Nationalism, the Enemy of Socialism

Socialists have a simple solution for the problems of nationalism. It is that all people shall be enabled to live happily wherever they are or wherever they want to go. It is the only solution and it can only be applied when the world has become a Socialist world. It cannot be applied in a Capitalist world though all the non-Socialists, including the Labour and Communist parties, claim that they have a solution that can be applied now. They pay lip-service to various forms of the principle of “self-determination,” the principle that nationalist groups should be free to decide for themselves. It sounds fine but it cannot solve the problem even though, if the group is powerful enough with or without military aid from outside, it may succeed in breaking away and setting up its own government or joining another country. It cannot solve the problem because the material on which Nationalism feeds—differences of colour, religion, language and tradition—exist everywhere in every country and because the economic conflicts which capitalism constantly produces at home and internationally will always inflame this material; as fast as one conflagration is put out others spring up. And the economic conflicts taking on the nationalist disguise, with its fever and hatreds, go on between independent nations just as much as when a national group is struggling against alien rule.


Capitalism is a competitive world in which national groups survive by armed force. No government, whatever its professed principles, will voluntarily see its armed strength undermined by granting the right of secession to all who demand it. The Northern States of U.S.A. fought a bloody civil war to prevent the Southern States from seceding in the eighteen sixties; and the nominal right of secession embodied in the Russian Constitution is not worth the paper it is written on unless circumstances arise in which the would-be secessionists do make their demand effective with force. British capitalism gave up India because it lacked the means to hold it, but now Nehru’s government acts in accordance with exactly the same “what we have we hold ” principle as he denounced during the struggles against the British Government. On May 4, Mr. Nehru announced in the Indian Parliament that “Indian forces attempting to put down the revolt of Naga tribesmen in the hill area of North-Eastern Assam have killed more than 100 rebels and wounded many more since mid-April.” (Manchester Guardian, 5 May, 1956). The Manchester Guardian later, on (21 June), described the Naga demand for independence as “absurd,” but then of course all such demands appear absurd to the government resisting them. And when Mr. Nehru informed rioting crowds in Bombay that whether they like it or not they are going to be governed from Delhi for the next five years his words might have come from the lips of Sir John Harding in Cyprus. He told them that Bombay “could not be allowed to decide its own future in its present disturbed mood” (Daily Mail, 4 June, 1956). The Scottish Forward (14 July) quotes him as saying that because of their recent behaviour the citizens of Bombay have “disqualified themselves from deciding their own future.” This report adds the following description, distinctly reminiscent of the old campaign against British rule:—.


   “As Mr. Nehru was saying this to 200,000 Bombay citizens at a seashore meeting, parts of bis public address were obscured by the whine of tear-gas shells, the sporadic rattle of musketry, the tinkle of broken glass from nearby street lamps, and the slogans of an angry, stone-slinging citizenry.”

Everywhere the countries that have won their “freedom” show conflict with their own opposition group, the Karens in Burma, the negroes in U.S.A. and South Africa, the Israelites and Arabs in the Middle East, the Somalis in Ethiopia, the Southern Sudanese in the Sudan, the Tamils in Ceylon; not to mention the Nationalist movements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And already the short-time and unemployment in the Midlands have inspired a newspaper to publish an article asking that further immigration of Jamaicans and Irishmen be stopped. (Sunday Graphic, 15 July, 1956).


As all these examples show, the word “self-determination” is a misnomer, for none of the nationalist movements accepts that individuals shall be free to choose. Cyprus, is a case in point. British capitalism holds it— for strategic reasons; Greek capitalism wants it—for strategic reasons; and the Turkish Government says that if the British leave they will take it—for strategic reasons. But the Greeks and Turks both add a plea based on “self-determination,” the Greeks on the ground that the majority of inhabitants are Greek-speaking and the Turks on the ground that the minority are Turkish and are strongly opposed to bring ruled by Greece. And the best known of the Cypriot independence movements, E.O.K.A., makes no pretence of letting Greek-speaking Cypriots individually voice their preference for remaining as they are, or becoming independent or joining Greece. Many of their victims are Cypriot-Greeks and a leaflet issued by E.O.K.A. justifies these shootings with the same kind argument as is used by all governments and all nationalist movements:—

   “Some people seem to think that killing people within hospitals is unmanly and immoral. We point out that our holy struggle overrides all such thoughts. Those who are not with us are against us. Those who forget their patriotism will be punished.”

(Manchester Guardian, 20th April, 1956).
Nationalism and the struggle “for the bloody rags called flags of civilised savages,” is not a holy struggle but an exhibition of human ignorance utterly without justification for the workers in the modern world. In the primitive society of past ages patriotism or tribal solidarity was a necessity of survival. In a future, socialist world, freed from the exploitation of man by man, there will be no economic conflicts to masquerade under and take advantage of language, colour and other differences. In the present class-divided and frontier-divided Capitalist world nationalist frictions will continue to serve ruling class ends until they are overcome by the growth of Socialist understanding and Socialist international unity.


Edgar Hardcastle