The Elephant In The Sitting Room Syndrome

Red Action have long pointed to the existence of a ‘reactionary reservoir’. ‘Critical mass’ is the term the BNP prefer. Now even as Searchlight concede to the reality, the revolutionary Left remain firmly in denial. This is what specialists refer to as ‘the elephant in the sitting room syndrome’ A. Shaw examines the implications.

Working backward, a staggering “eight out of ten people in Britain” are of the opinion that “immigrants are a drain on national resources.” The Readers Digest Mori poll published on October 23 came a little over a week after the Runnymeade Trust concluded that the term ‘Britain has racial connotations’, and ought in the interests of race relations be banned.

On September 3, the Observer ran a front-page headline, which proclaimed that “Whites will be an ethnic minority by the end of the century”. Lee Jasper, an adviser to Ken Livingstone, went one further boasting that whites would be a minority in the capital “within the decade”. A few reasons why, in responding to a critic on the Red Action Internet discussion site recently, a BNP member could correctly remark: “We’re obsessed with race? Race is everywhere”. Race is indeed everywhere and it is clearly not the far-right, at whom the finger of blame ought be pointed. They are on the contrary, merely one imagines, the suitably grateful beneficiaries. Evidently delighted with the controversial Runnymeade Trust recommendation, the BNP are considering a new recruitment leaflet based on it. All told, the combination of the Readers Digest poll findings and the ‘Britain to be banned!’ headline­grabber, suggests that the high water mark of political correctness over race may be near to being reached.

If so the political fall-out will not be far behind. For persistently flagging such dangers, Red Action has been accused among many worse things, of being ‘apocalyptic’ on the issue. One inference being that at best, the repeated warnings are misplaced or wrong headed. At worst, that we are somehow motivated by racism ourselves. It is a sign of the deep confusion that someone can be simultaneously accused of crying wolf, and being one. But confusion is not the only, or indeed even dominant ingredient in the unfolding controversy.

Stupidity, cowardice, and hypocrisy all feature heavily in the unedifying mix. Examples abound. Back in July we had Red Action denounced as ‘racist’, ‘chauvinist’ and even ‘national socialist’ for pointing to evidence suggesting ‘Refugees Welcome Here’ posters in impoverished working class areas, were ill-conceived, and thus self-defeating.

On August 9, a senior Red Action member took up the challenge of addressing a seminar organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain under the banner ‘Official anti-racism and the white working class’. “Controversial for some” is the only response to the 6,000-word speech to be found in Weekly Worker up to now.

Next, when on September 5 the lone Red Action delegate to the LSA steering committee called for a ‘review’ of current LSA strategies on race and immigration, it was dismissed after a 20 minute discussion. A rejection seemingly sugar-coated, by the unanimous acceptance of the CPGB recommendation that the LSA should instead “sponsor” a public debate called by AFA, and entitled: ‘Can the Left beat the BNP?’ Not only sponsor, but as the LSA minutes show fully “participate in” the public forum provided.

In the interim, a leading and nominally independent member of the LSA Mike Marqusee, who had vociferously denied the need for any ‘review’ in the meeting on September 5, then wrote a lengthy letter, printed in Weekly Worker the following week, outlining where and why, the existing strategies might indeed be in need of ‘fine-tuning’. A U-turn all the more startling as he liberated key sections from a Red Action document in order to support ‘his’ case! A plagiarism compounded by members of the CPGB dominating the letters pages of their own paper with bizarre extrapolations based on comments from individual Red Action contributors, up to the point of dissecting single words for hidden racial meaning, all the while brazenly blanking the comprehensive nature of the discourse of August 9. It is instructive that where fascism plays the race card to provoke debate, supporters of multiculturalism wield it more often to abort debate. Or as another dissident put it:

“the fascist cynically exploits legitimate concerns of ordinary people for the propagation of his ideology. The liberal anti-fascist cynically exploits popular disgust at reactionary ideology so as to propagate his own fake ‘progressive’ ideology.”

Taking into account the preliminaries, it was not too surprising, that when the AFA meeting on October 1 rolled up, all 37 representatives of the LSA steering committee, and their organisations, (bar two delegates from the CPGB) had discovered more pressing engagements.

When the question “Is society moving to the right or the left?” was posed to the remainder of the panel, now comprising the CPGB, Red Action and Class War, all were agreed the direction was comprehensively and undeniably rightward. As intended, the counter argument was to have been put by the SWP. For not only is SWP policy predicated on the view that the drift is to the left, it is moreover the SWP which is undeniably the dominant current, ideologically and numerically, not only within the London Socialist Alliance, but within similar formations across the country. It is this influence aligned to a neurotic need to sedate their own membership, ‘the Nazis are tiny.. it is a good time to be a socialist’, which causes those even partially aware, to underestimate the scale, depth and speed of the rightward drive, and disables the SWP leadership from even discussing it in public.

Searchlight by contrast, previously wool-pulling co-conspirators of the SWP (even to the point of fiddling election statistics in order to try and prove the far-Right on a continuing downward spiral), seem to have been sniffing the wind, for in the October editorial they perform a quite shameless volte face. “Searchlight” we are now informed, “have long argued that beyond the fascists there is a layer of society that believes multiracial, democratic and now Labour Britain, has upset the natural order of things... These forces extend far beyond the activities and influence of fascist groups and are at the very heart of English Nationalism.”

Correctly listed among the ‘forces of reaction’ are ‘farmers, self-employed truck drivers, opponents of the abolition of the House of Lords, the pound, to fox hunting and rural life’ in essence the “fascists target constituency”.

Of course, for things to take a decisive turn for the worse, it is not as Searchlight seem to be still arguing, for these forces to coalesce underneath a BNP, or at this stage even under an ultra-nationalist umbrella first. Which is another irony. For as BNP prospects are brightened immeasurably by the fuel protest/refugee controversy, the strategy of demonising and criminalising the far-right: ‘fascism is not an opinion it is a crime’, recommended with shrill insistence to the authorities, by liberal anti-fascism both here and in Europe is draining of credibility just as fast.

Mainly because, as Red Action have long argued, the far-Right are not the cause, but are both a symptom and of course beneficiary of the Left’s enthusiastic support for the racialising of every possible equation. As the political vanguard of the Right, their fortunes bear watching, if only as an indication of which way the wind is blowing. For as the BNP themselves correctly point out, the fuel protests are as much to do with an attack on ‘political correctness’ as on tax.

And in the same way the BNP chose from an early stage to identify with the Countryside Alliance, the leadership of the Alliance seem equally determined to meet them, at least half way, ideologically. “The Alliance’s fight to save hunting is no longer being waged with vaguely rational arguments. Enter it’s collective mind and you are in a war of national liberation against an alien and depraved dictatorship”, wrote Nick Cohen in the Observer on October 15. He also quoted from the magazine Earth Dog Running Dog which carries the Countryside Alliance’s logo. The disgust with what it considers effete liberalism, is both explicit and comprehensive. Within, are references to the “gay plague”, Oona King MP for Bethnal Green in east London is referred to as “typical of her species”, and her working class constituents described as “scroungers” and “dead-beats”. To complete the full set, Sam Butler, chairman of the Alliance, told the troops assembled outside the Labour party conference that the government’s record was one of “terrorists released, rioters allowed to roam the streets, wreaking havoc and destruction whilst the authorities look on”. Thus far “we have been resolute in our determination to conduct our protests within the law. However should Parliament act perversely on the issue of personal freedom, then it will only have itself to blame for what may follow” (Observer, 15.10.00).

Considering they are promising a 600,000-strong march on London, and do not conceal their admiration for those who have brought the country to a halt, and threaten to do so again, this is no idle threat. Indeed the political menace is graphically spelt out. Not the most auspicious occasion then, one might have thought to produce a report which was announced in screaming headlines that henceforth the term ‘Britain was to be deemed racist’ and would therefore be ‘consigned to the dustbin of history’.

Yet even worse than the timing, is the vacuous thinking behind it. In attacking the recommendations, Observer columnist Ros Coward bravely pulled no punches. “The Runnymeade Trust’s suggestion that ‘Britishness’ connotes racism” she wrote “is absurd, an attempt to wring a mea culpa from guilty liberals and nothing to do with racial unity and equality”.

In saying it had “nothing to do with racial unity” Coward was implying that the motivation was other than lofty ideals, not attempting to conceal that it is on the racial hinge that it will have the greatest negative impact.

Further exploring the chaotic thinking behind the demands she revealed that: “Some of the leading black thinkers involved in the report have previously attacked the idea as cultural relativism which undermines shared political and community values especially among disenfranchised white Britons.” One of the authors for instance, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, had she revealed previously admitted that, “British multi-culturalism imposes what I would call an impossible demand. That is the demand for equality and difference.”

Reason enough for Coward to conclude that multiculturalism “is not an innocent term neutrally implying that races and cultures cohabit together”, rather it is as an ideology in itself “riddled with problems”, and she adds pointedly, “it is not racist to think so.”

In attempting to defend the report one of the leading black thinkers referred to, the former ‘Marxist’ Stuart Hall, inadvertently underscoes Coward’s point in admitting “that it is perfectly possible for multiculturalism and racism to exist”. What is more “the country” he concedes “is divided into three rough groups. Some think that Britain’s multicultural character gives vibrancy and cultural energy to life and wouldn’t have it any other way”. “Others” he went on, tolerate “multicultural drift” but are “not passionately committed to it and hope, if they keep out of the urban areas, it will leave them alone" Finally there are “others who are passionately hostile to the idea and feel threatened and culturally undermined by it. A minority of those are prepared to stick knives into it, or set it alight when they encounter it on the streets.”

Such is Hall’s introspection; there is no acknowledgment that if after over thirty years of successive government promotion, considering (at least) two thirds of the population are at best ambivalent, there might just be one or two niggling problem with the message? Or even some recognition that it is primarily amongst ‘the minority prepared to stick knives in it’, that his report will have the most ‘passionate’ political purchase.

Even more alarming, of those ‘that wouldn’t have it any other way’, the group who publicly ‘cherish the ethnic contribution to fashion, food, music, art’, do so as - consumers! Thus while they may be indignant at the thought of their ‘lifestyle’ coming under threat, it is unlikely they will lay down their lives for it. A little blood-letting for political ends is not anathema to all of course. So of the three ‘roughs groups’ some, as Hall himself concedes, are certainly prepared to be rougher than others. A not inconsiderable concern now that debate appears to be moving from the dinner table to the streets.

That in Hall’s analysis the reality of Britain being divided ‘roughly’ in other, more fundamental ways too ie: upper, middle and working classes is entirely omitted, as if any such class cross reference was a political irrelevance, But then the whole drive of multiculturalism is not to do with racial unity, or with anti-racism or better still ‘non’-racism as such. On the contrary, it’s primary political function is to supplant issues of class with those of race instead. It does this by the pretence that in British society there is ‘status, power and privilege that extends to all whites and is uniformly denied to all blacks’. Equally contrived is the acceptance that colour is a bond governing all else. And that the ‘black community’ therefore is a unitary whole, entirely homogeneous. Which allows a self-server like Trevor Phillips to remark:

“Look at the upper echelons of any television company, look at Greg Dyke’s new management board at the BBC: there’s none of us there” (Sunday Telegraph, I 5.10.00). Implying that if he was, the views and interests of all blacks would automatically be represented. This shallow belief in the overriding importance of melanin was wonderfully exposed by fellow Runnymeade ‘truster’ Lady Gavron, with her twitty comment that “It would have been great if Prince Charles had been told to marry someone black. Imagine what message that would have sent out”. All of it absolute idiocy of course, but because as intended, it is entirely non-threatening to the status quo, you will not find a mainstream politician to say so. But precisely because it is a con, it inevitably carries a sting.

And Coward by name, but not by nature, to her credit touches on it, without entirely appreciating the full implications. “The extreme Right is” she observes “gaining ground in Europe, even in erstwhile liberal countries such as Belgium and Norway. It flourishes on the back of racist propaganda about the dilution of cultural distinctiveness... It is easy to denounce those involved, much harder to analyse them.” (Observer, 15.11.00)

In truth, the link Coward tentatively identifies between multiculturalism and Euro-nationalism is straightforward. The extreme Right, just like Alibhai-Brown, have properly identified core contradictions, and are feeding off them. As a consequence they have put themselves in position to benefit from racist and multicultural propaganda alike.

Writing in the Guardian (29.9.00), Faisal Bodi, a black activist, commented:

"You can’t expect black people to identify with each other on the basis of their colour alone, any more than you can expect it of whites" And he went on: “Once you start talking about an ethnic minority community, it’s not a huge leap to think of an ethnic minority vote.” And, he might have added, once you start talking up the ethnic minority vote, it’s not a huge leap to think of ‘an ethnic majority vote’ either. Or as an article in Red Action put it over two and a half years ago: “Since the mid-80’s the extreme Right have successfully attacked the multicultural concept on traditional grounds, appropriated the arguments for cultural diversity and separatist logic which follows, to suit its own agenda, and used this common sense approach to devastating effect in a host of Countries to appeal to working class communties abandoned by both mainstream parties and the Left"

Or again, as Alibhai-Brown puts it in her recent pamphlet, After Multiculturalism: “in an ironic twist some of those who have most resented multiculturalism now use the arguments perfected by multiculturalists to demand their fair share. The Right in Europe is busy cashing in on the enormous anxiety felt by many Europeans by building its politics on this paranoia.”

Following his party’s capturing of Belgium’s second city. Antwerp, Filip Dewinter leader of the Vlaams Blok, was happy to explain the irresistible logic of appropriating ‘arguments perfected’ by multiculturalism in the process of ridiculing it. “I don’t believe in all these cultures living together. We are the bosses around here, I don’t like that people adopt little pieces out of other cultures. What is wrong with purity? We should not try to organise some kind of multicultural society. If I want to experience other cultures I will go to other countries.” And he went on: “I sometimes go into Moroccan communities. These Moroccan restaurants they have Arabic writing on the walls. And the music they play. The women dress in hijabs. It’s not our culture and I feel threatened" Or as Cardinal Giacomo Biff of Bologna, in arguing that Italian immigration be restricted to Catholics in order to protect the “nation’s identity” expressed it: “Muslims had different food, festivals and family morals” (Guardian, 30.11 .00). It is expressions of ‘common sense nationalism’ like this which have convinced Red Action that ‘the promotion of diversity’ is not a barrier to Euro-nationalism as liberals maintain, but a sponsor.

So having herself called for multiculturalism to be scrapped, earlier in the year, how is it Yasmin Alibahi-Brown can both recognise why the Right is winning hearts and minds on the Continent, and at the same time assume her support for a ban on a “racial Britain” would not result in the Right cashing in on the ‘paranoia’ engendered over here?

The chaotic paralysis displayed, best summed up by fellow ‘truster’ Lady Gavron’s hilarious comment who just days after producing an ‘expert’ report, funded by a £350,000 Lottery grant said: “I knew Britain was racist before but people like us often don’t realise how bad it is”! (London Evening Standard, 17.10.00)

It is an example of an ecleticism that is if anything even more pronounced within the European Left. Unnerved by objective reality, it is not prepared to discuss, much less ‘smash’ a rampant nationalism. Theoretically disarmed by its own hand, it stands there hapless and mute against the rising tide instead. A not dissimilar pattern is now visible here. Specialists in addiction call it the “elephant in the sitting room” syndrome. It is big and scary but, if it sits there long enough it becomes easy to pretend it is part of the furniture. So rather than attempt to wrestle the initiative from the Right, the Left, due to being committed to a strategy of denial, is thus both unwilling and unable to break with a retrograde liberalism, for fear of being faced with the responsibility of addressing the issue on it’s own. It thus stands exposed, ‘as the greatest of cowards, for’ to paraphrase Thomas Hazlitt ‘it is afraid of itself’

Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 9, November/December 2000