Much of the Left sees the privileging of regional authority over the authority of larger, more overarching institutions as a way to fight white supremacy. Today, in the Americas, much of indigenous struggles takes the form of fights for more autonomy from the federal government. The history of national liberation also followed a similar dynamic, where the former colonized aspired for autonomy and sovereignty of the territories they inhabited. Yet ultimately, white supremacy transcends the local, and therefore more global strategies are necessary to fight it. In other words, the forces that pauperize and marginalize people of color are coupled with the global economy in ways that demand an internationalist approach to combat white supremacy.
The Left has good reasons for privileging the local and distrusting large, centralized institutions. To many peoples, capitalist violence was embodied in a foreign State – an armored leviathan that came from across the sea to colonize, enslave, and dispossess. In the Americas, capitalism was delivered to the indigenous as a discipline imposed by the State, forcing them into wage labor and slavery, and dispossessing them from their land in order to privatize it for commodity production. In Africa and India, capitalism came from abroad in the shape of pale skinned imperialists that answered to powerful european states. A more recent example of this dynamic is the way the Canadian state imposes oil pipelines into first nation communities, violating the latter’s autonomy.
Yet, today the whole word has been consolidated into a system. Only very small communities exist that do not participate in the global economy. Most of the marginalized are waged workers, who exchange their labor-time for cash that will subsequently be used in the global market to buy food, shelter, and medicine. Although some communities such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas maintain their ancient, communal practices, their cooperative farms ultimately still produce commodities, which connects them to the world-system of capitalism. The commodity has shackled everyone globally to the same system and there is no escape. The violence that homogenized peoples of the world into proletarians has already happened. The clock cannot be turned back.
In the 20th century, many intellectuals saw the possibility of national liberation as a way to unshackle the colonized from the capitalist system. They thought that sovereignty was possible once they overthrew the imperial masters. But the old anti-imperialists only saw the military and political domination from the colonizers – a white man with a rifle and a constitution that robbed them from their freedom. Yet the abstraction that developed the core economies and pauperized the periphery exists beyond gunpowder and constitutions. Even if the former colonized created their own constitutions, parliaments, and flags, they buy the oil barrels from Canada, and the computer parts from the United States. More than half a century later, these former colonies remain shackled, not to the constitutions and rifles of the white man, but to a commodity world that turns the former colonies into bodegas that can be ransacked for underpaid labor and cheap natural resources.
Today, a shock in the housing market of the United States is felt in the value of tortillas in Mexico. The development of new technology to extract oil from shale trickles down to the price of a tractor bought by a farmer in Zimbabwe. Yet the Left does not have a vision of emancipation through a global, political structure that can mould the course of the global economy. For a long time, activists, militants and theorists thought that the first step for the liberation of people of color was through the increase of legal sovereignty within a specific geographic zone – from the autonomy in first nation reserves in Canada, to the sovereignty of the former colonies in Africa. Yet, the global dynamics that lead to the immiseration of the global south exist beyond the regional, and they couple in complex and non-intuitive ways areas that are thousands of miles in separation.
Anti-racism is incomplete without a political project that exists beyond the confines of the nation-state, because the global immiseration of people of color is not due to national dynamics alone. We need to create a culture of socialist internationalism that aspires to build democratic structures that manage the global economy. If an economic policy pursued by the United States is felt by a factory worker in Bangladesh, it follows that the Bangladeshi worker should have a say on it. The ruling class has already created stable, semi-democratic structures that administer large territories, such as the ones of Canada and the US; sometimes these structures span many languages and ethnicities. There is nothing in principle that prevents leftists from aspiring to build similar structures that span the whole world, but with a socialist and democratic dimension that doesn’t serve only the needs of the rich and the powerful. To destroy the power and economic differentials that exist between the global south and the global north, we require global, democratic structures that enforce economic policies designed to achieve social and economic justice – in short, we need a world, socialist republic. Such a project seems like a pipe-dream, but so was decolonization before it entered the public discourse. We need to build an ethic of internationalism, in the same way we found colonialism disgusting and amoral more than a century ago.