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Anarchism and nationalism

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Anarchism and nationalism

Anarchism and nationalism both emerged in Europe following the French Revolution, and have a long and durable relationship going back at least to Mikhail Bakunin and his involvement with the Pan-Slavic movement prior to his conversion to anarchism. There has been a long history of anarchist involvement with nationalism all over the world, as well as with internationalism. Some anarchists argue that the achievement of meaningful self-determination for all of the world's nations requires a political system based on local control, free federation and mutual aid.


Nevertheless, anarchism as a political movement was very supportive during the early 20th century of anationalism as well as of the esperanto language. After the Spanish Civil War, Francoist Spain persecuted anarchists and Catalan nationalists, among whom the use of Esperanto was extensive,

Anarchist opposition to nationalism

Anarchism as a political movement was very supportive during this time of anationalism as well as of the esperanto language. After the Spanish Civil War, Francoist Spain persecuted anarchists and Catalan nationalists, among whom the use of Esperanto was extensive, Anationalism (Esperanto: sennaciismo) is a term originating from the community of Esperanto speakers which passed to anarchism from there. It denotes a range of cosmopolitan political concepts that combine some or all of the following tendencies and ideas:

  • radical antinationalism,
  • universalism,
  • "one-world-ism",
  • acceptance of the historic trend toward linguistic homogenization on a world scale, and in some cases even a striving to accelerate that trend,
  • the necessity of political education and organization of the world proletariat in accordance with those ideas, and
  • the utility of Esperanto as an instrument of such political education.
  • A critique of nationalism from an anarchist point of view is Rudolf Rocker's book Nationalism and Culture. American anarchist Fredy Perlman wrote a number of pamphlets that were strongly critical of all forms of nationalism, including Anti-Semitism and the Beirut Pogrom, a critique of Zionism, and The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism, which argues that nationalism is a process of state formation inspired by imperialism, which capitalists, fascists and Leninists use as a mean of controlling their subjects.

    More recently post-left anarchist Fredy Perlman wrote a work on the subject of nationalism in 1984 called The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism In it he argues that "Leftist or revolutionary nationalists insist that their nationalism has nothing in common with the nationalism of fascists and national socialists, that theirs is a nationalism of the oppressed, that it offers personal as well as cultural liberation." And so "To challenge these claims, and to see them in a context," he asks "what nationalism is - not only the new revolutionary nationalism but also the old conservative one." And so he concludes that nationalism is an aid to capitalist control of nature and people regardless of its origin. Nationalism thus provides a form through which "Every oppressed population can become a nation, a photographic negative of the oppressor nation" and that "There's no earthly reason for the descendants of the persecuted to remain persecuted when nationalism offers them the prospect of becoming persecutors. Near and distant relatives of victims can become a racist nation-state; they can themselves herd other people into concentration camps, push other people around at will, perpetrate genocidal war against them, procure preliminary capital by expropriating them."

    Bakunin and nationalism

    Prior to his involvement with the anarchist movement, Mikhail Bakunin had a long history of involvement in nationalist movements of various kinds. In his Appeal to the Slavs (1848), Bakunin called for cooperation between nationalist revolutionary movements across Europe (both Slavic and non-Slavic) to overthrow empires and dissolve imperialism, in an uprising of "all oppressed nationalities" which would lead to a "Universal Federation of European Republics". He also agitated for a United States of Europe (a contemporary nationalist vision originated by Mazzini). Later, exiled to eastern Siberia, he became involved with a circle of Siberian nationalists who planned to separate from Russia. They were connected with his cousin and patron, Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, the Governor General of Eastern Siberia, whom Bakunin defended in Herzen's journal The Bell. It was not until a full four years after leaving Siberia, however, that Bakunin proclaimed himself an anarchist.

    Max Nettlau remarked of this period in his life that: "This may be explained by Bakunin's increasing nationalist psychosis, induced and nourished by the expansionist ideas of the officials and exploiters who surrounded him in Siberia, causing him to overlook the plight of their victims."


    Anarchists formed the first labor unions and the first large-scale Peasant organizations in China. During the roughly two decades when anarchism was the dominant radical ideology in China (roughly 1900-1924), Anarchists there were active in mass movements of all kinds, including the nationalist movement.

    A small group of Anarchists - mostly those associated with the early 'Paris Group', a grouping of Chinese Expatriates based in France - were deeply involved in the nationalist movement and many served as "movement elders" in the KMT right up until the defeat of the nationalists by the Maoists. A minority of Chinese Anarchists associated with the Paris Group also helped funnel large sums of money to Sun Yat-sen to help finance the Nationalist revolution of 1911.

    After the 1911 Nationalist revolution, Anarchist involvement with the Kuomintang was relatively minor, not only because the majority of Anarchists opposed nationalism on principle but because the KMT government was more than willing to level repression against anarchist organizations whenever and wherever they challenged state power. Still, a few prominent anarchists, notably Jing Meijiu and Zhang Ji (both affiliated with the Tokyo Group) were elected to positions within the KMT government and continued to call themselves Anarchists while doing so. The response from the larger anarchist movement was decidedly mixed. They were roundly denounced by the Guangzhou group; but other groupings that favored an 'evolutionary' approach to social change instead of immediate Revolution, such as the 'Pure Socialists', were more sympathetic.

    The "Diligent Work and Frugal Study" program in France, a series of businesses and educational programs organized along anarchist lines that allowed Chinese students from working-class backgrounds to come to France and receive a European education that had previously been only available to a tiny wealthy elite, was one product of this collaboration of the anarchists with nationalists. The program received funding from both the Chinese and French governments as well as raising its own independent funds through a series of worker-owned anarchist businesses, including a Tofu factory that catered to the needs of Chinese migrant workers in France. The program allowed poor and working-class Chinese students to receive a high-quality modern university education in France at a time when foreign education was almost exclusively limited to the children of wealthy elites, and educated thousands of Chinese workers and students - including many future communist leaders such as Deng Xiaoping.

    Following the success of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution anarchism went into decline in the Chinese labour movement. In 1924 the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) allied itself with the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). Originally composed of many former anarchists, it soon attracted a mass base, becoming increasingly critical of anarchism. When the Kuomintang purged the CPC from its ranks in 1927, the small group of anarchists who had long participated in the KMT urged their younger comrades to join the movement and utilize it in the same way that the Stalinists had been using it - as a vehicle to gain membership and influence.

    Partly because of the growing power of the right-wing within the KMT and the repression of workers movements advocated by that right wing, the Anarchists opted not to join the KMT en masse or even work within it, instead, the result of this last collaboration was the creation of China's first Labor University. The Labor University was intended to be a domestic version of the Paris groups Diligent Work and Frugal Study educational program and sought to create a new generation of Labor Intellectuals who would finally overcome the gap between "those who work with their hands" and "those who work with their minds." The goal was to train working-class people with the skills they needed to self-organize and set up their own independent organizations and worker-owned businesses, which would form the seed of a new anarchist society within the shell of the old in a Dual Power-based evolutionary strategy reminiscent of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

    The university would only function for a very few years before the Nationalist government decided that the project was too subversive to allow it too continue and pulled funding. When the KMT initiated a second wave of repression against the few remaining mass movements, anarchists left the organization en masse and were forced underground as hostilities between the KMT and CPC – both of whom were hostile towards anti-authoritarians – escalated.


    The anarcho-Platformist Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) has produced a number of articles and essays on the relationship between Anarchism and Irish Republicanism over the years. Their position, roughly, is that Anarchism and Republicanism are incompatible and opposed to each other but that Anarchists can and should learn things from Ireland's long history of struggle. In their analysis Republicanism has always been split between rich people who want to rule directly and working class movements that demand social equality and community self governance instead of simply trading foreign bosses for local ones.

    In Ireland in the 1790's we had a mass republican movement influenced by the American and then the French revolutions. That movement included those who favored a radical leveling agenda as well as the democratic agenda of mainstream republicans. Edward Fitzgerald, the military planner of the rising was one such proponent. But it also contained those like Wolfe Tone who saw an independent Ireland as opening up its own colonies in the Caribbean. In the north Henry Joy McDonald had to remove the existing United Irish leadership paralyzed by fear of the mob seizing property before the rising there could get underway, weeks after it had begun in the south. After its defeat and before his execution he warned future republicans to beware that "the rich always betray the poor."


    According to this analysis, Anarchism is the successor to left-nationalism, a working class movement working to achieve the liberation that the Republican movements that toppled the worlds monarchies in the last two centuries promised but never delivered. So even though the ideas of Anarchism are fundamentally different from those of Nationalism it is still possible to learn from nationalist movements by studying the working class elements of those movements that demanded more than the bourgeoisie leadership was willing or able to deliver.

    Har Dayal

    In the 1910s Lala Har Dayal became an anarchist agitator in San Francisco, joining the IWW before becoming a pivotal figure in the Ghadar Party. A long-time advocate of Indian nationalism, he developed a vision of anarchism based upon a return to the principles of ancient Aryan society. He was particularly influenced by Guy Aldred, who was jailed for printing The Indian Sociologist in 1907. Aldred, an anarcho-communist, was careful to point out that this solidarity arose because he was an advocate of free speech and not because he felt that nationalism would help the working class in India or elsewhere.

    Black anarchism or Panther anarchism

    Black anarchism opposes the existence of a state and subjugation and domination of people of color, and favors a non-hierarchical organization of society. Black anarchists seek to abolish white supremacy, capitalism, and the state. Theorists include Ashanti Alston, Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Kuwasi Balagoon, many former members of the Black Panther Party, and Martin Sostre. Black anarchism rejects the traditional anarchist movement.

    Black anarchists have criticized both the hierarchical organization of the Black Panther Party, and the anarchist movement, on the grounds that it has traditionally been European and/or white-based. They oppose the anti-racist conception, based on the universalism of the Enlightenment, which is proposed by the anarchist workers' tradition, arguing that it is not adequate enough to struggle against racism and that it disguises real inequalities by proclaiming a de jure equality. For example, Pedro Ribeiro has criticized the whole of the anarchist movement by declaring that: "It is a white, petty-bourgeois Anarchism that cannot relate to the people. As a Black person, I am not interested in your Anarchism. I am not interested in individualistic, self-serving, selfish liberation for you and your white friends. What I care about is the liberation of my people."

    Black anarchists are thus influenced by the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, and seek to forge their own movement that represents their own identity and tailored to their own unique situation. However, in contrast to black activism that was, in the past, based in leadership from hierarchical organizations, black anarchism rejects such methodology in favor of developing organically through communication and cooperation to bring about an economic and cultural revolution that does away with racist domination, capitalism, and the state. From Alston's @narchist Panther Zine:

    Panther anarchism is ready, willing and able to challenge old nationalist and revolutionary notions that have been accepted as 'common-sense.' It also challenges the bullshit in our lives and in the so-called movement that holds us back from building a genuine movement based on the enjoyment of life, diversity, practical self-determination and multi-faceted resistance to the Babylonian Pigocracy. This Pigocracy is in our 'heads,' our relationships as well as in the institutions that have a vested interest in our eternal domination.

    Post-colonial anarchism

    Post-colonial anarchism is a relatively new tendency within the larger anarchist movement. The name is taken from an essay by Roger White, one of the founders of Jailbreak Press and an activist in North American APOC circles. Post-colonial anarchism is an attempt to bring together disparate aspects and tendencies within the existing anarchist movement and re-envision them in an explicitly anti-imperialist framework.

    Where traditional anarchism is a movement arising from the struggles of proletarians in industrialized western European nations - and thus sees history from their perspective - post-colonial anarchism approaches the same principles of mutual aid, class struggle, opposition to social hierarchy, and community-level self-management, self-government, self-management, and self-determination from the perspective of colonized peoples throughout the world. In doing so it does not seek to invalidate the contributions of the more established anarchist movement, but rather seeks to add a unique and important perspective. The tendency is strongly influenced by indigenism, anti-state forms of nationalism, and APOC (Anarchist People of Color), among other sources.


    Anarchism and nationalism Wikipedia

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