Anationalism - Eugen Relgis

Cover image of Cosmometápolis by Eugen Relgis

This chapter is extracted from Eugen Relgis, Cosmometápolis (Montevideo: Ediciones Humanidad, 1950), translated into Spanish by Eloy Muñiz. Originally published in Romania in the mid-1930s, the additional notes here were added to the later edition.
In this chapter, Relgis provides a gloss and libertarian critique of Eugene Lanti’s ‘Manifesto of Anationalists’ (1931), the first sections of which are available in English translation.
Somewhat obscure, and including several assertions few anarchists would likely agree with today, the subject matter remains of interest.

Submitted by Dannny on November 25, 2020

The universalist ideology is not, as one might believe, the patrimony of a minority of intellectuals. It is a highly significant fact that in the heart of the proletarian movement, and over the heads of its political leaders, tendencies close to the Cosmometapolitan ideal have appeared. We can find the rudiments of this idea in the programme of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) of the United States of America. The members of this organisation are persecuted not only because of the class struggle they sustain, but also because of the universal union they promote. Much more categorical is the activity of the anational grouping, the World Anational Association (Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda) founded around 1920, with headquarters in Paris, and whose theoretician and leader was, until November 1933, E. Lanti, author of numerous writings regarding the Esperanto language. For him, anationalism without Esperanto is meaningless.

In the Manifesto of the Anationalists, Lanti clearly delineates the problem ‘in the ranks of the workers’ Esperanto movement’. From the outset he rejects the equivalence that is drawn between anationalism and proletarian internationalism. On the contrary, this internationalism is ‘a type of opportunism favoured by party leaders who ignore the language problem’. A true revolutionary must go further, must go beyond internationalism, must be animated by an anational spirit. It is natural, therefore, that those who consider anationalism to be a fantasy also consider the universal language to be a utopia.

The critique that E. Lanti makes of internationalism is an important contribution to combatting the national spirit. This may appear paradoxical but is in fact quite apposite. In 'The Communist Manifesto', Marx and Engels say that the workers have no country. Jaurés, an able dialectician, affirms in ‘The New Army’, a type of patriotism that for him is equivalent to nationalism and… internationalism. When it is said that the workers have no country, this does not mean that they are ‘countryless’. The authors of 'The Communist Manifesto' demand that the workers struggle for the conquest of political power in order that they can become ‘the dominant class of the nation’, and therefore also national, albeit not in the bourgeois sense. When the antagonism between classes within nations disappears, so will hostility between nations disappear. Jaurés deduces that Marx and Engels did not prescribe the disappearance of nations in spite of being internationalists.

We are still very far from anationalism. Nations are facts and realities. However, Lanti affirms, ‘to recognise a fact does not mean to justify it’. Religions and epidemics are also facts, but they are not justified on that basis. A Jaurés, a Babel, a Lenin – (‘the words “defence of the fatherland” in a truly national war, are by no means a form of deception’. Complete Works Volume XIII) – recognise, in effect, the nation as something natural and worthy of defence. It is therefore evident that the internationalism of the workers’ leaders does not tend to the denationalisation of the world. In all of the workers’ congresses the independence of nations and their autonomy has been affirmed. For the leaders of the workers, internationalism ‘is only a system which aims at the setting up of a juridical organisation among the nations in order to avoid conflicts and wars, but which in no way pretends to abolish the national peculiarities constituted by languages, customs, tradition, and so forth.’ A good number of internationalists recognise the worth of adopting an auxiliary language, be it Esperanto or another. Lenin was an adversary of Esperanto. He preferred the Russian language, meaning the imperialism of the national language! Not all internationalists are resigned to the idea that languages and national cultures will disappear and that they ‘will become archaic, dead things, like the ancient Greek and Roman languages and cultures.’

Kautsky showed himself to be more advanced when he wrote (in The Freedom of Nations 1917) that the object of socialist evolution is ‘not the differentiation but the assimilation of nationalities’ – not national sovereignty but only an autonomous national administration – and not in order to give ‘to the masses a national culture, but a European culture that would be identified more and more with a world culture’. Kautsky, on demonstrating that the assimilation of the nations is inevitable, is nevertheless far from being an anationalist, although he also accepts a universal auxiliary language. Like all socialists, communists, and anarchists (we believe, however, that there are many exceptions among the latter), he conceives of socialist society as functioning within national units. This is, in spite of everything, a step forward if the internationalists recognise that ‘the absolute national sovereignty’ of states and nations must be limited. Lanti, speaking of those who demand the creation of a supranational organisation ‘that would have legislative power over all nations’, refers to the conception of Follin. He is, however, incorrect to assert that this organisation ‘always conserves national units’ and that it differs from anationalism – on the contrary, Follin’s idea is based on the principle that national interests are nothing more than fictions.

As regards the Communists, they believe that, in the imperialist phase of capitalism, the workers must refuse all participation in wars to defend the fatherland, they continue to follow the slogan of Lenin: the transformation of imperialist war into a civil war. This does not mean, however, that the peoples must renounce the defence of ‘their national rights’ when these are truly threatened. (See, for example, ‘The Programme of the Communist International’, 1928).

This point of view was also accepted by the Second International. The examples are too well known to go over again here. The attitude of the socialists in the 1914-18 war continues to be a cruel disillusionment. Otto Bauer, a prominent Marxist, also gives us little hope for the future when he writes in The Problem of Nationalities and Social Democracy, that socialism will be at the same time the apogee of nationalism: ‘Only socialist society will make the national culture the property of the whole people, and will thus make a nation of all the people. It is for this reason that every policy of national evolution is necessarily a socialist policy’ [this is a literal translation from Relgis rather than the source]... This last phrase could be endorsed by… a national socialist like Hitler! At the same time, Otto Bauer announces that, as a result of national autonomy, it will give to socialism ‘an increasing differentiation between the nations of the socialist society, a clearer expression of their specificities, a clearer distinction between their respective characters.’ Yes, this is socialism: ‘the accentuation of differences between nations’!

These citations comprehensively establish that socialist and communist internationalism is in no way anational. Lanti believes that the leaders of the working class are sufficiently well-read to know what the word cosmopolitanism means. Insofar as its etymology, it has the same meaning as anationalism. The proletarian leaders have proved sufficiently in their writings and in their actions that they consider ‘nations to be things to safeguard and defend’. Time will tell if they were right.

Anationalism, considered by Lanti to be a doctrine born of the Esperanto-speaking workers’ movement, cannot be identified with internationalism. In their struggle for the conquest of political power, the proletarian leaders have in mind the ‘human material’ of their own country: the level of education, the language and the national culture of the respective peoples. No political agitator will confront the prejudices of the masses and recommend that those in the class struggle adopt ‘methods that do not take into account nationalities.’ This is demonstrated above all by the national policy of the USSR, where national particularities have been, on the contrary, exalted, thereby promoting the language and national culture of the numerous peoples contained within the Soviet Federation. It being necessary nevertheless to have a common language among the diverse nations situated within the territory of the USSR, the Russian language is used as an auxiliary language. All things considered, the acceptance of a single language in a territory so vast is preferable to the excessive patriotism that was manifested during recent times in the Ukraine, Small Russia, etc. Some Communists have begun to realise the danger of national culture to the structural unity of the Communist state. But they do not yet have the courage to recognise anationalism. Krupskaya, the widow of Lenin, has attacked both anationalism and Esperanto, closely linking the one to the other. This is natural in a Communist state, in which socialism has only just begun its phase of ‘state capitalism’ (1).

In the light of his critique, E. Lanti comes to an analysis of the elements of a world culture. These reside in science and technique, ‘daughters of reason, which produces the artificial’, thereby transforming the world. (We are therefore distanced from the natural elements of the promoters of ‘The Natural Order’). Science cannot be national any more than art can. ‘Reason is the same in every latitude.’ The uniformity imposed by technology and by civilised life is counterposed by ‘the weight of several centuries of tradition, the diversity of languages and differences in education.’ Today, economic laws are planetary. The mentality of the multitude still finds itself, in the main, as it was centuries ago, ‘when national economies could still exist, and therefore also national independence.’ Lanti recognises the process of historical materialism and the class struggle against capitalism, repeating the well-known arguments, but he has the merit of avoiding the serious contradiction of the proletarian leaders who, pursuing political power, exploit national sentiment.

For the anationalists, the world represents a single unit, ‘a whole which belongs to all who dwell on it’. The indigenous of a region rich in primary resources who leave them unused do not have the right to impede others from using those natural riches. Capitalism exploits them for its own benefit, for the domination of its ruling class; the workers have the right to use them for the good of all. Making this distinction, Lanti declares that the disappearance of sovereign nations that still practise the bloody policy of colonialism must bring with it ‘the suppression of all social particularities and the submission of all men to the directives of reason.’ Every national policy, (including socialist policy), that affirms ‘the autonomy of peoples’, the conservation of customs, and the national language, is reactionary. National autonomy will only be a stage towards denationalisation, albeit one more useful to the bourgeoisie than to the proletarians. The anationalists are not opposed to the sincere struggle for independence of nations oppressed by capitalism: we repeat that this is only a stage, ‘an essentially reactionary one’, in the struggle for socialism and which constitutes a great waste of energy, time and blood. The proletariat must convince itself that, in the end, only the ‘renunciation of all sovereignty of nation or state, and the disappearance of the exploitation of man by man, can inaugurate the necessary conditions for the existence of a world of lasting peace’.

Lanti examines various phenomena of international politics (the struggle of General Sandino in Nicaragua against the United States; the conflict in Morocco, between Abd el Krim and French imperialism; the intervention of the Comintern in China, which advised the Chinese Communists to support the struggle of the Kuomintang against foreign imperialism). At heart, these national struggles have accentuated the antagonism between the large and the small nations, but the disingenuous intervention of the Communists has not served the cause of the world revolution; it has created new nationalist footholds in the hope of subsequently defeating world capitalism. The national struggle is always reactionary; only the class struggle (we would say, the direct action of the anti-authoritarian workers) ‘is necessarily revolutionary’, and gives to the exploited the consciousness of global solidarity, while the national struggle awakens patriotic sentiments, ‘a subjective obstacle that is opposed very strongly to the union of workers of different countries’. The unification of the world means therefore, the denationalisation of the peoples, the annihilation of national superstitions, languages etc.

The anationalists are committed to this mission; they do not support the opportunism of parties that tend to the political conquest of their own country. Lanti denounces the manoeuvres of political agitators, their demagoguery (which also flourishes in the heart of the so called ‘left wing’ parties) and which excites the prejudices of the masses. This can clearly be seen in the intrigues between Communists and Socialists, who in their discussions have managed to establish agreements between lifelong adversaries. No political party can work efficiently for the destruction of the ‘subjective forces that work against or impede the historical process’, which, according to Lanti, ‘leads humanity necessarily to the world union for the continued development of the forces of production’. As a humanitarian, I cannot but subscribe to this postulate, and, in effect, the law that governs the world is that of unity on the biological and economical plane. This is not is not to deny, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, that other complimentary law, the universal law of the struggle for individuality. It is not necessary to return to that here (2).

Lanti persists in demonstrating to the proletariat that its liberation from the capitalist yoke depends on the class struggle and not the national struggle. When the workers obtained, as a result of their bloody struggles, the eight-hour day and better conditions of work and life, they took a step towards their emancipation. But when they struggled as in Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, or Poland, for the liberation of nations, they were able to see for themselves that so-called national liberation had not altered their fate as proletarians. The struggle must be organised on a world scale. Only anationalism can offer ‘a new method of rational organisation’ – proletarian solidarity not being established on a national or international basis, but rather on a global basis, and according to simple professional categories (according to branches of industry, etc). A miners’ strike, for example, agreed upon by the global union, will be followed by all the workers of this industrial branch. When capitalism is defeated, this union will be able to ‘organise the mining industry according to the needs and the demands of the entirety of humanity’.

Anationalism will not be accepted quickly by the working class. Lanti admits as much. This does not mean that what he wants is a utopia. Marx and Engels also seemed utopian when they published The Communist Manifesto in the last century. Even today there is no socialist society in existence such as the USSR hopes to construct. A revolutionary such as Lanti also wonders whether, what is in fact being constructed in the USSR is really socialism, or whether ‘the economy of this country tends towards state capitalism, an immense oligarchic bureaucracy.’ A question to which numerous facts sadly suggest an affirmative response, and which has led many sincere partisans of the world revolution to bow before the evidence and agree with this objective critique of the Soviet political regime.

If, after a century of propaganda, ‘socialism still does not exist’, the principal cause should be identified in the policy of the various workers’ internationals. Lanti recognises that: ‘their policy was reactionary in certain respects and, at the very least, vulgarly opportunist’. Paying particular attention to the question of Esperanto, which did not exist when Marx and Engels wrote 'The Communist Manifesto', Lanti affirms that, although tens of thousands of workers practise this language every day, ‘the leaders of the workers’ movement close their eyes to this rational means for universal mutual comprehension.’ In spite of everything, they are at least consistent. The spread of Esperanto in the workers’ movement would force them to reverse their policies and even their principles. They understand that they would be diminished in their role as leaders if the workers of all countries could understand each other in a single language and in a direct way, without the interpretation of interested parties. Let us not forget that the socialist and communist revolutions have created a new class, that of ‘leaders of the working class, whose interests are put at risk by the universal language’. The anationalists denounce this ‘parasitical leadership’, calling on all intelligent men to utilise all rational elements and progressive techniques, in the struggle against national prejudices, cultures and languages – with the latter considered auxiliaries and Esperanto the principal language. Everything that contributes to the fusion of peoples constitutes good and human work.

Proclaiming reason, which builds and invents, as the single basis of world culture, the anationalists do not believe, however, that men ‘are formed in such a state that they do not think or work, except according to reason.’ They recognise that sentiment is a great force and effective mobiliser, and that myths have played a great role in history. Would anationalism be a new myth? Lanti is indifferent to this possibility. Reason was too often put at the service of mysticism, and it ‘would be just compensation to put mysticism at the service of reason’. And to avoid confusion Lanti repeats his conviction that only the exploited class of the workers (in which we would have to include, by my judgment, the intellectuals, so, they do not continue to be a separate category) ‘can be the historic force that institutes an anational society’. That is, on the basis of a global organisation, the platform for a global culture whose basic element would be reason.

Anticipating the essential objection of the individualists and anarchists, Lanti concludes his exposition with the reassurance that anationalism, by creating a type of unity out of the character and spiritual state of mankind, would not for that reason, mould men according to the same model. National particularities would disappear, but individual differences would continue to exist. The men of the future, able to have relations in all parts of the world and to dispose of many free hours, would be able to dedicate themselves to that personal cultivation that would give rise to powerful individuality, ‘characterised by original ideas and feelings that will be expressed in various artforms, able to be understood and enjoyed throughout the whole world’.

We could finish on this happy forecast if we were not obliged to provide Lanti with the response and rectification that he himself asked for in an open letter published in the Bulletin of the Workers’ Esperantist Association (Paris, n. 8, March-May 1929) on the occasion of the Esperanto edition of Humanitarian Principles, to which we added an article about Esperanto as the language of pacifism. Repeating some of the ideas expressed above, Lanti expressed his distrust of the efforts of the pacifists. He considered them to be, in the main, patriots, and that progressive techniques would impose peace through the economic unification of a planet. In the face of patriots, Lanti is always ‘in a state of legitimate defence’; he rejects a pacifist thesis that appeals to the ‘benevolence’ of nationalists of any stripe. This would be fair enough if our pacifism, which is active and integral, left even a little room for nationalist idolatry. It is superfluous to prove the contrary. But Lanti counts me among such nationalists ‘for the same reason as Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Professor G. F. Nikolai and many others. You are nationalists because your ideal operates on the basis of a national language. To create a sennacieca (anational) mentality, one must think and write in Esperanto.’ (Can it be that Lanti only writes in French in order to attack his adversaries?).

On a different note, Lanti asks me to rectify what I have written in my pamphlet (incidentally available in Esperanto!) about how the World Anational Association (SAT) might be subordinated to a political party. Lanti considers this affirmation to be a calumny put about by Esperantists in the ‘Universal Association’ based in Geneva, who are irritated by the activity of the anationalists. A resolution in this regard was passed at the SAT Congress in Gothenburg (1929).

I am happy to confirm that the SAT resolution of 1929 denies the political character of the workers’ Esperanto movement as I had perceived it in 1925. The warning note that I sounded in ‘The Language of Pacificism’ (in the pamphlet La humanitaristaj principoj), regarding the danger of subordinating Esperanto-speaking workers to a political party (I was thinking then of the Communists), has proven justified. Precisely because it proclaims itself to be universal, Esperanto cannot be an exclusive language: it does not belong to one group or party, but to all those who wish to facilitate communication among races, peoples, and all social and ethnic categories. Esperanto does not belong to Esperantists alone. To consider people like Rolland, Nikolai, and Barbusse to be nationalists (who, at their age and with their workload do not have time to learn to write in Esperanto) is naïve at best. Rolland’s appeal on behalf of Esperanto has encouraged many young people to learn it. The language will be universal when it is made obligatory in all schools.

As for the Esperantist imperialism proclaimed by Lanti on behalf of the Esperanto-speaking proletariat: might it not prove an obstacle for a good number of those otherwise inclined to learn the language? Let us not forget that today Esperanto is an auxiliary language, and that no one becomes sennacieca – anational – due to the mere fact of speaking or writing Esperanto. To that end, an intellectual and moral effort at self-humanisation is required. We need a feeling of universality that Esperanto cannot create overnight, but which it can contribute to developing.

Although Lanti struggles against the politics of working-class leaders, who form a parasitical ‘bureaucratic oligarchy’, he has made nevertheless a political gesture by advocating Esperantist imperialism and anational exclusivism. All of politics is imperialist – it tends towards limitless development. We recognise that Lanti rejects the subordination of the SAT to a political party and we celebrate our ability to join with him in the spirit of tolerance and fraternal collaboration that he proclaims at the end of his open letter.

(1). Barbusse was able to express opinions favourable to the Esperanto language in 1921. Today, after 30 years, the situation has changed completely. This was put across in an article by Ferdinand Osmer, ‘Radio without Esperanto – Why, then?’, which appeared in the review Die Freie Gesellschaft (The Free Society) of Darmstadt, Germany, n. 5, March 1950.
The author shows how the Communist Parties (when the Russian communists were not yet liquidated and the Bolsheviks did not yet exercise complete domination) valued Esperanto to spread their ideas. Later, however ‘and this is known by very few people in the world, Stalin decreed a secret prohibition of the use of Esperanto in Russia (recently, the same decree was extended to the eastern zone of Germany)… because the libertarian socialists that have a non-party orientation, and also the founders of the SAT (Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda), with its headquarters in Amsterdam, have reproached Stalin, who also ‘spoke’ Esperanto, and his totalitarian regime, declaring it reactionary. Thus, in the whole of Russia, there is no Esperanto and knowledge of the same is considered to be a crime worthy of exile to Siberia’. The same prohibition is maintained in satellite countries, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, where ‘the language is so widespread and highly esteemed, that in order to prohibit it, he (Stalin) would risk losing the prestige he still enjoys’ (1930).
(2). According to Follin, the categorisation of individuals according to their economic function and their position in the class struggle, just as for reasons of their political origin or the struggle between nations, is a fictitious point of view from the principle of unity and is opposed to true universalisation and individualisation.



3 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by ZJW on November 30, 2020

Dannny -- (or anyone else that might know) --

Who is the mentioned 'Follin'? What's the rest of his name?


3 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Dannny on November 30, 2020

Hi ZJW, I think it must refer to Henri Léon Follin. Some info in French here:
Maybe other posters know more about him?


3 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by ZJW on December 8, 2020

Says Relgis: 'A revolutionary such as Lanti also wonders whether, what is in fact being constructed in the USSR is really socialism, or whether ‘the economy of this country tends towards state capitalism, an immense oligarchic bureaucracy.'

Actually Lanti takes so blinkered a view of the unSoviet Union as to say in a footnote --

'[...] If capitalist states were to attack Russia, the workers there would not be defending any 'fatherland', but the Revolution, Socialism. Furthermore it would be the duty of the workers of the ‘world to take part in its defence in every possible way. [...]'

But that was in 1931. In their denunciatory 1935 'Ĉu socialismo konstruiĝas en Sovetio?' (Is Socialism being constructed in the Soviet Union?), Lanti and co-writer Ivon (ie Robert Guiheneuf) take a healthier view:

'[...] Soviet society [...] has nothing in common with socialism. Some qualify it as 'state capitalism'; others compare it to Peru's Inca society before the conquest of the Spaniards [...] I would unhesitatingly conclude: RED FASCISM reigns in the Soviet Union.'

PS Thanks, Danny, for the information about Follin.


3 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Gary on December 9, 2020

Relgis deals with the Manifesto of the Non-Nationalists (Manifesto de la Sennaciistoj) originally written in Esperanto by Lanti. (btw: the term "sennaciistoj" is more frequently translated "anationalists".) I have now (at last) scanned the missing parts of the English translation and put the complete text on the web. It should be of interest to readers of Relgis’ critique: