Labour’s nationalist orgy

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Suddenly everyone wants us to have an extra holiday. In January last year Gordon Brown proposed a day for Britain to celebrate its national identity when everyone could express a “united shared sense of purpose” and “embrace the Union flag”. Indeed “All the United Kingdom should honour it. Not ignore it. We should assert that the Union flag is a flag for tolerance and inclusion”. A national day would commemorate Britishness and show Labour as a modern patriotic party. Left wing singer Billy Bragg said that “the thing that binds us together is our civic identity which is Britishness”.

More recently TUC boss Brendan Barber proposed a Community Day to be held at the end of October, “to celebrate our shared values as a nation”. This was followed by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne who want a day to “celebrate what we’re proudest of in this country” in a “citizenship revolution”. Immigrants will have to earn points before they can become citizens, young people will get citizens’ packs when they hit 18 telling them what is expected of adults. We are all encouraged to celebrate civic values and our British heritage, show a debt of gratitude to war veterans who helped defend The British Empire, and be prepared for an annual State of the Nation speech from the Prime Minister, like those delivered by the President in the US.

This orgy of nationalism is also sustained in Gordon Brown’s demand for “British workers for British jobs” and Margaret Hodge’s call for council homes to be given to indigenous Brits before immigrants. These Labour bigwigs say that they don’t want to be outflanked by the arguments of the British National Party and need to show that they are as patriotic as anyone else, and have a tough approach on immigration.

No one should have any doubt about Labour’s nationalist credentials. In the world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 Labour rallied to the flag and, with the help of the unions, played an essential part in recruiting for the war effort and in maintaining social order at home. The Blair government, like every other Labour government since the first in 1924, has made the national interests of British capitalism its priority at every turn. Figures like Churchill and Thatcher might have been more obviously belligerent and jingoistic, but Labour has deployed a whole range of rhetoric devoted to exactly the same national cause, using humanitarianism, anti-totalitarianism and the defence of democracy in its intervention in ex-Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Take all the talk of ‘community’ and ‘shared values’. Its constant repetition is designed to instil the idea that somehow, we’re all, whether poor or rich, unemployed or millionaire, homeless or stately home owner, still linked by some common thread, by some inscrutable Britishness. It would certainly suit the ruling class if workers bought into this idea wholesale, if they accepted the nation as the fundamental unit of society. However, when workers enter into struggle they find that their interests are in conflict with their exploiters, with the capitalist state, and that there are no ‘shared values’ when police are attacking a picket line or demonstration. On the contrary, far from there being some mysterious British identity, when workers begin to develop a sense of class identity they begin to appreciate that they are part of an international class that can ultimately only defend its interests on an international level. Where the capitalist class values anything that will assist it in its endless competition of each against all, workers value anything that can contribute to the development of consciousness, organisation and solidarity. Nationalism, whether from the left or right, is a virulent enemy of the working class. Car 8/6/7