Thursday, January 05, 2012

Ruling Class Plays Divide and Rule Over Abbott Tweet

Labour's Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott is facing widespread media calls for her resignation this afternoon, after Tweeting that "'White people love playing 'divide & rule'". The instant furore illustrates much that is malevolent about the corporate media, and ironically enough provides a perfect example of how the ruling class plays divide and rule.

It is impossible for us to know exactly what Abbott meant by her Tweet. But the idea that she believes ALL white people love playing divide and rule - i.e. was racist - is preposterous. The term itself (and its alternative form - 'divide and conquer') has always been associated with the most powerful manipulators in society - people like Caesar, Napoleon and Machievelli. It refers to a tactic used by all those at the top of society, in order to prevent those at the bottom uniting and overthrowing them. It seems impossible that she was implying that poor working class white people in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency love to play divide and rule.

Abbott made her comment in the context of a discussion on the Stephen Lawrence case, after Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally imprisoned for a racist murder that took place eighteen years ago. In the moments before her now deleted Tweet, Abbott had correctly criticised the "police incompetence" in pursuing Lawrence's killers. She then responded to black journalist Bim Adewunmi, who had complained about the media's patronising use of the terms "black community" and "black community leaders", by referring to "white people" "playing divide & rule".

Diane Abbott is a long-standing MP, and operates on what passes for the 'left' of the Labour Party. She will have made many political enemies over the years, and they are no doubt currently rejoicing at the opportunity to give her a kicking. It is worth recalling that no serious corporate media calls were made for Jeremy Clarkson to resign when he called for the mass slaughter of striking public sector workers. Of course, he is a creature of the right, and the majority of his political positions are well within the current bourgeois spectrum. But why are Abbott's comments controversial at all?

Firstly, because the social fact of ethnic divisions is generally kept swept under the carpet of liberal political discourse. When it is raised at all, it is usually cloaked in white privilege - i.e. 'why aren't black fathers more responsible?' and 'why don't black kids do better at school?' Here we have a black woman raising the bare fact that racist power structures still exist in modern society. The bourgeois consensus doesn't want to talk about that, so she is slapped down.

But more than that, by couching her Tweet in purely ethnic terms, Abbott has laid herself open to easy and convenient accusations of racism. If she is forced out of the shadow cabinet, and is replaced by another bland 'Blue Labour' drone, then many on the right will be pleased. Furthermore, by implicitly playing this up as black vs white, the media papers over the chasmic class divisions in society.

A far better statement would have been that "Ruling class people love playing 'divide & rule'". This was undoubtedly true when Caesar conquered Gaul, and it is true when Tories try to play private sector workers against those in the public sector. But it is also true when Barack Obama plays Sunni against Shia in Iraq, for example. All ruling elites use the tactic at all times, and they would be foolish not to - it can work for them. The problem is that there are ruling elites in existence - and that is why working class people of all ethnicities and nations must unite to overthrow them.
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