The ‘national interest’ is an all time favourite for jingoists, indeed a much bandied about term in any crisis. But what the hll is it supposed to mean?
Well, for one thing, it’s not something the lay person ponders too much. After all, if the politicians think something is in our ‘interests’ then it must be just that. They know best and if we didn't trust them we wouldn't have voted for the buggers, would we? This is, in fact the kind of mind-set politicians count upon before they can come out with such dribble.That politicians continue to use terms like national interest is evidence that they premise their speeches on the assumption that the average person on the street is a bloody imbecile. Moreover, the term is so designed, and used, as to distort our perception of reality. From the cradle to the grave we are discouraged from asking significant and searching questions - the type that might embarrass our betters and superiors. We are nurtured to mistrust our own ideas, to respect the views of the clergy, teachers, parents, politicians, the royals and all manner of counsellors and advisers. Little wonder, then, that so many injustices prevail and that so many can speak in defence of the government line, unwittingly acquiescing in their own exploitation - albeit in the national interest. But this is how it is - so many are prepared to accept that the government embodies the people's “interests”.
The national interest conjures up an image that we are all one big happy family, all pulling and working together for the good of all; that we all have something to be proud of, to defend and to benefit from. It suggests an absence of strife and antagonism and that the real enemy is 'out there'. We're meant to feel good about the national interest, secure in the knowledge that the well-informed are thinking on our behalf. It harks back to the 'bulldog spirit' of the blitz years, when even the king and queen seemed half decent because they had been bombed ('Gawd bless 'em all, Guv.') – even though most Londoners didn’t realise the royal family were shooting off to Windsor Castle, 50 miles away, every night and feasting on swan.In reality, the national interest is anything the master class and their executive, the Blairs and Bushes of this world, deem it to be at any given time, or rather anything that helps perpetuate their ideology and keeps them in power; anything that can undermine the potential for political action geared towards real change.
The national interest is the paternalistic jargon of a profit-hungry elite, trying to rationalise in our eyes the lengths they will go to accrue more profits at our expense. It is used by politicians largely to secure support for a course of action they are finding difficult to promote. It is designed to block serious discussion of an issue - who'll argue against the national interest and risk being denounced as unpatriotic? – and to marginalise opponents, thus stifling deeper understanding of issues.
Thus, the national interest is a Labour government contemplating the selling of arms to Indonesia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the mobilisation of a Western coalition of 750,000 soldiers to tackle a third-world army of farmers in the Middle East (the First Gulf War). It is a government campaign urging us to shop our neighbors to the state's protectors. It is an army of police wading into a picket line, truncheons swinging. It is the appointment of ‘drug tsars' and the teaching of the benefits of marriage to schoolchildren. The national interest is the Russia army in Chechnya, Israeli troops invading Palestinian settlements and US bombers getting ready for bombing runs over Syria and Iran.
One thing is clear. While all the above can be pushed as national interests, none are in the interests of the working class. The interests of the majority - or the working class - are diametrically opposed to the interests of the master, or capitalist, class. True, we all have basic needs and desires, whichever class we belong to, but talk about shared interests in a two class society is nonsense. The capitalist class have one real interest - and let them deny it - to maximise their investment and to accrue more profit at our expense. How many people get hurt and trod on or slaughtered in the process is of no consequence. Anything is legitimate in the pursuit of profit (just watch the film The Corporation). As Madeline Albright commented when pushed on the issue of the 500,000 Iraqi children who had died as a result of sanctions: ‘It’s a price worth paying’. Neither is much consideration given to environmental concerns. We, the working class on the other hand, own little more than our ability to labour by brain or by hand - an ability we sell to the master class. Our interest under capitalism becomes getting the best price for our labour. Indeed such is the onus on us to sell our labour power at as a high a price as possible that its consequences dominates every aspect of our lives.
Whilst the likes of Tony Blair are all for promoting Britain's 'values of freedom and democracy' around the world, in our interests, you can bet they are quiet on the subject of how this freedom and democracy came about. One thing is certain; it was not handed to us on a plate by an altruistic master class, but fought for over centuries. Workers' blood was spilled campaigning for what miserly rights we enjoy. Even trying to exercise our right to free speech, thousands of us, these past 500 years, were burnt at the stake, hung, drawn and quartered and, more, all of this was passed off as being in the national interest! - a national interest which was in reality the interest of a small elite who held political power.
It has to be remembered that the master class depend on our complacency for their continued survival. Our silence, our willingness to accept everything they say without question, is the victory they celebrate every day.
Our job should therefore be to doubt and question everything they say - if we stand for nothing we fall for anything. For we do have interests. As a globally exploited class, denied so many of the benefits of civilisation in a world of abundance, it is in our interests, our real class interests, to help put a stop to their insane system, not just for the future of humanity, but for the future of our planet. Our real class interests lie in establishing a global system of society, devoid of borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states governments, force or coercion, money, wages or salaries, a world in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used to its fullest potential and for the benefit of all. These interests are far removed from the national interest we are supposed to identify and moreover, they benefit all of today's classes.