A Nationalist cul-de-sac
( This is a snippet from a longer document; It should not be taken as an opposition to the right of small nations to self determination, nor opposition to the nationalism in small nations in Europe. A longer more detailed article will follow)
The rise of nationalism in a number of European countries at the present time poses a real threat to the international labour movement and represents an immediate challenge for socialists. In the context of developing a common internationalist approach to solving the problems faced by workers and their families, the various attempts to exacerbate national divisions have to be confronted. The most serious growth of nationalism at the present time is in the United States. Trump’s right-wing crusade is fomenting national and racial division across the globe. The leaders of Brexit have been attempting to supplant class politics with English nationalism. The recent electoral gains by the far-right League pose a threat, not just to the Italian labour movement, but to the unity of Italy itself. It dominates the regions of Lombardy and Veneto where quarter of Italy’s population live, and under its previous name the Northern League advocated secession for the north. The break-up of the EU along national lines would presage a major advance for right-wing nationalist forces, not just in Europe but across the world.
Division of people along national or religious lines in the modern epoch has had a disastrous record. The break-up of the USSR and the restoration of capitalism there and in its neighbouring states has led to a resurgence of nationalism. Yugoslavia shattered in 1991, leading to the separation of six different countries and a succession of civil wars and right-wing governments. Czechoslovakia divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993. Age-old nationalist aspirations and a desire for hegemony have again begun to take root in these countries, dragging in their wake racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice. The Hungarian regime represents one of the worst examples in this regard.
In the ex-colonial world also, national and racial divisions are wreaking havoc amongst impoverished peoples. Nationalism has nothing to offer working people and their families.
The issue of nations and national demands is in constant flux. Capitalist society is riven by class divisions and the manner in which workers strike back against their oppressors depends on the balance of class forces and the political weapons available to them. However, the first questions in any consideration of political processes are whether they advance the struggle for socialism or retard it; whether they unite workers in struggle or create divisions; whether they increase confidence in labour organisations or create illusions in middle–class leaders; whether the process is in pursuit of concrete advances in working–class living standards and culture or of petit-bourgeois chimeras.
During Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy between 1975 and 1978, various regions sought autonomy under a new constitution. For the previous forty years, Franco had clamped down viciously on expressions of national independence. Yet the prime consideration amongst the people at the end of Franco’s rule was for a single unified and democratic Spain. Article 2 of the new Constitution referred to ‘the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation’ and also guaranteed ‘the right to self-government of the nationalities’. The vote in 1977 on the new Constitution, or Magna Carta, secured an almost 70% turnout across all of Spain, and of these 90.46% voted in favour. Catalan nationalists campaigned then for a ‘yes’ vote.
A majority of Basque nationalists however were opposed to the Magna Carta. For some years after the fall of Franco Basque nationalists conducted a political and terrorist campaign in a quest for independence. The complete failure of this campaign was demonstrated recently when the Basque separatist group ETA announced its dissolution, handing over arms caches in the process and issuing an apology. Yet the desire for autonomy has not gone away. Tens of thousands of Basques took part in a protest on June 10th. Unless the organisations of the labour movement take up a campaign for the socialist transformation of society the issue of nationalism will continue to emerge.
Divisions that are being generated in the current conflict in Catalonia need to be addressed urgently by the international labour movement. It has been the attacks on Catalan autonomy by the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) led by Rajoy, the ex- Prime Minister of Spain,that gave the demand for Catalan independence a new vigour. In particular, the vicious attacks by riot police on people taking part in the Referendum on October 1st 2017 gave impetus to the demand for separation. Rajoy’s replacement by the Socialist Party leader Sánchez provides the new Spanish Government with an opportunity to row back the PP’s repressive measures and to strengthen links with the Catalan labour movement.
The right of nations to self-determination has long been a demand of the socialist movement. The question of whether or not to secede from Spain is a matter for Catalans. However, from the point of view of the Spanish labour movement as a whole, to follow a path to Catalan secession would be disastrous for Spain. The labour movement in Catalonia has a rich socialist tradition. In July 1936 the workers of Barcelona were to the forefront in the early confrontations with Francoist forces in defence of the Spanish Republic. A campaign for secession would strengthen the right-wing Parties in the Spanish Parliament – just as the rise in support for the Scottish National Party allowed the Tories to win a majority in Westminster in 2015, leading to the current political disasters across the UK. Scotland and England, countries that united in 1701, were almost sundered three years ago.
It has been the failure of socialist-led governments to effectively fight austerity that opened the way for this nationalist perspective. When class issues come to the fore, support for nationalism wanes. In the last British General Election the Scottish National Party lost 21 of its 56 MPs.
The only real alternative to capitalist society is socialism. Small independent capitalist States cannot solve the problems of their peoples. The fight for socialism is international and it requires the maximum unity of workers organisations across national boundaries.
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Comments on this are welcome, especially from anyone involved in radical nationalist work. We are interesred to discuss