Today nationalism rears its ugly head around the world. It is an ideology which conceals and distorts the exploitative social relationships of capitalism. One of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of socialism is nationalism ― the loyalty felt by many members of the working class to “their” country. As such, socialists are hostile to it and oppose it with the class interests of workers everywhere. It is as workers we are oppressed, not as a national grouping. It will be as workers we get our emancipation, not national liberation. And as capitalism is the predominant world system, so the social revolution must be a world revolution. Nationalism is a ruse to lure workers into supporting the rights of the business class to make profits at their expense. Organisations which support any nationalist movement are deceiving the workers if not themselves. The World Socialist Movement (WSM) has a plain answer to the question of self-determination of nations. 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.
Nationalism feeds off the differences of colour, religion, language and traditions that exist everywhere in every country and because the economic conflicts which capitalism constantly produces at home and internationally will always inflame conflict; as fast as one conflagration is put out others spring up. And the economic rivalry taking on the nationalist disguise, with its fever and hatred, goes on between independent nations just as much as when a national group is struggling against foreign rule.
It has been argued that Marx and Engels supported nationalist movements and that therefore all socialists should do so today. Such an assertion is based on a faulty understanding of the materialist conception of history. Marx and Engels were living in an era when the bourgeoisie was engaged in a struggle to assert itself against the old feudal regimes. The victory of this class was a historically progressive step at that time in that it brought about the re-organization of society on a capitalist basis, the essential precondition for the establishment of socialism; and it created an urban proletariat, the only class which can bring about socialism. This was why Marx supported the rising capitalist class in their bid to capture political power. However, once capitalism reaches the point where socialism is a practical proposition, there is no need for socialists to advocate the capitalist industrialization of every corner of the globe; they can concentrate fully on the task of establishing socialism. Hence we give no support to any nationalist group.
Indeed, Marx did support some nationalist movements on the grounds that they were historically progressive because they served the class interests of the rising bourgeoisie in opposition to the traditional aristocracy such as for Polish independence from Tsarist Russia. However, Rosa Luxemburg, at one time a member of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPL), described Marx’s demands as ‘‘obsolete and mistaken”. Obsolete because no longer relevant, mistaken because the demands were never relevant to the working class.
The name of the party, SDKPL, was deliberate since the “Kingdom of Poland” was the official name of Russian Poland; the party’s name, therefore, proclaimed that it was a party operating only in that part of Poland; because states are organised on a territorial basis each Social Democratic party had the task of getting political power in the country where it operated. Luxemburg was aware that this was an organisational convenience, and that working-class interests transcend national boundaries. For this reason, at the turn of the century, the SDKPL was the section in Russian Poland of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Luxemburg argued that the demand for an independent Poland was a demand for the establishment of another capitalist— and inevitably expansionist and oppressive—state. The experience of national liberation struggles in the twentieth century fully confirms the accuracy of this theory.
Capitalism’s problems are the result of non-social ownership of the means of life in the field of social production: more diversity of government or of ownership cannot alter this fact. Nor can the national identity or location of the legislature. Today’s times find working-class internationalism at its lowest ebb for many a year. How low can be seen from the success the rulers have had in the various countries fostering national hatred to advance their own reactionary interests and profit-seeking ends? The future of humanity demands the end of the national barriers which divide the peoples of the world. Not the defence of national independence but the destruction of capitalism must be the goal of those who would build for the future of humankind and at the same time help to stem the flood of war in which capitalism threatens to engulf civilisation. The doctrine that each group of workers should rally around their own ruling class in defence of the “national interest” only plays into the hands of the war-makers in every country.
The nationalist struggle for coloured rags called flags is not a sacred struggle but an expression of ignorance, utterly without justification for the workers in the modern world. In the past ages, patriotism or tribal solidarity was a necessity for 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 cultural differences. In the present class-divided and frontier-divided capitalist world nationalist frictions continues to serve ruling class ends until they will eventually be overcome by the growth of socialist understanding and socialist international solidarity. The WSM, while exposing and condemning world capitalism, extend the hand of fellowship to the working class of all lands, for only through international action by a socialist working class will socialism be achieved. Nationalism is one of the greatest barriers to the establishment of a society based upon common humanity.
We recommend to workers everywhere: that they should struggle for socialism, adding that socialists in countries where political democracy does not exist should campaign independently for this as well as campaigning for socialism. So. it is not a question of socialists supporting others campaigning for political democracy but of socialists themselves campaigning for this on their own and in fact in opposition to other political groups. The basic reason for this opposition is that the other parties campaigning for political democracy will be supporting capitalism while socialists want socialism. If and to the extent that any workers’ movement for democracy in some country follows or allows itself to be dominated by such parties, that is the point at which we criticise it.