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Sahra Wagenknecht's Left populism
In a new book the popular German socialist offers trenchant analysis of the contemporary Left's parlous predicament.
Why is the contemporary Left is so critical of any form of nationalism? The term has become an epithet: there is nothing good about nationalism nor any can any good come from it. The rationale seems be the following:
Rightwing demagogues say nasty things about immigrants
They are therefore White Supremacists and xenophobes
If you question immigration, you are ipso facto a xenophobe
In the 20th Century Nazis and fascists made appeals to national culture and identity
Only White nationalists and xenophobes make appeals to national culture and identity
If you make appeals to national culture and identity, you are likewise an ethnocentric xenophobe. You are a fascist!
Hence the politically correct posture is to virtue signal by conflating any form of nationalism with fascism, by disparaging the modern nation-state — and by definition national borders — and by declaring: Open Borders! Everyone is Welcome!
Not only is this “logic” painfully reductionist and self-destructive, it is ahistorical; the anti-colonial movements in the Global South in the twentieth century specifically framed their aspirations in terms of national sovereignty, and this did not lead systematically to genocide. The idea that nationalism = Auschwitz is beyond sophomoric.
The German politician Sahra Wagenknecht, former leader of Die Linke, has written a new book, and the wonderful Italian-American political economist Thomas Frazi has published a review of the German edition, in which it was refreshing to read this:
To reverse this decline, Wagenknecht makes the case for what she calls “left conservatism”: a left that returns to its original mission of improving the lives of the working and middle classes but also understands that doing so means rejecting globalism—turning, instead, to the democratic nation-state as the only terrain on which it is possible to collectively challenge capitalism. Such a left appreciates that states should take care of the well-being of their own citizens, especially the most underprivileged, before they can for newcomers from far-flung places. Such a left, finally, recognizes people’s need for “recognition, belonging, and community.”
As Diana Johnstone explained back in 2018, the issue of immigration and national identity has generated a major rift in Germany:
Immigration Divides Europe and the German Left
A battle between regulated immigration and a utopian vision in line with international finance is splitting the German Left Party, giving an opening to the right.
A good part of the European left, whatever its dissatisfaction with EU performance, is impregnated with its free movement ideology, and has interiorized “open borders” as a European “value” that must be defended at all costs. It is forgotten that EU “freedom of movement” was not intended to apply to migrants from outside the Union. It meant freedom to move from one EU state to another. As an internationally recognized human right, freedom of movement refers solely to the right of a citizen to leave and return to her own country.
As Johnstone alludes to in this piece, the “lifestyle Left” that idealistically embraces this fervent anti-nationalism is — deliberately or not — serving the interests of globalists for whom the one remaining significant obstacle to achieving their technocratic utopia is the modern nation-state, with its pesky cultural anomalies and annoying adherence to democratic norms and processes. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that immigration is used in Europe to undermine national identity. Mass immigration is certainly a very effective way of destroying popular support for the modern social welfare state.
Although Thomas Frazi doesn’t use the term in his review, the ideas of Sahra Wagenknecht can also be called Left populism. Left populism has had in recent years, whatever shortcomings they may have had, two very strong proponents in the form of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Both were ruthlessly crushed by their respective political establishments. With Wagenknecht likewise sidelined in Germany, Left populism, or whatever you want call it, is not doing so well these days, but equally clearly it embraces a set of ideas whose time will come. In the meantime, since nationalism is such a dirty word, let’s come up with alternatives: how about national sovereignty and economic self-determination?