In a previous post, I outlined the idea that a leftist nation-state, even in its the most unambitious, white-bread version, such as european social-democracy, is a doomed project in the wake of neoliberalism. A left wing nation-state in the middle of a sea of global capitalism will be castigated by market discipline, economic uncompetitiveness, currency devaluation, and capital flight.
I got a couple of reactions from that post. Some people argued that my appeal to internationalism was too abstract. Current left-wing movements that wish to take power through the nation-state – such as Syriza, Bernie’s campaign, and Corbyn’s faction in the Labor Party, are the existing choices. Waiting for socialist movements to take power simultaneously so that we can even begin talking about a world, socialist republic is nihilistic.
Although nowadays internationalism seems like an abstraction, there is actually historical evidence of a concrete practice. Marx’s phrase of “the working class has no country” found its expression in three internationals – central, global organizations that claimed the loyalty of millions of people. The first two internationals, the International Workingman’s Association, and the Socialist International, appeared in the late 19th century, while the Comintern was created in 1915, in the wake of the second international’s betrayal of internationalism in WWI, when socialist parties supported patriotically their respective nation-states in the war. An obscure but interesting historical tidbit about the Comintern’s loyalty to internationalism is reflected in the early Italian communist party. The Italian communist party in the 1920s referred itself as the “Communist Party in Italy”, rather that the later iteration that was called “Communist Party of Italy”, implying that they were merely the Italian section of an international Communist Party, which was embodied in the Comintern, rather than an autonomous, national party. The Italians took internationalism so seriously that Amadeo Bordiga, leader of the early communist party in Italy, demanded that the young USSR should be administered jointly by all the communist parties in the comintern.. Bordiga’s logic followed from the idea that marxists eschewed the nation-state, and instead, fought for a global, socialist republic. After Bordiga’s demand was faced with ridicule, he declared that Stalin was the gravedigger of the revolution.
I don’t want to dwell too much in the historical, because I actually believe there are very few lessons to be learnt from the past. However, what is important about the history of the socialist movement is that many of its protagonists took internationalism very seriously as a programmatic point. Even when the organizations themselves were tiny, such as the Marx’s early Communist League, internationalism was already a programmatic commitment. This programmatic commitment later on manifested itself as centralized, global organizations that had the loyalty of millions of people.
Now contrast this to the contemporary Left. There is a new generation of anti-capitalist movements in the developed world, some of them had made it to mainstream elections. Syriza, Podemos, and Melenchon’s movement, are some of these examples. Yet none of them take seriously the concept of internationalism – in fact, many of them wish to reinforce the sovereignty of the nation-state as a reaction to international capitalism – this has manifested itself programmatically through Lexit, a left-wing case for the abandonment of the european union. Bernie Sander’s campaign also expressed their opposition to open borders, using a workerist logic that argued that the influx of immigrant, cheap labor lowers working conditions for the native working class.
I find all these positions unacceptable, and a betrayal of the internationalist principles the old socialist movement was built upon. Not only these positions are unethical from the perspective of a socialist, but economically illiterate. Reinforcing immigration controls and switching to national currency might give the illusion to the sovereign nation-state of more control and maneuvering space to implement left wing policies, but it will not prevent the capital flight, the economic uncompetitiveness, the debt, and the general market discipline that these policies will trigger – e.g. see Greece or Venezuela for examples. In fact, due to the advanced stage of world capitalism, internationalism is much more necessary today. Given that the economy is much more globalized and interconnected now than in the late 19th century, it’s even more absurd nowadays to combat global capitalism by doubling down on the nation-state sovereignty. What’s very tragic is that even if current conditions favor internationalism – cheap plane tickets, the internet, and the prevalence of english – we seem to be much further ideologically from internationalism than ever before.
So what is to be done? I am just one person, and I cannot come up with a fine-tuned program for 21st century internationalism. However, I think a possible start would be that many of the existing socialist movements, especially those that had made it to the mainstream, take internationalism seriously again. Even lip-service will go a long way in placing globalist praxis in the mainstream discourse. Even if the organizational scaffolding for world socialism doesn’t exist, a programmatic aspiration amongst current existing socialists could trigger the collective imagination into producing concrete plans for the founding of a global, democratic socialist republic. In the case of the old socialist movement of the 19th century, such programmatic commitment to internationalism found a concrete, organizational expression in the internationals. It wasn’t that the old socialist movement found internationalism long after it was founded, rather, internationalism was a programmatic point since the beginning.