Nations and borders

So it would appear that the USA and its allies were rather premature in claiming to have won ‘the cold war’. Once again Europe is convulsed in violence as the Russian and American warlords continue their bloody rivalry. This time it is Ukraine that has become their chosen battlefield as one side seeks to defend its global hegemony against the threat from the East. Only the propaganda has changed as the US can no longer pretend that it is the threat to freedom posed by ‘soviet communism’ which is the cause of the conflict. They have reverted to an older and much more corrosive hypocritical form of rhetoric based on the myth of nationhood and ‘sovereign states’. The very chaotic instability of capitalist nation states makes this myth-making vital for the oligarchs of all countries since to protect themselves and their power from any perceived threat they must convince those who will murder and die for their interests that to do so is a noble fight for their own ‘freedom’ from foreign dominance. This is the only reason that the lie of nationhood and the myth of a shared interest of all those within given borders continues to survive in the 21st century. The working class would seem to have learnt few lessons from the dark age of the preceding century as they continue to believe that war can solve their problems. Let us consider the origins of the transformation of community into tribalism and of cultural interaction into racist and xenophobic hatred.

Our species has always been intensely social because for us to survive in nature we had to form communities. As these communities evolved they acquired diverse cultural behaviours and values. When private property first came to acquire significance, the warrior elites who owned the surplus produced by settled agrarian communities were always fearful that another foreign elite might seek to take it from them. They needed an ideology (religion) that contained an inbuilt suspicion of the other cultures that surrounded them. Although such elites were usually well acquainted with these other cultures they needed to fill the void of ignorance shared by their uneducated exploited majority with stories of immorality and cruelty that might one day serve as an excuse to go to war with them. Thus the love of community was subverted into a suspicion of those with other traditions. It wasn’t long before these city states and then principalities adopted a policy of pre-emptive strikes which could, if successful, create an empire. The imposition of one pantheon, one culture and one ruling elite spawned the nightmare of imperialism of which the ‘Pax Romana’ is a prime example. The destruction of cultural diversity was the price for peace. All ruling-class ideology has this element within it from the dominance of Catholicism in the Middle Ages to the promotion of ‘democracy’ (plutocracy) today.

The transformation of hundreds of petty principalities into consolidations of nation states was accomplished through the weakening of the Holy Roman Empire during the reformation followed by capitalism’s destruction of feudalism. As the ‘wars of religion’ and then the Napoleonic wars drew and redrew the map of Europe, borders changed with a rapidity that mixed the diverse cultures profoundly. The age of European imperialism had a similar effect around the world. By the end of the 20th century and its unending conflicts only very few regions of the Earth with a purely indigenous population were left unaffected. It became impossible to define a ‘national character’, which in turn made the need for a creation myth even more acute for ruling classes; hence the endless books on the quest for an English identity etc. As the reality of cultural, ethnic, racial and religious differences retreated before the rise of global capitalism so their myth advanced. To dilute any possibility of international class consciousness the culture of capitalism became increasingly obsessed with national identity. But why is the global working class still so easily fooled by this anachronistic nonsense?

A friend once declared that it would be an advantage if any discussion of history pertaining to current political events should not go back further than 50 years.His reasoning was that we should not be dragged down by the past and its grudges and bitterness because this inevitably inhibits progress. It is true that many seek to endlessly refight the battles of the past but it is equally true that an ignorance of history makes it so much easier to repeat its mistakes. The mass media of any nation have a very selective memory and use history as propaganda which only a deeper understanding of the subject is capable of refuting. Indeed, historical ignorance is the corner stone of all reactionary ideology. In understanding why the majority still identify with their respective nation state we must point to this profound lack of any meaningful historical education. Of course this is only part of the ideology of the parasite class that always seeks to subvert any subject to its own advantage: you are told that your poverty is your own fault, that wars are fought because of evil men, that criminals are born and not made, that greed and violence are the natural human state – all of these lies are dedicated to one end: that capitalism itself can never ever be blamed for anything.

Socialists think the evidence is overwhelming that private property society and its present incarnation (capitalism) is the real cause of wars. Not just in terms of ruling class greed and paranoia but because of the impoverishment of 99 percent of the world’s population who, in the desperation to find a reason for their daily feelings of alienation, meaninglessness, cynicism and political impotence, will grasp at the evilness of a Putin or the invasion of illegal immigrants as an explanation. In the search for secure borders we increase our own insecurity. As we cling to this tiny rock in space there is no room for those who would seek to divide us into tribes of mutual hatred – they do this not because they are evil but because they’re born into an inhuman economic system that demands it of them.


Next article: Cooking the Books 2 – Supermarkets and sub-profits ⮞

Leave a Reply