The Absurdity of Nationalism

The Nationalist’s Dilemma

The nationalist has always found himself in a difficult quandary. Virtually all nationalist mythology tells of some better time in the nation’s history. It speaks of a time when people were patriotic, respectful of their elders and fellow countrymen, loyal, and so on. The modern nationalist looks at his nation today and sees nothing but degeneration. Children listen to foreign music, idolize foreign football players and often adopt foreign cultural accoutrements in their fashion. Historic squares are now dominated by advertisements for foreign products, often with Hollywood celebrities endorsing them. Walk down Prague’s historical Vaclavske Namesti and what will you see? Last I remembered there were big label clothing shops, a KFC and a McDonalds. Moscow’s Tverskaya Boulevard is lined with Zara and other fashion chains, pretentious and overpriced faux-cosmopolitan cafes, and of course the ubiquitous McDonalds. Often times the nationalist sees a growing labor force of foreign immigrants. Depending on the location they may be from Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, China, or Latin America among other locales. Governments, especially in smaller countries with weaker economies, seem totally subservient to big blocs as the European Union and NATO as well as international finance. Religion becomes little more than a joke; it is something simply worn around the neck.

Now, the Marxist sees all this without the taste of bile. All of these things are natural and logical results of a capitalist system, and what is more, Marxists understand that the nation-state as we know it is not only not-permanent within the ever-globalizing capitalist system, but that it is also a relatively new development in human history. Looking at some countries, we can say that they achieved their nationhood just as nationhood itself was already beginning to disappear thanks to the increasing integration of the global economic system. Furthermore, Marxists realize that no national culture is entirely distinct from those around it, nor it is idyllic. A Marxist does not believe, but rather accepts, that the nation as we know it has always been a social organization in transition throughout history, that it will change in the future, and these changes need not be devastating nor must they necessarily mean the end of any one culture. Indeed, Marxism provides the one way to preserve various cultures without hatred, animosity and competition. Where else outside of the communist movement do we see Turks and Greeks, Russians and Poles, Serbs and Croats, Pakistanis and Indians, and Palestinians and Israelis so readily embrace each other? Nowhere is the solidarity stronger than in the world movement where members realize that what they have in common is far more important than what divides them.

The nationalist, on the other hand, sees a steady descent into the abyss. The nation and its people are being sold out. For the nation to be sold there must be a seller. Because many nationalists believe in some “golden age” era in the history of their nation, and because they also tend to view history as a struggle between nations, races or tribes, a great many of them turn to anti-Semitism. This helps to explain why powerful people of their nation or “race” would so willingly sell their country out to international bodies; they are alleged to be corrupted and beholden to Jews, who are in turn alleged to be first and foremost dedicated to their own international interests above all else, constituting a sort of “hive mind.” Of course, when one looks at many of the countries in question, one finds that the most powerful people in the nation are often not of that particular nationality. In fact some countries alleged to be under the control of Jews have very small Jewish populations. To nationalists of that particular strain it matters little; they simply cannot fathom the idea that leaders would readily sell out their nation for personal gain. The Third Positionist, like fascists of the past, may or may not subscribe to anti-Semitic conspiracies. What they all tend to have in common is a rejection of the importance of class and the belief that while their current ruling circles may indeed be corrupt and put personal gain ahead of the nation, some kind of revolution could overthrow such rulers and replace them with nationally-oriented leaders.

The Golden Middle

The line peddled today by Third Positionists, regardless of what they might call themselves, is not far removed from that of the fascists from the last century. The Third Position is so named because it is presented as an alternative between capitalism and communism. It proposes to do away with the rich plutocrats plundering the nation, but without expropriation of all private property and the internationalism of Marxist socialism. Third Positionists are often so engaged in cultural debates that they tend to be vague as to the economic system they would employ, but suffice it to say it generally implies nationalization of key industries while protecting private ownership for small producers like farmers, shop-owners and contractors. Small wonder indeed that this ideology has so often found great appeal amongst the petty-bourgeoisie. Most answers tend to be far more ambiguous, however, often simply saying that the economic system will be oriented so as to best favor the nation or race. Third Positionists assert the supremacy of nation or race as a determining factor in history, condemning capitalist and Marxist “materialism” (a term they rarely use properly) as failing to see beyond mankind’s economic life. It is precisely for this reason that the foundation of Third Positionism is in fact built upon sand.

Sorry, but Class is Important

According to nationalists, depending on who in particular is telling you, class may exist but it is more or less a trivial matter played up by evil Bolsheviks and other rabble-rousers trying to destroy the nation. The nation is supposed to transcend class, and somehow the state can be reconstituted so that the classes have complimentary roles toward one another. One cannot help but to think of feudalism, a system which had great impact on early fascist thought, wherein exploitation was clear and open but the obligations were more or less complimentary. The feudal lord had certain obligations to his serfs, whereas the modern capitalist has none. In a fascist society, the theory goes that while the worker must not strike and work hard, the owner cannot simply toss out his employees and hire foreign immigrants (we can assume laws would be written so as to prevent such immigration in the first place).

This term “complimentary” is often thrown out by various conservative institutions whenever they are faced with the demand for equality. Islam provides a perfect example (though you can just as easily find parallels in Christian rhetoric as well as other religions) in its response to allegations of repression against women. Islamic apologists claim that the Quran declares men and women equal (there is some truth to this), but that they have “complimentary” roles. In other words, men can do this, but women can’t, women can do this, but men can’t, and thus it’s supposed to balance out. Yet when we look at reality in Islamic countries, and compare what men are allowed as opposed to women, the inequality is clear. It is the same with all historical examples of fascism; fascist states did intervene to control robber-baron style capitalism, something completely normal in times of capitalist crises, but it was the working class which bore the majority of the obligations and duties, while the ruling class and industrialists raked in profits. Eventually, it was the working class which was forced to fulfill the most severe obligation, to die in the name of expanding profits and seizure of resources.

Class Trumps Nation

Big businessmen “sell out” their nation to other businessmen from abroad simply because they have more in common, in every practical sense, with other members of their class rather than the workers of their particular nationality. Politicians, if not businessmen themselves, are either former businessmen or working in the interests of their capitalist class. Vladimir Putin, to take one example I often use, may be “Russian” by ethnicity, language and birth. Yet he has less in common with the Russian worker than I do in every sense that matters. He has no reason to care that young men are being abused and even killed in Russia’s conscript army; the victim will never be from his family tree. He has no reason to care that Russian girls are still being sold as sex slaves; his daughters and the daughters of his friends will never fall into such a trap. Owing to Putin’s class, he shares far more in common with Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Tayyip Erdogan, George W. Bush and all the other millionaires and billionaires of the world. Marx once wrote that the workers have no nation, alluding to the fact that workers in that era, as is the case today, did not control their nations, nor were their nations run in their interests. We can just as easily point out that capitalists, though they exercise control over nations, also “have” no nation in the sense that their loyalty is first to their class counterparts from around the world rather than their specific nationality.

When is the nation important to the capitalist? It is in those same times when religion is important, that is to say it is important when the imperial or economic interests of a particular national ruling class are in danger. When an imperialist rival threatens a market, or a new market must be opened, the ruling class wraps itself in the flag while the workers do the dying. The only other occasion is when the workers get wise to the game and start to rise up, then the nation card is played often in tandem with the religion card.

Why a Nationalist Economy Won’t Work

Nationalization and Keynesian economics certainly have merit at times, and they have had positive effects for the workers. The problem with Third Positionist economics is twofold, however. The first problem is that the laws of economics in a capitalist mode of production, which Third Positionism cannot avoid without expropriation of the means of production, do not change simply because a new political party is in charge. A business owner does not exploit his workers simply because he is greedy, but because exploitation is inherent in the wage/salary system. In order to turn a profit, one must as a necessity pay people far less than the value they are producing. Thus class will still exist. Moreover, even if major industries are nationalized, we should remember that the modern oligarchs of Eastern Europe today sprang mostly from those who had worked their way into the previously state-owned enterprises of the Eastern Bloc states.

This leads to the second problem with a nationalist economy, namely that by attempting to get out of the global economy while not pursuing an internationalist stand, a nation would find itself ostracized like North Korea. Obviously this state of affairs wouldn’t be in the nation’s best interest, but that is only part of the problem. The top heads of state-run enterprises will look with envy at their counterparts in other nations, realizing that they too could become god-like billionaires if only they were once again allowed to freely invest capital as well as hire whoever they want. Their position would give them a natural advantage over the majority of society, and like in the decaying Soviet Union they would use this advantage to turn the state right back to run-of-the-mill global capitalism. That is assuming that international intervention does not occur so as to re-open a national market which closed. Third Positionists have no solution for this problem.

Marxists, on the other hand, take a class-based approach and analyze the history of previous socialist states to understand why such reverses occurred. Marxists are not opposed to self-sustaining national economies, but also stress internationalism and solidarity so as to advance the revolution in the long term. If, for example, a nationalist Croatia were to suddenly appear, to whom could they appeal when the European Union takes action to bring them back into the globalized fold? Can a nationalist Poland accept solidarity from Slovakia, Ukraine or Russia? The idea is laughable. Some deluded nationalists believe that nationalist parties of various European countries should support each other in their bids for political power. They are lucky that this could not possibly happen, seeing that nationalist mythology tends to glorify old rivalries. Look what happened in the Balkans whenever nationalists were successful. You can’t be a Serbian nationalist without a hatred or at least extreme hostility to Croatian nationalists, and vice versa.

Same Poison, Different Bottle

For these and many other reasons, Third Positionism and other ideologies which claim to have a third way between capitalism and communism are unworkable. We can just as easily show why modern progressivism, which foolishly believes that Keynesian economics and/or more regulation can somehow avert capitalist crises in the future, is likewise unworkable for similar reasons. Nationalism and third way populism however, are gaining considerable appeal, as tends to be the case during any capitalist crisis. The problem with Third Positionism in particular is that it is basically fascism repackaged again and again as time goes on.

People in search of a “third way” fail to understand capitalism and communism, and thus have no grounds to criticize either one. They do not realize that Marxism is not simply the ideas of Marx, plucked from his head, but rather the result of years of research on history and capitalism by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others. They were not giving us ideas but rather their observations of the subject, the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism itself is not an idea, nor was it simply willed into being. It was a result of many objective processes, a great deal of them seemingly unrelated. As such, capitalism cannot simply be willed away by lofty ideals, progressive or regressive. The so-called “third way” is nothing but a bloody detour which leads right back to capitalism.

Categories: Economics, History, Immigration, Imperialism, International, Labor, Media & Culture, Racism, Theory, U.S. News, Ukraine, Workers Struggle, World History

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5 replies

  1. I’d be interested to know what the APL thinks of Stalin’s 1929 work, ‘The National Question and Leninism’.

  2. In it Stalin makes a key distinction between ‘bourgeois nations’ and ‘socialist nations’ and outlines his view of the future of nations.

    Of bourgeois nations he says: ‘Naturally, the fate of such nations is linked with the fate of capitalism; with the fall of capitalism, such nations must depart from the scene.’

    Of socialist nations he says: ‘But there are other nations. These are the new, Soviet nations, which developed and took shape on the basis of the old, bourgeois nations after the overthrow of capitalism in Russia, after the elimination of the bourgeoisie and its nationalist parties, after the establishment of the Soviet system.’

    He states: ‘The fact of the matter is that the elimination of the bourgeois nations signifies the elimination not of nations in general, but only of the bourgeois nations. On the ruins of the old, bourgeois nations new, socialist nations are arising and developing, and they are far more solidly united than any bourgeois nation, because they are exempt from the irreconcilable class contradictions that corrode the bourgeois nations, and are far more representative of the whole people than any bourgeois nation.’

    He points out: ‘It would be incorrect to think that after the defeat of world imperialism national differences will be abolished and national languages will die away immediately, at one stroke, by decree from above, so to speak. Nothing is more erroneous than this view. To attempt to bring about the merging of nations by decree from above, by compulsion, would be playing into the hands of the imperialists, it would spell disaster to the cause of the liberation of nations, and be fatal to the cause of organising co-operation and fraternity among nations.’

    He then outlines how he thinks the process will occur.
    ‘Only in the second stage of the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat, to the extent that a single world socialist economy is built up in place of the world capitalist economy — only in that stage will something in the nature of a common language begin to take shape; for only in that stage will the nations feel the need to have, in addition to their own national languages, a common international language — for convenience of intercourse and of economic, cultural and political co-operation. Consequently, in this stage, national languages and a common international language will exist side by side. It is possible that, at first, not one world economic centre will be formed, common to all nations and with one common language, but several zonal economic centres for separate groups of nations, with a separate common language for each group of nations, and that only later will these centres combine into one common world socialist economic centre, with one language common to all the nations.’

    ‘In the next stage of the period of world dictatorship of the proletariat — when the world socialist system of economy becomes sufficiently consolidated and socialism becomes part and parcel of the life of the peoples, and when practice convinces the nations of the advantages of a common language over national languages — national differences and languages will begin to die away and make room for a world language, common to all nations.’

    He explains: ‘In view of this, the Party considered it necessary to help the regenerated nations of our country to rise to their feet and attain their full stature, to revive and develop their national cultures, widely to develop schools, the arts and other cultural institutions functioning in the native languages, to nationalise — that is, to staff with members of the given nation — the Party, trade-union, co-operative, state and economic apparatuses, to train their own, national, Party and Soviet cadres, and to curb all elements — who are, indeed, few in number — that try to hinder this policy of the Party.’

    Over the years I often wondered how those who propose the elimination of nations intended to do it. Stalin seemed to answer that question in this article. But that was written in 1929.

    Today we live in a different world. The gradual downgrading of nations to the status of administrative zones is occurring anyway because national boundaries are less likely now to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. I was just pondering whether Stalin’s view of the replacement of bourgeois nations with socialist nations is still practicable. It’s a genuine ponder — I have no view on the subject.

  3. Reblogged this on NonviolentConflict.

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