Editorial from the August 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
How is one nation distinguished from another?
What makes somebody a member of one nation and somebody else a member of another? Is it the language they speak? Their culture? Where they live? Where they were born? Where their parents were born? Nobody has even been able to come up with a coherent definition, certainly not the political commentators and sports journalists who are always mouthing the word.
The nearest sensible definition is that a nation is made up of those who are either the subjects of some already-existing state or the future subjects of a state that some political group wants to set up. In other words, that it is an artificial, political division imposed on people by the fact that under capitalism those who own and control the worlds resources are organised geographically into separate states.
Far from the nation being a pre-existing grouping which finds expression in a separate state, it is the other way round. It is the various states into which the world is artificially divided that create nations, by inculcating into their subjects the idea that they are a separate human grouping with interests separate from those of the rest of humanity. Nationalism is the ideology of ruling classes, actual or would-be.
Under capitalism there are indeed groups which do have separate interests: precisely the ruling classes which control these states. But this doesn’t apply to us, the subjects of these various states. A worker in Britain or India or Russia or South Africa does not have a separate interest from workers in France or Pakistan or Germany or Argentina or anywhere else.
The true situation is that each so-called nation-state is divided into those who own and control the means of production (the ruling class) and those who don’t and have to work for them (the rest of us). While different ruling classes do have separate interests—which lead them to equip their states with the most destructive weapons they can afford and whose clashes of interest over raw materials, markets, trade routes and investment outlets are the cause of modern war—we, the workers, do not.
We are the international working class and we have a common interest. To unite against ruling classes everywhere and to establish a world community based on the Earth s resources being the common heritage of all humanity where every human being will no longer be a subject of one or other artificial state but where, wherever we live or work or whatever our language or culture, we will all be citizens of a united world.