What Is Nationalism

In the run up to the 2014 Referendum those of us on the left, who campaigned for independence, were criticised by others claiming to be ‘on the left’ by saying that we were national socialists, comparing us with the fascists in Germany in the 1930’s. This showed a complete lack of understanding, not only of history but also nationalism and socialism in equal measure. I felt the need to be able to answer these lies, particularly with another referendum on the horizon. I did some research and came up with the following conclusions.

What exactly is Nationalism?

Simply put, it is a feeling of belonging to a nation.

It originated when humans first had to herd together for protection. These groups became communes and it was essential for language to develop in order for them to communicate. Language, culture and a form of industry developed using tools, weapons, etc but human development doesn’t happen uniformly. Some groups advanced more quickly than others, so they became the dominant forces.

These communes evolved into tribes and each tribe developed an identity. The stronger, and more advanced tribes swallowed up smaller tribes, either through peaceful or brutal means, and became bigger.

The Tribal System.

Tribal society was a warrior society. It was brutal but there was a fierce loyalty to the tribe as members of the tribe were more like a family.  In Scotland we call the tribes ‘clans’ (which means a kind of family) but they were part of a tribal system which was common throughout the world.

The tribes evolved, in different ways, into small nations, which became one bigger nation with one ruler – the king. However, the fierce loyalty to the tribe, or clan, continued in Scotland as tribal society remained the main system until the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Nationalism and Socialism.

Nationalism and Socialism are completely different entities. It is like comparing apples with carpet tacks.

Socialism is a scientifically worked out theory of production and wealth distribution, which was created by Karl Marx in the 19th Century. It is an alternative type of economic system to Capitalism which can be applied in any country in the world. (Socialism – based on a system of social need: Capitalism – from the German word Capital which means money; therefore, a system based on profit)

Nationalism arises from the political, social and cultural history of any particular nation.

The parameters of Nationalism are the borders of a particular nation. The parameters of socialism are the divisions within the class system, which is a worldwide phenomenon.

While socialism does not recognise borders, only class differences, nationalism can accommodate both right-wing and left-wing politics, as Scotland and England clearly demonstrate.

Scotland v England.

The difference between the politics of Scotland and England can be explained by looking at the Nationalism of each country.

When the victims of the Highland Clearances moved south to begin a new life, and found themselves in a new industrial society, they brought with them that fierce loyalty of Clan society with them to the new communities.

There had already been a new radicalism developing in Scotland, since the Act of Union in 1707, which was forced on the people by the aristocracy and merchants who had almost bankrupt the country, as well as themselves by investing everything in the failed ‘Darien Adventure’. This radicalism grew through the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and’45, the Radical War (or the Scottish Insurrection) of 1820 and the Highland Clearances, into the 20th Century with the Red Clydeside and the emergence of strong militant unions, and a radical working class.

A country which embraces radical nationalism is far more likely to accept the ideas of socialism than a country which is ‘plagued’ by chauvinist nationalism.

In England tribalism was destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago and the evolution of English society happened at a much slower pace, with several political, cultural and societal diversions. Their subsequent history determined their form of Nationalism. It is one of land and sea battles and the plunder of nations all over the world, and the riches that flowed into coffers of the rich, which made England even stronger. So, their form of nationalism developed in an entirely different manner. Their form of nationalism is a ‘chauvinist’ nationalism. This signifies a nation which dominates other nations and to which the dominant population expects all others to conform. This is entirely understandable as England was the dominant nation over most of the world for centuries.

One of the main reasons for that was their use of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

At the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V’s army consisted of 8,000 archers, which was 80% of his army; all armed with long-bows, with arrows which had armour-piercing heads. These weapons had a range and accuracy of 200 yards and a good archer could loose 8 arrows in one minute. That meant that every 7 seconds 8,000 arrows rained down on the French cavalry, to devastating effect. Regardless of the ethics, this in effect led to the end of the ‘Hundred Years War and meant that England now ruled France and, by default, the rest of Europe.

Queen Elizabeth (1st) paid for the inauguration of the English Navy, the forerunner of the Royal Navy, a professional, well trained, well-disciplined navy which went on to ‘rule the waves’. Oliver Cromwell was disgusted by the performance of the Parliamentary army (Roundheads) so the ‘New Model Army’ was inaugurated. This was the fore-runner of today’s British Army, with troops which were professional, well trained, well-disciplined and, in conjunction with the English Navy, conquered lands in Africa, India and (what we now call) the Middle East. In effect, they protected English interests on sea and land.

Today, England celebrates military and naval victories and demonstrates an almost obsessive loyalty and reverence to the monarchy, unlike Scotland.

These are just some of the differences which distinguish Scottish Nationalism from English Nationalism, stemming from the cultural, social and political histories of both nations.

This led me to ask myself, “If that’s the case, then what is British Nationalism?”

I concluded that it is merely a disguise for English Nationalism. Britain is not a nation: it is an amalgamation of three nations and a Province. There seems to be no basis, then, for using the term British Nationalism as it only strengthens the myth that the English and Scottish peoples are one and the same. They are not.

Jock Penman

The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Solidarity.

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