Divisive multiculturalism

Ouseley report hides anti-working class agenda

Last week saw the publication of Sir Herman Ouseley?s report on race relations in Bradford. It was commissioned in response to the 1995 riots in the Manningham district of the city. However, the renewed disturbances over the two weeks ago has given the report contemporary relevance.

Ouseley operates within the framework of the dominant bourgeois ideology of multiculturalism and therefore his report provides an opportunity to assess the divisive role of multiculturalism in relation to independent class politics.

Several key themes are identified. Ouseley begins by examining what he perceives as important flaws in Bradford?s education system. He is concerned that schools are ?mono-cultural?. As the report proceeds on the basis that racism is fundamentally the product of ignorance, education and its provision is central to its discourse. Ouseley?s proposed solution to this problem therefore provides a valuable insight into the top-down nature of multiculturalism. He views the extension of ?citizenship? education - which is set to become a compulsory topic in schools from September 2002 - as being key. The very concept of education as something to be drummed into unwilling heads compounds the dehumanised view that social relations can be learned by rote like times tables.

The aim of extending the curriculum is to create ?learning environments in which racial differences are seen positively by pupils?. This would challenge ?negative stereotypes? (my emphasis). Rhetoric similar to this is liberally sprinkled throughout the whole document with the word ?stereotype? always being accompanied by its ?negative? predicate. In one sentence Ouseley reveals an important aspect of multiculturalism which is often glossed over by the left. Ouseley advocates the active promotion of difference. While he may seek to give it a ?positive? content, that does not change the fundamental premise. In fact it is perfectly reasonable to argue that the labels ?positive? and ?negative? are red herrings. Ouseley is clearly not aiming for the elimination of stereotypes, because after all what else will the teaching of ?racial differences? produce?

The muddled flip side of Ouseley?s quack answers to the questions posed by Bradford is in evidence in the pages of this week?s edition of Socialist Worker (July 14). Mike Rosen makes the case for the all-embracing implementation of an inflexible ?no platform for fascists? position. Leaving aside his version of the Nazis? ascension to power - which seems to seriously suggest that things such as a free press doomed Germany to Hitlerite rule - the comrade fails to give the ?no platform? demand any concrete class content. He makes no distinction between the version employed by youth on the streets of Bradford, which communists would support, and calling on the bourgeois state to enforce such a position, which communists would definitely not support.

By implication it must be assumed that he views it beholden on the state to defeat the fascists. Frustrated that they are getting airtime to peddle their ?great lies?, it does not enter his head that only if their repugnant views are drawn out into the open can they be exposed and comprehensively defeated intellectually. Because the Socialist Workers Party appears to believe that the best way to deal with the fascists is through shouting slogans of denunciation, it may be that the comrade fears that his own organisation will be exposed as being programmatically ill equipped to undertake such a task. We communists, who recognise the power of our politics, have nothing to fear from openly combating the fascists? ideas. That must proceed in tandem with physical confrontation, mass demonstrations,pickets and other such tactics.

Ouseley?s ?positive? promotion of difference is reactionary and divisive, of course. This is recognised by those who favour democratic assimilation. Writing in The Guardian, the spokesperson for the Manningham residents association, Manawar Jan-Khan, highlights the obvious flaw in multiculturalism: ?We are very much the new generation of Asian young people with a distinct identity, which is still developing, but based on our desire to assert our rights as British citizens born and bred? (July 12). Evidently he is not arguing that British-Asians need to have their cultural origins preserved as in aspic. He speaks from the democratic point of view of a specifically British identity - one which has historically evolved, is many faceted and owes nothing to the established whether myths peddled by a Tebbit, a Major or an Ouseley.

While it would be wrong to extrapolate sweeping conclusions from the contents of one article, its thrust implicitly challenges multiculturalist orthodoxy. As we have seen above, the promotion of difference is a central tenet on which multiculturalism is based. A self-contained, essentially isolated culture within the multicultural set of ethnic boxes only makes sense by emphasising its permanent difference with others. What is more, as Ouseley spells out, the last word on defining what is and what is not a culture is left to the state. Class commonality is entirely absent as a positive identity.

The state - aided by backward-looking clerics and ?community? careerists - define cultures and allot everyone to their appropriate slots as supplicants, supplicants who are expected to kowtow before the powers-that-be and compete with each other for ?equal? treatment. Real people are far more complex. Asian-British youth, for example, have become increasingly assimilated; in the process of changing, they, of course, change what is Britishness.

This may not be to the liking of Tory bigots, BNPers or muslim or hindu fundamentalists. But it is a palpable fact of everyday life. We communists, it should be emphasised, positively favour such a two-way, democratic - ie, voluntary - assimilation.

Ouseley?s demand for ?institutionalised anti-racism? raises interesting questions for those on the left who claim that the capitalist state is and must always be racist. The SWP?s acceptance of the state?s ?institutional racism? leads to fundamental mistakes and a soft underbelly when it comes to tackling the negative consequences of multiculturalism - not least white working class alienation. In the face of Ouseley, the SWP is disarmed. Rather than focus on the divisive effects of the multicultural project on working class communities, the SWP implies that the state?s anti-racism does not go far enough or is being deliberately sabotaged. It wrongly prefers a safe approach restricted to making ritual denunciations of the BNP.

On the question of resources Ouseley exposes how in the hands of the multiculturalists this issue is another tool which is used to divide the working class. When listing the concerns expressed to his review panel, he admits that, ?Regeneration processes force communities and neighbourhoods to bid against each other for scarce resources and this creates divisions and resentments.? It is noticeable that this does not move Ouseley to demand more resources. And in fact his ?solutions? would serve to exacerbate the very divisions he laments. Later on in the report he argues that the criteria for the success of Bradford?s economic development should be judged on the basis that ?if the muslim community fails then Bradford fails?. ?Positive? discrimination thus should guide the economic management of the city.

A similar approach is indicated in the recommendations Ouseley makes for a framework to guide employers in the area towards a goal of developing ?multicultural workforces?. Practical measures to achieve this include ensuring ?demonstrable knowledge and experience of multicultural communities? - something that would be tested formally in interviews and through constant assessment and ought, in Ouseley?s view, to be extended beyond its current use by, for example, local authorities.

The potential for such measures to be used against the existing workforce was illustrated by the recent Merseyside firefighters? dispute. A key argument made by the local fire authority for changing the promotions structure - contrary to a national agreement made with the FBU - was that this ?was needed to increase the representation of women and ethnic minorities? (source: LabourNetUK).

The left has yet to respond to the Ouseley report. Given past experience, we can expect it to be used as propaganda against the ?racist? establishment. The problem with that is that multiculturalist ideology is an essential part of New Labour?s armoury. And the left, in its uncritical swallowing of multiculturalism, in fact allows itself to be drawn into the consensus around the state it claims to oppose.

Multiculturalism serves capital and its ideologues well because it provides a unifying idea that not only undermines class politics, but negates the very notion of class unity and commonality.

Anthony Giddens provides some interesting insights into the kind of thought that underpins multiculturalist ideology in his book, The Third Way, where the reader is introduced to what Giddens terms ?life politics?. This he defines as ?a politics of choice, identity and mutuality? (p44, my emphasis). The key common thread here is the multiculturalist recognition of the importance of identity - or rather a certain type of identity. The concept of identity politics is deliberately posed in an abstract way - it is about ?life decisions?, as opposed to ?life chances? - from material conditions. A similar thought system is present in Ouseley that essentially treats objective material conditions as secondary considerations.

Later on in the same book we see how multiculturalism is part and parcel of a redefined British chauvinism. Giddens insists that ?old forms of national identity have to be reconstructed? (p134). To do this he incorporates cultural pluralism into a construct that he dubs the ?cosmopolitan nation?.

Key to being able to fight against the anti-working class agenda pursued by Ouseley and his fellow multiculturalists will firstly be the recognition of the true content of multiculturalism and then the development of a systematic class-based critique of those politics.

Robert Grace