Monday, 30 December 2019

Progressive patriotism is an oxymoron

There has always been a dichotomy at the very heart of the Labour Party between nationalism and internationalism.  Asked directly which they are, they will always respond ‘internationalist’, but scratch the surface and a deep-rooted seam of Anglo-British nationalism is readily revealed.  There have always been those who have stood resolutely against it, but what has been referred to as ‘working class patriotism’ has always been stronger, in the end, than the idealism of some in the leadership.  It was precisely this dichotomy which led many to claim that Kier Hardie died of a broken heart during the first world war, as his dream of international co-operation between the workers of all nations was torn to shreds by an outbreak of jingoism as those workers enthusiastically took up arms against workers elsewhere.
And just as that dichotomy has long been there, so has the response of leading figures in the party been split between those who seek to lead and persuade people that workers elsewhere are their brothers and comrades, and those who seek – for electoral gain – to ride and harness the power of simplistic nationalism.  And it was with all that in mind that I read, with huge disappointment, the words of the MP who is, apparently, the front-runner to take on the mantle of Corbyn, and her call for something called ‘progressive patriotism’.
It’s true, as she says, that “Britain has a long history of patriotism rooted in working life”, but arguing that that history is somehow ‘internationalist’ because one group of workers at one point in time opposed slavery elsewhere merely highlights the dichotomy to which I referred earlier; it doesn’t make patriotism internationalist.  Indeed, ‘internationalist patriotism’ strikes me as an obvious oxymoron.  There’s nothing wrong with having, as she puts it, “pride in our communities, dignity in our work and a common purpose”, but an internationalist stance seeks to use that as a basis for co-operation with others, not as a basis for competition against them.
One thing which I think is clear from the election is that the Conservative Party is reinventing itself as an English nationalist party (and I really do mean English here, not British) and riding the tide of jingoism which has always been there under the surface of apparently rock-solid support for Labour.  The Labour Party can either seek to accept this shift in the Overton window of public debate and work out how to ride and channel that sentiment (which is what ‘progressive patriotism’ seems to be about) or it can seek to show leadership and attempt to build a better understanding of why co-operation is always better than competition.
I don’t hold out much hope; the belief that co-operation is superior to competition looks like a key Labour value, but even to the limited extent to which it has been pursued it has always been limited, in practice, by the boundaries of the United Kingdom.


Mel Morgan said...

Not sure I can agree entirely with your analysis, which appears to depend largely on false dichotomy.Never the less, the phenomenon in Wales called 'internationalism' warrants close examination. It is predicated on unacknowledged patriotism in favour of another country.

dafis said...

It seems that all politics is riddled with contradictions, dichotomies, oxymorons etc etc. That condition becomes more intense as politicians posture grotesquely in their attempts to be all things to all people. Yet the very same posturers have the temerity to slag off people like our own Neil McEvoy as populist where that word is used in its extreme pejorative sense. Lot more honesty and lot less bullshit could be welcome in 2020.

Anonymous said...

You are very mistaken to talk of English nationalism. The Tory party has put English values at the heart of its mission statement, valued shared by roughly half of all people (by number) living in Scotland and a great many in Wales.

Adherence to and acceptance of these 'English values' drives the UK economy and generates all the wealth for sharing amongst the constituent parts of the UK.

We don't have any of our own values here in Wales because of our determination to continue living with a mythical past. It's a great shame.

John Dixon said...


Thank you for providing such a good illustration of the way in which English nationalists seruiously believe themselves superior to all others.

Mel Morgan said...

I agree, JD. And some of the most distressing of English nationalists are those of other nationalities.

Mel Morgan said...

The phenomenon in Wales known as 'internationalism' is an attempt to reconcile two irreconcilable things. On the one hand, we have the economic, social, cultural, and political fact of Wales. On the other hand, we have an English world of discourse in which no other self-existent nationality is conceivable in this Island. It is therefore not permissible for Wales to be Wales as such. As there is clearly something here that is not England, an elegant solution is for it to be *everywhere*. This also has the advantage of relieving political leaders in Wales of any responsibility for whatever happens here.