We have pleasure in reproducing in English translation the speech Lindsey Collen gave on Nationalism: No Anti-Dote to Communalism or Racism, nor to Imperialism, on 12 March, 2012 at the LALIT Conference on Strategy, in the afternoon session. There was a lively debate afterwards.
Introduction of the speaker before you
I speak on the subject of “nationalism” as someone who, aged 13, led a merry band of girls my age, after the celebrations at school on the very first Republic Day in South Africa, my country of birth – it was 31 May 1961 – out on to the hockey field of our high school, where we cut up the flags we had each been given, set them alight with matches brought along with premeditation, and buried the ashes on the edge of the pitch. The principal of the boarding school I went to called me in to her office at the end of the evening Assembly – all the other girls knew why, and froze – and she told me to close her office door behind me. She said that for what I had done, she could not expel me, however much I deserved it, because the offense I had committed was too serious. It was a hanging offense. She called me a “little communist”. But she smiled, and told me to get out of her office. So, I have thought, for many years, about this action of ours – desecrating the national flag – and about nationalism. This means you have before you today an anti-nationalist of good credentials. I was against the flag of my own country at 13. I’m proud of it. Importantly, I associated nationalism, in that action, with the worst form of communalism ever: apartheid. So, I learnt early in life that nationalism is no automatic anti-dote to communalism. Far from it.
When I went on a one-year scholarship to a USA high school a few years later, I refused to stand up for the flag-raising ceremony there too, and remained seated, every day, as all the others stood up, out of conscious disrespect for the flag of the imperialist leading nation. It was during the Vietnam war. Jimi Hendrix was about to compose his perfection of the US National Anthem, with the sound of bombers diving down on Vietnam’s land and people, tearing the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner apart. I have not changed.
I am in LALIT because, amongst other things, I am against imperialism, and because I am not, at the same time, a nationalist. I am in LALIT because I am against nationalism, for many reasons, one of which is that I am against communalism, a sentiment similar to nationalism. I am against communalism, I am an anti-communalist, and I say this with precision, I am also, at the same time, against “linite nasyonal” because I do not want to be united with our very exploiters and dividers, whether they are inside this country or outside of it, thank you. So, do not try to trick me into thinking that being against communal divisions means I am in favour of national unity, or I should be. I am not. I am in favour of division along class lines, therefore I am against communalism which, as well as all its other evils, prevents this noble division of the country along class lines, against the exploiters and dominators, who are part of the nation. I say “noble” because it is not only foolish to be united, hands tied together with those of your powerful arch-enemy, the capitalists, but also rather abject. As the old saying in Kreol goes, “Bon li bon, me bon ziska bet, li pa bon,” to be good is good, but to be good to the point of foolishness is not good.
That is the logic. Think about it hard. Think about it tonight, as you are going to sleep. And think about it on the bus tomorrow as you go to work. Unity must be a class affair. Not a national affair. We want “linite deklas”, and we avoid “linite nasyonal” like the plague. The MMM’s very first slogan, was the only one that was any good: “Lalit de klas, pa lalit de ras,” a slogan born just after the race wars of 1968, a rhyming version of class struggle not race struggle.
Human society being some 100,000 years old, “empires” are newish, a couple of thousand years old, but “nation states” are a much more recent phenomenon, two or three hundred years old, and then only in some places on the globe, as they gradually became a total division of the entire planet. In recent years, overspilling into “failed states”. Religious domains, and then kingdoms and chiefdoms are nearly as old as agriculture and sedentary human society, say, around 5,000 to 10,000 years.
The nation, the nation state, and thus “nationalism” – devotion to the nation – are ever-changing concepts, since their very beginnings some 300 years ago.
Many people say wisely that the nation state first existed in the form of a prediction. It was a prediction made over 500 years ago by the analyst Niccolo Machiavelli, who knew only the “city state”, like Florence where he lived, the nation-state not having yet been born.
The nation state took birth as the capitalist class began to strengthen and to prepare to come to power, first in Europe and then through colonization, and also through the independence movements colonization provoked, all over the world. The nation state’s purpose is essentially to control capital and labour in the interests of the owners of private capital, and its particular nature in one country depends on the strength of different social classes at any particular time, more specifically, the relative strengths of the capitalist class and the class of those who have nothing but their physical and intellectual labour to sell by the hour, or on piece-rates, and who actually produce the wealth. And it is within the confines of this nation state that working people, the 99% as the Occupy Movement calls us, have fought for and gained various freedoms, rights, even a voice, even though we are almost all still reduced to being sellers by the hour or piece rate of labour power to the rich, or buyers of the labour power of others. Thus our ambivalent feelings about the nation state: it is what dominates us and it is the lieu, and almost the only lieu, of our very few acquired rights.
So, that’s briefly the picture, over time.
What is a nation? A nation state?
But what are the “nation” and the “nation-state”? Let’s look at them briefly before we come to “nationalism”.
There are nations without States. The Palestinian people, a nation, have been expelled from their land, and are militarily occupied within a small part of it. They are like the Amerindians, or the first nation of the Americas and the Caribbean, who were driven out and killed by developing capitalist nation-states from Europe in the early stages of pillaging colonialism. The Amerindians were nations without States. The nations of Africa, too, were colonized, and reduced by military force, military occupation, the abduction en masse of millions of people, and then by taxation, to a labour force for the colonizer, for a hundred years and then these nations in Africa without states became nations with independent nation states, from just over half a century ago.
Meanwhile, in Europe the so-called “First World War” intentionally broke up two Empires, the enormous Ottoman Empire that stretched from Turkey to Egypt and the huge Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the word “Balkanization” was born, as dozens of nation states were set up out of the fragments left by the destroyed empires. Some nations, like Armenians did not get a nation state until much later, and others like Kurds, were left without a nation state at all. This was the first of the wars whereby capitalist countries, including the USA, could gain control over the land on which oil and petrol are concentrated. It was when the use of oil had started to become essential for capitalism. And the only known source was there. Iraq and Iran became new nation states, Jordan a new entity, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon became French colonial entities, on the way to Independence, Arabia was consolidated as an entity under British control, Turkey became a nation state. And then only after the so-called Second World War did we see the emergence not only of independent states of Syria and Lebanon, but also later of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain, which make up the United Arab Emirates.
Other nation states have recently fragmented: the United Socialist Soviet Republic and 15 new nation states created, while its Eastern European empire was opened up to capitalist penetration, too. This vast fragmentation was in the interests of the powerful capitalist class in the new supra-national entity of Europe. Germany could re-unite and thus get a huge, much cheaper source of labour assimilated into its system. Similarly, and with military intervention by NATO itself to assure the transition, Yugoslavia fragmented into seven different nation states. Huge markets were “opened up”.
Every nation state is set up under the impetus of the needs of capitalism. “Nationalism” is the ideology, that becomes the method used, in order to set it up.
If the nation state, and its concomitant nationalism, is so intimately linked with capitalism’s birth and development, if it is so easily favourable to capitalist interests, we, as people trying to organize those of us condemned to a life of wage slavery, should be profoundly suspicious of it. Even before we analyze it.
So, let’s get down to the gritty problem:
Nationalism, devotion to your nation, in the time of the anti-colonial struggle became the battle-cry of anti-colonialism – where the struggle was led by pro-capitalist forces, which is almost everywhere – and was nonetheless seen to be a progressive movement. The imperialists, in their wisdom and self-interest, saw that new nation states emerging from their colonies were in their ultimate interests, too, and they generally conceded independence to nation states – even organized rebellions to form them (many of us saw the classic film Queimada last week by Gillo Pontecorvo, starring Marlon Brando and Evaristo Marquez, showing the paid British agent fomenting revolution against in effect the Spanish colonizers, just as Lawrence of Arabia, also a famous film, shows this, too in a later era) to create new nation states that could slot in to the capitalist world system. The dominant sections of the bourgeoisie knew that this type of organization, the nation state, favours capitalism, and often favours it better than colonialism, they set up nation states. The USA, as a capitalist nation state, fomented anti-colonial rebellion wherever it could in the interests of its supposed free trade.
German nationalism under Adolph Hitler has come to represent the worst extreme of nationalism that Nazism embodied, including its superior race claims and its desire for “lebensraum” or more space. The German “volk” in Nazi times, meant the “real Germans” by “race”, language and religion (as opposed to Jewish, Roma and Slav people, and others) and was also people who spoke German, even if they were not in the boundaries of Germany. So nationalism is a very sneaky concept. This form of nationalism still exists in a near-identical form in the British National Front (where British means some sort of thoroughbred “race”) and in the Front National of Le Pen, Snr and Jnr. This kind of “nationalism” is strangely enough equal to “communalism”. It is a synonym. We see it today in the Hindutva movement of the SSS in India, where Hindu nationalists aim towards a “Hindu nation state”. So, we already see one danger: in its rampant form, nationalism is communalism, what we here in Mauritius every day call “communalism”. To the Front National in France, “nationalism” is an amalgam of a race-religion-culture particular to “real, authentic French people”. In Mauritius, we see Elizier Francois as a left-over of this form of nationalism which is actually communalism, in the very name of his party “Mouvement Authentique Mauricien” (a communal party which sees itself as opposed to non-authentic Mauritians). It is a direct descendent of the “Ralliement mauricien”, “mauricien” (note the nationalist/communalist name of this extreme right wing party of “mauricien”) against “bann pa kone kot sorti” to quote Gaetan Duval, “who knows where they hailed from”. This Ralliement Mauricien later became the “Parti mauricien” (still the nationalist/communalist), and then finally took into its name a political ideology, when it changed its name to Parti Mauricien Social Democrate.
If nationalism can so easily be the same thing as communalism, in the case of the extreme right nationalists, we should definitely beware of it. As if by instinct. Again, even before we analyze it.
Rallying behind a flag, as nationalists do, with no program, is bound to be populist, at best, and therefore on the slippery slope towards, at its worst, right wing and fascistic politics. A national flag represents a grouping of people without a political program, and as such is bound to flounder against capitalism and its domination.
Nationalism is in no way by nature anti-imperialist. First of all, all the pro-capitalists in the imperialist nation states are, by definition, in favour of their own imperialism. And in other countries, the capitalist class is so enslaved within international capitalism, that it is pro-imperialist. Others, not so much in Mauritius, are backward looking to a pre-colonial ruling class hey-day, or zamindars and war lords, and so on. So, it is clear that only really working class, pro-socialist parties, parties are able to be internationalist, that are able to be truly anti-imperialist.
Have you thought about what is happening today, 12 March, on Independence Day, the Day of the Nation State, the Nationalists’ hey-day? The four-coloured Mauritian flag is being raised in a ceremony at which an imperial regiment, worse still a colonial regiment, called FAZSOI, is present and showing off! So nationalism is today pro-imperialist. The nationalists have invited the colonial troops that keep the colonized people of Reunion and of the stolen Island of Mayotte down. Wikileaks documents show how the USA believes that France is better equipped to handle an imperialist military presence in Mauritius than the USA, itself. The USA itself has a military base now, housing its hunter-killer drones, on Seychelles, whose President is chief guest at our nationalist celebrations. So, to the bourgeois nation state, led today by Navin Ramgoolam, is not in favour of celebrating Independence or being a Republic so much as celebrating nationalism which can ever-so-easily invite the imperialists to be here, even in military uniform, and under any pretext, even parachuting on to their very heads.
And the flag. The 10th March “lamars” in Port Louis has a logo, duly launched, based on the national flag, and curiously it is the same basic idea as the logo launched by the Ministry of Culture. A flag in spirals, from small to big. And they carried big Mauritian flags and sang the national anthem, even as the national police were arresting two of them.
Nationalism is often a splitting force, splitting you from your allies, not just one that risks uniting you with your enemy. We have seen how the “Britishness” or “Frenchness” or “Hinduness” of some kinds of nationalism is clearly equal to communalism. In Mauritius, it is bound to be the same. Does “morisyanism” of whatever kind include people of Rodrig? Of Chagos? Of Agalega? Or does it specifically exclude them. And this on the basis of a form of communal exclusion. What does it mean for the tens of thousands of migrant workers in Mauritius?
And when young people follow those making them call out the slogan “enn sel lepep, enn sel nasyon”, they intend to be shouting against communalism, but without really confronting it at all. Their intentions may be good. Many young people believe it is enough to say “I’m 100% Mauritian” and they have now got anti-communal credentials. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Remember the history behind the words “Ein volk, ein reich”, the chant of the Nazis meaning “enn sel lepep, enn sel nasyon”. All we are really doing is bringing the capitalists into our “nation” in one big happy family, while it is capitalist who need the divisions of communalism (in different forms) in order to split the working class into different groups.
In France, as economic crisis grows, there are three economic groups of workers on a nationalist/communal basis: “real” Frenchmen, immigrants with papers, and immigrants who are illegal. The prices the bosses pay for the three groups are different. This makes it harder to organize, obviously. In Mauritius, so long as we are suspicious of people of different faiths or different communities, we are better prey for capital. And so long as we are in the same unit as capitalists (“enn sel lepep, enn sel nasyon”) where we are the weaker class, we are confusing who we are struggling against. If we fight against those nice Mauritian (100%) bosses, that would be anti-patriotic. As the bosses always announce when the ship is sinking, as it is in such grave economic crisis as we are now in, “we are all in the same boat”, we are “enn sel lepep, enn sel nasyon”, and the capitalists’ flags are so big they put them up to cover a whole building that they own, and even give us a little one to wave at the French paratroopers. [Lindsey Collen and Yannick Jeanne showed people present a whole dossier of cuttings of advertisements by bosses in newspapers of 10 March, with their Mauritian flags, “prix mauricien”, etc.]
What does this new supposed globalization mean for nationalism? It means conflicting things, but its meaning is often defined by the powerful, i.e. the big-time private corporations. They say, the nation state should no longer be in production (i.e. governments should privatize everything in site: oil companies, telecommunications, power production, education, health, you name it). They say the nation state should no longer spend so much money on taking care of people who can quite easily pay for everything themselves.
So, they claim, the nation state is weakening and getting poorer. Nothing to be done about that, of course, they add. The State is just a regulator. Sets rules. Bureaucratic rules in vast numbers, all designed to make capitalists lives easier. “Investor friendly”, they call it, without blushing. The State, they claim is just there to provide a safety net – if you’re lucky, and if you bow down, and if you sign a contract that you will be a good little child, send your children to school, neither drink nor smoke, and never ever put corrugated iron sheets in front of your yard. Only then will the State will give you some crumbs. And then, they will have you filmed for TV thanking the private sector and the Minister, bowing down to their wisdom, generosity and vision. Especially to that of le premier ministre, le docteur Navinchandra Ramgoolam – preferably in a French pronunciation. Now, Xavier Duval comes and proposes a “National social register” of the poor. They will now prepare a list. Then, their aim is to make everyone else pay for “services”. He would be better off making a “National Register of the rich”, so he can tax them better.
While the State gets supposedly weaker, it actually gets militarily stronger. The USA, the strongest nation state right now, though in dire straits itself, with its clay feet cracking, spends nearly half the total of the world’s military budget. Not so weak, militarily. It spends 700 billion dollars in 2011. 20% of its total expenditure. But it is too weak to offer a proper health service for all in its nationalist ambit. Europe spends about one third of that, an astronomical amount. China spends 120 billion dollars. And the nuclear warheads are under control of the following nation states: US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea. Most of these countries are also too weak to make sure everyone in the country has a secure job, a house, and a good life, but they are strong enough to hold the destruction of all life in their hands. What does it mean to worship the flag in these countries?
So imperialism has two forms: the multinationals, private corporations outside of the control of the nation state, go in and take over production in weaker countries. Weaker countries now includes European countries like Greece and Italy. Then, the military, controlled tightly by the nation state, stands by to threaten and to, as they put it, “protect national interests”, meaning usually USA interests.
What does capitalism mean for the present nation state and for nationalism. It means that the nation state will in general become:
- More repressive
- More militarist, more war-mongering, spending more on arms and repression.
- More divisive (Mauritians working abroad will be divided from “les vrais fils du sol” and vice versa); identity politics, and communalism, will raise their ugly heads, often in national forms.
- Less democratic, more bureaucratic.
- Political sphere will continue to be kept at a minimum: civil society creeping in from one end, and anti-politics propaganda attacking from the other, while the economy is left to “bann misye” who know how to run things for a profit, something which is the will of the gods, thus unquestioned, or so the ideology goes.
- Less free for working people. More difficult for most people to travel across boundaries.
- More divided communally, by the nation state and its capitalist classes and political elites.
- Academia totally controlled by the private sector, sponsored by private corporations.
- Sport and the arts will be increasingly controlled by private capital, through the nation states’ anti-piracy laws.
- The internet will gradually be more and more paying, controlled, and manipulated by social network owners.
- More manipulative of peoples’ behavior through “management” by private corporations.
- More manipulative of peoples’ ideas & opinions through “communication methods” (read propaganda, advertising, subliminal manipulation, fear-mongering, etc)
- Subject to endless laws and regulations, almost all in favour of capitalist exploitation, but de-regulation of labour (i.e. human life, as capitalist sees it for working people).
So, the question is, is this a moment to be nationalist? When the nation state is this?
So, what are the positive things we work towards:
- Class unity (world wide, and within the nation): against the capitalist class, in our country and elsewhere, and against imperialism.
- Developing and popularizing a conscious shared program (not symbols, flags, irrational groupings) against communalism and racism and religious bigotry, for socialism, freedom, equality.
- A conscious program against patriarchy, and to weaken patriarchal hierarchies.
- A deep humanism, where we respect human beings for being human.
- Internationalism to oppose capitalism and international capitalism (imperialism).
There you have it.
This paper, originally presented in Kreol, was prepared with the help of Rajni Lallah, who was unable to share presentation of the paper, as she was in recording studios at the time of the LALIT Conference of 12 March, 2012.)