From internationalism to the "defence of the nation"

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The diverse nature of the response of the anarchist organisations to the imperialist slaughter in Ukraine is quite predictable. Anarchism has always been divided into a whole series of tendencies, ranging from those who have become part of the left wing of capital, like those who joined the Republican government during the 1936-39 war in Spain, to those who clearly defended internationalist positions against imperialist war, such as Emma Goldman during World War One. Regarding the war in Ukraine, the response from anarchism is extremely dispersed – from open war mongers to calls for international solidarity and united action against the war. As left communists, we clearly denounce the leftist or bourgeois positions, put forward by various anarchists, but at the same time we support the attempts of groups such as KRAS in Russia[1] (whose statement we have already published on our website), Anarcho-syndicalist Initiative in Serbia[2] and the Anarchist Communist Group in Britain[3]  to intervene in the situation with a clear internationalist position.

From internationalism…

 The ACG (Anarchist Communist Group) took a basically internationalist stance from the beginning of the war (ACG website the 27th of February, “Take the side of the working class, not competing imperialist interests”). At the same time this statement contains a number of confused demands, such as the “disbandment of NATO”, and the “the mass occupying of Russian oligarchs’ property in Britain and their immediate conversion to social housing”[3]. (What about the properties of Ukrainian oligarchs?) You could see the same immediatist vision in the statement of the ASI group in Belgrade [2], who, despite a certain clarity on the nature of what “peace” means in capitalism, declares: “Let’s turn capitalist wars into a workers’ revolution!” This call for revolutionary action is totally unrealistic given the low level of class struggle today.

A joint internationalist statement had already been published, signed by 17 groups around the Anarkismo Coordination, on the 25th of February, including the ACG. Here it states clearly, that “…our revolutionary and class duty dictates the organisation and strengthening of the internationalist, anti-war and anti-imperialist movement of the working class. The logic of more aggressive or more progressive imperialism is a logic that leads to the defeat of the working class. There can be no pro-people’s imperialist road. The interests of the working class cannot be identified with those of the capitalists and the imperialist powers.”[4] On the ACG website there is also a strong denunciation of anarchist groups and publications defending nationalism, such as the Freedom group in London[5].

… to openly bourgeois positions

But the statements of the different anarchist currents have to be read carefuly and critically. For example, the French-speaking section of the International Anarchist Federation, in a leaflet published the 24th of February, proclaimed: “We also call, all over the world, to fight against capitalism, nationalism and imperialism as well as the army which always push towards new wars”[6]

At the same time, in the same International Anarchist Federation, we can see an open call for participation in the war: a call of support for the Resistance Committees in Ukraine, fighting for the “liberation” of the country. Different anarchist groups in uniform and armed football firms are presented as “freedom fighters” – often with reference to the Black Army of Makhno during the Civil War in Russia. So, there is a clear “gradient” in the anarchist milieu today: calls for internationalism, and at the same time a call for participation in this escalating conflict, as adjuncts of the Ukrainian army under the banner of the Resistance Committees[7]. Also, anarchists from Belarus living in Ukraine are joining the forces of the Ukrainian state – another sign of the defeat and disorientation of the working class in the area.

Another, quite obvious, example of completely bourgeois positions is the statement of Russian anarchists in the group Anarchist Fighter: “…what is happening now in Ukraine goes beyond this simple formula, and the principle that every anarchist should fight for the defeat of their country in war” (our emphasis).They also argue that The defeat of Russia, in the current situation, will increase the likelihood of people waking up, the same way that occurred in 1905 [when Russia’s military defeat by Japan led to an uprising in Russia], or in 1917 [when Russia’s problems in the First World War led to the Russian Revolution]—opening their eyes to what is happening in the country..

As for Ukraine, its victory will also pave the way for the strengthening of grassroots democracy—after all, if it is achieved, it will be only through popular self-organization, mutual assistance, and collective resistance. These should be the answer to the challenges that war throws at society.”[8]

Significant sectors of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, at the same time as referring to its strong antimilitarist tradition, have once again expressed their support for nationalist war – just as they did, together with Social Democracy at the beginning of the WW1. But the difference was, that while the Social Democrats betrayed their internationalist principles, the anarchists were following a certain logic, as we pointed out in our article on “Anarchism and Imperialist War” in 2009:

The rallying to imperialist war and the bourgeoisie in 1914 by the majority of anarchists internationally was, on the contrary, not a false move but the logical conclusion of their anarchism, conforming to their essential political positions.

Thus, in 1914, it was in the name of anti-authoritarianism, because it was unthinkable ‘that one country could be violated by another’ (Letter to J.Grave), that Kropotkin justified his chauvinist position in favour of France. By basing their internationalism on ‘‘self-determination' and ‘the absolute right of any individual, any association, any commune, province, region, nation to decide themselves, to associate or not associate, to link up with whom they wanted and break their alliances'" (Daniel Guerin, Anarchism, Gallimard p.80) the anarchists merely reflected the divisions that capitalism imposed on the proletariat. This chauvinist position has its roots in the federalism that is found at the very basis of all anarchist conceptions. In arguing that the nation is a natural phenomenon, in defending the right of all nations to existence and to their free development, anarchism judges the sole danger in the existence of nations to be their propensity to give way to the ‘nationalism' instilled by the dominant class in order to separate the people one from the other. It is naturally led, in any imperialist war, to operate a distinction between aggressors/aggressed, oppressors/oppressed, etc, and thus to opt for the defence of the weakest, of rights that have been flouted, etc. This attempt to base the refusal to go to war on something other than the class positions of the proletariat leaves all sorts of latitude to justify support for one or the other belligerent parties. Concretely, that's to say, to choose one imperialist camp against another”[9].

Today, the anarchists are mixing up purely bourgeois and nationalist positions with wishful thinking that the slaughter in the center of Europe will be turned into a revolution, as at the end of the WW1. The idea that the revolution is possible any time, any place, is still a part of the DNA of anarchism. Faced with the gravity of the situation, the only answer is proletarian internationalism. Anarchists have to decide, whether they want to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution. Today, more than ever, the communist left must assume its responsibilities and act as a pole of reference and clarity against all this confusion.




Anarchists and the war in Ukraine