Beyond nationalism, but not without it

Beyond nationalism, but not without it

Former Black Panther and anarchist Ashanti Alston's brief article outlining why he objects to anti-nationalism and how he sees nationalism and anti-statism as not necessarily opposing ideas. We do not agree with this article, but reproduce it for reference.

What motivates me more than anything else about anarchism and its relevance to Black revolution is that it has offered me some powerful insights into why we have not been able to recover from our defeat (the 60’s revolution) and advance forward to the kinds of untities, organizations and activities that make for invincible revolutionary movements.

There are all kinds of Nationalisms and there are all kinds of reactions to nationalism. I would like to address this issue from the perspective of someone who has moved through and grown within some of the Black Nationalisms specific to the Black Community. I would like to share what that means to me as it pertains to the questions you raised for this ONWARD theme of Anarchism and Nationalism.

"…we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist. – Audre Lorde

Great quote. I’ve taken it from the latest issue of Arsenal #4 (page 4) as it introduces its own discussion into the very same theme. As a Black anarchist TIRED of primarily white anarchists just totally dismissing nationalism, I truly appreciate Arsenal & Onward taking this on as two of the newest newspaper/mags on the scene.

Black nationalism saved my life, in a sense, as a teenager in the 1960’s. It "jarred" my unconscious acceptance of amerikkanism dogging my peoples and helped me to see the larger picture. I am a 60’s child. There was Malcolm, there was H. Rap Brown and Stokeley Carmichael of the Black Power movement, and then there was the Black Panther Party. All were nationalists, all represent, also, an evolution of nationalism within the black community. But because of the totally racist, genocidal dynamic within this Babylonian Empire, the black nationalist understood that we must…we must…we must primarily look to ourselves to free ourselves. Point blank. And none of these thinker felt it was necessary to ‘check in’ with The White Man (from the ruler to the revolutionary) to see if it was okay. Ha! Picture that. It was about our survival as a people, not as that mythical "working class" or that equally mythical "citizen." SO, for me, as this teenager who had just witnessed the 60’s Rebellions in my own hometown, my own thoroughly racist hometown, nationalism was a lifesaver. WE MUST LOVE EACH OTHER. BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. WE MUST CONTROL OUR OWN COMMUNITIES. Etcetera, etcetera.

Its funny cause as an anarchist searching for some good anarchist shit from the 60’s to be able to hold up and show "proof" that the anarchist were better on the position of Nationalism than the Marxists and Leninists, I found hardly anything! I found some positive stuff from a "libertarian" publication but to my surprise they represented the "anarcho-CAPITIALIST tendency! Yet, I found them to be on point and consistent on RESPECTING nationalism and national liberation. ("The Libertarian Forum" of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Karl Hess, Joseph Peden, and Murray N. Rothbard). They, at least, understood that black people’s nationalist struggle was a struggle against the State, the Babylonian state. They, also, looked at what the nationalist groups were doing in their actual grassroots practice, like creating concrete defenses against repression and alternatives in survival institutions. Thus, they liked what the Panthers were doing on the ground through their programs and supported that kind of nationalism as being compatible with "anarchism on the ground." Paul Goodman made similar observations of the early civil rights movement groups. But it was understood that these groups were dealing with issues of survival against genocide, and that these groups were developing their own analyses and programs to rally their communities. One last thing about the libertarians of LF, they interestingly enough were critical of the Panthers when the Party turned towards Marxism and other authoritarian ideologies because in their "on the ground" practice the survival programs were no longer spontaneous responses to specific oppressions but increasingly had to be kept under the tight control of the Party.

Nationalism and statism are different in that nationalism can be anti-state. But they can have commonalities in that nationalism may only be against a particular kind of state, such as a Racist State, or a Fascist State. Anarchism and nationalism are similar in that they are both anti-statist, but what does it mean when the specific anarchist movements within a specific country are racist and dismissive of any and all nationalism, be it reactionary or revolutionary???? For me, even the nationalism of a Louis Farrakhan is about saving my people, though it is also thoroughly sexist, capitalist, homophobic and potentially fascist. Yet, it has played an important part in keeping a certain black pride and resistance going. Their "on the ground" work is very important in keeping an anti-racist mentality going. As a black anarchist, that’s MY issue to deal with cuz they’se MY FOLKS. But it points to where anarchism and nationalism have differences, and that is in anarchists having NO understanding of what it means to be BLACK in this fucked up society. We do not have the luxury of being so intellectual about this excruciating boot on our collective neck, this modern-day middle-passage into the Prison Industrial Complex, this…that…this…that.

As a postmodernist anarchist, identity politics is important to me. Go back to Audre Lorde’s quote. Every time I hear someone talk about my people as if we are just some "working class" or "proletariat" I wanna get as far away from that person or group as possible, anarchist, Marxist, whatever. As a postmodernist anarchist I also find my people’s experience the font from which we will find our way to liberation and power. That’s what I get from being the "insurrection of subjugated knowledges. My nationalism gave me that kind of pride because it was such a rejection of White thinking or at least a decentering of the primacy of white thought, capitalist, socialist, whatever. I say this to say that folks outside of our experience need to respect that they aint got no monopoly on revolutionary thinking and dam sure aint got none on revolutionary practice. It is easy to sit back and intellectualize about our nationalism from the modernist, eurocentric framework of rational, scientific, materialist models. While one does that, it is our nationalism which constantly rally our people come together, remember our history, love ourselves, dream on and fight back. Black anarchists and anti-authoritarian revolutionaries understand the limitations of nationalism in terms of its historical sexism, hierarchy, or its modernist trappings in general. But we also recognize anarchism modernist trappings in the form of American racist privilege when it comes to people of color.

The efforts of Lorenzo Kom’boa Erving, Greg Jackson and others to build an organization/federation of black community partisans/organizers is an example of uniting black revolutionary nationalism and anarchism. I believe that Black Fist, even if called generally a people of color or third world anti-authoritarian organization, understood the necessity to be grounded in the experiences of black and brown communities. Thus, the experiences of the Panthers and the Brown Berets and other like groups were essential. The question seems to be whether white anarchists and anti-authoritarians can work with such groups. Even if those two groups no longer exists, their experiences are important.

White folks need to deal with being ANTI-RACIST ALLIES to folks of color communities and activists. Activists in particular because we are usually whites’ entry point into any possible relationship with our communities.. Anarchist theory and practice cannot take the form of a mere adherence to the founding fathers and canonal practices, such as Kropotkin, Bakunin, and the Spanish Civil War. Tired of hearing it! Anarchism HERE in Babylon must reflect our unique problems and possibilities for struggle. Our struggles are not just against capitalism. Too simple. Our struggles are not just against racism. That’s, also, too simple. There’s all kinds of negative isms we are fighting against and just as importantly, all kinds of worlds we are fighting for. That’s why I feel that the whole idea and practice of "convergences" and "spokescouncils" are sooooo important to activists in general to learn from and enhance because they are about making space for all "Voices" to be heard and factored into the decision-making so that whatever activities comes forth from it prefigures the kind of new worlds we truly want.


To my folks of color:

COME ENVISION…envision a world, of worlds within our world where there’s principled co-existence within the wonderful diversity of the Black Community.

Harlems / Spanish harlems / watts / hip-hop communities / villages of the Carolina coast / college communities / gay-lesbian-transgender communities / zulu nation / new afrikan / religious communities that come together mainly on Saturday or Sunday / squatter communities / outlaw communities / kemetic communities / ibo-ghanaian-sierra leonean-ethiopian-rasta neighborhoods / nomadic poet-artist tribes / and then those of us who just be plain ignant and harmless and crazy when we have to be and fun-loving and like to journey through and between communities and sometimes just create new mixed ones…WHAT IF ? …and HOW ?

Ella Baker said we can do it if we can trust ourselves and get away from leadership-led revolution; Kwesi Balagoon said we can do it if we willing to create a chaos that will shut this mutha down; Audre Lorde said we can do it if we LEARN TO LOVE AND RESPECT OUR BEAUTIFUL DIVERSITY and reject the tools of our oppressors; Harriet Tubman daid aint a better way t live THAN AT-WAR FOR A RIGHTEOUS CASUE; and Franz Fanon said if we smack that mutha across the face, drive that pig outta your territory at the point of a gun IS LIBERATING FOR THE SOUL.

WHAT IF ? Envision it…HOW?…

Like Huey Newton’s community of communities, BEYOND NATIONALISM and fully self-determining, embracing our diversity of beliefs, lifestyles and non-exploitative economic arrangements, reuniting Earth-loving peoples with a loving Earth.

Through the Imagination, All is possible.

Originally appeared on Anarchist Panther Zine #1 and taken from Anarchist Panther


Juan Conatz
Dec 30 2011 02:45

I just assumed this article would get the "We do not agree..." tag so I put it in the intro. I'm going through some writings of various former Black Panther turned anarchist folks and since the topic of nationalism is one that often creates a ton of discussion on here, I thought I'd put this in the library.

Dec 30 2011 03:16

Cheers for this Juan. I found it interesting. I, like most here, consider 'national liberation struggles' a dead end cause. That page of history has turned and we are now dealing with the consequences. That said, I am not sure about the one size fits all approach to a critique of nationalism. It certainly applies to all european nationalisms. But it is more difficult when you apply that critique to Fanon (and actually read the text, rather than deal with strawmans of 'third world liberation' I have tried to deal with these problems before on another thread in relation to Fanon. indeed, I think 'black nationalism' doesn't quite fit the mould of nationalism-kritik either.


Like Huey Newton’s community of communities, BEYOND NATIONALISM and fully self-determining, embracing our diversity of beliefs, lifestyles and non-exploitative economic arrangements, reuniting Earth-loving peoples with a loving Earth.

this resonates pretty well with Fanon's view of nationalism in The Wretched of The Earth.

That said. There are huge problems with this piece. I think in part this has to do with the genre of the piece (polemical). So, rather than explicate the exact ways black nationalism may be different from eurocentric nationalism, Alston just asserts that it is different. That is not going to convince many (though I myself am still working out what I think about all of this). If Alston wants this,

That’s why I feel that the whole idea and practice of "convergences" and "spokescouncils" are sooooo important to activists in general to learn from and enhance because they are about making space for all "Voices" to be heard and factored into the decision-making so that whatever activities comes forth from it prefigures the kind of new worlds we truly want.

Which are all totally laudable aims (ones that chime with most of us), the question becomes, what is it essentially about nationalism that would make this possible? (this is where the differences between eurocentric nationalism and black nationalism need to be properly analyzed and compared before we can adequately answer. Something i have yet to get around to roll eyes ).

N.B. I think there is also a problem for our British comrades because black nationalism never really unfolded here in the same way as it did the U.S.

Juan Conatz
Dec 30 2011 03:35

I think the "good" nationalism has never really been defined in any real way by those who advocate it. I'm specifically thinking of some American anarchist POC organizers who more or less have that view. Most of the time it just seems like another word for having separate organizations or "spaces", which I think makes sense to a certain extent, although I do go back and forth on this.

Seeing how things happen in the Occupy movement in the States for instance, one can easily become sympathetic to that view. Issues that disproportionately effect blacks and Latinos are thrown under the rug for the sake of some so-called unity. I mean, I've seen some white people getting real mad at some black females at even bringing up the topic of race. This white liberal "colorblindness" is absolute poison for social movements. It's big reason why Occupy the Hood exists.

Ex profundis
Dec 30 2011 06:52

Two things I understand from reading this:

1. He's right to be unconcerned with the working class, at least directly. The concept comes out of Marx's "proletariat", the lowest class of citizens in the Roman empire, or those European states that carried on its tradition. Well - that doesn't say much for the slaves and the colonies, eh? And in the United States context, the black community still hasn't been whole-heartedly admitted into the workforce, what used to be the working class that Marx saw in Europe. Working-class struggle doesn't apply to them as blacks, or at least it is an awkward, halfway identification. Even a "lumpen" label doesn't quite work. It assumes blacks at large have been fully accepted as citizens, beyond in name, therefore considered lawbreakers in a meaningful sense, equally given a chance in the legal process, and a proportionate chance in lawmaking. After a century of lip service after formal abolition of slavery, I can see now the past appeal to forgetting all about integration, and fighting for a separated black nation. With the FBI crackdown on the Black Panthers, this project and similar action-oriented thoughts to cultural liberation were halted, and discredited. Also the LA project of gang unity (and thus potential disbandment, into a unified, peaceful community) was destroyed by the LAPD. Both were good, but patriarchal and based on the informal dictatorship of street warriors ("potentially fascist", as Alston noted about the BPP, but could be applied to ghetto culture).

Not much to work with, for an anarchist, especially one who agrees with the gist of anarchism, but can't relate much to the struggles of dead European intellectuals and urban workers. It puts him with an odd relationship of cultural necessity to black nationalism, not to mention that he is a former Black Panther himself. For quite a while, it's been the only game in town.

2. However. Once I saw footage of him talking about recreating a black culture and politics that drew from African roots. That seemed a beautiful idea. It could create an alternative to a nationalist (and therefore inevitably European) approach to black independence struggle. That could in turn inspire other ethnic struggles for independence. And yes, it doesn't have to start with Bakunin, Kropotkin, the CNT, the IWW etc (although for a few pre-WWII working blacks, of course, the IWW was a relatively good union to be a part of - the only one for them in fact). There are plenty of records of pre-European, pre-Islamic African history, culture and political structure - albeit filtered through European anthropologists' minds. From what little I've read there seems to be much egalitarian sentiment, done in distinctively African ways, in that body of records. This could be translated into lessons for the pseudo-proletarian African-American community.

I'm embarrassed thinking about this, having only observations from a distance to go off of. It feels like a slightly less ignorant version of "If I were a poor black kid". Still, having been raised white and US-American, I think I've at least recognized that perhaps "working class unity" is an unintended, Eurocentric way of erasing African identity, which has no place in European economy, worker or employer, that wasn't forced on it. A more humble push for anti-capitalist unity, based on what we really have in common, seems more in order than trying to get everyone in the world onto the urban worker bandwagon, without giving them a chance to make their own economic demands.

Dec 30 2011 10:19

The main thing that struck me about this thread was That it raised the question of Anarchist positions on Nationalism and the importance of relaying the Anarchist line in the correct manner.
There is a difference between Nationalism and Self-Determination in that the latter does not neccessarily imply Nationalism but the legitimate right of people to resist imperial oppression swell as domestic tyranny.
Many Left groups confuse the two for Various reasons but Libertarians need to haVe a cogent anti imperialist and anti Nationalist line otherwise our position resembles Leftist dogma or worse liberal reactionary propaganda.
The class nature of anti imperialism must always be at the forefront of Anarchist theory as to do otherwise aids reaction and our enemy.
For example in the case of Ireland Anarchists would stress support for anti Unionist forces but not Republican or Statist's.They would stress the class perspective as opposed to the "Nationalist people" etc

Dec 30 2011 11:08
freemind wrote:
There is a difference between Nationalism and Self-Determination in that the latter does not neccessarily imply Nationalism but the legitimate right of people to resist imperial oppression swell as domestic tyranny.

We seem to have had many discussions in the past about this point, freemind.

Although I was unclear about it at first, I have been persuaded by many posters here that your formulation of this is incorrect.

As far as I am aware, for us 'self-determination' means 'class self-determination', not 'national self-determination', and that 'people' is not a Communist category, and we should use the term 'class' when we are discussing our political grouping of society, not 'people'.

So, to sum up, I'd argue that there is no difference between N and SD, and 'resistance' against bosses of all stripes, domestic and foreign, by 'workers', not a 'people', should be our stance.

PS. 'legitimate right'? Who determines 'legitimacy'? 'Workers' (against bosses) or a 'People' (a worker and boss alliance) against other 'peoples'?

Dec 30 2011 11:35

Hello Lbird!
I take yor point and do not dispute that "self determination means class self determination" .
This is what I was trying to convey although I used the term "people" in a generalised sense.
On the "legitimacy" point I would argue that it is subjective and as you pointed out depends on interpretation.Maybe I would have clarified this if my post was longer.
Taking this into account our sense of what self determination means ie;class autonomy is totally different from nationalism.
Perhaps I was not as concise and clear as yourself but I feel we are basically in agreement.This emphasises the point that Libertarian Communist and Anarchist propaganda re;N and SD should be cogent and clear and more extensive than what I have seen previously.

Dec 30 2011 12:15

Hiya, freemind, thanks for your response.

Yeah, on 'clarity', we should strive to be as 'concise and clear' as we can, and try to spell out clearly what our terms mean.

For me, the term 'self-determination' is always the sign either of a nationalist perspective or of a slightly muddled Communist.

For 'class self-determination' we should use the term 'class struggle', so we can clearly identify SD with N, and avoid both.

And 'people' should never be used by a Communist! 'People' always hides the class content of a 'people'. We should see 'people' as synonymous, in effect, with 'nation'.

freemind wrote:
...I feel we are basically in agreement

Yeah, I think so, too.

But wait until the late shift arrive!

Dec 30 2011 12:35

Thanks for the warning comrade LOL!
Thanks for the clarification too.