A set of modes of behavior and attribution of social meaning, including forms of representation and communication that begins to be understood as a unit from the birth of the national market. It is an ideological phenomenon that, encouraged by the bourgeoisie, will allow it to “nationalize “, that is, to absorb and lead under its program, social classes with local interests -petty bourgeoisie, peasantry, craftsmen- or universal ones -and therefore non-national ones- such as the proletariat, within the political subject called “nation”. For this purpose the revolutionary bourgeoisie will not only create the concept of culture but will also homogenize languages, invent traditions from feudal remains and constitute models of behavior according to the needs of the national market. To this end, it will provide itself with artistic expressions, means of communication and even modes of representation.
The concept of culture began as an enlightened metaphor: the person was “cultivated” through study and access to knowledge and like any field the more work and fertilizers incorporated such cultivation (“culture”), the more fruit it would offer. It is with the birth of German Romanticism that culture first takes on an adjective and begins to be “national”. It is no longer the reflection of individual exposure to knowledge, but a collective phenomenon: the reflection, common to all members of the national community, of a “popular spirit” that would travel through history, materializing the national essence over time.
The definition and exaltation of “national culture” was the “discovery” of a new political subject capable of involving all social classes: the nation. National culture was the defining element of the nation, the mother of the essences of nationalism, the ideology of the rise of the bourgeoisie as a political class in Germany, the ideal greenhouse in which its social leadership sprouted.
Culture and the petty bourgeoisie
Culture was fundamental in the nationalization of a petty bourgeoisie and a peasantry whose immediate economic interests remained, as seen in the Spanish cantonal revolution, fundamentally local. Thus, from its beginnings, “national culture” offered a protagonist role and financing to the petty bourgeoisie through the arts, turning it into the plastic, architectural and literary interpreter of the national spirit, thus designing the “popular” forms of the national ideology and, to a certain extent, the guardian of its essences.
State capitalism, “cultures” and “identities
With the development of state capitalism during the 20th century, the state extended its policies of social control. And for that it taught those sociological categories that were useful to it to think like “political subjects”. For example, in the 1920s “youth” became a political concept and with it the first “youth cultures” were born. In the post-war period, the development of the cultural industry and advertising would join the development of social policies, fracturing these identities. As a consequence, at the end of the 1950s in the United States and in the 1960s in Europe, youth, student, urban, neighbourhood, migratory and female “subcultures” were “discovered”.
In the monopolistic logic of state capitalism, all these categories also represent an opportunity for organizational framing, and every framing offers an opportunity for collective “representation”: subsidies to the “social fabric,” specialized technicians, participatory processes for the design of “public policies”… There is no lack of incentives to organize discontent into a thousand identities that demand “recognition” and a space for new “representative” elites. It is not by chance that the studies of Sociology and “Political Science” are conceived in state universities as derivations of a common core.
Culture and “class identity”
Some academic and historiographical schools, from EP Thompson to American postmodern historians, have tried to redefine class consciousness as an “identity” defined by a “worker’s culture”. Shifting the “self-consciousness” of the class struggle -the existence of workers’ struggles as workers- into the placid realm of cultural sociology. “Culture”, all that which makes it possible to recognize another as “someone of the same condition”, would be the basis of the “historical identity” of the workers. Class consciousness would thus be resolved in the territory that ranges from popular song lyrics to cooking recipes and salutations, from common places to community practices of daily resistance. What the working class is capable of in political terms would be delimited by the projection of the values reflected in these practices and customs. Practices and customs that, like all cultures under capitalism, are fundamentally national. In this way the very idea of class consciousness is misappropriated and subverted in order to, through the concept of culture, nationalize the workers and link them to national capital -even though this is normally done under the guise of a rejection of the national bourgeoisie. We are at the antipodes of revolutionary thought, of course. For Marx, the “historical identity” of the class, that in which its class consciousness consists, is nothing other than the programme to which it is historically committed because of the place it occupies in capitalist society. A programme that is universal, identical in every country as the wage-earning condition itself.
“Global culture” and imperialism
As an ideological expression of national capital, the independent development of national culture will be born with an expiration date: it will only be possible as long as the development of national capital is possible. The emergence of an “international culture” linked to the language and “cultural industries” of the hegemonic imperialist powers at every turn will call into question the supposed “essential” and “national” character of the arts and customs from the development of imperialism, which will in turn be reinterpreted and reused by nationalism as yet another “aggression” against which to call for “unity” around the state and national capital for the defence of “its culture”.