Anarchism and Nationalism: On the Subsidiarity of Deconstruction

Uri Gordon
Forthcoming In The Brill Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy, ed. N. Jun. Leiden: Brill (2017)
Anarchists are against nationalism; everyone knows that. Instead of solidarity across borders and anti-hierarchical antagonism within them, nationalism engenders loyalty to the state with its armed forces and public symbols, encourages the oppressed to identify with their compatriot oppressors, scapegoats minorities, and pits workers of different countries against one another in economic competition or open warfare. Opposition to nationalism is an almost trivial starting point for anarchist politics, reflected in antimilitarist actions, antifascism, and migrant solidarity to name a few. Besides, if anarchism “stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals”(Goldman 1911a/2014: 41), then anarchists can only reject the proposition that individuals owe their loyalty to a pre-existing collective of millions of strangers into which they never chose to be born. Anarchists work towards a society that would see the end of nations and nationalism, along with social classes and all forms of domination. So much for the propaganda line. This chapter, however, seeks to elaborate some philosophical questions that arise, not from the anarchist opposition to national chauvinism as such, but from the engagement with race and ethnocultural identity more broadly.
Unlike the anarchist concept of the nation as a state construct, the idea of a group identity extending from immediate kinship through common ancestry and mediated through language and culture survives the critique of nationalism. Yet this idea brings out very sharply the tension between the deconstructive impulse of anarchist thought and the demands of decolonial solidarity in the anarchist movement. On the one hand, while some anarchists have adopted a naturalist understanding of “peoples” as constituents of the human race, others have explicitly sought to problematise ethnocultural identity – either dismissing it in favour of class or, more interestingly, through the deconstruction of claims to ethnic and linguistic continuity and affinity. The move to deconstruct ethnocultural peoplehood, apart from its poststructuralist attractions, remains appealing in the critique of ethno-nationalist state ideologies and in the confrontation with the far right.

Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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