Multi-Culturalism or Cultural Diversity?
a critical re-appraisal of attitudes
When Lord Tebbit used a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party conference this summer to attack the concept of multi-culturalism, he also expressed the fear that we are becoming “a pagan society worshipping Mother Earth”. We must pay tribute to him here for being the first establishment politician to acknowledge the best ecological magazine on the Internet… at the same time, we note the irony of this little-reported part of his speech — for paganism, more than any spiritual tradition, is linked intimately to cultural identity as well as climate, ecology and landscape. Japan’s Shinto religion, for example, is linked at both folk and State level to the concept of racial and cultural uniqueness. The name “Hindu” is linked to the name “India”, and African Traditional Religion is the spiritual wing of black consciousness — as such it is growing fast. In our own European societies, the revival of interest in pagan beliefs and folklore is part of a wider movement to reclaim folk identities. The growing fascination for Celtic goddesses, Norse shaman-kings and Baltic wood spirits is one that unites a pride in ethnic heritage with a reverence for nature — a green, non-racist form of regional loyalty.
Another irony of Lord Tebbit’s speech is that of a politician who has dedicated his career to economic globalisation suddenly proclaiming himself a little Englander. Free trade and cultural protectionism do not sit well together, as Enoch Powell found to his cost when he tried to combine Friedmanite economics with populist racial prejudice. It is a truism today that opponents of multi-culturalism come from the political right. There is, nonetheless, a left-wing critique of movements of population and enforced assimilation. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, founder of modern anarchism, concluded in 1856 that :
Land belongs to the race of people born on it, since none other is able to develop it according to its needs.
A century and a half later, he is predictably pilloried for these words by the “politically correct” thought-police — many of whom themselves claim to be libertarians. Even Peter Marshall, in an otherwise sensitive appraisal of Proudhon’s work, accuses him of proto-fascist “Blood and Soil” ideology.  Yet Proudhon was not suggesting that one people had the natural right to colonise, suppress or exterminate others… Instead, he was merely underlining the connection between land, culture and the preservation of freedom.
In a semi-agrarian society like nineteenth century France, such connections could be grasped quite easily by radicals and reactionaries alike. Today, surrounded by the urbanised, globalised, consumerist junk culture, we rely increasingly on indigenous land rights movements to remind us of enduring values. These movements give hope to those who seek political change, because they combine the best of anarchist, conservative and green agendas : decentralisation; cultural autonomy; reverence for nature; respect for tradition and ancient wisdom. A joint declaration of the Sioux, Navajo and Iroquois peoples, issued in 1978, defines land as the basis of their peoples’ identity :
Our roots are deep in the land where we live. We have a great love for our country, for our birthplace is here. The soil is rich from the bones of thousands of our generations.
Each of us was created in these lands and it is our duty to take care of them, because from these lands will spring the future of our peoples. We will walk about with great respect for the Earth, for it is a very Sacred Place
These Native Americans, and Proudhon’s peasant forebears, derived their organic, stateless forms of social organisation from identification with ancestral land — land as the guarantor of life, as the focus of religion, and as the source of ethnic distinctiveness. Today’s more enlightened, less “politically correct” ecologists realise that the best conservers of local environments are not so-called professional experts, but indigenous peoples who are still outside the global economy.
Libertarians have, in the past, been quite good at supporting land rights. Both Proudhon and Kropotkin recognised its value to rural populations as a recourse against capital and state. The anarchist communes of the Spanish Civil War were radical experiments in co-ownership and self-management — but unlike state socialism, they drew from regional traditions of direct democracy and mutual aid. Indeed it has been observed by George Woodcock that the ethos of the Asturian anarchist communities was socially conservative. Since the 1960s, and under the totalitarian influence of the New Left, the anarchism of Europe and North America has lost much of that “conserving” element which was once its great strength. Rather than raise critical questions about change, most of today’s anarchists give unflinching allegiance to the raceless, genderless, history-less utopia of left-wing statism, sustained by social workers (the new missionaries), trendy educationalists, local government busybodies and the self-appointed Inquisitors of “political correctness”.
During my time at Survival International, I recall an occasion when a volunteer in the office loftily proclaimed that the people of the East End “don’t take enough advantage of the multi-cultural society around them”. When I suggested that we should think of London’s native working-class population as an indigenous people too, the response of my left-wing colleagues combined bafflement and anger. Brainwashed with left-liberalism, they were incapable of recognising the irony of their position. Whilst campaigning against gold mining settlers in Amazonia for destroying Indian land and undermining tribal culture, they refused to defend embattled cultures closer to home…
“Multi-culturalism” is a new word, much bandied about these days by opinion-formers in the political and business elites. It is not really about cultural diversity, still less land rights, and least of all individual freedom. Rather, it is a form of social engineering that seeks to level-down and standardise all cultures, trampling on regional and ethnic loyalties which are not determined by market or state. Multi-culturalism is more insidious in some ways than old-fashioned Stalinism or capitalism in the raw, because it uses the language of inclusion and equality. Nonetheless, the partisans of multi-culturalism are quick to impose universalist, “politically correct” principles on minority populations, be they Muslims (male and female) who resist the feminist blueprint , or English country folk (of all classes) who defend country sports. If anything, our society is becoming ever more uniform, less tolerant of non-conformity, with fewer local cultures, folk beliefs and tastes.
In former times, mass movements of population were part of a process of military conquest, prime examples of which include the Saxon displacement of the Celt and the Norman invasion. They could also be linked to a slave labour economy, as they were in ancient Greece and Rome, or in the American colonies. Global capitalism, however, transfers populations as a cheap, convenient way to erode local cultures, with their traditions of resistance to state and corporate control. In Amazonia, the Brazilian authorities oppose the idea of indigenous land rights – and the right of Indians to live by their traditional rules – with the “modern” idea of equal opportunities : If all Brazilians are equal, why should settlers be prevented from occupying ancient tribal land and polluting rivers in the name of progress? The Indonesian invaders of West Papua have planted half a million immigrants there, on land stolen from local tribes. Future plans include the forcible interbreeding of Papuans with these incoming Javanese and Sumatrans, to destroy the former and strengthen the latter. Against this background of land-grabbing and sinister eugenics, mining multinationals gouge vast holes out of sacred mountains.
The British left pays lip-service to the rights of far-away indigenous minorities, but usually through little more than stale, anti-imperialist rhetoric… They forget, if they ever knew, that the Buddhist Chakma minority in Bangladesh enjoyed more rights in colonial times than today, and that for the Tuareg of North-West Africa, “independence” has meant subjection to racist governments that dismiss them as “White Nomads”. The left’s indifference to such complexities erupts into hostility when it confronts working-class, urban communities who oppose or are even vaguely sceptical about multi-culturalism. Its position is essentially a debased form of internationalism, by which any opposition to non-European settlement is taken to be racist and placed beyond the pale. This attitude is backed up increasingly by official edicts, including “positive discrimination”, and a burgeoning bureaucracy of community relations which seeks to control what can or cannot be discussed. It is hard to think of a better way to alienate young, white, working-class youth, males in particular, who live in aesthetic and emotional poverty as well as economic deprivation.
Like tribal peoples, Britain’s indigenous working-class have suffered disproportionately from other peoples’ idea of progress. Their hostility to multi-culturalism should be understood in a new way, as a particularist rather than a racist response to confusing cultural changes in which they lack a voice. A generation of bien-pensant reformers have been remarkably successful in destroying working-class culture, with its traditions of self-help and voluntary co-operation, its emphasis on family and community. High-rise housing, insensitive bureaucratised welfare and mass immigration into working-class areas have all, in their own ways, contributed to this process. Recognising this is a step towards an interesting political realignment in which greens, traditionalists and libertarians can all play a part.
 Demanding the Impossible : A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall; Fontana, London 1993, page 257.
 It is worth noting here that, contrary to “politically correct” propaganda, many Muslim societies accord high status to women. For example, among Tuareg tribespeople women are the educated elite, and it is the men who wear veils.