Economic Problems and Nationalism: Exploring the Relationship

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when we speak about nationalism the first thought that comes to our mind is that it is a plan which includes some undesirable policies against other nations. From this aspect of the phenomenon, there is no any doubt that to use of aggressive policies against others in a nationalistic base it can be mostly explained by a primordial perspective. Because to distinguish yourself than others you must use the sentimental investment by ethnohistorical, cultural, and religious identity position. It is quite clear that in the national movements, it is used by national leaders for to get legitimacy from people who share the same ethnicity. But in this short essay, I will try to explain `how economic problems encourage national hostility` by using past and present examples. My aim in this short essay is to explain the economic crisis as a productive environment for a nationalist strategy on the hands of political leaders for to get power. So we have two “sample” questions: a) which role do socio-economic expectations play in nationalist strategy-?; b) why does nationalism raises when the economic crisis increases-?

In the first chapter, my attitude to the economic problems will as one of the main challenges for the newly established nation-state and I will try to explain how national governments or leaders use it as an element of national strategy. In the second chapter, I will try to explain – how dose economic crisis provokes national hostility.

Chapter-1: Role of socioeconomic expectations in nationalist strategy

Generally, the new established nation-state faces with three major challenges: a) to develop the economy; b) to achieve political independence; and c) to develop a national culture in order to establish and maintain cultural cohesion. All the above goals deeply relate to national security in other words national survival.

After WW I there was many newly established and old nation-states that faced with the economic crisis which emerged through the war. Because the war has resulted in the collapse of many empires and the old world economic system began to fall down. The undesirable life standards of people have caused in Europe to the two directions of nationalist strategy including the socialist-communist movement beginning of 1917 in Russia and the national-socialist in Germany especially beginning from the 1930s. The nationalist and socialist movements in these two countries are brilliant examples for an explanation how national-political elites use economic crises for to get legitimacy for their authority. “The national character of the ruling elite is deep in negative nationalism and negative socialism, the socialism is anchored on the state as an entrepreneur and controller in the economy under the false ideology: the government is protecting the people.”

Socialist movement in Russia led by Bolsheviks under the leadership of V.I. Lenin and nationalist-socialism led by Adolph Hitler in Germany have based on the above false idea. Bolsheviks focused on gathering all workers from all parts of the empire to bring them together. They applied to a different kind of nationalism that emerged by them which can be called worker class nationalism under the idea to economically protect workers from property owners o rich people. Because as in all types of national movements the idea of the construction of “self and others” is also characteristic for the socialist revolution in Russia. Maybe it is explained as a struggle between antagonist classes - proletariats and bourgeoisie. But let me argue that it can also be explained as an effort to create a new social base through the workers' “army” which also can be called a new national identity in the class base that has been called-proletariat. It also was similar with civic nationalism but under the utopist, collectivist – social equality idea. In fact in that time after the “October” Revolution the newly created nation state`s government in Russia has been called the worker`s government. Of course, after the creation of the Soviet Union, there was a rough struggle against ethnic national ideas. Many national writers and political leaders from different nations were punished with the death penalty. All these actions operated by communist party could be compared with one nation`s violation against others with other words “workers class nationalism” against ethnic nationalism. Actually, Bolsheviks by using economic problems and lower living standards of workers successfully provoked them against the bourgeois. By giving them a guarantee about socio-economic happiness they achieved to get power and legitimacy. Because they not only give them promises but also showed them guilty one of this economic problem and socio-economic inequality. By this way they successfully achieved to create “self and others” as in all nationalist movements.

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The same way has been followed by Nazi Germany during the Great Depression and WW II but in an ethnic nationalist base. National-Socialism or Nazism in Germany came to power probably with the same strategy – by using the economic crisis that emerged during Great Depression national-socialists provoked German people against Jews. During the Weimar Republic period, “the majority of German Jews were engaged in bourgeois occupations between 1918 and 1933. Almost three-quarters of them made their living from trade, commerce, banking, and the professions, especially medicine and law. At the same time only about one-quarter of the non-Jews population of Germany was similarly employed.” So almost all significant fields of the economy especially trade and the banking sector has been held by them. National Socialist German Workers' Party, the political party, led by Adolf Hitler, that ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 hase used mass propaganda against Jews that they are the main cause of the economic trouble of the German “volk”- nation. “Hitler blamed 'money-grubbing Jews' for all of Weimar Germany's economic problems.” It was an effort to find guilty one for unifying “volk” around the same idea-to eliminating all enemies of the German nation. In his propaganda a was successful. “Hitler took advantage of the great depression as all of the German people are desperate for a way out of the whole the treaty of Versall which put them in so, he enforces his beliefs about the Jewish ad how they are the reason for everything that goes wrong, they undersold German companies and putting Germans out of business and also since most of the high ranking political figures are Jewish it is easy to say it as their fault for the whole thing.”

The experiences of communist Russia and Nazi Germany show that socioeconomic expectations of people is one of the important tools of nationalist strategy in order to unify people for to fight against “others” or “guilty one” in their economic troubles. It depends on the approach of the national elite or leaders who will choose as an enemy - other ethnicities or social classes.

Chapter-2: Why nationalism rises when the economic crisis increases?

During the 20th century, World Economy faced three large crisis which known as the Great Depression, and two economic shocks in the 1970s which was related with the unexpected rise of oil prices. Above we already discussed about Great Depression. Now I want to focus attention on the 1970s oil crisis and sovereign debt crisis of 2008`s influence on nationalism. In post-WWII reconstruction period of the European economy by Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine resulted in a sharp increase of the economy especially in the 1950s and 1960s. It also bring with itself new challenges for nation-states such as migration because there was a great need for labor forces for increasing the industry of Europe. Together legal labor migration and illegal migration also was possible. “Simplifying greatly, we can say that labor migration to Western Europe during this period took two main forms: government-sponsored “guest-worker” schemes and the spontaneous immigration of “colonial workers” to the former colonial powers. The classic case of an organized “guest-worker” system is, of course, the Federal Republic of Germany, where the number of foreign workers rose from 95,000 in 1956 to 2.6 million in 1973. The migration tendency may be with different characters but the same for other European countries. Labor migration from former colonies was particularly significant for Britain and France.” In fact, in that time there was not serious national resentment against migrants. However, there were only protectionist policies by European governments against immigrants such as stopping of the recruitment of foreign workers.

Today these labor migrants` successors have become “immigrant minorities”(David Turton Julia González 2000 p. 12) and labor migration to the EU from third countries is continuing. Nationalist right-wing parties try to use in crisis situation the migration as main cause of economic trouble. “In the minds of many nationalist parties in Europe, the ongoing economic crisis has corroborated much of that which they advocate that immigration policies should be reformed, that the European integration process should be reverted, and that their national identities should be protected.” These right-wing parties try to attract power from the people. They gradually become more and more effective during the current ongoing crisis. It will show itself in the results of elections. “Opinion polls months ahead of the vote, which takes place in all EU countries on May 22-25, suggest candidates on the far left and far right will gain support voters express frustration with Europe after three years of financial turmoil, contracting growth and job losses.”

Even high representatives of the EU are worried about new rise of nationalism in Europe. “ 'We have to be honest that the crisis and the rise in unemployment is an occasion for populist forces to become more aggressive and gain some votes. What we don't like is the discourse that is sometimes behind anti-European slogans, a discourse that is promoting what I call negative values, things like narrow nationalism, protectionism, and xenophobia. That is a concern. We should not forget that in Europe, not so many decades ago, we had very, very worrying developments of xenophobia and racism, and intolerance. So I think everybody that has European principles should be worried about some of these movements.' Barroso told Reuters in an interview.”

All these facts show that the economic crisis plays a catalyst role for nationalism. When an economic crisis rises nationalist parties gain the opportunity to easily spread their ideas in society, especially among workers who suffer more than others from economic trouble. By using national sentiment they can attract people's votes and win elections in order to implement their nationalist policies. Their popularity gradually increases especially in such countries where unemployment increase and life standards of people gradually become worse. By the way today in Europe right-wing parties who have strong positions on immigration are enough popular. “Polls suggest right-wing parties with strong positions on immigration could do well in several countries, including Britain, France and Finland. According to broad estimates, they can take probably 20-30 percent of votes in European Parliament election next year.” It means that the ongoing debt crisis gradually increases the popularity of nationalist ideas in Europe.

Pre-election forecasts have shown that right-wing parties were expected to do well. A possible number of seats gained by these parties could be 71. But in elections held on 22-25 May 2014, right-wing parties gained 52 seats out of 751. They gained 15 seats more than in the elections in 2009. The results of elections is accepted as a great success of far-right parties. In the same time, it can be considered as weak shaking of European values. Even this success of far-right European parties is interpreted by some experts as a “political earthquake”.


The debt crisis of 2008 resulted with new rice of nationalist ideas in Europe especially against migrants. In fact, the crisis in the EU brought with it many difficulties for the European economy. Unemployment, the rise of prices of goods, and gradually declining life standards threaten the welfare state and create new security dilemmas among local people and immigrants. This situation creates a productive environment for leftist and nationalist parties to spread their ideas in society, especially among workers who suffer more than others from economic trouble. So ongoing debt crisis encourages right-win parties to exert pressure on the government about serious reforms about migrants and ethnic and religious minorities by gaining support from voters. And the conditions of ongoing crisis implies that economic crisis is one of the strong causes for negative nationalism.

Using Literature

  1. Hillary Kundishora : To What Extent Does Economic Strategy and Planning Reflects Kleptocracy-? -
  2. Donald L. Niewyk, “The Jews in Weimar Germany” /2000/ p.g-13(Transaction
  3. Brendon Piers (2000), The Dark Valley: a panorama of the 1930s.
  4. How Does Hitler Take Advantage of the Great Depression?
  5. University of Deusto Bilbao, Ethnic Diversity in Europe: Challenges to the Nation State /by David Turton Julia González 2000 p. 12
  6. Stratfor/ European Crisis Fertile Ground for Nationalist Parties/ November 7, 2011 | 1250 GMT
  7. Reuters/ interview with Jose Manuel Borroso/By Luke Baker and Stephen Adler BRUSSELS | Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:07pm EDT
  8. Source: Internet Site Pollwatch
  9. Source: http//
  10. The Washington Post, by Cas Mudde 30.05.2014 avaliable at:
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