<title>D.6 Are anarchists against Nationalism?
<H1>D.6 Are anarchists against Nationalism?</H1>
To begin to answer this question, we must first define what we mean by
nationalism. For many people, it is just the natural attachment to home,
the place one grew up. These feelings, however, obviously do not exist in
a social vacuum. Nationality, as Bakunin noted, is a <i>"natural and social
fact,"</i> as <i>"every people and the smallest folk-unit has its own character,
its own specific mode of existence, its own way of speaking, feeling,
thinking, and acting; and it is this idiosyncrasy that constitutes the
essence of nationality."</i> [<b>The Political Philosophy of Bakunin</b>, p. 325]
Perhaps it is in the interest of anarchists to distinguish between
<b>nationality</b> or <b>ethnicity</b> (that is, cultural affinity) and <b>nationalism</b>
(confined to the state and government itself) as a better way of defining
what we support and oppose -- nationalism, at root, is destructive and
reactionary, whereas ethnic and cultural affinity is a source of community,
social diversity and vitality.
Such diversity is to be celebrated and allowed to express it itself on its
own terms. Or, as Murray Bookchin puts it, <i>"[t]hat specific peoples should
be free to fully develop their own cultural capacities is not merely a
right but a desideratum. The world would be a drab place indeed if a
magnificent mosaic of different cultures does not replace the largely
decultured and homogenised world created by modern capitalism."</i>
[<i>"Nationalism and the 'National Question'"</i>, <b>Society and Nature</b>,
pp. 8-36, No. 5, pp. 28-29] But, as he also warns, such cultural freedom
and variety should <b>not</b> be confused with nationalism. The latter is far
more (and ethically, a lot less) than simple recognition of cultural
uniqueness and love of home. Nationalism is the love of, or the desire to
create, a nation-state. And for this reason anarchists are opposed
to it, in all its forms.
This means that nationalism cannot and must not be confused with
nationality. The later is a product of social processes while the
former to a product of state action and elite rule. Social evolution
cannot be squeezed into the narrow, restricting borders of the nation
state without harming the individuals whose lives <b>make</b> that social
development happen in the first place.
The state, as we have seen, is a centralised body invested with power
and a social monopoly of force. As such it pre-empts the autonomy of
localities and peoples, and in the name of the "nation" crushes the
living, breathing reality of "nations" (i.e. peoples and their cultures)
with one law, one culture and one "official" history. Unlike most
nationalists, anarchists recognise that almost all "nations" are in
fact not homogeneous, and so consider nationality to be far wider in
application than just lines on maps, created by conquest. Hence we think
that recreating the centralised state in a slightly smaller area, as
nationalist movements generally advocate, cannot solve what is called
the "national question."
Ultimately, as Rudolf Rocker argues, the <i>"nation is not the cause,
but the result of the state. It is the state that creates the nation,
not the nation the state."</i> [<b>Nationalism and Culture</b>, p. 200]
Every state is an artificial mechanism imposed upon society by
some ruler in order to defend and make secure the interests of
privileged minorities within society. Nationalism was created to
reinforce the state by providing it with the loyalty of a people
of shared linguistic, ethnic, and cultural affinities. And if
these shared affinities do not exist, the state will create them
by centralising education in its own hands, imposing an "official"
language and attempting to crush cultural differences from the people's
within its borders.
Hence we see the all too familiar sight of successful "national liberation"
movements replacing foreign oppression with a home-based one. This is
unsurprising as nationalism delivers power to local ruling classes as
it relies on taking state power. As a result, Nationalism can never
deliver freedom to the working class (the vast majority of a given
"nation"). Moreover, nationalism hides class differences within the
"nation" by arguing that all people must unite around their supposedly
common interests (as members of the same "nation"), when in fact they have
nothing in common due to the existence of hierarchies and classes. Its
function is to build a mass support base for local elites angry with
imperialism for blocking their ambitions to rule and exploit "their"
nation and fellow country people:
<i>"[W]e must not forget that we are always dealing with the organised
selfishness of privileged minorities which hide behind the skirts of
the nation, hide behind the credulity of the masses [when discussing
Nationalism]. We speak of national interests, national capital, national
spheres of interest, national honour, and national spirit; but we forget
that behind all this there are hidden merely the selfish interests of
power-loving politicians and money-loving business men for whom the
nation is a convenient cover to hide their personal greed and their
schemes for political power from the eyes of the world."</i> [Rudolf Rocker,
<b>Op. Cit.</b>, pp. 252-3]
Moreover, the Nation has effectively replaced God in terms of justifying
injustice and oppression and allowing individuals to wash their hands
of their own actions. For <i>"under cover of the nation everything can be
hid"</i> argues Rocker (echoing Bakunin, we must note). <i>"The national
flag covers every injustice, every unhumanity, every lie, every outrage,
every crime. The collective responsibility of the nation kills the
sense of justice of the individual and brings man to the point where
he overlooks injustice done; where, indeed, it may appear to him a
meritorious act if committed in the interests of the nation."</i> [<b>Op.
Cit.</b>, p. 252] (perhaps, in the future, the economy will increasingly
replace the nation just as the nation replaced god as the means of
escaping personal responsibility of our acts? Only time will tell,
but "economic efficiency" has been as commonly used to justify
oppression and exploitation as "reasons of state" and "the national
interest" have been).
Thus anarchists oppose nationalism in all its forms as harmful to
the interests of those who make up a given nation and their cultural
identities. However, anarchists are opposed to all forms of exploitation
and oppression, including imperialism (i.e. a situation of external
domination where the ruling class of one country dominates the people
and territory of another country - see section <a href="secD5.html">D.5</a>). While rejecting
Nationalism, anarchists do not necessarily oppose national liberation
struggles against such domination (see section <a href="secD7.html">D.7</a> for details).
However, it goes without saying that national "liberation" movements
that take on notions of racial, cultural or ethnic "superiority" or
"purity" or believe that cultural differences are somehow "rooted"
in biology get no support from anarchists.