Independence then socialism is often the nationalists’ favorite bait for workers. Independence is said to be a step forward towards the workers’ own liberation, a step towards socialism. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the conditions that prevail today around the world, movements for independence would not mean a step forward towards socialism. It would be a step backwards. Despite protestations of being populists nationalists work on behalf of the capitalists but those on the Left declare they merely wish freedom from “imperialist domination”. The Left-wingers simply play with words. The point of nation states is that they compete with each other, sometimes through alliances with other nations. In fact it is usually through alliances with other nations, but this doesn’t make such alliances examples of internationalism.
The success of socialism depends on achieving the greatest possible unity of the working class and it is utterly ridiculous to argue that the working class ought to divide itself into different countries in order to accomplish this unity. It is completely absurd to justify this with the false argument, disproved many times, that the battle for socialism would be easier if it were led by a more nationally “pure” and homogeneous working class. Working class unity is a must right now if effective resistance is to be mounted to the crisis measures imposed by the capitalists. Unity is necessary to stand up against all the attacks on our democratic rights. The working class faces a powerful class enemy which is solidly united (despite differences within its ranks). The people’s forces are not going to win by dividing themselves on the basis of their place of birth, rather than their place within the capitalist machine. Those who dress up as socialists in order to push nationalism in the working class are the objective allies of the capitalists who dominate the politics and pull the strings.
We do not fight capitalism with nationalism. We fight capitalism with socialism. The working class is an international class. McDonald workers in Britain, America or India have more in common with each other than they do with the millionaires of their own countries. The capitalists often try to turn the workers of one country against another through rousing national hatreds and promoting myths of national superiority. There is no national solution to the crises caused by global capitalism. It is not possible to build socialism in one country – socialism, like capitalism, would need to be a global system in order to survive. We face huge problems like poverty, disease and climate change that can only be eradicated by a world-wide effort mobilising people and resources across the borders that currently divide us. Let us not fight against each other. The working class have no power individually; we must fight collectively as part of trade unions, and as a political party.
In regards of claims of national sovereignty nations do not exist in some kind of abstract, mythical world of complete autonomy. States exist in relation to other states. Some are strong and some are less strong. There are big robbers and smaller robbers collude over how to divide up the booty. For anyone who calls themselves socialist, by definition the problem is the social system. One that produces disaffection everywhere and therefore cannot arise from ‘foreign rule’. Socialists are also, or rather they should be, well used to nationalist campaigns that put the ills of society down to the nationality of the state, and which therefore obscure real causes. Apparently a capitalist state can be reformed in the interests of the workers according to left nationalism theory. Such a new state will not be part of the prevailing world order. How? Who knows – for even a workers revolution that placed political power in the hands of a completely democratic workers’ state could not escape being locked into a world economic system of capitalism. Only in a scenario of immediate spread of the revolution could it have any hope of surviving and still be something worthy of the description socialist. Socialism is the movement of the working class and its conquest of economic, social and political power, irrespective of nationality. It can exist only at an international level. This too is a simple description. But even at this simple level is shows the incompatibility of nationalism with socialism. What independence movements do is promote nationalist solutions to the problems of capitalism
Nationalism, no matter how left it is, always confuses action by the state for socialism, so it calls upon the state to redistribute wealth and take control of resources “for the people”, whereas socialism calls upon workers to take ownership of production itself and build the power of its own organisations so that one day these can replace the state. Internationalism is not the solidarity of one progressive state with another but is the international action of workers, from organising in parties and unions across borders, not favouring the population within certain lines on a map. Left nationalism is not internationalism but the alliance of nationalisms. The betrayal of socialism involved in the embrace of nationalism by sections of the left is revealed by this statist conception of socialism, although this is hidden from many because socialism was popularly identified with the growth of gigantic, bureaucratic state power, exemplified by the Soviet Union. This is one reason it remains unpopular among the mass of workers.
Borders don’t protect us, they divide us—creating needless friction with the excluded while obscuring real differences among the included. We need forms of belonging that are not predicated on exclusion, and the possession of a passport or visa.
Marx said that “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living”. This is an apt epitaph for the nationalists, particularly those who say they are socialists.