Have events overtaken 'Radical Nationalism'? asks TOM ACTON
THE EARLY NINETEEN-EIGHTIES saw the development in Britain of what was loosely termed 'Radical Nationalism', a tendency within Nationalism closely associated with the now-defunct magazine Nationalism Today, founded in March 1980. This was an attempt to broaden the ideological perspectives of Nationalism, so that a clear, nationalist stance could be taken on social and economic issues, as well as on areas of national and ethnic identity.
It was, not unreasonably, believed essential to the credibility of Nationalism that it should develop clear, consistent and attractive policies on a wide range of issues, if it were to become a serious political force in the years to come, given the political environment that Radical Nationalists expected to be living in, in the late Eighties and Nineties.
So what was this expected environment? At root it was based on the assumption that, in the global battle between International Capitalism and International Communism the latter would win. As recently as a decade ago this seemed an all too likely event. Globally the Soviet Union seemed on the advance; countries that went Communist stayed Communist, never the reverse. In Britain traditional industries were collapsing at an unprecedented rate, unemployment was soaring to well over three million, and with the worst riots in living memory regularly taking place in our inner-city streets the very fabric of society seemed to be tearing apart.
In consequence it was believed by Radical Nationalists that the real political battle they would have to face would be against the forces and creeds of the radical Left, for the hearts and minds of British workers, who - jobless and prospectless in a collapsing Capitalist society - would be looking for radical change.
Thus the attempt was made to justify Nationalism against a 'Left Challenge', by emphasising that the Left offered no real alternative to Capitalism, and that Nationalism offered the best future. To take for example the issue of the ownership and control of industry it was argued that, as the Soviet Union proved, Communism only offered rule by Party Bosses instead of Big Business Bosses.
The 'social contract' of Nationalism by contrast is based on the belief that one can only expect people to show loyalty and support to their nation if they have a real stake in that nation. Thus Nationalism seeks the widest possible ownership of property and of the means of production. The widespread ownership of industry, via co-operatives for example, would give British workers a real say their own future, a real stake in their industry and their country.
With the advantages of a decade's hindsight how does the 'Radical Nationalism' of the early Eighties stand up?
First, the goals of radical Nationalism are as valid as ever. Ten years on and it becomes increasingly clear just how great a threat is posed to the very identities of peoples and nations around the world, by the globally dominant creed of International Capitalism, which - in its blind searching for global profit maximisation - would sweep aside national independence, cultural and ethnic differences etc, as 'barriers to trade'. A real challenge to the existing order is more than ever needed.
But as far as the means and strategies of Radical nationalism are concerned a very different picture emerges. For, as everyone can see, the expected 'Left Challenge' did not materialise. On the contrary at no time in this century has Communism in its traditional forms seemed less likely to become the dominant force in the world.
This has had several important consequences for us. On a practical party-political level the old argument that 'in times of crisis an “extremist" image becomes an asset, not a liability' falls: it's probably wrong anyway, but it's certainly simply irrelevant - there has been no 'crisis', nor is there going to be one, in the immediate foreseeable future.
On the level of the ideological justification of nationalism as a serious political force the consequences are just a great. Concentrating on the left Challenge Radical Nationalists blandly ignored the obvious fact that the all the ideological running over the past decade has been from the 'Right': from market economics to libertarianism the ideas which have most influenced the political mainstream of late have come from the pro-Capitalist Right, not the Socialist left.
As result Radical Nationalism has been caught in a 'Singapore situation': during World War II the British forces in Singapore found the Japanese attacking them overland from the rear; their defensive guns were set up to face out to sea, to face a naval attack which never came. Similarly during the Eighties radical nationalists dissipated their energies preparing the case against the challenge from the left on social and economic issues, which never materialised.
The question now arises - are the goals and ideals of Radical Nationalism defensible against the challenge of the Right? Radical Nationalism showed that it could out-argue the Communist Left - can it do likewise against the Capitalist Right?
What follows does not pretend to be a comprehensive demolition of the international capitalist ethos; rather it should be considered as the introductory notes for a possible line of Nationalist argument against it. Others will, I hope, develop the case further.
Every British General Election since the War has been decided primarily on the issue of economic management; one could be forgiven for imagining that human progress can be wholly measured by just a few economic statistics – GNP/ inflation/ unemployment/ balance of payments etc.
I would suggest that since economic activity impacts heavily on a wide variety of other fields - social, ecological, maintenance, or otherwise, of national identity, etc, etc, no economic policy can be judged solely in terms of the economic gains it will provide: rather the effects on a whole gamut of issues must be taken into account.
To illustrate the point: the planned agricultural reforms of the late and unlamented Nicolai Ceaucescu involved the razing of hundreds of Romanian villages, and the destruction of thousands of small farms, to be replaced by huge, impersonal agro-industrial complexes. This was done in the name of economic efficiency and progress.
Personally I doubt very much whether the new agricultural production centres (one can hardly call them farms) would in fact have raised agricultural production. (For a rationale of why the family farm is always likely to outperform the collective see 'The Territorial Imperative' by Robert Ardrey.) But let us suppose that, for the sake of argument, the reverse was true. Suppose that the 7th Sibiu Agricultural Production Centre did indeed overfulfill its production quotas, play its part in the success of the 5 Year Plan etc, etc. Would this have justified the social and ecological damage caused?
The destruction, not just of individual homes but of whole villages; the destruction not just of much of Romania's architectural heritage, but of its folk heritage, bulldozed away with the small village communities that sustain it. I hope you agree that the answer would be no.
One should not, of course, carry things excessively in the other direction through a starry-eyed idealism. The collapse of Communism in the Eastern bloc came about primarily because the most talented and able members of society saw their counterparts in the West driving around in Mercedes, while they had to wait ten years to buy a square-wheeled Lada with built-in rust. The lesson of the Eastern Bloc is fairly simple - ideologically sound poverty holds little appeal for the vast mass of the populace.
In conclusion: what is needed is a sane and balanced approach, that views economic prosperity in perspective; something that is desirable, certainly, but not at any social, ecological, or other, cost.
I would suggest that, in recent decades, all the mainstream parties, pandering to the 'get rich quick' mentality of the consumer society, have erred in pursuing policies because of their (often illusory) short-term economic benefits. Take for example Norman Tebbit's 'on your bikes' speech, implying that society exists for the benefit of industry, rather than the other way around.
Specifically - 'Market economy' versus 'Private Enterprise' versus 'Capitalism' - terms that are often thought of as synonymous. I would suggest that not only is this an error, but one that leads to a lot of erroneous conclusions being drawn.
Suggested definitions:- Market economy - where entities can trade freely, without external control or intervention, buying & selling with whoever they wish, motivated to maximise their profits (however the term 'profit' be defined - see below) by selling for as much as they can, and buying for as little as they can, and in competition with other entities in the same line of business. This is regardless of the form of ownership of the enterprise concerned.
Private enterprise - in effect that which is not owned by the state, either nationally or municipally. Thus sole traders, partnerships, companies, limited or unlimited, private or public, plus co-operatives, friendly societies, associations would all qualify as examples of private enterprise.
Capitalism - one particular form of private enterprise where ownership and ultimate control lies with the shareholders of an enterprise, who need not, and generally do not, actually work in that enterprise.
That the above terms are not synonymous is fairly easily shown. Gorbachev has relaxed much of the centralised planning in the Soviet system, permitting state owned enterprises to buy/sell at the discretion of their managements: potentially their exists a possible socio-economic oddity: a state-owned market system, where the state, as owner, appoints the managers of an enterprise, then leaves these enterprises to trade freely in competition with one another. Conversely in wartime Britain, and again during the Wilson/Heath, era privately-owned industry was so hemmed in by restrictions and controls that the converse was effectively the case: industry was privately owned, but largely state controlled.
The distinctions between private enterprise as a whole, and capitalism as a particular version of it are fairly self-evident, so I won't labour the point, but it might be worth mentioning that much of the best performances in recent years has come from smaller firms, in which non-capitalistically owned enterprises are proportionately greater in number.
The significance of the above distinctions is this - no one doubts that capitalist, private-enterprise, market-orientated America left state-owned, centrally-planned, socialist Russia trailing in its wake, as far as the growth of economic muscle is concerned.
But why? Was it because of the market system? Could a state-owned market-orienated Soviet Union have kept pace with the US? Or was it because US industry is privately owned? Or because the 'commanding heights' of private enterprise were capitalistically owned? The Daily Torygraph naturally assumes the latter, but it is a rather glib assumption to make in the absence of actual hard evidence.
Personally I believe that Western economies outperformed those of the Soviet bloc because they were largely in the hands of private enterprise. Although I have mentioned the idea of a state-owned market system as being a theoretical possiblity I doubt if such a system could compete with private enterprise.
There is a fundamental difference between being the owner of an enterprise, and merely a paid manager, and the former is much more committed to that enterprise's success. Why this should be stems at root from the socio-biological development of man; it might however be noted that the 'ChesterBelloc' school of thought also lays stress on the human need for private property.
But if private enterprise is superior does it have to be dominated by its Capitalist form?
In my view it is wrong to credit specifically to Capitalism the successes which are generic to private enterprise as a whole.
In point one above I mentioned that economic success should not be the only criterion by which economic systems are judged. I hope to suggest that other forms of private enterprise might have similar economic success, but with less deleterious social consequences.
On the face of it a simple enough question to answer. Profit is the gain from a transaction, measurable in money terms. Entities trading in any market orientated system are assumed to base their decisions on a desire to maximise their profits, to get the maximum possible economic returns on their investments. And that return can be measured wholly in terms of money.
That would be the conventional answer, but I would suggest that it is, in many ways, inadequate. Not necessarily wrong, just inadequate.
To illustrate this point consider as an example the case of the smallest possible economic entity:- the individual selling his/her services for an economic return - a wage. What does an individual look for when seeking a job; certainly some monetary return in the form of that wage or salary, but is that all?
Academic studies into workplace motivation confirm what most people are aware of from personal experience: people seek a lot more from their work than just monetary gain, the largest possible pay packet. They also seek some sort of challenge, an inherently interesting job, the self-respect and the respect of their peer group that comes with doing a difficult job well, they seek a good working environment, pleasurable social contacts, in short some sense of fulfilment.
Thus when selling one's labour one does indeed try to maximise one's profit, but not according solely to the single criteria of monetary return; rather one seeks to maximise 'profit' in a much broader sense of personal fulfilment. Money profit is, if you like, only one component - albeit usually an important one - of what one might term human profit. What the factors are that determine that human profit will vary from person to person, according to time and circumstance.
So much for the case of the individual. To go to the other extreme consider the case of the large, capitalist, multi-national concern. What motivates it? What is its definition of 'profit'? The answer is, that profit is judged, almost entirely, in monetary terms.
The local management is judged by national management predominantly according to money criteria, likewise is the national management judged by the global management, who in turn are judged by the shareholders, (often the hard-headed managers employed by institutional investors, who are judged by their superiors etc, etc,) according to monetary criteria - the profits, the dividends, and the share price prospects.
This capitalist multinational is made up of many thousands of individual people each of whom, like the other members of the societies in which it operates, judge their activities on the 'human profit' basis outlined above; yet its overall collective actions are determined by the inadequately narrow criteria of money profit.
Why should this be so? Essentially because of the ownership structure of industry under capitalism. The owners, the shareholders, need not - and usually do not - actually work in the firm concerned. The industrial equivalent of the absentee landlord they can inevitably only judge the success or otherwise of the businesses they own by one criteria - the money that they generate. The large scale and world-wide functioning of the larger capitalist concerns only exacerbates this tendency.
Capitalism in short is the victim of an odd paradox - in seeking to maximise profits in the narrowly financial sense it falls far short in broadest, most meaningful sense of the term. America epitomises this failing of capitalism - supremely successful at generating material wealth, it is nonetheless a violent, unsatisfied society, one that 'knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.
And this is why, I believe, traditional 'Radical Nationalism' can make a constructive contribution to the economic debate.
For a very good case can be made for arguing that Nationalist forms of private enterprise are likely to be far better than the Capitalist one in the creation of real profit - the 'human profit' as defined above.
The essence of Nationalist thinking on industrial ownership is that, to as great a degree as is feasible, the ownership and control of an enterprise should not be divorced from those who work in it. Also there should be the widest possible distribution of the ownership of industry throughout society.
This would be done, where possible, by the encouragement of small traders, family firms and partnerships, and where economies of scale demand larger entities, by the creation of employee co-operatively-owned enterprises. And, as an interim measure towards co-operatism, where firms remain capitalistically owned there would be strong tax incentives for employees to buy shares in the firm they work in.
Inevitably the whole criteria of success in industry would be subtly but powerfully changed.
Certainly there would be a need to make a financial profit - wages still need to be paid in a worker's co-op. But the intellectual, emotional and social - as well as the financial - needs of those who work in an organisation are a lot more likely to be met, since those workers will have a say in the decision making of that organisation.
In issue 26 of Vanguard the difference between a Capitalist and a Nationalist market economy was examined.
The point was made then, and deserves to be made again, that the profit motive, in a system of widely distributed ownership by the employees of industry, is a lot more likely to run in harmony with the social, ethnic, ecological, etc goals of Nationalism than is the case under Capitalist ownership.
To take an example cited in that issue: in the Sixties Asians were encouraged to come to many towns in the North of England by textile firms who found it more profitable financially to import Asian labour than to pay British workers a decent wage. If those firms had been co-operatively owned by their employees would they have made the same decision?
The capitalist shareholders and managers did not have to consider the deleterious social effect on the local community of Asian immigration, because largely they were not affected by it.
But it is inevitable and innate that the ethnic and social effects of immigration would have been given greater consideration, under a co-operative system, because those who made the ultimate decisions - the workforce - were a part of the wider local community that was affected.
There is of cousre no absolute guarantee that a co-operatively owned textile industry in the Sixties would not also have encouraged immigration - no system is proof against human greed and folly - but it surely true that it would have been a lot less likely.
IN CONCLUSION: It would take a large book to properly argue the Radical Nationalist case against Capitalism but even in this short article a few points have emerged:
ONE - the industrial system favoured by Radical Nationalists is, like Capitalism a system of private enterprise, the dynamic of which is the profit motive.
TWO - Unlike Capitalism however there is a much broader definition of what the term 'profit' means. There is a deeper understanding of human needs, a realisation that our needs and wishes cannot be met by monetary profit alone.
THREE - Our system of industrial ownership is innately more efficient than Capitaism in meeting human needs - because the decision making process is more broadly disseminated among those who are directly affected.
FOUR - The profit motive under a co-operative market system is less likely to be in conflict with the overall political and social aims of Nationalism, than the profit motive under Capitalism (For a fuller exposition of this see Vanguard Issue 26 again). Consequently, since the inherent dynamic of the system is healthier, there is less need of state interference.