This is what nationalism looks like

If you ever wondered what nationalism looks like then you’ll find the answer in this week’s Bogside bonfire and in the mirror image bonfires built by loyalists.

As a political philosophy, nationalism – British and Irish – is inward looking, narrow, unimaginative and toxic.

No matter the protests from the people who embrace it, no matter the claims that their nationalism is a legitimate expression and nothing to do with the annual displays of raw tribalism.

Many nationalists may feel uncomfortable about these displays, they may even distance themselves for them, but events like these are the outworking and public display of nationalism’s core philosophy.

Nationalism, Irish or British, is not only a backward political philosophy: it is a toxic one. It seeks to divide and exploit difference. It blames others and otherness. It is a political cancer that deliberately subverts progressive politics and invariably is home to the worst examples of native gombeen men and women. At its worst it can become a hate fest.

If bonfire builders anywhere in Northern Ireland want to channel their energies towards building a different and better society, and that’s a very big ‘If’, then they should commit themselves to the struggle to defend public services, fund education, secure the NHS, champion the rights of women, eradicate sectarianism, racism, homophobia and misogyny, stand up for worker’s rights, oppose zero hours contracts or campaign for a real living wage.

Obviously, they find compounding and sustaining community division much more to their taste.

‘Nationalism – a political poison’ warning

Theobald Wolfe Tone

The Party’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, held this year under current Covid guidelines, was addressed by Workers Party and Central Executive Committee member Gerry Lynch (Dublin).

Highlighting the toxicity of all forms of nationalism and the damage it can cause to class based politics. Gerry said,

“Nationalism – both British and Irish – is a political poison that stands in the way of uniting Irish workers, just as it divides workers across the globe. It is something that we must strive at every turn to combat, and we must never give an inch in our struggle against it.

We have seen time and again where that path leads. For us the lessons of Tone and the United Irishmen lies in internationalism and social progress”. 

Read the Wolfe Tone commemoration speech in full:

Read more about Wolfe Tone:

Bad moon rising?

The warning signs are already clear, the well-rehearsed arguments are converging and the battle lines have been drawn. We are facing a very difficult, and potentially very dangerous 12 month period.

Politics in Northern Ireland are dominated and divided by nationalism: pro-British and pro-Irish versions: both are toxic and both are destructive

In recent days we have seen protocols, polls and policing, used to fuel claim and counter claim, building on existing division and further polarising and dividing the community.

The pro-British nationalism of the DUP, and others, using ill thought out, but confrontational, strategies to hype up the threat to the union, and the appalling, unapologetic arrogance and contempt of Sinn Fein, have set the ground rules for the coming months and for the run in to next year’s Assembly elections.

We are now beginning to see the outworking of those strategies taking shape in the form of  riots and street violence. The fear must be that worse is yet to come.

In the face of the basest forms of tribal politics, and the potential threat they pose, the need for a united, coherent and focussed working class response has never been more urgent.

In a little over twelve months’ time there will be an Assembly election. Much of the recent tribalism, political posturing and grandstanding is aimed at laying the groundwork for that election campaign. When that spills over into the streets in the form of riots, disturbances and attacks, as we are already witnessing, it will not be by accident but by deliberate design.

The nationalism of the DUP, Sinn Fein and others demands that the tribal stakes are constantly raised and raised again. If that means some teenagers and young people from working class communities end up in prison, injured or worse then so be it. Of course, both parties will be the first to condemn the violence, the bloodshed and the community strife, while in the same breath calculating how much they had gained from it and how much further they need to go.

The only response to this deadly and downward nationalist spiral is the collective voice and action of a united working class, committed to and focused on a political and social agenda which will drive a progressive wedge into the heart of political life here.

That measure must involve trade unionists, working people, progressive and anti-sectarian elements, principled parties of the left and, importantly, forward thinking members of the media and other professions. It is not too late to openly reject the politics and consequences of nationalism. Nor is it too late to call them out. However, the day for howling at the moon has long gone.