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Nationalism and how to fight it.

Friday 16 November 2018, by mond


Looking at the political landscape now we see a trend towards nationalism and right-wing extremism: US, Hungary, Brazil, Austria, Italy, Brexit, ...

But why? Here are a few thoughts of what could be reasons behind it:

1.) The conspiracy.

I am no fan of conspiracy theories and I think we should always search for other causes first but I think there is a motivation for global corporations to promote nationalism: As long as there is free trade and free movement of capital, they will fight political unification (like the EU) that could impose social and environmental rules on them. As long as nations are small and fighting each other they are the kings of the world.

Especially with the global internet and new social media that allows people to be in contact with others around the globe, they will see it is a real danger that nations are seen morerelict and more as a relict of the past and thus they started a campaign to promote nationalism.

Now even without a grand conspiracy it is clear that capital has a direct motivation to keep global politics in check. To some degree also be seen as a conflict between the old capitalism (fossil fuels, "defense", ..) and the new IT giants: Google, Facebook. I listened to a discussion of Tucker Carlson (Right wing Fox News) vs. Cenk Uygur (liberal left TYT). And it was really interesting to hear how Carlson was so afraid of the power of Google. If you think of the classical argument that the scared petty bourgeoisie is behind fascism then the "petty" here would include some pretty big old giants.

Old media is scared of youtube, facebook, netflix, .. old car is scared of tesla, old banking scared of apple, google and bitcoin, old IT scared of cloud, old retail scared of amazon.

2.) Wars due to Overproduction.

With the extremely high productivity today capitalism needs to create artificial demand. We see this when looking at advertising, planned obsolescence, so called "intellectual property", etc. But the most "efficient" way to create new demand is with war. It works in three: First you sell the weapons and then you need to rebuild what has been destroyed and as a "bonus" it literally kills excess workforce.

War is the "best" method to keep up capitalism fundamental needs: the potential for unlimited growth. As long as you destroy enough you can sell enough replacement.

“Once weapons were manufactured to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured to sell weapons.” — Arundhati Roy

So some of the right-wing and nationalism might be manufactured to promote war and sell weapons.

Yes, I know. This one sounds like a conspiracy as well. But how else would you e.g. classify campaign contributions to known war hawks?

3.) Uncertainty in a changing world.

The social and technological changes of the last decades and the aggressive neo-liberal capitalism have create a climate where people are afraid of the future. The instinct is to wish back the world as it was before. Off shoring of jobs plays a big role here. In Europe we also have the issue that this coincides with tighter European integration. So people see the European integration as cause of their problems and not a as a way to solve them.

4.) Abuse of International Politics for Policy Laundering.

Negotiation of international treaties are usually not used to limit the damaged that corporations can do and force them to adhere to environmental and labor standards but rather to make things worse. The lack of transparency in the negotiations makes it easy for rouge players to sneak in legislation that is so bad that they would get it through at home. Afterwards it can be claimed that this was a "compromise" that one hat to accept and that the bad parts where suggested by the other side. As most countries have corrupt governments that are only advancing the goals of their corporate "sponsors", enough rouge players can be found. Where things where bad within the WTO process, it got worse with the multilateral treaties we are seeing now.

To some degree this is also true for legislation done by the EU - as the legislative process is way to complicated and thus allows for "Policy Laundering" as well.

Thus people do not believe in international politics as a means to make things better, while in order to make things better we would have to go to more international politics. E.g. giving more power to the EU-Parliament instead of council or commission.

5.) The "imperial live-style".

Related to Point 3: I think one of the main drivers behind racism and rejection of migrants is the believe that: Once borders are open, it will lead to an adjustment of everyones lifestyle towards an average. Seeing the pictures of poverty in other parts of the worlds, people are afraid of this and also have a kind of "bad conscience" for being comparable wealthy still. At least this is something that one can often read online when the discussion is about taking in refugees.

So it seems obvious that the ruling class has managed to draw people on their side by persuading them that how poor they might be, they still have a lot to loose and that the nation is a somewhat save place that needs to be defended. If we are back to the "scared petty bourgeoisie" argument then here it includes the poorest of the poor.

Now what people do not understand is that economy is not a zero-sum-game. they do not understand the inefficiency of modern capitalism - that it has to produce artificial scarcity. So that we could all be better off if we give up unnecessary industries like advertising, war and "financial services", if we focus produce lasting products instead of planed obsolescence etc.. if we cut down our working hours by half, if we go for a basic income instead of putting crappy in the shelf, the world CAN sustain a good life for all. Yes: when you only work half the time you do now you would have time to commute by train or by bicycle but you would save on costs for the gym, etc..

In all the movement towards racism and nationalism, the most frustrating and worrying part is that the "left" is to some degree also moving in the direction of racism and nationalism. Take Sarah Wagenknecht in Germany, Pilz in Austria. Attac here (in Austria) has found out that they are now "anti-EU". Within the European Left a lot of parties have turned "euro-skeptic", etc, Of course, Social Democrats have always been open to racism and nationalism when they think it helps then win back lost voters. Corbyns shameful indifference in the Brexit debate is also a disgrace. DiEM25 was a silver lining on the horizon. Ironically, here in Austria it has been hijacked by some right-wing Pilz weirdos.

So what to do?

Some argue that in times like these it needs some left-wing unity where we put differences aside and fight against fascism. While the argument looks compelling at first glance: When "putting differences" aside, means that we go to the least common denominator then we are in a position where we can not articulate our answers at all. Because what divides the left is not so much a difference in what we do not like about the status-quo: it is more about the difference in where we want to go and how we want to go there.

I found the "Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work" by Williams and Srnicek helpful. What they say and what I share is: We do not to develop a utopian vision about a positive future. We need to develop new universalities of humanism and a world without borders, etc.

Most important is still the fight for a universal basic income (UBI), as it tackles quite a few points above: It would, to some degree create a feeling of security which is important to win back the scared, it would help with overproduction: When there is less labor-time while at the same time the masses have some purchasing power it makes sense for companies to focus their production more on useful things then on creating artificial scarcity and thus would also reduce the risk of war. And the fight for a UBI can focus public attention on the way we produce, the artificial inefficiency and and the fact that we could live in a world of abundance. Which all sounds like a long way to go. OTOH: once we see mass layoffs due to automation in some sectors the idea could gain wide spread popularity rather fast. Also: Once people start to question the usefulness of their dull job they work in....

Franz Schäfer, November 2018.

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