The latest pile of hypocrisy from the government, the opposition and the media concerns a tweet from Diane Abbott (http://en.wikipedia.org/...) the Labour MP from Hackney North and Stoke Newington and the first black woman elected to the House of Commons. In this tweet, she responded to a statement from freelance journalist Bim Adewunmi in a discussion of the conviction of two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence. For those that have not heard of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, this was an unprovoked racist murder of a young black man at a bus stop in Eltham, South London in 1993. Due to police corruption, racism, and incompetence, it has taken 18 years until two of the killers have finally been sentenced to a minimum of 29 years for murder earlier this week; Stephen’s family led the fight for justice and this case caused a serious overhaul of both police procedures and the justice system following an investigation finding institutional racism in the police and police procedures (http://www.dailykos.com/...). It has not eliminated racism in policing by any means, this is evident from the fact that stop and search procedures still target people of colour primarily and people of colour are disproportionately present in the UK prison system.
In this twitter discussion, Ms Adewunmi wrote that “so-called ‘black leaders’ were out of touch with the people they claimed to represent” (here is Ms Adewunmi’s view on the discussion with Ms Abbott:http://www.guardian.co.uk/...). Ms Abbott responded by saying “White people love playing divide and rule. We should not play their game (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/...).”
This tweet has resulted in a hullaballoo in which Ms Abbot has been accused of racism and “inciting hatred against white people” by one of the few non-white Tory members of parliament Nadhim Zahawi (http://www.zahawi.com/) who called for her sacking as Shadow leader for Public Health and for her to leave her seat (shame on him, really I would be laughing if it was not so grotesque). Mr Zahawi said: "This is racism. If this was a white Member of Parliament saying all black people want to do bad things to us they would have resigned within the hour or been sacked." Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, said her comments were “stupid and crass.” From the right-wing press, as expected, Abbott has been attacked and even called a racist for stating the obvious (see, for a particularly racist piece, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/...). Labour party leader, Ed Milliband, has forced her to apologise for her statement.
Is this a case of someone being forced to apologise for saying the truth? I think so and quite honestly I wish that she had stood by her statement. In fact, I would say even more, this is blatant cowardice on the part of the Labour party and its leader and incredible hypocrisy by the government which has used divide and rule as an essential tactic both in their campaigns and in their governance.
If I have a point of criticism against Abbott’s original statement it is that I strongly think that debate and discussion are essential, we have different approaches and beliefs to fighting for political, social and economic justice. Moreover, questioning and challenging leadership are an essentially healthy thing. It prevents leadership from becoming unaccountable and it enables the rise of new tactics and strategies to deal with injustice; it is essential if democracy is to mean anything more than going to the ballot box to vote.
However, what would you call it when the government tries to play off workers in the private sector from workers in the public sector arguing the latter are privileged because they have better pensions (as pension benefits have been eroded in the private sector)? Yes, divide and rule. How about when they decry those on disability as lazy, or those on benefits as slackers and living off the hard work of others rather than carrying their own weight (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/...)? Yes, that is divide and rule. How about describing those that participated in last summer’s riots and the poor (due to their laziness, their dissolute behaviour, their wanting things beyond their means, blah, blah, blah) as immoral (http://www.guardian.co.uk/...)? How about all the racist comments coming out of the mouths of Tories as large numbers of the poor that participated in these riots were black (here is a nauseating example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/...? Yes, again. Blame the victim has very helpful when divide and rule tactics are used by various governments. How about the argument that male unemployment is due to feminism and women in the workplace as though given the attack on incomes of the working and middle class, a single income could sustain a family in these days (http://www.guardian.co.uk/...)? Yes, again! So, for this government which routinely uses divide and rule tactics to call for Abbott’s removal and resignation we are looking at a denial of reality and something so offensive that it reaches new heights for unmitigated gall and hypocrisy. Imagined that you are being condemned for stating the obvious, because this is what it looks to me.
In her apology, Diane Abbott said that her comment was taken out of context and said that she was referring to the nature of 19th century European colonialism. But can we say honestly that divide and rule (aka divide and conquer in the US) does not exist today?
I was unsurprised to find that the tactic was initially developed by Julius Caesar as a military, political and economic tactic. Divide et impera was used against the conquest of Palestine as well as Macedonia. Machiavelli was a strong advocate and it was also used by Napoleon. It is a much beloved tactic used during the colonial period by various empires.
According to the Wiki piece on it (http://en.wikipedia.org/...), historically the tactic can be broken down into the following:
• creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects in order to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
• aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
• fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
• encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending.
It is a strategy that has been used by emperors, kings, military conquers, and colonisers. But it also has served quite well in the context of Bourgeois Democracy and the Capitalist economic system. In fact, James Madison (http://en.wikipedia.org/...) made this recommendation in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of 24 October 1787 (http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/...) which summarized his thesis of The Federalist #10 (http://www.constitution.org/...) where he addressed dealing with the different interests based upon class and beliefs of those in society and how to prevent the oppression of the minority by the majority (yes, I am thinking of small numbers of wealthy people being tyrannised by the majority, what else could it refer to?):
"Divide et impera, the reprobated axiom of tyranny, is under certain qualifications, the only policy, by which a republic can be administered on just principles. It must be observed however that this doctrine can only hold within a sphere of a mean extent. As in too small a sphere oppressive combinations may be too easily formed against the weaker party; so in too extensive a one, a defensive concert may be rendered too difficult against the oppression of those entrusted with the administration (http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/...)."
In its modern usage and context, divide and rule is used where the world majority are divided upon the basis of colour, sex, sexual preference, income and country of birth so as to strengthen the hand of those that rule as the ruled are too busy hating, distrusting, and fighting each other so as to hold on to their perceived privileges. So why are they pretending that they are not using it? And why are we letting them get away with it? This would have been a wonderful opportunity for the Labour party to discuss divide and rule tactics, but then again, they have used that tactic themselves. So denial is the best strategy.
Finally, I would argue that she is correct; divide and rule is a tactic predominately used by white people. Why is it that this has occurred? It is not used by white people because they are white per se, but rather because white people are those in political and economic power and white privilege has enabled the use of this tactic by the powers that be to be successful in dividing people. That is because essentially white people are not only the ruling class in Europe and North America, but also because of the reality of white privilege, white people (especially white men) are incredibly susceptible to this tactic. It is a tactic used by people in power to maintain their power. Dividing people so that they oppose each other’s fights for social, economic and political justice by using racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia is an incredibly useful tactic. It is used to deny political, social and economic rights of people of colour and women and it continues to be used to divide the working class (skilled from unskilled, high from low income), the middle class from the working class, men from women, white people from people of colour, and to divide natural allies domestically and internationally.