A G A I N S T N A T I O N A L I S M

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Addressing the anti-fascists and their enemies in Canberra.

Firstly, a few notes:

Traditional fascism is unpopular.  We see the far-right attempting to outmanoeuvre this unpopularity in various ways across the globe, so that we have nationalist-anarchists in Sydney, nationalist-autonomists in Dresden, Casa Pound nationalist-squats in Rome and popularised pro-nationalist street movements throughout much of the world.  Reclaim Australia are only the most recent and most local innovation in this respect.  As far as there are fascist elements within the movement, they deserve to be opposed with the traditional uncompromising vigour.  However, it is important also to pay close attention to what is signalled by the popularity of these protests.  In times of crisis and uncertainty, nationalism has always been an appealing force.  Many of the people attending Reclaim rallies are not fascists, but are simply confused and proletarianised individuals who have been effectively mobilised by nationalist discourse.  Obviously, we should oppose and attempt to block these demonstrations whenever they are called, but we should also be cautious about making easy generalisations out of our foes.  How many of these people waver on an uncertain position, showing up because they’ve been efficiently chatted up?  How many then become emboldened and convinced upon meeting a crowd of strangers intent on calling them nazis, without offering any alternatives?  As we continue to fight bigotry on the streets, we should also sharpen and wield our arguments and analysis of the real problems that workers face.  ‘No platform’ is often the easiest strategical agreement, but it is much harder to articulate ourselves in a way that is both convincing and uncompromised.  This forces us to the uncomfortable task of self examination and clarification, which far from being inconvenient, is actually the only way we will ever win for realsies.

 The following is an extended version of a speech delivered in Canberra on Sunday 19th July at the counter-rally to ‘Stand up for Australia’, a splinter group of the reactionary and pro-Nationalist ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement.

Why do we show up to these rallies?  Well, we do so to oppose ‘Reclaim Australia’, the ‘United Patriots Front’, ‘Stand up for Australia’ or whatever else they want to call themselves.  We do so to oppose racism generally.  We do so to oppose fascism.

Is ‘Reclaim Australia’ fascist?  Certainly, we have seen fascist symbols and rhetoric on display at their rallies.  We know that people espousing fascist ideology are involved in organising their events, and that they are using the movement’s current momentum to attempt to win people over to more hardline fascist positions.  We have seen fascists and Neo-nazis among the most militant and confrontational elements of these demonstrations.  But if we look at the movement more generally, and the way it is presenting itself, the term fascist doesn’t always quite fit.

A lot of the people drawn in by ‘Reclaim’ are quite simply not fascists.  They may have never even been political in this way before.  Yes, they may be bigots.  Yes, they hold racist ideas.  But they are not necessarily ‘fascists’.  They’re opposed to fascism, they’ll tell you.  And they make up stories about the threat of Islamic fascism.  They often see themselves as progressives.  They go so far as proclaiming themselves against racism, and reports suggest they even began their most recent rally in Melbourne with a tokenistic acknowledgement of traditional owners.  “We’re not fascists”, they say.  “We’re patriots.  We’re nationalists.”  And they’re right.

More than anything else, Reclaim is a nationalist movement.  We could use the term ‘ultra-nationalist’ or ‘right-wing nationalists’, but I would argue that this is unnecessary; that if we examine the ideology of nationalism we find that it is already extreme enough.  Nationalism is predicated on a holy distinction between ‘us and them’.  The elusive ‘us’ is supposedly defined by adherence to a common language, a common set of beliefs and values, etc etc. blah blah blah.  This is what Reclaim are on about when they claim to be defending the mythical ‘Australian way of life’.

It’s easy to whip up hysteria these days.  Vast sections of our global, class-based system are in the throes of profound social and economic crisis.  The future is uncertain.  Things are not looking good for the working-class.  It’s difficult to even use that term (working-class) with much conviction now.  Gone are the days when workers might identify positively with their role in the production of the world; when they could imagine organising together, taking over and running things for themselves.  We don’t see the world as something we create together so much as we see a hostile place in which we must survive, isolated and alone.  For many of us, work is just something that happens, that we have to put up with.  At the same time work appears as scarce, precarious and meaningless; a dull figure set against the threatening background of possible unemployment.  In this landscape of anxiety, nationalism offers a sense of hope and belonging.

The pro-nationalist solution is to close ranks, protect the border, protect the economy, rebuild and reclaim a national identity.  At times, through their wild-eyed and euphoric promises, and through the optical illusion of commonalities, we catch a glimpse of what nationalism is really all about.  Not the defence of language, religion or custom.  But the development of the national economy, the transformation of people into workers and workers into soldiers, land into mines and factories.  (Of course capitalism has proved itself to be adept at a certain internationalism when it comes to this imperative).

The past is the only way forward for these people.  “Back to the Future”, they cry.  And they long for a return to the golden days of apartheid, subjugation of women, segregation of people, patriotism and no brown immigrants.  But the national solution is dead.

The forces of production and systems of human communication and collaboration are globalised and interconnected on an unprecedented level.  And while this is currently driven by a capitalist imperative as we say, there is nothing that states this has to be the case.  Why, then, does the Left repeatedly falter and fall back on an outmoded reliance on nationalist categories?  We see this time and time again in leftist discourse: ‘Real Australians say welcome’, ‘Real Australians aren’t racist’, the ‘Real Australia’ is multicultural.  Even when all the evidence suggests otherwise, we blush and excuse ourselves, point to the government and say “we’re not really like that”.  Well what are we like?  What does it mean to be a ‘Real Australian’?  Why resort to a defence of national identity, or some earnest attempt to rescue the decaying form of the nation-state?

We can look at Australia and say that it is an advanced capitalist nation, which is not paying it any compliments.  We can say that this nationhood was established through colonialism and primitive accumulation, vis-a-vis the brutal and murderous expropriation of land from indigenous people.  We can say that this nationhood is kept afloat, not only with the exploitation of workers and the destruction of the environment, but with the incarceration and torture of anyone deemed unfit to be included in its constituency.  Because an inside necessarily poses an outside.

And this logic of inside/outside, Us vs. Them, can be turned in on itself so that problematic sections of the population become ‘internal enemies’ – bludgers, ratbags, terrorists.

The pro-Nationalists say that we are un-Australian and anti-Australia.  In response, sections of the Left fall for this when they try to beat the nationalists at their own game, and attempt to present an authentic Australian identity that is tolerant, accepting and progressive.  But who wants to play the game of nationalisms?  We face global problems, such as the threat of ecological collapse, for which there can be no national solutions.  There are also global, human possibilities, and the potential for an emancipated human race that finally gets to create the kind of world it wants to live in.  Waving a flag and demanding allegiance to a nation, in the face of all this, is nothing but ludicrous.

So let’s be un-Australian.  Let’s be anti-Australia.  Let’s be against nationalism.  And not in an inter-nationalist sense where we have a collection of all the different nationalisms, but in an anti-Nationalist sense, that views the nation as a limitation and active stopper on real human potential.  By all means, and by any means necessary, let’s fight against racism.  Let’s fight against fascism.  But let’s also fight against nationalism in all its forms, and for a world without nations.

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A G A I N S T N A T I O N A L I S M

9 thoughts on “A G A I N S T N A T I O N A L I S M

  1. Matthew Grant says:

    To encourage internationalism is to dilute, erode and destroy all the cultures of the earth. It’s silly to be somebody who supports ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ whilst at the same time advocating for the destruction of borders and demographically homogenous regions to wrangle the entire world under a single, mongrel culture: that’s not even mentioning the intrinsic racial conflict/violence/civil war that will be created in the attempt to merge the cultures of the earth together.

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    1. antyphayes says:

      Actually to work toward an international culture (a work that has in fact been underway for much of modern history albeit under the sway of the often bloody extension of European cultures across the globe) is to draw out what is *universal* in all cultures. What cultures have *in common* help us understand and appreciate the different ways people have gone about similar practices (food gathering and production, philosophy, artistic practices, love, child rearing, etc.). Similarly we also face what is reprehensible about “cultures” and how people have struggled for and against monolithic conceptions of “culture” (one need only think of the cultural supremacy and racism that has often been practiced by some people proclaiming “distinct” cultural backgrounds).

      However I believe you give yourself away too much by speaking of a “single, mongrel culture” and “intrinsic racial conflict”. Not only do you provide no evidence for such so-called “intrinsic” conflict, but you appear to use “mongrel” in a pejorative way. I for one celebrate the “mongrel” internationalism of the human species. After all there is no “pure” culture, and it is almost certain that there never has been one. Cultures come and go, and in the coming and going often transform drastically. Those that hold onto “purity” in cultural terms, to my eyes, are trying to reproduce the widely discredited and disproved “racial purity” bandied about by the race theorists of yore. If you, Mathew Grant, are one of those how about (i) examining the evidence against such “purity”, or (ii) if you persist in holding on to such false ideas think twice about contributing to this discussion further.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Matthew,

      I wonder if you can expand further on why you feel my argument encourages the “destruction, dilution and erosion of all cultures”? Perhaps your view is that the Nation-State performs the role of “defending” cultures? From what? In my view, the single most destructive historical force, when it comes to the uprooting, displacement and repression of diverse human cultures, is that of capitalism, which expanded its reach across the globe partly through constructing nation states where previously there were none. What existed before then? Nationalism attempts to present the ideal of demographically homogenous cultural commonalities, but if you look at the historical account these have had to be constructed at the expense of pre-existing cultures. Take for example the genocide against indigenous populations of North America and Australia; the various ethnic genocides performed in the process of carving the Eurasian land-mass into a spattering of nations. As far as racial conflict, violence and war, history shows that the establishment of nation states and the expansion of the capitalist world market have been the prime catalysts. Your argument implies that culture is necessarily, and preferably, restricted by the geography of national borders. But really this has never been the case.

      Nowhere in my argument do I advocate the “wrangling of the entire world under a single, mongrel culture”. However, interestingly enough you bring us close to a description of global capitalism with this imagery. Capitalism is quite literally the wrangling of the entire world under a single logic; the logic of accumulation. If there is anything that unites humanity on a global scale, it is that we all exist in a capitalist world. There is Christian capitalism, Islamic capitalism, Jewish capitalism and secular capitalism. There is even so-called Communist (or socialist) capitalism; China, Cuba, North Korea, parts of Latin America etc. Even those who exist in less developed parts of the globe where the machinery of production and accumulation seem somewhat absent, they nonetheless exist not *outside* of capitalism, but simply in its periphery.

      Let’s pause for a moment to consider what exactly is understood by the term “culture”, and the historical specificity of the “nation state”. Firstly, if by culture we mean the lived experience of people creating and reproducing certain forms of life, such as language, custom, and ritual, then it becomes apparent that this not only pre-dates the invention of the ‘Nation’, but that it has never been easily pinned down by national boundaries. In fact, as I’ve said above, the creation of national borders actually necessitates the suppression of some cultural forms and the superficial promotion of others. This is not a matter of which is morally more or less advanced, but rather of whatever works best to facilitate the development of the national economy, the exploitation of labour power and the alienation and despoliation of its products. Human beings are mobilised in terms of their lowest and most superficial common denominator. As I mentioned in my original post, life as a worker can be precarious and meaningless. Nationalism manipulates people into considering things like common skin-colour, language or custom as a substitute for the things they have lost; jobs, living standards, etc. They become proud of things like “being white”, or “being Australian”; things that are neither a personal feat nor even, like language, a personal acquisition.

      In considering the historical specificity of the nation-state:
      It is important to remember that until recent centuries, the dominant powers of the world were not nation-states, but Empires. A Celestial Empire ruled by the Ming dynasty, an Islamic Empire ruled by the Ottoman dynasty, and a Catholic Empire ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty vied for control of the known world. “Seen through the lenses of nationalist historians, the initial colonisers look like nations: Spain, Holland, England, France. But seen from a vantage point in the past, the colonising powers were Hapsburgs, Tudors, Stuarts, Bourbons, Oranges – namely dynasties identical to the dynastic families that had been feuding for wealth and power ever since the fall of the western Roman Empire.” (Perlman, 1984). These entities were not merely feudal estates, but they were not yet fully-fledged nations. A transition was taking place. One notable difference was the absence of ‘national armies’. People were not recruited to fight and die “for the love of their country”. War was an onerous feudal burden, in which peasants and workers were pressed into service, going off to fight a war they did not understand, and against the conscripted subjects of some other monarch. The values of what was to become the nationalist creed did not appeal to the feudal rulers, who stuck to their own tried and true values (loyalty to the King and Church on pain of death). The new values appealed to the King’s highest servants, his money-lenders, military suppliers and colony-plunderers. These people were gaining considerable wealth and power, yet they remained servants. They longed to shake off the parasitic overlord and carry on the business of exploitation and colonial plunder in their own name and for their own benefit. In the 18th century, two explosive events permanently changed the political geography of the globe: the American and the French revolutions. From this point on, the remaining dynasts became nationalists, and the remaining royal estates took on the attributes of national-States. These original nations draped themselves in the clothing of “Liberty, equality and fraternity” and in the ideal of “Democracy” in general, and this has come to epitomise the ideology of nationalism, but the historical roots of the development of nations display the cementing of power for the wealthy ex-servants of the crown, and their ensured continuing exploitation of everybody else.

      Fast forward a few hundred years, and Capitalism, the system that replaced feudalism but grew up inside it, has extended across the entire globe. This took nothing short of colonial theft, slavery, genocide, a succession of wars and conflicts, and the total subsumption of human life under the logic of accumulation of value. Ironically, and problematically for the capitalists, this also entails the collaboration of the worlds workers on an unprecedented scale. We talk to each other, the products of our labour are circulated by other workers and reach across to far away destinations. This is what is meant when we say that capitalism has outgrown the nation. One last and important task for the nation-state to perform is to divide the people of the world from each other, so that they can be effectively mobilised as workers and soldiers. But there is nothing that says this has to be the case.

      Your argument seems to conceive of “internationalism” as something that is or would be forced upon the different people of the world and against their will. Thus you worry of civil war. You also talk about an “attempt to merge the cultures of the world”, but this is not the same thing as doing away with nations. The project of human emancipation would take nothing less than the collective involvement of billions of people, and the global apparatus to achieve this project is already partly there for the taking. I find it hard to believe that, in the undertaking of such a project, people would find it necessary to suppress cultural variations in favour of some robot homogeneity.

      Now (as always, but perhaps more than ever) we are faced with the question: what do we want the future to be as a species? And just as importantly, how do we get there? Nationalism, and fascism, are always posed as real and viable solutions to the crisis of an out-of-control capitalist world order. In Australia, a concerted effort is being made to use manufactured claims about the threat of domestic Islamic radicals to draw attention away from the symptoms of this crisis, the falling living standards and widening social inequality. It has been assisted by the media, which gives blanket coverage to incidents portrayed as giving evidence to the threat of “terrorism”. These include police raids on Muslim communities, the police killing of 18-year-old Numan Haider in Melbourne last year, the taking of hostages by mentally ill Man Haron Monis last December and further raids and arrests of two men for allegedly planning an attack.
      In each case, evidence of Islamic-State inspired conspiracies has been highly dubious. In response, the Labour Party has jumped on the terrorism hysteria bandwagon and gives full support to the Abbott government rushing through draconian legislation on the pretext of combating terrorism.
      Reclaim Australia and their overtly fascist sidekicks are a product of this political climate, and their rhetoric about protecting the “Australian way of life” echo that of Tony Abbott and his cronies.

      We may have differing opinions on the question of “what is to be done”, but one thing is certain: nationalism, fear-mongering and straw-man arguments against Islam as espoused by Reclaim Australia and their Neo-nazi comrades is not the solution to the problems we face today.

      Note: I borrow heavily here from the text “On the continuing appeal of nationalism” by Fredy Perlman. Nor further reading it is available here: https://libcom.org/library/continuing-appeal-nationalism-fredy-perlman

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Melbourne Antifascists and commented:
    We had hoped to wade into the “uncomfortable task of self examination and clarification, which far from being inconvenient, is actually the only way we will ever win for realsies” on the topic of nationalism/racism/fascism sometime pretty soon, but we’ve been beaten to the punch!

    For the moment, we want to encourage you all to read this fantastic analysis of “Reclaim” from a comrade on Ngambri/Ngunnawal land (“Canberra”).

    This is the beginning of a really important conversation, and one we hope to add to in the coming days.

    Thanks very much to the author/s

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Itty says:

    Thank-you for this much needed analysis and critique of ‘Nationalism’ and its capitalist ordering of the world. One needs only remember one of Abbott’s first phrases upon winning the last election, “Australia is open for Business”, to realise that the Nation-State is nothing more than a Capitalist Business construct/contract – its Land and its People are the resouces for profit, and nothing more.

    I sincerly hope that this discussion is more fully explored within the Left in general and the Anarchist Left in particular here in Australia. Just what are we struggling for, the saving of the Nation-Welfare-State, or the complete eradication of the Capitalist-State?

    Liberal-Democracy & Fascism are just two sides of the same coin – and that coin is minted by Capital. I will look forward to future discussions; for now I will merely refer to this article by Gilles Dauvé to help push the dialogue along: http://libcom.org/library/fascism-anti-fascism-gilles-dauve-jean-barrot

    Liked by 1 person

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