Ethnicism After Nationalism: The Roots of the New European Right

G.M. Tamas


Ethnicism is the result of the dissolution of late capitalism without the benefit of an alternative. It would appear that the defunct modern bourgeois state has been propped up by proletarian counter-power and adversary culture – without which universal franchise and the welfare state would have been well-nigh impossible. One of the most extraordinary historical facts, veiled modestly by chroniclers’ cant, is that the international human rights regime had been created at San Francisco by, among others, Joseph Stalin and Andrey Vyshinsky. The disappearance of this world-historical competitor means that things taken for granted, like the rule of law and liberal nationalism, are not necessary components of modern capitalism, as fascism has convincingly demonstrated. But fascism was defeated by an unbelievable alliance of liberal imperialism and Soviet ‘socialism’ (planned, egalitarian state capitalism led by working-class cadres). Fascism forced the Soviet Union to become nationalist and to make its peace with western liberal imperialism. But the victorious Soviet Union and, later, the Chinese People’s Republic, on the one hand, coerced the West to become more egalitarian and to accommodate, up to a point, the proletarian adversary in places like Italy and France and, on the other, to renounce its colonial empire. It was an agonistic and antagonistic world system, probably the most ‘democratic’ in world history. This bipolar system ended in 1989 and, with it, classical nationalism. 

The old right stood for order, discipline, obedience, honour and deference. Ethnicism is chaos. It may be used perhaps for the purposes of tyrannical domination – it is so used at the moment by the extreme right in Europe – but as it is apolitical, it is also destructive. In the absence of an emancipatory alternative to decadent capitalism, it might be an overture to collapse and global counter-revolution.  Confusing or conflating nationalism with ethnicism is one of the major failings of the contemporary left, a blindness that may herald new defeats. 

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