At a time of resurgent minority nationalism in some European regions, many of them clearly leaning towards the left, and when radical right and populist parties are successfully attracting working-class support on the basis of welfare chauvinist proposals that pit natives against immigrants and globalisation in defence of the ‘national welfare state’, the study of the (often-troubled) relationship between the Left and the national issue acquires renewed relevance for both academic and practical purposes.
The aim of this workshop is to provide new perspectives on the relation between the lefts and nationalisms. We understand both concepts as being plural. The workshop will look with a non-normative perspective at the tension between the universality shared (or claimed) by different left-wing traditions, intellectuals and parties, and the particularism inherent in nationalism as a doctrine and a principle of political legitimacy. The workshop will also simultaneously analyse the cultural, economic, social and political aspects of this tension (and their inter-relation).
Whereas nationalism, and its product, the modern nation, could be said to be born on the Left at the end of the 18th century (Bell, 2001), the Left later came to be semantically associated with internationalism. Simultaneously, the Right, or even the extreme-right, acquired a near monopoly over nationalism. As a consequence, contemporary dominant left-wing ideologies, and notably social democracy, have tended to neglect the national issue. Such a reluctance has been reflected in the scholarly production. Until Walker Connor’s 1984 The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy, the literature on the Left(s) and nationalism(s) remained dominated by normative discussions of Marxist strategy against bourgeois capitalism. In the 1990s and early 2000s, scholarly production on the topic has increased (Nimni 1991; Schwartzmantel 1991; Forman 1998; Pasture & Verberckmoes 1998). In particular, since the fall of the Soviet Union, a number of scholars have dwelled upon policies towards minorities in communist countries, as well as in the post-Soviet space during the transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes (Brubaker 1994, Dawson 1996). At the same time, with regard to Western Europe and the Americas, case studies on left-wing ethno-regionalist movements, for example in Galicia (Beramendi & Nuñez Seixas, 1996) or Brittany (Kernalegenn & Pasquier, 2014), or on the lefts and the national issue in specific regions, for example in Wales (Jones, 2017) or Scotland (Keating and Bleiman, 1979) have multiplied.
Therefore, in the last 40 years, the literature on nationalism(s) and the Left(s) has become considerably richer, but problematic blind spots remain. Six major limitations can be singled out:
1. The literature tends to conceive of the Left in a monolithic way and to focus on disputes of Marxist doctrine over the practice of specific parties and movements. Additionally, it tends to neglect the non-Marxist Left (Republicans, Greens…).
2. It too often lacks a comparative dimension considering several cases from different countries and, even more, geographical areas.
3. It focuses often too much on ideologies, with a top-down perspective, and not enough on how on the field activists and citizens deal with such topics. The literature is too much dominated by political theory and political history, and not enough by political sociology.
4. Case studies have mostly focused on either cultural (relating to the management of cultural difference) or socio-economic (regarding the welfare state) issues, rather than offering an integrative approach taking both dimensions (and their inter-relation) into consideration.
5. With regard to Western Europe, there seems to be a need to study more in depth how social democracy has handled problems relating to nationalism, as well as used national identity to obtain popular support.
6. Too many (left-wing) scholars have externalised nationalism as ‘the ideology of someone else’ forgetting in the process their own banal nationalism, their own ideology of the nation.
The workshop will thus aim to fill the above gaps by collecting and discussing the following types of contributions:
- Theoretical contributions on different forms of nationalisms (civic/ethnic, centripetal/centrifugal, hot/banal etc.) and the Lefts (progressive republicans or liberals, social-democrats, communists, greens…), thus taking into account the existence of different traditions. We will especially favour contributions analysing ideologies with a sociological and bottom-up perspective, at a grass-roots level.
- Socio-historical analyses (comparative or based on single cases) of specific parties, movements or intellectuals dealing with issues of national identity and using (explicitly or not, in an accepted way or not) nationalist language as a tool of political legitimation.
- Contemporary studies of left-wing policies towards managing cultural difference (both towards minorities and foreign immigrants) as well as the welfare state.
The conveners notably encourage the participants to look at the three following broad axes of research (and how they engage with each other):
- The cultural and the socio-economic dimensions of left-wing ideology and policy (as mentioned above, the former centres around the management of diversity, while the latter around the welfare state).
- Whether the most relevant national cleavage is internal to the state (as in the case of minorities) or external (as in the case of foreign migrants).
- When, where, why, for what and with whom do left wing organisations, movements and individuals frame their reflection with a national(ist) perspective?
The workshop will be open to junior and senior political scientists, historians and sociologists with an interest in the topic. Academic quality, an appropriate geographical coverage of different case studies, and gender balance will be the key criteria guiding the selection. Although privileging qualitative approaches that examine party discourses and practices, as well as theoretical debates, in depth and, possibly, over time, we will also welcome papers using quantitative methods.
A more extended description of the workshop is available at https://ecpr.eu/Events/Event/PanelDetails/10508