What is nationalism? What is its effect on the class struggle?

The Weekly People
Vol. 85 No. 5
Saturday, May 3, 1975
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Question Period
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What is nationalism? What is its effect on the class struggle?

The expansion of capitalist trade and commerce, breaking down the local isolationism of the Middle Ages, made possible the modern concept of the nation.

The concept of the nation, based as it is on common political rule, became the focus for the cult of nationalism. A common language, customs and tradition, engendering a feeling of oneness among the people of a nation, provide the basis for the nationalist spirit. It is nourished by a stream of nationalist literature and an education which consigns the rest of the world to the dim background, while giving to the nation itself, to its military exploits, personages, heroes and cultural and scientific achievements, the spotlight.

This spirit is weak or strong among a people according to historic conditions and the degree to which the calculated attempts of rulers to inflame national passions have succeeded in obscuring internal antagonisms.

Nationalism on occasion plays the role of a progressive force. This is particularly true where it arouses the people to a common struggle for emancipation from colonial domination or for resistance against imperialist subjugation. However, nationalism as manifested in the capitalist nations is a retrogressive force. It is a fraud perpetrated upon the workers by a cynical capitalist class.

In their practical dealings, the capitalists renounce nationalism. The multinational corporations stand today as monuments of their class internationalism. When the need arises to promote their national capitalist interests, however, they have their political and educational lackeys fan the fires of nationalism. "National" interests are said to be in danger. These, of course, are the material interests of the capitalist class, but by identifying them as "national" interests the fact is obscured. Even paupers are made to feel that they have a stake in defending these interests, for they too are part of the nation.

Nationalism is employed by the capitalist class deliberately to submerge the class struggle and to blind the workers to their own class interests. Internationally it is used to keep the working classes of the world divided against each other, and to blind them to their common struggle and common aim. Nationally it is used to make the demands of the workers seem in conflict with "national interests," and their efforts to enforce these demands as threats to "national unity."

The nation is held up as the embodiment of a higher authority to which all owe allegiance. But behind the "nation" is the national capitalist state, and behind the state the ruling class for whom it acts as executive committee.