IRR News continues its discussion with A. Sivanandan about Miliband’s policies.
Have you changed your view in any way given Miliband’s party political broadcast and Yvette Cooper’s speech on 7 March? You seemed in December to have some hopes that Labour under Miliband might be somewhat more progressive. (Read the interview here: ‘Miliband’s progress?‘)
No I did not have any illusions about Miliband’s policies, but I’ll come back to that later. What I did welcome was his interpretation of multiculturalism as an interplay of cultures not cultural isolation, as inter-culturalism not culturalism, the affect between cultures, leading to unity in diversity, integration. There is a recognition here that culture is not static, not pure. All living cultures are hybrids. There is no such thing as pure culture. Pure cultures are dead cultures. And this comes at a time when the dominant discourse in Europe is a deliberate denigration of ‘multi-kulti’ as a prelude to self-segregation, cultural enclaves – the answer to which is assimilation – and from assimilation to nationalism, to nativism, to the rise of the Right.
Yes, because multiculturalism interpreted as cultural separatism is a basic argument for assimilation, whereas multiculturalism interpreted as the interplay of cultures is the basic argument for integration. The distinction is so clear that to mistake the one for the other is to me evidence of bad faith, of intellectual dishonesty.
But Miliband was very emphatic on the question of learning English in the recent broadcast, are you still with him on that?
Yes, but not necessarily for his reasons and certainly not for the reasons of the assimilationists or the political parties, but as a necessary resource for immigrants themselves in a global transmigratory world. English is increasingly becoming the lingua franca in all walks of life and a sine qua non of communication in a technological age – and hence a tool in the struggle for citizenship, equality. The assimilationists want immigrants to learn English so as to flatten out difference, immigrants want to learn English to tackle discrimination and better themselves. The end – learning English – is the same, the reasons completely different. And as T. S. Eliot said ‘to do the right thing for the wrong reason’ is ‘the highest treason’.
But I had been critical of (and this has been borne out in the Labour Party Political Broadcast and Yvette Cooper’s speech on immigration) other aspects of Miliband’s policies which run contrary to integration. For that to happen there had to be policies not just to tackle cultural segregation but the economic segregation caused by free market forces. And there he falls down. He tackles the question of culture as a thing apart from the political economy. Integration is a question of social relations, immigration a question of economics. But we cannot consider the one without considering the other. We cannot separate integration from immigration. Immigration policies influence, predicate even, the coefficient of integration. But he has no such holistic analysis, but is partial and that partiality leads to failures in other areas and thus undermines his notion of unity in diversity. This piecemeal approach means that he ends up facing two ways: progressive on integration and regressive on immigration. And Yvette Cooper’s statement confirms it.
How do you mean two-faced?
I mean he does seem to want to support the idea of diversity and sees it as something positive but then undermines it at the same time, by hanging on to the idea of immigrants being a problem. On immigration, he takes on and speaks to the issues that have been consistently raised by the Tories and the Tory press. He sings from the same hymn-sheet. So his starting points are all defensive – yes we got it wrong on immigration, too many immigrants can undercut wages and exclude British workers from the job market, we have to get over the fact that Britishers can be disadvantaged. And the valid point he makes – that everyone should benefit from immigration, but that has not happened – gets lost because he shies away from the actual class and economic issues that this throws up. It is true that it has been the working class that has not benefited from migration but he has no philosophy, no overarching vision of society in the global age which could provide a framework for fundamental new programmes. He wants to speak up for the working class but has not got over the consensus politics of Blair, he is agreeing essentially on the Tory immigration policy and quarrels with its implementation but not the policy itself. He has no overall policy to speak of. Quite simply Labour has no ideology (to use a bad word) whereas the Tories have ideology coursing through their veins: it is a part of their collective unconscious.
Hence Miliband sees the working-class aspect of immigration when it comes to the competition for jobs, housing, education etc but when it comes to immigrant workers coming in, he no longer sees them as part of the class – they are ‘immigrants’, outsiders set apart. What he should be talking about is how to increase the stock of housing, the educational infrastructure, the health service for the whole working class – which includes immigrants. That would be true integration, true Labour. But as it is, globalisation and free market economics determine the dynamics of immigration and submit what is left of the welfare state to privatisation and the market.
But wouldn’t that predicate a completely different economic policy?
Yes but that is exactly why Miliband’s piecemeal efforts are bound to fail, as austerity politics are bound to fail. In a recession I would have thought it obvious that we need Keynesian policies of investment and growth and control over the market. In the final analysis, a free market means an unfree people.