Socialists are not Patriots

Michael Gove, former Education Secretary of State for Education and now chief disciplinarian to the Tory Party backbenchers, mischievously remarked in a recent discussion on the politics of the First World War that “socialists are not patriotic enough” TIMES 21st July 2014). Lord West, a Labour peer and former admiral, was so upset at this slur that he challenged Mr Gove for a few rounds in the boxing ring. This curious remark also upset a Labour Councillor from Ipswich; one Alasdair Ross who claimed on his blog that he had just attended a ‘Labour Friends of the Forces’ reception in London which demonstrated just how patriotic Labour was.

Those at the event in London included most of the shadow defence team and the Party’s leader, Ed Miliband. Also there were three potential Parliamentary candidates, all former members of the armed forces. The assembled politicians all wore their patriotism proudly on their chests to reflect the medals of the professional killers being celebrated at the reception after their recent tour of Afghanistan. After several years killing the Taliban “our boys” were eager to find out what their “friends” in the Labour Party, originally known as the “Party of Peace”, could do for them.

While there is no doubt Lord West, Mr Ross, Ed Miliband and other Labour Party members are sincerely patriotic to the core, despite the mendacious rumours of DAILY MAIL editorials to the contrary, and while they would lose no sleep in instigating a global war of death and destruction for the interests of “their country”, they are all under the misguided belief that they are somehow members of a socialist political party who can be just as violently patriotic, perhaps more so, than the Tories.

Well, Socialists have news for the likes of Mr Ross et al; the Labour Party has never has been, is not and never will be Socialist. This is not to say that its deluded and misguided membership cannot be Socialists. They can. But first they would have to leave this disreputable anti-working class party behind them and begin to understand what socialism means.

And foremost in becoming a socialist requires opposing capitalism’s wars and reminding the working class they have no country to kill or die for. Someone cannot be both a socialist and a member of the Labour Party. The circle cannot be squared. In fact the Labour Party has always done its bit when it comes to war. It has supported war when in opposition and engaged in war and conflict when in Government. And given half the chance, Labour Prime Ministers from Atlee to Brown would have had no hesitation in sending secret codes and ciphers to either bomber command or to a submerged nuclear submarine somewhere in the oceans of the world to usher in nuclear Armageddon.

As for Mr Gove, his weasely comments about socialists and patriotism are wrong. Socialists are in fact anti-patriotic and we cannot be anti-patriotic enough. Socialists are indeed proud to be unpatriotic; we have no nationalist flags to wave; we have no national anthem to sing, we do not smear our faces with paint and chant out inane tribal loyalties to a false abstraction at national sporting events and we do not kill for another class’s interest. Instead we extend our class solidarity to our fellow workers no matter whom they are and where they live. We stand in line for no one; we refuse our consent. Socialists have a long history of opposing capitalism’s war including Afghanistan. Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel but of the idiot.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain commented on the iniquity of modern patriotism in 1915 during a war supported by the Labour Party. We publish the article below as our response to disreputable politicians fighting each other over who is the more patriotic than the other.

What Is Patriotism?

The answer depends largely upon the point of view. From one standpoint patriotism appears as the actual religion of the modern State. From another it is the decadence and perversion of a noble and deep-rooted impulse of loyalty to the social unit, acquired by mankind during the earliest stages of social life. From yet another viewpoint, that of capitalist interests, patriotism is nothing more or less than a convenient and potent instrument of domination.

The word itself, both etymologically and historically, has its roots in paternity. In tribal days the feeling of social solidarity, which has now become debased into patriotism, was completely bound up with the religion of ancestor worship. In tribal religion, as in the tribe itself, all were united by ties of blood. The gods and their rights and ceremonies were exclusive to their tribesmen. All strangers were rigidly debarred from worship. The gods themselves were usually dead warriors. Every war was a holy war. Among the ancient Israelites, for instance, the holy Arc of Jehovah of Hosts accompanied the tribes to battle. It was this abode or moveable tomb of the ancestral deity that went with the Jews in their march through the desert, and even to Jericho, playing a part in the fall of that remarkable city. All the traditions of the Jewish religion, in fact, were identified with great national triumphs.

Thus tribal religion was completely interwoven with tribal aspirations and integrity. Tribal “patriotism” and religion were identical. Indeed, without the strongest possible social bond, without a kind of “patriotism” that implied the unhesitating self-sacrifice of the individual for the communal existence, it would have been utterly impossible for tribal man to have won through to civilisation. Natural selection insured that only those social groups which developed this supreme instinct of mutual aid could survive; the rest were crushed out in the struggle for existence. Is it a matter for wonder if it be found that such a magnificent social impulse, so vital to the struggling groups of tribal man, received periodical consecration in the willing human sacrifices so common in primitive religious ceremonial? Bound up with the deliberate manufacture of gods for the protection of the tribe and its works, there is indicated a social recognition of the need for, and value of, the sacrifice of the individual for the common weal.

This noble impulse of social solidarity is the common inheritance of all mankind. But being a powerful social force it has lent itself to exploitation. Therefore, with the development of class rule this great impulse is made subordinate to the class interest of the rulers. It becomes debased and perverted to definite anti-social ends. As soon as people become a slave class “the land of their fathers” is theirs no more. Patriotism to them becomes a fraudulent thing. The “country” is that of their masters alone. Nevertheless, the instinct of loyalty to the community is too deep-seated to be eradicated so easily, and it becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of rulers against the people themselves.

With the decay of society based on kinship, religion changed also, and from being tribal and exclusive it became universal and propagandist. ”Patriotism” at the same time began to distinguish itself from religion. The instinctive tribal loyalty became transformed, by the aid of religion and the fiction of kingship, into political loyalty. In a number of instances in political society, as in Tudor England, the struggle for priority became so acute as to help in the introduction of a more subservient form of religion. Thus patriotism became emancipated from religion, and the latter became a mere accessory to patriotism as handmaiden of class rule.

Though universal religion did not split up at the same time as the great empire that gave it birth, patriotism did so. The latter has, in fact, always adapted, enlarged, or contracted itself to fit the existing political unit, whether feudal estate, village, township, county, kingdom, republic or empire. No political form has been too absurd for it to fill with its loyalty. No discordance of race, colour or language has been universally effective against it.

What, then, is patriotism in essence today? It is usually defined as being devotion to the land of our fathers. But which is the land of our fathers? Our fathers came from many different parts of the world. The political divisions of the world in which we live is an artificial entity. The land has been wrested from other races. The nation they call “ours” is the result of a conquest over original inhabitants, and over ourselves, by successive ruling classes. Unlike the free tribesman we are hirelings; we possess no country.

Nationality, of which patriotism is the superstition, covers no real entity other than that of a common oppression, a unified government. It does not comprise any unity of race, for in no nation is there one pure race, or anything like it. It does not cover a unity of language, for scarcely a nation exists in which several distinct languages are not indigenous. Nor is it any fixity of territory, for this changes from decade to decade, while the inhabitants of the transferred territory have to transfer their allegiance, their patriotism, to the new nation.

The only universal bond of nationality or patriotism that exists for us today is, then, that of subjugation to a single government. Patriotism in the worker is pride in the common yoke imposed by a politically unified ruling class. Yet it is this artificial entity that we are called upon to honour before life itself. This badge of political servitude is called an object worthy of supreme sacrifice. The workers are expected to abandon all they hold dear for the preservation of an artificial nationality that is little more than a manufactured unit of discord: a mere focus of economic and political strife.

Thus one of the noblest fruits of man’s social evolution – the impulse of sacrifice for the social existence – is being prostituted by the capitalist class to maintain a system of exploitation, to obtain a commercial supremacy, and too preserve or extend the boundaries of a superfluous political entity. The workers are duped by the ruling class into sacrificing themselves for the preservation of a politico-economic yoke of a particular form and colour. Many so-called Socialists have fallen headlong into this trap.

Had social solidarity developed in equal measure with the broadening of men’s real interests, it would now be universal in character instead of national. The wholesale mixture of races, and the economic interdependence of the whole world, show that nationalism is now a barrier, and patriotism, as we know it, a curse. Only the whole world can now be called the land of our fathers. Only in the service of the people of the whole world, and not against those of any part of it, can the instinct of social services find its highest sand complete expression. The great Socialist has pointed the way. He did not call upon the workers of Germany alone to unite. He appealed to the toilers of the whole world to join hands; to a whole world of labour whose only loss could be its parti-coloured chains. And in this alone lies the consummation of that tribal instinct of social solidarity of which patriotism is the perverted descendent.

Capitalism, therefore, stands as the barrier of destruction of which would not only set free the productive forces of society for the good of all, but will also liberate human solidarity and brotherhood from the narrow confines of nationalism and patriotism. Only victorious labour can make true the simple but pregnant statement “Mankind are my brethren, the world is my country” Patriotism and Nationalism as we know them will then be remembered only as artificial restrictions of men’s sympathy and mutual help; as obstacles to the expansion of the human mind; as impediments to the needful and helpful development of human unity and co-operation; as bonds that bound men to slavery; as incentives that set brothers at each other’s throats.

Despite its shameless perversion by a robber class the great impulse to human solidarity is by no means dead. Economic factors give it an even firmer basis, and in the Socialist movement it develops apace. Even the hellish system of individualism, with its doctrine of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, has been unable to kill it. And in the great class struggle of the workers against the drones, of the socially useful against the socially pernicious, in the last great struggle for the liberation of humanity from wage=-slavery, the great principle of human solidarity, based on the necessities of today and impelled by the deep-seated instincts of the race will come to full fruition and win its supreme historical battle.

That is our hope and aspiration. For the present, however, we are surrounded by the horrors of war added to the horrors of exploitation and subjected to the operation of open repression as well as the arts of hypocrisy and fraud. With the weakening powers of religion to keep the workers obedient, the false cult of nationality and patriotism is being exploited to the full. Like religion, patriotism has its vestments, its ceremonies, its sacred emblems, its sacred hymns and inspired music; all of which are called in aid of the class interests of our masters, and utilised desperately to lure millions to the shambles for their benefit. Thus is an heroic and glorious social impulse perverted and debased to the support of a regime of wage-slavery, and to the furtherance of the damnable policy of the slave-holding class: to divide and rule.
F.C.W. SOCIALIST STANDARD December 1915 and reprinted again in July 1963from which this text is taken.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.