SINCE THIS classic analysis of the national question was first given in 1968 as a lecture at Marx House, Clerkenwell Green, London, there has been an explosion of interest in nations and nationalisms.
Socialism and nationalism are not strictly comparable as categories. Socialism is an economic system in which capital, or much of it, is socially owned and controlled. Nationalism is a doctrine or movement which seeks to secure independence, self-determination, for a particular national community. That aim is democratic, but not inherently socialist.
Desmond Greaves, who wrote the definitive biography of James Connolly was a significant theorist of the national question. He examines how classical socialist thought viewed the relation of socialism and nationalism.
In the era of imperialism, monopoly capital, the economic dominance of giant transnational corporations, or ‘globalisation’ to use the current fashionable term, national independence is the pre-requisite of the social controls on capital that are necessary for socialism.
In fact the central conflict of our age is that between transnational capital and the democratic state, normally the nation state, which is the only instrument that history has devised for imposing social controls on capital.
Although this work was written some years before Britain and Ireland joined what was then the EEC, Greaves presciently comments: “There are some who fondly imagine that the international unity of the workers of Europe will be strengthened as a result of the Common Market. It is as much as to say we will be united provided we are all put in the one prison.”
He points out that the struggle to defend and extend national independence is not nationalism, but internationalism. As internationalists we should stand, as Connolly and other great national leaders did, for the independence of nations, the different national communities into which mankind is divided. In contemporary Britain this means that socialists and labour people need to be foremost in defending the democracy of the nation state against rule from Brussels and from Frankfurt.
As the giant transnational firms and the governments that serve their interests seek these days to roll back the democratic gains of the French Revolution by subsuming the nations of Europe in the EU, it is timely that Democrat Publications, which is linked to the Campaign Against Euro-federalism (CAEF), should republish this work.
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