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Reflections on the New International

Dedicated to the Memory and Legacy of President Hugo Chávez

István Mészáros is professor emeritus at the University of Sussex, where he held the Chair of Philosophy for fifteen years. His books include Beyond Capital, Socialism or Barbarism, The Structural Crisis of Capital, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time, and Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness (two volumes)—all published by Monthly Review Press.

This article was originally a discussion paper drafted in 2010 after a long discussion with President Hugo Chávez and was written at his request.

Dedicated to the Memory and Legacy of President Hugo Chávez
Chávez presenting Mészáros with the Libertador (Bolívar) Award for Critical Thought, September 14, 2009. Photo by Alfonso Ocando (Prensa Presidencial/MinCI)

Chávez presenting Mészáros with the Libertador (Bolívar) Award for Critical Thought, September 14, 2009.
Photo by Alfonso Ocando (Prensa Presidencial/MinCI)

I.

The need for the establishment and successful operation of The New International is painfully obvious and urgent today. The enemies of a historically sustainable societal reproductive order, who occupy at the present time still the dominant position in our increasingly endangered world, do not hesitate for a moment to exploit in the interest of their destructive design, with utmost cynicism and hypocrisy, the existing decision-making and opinion-forming organs of the international community, from the Security Council of the United Nations to the great multiplicity of the national and international press and to the other mass media under their direct material stranglehold. This has been repeatedly underlined by the methods with which they “justify” their unlawful wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, with a vast network of international bodies and organizational resources at their disposal. At the same time the adherents of the much needed socialist alternative are fragmented and divided among themselves, instead of internationally combining their strength for the cause of a successful confrontation with their adversaries.

In reality the enemies of socialism are attempting to recolonize the world in the name of their preposterous inhuman ideology which targets even with the most violent means the countries of the so-called “axis of evil,” in former U.S. President George W. Bush’s belligerent rhetoric—not shirking from the open advocacy of “liberal imperialism” (in the words of Robert Cooper, British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “guru” and high-ranking diplomat, subsequently special adviser to the EU’s Foreign Affairs Chief, Xavier Solana).

This is how one of the most influential British Sunday newspapers, The Observer, introduces Cooper, the author of an aggressive and highly publicized war-mongering propaganda manifesto:

Senior British Diplomat Robert Cooper helped to shape British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s calls for a new internationalism and a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention which would place limits on state sovereignty. Cooper’s call for a new liberal imperialism and admission of the need for double standard in foreign policy have outraged the left but the essay [popularized by The Observer] offers a rare and candid unofficial insight into the thinking behind British strategy on Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.1

In fact Cooper’s article offers a characteristic ideological rationalization not only of the pernicious “thinking behind British strategy on Afghanistan and Iraq” but also about the thinking at the roots of overwhelmingly dominant global hegemonic U.S. imperialism which recklessly plays with fire—potentially even with nuclear fire. Here are the main points of Robert Cooper’s appallingly pretentious jargon-regurgitating article which—on account of its arrogant advocacy of “the need for colonialism” and for a “sovereignty-limiting humanitarian intervention” by renewed imperialist “internationalism”—must be tellingly propagandized and promoted with reverence in the bourgeois press:

While the members of the postmodern world may not represent a danger to one another, both the modern and the pre-modern zones pose threats. The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era—force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth-century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we operate in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle. The challenge posed by the pre-modern world is a new one. The pre-modern world is a world of failed states. It is precisely because of the death of imperialism that we are seeing the emergence of the pre-modern world. Empire and imperialism are words that have become a form of abuse in the postmodern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonization, is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century. All the conditions for imperialism are there, but both the supply and demand for imperialism have dried up. And yet the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world. A world in which the efficient and well governed export stability and liberty, and which is open for investment and growth—all of this seems eminently desirable. What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values.2

The fact that the intellectual standard of such “strategic thinking” is at the level of a charlatan’s feverish projections makes absolutely no difference to its eager propagandists. For the pernicious interests of aggressive imperialist domination must elevate all self-proclaimed “visions” of this kind (boastingly named a “real vision” by its author) to the height of universally commended “democratic” wisdom. At the same time the hostile propa­ganda tenets advocated in them must be declared to constitute the unchallengeable manifestation of “human rights and cosmo­politan values.” This is just like former President Bill Clinton’s grotesque but equally aggressive decree which arrogantly proclaimed that “there is only one necessary nation, the United States of America.”

Understandably, of course, the same naked imperialist spirit was embodied in then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s crudely voiced threat, as reported (in a live television interview broadcast in Washington in 2006) by none other than Pakistan’s head of state at the time, General Musharraf, who received the threat. According to Armitage, Pakistan would be “bombed back to the Stone Age” (no doubt through the good services of the required destructive power of nuclear weapons) unless Musharraf’s Government fully obeyed the orders of the United States in relation to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

In the same way, another high-ranking “strategic thinker” of the U.S. administration, Thomas Barnett—the Senior Strategic Researcher at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island—pontificates in his book, in the words of one insightful reviewer, that:

Strategic vision in the United States needs to focus on “growing the number of states that recognize a stable set of rules regarding war and peace.” The United States, he thinks, has a responsibility to use its tremendous power to make globalization truly global. Otherwise portions of humanity will be condemned to an outsider status that will eventually define them as enemies. And once the United States has named these enemies, it will invariably wage war on them, unleashing death and destruction. This is not forced assimilation, Barnett claims, nor the extension of empire; instead it is the expansion of freedom.3

Moreover, the brutal implications of this “freedom-extending strategic vision” are spelled out in this openly cynical and aggressive way in an article written by the same Thomas Barnett to Esquire magazine: “What does this new approach mean for this nation and the world over the long run? Let me be very clear about this: The boys are never coming home. America is not leaving the Middle East until the Middle East joins the world. It’s that simple. No exit means, no exit strategy.”4

Naturally, it is totally irrelevant with regard to the customary cynicism and hypocrisy with which the justifications of war and of actual war crimes are served up for public consumption, which one of the two political parties forms the government in the United States at the time. The presidents and presidential candidates as a rule solemnly declare, in righteously claimed conformity to international law, that in their war enterprises there could not be any question of pressing for “regime change,” while knowing only too well that precisely regime change—in the interest of the global hegemonic imperialism of their state—is the true objective of their constantly renewed war adventures.

A blatantly obvious example in this respect was the case of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Al Gore who assured his electoral audience in 2002, with unctuous hypocrisy, that he supported without any reservation the planned war against Iraq because such a war would not mean “regime change” but only “disarming a regime which possessed weapons of mass destruction.” The pretended “weapons of mass destruction,” as we all know, did not exist in Iraq at all, but the cynically denied objective of “regime change” was ruthlessly asserted by the war waged on that country, causing the death of hundreds of thousands of people.

No one should be surprised, therefore, that the same utterly cynical and hypocritical policies are being forced upon international decision-making bodies in our own days by Western presidents and prime ministers just as the ones painfully witnessed in the past. The deceitfully justified war against Libya is an obvious example in this respect. The Presidents and Prime Minister of the Western “democracies” seem to presume, fully in tune with their cynically proclaimed “double standard in foreign policy,” that they can always impose on the population of their countries and on the rest of the world the now experienced degradation of international law and politics in virtue of their present-day domination of the established power relations and the corresponding organs of international decision making and public opinion.

II.

To be sure, in this way the enemies of socialism—who imperil with their reckless war adventures the survival of humanity on our planet—are trying to nullify all historical progress that has been accomplished up to the present time. They do this in order to perpetuate their so-called “liberal imperialism” and the total domination of the militarily less powerful countries by “unleashing death and destruction.” And they are bent on pursuing such aims not even in the form of the earlier threatened “preventive strikes” but by means of the now openly advocated totally arbitrary “pre-emptive strikes,” intended to be waged against whoever they may please to attack in the name of “human rights and cosmopolitan values” and the pretended “expansion of democracy and freedom” installed by their “humanitarian interventions.”

This is a blatant attempt to reverse the course of historical development in the last century which demonstrated the contradictory nature and the destructive untenability of monopolistic imperialist capital expan­sion on our planet stretched to its limits, undermining thereby even the most elementary conditions of our ecological survival by the criminally wasteful utilization of the world’s material and human resources and by the wanton destruction of nature itself. Moreover, while in earlier stages of capitalist development the established reproductive order could reconstitute its operational normality through its conjunctural crises and the associated periodic liquidation of unprofitable capital, in the last four to five decades of its development the now incorrigibly wasteful capital system had sunk into its ever deepening structural crisis.

Thus the increasing destructiveness we witness everywhere is by no means some passing historical coincidence, nor is it the corrigible aberration of some misguided policy makers and their “visionary advisers.” On the contrary, it is the fateful corollary of our time, irrepressibly arising from the deep-seated structural crisis of our historically untenable societal reproductive order.

This is why the economic and political personifications of the capital system must resort to imposing ever-greater devastation both in the domain of material life—in the destructively productive economy and in the adventurist/fraudulent world of finance, as well as by exploiting to the point of no return the planet’s vital natural resources and by irresponsibly exterminating countless living species needed for maintaining the neces­sary ecological balance of nature—together with the catastrophically wasteful military field; and doing all that in the vain hope of resolving (or at least indefinitely keeping under their control) the structural crisis of the established system.

However, the sobering truth of the matter is that the only feasible way of successfully resolving in a durable way the extended structural crisis of our dangerous productive order is the institution and the historically sustainable operation of a radically different societal reproductive order. For once an all-embra­cing productive system reaches the limits of its structurally determined historical viability clearly demonstra­ted by its increasing wastefulness and destructiveness on all planes of societal interchange, as evidenced by “globalized capital” in our time, there can be no other way of overcoming the potentially all-destructive structural determinations of such a system than the adoption of a fundamentally different structure of social metabolic reproduction. For the innermost structural crisis of a comprehensive societal reproductive order inevitably calls for the institution of an appropriate structural change.

During the long ascending phase of capital’s historical development, the necessary process of capital expansion and accumulation could be carried on relatively undisturbed. This state of affairs started to change significantly with the onset of the system’s descending phase of development in Europe, a couple of decades before the middle of the nineteenth century. At that time capital’s hegemonic antagonist, labor, appeared on the historical stage with its own demands as the active subject of a qualitatively different alternative order of social metabolic reproduction, and began to assert its claims in the form of organized action.

The early formation and organization of this movement coincided with the eruption of a major economic and social crisis and the ensuing revolutionary upheavals in the 1840s in different parts of Europe. This process was necessarily associated with a vital international articulation of labor’s demands for the establishment of a hegemonic alternative social reproductive order from that time onward, as clearly spelled out in the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on the request of their comrades from the Communist League founded in 1847. For the structurally entrenched reproductive order of capital, tending irresistibly towards its global extension and integration, could only be successfully overcome through the likewise globally self-assertive hegemonic alternative of labor’s “new historic form.” As the young Marx and Engels characterized the increasingly more serious crises of their time in the Communist Manifesto:

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.5

However, the Communist League for which this visionary manifesto was written could not survive very long. Due to the vicious persecution and imprisonment of its organizationally weak adherents in Germany, it had to be dissolved by the remaining members in 1852, five years after its foundation. Understandably, therefore, it became obvious that only a powerful international organization of the working class could stand its ground against the onslaught of the ruling order, which was to be expected in the future, as well. Thus the need for an organizationally sustainable constitution and for the corresponding combative strategic orientation of such an international movement appeared on the historical agenda in the early 1850s and remained ever since that time the unavoidable challenge to successive generations of capital’s hegemonic antagonist.

III.

Naturally, the “more extensive and more destructive crises” anticipated in the Communist Manifesto continued to assert themselves in the capitalistically most developed parts of Europe, including France and England. Accordingly, there was a great temptation to generalize about the chances of a revolutionary transformation on that basis. Indeed, even some of Marx’s own utterances in the midst of the unfolding financial crises in the second half of the 1850s pointed in that direction.

However, as a self-critical reassessment of the prospects of longer-term historical development we can read these words in one of Marx’s seminally important letters to Engels:

The historic task of bourgeois society is the establishment of the world market, at least in its basic outlines, and a mode of production that rests on its basis. Since the world is round, it seems that this has been accomplished with the colonization of California and Australia and with the annexation of China and Japan. For us the difficult question is this: the revolution on the [European] Continent is imminent and its character will be at once socialist; will it not be necessarily crushed in this little corner of the world, since on a much larger terrain the development of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant.6

In this soberingly critical spirit, two fundamental questions had to be clearly defined in relation to the strategic orientation of the emancipatory movement of the working class: a movement which in the light of painful historical experience of its recent past (suffered through the defeat of the Communist League) had to be reconstituted on the broadest possible basis compatible with its vitally necessary combative character.

The first question in this respect was the uncompromising overall objective of the organized socialist movement itself, envisaging the radical overcoming of capital’s reproductive system in its entirety, in openly pursued contrast to the spontaneous trade unionist tendency of—to be sure against all sectarian maximalism thoroughly legitimate but far from exclusive—concern with wage improvements only. This point was forcefully underlined in an important speech delivered by Marx in 1865 before a working-class audience of the recently established “International Working Men’s Association” in these terms:

Trade Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachment of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.7

In this sense the first and overall strategic objective of the organized mass movement had to be the institution of a radical structural change in the established mode of societal reproduction as a whole. This had to be achieved not simply through the more or less temporary and potentially divisive improvement in the material and cultural conditions of existence of the members of the working class in some particular countries or regions, which could only be a struggle against the effects of capital’s encroachment on the workers’ standard of living while leaving their necessary causal foundations untouched in their place.

The second fundamental strategic principle was equally important, concerning the necessity of a fully international orientation and solidarity of the envisaged organizational framework itself. For the lasting success of the emancipatory objectives to be pursued—defined as the “ultimate abolition of the wages system” over against the globally unfolding power of capital—really depended on labor’s ability to match through its own consciously coordinated militant international action the might of its class adversary everywhere. Otherwise the partial successes obtained in some limited areas could be sooner or later reversed and even nullified by the power of international capital tending toward its global extension and integ­ration.

The International Working Men’s Association—a body that became known in working-class history as the First International—was founded in 1864 in the spirit of these closely interconnected fundamental strategic objectives. This organization successfully maintained itself in existence—in comparison to the relatively shortlived and far less influential Communist League—for an entire decade. However, the continuing historical ascendancy of capital on that “much larger terrain,” as underlined by Marx in his earlier quoted letter to Engels, militated also against this much broader international organization of the workers. In fact, as foreshadowed by the Marxian warning, the revolution of the 1871 Paris Commune was “crushed in the European little corner of the world,” repressed in blood by the brutal class forces of the ruling order which made it thereby absolutely clear that all attempts at a revolutionary transformation of society must expect the same savagery of response as the supporters of the Commune had to undergo in France.

This dimension of the international relation of forces between the worldwide imperialistically favored continuing ascendancy of capital and the greatly disadvantaged organization of labor was one of the principal reasons why the absolutely necessary international strategic orientation of the labor movement had to suffer a major historical defeat with the demise of the First International. This turn of events against the advancement of the international working-class movement was all the more problematical in view of the fact that in general historical terms the capital system towards the middle of the nineteenth century had already entered the descending phase of its development as a productive system.

In its ascending phase the capital system was successfully asserting its productive accomplishments on the basis of its internal expansionary dynamism, as yet without the imperative of a monopolistic/impe­rialist drive of the capitalistically most advanced countries for militarily secured world domination. Yet, through the historically irreversible circumstance of entering the productively descending phase, the capital system had become inseparable from an ever-intensifying need for the militaristic/monopolistic extension and overstretch of its structural framework, tending in due course on the internal productive plane toward the establishment and the criminally wasteful operation of a “permanent arms industry,” together with the wars necessarily associated with it.

In fact well before the outbreak of the First World War Rosa Luxemburg clearly identified the nature of this fateful monopolistic/imperialist development on the destructively productive plane by writing in her book on The Accumulation of Capital about the role of massive militarist production that: “Capital itself ultimately controls this automatic and rhythmic movement of militarist production through the legislature and a press whose function is to mould so-called ‘public opinion.’ That is why this particular province of capitalist accumulation at first seems capable of infinite expansion.”8

In another respect, the increasingly wasteful utilization of energy and vital material strategic resources carried with it not only the ever-more destructive articulation of capital’s self-assertive structural determinations on the—by legislatively manipulated “public opinion” never even questioned, let alone properly regulated—military plane but also with regard to the increasingly destructive encroachment of capital-expansion on nature. Ironically but by no means surprisingly, this turn of regressive historical development of the capital system as such also carried with it some bitterly negative consequences for the international organization of labor.

Indeed, this new articulation of the capital system in the last third of the nineteenth century, with its monopolistic imperialist phase inseparable from its fully extended global ascendancy, opened up a new modality of (most antagonistic and ultimately untenable) expansionary dynamism to the overwhelming benefit of a mere handful of privileged imperialist countries, postponing thereby the “moment of truth” that goes with the system’s irrepressible structural crisis in our own time. This type of monopolistic imperialist development inevitably gave a major boost to the possibility of militaristic capital expansion and accumulation, no matter how great a price had to be paid in due course for the ever-intensifying destructiveness of the new expansionary dynamism. Indeed, the militarily underpinned monopolistic dynamism had to assume the form of even two devastating global wars—as well as in the second half of the twentieth century the threat of total annihilation of humankind implicit in a potential Third World War, together with the ongoing perilous destruction of nature that became evident and even by the worst apologists undeniable.

But returning to the development of labor at the time of the First International, the second major historical factor that carried with it a great disadvantage to the originally envisaged constitution of capital’s historical antagonist as an international mass movement—with its temptations and illusions set against the combative socialist solidarity essential among the movement’s national constituents—was the emergence in a few of the most successful monopolist imperialist countries of the electorally more-influ­ential working-class political parties.

The most painful and revealing documentary evidence in this respect is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program which prophetically anticipated the deeply negative consequences arising from the opportunistic reorientation of the German social-democratic movement at the time of the unification of the left-wing “Eisenachers” and the worse than accommodationist “Lassallean” social democrats. For the Lassalleans, as intimated by Marx’s words of suspicion voiced at an earlier stage, were “probably in secret understanding with Bismarck,” the imperialist “Iron Chancellor” of Germany.9 This unholy “understanding” was in fact revealed half a century later by the gravely indicting evidence of Lassalle’s correspondence with Bismarck, published only in 1928.

As it transpired through this correspondence, Lassalle sent to Bismarck the statutes of the General Association of the German Workers—an organization which he secretly manipulated—and added to them these treacherous comments:

The Statutes will clearly convince you how true it is that the working class feels an instinctive inclination towards a dictatorship—if it can first be rightly persuaded that the dictatorship will be exercized in its interest. And [they will show] how much, despite all republican views—or rather precisely because of them—the working class would therefore be inclined, as I told you only recently, to look upon the Crown, in opposition to the egoism of bourgeois society, as the natural representative of the social dictatorship. That is, if the Crown for its part could ever make up its mind to take the—certainly very improbable—step of striking out a really revolutionary line and transmitting itself from the monarchy of the privileged orders into a social and revolutionary people’s monarchy.10

Without actually knowing anything tangible about this secret design by Lassalle for selling out social-democratic labor to the (imperialistically aspiring and acting, hence working-class support-seeking) class enemy’s dictatorship—readily endorsed and even idealized by Lassalle—Marx nonetheless treated the maneuver of social-democratic unification with the greatest suspicion. His devastating Critique of the Gotha Program—which for internal party reasons had to be kept under lock and key by the unified party’s leadership for sixteen years, and was only published long after Marx’s death as a result of Engels’s outspoken insistence—indicated in the clearest possible way the fateful character of the illusory electoral blind alley embarked upon by the social-democratic movement in the late 1870s. Engels also pointed out at the time of the acrimonious dispute over the Gotha Program, in his 1875 correspondence with August Bebel, that the opportunistic unification of the two wings of the future social-democratic party carried with it the far-reaching implication according to which “the principle that the workers’ movement is an international movement is, to all intents and purposes, completely disavowed.”11

The clamorous confirmation of this justifiably damning diagnosis by Marx and Engels was tragically supplied by German social democracy itself at the outbreak of the First World War when the party sided without any reservation with the disastrous imperialist adventure of the country. Moreover, despite all of the subsequently unfolding historical developments, including the collapse of the social-democratic Weimar Republic and the catastrophic revanchism of Hitler’s movement—electorally supported by the majority of the German population—which dragged Germany into the even more destructive Second World War than what the world had had to endure in the First, social democracy could never extricate itself from its nationalist integument, thereby imposing its own shackles on the international working-class movement under its continued electoral influence.

IV.

In this way the early attempts aimed at the establishment of a combative international organization of labor ended in grave historical disappointment.

The internal troubles of the First International—despite the fact that it was still under the tirelessly dedicated intellectual and political leadership of Marx—became increasingly more pronounced in the last few years of the 1860s. As a result by 1872 Marx was forced to transfer its organizing center to New York, in the soon-to-be-disappointed hope of preserving its firm international orientation and bare existence.

However, the disorienting centrifugal force of the national movements and the increasingly more imperialist-inclined capitalist nation states to which the particular organizations were linked proved to be far too much to withstand in the end. This trend was of course grievously affected by the brutal military repression of the Paris Commune in 1871 to which Chancellor Otto von Bismarck directly contributed in the most vicious way. For in the midst of the Commune’s struggle for survival he released, to fight against the Communards, French prisoners of war captured by his army, thereby providing a devastating material, political, and military proof of bourgeois class solidarity. Nor did he stop there. Indeed during the years of 1871–1872 Chancellor Bismarck was working on the establishment of an international framework of action against the revolutionary movement of the working class. In October 1873 his efforts were successfully implemented through the formation of the Three Emperors’ League of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary, with the unifying conscious aim of taking common action in the event of a “European disturbance” caused by the working class in any particular country. This is how Bismarck “realized” Lassalle’s treacherous plan about a “military dictatorship to be instituted and exercised in the interest of the working class,” in conjunction with the monarchy as the projected “natural representative of the social dictatorship.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, the First International disintegrated as a result of the intensifying pressures and contradictions that prevailed among its constituent parts, to a large extent thanks to the significant boost received by capital in the last third of the nineteenth century through the opening up of its monopolist/imperialist phase of development. Sadly, in that sense, the experience of the First International, despite the heroic dedication of its combative supporters, proved to be in historical terms premature under the conditions when in the greater part of the world the development of bourgeois society was still in the ascendant. This circumstance helped to overcome the major financial crises of the 1850s and ‘60s, redefining the relation of forces for a rather long historical period in favor of perversely expansionary capital, irrespective of how problematical—indeed in view of its subsequent global wars and destructive encroachment on nature much worse than problematical—such ascendancy had to turn out to be.

Naturally, the social-democratic Second International which later em­erged from the unification of the Eisenachers and the Lassalleans could not even remotely approach the once envisaged ideal of a combative international organization of the working class. Moreover, it demonstrated the fateful inadequacy of that organization for the hoped for assertion of labor’s hegemonic alternative to capital right at the outbreak of the First World War through its total capitulation to the imperialistic class interests of the ruling order.

In the light of this bitter experience of the Second International’s capitulatory implosion the Third International was constituted under Lenin’s guidance after the First World War, and for a while it promised the radical strategic reorientation of the international socialist movement. However, not very long after Lenin’s death the hope attached to the Third International was also totally disappointed, in that this organization was transformed into a pliable instrument of Stalinist state policies and as a result had to be dissolved in due course. Nor could the Fourth International successfully remedy the situation. It proved to be unable to live up to the original Marxian design of constituting a combative mass movement of the international working class, despite the expectations of its founder and supporters. Fragmentation and division often seemed to prevail in radical political organizations, badly militating against the hope of growing influence. As regards the parties once associated with the Third International, the sad historical fact is that precisely some of the biggest of them in the Western capitalist countries—like the Italian and the French Communist Parties—transformed themselves within the accommodationist framework of the parliamentary system into neoliberal type political formations, and thereby into pillars of the established order.

V.

Today the conditions are very different not only in a negative sense, indicating the intensification of the dangers for human survival both on the military and on the ecological plane, but in a far from negligible way also for the better.

To be sure, the earlier underlined destructiveness experienced today—manifest both through the never ending wars of global hegemonic imperialism (idealized by its “visionary” apologists by saying that “the boys are never coming home,” because we need the “new imperialism of human rights and cosmopolitan values,” while their war criminal political leaders reward themselves with the Nobel Peace Prize) and through the wanton destruction of nature—represent a potentially much more acute danger than ever seen before in human history. And of course they call for a necessary combative response by a historically sustainable mass movement. At the same time, however, the capital system’s traditional postponement of the “moment of truth”—by exporting its problems and contradictions to the terrain of its formerly available ascendancy in that “much greater part of the world than the European little corner”—had also run its historic course. Not simply in the sense that destructiveness itself never solved—and never can or could solve—anything on its own. Above all, this is because every conceivable productive system, even the most powerful one ever known in human history, the once irresistible capital system, has its historically untranscendable structural limits.

The “little corner of the world” of which Marx spoke in 1858 is no longer a little corner. Under the existing conditions the severe problems of the capital system’s increasing saturation and destructive overreach of itself continue to cast their darkest possible shadow everywhere. For capital’s historical ascendancy is by now fully consummated also on that “much larger terrain” whose disconcerting existence Marx had to acknowledge in his letter of 1858 to Engels.

Moreover, under the new historical circumstances economic crises, too, unfold in a very different way. At the time of capital’s global ascendancy, crises erupted with cyclic regularity in the form of “great thunderstorms” (in Marx’s words), followed by relatively long cyclic expansionary phases. In great contrast the radically new pattern today, with the end of the age of capital’s historical ascendancy, is the growing frequency of recessionary phases tending toward a depressed continuum. And given the globally intertwined character of the self-assertive capital system, only through organizationally sustained combative action can the destructive forces of capital as an increasingly wasteful reproductive order be defeated, as against the defensiveness which used to characterize the socialist movement in the past.

In this respect the constitution and successful operation of The New International is not only painfully obvious but also most urgent today. Indeed, the positive prospect in relation to this task is that for the first time ever in history the combative international movement of the working class—capital’s only feasible hegemonic alternative—can be realized. For some major sociopolitical factors, which in the past significantly contributed to capital’s positional strength and tended to force labor into a defensive posture, have been blocked in our time, hindering thereby capital’s formerly practicable exit from its crisis today.

It is important to remember here that the earlier mentioned “encroachment by capital” stressed by Marx in his address to the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association concerned the issue of the workers’ standard of living, with its twofold competitiveness directly affecting labor. In the first sense, this competitiveness meant labor’s confrontation with capital for the distribution of the social product, offering against labor the obvious advantage to capital as the controller of the means and conditions of production. At the same time, in the second sense, the individual workers as well as the various sections of labor had to be involved in a competitive struggle among themselves for securing their economic conditions of existence, resulting again in the disadvantage of the working class through its internal divisions and corresponding sectional orientation, tending to undermine thereby its strategic overall interests. This is why Marx contrasted with the traditionally pursued action against capital’s encroachment over the distribution of the capitalistically attainable social product—a type of action necessarily confined by competitively divided labor to defensively questioning only the effects of the system but not its structurally determined causal foundation—the need for the adoption of a strategy by labor for “using its organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

As we all know, none of the four internationals of the working-class movement could realize the Marxian strategy for overcoming, through a sustained offensive, the causal framework of the system under the prevailing historical circumstances. At best the radical wing of the movement could include some of the relevant aims into its manifestos, but could not realize such aims under the historically favored structural dominance of the capital system itself in the course of its historical ascendancy. Moreover, the reformist wing of the international working-class movement always kept even the demands directed against the effects of capital’s encroachments on the workers’ standard of living and bargaining power well within the system’s manageable limits, helping on the whole capital’s exit from even its cyclic crises instead of making the slightest attempts for the realization of “evolutionary socialism,” as explicitly but rather disingenuously promised by Edward Bernstein and his soulmates among social-democratic and traditional (not to mention “New”) labor. Nor should anyone forget that in the end even the tamest possible tenets of “reform” for the realization of “evolutionary socialism” have been completely abandoned.

In this respect, the historic change in our time is the blocking of the road to the continued adoption of the reformist fiction promising the realization of a structurally different socialist order of society through some minute economic changes. In complete contrast, capital in the past could induce reformist labor to internalize and actively promote the totally unrealizable promise of “evolutionary socialism”—and its twin brother, the so-called “Italian and French parliamentary road to socialism”—and thereby it could mystify and successfully disarm its potential working-class adversary. In view of this mystifying correlation between fictional reformist promise and the brutally sobering reality of “evolutionary socialism” and the “parliamentary road to socialism,” it is by no means surprising that the formerly most successful Western parties of the Third International—the Italian and the French Communist Parties—ended their road the way in which they actually did, entrapping themselves in a regressive position indistinguishable from neoliberalism. Inevitably, therefore, the painfully experienced regressive “reformist” development of the labor movement reopened the question of what course of action must be followed in the future in order to oppose in a strategically sustainable way the worsening conditions of life of workers even in the capitalistically most advanced countries, no matter how long it might take to rectify the defeatist past. For in our time even the realization of the most limited demands and objectives raised by the representatives of the working class require engagement in organizationally effective radical forms of combative action, directed at the capital regime’s structural control of the core of the wages system itself.

The second blocked avenue for capital, now in its deepening structural crisis, is potentially even more serious. It concerns the removal of the traditional feasibility of solving the capital system’s aggravating problems through an all-out war, in conformity to the way in which it was in fact twice attempted in the course of the world wars of the twentieth century. Nothing can unblock this fateful avenue, not even the most irrational adventurism advocated by capital’s war-mongering “visionary” apologists. For the underlying issue is an insoluble contradiction within the reproductive framework of the capital system as such.

This is a contradiction manifest, on the one hand, through the ongoing relentless concentration and centralization of capital on a global scale, and on the other, through the structurally imposed inability of the established system to produce the required political stabilization on a corresponding global scale. Even the most aggressive military interventions of global hegemonic imperialism—at present those of the United States—in different parts of the planet are bound to fail in this respect. The destructiveness of limited wars, no matter how many, is very far from being enough for imposing everywhere on a lasting basis the unchallengeable rule of a single imperialist hegemon and its “global government”—the only thing that would befit the logic of capital today. Only the socialist hegemonic alternative can show a way out of this destructive contradiction. That is, an organizationally viable historic alternative that fully respects the dialectical complementarity of the national and the international in our own historical time.

Thus the question of capital’s self-assertive encroachment itself has been radically changed under the present circumstances in its objective terms of reference. For now, due to the irreversible consummation of the capital system’s historical ascendancy, with no more terrains remaining to invade and subdue on our limited planet, the capital system’s self-expansionary imperative of encroachment directly threatens with destruction the natural substratum of human existence itself, as a vain attempt to compensate for the loss of conquerable new territories of domination. Accordingly, the historic stakes to be contested between capital and labor have now become—and so they are bound to remain also in the future—everything or nothing, removing there­by even the limited rationality of the once unavoidable defensive posture of labor. For saving from destruction the elementary conditions of humanity’s existence cannot be envisaged as a concession to be granted by ever-more destructive capital in control of the social metabolic process. To expect that would amount to the greatest irrationality and the ultimate contradiction in terms.

VI.

The defensive posture of the past has to be consigned to where it belongs: that is, irretrievably to the past, in order for it to be replaced by its historically sustainable alternative. For the effective negation of the global capital system is conceivable only through a strategically viable and conscious organizational intervention in its appropriate global setting. This is feasible only through the constitution and combative operation of a type of international organizational framework which is suitable to overcoming—through its historically viable practical operating principles and fully cooperative coherence—the chronic defensiveness and the damaging internal divisions of the labor movement in the past. Not the “Fifth” or the “Sixth International” which—by defining themselves in that way would inevitably reopen old wounds and unnecessary recriminatory controversies—but The New International engaged in the revolutionary negation of capital’s destructive present order and in the constitution of a radically different mode of social metabolic interchange among its members. In other words, The New International through its name would indicate that not only defensiveness but also the unhappy divisive recriminations of the past have to be consigned to the past.

Accordingly, The New International would confront with conscious positive determination the now unavoidable historic challenges establishing the necessary organizational basis of substantive equality of its constitutive parts—be they strategically articulated political organizations or uncompromising social movements. This would mean constituting, on a much more secure ground than was feasible in the past, the mode of historically sustainable action through which the vital socialist transformation of our existing societies would be accomplished in the future.

Without the adoption of a viable socialist international perspective the labor movement as capital’s hegemonic alternative cannot acquire its much needed strength. In this respect a positively forward-looking reconsi­deration of the history of the past internationals must be put into relief. Understandably, of course, the capitulatory Second International totally lost its relevance and need not concern us any longer. However, even today the proper assessment of the historically sustainable radical international efforts remains for us an important issue, precisely in relation to the future. We cannot overlook in this respect the heavy burden of internal fractures on the radical wing of the socialist movement as those fractures emerged in the course of the last century and continue to exercise their painfully divisive influence even today. No one should deny that in due course all such fractures must be overcome in the interest of socialist labor’s overall hegemonic alternative to the existing order, even if it may take some time to do so. What is absolutely certain, however, is that the task of overcoming those fractures can only be accomplished in a positively shared international orga­nizational framework.

In terms of the necessary strategic priorities to be achieved, the organizationally cohesive and viable articulation and strengthening of the positively oriented framework of socialist international action occupies a most prominent place today. Success is inconceivable without the most defiant combative confrontation of capital’s growing aggressiveness by the organized working class, in place of the defensive weaknesses of the past. For under the conditions of the capital system’s deepening structural crisis one can already witness the intensification of capital’s authoritarian aggressiveness against labor which can only worsen in the future. Fragmentation and division always tended to impose on labor the defensive posture and its corollary, the domination of labor by the class adversary. That was far from accidental. After all the Roman ruling classes had invented and successfully practiced a long time before capitalism the wisdom of divide et impera: divide and rule.

With regard to the cohesive international framework of action the adoption of organizationally viable orienting principles is of a major importance. For in the past the assumption of the programmatic necessity of a doctrinal unity in the radical internationals proved to be in many ways detrimental to their envisaged advancement. It used to carry with it the drawbacks of constantly recurring divisiveness and fragmentation, instead of cohesive strength.

Retaining such requirement of doctrinal unity as the predefined orienting principle of the organizational framework would be equally detrimental for the development of The New International. For social and historical circumstances are necessarily different in a globally varied setting, calling for the adoption of significantly different organizational determinations according to the specific social and political conditions and corresponding strategic leverages.

Naturally, it is a self-evident requisite that all those who organizationally would belong to The New International define themselves in terms of their identification with the broad general principle and the fundamental emancipatory objective of a socialist transformation of society. However, embracing the broad general princi­ple and strategic objective of the socialist trans­formation of capital’s social order does not mean any doctrinal prescription as to the sustainable particular ways of instituting the practical measures and modes of action leading to the realization of the adopted overall objective. The new approach envisaged in this sense is in sharp contrast to the terms in which the formerly advocated requirements of doctrinal unity have been as a rule spelled out in the past, to the detriment of the expected success. By contrast, it would be much more viable in the future to let the relative merits of the different ways and means be decided in a positive sense by the actual realization (or not) of the adopted tasks by the constituent parts and particular organizational units, in their combatively pursued social and political practice, according to the inevitably varying social and historical circumstances. That mode of operation would be in its results cooperatively additive and cohesive, instead of fragmenting. That is the way ahead under the challenging conditions of our time. The establishment and combative operation of The New International would be the most appropriate organizational framework for meeting such a challenge.

Notes

  1. Robert Cooper, “The New Liberal Imperialism,” Observer Worldview Extra, April 7, 2002, http://theguardian.com. Emphases added.
  2. Ibid. Emphases added.
  3. Perpetual War for a Lasting Peace,” Richard Peet’s review of Thomas Barnett’s book, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, in Monthly Review 58, no. 8 (January 2005): 53–59. Emphases added.
  4. Thomas P.M. Barnett, “Mr. President, Here’s How to Make Sense of Our Iraq Strategy,” Esquire, June 2004, 148-54, http://thomaspmbarnett.com.
  5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Selected Works, vol. 1 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1958), 37–40. Emphases added.
  6. Marx to Engels, October 8, 1858, in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1975), 103–4. Emphases added.
  7. Marx, Value, Price and Profit, an address delivered at the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association (the First International) in June 1865, quoted from Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 1, 447. Emphases added.
  8. Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital (London: Routledge, 1963), 466.
  9. Marx to Engels, February 18, 1865, in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, 153–55.
  10. Ferdinand Lassalle, “Letter to Bismarck,” June 8, 1863, http://marxists.org. Emphases added.
  11. Engels, “Letter to August Bebel,” March 18–28, 1875, in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, 272–77.
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