Socialists should be internationalists by default. It is in our interest. The crises of our age – Covid-19, climate breakdown and corporate power – cannot be overcome nationally. They are global problems that require global action.
This is most pressingly true of the pandemic. While authoritarian nationalists – Trump, Bolsanaro, to a lesser degree Johnson – have aided its spread, it is the global system’s normal functioning that has turbocharged it.
This rampantly unequal system prevents the World Health Organisation from placing public health ahead of private profit or beggar thy neighbour nationalism. It has made health systems, particularly of many poorer states, extremely vulnerable to coronavirus: even before the pandemic struck, 64 lower-income countries were forced to pay more to lenders than towards their own citizens’ health. Round after round of International Monetary Fund (IMF)-mandated austerity has further undermined public health systems. In 2019, Ecuador dismissed 3,680 of its public-sector health workers as part of the government’s agreement with the IMF. During the pandemic, the country has had the world’s second-highest number of excess deaths.
Meanwhile, billionaires have stuffed their offshore bank accounts during the pandemic; Oxfam has calculated that their wealth has increased by an unfathomable $3.9tn, thanks in large part to coordinated central bank actions at the beginning of the pandemic to inflate asset prices. No such concerted action has benefited the Global South: less than 1% of the global pandemic recovery funds have gone there, despite being home to the majority of the earth’s population. This financing gap, calculated at $2.5tn, could have been partially closed by the IMF creating liquidity for this purpose through Special Drawing Rights, but this is not what the Fund or the global financial system is set up to do.
Now, this unequal system is shaping our recovery from the pandemic. The success of the NHS’s vaccine roll-out is under threat from a toxic brew of vaccine nationalism and big pharma. The longer the whole world isn’t vaccinated, the more time the virus has to mutate into vaccine-resistant forms. This isn’t a question of charity, but of self-interest. It really is true that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Along with other rich countries, the British government is opposed to lifting intellectual property rules to make possible a speedy global roll-out. UK ministers repeat the mantra that “no one is safe until everyone is safe” while acting directly against it.
If the global north heeded the cry from the World Health Organisation and the concrete proposals from South Africa and India to allow global south countries to produce generic versions of vaccines without penalties, the pandemic would end sooner, perhaps millions of lives would be saved and billions of livelihoods would benefit. Socialists in the UK should form an active part of the global movement for a People’s Vaccine and lobby the UK government to change its position on the Trade and Intellectual Property Rules waiver at the World Trade Organisation.
The opposition is primed to abandon internationalism as we enter the next phase of the pandemic. Should there be a third wave, Labour’s main line of attack will be that the government did not close our borders early or hard enough. While border restrictions are necessary to reduce transmission, if a third wave does come, it will be from a failure to vaccinate the rest of the world, not a failure to keep it out.
This inward turn should provoke British socialists to look outward, championing global remedies to this global trauma. The Green New Deal is the recovery plan we must get behind, combining job creation, public investment, control and ownership, better living standards and decarbonisation. Of course, such a deal must be global.
In November, Glasgow will host COP26. The UN climate conference offers a fantastic opportunity to popularise a global Green New Deal. That means unpicking the system that made the pandemic so much worse than it had to be. The countries least to blame for the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have the least capacity to act. They are locked out from investment through the international financial system. Public ownership and an active state are militated against by their creditors, led by the IMF. To make the Green New Deal more than an effective public works programme in the UK, socialists need to develop policies and campaigns to free the world from the shackles of debt and austerity, to enable them to share in the technology developed in the global north, and to end the offshoring of Britain’s emissions.
Like climate breakdown, corporate power knows no borders. Capital’s value chains are truly global. They extract value from people and planet at every stage,: from natural resource extraction, through to logistics, manufacturing, retail, financialisation and tax havens. Whether formally or informally through supply chains, more and more of the global economy is controlled and planned by multinational corporations. But if such global power is becoming ever more concentrated, resistance to it remains woefully disparate. To win in the 2020s, socialists should look to unite struggles under a single banner. We must work to bring together struggles for indigenous rights, environmental protection, climate justice, workers’ pay and conditions, better housing, against debt and financialisation and for tax justice, for all have a common enemy: capital.
Bringing together progressive forces across issues and borders so they can be more than the sum of their parts is the purpose of the Progressive International (PI). A global network of parties, unions, movements and people launched last year, the PI’s first major campaign, Make Amazon Pay, co-convened with UNI Global Union, seeks to put this internationalist theory into practice.
Make Amazon Pay brings together workers from across Amazon’s empire – tech, warehouse, delivery, call centre and supply chain – with environmental activists and tax justice campaigners in a coalition of 50 organisations. It launched with a global day of action on Black Friday, 27 November 2020, with strikes and protests in 15 countries, and continued with a commitment from over 400 MPs in 34 countries across all six inhabited continents to put the Make Amazon Pay’s Common Demands into law. With Amazon on the brink of being forced to recognise its first US union, the fightback is well underway.
These campaigns take place in the context of geopolitics of which socialists should be acutely aware. A major threat to everyone on Earth is the emerging cold war between the US and China. It is incumbent on socialists to develop our arguments and actions against US militarism without providing uncritical support to China’s elite. Military competition between China and the US would be highly destructive, but economic competition could provide openings for other states to band together to seek a better deal from both the US-led capitalist empire and China’s emerging resources-loans-infrastructure model.
Latin America could provide a test case for this alternative approach. If not a new Pink Tide, the region is experiencing a shift back towards the left, with Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election in Mexico; the return of the left Peronists in Argentina; the astounding democratic defeat of the coup regime in Bolivia; the continued resistance of Venezuela to US interference; the plebiscite to replace Pinochet’s constitution in Chile; the possible victory of Ecuador’s Correistas in next month’s elections; and the potential return of Lula as president of Brazil next year. British socialists shouldn’t seek to escape to a resurgent Latin American left, but provide solidarity to and learn from it.
These states will face attack throughout the next decade from international financial institutions, the US empire, corporate power and Western media. Indeed, they already are. The stunning leaked memo by Facebook employee Sophie Zhang, in which she said she felt she had “blood on her hands” over the role of fake accounts in Bolivia’s 2019 elections, should spur socialists into action around the world. In Ecuador, Facebook has restricted the activities of former president Rafael Correa and his supporters with little accountability. Nor should we view these attacks as something happening “over there”.
Just days after a number of Trump’s accounts were deleted by social media platforms, one of Labour MP Zarah Sultana’s Instagram posts was blocked by moderators. The concentration of power in the hands of a tiny number of unaccountable, opaque corporations should worry us all, regardless of whom that power is exercised against. Socialists around the world should make common cause in pushing for stricter regulation and great transparency as a minimum.
Neither injustice nor inspiration stops at our borders. History moves in waves: a victory or a defeat in one place makes it more likely in another. Our enemies are globally networked; so we must be.
Companies learn from each other how to defeat national labour movements industrially and politically. Trade unionists already collaborate through global federations, but much more can be done to build active solidarity between workers and struggles throughout multinational supply chains, which should be the horizon for organising.
It is unlikely that Keir Starmer matches this internationalism, despite a clear commitment in his leadership campaign’s 10 Pledges and supermajority support for it among Labour’s membership. That leaves space for socialists to develop and articulate a clear internationalist politics with majoritarian appeal in the UK. The ground is fertile. As Corbyn’s speech after the 2017 Manchester terror attack demonstrated, political-media class consensus on these issues, which cleaves tightly to established state policy, is a long way away from where the public stands.
To confidently present internationalist politics, socialists will need to educate ourselves about the world, through dedicated political education programmes. These could be developed with activists from around the world and delivered through Momentum, trade unions and other political education efforts.
Local government can play an important practical role in embedding the internationalist horizon throughout our movement. Left-led councils and socialists councillors can learn from cutting edge examples of progressive municipal government, such as Barcelona’s public management of data, and develop global networks of municipal socialists.
Thickening progressive internationalist networks should be a secondary aim of any campaign with a global dimension. The Progressive International is one organisation attempting to give these networks institutional form; its Make Amazon Pay campaign offers an incipient model for action.
An internationalist turn for UK socialists would strengthen us in three ways. First, it will equip us with an alternative to the authoritarian nationalism championed by Priti Patel. Second, it will inject knowledge and momentum from other struggles into our own. Third, it will advance the global struggles within which our national efforts sit.
But for a socialist internationalism to be effective, it must be rooted in majoritarianism at home; the single most effective thing we can do for global justice is to win in the UK. And for that, we need to effectively spread our message and sabotage our opponents’. Tomorrow’s essay, the last of this series, will present an analysis of our opponents and a communications strategy we can deploy to shape and win the 2020s.
James Schneider is the communications director of Progressive International, co-founder of Momentum, and a former spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn.