Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Nationalism is not the answer

Nationalism is not the answer

by Justin Podur


With all the links between global capitalism, imperialism, and racism, one might be tempted to think that nationalism is the solution. A liberatory nationalism of third world peoples, to free them from the global capitalist system. In particular contexts such national struggles can be liberatory. Of that there is no question. But caution is necessary.

As Arundhati Roy says

"It's disturbing to see how neatly nationalism dovetails into fascism. While we must not allow the fascists to define what the nation is, or who it belongs to, it's worth keeping in mind that nationalism, in all its many avatars—socialist, capitalist and fascist—has been at the root of almost all the genocides of the twentieth century. On the issue of nationalism, it's wise to proceed with caution."
Arundhati Roy, April 2002

While a national liberation movement is based on fighting colonial oppression and a community that comes together to fight that oppression, that shared history has often proven to be insufficient to build on. When nation-states arise, the nationalism they practice is based on something—territory, or language, or history, or shared cultural practices, or some combination. Nationalism says that a group that shares some of these things belongs naturally together. It belongs naturally together so much so that it is the primary community that a person belongs to. It’s sovereign, meaning that it has the final say. You might take other things into account, but the nation has the final say.

Today, in spite of all the control that corporations have, the final say over land, over people, over law—belongs to nation states and these nation states have used their power to empower capital. Who passes the laws enforcing private property? Who uses the police to break labour or community organizations? Who attacks and destroys indigenous populations or ethnic minorities? Nation-states, and nation-states who do all these things, very often, in the name of the nation. I don’t want to gloss over the role of imperialism here. Foreign attacks and interventions always play a key role in undermining people’s freedom-- but so do local elites and national chauvinism.

Again I want to repeat that nations have also been a basis for resistance. Cultures have been a basis for resistance, against oppression by capital or imperialism. ---resistance needs a basis in a community. The networks of relationships, the shared language and history that make a culture are such a community. But there are many kinds of communities. And there is no reason to privilege one kind of community and say it has the final say. There are linguistic links, religious links, links of interest or friendship. Should one have to choose between them? Should one have to choose between being Tzotzil and Mexican, or Quebecois and Canadian, or Malayali, Christian, and Indian, or Muslim, Punjabi, and Pakistani? The formula of nationalism that reduces individuals to a single identity, denying the fact that we have multiple, overlapping identities and belong to multiple communities, is not compatible with a decent world.

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