There has been much discussion surrounding Rebecca Long Bailey’s call for “progressive patriotism” in a recent Guardian column, with many rejecting the suggestion as “Blue Labour” inspired and even “unsocialist”. Yet both these responses couldn’t be further from the truth. Socialist (not progressive) patriotism is not only central and inseparable from socialism itself, but it will be absolutely essential to the fight that lays ahead throughout the coming decade.
The trepidation from many is undoubtedly coming from the recognition that the current status of “patriotism” is the almost unique preserve of far-right nationalism. What patriotism is and what patriotism can be has been defined by the far-right for so long that the image of racist thugs, hooligans and the forces of imperialism and colonialism are hard to separate from the term.
This monopolisation of patriotism has allowed the far-right to solely define the word and what it means in the national consciousness. It has allowed them to weaponise instinctive and base nationalism for their own ends, manipulating tribal politics and gaining huge ground amongst communities where nationalism plays a heavy part.
The conflation of patriotism and nationalism must be broken.
Nationalism is the tool of the elite, of men such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. This nationalism is wielded as a weapon against the left, a tool to rile up reactionaries as the foot soldiers in the eternal struggle against socialism. These reactionaries, devoid of class consciousness, are the useful tool of the elite, their influence never more apparent than the last general election.
While this reactionary class were never Labour to begin with, the belief that the party lacks patriotism has been allowed to spread unchallenged through the superior working class.
Frightened of encouraging nationalism, imperialism and racism, the left has been shut out of the conversation, leaving a far-right patriotic vacuum.
What Labour must now do is engage in a whole program of national redefinition, including redefining the meaning of patriotism, pulling the so-called Overton window back from the far-right. This will be an immense task and one that is difficult and treacherous ground, but essential to the fight against the far-right that will define the 2020s.
If you take the flag away from the far-right, what do they have left to offer?
A socialist patriotism should focus on the potential for national greatness through socialism but must never whitewash Britain’s colonial past, nor ever demand loyalty or conversion.
Walking the path and not straying into dangerous nationalism is difficult, but this new patriotism must emphasise a future greatness that is not based on military might, the extension of imperial power or age-old notions of national or racial supremacy, but a greatness defined by human rights, tolerance and equality, redefining Britain’s place and role on the international stage.
Is it not patriotic, for example, for Britain to strike an independent foreign policy away from the influence of the United States, NATO and Israel?
Is it not patriotic to keep Britain’s armed forces away from illegal wars for oil and foreign hegemony?
Is it not patriotic for Britain, as a state, to fund state infrastructure such as the NHS, British Rail and utilities so that the people might be elevated and cared for? To advocate for British industry and workers?
Is it not patriotic to once again take a leading role in the international fight against fascism?
And, is it not patriotic to force American multinationals to actually pay their taxes and stop exploiting British workers?
It is a mistake to believe that patriotism is not socialist, in fact, almost all successful socialist movements are patriotic movements and can never be anything else. Socialism is the will of the people, by the people, for the people. As the government of the people, how can socialism ever not be patriotic?
This redefinition of patriotism will allow Labour to attack the far-right at their very heart, presenting an opportunity to snatch the flag from the hands of the fascists and place it in our own. This disarming of the far-right deprives them of one of their only weapons in their ideological arsenal and redefines them and their hateful ideology as the enemies of the patriotic state, not socialists.
Patriotism is at the very core of the Bolivarian socialism of Venezuela, it was central to the Cuba of Castro, it was to the Soviet Union, it is to China, and it will be to a Bernie Sanders led United States.
Lenin himself recognised the need for socialist patriotism and that the struggle against capitalism was a patriotic one.
“We love our language and our country, and we are doing our very utmost to raise her toiling masses to the level of a democratic and socialist consciousness. To us it is most painful to see and feel the outrages, the oppression and the humiliation our fair country suffers at the hands of the tsar’s butchers, the nobles and the capitalists.”Vladimir Lenin
This redefinition of patriotism saw capitalism and the elites portrayed in their true light, as the enemies of the people.
Lenin also recognised that patriotism was not the same as nationalism and that an ethical foreign policy based on human rights and tolerance was at the centre of socialist patriotism. He also recognised that patriotism could go hand-in-hand with international socialism and solidarity.
“Full of a sense of national pride, we Great-Russian workers want, come what may, a free and independent, a democratic, republican and proud Great Russia, one that will base its relations with its neighbours on the human principle of equality, and not on the feudalist principle of privilege, which is so degrading to a great nation.”Vladimir Lenin
A call for socialist patriotism is nothing to be concerned about, in fact, it should be highly encouraged so long as the distinction between socialist patriotism and Blue Labour/Centrist nationalism are made clear. Our patriotism is not about race, religion, imperialism, supremacy or colonialism, it is about unity, solidarity, strength, respect and independence. It is about a better tomorrow for Britain.