From International Socialism, No.18, Autumn 1964, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
‘Past experience has shown how disregard of that bond of brotherhood which ought to exist between the workmen of different countries, and incite them to stand firmly by each other in all their struggles for emancipation, will be chastised by the common discomfiture of their incoherent efforts.’ (Inaugural Address of the Working Men’s International Association, 28 September 1864).
‘Let’s Go With Labour for a really GREATER Britain.’
This autumn we commemorate (celebrate is scarcely the appropriate word) the founding, one hundred years ago, of the First International. The story of a century of proletarian internationalism is a tragic one. Three more Internationals followed the short-lived First. Reformism strangled the Second, Stalinism the Third. The consequences of these defeats of working-class internationalism were the blood-bath of the First World War (another of this autumn’s anniversaries) and the smashing of socialism in Russia. The impotence and perpetual splintering of the Fourth International is a tragedy too, albeit a minor one, for it reflects the failure of the last three decades to create an independent Marxist movement on any scale.
Internationalism is the core of the struggle for socialism. In the first place, the absence of international solidarity is the most grievous form of the fragmentation which impedes the proletariat in its fight on all fronts. Just as workers in one factory or region come into conflict with other workers because sectional interests obscure class loyalty, so too there is no effective sense of unity between workers in different countries: Greeks fight Turks; British workers distrust and fear coloured immigrants. The myth of ‘national interest’ holds sway. Above all, the enormous gap in living standards between the developed and underdeveloped countries seems to offer no prospect of common action between the workers of these lands.
The denial of internationalism in the working-class movement is intimately linked with reformism. To seek to improve the existing system rather than destroy it; to base one’s programme oh the demands of a fragmented class without trying to transcend this fragmentation – all this leaves a movement ideologically imprisoned within national boundaries. Thus, if the British Labour Movement discusses the Immigration Act in terms only of immediate problems of housing and employment within the present structure, it cannot help but come to reactionary and chauvinistic conclusions.
Yet, if the traditional labour movements have forsaken internationalism, the prospect is nonetheless not wholly bleak. As capitalism becomes more and more international, both the necessity and the possibility for greater cooperation between the workers of different lands are increased. The European Common Market could open the door to a new phase of internationalism for trade unionists at both official and shop-floor levels. Reformists of Left and Right have disregarded this most vital aspect in debating the issue. Cultural and educational developments too are playing a role in the opening up of international perspectives to the modern working class.
What then is to be done? Now is not the time to found a new International. The history of the Fourth has shown the futility of creating an organisation that does not reflect a rising tide of class consciousness. Moreover we reject as idealism a faith in either spontaneity or education by themselves. The ‘family of man’ will not keep growing as a natural process; benevolent school-teachers and journalists will not ‘cure’ the working class of nationalism. Rather, while recognising the importance of objective factors, we must continue to campaign for internationalist policies at all levels of the Labour movement. Our task is threefold.
Firstly, theory must be extended. The classic Marxist analyses, Lenin’s concept of ‘Imperialism’, and Trotsky’s of ‘Permanent Revolution’, brilliant though they are, are no longer adequate. To accept them dogmatically can only blind us and prevent us from developing them. This journal has already made some contribution to the building of new theories of internationalism, and we pledge ourselves to pursue the work.
Secondly, we must participate in and help to link together all campaigns that have internationalist implications. The struggles for socialism and freedom in Spain and South Africa must be brought into the heart of the Labour Movement. CND has played a great role in the development of internationalist ideas; we must continue to deflect its every dying breath into the Labour Movement.
Thirdly, the campaign for internationalism must be waged in the trade unions. International ownership must be met with international industrial action, official or unofficial. A dockers’ boycott of South African goods, even a token donation to a foreign strike fund, is a step forward. It is not an easy task, but it must be fulfilled, for internationalism is the very essence of all that socialism has meant in the last hundred years.
Last updated on 20.8.2007