Postcolonial anarchism

Post-colonial anarchism is a term coined by Roger White in response to his experience as an Anarchist Person of Color in the anarchist movement in North America. Between 1994 and 2004 White wrote a series of essays reflecting on experiences in the anarchist movement. He identifies racial isolation and tokenism as important features of the experience of people of color in the anarchist movement and attributes this to the prevalence European universalism and an approach to class struggle as a binary relationship between workers and capitalists which does not take account of the cultural aspects of imperialism.[1]

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 is highly critical of the contributions of the more established anarchist movement, and 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.

Post-colonial anarchism 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.

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