With its economy in recession, the British government plans to cut a sizeable chunk of its subject's means of living. In protest, British unions have united under the slogan of ‘Jobs, Growth, Justice’. What we want to explain in this text is how, if we look at each of those things in turn, the unions might as well have demanded ‘Poverty, Poverty, Poverty.’
The 2010 movement against education cuts in Britain presents itself as composed of at least two tendencies. On the one hand, there are voices which seem to soberly defend their quality of life against an attack by the government, making little attempt to disguise their materialism for something else.1 Confronted with the prospect of a £9,000 annual tuition fee they seem to realise that they cannot afford it or would rather spend it on something else if possible.
Historical materialism is an essential feature not only of the Marxism of the traditional workers movement but also of Marxist-Leninist ideas. A critique of historical materialism explains some of the dreadful aspects of the practice of Marxism-Leninism in power (“actually existing socialism”) and thus is part of the answer to the question of how their project turned out to be such a failure from the perspective of the abolition of exploitation and domination.
When we declare our opposition to capital and nation, quite a few people would agree with the later part if we appended an ‘-ism’. Being a ‘nationalist’ is not a badge of honour these days, instead it is reserved for the types of the British National Party. A proper, democratic citizen does not consider himself a nationalist, instead the much more noble label ‘patriot’ is preferred. A patriot, so the popular idea, does not look down on other nations, but ‘instead’ and ‘only’ loves his own. This love expresses itself in many different ways:
Cheering for the English, Welsh, Scottish or British team in whatever sport is on telly goes without question. That ‘we’ win if they win is for some reason understood.1
“British jobs for British workers” – Gordon Brown shared appreciation for this with some of the Lindsey wildcat strikers. The disagreement a liberal would register with this is that these sentiments harm ‘our’ economy.
‘We’ are all in this financial crisis together and need to pull in our belt. In the interest of ‘our’ economy we will have to take a hit. Although, some of those ‘greedy bankers’ might have to give up some of their bonuses as well in times of crisis for the sake of ‘us’ all.
‘Our’ troops deserve ‘our’ support in Afghanistan, one might disagree with the government but this does not alienate oneself from the troops who risk their lives in order to serve ‘us’.
Some go even as far as asking how many immigrants ‘our’ culture and country can take.
While these statements deal with quite different topics, they all have two features in common. First, they are based on some common definition of who ‘we’ are, i.e. who belongs to this group and who does not: “Nation denotes a people who are believed to or deemed to share common customs, origins, and history” (Wikipedia). Some people also mention language. Second, these statements also imply some content that follows from this group membership (an entitlement for preferred treatment for instance, or a collective worth sacrificing for). The justifications of the groups in question and the demands made in the name of these groups is what we call nationalism.
7pm, Conway Hall (Club Room) 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
Critique of nationalism is nothing unheard of on the Left and among Marxists and Anarchists. However, for many radical critics of the nation, it is merely a smoke screen that distracts the working class from its own interests. We argue that this theory does not capture the essence of nationalism and fails to explain why it is so appealing to so many people. On the contrary, we will argue that the process of people (as citizens) learning to appreciate the nation-state is based on their private interests (as bourgeois) - and therefore how the material basis of a capitalist society invites people to make the national cause their personal cause. All this does not diminish the fact that nationalism is an ideology of fundamental sacrifice and that the abolishment of capitalism must not be international but anti-national. The reality of the nation calls for its abolishment not its acceptance.
Recently passengers using the German public transport system have been advised about something quite astonishing: Big posters of the Kindernothilfe ('Help for children in need') point out that the reader has got a well hanging on his/her ear and that one rubs school books on one´s skin (Oxfam's appeal to donate two pounds a month to provide clean water for an African village is a British version of the same principle.)! The following attempts to show that this does not only appear to be strange, but that it is quite strange indeed.