A Response to a Response About Militarism, Nationalism and War

Canadians protesting against NATO forces in Canada.

A contribution to the "No war but class war" debate, defending the original article's position and criticising the "A response" text.

Submitted by R Totale on May 15, 2022

By Mike Gouldhawke (Métis & Cree, Treaty 6 territory)

The anonymous author of a recent response to the text “No War But Class War: Against State Nationalism And Inter-Imperialist War In Ukraine” starts off by claiming that they were “slightly disappointed to see the authors warning against uncritical allyship with any European nationalism.”

Personally, I’m disappointed to see that someone else is disappointed by critical thinking around state nationalism, particularly European and subsidiary settler colonial nationalisms. I’m also not sure what the purpose of expressing disappointment in critical thinking would be other than to discourage others from engaging in it and thereby protect the particularly flimsy narrative of someone else.

While conceding that the “anarchist position against all forms of nationalism is a bold and important one,” the author wonders “what the purpose of adding qualifiers to it is, unless to suggest that the nationalism of a Bolsonaro or a Modi is somehow more virtuous and desirable?”

Firstly, I wonder why we should care how bold such a claim is, rather than how correct it is, since that would seem to be what’s most important.

Secondly, I wasn’t among the writers of the “No War But Class War” text, but I’d speculate the purpose of singling out European nationalism is because that’s what we’re actually dealing with at the moment and where we’re at, both in terms of Russia’s war on Ukraine as well as the support that Euro-American settler states, the United States and Canada are giving and have been giving to the Ukrainian military, including it’s explicitly fascist and therefore nationalist regiment.

A position against all states and their nationalisms moreover does not require one to ignore the fact that some states are more powerful than others, as is the case with the U.S. being more powerful than Canada, and Russia being more powerful than Ukraine. Canada is still an imperialist and colonialist state regardless of it being much smaller in terms of population and much less powerful than the U.S.

Thirdly, it seems to me that the response author only brings up the Brazilian and Indian presidents as a moralistic sleight of hand, suggesting without any evidence or reasoning that the writers of the “No War But Class War” piece are implicitly suggesting that the nationalism of those presidents is “somehow more virtuous and desirable.”

This despite the writers explicitly critiquing all nation-states and their nationalism, not just the nationalism of particular presidents.

Rather than deal with the actual analysis of the piece in question, the author of the response to it continues to attribute secret ulterior motives to the writers, claiming that they are “clearly up to something,” simply because they critiqued the political position that listening to arbitrarily-selected individuals from an attacked group (anarchist or otherwise) can or should be the basis of anarchist analysis and practice.

The response author even falsely implies that the only purpose of the original article was to dismiss anarchists in Ukraine. If this were actually the case, an article containing analysis and positions (these also not limited to being about anarchists in Ukraine) would not have been necessary in the first place. The writers could have simply dismissed anarchists in Ukraine privately and without any wasted effort in terms of writing an article.

The response author claims that listening to anarchists in Ukraine is different from listening to all Ukrainians because it “starts out by looking for people who share our basic values and principles, and then seeks to learn from people who have more understanding of their own context than we do.”

However, this would be the opposite of the abandonment of critical thinking suggested at the start of their response. Anyone can call themselves “anarchists,” but not all anarchists mean the same thing by it. To find people who share our values and principles would precisely require going beyond superficial labels to discover what the content behind the label is, and this requires critical thinking and actual information, not vague uncritical cheerleading for certain aesthetics.

No doubt, those who live in a place likely know more about their context than those outside it. But this applies equally to North America as to Ukraine, since anarchists here likely know more about North American states’ military support for the Ukrainian state, how this plays into expanded militarism here, and the history of military force being deployed here in North America against Black and Indigenous peoples. Anarchists here have a clear and present stake in opposing the militarism of North American states.

Even if a North American anarchist was to defer all responsibility for critical thinking on Ukraine to their most trusted and familiar Ukrainian comrade, this would still do absolutely nothing to divest that North American anarchist from their responsibility of understanding and opposing North American states and their militarism. Even putting aside thinking and instead relying on natural sympathy alone, it’s not clear why this sympathy for people in Ukraine would override sympathy anarchists here feel for all those targeted by North American states and their militarism, both here and abroad, especially if their own people are among those targeted. The Americas are not a sacrifice zone for the supposed greater good somewhere else, anymore than anywhere else in the world should be for here.

The response author claims, with reference to the Resistance Committee, that the “No War But Class War” writers are obscuring the character of the struggle in Ukraine. The Resistance Committee is worth supporting, the responder proclaims. But they don’t deal with the point made in the “No War But Class War” article referencing a report by an anarchist in Ukraine, where it is stated that “Initiatives such as the Resistance Committee are formed within the military structure of the Ukrainian state.”

The response author falsely claims that the “No War But Class War” writers are putting forward a “position, which seems to operate on a simple equation that ‘Resistance Committee = the state = Azov’”.

This is not in fact the case, as the writers of the “No War But Class War” article never draw up such an equation.

Furthermore, how the Resistance Committee actually operates and whether it does so under the Ukrainian state is not a “position” at all, nor an “equation.”

It is either a practical fact that the Resistance Committee operates under the official military structure of the Ukrainian state, or it isn’t. The anarchist position, at least one anarchist position, is to oppose all states and their armies, and to be clear about whether self-proclaimed anarchists are actually acting on their own or as part of a state’s official army.

How an autonomous militia could operate in practice in a high-tech war zone involving two official armies (Ukrainian and Russian) is not something the response author, or any other anarchist has even mentioned let alone tried to explain, as far as I’ve seen. The author of the response seems to be the one doing the obscuring, not the writers of “No War But Class War.”

The response author even decries any attempt to separate actually autonomous anarchist initiatives to support migrants from participation in an official military structure, claiming that the writers of “No War But Class War” are attempting to “set the two things against each other,” as if this would be a bad thing for anarchists to do, as if this isn’t something anarchists have always done.

The response author then questions whether the Ukrainian far-right is more institutionalized than the Russian far-right, links to a story about Russian paramilitary massacres in Mali, and claims that the official Ukrainian fascist military battalion Azov is somehow being denied its autonomy and radicalism by the Ukrainian state, that it is still supposedly a question as to “how far it’s been successfully defanged and declawed” by the state.

We might instead question whether it’s been “defanged and declawed” at all, and why a fascist military battalion that’s more tightly-managed by the state would be acceptable. The fascists’ interests don’t need to be identical to the neo-liberal Ukrainian president for them to be amenable to each other, and both opposable by anarchists.

The incorporation of anarchists and fascists into the military also shouldn’t be equated with each other, since anarchists are ostensibly opposed to the state, while fascists are very much in favor of it. The state can use fascists to their benefit and fascists can benefit from integration into the state. The same should not be true for anarchists. If the state is trying to integrate anarchists, it’s to weaken or destroy us.

The response author seems to be trying to minimize the significance of fascist groups in Ukraine and the harm they are doing to Roma and other people. Precisely the kind of minimization the “No War But Class War” writers critiqued others for engaging in.

The responder also dismisses the “bad decisions that a subcultural street formation made eight years ago” (in making a truce with “national anarchists” and fascists) because of the potentially better things the same people might be doing now in the Resistance Committee. Critical thinking and positions against fascist movements are to be set aside for a supposed greater good, something that some anarchists, at least elsewhere, can’t necessarily afford to do even if they wanted to.

The response author goes on to make the seemingly grandiose claim that “In 2022, the [Ukrainian] anarchist movement is making a real attempt to constitute a serious material force, one that’s serving as a pole of attraction for other leftists and antifascists,” without any evidence of this actually being the case, and while expressing dismay that the “No War But Class War” writers might detract from support for this effort simply by making a critique.

But if a material force crumbles in the face of mere critique and analysis, we might feel the need to consider how forceful and real this material force actually is, whether we really want to support it, and whether it even needs our support, since the Canadian and American states are already supplying more weapons, military equipment and intelligence to the Ukrainian military than ragtag groups of anarchists in North America ever could, even if they wanted to.

The response author implies that building this nominally-anarchist force in Ukraine will help build opposition to the far-right that stands to benefit from the current situation. But building a force within an official army is not the same as building an autonomous force. And this is mere speculation at any rate.

The response author then somehow gets baffled by a critique of “lesser evilism” that also acknowledges the relative strength of the American empire. However there is no contradiction between two things being bad, one thing being worse, and taking the position that therefore we shouldn’t support either thing. This is precisely what the critique of “lesser evilism” consists of.

Then the response author hurls an unfounded accusation of being “very self-obsessed Americans” at the writers of “No War But Class War,” simply because they analyze how the U.S. state (which they find themselves in) and American capitalists seek to use this war to their benefit. One would think that anarchists in the U.S. opposing the U.S. state and American capitalists would be admirable to anarchists abroad instead of repugnant.

At any rate, in order to be in solidarity with others, one needs to start with one’s own struggle, where one is at, and this begins with an analysis of what the state and capitalists are doing in whatever country we happen to live in. Simply labeling anarchists in other countries as self-obsessed or narcissistic is not a form of analysis.

As the response author proceeds in their article, they continue to cast aspersions at the “No War But Class War” writers, accusing them of being “blasé about Russian imperialism” and of having attacked “the Resistance Committee for not being pure enough,” stances the writers do not actually take in their article. Again, the response author’s point seems to be to deflect from actual critique by making a straw-man argument against the article’s writers and disparaging their character.

Then the response author engages in a bizarre sarcastic comparison of the critique of American anarchists’ defensive allegiance to whiteness to “the Blackness of Vladimir Putin, perhaps?”

The point of this oddly abrupt and racist quip seems to be to suggest that American anarchists couldn’t possibly have a defensive allegiance to whiteness if they also oppose the white president of another country, but I’m not sure how this logic is supposed to follow. All white people don’t have to agree with each other at all times in order for them to still feel a defensive allegiance to whiteness. More basic class divisions within a country don’t even undermine this allegiance.

The response author follows up by equating anti-fascist militancy in the U.S. to “further militarization of a conflict.” However, militancy and militarism are not the same thing. The difference is exactly the one which the author deflects from throughout their whole response, the difference between autonomous groups and the state.

A difference that played out in this case precisely in the use of paramilitary force by the American state in the extrajudicial execution of an anti-fascist, Michael Reinoehl, by police.

For the overly-polite response author, “one of the stupidest lines of the entire piece” that they are critiquing is when the “No War But Class War” writers state, “We can oppose a Russian victory while finding antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat.”

The response author incredulously asks, “Can you imagine anyone at the time of the US invasion suggesting that they could find antifascist, or anti-fundamentalist, value in an Afghan defeat, and expecting anarchists to take them seriously?”

This however completely misses or reverses the point of defeatism, which for anarchists in North America at the time meant the defeat of North American states in Afghanistan, just as currently, anarchists in North America cannot cheer for North American states to benefit from their military support of the Ukrainian state.

Today Afghanistan remains one of countless reminders that imperialist states like Canada and the U.S. have only a negative role to play in any part of the world, including here in North America.

Moreover, we should always remember that states aren’t equivalent to peoples.

Finally, the response author falsely accuses the “No War But Class War” writers of somehow lapsing “into apologies for Russian imperialism” because they state they can find “antifascist value in a Ukrainian defeat.” However, the responder here leaves out the first part of the same sentence, where the writers stated, “We can oppose a Russian victory…” and fails to mention that the “No War But Class War” writers pointed to past collaboration between Russian and Ukrainian fascists.

The responder ends their piece with an appeal to their own sympathy “with those who are trying to organise anarchist and anti-fascist projects within Ukraine that could point in the direction of a less bleak future…”

The responder asks how comrades in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia could possibly be “just getting it wrong.”

But sympathy is not the question. Nor is how many things an ambiguous conglomeration of comrades in those countries might be getting righter or wronger with regards to a situation they are more familiar with than we are here in North America.

The question is the State itself, its militarism and nationalism, the relation between fascist or nationalist movements and the State, and finally, how anarchists in North America analyze their own situation, so as to even be capable of solidarity in the first place.

We can’t and don’t need to sacrifice our own opposition to North American states and their associated fascist and nationalist movements in order to oppose invasions and wars overseas. Just the opposite. We oppose all nation-states, militarism, fascism and state nationalism here, there and everywhere, for ourselves and in solidarity with others.