marxism-digest V1 #1533

Philip L Ferguson PLF13 at
Tue Nov 23 14:41:28 MST 1999

Jim Blaut writes:
>In my own experience, "multicultural" has always been used by progressive
>people in a positive sense. It seems to be a defensive stance against
>racism. In universities, I have always seen it used as a defense of any
>program or faculty or student body in which Third world people have managed
>to get any little bit of space, under attack in the present reactionary
>period of increased repression.  I have the impression that the word
>"diversity" is also used by progressive people.

One of the problems with stuff like 'diversity', and I don't just mean the
word but the actual activities/programs associated with it, is that they
are often a substitute for equality.

In fact it is quite interesting to look at how the American ruling class,
or certainly its more sophisticated elements, see this.  They know that
equality is not on the agenda, so they opt for diversity.

In fact, the US ruling class has been into this for a long time.  John F
Kennedy said, I think it was in his Inaugural Address, that if 'we' can't
have equality 'we' can at least make the world safe for diversity.

In New Zealand, Tory prime minister Jenny Shipley has opened the Hero
Parade (the huge gay parade in Auckland) each year since she's been PM and
told them they are "a wonderful example of NZ's cultural diversity" (exact
quote).  So there's nothing inherently progressive about 'diversity' and
'respect ofr diversity'.  Shipley was the minister of social welfare, and
her mentor Ruth Richardson was minister of finance, in the Tory government
which cut unemployment benefit, solo parents' benefit, widows' benefit and
other benefits by 25 percent back in 1991.

In other words, what Kennedy andShipley are saying is that people can't
have the resources they need to make the best lives possible for themselves
and achieve equality; instead they will be boxed off from each other and
given some little space in which to develop their 'diversity' and
'difference' from each other.  Not only does this allow the accumulation of
capital to proceed smoothly, but often it actually facilitates the process.

>This problem of names that oppressed comunities will accept to designate
>themselves is widespread. The ozzies on this list probably can enlighten us
>about the rejection of the term "Australian Aborigine," and -- am I right?
>- -- its replacemenbt with "Native Australian." Recall the racist "Bushmen"
>and "Hottentots." And so forth.

Yes indeed.  I don't think Marxists can have any problem with calling
oppressed people whatever they want to be called.  But only too often the
debate over terminology looms larger than the *actual struggle*.

Other times I am a bit suspicious of who is doing the defining here.  Half
a dozen university-educated members of some section of society sitting
around in a university office or state-funded centre deciding what is the
'right' term to call that section of society does not overly impress me.
For instance, in New Zealand the term 'Queer' is really widely used within
gay/lesbian/bi/transgendered etc etc circles.  I absolutely refuse to use
this term, and still use the terms 'gay' or 'gay and lesbian', or sometimes
'homosexual', to describe people who have sex with members of the same
>From what I can see, the people who are preoccupied with 'Being Queer'
would better spend their time fighting for *gay liberation*.

In relation to Aussies, I am not aware that the term 'native Australian' is
used much at all.  AS far as I can see, black (or Black) and Aboriginal are
used much more.  Also the names of different groups of Aboriginals are used

In New Zealand, if you used the term 'Native New Zealander', no-one would
know specifically who you were talking about.  Actually, in the earlier
decades of the 1800s Maori were often referred to by Europeans as 'The New
Zealanders'.  It was only later that white settlers also became covered by
the term.

The NZ equivalent of the Wobblies had a newspaper in the early 1900s called
'The Maoriland Worker', suggesting presumably that the country should be
called 'Maoriland' rather than 'New Zealand'.  Today, quite a lot of
liberals and leftists use the words 'Aotearoa-New Zealand' to name the
country.  I don't have much time for these hybrid terms, or the pc
mentality and activities of those who tend to use this term, so I tend to
just say New Zealand.  But I also see no reason why the name of the country
should not be changed at some time.

For a while in the 1970s and early 1980s some radical Maori in New Zealand
started to use the term 'Black' to describe themselves.  But it never
really caught on outside a small layer of activists.  More recently there
has been a tendency to opt for 'tribal' identification.  Perhaps the most
well-known Maori radical, Tame Iti, describes himself as a 'Tuhoe
nationalist', for the same reasons that Jim Craven points out in relation
to American Indians rejecting a common identity.

One of the key bourgeois Maori figures, Sir Tipene O'Regan, argues there is
no such thing as 'Maori'; only a range of different groups such as Tuhoe,
his own Ngai Tahu people and so on.  O'Regan is an advocate of 'collective
capitalism', or 'tribal capitalism', which is very nice for him and Ngai
Tahu as this is a very small group of people whose territory covers the
entire South Island.  So O'Regan and Ngai Tahu are doing extremely well out
of Treaty settlements while detribalised urban Maori in Auckland and other
big cities get nothing at all.

One of the cases where this has come up is with fishing resources.  As part
of Treaty of Waitangi implementation, Maori are allocated a quota of total
fishing resources.  The Commission which overseas this is headed by none
other than Sir Tipene and dominated by people attached to 'tribes' who
argue that the quota should be divided along 'tribal' lines.  Since most
Maori live in cities, and most urbanised Maori aren't affiliated
to/enrolled in tribes, they are left outside the frame altogether.  Since
Ngai Tahu territory covers the whole of the South Island, although they are
one of the tiniest tribes, they have a massive share of the quota, far more
than more numerous 'tribes', so that is also a bone of contention.  This
also means that Ngai Tahu deny 'tribal' status to other Maori sub-groups in
the South Island.

Thus choosing identity has a great deal to do with gaining exclusive access
to resources.  The spiritual attachment claimed often has a base material
aspect underpining it.  Under capitalism, Maori and pakeha are little
different.  This also means that Maori capitalists are more like pakeha
capitalists than they are like Maori workers.  Maori workers are more like
pakeha workers than they are like Maori capitalists.

And all Maori and pakeha are more like each other than either group are
like our Maori or European ancestors of the 1800s.


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