National Liberation

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article, published in Egalitarianism
as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, 2nd Edition
pp. 195–198, originally appeared in Libertarian Forum,
vol. 1, no. 11, September 1, 1969.

The recent
rioting and virtual civil war in Northern Ireland points out,
both for libertarians and for the world at large, the vital importance
of pushing for and attaining the goal of national liberation for
all oppressed people. Aside from being a necessary condition to
the achievement of justice, national liberation is the only solution
to the great world problems of territorial disputes and oppressive
national rule. Yet, all too many anarchists and libertarians mistakenly
scorn the idea of national liberation and independence as simply
setting up more nation-states; they tragically do not realize
that, taking this stand, they become in the concrete, objective
supporters of the bloated, imperialistic nation-states of today.

this mistake has had tragic consequences. Thus, it is clear from
Paul Avrich's fascinating and definitive book1
that the anarchists in Russia had at least a fighting chance to
take control of the October Revolution rather than the Bolsheviks,
but that they lost out for two major reasons: (1) their sectarian
view that any kind of definite organization of their own movement
violated anarchist principles; and (2) their opposition to the
national independence movements for the Ukraine and White Russia
on the ground that this would simply be setting up other states.
In this way, they became the objective defenders of Great Russian
imperialism, and this led them to the disastrous course of opposing
Lenin's statesmanlike "appeasement peace" of Brest-Litovsk
in 1918, where Lenin, for the sake of ending the war with Germany,
surrendered Ukrainian and White Russian territory from the Greater
Russian imperium. Disastrously, both for their own principles
and for their standing in the eyes of the war-weary Russian people,
the Russian anarchists called for continuing the war against "German
imperialism," thereby somehow identifying with anarchy, the
centuries-old land grabs of Russian imperialism.

Let us first
examine the whole question of national liberation from the point
of view of libertarian principle. Suppose that there are two hypothetical
countries, "Ruritania" and "Walldavia." Ruritania
invades Walldavia and seizes the northern part of the country.
This situation continues over decades or even centuries. But the
underlying condition remains: the Ruritanian State has invaded
and continues to occupy and exploit, very often trying to eradicate
the language and culture of the North Walldavian subject people.
There now arises, both in northern and southern Walldavia, a "North
Walldavian Liberation Movement." Where should we stand on
the matter?

It seems
clear to me that Libertarians are bound to give this liberation
movement their ardent support. For their object, while it might
not be to achieve an ultimate stateless society, is to liberate
the oppressed North Walldavians from their Ruritanian State rulers.
The fact that we may not agree with the Walldavian rebels on all
philosophical or political points is irrelevant. The whole point
of their existence – to free the Northern Walldavians from
their imperial oppressors – deserves our wholehearted support.

Thus is solved
the dilemma of how Libertarians and anarchists should react toward
the whole phenomenon of "nationalism." Nationalism is
not a unitary, monolithic phenomenon. If it is aggressive, we
should oppose it; if liberatory, we should favor it. Thus, in
the Ruritanian-Walldavian case, those Ruritanians who defend the
aggression or occupation on the grounds of "Greater Ruritania"
or "Ruritanian national honor" or whatever, are being
aggressive nationalists or "imperialists." Those of
either country who favor North Walldavian liberation from the
imperial Ruritanian yoke are being liberators and, therefore,
deserve our support.

One of the
great swindles behind the idea of "collective security against
aggression," as spread by the "internationalist"
interventionists of the 1920s and ever since, is that this requires
us to regard as sacred all of the national boundaries which have
been often imposed by aggression in the first place. Such a concept
requires us to put our stamp of approval upon the countries and
territories created by previous imperial aggression.

Let us now
apply our analysis to the problem of Northern Ireland. The Northern
Irish rulers, the Protestants, insist on their present borders
and institutions; the Southern Irish, or Catholics, demand a unitary
state in Ireland. Of the two, the Southern Irish have the better
case, for all of the Protestants were "planted" centuries
ago into Ireland by English imperialism, at the expense of murdering
the Catholic Irish and robbing their lands. But unless documentation
exists to enable restoration of the land and property to the heirs
of the victims – and it is highly dubious that such exists
– the proper libertarian solution has been advanced by neither
side and, as far as we can tell, by no one in the public press.
For the present partition line does not, as most people believe,
divide the Catholic South from the Protestant North. The partition,
as imposed by Britain after World War I and accepted by the craven
Irish rebel leadership, arbitrarily handed a great deal of Catholic
territory to the North. Specifically, over half of the territory
of Northern Ireland has a majority of Catholics and should revert
immediately to the South: this includes Western Derry (including
Derry City), all of Tyrone and Fermanagh, southern Armagh and
southern Down. Essentially, this would leave as Northern Ireland
only the city of Belfast and the rural areas directly to the north.

While this
solution would leave the Catholics of Belfast oppressed by outrageous
Protestant discrimination and exploitation, at least the problem
of the substantial Catholic minority in Northern Ireland –
the majority in the areas enumerated above – would
be solved, and the whole question of Northern Ireland would be
reduced to tolerable dimensions. In this way, the libertarian
solution – of applying national self-determination and removing
imperial oppression – would at the same time bring about
justice and solve the immediate utilitarian question.

  1. Paul
    Avrich, The
    Russian Anarchists
    (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
    Press, 1967).

N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism
and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author
of The
Ethics of Liberty
and For
a New Liberty
and many
other books and articles
. He was also academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian
Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

Rothbard Archives


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