate commitment to equality and is uninterested in the shifting trends of liberalism. Yet attacks on political correctness – in the context of the wider assault on multiculturalism – provide a platform for racist, bigoted viewpoints that serve the ruling class’s agenda.

It remains critical that working class people identify that multiculturalism, in so far as it has existed at all in Britain, has been grossly distorted. Indeed, if multiculturalism is to have any meaning at all for working people, it must be within the framework of class struggle. The manufactured sense of cultural affinity and tradition between the workers and their wealthy masters is entirely false. Further, the use of racism, increasingly islamophobic in nature, is an attack on us all, and is a tool to suffocate the growth of a progressive political movement uniting all workers.

The only kind of multiculturalism that interests the workers is one that, through mutual tolerance and respect, abolishes all discrimination based on cultural affiliations and all artificial distinctions between those born on these shores and those born abroad, between those of different skin colours and faiths. Such a multiculturalism would be a powerful weapon for the exploited masses to wield against the bourgeoisie’s political, economic and social hegemony. It is correctly called proletarian internationalism.

Failing to realise this, and subscribing to the erosive process of ‘othering’, will only deepen cultural and ethnic segregation and legitimise the repression of all progressive people in the interests of capital.

No to immigration controls!

No to racism and islamophobia!

United we stand, divided we fall!

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