Socialist Worker

Not flying the flag for England in the World Cup

Issue No. 2206

Many ordinary people have bedecked their houses, cars and bodies in the flag of St George to show their support for England in the World Cup.

And millions of people will enjoy the World Cup as a chance to escape from the usual routine of life.

But the media’s image of a united nation is a long way from reality.

Many people simply don’t care about the event. For others, the sudden explosion of the England flag on cars, houses and in pubs is intimidating – because of the history of violence and racism associated with it.

But the patriotism that sporting events encourage is useful for some people.

Our rulers encourage nationalism in sport to foster a sense of national unity. They created international sporting competitions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to do just this.

They want us to compete with people from other countries – and feel superior to them because of where we were born. They want us to ignore the main division in society – which is class.

Nationalism creates a fake “community” which can have a particularly strong appeal when the world is in crisis.

For ordinary people, this “community” feeling can be comforting and this partly explains why some accept nationalist ideas.

But just because David Cameron is flying the England flag over his home, it doesn’t mean that he has anything in common with the worker who is doing the same.

Cameron, and his Tory and Lib Dem chums, claim that “we’re all in it together” while destroying jobs and handing more money to the rich.


Their actions show that, for them, class comes before nation. When their power and profits are threatened they demand that workers make sacrifices in the interests of the nation – which really means the interests of the rich.

These sacrifices can be accepting cuts or fighting and dying for queen and country in a war.

The right wing press has even tried to link the World Cup to the war in Afghanistan to bolster the unpopular occupation. The Sun newspaper’s front page headline last Friday read, “Fabio Capello’s Khaki Army”, referring to British troops in Afghanistan.

And nationalism can encourage foul forces such as the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP), which will try and use it to win support for their racist offensive against Muslims.

The idea that there is an “English” identity means that there are also “un-English” ones. It gives confidence to racists who want to exclude black people, Muslims and immigrants and argue that they don’t “belong” in England.

Despite all this, some believe that there is something progressive about the way that the symbols of English nationalism are no longer the exclusive preserve of racists and the right wing.

The Umbro World Cup advert plays on this by showing people of different races and religions singing the English national anthem.

There are those on the left who think we can reclaim the idea of Englishness.

They believe that our real English tradition is one of ordinary people struggling for their rights.

But these workers’ fightbacks are part of a rich global heritage, not specifically English.

We cannot defeat the jingoism of the Tories and the bigots by counterposing a more multicultural nationalism to it.

Ordinary people may live in the same country as the rich, but we do not have the same interests.

A white English born worker has more in common with a Pole or Nigerian who works in London or Sheffield as a bus driver, than with a rich businessman who happens to have been born in the same country.

The struggles of the ruled against their rulers take place across the world.

Much of the flag waving of the next few weeks will not have a fundamental impact.

Many people who support England will reject the racism of the EDL and the BNP and join protests against them.

But nationalism has an insidious effect. Most workers would laugh at the idea that it is unpatriotic to strike when we should all be uniting behind the national team.

However, the Unite union said it would not call any strikes at British Airways during the World Cup so as not to disrupt fans’ flights.

Nationalism, however it is dressed up, draws us closer to our rulers and divides us from other workers.

It also feeds into the drive to blame migrants – rather than the rich – for the lack of housing, jobs and services.

Socialists reject the false divisions created by those at the top of society.

It will take a fight by workers of all backgrounds to defeat our rulers, who pretend that they are on our team while they kick us.

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Article information

Tue 15 Jun 2010, 18:43 BST
Issue No. 2206
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