Editorial from the April 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
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 belong.
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.