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Capitalist multiculturalism

This week The Prisma holds a debate on multiculturalism, and asks whether multiculturalism has failed, and whether it still has something positive to contribute to society.

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Capitalist multiculturalism  3Steve Latham

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I don’t want to prejudge that debate here, although it is an important issue; and certainly I am a supporter of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism, however, is both a sociological reality and a political ideology. All of us must accept the fact of diversity in our society. Whether we accept the ideology is another question.

And then, whether we desire the mixing of different ethnicities and cultures, or prefer to keep separate in our own social circles, is another moot point.

And finally, comes the question whether the ideology has succeeded – if it has indeed been applied consistently.

Capitalist multiculturalism  9Has multuralism actually promoted inter-mixing, or inadvertently encouraged that an apartheid-style separation of ethnic groups?

My observation, however, is different, and it is this, multiculturalism is the default ideology of advanced capitalism.

In its early phase, of primitive accumulation, capitalism plundered the world with violence, enslaving populations.

In its next phase, industrial capitalism created standardised products which flattened cultural differences in favour of a bland uniformity.

Capitalist multiculturalism  7However, in its current sophisticated advance form, capitalism thrives on difference and diversity, able to co-opt the ideology of multiculturalism to its own ends.

Equal opportunities are in the interest of capital, because they can recruit the most able workers: in other words, exploit their talents, their labour power, more efficiently.

In addition, diversity provides more niche markets, for business to sell more products to fresh groups of consumers who are brought in to the market place.

Capitalism does not care about ‘difference’, one way or the other, as long there is a profit to be made, and as long as people work and spend.

Capitalist multiculturalism  10Furthermore, the presence of different ethnic and cultural groups alongside each other is itself a product of globalisation. Globalisation is endemic to capitalism.

It is the tendency of capital to expand to the uttermost limits. In its earlier phase of colonialism and present phase of migration, capitalism has promoted the mixing of races and cultures.

Today, the flows of people across the planet mirror the flow of capital within the circuits of the global economy.

The elite travel for business. The poor migrate in search of jobs to escape poverty. The latter are not themselves capitalists, but they are trapped within the logic of that system.

Most would rather not leave their homes, but feel that they have to send money home to feed their families, or pay for relatives to go to college.

Capitalist multiculturalism  4Nevertheless, we are all being incorporated into a single world economic system, even if it is one which has learned to harness diversity for its own purposes.

The apparent pluralism of western societies is therefore epiphenomenal, a surface phenomenon, produced by a deeper logic of domination.

We don’t need to oppose the richness that this brings to our experience.  But it demonstrates the contradictions, and ambiguity, which capitalism imposes on all of us.

 

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