The Everyday Nationalism of Workers upends common notions about how European nationalism is lived and experienced by ordinary people—and the bottom-up impact these everyday expressions of nationalism exert on institutionalized nationalism writ large. Drawing on sources from the major urban and working-class centers of Belgium, Maarten Van Ginderachter uncovers the everyday nationalism of the rank and file of the socialist Belgian Workers Party between 1880 and World War I, a period in which Europe experienced the concurrent rise of nationalism and socialism as mass movements.
Analyzing sources from—not just about—ordinary workers, Van Ginderachter reveals the limits of nation-building from above and the potential of agency from below. With a rich and diverse base of sources (including workers' "propaganda pence" ads that reveal a Twitter-like transcript of proletarian consciousness), the book shows all the complexity of socialist workers' ambivalent engagement with nationhood, patriotism, ethnicity and language. By comparing the Belgian case with the rise of nationalism across Europe, Van Ginderachter sheds new light on how multilingual societies fared in the age of mass politics and ethnic nationalism.
About the author
Maarten Van Ginderachter is Associate Professor of History at Antwerp University. He is the co-editor of National Indifference and the History of Nationalism in Modern Europe (2019) and Nationhood from Below: Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century (2012).
"The relationships of workers and the modern labor movement to social categories such as nationality, ethnicity, class, and religion are complex and poorly understood, usually treated separately from everyday experiences. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including a unique set of 'proletarian tweets,' this superb book both illuminates the Belgian case and provides a model for future research."
—John Breuilly, London School of Economics
"The Everyday Nationalism of Workers challenges the assumption that nationalism was imposed from above in the decades before the First World War. Based in extensive evidence, including the equivalent of 'tweets' from Belgian workers, Maarten Van Ginderachter's vivid examples build a convincing argument that will engage historians and political scientists interested in working-class patriotism."
—Janet Polasky, University of New Hampshire
"This well-written, innovative, and engaging study pushes us to reorient our understanding not only of language and national identity in Belgium, but also how to go about studying them. Students unfamiliar with Belgian history will have no problem jumping right into this book, for Van Ginderachter concisely introduces and contextualizes all key issues. One could even say that it serves as a kind of primer on modern Belgian history. It will be useful not only to readers interested in Belgian history, but also to those studying nationalism, language, ethnicity, and labor movements in modern European history."
—Matthew G. Stanard, Journal of Social History