The Invisible International
(excerpted from BEWARE OF VEGETARIAN SHARKS! by Richard Greeman, orders and free downloads at www.lulu.com/content/923573)
The Franco-Russian revolutionary and novelist Victor Serge1 coined the phrase ‘invisible international’ at a dark moment in history. In 1940 he found himself stateless, penniless, trapped in Vichy France, where he was on the murder-list of the KGB and the Gestapo2. Serge survived and eventually escaped thanks to the solidarity of what he called an ‘invisible international’ of comrades around the world. Serge was part of a fraternity of survivors of shipwrecked revolutions who were struggling to stay afloat in the rising tide of fascism. Scattered between Vichy France (a trap), Mexico (welcoming to political refugees and to KGB assassins alike) and New York, they maintained contact by the thin thread of the mail – when Serge could get money for stamps – sending political analyses along with money orders, lending support in the battle for visas in ‘a planet without a visa.’3
Serge’s comrades were themselves persecuted dissident revolutionaries – Spanish Republican refugees of the POUM4; antifascist and anti-Stalinist refugees from Italy, Germany, Austria; Russian Left Oppositionists still resisting in Stalin’s camps; a few socialists and leftist intellectuals in NY. Serge’s comrades were also battling for the survival of their shipwrecked ideals, creating small exile reviews when they could, arguing, exchanging their Marxist ‘theses’ – even within the Gulag. These independent socialists and revolutionaries had resisted Stalin’s hijacking of the Russian Revolution and fought the rise of fascism. Now they wanted to understand their defeats, and if possible to trace new perspectives. If they were unable to prevent Communism’s betrayal and fascism’s triumph, they could at least be lucid and search for the right terms to understand these events theoretically. Forged in the heat of a great world crisis, their analyses remain critical.
The Historical Invisible International
What if we took the liberty of expanding Serge’s phrase historically to embrace revolutionary dissidents of the past and to include what remains relevant in their writings and their example? This Historical Invisible International would be composed of persecuted, marginalized socialist and anarchist minorities, revolutionary heretics like Serge whose critical thought and experience as fighters against the totalitarianisms of the Right and so-called Left still have great value.
Let’s imagine this Historical Invisible International as a large virtual meeting hall where stand assembled all the world’s radicals and socialists of every clime and epoch. At this assembly, we might encounter old rebels dating back to the Roman slave Spartacus and extending across the planet to every movement from A to Z – from Autonomists to Zapatistas (great!). Imagine if we could listen in on their conversations, even ask them questions: Learn from them whatever there is to know about class struggle down through the ages. Whom would we find in this hall of defeated heroes? Here are the ones I know well enough to point out in the crowd:
Look, over there, those guys with long bows? That’s Wat Tyler, John Ball and the other peasant revolutionaries of 14th Century England; from Europe we see Jan of Leyden and the utopian Anabaptists; back in England the Diggers and Levelers of the 17th Century Revolution; from France Babeuf has organized a Conspiracy of Equals, radical democrats like Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft active in several countries, Luddites, Chartists, Canuts from Lyon Teipings from China and of course over in the corner a bunch of Wobblies from Montana hanging out with Joe Hill. . .
Down in front there I see some great American revolutionaries like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, E.V. Debbs, Bill Haywood, Mother Jones and of course Malcolm and Martin…
Among the Utopians I see jolly old François Rabelais, a somewhat primmer Thomas More, Fourier, Saint Simon, Robert Owen, William Morris and Oscar Wilde arguing about esthetics with Edward Bellamy, as well as friends and contemporaries like Paul Goodman, Starhawk, Ernst Callenbach . . .and, is that Manny Wallerstein over there?
In the Anarchists circle I’ve conversed via books with Montaigne’s friend La Boétie as well as with Proudhon, Bakunin, Louise Michel, Kropotkin, Marius Jacob, Flores Magon, Durruti, Emma Goldman (my hero among them all), Voline, and in real life with Marcel Body, Russell Blackwell, Daniel Guérin Sam and Esther Dolgoff . . .
Among the intellectuals reading in the hall’s library, I see critical socialists like Antonio Gramsci, Georg Lukacs, and the skeptical philosopher who famously wrote ‘The only thing I know is that I am not a Marxist.’ 5
Hanging around Praxis in Moscow, one finds modern incarnations of all the repressed Russian revolutionary opposition to totalitarianism: Left Social-Revolutionaries, Anarchists, Left Mencheviks and dissident Communists Workers’ Opposition (Kollontai, Shliapnikov), the Left Opposition (Preobrejenski, Joffe, Trotsky, Smilga, Victor Serge), Sapronov and the Democratic Centralists as well as the dissidents of Third International (Balabanova, Bordiga, Souvarine, Sneevliet). . .
Over there’s another group speaking German with the martyred Spartacist leaders Karl Leibnecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Around them I see the Dutch and German Council Communists with Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick and Karl Korsch. . .
And of course there are the post-Trotskyite revolutionaries some of whom I have talked (or debated) with in the flesh as well as in their books: among them Raya Dunayevskaya, Cornelius Castoriadis, Tony Cliff, Hal Draper, Maximilien Rubel, Danel Guérin, Ngo Van, Paul Mattick and many others. . . (
I used to dream that if my comrades and I could enter that imaginary meeting hall and participate in the discussions among these revolutionaries of every era, perhaps we might pick up the red thread that would lead us out of the political labyrinth in which we are lost. Well, Halleluyah! Today we can, thanks to the Internet! Today any curious teenager in Vietnam or Vermont can check into an Internt café, hook up to the nets and visit all these historical rebels through Wikipedia and at their sites, often run by active disciples eager to network with new people. Today, revolutionary texts that previously could only be found in the great libraries of Paris, London and New York are two or three clicks away on the Internet. As a student eager to read Victor Serge, I actually had to go to Paris and hand copy his writing at the Bibliothèque nationale. Now Serge is on Facebook! Today, our imaginary meeting hall virtually exists, on a platform wide as the planet itself, with sites devoted to all these visionaries whom we are free to visit as often as we wish.
I’ve often wondered if a consensus could emerge in this great assembly among rebels of every time and place? Could we imagine these anti-totalitarian revolutionaries evolving some sort of synthesis of their common ideas and social experiences? Could we imagine them agreeing on a minimum program, a Virtual Charter which today’s internationalists might find illuminating? What would such a Charter look like? Perhaps like a 21st Century globalized version of the Charter of the International Workers Association (Ist International) or the Preamble of the Wobblies (IWW) which was written over a three or four day period in a hall in Chicago in 1905 by an assembly of about a hundred men and women, Marxists, socialists, syndicalists, labor organizers, anarchists and working stiffs? They got off to a good start by agreeing that:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.
One thing is sure: if these witnesses to revolution cannot give us infallible formulas for getting to a socialist society in the future, they can by their critical thought put us on guard against what we must not do if we want to get there. The lessons, however negative, that they bring us from their defeats, are an unavoidable point of departure. These hard-won lessons constitute a treasure of Occult Learning built up by the working class in its victories and its defeats, analyzed by its best surviving thinkers, distilled in the alembic of historical experience, purified by critical spirit. This knowledge remains ‘occult’ because it has long been marginalized, forgotten, buried under party lines and official lies.
But as Victor Serge wrote, ‘nothing is ever lost.’ The Occult Learning of yesterday’s rebels is still there to discover. Their example and their writings survive. It’s up to us to extract its quintessence!
The Example of the Multi-tendency IWA
So let’s look at the model of an organization that eventually ‘failed’: the International Workingmen’s Association or First International, which came together in 1863 and fell apart not long after the defeat of the Paris Commune a decade later. I would like to propose the IWA as another type of horizontal bottom up worker self-organization, based on similar principles to the workers’ councils model but created as a permanent association with long-term goals and ramifications among organized workers in many lands. Essentially a correspondence network, the IWA served a practical function in keeping workers informed of each others’ struggles in the various countries and of organizing solidarity where possible. At the same time, the IWA fulfilled the two functions which, according to the Marx-Engels 1848 Communist Manifesto, distinguishes the activities of ‘communists’ (we should say ‘socialists’ today) from other participants in the class struggle: 1) in every local struggle, to look out for the interests of the working class as a whole, worldwide 2) in every partial struggle, to look toward the long run, the ultimate historical goal of total worker self-emancipation.
In contrast to the ‘vanguard,’ ‘hub-and-spokes,’ ‘general staff’ models of organization exemplified by the bureaucratic parties of the Second, Third and Fourth Marxist Internationals, let us look at the structure of the First International Workers’ Association and at the actual practice of Marx himself, who served as its General Secretary. The IWA’s Charter stated its purpose was to ‘establish relations between the different associations of workers in such a manner that workers in each country would be constantly informed of the movements of their class in other countries.’ In other words, the IWA under Marx was first of all an international workers’ information network with an extremely practical purpose (a purpose I believe can be greatly facilitated by a network which exploits the information-sharing technology of the Internet). Contemporary revolutionary groups like Collective Action Notes (CAN) from the U.S. and Echanges et Mouvements from France who are devoted precisely to this vital function of collecting and exchanging information about strikes and worker revolts around the world.
Further, the original IWA was also a socialist organization defined by its Statutes and Congresses and a General Council. Let us recall that membership and voting at congresses were restricted to ‘workingmen’ which excluded both women workers (regrettably) and intellectuals. It was when the organizers couldn’t find the right words to express their aims in a Preamble that they appealed to ‘the eminent writer Dr. Marx’ whose position was that of unpaid volunteer secretary and ‘scientific’ advisor (through his lectures or addresses to the Council on history, economics, politics). Far from being a ‘Marxist’ organization, the IWA was a broad, multi-tendency coalition of worker groups reflecting the theoretical level of the organized workers of its time. In the beginning, the followers of the French socialist Proud’hon were in the majority. They believed in a socialism based on mutual credit, and they opposed strikes, revolutions and women’s rights. The IWA did not really take off until the economic crisis and strike wave of 1868, and it was ‘not the International who threw the workers into the strikes, but the strikes that threw the workers into the International.’ Only then did Marx’s ideas win general acceptance. In 1869, Bakunin and his anarchist followers were accepted into the IWA and introduced yet another political current, federalism.
Two years later, the Paris Commune, the first workers’ government, was created by French workers and soldiers in the wake of Napoleon III’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Although Proud’honists and internationalists of the IWA were members of the Commune, it was an improvised affair rather than the application of someone’s theory. After the Commune’s tragic defeat, it was Marx who was assigned by the IWA’s London Committee to sum up the basic lesson learned through experience by the Paris workers for future generations of workers. They were ‘anarchist’ lessons: smash the state and replace it with the armed people governing themselves through elected, revocable representatives paid at workers’ wages. Marx was the first to acknowledge that it was not he, the ‘revolutionary Marxist,’ who created this essential view of the workers’ self-government, but the workers themselves through experience. Further, Marx made an important change in his major theoretical work, Capital, after observing that the actions of the Parisian workers had ‘stripped the fetish off commodities’ and revealed their essence.
In May 1871, the short-lived Commune was brutally repressed by the French Republic with the help of the Prussians. The capitalist repression spread to every land with massive police repression of workers’ associations. Thus, the First International was effectively destroyed as a practical movement, but only after having ‘stormed the heavens’ with the first practical workers’ government.6
‘Rich Lessons of the First International
The first lesson is that collective experience and self-activity, rather than doctrines that lead working people to their revolutionary discoveries. As Marx put it, self-activity is the workers’ ‘method of cognition’ which the revolutionary intellectual can only later formulate, not prescribe. In other words, there is a movement from practice to theory which precedes the movement from theory to practice. Marx caught it, as did Luxembourg in 1905. Kautsky, the main theoretician of the Socialist Second International, could only see the movement from theory and taught Lenin that socialism is imported into the working class by party intellectuals. In reality, what takes place is a two-way road between theory and practice, ending in the unity of workers and intellectuals, as Raya Dunayevskaya demonstrated in her 1958 Marxism and Freedom.
The second lesson is that such an international network must from the beginning offer practical advantages by providing facilities for the exchange of information about workers’ struggles, the gathering of statistics about conditions of labor, the linking of organized workers for international action. With the Internet, this becomes a practical possibility.
The third lesson is that genuine international workers’ organizations must be horizontal rather than vertical, multi-tendency and democratic, rather than top-down authoritarian, if they are to leave room for the development of class consciousness through lessons drawn from experience.
Thus, we can be sure that we are on the right track when we imagine the emergence of an international network. But it is equally certain that it is not we, a few thousand Altermundialistas but billions acting together, who can create a vast international movement and unleash the human power necessary to uproot capitalism and save the planet if it can be saved. So for the moment let us agree on two main points borrowed from the Communist Manifesto: 1) that the emancipation of the working people can only be the result of the activity of the working people themselves and 2) that this emancipation will take place on the planetary scale or it will not take place at all?
Rule of Thumb Internationalism
How then do we as revolutionary internationalists differ from other working men and women in struggle? What do we have to add? What is our role? Certainly not that of chiefs, but perhaps the more modest roles of leaven, helping the dough to rise; of idea-viruses spreading the contagion of revolutionary thought; of memory-cells and teachers in the movement, making the lessons of the past actual in the present. Like the ‘Communists’ in the 1848 Manifesto, our role is two-fold: 1) in every particular, local or national struggle, we pose the question: ‘How does this struggle increase international/planetary worker solidarity?’ 2) In every partial, limited, immediate struggle, we pose the question: ‘How does this struggle advance the historical perspective of the abolition of wage-labor and capitalism?’ These are the questions, the historical and the planetary, that we internationalists seek to bring to the fore in every struggle. From this follows a relatively simple rule-of-thumb that can be applied to nearly any situation or movement:
Internationalist Rule of Thumb: ‘Everything that tends to unite us globally, to promote solidarity among working and unemployed, among men and women of every nationality is accepted as good; everything which divides, disunites and diverts us is rejected as destructive.’
Based on rule-of-thumb internationalism, we see that the failures of the Second (Socialist) International and the Third (Communist) Internationals derive in a large measure precisely from their lack of consistent, thoroughgoing internationalism.
The Mighty Second International Collapses
Vanguardists are perennially trying to create new Internationals based on ‘revolutionary Marxism.’ But ideology is not enough. The powerful Socialist International was officially based on ‘revolutionary Marxism,’ and it organized millions of workers within a vast network of national socialist parties and trade-unions with a mass press, and important youth and women’s sections. Yet this powerful international network collapsed like a house of cards in August 1914 when the majority of the German and French socialists supported their capitalist governments at the outbreak of an imperialist war that turned millions of workers into fratricidal murderers. The Second International was so firmly based in ‘revolutionary Marxism’ that at the outbreak of War in August 1914 Lenin himself still looked upon its chief theoretician Kautsky as his ‘master’ and refused to believe the press reports of the German socialists’ betrayal. (He preferred to imagine that the reports were ‘planted’ as part of an Imperial disinformation campaign than admit the truth). Let us also remind ourselves that the ‘revisionist’ faction in the International led by Bernstein had previously been roundly defeated by the ‘revolutionary Marxist’ tendency spearheaded by Rosa Luxemburg.
The Third International Promotes Counter-revolution
The same rule-of-thumb exposes the sham internationalism of the Third International, also firmly based on ‘revolutionary Marxism.’ It, too, foundered on the rock of chauvinism by identifying the interests of the working people of the planet with the interests of the Russian state. Trotsky scornfully concluded that the Moscow-directed Third International or ‘Comintern’ had been degraded under Stalin to the role of ‘border guards’ protecting the interests of Russia. In fact, the Comintern had become an agent of international counter-revolution. Ken Loach’s recent film Land and Freedom shows how the Comintern during the Spanish Revolution of 1936 allied itself with the Spanish Republican bourgeoisie and introduced police-state methods to crush the magnificent social revolution of the Spanish workers and peasants whose self-activity was creating a new society and fighting Franco.
Moreover, I think we have all come to realize that the Moscow-centered Comintern under Zinoviev, with its bureaucratized structure and bullying, manipulative methods was tainted from the start. Consider the fiasco of the 1923 Communist putsch in Germany, when the Comintern held back the workers’ insurrectionary mood of the summer so as to ‘order’ a German revolution to coincide with the anniversary of the Russian October Revolution. But when October came around, Moscow panicked and gave the order to call off the German uprising at the last minute, exposing the German Party and particularly the workers of
Hamburg (who didn’t get the message in time and took over the city) to violent repression. But instead of drawing the lessons of this Moscow-directed disaster, the ‘revolutionary Marxist’ Comintern placed the responsibility on the local German leaders (some of whom had not even been kept informed of the insurrectionary plans!) and purged them. It could be argued that this Russian-engineered disaster of 1923 closed the period of international revolutionary struggle that had opened with the Soviet victory in 1917, and ushered in the era of fascism. This is a practical example of how the ‘hub-and-spokes’ model of an international network functioned from its inception, well before Stalinism.
The Invisible International of Splinter Groups
Does the Invisible International include present-day disciples of those historical figures? Of course – as long as they have not sunk into stagnant and fanatical sectarianisms, as long as they go on searching and asking questions. In spite of the sectarianism that often divides and embitters the factions of the international left, these groups include many possessors of Occult Wisdom, bearers of revolutionary ideas who continue to defend and expound them. Alas, Dear Comrades, all our efforts for uniting into an ultimate international have sunk into sectarian power-struggles and squabbles over the ‘correct political line.’
Yet the mini-parties and radical sects we devoted ourselves to building and defending over so many lonely and difficult years were not necessarily sterile. We exposed thousands if not millions of young people to revolutionary ideas for the first time. We preserved, disseminated and developed these ideas during a difficult and confusing period when such ideas were basically ‘underground’ even where they were legal. We were a transmission-belt passing on the Occult Wisdom we received, often by oral tradition, from surviving revolutionaries of Serge’s generation who remembered back even further. Our groups were the hard nut-shells which preserved the germ of radical critique of the world through the winter of its defeats.
Now we need to crack open those shells, to liberate the revolution, to join what Marx called the ‘actual movement’ — not to lead it or to take it over, but to bring to it organizational skills, socialist ideals, a form of analysis based on historical experience, a perspective for another possible world. In other words, to break open the hard shells of our splinter groups and liberate the Occult Wisdom jealously preserved inside. If the Left of the Left remains with its sectarian shell, it will dry up and die. If it has the courage to break out of its shell, it will fulfill its biological function by procreating, something most people find to be fun.
Among such activities, let me propose using our experience and Occult Wisdom in a playful and imaginative mode. Instead of arguing about whose political line is more correct, let’s hold a contest for the best fictional Path to Utopia that shows us how that political line gets us to a new society and what the new society looks like. I’ve participated in various attempts to form networks, alliances and the like on the basis of some sort of Manifesto, and they have all crashed upon the rocks of sectarian power struggles. After my disappointment at the latest failure (that of the International Network for a Socialist Alternative created in Capetown in 1997), I came to the conclusion that as long as there was power to be had in an organizational structure, people will fight over it and mask their power-hunger with doctrinal differences. It was then that I came across the phrase ‘invisible international’ in Serge and began to think in terms of a virtual Charter. What if we made an online game of it? Each player or player-group picks an identity. I’ll be Rosa Luxembourg, you be Bakunin. Why don’t we all meet in a virtual meeting hall on a Wiki and try to hammer out a virtual Charter, adding on ideas in the open-source spirit rather than treating ideas as private property to fight over. The Wiki is ready and waiting at http://wikitopia.wikidot.com/
So come on all you Marxists, anarchists, socialists, post-Trotskyists, libertarians, communists, latter-day Sixty-Eighters – to your computers! Let’s play 2100! Let’s build our own RFA’s! Let’s take time off from collecting signatures, publishing unreadable articles and holding interminable meetings, to think about Utopia! Let’s dream, and take our dreams for realities once again! Let’s bet on Utopia while there’s still a planet to save!
All power to the imagination!
The Invisible International of the Antiwar,
Human Rights, Ecologist and Anti-Globalization Movements
This young invisible international is looking good. Its diversity is its strength. It brings together movements organized around single issues from torture in prisons to the nuclear threat. It speaks many languages and speaks with many voices, including voices heretofore un-heard: feminine, third world, peasant voices. It has answered capitalism’s arrogant TINA (‘There Is No Alternative’) with a loud ‘Another World Is Possible.’ Not only does it speak, it listens.
In 2002-2003, faced with the threat to the peace posed by the aggressive arrogance of the Bush administration in Iraq, this new movement mobilized millions in the first global demonstration in history. The N.Y. Times spoke of the birth of a ‘second superpower’: global opinion. In another dramatic development, from the heart of a US still in the grip of post-11 September 2001 patriotic hysteria, a million Americans poured into the streets, braving FBI cameras, Army helicopters and police charges to show their opposition to the war and demand regime change in Washington. We could not stop the war, but we recognized our strength, our identity as a planetary movement, an invisible antiwar international.
The Workers’ Invisible International
This huge invisible international, still in search of its identity, includes all the workers and poor people across the planet who struggle against the power of the banks, multinationals and governments who stand between them and a living wage. We’re talking about the crew-members of Spaceship Earth. They run all the machinery, clean and repair the cabins, prepare all the food and are made to slave for the officers and serve them. Most of the passengers are their families, deep down in steerage where it stinks, where it’s cold and disease is rife and there aren’t enough rations to keep everyone alive. They have the most incentive to overthrow the officers. They also have the power to STOP the machinery AND the know-how to run the ship afterwards. They have been the backbone of every previous revolution. The officers know this, and use all their force and guile to keep them down. Yet they rebel:
In Argentina pickets and assemblies overthrew several governments to protest the IMF- provoked bankruptcy of their economy. Their slogan: ‘get rid of the whole lot!’
Chinese strikers fighting a totalitarian Communist regime that sells their sweated labor for pennies to capitalist American multinationals like Nike. 80,000 revolts requiring armed state intervention were officially reported in 2007.
Peasants and other citizens of India and Latin America defending their drinking water against the profitable privatizations of Vivendi, Suez and local capitalists.
Brazilian seringueros, tappers of wild rubber defending their living and that of the Amazon forest.
The ‘new’ Korean proletariat whose general strikes overthrew the dictatorship of the generals and industrial monopolies like Hyundai and Daewoo.
Chinese peasants revolting against arbitrary taxes and driving Communist Party profiteers out of their village councils.
Super-exploited Mexican workers in the maquiladoras (free trade zones on the American border) organizing with the help of US unionists.
The workers and unemployed of Europe and the US struggling against the take-backs, speedups, downsizing, plant closures, out-sourcing, automation, flexi-time, safety violations, degraded working conditions and stress imposed in the name of globalization.
These working men and women are slowly and painfully learning, through frustrating struggles at the local and national levels, that they are facing a formidable global adversary. They are beginning to recognize how their unseizable, ubiquitous enemy thwarts their every effort to improve their lot in one place or another. They are observing how this adversary divides them the better to rule and exploit them. They are experiencing the effects of a globalized ‘free market’ which defines itself by international borders pried open for the penetration of foreign capital and slammed shut against migrants searching for work.
These workers see the multinationals taking over everywhere. Overworked, underpaid Asian workers feel themselves being squeezed dry by local subcontractors competing to offer the lowest prices to foreign corporations. In the multinationals’ home countries, workers are forced to submit to wage cuts, factory closings, privatization of public services, deterioration of their living conditions, their standard of living swept away in a global race towards the bottom of the lowest labor costs — all this justified by the global market and ‘foreign’ competition.
Similarly, farmers of Africa, Latin America and Asia are seeing themselves ruined by low agricultural prices while the governments of rich countries give gross subsidies to giant multinational agribusinesses like Monsanto. Billions of Africans, Asians and Latin Americans are seeing themselves deprived of schools, hospitals and infrastructures by reductions in social budgets and privatizations imposed by the IMF and World Bank — all in the name of ‘free trade’! At the risk of extinction, these folks on the bottom need to organize themselves on the planetary level.
The way will not be easy. National pride, racial and religious prejudices will remain obstacles. Existing trade unions, narrowly focused on local fiefdoms and marginal improvements, will prove unable or unwilling to address their members’ most pressing problem: the decline of wages to the worldwide lowest common denominator through globalization. Only international solidarity can possible solve this problem, but the union bureaucracy, locked into the wage-system and the legal system, is unlikely to jeopardize its privileged situation as intermediary between labor, business, and government. It will resist any kind of global activity that might violate sacrosanct labor contracts and labor legislation, subjecting them to fines, etc. Most of the unions will continue to fight losing rear-guard actions, attempting to rescue pensions and a few jobs out of factory closings, locking the barn door after the horses have been stolen. Only a few maverick unions show signs of going global, and the first planetary solidarity actions will have to be organized without the ‘help’ of the labor bureaucrats, if not over their opposition.
Workers around the globe are reaching out, groping toward international solutions to international problems. For the first time, the Internet gives them the technical ability to do so. Chinese dissidents, Korean trade-unionists, striking British dockers have already made use of the Internet to communicate, organize solidarity, tell the world about their struggles and develop links with other movements. One day working people will be led to organize the first global strike against a multinational, and thanks to the Internet they will be able to bring it off.
Every step forward in the history of labor has been based on the new communications technology of the era. In the 18th Century, the development of cheap printing was the basis for a whole revolutionary culture of handbills, posters, newspapers and pamphlets. And it was the newly organized penny post that enabled the Correspondence Committees of both the French and American Revolutions to compare their grievances, put forward their petitions, and organize for self-defense. In the early 19th Century, the railroad, the telegraph and the steamship presided over the organization of the first International Workers’ Association (IWA) when continental workers were invited to London for an international capitalist Industrial Exposition. By the end of the 19th Century, international labor and socialist congresses were annual events.
During the 20th century, the development of mass communications and especially of broadcasting favored the ruling elites. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt all made brilliant use of radio’s invasive power and mass propaganda to drown out voices from below. The 21st Century will be the century of the Internet — tentacular, interactive, open to all. The World Wide Web is the place where the billions of working people can at last stand together, take up the lever of solidarity and lift the earth.
On the day when all the employees, subcontractors and subsidiaries of a multinational like Daewoo, Nike or Airbus Industries go on strike simultaneously in every country, the invisible international of the workers will stop being a dream or an ‘occult conspiracy.’ It will take on the flesh and bones of a waking giant, and its rising will be the beginning of the end of capitalist exploitation – if capitalism has not already destroyed the world.
1 Victor Serge (1890-1947)Please see “Who Was Victor Serge and Why Do We Have to Ask?” in Part IV below.
2 As documented in recently opened Soviet Archives. See Susan Weissman, Victor Serge: The Course is set on Hope, Verso, London.
3 The phrase was Trotsky’s.
4 POUM (Partido obrero de unificacion marxista): anti-Stalinist party of the Mocialist left mainly active in Catalonia during the Spanish revolution of 1936-1939. While the POUM militia were going up to the front to battle against Franco fascists, the Spanish Communists under the order of Stalin were preparing to destroy them. Driven out of Spain by Franco, stabbed in the back by the Communists, interned in the concentration camps of the French Republic, many fought in the French Resistance. The story of their tragic heroism has been told by George Orwell in his memoir Homage to Catalonia and by Ken Loch in his film Land and Liberty.
5 The author of that phrase was Marx himself, and he said it more than once when appalled by the things self-styled ‘Marxists’ were saying. If Marx knew what was done in his name under totalitarian Communism, he would turn in his grave. Marx’s words ”working people of all nations unite’ have about as much in common with Stalinist “Communism” as Jesus Christ’s “the poor shall inherit the earth” has to do with the Spanish Inquisition and the luxurious Borgia Popes.
6 Nothing fails like failure. It was later, during the repression following the defeat of 1871 – in the midst of the subsequent quarrels and factionalism among demoralized, embittered, exiled revolutionary intellectuals fighting over what remained of the IWA – that the famous split took place between the so-called "Marxists" (Marx famously denied he was a ‘Marxist’!) and the anarchists following Bakunin. In this ugly aftermath, the conspiratorial "libertarian" Bakunin maneuvered to raid the moribund rump of the IWA and take over the name. He was outmaneuvered by the wily Marx, who sent the General Council across the Atlantic to New York to wither and die. In retrospect this ‘battle of titans’ seems like a battle of pygmies revealing the small side of these two bearded, 19th Century patriarchs blinded by national prejudices (Bakunin’s anti-Semitism, Marx’s fear of Russia). Unfortunately, the split remained permanent between the two great branches of the socialist family, now sharply divided between "libertarians" and "authoritarians". Tragically, all that people remember today about the IWA is the nasty factional split between in a half-dead exile group, rather than the vigorous and suggestive history of this first and highly successful attempt of working people to organize themselves internationally. But the living history of the IWA, rather than its ugly postmortem, remains rich in lessons for workers today who wish to unite in an international network.