Nationalism is socialism’s biggest obstacle

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Andrew Quinn
Deputy Editor-in-Chief

The working class across the globe have more in common with each other than they do with the upper class from their own state.

One thing has always evaded those on the left: why don’t all working class people vote for socialist parties? Why don’t they continuously elect a party which would improve their financial situation? The answer is simple: nationalism.

Nationalism is about shared values and community. It often celebrates historic figures, a shared language and culture. Sometimes, it is simply about where you live. However, nationalism is exclusive by nature. It can be determined by similarities with those around you, but ultimately, nationalism is about identifying your nation as different from other nations.

The perceived difference between these nations is what divides the worldwide working class. Many working class people are against immigration because they believe that foreigners do not hold the same values as them. These newcomers are often believed to be a threat to the natives’ way of life and a drain on apparently limited resources. But are they really that different?

The reality is that working class people from across the globe have more in common with each other than they do with the upper classes from their own city or town. A bartender from Paisley has more in common with a cleaner from Baghdad than they do with a millionaire business-owner from Glasgow. Every worker is, to a certain extent, used for the profit of the businessperson. Capital could not be gained without the labour of the employee. Yet, because of nationalism, the Scottish bartender often feels that they have more in common with the banker from the same country.

We can take the most recent general election as an example. For working class people, it would have been in their economic interests to vote for Labour, as this was the party which planned to redistribute wealth amongst society. However, millions of working class voters chose the Conservatives, largely because of Brexit. The idea of Britain as a country being independent and dominant prevailed over the argument of creating a more equal society. Those on the right use the pride that people have for their country to prevent change from happening.

In Scotland, nationalism takes a different form. There is essentially a fight between two types: Scottish and British. Many of those against independence would have you believe that only their opponents perpetuate “divisive nationalism”, not realising that they themselves are nationalist, in a different way. While the Scottish independence movement is pro-immigration, unlike many nationalist movements, there remains an element of “othering”. The “other” in this case is the English, who some Scottish nationalists see as different because they perceive them as more right-wing, less tolerant of other cultures, and are proud of the British empire. However, the idea that Scotland is more tolerant has been proven to be a myth, and the country only seems less right-wing as many Conservatives vote for the catch-all SNP. Are working people north and south of the border that different? Both are still feeling the consequences of deindustrialisation and neoliberalism. Both tend to be proud of their country. Both would like a better situation for themselves. They can all be won over by socialism.

But how do we do this? As socialists, we must argue that the fight is not over until everyone has a better quality of life. We must offer solidarity to workers from other countries. One day, we will need their help and they will stand with us. When we hear talk of anti-immigration, we must ask if we would not do everything we could to ensure that our family enjoys a better quality of life. In Scotland, we must not present ourselves on the side of Scottish or British nationalism (like Labour did in 2014). Rather, we must fight for the cause of workers worldwide, against an unfair economic system which doesn’t care about working class people.

To be patriotic, we must be proud of our country. It is hard to be proud of Britain or Scotland because neither have ever worked in favour of the working class. Although I do love Young Fathers, Irn Bru and Trainspotting, I am not proud of colonialism. I am not proud that Scotland has 11 billionaires whilst one in five people are in poverty, and that our government does not use its tax-raising and borrowing powers to resolve it. Why should I be? Nations do not serve working people. They are only an establishment tool that stops workers across the globe from banding together.

Comrades, I ask you all to reject your perceived national differences, and unite.