Conclusion: On Nationalism

Without attempting to present, on the one hand, Bakunin as less than A revolutionary or, on the other, Ôsugi as a hero (on re-reading the text it sometimes seems that such an impression might be construable), their respective behaviour was, nevertheless, extremely revealing.

Submitted by Spartacus on February 26, 2011

Bakunin, for all the praise heaped upon him by his successors in the anarchist movement (anarchists in general may be said to be rather uncritical of. themselves and to possess a tendency to be over-lavish with their selfcongratulation - which is what the praise of Bakunin often amounts to), for all but the last ten years of his life was primarily a Slav chauvinist. In a letter to Herzen, for example, written after arriving in San Francisco on October 15 1861, he wrote of "the Polish-Slavonic question, which has been my 'Idea Pixel since 1846....the glorious free Slav federation, the one way out for Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and the Slavonic peoples generally" (emphasis added). He even, during his imprisonment, went so far as to appeal to Tear Nicholas I to attack Western Europe bearing the message of Slavism. and to bring down the parliamentary democracies that flourished there. He hated Germans, he hated Jews (these, incidentally, seem to have been the fundamental reasons for his antipathy towards Marx) - perhaps he even hated Japanese?

In other words, the simple answer in our opinion to why Bakunin aid not spend longer in and retain a memory of Japan is: he was just not interested. That in itself would not put him in a minority of one, by any means, but there do seem to be certain implications which are worth raising.

The thing we are criticizing here is not merely Bakunin himself, for in his Euro-centredness he was the victim of conditioning and anyway, at this stage, still in his Blanquist 'revolutionary dictatorship', pre-anarchist phase. No, the thing which must be attacked, more than any one individual, is the essence of nationalist ideology, and the mind-distorting myth of nationalism as a revolutionary force. Bakunin .himself definitively exploded this myth after he throw off its shackles in the years following his escape from Siberia.

Nationalism does not appear out of the blue: it is the major component of all statist educational propaganda, for the creation of an externalenemy is the state's greatest weapon in its battle against its subject peoples. Nationalism's most vociferous believers in Russia, China, and in present-day Indochina have always been the intellectuals (at least, in those countries which lacked a comprehensive education system; in Japan, where such a system was introduced almost immediately after the Meiji Restoration, the effect was to allow nationalism to penetrate to every corner of the country, with results that need no describing here).

Bakunin was no exception to this rule. During the 1840s, before his capture and imprisonment, his natural audience comprised Polish intellectuals, despite his faith expressed in the downtrodden poor, To appeal in nationalistic terms to the poor to revolt against the established order (as opposed to jingoism, which by mystifying the process of subjection turns the poor into enthusiastic slaves-of the state) is about as effective as King Canute ordering the tide to ebb. But this home truth was not recognized by Bakunin until almost twenty years later. The result of this "conditioning" was his lack of interest in Japan, a lack of interest which clashed sharply with his call in the 'Appeal to the Slavs' (1847) for an end to national frontiers.

Ôsugi Sakae, except for a brief period in his extreme youth, did not embrace the doctrine of the Rising Sun. Indeed, when he was only 21 years old he joined the Japan Esperantist Association, and in the same year, 1906, opened an Esperanto school. His feelings towards international solidarity, already touched upon in the text, may be surmised from his description of himself as a "socialist in translation". He continued, "most of my socialist ideas come from translating European works on socialism and the social movement, which I have digested with eagerness and with satisfaction", A natural linguist, he was proficient in English, French, Italian, Russian, German, and Esperanto.

No doubt, in this self-effacing description he was doing himself less than justice. Still, it should be clear enough that he had managed from almost the very start, to overcome the enticements of the establishment -'perhaps stronger in pre-war Japan than anywhere else, and always backed up by the assassin's sword as Ôsugi found.

There is no question that the contemporary situation had much to do with the contrast between Ôsugi and Bakunin;. The 19th century Slavonic peoples were enslaved to the West by the Austro-Hungarian empire, and to the East by the Russian empire, so that Bakunin could conceive of the emancipation of the Slavs from the yoke of these two great despotisms as a giant step towards worldwide revolution. Ôsugi's Japan, on the other hand, had already defeated China in 1894-959 and was beefing up its jingoist propaganda at the very time when Ôsugi entered the socialist movement in 1903. His initiation to socialism therefore, was by way of a concrete struggle: that of Japanese social!:,t3 against the brewing Russo-Japanese War, and Ôsugi threw himself into it whole-heartedly with his first published article 'To the New Constripts’, translated from a French original in the magazine ‘L'Anarchie’.

* * *

Historical conditions thus played a great part in forming the respective attitudes of Bakunin and Ôsugi. Had their birth dates been switchad around, Bakunin would have found himself operating in a post-world war I Europe where nominal independence at least had been granted to the Slavs; Ôsugi, for his part, would surely have joined in the movement to wrest Japan from the shackles of the Tokugawa dictatorship and thrust it, as a powerful nation-state, into the modern world. in either case their ways of thinking would have been very different from what they were in reality.

The question, then is why the force of nationalism was so strong in the case of Bakunin, and so weak in the case of Ôsugi. Bakunin was an extremely Perceptive revolutionary. His approach to nationalism and the concept of the "Fatherland" is summed up in two paragraphs cited in 'Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle' by Alfred M. Bonnano, published by Bratach Dubh collective in 1976:

"The State is not the Fatherland, it is the abstraction, the meta- physical, mystical, political, juridical fiction of the Father land. The common people of all countries deeply love their father- land; but that is a natural, real love. The patriotism of the people is not just an idea, it is a fact; but political patriot- ism, love of the State, is not the faithful expression of that fact: it is an expression distorted by means of an ,?bstraction, always for the benefit of an exploiting minority.

"... Only that can be called a human principle which is universal and common to all men; qnd nationality separates men, therefore it is not a principle. hat is a principle is the respect which everyone should have for natural facts, real or social. Nation ality, like individuality, is one of those facts, Therefore we should respect it. To violate it is to commit a crime, and, to speak the language of ..azzini, it becomes a sacred principle each time it is menaced and violated. And that is why I feel myself always sincerely the patriot of all oppressed fatherlands."

These paragraphs (with suitable editing to remove sexist assumptions) could stand as an epitaph to the misguided efforts devoted to the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Yet the fact remains that Bakunin, like other Russian revolutionaries of the 19th century, was primarily a fighter for oppressed Slav fatherlands.

In discussions within the Libêro group we developed the idea that perhaps it was the vastness of the Slav regions that made Slav consciousness so difficult to overcome. In other words, one is governed to a large extent by one's horizons. A close examination of revolutions in agrarian countries like Vietnam or China reveals that the broad majority of peasants were fighting, not for the establishment of a state or even a nation, but to regain the autonomy over their own lives which they had enjoyed in the past. Their horizons, that is to say, were village ones. Such was not the case with intellectuals, whose horizons had been expanded by education to create the idea of a nation or state as the object of political activity. The transformation of struggles for personal autonomy into struggles for "national independence" has been one of the major counter-revolutionary achievements of this century, and the primary responsibility lies with bourgeois intellectuals out to seize the reins of power from the foreign imperialists. Bakunin, to his credit and our advantage, forecast such a development more than a century ago.

Yet, for a long period his own horizons were determined by his Slav consciousness, horizons which set him apart from those Russian peasants whose physical and mental boundaries were determined by their mir or community. The sheer extent of one's mental horizons when one identified with the Slav race as a whole effectively blurred one's vision of non-Slav peoples (compare today the Great Russian chauvinism of the "New Tsars" in Moscow towards national minorities like the Uighurs, Kazaks and so on).

By way of contrast, quite the opposite set of circumstances might be cited to explain the behaviour of Ôsugi Sakae. The awareness of Japan's smallness compared with China triggered off very early in Japanese history a sense of "uniqueness", a defensive reaction which ultimately le d to the national fascism of the 19300 (Wilhelm Reich's "small man complex" on a national scale). At the same time though, while the Chinese have always maintained a strict lack of interest in things non-Chinese, the Japanese, on the contrary, have traditionally been eager to keep abreast of foreign events and ideas. The isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shoguns was a historical aberration brought on by fear of social change; yet even during those two centuries the rulers in Edo kept in touch with developments in the West through compulsory regular visits by Dutch trade missions to the Shogun's palace. Long before, both Korea and China had been taken as models for the shaping of Japanese civilization, and when the Tokugawas' hold was finally broken the sudden rush to absorb Western learning was a return to normalcy rather than the historical. curiosity it is usually taken to be.

Japan, then, was a small country, and the horizons of its educated class narrower than those of the Slav intellectuals. In those early days, Japanese intellectuals on the Right and on the Left saw, nothing strange and nothing shameful in borrowing foreign ideas, if those ideas appeared definitively to be good ones, As time went by, reactionary politicians turned the sense of Japan's uniqueness into a national myth, adorned it with a veil of Shinto and closed the doors on foreign ideas once again. At the time Ôsugi Sakae was alive, however, the West still offered an exciting source of new inspiration. The readiness with which he initially applauded the Russian revolution, sought to absorb the lessons of the Makhno movement, set up his Esperanto school, translated Western writers, and, finally, set out for the international conference in Berlin, can thus be understood.

Ôsugi's Japanese-ness itself made him both open to external influences and eager to take part in overseas activities. Bakunin's Slav-ness rave him an outlook that was at once broad - thanks to the geographical spread of the Slav peoples - yet narrow. That restriction precluded him from responding positively to the opportunity offered by his visit to Japan.


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