Why is left nationalism so normal? (archive 2012)

I have been studying the history of the Maoism and Stalinism for a while, even when I was on the right, and I have to admit the lines between center kinds of communitarian right-wing thought which very much resemble national forms of rightism. Jonah Goldberg has tried to argue on many occasions that fascism is a left-wing development, but really, the real issue is that nationalist thought is a extension of tribalist thought.  This thought is common on left (national Maoism in China and India), post-left (tribalism of the primitivist), conservative, and in third-position or radical right thought.  Only internationalism and liberalism have fought this tendency, but for entirely different reasons and in entirely different ways.  Furthermore, only liberalism, for which the nation is only a weapon for a development of production at this point, has truly been successful.

But liberalism and internationalism have both been progressive in some sense, but regressive in main in all places outside of Euro-North American developments. Nationalism, as understood in the 19th century sense, is the idea of a common people with a history, language, and culture–this has often been thought of a proxy to some genetic race, but not always traditionally. Internationalism was conceived as a way for various cultures to interact, not as a way for various nation-states to interact.  This is crucial, and often forgotten due to both the history of fascist Nationalism, modern populist nationalism, and socialism within the nation.  But if liberalism was encountered by most of the world, particularly the South Asian and Middle Eastern world, as a exploitative and colonial force, then nationalism stands to reason as a response to a destructive force accumulating and centralizing wealth.

Furthermore, for all the talk of species-being in early Marxism, what species-being actually is: unalienated social relationships happen in integrated (integral) communities, even in “late communist” society. Looking at the history of Korean anarchism,  it had both a tribal and ethnocentric point of view. But also South Koreans tell you that the homogeniety and in-group collectiveness leads to a future-oriented social goal and a relatively stable society.  While Korean capitalism can be ruthless, it’s streets are clean.  Crime, in Korea, happens between owners and employees they don’t like or consumers they don’t know, not between social strangers?  Why?

The same is true for the North European societies considered paragons of social democracy, they are homogeneous societies   Now, the most homogenous nation on Earth is north Korea, and I would want to avoid that fate, but there if look at the history of non-Euro-American societies, in-group selectivity seems like a key to their success or perhaps it is a result of social equity. It’s hard to sort out causation, but the correlation is real.  So the question becomes “what constitute” a community?  The Korean idea of pure Korean blood is a myth imported by the Japanese just like Confucianism, something so key to Korean identity, is a Chinese import of less than a 1000 year history here.  But these the binding Korean culture together is a cultural myth.  In an area of globalized business, this can be savagely exploitative and is so.  But ask a Korean anarchist, and they will defend an idea of an integrated community.  In fact, most of Koreans, left and right would, except for the neo-liberal element within the society.

For those of us on the left, this leads us to a question:  Why have do we still have no real answer to the national problem? Furthermore, it seems clear, that as a nation, Korea cannot resist liberal modernity, and in many ways, most Koreans don’t entirely want to, so this soft nationalism may be a non-starter regardless, but if we cannot solve the contradictions of the national problem?  (Note, I am not speaking of the nation-state) Is this because we cannot define positively what a community beyond the dialectical opposition of socialism and capitalism would look like? Is this because we don’t truly understand what the “real” (the structure) of communities are outside of our notions of hegemony and the economic base?  For all the Hegelian understanding of history, we forget that all of history not just class history matters here.

I suggest we learn from all the nationalisms of the past.   We may know things about capitalist totalities that they do not know or are unwilling to accept, but they understand things about integrated societies that we have forgotten.

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