The consequences of mistaking the divisible for the indivisible or Moscow next Tuesday
It’s hard to ignore the blatant contradictions and rank hypocrisy of the “Free World ™” exposed by the Ukrainian Crisis. Indeed if the goal of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation was to demonstrate the gap between the stated values and actions of The West then its difficult to imagine how they might better have succeeded. The spectacle of Western politicians gravely denouncing interference in “sovereign” nation’s affairs, while they themselves are openly engaged in exactly that all over the planet, is sickening to anyone who has any regard for integrity. The horror expressed by the establishment of the West over the use of force to pursue geo-political aims when they have used precisely that routinely and systematically for at least two decades marks them out as the most shameless of hypocrites. What can be said which would do justice to the contradiction between the West’s position on The Crimea’s unalterable status as a Ukrainian province (it was made part of it in 1954) and its actions in “liberating” Kosovo from Serbia (of which it had been an integral part for eight centuries)? How can the recognition of a government established by riot in the capital be determined “legal” while the parliament of the supposedly autonomous Crimea’s decision to hold a democratic referendum is “illegal” possibly be satirised? Never the less I intend to do exactly that and ignore these aspects of the crisis in order to explore one which is of particular interest to ATS’s cause.
It’s hard to assess whether the justifications offered for the attitude of the Western elite towards the Ukrainian Crisis are the product of genuine stupidity or simply the best that could be fabricated under the circumstances. The central plank of those justifications is that the Ukrainian “nation-state” is “indivisible”. I have yet to hear anyone explain why this might be the case. It is however a concept we have heard expressed before, the official Whitehouse response to the secession petitions following the last presidential elections stated:
Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States “in order to form a more perfect union” through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it. As President Abraham Lincoln explained in his first inaugural address in 1861, “in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.” In the years that followed, more than 600,000 Americans died in a long and bloody civil war that vindicated the principle that the Constitution establishes a permanent union between the States. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Supreme Court confirmed that “[t]he Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”
Which is to say that the USA is indivisible because the elite, through their constitution and courts, say it is. As an aside I guess most people will be surprised to learn that the American Civil War was fought exactly to establish that principle rather than for the reasons given by, like, actually historians and the US establishment itself in all other circumstances.
Personally I’m not entirely satisfied with this explanation, which in moral terms is inadmissible since “because fuck you, that’s why” is not technically considered a formal argument. Given that the establishment themselves are not particularly forthcoming on this issue it will be necessary for us to consider what is driving their attitudes in the absence explicit argument on their part.
Most anarchists would offer a simple analysis of this anti-secessionist attitude on the part of governing elites. Secession reduces the power of those elites, and the state they serve, Given that states always instinctively protect and seek to extend their power it is to be expected that they would resist anything which would reduce their resource base and establish potential competitors to them. Secession not only tears away chunks of their territory and populations but potentially establishes rival states which could become threats. Only outright military conquest is more naturally feared by states. While such an assessment obviously contains a great deal of truth, why else would every state everywhere and in all historical cases defend itself with everything it has got regardless of the particular nature of each individual state, it is in itself not completely satisfactory. Basic human psychology does not allow normal people to act on such ruthless considerations; most people require more justification than naked megalomania.
Two more sophisticated justifications are implicit subtexts of the assertions of the indivisibility of, at least favoured, states. One of these is a practical in its nature, the other more philosophical. It could be argued that the principle of self determination, if it be justified in any case, must be extended to any group which wants it. However to admit such a principle would necessarily open the door to what governing elites must regard as chaotic mayhem. It could therefore be argued that for practical reasons the principle of secession must be rejected lest the stability of global society is rent by continual struggles for self determination everywhere. Under such conditions undoubtedly many would be maimed, killed, suffer every kind of misery and be otherwise generally inconvenienced.
Such an argument is persuasive because it seems plausible exactly because we would all confidently expect that states would insist on “dying hard”. The violence our elites anticipate in the event of widespread secession movements would almost certainly be their own. In other words the argument could be rendered in the vernacular something like this. “If everyone claims their right to self determination a lot of people are going to start acting like cunts with guns. And we will definitely have the biggest and most guns”. So while the “interests of order” argument might sound public spirited, pragmatic and sensible it is only in the sense gangster’s lament of the possible disasters that might befall your lovely family during the process of shaking you down is.
The more philosophical subtext to the statements of indivisibility revolve around who has, and has not, the right to self determination. The Crimea, and Texas, are held not to have the right to secede because of ……… nationalism. The implicit argument here is that nations have the right to be self governing, but not sub sets of nations. This is a somewhat curious attitude because, obviously, this is an argument completely ignored, trampled upon even, most of the time. If national sovereignty really was considered to be none negotiable then states signing up to supra-national agreements would be unthinkable to give just one example.
Moreover perhaps one of the reasons that this argument is not explicitly rehearsed is because to do so would make the elites of the West deeply uncomfortable. Because if we accept the long standing nationalist claim that nation’s should be masters of their own destiny, as we are apparently doing, then the question immediately arises of what is, and isn’t a nation. Nationalists of course have a pretty simple answer to that question, but it isn’t one which the establishment would care to own. The actual definition of a nation, according to almost all states, is “those people we recognise as part of the nation established via the issue of passports”. However to explicitly state such a definition would be to contradict the “nationalist” moral argument. Under such a definition there is no reason why any state should be any particular shape, no reason to deny the right of secession, no reason why the Crimea should be part of Ukraine rather than the Russian Federation. After all changing the composition of a nation is a mere bureaucratic exercise principally involving changing the colour of people’s travel documents, not a physical impossibility and crime against humanity.
The complete bankruptcy of the Western establishment’s appeal to nationalism is best demonstrated in the attitude of the British government. Scotland has been accorded a referendum on its independence from the UK since it is a “nation” yet the right of the Crimea to do the same has been rejected. The claim of the Scots to nationhood, 99.9% of which speak English, are ethnically identical to the English, and who are culturally indistinguishable from the English, relies entirely on the fact that Scotland was a semi-independent nation state three hundred years ago. While the Crimea, which has a majority Russian population, who speak Russian rather than Ukrainian and who were living in Russia up until a mere 60 years ago are apparently do not have a valid claim to the same. The implicit definition of what is a nation with the right to self determination on the basis of whatever consideration produced that example is literally nonsensical.
Since both these implicit arguments can not stand up to the most cursory of explorations there is only one remaining justification the elites may invoke; “The Rule of Law”. The Ukrainian constitution, like that of the USA, makes no provision for secession; secession is therefore illegal even if it be backed by democratic legitimacy. This despite the fact that the legitimacy of the law itself, as represented by the constitution, is claimed to have been drawn from its “democratic” basis of those who wrote it in the first place. This blatant inconsistency reduces the claim to a simple invocation of the right of the governing class to exercise power in any way they see fit so long as they do so through a process of writing shit down and handing it to a judge to read.
The Ukrainian Crisis has once again exposed the vulnerability of the system to demands for autonomy by sub national communities. There is simply no way an argument to oppose such demands can be constructed with reference to any conventional moral or popular political values as demonstrated by the desperate deployment of threadbare “indivisibility” concept. The reality is that if any right at all is self evident it is that when the party starts to suck you should be able to call a taxi. Denying that right, by recourse to the suggestion that the party can never end, is insanity and can be seen in no other way by even the dullest of minds.
Philosophical arguments aside the concept of indivisibility also has a serious flaw in that states clearly are divisible. The majority of states now in existence began life as renegade elements of other states. Most European cities and provinces have been subject to half a dozen different states since their foundations. Over one hundred states have come into existence in the past seven decades, all of them created by the division of previous states. To claim a state is “indivisible” is analogous to a person declaring their immortality To suggest any state is “indivisible” is not merely without any reasonable justification; it’s fucking bullshit because it totally is.