ParEcon Questions & Answers

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vWhat about culture in a good society, is there a positive vision for that?

Part of being human is having a culture including a way of situating oneself in the cosmos, a mode of personal and collective identification, linguistic relations with others, and social holidays.

Humans tend to create diverse communities bound by shared cultures that differ from one another in their artistic, linguistic, and spiritual allegiances and preferences. The problem of cultural communities is not this diversity per se, but that cultural communities can exploits one another, attack one another, or even obliterates one another. As Noam Chomsky summarizes one case, “in the US…it was necessary to find some justification for eliminating the indigenous population and running the economy on slavery (including the economy of the north in the early days; cotton was the oil of the 19th century industrial revolution). And the only way to justify having your boot on someone’s neck is that you are uniquely magnificent and they are uniquely awful.”

In a good society presumably this type of largely one way or sometimes mutual inter community assault and destruction would be eliminated.

What relation does economics and in particular parecon have to the existence of cultural communities, whether those cultural communities are warring or are mutually respectful?

First let’s consider, however briefly, what kinds of cultural relations we would like to have in a good society. Then we can try to say something useful about the relations of economics and cultural communities both now and in the future.

We will not be magically reborn in a desirable society, free of our past and unaware of our historical roots. On the contrary, our historical memory, our sensitivity to past and present social process, and our understanding of our own and our society’s history will all be enhanced during the process of reaching a desirable society. Rather than our diverse cultural roots being submerged, therefore, they will grow in prominence.

So while as Einstein very pithily put it, in its current incarnations, “nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race,” still, the point of cultural vision is not to erase diverse cultures or to reduce them to a least common denominator. As Arundhati Roy argued referring to fundamentalist inclinations to homogenize India, “Once the Muslims have been ‘shown their place’, will milk and Coca-Cola flow across the land? Once the Ram Mandir is built, will there be a shirt on every back and a roti in every belly? Will every tear be wiped from every eye? Can we expect an anniversary celebration next year? Or will there be someone else to hate by then? Alphabetically: Adivasis, Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Parsis, Sikhs? Those who wear jeans, or speak English, or those who have thick lips, or curly hair? We won’t have to wait long… What kind of depraved vision can even imagine India without the range and beauty and spectacular anarchy of all these cultures? India would become a tomb and smell like a crematorium.”

In other words, instead of homogenizing cultures, in the transition to a better world the historical contributions of different communities should be more appreciated than ever before and there must be greater rather than lesser means for their further development, occurring, however, without destructive mutual hostilities.

Trying to prevent the horrors of genocide, imperialism, racism, jingoism, ethnocentrism, and religious persecution by attempting to integrate distinct historical communities into one cultural niche has proved almost as destructive as the nightmares this approach seeks to expunge.

“Cultural homogenization” whether racist, fundamentalist, or even leftist ignores the positive aspects of cultural differences that give people a sense of who they are and where they come from. Cultural homogenization offers few opportunities for variety and cultural self-management and proves self-defeating in any event since it heightens exactly the community anxieties and antagonisms it seeks to overcome.

Yes, in a competitive and otherwise mutually hostile environment, religious, racial, ethnic, and national communities often develop into sectarian camps, each concerned first and foremost with defending itself from real and imagined threats, if necessary even waging war on others to do so.

And yes, in other contexts, more subtle and less overt racist expressions occur as Al Sharpton notes, commenting on racism’s changing face in the U.S. after the gains of the civil rights movement, “We’ve gotten to an era where people are much more subtle and more manicured. Jim Crow is now James Crow, Jr., Esquire.”

But the near ubiquitous presence of racial and other cultural hierarchies throughout society and history no more means we should eliminate cultural diversity than the existence of gender, sexual, economic, or political hierarchies means we should eliminate diversity in those realms. The task is to remove oppression not obliterate difference.

Racism certainly often has a very crass and material component. Consider Desmond Tutu commenting on the South African experience, “When they arrived, we had the land and they had the Bible and they told us to close our eyes to pray. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.” But this is not always the dominant theme and, even when it is highly operative, it is generally only one part of the racial picture. Much and even most of racism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and religious bigotry, is based on and reproduced by cultural definitions and beliefs other than and even beyond material differences.  

vDominant community groups rationalize their positions of privilege with myths about their own superiority and the presumed inferiority of those they oppress. These myths attain a life of their own, often transcending changing material relations. The effects are brutal. For the oppressed, in the American novelist Ralph Ellison’s words, “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids–and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

Some elements within oppressed communities internalize myths of their inferiority, and attempt to imitate or at least accommodate dominant cultures. Einstein wrote, “it seems to be a universal fact that minorities–especially when the individuals composing them are distinguished by physical peculiarities–are treated by the majorities among whom they live as an inferior order of beings. The tragedy of such a fate lies not merely in the unfair treatment to which these minorities are automatically subjected in social and economic matters, but also in the fact that under the suggestive influence of the majority most of the victims themselves succumb to the same prejudice and regard their brethren as inferior beings.” Or as Native American activist Ward Churchill more aggressively explained “White domination is so complete that even American Indian children want to be cowboys. It’s as if Jewish children wanted to play Nazis.”

Others in oppressed communities respond by defending the integrity of their own cultural traditions while combating as best they can the racist ideologies used to justify their oppression. But as W.E.B. Dubois notes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” And as Frederick Douglass wrote in another context, “For a white man to defend his friend unto blood is praiseworthy but for a black man to do precisely the same thing is a crime. It was glorious for Americans to drench the soil and crimson the sea with blood to escape payment of three penny tax upon tea; but it is a crime to shoot down a monster in defense of the liberty of a black man and to save him from bondage one minute of which (in the language of Jefferson) is worse than ages of that which our fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.”

In any event, cultural salvation does not lie in trying to obliterate the distinctions between communities. Instead the only lasting solution lies in eliminating racist institutions, dispelling racist ideologies, and changing the environments within which historical communities relate so that they might maintain and celebrate difference without violating solidarity.

An alternative to racism, ethnocentrism, religious bigotry and other forms of community oppression is therefore what we might call “intercommunalism” or “multiculturalism” which emphasizes respecting and preserving the multiplicity of community forms we are blessed with precisely by guaranteeing each of them sufficient material and social resources to confidently reproduce itself.

Not only does each culture possess particular wisdoms that are unique products of its own historical experience, but the interaction of different cultures via intercommunalist relations enhances the internal characteristics of each and provides a richness that no single approach could ever hope to attain. The point is that negative inter-community relations are replaced by positive ones. The key is eliminating the threat of cultural extinction that so many communities feel by guaranteeing that every community has the means necessary to carry on their traditions and self definitions.

Individuals should choose the cultural communities they prefer rather than have elders or others of any description define their choice for them, particularly on the basis of prejudice. And while those outside a community should be free to criticize cultural practices that in their opinion violate humane norms, external intervention that goes beyond criticism should not be permitted except to guarantee that all members of every community have the right of dissent and to leave at no material or broader social loss.

Most important, until a lengthy history of autonomy and solidarity has overcome suspicion and fear between communities, the choice of which community should give ground in disputes between two should be determined according to which of the two is the more powerful and therefore, realistically, the least threatened.

Intercommunalism of the sort envisioned here, therefore, would make it incumbent on the more powerful community with less reason to fear being dominated to unilaterally begin the process of de-escalation of disputes. This simple rule is obvious and reasonable, despite being seldom practiced to date.

The goal is to create an environment in which no community will feel threatened so that each community will feel free to learn from and share with others. But given the historical legacy of negative intercommunity relations, there is no pretense this can be achieved overnight. Perhaps even more so than in other areas, intercommunalist relations will have to be slowly constructed, step by step, until a different historical legacy and set of behavioral expectations are established. Nor will it always be easy to decide what constitutes the “necessary means” that communities should be guaranteed for cultural reproduction, and what development free from “unwarranted outside interference” means in particular situations.

But the intercommunalist criterion for judging different views on these matters seems to me likely to be that every community should be guaranteed sufficient material and communication means to self-define and self-develop its own cultural traditions, and to represent its culture to all other communities in the context of limited aggregate means and equal rights to those means for all.


Here is an extensive interview – q/a – with Justin Podur on these topics…

ffMICHAEL ALBERT: Throughout the left, broadly understood, everyone agrees that anti-racism should be part of our agenda. We should oppose structural and ideological features of society (and also in our movements) that relegate people to having less influence, status, power, income, or having worse living conditions, or being consigned to fewer options, or having to endure persecution or denial based on race — or, for that matter, on cultural affiliations more broadly including religion, nationality, language, modes of celebration, etc. That’s good, and also progress beyond past times. But is this movement only rejecting bad things or does it have a positive aim, and what aim would you propose? Maybe we can first address other aims that have been proposed, or that are now proposed, and indicate why we need to get beyond them. Assimilation? Separatism? Multiculturalism? Others? What about them, briefly, is wrong, or incomplete, or otherwise needs refinement? Why do we need new vision regarding cultural communities and their relations?

JUSTIN PODUR: The political climate right now has put all of our movements on the defensive. So we are fighting defensive battles to try to protect affirmative action against relentless onslaught. We are trying to fight against police brutality, mass incarceration, the war on drugs. We are trying to fight against racist, colonial wars that are occupying whole countries. We are trying to fight against deportations and more draconian and racist immigration policies. The indigenous are trying to fight against further colonization and abrogation of their rights. In addition to being on the defensive, anti-racist movements are fighting on a wide variety of fronts, and not all of us always know what everyone else is doing, or thinking. Still, I think that in anti-racist and anti-colonial movements there are positive aims and insights.

But let’s start, as you suggested, by taking some of the proposed aims that you mentioned, which I would argue are inadequate. Assimilation, for example. Assimilation gets rid of the problem of a powerful community oppressing a less powerful community by absorbing the less powerful into the more powerful. Some communities that had been oppressed historically have struggled for the right to assimilate and have actually succeeded. Noel Ignatieff has a book about the Irish and how they assimilated, for example, called ‘How the Irish Became White.’ Karen Brodkin takes a similar tack about the Jewish community in the United States in a book called ‘How Jews Became White Folks.’ Both of these communities had been oppressed in the ways racism oppresses people—relegating them to specific places and occupations, teaching hateful myths about them, and so on. Both communities quite successfully assimilated. But the ‘success’ of assimilation wasn’t an anti-racist success, because it was assimilation into an oppressive system. The very titles of the books show that—you assimilate by ‘becoming white’. That’s how assimilation works—it’s always assimilation into the dominant community or caste. And you might lose something, you might lose quite a lot, in fact, in ‘becoming white’, as well.

But those are the successful examples of assimilation. The reality in North America is that assimilation has been a false promise. Latino immigrants are told that they are supposed to assimilate, but they are racially profiled, incarcerated disproportionately, they are denied legal status in a country that is happy to accept their labor. The indigenous are told to assimilate, but their rights have never been respected the way settlers’ rights have. Every time African-American communities have had some economic success, some way has been found—from political manipulation to outright violence—to reverse that. So, in many cases, assimilation is just an empty promise that a racist society taunts the oppressed with.

There is at least one other, serious problem with assimilation. That is: what happens if a community doesn’t want to assimilate? That is one recipe for violence, communal warfare, and nationalist reaction. The attempts of ‘socialist’ states in eastern europe to make minority communities assimilate had this result. But in a sense, the history of every single nation-state is similar. Western Europe had a lot more linguistic diversity. It was the most powerful national groups that extended their power as far as it would go, assimilating the rest, that resulted in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain.


ALBERT: What did Jews lose in rising to a position above “oppressed” in the U.S.? If assimilation means losing one’s own identity to adopt that of the larger community, it doesn’t seem that the Jewish community did that. If not, then are they a poor example which shows that something like assimilation can work – or are they an example of something else entirely, perhaps?

PODUR: For one thing, if you take Jews, or Italians, or many of the immigrants from Southern or Eastern Europe who ‘assimilated’ and ‘became white’, there was definitely quite a lot of cultural, and especially linguistic diversity, lost— not only to those communities but to the whole of North America. But since the only options seemed to be assimilation or everyone living in separate spheres unable to communicate with each other, assimilation happened.

But yes, I see your point also that the Jewish community did not merely drop its whole unique religious or cultural identity in order to assimilate. And what I had in mind when I said that you might lose quite a lot in becoming white was less about losing some of the cultural richness that could have been brought to the whole mix, and more about some of the things Tim Wise talks about. In an interview with LiP magazine, he says:

“On a basic level, one might consider the harms that come from racial privilege if, by virtue of that privilege, one remains isolated from others. So, to live in an almost all white neighborhood, thanks to past and present housing bias, as about 85% of whites do, means huge advantages in terms of wealth and assets, but also means that we’re cut off from the experiences, cultures and contributions of people of color—to our own detriment in terms of being functionally literate and interculturally competent for a country that is increasingly non-white, and a world that never was white to begin with. And while that isolation and ignorance might not have mattered in an earlier era, now it does…”

“Well, it’s a perfect analogy between on the one hand the cultural incompetence that comes from domestic segregation from one another, or isolation white from black, or white from latino, for example, and what’s going on right now internationally. As I’ve traveled around the country this last month it’s obvious to me that Americans—especially white Americans, but really all Americans—are fundamentally lacking in understanding of not only other cultures, but other people’s perceptions and realities. And this is why so many people can ask the question, “Why do they hate us?” And say it with no sense of irony, no sense of wonder at all. And I think our isolation from the world—even as we engage it globally, economically—is now coming back to haunt us.” (

So there are costs of various kinds, not the least of which is the cost of adopting the convenient assumptions of dominant, powerful groups.


ALBERT: If you say that when a community drops its own culture to join a larger one, it loses and we all do, and that that is assimilation and we ought to reject it a a goal, I understand. But I still think if we use the U.S., that to a considerable extent that wasn’t what happened with Jews. If you say that after whatever it was that happened with Jews, let’s call it harmonization for want of a label, if there are communities still subordinate – that didn’t harmonize, whatever that is — all those in the dominant culture, the harmonizers,  have lost something, as well as of course those who are still subject to racism, exclusion, subordination, etc, I understand that too. Partial harmonization into domination isn’t a full solution. But what if someone says, okay, so the problem is whatever occurred for Jews could have occurred a bit better, with even less compromise of the original orientation, and that that positive harmonization could and should have occurred for all cultural communities. Why wouldn’t that be a positive image for culture? Will universal harmonization, an improved version of what happened for Jews, turn out to be very like what you are going to be advocating for all commmunities? Maybe we should go on to separation and you can return to say how this variation on what we have seen compares to what you actually favor, when you have a chance to put it forth. So, okay, to move on, what about separatism?

PODUR: Separatism solves the problem of racial, or cultural, or national oppression by separating the races (or cultures or nations) from each other—separating them physically, geographically, culturally, and presumably economically as well. Again, we can learn about separatism by looking at an example, like India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan were all part of ‘British India’. For a lot of complex reasons, the idea of a separate Muslim state became the force for a ‘Pakistan movement’. Many of the leaders of the anti-colonial movement just couldn’t believe it. If you read Nehru’s (India’s first Prime Minister) autobiography, he says—there’s no way this Pakistan thing could ever happen. All over India, Hindus and Muslims live together. What is going to happen? Are all of these Hindus and Muslims going to move? He couldn’t believe it, but it happened—and it was one of the largest and most violent population exchanges in human history. Now we have two nuclear-armed states facing each other, they’ve fought several wars, and each state has actually done a fair amount of suppression of national minorities within its own boundaries.

Now maybe India and Pakistan just didn’t do separation right. But the fact is that the world is a very mixed-up place, where people of different cultures, ethnicities, religions, live and work side by side, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if separatists didn’t make it so. But given that it is so mixed-up, it means that separation is just not possible without massive amounts of violence and ethnic cleansing. Even after partition of India/Pakistan, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan! So, separation is a practical nightmare.

Separation is highly impractical for another, similar reason. The world is a very interconnected, interdependent place. There is no reason why people in one community should go without the benefits of interaction, travel, communication, with people of other communities. Interaction is natural, inevitable. The question is: what are the terms of interaction?

I see multiculturalism as similar to separatism. In multiculturalism, every culture has its own space carved out for it. Every culture lives by its own rules. This can make ‘culture’ a cover for all kinds of oppression. In that sense it has the same pitfalls as separation. To quote Vijay Prashad’s ‘Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting’ on these pitfalls:

“Are cultures discrete and bounded? Do cultures have a history or are they static? Who defines the boundaries of culture or allows for change? Do cultures leak into each other? … To respect the fetish of culture assumes that one wants to enshrine it in the museum of humankind rather than find within it the potential for liberation or for change. We’d have to accept homophobia and sexism, class cruelty and racism, all in the service of being respectful to someone’s perverse definition of culture.”

Anti-colonial movements have tended to be nationalist in character, and nationalist movements usually argue for one form or another of separation. Usually this is understandable—it comes from a sensible urge to be out from under the boot of the colonizer. But I believe many in anti-colonial movements have learned that nationalism is not the answer. Nationalism is, instead, an enemy, the same way assimilation is.

Neither assimilation nor separation are the answer. They are just two sides of the same coin: they both want homogeneity and destroy diversity (assimilation by creating one big unit, separation by cutting every unit off from all the others). They both oppress the people stuck within them. I’d like to see anti- racist movements go on the offensive again, but without nationalism.


ALBERT: Okay, I get your argument regarding assimilation and separation but I am not sure I follow your views on multiculturalism or nationalism. So, broadly, what is multi-culturalism? And what about it do you find lacking, and, on the other hand, what about it do you find good and useful to retain? And regarding nationalism, are you saying you don’t think cultural communities should celebrate their own approaches and advocate their community interests – which is one aspect of nationalism — or just that they shouldn’t go beyond that celebration and advocacy to denying and violating other communities including advocating separation and even hostility?

PODUR: Let us take nationalism first. Nationalism goes well beyond cultural communities celebrating their own approaches and advocating their community interests. It is primarily about allegiance. It is an approach to land and citizenship and politics.

National communities arose for a lot of different reasons, but the key thing to remember is that they did not emerge fully formed at the beginning of time. There are all kinds of communities. There are communities of interest or occupation (like the ‘scientific community’ or the ‘journalistic community’) that have their own norms and can inspire strong loyalties and allegiances; religious communities; kinship networks and communities; linguistic communities; territorial communities of all kinds of levels (neighborhoods or cities or regions or countries); communities that come about because of some shared experience or history (like the African Americans).

What nationalism says is that one of these kinds of communities—usually linguistic or territorial—is the primary kind of community. It says this is who you are, above all. It says the nation is going to be the basis for political life. It is going to be the basis for citizenship—any political power you have, any access to the instruments of a government, comes through your membership in a nation (and specifically a nation-state). It says that the nation has claims to territory, resources, and state power. It says that each individual owes loyalty first and foremost to the national community—often to defend it unto death—before any other loyalty.

Of course, this is very useful to the elites of every nation-state, from the weakest and smallest to the most powerful. They are the ones, after all, who get to define who is in the nation and who isn’t, what is in the national interest and what it is not, and when there are resources or territory to be claimed in the name of the nation, they are the ones who benefit from it. They are also the ones who need to get very powerful and unquestioning loyalty when they want to go to war. By saying the community is in danger and asking the people to sacrifice for the good of the nation, they have had a lot of success in mobilizing for war.

Historically states, and movements aiming at capture of state power, have been the most active and powerful agents in creating and strengthening nationalism because it’s so useful for them. What elites usually do as well is invent all kinds of fancy mythology about how these national communities have existed forever, how they are the most advanced and remarkable people, how their past is littered with martyrs to the national cause. Sometimes, some parts of the mythology are true. Usually they are cover stories for elites.

You can see it very clearly with things like journalism. Journalists have a set of values—fairness, accuracy, objectivity—that they are all supposed to adhere to. But adhering to them in a nationalist context like the US brings conflict. Journalists, like everyone else, are expected to be nationalists first, especially when the state is at war. So you get these embedded journalists whose job is to be war propagandists, and everyone accepts it because of nationalism.

The difficulty is that nationalism has also been one of the strongest forces against colonialism and racism. Affirming and celebrating a community, affirming to ourselves that we are not what the colonizer says we are, finding connections to the past, and to one another, that the colonizer wants to keep hidden or break, wanting to overcome the ‘artificial’ borders and barriers between people—all these are important things that sometimes end up in the nationalism of oppressed people. But as a demand for loyalty, as a basis for claims to territory and resources, and as a basis for citizenship, it’s very destructive.


ALBERT: What about multiculturalism?

PODUR: What is multiculturalism? The analogy people often use is that multiculturalism is a ‘salad bowl’ compared to the ‘melting pot’ of assimilation. In a ‘salad bowl’, vegetables retain their own characteristics, their unique identity. In a ‘melting pot’, they do not. We’ve already rejected ‘melting pot’ assimilation, so we don’t need to go over it again.

What is good about multiculturalism, and useful to retain, is the recognition that cultures, modes of communication and expression and group identification other than the dominant one are worthy and deserve a certain autonomy. It also encourages some humility in encounters with other cultures: it suggests you suspend judgment and try to understand people on their own terms, to try to understand the cultural baggage that you are bringing to the situation when you do so. What is lacking in it is a notion of what happens within these ‘cultures’ and between them. If we have a multicultural society where every ‘culture’ gets to ‘govern itself’, does this mean that ‘culture’ can be used to justify sexism, or homophobia, or capitalism? What rules govern the hundreds of interactions across cultures that will happen every day? How will conflicts between people of different cultures be solved? Multiculturalism doesn’t provide the right tools to understand these problems or to deal with them.


ALBERT: I have tended to understand nationalism as less tied to states and more a matter of cultural community, probably due to the way black and Latino movements have taken nationalist stances without having states behind them — but maybe that was my imposing my values on the term. In any event, your rejection seems to be a rejection of nation states, of mindless loyalty, of seeing others as inferior, etc. Okay, you have given reasons to reject assimilation, separatism, and nationalism. Multiculturalism, it seems you deem incomplete. It has good values, good aspirations, but not much institutional substance to give the values weight or clarify what they would really mean in practice. If that’s a fair summary, maybe we can now move from criticism to prescription. What new structures do you have in mind that would provide better cultural and community aims?

PODUR: Multiculturalism is an approach that says every culture has its own space and its own resources. But it is inadequate for the reasons I’ve mentioned. So, instead, some anti-racists have proposed something called ‘polyculturalism’. Quoting Robin Kelley’s 1999 ColorLines article:

“…we were and are `polycultural.’ By `we,’ I’m not simply talking about my own family or even my `hood, but all peoples in the Western world. It is not our skin or hair or walk or talk that renders black people so incredibly diverse. Rather, it is the fact that most black people in the Americas are products of a variety of different `cultures’ — living cultures, not dead ones. These cultures live in and through us everyday, with almost no self-consciousness about hierarchy or meaning. In this respect, I think the term `polycultural’ works a lot better than `multicultural,’ since the latter often implies that cultures are fixed, discrete entities that exist side by side — a kind of zoological approach to culture. Such a view of multiculturalism not only obscures power relations, but often reifies race and gender differences..

“…While this may seem obvious, for some people it’s a dangerous concept. Too many Europeans don’t want to acknowledge that Africans helped create so-called Western Civilization, that they are both indebted to and descendants of the very folk they enslaved. They don’t want to see the world as One — a tiny little globe where people and cultures are always on the move, where nothing stays still no matter how many times we name it. To acknowledge our polycultural heritage and cultural dynamism is not to give up our black identity or our love and concern for black people. It does mean expanding our definition of blackness, taking our history more seriously, and looking at the rich diversity within us with new eyes.” (

Let me take my own crack at what polyculturalism means. Multiculturalism focuses too much on “cultures” having autonomy, resources, and so on. I would say a polycultural outlook puts the focus on people and on whole societies. Polyculturalism recognizes that a single person holds multiple identities, multiple allegiances and affinities. We speak different cultural ‘languages’, and we can change. And to go from the individual to the society, polyculturalism recognizes that cultures overlap, they change, they evolve over time. They cross-fertilize, and all societies are in a permanent state of flux, with all kinds of often very creative exchanges and interactions happening.

So if a multiculturalist says that a society should allow all cultures to develop autonomously, a polyculturalist says fine. But the “wider society” has a culture of its own, and that culture is one that everyone would have to relate to. It is in this shared space where people of different cultures interact that the basis for solidarity can be built. So in addition to having cultural autonomy, it would be important that the shared space be representative of everyone, and be based on things that are universal (and I believe there are some universals). No one is going to live sealed off in a single culture. There is just no such thing—and there probably never was.

Likewise if a nationalist says that you should owe your primary loyalty and cultural affiliation to the nation, a polyculturalist says no, there are many loyalties and affiliations, that overlap and merge and change.

In March 2001, the Zapatistas marched from Chiapas to Mexico City on what they called the ‘march of indigenous dignity’. One of their demands was the passage of a ‘law on indigenous rights and culture’. What they wanted was not the creation of a new, separate, indigenous nation state. It was not exactly a “nationalist” demand, in that sense. Instead, their proposed law featured territorial autonomy within Mexico. So, in their proposal, one could be indigenous and Mexican. Or, put another way, one could be Mexican without having one’s indigenous identity erased or devalued. This is what polyculturalism is getting at. Comandanta Esther, in the Mexican Congress, responded to critics who said the Zapatistas were making separatist demands by saying:

“This proposal was accused of balkanizing the country, ignoring that the country is already divided. One Mexico which produces wealth, another which appropriates that wealth, and another which is the one which has to stretch out its hand for charity. We, the indigenous, live in this fragmented country, condemned to shame for being the color we are, for the language we speak, the clothes which cover us, the music and the dance which speak our sadness and joy, our history.

“This proposal is accused of creating Indian reservations, ignoring that we indigenous are already in fact living apart, separated from the rest of the Mexicans, and, in addition, in danger of extinction.

“This proposal is accused of promoting a backward legal system, ignoring that the current one only promotes confrontation, punishes the poor and gives impunity to the rich. It condemns our color and turns our language into crime.”

Against that, Esther argued for a Mexico where “without losing what makes each individual different, unity is maintained, and, with it, the possibility of advancing by mutual agreement. That is the country we zapatistas want. A country where difference is recognized and respected. Where being and thinking differently is no reason for going to jail, for being persecuted, or for dying.”

The proposal is to make room for an autonomous, indigenous Mexico—part of the multicultural ideal, even part of what’s best in the nationalist aspiration—but also to change the whole of Mexico, so that it includes the indigenous. It is integration without assimilation, and it is autonomy without separation. That’s a good proposal for cultural relations.

What of nationalism and nation-states as a basis for government? Governments are based on territory and community, and nationalists argue that each national community has some ‘natural’ territory, some natural boundaries (unfortunately different nationalists have different boundaries in mind). Nationalist ideals and aspirations usually have a territorial component. That’s why maps are such important nationalist symbols. But in addition to being the basis for government, land is also an economic resource, and criteria of economic justice constrain nationalist ambitions for land. Why should citizens of the North American continent have vastly higher standards of living because they happen to be born on territory that is fantastically agriculturally productive? Economic justice requires that resources be apportioned equally and efficiently and with ecological rationality. But that’s not the whole story. Because territory is the basis of government, cultural or communal autonomy will have a territorial basis. That is the basis of the Zapatista proposal, and of the Afro-Colombians and indigenous in Colombia, and indeed of the indigenist proposals here in North America, of people like Winona LaDuke and Ward Churchill. Winona Laduke wants us to see the indigenous as ‘islands in a continent’. Ward Churchill argues for a federation of indigenous communities that will have a new relationship to the North American states—the indigenous communities will negotiate their own level of autonomy or sovereignty.

This gives a clue about citizenship as well. If a polyculturalist outlook recognizes that we all have multiple, overlapping identities and affiliations, it makes it possible to imagine multiple, overlapping levels of citizenship as well. If citizenship implies a set of rights and duties, you have such rights and duties at multiple levels—rights as a part of a local community, as part of a regional community, as part of a ‘national’ community, and as a citizen of the world. Why couldn’t you have citizenship at every level as well? That would mean you had the right to participate in decisions that affected your locality but not someone else’s, but in decisions that affected the whole world, you would have as much say as anyone else. At the global level, there is something like an expanded version of the universal declaration of human rights, and also decisions on action for global issues like climate change. At the local level, there are by-laws and decisions for public expenditures. Citizens have rights and obligations at every level. The change from today would be adding new levels of citizenship—not separating people, but giving people more say in decisions that affect everyone, giving people access to forums where they can talk to each other at all levels.


ALBERT: Multiculturalism says there are lots of cultures, we should respect them all, but it doesn’t provide clear means for the smaller and weaker cultures to avoid reduced status, rights, or even existence at the hands of larger stronger cultures, even though protection seems to be multiculturalism’s priority. Multiculturalism also ignores that the whole is somehow a culture too and that cultures in contact within a society are porous and have responsibilities imposed by their union. Multiculturalism biases us away from highlighting cultural entwinement.

Polyculturalism also wants to respect and protect all cultures, but without losing sight of their entwinement and mutual responsibilities. It wants autonomy, but also mutuality or even solidarity. It wants to escape the bias away from entwinement that characterizes multiculturalism so it seeks a kind of integration without assimilation and with retention of identity — actually, multiple identities – and without making land central.

If that summary is wrong, please correct it. But if that is broadly right, then what if the multiculuralist replies, hold on — you haven’t explained why these entwinements you emphasize won’t cause weaker communities to be subordinated to stronger ones, much less what to do about differences stemming from culture but impeding rather than facilitating social unity. What happens if the celebrations or morals of a community within society violate the norms the society as a whole seeks to implement? You have even reduced our attention to the problem. We multiculturalists haven’t solved it, but at least we see it as central. By shifting focus to the benefits of mutual interaction and influence, aren’t you letting the key issue drift away from priority — protecting the weak and small from the large and powerful? How do you envision communities within society having larger encompassing affiliations, yet this not leading to the small and weak being subordinated and subsumed?

PODUR: The problem you identify is this: one set of cultural assumptions, or values, or norms, conflicts with the values of the whole society. This is a genuine problem, because if the whole society simply imposes its values on the group, it’s a violation of diversity and autonomy. If the group is allowed to do what it pleases, then all kinds of oppression and violation could occur under the cover of respecting someone’s definition of culture.

In the normal course of events, a polycultural society has two ways to protect against this problem. The first is that the whole, which as you say is ‘somehow a culture too’, is thought of as a shared space. Not just based on what is universal, and certainly not just based on the largest or most dominant group, but a space that is open for people to bring their cultures to the mix. So there are opportunities for communication, exchange, debate, that are made to be open for people to explain and learn about differences. The second is that autonomous spaces are also protected, as in multiculturalism.

One conflict that arose in India early on was something like this. What was to be the official language? A lot was at stake here, because jobs, educational opportunities, and so on would be constrained by the choice of language for administration. In 1956, there was a linguistic re-organization of states. So each state had its own official language, and the country as a whole had two official languages: English and Hindi. India, especially today, is no polycultural paradise, but some of the institutional arrangements made early on had some good ideas for making an extremely diverse society work.

But, what happens if a conflict should arise? You could imagine a conflict where an individual or group seeks the protection of the whole society because of oppression within a cultural group. Or where some cultural group objects to some practice of another group. Or, to make it even more serious, suppose you have territorially-defined communities and one community fears that its neighbour is arming and preparing for conquest.

The conflicts would be debated and discussed in something like a genuine ‘United Nations’. The late Rodney Bobiwash, an indigenous activist and friend, used to say: ‘there are thousands of nations and hundreds of states. There are less than two hundred states in the United Nations. The only reason the United Nations isn’t called the United States is that the name was already taken.’

You could have a mechanism for resolving conflicts that doesn’t preclude intervention, but requires a lot of consensus for it. I’m borrowing from a paper by Arthur Waskow in the 1960s, called ‘Keeping the World Disarmed’. If you have a forum where all the communities send representatives, you have a rule where any country (or community) can send a single unarmed inspector to any other if they suspect there is oppression or arming or a violation going on. But in order to send a larger group, more consensus is needed. The more force to be used, the more consensus is required. This assumes that the greater the violation, the more widespread the concern will be about it and the more consensus there will be that an intervention is needed.

George Monbiot makes a different proposal that could also work in a recent essay on United Nations reform. In his proposal, each country sends representatives to the UN, but larger countries send more representatives, making voting more democratic:

“No nation would possess a veto. The most consequential decisions – to go to war for example – should require an overwhelming majority of the assembly’s weighted votes. This means that powerful governments wishing to recruit reluctant nations to their cause would be forced to bribe or blackmail most of the rest of the world to obtain the results they wanted. The nations whose votes they needed most would be the ones whose votes were hardest to buy.

“But this assembly alone would be incapable of restraining the way in which its members treat their own citizens or representing the common interests of all the people of the world. It seems to me therefore that we require another body, composed of representatives directly elected by the world’s people. Every adult on earth would possess one vote.

“The implications for global justice are obvious. A resident of Ouagadougou would have the same potential influence over the decisions this parliament would make as a resident of Washington. The people of China would possess, between them, sixteen times as many votes as the people of Germany. It is, in other words, a revolutionary assembly.”

Monbiot’s idea is for two different institutions. One, where each nation sends representatives weighted by population, giving larger communities a larger voice, and a second that is directly elected. (Incidentally, Monbiot is obviously no youth liberationist, giving only adults the vote, but that could be modified and leave the proposal intact).

What is to stop an overwhelmingly powerful community from “going it alone,” or creating a “coalition of the willing” by railroading weaker communities into supporting an intervention that is only in the interests of the powerful? Here we have to ask what is the basis for power? What makes a community overwhelmingly powerful? Population, resources, economic and military power. So long as there are gigantic disparities in wealth and power between countries and communities, there is little hope for a polycultural future. Indeed, part of the criticism of multiculturalism is that it doesn’t come to grips with these material inequalities, the correlation of race with class and political power.

A big part of the solution is therefore restitution, or reparations, that will put communities on a more equal footing. Without that, the facts of massive power differentials will overcome the institutional protections. I think that is what is happening with the United Nations today—the UN framework was designed to balance competing powers and help avert catastrophes, but the US is so powerful that there are no competing powers, so the US can ignore the UN at will. It will be the task of movements to break down these differentials in power, to win restitution, and create a context where new institutions can encourage justice, peace, solidarity and diversity.


ALBERT: On the one hand you seem to be saying that changes in people’s overriding values to a polycultural perspective and in the relative strengths of communities via reparations and economic changes in society will make problems less difficult. That seems quite true. On the other hand, you say that a broad body empowered in more participatory ways will somehow mediate or adjudicate still difficult issues. Maybe nothing much more can be said by way of norms or structures. But suppose even with economic redistribution a small minority culture comes up against a very large culture, both existing within a single society. By votes, by power, by any measure of that sort, the latter can dominate the former. Should there not be some law, some agreement — sure, it can be violated, but that goes for anything — that somehow imbues the smaller community with rights of protection that transcend its tiny size and trump the will of the larger community to violate the smaller one? It is not a good analogy, but it brings to mind prisoners rights, or the rights of the accused, etc. Rules that can’t be abridged, or that can only be abridged in very rare circumstances, for example. Wouldn’t clarifying that sort of thing be part of setting out a vision for cultural communities and giving it additional substance?

PODUR: Every federal arrangement that has existed incorporates what you might call protection for ‘minorities’. It does so using the two mechanisms already discussed: by giving communities autonomy on the one hand, and giving them representation—perhaps representation and influence out of proportion to their numbers—on the other.

Even the United States state system does this. Every state has the same amount of influence in the senate, regardless of the population of the state. And also, in the United States, there is a concept of ‘states rights’. Both of these are, in effect, protections of minorities, the ‘cultures’ of the small states. I am using this example on purpose, to highlight the fact that protecting ‘minority groups’ has its own problems. State’s rights, as you know, were used by the southern states to justify slavery as a unique part of their ‘culture’ and ‘lifestyle’, and then to justify segregation. The whole community of the US was complicit, of course, but in the event it was only massive infringing on ‘state’s rights’ that ended slavery and then segregation.

My point is that while protecting minority communities from being swamped is important, and can be done through a mix of autonomy and representation, it is also fraught with problems of its own, one of which is that individuals within a minority community (in this example the African Americans in the southern US or in the US generally) might badly need the protection of the wider society (in this example the northern US) from the powerful (in this example the white elite in the south) within their own community. When they seek that protection, they will probably do so on the basis of some universal values or rights. And again, I have to insist that this is not as controversial as it might seem. I don’t think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a greatly controversial document, even among very religious communities. I would argue that a lot of the resentment that even mass religious fundamentalist movements feel has more to do with misdirected and manipulated class and political disenfranchisement due to dislocations and capitalist globalization than with a hatred for human rights or political freedoms. And I don’t see a problem in infringing on a minority ‘culture’ if people of that culture are claiming they have to use slaves, or outlaw reproductive rights or freedoms. But again, a diverse society could make rules that said intervention into autonomous communities can only occur if there is a great deal of consensus that some terrible wrong is being committed.

But to go back to the idea of state’s rights, aren’t states just pieces of land? Should they have rights? Should groups have rights? It is a difficult problem. Our system legally (but not actually) protects individual rights, and you can imagine an extension of these rights to protect cultural rights of individuals to affiliate, identify, assemble, and express themselves as members of whatever groups they choose. Group rights are more difficult to grapple with. There is a difference. If your political system is based on individual rights, including a whole range of cultural rights and protections, you can easily think of institutions that can guarantee and protect them. If your system is based on group rights, though, or state’s rights, or national rights, then everyone has to find a group, a state, a nation, and if they don’t have one they have no way of exercising their rights, and if they are in a small one they have fewer rights than if they are in a big one.

There’s a book by Benedict Anderson called ‘Imagined Communities’, where the author discusses where nationalism came from. He talks about specific institutions, like the census, and its role in making nationalism a powerful force. Suddenly, out of all the multiple affiliations and identities, you’re supposed to check off a box to indicate your identity. And you know that everyone else is checking off a box as well, and that there are going to be claims on collective resources based on these groups. The point is that, as much as protections are needed, an emphasis on protection of minorities can have the effect of hardening what might be a fluid situation, one in which ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities’ could leak into each other or change, but won’t because there are now institutional mechanisms that make them more permanent. In fact this is one of the ways nationalism spiraled out of control in the colonial world—as a ‘security dilemma’, where everyone else is mobilizing for their rights as a nation, which means that you had better do the same or be left without rights or protection, and so on into group competition for resources, and all too often into war and disaster.


ALBERT: In your example, if the minority community of slaves were protected, it would not be necessary to violate the larger minority community of southern states. More, intervention to protect the minority might be something you build into a community vision, and there might be cases where protecting larger minorities’ rights compared to smaller minorities is, in fact, untenable. But what about meat eaters and vegans? Or more directly cultural, what about communities with different views on abortion, or on the rights of young people, or even just on what holidays should be celebrated in the form of days off from work, say? What if a minority religion wants creationist textbooks? Perhaps these aren’t ideal examples, but in disputes where a weak community confronts a more powerful one, shouldn’t there be structures which protect the weak? We want to explicitly preclude intervention by a more powerful community to violate a less powerful one, no? And to do it very effectively, no?

PODUR: In a democratic society, there are some measures that need to be taken to prevent the majority from trampling the rights of the majority, yes. I keep mentioning the pitfalls though, for a reason.

In the examples you raise, you want neither veganism nor meat-eating to be imposed; you want reproductive choice; you want the rights of young people guaranteed; you don’t want creationism to impose on science education. In all these cases, you cannot protect minority views in such a way as to allow them to trump the majority or even the rights of individuals (which is why you wouldn’t want a minority community to be able to restrict access to abortion even for women within that community). You want, instead, for all the views to be heard, and represented. You want the minority to have access to media, to have rights and opportunities to try to convince the majority of their view, by making sure they are represented, perhaps disproportionately. You also want, in cases where there need not be conflict (as with veganism and meat-eating, until the vegans convince everyone) for there to be autonomy.

In a society where there is economic equality and political freedom and participation, I wonder whether ‘majority’ community means the same thing it does in our society. What kind of issue would pit a large community against a smaller one that didn’t have an economic or political component that constrained the decision according to shared norms of justice, or that couldn’t be dealt with by autonomous communities making their own decisions? If there was a decision on which people were voting, would people vote their skin color? Their language? Their religion? There would be different majorities on different issues. Indeed, even today, if there has been one thing frustrating the Hindu nationalists in India, for example, it has been this fact— that people don’t vote their religion.


ALBERT: You ask, should groups have rights? Isn’t the violation of blacks or women or homosexuals precisely an attack on a group, not on individuals per se? The lynched black man and raped woman are not individuals, but stand in for the group, no? And this holds, also, if the attacks are verbal, or are attempts to subsume or ridicule and weaken a culture, no? And so isn’t it the group and its modes of celebration and identification that needs defense, even if it is ultimately of course people who are thereby protected? Sure, we can say that no one should be killed or brutalized, and that will rule out killing or brutalizing individuals per se and also as members of groups. But do we think groups should have the right to have holidays, and to celebrate them and to not suffer for doing so? I do. But I don’t think individuals should have the right to say today is a holiday for me and so I don’t have to work today and you all have to abide that regardless of inconveniences to you. Some things are collectively cultural and achieve their warrant precisely for being so, don’t they?

PODUR: Yes. There are collective rights in addition to individual ones, that can and should be guaranteed by way of autonomy and representation. And indeed, the legal definition of “genocide” is the destruction of a group as a group—obliterating all of a group’s ways of identifying, communicating, expressing its membership, even if the physical destruction of the members doesn’t take place.

Still, I wonder if the whole reason we think so much about the ‘defense’ and ‘protection’ of ‘minorities’ has to do with how disempowered we are. I think a lot of the communal problems that arise in our society have a lot to do with economic and political disenfranchisement. Capitalism means you have no control over your economic destiny, state oppression means you have no control over your political destiny—culture, or sometimes nationalism, is a kind of consolation prize. “Defend” your “traditions”, even if they include patriarchy or homophobia; wave a flag, but do not dare ask about economic, or political, self-determination.


ALBERT: As far as reducing the prospects of unbalanced conflicts — what do you mean by reparations and how do you see them occurring?

PODUR: Our economic system is built on the labor of slaves, the stolen land of indigenous people, the plunder of colonies, and the exploitation of immigrants. The legacy of all this is a concentration of resources within and between countries. One of the effects of racism is this massive economic inequality. The inequality itself leads to restrictions of all kinds of freedom—the most fundamental being the freedom to move. The rich countries have to restrict immigration because if the borders were opened labor would be able to follow capital wherever it flew. So violence is used in order to protect (and expand) an economic system established by violence. Such disparities in wealth and power will undermine any ‘multicultural’ arrangements you could design. As I said, that’s one of the criticisms of multiculturalism, that it says we are supposed to have ‘tolerance’ for each other even as one community is plundering another.

Having said that, I also think there is a right and a wrong way to do reparations. The wrong way would be for elites to hand out some money, that would quickly end up right back in the hands of elites, after which those same elites could wash their hands and say ‘okay, racism’s over now, shut up’. The right way would be for reparations to actually, permanently reduce inequalities, break up concentrations of power, and increase the economic independence of communities. So, resources—not just money but land, for example land that military bases are on, or corporations hold—would be transferred to the control of oppressed communities (like African-Americans or indigenous) with a view to long-term establishment of agricultural, industrial, health, education, environmental infrastructure that would bring their communities to equality and build a basis for autonomy and more equal relations with the wider community. In ‘The Debt’, Randall Robinson suggests things like establishing educational and infrastructure funds. At the international level, reparations means things like erasing debts and beginning to transfer resources and investments in the other direction—going well beyond fair trade to trade in which the poor countries capture a much greater share of the benefits. The anti-capitalist globalization movements, the movement for Black Reparations, and many indigenous movements, see reparations in this vein.


ALBERT: Regarding reparations, just to fill out the view you are offering, suppose, by whatever dynamics, blacks in the U.S. currently had the same average income, positions, etc., as whites, but also the history of slavery, etc. Would reparations make sense? If it is payment to redress a prior injustice (which the word seems to imply) they would. But if one intends instead to move toward an equitable and just distribution, then they wouldn’t make sense. My problem with the word reparations implies that if there isn’t some unusual past rip off but there is grave inequality, the inequality is okay and needn’t be redressed. Likewise, if there is the grave past violation but no current inequality to redress, the payments nonetheless need to be made. If establishing that kind of logic isn’t the intent, then I wonder why the call is for reparations rather than for income redistribution to redress current injustices.

PODUR: Reparations, as I understand it, has several parts. The first is “repair,” so the damage done by these historical atrocities and injustices that is reflected in inequality today, has to be repaired. I don’t think it would be hugely controversial to say that the ‘repair’ aspect, the transfer of wealth, is based on redressing those inequalities in the present, some of which are reproduced in the present and others that are simply a legacy of the past. And yes, all inequalities have to be removed by such transfers. But that is only the first part of reparations. The second has to do with collective memory. It has to do with making a public recognition of the atrocity that took place, of making it a part of our history. So, to answer your question, supposing that blacks in the US had the same average income, positions, etc., as whites but also the history of slavery, such a recognition, a reckoning, would still be in order, and would be an important part of what reparations means. Some of the most moving parts of Randall Robinson’s book, The Debt, have more to do with this aspect of reparations than with the redistributive aspect. Yet another aspect of reparations is the justice aspect. For atrocities that have taken place in living memory, there has to be justice. Not only truth and reconciliation, but bringing the authors of massive crimes to justice. If the atrocities occurred generations ago, that kind of justice is not possible, but reparations can still be made. So, a transfer of wealth to remove inequality (income redistribution to redress current injustices, even in the absence of grave past violations, would be adequate for this part), a historical reckoning, and justice, all are elements of reparations.


ALBERT: Why would you want to increase inequality – by giving assets to a group that was not poorer – to achieve a historical reckoning? Why is asset transfer the only way to recognize past injustice, or even a good way, when it isn’t redressing inequality but is instead, even aggravating it?

PODUR: This isn’t just a theoretical question. Norman Finkelstein talks about this in the context of reparations for the Holocaust, in his book The Holocaust Industry. It is interesting that a lot of mainstream US figures understand the principles behind restitution in the context of the holocaust, but not in the context of slavery, the genocide against the indigenous, or colonialism. Finkelstein quotes Bill Clinton as saying “we must confront and, as best we can, right the terrible injustice of the past.” Congressional leaders wrote to the Secretary of State saying “response on this restitution matter will be seen as a test of respect for basic human rights and the rule of law.” Madeleine Albright, talking about the benefits the Swiss accrued from the Nazi plunder of the Jews, said those benefits were “passed along to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland, not to assume responsibility for actions taken by their forbears, but to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs.”

Finkelstein discusses the merits of the case against the Swiss and concludes that the same case could easily be made against the United States (but is not) in the matter of the Holocaust; and a far stronger case could certainly be made against the US for slavery or the genocide against the indigenous. But he also identifies the problem you mention. It is one thing to seek reparations from Swiss Banks or the German government, wealthy institutions that had no justification for denying restitution. It is quite another to seek reparations from Poland or Belarus, extremely poor countries (the average monthly income of a Belarussian is around $100) which some of the compensation organizations were doing. That kind of compensation would aggravate inequality, and is fraught with problems.

There is in this case a tension between justice and equality, and balancing them has to be done carefully.


ALBERT: Okay, supposing the model of polyculturalism is filled out and gains advocates as a goal regarding the relations among cultural communities, what would this mean for political activism now? Does it have implications for the kinds of demands and programs movements should have? Does it have implications for the structure and character of our movements? Are there implications, in short, for what we do now?

PODUR: I think it calls attention to the need for solidarity. A powerful aspect of the anti-war movements, the movement for Palestinian rights and justice, or movements against US intervention, has been international solidarity. The experiences of this kind of work have led many local activists to wonder why we don’t show that same kind of solidarity more locally, with indigenous struggles in North America, with struggles for immigrant rights. The challenges to more “nationalist” approaches have come from movements for indigenous and immigrant rights. To quote Nandita Sharma:

“Indigenous peoples, like (im)migrants, have been negatively effected by the power of national states to determine membership criteria and to define membership so as to further the narrow interests of ruling elites. National ‘citizenship’ rights for Indigenous peoples has always meant having to relinquish self-determinacy and pledge allegiance to a colonizing power. That is why so many have refused them. For (im)migrants, ‘citizenship’ rights are equally problematic. They are highly racialized and gendered so that even those people of colour who gain them are not recognized as equal members of society. Of course, the world over, most people migrating are denied citizenship rights altogether. Citizenship rights, and their denial, then, are a very powerful mechanism in the hands of national states to bolster their own power (and the power of employers and landlords) at the expense of Indigenous peoples and those of us who can be declared to be the ‘foreigners’ and ‘enemy-aliens’ within, most specifically people from the Global South, especially women of colour.” (

In Europe, North America, and Australia, there are growing movements raising the demand “No One is Illegal”. This is a really revolutionary idea that I think meets nicely with polyculturalism. The same with indigenous struggles for land rights and self-determination. These struggles compel new relationships between communities and new ways of thinking about the ways we are connected, and the ways we could be connected in a more just society.

There is a constant tension in polyculturalism, between autonomy and solidarity, between trying to ensure a shared space is really representative and realizing that the boundaries between the things that are represented are fluid and overlapping. That tension can be painful, but it also provides so many possibilities.

Next Entry Parecon and Race?


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