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Anarchism and multiculturalism

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posted on 2015-11-12, 11:54 authored by Uri Gordon
Anarchism is strongly opposed to racism and bigotry, and celebrates cultural pluralism and the endless diversity of the human race. At the same time, anarchists are very critical of modern “multiculturalism” as a state-driven population and immigration management agenda. The chapter examines this critique, while offering an account of original anarchist approaches to identity and community conceived on an ethno-cultural basis. The anarchist critique of multiculturalism has several dimensions, including its continued reliance on the state, and its obviation of social antagonism in favour of competing demands for status and resources within existing arrangements of power. On this reading, multiculturalism dissolves the potential for solidarities that would challenge the given society by redefining which identities enjoy first-order relevance (namely, ethnic or religious ones) and allowing the state, and its technocratic machinations of coercive urban governance, to engage with groups (or their declared leaders) on that basis. In addition, anarchists have criticised multiculturalism as a privileged liberal ideology that pushed sections of the white working class population “left behind” by neoliberal globalisation into the hands of the far right. At the same time, anarchists celebrate the grassroots, quotidian, non-state-sanctioned forms of “multiculturalism” that people arguably practice on a daily basis – trying to get along with people from other backgrounds and avoiding cultural imposition. These have a long history in the Left, although under other names ("working class internationalism", "transnational solidarity", “cosmopolitanism” etc.). A fair amount of “classical" anarchist writing thus engaged with topics akin to multiculturalism, albeit in terms of "nations," "nationalities," or "peoples." The chapter surveys some of these, from Bakunin’s writings on the rights of "nationalities" to exist and exercise their independence, through Kropotkin’s discussions of national liberation, and on to Rocker’s wide-ranging considerations on state-driven identity in Nationalism and Culture. Many anarchists wrote positively of non-Western cultures and their equality, especially Elisee Reclus, Peter Kropotkin and Jean Grave. These anarchist notions of cultural pluralism engage explicitly with class conflict in a way that contemporary liberal conceptions of multiculturalism do not. Finally, the chapter looks at anarchist responses to contemporary cultural pluralism. The chief argument here is that rather than seeking a blueprint for social relations among diverse groups in the absence of the state, anarchist theory should focus on present-tense questions relevant to its emergent strategic outlooks on social transformation, asking how encounters in mixed communities impact on political-cultural dynamics and how anarchists can use grassroots forms of encounter to push forward radical agendas. Here, the main issue remains the politics of solidarity across difference and asymmetric power. Dilemmas surrounding this issue are explored in two key contexts: settler-colonial societies and societies absorbing immigration.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies

Published in

Philosophies of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism


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GORDON, U., 2016. Anarchism and multiculturalism. IN: Cordeiro-Rodrigues, L. and Simendic, M. (eds). Philosophies of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 63-79.


© Routledge


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Philosophies of Multiculturalism: Beyond Liberalism on 15 September 2016, available online: http://www.routledge.com/9781848936065.




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