Politics commands philosophy
Identity and Multiculturalism
[This paper interrogates the contemporary liberal advocacy of adopting differential public policies of the state that gels with inscriptive identity and culture as mark of social progress.]
In the mid-1950s in America,
the annual economic survey re
ports reflected an 'emerging' trend that was declared by the reactionary bourgeois economists as non- conforming to Marx's ideas of industrialization and proletarization under capitalism. It was observed that the 'services' sector was contributing more to economy than the industrial / agricultural sector, and was emerging as the dominant form of economy that was giving birth to 'new middle class' and to 'managerial revolution'. It was interpreted that the 'services' sector was different from the industries and the employees working in it were different from the proletariat / worker. Their differences were in their workplaces, in their condition of work, and in their nature of work. While one did the mental labour, the other did the physical / manual labour; the one was the white collar employee, the middle class, the other was the blue collar labour, the proletariat.
It was, however, conveniently overlooked by the economists and the sociologists that under the developed stage of capitalism most branches of economy function as industries (capital and wage-labour) and despite different work conditions and nature of jobs, there is no change in the nature of class of the wage earners. What was construed as 'services' sector and 'middle class' were essentially new forms of industries which keeps on evolving under capitalism and the employees working in it were the wage earners with all the conditions of labour applicable on them. The actual middle class—the peasants, the shopkeepers, etc as Marx had argued in the communist manifesto are progressively marginalized with the passage of time.
This 'new development' of 1950s in America was lapped up uncritically, by the academics, activists, litterateurs, both liberal and the Marxists for a new alternative discourse, who were dissatisfied with the 'soviet' states and liberal democracy. This 'alternative' discourse which shifted from the meta / grand narrative to micro / local narratives was subsequently termed as post- modern, post- capitalism, post-structuralism, post- Marxism, post- ideological discourse; the debates, the discussions became discourse; the issues, the aspects, the agenda and the programmes became themes. And the themes that became part of the public discourse propelled by the World Bank were identity, multiculturalism, civil society, public sphere, social capital, governance, sustainable development, social exclusion and inclusion. The classes became elite, subaltern, segments and the religion and its culture, the nationality became identity.
Actually, the logic of the post- was premised on the understanding that modernity, Marxism, structuralism, ideology, etc, were part of capitalism, industrialization- proletarianization process; and once it was proved that industrialization and proletarianization were no longer the dominant mode of development and were substituted by the new alternative classes and sectors of economy the discourse in the social sciences, art, architecture shifted to post- nomenclatures. It focused on the parts detached from the whole and transformed it into an universal independent variable. The integrated, embedded structures were dismembered to have a separate narrative of each in isolation. In actuality, however, capitalism did not develop as fashionably inclined academics would have liked it to function whose (capitalism) repressive attributes get bared in its glaring form during the revolutionary protests.
This post-1950s, ‘post-modern’ discourse of understanding different themes (particularly identity and multiculturalism) needs to be interrogated. For, a Quebec—Canadian problem of separation arising out of cultural distinctions between the Francophile and Anglophile since 1970s or the religious - cultural demands of the Afro- Asian migrants in Europe and Canada since 1960s have been theorized as an issue of identity requiring multicultural laws for the freedom and equality of all. Or in other words, as per this argument, different cultural laws are required for different cultural community for the equal freedom of all.
Modern revolutionary societies have rarely engaged themselves in the creation of differential public policies premised on the primordial categories like inscriptive identity and culture. Their focus, on the contrary, has been on breaking the past modes of existence and on the acquisition of secular universal gains. Struggle against economic oppression and inscriptive identity have been their main characteristics which primarily included modernizing the social process through constitutional incorporation of progressive laws, and of application of such public policies.
In contradistinction to the characteristics of revolutionary / secular societies, the contemporary states have adopted inscriptive agenda or have conceded to it for electoral gains or due to labour shortage in a particular society. Behind the garb of creating rights for individual / community freedom or for their economic / social development they have set on the trail a kind of close society that have self-perpetuated for decades and refuses to fuse with the others. Interestingly, the metaphors and jargons of the discourse are clothed in such radical way that it impresses the fashionably inclined academics of the day. In search of larger freedom in public sphere, the issue of identity is projected as a mammoth problem and its solution as the panacea of many ills. It does not strike them that under capitalism the identity of the labour is subsumed by the bourgeoisie and their brand products. Or the labour loses its identity to create the identity of the brand products of the bourgeoisie. It also lost out, in the process, its radiational inscriptive identity to acquire a truly global citizenship. However, there are sections of people who seek the production of their inscriptive identities that reflect their relative isolation from the rigour of the proletarianized life that has not erased in them cultural legacy of the past modes of existence rooted in the inscriptive local traditions. For, societies steeped under capitalism for generations lose out its traditional local moorings as capitalism pulverizes such ethnic differences and barriers in course of its development and creates an universal, standardized attributes among societies through its uniformal, cosmopolitan production base. Derivatively, the existence of identities, the cultural residue of the past, are the unfinished agenda of capitalism. And the demand for different public laws for different cultural groups as part of expansion of public / community / individual freedom is the unconscious tool for the restoration of past practices where different caste / religious / hierarchical groups had differential laws for them. Each segment of society was treated differently and enjoyed different degree of freedom. The wage-labour, on the other side, steeped in the rigour of contemporary proletarianized life, in its struggle for expansion of spheres of freedom, doesn't require such differential public laws. Instead, it demands laws that spurns differential treatment. It seeks expansion of individual freedom for all; and for it public laws have to be uniform. Imperatively, it has to be secular-economic in nature rather than ethnic-religious. Usually, it is forgotten that different individuals and ethnic-religious groups seeking their religious freedom from uniform public laws get protection from persecution of dominant section under these very uniform laws. Had there been absence of uniform public laws they would have been persecuted like the European Jews in history. Or, in other words, it's the uniform laws that protect their freedom, from being trampled upon. They enjoy this freedom because the wage-labour had struggled for it in the past. However, it may be counter-argued that in the quest for identity what is sought is the enactment of new laws that protect the freedom of individuals and communities to pursue their identities. It does not, however, seek any formulation of graded laws and privileges of traditional kinds. What is sought is the removal of specific clauses in public laws that impose restrictions on the freedom of identities. The deletion of such clauses provides opportunities to every communities to participate in public institutions without altering the nature of public laws. And if the deletion grants freedom to ethnic groups then such freedom must be universally expanded. The argument, however, overlooks the point that the system of uniform public laws, evolved under capitalism in its fight against the graded laws of feudalism, are designed to be applied on the majority population of citizens rather than on the specific ethnic-religious communities; if the laws are to be formulated for the ethnic-religious communities then it amounts to be turning back to the graded laws of pre-capitalist social formations; it amounts to be the reversal of the wheel of history because under capitalism it's the citizens, rather than the communities, who are the prerequisite of public laws. In plain language, the focus is on individual and not on community. For, in bourgeoisdom the society is the aggregate of individuals' interests which, in turn, are the motorforce of development and under capitalism tends to move towards secularization. For, capitalism has inbuilt tendency for secularism; in search of market it breaks all the barriers of the past. Therefore, liberal democracies tend to move towards secularization where secular majority plays dominant role in development. The protest against capitalism in search of larger freedom, however, acquires many forms. One of them is to adopt issues (e.g. identities, multiculturalism) which are relics of the past that touch the emotion of the people. These issues are then discussed; put into discourse and propagated to batter capitalism. In the process of it, however, it is ignored that such issues exist because capitalism has still to finish its historical works. Its agenda of integrated world with universal / cosmopolitan attributes remains unfinished. In the absence of such universal attributes the primordial issues acquire importance and becomes a cause of struggle for a section of people which is then projected as mass movement and universally progressive in nature. Unfortunately, a section of the Left extends justificatory support in the defence of such primordialities on the premise that it has radicalized the people, it facilitates the democratization of polity and it extends the periphery of individual / group freedom. Here, it may be pointed out that the Left in its history in India has rarely transcended the bourgeois paradigm in praxis. It has rarely determined the agenda of the praxis; it has never become the leader of the nation. It remained only as a pressure group within the bourgeois formation. It only radicalized the verbiage of the discourse, its metaphors, its vocabulary, its phrases. Unlike China, it has basically remained as a tail of the radical section of the bourgeoisie. Or it was the conscience keeper of the bourgeoisie. It performed the role of the radical bourgeoisie. But even this role, of late, has been abandoned by it. It has become, economically and philosophically, conservative inneeds. It's contemporary stance towards the issues of identities, multi-culturalism, minority rights, religion has been politically opportunistic rather than historically progressive and their philosophical justification has emerged out of their political stance. It's the politics that determines their philosophy. The philosophy no longer guides them. A closer look of their stance towards Islam for example, which is a raging contemporary issue, globally, may validate the argument posited here.
Islam has been global religion for centuries. Its followers in Asia and Africa under the expanding capitalism are being uprooted from their traditional livelihood and habitat. Their traditional world outlook is under stress due to the emerging and expanding culture of capitalism. The social transition has led to protest movements against capitalism represented by and culturally symbolized by the West. Unfortunately, its manifestation has acquired religious form; for, religion in traditional society universally, is an integral part of their routine existence. The protests, therefore, acquires religious form which has been termed as problem of identity. The uprooting process from the legacy of feudalism and traditionality under the expanding process of capitalism has been paradigmatically shifted to the discourse of freedom for individual and community. The process of economic transition has been converted into an issue of religious cultural / individual freedom, abstracted and deleted from the economic base. The Left transformed this developmental process from a case of systemic social rupture into an issue of religious / individual freedom. It began to demand for the restoration of social status-quo or for the application of ethnic—Muslim / minority rights which in actuality translates into restoration of old legacies or of traditional beliefs. Its support to multi-culturalism is another way of seeking formulation of differential public laws for different communities. It is antiquity trying to re-establish itself and maintain its position within new form. ln other words, its demand and discourse is a way to scuttle the modernization / capitalization of traditional economy. It is a way to preserve the past or to slow down the radical economic rupture of the traditional social formations. The Left posits the justificatory reason for converting the economic displacement into an issue of identity and rehabilitation on the premise that the ethnic communities face police brutality and religious persecution, that the protesters themselves seek to maintain their separate identity; they seek to restore their old cultural pattern and religious rights. The pretext, however, of being with the 'popular' demand, ironically, places the Left with the interests of the Muslim elite who seek to restore their traditional privileges in the garb of maintaining their separate identity.
The stance of identity—recognition is fundamentally different from the issue of ethnic persecution and religious discrimination which are constitutionally, rare in secular democracies. The protest against constitutional persecution and discrimination (if at all it exists constitutionally) and to seek restoration of their old religious-cultural conditions are two different facets of social problems and cannot be equated with or fused into one. While the demand for restoration is economic in nature, the issue of identity is political-cultural in content that emerged out of the economic-social dislocations of traditional ethnic groups. While the constitutional persecution must be resisted, the issue of preservation of traditional identity through differential constitutional laws and public policies must be resisted too. But the Left, instead of breaking the barriers of feudal legacy, which capitalism / market is subtly enacting, has preferred to position itself with the political-cultural reaction of the religionists who have camouflaged their issue of restoration of traditionality in the form of their identity and religious rights. Since, the Left is ideologically constrained to discuss about the restoration of religious past, it makes it as the issue of freedom. Its contemporary notion of secularism, identity, multi-culturalism veers around this issue. It is philosophically, restorative in nature but, politically, has labelled itself as being progressive by aligning itself with the dislocated people. It pits the community / collective (the Left Conveniently deletes the traditionality of the community) against the 'bourgeois' citizenship without transcending the traditionality / religiosity of the community. The Left, in brief, has acquired the electoral traits of the bourgeois parties; or it has been 'bourgeoisfied' by the system. Thus, the process for which the Left had emerged—modern citizenship —had been relegated into the background, the issues—religious and ethnic rights—which were not even on the agenda of Marx have acquired prominence in its discourse. Similar is the fate of the contemporary liberalism which has travelled far right from the heydays of revolutionary liberalism classically represented by 1789, France.
1. See Will Kymlica, Multi-Cultural Citizenship : A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford : Claredon Press, 1995.
2. Gurpreet Mahajan, Multi Cultural Path: Issues of Diversity And Discrimination in Democracy, Sage, 2002.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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