Against Nationalism


Back to Index



Nationalism is a form of state supporting ideology specific to capitalist society. Nationalism is an idea. Its function is to persuade people to be loyal to a state or to a government. Nationalism is the idea that makes people who live in a state think of themselves as citizens of that state.

French nationalism makes people who live in the French state think that they are French. The function of French nationalism is therefore to make people who live there loyal to the French state. The function of British nationalism is to make people loyal to the British government. People who are loyal to a government do what the government tells them.

To win people's support the state uses all sorts of symbols and myths. These are called national symbols or national tradition. For instance a state will have its own cloth design. This is called a national flag. On ritual occasions people will wave these pieces of cloth in the air or tie them onto poles or buildings. In some states, America for instance, people look at these cloths and then touch their foreheads with their hands. They call this saluting the flag. Sometimes on such occasions, they will sing a special song which says how great and good their nation is. Whenever they hear this song people are supposed to stand up straight.

National Myths

An example of a national myth is the legend of Joan of Arc. She was a poor peasant girl who is said to have heard the voice of god telling her take up arms and drive the English out of France. She was burned at the stake by the English for her pains. This makes her a national martyr.

Governments need nationalism to make people obey them. They use nationalism to make people think that they are not just obeying a particular group of men - the government. It tries to persuade them that they are doing something more important. This important thing is called the person's 'duty' to the nation.

Duty

Duty has to be made out to be a very, very important thing because it often turns out to be dangerous or unpleasant. In the early years of this century the government decided that it was our grandfathers duty to go and kill people who came from Germany. This involved putting on brown clothes which were called the national uniform. Next our grandfathers were told that it was their duty to obey certain men from the upper classes called officers. Next these officers told them that it was their duty to walk in front of machine guns which men in grey uniforms were going to aim at them. Most of them did as they were told and got shot.

Afterwards their bodies were lined up in neat rows and white stones were put on top of them. Their bodies were then given a new name. They were called 'our glorious dead'.

The nationalist idea became common in last two hundred years. It went along with the development of capitalism. In feudal times people were less nationalistic. Instead of singing anthems and saluting flags, they swore allegiance to a particular person. This person was called a sovereign. People promised to obey him and fight for him. In less orderly places people swore to obey local clan chiefs or various types of lords.

Causes

The reason that nationalism has become common since the start of capitalism is that the capitalist classes in different parts of the world wanted to protect their home market. To do this they needed to set up capitalist governments. These governments would then put up customs barriers that would protect them from foreign competition and pass various other laws to help the development of industry. These governments would be made up of business men and other professional men such as lawyers.

Kings used to claim that they must be obeyed because they were acting as god's representative on earth. In other words they claimed a divine right to rule. In modern times this idea became less and less plausible. If people would no longer believe the myth that the king was god's representative, they were even less likely to believe that a government made up of bankers and industrialists had been sent by god. This is why the nationalist idea became necessary. People were to be taught that obedience to the government was their duty to the nation. By the use of songs and symbols and ceremonies, the nation was made to seem some supernatural entity, just as god had been in the past.

This is why from a socialist standpoint nationalism is - always - an illusion. There are no good and bad nationalism, it is as De leon called it, the falsest of all false paths.

In this it is like religion, it is false, but lots of people believe in it and one can not reliably make them dis-believe it by oppression. Oppression of a religion or a nationalist ideology by another religion or nationalism only reinforces peoples sense of identity with it. It was for this reason and this alone that Lenin defended the right of nations to self determination - because any attempt to deny it merely reinforced nationalist ideology.

W P Cockshott, 1991


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 0.9.

Against Nationalism


Back to Index



Nationalism is a form of state supporting ideology specific to capitalist society. Nationalism is an idea. Its function is to persuade people to be loyal to a state or to a government. Nationalism is the idea that makes people who live in a state think of themselves as citizens of that state.

French nationalism makes people who live in the French state think that they are French. The function of French nationalism is therefore to make people who live there loyal to the French state. The function of British nationalism is to make people loyal to the British government. People who are loyal to a government do what the government tells them.

To win people's support the state uses all sorts of symbols and myths. These are called national symbols or national tradition. For instance a state will have its own cloth design. This is called a national flag. On ritual occasions people will wave these pieces of cloth in the air or tie them onto poles or buildings. In some states, America for instance, people look at these cloths and then touch their foreheads with their hands. They call this saluting the flag. Sometimes on such occasions, they will sing a special song which says how great and good their nation is. Whenever they hear this song people are supposed to stand up straight.

National Myths

An example of a national myth is the legend of Joan of Arc. She was a poor peasant girl who is said to have heard the voice of god telling her take up arms and drive the English out of France. She was burned at the stake by the English for her pains. This makes her a national martyr.

Governments need nationalism to make people obey them. They use nationalism to make people think that they are not just obeying a particular group of men - the government. It tries to persuade them that they are doing something more important. This important thing is called the person's 'duty' to the nation.

Duty

Duty has to be made out to be a very, very important thing because it often turns out to be dangerous or unpleasant. In the early years of this century the government decided that it was our grandfathers duty to go and kill people who came from Germany. This involved putting on brown clothes which were called the national uniform. Next our grandfathers were told that it was their duty to obey certain men from the upper classes called officers. Next these officers told them that it was their duty to walk in front of machine guns which men in grey uniforms were going to aim at them. Most of them did as they were told and got shot.

Afterwards their bodies were lined up in neat rows and white stones were put on top of them. Their bodies were then given a new name. They were called 'our glorious dead'.

The nationalist idea became common in last two hundred years. It went along with the development of capitalism. In feudal times people were less nationalistic. Instead of singing anthems and saluting flags, they swore allegiance to a particular person. This person was called a sovereign. People promised to obey him and fight for him. In less orderly places people swore to obey local clan chiefs or various types of lords.

Causes

The reason that nationalism has become common since the start of capitalism is that the capitalist classes in different parts of the world wanted to protect their home market. To do this they needed to set up capitalist governments. These governments would then put up customs barriers that would protect them from foreign competition and pass various other laws to help the development of industry. These governments would be made up of business men and other professional men such as lawyers.

Kings used to claim that they must be obeyed because they were acting as god's representative on earth. In other words they claimed a divine right to rule. In modern times this idea became less and less plausible. If people would no longer believe the myth that the king was god's representative, they were even less likely to believe that a government made up of bankers and industrialists had been sent by god. This is why the nationalist idea became necessary. People were to be taught that obedience to the government was their duty to the nation. By the use of songs and symbols and ceremonies, the nation was made to seem some supernatural entity, just as god had been in the past.

This is why from a socialist standpoint nationalism is - always - an illusion. There are no good and bad nationalism, it is as De leon called it, the falsest of all false paths.

In this it is like religion, it is false, but lots of people believe in it and one can not reliably make them dis-believe it by oppression. Oppression of a religion or a nationalist ideology by another religion or nationalism only reinforces peoples sense of identity with it. It was for this reason and this alone that Lenin defended the right of nations to self determination - because any attempt to deny it merely reinforced nationalist ideology.

W P Cockshott, 1991


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 0.9.