MARXISM - NATIONALISM
embarrassment of nationalism: a love that does not have a name
Mary Gilmore’s quatrain evokes much of
what I want to explore. Many of us feel comfortable with her opening two
lines. The second pair arouse embarrassment as they undercut the
nobility of the opening. The final line does so by striking a chord in
In the time that you will take to read
this sentence, a child will have died somewhere in Africa. Which of us
has shed a tear? We accept that that infant is as precious to its family
as are the children closest to us. Yet we weep when our loved ones die,
not for every tolling of the bell.
Our emotions fracture between a general
lament and a local grieving. The latter attachments is subsumed into the
mentalities known as nationalism or patriotism. Yet, those terms carry a
burden of disquiet. People say, “But, I’m not an extreme
nationalist”, and “I love a sunburnt country”, as they recoil from
the U.S. Patriot Act.
To name what one is not is easier than to
find the word for cultural feelings and political attitudes that do not
have a name of their own. Place-ism is not even the half of it.
One way to start is to distinguish
chauvinism, racism, jingoism/militarism and nativism from each other,
and thereby see how each relates to patriotism and nationalism. Too
often, all seven terms are treated as synonyms. Our excursion into
lexical semantics is to prepare for combat against public policies that
are nourished by the worst in these overlapping attitudes.
“Everything Australian is better than anything from anywhere else.”
That has not been my experience. Some of the opera productions I have
enjoyed most were in Europe and some of the worst in Sydney – but note
that the converse is equally true.
In evaluating local creativity, we should
eschew the double standard of “good for an Australian”. At issue, is
good for what? I place Margaret Preston in the top trio of settler
artists. On a scale of all Europeans across the past millennium, does
she get into the top 300? She holds a significance for Australians that
Rubens or Leger can not offer because her imagery helps us to grapple
with how we imagine our social place in this physical space.
Nor am I an inverted chauvinist, one of
those who lambaste Australia as the most racist/sexist country in the
world. I do not know which society merits that title but, having lived
in Japan for two years, I suspect that it is not Australia.
Inverted chauvinists seized on Cronulla
to confirm their moral superiority, reciting the Pharisee’s prayer:
“Thank you, god, for not making me like other White Australians – a
That biologists spurn the categories known as “races” will never
stop some people associating certain physical characteristics with
patterns of behaviour. One counter to that falsehood is to be more exact
by speaking of ethnic prejudices. Instead of that precision, racist has
become a catch-all for prejudice of every kind. Indeed, apologists for
US imperialism have tried to initiate proceedings under the Racial
Those of us who are against
US-Imperialism are very much in favour of such Americans as Mark Twain,
Angela Davis or Michael Moore. Similarly, resistance to the British
Empire had nothing to do with being anti-Anglo-Saxon-Celt, but cherished
the legacy from Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Mann and R. H. Tawney.
Keating tries to distinguish nationalism from patriotism by linking
nationalism to the Imperial disaster at Gallipoli and patriotism with a
defence of the homeland along the Kokoda trail. Like Howard, Keating can
not get beyond trained killers, as Carr failed to do in his model
high-school history syllabus. Why does slaying the flower of our manhood
excite middle-aged politicians? Why cannot they begin from creative
achievements, Nobel Prizes - or even Olympic Medals?
Despite my revulsion for chicken-Hawks
(Bush and Beasley), I confess to a fondness for the 1960s suggestion
that, instead of balloting 20-year olds to Vietnam, Australia should
have nationalised the oil companies before conscripting the Young
Liberals to ward off the Marines.
Thus far, we have rejected three
attitudes in cutting through to acceptable facets of nationalism and
patriotism. Nativism is a bridging case.
Any notion that only the native-born can be fully citizens is foreign to
my ideal. For once, I am close to the Duke of Wellington who denied
being an Irishman: “Being born in a stable does not make you a
Republicanism has little to do with
having a resident for president. I would prefer a foreign terrorist -
Mandela. His qualities express Republican virtue in ways that the
imperiousness of the native-born Costello and Turnbull never will.
However, overseas saints are unsuitable
as our president because they lack the familiarity with the political
and social habits needed by a head of state. Had Mandela been exiled
here rather than to Robin Island, he would have acquired those
The exclusivist attitude towards
political rights is easy to dismiss. More taxing is to deal with how
living here affects artistic production. What, if anything, is valid in
the nativist claim that tourists cannot depict the landscape? Did
Lawrence get the spirit of place after fewer than 100 days in the
continent? If so, how much longer did it take an English painter to
adjust her palette to the blueness of Southern skies?
In some ways, I am a cultural nativist.
We should honour the Jindyworabaks who cleared a path to a vernacular
for our landscape by cleansing Australian verse of glades, carpets,
aisles, fairies and the like. Today, those images can be used only in
On certain questions, we need to be
extreme nativists. Cane Toads
are the answer to anyone who thinks that a solution in one part of the
globe can be as efficacious in every other part. Less devastating was
the experience of installing races to let fish swim back up dammed
streams to spawn. A model imported from the Salmon races in North
America had to be torn out and replaced with ones tailored to the habits
of Victorian species.
Having set up some border protections,
and given refuge to several alien thoughts, we return to our
interrogation of patriotism and nationalism. The purpose is to highlight
the dangers from allowing reactionaries to claim the everyday
experiences that flood through the multiple expressions of patriotism
as love of country voices one of its registers in concern for the built
and natural environments. Yet those milieux could not be more different.
The built is the outcome of human activity, as is much of what is
conceived to be nature, when it is the by-product of firing or
Patriotism, therefore, depends on more
than a fondness for places as givens. We become attached to places
through our remaking of nature, from refashioning built inheritances and
by re-imagining those practices. Such activities continue to make us
human, as a species and as individuals. “Sensuous human activity”
attaches us to places and to generations who had remade themselves by
working on those localities.
Two cameos display social labour as the
taproot of patriotism. In the first, a spokeswoman for the dirt farmers
at Gumly Gumly in the 1930s honours the toilers by marking moments in
her community’s survival with doggerel. Her impulse to memorialise
fills photograph albums, family gossip and genealogies. All communities
are imagined. In the second, a 1950s British woman immigrant to Yallourn
recalls: “The interest we have in Australia stems largely from the
fact that we feel we have helped to make one small portion of it
The lives that Australians have made here
are not superior to cultures elsewhere. The existential fact is that the
environments through which we remake ourselves cast a spell over us
which is more potent – whether to attract or repell - than those we
view from afar.
Critics of capital-P Patriotism and
capital-N Nationalism must take a care lest our denunciations are heard
as denigrating those intimate concerns. The task is to show how those
affections that nourish patriotism and nationalism are grounds for
opposing current policies on war, workplaces and degradation of our
environments. Showing respect for the worth that people invest in
places, and memories, including grief for the slain, is an invitation to
discuss these matters. Any slighting of such connections surrenders the
most potent source of ideology, namely, our sense of being human. The
reactionary is then free to twist that ontological fact into
A further political risk arises from
cutting progressive politics off from nationalism and patriotism. To
tell settler Australians that nothing we have made here is of value
leaves us susceptible to the assertion that we must rely on Great and
Powerful Friends, an assumption which has led us into war after war.
That inadequacy complex extends to running our own economy, opening the
gate to despoliations.
Arthur Phillips coined “the cultural
cringe” for the fear among generations of settler Australians that
everything from Britain, or the US, is, by definition, better than
anything we could do here. Phillips added a warning. The reaction to
cringing is likely to be the colonial strut. A national character with
no self-confidence will cope by boasting, which leads to Chauvinism.
Spurning the cringe and the strut, Phillips settled for a relaxed
upright stance. Anyone for slouch-ism?
The task of the nation-market-state is to
organise capital and to disorganise labour, which is what Howard has
been up to by spinning centralism as “aspirational nationalism”.
Centralism has never been a path to socialism, rather to etatism.
The class direction of centralism has
been to strengthen Empires, which is why the colonies federated (i.e.,
centralised) in 1900. Under the defence power, all authority flows to
the Commonwealth in time of war, that other means of retaining or
grasping markets. Equally,
States Rights has been a way to preserve certain interests for competing
fractions of capital at particular moments. The balance is slipping
towards centralism to match the globalisation required to propel the
expansion of capital. “Aspirational nationalism” is the companion to
Howard’s deployment of central powers in Work Choices to dismangle
To sell that destruction, Howard appeals
to a national unity which denies the gulf between those who own the
means of production and those who must sell their labour power to live.
If we are all in the same boat, the majority are chained to the oars.
One face of nationalism is
anti-imperialist and the other pro-national unity. The former recognises
a class divide at home which the latter deplores as an invention of
agitators to sever bonds to the Imperium. The distinction needs no
keener illustration than when the pro-conscription rump of the Labor
Party split away in 1916, and its members joined a new party, called the
National Party, and later the Nationalists. This self-branding seems
paradoxical. How could the King-and-Empire crowd call themselves
Nationalists? They were using national in the sense of a common
“national interest”. The Nationals opposed Irish working class
(those Pat-rioters) who had split the populace over conscription and
Many nationalists adopt that title for
our anti-imperialist stance, of what we are against globally, rather
than what we favour at home. I am a nationalist in as much as I want a
state strong enough to ward off corporate plunderers, now led from the
US of A. Meanwhile, I fear a state that is strong enough to repress
nationalist opposition to our overlords, domestic and foreign.
There are days when I muse about being an
A start towards an historical materialist
explication of modern nationalism will require integrating an analysis
of the nation-market-state in our era of monopolising capitals, [see
Lenin’s Imperialism (1916)]
with some account of the hominisation touched on above [see Marx’s
anthropology in The German