Saturday, March 19, 2016

Proud to be British? (1983)

From the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are you proud to be British? Do you stand up straight when they play the national anthem? Does your body stiffen with loyalty when the Union Jack is raised and the Queen waves to you from her Rolls Royce? Do you regard the British army as your army and Britain’s imperial history as your history? If so, you are suffering from that most nasty of diseases of the mind, known popularly as patriotism. It is known to afflict people of all ages, from gullible Boy Scouts to old ladies with blue hats who think that Churchill is still Prime Minister and that change is what you tip taxi drivers with.

The Patriotism Disease — otherwise known as nationalism — can affect people of all countries and even of regions which aspire to become countries. To be a nationalist you can hold a variety of political beliefs. Of course, the caricature of patriotism is to be found among the Tories. In his book. The Case For Conservatism, Quintin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham) wrote that
Conservative philosophy does lay a most particular stress upon the duty of loyalty and the sentiment of patriotism . . .  The nation, not the so-called class struggle, is therefore at the base of Conservative political thinking.
And it would be hard to find a more base example of ignorant nationalism than that exhibited at the Tory Youth rally, just before the June general election, when "the sentiment of patriotism" was summed up by the Tory Commissar for Entertainment, Kenny Everett, who shouted to his audience, "Let’s bomb Russia” and was responded to with loud cheers of nationalistic thuggery.

But when it comes to blinkered nationalism the Tories do not by any means have a monopoly. Indeed, capitalists who support the Conservative Party tend to favour greater international links between the different countries of the world. In general, they favour a world market which is not interfered with by tariff controls or political boycotts. The investors in the multinational companies are certainly not fooled by the rhetoric of their own nationalism: they will invest wherever they can make a profit. It is, in fact, the Labour Party, which poses as an internationalist organisation, but which advocates politics of economic nationalism, such as import controls and a return to pre-EEC trading practices. The Labour Party was the first party in the history of British government to pass the type of racist immigration laws which were designed to keep Kenyan Asians out of Britain. In 1976. Labour's leader. James Callaghan, declared that
I have never wavered from the view that a small, highly-populated country like Britain had to limit the number of immigrants it could absorb into its culture.
Neil Kinnock, the latest opportunist to walk the tightrope between the rhetoric of internationalism and the practical politics of national chauvinism, has said that 
. . .  we must show that we have positive policies which are based upon the implacable requirement that the interests of the British people must predominate. (Guardian, 18 July 1983)
What sort of narrow-minded nationalism is this in a world where over half of our fellow human beings are destitute and eight hundred millions of them are starving? Are we to check that they are "British people" before we think of positive policies to end their, and our, common poverty?

Needless to say, the plague of patriotism is alive and well within the Communist Party of Great Britain. In their pamphlet, Time To Change Course we are informed by the bogus communists that:
It is the British ruling class which . . .  is revealed as the traitor to the nation. It is the Communist Party which stands out as the real champion of the nation.
Which nation they champion we are not told, but the nationalists of the Kremlin have been known to buy up a few thousand surplus copies of the Morning Star each week.

Now, let us move on to the chronic patriotism ward and visit the National front as it lives its final hours. Once the movement which was going to elevate skinheads to the House of Lords and sweep the polls in a bid to rid Britain of non-Anglo-Saxons (Norway was expecting several million descendants of the Vikings to be repatriated), the NF is now just a gang of windbags in bovver boots who sit in rooms above pubs fantasising about the victory that never was. In the mid-1970s they published a pamphlet called Britain: World Power or Pauper State? in which they saw birth control as a plot to reduce the numbers of “the British race":
While in Britain . . . we persist in the absolutely insane policy of discouraging a high birth-rate, there is not the slightest hope that we will be able to send forth enough of our sons and daughters to populate the great empty acres that our ancestors won for us. There is no movement more dangerous to the survival of the British people than so-called family planning . . . Any intelligent assessment of the consequences of this trend must lead to the realisation that it points to the rapid enfeeblement and eventual eclipse of the British race.
It is not only from the politicians that such nationalistic rubbish comes forth: the media persistently refer to “us” and “our” when they are reporting about British business or British militarism; in schools we are educated to look at history from the angle of British ruling class interests; on the sporting fields, nationalism is used to persuade workers that "our” team must be supported against "theirs”; the churches spread the propaganda of “Queen and Country”. Even if you want to travel from one part of the world to another you must carry a card stating that you are "British”, even if you do not choose to attach that label to yourself.

Well, what is Britain? It is a geographical entity — an island — a spot on the map of the world. In this area called Britain there is land, there are natural resources, factories, offices, farms, mines, docks, buses, trains; who do they belong to? In Britain today approximately 400,000 people (one per cent of the population) own 25 per cent of all accumulated wealth. The poorer 80 per cent of the population own 21.9 per cent of accumulated wealth in Britain. The richest 10 per cent own more between them than the poorest 90 per cent. Only 7 per cent of people in Britain own any marketable shares in British wealth. Britain belongs to a minority of British people: to the capitalist class who own and control the means of life. The same is true throughout the world, although the form of ruling class power is different in the state capitalist countries like Russia and China.

The vast majority of people in all countries do not own the means of wealth production and distribution and are forced to sell their labour power for a wage or salary (a price) in order to live. As workers, the majority of people do not have any country. Workers of different countries have more in common with each other than they do with their native capitalist rulers.

It is time to destroy the socially created barriers which divide the world into nations. The world now is not the vast, relatively unconquered planet of the sixteenth century when nation-states first began to flourish in Europe. We are now living in a global village. Capitalist trade, and the technology of mass communication which has been created to facilitate it. have made worldwide production and distribution networks a thing of the present. Socialists do not need to dream of a future worldwide production system — capitalism has brought that into being and has then hindered the benefits which can be gained from it by maintaining the fetters of nationalism. Natural boundaries are no longer a barrier to travel; cultural interchange has ensured that Japanese workers can watch the latest happenings down Coronation Street while British workers are sampling the delights of Indian cuisine. It is noticeable that when astronauts in space take photographs of the earth there is not a red-coloured area called the Russian Empire or a label on a part of Ireland which says that it is British. These divisions are socially created and can only be socially removed by putting an end to the outdated social system of capitalism.

It is the socialist contention that human beings, wherever they are from, are much more similar than they are different. All of us have certain needs and socially produced desires which, by co-operating as humans, we can satisfy. Socialism, which can only be established worldwide, presents the possibility of people from different backgrounds and with different cultures (many of which they may want to retain in a world socialist society) combining our abilities to jointly provide for our common needs. To do this we must socialise the means of producing and distributing wealth by placing them in the hands of the democratically organised world community. Within a socialist society decisions will be taken at various geographical levels, depending on the nature of the decision to be made. Whatever difficulties the organisation of world society, based on production solely for use, will create, it will be a far more harmonious society than capitalism can ever possibly hope to be.

World socialism offers a temptation to the political imaginations of those whose minds have been narrowed by the ideology of nationalism. But the idea of establishing a world society is more than a nice idea to nod your head at. Ending capitalism, with its national frontiers, is a matter of urgency because every frontier has an army and every army has possession of lethal weaponry and that weaponry threatens to destroy us all, patriots and world socialists together. There is no way to obtain a world without war without creating a world which is united by the common interests of its inhabitants and there is no way to achieve such an identity of interests except by establishing socialism.
Steve Coleman

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