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  From Labour Internationalism to Global Solidarity  
  Peter Waterman reflects on his forthcoming book
- and his internationalist itinerary
  Peter Waterman, Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms. Mansell/Cassell, London/Washington. c. 320pp. c. £50.  

This book represents a conclusion to some 20 years of work on a new kind of internationalism and the communications and culture necessary for it. It also appears in the middle of growing international debate on the nature of globalisation, of movements responding to such, and of interest in the creation of some kind of global civil society. It is also a nice coincidence that 1998 is the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet which launched the notion of internationalism worldwide. This has given the stimulus to considerable further debate. My book, finally, is appearing at a turning point in my own life. I am just moving from a second age of fulltime employment in development studies to a third age of fulltime unemployment - which I may well devote to work in and/or on the creation of a new global solidarity culture via the World Wide Web.


What is the argument of the book?

In the 19th century, Marxists presented labour and socialist internationalism as internationalism, or at least as the primary internationalism, with all others subordinate to it. Anti-capitalist internationalism was understood as the negation of nationalism (a concept, structure and practice on which it therefore was, and remains, dependent). The aim of such an internationalism was the creation of a world socialist community, understood as the desirable and necessary future society, one which would replace hostile relations between nation-states with peaceful cooperation. It was understood that there was one bearer of such internationalism, the industrial proletariat. This privileged internationalist and revolutionary subject would, however, first of all have to take power nationally. Labour and socialist internationalism - complex and contradictory as they might have been in practice - provided a new sense of community for workers without such and an inspiring utopia for marginalised and persecuted socialist activists and intellectuals.

In the 20th century, strategies based on this understanding led to the creation of societies marked by an extreme statism in both national and international policy. This process occurred not only after both world wars, but also - in analogous manner - following the collapse of colonialism. The states coming out of these transformations, which were always supported by internationalist movements, in no way surpassed capitalism, nationally or internationally, but merely remained on its periphery, to eventually achieve full or partial reinstatement, or to have this thrust upon them.

For the 21st century, it seems to me, it is both possible and necessary to have an alternative concept, drawing on the 19th and 20th century values of liberty, equality and solidarity, but 1) recognising the increasing limits on the autonomy, authority and legitimacy of the state in the contemporary world, 2) related to the transformation of global space rather than - or as well as - the national place, 3) allowing for a multiplicity of global contradictions, subjects and movements, 4) adding to the lay trinity the values of diversity, peace and ecological care, and 5) insisting on the interrelation of a) global utopias, in the sense of imaginable humane global communities, and b) the immediate necessity of civilising a capitalist world order that threatens not so much that order itself as the existence of the human species. Let us expand this argument a little.

The 19th and 20th century values: Liberty, equality and - as it was then called - fraternity, were the lay trinity of the French Revolution. That they were or became figleaves for capitalist, industrialist, nationalist, imperial, eurocentric, racist, patriarchal, militarist and even consumerist projects and ideologies, does not mean that they should be identified with or abandoned to such. Liberty, Equality and Solidarity had and have a popular and democratic resonance, and an emancipatory potential. They also have a worldwide appeal that socialism, for example, has lost. The trinity can and needs to be re-articulated for the conditions of an increasingly post-industrial or late capitalism.

Recognising the increasing limits on the state: For one hundred years or more the state has been understood as almost synonymous with both `society' and `politics', in both academic and popular discourse. Today the nation-state, or state-nation, is being increasingly challenged not only from above and outside, by a dynamic, capital-driven, globalisation, but also from `below' from sub- or cross-national places (sub-national regions, cross-frontier ethnicities), and from or by spaces that are super-territorial (the International Court of Justice) or non-territorial (in the sense, for example, of a growing community of ecologists, or women).

The transformation of global space: Space has been previously understood largely in terms of territorial place, particularly in the development of the state-nation, of imperialism or `spheres of influence', and for the operation of nationally-based and nationally-dependent capitalists. Place matters. But capitalism, in its electronic and computerised forms, increasingly operates in a cyberspace that crosses, surrounds and penetrates territorial places that are increasingly unable to defend themselves by Chinese or Berlin Walls, by bans and censorship, or by appeals to `national sovereignty' (the last resort of authoritarians?). Progressive and humanistic forces and voices are increasingly recognising that defence of national or ethnic variety, or of threatened places, requires activity in global spaces, including cyberspace.

Allowing for a multiplicity of contradictions, subjects, movements: In the 19th and 20th centuries both liberalism and socialism have been simplifying, serialising and reductive, whether in terms of a standardised voting citizen or a class-conscious proletarian. Contemporary globalised capitalism is capable of simultaneous standardisation (the `world car') and of at least consumptive variation (`niche products', `glocalisation', local or ethnic advertising). Progressive forces are learning that it is variety and variation that provides for survival-capacity in times of rapid and continuing global change, and that this kind of variety relates not to `consumer choice' but to human and ecological creativity and adaptability. Freedom is decreasingly understood as `the recognition of necessity', but of the possibility of questioning, challenging and even changing `necessity'.

The values of diversity and care: These follow from the above, with care suggesting responsibilities not only in the present but respect for the past and responsibility for the future.

The inter-relation of immediate survival and eventual utopia: Strategies for immediate survival can no longer be successful if they ignore or threaten social or geographical Others (increasingly informed of such threats or dangers by mainstream television or alternative email). Utopias can no longer represent `the world turned upside down', since too many people have paid the price of such apocalyptical reversals, whether in Russia, Ghana or the squatter settlements of Lima. Increasingly needed are local/global survival strategies informed by utopian thinking, and utopian alternatives based on or informed by survival struggles.

I am interested in understanding the wave of international solidarity activity associated with the new alternative social movements (ASMs). This varied activity, which I initially thought of as `the new internationalisms', has a growing political presence and impact as the 20th century draws to a close, but has been subject to little strategic reflection and has as yet little or no theoretical status.

Attempts to understand the new activity in terms of `socialist internationalism', or `non-governmental international relations' are limited by their inability to recognise the autonomy and novelty of the phenomenon and the subsequent necessity for a new language. I attempt to offer such a language and to therefore make it possible to talk about the new internationalisms in critical and even technical terms. In so far as it does this, the book is a policy-relevant one, with the policy relevance being for such movements themselves and for civil society more generally.

My work relates to studies of 1) international relations, 2) the alternative social movements, 3) the `old' social movements of industrial capitalism (including trade unions, nationalist and socialist parties), 4) globalisation and its implications for emancipation, 5) postmodern critique of Eurocentrism, utopianism, universalisation and Enlightenment rationalism more generally. It is, however, critical of many of these.

The discipline of international relations, for example, is state-fixated, and could better be called `interstate relations'. The same is true for its radical or socialist variants. In so far as radical international relations specialists go beyond the state, they tend to be capital- or imperialism-fixated. There is a growing literature on `alternative' international relations, or alternatives to international relations, which questions the orientation of that discipline to dominant power structures/processes, and which seeks out emancipatory forces internationally. But this literature tends to either celebrate or generalise about the new movements (as, for example, `globalisation from below'). In so far as it does either of these, it lacks critical force or political effectivity.

There is original literature on new or alternative social movements, generally sharing their emancipatory orientation. Most of this work assumes a local/national/regional framework, or deals with relations between such in comparative terms. This literature customarily fails to problematise the global and the range of relationships between the forces or movements internationally. Much of this literature, moreover, either ignores or writes off labour as an issue - and workers as a potentially progressive force - nationally or internationally. Things are changing. But it is still possible for a prominent international relations specialist of the socialist tradition to mention labour in such restricted terms that it can be covered in his index by `international labour movement, decay of'.

Such work as there is on international labour or labour internationalism has tended to be narrowly focused (particularly on union, or multinational-worker, internationalism), concerned with single issues or cases and/or non-theoretical. It does not relate union internationalism to the traditional aim of the `abolition of wage slavery', nor to contemporary emancipatory movements. Even work sympathetic to labour internationalism and grassroots activism seem to have adapted themselves to 1990s `realism'.

There has recently been a dramatic growth in the critical or radical literature on globalisation. Some of this specifically rejects the international-relations or political-economy perspectives, seeing globalisation in much more general terms, and developing new theoretical perspectives or conceptual tools - which themselves have implications for the interpretation of society in general and for emancipatory movements in particular. Most of this literature again, however, gives limited attention to alternative international movements or strategies. Even when it does, it tends to be in terms of NGOs, but doesn't really tell us much about how such NGOs do and do not, can and cannot, relate to social movements.

Much `postmodernist' writing (liberal-reformist as well as radical-democratic) is targeted precisely at the kind of Western or Eurocentric universalism to which socialist internationalism clearly belongs. It provides powerful tools for deconstructing traditional universalistic discourses, as well as for sensitising us to the multiplicity and plasticity of - for example - worker identities. Postmodernists, however, would tend to be either suspicious or hostile to any such attempt at re-thinking internationalism as is represented by this work. I see such literature as expressing, rather than comprehending, current experiences or feelings of fragmentation, insecure or multiple identity, suspicion of grand ideological discourses and apocalyptical strategies.

My book is meant to make good on some, if not all, of these literatures. Its general, introductory and innovatory nature has implications for the form. It represents a historical, theoretical, political and personal itinerary. The historical itinerary moves us from the old labour and socialist internationalism to the new multi-class and democratic movements for global solidarity. The theoretical itinerary is suggested in the title, with the work moving from the critique of `labour and socialist internationalism', via `the new labour internationalism' to the specification of `global solidarity'. The political itinerary is represented by its explicit or implicit engagement with contemporary Marxist, Populist, Social-Democratic or Developmentalist internationals or internationalisms. The personal itinerary is that of someone with a lifetime involvement in international solidarity activity, as will be suggested shortly below.

In so far as the work moves beyond labour and socialist internationalism to a new kind, questions might be asked of 1) why I continue to bother with labour, and 2) why feminist internationalism is the only new one to which I give detailed attention.

The answer to the first question is that I still consider wage labour central to a world I still consider capitalist, and that I therefore consider the limitations on labour internationalism a major challenge to the movement for global solidarity. Perhaps I should reformulate this slightly, to allow for the increase in non-wage forms of surplus-extraction, and for a broader understanding of human labour. Maybe one should say that we need a global social movement on labour issues, with an understanding of such extended from traditional wage-labour forms to the multiple ones recognised by Andre Gorz (1989). Gorz adds to the traditional wage-labour form those of homeworking, work for oneself (primarily the additional task of women), and autonomous activity (artistic work, relational work, educational work, the work of mutual-aid, etc). He argues for a social development from the first type to the third, and for the second one to be increasingly articulated with the third rather than subordinated to the first. The creation of such a labour movement would be a challenge not only to new social movements (that sometimes talk as if no one worked for a living any more), but also to unions that consider that work is only what is done for wages.

The answer to the second question is that whilst I could have contrasted labour with ecological or human-rights internationalisms, these are `issue' rather than `subject' internationalisms, directed to `life' rather than `emancipation' issues. The women's movement is a subject internationalism and belongs to the tradition of emancipation internationalisms (such as those concerned with slavery, national independence and, of course, wage slavery). Feminism has shown itself particularly sensitive to the forms and relations of movements, both old and new. The women's movement, its related ideologies, and its internationalism, moreover, go back at least as far as the labour movement. The similarities/differences between the labour and women's movements internationally make for intellectually suggestive and politically potent comparison.

Analytically (in Chapters 2, 4, 5, and 6), I consider historical and contemporary cases, the former from the 19th and early-20th centuries, the latter from the late-20th century. The historical study of classical labour and socialist internationalism, was unavoidable. The late-20th century cases are chosen from many I have studied during the last 10 to 15 years, because of the new information they provide and because of the difficult questions they raise. It has been these case studies that have driven my research for more adequate and more general theory.

Theoretically, I attempt to synthesise elements from Marxist, `alternative social movement' and `critical globalisation' theories. Such a selective and critical synthesis would seem relevant to a work that attempts to recognise the contribution to the new global solidarity of the traditional labour/socialist movements, the new ASMs, and of the politically or socially-engaged intellectuals developing critical globalisation theories. The theoretical development within the work takes place in two phases. In the first stage (particularly in Chapter 3) I theorise trade union and labour internationalism in the light of emancipatory elements within Marxism and ASM theory, developing the concept of `the new labour internationalism'. Further case studies make necessary a more general theorisation. This leads me to consider (particularly in Chapter 7) the possible meaning of `globalisation', of `global solidarity' and `global civil society'.

Readers, therefore, are being invited to accompany me in my own voyage of discovery, a voyage simultaneously professional, political and personal.

The first reason for talking of myself here is one of theoretical or methodological principle. It comes from feminism - as might already have been suggested by reference to the `personal and political'. It is true that feminism got this notion from the Civil Rights movement in the US, when Black militants insisted that it was necessary not only to `talk the talk but also to walk the walk'. But it is the feminists who turned this potent political slogan into a matter of both theoretical and methodological principle. Recent feminist writing implicitly adds the professional to the personal and the political.

In the process of developing this work, further, I became increasingly conscious that what I was writing about was not just a theoretical or historical movement but also a personal one. I come from a Jewish Communist family, was involved even as a child in a cosmopolitan culture and solidarity activities, and joined the Young Communist League in London, in 1951, at the age of 15. I worked twice in Prague, in the mid-50s and mid-60s for international Communist organisations. After leaving the Communist movement, in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, I joined in the new wave of non-sectarian and democratic international solidarity activities. From the late-70s till 1990 I edited the Newsletter of International Labour Studies, and was involved in various other international labour solidarity networks. Since 1984 I have turned increasing attention to the new internationalisms in communication terms, being here engaged in dialogue with `alternative international communicators' from San Francisco to Hongkong and Manchester to Moscow. I have thus traced part of the route from the old internationalism to the new in my political and professional life. I have also been politically involved in some of the processes I analyse.

A more direct stimulus to the production of this work has been the world transformation which began in 1989 and is still continuing as I write.

1989 meant the collapse of Communism. For 20 years I had waited and worked for this day. I noted wryly, of course, that as the walls came tumbling down, the trumpets were playing Beethoven's `Ode to Joy' (anthem of the bourgeois-liberal European Community) rather than Potier's `Internationale' (song of the revolutionary socialist proletariat). I could well understand that the patient, sophisticated and courageous East European dissidents were largely replaced by the sellers of secondhand Opels and thirdhand Thatcherism. These things I had been prepared for since living in East Europe and breaking with Communism. But miners beating student demonstrators in Rumania? A 19th century inter-ethnic war with 20th century technology in Yugoslavia? East German Nazis?

The Gulf War, in 1990, was something for which I had been in no way prepared, never reflected on nor - therefore - taken any action to prevent. I was unwilling to cast this obscene war in terms of any of the Rent-a-Slogan categories of right or left (World Civilisation versus the Arab Hitler; Western imperialism versus Third World nationalism). I concluded (along with a movement at my institute) that it was a crisis of a whole world capitalist, statist, patriarchal and militarist civilisation - the right's demonised Saddam Hussein sharing fundamental Western values with the left's demonised Bush.

1992 saw the United Nations Conference on Ecology and Development in Rio. I had been involved in the setting up and development of the first ecology course at my institute. I followed the conference preparatory work of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). I saw the TV performance of the heads of states and UN representatives. This international event demonstrated to the world what I had long been feeling: 1) that the international statesmen of North and South stood up to their necks, in a swamp of their own waste, blaming each other for the stink; 2) that the moral (if not yet the political) high ground internationally was occupied by the new global solidarity movements and organisations; and 3) that these new movements were problematic and contradictory phenomena.

We have, since 1989, it seems to me, been in one of those periods in which the intellectual Horatio may learn that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in his (or, as we will see, even her) discourses. This has required me, as a would-be internationalist, to reflect on my own responsibility or irresponsibility for what had happened or was happening in the former Communist world and in the former Third World (now Second?). It is not a matter of wanting to have been some kind of internationalist Superman, nor to be in the future some kind of internationalist Superperson. It is simply a matter of wanting to be both responsible and effective in a new but so-far undefined world order full of both dangers and opportunities.


Now for the structure of the work.

Chapter 2 is actually a theoretical as well as a historical one. It considers the political development and theory of labour and socialist internationalism, concentrating on Europe, the 19th century, and on Marx and Engels. Examination of the history of socialist and proletarian internationalism shows it to have been a more complex and varied phenomenon than socialist myth or contemporary analysis suggests. It also reveals that its decline was due to neither prematurity, mistakes or betrayals, but to the nature of the working class and socialist doctrine themselves. There is, nonetheless, much to be learned from both the strengths and the shortcomings of traditional proletarian and socialist internationalism. Examination of the classical international theory, of Marx and Engels, reveals its part in the failure, saddling working classes of flesh and blood with a Promethean role in international emancipation. What they, however, described, predicted and implied about the overcoming of alienation on a world scale, also speaks relevantly to both the old labour and socialist movement and the ASMs.

Chapter 3 represents my initial attempt to reconceptualise internationalism. It presents a set of concepts that would seem both necessary and adequate for understanding and advancing labour organisation and protest activity in contemporary international space. It does this in both a general and a more technical manner. This first theoretical approximation requires 1) defining such terms as internationalisation, internationalism and solidarity, 2) identifying the mass subjects and political purposes of internationalism, 3) specifying the space or field occupied, the strategy, geographical direction and scope, 4) considering forms of organisation and communication, the role of organisers and intellectuals. The potential value of the `new internationalisms' concept for the understanding of labour is suggested in a brief case study. The meaning of a `new labour internationalism' is defined. And the possible meaning of a contemporary socialist internationalism is considered.

Chapter 4 represents a narrow, in-depth, case study. It considers the Spain-based European dockers' network of the 1980s, showing both the possibilities and difficulties of creating a new kind of labour internationalism within the old labour tradition alone. The case reveals the history of traditional dockworker internationalism, from the 1890s to the present day. It considers the attempt to create a non-bureaucratic and non-ideological `waterfront' network in the 1970s and 80s. It also examines the particular role of the Coordinadora of Spanish dockers which was the linchpin of the project. It evaluates, finally, the internationalism of the Coordinadora in the light of the earlier conceptualisation.

Chapter 5 is another case study, but one which takes a much broader view. It also represents an explicit intervention into a labour movement debate about the then new Third World labour internationalisms - just as the Third World was disappearing. This chapter also makes it possible to look at the complex relationship between such new Southern/Eastern labour internationalisms, and the multiple social subjects, organisations and orientations they have to relate to in the North/West.

Chapter 6 is the only one on a `non-labour', or `new alternative social movement' internationalism. It is a study of the international solidarity thought and activity of what is often considered to be the exemplary alternative international social movement. This overview not only brings the earlier-developed understanding to bear on the women's movement. It also enables us to garner relevant theoretical, methodological and strategic insights. Paradoxically, it is the focus of this theoretically underdeveloped internationalism on `global' rather than `international' issues that suggests the necessity for moving our theoretical focus from the latter to the former.

Chapter 7 makes use of the new wave of critical and radical writings on globalisation to develop the concepts of `globalisation', `global civil society' and `global solidarity'. `Global solidarity is the term I now prefer to `the new internationalisms . The new problematic, it is argued, is not primarily that of relations between nations or states, but of global processes and structures that reduce the centrality these have previously been accorded in emancipatory thought and action. The women's, ecological and other new social movements have made us aware of the `global interdependency' of both reform and emancipatory struggles (as well as helping overcome the binary opposition customarily posed between them). The new wave of radical-democratic movements and thinking raises the question of the implications of globalisation for democracy and for democratic control over global processes. The alternative global order, or process, is conceived of in terms of `global civil society'; the new movement and ethic in terms of `global solidarity'.

The Postscript allows for a final personal reflection, or reflection on the personal, in trying to develop this new kind of internationalism. This deals in part with my movement from the world of labour and socialist internationalism (and internationalists) to that of women s and feminist internationalism (and internationalists).

And here is a postscript to that postscript, because in the period since I delivered my manuscript to the publishers I have found myself once again in the world of labour and union internationalism. This was, firstly, at LabourMedia 97, an event held in Seoul and sponsored by the dynamic new Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Born along with globalisation, informatisation and networking, this movement has committed itself heavily to both internationalism and to communication and culture - particularly in electronic or computerised form. But we were there just as the globalisation wave being ridden by Korean capitalism was hit by a wave that nearly swamped it - and that put the further development and direction of the KCTU into severe question. A couple of months later I arrived in Liverpool, in the wake of a two and a half year dock lockout/strike, which had finally collapsed a week or so previously. Korea had demonstrated the achievements and problems of a new national union organisation, of overwhelmingly young and often female workers, at the cutting edge of capitalism. The 3-500 Liverpool dockers might have been taken to represent the dinosaurs of an old, local and dying class. Yet the shopstewards organisation had thrown itself enthusiastically - aven desperately - into a truly unique international solidarity effort (contacting Indians and Brazilians, sending appeals out in Russian), making extensive use of the internet, and temporarily challenging not only a neo-liberalised and globalised cargo-handling industry but also their own local, national and international leaders. And, as far as women were concerned, Liverpool proved itself to be more advanced than Korea! The Liverpool dockers moreover, proved to also be both open and sensitive to the eco-anarchist arguments of the Reclaim the Streets activists who had joined them at one moment in a demonstration for social justice. In between these two experiences I came across the discussion document issued by the Danish SiD union (for unskilled, manual or industrial workers) for an international conference on globalisation they had sponsored in mid-1997. Remarkable was not only the extensive analysis of globalisation and of the crisis of the institutionalised union movement, national and international, but their recognition of the necessity for many of the the strategies being demonstrated by the Korean and Liverpool unions. And, for that matter, for many of the arguments I have put forward in my own book. It would be difficult to wish for more than that this book should appears in such difficult but exciting times.