Nationalism and Imperialism

By Jake Tompkins

We are submitting this as “discussion piece”. The author expresses our broad stroke views on nationalism and imperialism. We welcome readers comments are invited. Those interested in the official W.S.A. views on these topics are welcome to view the appropriate sections of our “Where We Stand” statement. We welcome readers comments.

This article will be aimed at laying out a general Anarcho-syndicalist position on the “national question”, colonialism and imperialism, and national liberation. This will not be an original theoretical contribution, but will be a loose tying together of the general Anarchist praxis and theory on these subjects into one coherent position. Anarcho-syndicalists are revolutionary unionists and anti-authoritarian socialists and as such the Anarcho-syndicalist approach to this question will be an approach that comes out of these traditions.

Imperialism and Colonialism

We will start with definitions of both these terms. Imperialism as Lenin defines it is the international order of nation states that forms the international capitalist system. This baseline definition offered in the first pages of “Imperialism: The highest Stage of Capitalism” is essentially correct, though much of Lenin’s specific ideas on how imperialism forms and the state of imperialism at the time he was writing his pamphlet are incorrect. Imperialism is essentially the hierarchy of nation states that form the international capitalist system in which nation states are used as tools for national capitals and thus national bourgeoisies to compete with each other. Imperialism in essence is the competition between capitalists on a world scale and thus capitalism is intimately connected to imperialism.

Colonialism is much harder to give a short, concrete definition for as it doesn’t refer to one specific thing, or facet, but a historical phenomena. Here we must deal with two concepts; settler colonialism and neocolonialism. Colonialism as a project and historical phenomena started with settler colonialism where capitalism, in it’s need to expand out of Europe and feed the cities in Europe who at that time did not have enough resources to sustain their own local capitalist economies sent large fleets of sailors, settlers, and soldiers to take over land already occupied by indigenous peoples and turn in into a space for capital to operate. In this process native populations were brutally exterminated, in some cases completely wiped out and subject to genocide in ways that prefigured the holocaust concentration camps. As such colonial regimes were established that produced commodities locally and then exported them back the country that owned the colony. Leading up the second world war there was a process of “decolonisation” where the former colonies gained political independence, however WW2 established a global power relation that retained the same basic aspects of western domination as outright colonialism. While colonies no longer existed the west still controlled the world through intra economic and world power means.

It should be noted that “settler colonialism” isn’t over. We have just passed into a neo-colonial stage of it. Settler colonialism still exists in that in the former colonies (such as the United States) in the form of the marginalization of indigenous groups and the separation of them from their sacred lands.

Anarcho-syndicalists are against capitalism and have no horse in the race of the capitalist class to the bottom. We are against the capitalist system and its exploitation of the working class and as such are against the international capitalist system. As we are Anarchists, we are against the state. The state is an institution which dominates society in the interests of the minority that controls it. The imperialist system is the competition between the capitalist class and their states and as such we oppose the whole thing, along with colonialism that is one manifestation of the imperialist system. We are for the struggle of indigenous people against neo-colonialism and on the side of the working class people that are killed and dominated by imperialism.We want to destroy these systems and replace them with a world Anarchist federation, or syndicate, that allows for the free-organization of human activity, by all of humanity collectively, across the world.

The National Question and National Liberation

For second international Marxism the “national question” was one of the most important questions of the day as a result of huge national conflicts that were unfolding in the places that the second international was present in. As such the Second International Marxists had to theorise about “nations”, what they were, and what was to be social democracy’s (second international Marxism) policy toward them. This is where the debate between Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin manifested. Luxemburg for her part argued that the nation was a construction of capitalism and a cultural institution through which the capitalist class ruled. Lenin argued that the nation was a grouping of people with common heritage, economic situations, and geographic placement. Lenin’s definition of what a nation is came from the common social democratic understanding of it. Generally Second International Marxism argued that the nation was based on some sense of community and commonality. The historic problem with this is that nations were largely constructed by destroying organic communities, dividing them up, and fracturing them. Luxemburg, was essentially correct in stating that nations constituted a cultural form through which the bourgeoisie ruled the working class.

Nations are a carved out slice of territory where the native capitalist class exploits the native working class. Nation states are the organs of power that allow the bourgeoisies of each nation to rule in said nations and compete with other national bourgeoisies. Nationalism is the ideology of these national bourgeoisies and their interests. This means that as Anarchists are opposed every bourgeoisie and every state, we are opposed to nationalism. Many sects of Stalinism insist that there is something called “the nationalism of the oppressed”. To them this refers to nationalism which can empower people dominated by the structures of imperialism and neo-colonialism. As Anarchists we contend that there is no such nationalism. Nationalism is the ideology of a native capitalist class which by its nature seeks to dominate and exploit the native working class and build its own global power in the international system of imperialism.

Since we are against nationalism we also oppose Stalinist Socialism in One Country theory.This theory was developed by Stalin who up until 1935 agreed with the Bolshevik view that socialism would have to be achieved by an international movement of the working class. Stalin declared in 1935 that as a result of the complete nationalisation of industry, Russia under his control had achieved socialism. While this may be socialism by the Stalinist definition, Anarchism comes out of a completely different tradition of “socialism”. Our socialism is our desire for a world wide society without oppression and collective administration of production rather than control of it by a state ruling class.

National liberation can be viewed in two different ways. One is the liberating of people from oppression by the international system of imperialism and the other is anti-imperialist nationalism which sees the development of a new nation state with it’s own bourgeoisie as an alternative to imperialism. There is no anti-imperialist nationalism. This can only amount to anti-imperialist imperialism. Nations are what form the international system of imperialism and nation states are what enforce it. As opponents of the imperialist system, capitalism, and the state, we oppose any kind of nationalism and opt for national liberation on the basis of the destruction of all nation states and the whole imperialist system.

Strategy of Anarcho-Syndicalists

Anarcho-syndicalists want to see the abolition of imperialism, capitalism, neo-colonialism, and nationalism. We aim to do this by carrying out a general social revolution where the oppressed of all sectors of global society construct power and begin to re-organize society to eliminate oppressive systems of power with it. This will involve completely disarming the ruling class and reactionary forces and being on the side, concretely, in all situations, of the oppressed majority of society, rather than on the side of the capitalist class and states of the world. We oppose both the US, Qatari, and Saudi imperialist campaign in the middle east and the counter imperialism of Iran, Hezbollah, Assad, and Russia. For a world without classes, nations, states, and capitalism.

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