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(en) Southern Africa, Anarchist journal Zabalaza #9 - The Poison of Nationalism

Date Mon, 15 Sep 2008 07:17:55 +0300

Some of the people attacked were born in South Africa or have a South African
passport. Aren’t they South Africans? What makes a South African? How many
generations must one have lived here to be accepted? What skin colour does one
have to have? When thinking about this it quickly becomes clear that who is a
South African and who is not is not a scientific decision. It is about what
people think and want and this changes over time. ---- We as anarchists - and
therefore internationalists - say that no one is illegal. We do not accept
borders of any kind. For us, everyone is only human, not South African, nor
Zimbabwean nor any other nationality. Every person on earth has the right to
live wherever he or she chooses.

Borders are only a recent creation to keep working class people around the world
divided and to bring some opportunists to power because they have a whole
country behind an imaginary idea. Not only are borders a recent creation; so is
nationalism. We only make one distinction: between oppressors and oppressed.

Nationalism is a belief that we somehow belong together just because we were
accidentally born in a certain place. It is a belief that seeks to connect
millions of people, even though they don’t know each other and might have
nothing in common. Everyone within certain borders is supposed to be similar and
everyone outside the borders is supposed to be different. This necessarily leads
to the forced assimilation of minorities within one state which includes the
wiping out of cultural diversity and of people who are not seen to be “true
Germans”, “true French”, “true Americans” or “true South Africans”. It
necessarily leads to the exclusion of the majority of the world and represses
those who seek shelter from oppression or starvation at home. A nation has to be
created artificially, it is not natural, and the people have to perceive
themselves as a national community. Nationhood is a state of mind based on
common myths and memory, regardless of whether it is true or not.

It is nationalism that makes up the myths of Zimbabweans taking our jobs or
stealing South African women. It is nationalism that would have us believe that
a poor woman living in a shack in Alexandra has more in common with a wealthy
businessman living in a mansion in Sandton, simply by virtue of the fact that
they are both South African, than she does with an unemployed worker living in a
shack in Harare.

Nationalism came about only in recent centuries. It has led to hundreds of wars
ever since, to fascism and Nazism. It has killed millions of people, raped
millions of women (a nationalist strategy to wipe out foreigners used all over
the world) and tortured not only those from other nationalities but also people
fighting against nationalism. It has discriminated against immigrants and
nomadic people; it has justified racism, ethnicity and genocide. Nationalism is
therefore directly related to racism. It is directly related to fascism and

Nationalism is a bourgeois invention of the ruling class to win the loyalty of
the working class. The working class has a history of internationalism;
frequently rulers, or those who wish to be rulers, have had to trick the workers
into following the nationalist banner. Without nationalism, we might now have a
system without artificial borders, a system that is not based on the
exploitation of the vast majority of the people by a small national elite. We
might have that very system we struggle for: a world without borders and capitalism.

Nationalism, the idea that everyone within artificially drawn borders is the
same, is absurd. Even more absurd is to speak about nation-states, a goal most
states in the world work towards. There is not one state in the world that is
made up of only one nation, or only one culture. In every state there are
minorities, whether they are traditional minorities, nomadic people or
immigrants. As such, nationalism will always violate certain people’s rights; it
will always exclude people who are different.

Nationalism divides people on a false basis. National borders solidify the
sovereignty of the ruling classes over working and poor people - nothing more.
The state and capitalists use the borders against us. They themselves can move
their money and goods across borders, but they prevent normal people from having
the same freedom as they do. They tell us that immigrants come and take away our
jobs when at the same time millions of jobs are exported by our capitalist
compatriots, to countries where they can pay workers lower wages and where
workers are not allowed to unionise. Many things decrease local employment
levels but ultimately the system is to blame. It’s the plain old greed of those
who own land, companies and the means of production which causes a bigger
problem. Instead of looking at the root of the problem, people are conditioned
to find someone to place the blame on. So-called foreigners are one of the

It is important to point out here that internationalists are against liberal
conceptions of a world without borders to establish free trade. We are against
free trade because it only means the freedom of the wealthy to further exploit
us, unhindered by state regulations. Our aim is a world without trade and
exchange and money and private property, where goods are produced and
distributed for the needs of all and not for profit. Trade is always about
profit and therefore about exploitation.

Nationalism originated in Europe and was imported to Africa via colonialism.
African nationalisms are based on European colonialism, since they inherited
colonial boundaries and continued to use colonial languages for administration.
Most of the time it was better educated and thus also wealthier people in the
cities who started nationalist movements. Nationalism can thus be regarded as an
urban elite phenomenon.

While nationalism can help a people to rid themselves of alien domination such
as colonialism, it is also clear that it can result in the elimination of
certain minorities within a territory to create a homogenous nation. The
genocide in Rwanda is only one example of many. In South Africa, Afrikaner
nationalism played a similar role: it was an anti-colonial nationalism that
tried to root out black South Africans. And now, the dominant black nationalist
ideology is doing the same thing in relation to foreigners. Much of this
disaster is the legacy of colonialism and colonial ideas. Nationalism has become
an easy way for the ruling class to make the oppressed turn against other
oppressed people.

Chauvinistic violence in South Africa is on the rise. This can be easily
explained with a psychological example that is probably quite universal
throughout the world. Frustrated at work and from being shouted at by his boss,
the husband goes home and shouts at his wife because of a simple mistake she
made – perhaps overcooking the meal. The wife, frustrated by her husband being
righteous, shouts at the child because she didn’t wash her hands before eating.
The girl, frustrated by always getting told what to do by her parents, can only
get rid of her frustration by hitting the dog or her doll.

Coming back to South Africa, we see that frustrated people turn against those
that are more vulnerable, like women in general, lesbians in particular and
immigrants. They are more vulnerable and one thus sees one’s power more
immediately. The struggle against the ones that are really responsible for our
frustration, our bosses and the government, is seen as harder to achieve and is
thus not immediately rewarding. However, in the long run, this is the only way
to get rid of our frustration. Turning on our weaker brothers and sisters only
helps the bosses.
Proudly South African
The same that can be said in most countries in the world is also true for South
Africa. Born out of colonial interests and with no respect for local conditions,
borders were artificially constructed and defended. South Africans were first
united in their common subjugation, which was based on race. To succeed,
opposition to this racist rule had to be united. The ANC – which, from the
beginning, was a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois party – sought the loyalty of the
workers through nationalism, seducing them away from more progressive movements.
Since the end of apartheid this nationalist unity has had to be reproduced.

Crucial to this is the slogan “Proudly South African”, a slogan with which we
have been indoctrinated for seven years. Proudly South African is a slogan the
national elite needs in order to be backed by the majority, the working class,
which actually has much more in common with poor Zimbabweans than it does with
South African millionaires. It’s also a campaign supported by all major South
African companies to get people to buy South African, supposedly to create jobs
and economic growth. But Proudly South African also implies that there is
something to be proud of our borders that have been artificially drawn, that
there is something to be proud of our common history. And most importantly, that
we have to be proud to be South Africans as compared with anything else, that we
are something better.

Given this fact a horrible question arises: did South Africans act ‘proudly
South African’ when they attacked foreigners? We hope not but such slogans
certainly lead to xenophobia. Mix these slogans with poverty, exploitation and
starvation, with fear and confusion, and murder is likely to follow.
Another drop of poison is added to the mix by the cult of leaders. There seems
to be a deep mistrust among the majority of people living in South Africa in
themselves. People always look for leaders and leadership; they only dismiss
leaders if they don’t act quickly or strongly enough - not because they don’t
need them, but because they are looking for stronger leaders. As has been seen
throughout history, from the earliest recorded history up until now, leaders
have most (if not all) of the time betrayed the people, especially poor and
working class people. They lie to us and use us, persuade us with nationalist
sentiments to fight and die for a country that does not support us, for which
only we have to give even if we don’t have enough. We cannot rely on any
leaders. If we follow them blindly we will be lost, we will follow them onto the
battlefields and die for their personal issues and gains. We will gain nothing
for ourselves; our family does not gain dignity because of their fallen sons,
brothers and fathers. They are not heroes as our leaders want us to believe.
They are victims who have been tricked into blindly following leaders into war,
after having not stood up against them.

Killing people because they are different, because the leaders condemn them, or
because the nationalist ideology of the bosses says they don’t belong here, is
in no way heroic and in no way a solution to our problems. Our fight is not
against Zimbabweans and Mozambicans and Somalians; it is against the
capitalists, against the bosses, against the politicians, against the leaders.
When we, the working class, rely on ourselves, collectively, and not on leaders;
when we organise from the bottom up rather than the top down; when we act on
understanding rather than prejudice, and on solidarity rather than chauvinistic
hatred – then we will be able to rid ourselves of capitalism and the state, of
poverty and starvation, of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism; then we
will be able to build a world where all are free and equal comrades.
Originally published In "Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Class Struggle
Anarchism", issue number nine, available online in .pdf version at the link below.
Related Link: http://www.zabalaza.net/pdfs/sapams/zab09.pdf
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