Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Return of Left Nationalism/Internationalism

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Return of Left Nationalism/Internationalism

Article excerpt

Gordon Laxer [*]

Before France pulled out of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), thus killing the deal, it issued the Lalumiere Report. The report argued that the MAI "marks a step in international economic negotiations. For the first time, we are witnessing the emergence of a 'global civil society' represented by non-government organizations, which are often active in several countries and communicate across borders. This is no doubt an irreversible change." After making this bold claim, the report does a volte-face and argues that the main basis for civil society's objections to globalization is the threat to national sovereignty. [1] Paul Hawken, writing about the World Trade Organization (WTO) battle in Seattle sixteen months later, makes a similar point:

Those who marched and protested opposed the tyrannies of globalization, uniformity, and corporatization, but they did not necessarily oppose internationalization of trade.... Globalization refers to a world in which capital and goods move at will without the rule of individual nations.... Nations do provide, where democracies prevail, a means for people to set their own policy.... Globalization supplants the nation, the state, the region, and the village. While eliminating nationalism is indeed a good idea, the elimination of sovereignty is not. [2]

If we combine the French formulation and the Hawken formulation, then the aim of global civil society is to defend national sovereignty without nationalist attachments. These are apparently contradictory propositions. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that they are, rather, convoluted attempts to avoid the "nationalist" label, because of its unfortunate association with racism. Many left-wing intellectuals call for popular sovereignty and social solidarity (that others would call nationalism/international ism) while at the same time condemning all forms of nationalism. Look at the lengths Chantal Mouffe goes to avoid labeling her radical democracy strategy "civic nationalism":

While it is important to defend the widest possible pluralism in many areas--culture, religion, morality--we must also accept that our participation as citizens in the political association can not be located on the same level as our other insertions in social relations. To recover citizenship as a strong form of political identification presupposes our allegiance to the principles of modern democracy and the commitment to defend its key institutions. Antagonistic principles of legitimacy cannot coexist within one single political association; to accept pluralism at that level automatically entails the [disappearance] of the state as a political reality. [3]

Identification; allegiance; the state; the indivisibility of political association: such terms come out of the French Revolution, the first popular expression of civic nationalism. But instead of paying her debts to this tradition, Mouffe writes a paragraph to avoid the nationalist label. For much of the Left today, positive nationalism is a term that dare not speak its name.

In the past fifteen years, there has been a flowering of literature on rethinking nations and nationalisms. In philosophy, a de bate has opened on the compatibility between liberal (or social liberal) nationalism and cosmopolitanism. [4] But there has been little exploration from a historical perspective of the antiglobalism potential of left nationalism. The sorts of nationalisms I am referring to involve attachments to and support for the (relative) sovereignty of the political community to which one belongs. Since nationalisms get most of their content through the associations they keep, [5] Left nationalisms are those that seek deep democratic transformation of global corporate capitalism through their conjunctions with anticolonial, socialist, feminist, ecological, or antiracist movements. Primarily they work at the level of the nation, the state, and through international solidarity ties with similar movements abroad for national and popular sovereignty. …

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