Rebecca Long-Bailey, candidate for Leader of the Labour Party in Britain has made use of the term ‘progressive patriotism’ inviting a barrage of commentary, criticism and moaning. One can interpret the term in a multitude of ways, but if one is a Marxist, culture and ideology must be understood as phenomena reproduced from a) the productive forces and b) the existing relations of production. In a capitalist society, the productive forces and social relations are run by the bourgeoisie. Culture and ideas are therefore linked to the interests of the bourgeoisie.
A concrete example of this cultural hegemony is the means and ways by which British Empire and American Empire justify their imperialism. The language and the vast array of propaganda that permeates universities, media and community is designed to ensure that the interests behind the domination of other communities and countries has a basis and rationale. In the colonial period, racism and racial science was designed to ensure that the good Christian ethos of the marauding, raping Christians from Europe was not infringed upon other humans – so their humanity was stripped from them.
How is this relevant to the questions raised by RLB? It is relevant because the dominant concept of British identity is inextricably linked to Empire. It is linked to domination. It is linked to the British Army. It is linked to the British identity of monarchy, empire and destruction and dislocated from working class struggle. It is linked to all that the Communist movement considers negative and inhumane. Why is British identity linked to such things? The reason is rather simple. To co-opt, befuddle and disorganise the working class, the hegemonic ideas of Empire were spread to every corner of the British islands and abroad. British Empire therefore constitutes a very large part of British identity.
The interpretation that one can opt to take from the commentary made by Rebecca Long-Bailey is that she, alongside the left wing of the Labour Party of Britain have a desire to redesign the concept of ‘patriotism’ to reflect and represent solidarity, justice and radical social democracy. To connect British identity with the victories of the working class in Scotland, England and Wales. This is an interesting initiative, not only because the State and the many ivory towers of university thought will rally against it – but also because only the working class in Britain can ultimately dismantle British imperialism and make peace with the victims of Empire. In order to do so, any ‘progressive patriotism’ must confront monopoly capitalism, imperialism and loyalism for these have no place in the patriotism of the working class.
In order to do so, the Labour Party will have to confront it’s imperialism and participation in the carving up of the world alongside it’s evil American allies. The Labour Party will have to become the beacon of hope by disengaging from NATO and all military adventurism. London will have to cease being a center for finance capital and financial domination. Reparations to it’s former colonies will have to be made. These examples relate to the foreign policy of the British state. What of the internal cultural changes that exist in British society and need to be tackled? How will the Labour Party tackle them?
Up until now, the counter-culture of working class culture has been developed in various groups only informally connected to the Labour Party by virtue of their individual membership. Festivals such as 0161, pages such as Red London, clubs like Solstar Boxing Club, music events like Redtek, umbrella groups like Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism are all fantastic and meaningful examples of tackling ‘imperial’ British identity. It’s important, I think, to identify who is responsible for the creation of imperial identity, who is its victim and what the synthesis is. The scientific basis of racism is colonialism and imperialism, racism is a necessity for it to exist. So what is the scientific solution for tackling phenomena such as racism? The examples I mention above link and conjoin physical activities with progressive politics, synthesizing outdated prejudices and in effect, overriding them. This is merely one set of examples, I will provide another British example. One of the first experimental tours 0161 London held in East London commented on the fact that the Communist Party organised a tenant association in the 1930s and it assisted a well known family who were members of the British Union of Fascists. They stopped the eviction and the family burnt their BUF membership cards. What can we take away from this? Concrete political work fused with political analysis and unity of the working class defeats fascism.
Truth be told, I am wary when ‘patriotism’ is a subject raised in the imperial core countries, for the only patriotism has been the hegemonic patriotism of the ruling class. However, the development of a ‘counter’ patriotism rooted in proletariat culture, working class objectives, uprisings and the struggle for the social ownership of capital can be a very positive and necessary contribution, if it’s merely a slogan, then it is worth nothing.
In Ireland, the word ‘patriot’ has largely been dominated by American style conspiracy theorists who promote ideas ranging bound up in online conspiracies ranging from outright Nazi ideas about the Great Replacement to anti semitic nonsense about George Soros. None of these conspiracy theories of course talk about capitalism or capital, but that’s a side note for another day. In Ireland, ‘patriotism’ has been ‘Republicanism’ and Republicanism, since it’s popularization by Theobald Wolfe Tone has always taken tones that draw from the French Revolution and the slogan liberte, egalite, fraternite. In Ireland, Republicanism has always been against the interests of Empire and against oppression. In Ireland, Republicanism has been linked to the many struggles taking place around the world, so through practice, it became anti-racist. The content of Irish Republicanism has also had significant input from James Connolly, who in his wisdom realised that national liberation was worth nothing without the social ownership of capital, or more precisely, socialism. He distinguished bland nationalism from socialist republicanism by contrasting ownership of land, employment, food production and financial domination between an Irish capitalist and an English capitalist and concluded that the net result would mean little change for the small farmer or urban worker.
In short, the substance of ‘patriotism’ is defined by the method of organising society and the substance of the political organisation championing such patriotism. The capitalist class has a patriotism of its own, created to suit its class interest, to suit its domination of the workers, to suit its domination of the proletariat. The patriotism of the working class, as seen all over the world in Socialist countries is emancipatory, it is one of justice, freedom, democracy and the social ownership of capital. Contrast the two, judge it on its merits.