26 November 2010

Be careful with nationalism and patriotism

In his post, Walter extols the virtues of patriotism. Walter’s loved one is the nation state as opposed to political identification with one’s town or region. The reason is hard-nosed: only the institutions of the nation state can achieve socialism and a majority for socialism can only be achieved through love of the nation state.

In an earlier post, I dealt with the role of the national state in the developed capitalist countries in the age of market fundamentalism. Here I want to look briefly at the meaning of Walter’s patriotism.

Walter’s use of patriotism in this context is indistinguishable from the notion of nationalism, i.e. the belief in the promotion of the “values of the nation” which Walter believes could and should contain socialist values. After all who does not become a little nationalistic when arguing with Americans about the virtues of the NHS?

The problem for me lies in the construct of nationalism. If one means, in the tradition of the French Revolution, the notion of “citizenship nationalism” – i.e. everybody with a British passport (plus long-term residents in the UK), then that is acceptable, so long as we don’t deny other levels of identification: municipal, regional, pan-European, and of course universalistic ones. In fact citizenship nationalism is not only desirable it is inevitable.

Yet nationalism in many people’s minds is not citizenship nationalism at all, but ethic nationalism: a group of people defined by origins, race, religion, language, etc. This is pernicious because what it is about is “taking possession and excluding the other” When the English flag is raised it summons up notions of ethnic, not citizenship nationalism.

To back up my argument against ethnic nationalism I will give the wonderful quotation of Ludvik Zamenhof.

“I am totally convinced that every nationalism presents only the greatest unhappiness for humanity, and that the aim of every people should be the creation of a harmonious humanity. It’s true that the nationalism of oppressed people – a natural reaction of self-defence – is more excusable than the nationalism of oppressors; but, if the nationalism of the strong is ignoble, the nationalism of the weak is imprudent; yet each reinforces the other and presents a vicious circle of unhappiness from which humanity can never escape unless all of us give up our self-love of the group and try instead to establish ourselves on a wholly neutral basis.”

In conclusion I could say this. If the citizens of Britain value socialism and struggle for it in Britain, fine. If the fires of ethnic nationalism are fanned by talk of patriotism and nationalism, then that’s bad. I fear that in highlighting the notion of patriotism, one will cause the latter rather than the former.

15 November 2010

Owning your own home

The myth of the advantages of home ownership, like all good myths, has an element of truth in it. It is an advantage to own your place of dwelling.

The problem arises not so much because people in Britain are daft and plagued with a false consciousness on the issue, but because political power has rigged things so people have an interest in buying their home on mortgages, whether they can afford to do so or not.

A nation is debt is a servile one.

11 November 2010

Attacks on the unemployed

It is utterly perverse that the unemployed are most heavily persecuted for their unemployment at just that time when joblessness is expanding.

This is scapegoating at its worst: abetting a lynch-mob (who themselves are being battered by the cuts) to turn on those who are even worse-off, rather than on those responsible for the crisis. For the unemployed, it's like being imprisoned in a cage and then being beaten for being there.

9 November 2010

Phil Woolas and Harriet Harman

Woolas lied and conjured up inter-ethnic prejudice to win his seat.

In office he was one of the New Labour's bootboys who enjoyed his roles in the whip's office and as minister for deportations. He famously attacked lawyers who defended defenceless immigrants; yet now he calls on such services to try to save him from deportation from the Commons.

For once I salute Harriet Harman in her proclamation that Woolas has no future with Labour. What weakness on the part of Ed Miliband to have appointed him to the immigration portfolio in the shadow cabinet in the first place.

4 November 2010

Socialists, Economics & Inequality

“What makes capitalism intolerable is the rise of relative poverty and increased levels of insecurity and exploitation.” (22-Oct-2010)

This quotation from Geoff has worried me for some time, if only because it poses more questions than it answers. To echo John Rawls, would an economic system be more justifiable if everyone were worse off, but the society were more equal?

I would argue that it is the goal of socialists to increase the material well-being of ordinary working people both absolutely and vis-à-vis the wealthy beneficiaries of capitalism.

Geoff is right to stress that capitalism provides working people with little security. Indeed, well-being consists of two parts wealth/income AND the security of that income and wealth. In periods of upswing (e.g. early 2000s, despite credit financing) the well-being of all but the poorest sections of the working class do rise, but long-term financial security does not outlast the boom.

Geoff writes:

“Overall, the UK and western societies in general have become richer over the long term. This can be seen in part in National Income statistics. In addition to the figures there are the many technical changes that have made our lives easier.” (22-Oct-2010)

Here I would qualify Geoff. Yes, capitalism is not entirely useless; in cycles it expands wealth by technological development and reducing production costs. Today we can all in the West benefit from agro-engineering for our food and have mobile phones.

Yet how well-off one is and can expect to be is determined by what we can reasonably expect from an equitable distribution of the fruit of the productive forces given their level of development.

In these terms we can speak of real poverty in Britain: a day’s work at the minimum wage to purchase a 100km ticket into London before ten; several days work for simple dental treatment – or several lifetimes of work to purchase a terraced house. For the growing numbers who are sick or without work the situation is far worse.

2 November 2010

Why social cleansing will happen

Social cleansing will occur; only its extent is uncertain.

In the private sector, there will be cases where the diminishing ability of tenants to pay (unemployment, cuts in housing benefit) will cause the landowners to decrease rent; this will be particularly so in bedsit-land and in the junk estates. Alternative tenants with more money simply don’t exist.

In those areas, especially London, where there are potential tenants who can afford the existing rent levels, only philanthropic landlords will reject the route of attempting to dump their existing tenants and seek out higher paying ones.

Forcing people out of their homes is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person. Expect incidents of family breakdown and suicide to increase.