Advancing the progressive cause through national solidarity

The 1975 song – The People United Will Never Be Defeated – which was written in sympathy with the Chileans after the brutal Pinochet coup and other national struggles (for example, in Italy and Germany) raises the question: Who are ‘The People’. Relatedly, in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) we talk about a currency-issuing government being able to pursue public purpose which advances the well-being of the people. Who is the public and the people in that context? I ask these questions because they are germane to research on cosmopolitanism and the Left view of the European Union and similar arrangements that reflect an antipathy towards the concept of the ‘nation state’ and the belief that progressive advance can only be organised at a supra-national level in order to be effective. Today’s blog post just continues that theme based on current research.

The 1975 song reprises some of the Solidaritätslied which “is a revolutionary working song written between 1929 and 1931 by Bertoit Brecht” about the tribulations of workers facing unemployment and homelessness during the Weimar Republic in Germany.

It also reprised words from the Carlo Tuzzi’s 1908 song – Bandiera Rossa – about the Italian labour movement’s struggles for socialism.

Importantly, it was augmented to recognise the emergence of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini with the lyrics “Long live communism and freedom” (translated from the Italian).

The point is is about these songs are about the independent national struggles in Germany and Italy for a better society for their workers by their workers.

The various versions of these melodies and lyrics have been subsequently used in other national struggles for better workers’ rights in various nations.

That gives us a hint of who the ‘People’ that are the object of the song might be.

In our 2017 book book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017) – Thomas Fazi and I framed the problem of progressive struggle in terms of a focus on the nation state.

Our ‘vision’ rejected the view held by many progressive thinkers that the nation state was no longer a viable organising unit for political decision-making because global capital had rendered national borders irrelevant.

We initially made it clear that our conceptualisation of the ‘nation state’ had nothing to do with xenophobia, ethnicity, etc – the traditional concerns of ‘nationalists’.

For us, the nation state was defined in terms of currency sovereignty and the attendant capacities that flowed from this status.

We contended that the currency-issuing nation state was the appropriate organising scale for progressive advance and that many on the Left had abandoned that scale, or claim they have, as an expression of their activism.

They eschew what they claim is nationalism!!!

And they accuse any one who promotes a concept of a national community as being racist, and more recently (in the British context) of being anti-Semitic.

Which then leads them to hang on to notions, for example, of a ‘united Europe’ even though it is plainly obvious to them that constructs like the EU have become neoliberal to the core (at the Treaty level) and many of the more astute thinkers realise that it is impossible to reform that sort of structure in any progressive way.

Others hang on to vague notions of an eventual reform process delivering outcomes that might turn out to be an attenuated version of the neoliberalism.

But the Left has to face the fact – the so-called ‘Four Freedoms’ underpinning the – European Single Market – that are at the core of the EU are basic neoliberal constructs.

The question that has occupied my thoughts in the recent past period relates to why are elements on the Left (the group I summarise as the ‘Europhile Left’) so dogmatic about the need to subjugate national autonomy to supra-national authority and hold on to the view that this supra-national authority is the only way to deliver progressive outcomes.

The view is rather odd when we, for example, examine the evolution of the European Union over the last several decades under its ‘single market’ aegis.

I realise that, say, in the British case, the various sequence of British governments starting with the Callaghan Labour government in the 1970s through to the modern Tory disaster have been ‘more’ neoliberal than the other EU Member States.

But that doesn’t alter the argument which is about bringing the political struggle back to the scale defined by the currency issuer and reducing the capacity for depoliticisation (for example, the ‘Brussels told us to do it’ dodge).

In – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World – we demonstrate that a fundamental shift in progressive thinking about these matters occurred in the mid-1970s, when the Callaghan Labour government in Britain turned ‘Monetarist’.

At this point, the supra-nationalists in the Left turned their back on a glorious history of struggle on behalf of the workers.

Relatedly, the lacuna left by the lack of leadership in the social democratic movements around the world (which has seen their electoral popularity plummet), is being rapidly filled by so-called ‘populist’ forces, mostly on the Right.

The Left decry these developments – and evoke the fears they have about the rise of ‘nationalism’.

But, curiously, they pin their strategy on ‘reforming’ the dysfunctional supra-national apparatus, which has contributed to the malaise in the first place.

They are so scared of ‘nationalism’ that they will fight to stay in a predatory, neo-liberal structure (for example, the EU).

And when that is pointed out to them they come back with claims that the EU is not really neoliberal – that there is plenty of scope for individual action at the Member State level.

A recent case in point is the UK Guardian article (March 2, 2019) – Labour’s Leavers have got the wrong idea about the EU – where we learn that:

1. Greece was spending like crazy and had to be wound back – so the Germans or Brussels are to blame for its destruction.

2. That the fact that “the EU can block domestic budgets that overstep debt rules” does not stop Member States from doing good things – as long as they are prepared to tolerate 20 per cent unemployment for ever.

3. That the EU doesn’t stop “state-owned business to run trains” even though the “operation of trains and network must be separated. Yes, but once the rail systems are privatised, a Member State cannot reinstate a public monopoly – which is actually the point in relation to British Labour’s Manifesto.

All the usual arguments.

The point is that there are two interrelated problems facing progressive advance for nations such as Britain:

1. Its own domestic neoliberalism – DNA for Tories; dominating Labour via the Blairites.

2. Its membership of the EU.

Dealing with the first will always be frustrated by the second, which is why I support Brexit.

As I have said often, even if Britain deals with the second, there are no guarantees that it will benefit, if it fails to deal with the first.

Brexit is, in my view, a necessary not sufficient condition for advance.

But what it will do is firmly focus the political struggle on the domestic situation, which is the traditional arena for these types of power struggles.

Prior to the shift in focus towards supra-nationalism, the progressive Left were traditionally very much ‘nationalist’ in outlook.

As Noam Gidron wrote in the Vox Op Ed (February 8, 2018) – The left shouldn’t fear nationalism. It should embrace it:

… while many people take for granted an inherent contradiction between nationalism and left-wing politics, there simply isn’t one, either historically or philosophically …

Throughout the 20th century, progressives mobilized for social justice most successfully when they spoke in the name of national solidarity …

Left-wingers often cite the adage that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel – and with good reason. But it is important to also remember that a deep sense of national commitment underpins the egalitarian institutions we hold dear.

Left-wing struggle has always been organised at the national level and focused on improving the lot of the workers within that spatial domain.

It was never a feature of Left struggle that a concern for ‘workers of the world’ should be at the expense of the workmates around us.

And, moreover establishing a sense of “national communities” with a “deep commitment to the well-being, welfare and social esteem of our fellow citizens” is the best way to display generosity to other workers on an international scale, who may not be as well off.

Noam Gidron wrote:

We have deep and encompassing obligations to those we consider our own, based on a shared sense of membership in a community of fate – or more simply, based on our shared national identity.

This sense of national solidarity was “at the core of the social democratic agenda”.

The – Social and Allied Services – aka ‘Beveridge Report’ (download in PDF from the Archive is 60 mbs) – published on November 20, 1942 was one of the foundational documents of the full employment era in the Anglo world.

It defined the Social Democratic vision of the Welfare State, early in the post Second War period.

I discussed the Report in these blog posts (among others):

1. Back to William Beveridge requires a commitment to true full employment (January 3, 2012).

2. Employment as a human right (June 29, 2017).

The Terms of Reference were clear:

To undertake, with special reference to the inter-relation of the schemes, a survey of the existing national schemes of social insurance and allied services, including workmen’s compensation, and to make recommendations.

If you read the 300-plus page Report, and I have read it several times since I started researching these issues in the late 1970s, you will see a focus on conditions in Britain.

From the outset, the pros and cons of existing conditions in Britain are analysed. There is scant mention of working conditions elsewhere.

Further, he followed up the release of his Report with a monograph – The Pillars of Security and Other War-time Essays and Addresses (published 1943), which in his own words presented “some duplication of thought and phrase” with his other work at the time (including the Beveridge Report).

He wrote (p.10) of the Beveridge Report that there was a “deep and vivid interest of the people of Britain in the kind of Britain which is to emerge when the floods of war subside” and that the essays in the “Pillars” volume would “put that Report more clearly in its proper perspective”.

He wanted nothing short of a “programme of ‘New Britain'”.

Chapter 13 on ‘Social Security and Social Policy’ he addresses the various snipes and criticisms that had been made of the Beveridge Report since its release.

In a way, his response is redolent of how I think in relation to the current gross misrepresentations of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) that are now making a daily appearance in various social and other media outlets.

William Beveridge wrote (p.138):

The time has come, I think, for Sir William Beveridge himself to say that he never said that.

In other words, if one wants to know what MMT is read the original literature!

In a sub-section of that Chapter entitled “The National Minimum a British Idea”, we read that he thought the Beveridge Report:

… as a whole is intended to give effect to what I regard as a peculiarly British idea: the idea of a national minimum … which we learnt from the trade unions and have embodied in Trade Board Acts, is necessary but isn’t sufficient. There is wanted also a minimum income for subsistence when wages fall for any reason; a minimum provision for children; a minimum of health, of housing, of education …

All these aspirations are clearly ‘national’ in spatial spread.

And, when one researches the historical record in more depth, it was clear that the Labour movement, in general, gave the Report “Enthusiastic support” (Source).

– “… it lays the right foundations”.

– “… the Plan as a whole clearly conforms to trade Union principles, objects and aims.”

– “… is its importane as a test and touchstone of our political future as a democracy.”

And, the same arguments that circulate today in relation to MMT from the Marxists, were wheeled out about the Beveridge Report:

… this plan is founded on the wrong principle. It is an attempt to make the worker more secure under Capitalisml and that can only result in an even worse catastrophe.

And that sort of criticism will ever be thus and is essentially without reply. In the modern context, I just say – enjoy the latte while the revolution is plotted.

We can find similar ‘grand statements’ around this time in other nations, all of which talk about ‘The People’ in terms of solidarity and collective will.

The point is a progressive view of national solidarity was always at the heart of the labour movement.

The operation and the viability of the Welfare State was predicated on a sense of “shared national identities”, as Will Kymlicka (December 17, 2015) wrote in his article – Solidarity in diverse societies: beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism (Comparative Migration Studies).

He wrote of “the importance of national solidarity as a progressive political resource” and the way that it can be reconciled with global concerns about immigration and multiculturalism.

His discussion goes to the heart of who ‘The People’ represents.

He notes that a commitment and agreement “that decisions should be made democratically” in not capable, alone, of defining what a ‘nation’ represents.

His example is that all people in Europe probably share that commitment but that doesn’t “tell us whether there should be one state in Europe, or twenty-eight, or two hundred and eighty.”

But to advance the discussion, we see that:

Nationhood provides a sense of belonging together and a desire to act collectively. Ideas of belonging together, collective agency and attachment to territory are part of the very meaning of shared nationhood. Where a sense of nationhood is widely diffused, people think it is right and proper that they form a single unit, and that they should act collectively, despite their diverging interests and ideologies.4 Nationhood, in short, generates converging preferences on units.

This in turn allows redistributive welfare state structures to work smoothly. That capacity has clearly bedevilled the Eurozone, for example, which lacks a sense of ‘nationhood’.

And while this sense of ‘nationhood’ engenders are particular view of ‘The People’, which the neoliberal era has attempted to erode, it also does not preclude generosity to peoples in other nations.

We are to understand that there are two arenas:

1. The welfare state – which defines a “social membership”, the rights of citizens, a “shared society”

2. Humanitarian concerns for all – “the welfare state is not about a humanitarian impulse to relieve suffering, offer hospitality, or rescue from distress”.

That is the dilemma that the cosmopolitans toy with.

They want one world but then put borders around part of that world and operate as if they are nation states. But they lack the ‘social membership’ quality that ensures there is on-going social justice and an upholding of citizens’ rights.

No one could rightly argue that the EU upholds the rights of the Greek people. They have been sacrificial lambs to uphold the arbitrary rules that define the EU fiscal structures.

And that is quite apart from whether the Greeks were profligate or not.

Will Kymlicka provides a useful example – a sort of test:

If someone has a heart attack in front of us on the street, we have a humanitarian obligation to assist, whether they are tourists or citizens, but in the case of citizens, we also have an obligation to identify and address factors (such as economic insecurity) that make some people much more vulnerable to heart attacks than others. We typically do not think we have a comparable obligation with respect to tourists. We might say that justice amongst members is egalitarian, whereas justice to strangers is humanitarian, and social justice in this sense arguably depends on bounded solidarities. Nationhood has helped to secure such an ethic of membership, and its resulting bounded solidarity.

That has been the historical position of the progressive Left.

In defining the welfare state in terms of ‘social membership’, we are not forgetting that within that ‘club’ is an ongoing power struggle between labour and capital – between those who want solidarity and those who do not.

Interestingly, the Post Second World War era was marked by a transition, sometimes subtle, among the socially progressive political parties, to being voices of “the people” in a struggle for social justice and away from an emphasis on class antagonism and system overthrow.

Socialist parties became social democratic parties. It was not a smooth, uncontested transition. But it occurred.

It didn’t mean that class conflict and struggle didn’t “shape” the way in which the welfare state evolved. There is an extremely complicated discussion to be had about the layering of class over nationhood.

In a future blog post(s), I will juxtapose nationhood as the organising unit for progressive action with other conceptions – such as the “various post-national cosmopolitan, agonistic, or ecological theories of democracy and citizenship” all of which eschew, allegedly, the concept of nationhood.

And as an afterthought, while I was digging through my document pile, I was reminded of this – Speech – by the, then British Labour Party leader, Hugh Gaitskell to the Labour Party Annual Conference on October 3, 1962

He listed the reasons why he was opposed to UK membership of the Common Market.

They included:

1. “So let us have less of this talk of narrow nationalism” – he was decrying national stereotypes.

2. “It is not a matter of just any union, it is a matter of what are the effects of the union” – he thought the concept of the ‘union’ was less important than the specific nature of the legal structures and ideology of the union.

3. “We want to be quite sure that we are free to deal with the problem of local unemployment in the way we think best”.

4. “Nor can we ignore the possibility that in view of the removal of controls on capital movements we could be faced with a dangerous situation in this country and yet lack the independent power to deal with it” – this is a point I will elaborate on in a future blog post.

One of the classic attacks these days on MMT is that we have ignored the power of global capital. The claim is false and in many of the core writings one can find discussion of this issue.

The capacity to invoke capital controls is one measure that a progressive government would desire to stem speculative capital flows. Membership of the EU prohibits such tools. That, in itself, is a significant reason why a progressive nation should stay clear of the EU.

5. And Hugh Gaitskell noted – “some of the measures which Selwyn Lloyd took in 1961, could not have been taken without the approval of the Commission and the Council of Ministers” – Lloyd was a Tory Chancellor between 1961 and 1962 in Harold Macmillan’s government. He oversaw the 1961 currency crisis.

6. “The T.U.C. were absolutely justified in pressing upon the Government the need for the special and indeed overriding recognition of the importance of maintaining full employment. For my part, I should like to see it made plain that a British Government is bound to put this as its top priority and that it cannot be deprived of the power to use whatever methods it thinks are necessary to secure and maintain security for our people”.

7. “We are now being told that the British people are not capable of judging this issue – the Government know best; the top people are the only people who can understand it; it is too difficult for the rest. This is the classic argument of every tyranny in history” – resonates with the view that the Leave vote was not legitimate because the voters were ignorant, racist buffoons!.

8. “But what an odious piece of hypocritical, supercilious, arrogant rubbish is this! And how typical of the kind of Tory propaganda we may expect upon the subject – the appeal to snobbery: ‘the big people know best; you had better follow them!’ It is all on a par with the argument of inevitability. ‘You cannot escape: you must be with it. You must belong, no matter to what you belong.’ What a pitiful level of argument we have reached!”

We can, of course, extend the list of propagandists to Blairites, Europhiles and more.

Not much has changed has it since 1962.

I urge you to read the whole document.


This is ongoing research.

Helsinki Lecture Series

My lecture series at the University of Helsinki in my role as Docent Professor of Global Political Economy, at that university, is now in its second week.

The lectures are part of a formal program but the public is welcome to attend subject to lecture hall space being available.

The remaining lecture schedule is:

  • Tuesday, March 5 – 10.15-11.45
  • Wednesday, March 6 – 12.15-13.45
  • Thursday March 7 – 12.15-13.45

They will be held in Lecture hall XV (fourth floor) at the University of Helsinki main building, entrance from Unioninkatu.

Textbook Update

Our original introductory textbook has now been withdrawn from sale as per our agreement with Macmillan.

The material was absorbed, in rewritten form, into our new textbook – Macroeconomics – which was published on February 25, 2019.

The new book has an additional 18 chapters and the content is considerably expanded. It covers a two-semester sequence (at least) from introductory on at the University level.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2019 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. A very good article as usual except for this very strange sentence “And they accuse any one who promotes a concept of a national community as being racist, and more recently (in the British context) of being anti-Semitic.” As one who has long monitors antisemitism in the UK and Europe in general and, recently, Labour antisemitism in particular, and as one who also supports a radical nation state against a reactionary globalism, I have never seen a connection between the two of the kind implied by you, if anything, and this is still a stretch, more likely the opposite. As I said, very strange.

  2. It’s very clear who “the people” are in the EU – they can be anywhere and everywhere, have a fiscal home somewhere else, and, soon, pick a third nation from where they apply labor rules. Not to mention they get to have special courts.
    A very democratic union, indeed.

  3. Bill,

    “Prior to the shift in focus towards supra-nationalism, the progressive Left were traditionally very much ‘nationalist’ in outlook.”

    At what time in history did this occur? Seems not correct.

    “It was never a feature of Left struggle that a concern for ‘workers of the world’ should be at the expense of the workmates around us.”

    The phrase must be completed for historical accuracy – “workers of the world unite!”.

    Isn’t this the essence of socialist struggle – the commonality of the worker’s plight?

    And the capitalists were seen as global in operation and motivation so a countervailing movement was necessary.

    Internationalism is at the heart of the socialist movement. After all, it’s anthem is called the “The Internationale”.

    The demise of the internationalist movement (probably began in the 1960s) came when the Left realized that all the socialist regimes of the 20th century were in one way or another totalitarian, corrupt, inept and invariably brutal and murderous. The Left lost its mojo.

    Amazingly, even today we have Yanis Varoufakis promoting DiEM25 seeking to replace a neoliberal, fascist, centrist European state with a Leftist, centrist, European state.

    Hegemony is hegemony and inimical to democracy.

  4. Bill,
    I think this article would be improved if you added a paragraph that plainly stated what you implied. I think you implied that if the structure of the EU & EZ was different and therefore open to democratically arrived at progressive reforms, then you would have an entirely different conclusion on the leave/stay question. That it is only your conclusion after careful study of the various treaties and founding documents of the EU & EZ that the EU & RZ are not open to democratically arrived at progressive reforms, that forces you to the conclusion that the only way forward is to leave the EU. And then, hope to create a new better UEN {Union of European Nations}. And this is because you care about the mass of the people of every European nation and not the 1% at the top. Etc.

  5. The accusations of antisemitism against Labour have a particular function. AT first, I agreed with Martin above although, thinking about it, Bill might justifiably have meant that the ‘antisemitism’ slur against Labour is connected with Labou’rs (non-Blairite) EU-critical stance and pursuit of the national social purpose -which I think is correct.

    The problem is, the sentence does not distinguish between the Left and Right , where, in the latter case, the racism is real. The level of antisemitism in a proven sense in Labour looks VERY small (often connected with linguistic confusion) and seems to be no worse than any other Party (which doesn’t mean it should be ignored) so has clearly been ‘weaponised’ as a form of non-linear warfare (given the Lefts tradition of fighting racism).

  6. Re: Simon’s comment:
    It is strange, is it not, that the accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour seem to have increased steadily, the closer we get to Brexit-day. “Weaponised” is a good choice of words, because it’s a weapon that is almost impossible to defend oneself against. The minute you get into that sort of argument, you simply dig yourself into a bigger hole. And the general public just reads the headlines and never reads the detailed defence, if any.
    Meanwhile any accusations of Islamophobia among Tories are pretty muted, and don’t seem to get the same sort of reaction.

  7. Fascinating quotes from Gaitskell. I had always written him off as a bit of a right-winger, and would have been a Bevanite, rather than a Gaitskellite, back in the day, had I been a little older.
    But fair play to him. I must re-read his output more carefully.

  8. I think it would be salutary to distinguish between Corbyn himself and his inner circle as Hodge has now done in her recent discussion of Labour’s antisemitism problem. I have always been of the view that Corbyn’s inner circle were execrable and that he should get rid of them. But it seems clear that this is not going to happen. One prong of her criticism is that members of this inner circle have interfered with labour procedures in regard to this issue. While I have not been personally privy to this interference, knowing who is in the inner circle, I believe it.

  9. Simon Cohen

    I note your thoughtful reply but as someone who has been involved in various groups over 30 years including keeping an eye out for antisemitism (originally with atheist groups – very, very little or negligible AS as it turns out) the problem with AS in politics is very specifically a Labour one and not a generic left one at all – I agree that there is no more AS on the left than there is on the right. However the incidents wrt Labour are greater than all other political parties combined as numerous analysis have shown and as I witness every day as I follow left and right political arguments on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed I have never seen so much unabashed AS in my life and it is clear that the proximate causes is the stance of the inner circle of Labour leadership.

    It might be “weaponised” too but, in this case, there is no smoke without fire. We all know and expect that every time someone within the left criticizes others in the left on identitarian issues etc. etc., the right always jumps with glee on the bandwagon. It would be surprising if they did not. However this issue cannot be dismissed just because some use it that way.

    Sadly Mike it is not strange since the incidents, smears and slurs against Jews seem to increase on a daily basis as the antisemites have received dog whistles aplenty from the Labour leadership, now happening with a frequency of a few hours not even a few days!

    However this all detracts from the intent of Bill’s post and I was only pointing out that rather cryptic and puzzling one line that I deem was unnecessary. The flurry of comments – including mine – on this further indicate the futility and distraction of such side points.

  10. Martin,
    I would like to discuss this

    Sadly Mike it is not strange since the incidents, smears and slurs against Jews seem to increase on a daily basis as the antisemites have received dog whistles aplenty from the Labour leadership, now happening with a frequency of a few hours not even a few days!

    further with you, but here is clearly not appropriate. If you would care to email me on:
    mwe @
    (remove spaces)
    perhaps we could discuss it that way?
    Many thanks.

  11. Martin, Mike, relevant to this discussion in an oblique way is Eric Vuillard’s The Order of the Day (Eng. trans. 2018, though the French title is the same as the English). It is about the Anshluss. It began as a fiasco, but ended in horror. I am not suggesting in any way that Brexit is comparable to the Anschluss, only that the accompanying deception, outright lying, incompetence, and cowardice that has been displayed by so many in this contemporary drama are not entirely dissimilar to those exhibited by the Nazis and their willing and unwilling accomplices in Germany and Austria at the time. And some of the corporate criminal enterprises in that earlier drama are still among us (and they are not all in Germany). Reading a particular phrase toward the end made me think of the second movement of Brahms’ Requiem, Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie grass. Both very moving.

  12. @Larry, that would have been no problem had you been referring to Günter. :-p

  13. In my opinion, the Left’s affiliation with the principle of internationalism need not be motivated by any sort of “bleeding heart” concern for the well-being of anonymous strangers in faraway countries. I myself admit to not particularly caring, intrinsically-speaking, about the well-being of faraway strangers, whether those strangers be of my nationality or not. National communities are nearly just as much “imagined communities” as international ones. The only real community about which I care intrinsically is my clan, my extended family.

    Instead, I have always understood the Left’s affiliation with the principle of internationalism as being motivated by practical necessity. We have the same enemy-capital-and the same interests. We each have national capitalist governments that will attempt to use us workers as pawns to fight their imperialist wars for their gain and our pain. The capitalist class has proven time and time again that it has no national loyalty. I see it as foolish to attempt to force capitalists to be “good national capitalists,” to try to pen them in with capital controls to keeping their jobs and profits and investment here rather than elsewhere where they might obtain higher profits. They will chafe at these restrictions and constantly attempt to subvert or evade them, even while proclaiming their national loyalty, their patriotism, and their lip-service to these national boundaries.

    So we workers of various nationalities are stuck in the same boat, so we better row with each other, whether we like each other or not.

    That said, I recognize that there are some points of historical convergence between the “Left” and nationalism. Nationalism was progressive and on the “Left” when “loyalty to the people of the nation” stood in contrast to “loyalty to the monarch’s dynasty.” So, I count the nationalism of the French Revolution as a sort of progressive left-nationalism. There was also an element of left-nationalism in the Paris Commune. The Paris National Guard and the Communards stood together against both German imperialism AND “their own” French capitalists who quickly found that they could make common-cause with their erstwhile German enemies if it meant putting down a dangerous socialist revolution in Paris.

    Finally, I would say there was a large element of progressive Left-nationalism in Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” strategy, which was based on a realistic assessment that other countries were not likely to follow the Soviet Union any time soon, and so it was not wise in the meantime for the Soviet Union to sacrifice itself for some non-existent world revolution (Where extending the revolution worldwide later become practical, the Soviet Union helped out most of the time, as in Vietnam, although the Spanish Civil War was a sad exception where, in my opinion, the Soviet Union put its own short-term interests in the stability of Republican government in Spain and the safeguarding of French and British capital (so that France and Britain would remain military quasi-allies to the USSR) ahead of the real foregone potential for a more comprehensive revolution in Spain).

    For “Socialism in One Country” to really work, I think you need to be dealing with a fairly large geographical unit like the Soviet Union. The reason is that, once you start nationalizing industries, instituting capital controls to keep capital from fleeing, and making other “despotic inroads on the rights of capital,” your country will understandably become sort of a “pariah state” (at least until other large, powerful countries follow suit). Whether out of self-interest or out of spite, other countries will stop doing business with you on reasonable terms. I think this applies to a lesser extent even to MMT’s job guarantee, even though it is not quite so radical as “Socialism in One Country.” And in order to cope with the resulting forced autarky, it helps a lot to have a large geography to enable access to a wide array of raw materials from internal sources. So, for example, the Soviet Union had internal oil, nickel, food-producing regions, etc., and was better equipped to weather this storm than, say, Britain would be by itself.

    I think the United States would be large enough to make “Socialism in One Country” work temporarily, and China too, and perhaps the EU taken as a whole, and perhaps some sort of “Bolivarian Republic of South America.” But not Britain by itself. Nor Venezuela.

    The reservations I have about applying “Socialism in One Country” to small countries are the same ones I have about applying the job guarantee to small countries for reasons that Critique of Crisis Theory blog explains:

    “MMT’s highly progressive demand that the government provide jobs for all who desire them at living wages…is very much in the interests of the working class. Indeed, it is so much in the interests of the working class that its realization would make the continued production of surplus value and thus capitalism itself impossible. It is much like a proposal to reform chattel slavery by taking the whip away from the “cracker” while retaining all the other elements of slavery including the legally sanctioned private ownership of human beings. Therefore, we can be sure that no part of the capitalist Democratic Party leadership will sincerely support the MMT demand that the federal government act as employer of last resort. A capitalist government might make such a promise if it sees doing so as the only way to stave off an imminent socialist revolution. But we can be sure that such a government will soon renege on this promise…

    Capitalist governments might offer employment to the unemployed but under terrible conditions and extremely low wages. This was the essence of the British “workhouses” during the 19th century. The idea was to keep unemployed workers barely alive but under conditions so horrible that they would take private-sector jobs under almost any conditions and at extremely low pay. This is clearly not what supporters of MMT have in mind when they demand that the central government act as employer of last resort…

    No government, not even one formed by a labor-based party, will be able to fully implement a program where the central government acts as employer of last resort through providing meaningful jobs at decent pay unless it is prepared to go much further and use repressive measures to break the inevitable resistance of the capitalist class…

    How would capitalists fight attempts to make government employer of last resort? The capitalists have many weapons to fight a government – and prevent from being elected in the first place – trying to implement policies considerably less radical than a program mandating the central government act as employer of last resort. This includes everything from the use of the mass media, the financing of reactionary “pro-business” political parties opposing progressive policies, and ultimately a military or fascist coup d’etat that overthrows a democratic government through illegal methods, establishing an open dictatorship. And even if a party inspired by Modern Monetary Theory managed to somehow win a solid majority in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the presidency and presented a bill that would mandate that the U.S. federal government act as employer of last resort, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his fellow “justices” on the Supreme Court would declare the bill unconstitutional…

    But even if all these obstacles were somehow overcome, the ultimate weapon the capitalists have in fighting a government attempting to act as employer of last resort is their command of the money market […and trade sanctions].

  14. In response to Matthew Opitz, let me first thank him for a frank and thoughtful assessment of the daunting predicament faced by those of us on the left (whether nationalist or internationalist). But the supporters of neoliberal capitalism have an even more daunting problem, in that the trajectory of their system leads not only to austerity but to ecocide, already well underway. William James tells a story about a mountain climber who comes to a deep cleft in the midst of a blizzard. He does not know whether he can leap across the chasm, but he does know that if he stays where he is, he will freeze to death. James submits that there is only one viable option here, and that is to summon all one’s hope and courage, beat back the doubts, and go for it. James further indicates that this mountain climber’s life may well depend on whether he can steel his “will to believe” in this manner, a halfhearted jump being only a prelude to a plummet. IMHO, today’s leftists do not have the time to wait for some imagined international movement or uprising against neoliberalism. They should seize the opportunity, whenever and wherever it arises, to fight against it nation by nation, using MMT along the lines suggested in “Reclaiming the State.” Isn’t such a strategy, however a long shot, preferable to staring at the abyss in the blinding snow, hoping for help that may never come or comes too late? Greece was too weak to pull it off, but for a brief moment they were glorious. The UK would seem to be a far more formidable opponent. And were it the US, my money would be on the nation state, not global capital, which has about as many divisions as the pope had when Stalin asked that question.

  15. That was a simply wonderful blog. Very humane. In consequence I am thoroughly enjoying Kymlicka’s essay ‘Solidarity in diverse societies’.

  16. @Matthew Opitz
    Not Britain by itself? I wonder if you have studied the Labour government of the UK led by Clement Attlee which was elected in 1945, after VE day, but before VJ day?
    By 1950, it had fulfilled pretty much all of its manifesto, which included nationalising rail, coal, steel, gas, electricity, and even the Bank of England. It had set up the National Health Service, which promised, and delivered free treatment and (at least originally) free medicine, spectacles and hearing aids. (Hearing aids are still free on the NHS BTW – I have a pair of them; not glasses, alas). What happened to that government?
    Well, it won the election in 1950, but with a reduced majority. Some say that it was exhausted. Some of its leading ministers had died. Attlee thought he should fight another election to increase his majority (although legally, he could have waited until 1955). But he got his timing wrong, and for a silly reason, really. The King, who was already very ill, was due to go on a foreign tour. Knowing that an election might be in the offing, he asked Attlee if he would hold it before he went on tour. He didn’t want to be called back from far away to dissolve Parliament and then appoint (or reappoint) the Prime Minister (which only the monarch can do under our quaint system). He was a sick man, and international flights would have been slow and uncomfortable in those days, and they could not have waited for a sea crossing. Although Attlee was a radical socialist, he was also very conventional in some ways, and respect and deference to the King would have been natural to him. So he acquiesced and held the election too early. There were signs that if he’d waited only a little while, he might well have won it. Even as it was, he won the popular vote (actually in October 1951), but not in terms of Parliamentary seats. So that was the end of “socialism in one country” as far as Britain was concerned.
    Well, not quite. The Tories of those days were not the same as modern Tories. They had experienced the Depression, and especially, the Second World War. The latter changed a lot of attitudes. Surprising as it may seem today, they did not rush to reverse everything that the Labour Party had achieved. Much of what Labour had nationalised remained in public ownership until the days of Thatcher, and even beyond. And we still have our National Health Service (albeit being privatised by stealth…).

  17. “1. Greece was spending like crazy and had to be wound back – so the Germans or Brussels are to blame for its destruction.”

    I’m sure i’t supposed to say “not to blame” since anything but apolpgist BS in favor of the EU in a Guardian article would very much surprise me.

    From Matthew Opitz:

    “For “Socialism in One Country” to really work, I think you need to be dealing with a fairly large geographical unit like the Soviet Union. The reason is that, once you start nationalizing industries, instituting capital controls to keep capital from fleeing, and making other “despotic inroads on the rights of capital,” your country will understandably become sort of a “pariah state” (at least until other large, powerful countries follow suit).”

    I think that in regards of the “socialism in one country” it comes down more to ressources than ideology. Understandably, strong capitalist nations will not necessarily be fond of a big, strong socialist nation, but even under the much maligned Chavez, the trade between the US and Venezuela actually almost doubled. Exports from Venezuela to the US increased from around 19 billion USD in the year 2000 to around 37 billion in 2007, whereas imports from the US increased from 5.5 billion USD to 8.5 billion in the same time frame.

    So one can see that the love for oil exceeded the hate of socialism and the “pariah state” here. On the other hand, Chavez might have called Busch/Obama the devil, but he seemed not to care too much about doubling his business with Beelzebub himself. Odd for a “socialist”, no? Ultimately, the less reliant one is from critical imports from the “capitalist” countries and the bigger the demand for a country’s own exports, the highe the “degree of freedom” the state has to operate to pursue a socialist agenda (or any agenda to be fair). That’s why you don’t hear the US complaining about the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia and it explains the support from anything from “democracy-in-name-only” to dictatorial regimes around the world as long as they provided the preferential treatment the hegemons demand.

    Most of the time, however, you’ll have an “hybrid” approach to foreign relations anyway. In the case above, despite doubling the trade between both nations, the support for the opposition in Venezuela form th US at the same time was more than blatant and any damage that could be dealt without sacrificing profits was dealt.

    I personally have a lot of hope invested in Latin America, because it is an extremeley ressource-rich region with just bareley stable enough gevernments and an increasing resilience to US influence. However, over 100 years of imperial influence are not undone easily. Right now, for example, Mexico and Venezuela are both dependent on US imports of corn and grains respectiveley. Mexico because of the devastating NAFTA trade agreement and Venezuela due to the failure of Chavez to undo the old import preference from the former “europeanized” elites in power. Furthermore, they are both reliant on fuel imports despite both being net oil-exporters (I suspect it is at least partly a result of foreign opposition to the development of their own productive capabilities but lack credible sources). On the otehr hand, the rising importance of Mexico as a manufactured goods producer for the US market (an unwanted effect of that trade agreement and the fuel behind Trump’s “they stole our jobs” rethoric) and Venezuelas oil still offer some leverage. In Venezuelas case, the US seems to think is no longer enough leverage, so they are pondering another invasion/regime change.

    Sadly, this seems to be the best case scenario, one in which a country needs to carefully balance out its dependencies with its political agenda in order to gradually move towards a more sustainable status quo. In the worst case, smaller countries without the necessary capabilities for supplying its population with the most basic needs, are probably relegated to “plantation states” for the foreseeable future. For such states, it is my belief that a supranational alliances that broaden the base of ressources to be made available to the population as well as a form of “collective bargaining” power is sensible. I think that such a concept is the one that drives the “europhile left”, as Bill calls them. Nevermind the Frankenstein monster the EU became, there is a reason the US has forever fought the concept of “Bolivarianism” (and it fought and some, like Pompeo, still fight the EU):

    “Bolivarianism is a mix of pan-American, socialist and national-patriotic ideals fixed against injustices of imperialism, inequality and corruption named after Simón Bolívar”

    I think the cognitive dissonance that pervades “the Left” in the internationalism vs. nationalism issue is beautifully contained in this simple sentence: “A pan-American national-patriotic movement” – i.e. an international alliance of nationalists. It’s possible to read anything you want into that. However, not much is said until the actual Union and its political/economical framework is set. In my opinion, for example, a person with “lefty” ideals should support the concept of a Bolivarian Union of Nations while at the same time opposing the European Union (in its current form). A currency union without a fiscal union of LA countries is destined to fail just like the current iteration of the EMU.

    Like socialism, the right/neoliberals love internationalism when it is for capital and corporations and hate it when it’s for workers and the little people.

  18. Matthew Opitz says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 9:48

    “I see it as foolish to attempt to force capitalists to be “good national capitalists,” to try to pen them in with capital controls to keeping their jobs and profits and investment here rather than elsewhere where they might obtain higher profits.”

    Capitalists are not taking their business models out of the home country to punish/diminish the status of its workforce – they do it because that is the only way they can survive, and ultimately thrive.

    Call it one of the dreadful effects of global capitalism if you like, but I know from experience that these decisions involve heart-wrenching tussles with conscience – no-one who aligns him/herself with Christian ideals turns their backs on brethren.

    You seem to suggest that nationalism (on a significant scale) is the best way of defeating Capitalism – but this still implies competition and eventually unavoidable duals for superiority.
    Who wins that tussle would be would be interesting to observe – it may be that a society founded on equality has a natural advantage that always in the end succeeds over less idealised entities.

    I note your comments about Attlee’s nationalisation program – it may be that over an extended period that program could have fulfilled its purpose, but their are serious doubts about this. Just to take the Railways, it was becoming an ancient service-model that required much investment to upgrade. Steel and Coal were also approaching radical improvement requirements. Under MMT government funds could have been provided in perhaps almost limitless quantities but in the end these industries needed to compete on an international scale – could they have done this without continuing funding that eventually took limited resources away from other industries.

    No UK citizen would ordinarily contemplate taking resources away from the NHS but here again we are nevertheless faced with the dilemma of diverting resources from competing activities. And those decisions in the end have some bearing on what standard of living the nation enjoys.

  19. Newton Finn:- “The UK would seem to be a far more formidable opponent.”

    I wish, oh how I wish, that that were true!

    But if Britain’s record ever since the ‘forties is anything to go by, the wish seems a forlorn one alas. As Bill just relentlessly hammered home in his blog “Britain’s austerity costs are larger than any predicted Brexit losses”, British governments of both Right and pseudo-Left have been – each with majority support – the most extreme and persistent (in Europe) in carrying-out monetarist and neoliberal policies.

    Well before then Britain as a nation had lost its way and become enfeebled in consequence.

    And now we have been going through the pre- and post-Brexit trauma, As a nation we now seem to have become almost as polarised as the USA – and that’s saying something.

    The auguries for our offering any serious challenge to the EU monolith don’t seem very favourable. The only thing that will rescue the peoples of the EU nations from their prison would appear to be a break-up from within brought about by a resurgence of nationalism. But that prospect only induces shudders down one’s spine, brought on also by knowledge of where *that* has led before…

    Turning to Bill’s main theme in this blog, I’m surprised that WW I hasn’t so far been cited as a watershed in the history of internationalism. At its outbreak, all (I believe) the principal spokesmen and -women of the internationalist Left were united in calling (and unquestionably fervently believed their call would be heeded) upon workers in all the belligerent nations to reject as one the very idea of taking-up arms against their brothers; to all appearances they were convinced that the war could then not be fought since the rank-and-file conscripts of which all the belligerents’ armies were comprised (except the British, which was by far the smallest) would refuse to fight it.

    That illusion was abruptly shattered as we know. After that blow, how could internationalism as a movement hope ever to have any credibility again?

  20. Gogs:- “No UK citizen would ordinarily contemplate taking resources away from the NHS but here again we are nevertheless faced with the dilemma of diverting resources from competing activities. And those decisions in the end have some bearing on what standard of living the nation enjoys”.

    Agreed. But this nevertheless reminds me of the existence in our financier-ridden society of that parasitic canker known as “the City” which acts as a suction-pump hoovering-up an entire cadre of people with valuable talents which could far more gainfully (it being difficult to imagine any way in which they could anyway be *less* gainfully) employed, societally speaking.

    If the “competing activities” from which human resources were diverted were to be those carried-out (with zero or even negative net value to society) in “the City”, rather than from the NHS as in your example, that could be nothing but beneficial to the economy, as well as to the wider society, of the nation as a whole.

    And I suspect that although that may be the most brazen and conspicuous case of talent misused/wasted, it’s probably far from being the only one (how about real-estate brokering and property-development for another…?). Of course large-scale retraining would be necessary but we’re constantly being told that that’s going to be the case in future anyway, because of the inroads of AI into virtually every kind of “traditional” employment-model.

  21. Mike, Larry, Simon

    I am happy and indeed to prefer to discuss these issues in public rather than private. I like my arguments to be open to public scrutiny. This is not the post (nor the blog) for this topic.

    You can find me on twitter @martinfreedman and engage with me there if you wish. My primary focus was to have been MMT but it has been diverted by the ever increasing #LabourAntisemitism so you can engage on tweets or via DM there.

  22. Some really interesting comments have been presented here to add to Bill’s important political and economic insights.

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