When one mentions nationalism, it’s almost exclusively in a right wing, and negative context. Rightly so, might I add. Especially when we’re speaking of race based nationalism or nationalism rooted in imperialism, but nationalism can and often does take on another and more progressive and positive form.
The issue is, is that for a large part of the 19th and 20th Century (and continuing to a lesser degree to the modern day), nationalist tendencies were used by powerful groups to exert dominance over less powerful ones. The First World War was, in the most simplified sense, a clash of Empires all attempting to overlap and overtake each other and the Second World War began as an Aryan nationalist movement. Since the fall of the British Empire, the phrase “Rule Britannia” is still used by knuckle dragging Neanderthals as a rallying cry to excuse any kind of abhorrent behaviour and America has declared themselves the World Police, purely on the basis that they can. In these forms, Nationalism is hideous, vile, often violent and rightly maligned.
However, there is another form of nationalism, one that is positive and productive (Or at least, productive in the short term). It exists whenever oppressed people band together under a single banner, whenever they stand up and say “no more”. This form of nationalism isn’t about saying that one group is superior to any other, but saying that one group is equal to all others. The Scottish National Party calls it civic nationalism. That is; nationalism based on a shared culture or (preferably) a constitution, rather than a racial identity.
It is, altogether, a much more modern form of nationalism. In the past, countries and social groups were largely defined by genetics, and although it’s true that the genetic lottery plays the largest role in what nation we live in, in the modern world most people can move relatively freely. A country is defined by the laws and ideals it sets for it’s people to live under. Anyone, at any time, can choose to move to a country that more closely fits their beliefs. That is what makes civic nationalism different to racial nationalism; it’s primary concern is freedom. From oppression, from persecution, from desperation.
Of course, as a Marxist whose ultimate goal is a classless, stateless, moneyless society it might seem odd for me to have any internal conflict regarding any kind of nationalist sentiment should be bizarre to say the least.
But I do. Because while I take no misattributed pride in the achievements of other Scots, and while I do have an interest in Scottish history, that interest is fuelled by genuine curiosity; not some futile attempt at finding origin. Further, I don’t feel an immediate kinship with all other Scots. I would sooner break bread with an English waiter than a Scottish banker. I’m certainly no jingoist, who believes in “my country; right or wrong” and I’m far from a racial purist, looking to breed a race of “pure blooded” Celtic supermen.
And yet…this is my home. I can’t deny that I have a fully illogical, emotional attachment to this place, this landscape, this culture. I could try and claim, that what I feel is gratitude, because I have been afforded opportunities simply by winning the cosmic lottery and being born here that I would not have been afforded anywhere else. And to an extent that is true…and while those opportunities, in education, in health care, in social mobility have been removed from England, they were completely available at the time I would have needed them. Besides which, I’ve spent extended periods in England and it just…isn’t home. It doesn’t offer me the same, warm, comforting feeling that I get living here, north of the border. Ultimately, I am indeed a nationalist.
But is that a bad thing? Must nationalism always be aggressive and abhorrent? Is there not a left wing, or even Marxist approach to nationalism?
I’d argue that yes, there is.
What’s worth noting, is that during the run up to the 2014 Scottish Referendum the Scottish political sphere of the internet was awash with articles justifying (or denying) our freedom, or weighing up the pros and cons of liberation against the pros and cons of servitude. That isn’t what this post is. Not exactly. While the entirety of my experience will be influenced by my Scottish background, what I’m aiming for here is how nationalism can apply to Leftist thought as a whole, rather than Scotland specifically.
Firstly, the Bourgeoisie is a ravenous creature, constantly looking to expand its power and influence, trying to dominate the working class all across the globe. A worker’s state with a clear, national identity can draw a clear line in the sand and say; “No further.”
No, Brussels you may not outlaw socialism in Scotland.
No, Westminster you will not park your nuclear weapons in our water.
No, U.S. medical insurance companies you will not purchase our National Health Service out from under us.
Simply put, a strong sense of community can curtail Bourgeois expansion.
In a motion that was passed to the 2016 Solidarity Party Conference last October I made the case that strong, close knit communities are the purest form of democracy. The idea was simply that if an issue cannot affect the people outside of a given community, then no one outside that community should be able to make a decision on it. This would empower local councils and community organisations, and you could almost call it micro-nationalism.
Crucially, with this form of national reinforcement, you would eventually render the top layers of government (at a national, an global level) obsolete. They’d exist purely as an administrative procedure and would be swept away eventually. This would be the first functional step into anarchism.
Certainly more functional than kicking a bin, anyway. Because if anarchy is to be achieved, it will be a gradual transformation, not a rapid transformation.
What one must never lose sight of when advocating for left wing nationalism, is that the righting is always looming. Leftist national identity must be one of equality, not superiority. For such a movement to be legitimate it must be intersectional; it must embrace all people regardless of racial, sexual or gender identity. The “Nation” as it were, must be one that it constitutional rather than geographical, with citizenship being bestowed on anyone with a shared ideal of freedom, prosperity, equality and democracy.