Monday, December 24, 2018

The Socialist Party Against Nationalism

The nationalist argument, as propounded by Plaid Cymru in Wales and the SNP in Scotland, is quite simple ― and wrong. The people of Wales and Scotland, they say, suffer because they are misgoverned from England; what they need is an independent State of their own so that they could begin to solve their problems. In fact, the problems faced by wage and salary workers in Wales and Scotland are basically the same as those in Britain or Ireland on any other country; they are caused by international capitalism and can only be cured by world socialism. The setting up of more frontiers in the world would be irrelevant and a waste of time.

The members of the Socialist Party reject allegiance to any State and regard themselves as citizens of the world. We accept the boundaries between States as they are (and as they may change) and work within them to win control of each State with a view to abolishing them all. Our aim is the establishment of a democratic world community without frontiers based on the common ownership of the world’s resources.

“Celtic nationalism” is a misleading phrase as the word Celtic, like Aryan, has no real meaning outside linguistics where six languages (Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Breton and the extinct Manx and Cornish) form a distinct group labelled “Celtic”. What Ireland, Scotland and Wales share is that they are areas where now only a minority of the people speak a Celtic language. This, however, does not justify calling them “Celtic countries” or creating a mythology about “the Celtic nations” or, worse, about “the Celtic races”.

Marx advocated independence for Ireland, a fact which is sometimes used to try to justify supporting nationalist demands. Marx did support Irish independence but he did so primarily because he thought it would hasten the completion of the democratisation of the British State. But the circumstances which led Marx to support Irish independence no longer exist. At this time in history, the bourgeois democratic victory over feudalism was far from complete even in Britain, then the most industrially developed country in the world, and on the continent of Europe what progress had been made was continually threatened by three great feudal powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In these circumstances, Marx considered it necessary to support not only direct moves to extend political democracy but also moves which he felt would weaken the feudal powers of Europe. For instance, he supported Polish independence as a means of weakening Tsarist Russia. His support for Irish independence was for the same sort of reason: it would, he thought, weaken the position of the English landed aristocracy, as they still enjoyed considerable political power. By the time Ireland was about to get independence after the first world war, the changes Marx had expected it to bring—land reform in Ireland and a weakening of aristocratic power in England—had already been brought about by other means, making support for Irish nationalism no longer relevant. Marx clearly writes of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England. Marx wrote of independence for Ireland helping to overthrow the remnants of feudalism not capitalism itself in England.

Engels, in 1888, in an interview to an American German-language paper and answered those left-nationalists who expect a  revolution from separatism:
"A purely socialist movement cannot be expected in Ireland for a considerable time.  People there want first  of all to become peasants owning a plot of land..."

 The whole idea underlying nationalism — that all the people of a particular nation (however defined, and that’s another problem) have some common interest — challenges the socialist analysis which says that the workers have no country and that the “national interest” is a fraud and a trick designed to get them to co-operate on the political field with their rulers.

The task of the Socialist Party is to campaign, along with socialists in other countries, for the establishment of a socialist society all over the world.

As expressed by the First International,
"...The poor have no country, in all lands, they suffer from the same evils, and they, therefore, realise that the barriers put up by the powers that be the more thoroughly to enslave the people must fall. It is the poor, above all the poor, who will realise the dream of the gentle Anacharsis de Cloots, the orator of the human race, who will bring into being the great federation of the peoples. So come, young people, and help us accomplish this lofty task of the nineteenth century..." - To the Paris Students, To the Students and Young People of All Countries From the Workers of All Countries, 1866.

Nor should we neglect to mention the internationalism of the Chartist activist, George Julain Harney, who in an address to the Fraternal Democrats declared:

 ‘Whatever national differences divide Poles, Russians, Prussians, Hungarians, and Italians, these national differences have not prevented the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian despots uniting together to maintain their tyranny; why, then, cannot countries unite for obtainment of their liberty? The cause of the people in all countries is the same – the cause of Labour, enslaved, and plundered… In each country, the tyranny of the few and the slavery of the many are variously developed, but the principle in all is the same. In all countries, the men who grow the wheat live on potatoes. The men who rear the cattle do not taste flesh-food. The men who cultivate the vine have only the dregs of its noble juice. The men who make clothing are in rags. The men who build the houses live in hovels. The men who create every necessary comfort and luxury are steeped in misery. Working men of all nations, are not your grievances, your wrongs, the same? Is not your good cause, then the same also? We may differ as to the means, or different circumstances may render different means necessary but the great end – the veritable emancipation of the human race – must be the one end and aim of all.’


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is true to say that Manx and Cornish are extinct. A minority speak both, there are language movements in both areas. Not to mention an abundance of Celtic placenames in the landscape. If the SPGB believes workers have no country anywhere, which they don't in an economics context, then the SPGB never refers to something called "the British working class"?

ajohnstone said...

As a guide to just what a minority of speakers have adopted those languages as second languages.But to be 100% accurate, native speakers are extinct.

I'm sure the SPGB does refer to the "British working class", the American working class and the French working class etc etc etc for clarity in the context of whatever article is being written. I'm just not clear on your point, tbh.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifications. In referring to the "British working class", in my opinion the SPGB is, in a modest way, in its language use promoting British nationalism. Also, the title of your party seems like a throwback to Victorian imperial times, though the SP"GB" will say it is merely a postcode. Ironically, the Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists who are denounced don't identify as British, though will identify with their respective geographical areas and also, for the most part, see themselves as members of the working class. Perhaps the point I am making is that you may have more distaste for the word "Scottish" than "British". Thank you for your arguable points.

ajohnstone said...

"Great Britain" was adopted in 1904 so nearly Victorian language as you say (Edwardian) and it was chosen to reflect the constitutional battleground for the capture of the State.

We have registered variants of our name with the Electoral Commission

The Socialist Party (GB)
World Socialist Party (UK)
World Socialist Party (EU)
World Socialist Movement
The Socialist Party (SP-GB)

There exist voices with our Party that propose we formally change our name to the World Socialist Party (UK or whatever) as adopted by a few of our companion parties within the World Socialism Movement - which in itself indicates our aspirations to be a movement without borders. The topic regularly crops at our conferences.

Indeed nationalists do not identify as British (except, of course, British/English nationalists) but there are unionists in these countries you mention who very much do. And in Scotland, the 2014 referendum revealed they had the majority opinion in their favour. We advocated a spoil the ballot paper abstention during the referendum.

Our Glasgow/Edinburgh branch blog, Socialist Courier, will refer to Scottish workers or the Scottish working class.

Matthew Culbert said...

I am born in Scotland and I don't identify with any of that being 'British' or Scottish'. I am nore likely to say I'm orginally from Glasgow but now West Lothian. Wehn travleling in Europe or elsewhere there is sometimes a positive advantage in respect of the welcome I receive to signify Weest Lothian near Edinburgh because of the Festival or Glasgow because of the original Year of Culture which was situated there.

The GB part of the SPGB name is a reference to the island of Britain.

I am not up for changing a name which makes us the oldest socialist party in these islands. That would be daft. We use 'Socialist Party' and are registered to do so and have used World Socialisst Movement as well, at elections. The problem is getting the Registrar to accept our prior claim to Socialist Party as opposed to 'johny come lately' Trot groups like Militant and others when there is a conflict, which in his or her view is liable to cause confusion.