Anarchism: A history of anti-racism

The contribution Irish anarchists have made to building the anti-racist movements here is part of an international movement and tradition stretching back over 100 years. We recognise no states and hence no border or immigration controls. But we recognise that as long as capitalism exists it will create borders, it will create racism and it will create refugees of both those whom it considers 'uneconomic' and those it considers a political threat.

 

Anarchism: A history of anti-racism

"What do we mean by respect for humanity? We mean the recognition of human right and human dignity in every man, of whatever race [or] colour"
Mikhail Bakunin, 1867

Anarchists hold that until all are free then no one is free. We also oppose the existence of all government and thus all borders. Socialism for us is not just about who profits from our work but also opposition to all forms of oppression that set one human above another. As such its hardly surprising that anarchists oppose racism and were frequently to be found at the heart of anti-racist struggles

Historically Bakunin was the mid-wife of anarchism. He had started political life as a Slav nationalist opposing Russian imperialism but by the mid-1860s came to recognise that all states were unjust and so with others laid the foundations of the anarchist movement. Many socialists of that period had not given much consideration to workers outside of Europe or worse, defended imperialism as civilising 'primitive' peoples or societies. Marx for instance saw the German and British occupations of Eastern Europe and India respectively as playing a progressive role.

By the turn of the century anarchist ideas had spread rapidly outside the European working class and had become popular among the workers of Asia (in particular Korea, China and Japan) and Latin America. In Eastern Europe anarchism became popular amongst Jewish communities and as people from these communities fled poverty and pogroms they brought anarchist ideas into the USA and Britain. In the US the anarchist influenced IWW was the first union to jointly organise 'white' workers, Black workers and Chinese immigrants. In Cuba anarchists organised unions and fought against the Spanish occupation and the late US intervention

By the early years of this century anarchism was already a multi-cultural movement that had spread throughout the global working class. The waves of repression against anarchists alongside the poverty of the communities many of them came from meant that in many countries the movement included immigrants from all over the world.

In areas where the anarchist movement was strong this opposition to racism and imperialism was translated into action. In 1909 Barcelona anarchists played a major role in initiating a general strike against military conscription for the war in Morocco. In 1912 anarchists played a significant role in the Mexican revolution with indigenous movements like the Zapatistas taking up the anarchist demand for 'Land and Liberty' and hundreds of IWW members joining the Mexican anarchists in liberating a large section of Northern Mexico. During the Russian Revolution the anarchist influenced Makhnovist Army liberated much of the Eastern Ukraine. This area was rife with anti-Semitism, even Red Army units were responsible for as many as 500 deaths in Pogroms in 1919 alone! The Makhnovists provided arms for Jewish communities, allowed Jews to form separate units in their army if they so wished and declared
"Your revolutionary duty is to stifle all nationalist persecution by dealing ruthlessly with the instigators of anti-Semitic pogroms [racist attacks]..."

As fascism arose in the 1920's and '30's anarchists were frequently to be found at the heart of the anti-fascist movements. In 1920 in Italy, for instance, when the anti-fascist alliance Arditi del Popolo emerged to physically fight the fascists, anarchists were often its local organisers. Korean anarchists fought the Japanese invasion of Korea and for a while liberated a large segment of the north of the country. Even after the fascists came to power anarchists went underground, attempting to assassinate Hitler and Mussolini on several occasions.

The growth of Leninism and fascism meant the destruction of the pre-war anarchist movement in most countries. In France where it retained some strength it opposed the French war against Vietnam and later reacted to the start of the Algerian war of independence (against France) with the headline "North-Africa : one single people fighting against killer imperialism". The French Anarchist Federation's continued opposition to the racist French governments war in Algeria were to see its meetings attacked (on one occasion with guns and grenades), its paper banned several times and in March of 1961 the office of its paper and the Paris bookshop bombed, the huge explosion demolishing the building.

With the re-birth of anarchism after 1968 anarchists once more became involved at the heart of anti-racist movements throughout the western world. In recent years anarchists have also organised movements in opposition to the 1991 'Gulf War' and in solidarity with the indigenous rebellion of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. Significantly after the collapse of Leninism in 1989 the first anarchist movements appeared in Africa, Turkey and the Lebanon and the movement throughout Latin America is growing rapidly.

The contribution Irish anarchists have made to building the anti-racist movements here is part of an international movement and tradition stretching back over 100 years. We recognise no states and hence no border or immigration controls. But we recognise that as long as capitalism exists it will create borders, it will create racism and it will create refugees of both those whom it considers 'uneconomic' and those it considers a political threat. We would urge fellow anti-racists to take the next step and join the anarchist movement.

From Anarchist News 17, April 1998

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

  


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