Born of the desire to combat communism, multiculturalism was conceived out of cynicism and embraced by the left out of defeatism. G. O'Halloran argues that by it's betrayal of principle, it is a major propaganda gift to the far-right, as well as laying the foundations for the political extermination of the working class itself.
As the recently released'Nixon tapes' demonstrate, Nixon was both an equal opportunities advocate - and - a convinced racist. Blacks according to Nixon were simply incompetent. But as he explained " you can usually settle for an incompetent, because there are just not enough competent ones, and so you put incompetents in and get along with them, because the symbolism is vitally important" (Independent on Sunday 28.12.98). The symbolism was important mainly for international rather than domestic considerations. A primary Cold War concern being that 'racism over here helps Communism everywhere.' Which is why the 1948 " master plan" of Field Marshall Montgomery, " to turn Africa into a 'white supremacist bulwark against communism' was rejected in favour of black self government." (Guardian 7.1.99)
" The deference liberals in the West have shown towards the various nationalisms of the Third World could be understood," according to Oxford academic John Casey " not as the application of high minded principle but as part of the Western and especially American strategy of wooing those who might otherwise succumb to communist blandishments. But, along with the collapse of Soviet communism the old colonial powers, along with America can now do what they like." With the communist spectre a distant nightmare, the impetus for post war race relations legislation is also redundant. Now that they 'can do what they like' the theories on race that led to the Holocaust which had common currency in establishment circles pre-war and were merely set aside, rather than intellectually demolished, are being dusted down.
Racial science could not be totally repudiated, because the perception of difference within, rather than between races is still the rationalisation for our existing social, economic and political hierarchies. Which is why, as has been argued previously the strategy of multiculturalism designed to combat communist propaganda is both conservative in origin and reactionary in practice (See 'Branded' Red Action Aug/Sept 1998). Conservative, because it is based on the notion that existing society is almost perfect; the finished article, the occasional tweaking of the equal opportunities strategy apart. Reactionary, because it sees race as society's dynamic. That the fundamentals were sold and embraced by the entire liberal Left under the title 'progressive,' only underscores the schism between intellectual middle class priorities and working class reality. That it is from these same intellectual circles, that racism today is regarded, as essentially the preserve of the 'lower orders' is apt. Subsequently if police are racist it is because of the 'brutish class' from which they are recruited and so on. It is no secret that for many of the media covering the Lawrence inquiry, the term 'white working class' and racist thug are synonymous. Reflecting the climate, an anarchist magazine (once associated with AFA) felt the need in a recent editorial to rationalise 'inherent working class racism.' Not only an English disease either, this is a concept with international dimensions.
On November 9 The Guardian reported that in Germany 'the leader' of the Jewish community Ignatz Bubis, warned of a " new tide of right wing extremism, nationalism and anti-Semitism in Germany, saying that the new nationalism was now fashionable among the intellectual elite and not just in 'primitive circles.'"
Apart from the interesting observation that the new nationalism is as AFA has long argued, bottom up rather than top down, imagine for a moment the term 'primitive' applied to an ethnic minority and see how anti-racism seems to make it alright to hate 'the poor.' Ironic then, that it is the hatred and fear of the 'the dangerous classes' that has been the foundation both for racial science in the first place, and post-war, the Western powers vigorous sponsorship of equal opportunities and anti-racism.
Practically from the beginning racial science agreed on a commonality between the 'lower orders' in European society and non-European peoples, and justified the inferiority of both. " The lowest strata of European societies" wrote French psychologist Gustav Le Bon " is homologous with primitive men." He added " that given sufficient time the superior grades of the population would be separated from the inferior grades by as great a distance as that which separates the white man from the negro or even the negro from the monkey." Of course in Victorian Britain when it was perfectly acceptable to hate, and, fear the poor, society's primary relationships were considered equivalent: primitives to Europeans; women to men; children to adults; the working class to the elite. The sense of racial superiority that European elite classes felt over non European society can best be understood by studying the social hierarchy at home.
" The English governing classes" in the 1860's Bernard Siemel observed " regarded the Irish and the non-European native just as they had, quite openly regarded their own labouring classes for many centuries: as thoroughly undisciplined, with a tendency to revert to bestial behaviour; consequently requiring to be kept in order by force, and by, occasional but severe flashes of violence; vicious sly, incapable of telling the truth, naturally lazy and unwilling to work unless under compulsion."
In 1865 a local uprising by peasantry in Jamaica was put down with the utmost ferocity by the island's governor. many of those who defended him did so by comparing the negro to the English worker. " The negro" observed Edwin Hood, " is in Jamaica as the costermonger is in Whitechapel; he is very likely often nearly savage, with the mind of a child." The Saturday Review suggested that the " negro is neither ferociously cruel nor habitually malignant. He often does cruel and barbarous things; but then so do our dray men and hackney-coachmen and grooms and farm servants, through want of either thought or power of thinking." For the Victorians then, race was very much a description of social distinctions not of colour.
Mid Victorian perceptions of colour and class are further illustrated by the debate on the relationship between American slavery and the English factory system. when it was published in 1852 the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin caused considerable furore because of the comparison it drew between American slaves and English workers. An article in the British Mothers Magazine argued that though both American slaves and English paupers lived in a state of degradation, the slave's condition was an enforced one whereas the condition of the English poor was " to a large extent their own fault." Another writer just for good measure added, that if American slaves truly lived in the same conditions as English workers then slavery would be defensible. In his book The Making of Race, Keenan Malik argues that: " the idea of race emerged not so much with reference to populations which were external to Western society, populations which were exotic or distant or physically distinct but rather in relation to social gradations within European society. The racial categories developed in relation to differences within European societies were subsequently transposed to the non-European world." The debate around race arose out of perceived differences within European society and only later was it systematically applied to difference of skin colour. What we now consider class or social distinctions were then seen as racial ones - and possibly will be again.
That current American and British social policy is already based on the idea that the poor are locked into a 'dependency culture,' which while not of their creation, is still to a large extent 'their own fault' is an obvious echo. In January Blair finally revealed that the key to Labour's 'Third Way' is to " make more people middle class." In the same way that at the beginning of the century it was suggested 'the solution to racism was the gradual lightening-up of a socially inferior black population through an influx of white blood;' so Labour's solution to social exclusion at the end of the century is to acculturate the poor into middle-class values. This is simply the equal opportunities strategy, extended to the white working class to emasculate it directly. To fight racism it was necessary that a black middle class was created, and the 'white trash' be impregnated with middle class anti-racism. Expanded to fight crime, social injustice and future political disorder, the strategy requirement now demands that the working class is politically, socially and culturally exterminated (Incidentally, one of the key popularisers of the underclass theme was Charles Murray who some years later in The Bell Curve went a step further, when in returning to the pre-war ground of eugenics less than sensitively concluded that " the differences between blacks and whites was biological." This saw him denounced as 'a neo-Nazi.' Even conservatives, prefer their racism less crudely put). Nevertheless the political acceptance of the idea of the 'underclass as a race apart', has allowed the political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic to explain the growing inequality in a society formally committed to equality. And with as consequence society itself 'proved' nigh on perfect, the logical next step was to racialise the poor. With the 'dangerous classes' categorised, it then became apparent that in order for middle class society to feel at ease with itself, the 'threat' would in the mean time have to be substantially diminished ie the working class itself would need be politically presented as just another minority.
On cue, the British National Statistics Office has just unveiled eight tiers of social classifications based on occupation, the overwhelming majority presented as middle class. However, an ICM poll commissioned by Radio's 4's Today programme around the same time found that over half the respondents asked, saw themselves as 'traditional working class.' Shook, the Daily Telegraph dismissed the Today poll as " nonsense" : " Can't everybody see, that there is nothing in the least bit admirable about idle remnants of the proletariat, that dwindling few with their hideous clothes, revolting food, trashy newspapers, filthy children, disgusting manners, vile wallpaper, and violent and dishonest dispositions?" it pleaded.
It might have added, had it not conflicted with it's own inner beliefs " their ignorant racism." Any decent liberal would have. The point being that liberals view the world from much the same vantage point as conservatives. Both are agreed that the 'poor are different' and have always done so. Generally liberals would like a little more democracy conservatives a little less. The latter a little less taxation the former slightly greater wealth distribution. Longer sentences versus shorter sentences, carrot versus stick, nice cop nasty cop and so on. An adversarial arrangement that only works as long both parties agree on a shared objective. Invariably that objective is the strengthening and enhancement of the existing economic, social and political structures - by any means necessary.
Which is how, in less than a couple of decades, conservatives and liberals of the parliamentary democracies who had with different degrees of relish, in practically every country in Europe looked, on fascism as their 'insurance' against communism, just as quickly discovered the anti-racist within themselves, Encouraged, they then embraced multi-culturalism, even anti-colonialism for the same pragmatic reason, tactical prudence. It was in a Cold War scenario, clearly the lesser evil. But, and here's the rub, an evil none the less. If they support anti-racism now, it is only because it is perceived to work in their interests. If not, well, they can 'do what they like these days.' All bets are covered.
In a roughly similar timespan the revolutionary Left, emasculated by the realities of Soviet Russia, the failure of the student revolts in 1968, the collapse of both Stalinist and social democratic parties in the eighties, and the demise of the Third World Liberation movements, led to the belief that any progressive social transformation was an illusion. For many their greatest disappointment was in the working class itself 'who had not behaved as expected.' So the intelligentsia swallowed their pride and accommodated themselves to reality. Or putting it more simply, they switched en masse, to the winning side. Proving as Marx more than once observed " that intellectuals do not lead they follow."
Consider then that in the sixties and seventies the struggle for equal rights offered a clear cut crusade without caveat. This meant campaigns against segregation, immigration controls, or any forms of institutional control in which different races were treated differently. Today, without noticeable pause for breath, it means campaigns for segregation; separate schools, youth clubs, demands to use different languages, and an insistence on the maintenance and celebration of particular cultural practices. This 'celebration of diversity' [race, gender and sexuality] has become for many former radicals the principle dynamic in society today. " The emergence of new subjects, new genders, new ethnicities, new regions, new communities," claims Marxism Today's Stuart Hall, who exemplifies the renegade trend " has given hitherto invisible groups the means to speak for themselves for the first time." Translated, this hogwash means that 'we have tried and failed to change society so we must accommodate ourselves to it as it is.'
Completing the circle some influential academics now go so far as to argue that 'discourses [which] state their opposition to racism, to totalitarianism, to Nazis, to fascism...do this is in the name of an axiomatic.' Meaning that to take a stand against racism or fascism is to adopt the totalitarian outlook of the racist or the fascist. Consequently, if being white working class is in itself considered the equivalent of being racist; it follows that being a white working class anti-fascist, leads automatically to the familiar anti-AFA charges 'of sinking to their level; of being anti-fascist fascists, of actually being worse than the fascists' and so on.
Of course "it's not uncommon in middle class circles" as Andrew Anthony points out (Observer 13.12.98) "to hear attacks on the racism of their little Englanders. It's true that the working class makes less effort than the middle classes to hide its racism, but its also true that no other social group has dealt with any genuine form of racial integration - if you want to see mixed marriages and kids of different races hanging out together, go to the inner cities". However this mutual assimilation owes nothing to, and has nothing in common with multiculturalism. It is despite, rather than because of it. Recent evidence, saw Birmingham Council condemned by its own race equality officer for "bad practice" for awarding apprenticeships to " Pakistanis only" (Evening Mail 20.11.98). Unsurprisingly, a study conducted in Birmingham by the Commission for Racial Equality around the same time found " racist views were widespread." Still in November a London Evening Standard editorial, in reference to an independent inquiry into the running of Tower Hamlets, commented "Amongst the welter of serious allegations, racism is the most disturbing. It takes some doing to be suspected of being anti-Bengali by the Bengali residents and anti-white by the whites, but the council seems to have managed it. No, doubt it will claim that it is the councillors attempts to be even handed that have led to the criticisms from both sides, but the form of the complaints suggests that it is more a matter of bias-or-worse in one direction or the other." (7.11.98)
Additional allegations, by a former CRE commissioner who claimed the Commission for Racial Equality was "itself both self serving and riven with ethnic tensions and rivalry, with a corrosive hostility between Asian and West Indian staff", surfaced in December. In calling for the CRE to be wound up academic Paul Barker argued "that with this being England race has become entangled with class. If, for example, young black men in south London are angry, unemployed and disenfranchised how exactly do their feelings and their position differ from those of a young miserably workless young white man in a collapsed mining village in County Durham?" While 'race and class were always entangled' an ideological construct like multiculturalism which owes its existence these days to its association with good manners rather than political need, is in the long run unsustainable, and may, one way or the other be nearing crisis point. Recent controversies regarding adoption, in particular the case of the adoption of a 'black child' being rejected on the grounds of 'incompatibility' because the prospective parents were merely 'light skinned' is not only perverse, but provides a pervading sense of an ideology devouring itself. Having only ever been challenged by the right, the most likely political beneficiaries are all too easily identifiable.
Since the '80's the far-right throughout Europe, a) have successfully attacked the multi cultural concept on traditional grounds b) appropriated the arguments of cultural diversity and separatist logic to suit its own agenda and c) used this 'common sense' approach to devastating effect in a host of countries across Europe to appeal to working class communities abandoned by both the mainstream politicians and the Left. As we have seen the 'celebration of diversity' was born not of high principle, but conceived in cynicism and embraced out of defeatism; it is theoretically wrong headed, has misread it's own origins, is both politically divisive and strategically counter productive. As a major propaganda gift for the far-right it works against its own principle, and through this process is laying the foundation for an even more fundamental defeat. In short 'multiculturalism over here helps fascism everywhere'. That many will shrink from such a conclusion, finding it heretical if not treasonable, is precisely why militant anti-fascism must not. For the simple reason that at the moment this is where the buck rests. And while there is an opportunity to seize the initiative, failure to deal positively with it, means deliberately passing the buck, knowing full well the identity and malign intentions of the lurking recipient. Either we accept the political risks of addressing it now, or risk the consequences of the far-right capitalising at their leisure later. There is of course no guarantee that we can beat them to the punch, but it is absolutely essential that we try.
Reproduced from RA Vol 3, issue 5, February/March 1999