22 March 2010


The trouble with the term multiculturalism is that it obscures rather than clarifies. Here are three very different meanings.

Multiculturalism, as a sociological description of society.

Multiculturalism, as something that is permitted; i.e. different cultural norms are permitted to co-exist within the framework of a universalistic liberal society.

Multiculturalism, as an objective of government policy; i.e. encouraging and/or compelling individuals to be governed by their ethnic group (e.g. religious schools).

The first of the above is a fact. The second is desirable. The third is a form of Apartheid.

18 March 2010

Police infiltration of civic organisations

A large part of police undercover surveillance is utterly ludicrous.

I remember in the 1980s running an open seminar on the theme capitalism and crisis. A well dressed young man turned up, a complete blockhead, who showed an interest in obtaining copies of every handout I had. He seemed most keen to know when we were moving on from talk to action.

A few days later I received a fat envelope containing all my handouts neatly stapled together, with a note from the fellow saying he was no longer interested.

9 March 2010

The Liberal Democrats are no answer

Yes, from a progressive perspective New Labour has been a disaster: Iraq, Britain at is most unequal since 1945 and the lights going out on personal and civil liberties. Yet I fail to see how the Liberal Democrats are a solution.

Clegg et al are locked into negativity. In much of Britain they are a surrogate anti-Tory party, while in some cities they are a catch-all anti-Labour Party. They can achieve nothing by themselves and any understanding with Cameron or Brown would split the party.

However hard it may be, if progressives want a party in Britain, they will have to build one themselves.

5 March 2010

Yiddish, Zionism, Esperanto

Zionism, involving the re-birth of Hebrew, has always has been a chauvinistic and nationalist creed, and only gained ephemeral credibility among progressive people on account of the horrors of the holocaust.

Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazi proletariat of central and eastern Europe, became the language of internationalism. Ludvik Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, in fact constructed his first planned language on a modified Yiddish before using Latin languages as the main basis for Esperanto.

The revival of Yiddish and its culture is to be welcomed both inside and outside Jewish communities.

4 March 2010

Michael Foot: the establishment dissident

I think the political and economic crisis of the 1970s did throw up an ideological divide. Thatcher won.

Callaghan resigned early to ensure his successor would be elected by Labour MPs alone and not by an electoral college. The right-wing majority in the PLP elected Foot. He had one function: to contain the left until the right could reconsolidate their power in the party. He fulfilled his role perfectly.

Foot was from the British establishment and was a dissident within it. He never gave up his support for either – the establishment, nor being a dissident.