One Nation, Two Classes

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After a summer festooned with Union Jacks for the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics, Ed Miliband’s catchphrase at the Labour Party conference was “One Nation”. Faced with the increasingly nasty face of the reigning Tories, Red- White- and- Blue Ed took on the mantle of Disraeli to proclaim that it’s the Tories with their vicious austerity policies who are waging class war, and it’s Labour who are the true patriots.

Meanwhile the Tories claim that we must accept austerity because “we’re all in it together”. Sacrifices, in other words, are our patriotic duty.

Both are right, and both are wrong. The Tories are waging class war – the war of the ruling class against the exploited class. The sacrifices they demand are not in the interests of the vast majority of the population, but they are essential for the preservation of the system that exploits us.

But Labour is also waging class war – on behalf of the same system. By preaching patriotism it is saying that workers and capitalists have the same interests. By opposing any effective action by the workers to defend their living standards in the face of the government’s austerity policies – Miliband and co. are openly against strikes for example – the Labour Party acts as a phony opposition, an agent of the enemy in the workers’ own ranks. And as experience has shown again and again, when they come to power they are no less ruthless at administering the needs of capitalism.

The nation, let us be clear, is no more than the way capitalism divides up the world to engage in competition and the hunt for profit. Every nation belongs not to the majority of the people who live in its territory, but the small minority who control the state and either own or manage the means for producing wealth.  Every nation is therefore a theatre of the class war between the two main classes in this society: capitalists and workers, exploiters and exploited. Nationalism and patriotism are mere ideologies aimed at hiding this fundamental reality from the working class.

By trying to persuade workers that they have the same interests as those who exploit them, nationalism also serves to divide workers country by country – to prevent the workers from seeing that their real allies are not their rulers but the exploited in other countries, all of whom are facing the same attacks on their living standards demanded by capitalism in crisis.

This is why the capitalist class is stirring up nationalism all over the planet. In Spain there have been huge demonstrations for ‘an independent Catalonia’, where workers and unemployed who last year expressed their ‘indignation’ against the whole of world capitalism are being marched tamely behind the same politicians and capitalists they were denouncing as thieves a year ago (see the article in this issue). In Britain, the SNP (and leftists, in the name of national self-determination) tries to convince Scottish workers that they would be better off under the rule of Scottish capitalists and politicians. In Greece, the trade unions and the left parties tell workers that their real enemy is ‘the Germans’ who are forcing them to pull in their belts in return for fresh credit, while in Germany the ‘lazy’ Greek workers are blamed for the reductions in living standards demanded to pay for these loans. The same story is told about the Spanish and the Portuguese workers.

Meanwhile, there is a sinister renaissance of right wing nationalism across Europe, with increasing attacks on ethnic minorities in Greece, Hungary, France…. It’s another ideology of division: we ‘native’ workers are suffering not because capitalism is dying on its feet but because of these Africans, Muslims, gypsies who come into our country and live off our labour. But persecution of ‘foreigners’ is not the speciality of the right: gypsies are targeted by Hollande’s ‘Socialist’ government in France just as the Labour-run state threw ‘illegal immigrants’ into detention centres in the UK.

In its most concentrated form, nationalism is used to march workers off to war and slaughter each other for the greater glory of capitalism and imperialism. In China, squabbles over disputed islands in the East China Sea give the state an excuse to whip up anti-Japanese demonstrations; Japanese nationalism replies in kind. In the Middle East the capitalist class in Palestine, Israel, Iran calls on the population to prepare for armed struggle and war in the name of anti-Zionism or the defence of the Jewish state. 

Nationalism, whether right wing or left wing, whether spouted by the rulers of existing states or the candidate rulers of future states, is pure poison for the working class. Against all this nauseating propaganda, this cynical cultivation of prejudice and ignorance, against divisions that help the rulers conquer, we must affirm the necessity for the international class struggle across nations and borders.  Against the class war of the exploiters, dishonestly disguised by the false unity of the nation, we must openly and honestly assert the need for the class war of the exploited against capital and its state.  Amos 3.11.12