[Marxism] The Interdependence of Nationalisms, and the Struggle for a Left Alternative

Left News newsofleft at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 3 06:53:50 MST 2008

The Interdependence of Nationalisms, and the Struggle for a Left Alternative
by Dan Jakopovich

The scars
of war in my country, Croatia, are strong and visible 13 years after it
ended. Violence and hatred have destroyed inter-ethnic trust, creating
fear and resentment that will take decades to overcome. Post-war
normalization has been limited and relative. 

In contrast to
the explicitly expansionistic and anti-antifascist Radical Party in
Serbia (which has recently split into one “hard-core” and a little bit
less hardcore nationalist group), the ruling Croatian Democratic Union
has transformed itself (particularly through the process of
rapprochement and negotiations with the EU) into a more or less typical
European center-right/conservative party, non-extremist but still
seriously nationalist, as well as neoliberal and clientelist in
relation to the US, NATO and the EU. Fortunately, the far Right in
Croatia – except as a minority in the ruling party, has been
marginalized on the party-political scene, although it is still quite
vibrant in the sphere of civil society (in terms of far Right media,
the Catholic Church, veterans’ organizations and the like). 

biased, one-sided view of the past continues to be advanced on both
sides, most importantly by the political elites and the mass media. On
the Croatian side, the trauma of the Serbian population stemming from
the genocidal policies of the Croatian fascist puppet state during the
Second World War is neglected, as well as the resurgence of nationalist
ideology at the end of the 20th century, and this is obstructing a
better understanding of the more recent conflicts. The Serbian side, on
the other hand, tended to gloss over the discriminatory policies of the
Kingdom of Yugoslavia and belittle the powerful partisan contribution
by Croats (while some nationalists, like the Radicals, have even sided
with the Chetniks). It is these types of clogged communication channels
and the hijacking of the public discourse by nationalist politicians on
both sides that strongly contributed to the last war as well (along
with the economic crisis, the general bureaucratization of political
life, and the destruction of potentials for genuine workers’

The clash of two expansionistic nationalisms,
Milosevic’s centralist advancement of the “Greater Serbia” agenda
(accompanied by the destruction of the Yugoslav socialist experiment by
the new oligarchies which he organized from within the system, as well
as genocidal policies in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo) and Tudjman’s
classical far Right agenda on the other side (which included threats
and human rights abuses towards Serbs in Croatia and territorial
pretensions towards Bosnia and Herzegovina) precluded the possibility
for a peaceful solution to the crisis. 
Today, mutual fear,
distrust and resentments continue to wreck the potential for real
reconciliation and the defeat over the Right in both countries. 

evidence in many countries confirms that the anti-capitalist Left
cannot build mass support if it presents itself as “nationless”. As
Antonio Gramsci elaborated through his notion of the
“national-popular”, a thoughtful and sensitive approach towards
dominant beliefs and customs should be adopted. Furthermore, an
engagement with national specificities is the starting point for a
viable left-wing strategy.

The authentic Left in Croatia and in
Serbia must help organize the working class and all the oppressed
people against their nationalist governments and the exploitative
system which enslaves working people in both countries, producing
misery, alienation and easy scapegoats. Not only did these nationalisms
lead to a despicable dehumanization of the “Other”, chauvinistic
trampling over basic human rights along ethnic and religious lines –
the elites on both sides also attacked their own workers, plundered
social ownership, disempowered their citizens, introduced savage
capitalism and isolationist authoritarian rule. Currently, most of
these new elites have an uncritical stance towards Western power

While the nationalism of the elites and their
political servants has to be directly and consistently fought, the
nationalist prejudices of the working people shouldn’t always be
frontally confronted (as opposed to some of its vile symptoms like
ethnic discrimination), but should rather be subverted and neutralized
through a sophisticated approach which modifies the entire discourse
and constructs a basis for a genuine form of “progressive patriotism”,
which is non-discriminatory and class-based. The famous Irish socialist
James Connolly offered a powerful (though imperfect) example of this
creative approach: 

“Ireland without her people is nothing to
me, and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for
'Ireland' and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all
the wrong and suffering, the shame and degradation wrought upon the
people of Ireland, aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irish men and women,
without burning to end it, is in my opinion a fraud and liar in his
heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements
which he is pleased to call Ireland.” (Forward, 7 July, 1900) “I rather
like that intense desire to conserve the honour or freedom of a
particular country, to which men have given the name 'patriotism'. I am
also a believer in the brotherhood of all men and the international
solidarity of labour, and in the identity of interests which
every-where link together the oppressed of the Earth.” (Workers'
Republic, July 28, 1900) “If you remove the English army tomorrow and
hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle unless you set about the
Organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in
vain.”(Shan Van Vocht, January, 1897)

In order to dampen the
sources of Right-wing strength, the Left should also appeal to the
popular longing for unity, while counter posing a progressive unity of
“The People” – in terms of disenfranchised masses exploited by
bureaucrats, politicians and corporate greed – to the false unity based
on class rule and the status quo. Connolly’s egalitarian and
internationalist message continues to resonate today wherever
nationalism and capitalist oppression destroy the potentials for
solidarity and sociability: 

“We mean to be free, and in every
enemy of tyranny we recognise a brother, wherever be his birthplace; in
every enemy of freedom we also recognize our enemy, though he were as
Irish as our hills. The whole of Ireland for the people of Ireland -
their public property, to be owned and operated as a national heritage,
by the labour of free men in a free country.” (Workers' Republic,
August 5, 1899)

Dan Jakopovich is the main editor of the left-wing magazine Novi Plamen on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

The Socialist WebZine is updated weekly.  Submissions for publication may be sent to the editor at billyspnyc at yahoo.com  We encourage articles which highlight working class struggles, examinations of left-wing theory and cultural work especially poetry, music and video.


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