Workers and Patriotism

Workers and Patriotism
The People, March 23, 1991, page 4

The media, the pulpits, the schools, the politicians and other mouthpieces of capitalist ideology have apparently done their job well. If the media polls and reports are any indication, the minds of many U.S. workers have been scarred by the chorus of capitalist voices that fraudulently sought to equate workers' interests with those of their capitalist masters in the waging of the Persian Gulf War.

In short, many workers were, and remain, caught up by the "patriotism" of the capitalist class, a patriotism that presented the war as a struggle between a homogenous American people with moral leaders and a homogenous enemy Iraqi people transfixed by an evil ruler. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of the sons and daughters of American workers were killed or injured and a nation reduced to rubble with the support of such "patriotism."

However, the American people are not a uniform mass with identical interests, but a nation divided into two classes -- the working class and the class of idle owners that lives off its labor. Likewise, there are two kinds of patriotism -- in truth better called by other names.

There is the patriotism of the capitalist class, better called national chauvinism. This "patriotism" equates loyalty to the nation with loyalty to the capitalist-controlled government and its policies. It seeks the acquiescence of workers in the crimes, aggressions, depredations and depravities of the ruling class and its agents.

There is a form of patriotism to which workers should adhere; it is loyalty, not to the institutions of the nation, but to the people; more precisely, to the majority of the people -- the working class -- with whom they share a common material interest.

Workers would do well to reflect on Daniel De Leon's observation that, "The sordid source of patriotism is the sordid physical needs of primitive man." As a matter of survival, primitive humankind felt constrained to "look upon all others as hostile, therefore as inferior, to such an extent as to attach supreme importance, consequently, supreme superiority to his own house, his own clan, his own settlement."

As material conditions changed -- the result of the development of the tools of production -- the size of the group to which such loyalty was necessary for survival also changed. With more efficient tools, the size of the group which this loyalty defended increased, and "patriotism" acted as a cohesive and thus often progressive force, bringing together greater possibilities for further development.

With capitalist development, patriotism became predominantly national in form, helping to bring together the forces of production which today make it possible to produce wealth in vast abundance. As a result, it is no longer materially necessary for groups to compete with each other and war on each other in order to obtain the wealth needed to insure their own survival and growth. However, humankind is still saddled with an outmoded social system that requires such deadly competition for the system's survival.

With capitalist development came the division of society into the working and capitalist classes. Built on the capitalist class's expropriation of the greater part of the value of workers' product, capitalism is driven to export or die, to seek new markets and sources of cheaper raw materials and labor power. It is built on strife and competition.

Capitalist patriotism becomes jingoism. It is intended to trick workers into sanctioning the transformation of their sons and daughters into cannon fodder, used to kill the sons and daughters of other workers in the ruling class's wars with its ruling-class rivals.

As De Leon said, capitalism's "material needs require the sufferings of other nations, gloat over their defeats, need their scalps, and, as a matter of course, the human race being one, the capitalism of no nation can inflict sorrow on another without inflicting it on its own. Capitalist patriotism is, accordingly, a contradiction in terms. Modern civilization repudiates it."

For workers today, classconsciousness -- loyalty to one's class -- is patriotism. International working-class interests are the paramount interests to be served -- not those of any capitalist political state.

Classconsciousness is the key to working-class victory in ending the class struggle. It is the mortar that will hold the bricks of human progress together-progress that requires getting rid of the exploitative capitalist system.

-- K.B.