Socialist Worker

‘Britishness’ is a sham that only serves the ruling class

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2475

David Cameron has said that Jeremy Corbyn has a “Britain-hating ideology”. He meant that Corbyn disagrees with him on the need to wage bloody wars.

It’s an example of the kind of pressure that’s put on people to accept nationalist ideas.

For Cameron, Corbyn’s opposition to war is “Britain-hating” because it puts “Britain’s” security at risk. But our rulers don’t wage wars to protect us—they do it for their own interests.

What Cameron is really riled about is that Corbyn is a high profile figure who doesn’t always support ruling class priorities.

Our rulers say their interests are “Britain’s” interests because they want to mask the class divide. They want British workers to feel they have a stake in a country that treats them like dirt.

They want us to identify with them because they are British—rather than identify with workers across the world who share our class interests. They encourage racist stereotypes about “Britishness” and Britain’s “superiority” to divide and weaken the working class.

But the truth is there isn’t a national interest in Britain. The interests of bosses and workers are diametrically opposed—when one gains the other loses out.

And there aren’t any “British values” or traits that represent “Britishness” either. At its worst the idea that people have similar values or traits because of where they are born is simply racism. 

The lives and values of our rulers are miles away from those of most ordinary people. So they sometimes have to dress them up to sound more progressive.

They talk of “tolerance” while clamping down on Muslims, and they talk of “fair play” while increasing inequality. They talk up the importance of family life while ramming through attacks and cuts that tear families apart.

Freedom 

They drone on about protecting “freedom” while they rain bombs on civilians or intervene to overthrow elected governments.

Britain is not a progressive, civilised country. Its history is overflowing with imperialist war, torture, occupation and bloody repression at home. There is nothing to be proud of in being British.

But our rulers treat anyone challenging their values as treasonous. So there is enormous pressure to accept nationalist ideas.

That’s why some Muslims feel they have to say how proud they are to be British and fly the union jack.

It’s partly why Corbyn declared, “I love this country” in his conference speech after he was attacked for not singing the national anthem.

And some people, understandably sick of right wingers talking about “British values”, have tried to reclaim the idea by counter-posing alternatives.

They point to inspiring working class or anti-racist struggles in Britain’s history.

Corbyn claimed that “solidarity” was a British value and a Labour value in his conference speech.

But solidarity isn’t a British value. There’s nothing British about resisting the bosses or standing up to racism. It’s what workers do across the world.

When the National Gallery workers’ recent strike won important gains it was partly thanks to solidarity from other workers across Britain—and outside it too. Workers at famous French museums such as the Louvre rallied in their support.

We shouldn’t take any pride in where we happened to be born or grow up.

We should take pride in being part of a class that can transform the world—and get rid of borders and nationalist divisions for good.


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