Contribution to CM seminar - Forwarded on Behalf of P. Waterman

Thu, 5 Mar 1998 18:53:22 -0700 (MST)
Glenn Muschert (glenn@sobek.Colorado.EDU)


18481948.p98 5,774 words 28.2.98


Reflections on the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto

Peter Waterman

[This item has been updated and abbreviated from Chapter 2 of my
forthcoming Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms.
Publication is expected July 1998. My many intellectual debts are recorded
there. This short version is meant primarily for internet distribution. It
is also intended as a contribution to the conferences taking place in 1998
on the anniversary of the Manifesto, and - coincidentally? - on
international solidarity in the face of globalisation.]

Introduction: the social theory and utopian ideology of internationalism

This is the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. It could
also be considered the 150th anniversary of the doctrine and practice of
labour and socialist internationalism. The 1840s-50s were a moment of
take-off for industrial and national capitalism: a great wave of
bourgeois, liberal and national revolutions was to take place in Europe in
1848; the industrial revolution was celebrated at the Great Exhibition of
London in 1851. Was it The Times that thundered against the projected
Channel Tunnel because it would allow foreign communists and
internationalists to flood into Britain?

Our present period sees the take-off of a globalised and
informatised capitalism. Globalisation is demonstrated by the worldwide
spread of capitalist economic, political, social and cultural relations,
as well as by the disappearance of any competing model. Informatisation is
exemplified in the worldwide production and use of computerised goods and
services, the increasing replacement of the organisation by the network as
the central capitalist relational form.

Both periods witness waves of `internationalism’ - on behalf of
both the dominant forces and the oppositions to such. 150 years ago
bourgeois and liberal cosmopolitanism - economic, political, cultural -
was on the rise. So was that of labour, radical and democratic opposition
to capital, state and empire (at that time, the old pre-capitalist ones).
Today we see the global spread and domination of doctrines of economic
neoliberalism, of political and military interdependence, of liberal
democracy as sole political model, of cultural globalism. At the same time
we see the rise of worldwide social movements - not always democratic or
pluralistic - seeking global solutions to the global problems that
globalisation has added to earlier capitalist ones.

How should we, in our situation, address the internationalism of
Marx and Engels? Does the internationalism of then have any message for an
internationalism of now?

In considering this matter we have an immediate problem. The
Communist Manifesto of 1848 does not actually have very much to say about
it (this was, after all, to be the year of the bourgeois, liberal and
national revolution). But the German Ideology of 1845-6 has one crucial
passage. Together they provide us with the classical Marxist account of
capitalist internationalisation, of labour and socialist internationalism.
It is, actually, my opinion that there was little, if any, major
development in Marxist theory of internationalism after these early
statements. What we seem to rather get is up-dated reproduction, pragmatic
adjustment or successive attenuation.

The two documents are complementary in a number of ways. The
first is philosophical, the second political. The first deals with the
global level, the second with that of the nation-state. The first deals
with communism primarily as historical transformation and social movement,
the latter with it as programme and organisation. The first could be seen
as reflective and theoretical, the latter as persuasive and utopian.
Although I am here comparing and contrasting, this is not with the
intention of praising the `theoretical' statement over the `ideological'
one or vice versa. Both combine rational- analytical and
utopian-prophetic elements - a combination surely essential to any
emancipatory social doctrine. Whilst Marx and Marxism have an ambiguous
attitude towards utopianism (including a denial of their own),
contemporary libertarian socialist, feminist and ecological movements have
refamiliarised socialists with the necessity of an appeal to emotion,
desire, and imagination in challenging the myriad inhumanities,
indignities and banalities to which we are accustomed.

I find these documents amazing and moving, dated in significant
ways, yet nonetheless capable of throwing light 150 years forward and
therefore worthy of the critical attention of not simply contemporary
socialists but all democratically-minded people. Before consigning this
doctrine to some garbage bin of early-industrial history, or of
totalitarian discourse, we should consider the possible connection between
Marxist labour and socialist internationalism and that of the new
alternative social movements of our present day. I will interrogate the
texts both for their main themes and for their contemporary resonances and
lacunae. And I hope to do so with the kind of critical eye and creative
spirit they themselves so vividly display.

Communism as international social movement

The relevant passage from the German Ideology is brief enough to
be cited in full:

This `alienation' (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the
philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical
premises. For it to become an `intolerable’ power, i.e. a power against
which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great
mass of humanity `propertyless', and produced, at the same time, the
contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which
conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree
of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive
forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in
their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely
necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made
general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old
filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because
with this universal development of productive forces is a universal
intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations
simultaneously the phenomenon of the `propertyless' mass (universal
competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the
others, and finally has put world- historical, empirically universal
individuals in place of local ones. Without this, 1) communism could only
exist as a local event: 2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not
have developed as universal, hence intolerable powers: they would have
remained home-bred conditions surrounded by superstition; and 3) each
extension of intercourse would abolish local communism. Empirically,
communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples `all at
once' and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of
productive forces and the world inter- course bound up with communism.
Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers - the utterly precarious
position of labour-power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even
a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily
deprived of work itself as a secure source of life - presupposes the world
market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist
world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a
`world-historical' existence. World- historical existence of individuals
means, existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an
ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism
the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The
conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.
(Arthur 1970:56-7. Original emphasis).

I identify six main elements within this passage. I intend to rearrange
them for purposes of analysis. I think this can be done without violence
to the argument.

The international nature of the conditions for overcoming
alienation. The contradiction between the propertylessness of the `great
mass of humanity' and an `existing world of wealth and culture' has been
increasing since Marx' time. This has, however, been not only, and
certainly not simply, in the form of a contradiction between capital and
labour. We are witness to processes of mass proletarianisation (deprival
of means of production) without creation of a majority proletariat, of

situations in which it is a privileged minority of the proletarianised
that becomes - or remains - a permanent proletariat. We see deepening
contradictions between worlds of wealth and culture and those denied this
- today both between and within `creditor' and `debtor' states, North and
South, West and Rest. We are cognisant of a continuing or even increasing
coincidence of propertylessness with female or minority (ethnic,
religious) status. So this truly international contradiction has been
accom- panied not with a growing homogenisation of the propertyless but a
continuing heterogenisation and one that is repeatedly restructured.

For Marx, the development of these international contradictions
required such an increase in productive power and wealth that their
resolution would permit a surpassing of want, destitution and a struggle
for necessities. The computer-based technical revolution now advancing in
and beyond the industrialised capitalist world is capable of ensuring
rising productivity and full employment with a decrease in labour time (in
the core countries, from an average 1,600 to 1,000 hours per year in the
next 15-20 years). Although this development opens up the potentiality for
overcoming the `old filthy business' we know, of course, that it is
currently being used to further fragment (industrially/occupa- tionally),
segment (by nationality, gender, ethnicity, religion) and stratify the

For Marx, it was the above process that would ensure two crucial
conditions, the `empirical existence of men in their world-historical,
instead of local being' and the making of `each nation dependent upon the
revolutions of the others'. On the one hand, the absence of the
earlier-mentioned requirements (a homogeneous impoverished mass) explains
why the latter conditions (world-historical existence, interdependent
national revolutions) have not yet come about. On the other hand, we can
empirically identify the growth of these two processes: increasing numbers
of movements addressing or seeking global community; the increasing
interweaving of local social movements; the demonstration effect - from
the Philippines to Prague - of `people’s power’ movements.

The proletariat and communism as only existing internationally.
That what we have long witnessed are increasingly national proletariats
and increasingly national communisms is accepted by most Marxists. There
is, however, the temptation to escape from this leaden empirical
contingency to the nebulous freedom of theory or wish-fulfilment: the
proletariat and communism do not yet fully exist because they have
forgotten or never learned what Marx pronounced. Next time they will.
Since neither historical nor contemporary social analysis reveals much
evidence for such an assertion, we are left dependent on faith in an
existing doctrine and ultimate authority - something Marxists do not
tolerate from non-Marxists.

I propose a radical solution. This is motivated by what is said at
the end of the quotation about `the real movement’. I suggest we have to
take Marx' position on the proletariat as figurative rather than literal.
It is clear why he attached his aspiration for the end of human alienation
to the proletariat - the new, modern, mass, nationally-homeless class of
the exploited and oppressed. I suggest we here take `proletariat' as a
metaphor for all the alienated, all those denied their past rights, their
present capacities, their future potential (this does not, of course, mean
we should or could do this wherever Marx refers to the proletariat). For
the increasing internationalism of those alienated in many different ways
there is increasing evidence and argument. That the overcoming of
alienation (`communism' in Marx' language) is inconceivable nationally, is
surely demonstrated by the collapse of `socialism' not only in one country
but also in one bloc. Increasing interdependence, moreover, seems to imply
that you cannot today build, or preserve, even a capitalist welfare state
in just one country.

My radical revisionism, however, does not imply either writing off
the proletariat as an auton- omous contributor to internationalism, or
abandoning appeals from outside or above (or below) that it consider the
necessities, or advantages, or even the pleasures, of a global identity.
It means only abandonment of any assumption that proletarian
internationalism is structurally determined and/or politically exemplary.
On this understanding, the proletariat would also have to go to school,
and not so much with Marx (or me) as with the other alienated masses
(Munck and Waterman forthcoming). It would also have to opt for the
untrodden but exhilarating world of internationalism rather than the
familiar, well-trodden but limiting parish of nation-statism. The
proletariat may still have a world to win, but it also has more than its
chains to lose.

Communism as the real social movement. This formulation invites
us to question its own formulator and its social forms. Communism has
long been for the world primarily a `state of affairs' - an affair of
Communist states and statist socialists. It has also always been largely
an `ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself', increasingly an
ideal in the heads only of socialist intellectuals (idealist socialist
intellectuals?). If communism is meant in the first instance to be `the
real movement which abolishes the present state of things', then this
requires us to address ourselves to such real movements (movements in the
sense both of societal transformation and mass feelings, ideas,
organisation and action). The real movements that are presently
transforming the international order are the new alternative social
movements. These do not have to be understood as replacing, or in
opposition to, the labour movement. Amongst the real movements could also
be counted the `social movement unionism' or `new social unionism' that,
explicitly or implicitly, to a greater or lesser extent, for a longer or
shorter period, surpasses the `economism' and `politicism', or the
reformist or insurrectionary workerism, of its predecessors or

The necessity for simultaneous revolution by the dominant nations.
This assertion reveals Marx' apocalypticism and eurocentrism. The latter
was not so much surpassed as by-passed by Lenin's notion of the weak link,
and by Trotsky's of uneven and combined development. What they under-
stood, because Russia experienced it, is that the international spread of
capitalist social relations is multi-faceted and uneven in essence. But
this does not imply, as it did in part for Lenin, and increasingly for
some of his followers, that we can shift revolutionary primacy from
`advanced' to `bac- kward' nations, or revolutionary agency from the
anti-capitalist proletariat of the industrialised centre to the
anti-imperialist masses of the rural periphery. It rather requires us to
abandon any idea of countries or blocs or parties that are either
industrial/cultural models or revolutionary vanguards.

Recognising the differential implications and experience of
capitalist internationalisation requires us to: 1) identify the similar
structures, processes and experiences in different countries that lend
themselves to common internationalist action: 2) recognise that
differential position and experience within an increasingly capitalist
world order implies different movement priorities, discoveries, inventions
and achievements; and 3) work out principles and forms of solidarity
amongst and between the different significant movements of particular
countries or blocs (e.g. both peace movement with peace movement and
labour movement with women's movement).

Finally, we need to ask ourselves why Marx had an apocalyptical
vision of emancipation. I suggest that apocalypticism is a requirement of
a mass emancipatory ideology or movement in a situ- ation in which masses
of people are capable of rebelling against existing conditions but not of
adequately conceiving or controlling a desired alternative. I further
suggest that today masses of people are potentially capable of doing the
latter, which is why apocalyptical visions and strategies are associated
with early, undeveloped or (self-)isolated socialist movements (Sendero
Luminoso in Peru, the Communist Party of the Philippines, both inspired by
Maoism). Visions of sudden and complete transformation to a land of milk
and honey, where `the people will rule' (as in the original African
National Congress Charter), are declining in the major progressive social
movements of the Third World, such as those of South Africa, Brazil, South
Korea and Mexico. This does not, of course, mean that apocalyptical
visions are absent amongst large parts of the masses locally. But
contemporary mass political apocalypticism - Thank God! - appears
increasingly confined to reactionary, militaristic and obscurantist forces
(religious fundamentalists, chauvinist nationalists, racists, global

The existence of the premises for communism. The reason why,
almost 150 years later, these premises have not yet translated themselves
into empirical international reality, or even mass interna- tionalist
aspiration, has been sufficiently argued above.

What will happen in the absence of the necessary conditions. The
value of this passage lies for me not only in its prescience but also in
reminding us that such is the outcome of a new theoretical approach linked
with new emancipatory struggles (compare contemporary feminist or
ecological theory). Marx says that if the conditions are not ripe,
capitalism and the market will continue to appear `home-bred conditions
surrounded by superstition'. He also says that the further extension of
the world market will `abolish local communism'. What we have, of course,
witnessed over the last century and a half is working-class advances
within capitalist states (by nationally self-defined workers, without or
against others), and of anti-capitalist revolutions being repeatedly
penetrated, de-radicalised and restricted by the dynamic growth of
international capital. What we have so far witnessed internationally have,
in other words, been working-class movements within, or national
revolutions against, capitalism. Surpassing capitalism is, obviously,
another matter.

Communism as international political movement

Now for the Communist Manifesto. Certainly the best remembered
part of this is the closing words, `Workers of all countries, unite! You
have nothing but your chains to lose. You have a world to win!'. What it
further has to say about internationalism was, of course, to determine the
international appeal of the Manifesto as a whole. Unfortunately the
relevant passages are scattered thinly throughout the document and
therefore difficult to present as briefly as the previous one (if this
encourages readers to read it for themselves in 1998, so much the better).
Within the Manifesto I identify three main elements, once again
re-arranged for purposes of analysis and discussion.

1. Bourgeois internationalisation as progressive. Whilst it is
evident that Marx and Engels by no means identify themselves with the
bourgeoisie, they clearly consider its international role as progressive,
as modernising, developing, homogenising and unifying the world. The
violent `pain of extinction' with which the bourgeoisie threatens
`barbarian and semi-barbarian' nations is presented as civilising. The
bourgeoisie is even credited with undermining `national one-sidedness and
narrow- mindedness' (amongst exiled social revolutionaries?) and of
creating a `world literature' (accessible to multilingual cosmopolitan
intellectuals?). It is hardly necessary, in the face of the last century
and a half, to criticise this picture. Nor is it necessary to argue the
linkage between the attitudes here expressed and those of European
bourgeois evolutionism, modernism, cosmopolitanism or even racism. What is
necessary is to stress what is missing, since this helps us to understand
why internatio- nalisation has not led to internationalism; why
industrialism is not merely disruptive but destructive; why the core
bourgeoisie is imperialist and the peripheral one chauvinist; why
capitalist statism is militaristic, why world capitalist civilisation
reproduces division and individualisation.

Far from creating its own international and internationalist
gravedigger in the industrial proletariat, for example, capitalism appears
to have divided the gravedigging process technically, socially and
geographically, assigning different parts of the task to the
differentially proletarianised, of different gender, ethnic or religious
categories, under diverse political and labour regimes. In addition to a
`world literature’ (unknown in 1848 to even the reading middle-class
public in England), it has created a commercialised and industrialised
transnational culture which attempts to homogenise audiences as consumers,
spread dehumanised bourgeois values, exploit or erode local popular
cultures containing elements of resistance or opposition and, finally, to
obstruct any such communication between these as would be necessary for
the creation of any kind of global solidarity culture.

To add all the above is to qualify, not reverse, the evaluation.
It is, for example, equally evident that, as the Manifesto argues, the
development of railways and other technical channels of communica- tion
were determinant in the rapid organisation of labour nationally and
internationally. An interesting question follows. If the railways thus
allowed labour organisation, did they not, perhaps, also restrict its
shape? Railways are spatially-fixed, monopolistically or state-owned,
hierarchically managed, centripetal channels. Their international
connections mechanically connect the separate nationally- owned or
controlled systems. Did not national and international labour movements
unconsciously reproduce the pattern, structure and management of such
channels? Another question. Did not the fact that this means of
communication was a technical instrument for the transportation of
unspecified goods lead to 1) successive waves of socialist optimism and
pessimism as successive means of communication appeared open to, or filled
with, capitalist or socialist messages? 2) a tendency to see
communication as instrumental to political goods already produced and
ready for distribution? 3) a failure to recognise communication as
culture - as a human creative activity, with its own specificity, and with
its own weight, over and against political economy, in the struggle for
international emancipation?

Capitalist industrialisation and internationalisation is, in any
case, a highly contradictory phenomenon, simultaneously denying, provoking
and even stimulating possibilities for self-organisation and liberation.
The effective use of computers in both individualistic sabotage of the
computer society, or in collective struggle against it, would be one
example. The Liverpool dockworkers would never have held out against
British capitalist and state attack for two-and-a-half years, never have
exposed the shortcomings of `their’ national and international
organisations, never have created a unique internationalist waterfront
network, without their own email and website (For this and other such
sites see: Another example would be the
radical recycling of the white, North American individualist Superman myth
by the apparition in Mexico of Superbarrio, the protector of urban
squatters, who - tongue firmly in cheek - states that he draws his power
only from the collective. Superbarrio (significantly for our subject),
operates amongst Latinos/as in both Mexico and the US, declaring `We
didn't make the border, we don't want the border' . More recently, faced
with the `pain of extinction’, Superbarrio’s `barbarian or semi-barbarian’
rural and tribal cousins in Chiapas have brought together democratic
Mexico - and democratic movements worldwide - by combining `tradition’,
`modernity’ and `postmodern’ computer communication - as if these
distinctions/oppositions were ideological obstructions to human
emancipation (which, of course, they are).

2. The proletariat as a liberated, liberating and
internationalist subject. The proletariat is endowed by the Manifesto
with positive and universalistic qualities. It is free of `every trace of
national character' and `bourgeois prejudices’. The workers `have no
country', they `have nothing to lose but their chains'. They have to
complete the task begun by the bourgeoisie. By ending class antagonisms
within countries they will end them between countries. And they must end
them first within nations, become the leading class within the nation,
become the nation. Although these phrases come from different parts of
the Manifesto, they nonetheless amount to a clear argument: since the
proletariat is free of bourgeois and nationalist prejudices, since it is
free of any stake in existing society, it can therefore put an end to
conflicts between nations, this requiring that it first take over the
nation-state from the old ruling classes that are responsible for
international conflicts.

In considering this view, it is necessary to make a number of

Firstly, the positive, progressive and promethean characteristics
the working class is here accorded have little or no correspondence with
the early-19th century British proletariat as described by Engels a few
years earlier. In later political dealings with, and writings on, the
British working class, its leaders and organisations, Marx and Engels
identified national and stratum privilege, narrow self- interest,
subordination to bourgeois ideas and institutions, and chauvinism. They,
and their successors, employed, for example, the untheorised concepts of
the `lumpen proletariat’, the`semi-proletarianised peasantry’ and the
`labour aristocracy’, to explain away the failure of the proletariat to
behave according to the specifications of the Manifesto.

Secondly, the argument is class-reductionist in implying that
state and nation are forms of existence, or expressions, of classes, or of
secondary import to classes, in determining social oppression and
liberation. It would seem superfluous today to have to argue for the
continuing, often growing, weight of state and nationality/ethnicity in
determining relations between people and peoples. The commonly tense and
sometimes violent relations between and within even culturally close
Communist states - and the longstanding state discrimination against
ethnic or religious minorities within them - was evidently due to these
forces. `Ethno-Communist' was an accurate and prescient characterisation
of one of these regimes. As the Communism has disappeared, ethnicity has
appeared to be its main inheritor.

Thirdly, the argument is evolutionist in suggesting that the
proletariat has to complete a task begun by the bourgeoisie rather than to
criticise and transform all bourgeois relations and processes.

Fourthly, the argument is stageist in so far as it suggests that
national struggle somehow proceeds the international one, or that
international conflicts cannot be ended without proletarian rule
nationally. This implies a priority of struggles, or an order of separate
levels, at odds with the German Ideology - and with a dialectical
understanding of inter-penetrating and mutually-determining national and
international spheres.

Fifthly, the argument is, of course, sexist. At a time when a
large part of factory labour was carried out by women and children, the
proletariat is assumed to consist of adult males - who presumably neither
beat, rape, nor more-subtly oppress, their family members. I am confident
that, for readers of this piece, 150 years after the Manifesto, I do not
have to spell out the mutually reinforcing relationship between
patriarchy, nationalism, racism, the exploitation of nature, hierarchy,
competitive individualism and militarism.

Given, in sum, the complex nature of both the 19th and
20th-century proletariat, given the complexity of social structures within
which it existed and exists, the portrayal of the proletariat as a
liberated, liberating and vanguard internationalist subject is precisely
an `ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself'. Marx’s
revolutionary internationalist proletariat was, evidently, a philosophical
requirement rather than a sociological discovery (thus providing a further
justification for my radical alternative to this single emancipatory
subject above).

3. The communist role: The only thing that distinguishes
communists from other working- class parties is that within national
struggles they press the common interests of the proletariat
internationally, and that at any stage they press the interests of the
movement generally. The con- clusion to the last section applies here
with equal force. The aspiration represented by the Marx-Engels assertion
has evidently been disappointed by the nationalisation and statification
of socialists and socialism. Once again, however, we have to abandon
dependence on a Second Coming, a Last Really International. We cannot
today see, even in such internationalist traditions as those of the
Trotskyists, Worker Autonomists or Anarcho-Syndicalists, the embryo of a
body which is not only internationalist but also possessed of the other
characteristics required by the CM: that it be not opposed to other
working-class parties, that it be not separate from the proletariat, that
it have no sectarian principles.

In their concept of the role of communists, Marx and Engels
combined traditional religious notions of salvation - an Elect, possessing
the Word, leading the Chosen People, via an Apocalypse, to a Promised Land
- with the quintessentially bourgeois form of mass political organisation,
the party (even if, under early capitalism, their notion of `party’ was
broader than an organisation)! The power - or limitations - of this
highly specific combination of forms (in relation to their ideal of a
global movement to end human alienation) is witnessed by the way socialist
parties - or tendencies - have not so much failed to embody or further the
project but have actually negated it. The two utopias socialist
parties/tendencies can still offer us today are represented, I suppose, on
the one hand by a Pan- European `social market' society, and, on the
other, the `society of great harmony' which the terroristic Sendero
Luminoso tried to `drive home’ into the minds of Peru's miserable but
resilient masses. But these were or are either national or bloc projects.
The Sendero type was one so inhuman, and implied such isolation from the
world (even of local markets), that it has been abandoned by leaders or
rejected by followers almost everywhere. And the social-market society,
whilst still exercising attraction for those people in the East and the
South not fascinated by California’s concrete utopia, is one that cannot
be reproduced internationally without despoiling the planet itself.

It is curious that the Manifesto, the more political and strategic
of the two documents, should seem more dated or less relevant than the
earlier, more abstract and philosophical one. This once again suggests
that we have to liberate the project of internationalism from the politics
of a 19th-century world dominated by the market, industrialisation,
worker-capitalist conflict, nation- and empire- building, deification of
the masculine and struggle for the control of the machinery of the state.

Conclusion: from an internationalism of the imagination to the imagination
of an internationalism

We may end by considering the response, some years ago, of two
British Marxist labour historians to the decline and fall of classical
internationalism. Both observed that the people’s flag was deeply
tattered, but they seem to have had rather different attitudes towards the

The first historian is Eric Hobsbawm, who remained a communist
even as Communism was being rejected by massive labour or democratic
movements wherever it still had power or influence. Although Hobsbawm
evidently has many brilliant and suggestive insights into the nature of
the Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1998), he has no real explanation for the
decline of internationalism, except in terms of the rise of nationalism
and the decline of internationalist parties (Hobsbawm 1988:14-15). This is
a tautological position, and one that begs many questions about these
parties and their doctrines. He shows little or no awareness of the new
internationalisms as a growing phenomenon of the 1980s, and offers even
less perspective for the future. What he had to say about contemporary
internationalism in 1988 was that it had been undermined by racism
nationally and that it was difficult for nationally-organised trade unions
to fight internationally-organised multinationals (8). This is again a
question-begging statement, and one that shows no knowledge of what
workers and unions had recently been doing to confront transnational
corporations internationally. For the future, Hobsbawm could offer no
perspective other than raising again the flag of internationalism `even
today when the storms of history threaten to tear it to tatters' (12).
The sole example he could offer for a reviving labour internationalism was
the African National Congress in apartheid South Africa. The passage from
which the above quotation is taken runs more fully as follows:

The flag of internationalism in labour movements must be held high, even
today when the storms of history threaten to tear it to tatters. That is
why movements like the African National Congress in South Africa deserve
our admiration as well as our support: for against racist white rulers and
racist or tribalist black rebels, it has won the leadership of the
oppressed African people on the basis of a platform of non- racialism: of
equality of African and Indian, coloured and white in a free South Africa.
In this internationalism there lies the only hope, small and faint through
it is, for the future. (16)

We will leave aside the question of how much the ANC, in
post-apartheid South Africa, deserves our internationalist admiration, or
of what internationalist admiration it presently evinces for others. What
is significant is that Hobsbawm rested his small faint hope for the future
of labour internationalism on the ANC, which was, of course, a nationalist
movement, aimed (like past Communist ones) at the capture of state power.
It is equally significant that Hobsbawm considered neither the problematic
internationalism of the (then) pro-Soviet ANC nor the rich and complex
history of international solidarity relations between workers and unions
inside and outside South Africa at the time he was writing! One therefore
remains with historical storms, tattered flags and small faint hopes in
Third World state-nationalist movements...

Edward Thompson broke with Communism in 1957, became a founder of
the New Left and a leading figure in the democratic rights movement in the
UK and the peace movement in Europe. He was also involved in
international debates around the new peace and democracy
internationalisms. Writing in 1978, in the hiatus between the democratic
international waves of 1968 and 1989, Thompson identified himself as a
socialist internationalist, traced his personal itinerary, and felt
obliged to say the following:

The `banner' of socialist internationalism has become tattered indeed in
the last decades, and on every side. It has not been one to carry proudly
aloft. At the most one has carried a few sheets of paper, and often one
has been reduced to muttering to oneself. The commitment has been to an
`International' of the imagination, which has had only fleeting embodiment
in real movements, detached unequivocally from both Stalinism and from
complicity with the reasons of capitalist power. To maintain that
commitment has been to be an `alien' not only within this country but
within great sections of the purported socialist and Marxist movement
itself. (Thompson 1978:iv)

At the time Marx and Engels were writing, the concentrated,
massified proletariat of mine, mill and rail was just being born. Today it
is being dwarfed by dispersed and differentiated labour in the service
sector - waged or unwaged. By the year 2,000 the largest single industry
(industry?) will be tourism. It is therefore time for us to say RIP to the
Revolutionary Internationalist Proletarian of 1848. He was, in large
part, a figment of fevered socialist imagination, and today rather
deserves critical socialist analysis. In so far, however, as we share
Thompson’s experience, in the new global social movements and culture of
1998, it should be possible for us to address, with both scepticism and
hope, the internationalism of actually-existing wage-earners - and their
semi- or unwaged sisters and brothers. Including that of airline
stewards, waiters and clerical staff in the tourism industry. They do,
after all, work in a globalised industry. They are often
computer-literate. They may know two or more languages. They are familiar
with distant cultures.

It is, therefore, today both possible and necessary to move from
an old international of the imagination to the imagination of a new
internationalism. In so far as this now addresses global rather than
inter-national problems, I propose we re-imagine it as a diverse, complex,
still marginal yet already significant radical-democratic movement for
global solidarity.


Arthur, C.H. (ed). 1970. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: The German
Ideology. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1988. `Opening Address: Working-Class Internationalism',
in Holthoon, Frits v. and Marcel v.d. Linden (eds), Internationalism in
the Labour Movement 1830-1940. Vol 1. Leiden: Brill. p.1-18.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. 1998. The Communist Manifesto. (with an
Introduction by Eric Hobsbawm). London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Thompson, Edward. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London:
Merlin. 406 pp.

Waterman, Peter. Forthcoming. `The New Social Unionism: A New Union Model
for a New World Order', in Munck, Ronaldo and Peter Waterman (eds), Labour
Worldwide in the Era of Globalisation: Alternative Union Models in the New
World Order. London: Macmillan.

Waterman, Peter. Forthcoming. Globalisation, Social Movements and the New
Internationalisms. London and Washington: Mansell/Cassell. c 320 pp.