Nationalism and Socialism Are Polar Opposites: Why Labour Must Protect the Union

Antony Tucker discusses the importance the union.

The last ten years have not been kind to Britain. Austerity has eroded the protections from poverty and ill-health that once defined Britishness. Brexit has supercharged English nationalism and given the SNP a new rallying cry. The populist wave beloved by nationalists everywhere has damaged faith in our shared institutions. Now the coronavirus epidemic has highlighted these rifts within the Union. Many on the left pander to nationalism, including those who would ally with the SNP and those keen to make Labour a party with a purely English appeal. This is a mistake, which undermines our defining principles on the left. The crises of our age will only worsen if nationalist ideas take root. There is no common ground between nationalism and socialism.

The emergencies of our time defy national borders. Climate change is a perfect example of this. We on the left must stand up for a greener future that preserves our world for generations to come. Yet agreements to tackle this existential threat are always fraught with difficulty. The cause? Nationalism; with the sheer number of national interests hindering our efforts decide on a shared approach. How will adding more flags around the table help? To defeat environmental degradation, we must remain united. To overcome the climate emergency, we must also reject the nationalism that would divide us into yet more competing blocs.

The case for a total rejection of nationalism in all its forms is underlined by the need to confront corporate greed. Fractured jurisdictions allow corporations to relocate wherever they can contribute the least to public services, preventing their profits from being redistributed fairly. In this way, nationalism enables the extremes of tax avoidance, and helps multinational companies to avoid paying their fair share. Seeing our island split permanently into two or three squabbling statelets would therefore be a dream for these unscrupulous enterprises. Able to set one nation against the other, a race to the bottom in pay, tax compliance and working conditions would be the result. Those stoking division by letting nationalism go unchallenged are sowing a harvest that the poorest will reap.

At the core of this issue is the importance of internationalism. It is our moral compass – when we forget this, the result is monstrosities such as the neosocialist parties of the 1920s and 1930s. The principle that all people, regardless of their origin, deserve equal chances and treatment lies at the bedrock of socialism. Nationalism, on the other hand, thrives off exceptionalism. To prioritise the rights and welfare of any one group goes against whole idea of human equality that defines the left.  We have to combat the entire concept that one people can more deserving than another – not pander to it. To save Britain from nationalism, we need a revived form of social unionism. A Labour government can restore faith in Britishness by sharing power and prosperity across the entire country. By investing in our common institutions – such as the NHS, the military, the BBC – we can renew the Union. With an economy transformed for the benefit of the many, that unity can become the protector of the decent standard of living we all deserve. While nationalism breeds conflict, Labour can ensure the British identity is synonymous with co-operation.

From now on, we must believe in Britain. No more can we afford to toy with splitting our land into smaller scraps. The biggest threats of today will not be overcome by breaking the bonds that tie us together. There is no gain to be had in uplifting those who go against all we hold dear. Instead, we in Labour must place our whole trust in Britain. By working as one, brought together by shared beliefs in fairness, welfare and a land kept green for all, we can win again and build a better tomorrow for everyone.

Antony is Co-Chair of LGBT+ Labour in the West Midlands, as well as Youth Officer for his CLP and a council candidate for his area in May’s local elections. He is 24 years old and lives in Coventry.

He tweets at @antforlabour

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