Nationalist Nonsense

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) urges all workers to recognise their common interest in standing together as a class for the overthrow of capitalism. There are no circumstances justifying working-class support of capitalist governments or movements, including those that masquerade under the name of nationalism. Globalisation has increasingly made redundant the question of “national sovereignty”. The growth of multinational corporations, some with a turnover exceeding the GDP of most states, has dramatically transformed the role of government as the centres of economic decision-making. Many of the most important decisions are now made, not by government cabinets, but by business boardrooms. Capitalism succeeded long ago in sweeping away the old feudal restrictions and has now become a world system with a global market for commodities and an international division of labour. All of the world’s nation-states are capitalist and all seek to defend the interests of the sections of the capitalist class operating from within their borders, whipping up nationalist fervour one minute while trampling on local cultures and traditions the next, and periodically sending their wage slaves in uniform to die in bloody battles on the capitalists’ behalf. Nationalism and “national liberation”, as ideologies serving the interests of differing sections of the ruling class, now stand as barriers in the way of the progressive movement which seeks to establish a real world human community without class division and national frontiers on the basis of the potential economic abundance made possible by capitalism. That movement, of course, is the movement for world socialism.

 The World Socialist Movement’s position on nationalism is clear. Socialism is about people and how they collectively choose to manage their affairs and the resources of the planet. Nationalist movements under capitalism are both a menace and an illusion. They are a menace because they enable an interested ruling class to use them to provoke antagonism towards other groups and thus provide fertile ground for capitalist interests to work up support for war. Separatist nationalism is an illusion because, while capitalism lasts, the powers, great and small, dare not allow themselves to be weakened by giving real freedom of action to any group of citizens. Governments, in defending capitalist interests, are all opposed to the development of internationalism among the working class of the world. Nationalism has been used by the owning class to turn workers against workers.

It has always been the contention of World Socialists that:

 (1) Capitalism, wherever it operates, despite differences in climate, language and culture, produces the same set of conditions from which inevitably flow the same problems. This is not to say that conditions are everywhere identical under Capitalism; different areas are often undergoing different stages of capitalist evolution, depending on historical background. However, when Industrialism comes, late or early, capitalism comes with it: they are bound up in each other.

(2) Capitalism, desiring always a submissive working class, seeks everywhere to condition the people: through religions, educational institutions and the media of disseminating thought and ideas.

(3) Despite the constant effort in this direction, there exists, invariably in a capitalist society, groupings that contradict and are in opposition to capitalist society (where it hurts them) and towards one another.

If the above is a true description of capitalist society everywhere, it is not surprising that similarities should exist in the framework of everyday life as it affects the workers in two places as different in other respects as South Wales and South Africa.

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. If our aim is to bring about a class-free society of equals then our attention should be on the real antagonistic relation between the classes, not the fake illusions put forward by nationalists. We have to find and create new forms of egalitarian organisation that can supersede the nation-state and capitalism, not help the local capitalist class in the creation of new and ever smaller states.

It is a truism that not all nationalists are racists but equally all racists are nationalists. Truly it might be said that nationalism is the racist’s Trojan horse. The task for socialists is to convince workers that have no nation and that there is more that unites the exploited members of humanity all of whom have the same basic needs than can ever divide us culturally or historically. 

The only universal bond of nationality or patriotism that exists for us today is, then, that of subjection 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 vital interests and sacrifice 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.

Capitalism stands as the barrier to the destruction of which will 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 nationality and patriotism. Only  labour can make true the: “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 cooperation; as bonds that bound men to slavery; as incentives that set brothers at each other’s throats.

 Nationalism and the accompanying flag worship are barriers to the establishment of a state-free world commonwealth. For the expropriated class of producers, nationalism has nothing to offer. Workers are but pawns in the power-games played by rival sections of the master class. 

We are socialists and we welcome fellow workers, irrespective of the language spoken or the colour of their skin. We are workers, let us unite.  Just as capitalism has produced a world of nations in conflict, socialism will mean the end of nationalities and frontiers. A working class, united in its determination to establish a socialist world undefiled by national frontiers, will bequeath to future generations a democratic global village in which cultural variations will be a stimulus to creativity rather than pretexts for those seeking to become a new ruling class. Ours will be free unions of free people in free associations.