One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The thing in the picture is called a Merkin, by the way.

So in a move of staggering irresponsibility, Frau Reichskanzler…sorry…Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel has declared that German multiculturalism has failed

"At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home. That isn't what happened. And of course the tendency was to say: let's be 'multikulti' and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly."…
…"Germany should … get tougher on those who refuse to integrate before
opening itself up to further immigration."

Hmm. I wonder when precisely it was that Germany flirted with an active policy of multiculturalism? We note, for example., that it was only with the 1997 citizenship reforms, implemented only to avoid EU-wide embarrassment, that German born, third-generation individuals of foreign background were granted automatic citizenship at birth. This tardiness promoted integration how?

I have problems with this M-word anyway. Leaving aside that it's seldom defined, the insinuation (is it not?) is that multiculturalism was some sort of well-meaning, liberal-left policy. To point out its naivety is not racism, simply part of the ‘reasonable’ debate around immigration alluded to in this article by Slavoj Žižek. Except…I fear that that even if we allow that Merkel et al are engaging in a sincere, philosophical debate, this is not the message they have put across. For "multiculturalism has failed" read "immigrants are a problem".

Which is – surprise – what they, and others, actually think. Merkel must know full well what impact her words will have. But let’s try to tease out why people think like that, and why particularly in early 21stC Europe. We know, from experience, that racism can be exacerbated by unfavourable socio-economic conditions. But the problem is less simplistic than ‘poor people are racists’ – that doesn’t account for the middle class support of the likes of Geert Wilders, the Sweden Democrats, or, indeed, are own, dear British Nazi Party (who, contrary to the lumpen stereotype, draw a fair number of votes from the leafier council wards*).

Germany’s recent history includes importation of Gastarbeiter, especially from Turkey, when their industrial need was for unskilled, cheap (note that word – cheap) labour. (other countries filled the need by similar means, e.g. British importation of Pakistani and Bengali labour). These are the people Frau Merkel wishes had gone back when demand fell**. Meantime, Germany underinvested in the education and social conditions of the children and grandchildren of Gastarbeiter - why invest in an underclass you don’t want or expect to fit in? - and we are left with disadvantaged ghettos. Nowadays, Germany still has skills gap, which they are filling via quotas for skilled immigration (c.f. arrangements put in place by the Labour govt. and carried on by the ConDems). After all, it is much cheaper to suck skilled resources out of the developing world than it educate the disadvantaged in your own country. Adam Smith as applied to the teaching profession: only do those things that you can't buy in cheaper from somewhere else.

So where does this take us? Wellll…(reaches for copy of ‘Das Kapital’) (only kidding! ‘Marxism for Beginners’ is a more manageable read.) What’s being said about immigrants is that they are valued solely for their Labour. (Merkel is saying this pretty explicitly, isn’t she? "…We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home..."). In Marxist terms we might call this ‘Commodification’ – the jargon isn’t important, but the point is that the purchasers of the labour commodity (yes, ‘Capitalists’ – but also German society in the round) are only interested in the labour, not in the people who, inconveniently, supply it. So they are welcome to sell their labour within a host country, when the market demands it, under carefully circumscribed conditions, just so long as they don’t bring their thoughts, desires or culture with them. That’s not part of the deal.

And what else do we get from commodification? Alienation. We have to be careful here, though. It would be a mistake to think of a pool of clannish immigrants who are partly or wholly the architects of their misfortune, through their alienated behaviour, like teenage Goths. Alienation is something imposed, something that arises from socio-economic conditions. Yes, immigrants do sometimes look to one another when they have class boundaries imposed on them. Wouldn’t you?

But why should this inward-looking or alleged lack of integration matter? What does it signify? (‘Signify’ in the sociological sense, that is). Well it’s useful for the mainstream society to have a class to look down on, isn’t it? And convenient when that class is identifiable as ‘The Other’. In straitened times, it’s just as comforting for the majority to turn inwards and feel the solidarity of a beleaguered European culture. Kinda shifts the blame, eh?

"Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch! Sie haben nichts in ihr zu verlieren als ihre Ketten."

* There was a survey a while back which indicated people were less likely to sympathise with racist ideas if they lived in areas with significant immigration, but – damn – I can’t find the link just now.)

** There's still a healthy demand for really, really cheap labour, including slave labour. This highly recommended book provides an eye-opening account of the working conditions of migrant and slave labour in Britain. It's not an underground or fringe phenomenon. Many work in the supply chain for major brand names or for the public services.

1 comment:

Dan | thesamovar said...

Agreed. (And sorry I couldn't think of a more interesting comment!)