Friday, February 17, 2012
We Are All Jock Tamson's Bairns
"Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’ " - Leo Tolstoy
Alex Salmond claimed that Scottish independence would ensure more prosperity. "We have 25 percent of Europe's tidal power potential, 25 percent of its offshore wind potential and 10 percent of its wave power potential -- not bad for a nation with less than 1 percent of Europe's population"
David Cameron claimed Scotland would be “safer and richer” if it continued with the UK. "We're stronger, because together we count for more in the world,”
As socialists, we have always opposed nationalism. While we certainly sympathise with those oppressed and displaced on national grounds, we refuse to simply identify with the many "solutions" offered up by the liberals and leftists in support of the victims. We must ask ourselves “independence for who?” and “freedom for what?”
The division of the world’s population into distinct nations seems to be perfectly natural. The idea of nationalism is that "we" all have certain characteristics in common, and "we" should stick together. We are all assumed to belong to a national group but nationality is a product of social processes. The modern state is a product of bourgeois development. There exists a mistaken belief in a country's permanence - the myth of the "eternal nation", based on national character, or territory or its institutions and upon its continuity across many generations, the community's common ancestry. Political scientist, Benedict Anderson, discusses nations as socially constructed "imagined communities," because "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion."
Nationalism is the ideology of always putting one's nation first, often at the expense of other nations. It is not necessary to be a powerful nation to carry out nationalistic policies and practices. Governments and corporations of every shade engage in nationalistic practices in the name of patriotism. National media and political parties manipulate patriotic feelings to forward agendas for personal profit. Nationalism is foremost about shoring up the power of dominant groups and legitimising their rule. To speak of "the nation" or its "people' as if these are the same flies in the face of the reality that capitalist society is divided into mutually antagonistic classes. "The people" have never determined their own political, social and economic affairs. In every country, political, social and economic policies are drawn up by, and in the interests of, the ruling class. The nation is the camoflage which cloaks the struggle between classes. Nationalism has nothing to offer most of the time except blood, toil, tears and sweat. Nationalism is an ideology of sacrifice. What is presented as being for the good of the nation is purely for the benefit of the bosses. Any ideology which denies this, is a barrier which must be broken down if the working class is to assert its own independent class interests. Nationalism conceals the real nature of capitalism, turns worker against worker and serves to impede working-class solidarity. Workers must know that under capitalism nationalism is now doing them great deal of harm, far more harm than the advantages it confers. Independence only enhances the power of the local boss class. Nationalism is an ideology of class collaboration. Here in Scotland socialists will not align with those whose antecedents depopulated the Highlands for the sheep and the grouse.
So-called self-determination encourages workers to waste their efforts in chasing something which cannot be achieved. Not simply because the native capitalist class preserves their power but any rulers of any newly independent nation-state immediately find themselves having to come to terms with a worldwide economic system dominated by powerful blocs and integrated on a global scale. Their room for manoeuvre within this framework is extremely limited. Despite the hopes of the Left, either the dominant power relinquished direct political control but continues to exert its domination at an economic level. Or the client state frees itself entirely from the domination of one imperialist bloc only by switching to the all-embracing embrace of a rival bloc. Competition between nation-states puts pressure on each state to maximise its power to avoid subordination to others. States that have little power are under pressure to ally themselves with stronger states that have major economic forces at their disposal. In neither scenario is the result any real independence for the local capitalists or any weakening of imperialism as a whole. The formation of new nation-states can no more put an end to imperialism than the formation of new businesses can put an end to capitalism.
Any supporter of Scottish nationalism who believes that independence is possible in any meaningful sense within modern capitalism should simply look at the history of the Irish Republic. Would a capitalist independent Scotland be really any different?
The socialist position on nationalism is simple. The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. This is not just a slogan, but the reality of the world we live in. The Scottish "national interest" is simply the interest of capital within Scotland. It is the interest of the Scottish ruling class. Nationalism distorts class struggles. Workers can waste their time supporting parties that openly stand for capitalism; they can delude themselves into believing that there is a half way house between capitalism and socialism; they can even bury their heads in the sand and say they are not interested in politics. Or they can study the case for world socialism. They have the choice of enduring the miseries of capitalism within the confines of national frontiers or enjoying emancipation in a socialist world.
What is our alternative? The alternative to Scottish nationalism is not British unionism. Because one "nation" rules another, one does not have to chose one or the other. Socialism is the self-liberation of working class people, by their own efforts, creating and using their own organisations. As we live in Scotland we struggle for socialism here.
"Our true nationality is mankind." -- H.G. Wells