Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Morning Star Promotes ‘Socialist Patriotism’.

with 23 comments

Image result for Morning star brexit

The Patriots of the Communist Party of Britain.

One of the best known takes on patriotism and nationalism comes through the concept of ‘imagined communities’.

Benedict Anderson said, a nation is “an imagined political community”.

regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.

Anderson’s definition, based on substantial arguments in  Imagined Communities, (1983), puts concepts like the ‘invention of tradition'( Eric Hobsbawm) in the context of this ‘comradeship’.

It has obvious echoes of the right wing French republican and philologist Ernest Renan’s (1882) claim that, the “spiritual’ (that is ‘imaginary) principle  of a nation is based on  these common thoughts and emotions, “The existence of a nation (you will pardon me this metaphor) is a daily referendum, just as the continuing existence of an individual is a perpetual affirmation of life.”

There is a whole library of books  trying to distinguish patriotism (good) from nationalism (bad).

George Orwell made these famous comments,

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality..

Notes on Nationalism 1945

More recently Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe have talked of ‘articulating’ nationalist  sentiment into the construction of an opposition between the ‘People’ and the the Elite, the Caste…

In her most recent book, For a Left Populism t2018) she talks about constructing a “collective will”. Left populism, she asserts, draws into its orbit by a “chain of equivalences” a variety of progressive demands, open citizenship. This is the ‘construction of the People”, a collective political agency, “ opposing the ‘people’ against the ‘oligarchy’. For this to work Mouffe follows the late Ernesto Laclau. There has to be “some form of crystallisation of common affects, and affective bonds with a charismatic leader… “ In this way left populists can challenge the right-wing, national populist, claim to be the real patriots.

The only way to fight right wing populism is to give a progressive answer to the demands they are expressing in a xenophobic language. This means recognising the existence of a democratic nucleus in those demands and the possibility, through a different discourse, of articulating those demands in a radical democratic direction..

Populists are on the rise but this can be a moment for progressives too

Amongst Mouffe’s left populist movements, Jean-Luc Mélenchon led La France insoumise, made patriotism a central theme, beginning some time back.


Mélenchon, or M. 6,31% as he is known after his score in last year’s European elections, has not had much success with this idea, or any other part of his own, or Mouffe’s strategy

Talk of a “democratic nucleus” to patriotism in present day conditions can mean just about anything.

It can imply as Orwell stated, the quiet love of people and things dear.

Or, as we have seen during the Brexit disputes, a violent claim, coloured by xenophobia,  to assert sovereignty in the service of a hard right Brexit. In this case it is nationalism , or as we would now say, by national populism.

There is very little quietness about this.

That is after all what “imaginary communities” are like, you can dream up just about anything to put behind the label.

Matt Widdowson, a member of the hard-line pro-Brexit Communist Party of Britain, (Reform and Revolution by Matthew Widdowson) has, defending Rebecca Long Bailey’s defence of “progressive patriotism”  now joined this game.

In this story populism seems to have vanished and all we have left is “articulating” patriotism, towards the left.

There is no contradiction between patriotism and socialism

We need to articulate socialist patriotism a genuine love of our country and its people — in opposition to the militarism and imperialism, writes MATT WIDDOWSON

REBECCA LONG BAILEY’S call to “revive this progressive patriotism” (Guardian, December 29 2019) appeared to be greeted with horror by “Left Twitter.” While Long Bailey’s article did not expand further on what she meant by “progressive patriotism” or what policies would be guided by this slogan, it appeared to be the very word “patriotism” that was so shocking.

Social media was awash with a mixture of liberal disdain (mainly from those with EU flags in their Twitter handles – apparently, not all flag-waving is bad) and the typical ultra-leftist complaints about “socialism in one country.”

What exactly is this ‘love’, what does it mean?

Perhaps there is also fear among the opponents of “progressive patriotism” about ceding ground to reactionary nationalism (particularly the ethno-nationalism of the far right). This is perhaps understandable as there has been a noticeable and troubling shift towards the hard right around the world. But again, this misses the difference between the “official” nationalism promoted by the ruling class and the potential for a socialist patriotism based on popular sovereignty and international solidarity.

Indeed there is little evidence of any other amorous feeling around the topic. Official nationalism is bad pararently but look to the people and it can turn to pure gold.

Nationalist sentiment relies on stories and symbols and, a progressive vision needs to rely on the peoples’ counter-narrative to the official story of Britain. This is the radical history of Britain. It is the story of the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes, Red Clydeside, the Greenham Common camps and the miners’ strikes.

In other words, something the Morning Star’s old Euro Communist enemies called “the national popular”.

Nobody doubts that from this genuine history one can make up as many stories as one likes.

The Brexit Party backing Spiked site  already entered the race last year in this event to commemorate the Peterloo massacre.


But what are the politics behind, “a socialist patriotism based on popular sovereignty and international solidarity?

With a left-wing government in power, an alternative patriotism would need to build on this radical past in order to look to the future: what sort of society should we build? How should we strive towards a more peaceful and co-operative world?

Patriotism then becomes a commitment to a national project; a patriotism which is inclusive as it would not be dependent on ethnicity or the country of one’s birth, but on commitment to the collective goal. What else was the NHS but a collective national project involving people from around the world who were galvanised by a commitment to its founding principles?

If the left is to succeed then we need to start talking about concepts such as patriotism and nationalism without simply reaffirming inflexible dogma or resorting to hysteria. In a world where the nation state remains a reality and the only realistic path to socialism, the British left needs to articulate its own socialist patriotism in contrast to the chauvinism, conservatism and militarism which characterises the nationalism of the right.

Nobody has any idea of what this means, other than a trip to the dream time of imaginary communities built around a left wing government.

Nobody has a clear idea of what “popular sovereignty” means in a post-Brexit Britain dominated by the business interests behind Johnson. Not to mention a globalised basis to the economy.

But everybody can be sure that at the moment the patriotism evoked here is in the service of national sovereignty, sovereigntism, in a world where the British nation state is a vehicle for the capitalist  and the Conservative Party  converted to serve a Hard Right Brexit.



23 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure I agree with Orwell’s view of patriotism, but at least (unlike RL-B and Widdowson’s drivel in the Morning Star), his version of “patriotism” recognised the centrality of class:

    “England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control – that, perhaps is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.”

    (George Orwell, Why I Write, 1946)

    Jim Denham

    January 9, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    • The notes were of course written in 1945, a very different world and I agree, Jim, it’s a hard to sustain distinction between patriotism and nationalism when you look at the history.

      Andrew Coates

      January 9, 2020 at 1:24 pm

  2. Which just goes to prove…you can’t run capitalism in the interests of the majority.

    That behind nationalism/patriotism stands capitalism. That you can’t build socialism in one country or in one continent. That EU nationalism/patriotism is just as a pernicious as any other kind.
    Ever heard the term “fortress Europe”? Concentration camps full of migrants, gunboats turning them away. Yet of course you will cry “we never asked for this!”. Except you did.

    Steven Johnston

    January 9, 2020 at 2:08 pm

  3. The argument of Brexiteers (usually those with leftists pretentions) that the EU somehow embodies racism (“Fortress Europe”) in a way that nation states don’t is at best cretinous and at worst (and usually) plain dishonest. Anna Oppenheim dealt with it in her essay Fortress Europe or Fortress Britain?

    “The European Union, as it currently stands, is by no means a holy
    grail of progressive migration policy. Far from it – there is no excuse
    for ‘Fortress Europe’, which pours millions of euros into strengthening the EU’s external borders and allows refugees to drown in the Mediterranean. There’s no use sugarcoating it: these policies are racist,
    violent and morally unjustifiable.

    “But Britain leaving the EU will only make the situation worse.
    Far from dismantling Fortress Europe, leaving the EU would mean
    locking ourselves in a Fortress Britain. The 2016 Leave campaign
    was largely built on stirring up fear of European and non-European
    migrants alike. The idea that post-Brexit Britain would be any kinder
    to asylum seekers can only be called a delusion. The government
    negotiating the UK’s post-Brexit border policy is the same one that
    engineered the hostile environment and caused the Windrush scandal.

    “At a time when the far right is increasingly coordinating its efforts
    across the continent, when Matteo Salvini (leader of the far right
    Northern League) … is meeting with Hungarian prime minister Viktor
    Orbán to discuss an anti-immigration alliance, the left cannot walk
    away and leave them to it. It has never been more urgent to build a
    cross-border, anti-racist movement to transform Europe.

    “Rights are not a zero-sum game. Taking them away from one
    group of migrants will do nothing to benefit others. A world of
    open borders will not happen tomorrow but – unless we’re happy to
    accept a society where people’s life chances are subject to the lottery
    of birth – it’s an ideal to strive for. There is no way around it: an end
    to free movement after Brexit would be the biggest expansion of
    border controls in recent memory – more deportations, separated
    families and ruined lives.

    “The interests of migrants are not opposed to those of ‘ordinary
    people’ – we are ordinary people. And issues facing migrants are not
    separate from the concerns of the labour movement – we are, and
    have always been, a part of it. The freedom to move is a workers’ right
    and one we must fight for.”

    Jim Denham

    January 9, 2020 at 3:49 pm

  4. “When the British people speak everyone, including members of Parliament, should tremble before their decision and that’s certainly the spirit with which I accept the result of the referendum.”

    Tony Benn on the 1975 EEC referendum result.

    Steven Johnston

    January 9, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    • And yet a short while he was again calling for Withdrawal from the EU.

      In fact it was not until 1983 that withdrawal of the UK from a European Union was no longer official Labour party policy.

      Benn came out with this utter guff in 1991, illustrating the limits of his commitment to internationalism and socialism, (taken from the right-wing patriotic site of Labour ‘Heartlands’)

      “Another way would be to have a looser, wider Europe. I have an idea for a Commonwealth of Europe. I am introducing a bill on the subject. Europe would be rather like the British Common-wealth.

      If people are determined to submit themselves to Jacques Delors, Madame Papandreou and the Council of Ministers, we must tell the people what is planned. If people vote for that, they will all have capitulated. Julius Caesar said, ‘We are just merging our sovereignty.’ So did William the Conqueror…”


      Andrew Coates

      January 9, 2020 at 6:06 pm

  5. Makes one wonder how much consideration they gave to Max Weber’s view of government as a bounded, successful monopoly in the use of force. Indeed, it is the “successful” qualifier that is unconsciously invoked in support of the “no True socialist” argument to the effect that Soviet, Nazi, Cambodian and Jim Jones People’s Temple “weren’t really” socialism–which by faithful definition is a paradise. Turning out otherwise is, to looters, cogent and irreproachable proof that the object in question was no more socialism than was Eurasia ever at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia! Harrumph!


    January 9, 2020 at 4:31 pm

  6. LOL, so the Labour party should not have accepted the results of the ’75 EEC referendum and left?

    At least he was committed to democracy.

    Steven Johnston

    January 9, 2020 at 6:15 pm

  7. Sorry have you forgotten that we voted to leave the EU?

    Steven Johnston

    January 9, 2020 at 6:34 pm

  8. Johnson, you are even more confused than normally.

    Benn did not accept the result and during the 1980s and wanted Labour in government to leave – not that they were in position to do during the decade.

    He was a kind of Hereward the Wake fighting the Norman/Brussels empire.


    Never two without three, I like democracy so much I’d like another vote.

    Andrew Coates

    January 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm

  9. Yet never once, prior to 2016, did you ever campaign for a 2nd referendum on the EU. So that makes you a hypocrite, as you were happy with the result of the first one. Then, when the 2nd one didn’t go your way, you cried foul and asked for a third. Well the British public told you where you could shove that. Or do you want me to draw you a diagram?

    Steven Johnston

    January 9, 2020 at 9:52 pm

  10. Andrew: Johnson is simply to thick to be worth arguing with and is clearly at heart some kind of little-Englander. Some right wingers have interesting ideas and are worth engaging with: not Johnson, who’s just banal and boring.

    Jim Denham

    January 10, 2020 at 10:05 am

  11. Andrew Coates

    January 10, 2020 at 11:21 am

  12. Good job I didn’t vote in the 2016 referendum and stated that whatever the result, the working class will still end up being exploited.

    Steven Johnston

    January 10, 2020 at 12:23 pm

  13. Interesting post by Phil at ‘All That Is Solid’ (especially as he’s not a full-on remainer, by any means), making the point that

    “As other comrades have noted, Labour lost more votes to remain parties than leave voters to the Tories, but the latter were amplified thanks to their geographic spread. Undoubtedly, had Labour not pitched to the second referendum position the election would have been even more catastrophic. Not because the loss of seats would have been any worse than what actually happened, but because an even greater chunk of the new working class base would have visibly registered Labour acting against their interests and sealed their alienation from the party for many general elections to come.”

    Jim Denham

    January 10, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    • Very much so, and this rings very true,

      “This is the sort of listening Labour should be doing, not wasting time flattering two-bit bigots and chasing former UKIP voters by promising to be more racist and wafting nuclear weapons around like giant willies.
      We’ve got to think about how the new working class is segmented, the differences that tend to crop up between those who’ve moved to the big cities in search of opportunities as well as those who remain in the provincial communities we lost, and the rural seats we’ve never done well in. We have to think about our own membership and its occupational distribution, how they got involved in the party, what their points of contact were before they signed up, and Labour needs to work more closely with the affiliated unions to learn from their recruitment strategies and how to do a better job of pushing the Labour link.

      All this in conjunction with deepening the party’s commitment to social movement organisation and standing with workers in struggle. Understanding our people is not an academic exercise. The aim is to cohere them, grow them and, crucially, be relevant to them. And of we get this right we will not just be back on the path to government in 2024, we can be for the decades to come.”


      Andrew Coates

      January 10, 2020 at 1:09 pm

  14. Earth to Jim & Andrew…you lost the EU referendum and the 2019 election!
    Are you living in some parallel universe?

    Steven Joihston

    January 10, 2020 at 1:48 pm

  15. I ignore ignorant Tories and Brexiteers like Johnson.

    Jim Denham

    January 10, 2020 at 2:49 pm

  16. You must be talking about Boris, because you ain’t talking about me.
    I have a T in my surname.

    Steven Johnston

    January 10, 2020 at 3:16 pm

  17. If the cap fits (and it does) …

    Jim Denham

    January 10, 2020 at 3:25 pm

  18. Well Jim, at least I did not appear on the Andrew Marr show complaining that there are too many immigrants in the UK. Neither did you, but Keir Starmer fucking did, He’s no comrade of mine and sure hope you can say the same.

    Steven Johnston

    January 11, 2020 at 2:27 pm

  19. Given your love of referendums here. You must be very angry that the government has refused another one on Scottish independence.

    Steven Johnston

    January 14, 2020 at 12:50 pm

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