What’s new in “anarchism”? National self-determination and the coincidence of interests with capital?!

Against capitalist wars - against capitalist peace.

Třídní Válka (Class War) and Antimilitaristická Iniciativa (Anti-Militarist Initiative) respond to Wayne Price's article, "Are Anarchists Giving in to War Fever?".

Submitted by albatross on May 24, 2023

The following lines are a short response to an article by Wayne Price published on the Czech Anarchist Federation (AFed) website. The delay in our brief response can only be explained by the fact that it took us a long time to recover from the text “Are Anarchists Giving in to War Fever?” [originally this text was published in English on the Anarkismo network]. We assumed that even an organization as programmatically disparate and confused as AFed could not deviate from at least the basic principles of anarchism, since it already has it in its name. But we were wrong.

In the context of the war in the Ukraine, under the guise of specific conditions and critical support, Wayne Price (and his publisher, AFed) are trying to introduce into anarchism (which we take for a revolutionary movement and part of the general struggle of the proletariat against the dictatorship of capital) fundamental elements of bourgeois ideology that are in direct contradiction to the anarchist program for the emancipation of humanity. Let’s remark that this program does not derive from the text of this or that anarchist theorist, but was formed in opposition to capitalism, in struggle against it and as its negation.

Anarchists for the nation?

Who exactly do the “anarchists” of AFed support in Ukraine? Wayne Price tries to convince us that it is the “oppressed nation”. He states that “Anarchists reject nationalism but not the goal of national self-determination (…) including the freedom of a people to chose what political system they want (e.g. a democratic state, a centralized state, or no state at all [anarchy]) — and their freedom to decide what economic system they want (state socialism, capitalism, libertarian socialism).”

That “anarchists” operate with the concept of nation is new to us! For until now, we have assumed that anarchists are opposed to nationhood and its material consequences such as the nation-state, national self-determination, the national unity, and ultimately even the war between nations.

Revolutionary anarchists have always held anti-national positions, and for a good reason. If we argue that social relations correspond to the stage of development of material production and also produce principles, ideas, and categories corresponding to these social relations, then it is clear that even these ideas, these categories, are only historical and transitory products that appear and disappear. Such an idea is also the nation, an artificially created entity, a historical product of the development of the productive forces, which served the bourgeoisie to carry out its revolution, to establish its domination. And also to attach the proletariat to its project, to divide it into nation-states, to convince it that its interests are identical with those of the capitalists of the same nationality, so that it can better control it physically and ideologically.

The nation is an artificial alliance of the exploited and the exploiters. The “people’s independence, culture and national freedom” that Wayne Price comes up with is just a terrain on which the bourgeoisie can exploit us at will and make us believe that if we are chased to work by a slaveholder who speaks our language, our toil is more bearable.

The constitution of the proletariat as a class is constantly undermined by the competition between proletarians as free and equal sellers of commodities, of labor power. All ideological, political and military forces consolidate this atomization which social peace and bourgeois order lean on. The proletariat disintegrates into the people, this bourgeois negation of the exploited as a universal being, as a class standing in antagonism to capital. And this negation ultimately culminates in the massacre in the capitalist war.

The establishment and existence of nation-states has not eliminated the very essence of the bourgeoisie – competition – which forces the bourgeois to brutally oppose and confront each other on all levels regarding the distribution of the means of production and markets. Unity within the bourgeoisie (for example within a nation-state, international agreements, etc.) is established in order to obtain the best possible conditions in the commercial war (and also the class war). This unity can at any time break up into various specific factions which will assert their interests in mutual conflicts.

Therefore, any peace is only a phase of an upcoming war. On the other hand, every action of the proletariat – however partial – in which it acts for itself and its interests contains an affirmation of the proletariat and its struggle for the general social revolution.

That is why anarchism as a revolutionary movement from the beginning opposes the fatherland, the nation and the national struggle and seeks the abolition of all frontiers and nations. Revolutionary anarchists do not support one nation against another, neither “the weaker one” nor “the invaded one” nor “the oppressed one”. Revolutionary anarchists stand on the side of the proletariat on both sides of the front.

The coincidence of whose interests?

Price explains the fact that some “anarchists” are fighting for the interests of the Ukrainian state by a kind of temporary “coincidence of interests between Western imperialism and the Ukrainian people.”

If “anarchists” feel that their interests are “temporarily” intersecting with those of the bourgeoisie, they should seriously consider what interests are actually concerned. In the case of Russia and the Western powers opposed to it, it is about expanding the sphere of influence and maintaining Ukraine’s status as a buffer zone.

As far as we know, the anarchists, as part of our class movement, are and always have been concerned with bringing about a social revolution. With realizing the interests of the oppressed class, liberating it from the yoke of capitalism, with realizing a real human community.

So what is the coincidence of interests?

Just as it is not in the interest of the proletariat to build new factories (in which it will exchange its life energy in filth and sweat for a poor wage, contributing not only to the enrichment of a particular capitalist-owner, but above all to reproduction of the whole social relation of capital that enslaves it), neither is it in its interest to defend national borders, the integrity of territory, democracy or human rights, which are only a framework for its exploitation and an instrument of control.

Wayne Price invokes the example of the Friends of Durruti. But he didn’t understand their critique of the united front in the least. After all, the united front which the Friends of Durruti criticize is not only a united formal organization, the participation of anarchists in government or collaboration with this or that party, but also an informal alliance, a united course of struggle for and in the name of the bourgeois program, a resignation of the program of the proletariat and its postponement to the time “after the war”, i.e. precisely the unity of interests referred to above.

Indeed, the Friends of Durruti did not demand the withdrawal of the anarchists from the front, but this proved to be a decisive error from a historical point of view. While the proletarians on the Aragon front thought that they were defending by their struggle the ongoing social revolution against the fascists, the democratic anti-fascist parties were carrying out a counter-revolution in the hinterland. In other words, instead of freezing in the trenches and suffering from a lack of supplies and ammunition, the anarchists of Spain should have gone to Barcelona and Madrid to put the brakes on the forces which, under the guise of a united anti-fascist front, were step by step restoring the rule of capital. The Spanish Revolution was defeated both by the fascists and, precisely and above all, by the “democratic parties” which had prepared the ground for them.

There is now no proletarian revolution in the Ukraine, and the proletarians on the front are indisputably dying only for the bourgeois state and its interests. Therefore, we cannot but repeat what many have pointed out before us. The proletariat has no interest in defending its state or in fighting for democracy. Neither democracy nor “our own state” is a terrain that is more favorable to the class struggle – quite the contrary.

The slogan of the Ukrainian proletariat is not “Glory to Ukraine” (a better one, more democratic one, socially just one and altogether the one that cannot exist in the reality of capitalist relations), but “Not a man out of the factory, not a penny out of the wage!”

What solidarity?

We can only understand the capitalist world and its deep social contradictions through the perspective of proletarian struggle, which is and must necessarily be internationalist. The proletariat, whatever country it is in, whatever conditions it faces, constitutes one single international class, and by the logic of the matter it is up against one and the same enemy.

The bourgeoisie and its ideologues (even though they may beautifully call themselves “anarchists”) deny the universal character of the conditions of struggle of the proletariat, in stressing the specifics of this or that situation.

The bourgeoisie is trying to impose on us the terrain on which it can best defeat us. In other words, the bourgeoisie lets the proletariat “forget” that it constitutes the only universal class and imposes on it the terrain of confrontation that suits it best. In this way it can dictate the framework of the war it sends us to: the international united strength of the bourgeoisie against the isolated activity of our class, confined to this or that area. The bourgeois politics for the proletariat, social democratic politics, keeps the proletariat of each country within its borders, transforming the “internationalism” of our class into collections, petitions, parliamentary interpellations and “solidarity” through bank transfers and supportive emails. This form of activity is not only completely innocuous to the bourgeoisie, but also transforms the need for direct action against capital into collaboration with the bourgeoisie.

Anarchists are not interested in this kind of “solidarity” with the proletarians (not the people) in Ukraine, but rather in working together with them to promote the same struggle, the same interests, the same community of struggle, all over the world. Against this false “solidarity” we oppose a real solidarity that is the result of a common struggle.

What to say in conclusion?

Someone should tell Wayne Price that the positions he takes (not only in relation to the war in Ukraine) are not those of anarchists, but those of liberals.

And the Czech Anarchist Federation should decide whether it should not drop the word “anarchist” from its name, as it is totally inconsistent with the positions it holds. Today AFed has more than one foot in the camp of warmongers who support the mutual massacre of proletarians in Ukraine in the name of defending imaginary democracy, national self-determination and other concepts that are completely alien to the proletariat (and even more so to anarchists).

And if the present war conflict spreads to the rest of Europe, will AFed perhaps send our brothers and sisters to the slaughter in the name of the same misguided and essentially bourgeois ideology?

Class War [ CW ] & Anti-Militarist Initiative [ AMI ] – May 2023

Comments

Machnette

4 months ago

Submitted by Machnette on May 24, 2023

You've been told why our comrades fight. Continue to strawman better comrades than you if you want, but you are fooling nobody. You zealots, have placed political objectives as a higher priority than human rights. That's why you can't wrap your head around this. You're looking for a political objective, when you shouldn't fucking need one.
I can't ask you to stop appeasing the occupation, or the premeditated, systematic, engoing genocide that comes with it, but I can ask you kindly please stop smearing comrades who have given everything, including their lives, to try end the occupation. They deserve better than you

adri

4 months ago

Submitted by adri on May 25, 2023

That is why anarchism as a revolutionary movement from the beginning opposes the fatherland, the nation and the national struggle and seeks the abolition of all frontiers and nations. Revolutionary anarchists do not support one nation against another, neither “the weaker one” nor “the invaded one” nor “the oppressed one”. Revolutionary anarchists stand on the side of the proletariat on both sides of the front.

Revolutionary anarchists have always held anti-national positions, and for a good reason.

Besides treating anarchism as some monolithic set of ideas embodied by the authors and their organizations, anarchist history is actually chock-full of examples of anarchists backing different factions in national or other conflicts (and not always irrationally). One could take Ba Jin's support of the Second United Front against Japanese imperialism, Bakunin's call on the French to resist the Prussian invasion (somewhat reminiscent of the current Russo-Ukraine conflict), the well-known case of Kropotkin in the First World War, etc.

adri

4 months ago

Submitted by adri on May 25, 2023

That is why anarchism as a revolutionary movement from the beginning opposes the fatherland, the nation and the national struggle and seeks the abolition of all frontiers and nations. Revolutionary anarchists do not support one nation against another, neither “the weaker one” nor “the invaded one” nor “the oppressed one”. Revolutionary anarchists stand on the side of the proletariat on both sides of the front.

This emphasis on the "proletariat" is also quite strange/ahistorical within the context of most of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century national liberation struggles. Places like China and Vietnam, for example, were unindustrialized countries with much larger peasant, rather than proletarian, populations. It's ridiculous saying that "Chinese anarchists stood on the side of the proletariat during the Japanese invasion/occupation," firstly because a lot of them actually sided with the CCP-KMT effort to defend China, and secondly because the Chinese peasantry dwarfed the working class in size.

passwordEtAl

3 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by passwordEtAl on June 6, 2023

You realize that the CNT literally joined Francesc Macià's Estat Català's plan, in the 20s, to achieve national liberation of Catalonia and Euskal Herria under what was not only a possibilitist choice but a conscious choice of support for national liberation, right? Hell, even when a plan of collaboration was presented to the URSS by Francesc Macià and Andreu Nin (invited by the PCF) they stood by it.

Nationalism being a social construction doesn't make it devoid of material impacts, and ignoring this under a false pretense of confraternity which does not atrictuate through liberation first and foremost is merely the capitulation to the extreme chauvinism of those subalternizing and/or negating communities. National liberation (even if this is not applicable to Ukraine) is not only not a means of reproduction of proletarian division but rather the opposite: it is a fundamental part without which no truly free, non-hierarchial social relation can genuinely come to place.

Hell, even someone as central for the same existence of the CNT as a mass organisation (1917's Congrès de Sants) like Salvador Seguí was more than clear in the respect, as his speech (as much as those given to extreme chauvinism have tried to falsfy) at Madrid's Ateneo in 1919 showed: https://cgtcatalunya.cat/discurs-de-salvador-segui-a-lateneu-de-madrid-el-1919/

Reddebrek

3 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by Reddebrek on June 9, 2023

I thank you for this, I've found it very interesting reading, you also reminded me I hadn't finished reading Wayne Price's article. You've created something of a quandary, I find myself in agreement with many of your positions, but you haven't addressed the reality of the situation much. To be blunt, I think the fundamental flaw in this work is that it's an example of an idea that makes perfect logical sense in a vacuum but doesn't fit the real situation so you haven't made an attempt.

"The nation is an artificial alliance of the exploited and the exploiters. The “people’s independence, culture and national freedom” that Wayne Price comes up with is just a terrain on which the bourgeoisie can exploit us at will and make us believe that if we are chased to work by a slaveholder who speaks our language, our toil is more bearable."

This is a great rebuttal to a piece advocating participation in an independence referendum, but it's a terrible line regarding the situation you're applying here. And not only because many Ukrainians speak Russian as a first language and yet most of them are siding with the opposition. I would suggest that the majority of Ukrainians engaging in conflict are not doing so out of a desire for a boss who speaks Ukrainian, but a desire not to be killed or forced under the rule of a violent and autocratic regime.

"The proletariat has no interest in defending its state or in fighting for democracy. Neither democracy nor “our own state” is a terrain that is more favorable to the class struggle – quite the contrary."

And do the proletarians not have an interest in defending themselves from violence? That is ultimately what all forms of resistance are, actions taken to protect life and liberty to the fullest extent possible. We can criticise the ways and how's of resistance, such as actively allying with the Ukrainian military, but denying the reasons for doing so doesn't help at all.

Also, having read the Friends of Durruti appeal and Wayne Price's work, I disagree that he misunderstood their criticism and don't believe much of what you write afterwards demonstrates that he does. And this passage

"Indeed, the Friends of Durruti did not demand the withdrawal of the anarchists from the front, but this proved to be a decisive error from a historical point of view. While the proletarians on the Aragon front thought that they were defending by their struggle the ongoing social revolution against the fascists, the democratic anti-fascist parties were carrying out a counter-revolution in the hinterland. In other words, instead of freezing in the trenches and suffering from a lack of supplies and ammunition, the anarchists of Spain should have gone to Barcelona and Madrid to put the brakes on the forces which, under the guise of a united anti-fascist front, were step by step restoring the rule of capital."

Don't really get the point of this passage. The CNT forces did leave the front and overthrew the communists in March 1939, but then they and the socialists and the rest of the republican army sued for peace because they couldn't win. The Anarchists wanted to maintain an active defence while negotiations took place, whereas the army ordered no resistance. The talks failed, so there was a mass exodus. The situation was slightly better in 1938 but not by much, I don't see how an earlier move would've enabled a revolutionary Spain to survive the advance of Franco's forces at that point.

"The bourgeoisie and its ideologues (even though they may beautifully call themselves “anarchists”) deny the universal character of the conditions of struggle of the proletariat, in stressing the specifics of this or that situation." Which to be clear, the specifics of this situation are conflict and occupation and quite a brutal one as far as those go. Again I don't understand the shyness here, I assume you are convinced of the correctness of your convictions, so I don't see why you're reluctant to acknowledge reality and substitute vague terminology.

"The slogan of the Ukrainian proletariat is not “Glory to Ukraine” (a better one, more democratic one, socially just one and altogether the one that cannot exist in the reality of capitalist relations), but “Not a man out of the factory, not a penny out of the wage!”"

And adherence to this line will stop the violence how exactly? This isn't a conflict between the Ukrainian population, it's one power invading and occupying more territory. I thought the point of this article was in relation to the conflict in Ukraine, but there is little in the content that says so. The entire population of Ukraine could be hardened revolutionists, but there's nothing here for them to address the issue of the invasion. Warfare is dynamic, it has multiple actors, if you focus your activity on one then all you're doing is providing assistance for the others. Ukrainians marching on Kyiv and shooting Zelensky may be gratifying, but it won't bring about a social revolution either, so long as the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation remain active in the field.

It's alright to denounce capitalist war, but once capitalist war breaks out anyway, you have to acknowledge that fact and account for it.

"Anarchists are not interested in this kind of “solidarity” with the proletarians (not the people) in Ukraine, but rather in working together with them to promote the same struggle, the same interests, the same community of struggle, all over the world. Against this false “solidarity” we oppose a real solidarity that is the result of a common struggle."

I disagree, while you've made your objection to collaboration with the Ukrainian government clear, and in the process equated all acts of resistance to such collaboration, you haven't provided any real solidarity or even an outline of what a common struggle looks like.

I had to cntrl+f to find any mention of Russia.

"If “anarchists” feel that their interests are “temporarily” intersecting with those of the bourgeoisie, they should seriously consider what interests are actually concerned. In the case of Russia and the Western powers opposed to it, it is about expanding the sphere of influence and maintaining Ukraine’s status as a buffer zone."

These are the interests of the Russian government and whoever you consider to be Western, but they're not the only interests involved here, are these the interests of the people in Ukraine, or Russia and Belarus? And is that what they're fighting for? Is expanding the western or russian sphere and remaining a buffer zone in the interest of the Ukrainian government?

Sure, I'll agree that supporting the Russian or Western interest in expanding spheres and keeping Ukraine a buffer zone would discount someone from being a revolutionary. But I've read Price's work and others that have been associated with it, and while I don't agree with every point they make and disagree with some, I don't believe that's what they're doing, and I don't think an honest criticism and opposition would lead you to the conclusion that they are doing that. I think that's what you want them to be doing. I can see how a quick scan of Price could give that impression, with his frequent references to national self-determination (one of the things that rubbed me the wrong way) but he does make clear that he's talking about the population and their wishes and not the government.

sherbu-kteer

3 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on June 10, 2023

passwordEtAl do you have more information about the CNT's participation in pacts with Estat Català in the 20s? Googling this in English at least does not give me many good results, mainly stuff when EC repressed the CNT in 1934, and during the Civil War, when the CNT and the EC were in constant conflict.

There is an odd discrepancy between Segui speeches here – this speech dated October 4 where he criticises Catalonian nationalism/regionalism:

https://libcom.org/article/speech-madrid-ateneo-salvador-segui

and the excerpt you linked to, dated October 1, criticising the Regionalist League but otherwise supporting Catalonian nationalism. Is one of them inaccurate or did Segui two speeches different in message on two different nights?

sherbu-kteer

3 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on June 10, 2023

As for the more general issue of Ukraine and this article, I do think it rests heavily on sloganeering but any analysis of the war is going to be like that, since practically none of us are in the practical position of being able to give strategic proposals. Certainly, I don't think we should tell workers to join the army in the name of realism.

If my country was invaded by Indonesia or something I know that the vast majority of workers, the vast majority of unionists and even probably the majority of the left would support my own government's resistance against this. And this is a country with a relatively strong union presence, a not insignificant left, and hasn't gone through the communism-discrediting process of the USSR's rise and fall, and the upsurge in nationalism that came after it.

The working class often supports wars at their outset, this was definitely the case at the outbreak of WWI where in many places it was only the hardcore dogmatic communists who held onto anti war positions. But over time as the war dragged on and conditions became worse, the war became unpopular to the point where the armies were falling apart.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the fact that internationalist anti war positions are unpopular among workers is depressing, but not unexpected, and not something that can or will last forever. Martin Glaberman has used the example of workers during WWII voting for a no strike pledge in their union in line with patriotic war fever, but then the majority of them going on wildcat strike a year or so later. It's when stuff like that happens that militants are able to draw out the lessons and help connect the dots between this and opposition to capitalism. But that can only happen when the militants actually hold on to their positions and not just swim with the tide.

NB: this is even more true in countries outside of Ukraine where the irritatingness of article's like Prices become more obvious, where, say, leftists might be unwilling to oppose NATO arms increases because they don't want to deny the right of Ukraine to defend itself by any means necessary. To be honest Price's arguments are just a clone version of the writings of USec Trotskyists except with more anarchist quotes. I do not think there's any more substance or sincerity in it than this above article.