Anarchism, Communalism and Blood and Soil

Nationalism is a generalization of a group of people, someone claiming a common identity. This is comparable to racism, sexism and other attempts at creating monolithic identities. Nationalism is one of the more obviously false generalizations, but let’s take a closer look at the details supporting this identity. The identitarian movement in Europe is the most recent expression of these kinds of generalizations. In theory, these groupings do not cause harm, but in practice any interactions between self-identified members of different groups will result in conflict. Of course, as long as we don’t interact, there won’t be conflict, but that’s another problem.

Another trend in Europe has been labelled national-anarchism. The term anarcho-identitarian has also been used. 

“National-Anarchism echoes most strains of anarchism by expressing a desire to reorganize human relationships, with an emphasis on replacing the hierarchical structures of the state and capitalism with local, community decision-making. National-Anarchists, however, advocate collective action organized along the lines of a stateless ethnic national identity, and aim towards a decentralized social order where each new tribe builds and maintains a permanent autonomous zone for a self-sufficient commune, which is politically meritocratic, economically mutualistic, socially and culturally traditional, and ecologically sustainable.” – Wikipedia

“Misdiagnosed by most anarchists as fascist, ‘national anarchism’ fuses radical decentralism, anti-hegemonic anti-statism (and often anti-capitalism), with a strong self-determinist thrust that stresses cultural-ethnic homogeneity with a traditional past justifying a radical future” – Wikipedia (Statement by Zalabaza Anarchist Communist Front)

So, it’s anti-class, motivated by the same metaphysical “spirit of the nation” that Hitler and Mussolini advocated. And it’s anti-state, but is it also anti-racist? And to what extent does it allow for individualism? And is the connection to a homeland and living space based on race or culture or is it actually just a positive, interactive environmentalism?

I don’t think territory, a necessary component of a modern state, is a good basis for organization, although space inevitably affects e.g. logistics and so can’t be ignored. Either way, this emphasis on the land links national-anarchism to green movements, including paleoconservatism. Murray Bookchin’s social ecology and communalism are surprisingly similar to these ideas. He argues that communities should be built from below by local groups who then form federations with other groups. This, in contrast to the current political subdivision of power which starts from above with a state parliament and trickles down into increasingly regional districts. He further argues that this is nothing like nationalism or any other form of isolationism because federalism means groups are reaching out to each other, desiring to cooperate across borders. However, local tribal groups may well unite in federations as well, as long as they believe they share some degree of a racially, ethnically, culturally or elsewise unifying generalization.

Bookchin argues for the growth of small, territory-based political institutions, in contrast to e.g. the anarcho-syndicalist method of growing unions at the local workplace or in the specific vocation, although perhaps not necessarily to the exclusion of organizations based on something other than territory. This also in contrast to identity politics which use personal identities with the aim of uniting people into increasingly large groups to gain strength against oppression from above, including the workers’ movement, feminism, civil rights movements et cetera as well as the cooperation (?) between usually Marxist-Leninist groups and nationalist movements in order to end colonialism and imperialism. These identities aren’t automatically negative and it needs to be stressed that identities are often forced upon ‘others’ thus having real consequences whether the identities are in any sense real or not.

Whatever strengths and weaknesses, whatever is true or false about these movements, there is an interesting connection to the physical territory in communalism which echoes very old, very fascist, even very statist ideas. The rise of nationalism in Europe and the call for popular suffrage was sometimes linked to language (both by the fact of literal bureaucracy and through the Christian conception of the word of God) as opposed to the identity of the monarch or the nobility. Newspapers play an important role here as well. Sometimes this meant it was most strongly connected to the (supposedly aboriginal) rural population, to the land in a literal sense and to rural life in general, romanticizing the farmer as an ideal.

Blut und Boden (blood and soil) was popularized in National-Socialist Germany and the basis for the concept of Lebensraum, meaning room to live (for a nation.) A place for the nation, that the group won’t be subjected to the folly of the ‘others’. The nazis used a pseudo-scientific understanding of genetic diversity to argue that your homeland was the cause of your behaviour, which in turn caused a local culture. A slightly more modern nation, the United States of America, has not been able to base their identity on an already-existing, specific European nation. Therefore, we get something called civic nationalism.

“Civic nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly. – Wikipedia
“Civic-nationalist states are often characterized by adoption of the jus soli (law of the soil) for granting citizenship in the country, deeming all persons born within the integral territory of the state citizens and members of the nation, regardless of their parents’ origin. This serves to link national identity not with a people but rather with the territory and its history, and the history of previous occupants of the territory unconnected to the current occupants are often appropriated for national myths.” – Wikipedia

It is clear to me that civic nationalism is the same as ethnic nationalism. The institutional identification is no more or less false and the survival of the institutions or formal divides strengthen the sense of belonging over time. The identity of the American nation today is probably little different from the identity of e.g. the French nation in its early formative years.

“At root, the basic difference between anarchism and anti-state nationalism is that in nationalism the primary political unit is the nation, or ethnic group, whereas in an anarchist system the primary political unit is the local community or the place where labor occurs. Post-colonial anarchism is therefore clearly distinct from any form of nationalism in that it does not seek to make the nation a political unit – let alone the primary political unit. Just as social anarchists seek to create a socialist economy but oppose the tyranny of Marxist state socialism, post-colonial anarchists oppose the tyranny of nationalism and argue that the achievement of meaningful self-determination for all of the world’s nations requires an anarchist political system based on local control, free federation and mutual aid.” – Wikipedia

So, what’s the solution to this problem? Well, firstly we note that anarchism is about local, temporary, mutable and informal relationships. These relationships do not presume any identities or discriminate prejudicially or generalize either themselves as a group or ‘others’. It must be possible to leave a group and join another, meaning physical space can’t be the sole qualifier for a group. I don’t think this necessarily means we should form groups based on vocation, gender, age and hobbies or that we should never form groups based on residence (when sedentary), but I think we can learn from the example of the more or less virtual relationships that exist online. E.g. neither an individual nor a group has a permanent identity as all things are transient and being anonymous means not using labels to identity yourself, meaning you take responsibility for your actions and words only. Possibly, ideally.

Local, but not limited to being local, that is an ideal. But how do we achieve this in practice? I don’t know for certain, but let’s take a look at the black nation in the U.S. Here the layers of othering become clearer. Black anarchism has struggled with the combination of capitalism and racism, being forced to deal with conflicting identities imposed by those in a position of power. (This is further illustrated by e.g. women of colour like @dopegirlfresh and black vegans like @blackvegansrock.)

There is a difference between anti-imperialism and pro-nationalism. This should be evident since there are more than two options, yet it is often misconstrued as a binary and not just by dialecticians. Indigenous people using nationalism as a vehicle for resisting colonization will eventually have to challenge their own generalizations and principles connecting their lives with the land. Before forced to choose between two evils is of course no choice at all, but in practice there might not be a third option like anarchism which simultaneously rejects imperialism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, racism et cetera. If you’re part of a group, then do what you can within that limited context. Fighting another person or another group which chooses what they see as the lesser evil is at best a temporary solution, but more often detrimental to everyone in the long run, so how do we handle that? Angrytumblahperson writes in “The Poverty of Ally Politics”:

“The Weather Underground were a group of predominately White Revolutionary Militants who engaged in Urban Guerrilla action against the United States Government in order to bring about a ‘Classless World’. They were contemporaries of the Black Panthers and more generally the Revolutionary Black upsurge in the United States in the late 60s and early 70s, (Now summarised by bourgeoisie history as the ‘Civil Rights Movement’) as well as the struggle of the Vietnamese people against US Imperialism. They saw themselves as engaged in ‘an anti-imperialist, anti-racist struggle’ and were pushed into action by the violence they saw their ‘White’ government inflicting both at home and all across the world, and the violent resistance that these populations defended themselves with.

But being inspired by the Panthers did not lead to them becoming second rate Panthers, disengaging their critical abilities in order to be ‘led’ by someone else, or worse, thinking ‘I’m not oppressed, but these people are, and I should fight for them instead of myself.’ They built their own autonomous organisation, with a substantive analysis based on the notion that if they wanted to achieve a Communist society for themselves, this can only come through the victory of the forces arrayed against global Imperialism and white supremacy, and never held back or limited the actions for fear of ‘imposing themselves on someone else’s struggle’. This is what is vital, those who wish to fight must create their own organisations, not be parasites on someone else’s, and they must have an analyse which includes themselves as an oppressed body.”

If you want more information about black and African anarchism watching this might be a good start: Sam Mbah talking about African Anarchism and Communalism or reading this: Black Anarchism – A Reader from Black Rose Anarchist Federation / Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra (BRRN).

Post Scriptum

I recently saw a book about anarchist thought in India. While I didn’t read it, I read one of the comments which stated that the book focused on the anarchist writings of upper-caste men to the exclusion of those at the bottom of society. Whether true or not, this is an important thing to note. Anarchism should obviously not be pushed onto oppressed groups, everyone has to formulate their own struggles and desires. We can though, while calling ourselves anarchists, point to anarchist tendencies within other people’s struggles, much like Sam Mbah did, as long as we don’t try to claim them in the name of anarchism. In the end anarchism is just a label. It is not necessary to adopt their version of the struggle either, but we can learn from local struggles and find ways to join forces, at the very least in analysis.

Post Post Scriptum

Most anarchists and socialists came to the theories first by noting in practice the suffering of people under hierarchies, under private property, under imperialism et cetera. This fact could be seen as a weakness, but regardless, few, if any, came to this position from abstract reasoning alone. In theory, however, anarchists oppose capital because it is static, so concrete that it has its own global life and rules by which it lives. We oppose borders because they are static and uncompromising. We oppose the state because it constitutes a formal hierarchy that doesn’t bend, only breaks, to reality. We reject private property because it is static, creating borders like that of the hedge or the doorstep. We reject binary gender roles because they leave no room for variation. If we are what we do, which is a simplification, but nonetheless, then our identity changes as we do different things. We can be two things at once and a minute later, neither of them. Reality can’t be reduced to a single ideal. And if it can, then the principle will be too general to be practical anyway.

However, the problem of organization is manifold. It is a good start to have local, temporary, mutable, informal relationships and shape organizations and federations from the bottom up. However, we can’t get away from the principles or ideals that constitute the bureaucracy of these relationships, no matter how informal or unstated they are. To the extent we exist in accordance with these principles (consciously or not), we manifest them, and to the extent we live outside the bureaucracy, the relationships are peeled from the subjective experience of the entangled ones. But we forever exist in the balance between subjectivity and organization. Therefore we are forced to have a principle, however situational or retractable, in our relationships with other sentient beings. A national ideal might be among the worst options for a principle, but it can’t be essentially dismissed.

Post Post Post Scriptum

Just read this new article which kind of deals with everything I tried to bring up as well, only perhaps better than what I managed. Philosophical subsidiarity means that the “task of deconstructing an identity belongs to those who bear it, or to those who are oppressed in its name.” and my only possible caveat is the return to the soil in the final paragraphs. If we decide that local means biotope, then we must deconstruct the human hegemony or the human (like the white, colonial) gaze on nature and recognize the “mesh” of all sentient beings and non-living components as well and how they are also in a non-foundational flux. The title of the article is “Anarchism and Nationalism: On the Subsidiarity of Deconstruction,” the author is Uri Gordon and it was first published on info shop.org and is a part of or refers to a text in the book “The Brill Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy”. http://anarchistnews.org/content/anarchism-and-nationalism-subsidiarity-deconstruction

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2 Responses to “Anarchism, Communalism and Blood and Soil”

  1. yasuakikudo Says:

    I am a Japanese citizen and just had to look up some basic terms like ‘nation’ to understand your article 🙂 It’s so messed up – and shows what kind of terrible damage a language can inflict on the users’ thoughts – the terms Nation and State are used almost interchangeably here where the former is 国民 and the latter 国家. Note that both terms share 国 as the same first symbol which means ‘Country’.

    I have been thinking lately of the concept I would name as Separation of (not Church but) Nation and State.

    I think States have proven themselves to be very rogue and dangerous in many ways – waging wars and killing millions. The forced monopoly of such States as the ruler (they are somehow “justified” on paper by democratically elected etc) are tying the People (ok, of some Nation if you must) with them.

    People are people, and the first step we must make is to at least segregate the State from us. Then we can try to govern it, reform it, decommission it, etc.

  2. enleuk Says:

    So, according to google translate:
    nation = people of the country;
    state = house of the country.

    I understand your idea about removing the ‘house’, but even without the state, we still need to answer the question if nationality is a good or bad group identity. E.g. should we mean culture when we say nation, or should a nationality be based on the place you live on, or should it be defined by genetics, or should it be defined by religion, or by political party affiliation/ideology? Should it be equated with the bureaucracy of a specific region?

    A problem with the Nazi concept of Blut und Boden, blood and soil, is that geography does not correspond directly to a person’s personality. The city or village I grew up in does influence me, but it’s not the source of my entire personality. In the same way, my language does not define everything about me, and some people know one language, some two, some five and so on.

    The identitarians are racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic et cetera. They want groups to be isolated from each other because they think nature (or god) made your identity and you must stay true to the identity given to you by nature. They don’t like gender-fluidity, they want men and women to be as categorically distinct as possible, they want different people to be categorized according to skin colour, because their genetic make-up is thought to make their personality part of a specific type, a type that is different from their own type, despite the fact that personalities are so much more complex than this. They believe the religion they were born into, whether it is Christian or pagan, is the one they must stick to as it is part of these traditional identities.

    But to keep to a tradition for the sake of tradition is not a good idea. We need to evaluate tradition and compare which things were good and which things were bad and not just keep doing things because we’ve done them before.

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