Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism or Nationalism?

Standing at the End of History?

The establishment of World Socialism through the conscious and political action of a Socialist majority is faced with a number of temporary but not insurmountable obstacles. One obstacle is the present support given by the working class for the interests of the capitalist class over a wide range of economic and political issues. This support often manifests itself in an expression of nationalism and patriotism in which workers believe that they have some vested interest in a particular country and under certain circumstances will either die or kill other workers.

What is the “national interest”? Why do workers erroneously believe they have an economic and political interest in a particular country? And why do these interests have no bearing on the interest of the working class?

To answer these questions consider Britain. Britain is an island off mainland Europe containing natural resources, factories, offices, farms, mines, docks, buses and trains and distribution points. Who do these means of production belong to? They do not belong to the white working class membership of the English Defence League under the misguided illusion they have something to defend. Nor do they belong to the workers in the British National Party raging at the world for the poverty and alienation of their inner-city existence any more than they belong to the working class in general no matter where they have originally come from. In fact, workers have class interests diametrically opposed to the capitalists and their politicians.

In not owning the means of production and distribution, workers are forced to sell their ability to work as a commodity in exchange for a wage or a salary. The working class includes those who are dependent on someone in employment as well as the 4 million self-employed workers. The working class form the majority class in society and are forced to enter into the labour market to search for a job. Workers, in short, are imprisoned within the coercive and exploitive wages system where they soon discover from an early age what their wages can buy and what they and their families need to live- on are altogether two completely different things.

The social and economic problems facing the working class are not caused by other workers but by the wages system. On a daily basis workers are in a class struggle with employers over the extent and intensity of exploitation. Workers have an interest in getting the highest wage possible while employers want to drive wages down and increase productivity. In reality the class struggle is a political struggle over the ownership of the means to life.

The problem for the working class is capitalism not migrants and workers living in other countries. Poor housing and education, the struggle to find employment and having little or no control over a worker’s life is a consequence of capitalism and the profit motive not workers who have come from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Pakistan, Somalia or somewhere else in the world. Competition is a fact of life under capitalism and workers are forced to compete on the jobs market for work and to constantly compete in employment to keep their jobs. If Britain had a wholly white working, class exploitation would still take place, workers would still be made redundant and they would still have to struggle for housing and other important necessities of life. All workers have identical class interests, they form one class and they take part in the same class struggle.

The means of production and distribution are owned by the capitalist class. The capitalist class live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. They live a life of luxury and privilege. The top 10% of households are now 850 times wealthier than the bottom 10% (GUARDIAN 3rd December 2012).

And as the SUNDAY TIMES RICH LIST (21st April 2013) has recently shown, the richest 1,000 persons in the UK, just 0.003% of the adult population has increased their wealth by no less than £35bn in the last year alone. Since the economic crises in 2008 their wealth has risen to £190bn. All told their collective total wealth has now reached £449bn. Just 200 are now worth £318bn, while the richest 100, only 0.0003% of adults, now have wealth estimated at £257bn – in other words each of them on average possesses wealth exceeding £2.5bn. There are now 88 billionaires in Britain, 11 more than the year before.

Capitalism is a system that accords with the interests of the capitalist class and they do very well from the profit system. Workers, therefore, do not have any country to support or to die for. As Marx pointed out perceptively in “THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO”:

The working men have no country. We cannot take away from them what they have not got

National Interest versus Class Interests

Nation states contain a capitalist class owning the means of production and distribution with competing political and economic interests, political institutions and a coercive machinery of government to protect private property from internal or external threats. Nation states also contain a working class who own nothing but their ability to work which they are forced to sell to the capitalists for a wage or salary. Within every country of the world social wealth is created by the working class. The working class are exploited in the productive process by producing more social wealth in a week or a month than they receive back in wages and salaries.

All nations of the world are capitalist economies within a world-wide capitalist system. Workers have no interest in the capitalist class who exploit them; they have no trade routes to protect, no raw resources to secure and no strategic spheres of influence to defend. A world capitalist class confronts a world working class over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. Workers throughout the world share the same class interests, take part in the same class struggle and share the same political need to consciously and politically replace World Capitalism with World Socialism.

This also includes the latent trans-European nationalism associated with those bureaucrats and politicians within the European Union who want to establish a United States of Europe. Early advocates of a United States of Europe included Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Liberal J. S Mill and the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin but more recently a unified European State has been championed by, among others, the former Belgium Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt in his book, “UNITED STATES OF EUROPE” (2005). The EU project is a long way off from achieving its objective of a political union and an integrated State along the lines of the US. The recent problems with the single currency and the bitter nationalism unleashed in countries forced to accept harsh austerity programmes leaves the project somewhat in tatters.

Over the question of the United States of Europe the capitalists and their political agents are bitterly divided. The question of Increased European integration and a European State is largely a political not an economic one; and it is a question of no concern to the interests of the working class. Capitalism, operating with all its contradiction and conflicts either within a United States of Europe or within individual nation states, is still an exploitive profit driven system leaving the means of production and distribution firmly in the hands of the capitalist class.

Capitalists and their politicians seldom agree over a wide range of economic and political issues of what constitutes “the national interest”; from joining the Euro to what energy or transport policy to pursue. They are even divided during a war. In both the First and Second World War some members of the capitalist class were bitterly opposed to war with Germany. During the late 1920’s and 1930’s both US and Britain prepared for war against each other. The US even drew up plans in 1930 to bomb the main cities of Canada as part of a war plan to destroy the British Empire. There were opponents within the capitalist class of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservative supporting newspapers like the DAILY MAIL have opposed involvement in conflicts taking place in Libya and Syria.

The fundamental struggle in the world is not a nationalist struggle but a class struggle. The class struggle is a political struggle and it is the class struggle that politically moves one social system to the next. Socialists do not support one nation state against another. We do not support nationalist struggles any more than we support the Welsh and Scottish nationalists who want to cede from Britain.

However, Socialism will not come by its own accord. Social systems change through the political action of men and women. The establishment of Socialism is no exception. Only a Socialist majority can establish Socialism. This means that Socialists have to persuade workers to pursue the Socialist objective in line with their own class interest and not give support to capitalist politicians. The national interest is not the working class interest. The national policies of the capitalist parties are not policies workers should support.

Fictional Histories

The teaching of history inculcates the belief in nationalism and “my country right or wrong”. The current Minister for Education, Michael Gove, wants children to learn by rote the dates of kings and queens and “important” national events (1066 and all that) to give a sense of national continuity and belonging.

Left-wing nationalism has a long history but is strongly identified with Joseph Stalin who promoted a nationalist concept called "revolutionary patriotism" in the Soviet Union. Stalin appealed for nationalism and “Mother Russia” during the Second World War. The former Yugoslavian dictator, Josip Tito also expressed left-wing nationalism in an attempt to promote unity between the Yugoslav nations and asserting Yugoslavia's independence.

Trendy left wing teachers and academics have recently stressed a different nationalist emphasis on the teaching of history. They want to celebrate, among other things, the nurses serving soldiers in the Crimea War and non-white crew members fighting on board Nelson’s flag-ship “Victory” at the Battle of Trafalgar as suitable historical role models for students. Others want a “national curriculum” which includes mention of soldiers from India or the West Indies in accounts of battles fought in the First and Second World War while ignoring Socialists who opposed both wars and, who were, as a result, imprisoned, harassed and attacked for their Socialist principles.

Some of the worst nationalist tracts have been written by those professing to be Socialists. It beggars belief that George Orwell is still held up as a paragon of Socialist virtue when his nationalist writings during the Second World War amount to nothing more than chauvinistic propaganda. Essays like MY COUNTRY RIGHT OR LEFT and THE LION AND THE UNICORN, could never have been written by a Socialist. And his article NOTES ON NATIONALISM trawls in every conceivable political position on nationalism except his own (Orwell regarded his love of Britain as “patriotic” rather than “nationalist”). And it is conveniently forgotten that he denounced “enemies of the nation” in 1949 handing “a little list” to the Labour government; a good English patriot! Just what is Socialist about the English patriot, George Orwell? No wonder the Tories want to hold him as “one of their own”.

Orwell was right that there were those in the Communist Party of Britain during the 1930’s and 1940’s who transferred their nationalism and patriotic affection to another country; Stalin’s Russia. The spies like Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt come to mind. One historian, Eric Hobsbawn, gave support to the Soviet Union on the spurious grounds that it contributed to the defeat of Fascism as though that annulled the show trials, torture, gulags and firing squads of millions of political prisoners. Stalin’s purges led to the death of 20,000 people. Socialists who rejected all war based on the basis of class interest are conveniently ignored and written out of history despite enduring discomfort and imprisonment.

Patriotism and nationalism in the teaching of history is itself a battle ground fought by all governments desperate for the imposition of a politics of national inclusion, cohesion and collective belonging. All very conservative with a small “c” since the pursuit of a fictional patriotic discourse is applicable to all the three main political parties, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour, as they struggle to present a nationalist image reflecting the ideas and beliefs of their respective political organisations.

Politicians and historians paint the picture of nation states as though they were natural events. When Thatcher rejected the notion of “society” she went on to assert that only “nations and families” enfolding out in a continuous and natural trajectory through time. However, nations are not natural but historical sites of class exploitation which arose out of the development of capitalism in the 16th century.

It was amusing to have watched the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, silenced in a debate on Bulgarian television, when it was pointed out to him that his ancestors had come to Britain in the late 17th century as persecuted Huguenots. Workers are often forced to become migrants in search of employment either within a nation state or over the six continents of the world. Nationalist history is of course a fictional history used by the capitalist class and its politicians to divide the working class and unite sections of the workers to support the political and economic interests of the employers against foreign competitors or nation states (see PATRIOTISM: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF BRITISH NATIONAL IDENTITY, ed. R. Samuel, 1989 particularly the opening paper, The Figures of National Myth by R. Samuel pp. xi to xxxvi)).

Take, for example, the question of historical dates in the teaching of history to school children. Historical dates are only significant because they carry political weight and importance for a ruling class. The serfs in England who were exploited in 1065 when the Saxon ruling class ruled the country were still being exploited in 1067 after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Magna Carta of June 1217 was a Baron’s victory charter whose text was appropriated as a national icon by subsequent ruling classes and has no relevance to the interest of the working class. 1688 may have been a “Glorious Revolution” for the aristocracy, financiers and rising capitalist class but not for an emerging working class. And August 4th 1914 may have started a historical process which would see the British Empire wane and its ruling class increasingly become small-time players on a world capitalist market but for the working class majority supporting the out-break of war in the interest of another class, it was disastrous day for the Socialist movement. Dates conveniently omitted from the proposed National History Curriculum will be the Putney debates (1647), the establishment of the Chartist Movement (1838) and the English translation and publication in 1850 of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.

The Capitalist Left and Nationalism

If Socialists reject all nationalism this is not the case with the capitalist left who support nationalist struggles and nationalism. The capitalist left gives its support to nationalist movements who are opposed to “US Imperialism” or Western capitalism. The capitalist left might dislike the nationalism associated with non-Socialist working class support for British capitalism but find no difficulty in being nationalist cheerleaders for countries who are the enemies of the US or Western capitalism. The Stop the War movement supports the Palestinian struggle against Israel and is currently debating who to support in Syria as long as it is not a group supported by Britain or the US.

Every barbaric anti-working class nationalist movement with its attendant policies of genocide has found supporters within the capitalist left; support for the Viet Kong in Vietnam, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba, Chairman Mao’s totalitarian state in China, various African nationalist movements, the actions of radical Islamic groups, terrorists like Hezbollah from Palestine, the list goes on and on. Apologies are made for death, rape, torture and human misery on the specious grounds of “your enemy is my friend”.

An example of this uncritical and slavish support for nationalist liberation struggle can be read in the booklet, HOW MARXISM WORKS (1986 p. 68) by the Socialist Workers Party’s former leading theoretician, the late Chris Harman whose Party’s historian deliberately write the SPGB out from history; a political organisation who dismiss us as an irrelevant groupuscle sect. Harman wrote that in the chaos and turmoil of nationalist struggle and civil war: “the working class can take the leadership of all other oppressed classes and seize control of whole countries” p. 69. The basis for this erroneous assertion is V I Lenin’s theory of Imperialism to be found in his notorious “STATE AND REVOLUTION” published in 1917 in which he distorted the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Engels to suit his own anti-Socialist ends.

Socialists reject Lenin’s theory of Imperialism and its bogus caricature of a privileged working class – “an aristocracy of labour “- benefitting from Imperialism with higher wages and social reforms at the expense of other workers elsewhere in the world. We say that in developing capitalist countries where there is no vote, workers should not confuse their own class interests with those of a potential ruling class. In many developing countries an emerging working class confronts ruthless dictatorships who impose censorship, threaten political opponents and imprison trade unionists. In these circumstances it is difficult for workers to organise but they must nevertheless struggle to organise in trade unions and in a principled Socialist Party with Socialism and only Socialism as its objective.

Workers in developing countries must avoid conflating their own interests from nationalist organisations struggling for power. Socialists in developing capitalist countries should oppose all other political parties and so-called “democratic movements” to keep alive the case for Socialism as a separate political proposition in its own right. The working class should reject the concept of political leadership. They do not need leaders and the led. Socialists can and should act and think for themselves which is the last thing the SWP leadership want for the working class.

The Political Parties and Nationalism

The Conservatives have long presented themselves as the party of nationalism and patriotism. The case for Conservative nationalism was expressed by the late Lord Hailsham

Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself…Conservative philosophy does lay a most particular stress upon the duty of loyalty and the sentiment of patriotism…The nation, not the so-called class struggle, is therefore at the base of Conservative political thinking THE CASE FOR CONSERVATISM Penguin 1959

Mrs. Thatcher tapped into nationalist prejudice when, in an interview with Granada’s WORLD IN ACTION (January 27th 1978), she claimed that she sympathized with the views that: “People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture”.

Then there was the bucolic and sentimental vision, offered by John Major when he was Prime Minister, of an England: “… of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and - as George Orwell said - 'old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist”.

However, the Liberals, later the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party have all immersed themselves in nationalist propaganda when it suits their political interests. The Labour Party has not only supported the British Empire and used nationalism to galvanise support from workers in two World Wars but it also used nationalist propaganda in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by misleadingly presenting both conflicts in the “national interest”; that is in the interest of the whole population.

Under Blair’s premiership the Union Jack was introduced in the Party’s logo at conferences and at elections in an attempt to vie with the Tories for the nationalist vote. And at the 2012 conference, Ed Milliband stood in front of a blue stage-backdrop and fluttering Union Jack to bask in the imagery of one nation Toryism. Goebbels would have been impressed. After all, he had written a truth about capitalist politics:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State

During the last Labour administration Gordon Brown was forced to assert: "Can anybody here say that they don't want British workers to get jobs in our country?'' (DAILY TELEGRAPH 4th February 2009). His speech was in response to thousands of workers at around 20 construction sites and refineries across Britain walking out in an unofficial strike claiming “foreign workers are taking the jobs of British workers”.

The slogan used by the strikers was “British jobs for British workers” used in a speech by Gordon Brown’s to the 2007 Labour Party conference. Of course, there is no such thing as “British jobs” any more than there are “Polish jobs” or “Italian jobs”. Capitalists will move industries elsewhere in the world to tap into cheaper labour costs and encourage immigration for the same reason. The real problem for the working class is not jobs, not workers from other countries but the wages system and capitalism.

At the 2012 Labour conference, without a shadow of embarrassment, Ed Miliband advocated a “one nation” politics in which class conflict was repudiated to be replaced by national unity and collective purpose. He said: “We must have a one-nation banking system as part of a one-nation economy." The Labour leader cited as his inspiration the former Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who made a similar speech on One Nation Conservatism in Manchester's Free Trade Hall (BBC NEWS 2 October 2012).

There can never be a “one-nation economy”. The working class cannot be split along “cultural” lines when, all workers are excluded from the ownership of the means of production and distribution. Capitalism is a worldwide system of class exploitation and an economy separate and distinct from the rest of the world is meaningless. No capitalist country is an isolated and self-sufficient island. And while there is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution the class struggle will continue despite the “One Nation vision” from politicians like Ed Miliband, the chauvinism of Brown and Thatcher and the mythical nationalist fictions of John Major and George Orwell.

World Socialism: no Artificial Barriers

Capitalism has created communication systems which have shrunk the planet. The internet and other social media have bought the whole world’s population readily into contact with each other. Communication and transport networks have made global production and distribution easier. A society of abundance has long since been possible and will form the material basis of a Socialist society. Socialism will release the forces of production including social and cooperative labour just to meet the need of all society.

Socialists do not envisage cultural uniformity but there is more that unites human beings than divides them. There is a universal need for shelter, food, housing, creativity and so on. Human beings are both social and co-operative and can work together to produce and distribute goods to meet human need.

Acceptance by workers of the very idea of Socialism – a world-wide integrated system of common ownership and democratic control of production and distribution by all of society – necessitates a rejection of all nationalism. “National Socialism” is a contradiction in terms while you cannot have “Socialism in one country” any more than you can have an insulated “national economy”. Decisions within Socialism will be democratically made.

Socialists do not say that socialism will be problem free. There will be hard decisions to be made particular in the early years of a Socialist society. However the democratic social organisations and the will of a Socialist majority will be an asset to Socialism which capitalism can never have at its disposal. And Socialism will also release the creative potential of the workers from the imprisonment of the labour market and wages system to ensure: “from each according to their ability to each according to need”.

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