Anarchism, National Struggles and Class Struggles (1956)

Anarchism seeks the liberation of all humans,  no matter which class or nation they come from; such liberation would not be feasible on a basis of either class or nation.

Every nation, constituted as a State, excludes from its ranks and has a tendency to oppress guests of the nation – as ‘wogs’ (meteques), outsiders or stateless persons – and – as traitors, anti-social types, rebels, renegades and emigrés, etc. – those of its own members who are guilty of political or ideological heresy.

For its part, every class, in organizing itself as a Party or Authority (and thereby endowing itself with a discipline, hierarchy and set of special privileges and taking up its place as part of the comity of other established classes) excludes and of necessity exploits a social remnant made up of déclassés, outcasts, pariahs, reprobates and the un-organized, etc., and drives  those of its own members who will not abide by its authoritative rules into the ranks of that social remnant.

Like warfare between nations, class warfare splits humanity perpetually into winners and losers, the former rejoicing in their victory, the others looking to get their own back. Furthermore, in the name of its sacred selfishness, collective interests and the demands of the political and social struggle, each class or nation is forever sacrificing the individuality, interests and very lives of its own human components, plus, equally, of those who do defer to their duty to the group, as well as those who repudiate it or cast around for ways of wriggling out of it.

So, taken at the level of mass collectives and the politico-social organization thereof, the contest between groups simply spawns a two-edged oppression, outward-facing and inward-facing. Every single individual is doubly threatened or oppressed: by the enemy group, and by the one to which he belongs (no matter whether he identifies with it or espouses a rejectionist or reprobate attitude towards it). And within each group, an unseen division emerges between those really wielding the collective might, having set themselves up as an apparatus, and the straddled, agitated masses reduced to an eternal status as minors by their very own infantilism.

It follows from the above that anarchism cannot identify itself with any national or class cause, no group messianism, none of the religions whereby social power, as distinct from individuals, is worshipped like a superhuman and briefly super-individual entity embodied in every single citizen-voter or vested in the person of a leader. The methodical critique of this alienation represents the very essence of anarchism, qua the direct exercise of individual might and their free association outside of any collective claptrap. It aims to release the flesh-and-blood man from the theoretical and practical narrowness of his class circumstances and to get him to take an objective view of those circumstances and other people’s, stripped of any of the emotional distortions generated by fear or resentment. Anarchism sets out to act as a pathfinder – not through the establishment of a uniform society wherein a variety of cultures, languages, professions or trades would meld in a general levelling-up, but through a borderless world wherein every individual and inter-individual trait might operate freely and friction-lessly in a context of tolerance and widespread emulation. Even if they cannot make a universal reality of this dream in its entirety, anarchists are at least in a position to afford it some sort of present consistency by means of their own reasoned conduct and the systematic validation of behaviours consonant with their own and spontaneously surfacing in every country and context.

Of course, this does not exempt them from having to investigate national phenomena and class phenomena with all due rigour, but this must be done without overlooking the quintessential antagonism that, right from the very origins of humanity, has pitted the member against the group, the unit against the collective, the differentiated individual against the mass, the person against the herd. In so doing, anarchism will be prompted to shun the clinker from the Garibaldian-Mazzinian tradition and the Marxist tradition (to wit, on the one hand the nationality principle and, on the other, the class dialectic) and will replace these with the individuality principle, at odds with every nation and every class which have a tendency to oppress it insofar as they seek to reduce man to French or German, to Capitalist, Proletarian or some other sociological abstraction.

Through the “uniforms” – national, social, ideological and religious – imposed by the herd mentality (or its spin-off, the spirit of voluntary slavishness when faced with embodiments of the collectivity), the anarchist approach addresses man in terms of his autonomy of mind and uniqueness. It measures him in terms of what he does, rather than of any rational or emotional motives it may ascribe to these; and, it tends to pay attention to the originality and creativity of those deeds rather than the imitative element and how they fit with a given social circumstance. Rather than surrendering to the easy option of defining, classifying and explaining everyone once and for all in terms of belonging to a State, a Church, a Class, a Party, etc., anarchist thought seeks to understand the intimate connections linking man to his circumstances and the ones tending to detach him from these. Had society “worked” the way it is supposed to in terms of the ideological, juridical, economic, political schemas and the statistics put forward by theory, humankind as such would long since have died out. What separates actual activity from straightforward functionality in all living beings and in man in particular, is precisely “the role of anarchy in the world” and this should be acknowledged and defended day in and day out and expanded and reaffirmed by conscious anarchists.

Signed: A. Prudhommeaux, Le Monde libertaire, No 21, October 1956 (Paris)

From Un anarchisme hors norme (a collection of texts by André Prudhommeaux, published by Tumult ) (pp. 91-96)

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.