This is the next installment from “The Anarchist Current,” the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I have now created an “Anarchist Current” page on this blog, where I am including all of the installments as they are posted, so that eventually the entire essay will be available on one webpage.
Nationalism and Colonialism
From the time that explicitly anarchist ideas emerged from Europe in the 1840s, anarchists have denounced the artificial division of peoples into competing nations and states as an unceasing source of militarism, war and conflict, and as a means by which the ruling classes secure the obedience of the masses. “It is the governments,” Proudhon wrote in 1851, “who, pretending to establish order among men, arrange them forthwith in hostile camps, and as their only occupation is to produce servitude at home, their art lies in maintaining war abroad, war in fact or war in prospect. The oppression of peoples and their mutual hatred are two correlative, inseparable facts, which reproduce each other, and which cannot come to an end except simultaneously, by the destruction of their common cause, government” (Volume One, Selection 12).
In Moribund Society and Anarchy (1893), Jean Grave asked, “what can be more arbitrary than frontiers? For what reason do men located on this side of a fictitious line belong to a nation more than those on the other side? The arbitrariness of these distinctions is so evident that nowadays the racial spirit is claimed as the justification for parceling peoples into distinct nations. But here again the distinction is of no value and rests upon no serious foundation, for every nation is itself but an amalgamation of races quite different from each other, not to speak of the interminglings and crossings which the relations operating among nations, more and more developed, more and more intimate, bring about everyday… To the genuine individual all men are brothers and have equal rights to live and to evolve according to their own wills, upon this earth which is large enough and fruitful enough to nourish all… Instead of going on cutting each other’s throats [the workers] ought to stretch out their hands across the frontiers and unite all their efforts in making war upon their real, their only enemies: authority and capital” (Volume One, Selection 76).
Having drawn the connection between racism, patriotism and war, Grave went on to deal with colonialism, “this hybrid product of patriotism and mercantilism combined—brigandage and highway robbery for the benefit of the ruling classes!” Bakunin had earlier remarked that “to offend, to despoil, to plunder, to assassinate or enslave one’s fellowman is ordinarily regarded as a crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the standpoint of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue” (Volume One, Selection 20).
In his discussion of colonialism, Grave observed in a similar vein that when someone breaks “into his neighbour’s house,” stealing whatever he can, “he is a criminal; society condemns him. But if a government finds itself driven to a standstill by an internal situation which necessitates some external ‘diversion’; if it be encumbered at home by unemployed hands of which it knows not how to rid itself; of products which it cannot get distributed; let this government declare war against remote peoples which it knows to be too feeble to resist it, let it take possession of their country, subject them to an entire system of exploitation, force its products upon them, massacre them if they attempt to escape this exploitation with which it weighs them down… It is no longer called robbery or assassination… this is called ‘civilizing’ undeveloped peoples” (Volume One, Selection 76).
Anarchists opposed colonial domination and exploitation, as well as militarism, war and the State. At the 1907 International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam, the delegates declared themselves “enemies of all armed force vested in the hands of the State—be it army, gendarmerie, police or magistracy” and expressed their “hope that all the peoples concerned will respond to any declaration of war by insurrection” (Volume One, Selection 80). Unfortunately, when war broke out in Europe in 1914, the peoples concerned did not respond with insurrection against their warring masters but for the most part rushed off to slaughter. This caused a very small minority of anarchists, including some very prominent ones, such as Grave and Kropotkin, to support the war against Germany in order to defend English and French “liberties” against German imperialism.
Most anarchists opposed the war, with a group including Malatesta, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Luigi Bertoni, George Barrett, Ferdinand Domela Niewenhuis and Alexander Schapiro issuing an International Anarchist Manifesto Against War (1915), in which they argued that France, with “its Biribi [penal battalions in Algeria], its bloody conquests in Tonkin, Madagascar, Morocco, and its compulsory enlistment of black troops,” and England, “which exploits, divides, and oppresses the population of its immense colonial Empire,” were hardly deserving of anarchist support (Volume One, Selection 81). Rather, it is the mission of anarchists who, Malatesta wrote, “wish the end of all oppression and of all exploitation of man by man… to awaken a consciousness of the antagonism of interests between dominators and dominated, between exploiters and workers, and to develop the class struggle inside each country, and the solidarity among all workers across the frontiers, as against any prejudice and passion of either race or nationality” (Volume One, Selection 80).