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Geoffrey Ostergaard RESISTING THE NATION STATE
the pacifist and anarchist tradition
Formely published by the PPU now also available as pdf document.
introduction
1. pacifism, pacificism and anti-militarism
2. sectarian origins of pacifism
3. pacificism and the peace movement
5. conscription and the nation state
6. the co formula
7. anarchism as a social movement
8. anarchism as a tradition of political thought
9. society and the state
10. the anarchist view of the state
11. the anarchist view of the nation and of nationalism
12. anarchism and violence
13. convergence of pacifism and anarchism
 

 

 


THE ANARCHIST VIEW OF THE STATE
Natural society provides the starting point for the anarchist view of the state. For all anarchists, the essence of the state is coercive power - 'organised violence'. Again, it is Kropotkin who provides the best analysis. (23) For him, as for Herder, the state must be explained historically but cannot be justified morally. Distinguishing between State and Government - terms often used interchangeably by many anarchists and others - he suggests that 'The State not only includes a power placed above society, but also a territorial concentration of many or even all functions of the life of society in the hands of a few.' (24) In this sense, the state is a form of organisation that has developed at various times in history. The general pattern of development has been from the tribe - the first form of human society - to the more or less autonomous village commune, based on communal possession of land; then came the free cities, and finally the state. For Kropotkin, the empires of the ancient world represented the statist phase of separate movements towards civilisation in the different regions of the world; and each time the phase ended disastrously in the collapse of the civilisation. In Europe, on the ruins of the Roman Empire, civilisation began anew. Barbarian tribes slowly elaborated their institutions, and the village commune was developed. European civilisation remained at this stage until the 12th century when rose 'the Republican cities which produced the glorious expansion of the human mind, attested by the monuments of architecture, the grand development of the arts, the discoveries that laid the basis of natural sciences.' (25) Then, in the 16th century, the modern state began to develop, destroying in the process the village commune and free federations of cities, such as the Hanseatic League. At the centre of state-building was the monarch and, around the throne, soldier-lords, lawyers, and priests formed a 'triple alliance' to dominate society in the alleged interests of society. This alliance, joined later by the capitalists, proceeded to centralise power, destroying traditional bonds of union among men, obstructing the development of local initiative, crushing existing liberties, and preventing their restoration. The advent of democracy, symbolised by the theoretical relocation of sovereignty from the person of the monarch to the people as a whole, had not halted this trend. On the contrary, centralisation had been enhanced by the insistence of modern radicals, from the Jacobins to the State Socialists, that only the state can redress the grievances of its subjects. Thus universal suffrage had proved to be what Proudhon had foreseen - the great instrument of counter-revolution. The masses had been persuaded to co-operate in the building of their own prison.
The analysis brings out one difference between liberals and anarchists. While liberals believe in some kind of balance between state and society, anarchists believe that no such balance can be maintained and that the logic of the state, unless resisted, leads to the complete domination of society by the state - to what later writers have called 'the total state' (of which 'the totalitarian state' is simply the most extreme, or pathological, form). Kropotkin's idea that the statist phases of past civilisations have ended disastrously is also suggestive that now, eighty years on, super-states have armed themselves with H-Bombs and other weapons of mass destruction.

 

 

 


THE ANARCHIST VIEW OF THE NATION AND OF NATIONALISM
But missing from the analysis are the concepts of the nation and of nationalism. In part, this reflects the basic cosmopolitan outlook of anarchism. Natural society is first and foremost a condition of mankind, and anarchists, like the ancient Stoics, see themselves primarily as 'citizens of the world'. As such, anarchists have vigorously attacked what Godwin called 'the deceitful principle' of patriotism and have been the staunchest proponents of internationalism or, more strictly, transnationalism. (26) But, living as they did in the century of European nationalism, Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin all addressed themselves seriously to the questions raised by it. In general, they supported national liberation struggles as part of the wider struggle for freedom, but opposed the statist aspirations of the nationalists. Thus, Bakunin argued that nationality is 'a natural fact' and each nationality has 'an incontestable right to free existence and development'; but because it lacks 'the power of universality' and is exclusionist in tendency, nationality cannot be accepted as a political principle. (27) Organising themselves from below upwards, on the federal and functional lines suggested by Proudhon, the masses would decide for themselves any divisions between nationalities; and he was confident that the proletariat, unlike the bourgeoisie, would recognise none of the frontiers associated with the claims of states.
But it is Rudolph Rocker (1873-1958) who, in Nationalism and Culture (1937), provides the fullest anarchist discussion of nationalism. To Rocker it is clear that 'The nation is not the cause, but the result of the state. It is the state which creates the nation and not the nation the state.' (28) This assertion becomes more plausible when he proceeds to distinguish between a 'people' - what Proudhon had called a 'folk-group' - and a 'nation'. 'A people', he explains, 'is the natural result of social union, a mutual association of men brought about by a certain similarity of external conditions of living, a common language, and special characteristics due to climate and geographic environment. In this manner arise certain common traits, alive in every member of the union, and forming a most important part of its social existence. The nation, on the other hand, is the artificial struggle for political power, just as nationalism has never been anything but the political religion of the modern state. Belonging to a nation is never determined, as is belonging to a people, by profound natural causes; it is always subject to political considerations and based on those reasons of state behind which the interests of privileged minorities always reside.' And in a passage relevant to the manifestation in recent years of both 'sub-nationalisms' and the nascent 'supra-nationalism' of some ideologists of the EEC, Rocker insists: 'A people is always a community with narrow boundaries. But a nation, as a rule, encompasses a whole array of different peoples and groups of peoples who have by more or less violent means been pressed into the frame of a common state.' 'National states' (he concludes) 'are political church organisations...All nationalism is reactionary in its nature, for it strives to enforce on the separate parts of the great human family a definite character according to a preconceived idea...Nationalism creates artificial separations and partitions within that organic unity which finds its expression in the genus Man.'

 


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