Think of this post as a continuation of my older post “In defense of Nationalism”. If you have not read that one; then please do that before you criticize this piece. I strongly recommend to all that they read that piece before moving on to reading this one. Why? because this is more of a…
I was going to write a reply to your previous post (the defence of nationalism) but wasn’t entirely certain how I wanted to start or where I wanted to go, so I sort of got half way and then just left it. This new post has broadened the discussion up enough for me to get a better footing in where the discussion is going and how best to respond.
Let me start off by saying that at my core I’m a supporter of cosmopolitanism. That isn’t to say that I’m avowedly anti-nationalist, with mindless fervour. I recognise that nationalist notions do have their place and undoubtedly have played an important role in liberation movements. However nationalism is a tool, and only ever that. It is a socially constructed identity created to pull people together in liberation from or in defence against other constructed national identities. This is clearly shown in the way Rousseau first spoke on the matter in his advice to Poland: the notion of nationalism is promoted in so much that if Poland were conquered (primarily by Russia) territorially they would not be conquered as a people/nation.
In your previous post the examples you’ve used have been of similar instances: Palestinian resistance builds a Palestinian national consciousness to fight against the Israeli nationalist oppression, the Cuban revolution built upon a Cuban national pride to liberate from U.S. neo-imperialism, the Venezuelan national pride fought against U.S. interference. Similar instances provide the examples for the fight against colonialism in Africa, Latin American, Middle East; the national identity was built to combat the external or alien, oppressing national identity. In Iran the national identity worked to overthrow the U.S. backed Shah, but even then it could be argued that the constructed Iranian identity incorporated Islam as a major facet, and it was as much this sense of religious identity that built the revolution as it was the national identity. Lets also not forget that in the U.S. the end of apartheid was combatted by the concept of black nationalism as a focal point for the civil rights movement.
For me the primary blind spot of what you say on the matter of nationalism is because you forgo considering what nationality is in the first place. This is something of key, fundamental importance in considering how to progress further on the matter. Nationality is the concept that you are bound together with somebody in camaraderie on the basis of a unified idea of culture, of religion, of language, of ethnicity or geographic place of birth. Give or take some other social cleavages I haven’t thought of off the top of my head. These are not set in stone and they are flexible to someone’s own consciousness and life experiences, and also that of the society within which they exist.
To some people in the U.S. to be “an American” is to be white, Christian, English speaking, have been born in the U.S.. To be “a good American” similarly has connotations of a certain cultural value system attached to it (“that sounds socialist to me, you’re not a Red are you!?” – you get the picture). For such people if you were to try to re-appropriate the notion of “American” nationality it would be counter productive and they would be alienated as a result, just as to not use the language at all could be similarly alienating.
So we must also look at where this notion of nationalism really built from and how it was first used, to then further consider it’s use in a modern context. By most accounts the real first success of nationalist identity which caused a change in the way people associated themselves occurred and spread as a result of the French Revolution. French nationalism was built as a rallying call to end the oppression of the monarchy and the aristocracy and enable the people to have the vote. The sense of enlightenment nationalism is that it connects with a necessity for self-determination through representative democracy. These similar notions are still used today in the Arab uprisings with Libyan, Egyptian and so on struggles to achieve a vote for the everyday person in representative democracies.
The conflict itself to which you refer is entirely different in nature: the liberation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie (if I may be so bold as to use Marx’ terminology). In the U.S., the U.K. and other “western” or “economically developed” states the struggle is entirely different because their governments are seen as being of the same nationality, without the foreign interference and already with an operative sense of self-determination. You cannot, in Britain, overthrow what is in the public consciousness a British government by decrying them as not British enough. Not unless you intend to invest a lot of time completely redefining (or predefining?) exactly what Britishness curtails. (Does David Cameron not eat enough fish and chips, does he not play enough tennis? Does this in itself legitimise the necessity of revolution?)
Even if you should succeed in re-appropriating the nature of the nationalist discourse the problem then arises as to what you are able to redefine it as because the concept of nationality is by definition a divisive thought process – to claim to be of a nationality that requires self-determination is to then create, define, label or associate other nationalities as being inherently different, alien, foreign. In instances where the people do not view themselves as being oppressed the tact must change entirely. To continue to use the nationalism argument for liberation, in a “democratic free state” is to make it necessary to construct a phantom nationality that oppresses which must be fought against.
The key in these revolutions is not that we must fight to build a national identity that cannot capture the necessary rhetoric of democratic liberation, nor does it have an oppressing nation to push against. The key is to transform the consciousness of the people and alter where their perception of shared interests lie. To bring to them realisation that they are oppressed by the corporations, by the ruling classes and by the bourgeoisie. Not to create a movement for a revolution that relies upon a national identity which is flexible, fluid and so easily able to be co-opted and mis-appropriated.
Instead it is necessary to create and reinforce identity which is inclusive to all irrespective of skin, language, faith – the consciousness of the proletariat and workers solidarity. A solidarity which transcends national identities, geographical borders and other arbitrary divides and unites all peoples.
Without succeeding in doing this the revolution is destined to fail as isolated and unable to expand or work with other groups. What’s more the building of this trans-national consciousness is important at the early stages because the domino effect caused by such solidarity is clear to see – from the way movements across North-Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. (notably the struggles in Wisconsin) have been able to communicate, inspire and incite. To lose this path and to get bogged down in a redefinition of nationalism to suit a new purpose is not only a waste of time, it is counterrevolutionary. It has its time and its place, but the U.S. movement is not one that will be benefited.
You’ve quoted Che on revolution already, so I shall quote him again to perfectly surmise exactly what it is I’m referring to.
“… the transition took place from a revolution of national liberation to a socialist revolution.”
– from Cadres for the New Party in Che Guevara Speaks.
No, your response turned out great and made sense. NOT rambling in any way. I agree with you on many points, such as the definition of nationalism. I see your point about how nationalism can mean different things to different people and can divide them. Though to me, i believe that revolutionary movements need to reject those “white, protestant, american” notions of Nationalism that have taken roots in our society. They need to redefine what being American truly is. Is that a huge, almost impossible task? yes. But i do not see an alternative. They need to define that true american values are those of acceptance and integration etc. For too long, the notion of being American has been Bastardized and have led to mean white and protestant etc. Why do i believe that it is necessary? because to the extent of my knowledge, there has only been one movement, throughout history, that have united people together on such a massive scale, in such parameters and led them to fight for revolution. The only thing that has been bigger, is religion. Yet to base a revolution off of religious grounds would prove futile in America, so the only other movement that i can think off is the nationalist movement. Please do let me now if you have some other massive forces in mind that can be applied to unite such a diversity of people as found in United States.
Your second point that pertains to the NATURE of struggle itself is valid too. I agree with you on that a 100%. The Bourgoeise vs the proletariat is a different struggle than sovereign vs. foreign, and to the people of United States, it is the former that applies. But i think that “To transform the consciousness of the people and alter where their perception of shared interests lie”, a nationalist movement would still be necessary. Not to the extent as found in Cuba, or Venezuela; but definitely to the extent that was found in Bolshevik revolution or, as you quoted, the French revolution. Indeed you trace back the very notion of Nationalist movements to the French revolution. Which was a struggle b/w the Proletariat and Bourgoise, but it was only possible under the unification of the people, under a nationalist banner. Only when the people were united as a nation, could they rise up against the Bourgoise. The same trend was seen in the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, and i believe, a similar trend is necessary to rise against the Bourgoise of today.
For the corporations have spent time, money, and countless resources to divide our society. You, me, among other individuals are aware of that. They have done so by changing the very meaning of nationalism, and Americanism. Like you said, people would today ask you if you are a Red, if you are white, protestant etc. All those dividing attributes have been ingrained into Nationalist American sentiments.
That is why, and this is the main point of my articles, a new, revolutionary nationalist thought is needed. One that is not dividing, but uniting, and that new nationalist thinking needs to be American in nature as well. Just as the French took that nationalist thinking and put it behind promoting the declaration of rights of man (for better or for worst is a different debate), just as the Cubans took their nationalist pride and used it to promote human rights and fight oppression; Why can’t Americans use their Nationalism to promote human rights? to fight oppression? to overthrow the Bourgoise?
Now, at the end of the day. I do not call for a complete redefinition of Nationalism, for yes, it would be counterrevolutionary. But what i am asking revolutionaries to do is to un-alienate the nationalist forces in the U.S. I ask them to try and reach out towards the masses, and to spread knowledge about what is truly American. To USE nationalist thought in their revolutionary struggle instead of alienating it. When providing an argument in a debate, not only just make humanitarian arguments, but also American arguments. Say WHY, corporations are hurting AMERICA, not just the third world. For only then, will they be able to appeal to the majority of Americans. Does that make sense?
I understand what your intention is and why, and I definitely see the validity of it, however I think there are a great many risks in dabbling with nationalism. It is, however, definitely true that revolutionary discourse can tend to take on a certain insular nature so perhaps building a nationalism into the movement would help prevent that.
For my point of view what we should be building into the hearts of people is a love and respect for their fellow person without emphasising where they’re from or what their culture happens to be. Perhaps because I don’t associate as part of an ethnically or culturally oppressed group the way I approach the situation is different. Perhaps also because I’m from the U.K. and not the U.S. I don’t live in a society that so heavily promotes the, now commercialised, concept of the “American dream”, so my perspective is to circumvent that rhetoric rather than battle through it.
Either way I think the discussion is important and your argument definitely has strength to it. I just wonder how, if a geographic nationalist route is taken, you’ll be able to transform it into something greater when the time comes. For me, my love is for humanity and true freedom, so I’m willing to support every movement of true liberation regardless of how it geographically binds itself.