NATIONALISM - Materialism and Nationalism

Materialism and Nationalism

Changing places: nations and nationalism

a research program in materialist dialectics for political interventions.

 Re-conceptualising nation and nationalism requires the reclamation of materialism and dialectics from the Philosophical Idealisms that have attached themselves to Marxism. Twin features of dialectical reasoning are pertinent: all social formations are transitory, that is, historical, while our analysis of them becomes concrete only when each is understood in the context of the others.

The paper offers three sources from which to reorient explorations. The first is the anthropology of The German Ideology (1845-7). The second is the critique of political economy in the four volumes of Capital. The third can be extracted from Engels’s account of German unification in The Role of Force in History.

Anthropology: Marx and Engels saw that our species has ‘an historical nature and a natural history’. Through the ‘sensuous human activity’ of social labour and its divisions, we remake ourselves as a species and as individuals, acquiring language and habits, while transforming our cultural and physical environs. Hominisation, socialisation and individuation inscribe a need which does not have a name. The dispossession that imposed ‘free labour’ and the estrangements that followed its divisions ruptured the communal and topographical attachments prevalent before the subordination of social relations to the force of the market. Marx’s appreciation that religion is ‘the heart of a heartless world’ helps to account for the appeal of nationalism as a civic religion.

Political Economy: The nation-market-state emerged during the late 18th century to sustain the scope and scale of capitals as they became self-expanding. The continuous extension of the money equivalent for universal labour-times depends on nation-market-states and imperiums. Their transformations around the centralisation and concentration of capital has therefore reached beyond even the level of accumulation attained in the monopolising stage sketched by Lenin in Imperialism.

Force: State agents attempt to do for the expansion of social/aggregate capital what the managers of individual capitals cannot achieve through corporations, for instance, in regulating markets at home, and securing them abroad by force. Recognising the state as a weapon in both class struggles and the competitions between capitals is crucial when analysing the nation-market-state.           

Just as A New Britannia responded to Vietnam, this attempt to clarify nation and nationalism comes in reaction to perpetual wars and the alarms over refugees, Islam and China. A dialectically materialist investigation should specify how the Left’s moralising dismissal of the need to which nationalism is one reaction levers people towards the Hansonites. The presentation concludes with how to respond to the Gallipoli centenary.