The Case for Socialist Internationalism

by Zane Dundon

Corporate politicians and journalists have a few favorite lies about capitalist globalization. When challenged on the desirability of neoliberal trade agreements or international financial institutions, they generally claim the following: one, globalization benefits everyone in the long run, two, even if globalization hurts some workers in the developed world, it helps poor citizens of developing countries, and three, opponents of globalization are just narrow-minded xenophobes who care more about nationalism than their own well-being. These arguments are clever rhetorical strategies for corporate liberals in particular, because they frame the debate over capitalist globalization as one between enlightened and compassionate (yet realistic) liberals on the one hand and racist, immigrant-hating conservatives on the other. With this framing, they avoid addressing any arguments that challenge capitalist globalization on different terms: in particular, the arguments of socialist internationalism.

By socialist internationalism, I mean a Left perspective whose goal is the liberation of the global working class and an opposition to both divisive nationalism and neoliberal globalization, which, in reality, is an empowerment of global capital at the expense of working people in all countries. A socialist internationalist perspective emphasizes labor and environmental rights rather than the rights of capitalists to move financial capital at will or the rights of corporate owners to export jobs. The issue of off-shoring provides a useful example of the difference between proponents of neoliberal globalization, xenophobic nationalism, and socialist internationalism. Though right-wing nationalists (such as Donald Trump) may oppose trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, their opposition to globalization stems from a racist antipathy towards immigrants and a nationalist disregard for the lives of those outside one’s own country. Clearly these beliefs are incompatible with any socialist conception of solidarity, and socialist internationalism rejects absolutely the belief that the lives of one country’s citizens are somehow more valuable or precious than any other country’s citizens. However, this should by no means cause socialists to embrace capitalist globalization, which promotes the extension of corporate power across national borders in order to exploit the working class of all countries. A socialist internationalist perspective emphasizes solidarity between working people across national borders in opposition to the global capitalist ruling class.

Because of the relative weakness of the Left in terms of actual governmental power, the goal of socialist internationalism can sometimes be forgotten in fights over specific international policies. This was very clear in the recent debate over whether Great Britain should leave the European Union (EU). Much of the Left considered this a choice between the lesser of two evils, and for good reason. The EU is widely seen on the Left as a corrupt and undemocratic neoliberal institution that serves the interests of the European capitalist ruling class. And even those EU policies celebrated by many on the Left, such as its open immigration policy within Europe, are exposed as hypocritical when one considers the immense barriers to immigration to get into the EU itself from outside countries, such as those in the Middle East where so many refugees come from. In addition, the Remain campaign was led by right-wing figures such as Prime Minister David Cameron, whose conservative corporate policies have been completely antithetical to the social justice principles that Leftists subscribe to. Given this, it would seem clear that the Left should have supported a break with the EU and the capitalist power it represents. However, the Leave campaign was overwhelmingly led by right-wing xenophobes such as Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party, and the referendum on EU membership was essentially transformed into a referendum on whether to reject migrants. And given the relative power of the Xenophobic Right versus the Left in Britain, a successful Leave vote would likely enhance the power of racists rather than open the possibility to advance reforms that would benefit the working class. (As seems to be happening at the moment). This posed a serious dilemma for the British Left, as both the Leave and Remain campaigns seemed to represent reactionary outcomes undesirable for anyone wishing to build multiracial working class power. The reason this choice was so distasteful for anyone on the Left was because it was a decision between neoliberal globalization and xenophobic nationalism, with no third option representing a socialist internationalism that would reject both transnational capitalist power and racist nationalism.

The American presidential candidates also embody, to some extent, the three different perspectives on the global political economy. Hillary Clinton, despite her newfound rhetorical opposition to the TPP, is one of the clearest examples of a politician who unequivocally embraces neoliberal globalization in all its various manifestations: rejection of restrictions on capital’s ability to move freely across borders, opposition to efforts to protect domestic industries from unbalanced competition, and many other such measures. Donald Trump, in contrast, embraces wholeheartedly the rhetoric and policies of xenophobic nationalism. His opposition to trade agreements such as the TPP and NAFTA arises out of a belief that American workers and American business should be protected at the cost of foreign business and, especially, foreign workers. He pits American workers against the racially “otherized” foreign workers, whose gain is seen as an unequivocal loss for domestic workers. Bernie Sanders, in his opposition to the TPP, resists this xenophobic rhetoric and instead emphasizes the tendency of corporate elites to use trade agreements to accelerate the “race to the bottom” in wages and living standards around the world. Out of these three candidates, Sanders certainly comes closest to embodying the values of socialist internationalism, but even he has the tendency to speak of corporate globalization as something afflicting American workers rather than the global working class as a whole.

To some extent, the difficulty that even committed Leftists have in speaking about socialist internationalism is due to the lack of concrete ideas about what such a policy would entail. Admittedly, it seems somewhat naïve to imagine what such a future would look like because of the current overwhelming control of corporate elites in shaping the international economic architecture. However, it is vital for socialists to know where we want to go so that we do not fall into the trap of simply opposing policies with no alternative to offer. So what would socialist internationalism actually look like? Ultimately, the goal should be the complete democratization of the world economy, with technology and resources directed towards liberating the poor and working classes of all countries. This is an important aspiration and should always be kept in mind. But a single country, even one with a socialist government in power, cannot achieve this on its own. Therefore, until the global balance of class forces changes dramatically, socialists should push for an international economic policy that places the poor and working classes of all countries ahead of profits for corporations. This should include high standards for labor rights, social safety nets, and environmental protections, and should make these requirements enforceable. A socialist internationalist foreign policy should also preserve the rights of developing countries to protect domestic industries in order to produce shared, equitable growth, but should remove the barriers that allow drug companies to charge obscenely high prices for drugs that could be sold much cheaper as generics. Finally, socialist internationalism should embrace immigrants and refugees from all countries while working to improve conditions in their countries of origin, so that they have no reason to flee their homes in the first place. These are just a few rough outlines of a policy of socialist internationalism, which encompasses a far wider range of actions and goals. However, any socialist perspective on the future of the global economy should keep these policies in mind while remaining firmly in opposition to both neoliberal globalization and xenophobic nationalism.

A renewed commitment to socialist internationalism, and a focus on the solidarity of the global working class against transnational capital, would go a long way towards clarifying the goals of socialists everywhere. The struggle against capitalism cannot be fought on narrow territorial grounds, and nationalism only serves to disguise the true allies of the working class. The Irish Marxist James Connolly was correct when he wrote: “The socialist of another country is a fellow-patriot, as the capitalist of my own country is a natural enemy.” However, 21st century socialists should expand this notion and state unequivocally that the socialist and worker of another country is a fellow ally in the struggle against an increasingly global capitalism.

Zane Dundon is a DSA member and student at Lewis & Clark College, where he is studying Political Science.

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