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Post-colonial anarchism is a new tendency within the larger anarchist movement. The name is taken from an essay by Roger White, one of the founders of Jailbreak Press and a well known activist in North American APOC circles. It bears much similarity to civic anarchism (sometimes humorously referred to as anarcho-statism) and other recent emerging centrist and populist trends. Post-colonial anarchism is an attempt to bring together disparate aspects and tendencies within the existing anarchist movement and re-envision them in an explicitly anti-imperialist framework. Where traditional anarchism is a movement arising from the struggles of proletarians in industrialized western European nations - and thus sees history from their perspective - post-colonial anarchism approaches the same principles of mutual aid, class struggle, opposition to social hierarchy, and community-level self-management, libertarian municipalism, and self-determination from the perspective of colonized peoples throughout the world. In doing so it does not seek to invalidate the contributions of the more established anarchist movement, but rather seeks to add what it sees as a unique and important perspective. The tendency is strongly influenced by indigenism, anti-state forms of nationalism and Anarchist People of Color, among other sources.
Post-colonial anarchism is syncretic and diverse, incorporating a wide range of sources, as is to be expected from a tendency which draws from such a wide range of perspectives.
Anarchism and nationalism have a long history, going back to prominent anarchist theorist Mikhail Bakunin's early involvement in the Pan-Slavic movement. Anarchists have participated in left-nationalist movements in China, Korea, Vietnam, Ireland, Brittany, Ukraine, Poland, Mexico, Israel, and many other nations. Modern anarchist organizations working on national liberation struggles include the CBIL in Brittany.
While post-colonial anarchism clearly has objections to nationalism, it argues that a key element of imperialism is the waging of culture war by the conquerors against subject nations in an attempt to destroy the identity of the conquered and make them easier to govern. Post-colonial anarchism therefore seeks not only the abolition of capitalism and the state, but is an effort by colonized peoples to promote, preserve, and defend their cultures, dignity, and identity. As Ashanti Alston puts it in "Beyond Nationalism but Not Without It":
For me, even the nationalism of a Louis Farrakhan is about saving my people, though it is also thoroughly sexist, capitalist, homophobic and potentially fascist. Yet, it has played an important part in keeping a certain black pride and resistance going. Their "on the ground" work is very important in keeping an anti-racist mentality going. As a black anarchist, that’s MY issue to deal with cuz they’se MY FOLKS. But it points to where anarchism and nationalism have differences, and that is in [non-black] anarchists having NO understanding of what it means to be BLACK in this fucked up society.
Ashanti thus sees value in the Nation of Islam where it acts as a force for good by helping black people in America stand up for themselves and demand equality, but also recognizes the negative impacts of the N.O.I.'s approach and urges the black community to stand up and speak out against the N.O.I. and other black nationalist groups where they cross the line from pride in self to promoting the domination of other individuals, groups and identities. He is also strongly critical of the larger anarchist movements tendency to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and dismiss black nationalism and other national liberation struggles out of hand.
At root, the basic difference between anarchism and anti-state nationalism is that in nationalism the primary political unit is the nation, or ethnic group, whereas in an anarchist system the primary political unit is the local community or the place where labor occurs. Post-colonial anarchism is therefore clearly distinct from any form of nationalism in that it does not seek to make the nation a political unit - let alone the primary political unit. Just as social anarchists seek to create a socialist economy but oppose the tyranny of Marxist state socialism, post-colonial anarchists oppose the tyranny of nationalism. and argue that the achievement of meaningful self-determination for all of the world's nations requires an anarchist political system based on local control, free federation and mutual aid.
Race and racism
Post-colonial anarchism is self-consciously anti-racist, though different groups have differing ideas of what that means. Anarchist People of Color-identified groups seek to bring together the perspectives of people of color within the anarchist movement and have a strong commitment to combating white supremacy, but are often reluctant to recognize the validity and importance of these struggles in Europe. Indigenist thinkers like Ward Churchill, by contrast, make a point of showing support for such movements and actively encourages white anti-racists to explore and learn from historical and ongoing anti-imperialist struggles in Europe. All the various strains of post-colonial anarchism, however, are explicitly opposed to and denounce claims of racial superiority by any group, and see the abolition of white supremacy and other strains of racial/ethnic supremacy as a fundamental goal of anarchism.
Sam Mbah and I. E. Igariwey in African Anarchism: The History of a Movement make the claim that:
|“||To a greater or lesser extent, all of [...] traditional African societies manifested “anarchic elements” which, upon close examination, lend credence to the historical truism that governments have not always existed. They are but a recent phenomenon and are, therefore, not inevitable in human society. While some “anarchic” features of traditional African societies existed largely in past stages of development, some of them persist and remain pronounced to this day.||”|
The reason why traditional African societies are characterized as "anarchies" is because of their horizontal political structure and absence of classes. The traditional legal system of Somalia, known as Xeer, is one example of this.
Xeer, pronounced [ħeːr], is the polycentric legal system of Somalia. Under this system, elders serve as judges and help mediate cases using precedents. It is a good example of how customary law works within a stateless society and is a fair approximation of what is thought of as natural law. Several scholars have noted that even though Xeer may be centuries old, it has the potential to serve as the legal system of a modern, well-functioning economy.
While many traditional African societies were based on leadership by example, often by respected Elders, that leadership of elders normally did not transcend into the authoritative structure which characterizes the modern state (see also Pierre Clastres' thesis expounded in Society Against the State).
Starting in the 15th century the class system began to form in the last empires of Africa, although it had already existed in some African civilizations (such as Nubia, Egypt, Axum and Hausa) for millennia. However, many societies have until this day remained as what is called “tribes without rulers”, a form of “ordered anarchy”.
From a post-colonial perspective, African anarchism is therefore an attempt to re-imagine anarchist politics based on a conception of anarchism not as some utopian future society, but as a real functional model for society which was actually the norm for pre-conquest Africa, was disturbed by European aggression and imperialism, and which provides the single best blueprint for how African societies can move forward and create a just and equitable future.
The most basic aspect of the Celtic anarchism tendency is the belief that pre-conquest Celtic societies had strong aspects in common with anarchist ideals of how society should be structured, and that modern anarchists would do well to investigate these early models. Like Xeer in Africa, the Brehon Laws of pre-invasion Celtic Ireland, provide a real-world example of a highly advanced Stateless legal system.
The tendency is thus similar to indigenism in that it seeks inspiration for anarchism in the history and practices of ancestors, rather than relying solely on political theory and speculation. There is also a strong movement to seek out the good in the ongoing anti-imperialist movements in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and Galicia.
The influence of the modern revival of Celtic culture on anarchism are particularly evident within the radical wing of the environmentalist movement, particularly Deep Ecology. Earth First! is one of the largest networks organizing around these issues and is organized along anarchist lines with many of the people who work under its banner self-identifying as anarchists. It is perhaps natural that the British and Irish Earth First! movements in particular would seek inspiration from and consciously seek linkages with Celtic identities, given that the ancient Celts are commonly portrayed as being more in touch with nature than modern consumer society. The Earth First Journal, the main publication of the movement, organizes its printing schedule around the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, which consists of four Gaelic festivals and four Germanic ones, with issues named for Beltane, Eostar, Brigid, Samhain, Yule, Mabon, and Lughnasadh.
Post-colonial anarchism in Ireland
The armed struggle against British rule in Ireland, particularly up to and during the Irish War of Independence, is portrayed as a national liberation struggle within the Celtic anarchist milieu. Anarchists, including the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement, support a complete end to British involvement in Ireland, a stance traditionally associated with Irish republicanism, but are also very critical of statist nationalism and the IRA in particular. In two articles published on Anarkismo.net, Andrew Flood of the WSM outlines what he argues was the betrayal of class struggle by the IRA during the war of independence, and argues that the statism of traditional Irish nationalism forced it to place the interests of wealthy Irish nationalists who were financing the revolution ahead of the interests of the vast majority of Ireland's poor. The example of the Irish Citizens Army, a workers militia which was led by James Connolly and based in the radical wing of the Irish union movement, is held up as a better example of how the larger revolutionary movement could have — and should have — been organized.
According to Irish anarchist nationalist Andrew Flood:
Anarchists are not nationalists, in fact we are completely against nationalism. We don't worry about where your granny was born, whether you can speak Irish or if you drink a green milkshake in McDonalds on St Patrick's Day. But this doesn't mean we can ignore nations. They do exist; and some nationalities are picked on, discriminated against because of their nationality. Irish history bears a lot of witness to this. The Kurds, Native Americans, Chechins, and many more have suffered also - and to an amazingly barbaric degree. National oppression is wrong. It divides working class people, causes terrible suffering and strengthens the hand of the ruling class. Our opposition to this makes us anti-imperialists. ...
So fight national oppression but look beyond nationalism. We can do a lot better. Changing the world for the better will be a hard struggle so we should make sure that we look for the best possible society to live in. We look forward to a world without borders, where the great majority of people have as much right to freely move about as the idle rich do today. A worldwide federation of free peoples - classless and stateless - where we produce to satisfy needs and all have control over our destinies - that's a goal worth struggling for.
Anarchists are extremely critical of the Irish Republican Army, as well as of the various loyalist paramilitaries, because of their use of political violence and internal authoritarianism. From the anarchist view, British and Irish nationalism are both statist, authoritarian, and seek to dominate and exploit the Irish nation to empower their competing States. Anarchism would instead create a political system without the Nation-State where communities are self-governing on the local level. The achievement of home-rule, or political self-determination, is therefore a precondition for and a consequence of anarchism. At root then, the anarchist objection to Irish nationalism is that nationalists use reprehensible means to demand far too little. Still, anarchists seek to learn from and examine the liberatory aspects of the struggle for Irish independence and the W.S.M. includes a demand for complete British withdrawal from Northern Ireland in its platform.
Chicano anarchism is an effort to understand how anarchism relates to the Chicano experience in the United States, or better said how the two relate to one another. A Chicano/a being a person of Mexican descent who was born and raised in the United States, more specifically a politicized person of Mexican descent born in the United States. Chicano anarchism, although the term itself is quite new, has it antecedents in the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon’s propagandizing in the Spanish-speaking communities of California and the southwest during his years of exile, and in the Mexican anarchist movement. Since the 1960s when the modern Chicano radical movement begin, and especially the late 60s and early 70s when it reached its zenith, to identify as a Chicano (rather than Hispanic or Latino) has been to identify with a self-consciously subversive political stance. Chicano anarchism thus seeks to take this form of radical self-identification and push it beyond the current emphasis on cultural-nationalism and towards class struggle and solidarity with the international working class, while keeping their analysis rooted in their unique history and culture.
One of the primary goals of Chicano anarchism is to inject a class struggle anarchist critique, made primarily by class conscious Chicano anarchists, into the modern nationalist Chicano movement and transform the movement away from the reactionary ideas of cultural-nationalism and into a movement that works in collaboration as comrades with the international working class, of which the mass of Chicanos are a part.
Black anarchism or "Panther" anarchism
Black anarchism opposes the existence of a state and subjugation and domination of people of color, and favors a non-hierarchical organization of society. Black anarchists seek to abolish white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and the state. Theorists include Ashanti Alston, Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Kuwasi Balagoon, and Martin Sostre.
Black anarchists have criticized both the hierarchical organization of the Black Panther Party, and the anarchist movement, on the grounds that it has traditionally been Eurocentric and/or white supremacist. They oppose the anti-racist conception, based on the universalism of the Enlightenment, which is proposed by the anarchist workers' tradition, arguing that it is not adequate enough to struggle against racism and that it disguises real inequalities by proclaiming a de jure equality.
Black anarchists are thus influenced by the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, and seek to forge their own movement that represents their own identity and tailored to their own unique situation. However, in contrast to black activism that was, in the past, based in leadership from hierarchical organizations, black anarchism rejects such methodology in favor of developing organically through communication and cooperation to bring about a social, cultural and economic revolution that does away with all forms of domination. From Alston's @narchist Panther Zine:
"Panther anarchism is ready, willing and able to challenge old nationalist and revolutionary notions that have been accepted as ‘common-sense.’ It also challenges the bullshit in our lives and in the so-called movement that holds us back from building a genuine movement based on the enjoyment of life, diversity, practical self-determination and multi-faceted resistance to the Babylonian Pigocracy. This Pigocracy is in our ‘heads,’ our relationships as well as in the institutions that have a vested interest in our eternal domination."
Notes and references
- Ashanti Alston. Anarchist Panther Zine issue 1
- Post Colonial Anarchism, by Roger White. Anarchism, nationalism, and national liberation from an APOC perspective.
- Louisa Lombard (October 2005). "Elder Counsel". Legal Affairs. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- Peter Leeson. "Better of Stateless" (PDF).
- the EarthFirst! Journal
- Flood, Andrew. "Insurrection in Ireland", Anarkismo.net.
- An Anarchist Perspective on Irish Nationalism, Andrew Flood. Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland)
- Revolutionary Autonomous Communities. "The Origins of Contemporary Chicano Anarchism ", Anarkismo.net
- @narchist Panther Zine October 1999, 1(1).
- Post Colonial Anarchism: Essays on race, repression and culture in communities of color 1999-2004 by Roger White