It is obvious to all the decent peoples of Earth that the greatest evil afflicting this planet is Capitalism. Swelling millions from every continent recognise this senseless economic system as the root cause of almost all injustice, suffering and premature death.
In order to bludgeon the majority of the human race the capitalist class makes use of many weapons. One of its most efficient psychological tools is Nationalism. I do not believe, however, that the majority of people, even socialists, realise just how dangerous Nationalism is and what a crucial crutch it is for keeping Capitalism upright. The very act of breaking the chains of Nationalism will in itself severely weaken the Capitalist Class and will result in a heightened consciousness of the world proletariat. The simple surgery required to remove the Nationalist cataract from our eyes will also reveal new horizons for a socialist alternative. We will be able to see more clearly the future and our means of building it.
Later in this Essay I will explain what tactics are needed to overcome Nationalism. But first I must explain why I think Nationalism is so important, why it is often unseen and unremarked upon (while sometimes encouraged) by people on the Left.
What Is Nationalism?
Firstly, I am not discussing racism, which is a fire often fed by Nationalism but not dependent upon it.
I use Nationalism to mean the bias people have for their country, or sometimes the bias against their own country, and in other cases a bias for or against a foreign country. A British person's nationalism may distort their thought processes so that they support the behaviour of the British State or British Citizens even when they are committing atrocities; atrocities which, when committed by any other nation they would rightly condemn. On the other hand a British Person may feel bias against their own country and cheerlead its defeats and failures. In the mid 20th century a small portion of British People felt nationalist affection for the Soviet Union and made denied Stalin's wrongdoing. While others had nationalist hatred for the USSR and denied those positive aspects of its society . Today a small portion feel nationalist affection for the USA and support the actions of its state beyond all reason.
Nationalism is completely arbitrary and illogical and is the cause of much evil. It is arbitrary because it favours one group of people over others, not by their deeds, but based on lines on a map drawn by the random fluctuations of history or the chances of geography. In some cases a map is not even involved and the Nation exists only in the minds of its devotees and its opponents.
Nationalism in its countless forms permeates all societies and individuals. So powerful is the lure of Nationalism that even Socialists have at various stages become preoccupied by it to the detriment of the class struggle. One example today is the Scottish socialist's fascination with an Independent Scotland.
I would not go so far as to say that I am opposed to Scottish Independence, but neither do I support it. I regard the question the same as I regard Religion: rather than supporting it or attacking it I would rather not think about it and instead devote my waking thoughts to more pressing matters.
What I am opposed to is Socialists supporting Scottish Independence, for I see the matter as a red herring that takes time and resources away from far more worthy and pressing matters.
What are Socialists exactly asking for and expecting in the call for Independence. Do they believe an Independent Scottish State will be Socialist? If yes why do they not believe that England and Wales (and countries beyond) will move to Socialism simultaneously. For if England and Wales became Socialist at the same time why would an Independent Scotland differ from one united economically with its Socialist neighbours? If on the other hand Scotland became Socialist in isolation how long could it withstand the inevitable assaults from the horrified Capitalist States that surround it? Socialism in one country fails in theory and in practice. Would a Socialist Scotland be content to see the English and Welsh working class exploited as usually, perhaps worse so than before.
And if a new Independent Scotland is not Socialist, what then? Are Scottish Capitalists somehow more wholesome than British ones. Would the international Banks and Corporations exploit an independent Scotland less than one still in the UK.
If I had to come down one side or the other for an Independent Scotland I would have to oppose it. Not only for the emotional reason of avoiding seeing our Scottish cousins turn their back on us but also for the logical reason that it would strengthen the irrational (and darkly comic) Nationalisms of the British Isles further and weaken the chances of solidarity between all British workers.
The Psychology Of Nationalism
Nationalism is one expression of the human impulse to join groups and to favour our own group above all others. This is a fact of human nature that all Socialists would do well to accept so we can deal with it and move on.
As a Yorkshire person I will instinctively trust a person with a Yorkshire accent over a cockney. When in foreign places strangers from the same home country are more likely to strike up friendships than two people who can communicate but come from two distant countries. On visiting Mecca, Malcolm X noted how, despite the overpowering sense of brotherhood and equality between the many thousands present those visibly of the same racial group still unconsciously congregated together.
Admitting this natural inclination in the vast majority of us does not strengthen the Nationalist or Racist causes. Instead it is a necessary step in defeating them.
Bias for our group can be manifested in rivalry between neighbouring high school pupils or antagonism between football fans. In its most extreme form it becomes passionate hatred between racial groups, religions and nationalities.
These last, extreme examples of group bias are not a necessary aspect of human society. Rather, they are deliberately inflamed by capitalist politicians, business men, religious leaders and anyone for whom such divisions are beneficial. Our instinct is exploited and magnified.
All human history is an example of our species overcoming instinct with rational thought. A basic example: we will prepare for future events at the expense of present instinctual drives. We put off pleasure and gratification when our rational thoughts advise it. One of our greatest instincts is the desire to have children, yet many people today have learned to overcome that instinct for abstract economic reasons and put child rearing off as long as possible.
Our intelligence defeats our instincts and this is what makes us human. Just as racism and sexism can be overcome so too can the group instinct in general. We can, if allowed, learn to lose it.
But the ruling class will not allow it.
Imagine Borough Councils in Britain waging violent wars for land and resources; sending young people to fight to the death to control landfill sites and greenbelt land. Is that thought absurd? Then why is it accepted that two countries will fight over living space and material resources. These days, Nations going to war over land and resources is less common than it was during the World Wars and the preceding two centuries. The USA invading Iraq for oil is a notable exception to that trend. It would seem that the massive cost of modern warfare to populations and economies outweighs the potential gains for nation states. And only when the enemy is considerably weaker will a country dare to go to war, as Iraq was before the USA.
Though wars between nations are fewer, pacifism has not prevailed and around the world many thousands are dying violent deaths at the hands of militias, state controlled armies and police, mercenaries, gangsters and terrorists. The arms manufacturers, in the mean time, make ever increasing fortunes.
Every war in human history has been fought with the benefit of the ruling class solely in mind. And today's ruling class have internationalised or are in the process of internationalising. They seek a world without borders. That is, a borderless world for its wealth, its resources and itself. As for the rest of us, we are to be very much restricted by borders. Nationhood and patriotism are to be fanned in our hearts as strongly as ever.
How Is Nationalism A Tool?
The greatest threat to Capitalism, in fact the only threat, is an internationalised working class. When the working class of all countries recognise that their fortunes are all inextricably linked, and when they act on that recognition, that is the last day of Capitalism.
Patriotism is the cattle prod that keeps workers apart and weakened. With flags and propaganda and awful jokes the working class of one country is made suspicious, contemptuous and envious of the workers of other countries, while they exaggerate their own goodness.
Each nation believes it is the hardest working, the most dignified and the most deserving of the Earth's resources. If a foreign worker arrives to join us they are instantly hated, for there is not enough of 'us' to go around.
The patriots greatest fear is the immigrant. No matter if some capitalists say immigrants are good for the economy and create prosperity. No matter the numbers of people migrating away from the country. Each immigrant who arrives is like a punch in the patriot's chest, and its only a matter of time, he fears, before his ribcage entirely shatters and punctures his innocent heart.
The patriot feels himself drowning in a brown flood. The foundations of his life will be washed away. All his hard work (so much harder than anybody else's) will be for nought. That ringing in his ears is a feedback loop of ignorance, delusion and paranoia. All rational thought evaporates, and like a child frightened by shadows, he runs into the strong arms of fascism, shouting "I don't care what you do, just stop all this! Stop all this!"
Until cured of his patriotism a person can not be reassured over immigration with fact, figures or rational argument. The only cure is experience.
How To Defeat Nationalism
Overcoming Nationalism is intrinsically linked to the development of socialism. What is needed is to create an international outlook amongst all the world's working class. This is why it is wrong for socialists to back independence movements for the sake of it. Imagine a nation oppressed by an imperialist power. Their struggle for independence may move us emotionally but we must resist the notion that independence is the most compelling goal for the people of that country.
A good socialist will not tell an oppressed people "you are independent" or "you should fight for independence". A good socialist will say "you are not independent, comrade, and you should not be. You are dependent on the working class of the world and they are dependent on you. We all depend on each other."
There is no difference between a group of workers oppressed by a foreign power or corporation and those oppressed by domestic rulers. The tactics and the message must remain the same, otherwise the waters risk becoming muddied.
And what are those tactics? There is only one way we can defeat exploitation and only one way we can make the defeat of capitalism a reality. The unions must internationalise. They must make the workers of their own country fully aware of the struggles of workers in neighbouring countries and beyond. Only international industrial action orchestrated by a global union network can possibly defeat the exploitation of the globalised corporations and banks.
When unions bargain for wages and conditions on a national level the bosses now have the option of relocating production to another country where workers are being exploited harder.
Unions know that when dealing with a nationwide industry, national bargaining is the best chance for success. The bosses on the other hand attempt to fragment union power with regional or local bargaining. Fatally, this basic knowledge is not applied on an international scale.
We see today, for example, a British union campaigning to stop jobs moving abroad. Which seems to be sending the message that Indians, for example, don't deserve jobs as much as we do. Whether or not British workers actually think this matters less than the fact that workers of different nations are frequently at odds with one another, fighting over the scraps of global employment.
The only solution is a union movement working towards physical links with foreign unions and one which will educate its members as to why this is a necessity. Exchange visits funded by unions, between workers (and/or community members and/or children) of two or more countries would be just one way in which cultural bonds can be made and solidarity increased. If towns can be twinned, why not unions or union branches or community groups.
Simultaneous to union action a new workers party must campaign with this globalising agenda as the backbone of its politics. People must know that all local issues have global causes and global solutions.