What the hell is “multiculturalism”? In my experience, the term simply means “willing to get along with your neighbours, regardless of where they come from”. In which case, of course, every decent person should be in favour of “multiculturalism”.
However, the term (I understand), also has another meaning: that no-one has the right to impose their social/cultural values upon anyone else. Simply because we in the West are (for instance) opposed to (say) female circumcision or in favour of one-person-one vote democracy, we have no right to impose those concepts upon peoples whose “culture” does not encompass such ideas. There are no” universal values”; bollocks! Socialists of the Marxists tradition are all in favour of “imposing” our “values” upon people. In general, we’re in favour of doing so by persuasion, rather than by force. However, we do believe that our ideas are better than other peoples’, and we do seek to win people over, especially from ignorent, reactionary religious ideas.
That’s why Ruth Kelly’s statement today, about multiculturalism, (Ruth Kelly is the British “Communities Secretary”), gave me to pause for thought.
My first thought was, “this woman is a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic organisation that says all non-Catholics are doomed to an eternity in torment. She’s also a member of a government that actively promotes religious schools: so what the hell is she doing lecturing the rest of us about “integration” and “cohesion”?
It is also, clearly, the case that the Blair government seeks to pander to white working class and middle class hostility to immigration in general. And, of course, their immigration policies remain a racist disgrace.
However, after all that has been said, the fact remains that “multiculturalism” has been a disaster for working class people of all ethnic backgrounds in Britain: not least black and ethnic minority people. Funding (eg; SRB 6) for community projects actively promotes ethnic and religious difference between communities. The end result of this was seen earlier this year when Afro Caribbean and Asian people fought each other in Handsworth, Birmingham, earlier this year. If Trevor Phillips (of the Commission for Racial Equality) and Ruth Kelly are now saying we need to re-evaluate multi-culturalism, I think the serious left should agree : we need an approach that emphasises unity and human solidarity, rather than difference. But difference is what government policy has been emphasising up until now. Predictably, those who have a vested interest in promoting racial difference (like the “National Assembly Against Racism”) , have objected to any re-assessment of multiculturalism. But socialists should take an independent, class-based view: and just because the dreadful Ruth Kelly and the careerist Trevor Phillps now attack multiculturalism…it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Socialists should, indeed, emphasise unity over division.