Nationalism: Poison for the Working Class

Jan Pole anticapitalist2 at
Sun Mar 31 13:30:33 BST 2002

Across the world nationalism has been rearing its ugly head again, most
notably in the cockpit of violence that is the Middle East. As we write
Palestinian and Israeli workers continue to butcher one another in a
senseless round of tit-for-tat atrocities. 

As the shooting of Palestinian children and the suicide bombings aimed
at Israeli workers in Jerusalem continue, socialists have no hesitation
in stating that this violence is in no way, shape or form in the
interest of the working class of wage and salary earners. 

Many on the political left will argue that Palestinian nationalism is
somehow progressive and different to Israeli nationalism and should
therefore be supported (in a similar way to why they often think Welsh
and Scottish nationalism should be encouraged in Britain and Irish
Nationalism in Ulster). 

As socialists, we say that this is a dangerous poison that is being
spread by the left and that no side engaged in such conflict can either
speak for the working class as a whole or be an example to it. 

History is replete with minorities in existing states using terrorist
methods so that a new state may be formed or territory transferred from
the “ownership” of one state to another. The working class of wage and
salary earners is never in a position to benefit from this process, it
is only in a position to suffer. 

The working class – by definition the class that does not possess any
significant titles to land or private property, including capital – has
quite literally nothing to gain from a situation where one group of
rulers and owners is replaced by another group.

In the nineteenth century when the modern capitalist system was
expanding across the globe “national liberation” struggles, typically
led by a local growing capitalist class against the old autocratic
empires, were part of the process which swept away the old political
arrangements and opened the way forward for liberal democracy and the
development of capitalist methods of production. 

It was often argued that it was in the interests of the working class
during this time to take the side of the capitalists against the old
autocracies like the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, etc. It was
said that this process would open the way up for working class
organisation and for the development of an advanced industrial system
which is a prerequisite for a socialist society of abundance and free
access to available wealth.

Since then, the capitalist system has become a world system. The
alleged justification for the working class taking sides in 'national
liberation' struggles has now gone if ever it existed and today all
such struggles are just deadly battles between sections of the
capitalist class, even though it is the workers – imbued with
nationalist poison – that naturally enough end up doing the fighting
and dying.

We argue that every nation state is by its very nature anti-working
class. The “nation” is a myth as there can be no community of interests
between two classes in antagonism with one another, the non-owners in
society and the owners (the workers and the capitalists). 

And the state ultimately exists only to defend the property interests
of the owning class at any given point in history – which is why modern
states across the world send the police and army in to break strikes
and otherwise seek to protect the interests of the capitalists and
“business” at every turn.

The goal of the socialist movement is not to assist in the creation of
even more states but to establish a real world community without
frontiers where all states as they currently exist will be destroyed. 

In a socialist society communities, towns and cities will have the
opportunity to thrive – and people will no doubt feel an attachment to
places that are real and tangible – but the 'imagined communities' that
are nation states will be consigned to the history books where they

Our message to the workers who call themselves Israeli and the workers
who call themselves Palestinian is to cease the slaughter. As workers
you have no real community of interests to gain from your present
struggle. You do, however, have an “imagined community” you should lose
and an entire world to win instead.

Jan Pole

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