[DEBATE] : Re: 'Internationalism' - Historical View, No Bibliog.
Pithouser at ukzn.ac.za
Sun Jun 11 13:51:09 BST 2006
I would, of course, agree that there are all kinds of inspiring and important exceptions to the bleak picture I painted and that we should celebrate and seek to learn from them. I didn't, for example, know about the practical expression of solidarity from the British textile workers for American slaves.
But I don't think that it is neccessary to begin a political project with a proposed solution. Sometimes it is very important to just assert negativity and to be open about what may be generated by the affirmation of the negative. The BC movement here started with the assertion 'Black Man (sic) You're On Your Own' and later all kinds of positive things emerged from the commitment to express a black voice independently of the white left - including, in some instances, forms of solidarity premised on what Biko called 'integration' rather than 'assimilation'. The shack dwellers' movement here in Durban began with a similar assertion - 'We are On Our Own' and, like BC, has taken that founding assertion very seriously as it develops. It is one of the reasons, there are many, many others, why this movement continues to grow rapidly and why there has been no delinking between ordinary members and key players in the movement. Modes of solidarity with organisations and individuals outside are being negotiated but slowly and carefully with continuous reflection on what works and what doesn't. Because there is no naivity about solidarity no NGO or visiting radical is assumed to know more about what the movement needs than its members.
The outcomes of this process will often not have been able to have been anticipated in advance but is continually developed ad redeveloped through collective reflection on the lived experience of struggle in the light of the movement's founding truths.
It seems pretty clear to me that most talk of a 'global movement' and 'global solidarity' is, most often entirely unconsciously, as unconsciously as many white leftists here thought that they were the struggle before Biko, deeply complicit with forms of left imperialism. If there was a genuine global movement certain companies and government would be under constant militant attack for what they are doing in the Congo....If there was a global movement its intellectual centres would be in Bombay, Bejing, Lagos and Sao Paulo. If there was a global movement leftists in America and Europe would be able to break fundamentally with, and be able to struggle directly against, the racism and paternalism that permeates much of the social science generated there and presented as progressive. If there was a global movement it would be considered down right hilarious when Mike Davis or Michael Hardt and Negri got to such lengths to affirm the good people in the World Bank without having any discernable interest in the intelligence and experience of the good people resisting the shattering of their communities and livlihoods by the Bank etc, etc, etc.
Surely, given especially how much Northen NGOS and donors and academics in their employ or invested in their circuits, assume the right to decide how the 'global' is represented and constructed - and how little critique there is of their power (almost no African activists are likely, for example, to get to a WSF or similar meeting if they do not have some relationship with a NGO) it makes sense begin by saying a firm no to the current romance about 'global struggle' and to leave the question of what the stance generates open.
Raj Patel wrote a really interesting paper which is forthcoming in a book edited by Dan Moshenberg and Shereen Essof in which he asserts that solidarity is only possible via rendering oneself a subject to the democratic meeting. That means being there in person and accepting the authority of the meeting, which means accepting the experience and intelligence of the dominated as prior to theory produced in another contexts. This doesn't mean that people like us shouldn't have and express ideas. But they should, at the very least, be expressed in conversation with the people with whom we want to develop solidarity, in their language and on their terrain and in the context of a political project that moves from their fundamental concerns and is directly accountable to the people that support it. Anything else pretty much inevitably does damage. A movement in which an elite, or influential fractons thereof, is captured by a NGO in the name of solidarity is pretty much always a movement about to become a shell of its once living self.
>>> p.waterman at inter.nl.net 06/09/06 11:04 AM >>>
I have no problem with a sceptical attitude toward 'internationalism' either
in the past or in the present. I do, however, have a problem with 19 ounces
of scepticism of the intellect and only one of optimism of the will. And,
for that matter, with a scepticism that verges on a determinism. Because I
cannot extract from your presentation the bases of a new kind of
internationalism. Or, if you prefer, of a truly universal internationalism.
I would argue that the history is more complex than you allow for. There is,
of course, the classical, admirable and puzzling case of British textile
workers going on a lengthy and self-sacrificing work-stoppage in solidarity
with black slaves during the American civil war. There are many other such
historical moments (such as the boycott of the Jolly George during the
British intervention against the Russian Revolution), as well as of
continuing 'Northern' movements or organisations that identified with
'Southern' ones long before such action was in any possible way or
understanding functional to capitalism. Another classical but more recent
case was the strike action of West Australian dockers against the handling
of Dutch warships on their way to re-colonise Indonesia at the end of WW2.
Even more recently, and closer to home, was the growing movement of support
to the new workers movement in South Africa after 1972. This was done,
interestingly enough, despite the opposition of the SACTU and much of the
Western anti-apartheid movement at that time. It was part of what we then
called 'the new labour internationalism', or 'shopfloor labour
internationalism'. I have written about this type and period in my 1998/2001
book, Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms. The
relevant chapter title suggests the necessary note of scepticism, 'Beyond
Westocentrism: New World, New Unions, New Labour Internationalism?'.
So, I would plea here for both more history and more theory in recovering
and re-inventing internationalism for a period in which 'society'
increasingly reaches beyond the state-nation, and 'solidarity with distant
strangers' becomes necessary for for both democratic self-defence and
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard Pithouse" <Pithouser at ukzn.ac.za>
To: <debate at lists.kabissa.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 08, 2006 1:46 PM
Subject: [DEBATE] : Re: 'Internationalism' - Historical View, No Bibliog.
there is such a thing as internationalism but there is also far too much
romance about it. historically very few major left movements in europe and
north america have made meaningful breaks with colonial and neo-colonial
assumptions. of course once a mode of colonial or neo-colonial mode of
domination is outdated (like apartheid by the 80s, or slavery at one point)
it is easy for the northern left to rail against it but the fundamental
assumptions of european domination are seldom challenged. the historical
record in this regard is pretty bleak beginning, perhaps, with the position
taken on the haitain revolution by the french revolution. of course there
are counter-examples, elements in the british labour party supporting
bambatha etc but they are rare. very rare. when so many american leftists
went into third worldist sects in and after the 60s there was no real break
with colonial thinking. in fact stereotypes were usually inverted rather
abandoned and solidarity was often with leaders rather than people in other
countries. in some ways this continues with the way in which some talk about
marcos or chavez.
the south-south internationalism from students, workers and intellectuals in
colonised and former colonised countries in the 50s through to the 70s is
largely dead although it may be reawakening in south america. and although
the world wide anti-war protests before the invasion of iraq may well have
been the first genuinely internationalist political event it hs not been
sustained and few have understood that it was only possible because it
wasn't donor and ngo dependent. people could march where they were with the
resources they had.
but there is no such thing as a global movement now. the vast majority of
the people who speak as though there is are simply providing cover for the
rapid colonisation of resistance by european and american ngos and donors
and, at the level of representation, academics. activist soldiarity is also
a pretty much a one way thing. only the privileged have the time and money
to travel and while there can be and often is great solidarity work by
northern people the damaging assumption of superiority is far too common for
us to be uncritically romantic about this. all movements that i know
something about in south africa have sorry tales to tell of of
condescension, appropriation, exploitation, an assumption of a right to lead
and enlighten and a reckless disregard for the lessons learned in particular
experiences and histories of struggle.
this is not to say that genuine internationalism does not happen. it does.
consider the university of dar es salam in the 70s or durban steverdores
refusing to off load ships from liverpool during the strike there in the 80s
or the many positive experiences that movements here have had with american
or european radicals who have decided to put their privilege in the service
of resistance. but on the whole internationalism is an aspiration and an
insufficiently critical position on this puts, just as our enemies do, power
firmly in london, brussels, paris, new york, washington etc. we need, i
think, to face up to just how bad the situation that we confront is.
>>> p.waterman at inter.nl.net 06/08/06 1:04 PM >>>
'Internationalism' is a many-splendoured word, having expression in
international relations theory and practice, in culture, in 19th-20th
century labour movements and socialist ideology, and in a wide range of
contemporary international social movements. If it is here being related
primarily to social movements, this is because of a recent, growing and
worldwide (consider the bibliography below) revival of such in relation to
There is a 'pre-history' of internationalism which, whilst not bearing this
name, nonetheless prefigures the concept and can still be found within,
beneath or around it. And, in so far as internationalism assumes the nation,
one could also speak of a post-national one, employing such concepts as
'alternative humanist projects of globalisation' or 'global solidarity'.
Internationalism, though generally associated with the Left has never been
confined to this. As long ago as the 1920s, Peruvian Marxist, Jose Carlos
Mariátegui, was pointing out the 'paradox' of fascist internationalism
(1973/1923-4). Today we can find rightwing religious internationalisms
(Barth 2000), as well as related liberal-democratic discourses and
practices, even if their central concepts are such as 'cosmopolitan
democracy' (Biblio 2002) or 'transnational advocacy' (Keck and Sikkink
We need to first consider such religious universalisms as those of Judaism,
Christianity, Islam and their sects. Most of these themselves express, at
least in part, desires for a single human community, for justice and
solidarity, each of them revealing the limits of more local religions or
belief systems, each of them (still) competing with each other.
Bourgeois-liberal cosmopolitanism. Despite its Greek appearance, the word
cosmopolitanism is actally an 18th century one. It was a product of the
European enlightenment, of secularism and of trade. And it seems to have
required some classical European licence. It can be satirised as meaning 'we
would have universal peace and justice if everyone spoke French'. But it
expressed a major attempt by the rising middle-classes to undermine and
surpass feudal and imperial boundaries - as well as the military conflicts
arising from the rise of trade and nation-state building themselves.
Standing in this tradition we can find such European thinkers as Immanuel
Kant (1724-1804) and, in the Latin-American arena, of the military
adventurer Simón Bolívar (1783-1830)..
Radical-democratic internationalism. This is a plebian or populist
inflection of the above, expressed in the life and writings of, for example,
Tom Paine (1737-1809) in England, America and France. Or, again on a Latin
American scale, by José Marti (1853-1895). Also in this tradition could be
placed attempts at creating a Black/African diaspora internationalism, such
as that of Thomas Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (founded
1914). Under this rubric can also be placed the Thirdworldist
internationalism associated with the Cuban revolution (1959) and Che Guevara
(1928-1967). Sharing the revolutionary aspirations of its predecessors, it
was limited by its own dependence on a bloc of radical-nationalist states
that eventually fell apart (Gerassi 1971, Mires 1989).
Labour and socialist internationalism were born in Europe with the
capitalist industrial revolutions and the rise of a new mass class - the
industrial working class (van Holthoon and van der Linden 1988). Labour and
socialist internationalisms were often most successful where they overlapped
with other or earlier internationalisms, as with anti-authoritarian,
anti-war, anti-slavery/racist internationalisms. Perhaps the greatest
specifically working-class achievement was the struggle for the 8-hour day,
intimately linked with the creation of the Second or Socialist International
(1880-1917) and the worldwide spread of May 1 as International Labour Day
(1889-90). This campaign achieved formal international endorsement at the
creation of the International Labour Organisation (1919). Worldwide
implemenation is still waiting almost 100 years later.
In one single passage in the Communist Manifesto (1868/1848:51), Marx and
Engels state that workers have no country but, also, that they will have to
first come to power.nationally. This ambiguity reveals that the period of
capitalist industrialisation was also that of nation-state construction. By
the late-19th century states were trying to incorporate and 'nationalise'
their working classes (manhood suffrage, compulsory education in the state
language, welfare provision, military service, chauvinism and
social-imperialism). So, what began as quasi-spontaneous cross-border
solidarity of disenfranchised workers and exiled socialists increasingly
turned into formal relations between nationally-identified unions, parties
and cooperatives. The fatal outcome was the absence of a much-mooted
international general strike against World War One (1914).
What was left was a literal inter-nationalism - a relationship between
institutionalised working-class, socialist and union nationalists and
nationalisms. The Communist International (1919), set up with 21 compulsory
membership conditions intended to surpass this failure, rapidly turned into
a centralised instrument of the Soviet state. And the reformist socialist
and union internationals of the West came, after World War Two, to amount to
little more than sets of competing organisations, conferences, resolutions,
and related lobbying activities, invisible to the general public, and little
more so to union or party members themselves.
We can take the foundation of the English magazine, New Internationalist
(1973) as emblematic of the rise of the contemporary internationalisms.
Whilst not excluding labour, this new wave - which has been growing
worldwide, if unevenly, ever since - addresses itself to international
issues, and expresses the radical-democratic global awareness or solidarity
feelings of often unrecognised or marginalised collective subjects. Thus we
today have peace, human-rights, women's, anti-imperialist, developmentalist,
childrens, ecological, indigenous peoples and a myriad of other such
international solidarity movements. There are also new labour
internationalisms, commonly independent of, though also commonly linked
with, the union internationals (Waterman 2001).
With the rise of globalisation (or the recognition of such) came the rise of
movements called, variously, 'anti-globalisation', 'alter-globalisation',
'anti-capitalist' (Adamovsky 2003) or 'global justice and solidarity'.
Typically these are networks rather than institutions - 'communications
internationalisms', operating on the web and shaping up some kind of global
solidarity culture. They are also networked between themselves for such
events as the 'Battle of Seattle' (1999), or the World Social Forum process.
This began, innovatively, in the South (Brazil 2001-3, India 2004). There
have also been increasing numbers of regional, national, or issue-oriented
forums (Sen at. al. 2004).
At one periphery of this movement it is possible to identify the
cautiously-named 'transnational advocacy networks'(Keck and Sikkink 1998).
Whilst overlapping with the movements, these often have the character of the
state-oriented national lobbies familiar from Western liberal democracies
(Drainville 2004). At other peripheries one can identify various Old Left
internationals and internationalisms (Trotskyist, Maoist, Reformist), and
rightwing or even fundamentalist internationals/internationalisms,
expressing long-distance racist, religious and communalist projects (Barth
Whilst the 'global justice and solidarity movement' could be considered a
successor to the socialist and labour internationalisms of the 19th and 20th
centuries, it surpasses these in significant ways. But the new 'movement of
movements' is a complex, often inchoate and contradictory phenomenon. And
'paradoxical' internationalisms might become, again, paradigmatic ones.
Whilst globalisation has created the conditions for the dramatic growth of
the new left internationalisms, it offers no guarantee for their survival or
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