To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

¿Anarquisme i Nació?

Three articles on the question “Anarchism and Nationalism?” from Antisistema no.6, September 2007.  The first two are translated from Spanish, the third from Catalan with much appreciated assistance from Maduixa.


Anarchists in National Liberation Struggles

Dr. Koyac

I’m not going to speak about the philosophical or theoretical implications of the relation between anarchism and nationalism.  I want to go to the practical history.  Here is a brief review of the connections anarchists have had with diverse national liberation struggles in the last two centuries.

Since the commencement of libertarian socialist ideas, a part of us have cried out for help for the weaker nations.  It is symptomatic that Bakunin was implicated in the attempt to create a Pan-Slavic commonwealth, uniting all the Slavic nations as one.  The affair came to naught due to the authoritarianism of the Polish nationalists, the immense slice of territory the Russians would lose (the Balkans), and the few clear benefits that this union would have for the peoples involved.

What was more tangible is that years later various anarchists supported diverse struggles for independence, for example the Italian anarchists helping the Bosnians in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire.  It was no minor amount of help that the Iberian anarchists gave to the independentistas of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  In fact one of the motives for the assassination of Cánovas of Castille was the war in Cuba.

And later anarchists were giving aid to the nationalist organization IMRO of Macedonia and to the insurrection of Thracia and Macedonia in 1903.  This revolution is scarcely known to have produced the first libertarian communes of the 20th century in the liberated lands (for example the Independent Republic of Krushevo).  They were anarchists and socialists and without exception struggled against the Turks for the national liberation that would allow them to initiate socialism in those lands.  They didn’t see it as incompatible.  The nationalist Serbian organization of Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, creating the excuse for beginning World War I, was in contact with anarchist ideas.

In those years something similar happened to the anarchists of Armenia, though sadly later they had to compete and fight with the nationalists, whose movement had distanced itself from their own.  There are also the Jews of the socialist movement the Bund and other Jewish anarchists who created their own movements only for people of similar origin.

Neither was it strange that the Korean anarchists were also fighting for national liberation and during their war and revolution from 1929-31 they liberated several territories such as the Shinmin Commune.

On the other hand, anarchists have always celebrated internationalism almost without limits.  They have been advocates of apatriation, of Esperanto, of travelling the whole world spreading an idea and a practice.

As we can see, there’s some of everything, from the armed confrontation between Makhno and the Ukrainian nationalists of Petliura, to the creation of a movement agglomerating anarchists and nationalists in the case of the Koreans.

Anarchy and Nationalism

Jaris T.

By nationalism I understand the feeling of belonging among members of a concrete entity, who share common features such as culture, language, traditions, or history.  This feeling can exist in different ways in each individual, and in a series of strata—neighborhood, town, province, region… this feeling as such is perpetuated by the passion drawn from the exaltation of common values.

Historically this feeling has been utilized by the dominant class to subjugate the people under the pretext of exhibiting the sovereignty of the nation.  With the arrival of the liberal bourgeois state, nationalism was institutionalized, its symbols (flag, anthem, coat of arms) affixed, and the people were deceived into defending against or attacking other states in the interests of power as though they were their own interests.

The defense or attack of the values of a nation, apart from being a strategy contrived by the dominant system to manage the consent of the dominated, is antagonistic to development.  The transmission of knowledge, the mix of values, the fusion of realities, in a word, interculturalism, is that which has advanced humanity, and not borders, wars, homogenization, nor patriotism.

Anarchy can achieve the atomization of each and every one of those levels of belonging until arriving at the sovereignty of the individual; thus anarchists embrace all cultures, understanding that each one of them has something we value, without putting one over the other.

Apatriation is the concept that most approaches my own feeling of not belonging.  It is understandable that other experiences result in a greater attachment to the local culture, but whenever they put one over the other, or exclude other options, it is a symptom of the abuse of a corrupt power.

Against Libertarian Doctrine

Ricard de Vargas Golarons
extracted from the anarchist zine “Voltor Negre,” no4, Tarragona 1995.

Negres_TempestesAnarchism has not known how to understand national oppression in this most particular form, and therefore it has confused the nationalist liberal initiatives of the 19th century with all possible paths for national liberation.  Based on the idea that all national reclamation has as its objective the creation of a new independent state controlled by the local bourgeoisie, anarchism has ignored that and implicitly come to favor the statist project of uniformization.

Such an error as confusing the state with the national community is to think that taking up a struggle for national liberation will separate, if not turn against one another, the popular classes of the different nations within a plurinational state in favor of the local bourgeoisie.  International solidarity, in this case between different national communities subsumed by the Spanish state, in the face of this common enemy, must be produced in an equality of conditions.  The use, for example, of the language of one of these in the press and propaganda read by the others imposes a new hierarchy, and finally a sacrifice of the minority communities in favor of the official.  What was ostensibly federalism has converted to centralism.  The daily struggle of the Catalan popular classes is in solidarity with the popular classes of other nations, but not within the artificial and narrow geographical boundaries of the Spanish state; rather beyond its borders.  We are not enforcing separation, we are recognizing each person’s individuality, prior condition, and need to confront the common enemy, the state.

But the Espanyolismo of the libertarian movement is not only a confusion of names, but also a conception much more profound.  Identifying oneself with the territory of “Spain,” adopting it as the boundaries of organization in the present and future, feeling oneself to be a “Spaniard,” represents the acceptance and prioritization of the political administrative-repressive criteria of the state against the popular criteria.

Historically, the “Spanish libertarian movement” has condemned on repeated occasions the national reclamations, labeling them as “separatism.”  What does that mean then, about their federalism?  Federalism supposes the grouping or association of individuals that were previously independent, and that remain free to associate or separate whenever they consider it best.  To speak of “separatism” supposes a model of organization that is obligatory, and therefore, that cannot be changed freely.

It is necessary to combat the Espanyolismo of the libertarian movement and all the conservatism that infects the stereotyped “paradise.”  We aren’t going to create new borders, but destroy the existing ones.  We will dissolve the old world.