On 7 May, the Morning Star carried an article with the snazzy headline “Patriotism is good for you.” A better headline would have been “Stalinism turns you into a useless nationalist who can’t pick the right side in an industrial dispute”.
Before examining what this Comrade Blimp has to say about the fusion of nationalism and socialism, it’s worth saying something about the piece’s author.
Doug Nicholls is chair of the board of Ruskin College. Last year college management victimised workplace activists in the UCU. Nicholls refused to back the workers, and then invited the college principal to speak at a meeting he was organising on trade union education at TUC congress. It’s worth bearing in mind this class-struggle record when wading through his article.
In keeping with the nationalist politics of the Morning Star, Nicholls describes the right-wing attacks on the working-class and democracy of the last few decades, and then blames them on foreign powers. The EU is to blame for neoliberalism and the USA controls “our” foreign policy. “Our political economy” became subject to “foreign control”, he says, and we lost our “sovereign parliament”.
You would think, to read Nicholls, that Thatcherism had been imposed from abroad by an alien force, or that prior to the Reagan years the Foreign Office had been pursuing some kind of ethical outreach programme.
In fact, the attacks on the working-class in the UK and all the peeling back of post-war social democracy were orchestrated by our “own” bourgeoisie, via the Tories and New Labour. The reason Parliament privatised industry and battered the unions was because it was dominated by capitalist politicians, not because its “sovereignty” had been usurped by foreigners.
Nicholls says the left needs to develop a sense of patriotism. We need to worry less about “individual rights” (an instruction I might find less alarming if it wasn’t published in a newspaper that supports regimes like North Korea) and instead focus on a sense of nationhood. Whereas some Labour Party “patriots” try to make a distinction between patriotism and nationalism, Nicholls is less concerned with such niceties.
“To say nationalism has no place in the new world order,” he warns “ is to say workers do not have a place”!
He approvingly cites hosiery and knitwear workers who decades ago raised the slogan “If you’re wearing foreign knickers, get them off".
Brexit, according to Nicholls, was a national revolt against “humiliation on the world stage” and “servitude” to the EU. He has nothing to say about the widespread and obvious hostility to immigrants that motivated Brexit. Nor is he eager to explain why the Leave voters he thinks are so wonderful and righteous were martialled so enthusiastically into voting Tory.
Capitalism is an international system. To defeat it, we need to unite with workers around the world. Marx famously said the workers have no fatherland, calling for workers of all lands to unite. That remains an infinitely better path for victory than the flag-waving invocations of national pride and “sovereignty” offered by bureaucrats like Nicholls.