Otto Bauer and Contemporary Questions of Multiculturalism

otto-bauer.jpgThe recent controversy created by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams’s, speech about sharia law highlighted the challenges that a liberal society has in accommodating different and competing belief and identity systems. I want to work through a few practical examples, and also demonstrate how such theories of multiculturalism were in fact pioneered in the Marxist movement one hundred years ago, by Otto Bauer (pictured) and Karl Renner.

These issues are by no means confined to the issues of Islamic law, as Alun Michael MP, chair of the Christian Socialist Movement said: “There are big issues where there is an apparent clash between religious law and secular law. Sometimes there is a direct clash such as in relation to the place of women in Muslim society – something that Rowan dealt with very clearly in his lecture – but we should recognize that it’s not that long since the same problems existed within the Christian church. There is still tension over issues like contraception and abortion for some Christians, and last year some serious political issues arose in respect of Roman Catholic adoption agencies.”

The very relevant point made by Dr Williams is that religious faith and its entailed commitments are less negotiable than secular ones, as believers hold that they have a sacred covenant with divine law. However, progressive theologians and scholars of all faiths seek to distinguish between those aspects of their religious belief that are fundamental – or in terms of their own belief systems divinely ordained – and those aspects which are a reflection not of divine will, but of social and cultural accident.

In this sense, it is a false polarisation to see progressive politics as the promotion of secular values over religious ones. Rather ideological and political struggle is carried out within religious communities, between those who are conservative of traditions, and those who seek convergence with the prevailing liberal ethos of civil society. A very interesting example of this is the conflict within the Episcopalian or Anglican communion over the issues of ordaining gay vicars. Another example is the organisation, Catholics for Free Choice, a US based religious charity that employs 20 staff and has an annual expenditure of $3000000 that acts “to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.”

As this sort of struggle goes on within  religions, it is therefore counter-productive for the state or political campaign groups to seek to force religious believers to choose between their faith and secular values. As Dr Williams explains:

“The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity.”

The point here being that religious and community identity is very important to many individuals, and it should not be the role of the state to polarise divided loyalties and identities. This can only force greater misunderstanding, and strengthen the hand of conservative social and political forces within religious communities and organisations, who define their faith community by its points of departure from civil society. In extreme cases it can exclude people from political and social participation – for example naive secularists who do not recogise that many Muslim women choose to wear a veil, and some prefer to be segregated from men, can place obstacles to the participation of such women, by insisting on imposing their own secularist and atheist values upon them. Exclusion of women because of their cultural and religious choices then impedes any further mutual development towards greater understanding and social convergence.

A pertinant recent example of this is the case of the nine students at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Hackney, who refused to take the SAT test for 14 year olds, because it had compulsory questions about Shakespeare, who they regard to be anti-Semitic. Interestingly, the schools Principal, Rabbi Abraham Pinter, backed the girls’ action even though it badly affected the school’s league table place.

It is an irrelevant question whether or not William Shakespeare actually was anti-Semitic, or whether the Merchant of Venice is an anti-Judaic play. What is relevant here is that the British state makes study of Shakespeare compulsory as part of a shared community of culture, and these girls, if forced to choose, consider their Jewish identity more important to them than their British, or English, identity.

The girls believe Shakespeare to be anti-Judaic, which I think is an unfounded but neither an irrational nor unsupportable position. (It is not an example of “vexatious religious scruple” to use Dr Williams’s terminology of a case where a claimed religious sensibility is too trivial to be supportable, and in any event this particular dispute seems to be over the question of identity rather than religion.) They should be able to opt out of Shakespeare, rather than be forced to choose between their community identity, and their identity as citizens of the state.

In October 2007 the Council of Europe condemned all attempts to bring creationism into Europe’s schools as it claimed that Bible-based theories and “religious dogma” threaten to undercut sound educational practices. This was in response to Harun Yahya, a prominent Muslim creationist from Turkey, who tried to place his book, “The Atlas of Creation,” in schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. (It is interesting in terms of the current climate of islamophobia that this condemnation followed activities by a Muslim, rather than the extensive activities of Christian evangelicals, like “Truth in Science” who sent unsolicited DVDs to every secondary school in Britain arguing that mankind is the result of “intelligent design,”)

It is taken as self-evidently correct amongst most progressives that teaching creationism or intelligent design in schools is reactionary, but is this really the case? Now I am a big defender of science, and of scientific method. But the current situation in schools seems to be that GCSE students are introduced to Lamarkism, Darwinism and in some schools Creationism, and then told that Darwinism is correct, and that is the answer they have to give to get credit. Now of course Darwinian theories of evolution are correct, but there are two importnat subsidiary issues: i) is it a necessary role of the state to enforce upon all citizens that they accept evolution? ii) does simply telling students that Darwinism is correct arm them with the theoretical tools to distinguish why faith based arguments are excluded from science?

Would it matter of a faith based school opted out of the prevailing consensus, provided they also presented their pupils with information about what the scientific consensus is, and why faith based arguments are not generally accepted? In actual fact, it would be an equally valuable educational experience to be presented the competing theories, and then be judged on their ability to argue their case which is correct, which would require them understanding how scientific theories become accepted as true. Every student would be exposed to the prevailing scientific consensus, but then those whose religious faith leads them to value scriptural evidence could include that in their discussion, but they would have to demonstrate that they understood both sides of the argument, and that they understand that faith based arguments are not generally accepted as scientific.

Choice is the key argument here. Dr Williams refers to an article by the Jewish legal theorist Ayelet Shachar, in “Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women’s Rights (2001)”, he argues: “if one approaches it along the lines sketched by Shachar in the monograph quoted earlier, it might be possible to think in terms of what she calls ‘transformative accommodation’: a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’

This exhibits a very nuanced understanding about how assimilationist pressure tends to promote social convergence. By ending the situation where people need to choose between wider society and their culture, we engineer a situation where individuals can choose which code to adopt. Of course any choice to use religious arbitration would have to be mutual and based on free and informed consent. This encourages the secular legal authorities to respect the plurality of our society, and recognise people’s different senses of identity; and simultaneously it puts pressure on the religious communities to evolve towards the wider norms of society.

This should of course also provide a framework for religious organisations to work within.

An example of a religious organisation acting in an unacceptable way was recently provided by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who has pressurised the private Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, of which he is patron, to implement a new code of ethics. This was implemented last December, and led to the resignations of at least four directors, including Lord Fitzalan Howard and a GP, Dr Martin Scurr, followed a week later by the chairman, Lord Bridgeman. It seems these resignations were after pressure from the Cardinal, because these directors opposed his demand that advice about contraception, abortion and gender reassignment should be excluded from the hospital.

The General Medical Council’s current guidance is that doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion are not required to refer patients for the operation but they are obliged to provide them with information to enable them to obtain treatment. This is a good compromise.

Cardinal Cormac O’Connor’s position is diametrically opposed to that of Dr Rowan Williams, as the Catholic church is seeking to deny patients a choice, and argue that the ethical values of their Church are the only significant ones.

Part of the reason that the debate about multi-culturalism seems so problematic is that it cannot be easily reconciled with liberal theories of the state, that can be characterised as Centralist-Atomist, where is there is no mediation between the central power of the state and private individuals – and this fails to give adequate recognition of ethnic, national and religious minorities. In fact, in modern nation states the dominant culture claims to be neutral and universal, but is of course just as particular and contingent as any sub-cultures contained within that state’s borders. The prevailing liberal theory provides no recognition of the various forms of collective and corporate identity that individuals are socially located within.

The particular problem is that the liberal theory of the nation state, (and one uncritically accepted by most Marxists following the coincident views of US President Woodrow Wilson and Vladimir Lenin), is that legislative and constitutional entities must be territorial, and therefore in any one state, only one national culture is hegemonic. This is carried on today by those who champion a universalist secularism, irrespective of the actual wishes, needs or desires of people who belong to minority communities.

The contribution of the Marxist theorists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer was to propose how multi-culturalism can work by permitting rights to intermediate corporations. This is incompatible with the procedural equality in contemporary liberal democracies, as it instead recognises differential rights for people who self-identify with religious or ethnic sub-cultures.

Bauer observed the value of community identity, or “personality” that have been shaped by shared experience by a common fate. Bauer distingusies between those who have a shared  experience of fate (Schicksalgemainschaft) with those who have just a similar  experience (Gleichartigkeit). This is an important distinction to refute naive socialist arguments like saying that working class people in Japan and Britain have more in common with each other than they do with the bosses who share their own national culture. To take an extreme example, German and British troops who faced each other in the trenches of the first world war had a near identical experience, and an identical political interest in ending the war. Politically therefore there was grounds for solidarity and internationalism. But culturally, there was no shared community through which they experienced this similar fate – and indeed the shared communal experience was with their own national officer class. Few British soldiers will have read Erich Maria Remarque, few Germans will have read Siegfried Sassoon or Rupert Brookes. Political internationalist solidarity must therefore start from recognising the historically contingent and specific nature of progressive politics within each community, and then reaching out to develop understanding and solidarity based upon equality of respect for the differences.

Those who belong to religious, ethnic and national communities value the distinctive features which signify to themselves and others their belonging to those communities. And of course the distinctive forms of consciousness of those communities are shared and collectively developed. (An interesting observation here is that class consciousness always develops in a specific national context, and internationalism is not an expression of collective international shared experience, but an intellectual political achievement of the socialist movement – internationalism can only prosper when it is also married with respect for national cultures and traditions. The international working class has coincident political interests, but does not constitute a shared community. (And  nor do other imagined international communities, such as the Episcopalian communion, or the Islamic umma))

The argument from Bauer and Renner is that political autonomy can be granted to communities who either cannot acheive or don’t want to form a territorial nation state. The great advantage of such non territorial autonomy is that group membership is not tied to geographical location, so minorities are no longer subject to majorities – as any self-identified community however small can self regulate itself over certain defined areas, while still allowing individuals the choice of opting for the vanilla flavour rights of the general society.

An essential task of Marxism in the twenty-first century must be to produce a convincing theory of multi-culturalism, that both allows self-organisation of minorities and also promotes organic convergence around progressive values.

81 comments on “Otto Bauer and Contemporary Questions of Multiculturalism

  1. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    “It is taken as self-evidently correct amongst most progressives that teaching creationism or intelligent design in schools is reactionary, but is this really the case?”

    Andy Newman has now jumped the shark.

  2. Sorry, Andy, but I’m with Dustin on this one. ID is not science; there aren’t any ‘competing theories’ at that level.

  3. There aren’t any competing theories for you or me Phil, becasue we exclude faith based scriptural evidence. But couldn’t a school choose to explain why we reject faith based evidence and then still present the faith based arguments to those who share that faith? What is the harm done?

    This isn’t a question of what is and what is not a scientfic theory, it is a question of multi-culturalism and what rights religious sub-cultures have of opting out.

    The reason ID/creationism is not science is that it relies upon faith based arguments, rather than evidence, and is inconsictent with the broad thrust of other well established scientific theories. For the prevailing social and scientific consensus (and for me) this of course means that darwinian evoluton is science, and ID/creationism is not.

    Yet thousands of people believe in ID/creationism despite the scientific evidence, because their personal religious faith leads them to include rather than exclude faith based arguments. Do such religious communities have a right to opt out of mainstream science teaching,and if not, why not??

    The question here is why should the state impose an education that says that their beliefs are wrong?

    Wouldn’t it be better to construct an alternative syllabus that such communities could adopt that allowed ID/creationism to be presented, but in the context that explained that this was faith based, and therefore not regarded as valid by the overwhelming scientific consensus . If individual pupils then chose to accept faith based arguments in the knowledge that they are not regarded as sceintific, is any harm done?

  4. Do such religious communities have a right to opt out of mainstream science teaching,and if not, why not??

    a) No
    b) Because individual members of those communities have the right to be taught real science and not pseudo-science

    why should the state impose an education that says that their beliefs are wrong?

    Because, as statements of fact, it’s generally agreed that they are wrong. Neither you nor I nor Rowan Williams believes that God created the heaven and the earth in seven days. My daughter believes that, at the moment, because she’s eight years old and so far it’s the best and most satisfying story she’s heard. But I expect her school to teach her, sooner or later, that we know that wasn’t the case. It would be a disservice to her generation to do anything else.

  5. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    It’s come to a pretty sorry state of affairs when the owner of a “socialist” blog is parroting the language of the religious right. Most of Andy’s response I’ve seen before in the weasel words of those attempting to get ID taught in US schools; they’re smart enough these days not to attempt to stop actual science being taught outright; they just want it “supplemented” with their “belief-based science” (i.e, twaddle).

    Oh, and by all means let’s use the number of people who believe in something to define what should be taught – more Americans believe in UFOs than evolution, let’s stick feckin’ UFOlogy on the curriculum.

    Sorry, but my jaw is hanging off here in incredulity. This isn’t just the “jumping the shark” episode; it’s also the A-Team episode where they have to protect Boy George.

  6. Well Phil, you accept that becasue scientific truth is importnat to you.

    For other individuals and communities religious faith is more important to them.

    What we should require is that schools teach pupils how to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science.

  7. And Dustin, I am of course NOT trying to get ID/creationism taught in schools.

    I am just questioning why schools don’t have the right to do so if they wish, and what are the limits that the central state should impose upon sub-cultures.

    Nothing you have said so far suggests to me that you have actually considered the issue of how minority sub-cultures are or should be accomodated in the education system.

  8. an alternative syllabus that such communities could adopt that allowed ID/creationism to be presented, but in the context that explained that this was faith based, and therefore not regarded as valid by the overwhelming scientific consensus

    Missed this bit… How on earth would this be managed? Not pupil choice – the kids don’t know enough to make their minds up yet. Not parental choice – it’s not the job of the education system to protect children from challenges to their parents’ beliefs. Equal time? I’d object to my children being taught pseudo-science in a science lesson – there’s little enough science in the school science curriculum already. And how would it be policed? People who believe in ID don’t believe it’s a ‘faith-based’ truth that can be held alongside the scientific model (e.g. “the universe is sustained in existence through God’s selfless love for His creation”) – they believe it’s scientific fact. The education system can’t treat that belief as anything other than an error.

    Perhaps RS in schools needs to be beefed up – religion has a larger part in the lives of more British people than it did when I was growing up. But it doesn’t belong in the science curriculum.

  9. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    “Nothing you have said so far suggests to me that you have actually considered the issue of how minority sub-cultures are or should be accomodated in the education system.”

    The best way to accommodate “minority sub-cultures” in any education system is to prepare them for life by teaching them fact-based learning and not fairy tales.

    What exactly are YOU proposing – that a certain amount of time is devoted to teach _every_ alternative creation theory? There’s quite a lot of them you know, which ones do you want to pick?

  10. Thgere are many problems with the ideas of Bauer and Renner concerning nationa cultural autonomy but it ought to be noted that many of the nations they assumed could not achieve the status of having ‘their own’ national states did in fact achieve that dubious position. Moreover their idea of national cultural autonomy was nowhere put into practice given that the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose continued existence they based their perspective, collapsed in 1918.

    The Bolsheviks once in power however did adopt the idea of national cultural autonomy, stripped of the divisive element of political autonomy, albeit they did not acknwledge Bauer as the ‘author’ of the concept! In which they were justified as they most probably came by the idea as a result of experience and due to the profoundly democratic nature of the workers revolution.

    … … …

    Meanwhile I should just mention that Catholics for Free Choice is not a good example of a group competing for the allegiance of members of the Roman Catholic Church. If only because they are not in any real sense a Catholic organisation. Doctrinally they are beyond the bounderies of Catholicism whatever the origins of some of their members might be.

    It is rather lazy, if commonplace on the left, to use CfC as an example of a pro-choice tendency within the RCC when in fact they are outside it. Certainly the majority of members of the RCC, in the imperialist metropoles at least, use contraception but that has everything to do with reality and nothing to do with CfC. But thats another question we need not stray into today.

    By the way had you used the Jesuits as an example rather than CfC your point wuld have more validity. I note btw that the Black Pope is in trouble again for not keeping his laddies in check.

    … … …

    As for the case of the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Hackney it is madness when a school principle bows to the opinions of a bunch of 14 year olds on a question of literature. One can only assume that the children concerned are all internationally acclaimed Shakespearean scholars!

    … … ….

    Really Andy this is a very interesting seam to mine but your post is very confused and yu do seem to have bitten off more than you can chew. But I’ve no time for chewing myself as work means i’m out of here.

  11. Re Phil post 6. In SIX days mate. On the seventh he had a kip. Not sure how anybody knows that mind………

  12. John W on said:

    Andy:

    For other individuals and communities religious faith is more important to them.

    Reply:

    If education is about anything it is about human liberation – namely liberation from the fear, ignorance, and superstition which has plagued humanity from primitive times onwards. By giving equal credence to religious dogma in our schools, through placing it on the same level as science, schools cease to be instiutions of education and instead become institutions of the same kind of superstition that takes us back to pre-enlightenment days.

  13. you accept that becasue scientific truth is importnat to you.

    For other individuals and communities religious faith is more important to them.

    When I was a kid scientific truth was profoundly unimportant to me – if you’d offered me O Level Astrology instead of Physics I’d have leapt at it. (I’d probably have done well, too – I hated Physics.) What little science I did manage to absorb has stayed with me, and I’ve been sorry not to know more – it’s useful to know how the world works. The astrology I learned (in my own time) has also stayed with me – I could read your birth chart without too much trouble – but unfortunately it’s garbage. My school did teach me some quite debatable ideological positions and a lot of facts I’ve never needed to use, but I’m glad to say I was never tested on my ability to learn anything that’s factually untrue.

    What we should require is that schools teach pupils how to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science.

    Or between science and ‘scienciness’. I agree – it sounds like an interesting General Studies course, or possibly a module in the beefed-up RS curriculum I was talking about.

  14. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    “it is madness when a school principle bows to the opinions of a bunch of 14 year olds on a question of literature.”

    Absolutely, _even if_ he was 100% proven to be anti-Semitic. I’m guessing a random sample of any of the greats of literature (or any other art pursuit) were bigots or shits. (My favourite classical painter, Caravaggio, killed god-knows-how-many in brawls). If were to discount them because of their personal prejudices, we wouldn’t have much left to teach.

    I’d love it if someone had asked me at 14 to come up with my school curriculum. It would have been a 2-hour day: 12pm to 12.15, masturbation, 12.15 – 2pm, Lego studies, with plenty of time to gaze at Susan with the bob hairdo who sat next to me. Ace.

  15. I confess, I still haven’t read this post properly. I was looking forward to giving it my full attention (Bauer is a bit of a hero of mine) but now I’m not so sure.

    these girls, if forced to choose, consider their Jewish identity more important to them than their British, or English, identity.

    How are they forced to choose? What does reading a play have to do with one’s ‘identity’? Vexatious is about right; silly would be another word.

  16. Ian Donovan on said:

    This is actually going too far, and merely underlines why Austro-Marxism and ‘cultural national autonomy’ was not a progressive solution to national questions but the worst of both worlds.

    It is a tactical question when and how to oppose religious schools, given the inequalities between different ethnically-based religious movements and their social weight in a given society, but one thing is clear – science is science and religious faith is religious faith, and the two belong in different categories.

    In a racist, Islamophobic society, agitatation specifically against Muslim schools is racist – we should defend the right to establish Muslim schools on the same basis as Christian, Jewish or any other faith schools insofar as it is not possible to dispense with them all.

    But the state should forbid the teaching of non-scientific theories as science. That should be non-negotiable. Teach children about the faith and its doctrines while making it clear that it is the faith being taught, under the heading of Christian Studies, Islamic studies, whatever.

    But science is a separate subject and only scientific theories should be dignified as science. If you step over that boundary you are not involved in merely informing children about a faith in an environment where adherence to that faith is considered socially desirable and normal (which is not good but just about acceptable as long as it is not possible to completely secularise education) but you are allowing indoctrination and brainwashing. That should be opposed unconditionally.

  17. I don’t know why people are finding it so hard to locate what i actually argued, rather than what they would like to think I argued, or what some other people argue.

    You are all arguing against specific cases, while your argument are informed by a belieif that the state has a right to a universalist education agenda that extends to sub-cultures and minorities whether they wish it or not. Yet none of you have offered a defence of such universalism. The argument isn;t about sceince, nor about Shakespeare, it is about multi-culturalism.

    There is no neutral culture that is normative. The question of the Jewish girls is not about Shakespeare, it is about their sense of identity, and the right of some Jews to collectively opt out of aspects of the English curriculum.

    With regard to ID/creationism. I am certainly NOT advocating that the national curriculum should include teaching it. Nor am I arguing that it is a form of science. I am saying that some religious communities may wish to opt out of the standard state provision and have a science curriculum that includes faith based arguments. The only children who would be taught in this way would be those whose parents had chosen it.

    The important thing here is that all children are exposed to the general consensual views of society, and to an understanding of why faith based arguments are not considered scientific.

  18. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    “I am saying that some religious communities may wish to opt out of the standard state provision and have a science curriculum that includes faith based arguments.”

    Andy, science which includes “faith-based arguments” is _not_ science. This is the absolutely key issue of the matter.

    “The only children who would be taught in this way would be those whose parents had chosen it.”

    I’m sorry, but why is that meant to make it OK? Children with reactionary parents are doomed to have a second-class education, and as a socialist you think this is something worth supporting, or at least not opposing?

    “I am saying that some religious communities may wish to opt out of the standard state provision and have a science curriculum that includes faith based arguments. […] “The important thing here is that all children are exposed to […] an understanding of why faith based arguments are not considered scientific.”

    Sorry, you’re either being ingenuous, naive or just indulging in double-talk. Are we seriously supposed to believe that religious schools will, of their own accord, use a alternative curriculum which teachs “why faith based arguments are not considered scientific”?

    Why not just have – if it doesn’t already exist, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t – a part of the _universal_ science curriculum which discusses the scientific method and how it differs from other methods?

  19. Ok – once more from the top.

    The issue of the Jewish girls is that they were not just acting on a whim, but expressing a long running view of some Jews. As the headmaster of the school said;

    “Many Jewish people would not listen to Wagner on the same grounds. I do not see an exact comparison and I don’t share their view, but their decision is something I respect. ” Rabbi Pinter said there had been similar actions in the past but because previous protesters had signed their names on the paper, their marks for other sections of the exam had not been forfeited.”

    Perhaps I have given this example a heavier load than it can bear, because it reflects only an expression from a small minority of Jews, and not the Jewish community as a whole.

    But the principle at stake is illustrated, even if the example is not perfect. The national state curriculum includes Shakespeare, but why shouldn’t a sub-culture choose to opt out of that curriculum, and why should the British state get to decide whether or not they learn Shakespeare?

    With regard to intelligent design.

    The question is balancing the right of sub-cultures and minorities to exercise rights of non-conformity even when we disagree with them . So what is at stake here is not whether it is right to teach ID, but whether they should have a right to teach ID.

    I chose this particular example, because it tests the principle to its limits.

    It is a shame that no-one has actually addressed the framework that I have put forward to contextualise these examples, instead of just wading straight in and tilting at windmills.

    Given that religious communities do exist who believe in creationism (and believe me the parents influence their children over these questions whatever they are taught at school), how does a multi-cultural society provide a framework of choice where the state recognises the loyalty that that religious community has to certain precept and beliefs, while at the same time not abandoning that community to full autarchy.

    Now you may think I have the balance wrong but none of you have actually offered an alternative solution other than maintaining the universality of the authority of the state.

    Of course it is the case that science excludes any faith based evidence, and Darwinism is now a fully established and mature scientific theory to the point we can conclude it is effectively true. That is not the question. Indeed I am sure that most Christians and most Muslims accept evolution, and reconcile that with their faith.

    The question is what are the limits of responsibility of the state, and what are the limits of responsibility for religious communities.

  20. The only children who would be taught in this way would be those whose parents had chosen it.

    That’s my mother you’re disrespecting. Her parents were Plymouth Brethren and had some very odd beliefs (including the imminence of the Second Coming); they would certainly have taken any faith-based opt-out going. I’m profoundly glad they didn’t have the chance.

    none of you have actually offered an alternative solution other than maintaining the universality of the authority of the state.

    None of us have been persuaded any alternative solution is needed.

  21. herbert on said:

    The last sentence in comment 20 is exactly what is at stake. Andy Newman here questions the relationship between the state and religious communities. Obviously he thinks there is something like a trade-off between the responsability of these two.

    The marxist point of view is: THERE IS NONE WHATSOEVER!

    The seperation of religion and state power is central to every pro-working-class politics. By the way, this also holds for every genuinely bourgeois perspective. The problem with the bourgoisie and its historic ideals is that they could not set them in full force because this would have unleashed the proletarian revolution immediately. Good old Marx explained that very clearly in “class struggles in France”).

    As a socialist from Austria, I also can`t really understand why Andy brings Otto Bauer into play here. The position advocated by Bauer concerning religion and state is perfectly compatible with the position of Marx and Lenin: The state should not interfere in the private matters (including religion) of its citizens and vice versa the religious communities (or churches, as we in the German speaking world would call it), have no right to interfere in questions associated with the state. Clearly education is a matter of the state and not of religious communities (if this remark is not upheld by participants in a socialist forum, forget the term “socialist” altogether and find your ideas in the pre-Marx, pre-bourgeois times of feudalism; please excuse the polemics here used, but I could not believe this debate).

    However, Bauer and his co-thinkers of the left-reformist “Austro-marxists” were very confused on the national question (btw, to advocate Renner as a theoretic foundation is a bit problematic because of his role as leader of the openly right-wing of the austrian social-democracy and associated political positions during First World War, between First and Second WW and therafter). But this had not nothing to do with confusion in the question of religion. Here the Austro-marxists were very clear in their position, and this was antagonistic to that advocated by Andy Newman in his piece.

  22. Andy Wilson on said:

    #12: “In SIX days mate. On the seventh he had a kip. Not sure how anybody knows that mind”

    Mike: because he told them, in the Old Testament- just before he told them what bits of their children’s bodies to mutilate, who shouldn’t and shouldn’t get stoned to death, why it is right to destroy everything belonging to the Amalekites, why his people are entitled to the land of the Kenites, Amorites, Hittites and Canaanites, why the blind, lame, hunch-backed, or anyone with ‘an eye defect, festering sores or damaged testicles’ should be barred from becoming a priest, why you should never wear clothes made of two kinds of fibre (but, on the other hand, why you should always have precisely four tassels attached to your robe), and why unbelievers should be smitten with consumption, fever, hemorrhoids, scab, madness, blindness and boils. These beliefs may seem primitive to you or I but, for some reason, we should respect them. I still have no idea why, though.

  23. socialist party member on said:

    Andy @ # 6

    ‘What we should require is that schools teach pupils how to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science.’

    By allowing them to teach pseudo science?????????

  24. SPM – I think you’ve got to the heart of this one. “It’s fine to believe X just so long as you realise that lots of people believe Y” doesn’t hack it in the classroom; kids like to know the right answer (all the more so in the current exam-driven system).

    The distinction between “whether it is right to teach ID [and] whether they should have a right to teach ID” is spurious – ID is bad science, therefore it’s wrong to teach ID, and schools don’t have the right to miseducate.

  25. Herbert. #22

    The relevence of Bauer and Renner is that they address the issues of multi-culturalism and cultural autonomy, the specific manifestation of multi-culturalism most relevent today is the question of religious identity and belief – in case you hadn’t noticed for example the upcoming election in Graz, and The FPO’s candidate Dr Susanne Winter’s extreme islamophobia.

    That is, some of the theoretical framework of the Austro-Marxists is helpful to throw light upon issues which they did not directly confront.

    How we develop an inclusive progressive political framework that engages with religious coommunities is a key task.

  26. Pete Brown on said:

    I find myself agreeing whole heartedly with Phil on this. Andy if you are trying to promote ideas of multiculturalism then the only positive solution is a secular education system. School Education should be about what we know and can reasonably prove not about what some may believe. In a truly multicultural society there will be plenty of opportunity away from school for individuals to question what they have been taught against what they are taught to believe, lets not forget that religious beliefs are handed down not acquired by divine intervention.
    A close friend of mine is learning to dance Argentinian tango,I learnt the more traditional ballroom tango but whose right? If we want to dance together we have to compromise – that smacks of multiculturalism.

  27. Pete: “A close friend of mine is learning to dance Argentinian tango,I learnt the more traditional ballroom tango but whose right?”

    Couldn’t resist that comment….. I am learning to Salsa at the moment totally different from the tango. Dunno what that makes me…

    Sorry for the commercial break…

  28. herbert on said:

    #26, Andy.

    Once more: You want to base your position on the “theoretical framework” of the Austro-Marxists, by some sort of “re-applying” their work to the supposedly modern form of “cultural oppression”. Perhaps you would come through with this line were it not for Bauer to explicitly reject the position on religion advocated by yourself in this debate. The core of the matter is: the fight against nationalist/cultural oppression by the Austrian Kaiser or the Russian Tsar in the early 19th century was PROGRESSIVE because it was directed against an overcome colonial system of landlordism and exploitation. The fight against a scientific view and for the persistance of religious beliefs is REACTIONARY. It is reactionary in the case of the fundamentalistic Christians in the US (I think everybody would agree), but it is also reactionary in every other case where people are told that they can not have supreme power about their own lives because of the existence of something “over-human” (I`m not sure this word exists in English, but I hope you understand). The fight for socialism is the fight for the masses to be councious of their absolute power about all aspects of their lives.

    I think the answer of the key task to “develop an inclusive progressive political framework that engages with religious coommunities” is to answer it like Bauer and Lenin did: your religion is your private matter and we as the labour movement will not interfere. You are not required to become an atheist. But we will not tolerate that political ideas completly alien to marxism and empowering of the masses enter the labour movement.

    Btw: The “upcoming” election in Graz is not so really “upcoming”. It happened a few weeks ago and produced a result which was seen as a defeat for FPO and Winter.

  29. lurker on said:

    “It is a shame that no-one has actually addressed the framework that I have put forward to contextualise these examples, instead of just wading straight in and tilting at windmills.”

    They have, and within that framework people are saying ‘no, it is not right to teach something that is not true as if it were true’ in science classes. People should not have the right to teach something they believe in if all the evidence is that it’s factually incorrect. The idea you suggest, of a multi-cultural curriculum that allows any incorrect or bigoted parent to remove their children from factually accurate classes because they have an ideological objection is unbelievable. It would be the destruction of education.

    And if you really want to push your framework to the limits, why not this: should racist parents be allowed to have their children taught in school that the holocaust was a myth and remove their children from any history class that teaches it as a fact, because racist superiority is a part of their identity? Or would you uphold the integrity of the education being about truth in that case? I know where I’d come down, but then I’d do the same about ID.

  30. Dustin the Turkey on said:

    Andy, since you seem to think that people are merely disagreeing with you because we are misunderstanding you and/or missing the nuances of your argument, could you give a concrete example of exactly what you would like to see when it comes to, say, science classes in a religious school?

  31. Andy, I don’t agree that everyone is “tilting at windmills” and refusing to contextualise the examples at all.

    I just came to this thread after reading Louise’s piece on the global disparities that exist for women in getting access to safe abortions.

    It was the example from Poland that stood out for me, and the one that ties in with this debate. Where you have a mechanically, one-sided secular sounding state that has, for its own cynical calculations, allowed the Catholic Church all sorts of ideological leeway. All the way down to ensuring that women are put in lethal harms way.

    There is no getting around the fact that ‘socialism’ is a normative set of beliefs. For most socialists, after a while, it becomes simply impossible to stand aside from moral dilemmas and come down on the side of their own versions of humanism, collective responsibility and opposition to force (both ideological and physical variants).

    I’m not sure if folk were able to catch last night’s “Newsnight” panel on the question of “white” working class culture. It was singularly impressive. You had a black Tory candidate, a right-wing talk show host and the leader of the RMT standing for an inclusive, but nevertheless class-based, analysis of how NuLabour consistently laid the ground for increased racism and prejudice in British society. Take a peek to see how individual Tory party representatives are now to the left of Margaret Hodge.

  32. Actually, there isn’t really a shred of evidence that ‘the Merchant of Venice’ is an antisemitic play. It’s a play with an unpleasant Jew in it, who reminds everyone that he is human and who is treated abominably by those who claim the moral high ground. Terrific play. the job of any decent school would be to explain just how Shakespeare in his time and place handled issues of morality and the changing use of money (ie usury vs speculation on mercantile capitalism). Why confuse the issue of whether there should or shouldn’t be compulsory Shakespeare with a narrow sectarian crit of one play?

  33. OK, now I’ve read the whole thing. I should say at the outset that one reason I feel strongly about this is that I was a Christian before I was a Marxist, and still feel that Xtianity and the Left have a lot to offer each other. I’m generally a fan of Rowan Williams; I think he’s pretty much the best thing that’s happened to the CoE in my lifetime. But I think he’s wrong on this one – as is Andy.

    the liberal theory of the nation state … is that legislative and constitutional entities must be territorial, and therefore in any one state, only one national culture is hegemonic

    This is so confused I’m not sure where to begin. Firstly, territorial sovereignty doesn’t have anything to do with liberalism – what you describe (up to the comma) is the theory of the nation state, dating back roughly to the Treaty of Westphalia. Secondly, the rule of a particular nation state doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with national culture; thirdly, legal sovereignty doesn’t have anything to do with cultural hegemony. As Ken Macleod pointed out on another blog, liberalism has no problem with intermediate corporations (or by extension with multiple cultures), just as long as they don’t have legal force. For a liberal, the problem in the British context is the official recognition of the CoE, not the lack of recognition of Islam.

    I thought at the time that there was a lot of bad conscience in the contortions of Rowan Williams’s speech: his basic problem is that he doesn’t want to relinquish the official privileges of his church and the semi-governmental role it gives him, but (being a liberal Anglican) he recognises that there are lots of other religions out there, and they’re OK too. Solution: give other religions official privilege as well. It’s worse than Prince Charles (“Defender of Faith“). A much simpler solution would be to disestablish the CoE and put Anglicans on the same footing as Catholics, Jews and Muslims (with separate civil and religious marriage ceremonies, for those who want them).

    Parting thought – this argument would be an awful lot stronger if you could point to a few areas where people claim religious justification for doing things socialists might actually approve of. So far all we’ve heard about is restrictions on abortion and contraception, veiling of women, gender segregation, banning books and telling lies about evolution (not all of which you’ve endorsed, obviously).

  34. On the Merchant of Venice I have to say I broadly agree with Michael Rosen on this-it is a play that of course intersects and to some extent challenges then a then dominant antisemitic ideology.

    I do though acknowledge that this issue is entirely tangential to Andy’s point.

    On SATs, as another entirely tangential aside, I think anyone should and indeed does have the right not to sit them- though they don’t have the right to absent themselves from classes preparing for SATs.

    On the main issues, I think Andy’s position is wrong.

    He writes #18 “. I am saying that some religious communities may wish to opt out of the standard state provision and have a science curriculum that includes faith based arguments. The only children who would be taught in this way would be those whose parents had chosen it.”

    What about the rights of the child?

    In general, Herbert is right- #19 “The seperation of religion and state power is central to every pro-working-class politics.”

    Religious communities should have complete freedom of worship, including the right to hold their own voluntary religious instruction outside of the state school system e.g. after school classes etc.

    Of course there should also be religious education as part of social studies where students learn about different beleifs and cultures as part of an antiracist curriculum.

    Students should be allowed of course to engage in worship, have dietary requirements catered, to wear sysmbols of religious affiliation, follow dress codes and have complete freedom to organise religiously, politically, socially in school.

    But the state should not promote one religion at the expense of another- there should be complete freedom in such matters.

    My partner from Ethiopia- where I also lived for two years- grew up in a deeply religious environment split almost 50/50 orthodox Christian and Muslim. There it is an important democratic gain that religion is not state endorsed in schooling and that therefore neither Muslim nor Christian religious views are taught in school.

  35. This thread really represents the “other side” of the debate over the Archbishop’s intervention a few weeks ago.

    I *think* I understand what Andy’s up to. I *think* he’s after a more coherent view of what socialists “should say” to those in religious communities that are under assault. But I *think* he’s stretching the rope to break point by brushing socialist criticism with the secularist cover given to racist motives.

    Whether we like it or not, socialist ideas [in the most general sense] *do* have all sorts of moral components that come slap-bang up against the beliefs of those we seek to defend. There are all sorts of ways this can be done badly. In fact we have a rich history of doing it badly.

    That being said, everyone should be *forced* to read “King Lear” from the perspective of the National Question along with a *compulsory*, tested program of understanding the roots of Disco in Sufi-inspired atonalism…

    …if you follow?

    Seriously, I do think Andy should put together another example that is closer to his intentions so that we can tear more strips off him and one another 😉

  36. #34 “this argument would be an awful lot stronger if you could point to a few areas where people claim religious justification for doing things socialists might actually approve of. ”

    Some people obviously become involved in supporting others, solidarity campaigns and I’ve known one person involved in Marxist politics because of deep religious beliefs.

    However, in all cases there are also complete atheists and agnostics who also engage in such acts.

  37. prianikoff on said:

    #3 Andy Newman:- “couldn’t a school choose to explain why we reject faith based evidence and then still present the faith based arguments to those who share that faith? What is the harm done?”

    That’s not really the practical issue as far as the creationists are concerned, particularly the US ones (to be honest, the issue is not so important in Britain)

    The Id’ers and Creationists want to teach their doctrines as *science*. Which it certainly isn’t! There’d be nothing wrong with examining such beliefs as part of a comparative religion syllabus, but their approach is certainly harmful to the development of thought.

    They also want to use government authority and funding to insulate their flock from wider secular influences. As all the studies show, this leads to a situation where the religious schools are dominated by middle class children through the use of selection.

    Socialists should be just as opposed to this as to City Academies and privatisation of the education system. In fact, in many cases religious schooling and Academies go hand in hand.

    If people want to see how this kind of thing is already affecting the US education system, keep an eye on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog. (He’s also a Doctor Who Fan!)

    http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/

  38. Sue R on said:

    I could weep when I read this post. Hooray for Micheal Roasen and Herbert and all the otehr sensible souls.

  39. prianikoff on said:

    “What is relevant here is that the British state makes study of Shakespeare compulsory as part of a shared community of culture, and these girls, if forced to choose, consider their Jewish identity more important to them than their British, or English, identity.”

    Sheesh! Do you realise what a throwback this is!
    My mother went to school in Hackney before the war and such a stance would have been regarded as “ultra” even then.

    I went to a C of E parochial school infants school in Hackney where around 35% of the pupils were Jewish. In fact, they were generally very culturally sensetive, allowing children to leave before sunset on Fridays and observe religious holidays.
    They were not so good about observing Kashrut, but there are practical problems with that, which can be dealt with better nowadays.

    But even in my secondary school, there was no compulsion to attend the assembly and a seperate assembly for the large number of Jewish pupils there. (Which quite a few socialists who weren’t Jewish came to because they didn’t like the main one)

    Trying to shut your eyes to authors like Shakespeare because of what they wrote 400 years ago is denying reality. A better approach is to include alternative English literature in the Syllabus and have a discussion about it.

    I would have hated going to an all-Jewish school, I always had mixed groups of friends, both in the street, classroom and home. But I’m glad that I received an education in Hebrew and had lots of Jewish culture at home too.

    That’s how it should be.

  40. herbert on said:

    #39, Sue R

    Taking your remark as sarcastic, could you please expand on why my position lacks of “sensibility”? If not, your posting (in a socialist forum) can hardly be considered as political or anyhow serious.

    greetings

  41. harold on said:

    I went to a Jewish school myself and studied Shakespeare (which was preferable to the Talmud, I have to say). Shakespeare isn’t seen in the same light as say Salman Rushdie is by Muslims; Jews are merely uncomfortable about the Merchant of Venice. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caeser and Macbeth were fine.
    Having said that, I think I tend to agree at least with the conclusions of Ian Donovan (#17), but it is crazy to think that there is one simple principle here and every case has to be judged on its merits. I think it’s spot on to say that we are for secular education, but that it’s racist to deny Muslims their own schools if other religions have their schools.
    Creationism – the Book of Genesis has its place in Religious Studies, not Science, just as calculus is normally better taught in Maths lessons than French.
    We shouldn’t deny the right (not the compulsion) for creationism to be taught in schools. The right place is Religious Studies which parents can choose to take their children out of if it’s a community school.
    But the original commentary if we scroll back to the top was trying to deal with many wider questions and the tension between communities and cultures and the pressures to assimilate are immense, which Andy refers to – I recommend contributors read that bit, too, because if you are white anglo-saxon, you wouldn’t have experienced the levels of racism and the different forms by which that is generated. It is more subtle than the BNP’s propaganda.
    Take Jack Straw’s famous contribution which wasn’t that of a ‘naive secularist’ but a racist to put pressure on a community.
    I think what is important in Andy’s contribution and mustn’t be overlooked because of objections to other parts is the role of those within each religion who separate fundamentals from the negotiables and move the community forward into a workable synthesis with the host state. Some of the anglicisations are downright reactionary, mind you. (Does any other religious community in Britain, besides Jews have a prayer in their weekly service blessing the Royal Family?)
    Marxists do need a an analysis for the 21st century that doesn’t think secularism is the answer – going back to Lenin in the last century wouldn’t be too bad a reference

  42. Shakespeare isn’t seen in the same light as say Salman Rushdie is by Muslims; Jews are merely uncomfortable about the Merchant of Venice. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caeser and Macbeth were fine.

    I could understand Jewish kids refusing to study the Merchant of Venice. (Understand, not condone. When I was studying Greek tragedy, I overheard one female student complaining to another, “Aeschylus is so sexist!” Yes, you could stay there, or you could overcome your initial reaction and see if this message from an alien culture might nevertheless have something to offer us. If nothing else, you could write about exactly how and why it’s offensive and what that tells us – we could all learn something.)

    Anyway, I could understand that – but the girls in the story refused to study The Tempest, on the grounds that Shakespeare is anti-semitic.

    Also worth quoting the statement by the school’s Principal at greater length:

    “Many Jewish people would not listen to Wagner on the same grounds. I do not see an exact comparison and I don’t share their view, but their decision is something I respect. I think Shakespeare was reflecting the ethos of the time in his portrayal of Shylock. If he was alive today, he would probably be going on anti-war marches.”

    I somehow don’t think this is a man of the Left.

  43. harold on said:

    Hold on Phil – I was referring to my own experiences and didn’t Jews generally had no problems with Shakespeare. That part of a community finds the host culture more hostile now says something about the growth of racism and not that community.
    Also, don’t underestimate the feelings Jewish people have about Wagner who was overtly anti-semetic. He insisted on wearing gloves to conduct Mendelssohn, for example. This feeling perhaps became greater because of Hitler’s love for Wagner. Understandable, even though not in line with normal Jewish appreciation of music.
    I agree that all writings, including Shakespeare should be put in their historical context, but sensitively as literature is riddled with racist, sexist and homophobic content. Contemporary literature cannot have the same license, in my view.
    As for Shakespeare going on anti-war marches I couldn’t say. It depends on what intepretation you make of Richard III I suppose, but on that there are definitely better contributors than myself.

  44. harold, of course it doesn’t help that Wagner wrote opera, and the words of the songs were overtly and offensively anti-Semitic in at least Der Meistersinger and Parsifal.

  45. Me: “the liberal theory of the nation state … is that legislative and constitutional entities must be territorial, and therefore in any one state, only one national culture is hegemonic”

    Phil: “This is so confused I’m not sure where to begin. Firstly, territorial sovereignty doesn’t have anything to do with liberalism – what you describe (up to the comma) is the theory of the nation state, dating back roughly to the Treaty of Westphalia. Secondly, the rule of a particular nation state doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with national culture; thirdly, legal sovereignty doesn’t have anything to do with cultural hegemony. As Ken Macleod pointed out on another blog, liberalism has no problem with intermediate corporations (or by extension with multiple cultures), just as long as they don’t have legal force.”

    Phil, apologies if this was a bit condensed. It is however not confused.

    Territorial sovereignty is a mark of modern nation states, the first consciously modern nation states as Benedict Anderson pointed out were in the Creole nations in the America, and what characterised them was their being created around a dominant cultural or linguistic signifier, and this distinguished them for the previous norms of dynastic states, like the Habsburg or Romanov empires. The nation states sought to create a universal culture within themselves.

    Liberal theory of how such states operate has concentrated on the relationship between the state as the sole sovereign corporation, and the individual citizens.

    Therefore, my argument here follows Bikhu Parekh that in liberal democracies multiculturalism is always delimited by the hegemony of the dominant nation, and that liberal political theory is normally incapable of recognising that, because it assumes that the host culture is normative and neutral, particularly if the host culture is a liberal democracy.

    Ken Macleod is therefore correct that liberalism can accept intermediate corporation without legal force. But Parekh then perceptively points out that this leaves cultural pluralism as in reality only existing on the precarious margins of a predominantly assimilationist culture.

  46. We have no idea what Shakespeare thought. He wrote plays that express different viewpoints. No one position is utterly vindicated. We can even feel sorry for Macbeth or think that Hamlet is a craphead and King Lear is a narcissistic bigot. Or not. Co-opting Shakespeare for the national project is obnoxious and should be resisted (his plays represent a fine cross-cultural fertilisation, anyway) but that doesn’t mean Shakespeare’s plays should be resisted, nor should we support those who think they should be. Choosing to read something else is fine but no need to spray the works with unfounded dreck.

  47. A very interesting article Andy.

    I prefer to see culture not as ‘multi-cultural’ but more as ‘poly-cultural’.

    This emphasises the fact that I have a wee a bit of different cultures inside me – rather than me having one single ‘culture’ which happens to share the same society with other similarly clearly delineated ‘cultures’.

    I was going to mention the fact that the idea that there is a ‘British’ culture is clearly laughable, but I won’t.

  48. Sue R on said:

    I can only assume that it is a linguistic deficiency that has led to Harold misinterpreting my remarks. ‘Sensibility’ is not the same as ‘sensible’. Sensible means not stupid. Many of the following remarks on this thread make me despair. All I can say is that I as a socialist I always thought the guiding principle was what advances working class emancipation, but obviously that is not good enough nowadays.

  49. Surely one of the problems with liberal hand-wringing about their attempts at legislating “multiculturalism” is that they are wholeheartedly committed to a late capitalist, uniformally “normative”, colonial mono-culture.

    Even the mainstream churches are now deep into organising among themselves on supra-national lines, working out how, for example they can leverage their wares onto a newly connected marketplace.

    The American empire and its colonial supporters run up against all sorts of contradictions in their implementation of the New Ideal. But, just as older empires have found, local tokenisms can come with “blowback”.

    As capitalism gets older, it seems that the nationalist or locally ‘hegemonic’ culture is harder and harder to a) identify and b) defend. Look, for example, at the Bush administration’s invocations of “Free Trade” on the one hand, along with its support of granting citizen rights to “illegals” against it’s more locally driven southern border fence.

    It is quite interesting to read the right-wing commentaries that are currently *extolling* the “values” of immigrant communities in the US (partly driven to pull them closer to a Republican vote, of course). “They” behave more like “traditional” American communities than the inner city citizens of Detroit, for example. They go to church, they have large and supportive families, they don’t rely on welfare (the access question is never raised, of course), they rely on extended “community” networks, they are focussed on education and hard work at school and at home…

    You almost get the impression from the ‘Washington Post’ that to be a ‘good’ American today, you’re better off queuing up for a Green card than having been born in Baltimore…

    In other words I won’t bat an eyelid if I see some minority communities gain “legal” recognition within the frameworks of the American imperium. The British were profoundly talented at recognising a “good” minority when they saw one!

    If folk haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend “Why We Fight!” strongly enough – you can get a taste here: http://www.whywefight.com/

    It speaks volumes as to how the new mono-culture is being constructed, by who, and how…

  50. Sue R on said:

    I’ve just read an item on the BBC News about a 22-year old witchdoctor who was murdered in Luton. Apparently, he charged a client £14,000 to cure her infertility and when it did not work, the client’s husband and a friend beat him to death, and rubbed salt into his wounds. Isn’t this the wort of medicine/science we should be teaching in our schools and medical colleges? After all, millions of people around the world believe in witchdoctors, and who are we to say it is bunkum? That’s just imperialist arrogance.

  51. Andy – that makes a bit more sense, but I still think there are some crucial gaps in the logic – “entail”s that should be “can be associated with”s. More specifically, I stand by my earlier point that the rule of a particular nation state doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with national culture, emphasis added; ask any Scot.

    Coincidentally, Ken MacLeod (again) puts this debate into context here:
    “The root of the problem is the weakness of confident, secular and rational public discourse. This leaves room for all kinds of irrationality, which find an opening in the New Labour view that the public education system can’t stand on its own feet, and needs to be propped up by money from business and morality from religion. Unless we repudiate that, more and more of our children will find their precious time wasted on feasibility studies of Noah’s Ark.”

  52. harold on said:

    I may have a linguistic deficiency Sue (#49) but I neither interpreted nor mis-interpreted your remarks as I didn’t comment on them. (Unless you’re also Andy or Phil by any other name)
    However, I will comment now: Socialism is the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, not just the working class. The key is that only the working class are capable of leading that revolution.
    On the Shakespeare question, if question is needed, it is worth noting the social conditions partly already mentioned including Elizabethan terror, plus the fact that there were no Jews in Britain till Cromwell did some good deeds (and of course some dreadful ones).
    Phil on Wagner: I confess to owning some gramaphone records myself. However, I find among the left and Jewish friends who wish to boycott artists associated with anti-semitism, that attention is drawn to Karajan who was a Nazi supporter and Schwarzkopf who collaborated. Does anyone know whther the Vienna State Opera Orchestra yet employs Jewish mussicians. This perhaps is more pertinent, rather than interpretations of the bard’s works in a contemporary setting.
    I think I see what BatterseaPowerStation #50 is saying, but I would put it differently. Capitalist development has gone through phases, from creating the industrial working class, colonialism through to the post-war model of Britain which has seen women leave the home and become the majority in the workplace, the black composition of the labour market over 50 years. The character of the family unit has changed under late capitalism with all the social outcomes in terms of the women’s movement and the LGBT movement.
    I would say in these circumsatnces ruling class ideology adjusts so as it can retain hegemony. In favourable conditions, liberalist views emerge. Thus we see bourgeois feminist role models, advertisers realising that Thierry Henry will sell more cars than Boris Johnson and so on.
    In adapting, political reaction latches on to the most backward aspects of new social cultures. Religious conservatism, family values are just some of them. That backwardness can strengthen their ideological grip. The problem for them is that their existing beliefs on Britishness and traditional values is in contradiction with aspects of what is now expedient – how do they cope with independent women wanting jobs and housing? Some go along with it if the market can sort it out, I suppose. Others have different interests from where they are located in the British economy (or American or EU etc) and are more resistent.
    That is why Socialists embracing these questions and not being routed in economism is so important. We can create a society that facilitates emancipation rather than contribute to oppression and must ally with anyone who advances even the tiniest part of the cultural changes we think make a better society, even under bourgeois domination.
    (Sorry for rambling, though not unique in these parts)

  53. Votaires priest,
    are you trying to say that
    “reason is the slave of passion” (David Hume) by any chance?

  54. harold on said:

    #53 Phil – sorry got mixed up with Andy – nothing personal, any way. And there I was accusing someone else of mistaken identity.

  55. Andy writes: To take an extreme example, German and British troops who faced each other in the trenches of the first world war had a near identical experience, and an identical political interest in ending the war. Politically therefore there was grounds for solidarity and internationalism. But culturally, there was no shared community through which they experienced this similar fate – and indeed the shared communal experience was with their own national officer class. Few British soldiers will have read Erich Maria Remarque, few Germans will have read Siegfried Sassoon or Rupert Brookes. Political internationalist solidarity must therefore start from recognising the historically contingent and specific nature of progressive politics within each community, and then reaching out to develop understanding and solidarity based upon equality of respect for the differences.

    I have some dim recollection of having read somewhere about some kind of social upheaval involving mutinies, defeatism, and naked identification with proletarian class interest that happened around about the end of the First World War … damn, it’s escaped me. Anyone else have something more specific?

  56. howard t on said:

    #57 Ken MacLeod is quite right about the outcome of WW1,but then you still have to deal with why in Britain and even Germany bourgeois hegemony didn’t break down. The famous utterance of Field marshall von Hindenbeg ‘we were faced with reform or revolution – we chose reform’ says it all. It was the bourgeoisie who chose, you’ll note. The inter-war years weren’t all that good for the working class here. Wouldn’t recommend the course taken in Germany.
    It is only when the ruling class cannot continue in the old way and the working class are not prepared to continue in the old way that you can talk of a revolutionary crisis. A chap called Lenin and another guy called Trotsky had some good things to say about that.
    However, that the bourgeoisie remains hegemonic, doesn’t mean that we do ally with the oppressed, even if in the short term all we get is reforms.

  57. An Amateur Anthropologist on said:

    “it is a false polarisation to see progressive politics as the promotion of secular values over religious ones”

    It is now a false proposition to suggest that the so-called “Socialist Unity” website promotes socialist values over religious ones.

    An Amateur Anthropologist

  58. Sue R on said:

    It’s the bourgoise who insist that the world is ‘unknowable’, it is the materialist who insists that everything can be known and investigated. I know what Andy Newman and ‘Socialist Unity’ are. Not matrialists.

  59. prianikoff on said:

    # 50

    Glad you mentioned Detroit, ‘cos it gives me a chance to plug BBC4’s excellent ‘Motor City’s Burning’, which is bound to be repeated soon.

    Which shows quite clearly how “cultures” change and influence one another.
    In this case, focusing on the rise of Tamla Motown, the MC5, George Clinton and Iggy and the Stooges.
    All in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, the Detroit riots and the subsequent decline of the Motor Industry.

    There are some great interviews with former Panthers and MC5 members including John Sinclair.
    Especially the description of when one of them opened his front door during a bust, to find a tank outside pointing its gun at him.

    There really are some brilliant people making these music documentaries on BBC4.

    Synopsis:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/musictv/detroit/synopsis/

  60. Chris on said:

    “i) is it a necessary role of the state to enforce upon all citizens that they accept evolution? ii) does simply telling students that Darwinism is correct arm them with the theoretical tools to distinguish why faith based arguments are excluded from science?”

    The same argument could be applied to whether or not the Earth orbits the Sun. Of course you should equip them with analytical tools but in a science class they also need to be taught what the conclusions of science are. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the evidence for evolution and that came from reading many books and dozens of papers.

  61. I think folks are doing Andy a great dis-service by suggesting he is making a case for religious-values against material ones.

    I don’t see that at all – in fact, somebody mentioned socialist values but these don’t preclude religious ones.

    Wasn’t Jesus Christ a proto-communist who preached that His followers should collectivise their wealth and live in a Commune?
    And look what happened to this revolutionary figure – executed by the Roman State.

    Even these religious ignoramuses who peddle the line that evolutionary theory is incompatible with Biblical Scripture don’t really understand the text they claim so much of their legitimacy is based on.

    The Book of Genesis does not emphatically rule out evolution.
    Have a read of Genesis I again –

    Gen 1.20 ‘And God said “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…”‘

    Gen 1.24 ‘And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind…”‘

    Clearly, life originates in and from matter,as far as the Word of God is concerned.

    And just to say, the human culture in all its diverse brilliancy has very little to do with science, practically nothing. The important stuff about living life cannot be taught by science –
    ie what cause is worth living amd dying for; how to get on with your neighbour; relationships etc etc

    Materialism, idealism, realism tell you next to nothing about anything of any real importance about what life is about and how to live it.

    The same is true about these religious bigots who claim scientific veracity for Holy Scripture – science isn’t about religion and religion isn’t about science.

    Here endeth today’s lesson!

    ps
    sorry for sounding a bit pompous

  62. Impossible Joe, I think Andy’s method can be neatly summed up by this quote from Isaiah;

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    Isaiah 55:8-9

  63. Yes, but what was Isaiah talking about?

    If he’s saying that humans can’t understand the thoughts of G-d, then fair enough, if we assume G-d is the most perfect being etc etc – then it follows and is a mere tautology, a simple description based on deductive logic.

    Science can be used to understand the nature of ideas about God but can’t tell us why God is so important. You have to have something other than science to tell you what is and is not important in life, and ‘myth’ such as religion tries to do this.

    Even in this example you use billj mate, you can see that religion has some big problems with the idea of God and ends up in circular logic trying to define the indefineable.

    A bit like the idea of The Big Bang – well, what came before it?

    Lots of beautiful imponderables, hence humanity and its relationship with itself and the world around it.

    Science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive but confusing one with the other is not only sterile but can be quite dangerous, as ‘fundamentalists’ of science and religion have shown.

    all the best billj!

  64. I’m not sure Andy grasps the totality of Rowan Williams’ argument. I know Rowan and like him very much. One of the main themes in his recent much ballyhooed speech on Sharia law and other matters was a defence of freedom of conscience, being especially concerned by attempts to force believers or religious institutions to act contrary to the dictates of their religion. He was thinking of the illiberal SORs but the case of John and Lizzies is equally germane. Andy seems to be arguing that a Roman Catholic hospital cannot be Roman Catholic, a position which denies freedom of conscience and is the complete opposite of what Dr Williams was calling for.
    But a far more egregious mistake is to cite a notoriously anti-Catholic group, “Catholics” for a Free Choice as an example of a struggle within a given religion, in this case Roman Catholicism between supposed liberals and conservatives.
    I can’t think of any Catholic from the Tablet tendency at one end of the spectrum, to Christian Order readers at the other, who considers Anti-Catholics For a Free Choice a Roman Catholic group, a Christian group or indeed a religious group of any type.
    Anti-Catholics for a Free Choice is NOT a Roman Catholic group, has NO links, formal or otherwise with the Roman Catholic Church and represents no one, a point conceded by its former leader, Frances Kissling, who when examination of CFFC’s funding revealed a mere handful of dues-paying members, admitted that “CFFC is not a membership organisation.”
    CFFC is handsomely funded by corporate and population-control interests, including The Playboy Foundation and The Ford Foundation. It uses its funding to amongst other things, conduct witchhunts against Roman Catholics in public life and it has disrupted Masses and terrified congregants, something repugnant to Roman Catholics.
    I don’t know whether Andy would describe the Orange Order as a religious organisation though it deserves that designation more than Anti-Catholics for a Free Choice does.
    The argument about the teaching of creationism in faith schools is a diverting one – though since creationism isn’t taught in the vast majority of faith schools – is of academic interest.
    A year or so ago, Rev Janina Ainsworth, the Church of England’s chief education officer was reported as calling for the teaching of creationism in C of E schools, cue spluttering comment from over-excited Atheists. The report was misleading, she said she thought it acceptable to discuss creationism the better to debunk it.

  65. ‘Red Maria’, I can’t see where you’re getting a misreading of Rowan Williams’ views from. In the case of Catholic hospitals the point was made that the BMA’s guidelines are for medical practitioners to present both sides of an argument (which in most cases, I would argue, they don’t) when faced with a patient wanting an abortion.

    If religious institutions want to dip into state finances then, as socialists, we should be clear that they open their practices to public examination. They should also be clearly advised that receipt of such monies is contingent upon adopting the practices prescribed by the law. It is perfectly appropriate, for example, to refuse to fund an agency that refuses to work with lesbians and gays wanting to adopt.

    This is not the same as arguing for these types of institutions to be banned.

    I am also in favour of demanding (without a great deal of hope of it being systematically enforced or realised) that the state intervene in situations in which there are imbalances of power – either due to contractual or social norms.

    It would be nice to have a “neutral” tier of public examination and debate as to what constitutes the good life but we’re not there yet.

  66. PhilW on said:

    Andy’s argument appears to be that, although he doesn’t agree that all interpretations of the world are equally valid, socialists should behave as if that were the case: otherwise it is oppressive. We should advocate that this approach is taken by capitalist institutions (and socialist ones after the revolution?)

    This is basically another roundabout route to postmodernism and identity politics. The latter grew out of a false interpretation of multiculturalism and reflected the political retreats of the 1980s. It is significant that Andy supports his arguments by reference to a group that is not oppressed (at the moment: Jews in Britain) and also seems to conflate nations with religions. Didn’t Bauer write about the rights / autonomy of national minorities, rather than religious minorities (Jews are not a religious minority)?

    I think some of these issues were taken up by Jenny Bourne in “Homelands of the Mind: Jewish Feminism and Identity Politics”.

    See also, on postmodernism:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_Affair
    http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/lingua_franca_v4/lingua_franca_v4.html

    In particular, this statement:
    “For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful — not to mention being desirable human ends in their own right. The recent turn of many “progressive” or “leftist” academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage and undermines the already fragile prospects for progressive social critique.”

  67. PhilW, my gut reaction is to agree with you on the implications of relativism for the Left, but I don’t think Andy Newman is on that road.

    One of the key gains of the “cadre” of NuLabourism was to use “multiculturalism” against the Left. It was a nifty trick too. Anyone arguing in favour of a class-based politics of fighting oppression was suddenly part of an oppressive “matrix” of power-relations and had to be excluded.

    Now, granted, some of the Left did have god-awful approaches and opinions about the struggles for womens’ equality, gay and lesbian rights, anti-racism and a whole host of other “movements-based” campaigns.

    But what is now happening is rather more confusing. The recent, failed experiment with a “United Front of a Special Type,” by the SWP has their own “cadre” a tad wobbly on the issue. A recent debate on the aptly named “Lenin’s Tomb” blog is indicative of what’s up.

    A couple of posts on a thread discussing the BBC’s recent, racism-enhancing, documentary on the “white working class”, raised howls of indignation when a poster asked what socialists should be saying to workers who happen to be white and are pissed off at continuing representations of them in the media as a bunch of drunken, work-shy, chavs.

    Most of the pro-SWP responses deemed the question itself to be racist!

    RespectR is in a great place (due to its base) to challenge the right wing’s takeover of “multiculturalism” and reassert the fact that individuals and “communities” aren’t packing slips to be played for. The insistence on decent education, homes, jobs and health care for all does a tremendous service to those on the Left who, quite rightly, want to avoid the official neo-liberal “culture” and its associated amorality…

  68. Ian Drummond on said:

    Of dear, can’t seem to make these links live, just copy and paste them (or Andy might sort them out later)

  69. Ken #58

    Surely the revolutions that came out of the Great War were not based upon a shared cultural community between workers from different countries, but on shared political aims and shared interests articulated at an intellectual and level, that led to parallel but not integrated struggles by workers within different national contexts?

    In which case I am completely correct to say: ” there was grounds for solidarity and internationalism. But culturally, there was no shared community through which they experienced this similar fate ”

    If you are claiming that the advances in working class politics in this period were due to a shared culture between working people, as opposed to shared political ideas, then i would be interested to hear evidence of it.

  70. If you are claiming that the advances in working class politics in this period were due to a shared culture between working people, as opposed to shared political ideas, then i would be interested to hear evidence of it.

    But isn’t that exactly what your argument implies, at least the bits about Remarque and Brooke?

  71. Red Maria’s reading of my argument is wrong-headed to the point of perversity.

    Firstly, on the question of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth.

    Red Maria argues:

    “One of the main themes in his recent much ballyhooed speech on Sharia law and other matters was a defence of freedom of conscience, being especially concerned by attempts to force believers or religious institutions to act contrary to the dictates of their religion. He was thinking of the illiberal SORs but the case of John and Lizzies is equally germane. Andy seems to be arguing that a Roman Catholic hospital cannot be Roman Catholic, a position which denies freedom of conscience and is the complete opposite of what Dr Williams was calling for.”

    But this misses the point, The change to the code of ethics imposed by Cardinal Cormac O’Connor goes further than Red Maria claims.

    The current code of ethics of the British Medical Association already protects the religious sensibilities of doctors, so that a catholic doctor need not refer a patient for an abortion, or advise her on it, but the doctor is obliged to say that the choice is open to the woman, but she would have to go to another doctor.

    This protects both the choice of the doctor and the woman, and is accepted y Cathlic health care professionals as a reasonable compromise. This is exactly the type of issue that Dr Rowan Williams discussed in his speech:

    The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens; and while a legal system might properly admit structures or protocols that embody the diversity of moral reasoning in a plural society by allowing scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions, it can hardly admit or ‘license’ protocols that effectively take away the rights it acknowledges as generally valid.

    Cardinal O’Connor is arguing that doctors at St John and St Elizabeth should not provide any information to patients, and should make the choice for them. This goes far further than the BMA’s code of ethics.

    People would not think of going to a private catholic hospital for gender reassignment surgery or an abortion, but some women may originally elect to go there for a birth, and later discover for whatever reason, perhaps foetal abnormality, that they do want an abortion, in which case they would transfer to another hospital, but should be entitled to signposting from the hospital they are currently attending, which before the change in ethics code was available from St John and St Elizabeth.

    But the real problem came with setting up a GP surgery at the hospital. It is perfectly correct to argue that the GP surgery should operate within the BMA’s codes of ethics that already respects the rights of catholic health professionals, rather than the stricter ethics requirements of the Cardinal, which doesn’t allow signposting for patients who may be facing difficult life choices to get information to make their own choices.

    On the question of Catholics for Free Choice – I don’t understand Red Maria’s point, unless she is trying to set up a smokescreen. CFC does influence catholic opinion whether or not it is recognised as part of the church, and does include within it prOfessional academic theologians – it is therefore a strand of organised opinion within the communion. This is expressed within the official church structures, for example Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches religious ethics at Marquette University, an official Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, who has recently written pamphlets “The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion” and “A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage”.

    Even more within the church, The Catholic archbishop of Hartford, Henry J. Mansell, recently said, “We are not opposed to emergency contraception for women who are victims of rape.”

    So if Red Maria was seeking to argue that there is no debate within the Catholic church she is wrong.

  72. Phil, I don’t understand your point at #75.

    My argument is that internationalism is not predicated upon workers of different countries sharing the same culture, or community of communication with each other. This doesn’t mean that internationalism doesn’t exist but it is a political and intellectual achievment, not a cultural one.

    Of course, within each national culture, there will also be particular and specific expression of those ideas, that is cultural expression and reinforcement of anti-militarist, anti-patriotic and internationalist felings, but the particular expression will be different within each national culture, hence my examples of Remarque or Sassoon.

    In England, the war poets have a deep cultural resonance, they are still taught at school for many teenagers. So political anti-war activity can draw upon that culturaly specific national expression here, but in Germany, the anti-war movement would draw on different cultural themes to make the same message.

  73. BatterseaPowerStation on said:

    Andy, the point you raise that, “…internationalism is not predicated upon workers of different countries sharing the same culture…” seems to be a bit of a truism insofar as if it were, it wouldn’t exist as an idea?

    I’m not an advocate of proletkult by any means but I am quite sure that one of the oft-ignored aspects of socialists relating to their own “national culture” is that of an insensitivity, or one-sidedness that can either lead to a dismissal of elements that are progressive or wobble toward rank opportunism.

    But I am pretty sure that a “theory” could not be developed that would deliver a check-list of good versus bad bits of cultural identity. I guess I’m in the “contest everything” camp, insofar as each interpretation of an explicitly political position, work of art, religious idea or even ‘instinct’, needs critical examination, debate and argument.

    But I am hovering toward an “essentialist” view of human nature as the years go by… By that I mean the one Marx implied as a young-un, whereof a lot of socialist “ethics” seem to flow out. And it is quite useful in terms of anchoring oneself, especially now that the right wing have hijacked multiculturalism to attack those it was ostensively framed to protect.

    It still fascinates me that although writing for a local audience both the German and English WWI poets often utilised and harkened back to earlier forms and “universals” from an old, and uncritically perceived as ‘ideal’ culture: Greece. I’m sure Plato had a clear idea of what to do with minorities, but it certainly wouldn’t be supportable…

  74. Andy wrote that “CFC does influence catholic opinion whether or not it is recognised as part of the church, and does include within it prOfessional academic theologians – it is therefore a strand of organised opinion within the communion.”

    The problem with this Andy is that CfC places itself outside the communion by virtue of the fact that is stance on the question of abortion means that supporters of its views are actually denied the right to take communion. They are then outside the Roman Church by the definition of used by the church itself or to put it another way by the magisterium. Load of old toss in my view but thems the facts.

  75. Andy Wilson on said:

    #61: “it is the materialist who insists that everything can be known”

    Sorry to be flippant, Sue, but that reminds me of the joke that says that an idealist is like a man chasing a non-existent black cat in a dark room knowing that it is non-existent and he will never catch it, whereas the materialist chases the same cat while believing that it’s real, and the dialectical materialist thinks they’ve caught it.

    To be clear, I offer the joke in a self-deprecating way as someone who certainly considers themselves a materialist. Anyone who has ever attended an SWP meeting or just visits Lenin’s Tomb you’ll certainly understand the punchline.