“Blood” and “Culture” have long provided people the world over with seemingly “commonsense” explanations for civil conflict. When confronted with the horrors of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia or Rwanda, it is often taken for granted that the cause must lie in fixed, implacable, ingrained and ancient antagonisms. How else can the sheer horror of neighbours hacking each other to pieces be explained – neighbours who had previously lived together in apparent harmony? Hatred between Muslim and Serb or between Hutu and Tutsi must be “in the blood” – let the two sides at each others’ throats and genocide is inevitable.
Yet scratch below the surface of inter-ethnic civil conflict, and the shallowness and deceptiveness of “blood” or “culture” explanations are soon revealed. “Tribal hatred” (though a real and genuine emotion for some) emerges as the product not of “nature” or of a primordial “culture”, but of “a complex web of politics, economics, history, psychology and a struggle for identity”. As Fergal Keane, a BBC Africa correspondent, writes of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994:
“Like many of my colleagues, I drove into [Rwanda] believing the short stocky ones had simply decided to turn on the tall thin ones because that was the way it has always been. Yet now, two years later . . . I think the answer is very different. What happened in Rwanda was the result of cynical manipulation by powerful political and military leaders. Faced with the choice of sharing some of their wealth and power with the [insurgent] Rwandan Patriotic Front, they chose to vilify that organisation’s main support group, the Tutsis . . . The Tutsis were characterised as vermin. Inyenzi in kinyarwanda – cockroaches who should be stamped on without mercy . . . In much the same way as the Nazis exploited latent anti-Semitism in Germany, so did the forces of Hutu extremism identify and whip into murderous frenzy the historical sense of grievance against the Tutsis . . . This was not about tribalism first and foremost but about preserving the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the elite.”
This is not to deny that ethnicity – be it in Rwanda or anywhere else in the world – is a very real social force, a force whose outcome can be as positive as it can be murderous. It is to insist, however, that the shared values, histories, customs and identities that generate “ethnicity” are socially constructed. At root, ethnic conflicts result not from blood hatred, but from socially, politically and economically-generated divisions.
Ethnicity is grounded in social imagination. Moreover, the “imagined communities” which result, though defining particular groups as distinct and unique at any one given moment and in any one given context, are not unchanging.
On the contrary, they are constantly being reimagined, as relationships within and between groups are reworked through everyday social interaction. Who is “us” and who is “them” is forever being subtly redefined as histories are told and retold; traditions invented and denied; statuses ascribed and challenged; allegiances forged and broken; and identities claimed and rejected. “Culture” thus provides no better explanation for ethnic conflict than “blood”. In fact, it is the form that a culture takes at any given moment in history which is what needs explaining.
In many instances, that form is influenced decisively by the active manipulation of ethnicity by certain political and social actors, for whom “ethnic identity” provides a fertile political terrain on which to mobilise. In some cases, such mobilisation may be directed towards liberatory ends – for example, the challenging of oppressive cultural hegemonies: in others, towards ends that are repressive, xenophobic, murderous even. In either case, conflict may be the outcome.
Recognising the ways in which ethnicity is used – crucially, by whom , for what (un)stated political aims and from what position of power- is thus a critical first step to understanding the roots of what are often portrayed as “blood” conflicts. It is also key to exposing – and challenging – those who would harness ethnicity to racist and authoritarian ends.
This briefing looks specifically at the mobilisation of ethnicity in support of authoritarian, discriminatory and racist political agendas. It does not claim that the same politics are present wherever and whenever ethnicity becomes a terrain for political organising: rather, that such politics are all too easily rendered invisible by facile explanations of “blood” and “culture”.
Indeed, it is the shroud that such explanations throw over the discriminatory politics underlying many expressions of “ethnic identity” that makes ethnicity such an attractive mobilising tool for the racist groups of the Right. Unsurprisingly, the last decade has seen the authoritarian New Right in Europe consciously reframing its politics of exclusion in the beguilingly progressive language of “cultural difference” – a language which permits racist to project racism as a socially-acceptable act of “loyalty to people of one’s own kind” or as legitimate “cultural self-defence”.
Allied to a politics of cultural essentialism  and exclusion, the Right’s defence of “cultural difference” becomes a politics of cultural apartheid.
It is a discourse, moreover, that is by no means restricted to the Right: amongst groupings that are generally viewed as progressive, there are those whose views on ethnicity chime in disturbing harmony with the views of the New Right. Within the Greens, for example, a preoccupation with “authentic cultures” and “ancient traditions” frequently lends itself to a politics of authoritarian cultural essentialism. Not surprisingly, the New Right has actively singled out leading “traditionalist” Greens as potential political allies.
Such alliances – although often overtly focused on a shared opposition to globalisation – inevitably lend support to the New Right’s authoritarian agenda and raise critical questions about the politics of those involved. The need for progressive groups to distance themselves – in action as well as in theory – from the Right’s “cultural” agenda is urgent.
Rwanda: Ethnicity and Repression
Rwanda provides an example both of the shifting nature of ethnicity and of the harnessing of ethnic identities by elite groups in the interests of political self-preservation. What it is to be “Hutu” or “Tutsi” not only reflects the experience of colonialism but also the practice of development in the post-colonial period: additionally, it varies widely across classes and from one part of the country to another.
Little is known for certain how ethnicity was conceived of prior to the advent of colonial rule, first under the Germans and later under the Belgians. The longest-established ethnic group in the region are the Twa, a hunter-gatherer group which, today, is both small in numbers and discriminated against by the majority of Hutu and Tutsi alike. It is believed that the Hutu migrated into the region several centuries ago, certainly before the arrival of the cattle-rearing Tutsi during the 15th and 16th centuries. By the 19th century, according to some cultural historians: “hundreds of years of cohabitation and intermarriage had produced an ‘integrated’ social system wherein the categories of Hutu and Tutsi were largely occupationally defined: whoever acquired a sizeable herd of cattle was called Tutsi and was considered highly.”
Whilst this is disputed by some, it appears likely that, by the time Rwanda was colonized by the Europeans in the 19th century, it was a kingdom with a Tutsi King, and the Hutu (or farmers, depending on one’s perspective) were dominated by the Tutsis (or cattle-owners).
Whatever the nature of ethnicity in pre-colonial times, it is clear that the colonial powers made ethnic distinctions a fact of everyday life in Rwanda. Under colonial rule, ethnic identity cards were introduced, fixing identities – regardless of social context – on the basis ofspurious racial science, such as skull size and nose measurements. New sources of power and privilege also emerged under colonial rule which accrued almost exclusively to the white rulers and those designated Tutsi. Jobs in the administration and the army, for example, were reserved almost exclusively for “Tutsi”.
The Germans, and later the Belgians, justified such exclusion on the grounds that the Tutsi were somehow less African, more European and, by extension, superior to their Hutu fellow countrymen and women. As Keane reports:
“They cited the tallness of the Tutsis, their aquiline facial features, the fact that they preferred to raise cattle than till the land as evidence of a superior civilization . . . All manner of humiliating folly was employed in the name of proving this theory of innate Tutsi superiority. Skulls and noses were measured. Legends were invented to explain the presence of these superior beings in the centre of Africa . . . All of this was done less because the Belgians had any real desire to embrace the Tutsis as their equals, but rather because they needed the Tutsis as their allies to maintain a fundamentally unjust political dispensation.”
In other words, “race and identity were used to create and preserve an inherently unjust power structure” – a power structure with a clear hierarchy from whites to Tutsi to Hutu to Twa.
The bottled-up sense of injustice felt by those at the bottom of the hierarchy exploded in 1958 while Rwanda was in the process of gaining independence, not least because the departing Belgians abandoned their support for the Tutsi elite – who were increasingly seen as dangerous anti-colonial leftists – in favour of the Hutu. The result was a series of brutal massacres as the new Hutu ruling elite – backed by Belgium – whipped up popular resentment against the Tutsi in order to consolidate its hold on power. It was a tactic that was to underpin the policies of successive post-colonial governments as well.
Racism (the institutionalised discrimination by one group against another based on culturally- and/or biologically-ascribed differences) became embedded in government policy, just as it had been in the colonial period – only now, the targets were the Tutsi, the Twa and any Hutu opponents of the regime. The system of ethnic identity cards, introduced by the Belgians, was maintained: Tutsis were restricted from entering the army or the civil service through a discriminatory quota system; military personnel were forbidden from marrying Tutsis, an interdiction that also applied to those seeking political appointments. Daily, through legislation and other administrative “proofs”, people were “reminded” that Tutsis were not only “different” but potential “enemies within”. A pool of scapegoats was thus created that could be targeted in times of unrest – and targeted they were. In 1972-73, for example, when popular discontent with the regime’s failure to address increasing levels of poverty threatened the government, mass anti-Tutsi campaigns were orchestrated by the leadership: thousands of Tutsi children were thrown out of school, whilst thousands of Tutsi adults lost their jobs.
Despite such state-sponsored racism, millions of dollars of foreign aid flowed into the country throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Conditions for the majority of people (Hutu, Tutsi and Twa alike) deteriorated – not least as a result of development projects that the government and aid agencies instituted. By the early 1990s, according to social scientist Peter Uvin, almost 50 per cent of the population were living in abject poverty, while a further 40 per cent were only marginally above the poverty level. Meanwhile, the top one per cent of the population – the small clique of Hutu who were the favoured supporters of the country’s president, Juvenal Habyarimana – lived in luxury.
By 1990, the pressure for political change had become intense. Internal dissent was on the increase as non-sectarian Hutus began to organize against the authoritarianism and widespread corruption of the Habyarimana regime. The government also faced a growing military threat from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a guerrilla army consisting largely of Tutsi exiles, which was now strong enough to invade the country from its bases in neighbouring Uganda. With the Cold War over, the aid agencies, on which the regime increasingly relied, began to put pressure on the regime to democratise and embrace power-sharing with the RPF and the growing domestic opposition.
Threatened from within and without, Habyarimana and his northern Hutu clique seized on the one strategy likely to mobilise public support behind the government: scapegoating the Tutsis. As Keane reports:
“Newspapers and radio stations began to exhort the people to rally behind Hutuism. Drive the Tutsis out and show them no mercy, the virulent Radio Mille Collines demanded. A Hutu militia was established, the Interahamwe: ‘those who stand together’. The people were being conditioned for a final solution that would rid Rwanda of all political opposition to the government – all of the Tutsis and the non-sectarian Hutus who opposed the regime. The Tutsis were convenient scapegoats and the non-sectarian Hutus could easily be condemned as traitors to their tribe. When Habyarimana himself seemed to weaken under international pressure and consider power sharing, his jet was blown out of the sky. Much as the burning of Reichstag provided Hitler with a pretext for taking power, the murder of Habyarimana, very probably by his associates, gave the signal for the onset of Rwanda’s final solution. On the evening of 6 April 1994, the killing began.”
The result, as the world now knows, was a bloodbath – a bloodbath rooted not in some innate “cultural” impulse of one ethnic group to butcher its neighbours, but in an attempt to defend one particular system of power and privilege. The initial violence in Kigali was not spontaneous: the killings on the night that Habyarimana was assassinated were carried out largely by the president’s own guards, local militia and the army. The vast majority of provincial governors, communal mayors and ordinary citizens did not join in the carnage for weeks – weeks in which they were bombarded daily with messages of hatred against “Tutsis”. Ethnicity became the tool through which a small but endangered elite spread fear throughout Rwandan society, legitimising the suppression of opponents in the process and, ultimately, desensitising people to violence.
The Politics of Ethnicity
Similar analyses hold for many other sites of conflict where primordial tribal hostilities are assumed to be the root cause of violence. As the historian Noel Malcolm remarks of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the
“In the West, the popular view of the recent wars . . . was always that these were ‘ethnic conflicts’, created by the bubbling up of obscure but virulent ethnic hatreds among the local populations. This approach was essentially false: it ignored the primary role of politicians (above all, the Serbian nationalist-communist Milosevic) in creating conflict at the political level . . . As a characterisation of the history of those regions, talk about ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ was in any case grossly misleading: there had never been ethnic wars in the ‘ancient’ history of Bosnia or Croatia, and the only conflicts with a partly ethnic character were modern ones, produced under special geopolitical conditions (above all, the Second World War). Some elements of prejudice . . . did of course exist. But between low-level prejudices on the one hand and military conflict, concentration camps and mass murder on the other, there lies a very long road: it was the political leaders who propelled the people down that road, and not vice versa.”
Indeed, there are few “ethnic” (or even “religious”) conflicts where closer analysis does not reveal supposedly ingrained “tribal” hostilities to be grounded not so much in deep and ancient rivalries (though these may well be played upon) but in contemporary conflicts over power, justice, values, resources and rights. This is not surprising because ethnicity – the
“conscious and imaginative construction and mobilisation of differences” – is always mediated and shaped by society, and its mobilisation as a political and cultural force by whatever social groups ineluctably reflects relationships of power.
The mobilisation of ethnicity by social movements, elites and nation states can take numerous forms, both negative and positive. It can be directed “towards self-expression, autonomy and efforts at cultural survival” or it can be principally negative in form, “characterized largely by hate, racism and the desire to dominate or eliminate other groups.”
In some cases, ethnicity may be a rallying-point around which minority groups mobilise to resist (or redefine) cultural identities imposed upon them by the majority. Examples include the revival of suppressed cultural traditions by groups such as the Basques or native American Indians (resisting, respectively, the imposition of mainstream Spanish and US/Canadian cultural values) or the efforts of the Nagas and Mizos in the North-East of India to resist political and cultural oppression.
In other cases, however, ethnicity may involve the mobilisation of the majority around imagined (or reimagined) national identities in an attempt to legitimise the suppression and colonisation of minority cultures.
In Indonesia, the government-sponsored transmigration of peasant families from Java to the outer islands of the archipelago during the 1980s was part of a wider programme aimed at “integrating all ethnic groups into one nation, the Indonesian nation.” Indigenous inhabitants in the outer islands were officially viewed as suku suku terasing (“backward and alien”): in order to assimilate them into the “Indonesian Nation”, the authorities broke up whole communities, dispersing individual families into separate transmigration camps. According to the Minister of Transmigration in 1985, “different ethnic groups will in the long run disappear because of integration . . . There will be one kind of man.”
Ethnicity has been similarly mobilised in Thailand to blame upland shifting cultivators for environmental degradation.
Within Britain, the ascription of pejorative ethnicities to the Scots and the Irish was put to the same brutal ends by the English authorities and their elite allies to justify the clearances of the Highlands of Scotland in the 19th century – when hundreds of thousands of “unproductive” crofters were forcibly removed from their lands – and the starvation of millions of Irish peasants during the potato famine of the 1840s.
The same scapegoating mobilisation of ethnicity is evident today within elite discourses, both North and South, that ascribe stereotyped tendencies (“unproductiveness”, “backwardness”, “fecklessness” and “laziness”) to poorer ethnic groups, whose marginalisation is explained through their “culture of poverty”.
From “Blood” to “Culture”: A New Racism
Such imposed cultural stereotypes have never gone unchallenged: oppressed groups have demanded their right to self-determination and, critically, the right to define – and redefine – themselves rather than to be defined hegemonically by others. Such demands, which have long formed a central plank of anti-racist, indigenous and human rights movements worldwide, have frequently been based not only on the recognition of the diversity of cultures, but also on a commitment to confronting the political and social basis of racism, discrimination, exclusion and xenophobia. As such, these demands have played a central role in the struggle “against the hegemony of certain standardising imperialisms and against the elimination of minority or dominated civilizations”.
Stripped of that commitment to confront racism and other forms of discrimination, however, the “right to be different” may take on very different overtones. Within Europe, for example, the New Right has attempted to appropriate the language of “difference” in the causeof ethnic separation. In France, the Groupement de Recherche et d’Etudes pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE), a group comprising largely right-wing intellectuals, some of whom have close ties to neo-fascist groups throughout Europe, has been at the forefront of developing what has been referred to as “differentialist racism”. By portraying cultural identities as fixed fate and – depending on the “distance” between
cultural communities – as more or less irreconcilable, GRECE and its followers twist “the defence of the right to be different” so as to serve the cause of a new and subtle form of apartheid.
Unlike the racisms of the colonial age, the “differentialist” racism of GRECE and other groups on the New Right rarely makes claims for the biological superiority of one “race” over another. On the contrary, it is prepared to concede that the concept of “races” as isolatable biological units is flawed, “racial identity” being the product of contingent historical circumstances.
Moreover, this new racism does not seek to eliminate “the other”: rather, it insists on respect for ethnic and cultural diversity and the differences these imply. Indeed, the leading intellectual architect of GRECE, Alain de Benoist, argues that “racism is nothing but the denial of difference”, be it in the form of xenophobia or in the form of liberal, “humanitarian” integrationist programmes.
Cultural identity, however, is not portrayed by the New Right as something relative, fluid, multiple-in-form or open to negotiation – which is the lived experience of those whose daily comings and goings constitute the cultural differences that the New Right now embraces: instead, it is portrayed as a mechanism which, like genes, “functions to lock individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy . . . that is immutable and intangible in origin”.
The Road to the Ghetto
Defending ethnic diversity thus depends on preserving the “essence” and “purity” of the supposedly closed cultures into which the New Right divides humanity. This in turn depends on keeping cultures separate, since mixing would cause either ethnic violence (on the premise that people of one culture are incapable of living with or among those with different traditions, life-styles and customs) or the destruction of identities through physical and cultural “interbreeding”. The result is “a politics of exclusion, ranging from demands for ‘foreigners’/’aliens’ to be sent ‘home’ to genocide in the form of ‘ethnic cleansing'”.
It is not hard to imagine where such a politics can lead, not just in Europe but more widely. Guillaume Faye, a leading light in GRECE prior to his departure to Le Front National, is candid:
“In keeping with the core of the right to difference doctrine, we must reject multiracial society and envisage, together with the immigrants themselves, their return to their country of origin.”
Another leading figure on the French New Right, is equally explicit:
“It is preferable to avoid mixing and cross-breeding. It is preferable to preserve the superiority of the race to which I belong – its difference, its originality.”
The theme has also been taken up with gusto by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of Le Front National: “We not only have the right but the duty to defend our national character as well as our right to difference.” To be harmonious, Le Pen contends:
“a nation must have a certain ethnic and spiritual homogeneity . . . The problem of immigration [must] be solved for the benefit of France by a peaceful and organized return of immigrants.”
In Belgium, meanwhile, the right-wing Flemish Nationalist Movement – Vlaams Blok – is already advocating special schools to “refamiliarise non-Europeans with their own cultures” (defined, presumably, by Vlaams Blok), prior to their repatriation due to the “incompatibility” of non-European and European cultures.
Elsewhere, in Brazil, conservative landowners (and some Western conservationists) have called for indigenous groups whose members adopt “Western-style” clothes to be denied their rights to their traditional territories, on the grounds that they have “lost” their culture – as if culture were a discrete object that could be mislaid like a suitcase.
Instead of “difference” being a bulwark against stereotyping and the top-down imposition of identities, it becomes a route to the ghetto, threatening a totalitarian nightmare for those who do not fit into the new order or whose sense of cultural identity does not accord with the ethnicities prescribed by the New Right. “You’re Turkish? Well, this is your culture. If you don’t behave ‘like a Turk’, then we must re-educate you.” “You’re a European married to a Jew? Sorry, you will have to separate. You belong to different cultures . . . ”
What emerges is a project no less oppressive, culturally homogenising and imperialist than previous racisms: oppressive because the assumed “immutability” of cultures inevitably pigeon-holes people into cultural stereotypes that are not of their own making; culturally homogenising because it is assumed each and every culture has an “authentic” core, deviation from which must be rooted out; and imperialist because the “defence” of cultures justifies the top-down partitioning of existing nations and regions according to the pre-conceived territorial and cultural orthodoxies of the most dominant group. The logical outcome is ethnic separation, ghettoisation and, where the “authentic” culture of one group is derived from its hegemony over another, the legitimising of the subordinate culture’s continued domination.
Racism with a presentable face?
“Culture” – viewed as an all-encompassing determinant of human behaviour  – has thus become the latest resting place for those on Europe’s Right who seek a discourse for legitimising racism and discrimination which resonates better than biology with the everyday concerns and worries of contemporary Europeans.
Indeed, as many commentators have stressed, the New Right’s espousal of “difference” represents not a conversion to liberal pluralism but a deliberate strategy to make racist sentiments more acceptable to the general public. Internal GRECE documents, for example, describe the group’s overall objective as “the intellectual education of everyone in whose hands the power of decision will come to rest in the coming years”. Conscious that its views, if stated in the raw, would be unacceptable to the public, the group stresses the need to disguise its real objectives:
“The political aims may under no circumstances be exposed. We have to present our aim particularly as an intellectual and moral revolution, and must be extremely careful in the political strategy.”
To that end, it has built up a network of front organisations, including publications and study groups, to ensure, in Geoffrey Harris’ words, “that what are really extreme-right ideas enter the very fabric of French intellectual and political life” – a strategy that has proved highly successful in widening the appeal of neo-fascist groups such as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National by creating an intellectual environment that is more “understanding” of (and receptive to) overtly racist views. It has also actively sought to establish links with other movements, such as the Greens.
Political organisation, however, only goes part of the way to explaining the New Right’s success in “normalising” racism within many sections of mainstream society: of equal importance is the strategic use it has made of the “differentialist” discourse developed by GRECE to clothe racism in a benign, but radical, language that rehabilitates racism as acceptable politics.
For example, by falsely casting opponents of racism as “universalists” intent on eradicating the differences between cultures, and “differentialists” as the defenders of cultural rights, the New Right has sought to develop a discourse that resonates amongst those who feel their ethnic identities are threatened or those who are evolving new ethnic identities in response to the fragmentation of previous nation-states and the deterritorialisation of national sovereignties. It has also sought to excuse racism by passing it off as just another form of resistance to top-down, universalist, social engineering. As philosopher and sociologist Renata Salecl observes of the new “meta-racism” of the New Right:
“How would a meta-racist react to a Neo-nazi attack on Turkish women? After expressing his repulsion at the Neo-Nazi violence and sincerely condemning it, he would be quick to add that these events, deplorable as they are, must be located in their context. They are perverted expressions of a real problem, namely that in our contemporary Babylon he experience of belonging to a clearly delimited ethnic community which provides meaning for the individual’s life is fast losing ground. The true culprits are, therefore, the cosmopolitan proponents of ‘multiculturalism’ who advocate the mixing of races and thereby set off natural self-defense mechanisms.”
A second tactic, closely allied to above, has been to characterise racism as just another form of identity building – on a par with other forms of identity building. Indeed, the New Right has wilfully sought to confuse social processes and practices that are actually radically different. For example, the observation that many identities are formed in part by
relationships of exclusion is generalised by the New Right into an absolute: exclusion (viewed in the abstract) becomes a “natural” feature of all identity building. Discussion of the form such exclusion takes – its context, its history, the power relations it gives rise to and from which it springs, its motivation – is thereby curtailed: all forms of exclusion (read discrimination) are portrayed as equally valid. Racist forms of exclusion (“No Blacks”, “No Muslims”, “No Irish”) are thereby treated as being sociologically equivalent to any set of social or other rules.
In a similar vein, New Right theorists have ably sought to transform racism into nothing more than a deeply-felt ethnocentrism. Racism thus become defendable on the grounds that our ethnocentrism makes “all of us racists”, in the words of the late British politician, Enoch Powell. There is a world of difference, however, between the cultural essentialism exhibited through, say, ethnocentric jokes (“the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman”) or in the yearning most people feel to be part of a community, and the New Right’s systematic attempt to create communities peopled exclusively by one internally-homogenous ethnic group – in effect, to make exclusion and conformity the organising principle of society. It is the programmatic nature of the authoritarian Right’s culturalism (whether exemplified by GRECE in France, by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party in Australia, the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party in India or elements in Louis Farrakhan’s black separatist movement) that makes it such an oppressive and authoritarian – and, some would say, fascist – project.
The tendency towards authoritarian cultural essentialism is not restricted to the New Right. It is to be found even amongst radicals who, on other issues, have impressive progressive credentials. Within the Western environmental movement, for example, there is a strong wing whose preoccupation with social stability and “ancient traditions” has led to views on culture and ethnic conflict which accord closely (if coincidentally) with those of the New Right. In Europe, such views are most publicly identified with Edward Goldsmith – founder and currently co-editor of The Ecologist, co-founder of the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG) and 1993 recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award His major work, The Way: An Ecological World View, ably articulates the thinking underlying this Tradition-Right or Wrong school of Greens.
For Goldsmith, the overriding goal of Green politics is to re-establish a “natural social order”, “organised on the same plan and governed by the same laws [as] the Cosmos and the natural world”. Tradition provides the blueprint for this all-encompassing plan and religion the means through which it should be instrumentalised in society, regimenting human relations – between men and women, within families and communities and between ethnic groups – so that they accord with the precepts of “Gaia”. The result, many argue, is a “Gaian sociobiology”, which, when it comes to addressing issues of ethnicity, family and community, risks lending itself to deeply authoritarian agendas.
One danger inherent in such Gaian sociobiology is that human rights can all too easily be rendered secondary to considerations of “social” stability, as defined by Gaians. Commenting in an earlier work on the civil strife that has historically racked Northern Ireland, for example, Goldsmith has insisted that Catholics and Protestants constitute separate and implacably opposed “tribal groups”, whose differences are now culturally insurmountable; the only lasting solution therefore lies in splitting the two communities apart, forcibly if necessary. Writing three years after the most recent era of “Troubles” flared in 1968, Goldsmith argued:
“The Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland . . . constitute two distinct ethnic groups, of different origin, with different manners and traditions and different motivations and capacities. They could occupy the same geographic area and form a single society if they were capable of living in cultural symbiosis with each other, which they have done up to now. The Catholics, however, are no longer willing to fill the lower echelons of the economic hierarchy, as the cultural pattern which previously enabled them to do so has largely broken down. The only remaining solution is to separate them territorially. Ataturk separated Greeks and Turks very successfully, although there was a terrible outcry at the time and it undoubtedly caused considerable inconvenience to the people who were forced to migrate. But should we not be willing to accept measures of inconvenience in order to establish a stable society?”
Entirely missing from such an account is any sense that the “differences” in Northern Ireland are not reducible to those between “Catholics” and “Protestants”.
Moreover, it is not possible to categorise the peoples of Northern Ireland into such broad, homogenised camps. Not all Catholics are “Nationalists” (supporters of a united Ireland), nor are all Protestants “Unionists” (supporters of continued membership of the United Kingdom). The experience of Unionist and Republican politics also differs radically for men and women, whilst class differences may mean that middle-class Catholics have more in common with middle-class Protestants than with their working class co-religionists – and vice versa. Even those class differences obscure wide divergences between and amongst individuals as to how they approach the conflict – and their willingness, or unwillingness, to renegotiate existing political structures.
More recently, Goldsmith has argued in a similar vein for the separation of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda:
“Only an extremely irresponsible person would suggest that the Tutsis and the Hutu should be made to live together to form a single society. They should quite clearly be separated, and if other African governments refuse to accept this idea it is that they do not want to set a precedent which might encourage other ethnic groups to break away and run themselves rather than submit to the tyrannical and corrupt leadership of the present rulers.”
Just about every country in Africa, he argues, is a:
“time-bomb waiting to explode, precisely because each one has been created without any regard whatsoever for the ethnic differences among the people within its borders – and it is a question of time before the various ethnic groups that make up these artificial countries seek to obtain their independence.”
Solidarity with progressive independence movements is one thing: carving up Africa according to preconceived “ethnicities” is another. Undoubtedly, colonialism imposed arbitrary states uponthe peoples of Africa without consideration for their self-identification. Undoubtedly, too, many ethnic groups have since struggled to assert their right to self-determination, first against the colonial powers and subsequently against post-independence governments. The efforts of Biafra to gain its independence from Nigeria in the 1960s is just one example. However, the narrative of the African “time-bomb” fails to explain many of the conflicts in contemporary Africa, the majority of which reflect a much more complex politics than that suggested by those whose “global” approach to local conflicts leads them to decontextualise the politics – and even to ignore the politics altogether.
In many cases, pre-colonial ethnic identities have evolved into new (and different) identities which may or may not identify with the supposedly “authentic”, “natural” ethnic units of the pre-colonial era. Moreover, the demands of rebel groups in many of the conflicts are not necessarily centred on asserting the rights of one ethnic group to the exclusion of others, nor on the redrawing of existing boundaries to create new “mini-states”: on the contrary, many movements seek a fairer deal for all ethnic groups within existing state boundaries and are not linked to territorial claims. The accent is often on challenging the prevalent political structures that foster ethnic exclusion today, rather than making such exclusion the basis for a new political geography for the future.
Ethnicity in contemporary Africa is “not something primordial, something given, something which defines identity exclusive of all other factors”: on the contrary, it is shifting, fluid and constantly being reworked in response to changing political, economic and social circumstances. Nor are there fixed, pre-colonial ethnicities waiting to be liberated. Indeed, the notion that Africa consists of ready-made, authentic, tribal “states-in-waiting” which have only to be hewn out of the national edifices imposed by the colonial powers rests largely on historical fiction. As Terence Ranger, Professor of Race Relations at Oxford University, points out:
“Almost all recent studies of nineteenth-century pre-colonial Africa have emphasized that far from there being a single ‘tribal’ identity, most Africans moved in and out of multiple identities, defining themselves at one moment as subject to this chief, at another moment as a member of that cult, at another moment as part of this clan, and at yet another moment as an initiate in that professional guild. These overlapping networks of association and exchange extended over wide areas. Thus the boundaries of the ‘tribal’ polity and the hierarchies of authority within them did not define the conceptual horizons of Africans.”
This is not to say that the “tribe” did not feature as a political and social unit in pre-colonial Africa. It sometimes did. But many of the tribes that exist today are less survivals of a pre-colonial past than the products of the administrative or economic practices of colonial powers, practices which created a new political geography in which Africans were administered as “tribes” and where the tribe thus became increasingly central to a person’s identity. Indeed, if the tribe has achieved such a defining role in contemporary African politics, it is due less to ancient tradition (much of which has distinctly modern origins) than to the political manipulation of ethnicity by the state, the needs of urban migrants to maintain links to rural communities in economies where migrant labour is key to economic survival, and a range of other historically contingent (and changing) circumstances.
Indeed, one problem with approaches that argue for the enforced separation of Protestants and Catholics in the North of Ireland (or Hutus, Tutsis and Twa in Rwanda; Turkish and Greek Cypriots in Cyprus; or Hindus and Muslims in India) lies not only in their authoritarianism and disregard for human rights and history: it lies additionally in the way in which the “Culture-as -Natural Law” argument obscures the political forces that manipulate ethnicity to foment violence or discrimination. Class, gender and even racism itself get “ethnicised” out of the analysis.
Ethnic scapegoating also comes to be viewed as an “inevitable” (if regrettable) response to economic and political insecurity. At a time when globalisation and the imposition of top-down development programmes are disrupting livelihoods worldwide, people who find a home in racist/ethnicist movements are provided with a self-deceptive “explanation” for the violence they inflict on “the other”.
In the process, non-racist responses to inter-community violence are frequently suppressed or rendered invisible. Contrary to the position of the New Right and other authoritarian culturalists, embracing the “right to be different” does not have to entail a one-way trip to cultural separation. Nor, again contra the New Right, does the rejection of enforced cultural separation as a political “solution” to ethnic violence necessarily entail the embrace of forced integration. Other responses are widespread and – even in the midst of conflict – practised by numerous movements seeking “more diverse forms of transnational allegiance and affiliation”, based on equity, pluralism and a respect for the rights of peoples to self-determination. Yet the very existence of groups that defy the stereotypes – peace movements, for example, or ecumenical groups – provides powerful evidence to counter the view that racism, xenophobia and violent discriminatory expressions of ethnicity are somehow “natural” or “predetermined”.
As noted earlier, racism and xenophobia are indeed common responses to the tensions and insecurities that underlie many conflicts, but they represent just one set of responses among many – none of which is more “natural” than the others. Moreover, the very fact that racist movements have to work so hard to manipulate ethnicity towards their own xenophobic ends belies the “naturalist” arguments that ethnic warriors promote. In India, for example, the Hindu Right BJP has assiduously cultivated the notion that Hindu and Muslim are irrevocably opposed, constructing hatred through a deliberate political programme that has involved infiltrating grassroots social movements in an attempt to appropriate their causes for xenophobic ends. An “explanation” of Hindu-Muslim conflicts that fails to address such manipulation, relying instead on the myth of predetermined hatreds, is no explanation at all. Yet again, it is racist and xenophobic responses which cry out for explanation.
As stated earlier, none of this is to deny the existence of ethnicity as a social reality – and a reality, moreover, which is greatly cherished and valued by many people. Stuart Hall, Professor of Sociology at the Open University in the UK, for example, notes that:
“We all speak from a particular place, out of a particular history, out of a particular experience, a particular culture, without being contained by that position . . . We are all, in that sense, ethnically located and our ethnic identities are crucial to our subjective sense of who we are.”
It is, however, to deny that ethnicity is rooted in biology, destiny or in some “authentic” set of unchanging cultural traditions and to insist that its form is always historically contingent and constantly changing. It is also to argue for a politics that rejects those cultural identities whose survival depends on marginalising, displacing and stereotyping other
As such, it is an argument for pluralism – for cherishing not only the differences between ethnic groups, but also what they have in common. It is, in addition, an argument for equity, since plural societies where power relations are inequitable will almost inevitably lead to the domination of one group by another. It is thus a call for nurturing those cultural, social and economic relationships and practices that enable disparate groups to live together as equals within a wider commonwealth.
Evolving institutional and cultural arrangements that permit such pluralism suggest the urgent need for a politics that respects and relies on difference but which is open to change and the reworking of traditions; that is inquiring, open to debate and respectful of other opinions and ways of living; and that is ever alert to the motivations of those who seek to
mobilise around ethnic identities and to the oppressions that result when privileged groups assume a right to decide other peoples’ social identities for them. It also suggests a politics which is as ready to challenge the everyday social relations and ideologies that privilege one group over another as it is to challenge the more visible structures of power – be they transnational corporations (TNCs), populist demagogues or the State – that create the conditions in which “the seeds of petty resentment sown . . . when [different] kinds of underprivileged are brought together” can be manipulated into ethnic conflict.
Practice, Not Theory
The emphasis here is on politics and the everyday practices of anti-racism. For racism and ethnic hatred are rooted not in the failure of individuals to understand the oppressiveness of their behaviour but in the political struggle over (and manipulation of) identities: if pluralism is merely a call for people to be nicer to each other, it is bound to fail.
Likewise treating racism – whether in Rwanda or in contemporary Europe – as a failure on the part of individuals to appreciate their multiple identities or the hybridity of culture will have little impact on those whose politics are rooted in White Power or authoritarian cultural essentialism. As Jonathan Friedman of the University of Lund observes with
“If only we understood how totally mixed we all are, there would be no ethnic strife in the world. The source of evil of roots is western nationalism. We need only reject the West and its language of identities to find ourselves once again in the true reality of hybridity. HAVE A NICE DAY.”
The reality is that rednecks and racists exist; that the hatreds that ethnic chauvinists bring to the identities they forge for themselves are real; and that ethnicity will always be a terrain on which authoritarian political actors, along with numerous others, seek to mobilise. No set of institutional arrangements or approaches to ethnicity can avoid such
politicisation of ethnic identities. Even “hybridity”, as the Central American experience reveals, can be exploited for political ends that are oppressive. As Friedman notes of the use to which mestizo identity has been put by upper- and middle-class elites faced with rising Maya identity:
“Hybrid ideology has been used to dissipate and disarray Mistiko Indian resistance by “creolising” them from above, by actively criticising their ethnic essentialism. Hybridisation also opened their bounded social identity in such a way that they could not represent themselves as having any claim as a single group. We are all part-Indian, say members of the
elite who have much to lose in the face of minority claims. This is also the case in Guatemala, where the Maya are in the majority but where their politics is defused by elite conversion to hybridity.”
Neither Left Nor Right?
In short, a politics that fails to engage with the shifting dialectics of racism, class and ethnic chauvinism is unlikely to pose a serious threat to racist movements. On the contrary, if racism is seriously to be challenged, racists must be denied ground on which to operate. Anti-racism should be placed at the centre of movement building, not tacked on as an optional extra.
In the absence of such a commitment, progressive groups can all too easily find themselves lending unwitting support to Far Right groups whose rhetoric appears progressive but disguises an extremely authoritarian agenda. The danger is particularly acute in an era where the New Right has opportunistically moved onto ground which the progressive Left frequently regards (mistakenly) as exclusively its own.
As globalisation reconfigures state power and local economies, so the New (and Old) Right have been quick to exploit the political terrain created by the partial “denationalisation” of economic space and the shifting of many areas of sovereignty from national to supranational bodies. Growing economic insecurity, rising regional disparities of wealth, increasing social marginalisation and the emergence of numerous movements seeking to “re-root” themselves culturally – all phenomena which, in their contemporary form, are closely related to the process of globalisation – have provided fertile ground for those who would blame “immigrants”, “foreigners” and minorities for the resulting tensions.
Reacting to such scapegoating, many progressive movements in Europe and the US – from trade unions to environmentalists – have highlighted the political and economic causes of increased marginalisation and insecurity. They point, for example, to the neoliberal policies underpinning the increasing insecurity of work, driving down wages and pitting communities against each other in order to attract the inward investment that will supposedly create jobs. They point, too, to the increasing regional tensions that are likely to result as the European Union (EU) moves towards economic and monetary union (EMU) – and the potential for such tensions to express themselves in increased ethnic violence. And they have called for policies that relocalise economies under greater community control.
The result has been the emergence of an increasingly effective movement challenging economic exclusion and corporate rule. In the process, many movements have seen internal realignments and the forging of new alliances. But, though necessary, the focus on the visible structures of economic exclusion (TNCs, neoliberal trade treaties and the like) has led to a partial obscuring of other, concurrent forms of exclusion – not least the newly-reworked ideologies which currently underpin and legitimise much discrimination. “Blood” and “culture” explanations of ethnic conflict are just two examples.
As a consequence, the ground on which globalisation is increasingly being challenged is ground that is as easily occupied by elements of the authoritarian but radical Right as it is by the progressive Left. The impression often gained is that the challenge to globalisation forms a platform shared by both Left and Right.
In reality, no such common platform exists: there are authoritarian responses to globalisation and there are progressive responses – and the two strands are confused at peril. The rhetoric of being “Neither Left nor Right” – a slogan first coined with a very different politics in mind – is now not just misleading: it is dangerous.
The danger is three-fold. First, a platform shared with authoritarian interests inevitably legitimises those interests, giving them a credibility that they might otherwise not enjoy.89 Second, such platforms send a public message to many groups who might otherwise be allies that progressives are prepared to set aside certain core issues (anti-racism, for example) in the fight against globalisation. Indeed, in the US, many political analysts now view the current overtures by the authoritarian Right to the environmental movement as a deliberate tactical move to separate environmentalists from potential allies in the social justice movement (see Box below: The Greening of Hate). Third, the failure to place opposition to the ideologies underpinning social exclusion on a par with opposition to economic exclusion gives wider scope for authoritarian interests to shape the localisms that are emerging in response to corporate rule – scope which might not be so available if the focus of opposition was not concentrated so exclusively on economic exclusion.
Attractive – and necessary – as it might be to evolve as wide an opposition to globalisation as possible, it is surely also critical to have in mind where that opposition is likely to lead. The alliances that progressives enter into – albeit tacitly – will inevitably influence the outcome of their opposition. If they are serious in their commitment to “localisms” that are cosmopolitan, open and equitable, it is not enough to “talk the talk”. More important still is to “walk the walk” – for whom we chose to walk with ultimately plays a large part in determining where we end up walking.
Box: The Greening of Hate
In the summer of 1997, a new group coalition called The Country Alliance staged a mass rally in London in support of “Britain’s countryside”. Those who marched (an estimated 100,000 in all) came from varied political persuasions: large landowners and farm hands; supporters of free market agricultural policies and protectionists; fox-hunters and opponents of fox hunting. Everyone, it seemed was welcome.
Among those working the crowd at this and subsequent farmers rallies were members of the far-Right British National Party, who handed out free copies of their newsletter, The British Countryman. “Middle Britain is waking up!” announces one edition. “The fight to stop tracts of beautiful countryside and productive farmland vanishing forever beneath a tidal wave of bricks and concrete is likely to become the biggest ever people’s protest movement against the abuse of power . . . in London and Whitehall.”
But underlying the BNP’s call for a halt to the cementation of the countryside, for support for the family farm, reduced pesticide use, a “rejection of GATT ‘free trade’ economic suicide” and a “Buy British Beef” campaign lay a xenophobic and racist analysis of the economic and social problems which face Britain’s farmers and rural communities:
“More people = more houses, or, to put it even plainer: more immigrants = less countryside. We can have one or the other, but not both. Which do you want?”.
“My four children all speak fluent Welsh and I’m in favour of encouraging traditional identities wherever the demand exists . . . But New labour’s devolution plans aren’t meant to preserve Britain’s rich and varied native culture, or to increase accountability. The real aim is to destroy the United Kingdom.”
“Restore individual freedom by abolishing the petty tyranny of anti-discrimination which dictates who you can employ or socialise with”.
“Ban alien ritual slaughter, not the British tradition of hunting”.
“Recognise that Britain is, and must remain, a nation with Christian and Anglo-Celtic, European, roots. Scrap the ‘multi-cultural’ national curriculum immediately.”
“The ‘multi-culti’, ‘global economy’ schemes of Tony Blair, the mass media and the shadowy international financiers who pull their strings are evil.”
Across the Atlantic
In the US, too, right-wing groups are increasingly using concern over environmental degradation and economic insecurity as a fertile terrain on which to mobilise.
In the Spring of 1998, for example, a small group of activists in the Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental groups in the country, attempted to force through a vote to overturn the Club’s neutral policy on immigration and replace it with a commitment to work for a “reduction of net immigration”. Advocates of the motion openly blamed immigrants for every US environmental problem from wetland loss to logging of old growth forests to smog and sprawl. Although rejected by 60 per cent of the vote in a national ballot of Club members, the fact that 40 per cent supported the motion can hardly have been of comfort to immigrant groups.
According to the Political Ecology Group (PEG), a multiracial environmental justice organisation which was at the forefront of opposing the motion, the initiators of the motion had strong links with the far-Right and were funded by right-wing foundations, including the Pioneer Fund, which “finances research seeking proof of the genetic superiority of the white race”.
PEG activists Brad Erikson and China Brotsky argue that the Sierra Club initiative was part of a wider campaign by US conservative Christian groups and the Republican Right to divide potential (or actual) opponents, whilst moving forward with their own agenda:
“Appealing to valid fears about declining job security, education or environmental quality, [such] wedge strategies use scapegoating to direct fears and frustration towards immigrants, people of colour, unions and environmentalists and away from the corporations and political structures which actually bear primary responsibility for these problems.”
Along with other groups in the US environmental justice movement, PEG is responding to such divisive tactics through an active commitment to working with immigrant groups and to placing anti-racism at the centre of the campaign’s agenda.
With many on the Right now consciously taking up environmental issues as a vehicle for promoting their own authoritarian politics, racism is now firmly on the environmental agenda. At the very least, there is surely an urgent need for progressive environmentalists to differentiate their environmentalism from the environmentalism of the Right.
1. British Countryman, Spring 1998
2. Brotsky, C., “A Defeat for the Greening of Hate”, Political Environments, No.6, Fall 1998.
3. San Fransisco Chonicle, 30 march 1994.
4. Erikson, B. and Brotsky, C., “Blunting the Wedge”, Political Environments, No.6, Fall 1998. Contact: <www.igc.org/peg>.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Notes and References
1. Keane, F., Letter to Daniel, Penguin, London, 1996, p.226.
2. Appadurai, A., Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization,University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996.
3. Keane, F., op. cit. 1, p.226.
4. Ibid. Keane stresses the interlocking nature of the causes underlying conflict. Simply listing causal factors singly misses the inter-relationships between them and can obscure the fact that many conflicts are a consequence of “social engineering” by colonial and post-colonial regimes – engineering based on primarily external notions of identity, class and territory.
5. Ecological degradation, itself a reflection of social, political and economic forces, is often another cause of conflict, particularly where it leads to the denial of access to land, forests, water bodies and commons.
6. Anderson, B., Imagined Communities, Verso, London, 1991.
7. Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T., The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.
8 The form a culture takes at any given time results not from individuals acting out some abstract anthropological script, but from the day-to-day acts of everyday living. Culture, in effect, is constructed by practice.
Understanding that practice – who is doing what to whom and why – is key to understanding how identities are attributed and why. See Friedman, J., “Global Crises, the Struggle for Cultural Identity and Intellectual Porkbarrelling: Cosmopolitans versus Locals, Ethnics and Nationals in an Era of De-Hegemonisation”, in Werner, P. and Modood, T., Debating Cultural Hybridity: Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism, Zed, London, 1997.
9. Analyses of ethnicity that prefer to leave out power relationships between groups can only serve to obfuscate and confuse. The call by a privileged member of a dominant ethnic group for ethnic separatism, for instance, cannot be read in the same way as the same call made by a member of an oppressed minority. One may well be rooted in a politics of shoring up dominance; the other in a politics of dismantling it.
10. Wright, S., “The Politicisation of ‘Culture'”, Anthropology Today, Vol.14, No.1, February 1998, pp.7-15. See also Seidel, “Culture, Nations and ‘Race’ in the British and French New Right” in Levitas, R. (ed), Ideology of the New Right, Polity, Oxford, 1987.
11. Tariq Modood succinctly summarises cultural essentialism as the view that “there is a single culture, that it is homogenous, that it has always been the same, that wherever the group is found or travels to the same culture is found, so that one can talk about a group and its culture without any reference to context, to contact or interaction with other groups, to economic circumstances, political power and so on.” See Modood, T., “Introduction: The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe” in Modood, T. and Werbner, P., The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe: Racism, Identity and Community, Zed, London, 1997, p.10.
12. Uvin, P., Development, Aid and Conflict: Reflections from the Case of Rwanda, Research for Action 24, United Nations University/WIDER, Helsinki, 1996; de Waal, A., 1994, “Genocide in Rwanda”, Anthropology Today, Vol.10, No.3, June 1994.
13. Lewis, J. and Knight, J., The Twa of Rwanda: Assessment of the Situation of the Twa and Promotion of Twa Rights in Post-War Rwanda, World Rainforest Movement and International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Oxford, 1996.
14. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.4.
15. Keane, F., op. cit. 1, p.228.
16. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.6.
17. Prunier, G, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, Colombia University Press, New York, 1995, p.49.
18. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.10.
19. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.10.
20. Chossudovsky, M., The Globalisation of Poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms, Zed Books/Third World Network, London, 1997. See especially Chapter 5, “Economic Genocide in Rwanda”.
21. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.25.
22. Keane, F., op. cit. 1, p.230.
23. Uvin, P., op. cit. 12, p.32.
24. Ibid, p.31.
25. Chossudovsky, M., op. cit. 20; Malcolm, N., Kosovo: A Short History, Macmillan, 1998; Hitchens, C., Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger, Verso. London, 1997.
26. Malcolm, N., op. cit. 25.
27. Appadurai, A., op. cit. 2, p.14.
29. See, for example, James, W., “Uduk Resettlement” and Allen, T., “A Flight from Refuge” in Allen, T., In Search of Cool Ground: War, Flight and Homecoming in Northeast Africa, UNRISD/Africa World Press/ James Currey, Oxford, 1996. Tim Allen shows how “Madi” identity has been constructed in response to the practices of the colonial state, whilst Wendy James offers a case study of how the “Uduk” have first been perceived as an ethnicity and how they now perceive themselves.
30. Martono, Proceedings of the Meeting between the Department of Transmigration and the Inter-Governmental Group on Indonesia, Jakarta, 20 March 1985, quoted in Colchester, M., ‘Unity and Diversity: Indonesia’s Policy towards Tribal People’, The Ecologist, Vol. 16, Nos 2/3, 1986, p.59.
32. Hirsch, P., ‘Seeking Culprits: Ethnicity and Resource Conflict’, Watershed, Vol.3, No.1, July-October 1997, p.25. See also CornerHouse Briefing 13, Forest Cleansing: Racial Oppression in Scientific Nature Conservation, January 1999.
33. For a discussion of racism against the Irish, see Allen, T.W., The Invention of the White Race, Volume One: Racial Oppression and Social Control, Verso, London, 1995; Ignatiev, N., How the Irish Became White, Routledge, London and New York 1995.
34. Prebble, J., The Highland Clearances, Penguin, London, 1969.
35. Kinealy, C., This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1994; Kinealy, C., A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland, Pluto Press, London, 1997; Woodham-Smith, C., The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-9, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1963.
36. Other explanations which might better account for their poverty, such as class, racism and other causes of subordination and discrimination, get “ethnicised” out of existence. The “failure” of Afro-Americans to thrive in the white world of business in the US, for example, is explained by their “culture” – discrimination is held to have little or nothing to do with it. Similar stereotyping informs many policy discussions of single mothers, the unemployed and “the poor” in general.
37. Indigenous peoples have argued for the past 20 years and more that self-definition is a crucial part of their struggle for self-determination. The International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 accepts the principle of self-definition as a fundamental criteria for determining who is “indigenous”.
38. Balibar, E. and Wallerstein, I., Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Verso, London, 1991.
39. As Roger-Pol Droit points out of Alain de Benoist and other leading figures in GRECE: “Alain de Benoist is still actively and closely related to international movement on the far Right. Apart from the journal Krisis, his ‘liberal’ face since 1988, he continues to edit Nouvelle Ecole, a mouthpiece of the New Right, whose editorial board includes, for example, Bernard Nottin, member of the scientific ‘council’ of the National Front and Jean-Claude Rivière, an advocate of the negationist thesis supported by Henri Roques in Nantes in 1985.” See Droit, R.-P., “The Confusion of Ideas”, Le Monde 13 July 1993, reproduced in, Telos, Nos 98-99, Winter 1993-Spring 1994, p.137.
40. In recent years, GRECE has been careful to acknowledge the historical contingency of cultures. This should not be taken, however, as a rejection of its claims as to the fixed “essence” of cultures. Underlying whatever form a culture may take at any one moment in history, there is assumed to be an “authentic” core which is always present, although often repressed. Discussing “European culture”, for example, de Benoist has argued that “authentic” Europeans are anti-egalitarian by culture. This cultural essence, in his view, has been repressed by Judaeo-Christianity, which he portrays as an alien imposition. The task GRECE sets itself is “to bring to the surface a sensibility which has been repressed in the unconscious of our peoples by two thousand years of egalitarianism.” See de Benoist, A., “La Question Religieuse: Entretien avec Robert de Herte”, Eléments, September 1976; Taguieff, P-A., “The New Right’s View of European Identity”, Telos, op. cit. 39, p.111.
41. In Britain, the New Right (as exemplified in the writings of intellectuals associated with the Salisbury Review) has adopted the language of “difference” for similar tactical ends. As Susan Wright of the University of Birmingham observes of the changing discourse of the Right in the 1980s and 1990s, “The New Right
. . . consciously engaged in the manipulation of words, especially the process of naming and redefining key concepts. In particular, [they] focused on appropriating and reformulating the meanings of one semantic cluster – ‘difference’, ‘nation’, ‘race’ and ‘culture’ . . . They appropriated the anti-racist language about the need to respect cultural difference. This did not mean that they rejoiced in cross-cutting differences and fluid identities, or celebrated the creativity inspired by such hybridity . . . Instead, they inverted this meaning of ‘difference’. They opposed the dilution of separateness . . . and turned difference into an essentialist concept to reassert boundaries: the distinctiveness of Englishness must be defended.” See Wright, S., op. cit. 10.
42. de Benoist, A. “Three Interviews with Alan de Benoist”, Telos, op. cit. 39. Much the same argument was common amongst apologists for the Apartheid regime in South Africa, who frequently argued that the policy of “separate development” was based not on racism but on the doctrine of respecting the “equal-but-different” status of different ethnic groups in South Africa. See Asmal, K, Asmal, L. and Roberts, R. S., Reconciliation through Truth: A Reckoning with Apartheid’s Criminal Governance, David Philip, Cape Town, 1996, p.34ff. A similar line was used in the US to defend racial segregation during the 1960s.
43. Balibar, E. and Wallerstein, I., op. cit. 38, p.22.
44. Taguieff, P-A., op. cit. 40. See also Kohn, M., The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science, Jonathan Cape, London, 1995; Salecl, R., Psychoanalysis and Feminism After the Fall of Socialism, Routledge, London, 1994.
As Roland Axtmann of the University of Aberdeen writes of GRECE, “The flipside of [GRECE’s position] is the claim that . . . differences have to be preserved at all cost: they must be cultivated, developed and defended against any attempt to abolish them. As a result, this particular version of the right to difference is organized around a ‘mixophobic’ core: it is ‘haunted by the threat of the destruction of identities through interbreeding – physical and cultural cross-breeding’.” See Axtmann, R., Liberal Democracy into the 21st Century: Globalization, Integration and the Nation State, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1996, p.105.
45. Axtmann, R., op. cit. 44., p.105. See also Taguieff, P-A., op. cit. 40.
46. Faye, G., Eléments, No.48, Winter 1983/84. See also Faye, G., Nouveau Discours a la Nation Européene, Albatros, Paris, 1985.
47. Brigneau, Minute, April 1985, quoted in Taguieff, P-A., op. cit. 40, p.124.
48. Quoted in Taguieff, P-A., op. cit. 40, p.124.
49. Langdon, J., “Antwerp’s Blok vote”, The Independent, 10 January 1995. Such schools are not to be confused with schools set up by minority groups themselves as a part of their own efforts to familiarise their children with some of the cultural background of their parents or to maintain a cultural space for themselves.
50. As Susan Wright observes, the meaning which the New Right in Britain attaches to “Culture” is key to understanding how its new discourse of “respect for difference” is anchored in a politics of exclusion. New Right theorists in Britain do not dispute the anthropological idea that nations and cultures are historically constituted and not biologically or ontologically given. This insight, however, is used “not to erode but to reinforce exclusiveness.” Critically, national identity is defined as a feeling of loyalty to ‘persons of one’s own kind’. But ‘one’s own kind’ is defined in terms of a list of attributes that are “decidedly white and Christian and frequently gender and class specific”. Wright concludes, “[The New Right] denied racism, yet their framing of nationalism in terms of ‘our culture’ cued a choice of policy recommendations for ethnic minorities – complete assimilation, retrospective guest worker status, or removal by repatriation – which were in implication or effect racist.” See Wright, S., op. cit. 10.
51. As such, it fulfils much the same role as “Nature” served in the past – and indeed continues to serve in other arenas, the debate on gender being just one example.
52. Outside of Europe, the strategies of the Right undoubtedly differ. No claim is therefore made as to the universality of this analysis.
At a crude level, the New Right’s cultural determinism can be dismissed as mere biological determinism in another guise. Such an interpretation, however, is easily parried by the more sophisticated New Right, which is
increasingly using the discourse of “difference” to move onto completely new political ground, where deterministic claims (although helpful amongst certain audiences) are no longer needed to justify cultural separation: appeals to “cultural rights” are enough. Anti-racist critiques that rest on exposing the new discourse as biological determinism under another name are thus limited in their ability to counter the new cultural racism of the Right. Given the persuasiveness of this new cultural racism “for those who are unmoved by a crude biologism”, the dangers are clear. See Modood, T., “‘Difference’, Cultural Racism and Anti-Racism”, in Werbner, P. and Modood (eds.), op. cit. 8., p.169.
53. See Barnes, I. R., “The Pedigree of GRECE”, Patterns of Prejudice, 14 (3) 1980; Pfaff, W., “The Presentable Face of France’s Extreme Right”, International Herald Tribune, 13 February 1997; “‘Intellectual’ fascists celebrate 25 years”, Searchlight, Sept. 1994; Harris, G., The Dark Side of Europe: The Extreme Right Today, Edinburgh University Press, 1994, p.89ff.
54. Quoted in Harris, G., op. cit. 53.
56. Quoted in Harris, G., op. cit. 53. Of GRECE’s tactics, Roger-Pol Droit writes, “The far Right has orchestrated
. . . confusion for quite some time. Alain de Benoist has made it his speciality. In the past few years, he has tried to make people believe he has changed. By closeting his various activities, publicly taking Third World and anti-capitalist positions, refusing any labels, especially those of the Right and the Left, he has found many tactics for covering his tracks. And this works. ‘Everyone has the right to change’, people say. ‘This is even a good thing,’ they think – without taking the trouble to see if the news is true.”
Others point out how GRECE has actively sought to publish writers “whose literary or scientific fame and political positions mean they are not suspected of being compromised.” This has “a double advantage: sensitive issues are reacclimatised, whereas participation in debates with respected thinkers makes one think the organizer is also respected.” See Roger-Pol Droit, op. cit. 39., p.137.
57. In 1994, for example, GRECE invited Edward Goldsmith, founder and publisher of The Ecologist, to address its 25th Anniversary Meeting, an invitation he accepted.
58. If racism were simply a form of resistance to top-down, universalist social engineering, it would not exist outside of such resistance. But treating it as resistance conceals the top-down nature of racism itself. Racism always seeks bounded identities that are closed to negotiation, prescribing identities which are derived largely from theory and which bear little relation to the identities which are actually practised by the groups involved. The stereotypes it manufactures are, moreover, claimed to be valid for all places and all times – all Englishmen and women are the same the world over – and are predicated on social engineering (not least in order to ensure that the identities it seeks to impose are upheld despite inevitable internal and external resistance to the stereotyping they involve).
59. Salecl, R., op. cit. 44.
60. Zizek, S., “Multiculturalism – A New Racism?”, New Left Review 225, September/October 1997, p.30. For discussions of Hanson and Farrakhan, see Perera, S., “The Level Playing Field: Hansonism, Globalisation, Racism”, Race and Class, Vol.40, Nos 2/3, October 1998-March 1999, pp.199-208; Marable, M., “Black Fundamentalism: Farrakhan and conservative black nationalism”, Race and Class, Vol. 39, No.4, April-June 1998, pp.1-22.
61. Goldsmith is well-respected both in Britain and internationally for his energetic campaigning against nuclear power, chemical pollution, the World Bank and the increasing power of transnational corporations.
62. Goldsmith, E., The Way: An Ecological World-View, Themis Books, London, 1996.
63. As indicated, the views discussed in this section are by no means particular to Edward Goldsmith: on the contrary, the approach which they represent – although opposed by many Greens – is common, albeit in more or less muted forms, to a significant section of the movement.
64. See Goldsmith, E., op. cit. 62.
65. Discussing the role of religion in society, Goldsmith writes, “It is only within the context of a cosmic or ecological religion that people can be made to realise that the destruction of God’s creation is a sin – the ultimate sin” (emphasis added).
He goes on: “People can only understand and believe that it is a sin, if they have been imbued with a world view and an associated theology in terms of which the preservation of the creation is man’s [sic] overriding duty .. .” (emphasis added).
Elsewhere, he states, “A cosmic or ecological religion is the natural one for humans to be imbued with”. The potential authoritarian outcomes inherent in a politics that uses religion as an instrument for social control through conscious propagandising (however worthy the cause) are clear. All quotes from: Goldsmith, E., “Ultimate Freedom”, Fourth World Review, No.92, 1998.
66. Gaia is the name given by the scientist James Lovelock to the Biosphere and its atmosphere; it is analysed by Lovelock as acting as a self-regulating whole. Goldsmith argues that the laws governing Gaia apply also to society, society operating as a natural system.
67. Sachs, W., “Letter to Edward Goldsmith”, Retraite Au Forets, November 1995. Conventional sociobiologists claim that genes are the basic determinant of all behaviour and thus, ultimately, of social organisation. Goldsmith rejects this reductionist view, arguing that genes do not dictate behaviour but interact in co-operation with their wider environment. However, he departs from other critics of conventional sociobiology by arguing that “natural” human societies (a term he restricts to preindustrial societies: all modern social formations are “unnatural”) take the form they do because they are organised to fulfil the goals of “Gaia”. In effect, human behaviour in such societies is determined by Gaian imperatives: individual free will, struggles over power, even history itself, are written out of the picture. Hence, the charge that The Way, Goldsmith’s major work, amounts to “Gaian sociobiology” – with Gaia, rather than genes, taking an all-determining role.
The central thesis of The Way is problematic for a number of reasons. First, its reductionism obscures other more nuanced (and fruitful) explanations of human behaviour. Second, by positing a Gaian Law for society – knowledge of which gives the author (and others) special privileges to judge the acceptability or otherwise of certain social processes and practices – The Way gives spurious objectivity to categories (“natural”/”unnatural”) which, in the social sphere, invariably reflect the vested interests of different social groups – interests which make the mapping of “nature” onto society a far from objective practice, and often an oppressive one. And, third, by insisting that “unnatural” social and biological forms be “eliminated” (The Way, p.285-286), the door is potentially opened to extremely authoritarian forms of government. See Goldsmith, E., op. cit. 62.
68. Goldsmith, E., “Basic Principles of Cultural Ecology”, The Ecologist, Vol. 2, No.5, 1971, p.4.
69. Porter, E., “Identity, Location, Plurality: Women, Nationalism and Northern Ireland” in Wilford, R. and Miller, R. L., Women, Ethnicity, Nationalism: The Politics of Transition, Routledge, London, 1998. For a discussion of how British rule polarised peoples’ identities in ethnic terms, see Farrell, M., The Orange State, Pluto Press, London.
70. Goldsmith, E., Letter to George Monbiot and others, 27 October 1997.
72. For further discussion, see Richards, P., Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone, James Currey/Heinemann/ International African Institute, Oxford, 1996.
73. Ranger, T., “Concluding Reflections on Cross-Mandates”, in Allen, T., op. cit. 29, p.327
74. Ranger, T., “The Invention of Tradition in Africa” in Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T., op. cit. 7, p.248. See also Vail, L., (ed.), The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991; Young, C., “The Colonial Construction of African Nations” in Hutchinson, J and Smith, A. D., Nationalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p.225.
75. Ranger, T., op. cit. 74., p.248.
76. Commenting on customary land rights, Ranger goes as far as to state that, “What were called customary land-rights, customary political structure and so on were in fact all invented by colonial codification.”
77. See, for examples, Vail, L., op. cit. 74.
78. Balibar, E. and Wallerstein, I., op. cit. 38, p.23.
79. Kothari, S., “Rising from the Margins: The Awakening of Civil Society in the Third World”, Development, No.3, 1996; Kothari, S., “Whose Independence? The Social Impact of Economic Reform in India”, Journal of International Affairs, Summer 1997, Vol. 51, No.1, 1997; Appadurai, A., op. cit. 2; Shiva, V., 1996, “The Alternative to Corporate Protectionism”, Bija – The Seed, Nos. 15/16.
80. McGuire, J., Reeves, P., Brasted, H., (eds), Politics of Violence: From Ayodhya to Behrampada, Sage, New Delhi, 1996.
81. Hall, S., “The New Ethnicities”, in Hutchinson, J. and Smith, A. D., Ethnicity, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p.163.
82. Hoffman, E., Shtetl: The History of a Small Town and an Extinguished World, Secker and Warburg, London, 1997, p.83.
83. Friedman, J., op. cit. 8, p.77. As Friedman observes elsewhere in the same essay, “The ongoing history of the world cannot be interpreted as an intellectual conversation in which problems can be solved by convincing people that they have got it all wrong. The absurdity of such a position is a token of the alienation of its spokesmen and spokeswomen”. See p.88.
84. Friedman, J., op. cit. 8, p.82, citing Hale, C., “Mestizaje, Hybridity and the New Cultural Politics of Difference in Post-revolutionary Central America”, MS, 1994. Friedman also warns how class differences give the hybrid cultures evolved by marginal groups a very different logic to those developed “among the highly educated world travellers of the culture industries”. See p.83.
85. Sassen, S., Losing Control: Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996.
86. The economic focus of many critiques of globalisation is often grounded in a culturally specific – and highly problematic – approach to politics in which the economic is compartmentalised off from the social.
87. The slogan “Neither Left nor Right but In Front” was first used by anarchist groups in the 1970s to signal an opposition both to the overtly statist policies of the then Left and to the elitist policies of the Right. In its modern variant, it is a slogan that calls not for opposition but for an alliance – an alliance that is possible only by setting aside key political differences.
88. For a critique of the “Neither Left Nor Right” stand of many contemporary Greens, see Staudenmaier, P., “Fascist Ideology: The ‘Green Wing’ of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents” in Biehl, J. and Staudenmaier, P., Ecofacism: Lessons from the German Experience, AK Press, Edinburgh, 1995, pp.25-26.
89. The shared platforms sought by the Right are not restricted to sharing the same physical platform at, say, a public meeting: joint statements and publications serve the same tactical purpose. As 40 European intellectuals, including Umberto Eco and Jacques Derrida, warned in an Open Letter to Le Monde in 1993: “For some time now [ideologues of the Far Right] have undertaken to make us believe they have changed. In order to do so, they have led a big seduction campaign targeting democratic personalities and intellectuals, some of whom are known as Leftists. Badly informed about this activity or completely unaware of it, the latter have agreed to sign articles in some journals run by these ideologues. Once snared, these signatures apparently lend credence to the idea that the supposed change is a reality.”
To avoid being used in this way, the authors of the letter announced that, in future, they would “refuse all collaboration in journals, collective works, radio and television programmes, as well as colloquia directed or organised by people whose connections with the Far Right have been demonstrated.” See “The Appeal to Vigilance by Forty Intellectuals”, Le Monde, 13 July 1993, reprinted in Telos, op. cit. 39., p.135.
This briefing was written by Nicholas Hildyard, who would like to thank
those who commented on drafts. He worked at The Ecologist from 1972-97,
assuming the journal’s editorship (with others) from 1990-1997. In 1997,
political differences with the magazine’s founder, Edward Goldsmith, over
ethnicity and gender issues led Hildyard and the rest of the editorial team
to leave and to set up The CornerHouse. An earlier version of this paper,
“Blood and Babies” is published in Ecology, Politics and Violent Conflict,
Suliman, M. (ed.) Zed Books, London, 1998.
This briefing is published by The CornerHouse, which aims to support the
growth of a democratic, equitable and non-discriminatory civil society in
which communities have control over the resources and decisions that affect
their lives and means of livelihood, as well as the power to define
themselves rather than to be defined by others.
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