Eurocentrism, Multi-Culturalism and the Struggle Against National Oppression

October 30, 2019

The following is an excerpt from an earlier essay written by the Minority Rights Study Group and published by the Workers Party.

I.

The struggle to abolish all forms of discrimination and oppression on the basis of race, nationality, national origin, etc. is one of the great historical movements of this century.

On a world scale, the peoples colonized and oppressed by imperialism have risen up, again and again, in national movements aimed at achieving self-determination, independence and liberation. In the U.S., the struggle for minority rights not only overthrew the system of Jim Crow segregation and other forms of legal discrimination, but also irrevocably placed on the agenda the demand for the realization, in practice, of equal economic, political and social rights for all human beings.

In asserting themselves and claiming their rights, the peoples have struck directly at the foundations of imperialism and the capitalist system. The old colonial system was smashed up by the combined blows of the national liberation movements and the international working class movement. In the U.S., the struggles against racial discrimination and national oppression exposed, to the whole world, the fraud of so-called American democracy, and served as a clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed to rise in struggle for their rights.

Of course, the capitalist class and capitalist state try, with all their might, to suppress this movement, relying on the double-edged tactic of combining intense repression with political deception and diversion.

In fact, these days, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, part of the reactionary agenda of the monopoly capitalist class is to try to reverse the verdicts of the 20th century by suppressing altogether the struggles for national liberation and minority rights. On a world scale, U.S. imperialism has declared that the issues of national sovereignty and independence are things of the past, no longer applicable in the new world order based on “international economic cooperation.” Adhering to the slogan that “might makes right,” U.S. imperialism and the other big powers have given themselves the right to dispatch their troops to other countries and trample on the sovereignty of the peoples, claiming that the big powers alone can decide which peoples are entitled to national independence and which are not, insisting that every country accept the dictates of international imperialism and live under the “free market system,” etc.

Inside our country, the capitalist class and capitalist state are carrying out wholesale attacks against the minority peoples and trying to turn the clock back to the days of legal discrimination.

The slogan of “reverse discrimination” is being used as a rallying cry to reverse a series of civil rights laws and legal precedents. Other recently passed laws give legal sanction to a hierarchy of citizenship based on national origin...

Several states have passed “English Only” laws, suppressing the rights of Mexican-Americans, Native Indians and others to use their native language. Many other proposals which further intensify this legal system of discrimination are working their way through Congress or being pushed by various capitalist politicians.

II. Eurocentrism

These attacks are accompanied by a nonstop racist propaganda. Leading governmental and political figures push the Hitlerite view that America is “one nation” based on “European-Christian traditions.” Non-European peoples are attacked as “culturally backward” and “lacking core American values.” Every day the mass media popularizes such racist stereotypes by slandering the minority peoples as “lazy,” “welfare cheats,” “drug-addicts,” “criminals,” “terrorists,” etc. and so forth.

Of course this propaganda not only defames the peoples and cultures of non-European nations, it is a brazen, chauvinist attempt to justify the historical enslavement of various nations as well as the continuing discrimination and oppression which is imposed on various minority peoples and immigrants. The United States is not one nation but a multi-national state which arose on the basis of the forcible subjugation of the Mexican people, the Native Indians, the African people, the people of Puerto Rico, Hawaii and others by the capitalist state. In addition, immigrants, who have come to the U.S. from the four corners of the globe and joined in building this country, have continually faced systematic discrimination and oppression.

At the same time, the theory and practice of Euro-centrism and American chauvinism are a means for the suppression and enslavement of the workers of all nationalities. The “American values” insisted upon by capitalist politicians and ideologues of course turn out to be nothing but the values of the monopoly capitalist class – values enshrining the rights of private property in the means of production. Thus the slogans of “American values” and “one-nation” are nothing more than mystical, fascist theories which aim simultaneously at liquidating the class struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and at intensifying the yoke of national oppression and racial discrimination.

Of course, the chauvinism and racism of the bourgeoisie meet with tremendous opposition from the working class and oppressed peoples. In the attempt to divert this opposition, the capitalist state has officially adopted the program of “cultural pluralism,” “diversity” and “multi-culturalism.”

But the problem is that the capitalist state claims that its recognition of “cultural diversity” is the be-all and end-all of the struggle against national oppression and racial discrimination. The capitalist ideologues want to reduce the issues of national oppression and racial discrimination to a question of culture. In others words, the state seeks to replace the struggle to eliminate the real economic, social and political oppression of the people with the struggle for “cultural pluralism” or tolerance. Thus, the issue is presented as one of recognizing the “national or ethnic identity and culture” of various minority peoples, as if such a consolation prize will lessen the pain of the real oppression imposed on the peoples. A ghetto school may, for example, teach one or two courses in black or Hispanic history, but this does not change the fact that the oppressed minority youth remain segregated in inferior, under-funded schools, that they come to school suffering malnutrition because of the super-exploit ation and poverty imposed on their parents, etc.

III. Blaming the People

But this is not all. The capitalist ideologues not only insist that nations and peoples are defined by their culture and ethnicity but further that there exists an impassable chasm between peoples of different cultures and ethnicity. Anyone who has attended, for example, the kinds of “diversity seminars” organized by the big corporations, the U.S. Army and other capitalist institutions knows that they proceed from the viewpoint of teaching people to “tolerate other cultures despite underlying differences.” The entire game is designed to blame the people for racism while whitewashing the crimes of the capitalist class and the capitalist state, which are the real source of national oppression and racial discrimination...

While the highest organs of the state itself use the call for “tolerance” or “multi-culturalism” as a means to incite racial and ethnic division, social-democracy works to infiltrate this politics of division into the working class and popular movements. For example, Michael Walzer, a social-democrat and ideologist of multi-culturalism and the “politics of difference,” writes “articulation gives voice to difference. And once difference has been expressed in this affirmative and self-affirming way, it can no longer be denied, abolished, assimilated or transcended. It is simply there, a feature of the social world . . .” According to Walzer, no matter what form of political accommodation or structure is adopted, “what was asserted in the first moment remains true . . . there is no transcendence of cultural, religious and national particularity. There is no ‘higher’ social formation than the local group, no historically necessary universalism beyond the newly articulated universe of difference . . . our differences will be expressed even in the schemes we devise for incorporating difference.”

What is more, despite paying lip service to the “unique cultural identity” of the oppressed nations and peoples, the fact is that the capitalist class only recognizes such “cultural contributions” as are compatible with U.S. capitalism.

Here is how the New York State Board of Education describes the motivation behind its multi-cultural curriculum (considered an “advanced model” of multi-culturalism): “The teaching of the nation’s history, our national traditions and values, and a common loyalty are purposes commonly accepted as appropriate in the social studies. . . . [but] the present is unlike earlier periods in the history of this country, for now the various peoples who make up our nation, while anxiously embracing many of the advantages, opportunities and mores of this society, seem determined also to maintain and publicly to celebrate much that is peculiar to the cultures with which they identify.”

Thus, the goal of New York’s multi-cultural curriculum is to find “subject matter content that represents Diversity and UNITY within and across groups so that citizens, whatever their race or ethnicity, must believe that they and their ancestors have shared in the building of the country, . . . {so that along} with efforts to respect and honor the diverse and pluralistic elements in our nation, special attention will need to be given to those values, characteristics and traditions which we share in common.”

And the Board goes on to explicitly define just what “our common values” are: “Understanding our national history and character necessarily entails an understanding of the political, legal and cultural roots of our society in England, and in Europe, and in the traditions of the West. The facts are that we ARE essentially an English-speaking nation. The democratic ideals and values to which we still aspire, and which are the envy of so much of the world – the rule of law, freedom of speech, respect for individuals and more – derive from British political and legal traditions . . . this common tradition, the tradition which unites us and makes diversity possible must be taught to all our children.”

In practical political life, the capitalists use the program of multi-culturalism as a program of blatant tokenism designed to lend legitimacy to the capitalist state by placing a few black and minority faces in high places while continuing to impose systematic discrimination and oppression on the vast majority of the peoples. This is nothing but new packaging for the same old ethnic group politics which has long been advertised as the epitome of American political pluralism. According to this view, racial and ethnic minorities can overcome the oppression imposed on them by organizing their communities to support local or ‘native’ capitalists and pooling their political resources to demand “representation” within the government. The result of this cultural pluralism/interest group politics is to fractionalize and divide the polity into competing national or ethnic groups while marginalizing the minority peoples.

IV. Carry the Struggle for Minority Rights Through to the End

Thus it is no surprise that while the ideology and program of multi-culturalism have been part of the official state ideology in the U.S. for decades, the problems of racial discrimination and oppression on the basis of national origin, nationality, ethnicity, etc. still exist and are intensifying. The struggle against national oppression and racial discrimination is in the first place a struggle to uproot completely the social, economic and political structures which give rise to that oppression.