8 [delete] 9 Reflections on New International(ism)s

ManyNewInternationalisms                                                           Words: 6,720                                                                        Updated: 300410




Five, Six, Many New Internationalisms!


(Eight Nine Reflections on a Fifth International)



Peter Waterman

[email protected]






            At the turn of 2009-10 proposals for and public interest in a new Left International seemed to come to a head.


The initial and major initiative was that of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. This was widely endorsed at an international conference of Left parties in Caracas, November 2009, and was to be followed by an international conference, in Caracas again, April 2010.


The second initiative was that of Michael Albert, the theorist of Parecon (Participatory Economics) and coordinator of the humungous Left Znet website in the USA. This began with an article by Albert and was followed by the project itself, which allowed for individual endorsements (1,802 by April 2, 2010). This second project was provoked by and addressed to the Chavez-sponsored conference.


            In the spirit of Gramsci’s ‘scepticism of the intellect, optimism of the will’, I wish (in reverse order) to both welcome and challenge these interrelated projects. My response follows that some of us accorded an earlier such project, that of the Neo-Marxist and Thirdworldist political-economist, Samir Amin (Jai Sen, et. al. 2007).


Like Samir Amin’s initiative, those of Hugo Chavez and Michael Albert relate not only to the World Social Forum (founded 2001) but also to a long history of left internationals, going back to the International Working Men’s Association (the so-called First International), founded 1866, with the notable contribution of Karl Marx.


The Chavez project evidently emanates from a radical-nationalist state(sman) with socialist aspirations. It combines features of a socialist and thirdworldist international, being apparently open to states – or at to state-aligned or state-sponsored parties such as that created by Chavez – as well as to other Left parties and social movements. Whilst recognizing that the current crisis of global capitalism touches all spheres of life, and the necessity for diversity, a Caracas conference call echoed the Left tradition, declaring:


The international encounter of Left-wing Political parties held in Caracas on November 19, 20 and 21, 2009, received the proposal made by Commander Hugo Chavez Frias to convoke the Fifth Socialist International as a space for socialist-oriented parties, movements and currents in which we can harmonise a common strategy for the struggle against imperialism, the overthrow of capitalism by socialism and solidarity-based economic integration of a new type.


There was here a notable silence on the state nature (the subject-position?) of the initiator. But the non-state socialist project of Michael Albert is equally silent on the role of the state (or states?) in his ‘participatory-socialist’ international. On the other hand he is explicit on the issues and forces familiar from the WSF and the global justice and solidarity movement more broadly:


·        economic production, consumption, and allocation should be classless – which of course includes equitable access for all to quality and accessible education, health care and the requisites of health like food, water, and sanitation, housing, meaningful and dignified work, and the instruments and conditions of personal fulfilment

·        gender/kinship, sexual, and family relations should not privilege by age, sexual preference, or gender any one group above others – which of course includes ending all forms of oppression of women, providing daycare, recreation, health care, etc

·        culture and community relations among races, ethnic groups, religions, and other cultural communities should protect the rights and identity of each community up to equally respecting those of all other communities as well – which of course includes an end to racist, ethnocentric, and otherwise bigoted  structures as well as securing the prosperity and rights of indigenous people

·        political decision making, adjudication of disputes and implementation of shared programs should deliver people’s power in ways that do not elevate any one sector or constituency to power above others – which of course includes participation and justice for all 

·        international trade, communication, and other interactions should attain and protect peace and justice while dismantling all vestiges of colonialism and imperialism – which of course includes cancelling the debt of nations of the global south and reconstructing international norms and relations to move toward an equitable and just community of equally endowed nations

·        ecological choices should not only be sustainable, but should care for the environment in accord with our highest aspirations for ourselves and our world – which of course includes climate justice and energy renovation


            I do not here wish to debate with either the Hugo Chavez or Michael Albert projects, which I have already done on the Znet site. Nor, for that matter, to respond to the growing number of contributions to discussion on the one project or the other. Some of these are well worth reading. They can be traced in the Resources below, in which I have concentrated references. I wish, rather, to make nine points[1] I consider relevant to a new kind of international/ism that surpasses the limitations of past ones and that is relevant to the era of a globalised and networked capitalism.


1. Let a hundred flowers bloom!


One can mouth this slogan with either enthusiasm or resignation (or, in the case of Mao, cynicism). The era in which it was possible for one international or internationalism to gain or be granted primacy is over. I nonetheless incline to welcome any new internationalist project because of a) the long dearth of discussion on internationalism and the absence of the necessary renewal, b) their thought-provoking effect, c) because these latest ones are themselves marked by the rising wave of the ‘global solidarity and justice movement’ and because, d) in an increasingly interconnected and informatised world, such other movements or networks are likely to be or become aware of and respond to them.


2. The old left internationalisms are confronted and challenged by the new


The notion of a new Left international/ism is evidently dependent on the old Left – whether this goes back to the Third World internationalisms of the 1960s, the First, Second, Third and Fourth labour or socialist internationals, or to the French Revolution itself. The Left is ‘the Left’ because of the position occupied by the radical and populist wing of the Constituent Assembly of that revolution. The ‘Left’ is inevitably relational to a Right or Centre. This means that it was and is a part, as well as a critic, of that first great modern, national, liberal, but also militarist, commercial, bureaucratic, racist and problematically-democratic project. (Its ‘fraternity’ was not only machista but also nationalist and therefore compatible with French state centralism and imperialism). Something similar goes for the labour and socialist internationals, profound critics and opponents of the political-economy of capitalism yet in part also prisoners of its Eurocentred national, industrial, productivist and centralising notion of modernity.


            The newest global social movements often only pose themselves against neo-liberalism and globalization – as suggested by the adoption of such names as ‘anti-globalisation’ or ‘alter-globalisation’. But increasingly they have been criticizing and taking action in and against the economy, politics, social relations and cultural and communication practices of capitalism more generally. Moreover, their internal and external articulations (articulation = both connection and expression) commonly go beyond those traditional to an industrial-national-colonial capitalism.


            At a time of crisis for both capitalism and its Left, these newest global social movements, ideas or expressions, are surpassing the limits of both of these entwined opponents and reviving the utopian thinking lost by the Left as capitalism over the centuries normalised itself.


            The newest movements, thinkers and activists tend to surpass old Left ways of being, doing and proposing. They are surely better thought of as ‘global social emancipatory movements’. And the fact that this new emancipatory movement has so far only been sketched out is to its (and our) advantage. It is still inventing itself. We can all take part in this invention.


            That the historical or traditional international Left is now trying to reinvent itself is surely to be welcomed. Its major – sometimes overwhelming – stress on the political-economy of capitalism, on the import of class and class struggle, as well as more recent reflections on a post-capitalist political economy, all these make a welcome contribution to a new movement that may be weak on one or all of these. But the Left has not only to reinvent itself. It has also – given past crimes and misdemeanors in its name – to reassure once-burned publics, particularly in societies that experienced this. And this would in turn seem to argue for maximum modesty in the face of the new global social movements that have in large part inherited the Left’s own original emancipatory appeal and role.


3. Beyond the privileged emancipatory subject, an expanding universe of underprivileged ones


Historical internationalisms/ists have depended on a privileged revolutionary subject (the proletariat, the peasantry, the lumpen-proletariat) or a privileged place (Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela – or the next ‘weak link in the capitalist chain’). They tend to particularise or prioritise one or two problems or enemies (the capitalist political-economy, imperialism, the North).


The new global solidarity movements may be sympathetic to or even positive about such priorities and may themselves appear to be ‘single-issue’ movements, but they are also commonly ‘fundamental-issue movements’ (ecology, health, gender, housing, ethnicity), they obviously identify with their partners globally and, increasingly, with the global justice and solidarity movement more generally.


The new movements are, however, highly sensitive about attempts to incorporate them into some universalistic (a particularisti

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