Internationalism: workers of all countries unite

The fifth part of 20 chapters on some of the basic politics of Socialist Labour for discussion by its members.

In 1919, dockers in the American city of Seattle refused to load arms for use against the then recent Russian socialist revolution. They were followed by dockers in San Francisco, London, Hull and elsewhere.  In that same spirit of global solidarity, Lancashire cotton workers supported Abraham Lincoln in the American Civil War, understanding that the war was against slavery. In 1889, Australian and other workers sent financial support to the great London dock strike.

Workers and working class groups across the world including socialists such as George Padmore, C.L.R. James, W.E.B. Du Bois and others across the world joined hands to fight against colonial rule in Africa. They also intervened in solidarity against the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini when the Italian army attempted to colonise Ethiopia in the 1930s.

Some more recent examples include the support by Nigerian trade unions for the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and the massive global demonstrations against the Iraq War, against bombing Syria, or in support of the Palestinians. Or take the reaction to Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban”. When Trump imposed restrictions on people from certain Muslim countries entering the US, there were major demonstrations across the world.

International solidarity has a long and honourable tradition in the labour movement. It is central to the idea of socialism. Workers can and do recognise, against the barrages of nationalist propaganda, that they truly ‘have no country’, as Marx wrote in 1848. Their real kinship is with other members of their class across the world.

Now, more than ever in history, capitalism is a global system. It can only be transformed into a different world through international solidarity among workers. There can be no ‘socialism in one country’. Of course, internationalism is not the only current within the popular mind. We’re bombarded daily with what seem ‘common sense’ images. They support the idea that we belong to a nation and that this nation must compete with other nations.

In sport we’re supposed to identify with ‘our’ team, especially the Super Eagles, although in fact, support for Chelsea, Everton and other European football clubs may be more popular! In culture, we must cheer when a ‘Nigerian’ singer or film does well. We are supposed to stand and sing the National Anthem at the start official meetings. We are also supposed to support right-wing leaders like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala when they want to become leaders of the World Trade Organisation, just because they are Nigerian.

What does nationalism assert? That we, as ‘the Nigerian’ or ‘the Ghanaian’ people have more in common with each other than we have with ‘foreigners’. The exploited worker has something in common with the rich boss or the corrupt politician? Nationalism ties us all together under a particular nation-state, and divides us as a class.

That nationalist strand in ‘common sense’ is not the only one. The opposing strand arises from our common experience of exploitation and domination. Ordinary people’s capacity to empathise with others, regardless of nation, colour, religion and the rest, appears in all manner of forms.

As in economic life, so in politics and ideas. There are two impulses in every worker’s experience. One responds to the competitive character of capitalism, to worries about getting or keeping a job, to fear and isolation. That impulse produces division and weakness in our movements.

The other impulse involves recognising a brother or sister in the suffering and struggles of the exploited and oppressed across the world. It is the impulse to solidarity, reaching across borders.

It is not simply that we are the ‘nice people’ who are against imperialist slaughter and robbery and against every manifestation of racism, but because we know that the interests of our class are always international.

The anti-capitalist and anti-war demonstrations, and the international forums, prefigure a new internationalism from below that will grow in ways we can, as yet, barely imagine.  Socialism is a growing and spreading process from small individual strikes, to huge strikes like the current ASUU strike, the #EndSARS movement, to international movements in support of the Palestinians, abortion rights and against climate change. This process cannot end until socialism becomes a truly global system and we begin to build a new society in peace and harmony with peoples from across the world.