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The Fifth International: A 19th Century Answer to a 21st Century Problem

erstellt von dave — zuletzt verändert: 16.08.2008 13:25

p.waterman at

Samir Amin has recently repeated his proposal for a Fifth International, as a successor to the First-Fourth Internationals of Marxist/Socialist/Communist inspiration And, surfing after this Fifth Wave on the web, I have found yet another such proposal from one year ago,1314,0,0,1,0. There have been more such.

Where such proposals are not simply knee-jerk Marxist-Leninist responses to the absence of some global revolutionary vanguard (the second case above?) they represent an alternative to the World Social Forum's dialogical agora (the first case?). Even where, however, the model international referred to is the broader and loser International Working Men's Assocation of 1864 (the First International), rather than its more Party-like and pyramidal successors, the contemporary relevance of a left institutional international raises numerous challenges. Most of these have to do with the dramatic development from the national industrial phase of capitalist development to that of a globalised and computerised phase.

  1. An institutional/organisational international, even if open and federal is, as history surely demonstrates, an invitation to external competition and internal faction. Consider simply the number of, divisions between and factions within those internationals inspired by Trotskyism. Consider that Marx had to kill off the First International by sending it to the US, that the Second International collapsed in the face of a world war it had sworn to oppose, and that the Third International was disbanded, for reasons of state, by one state, if not one Stalin.
  2. Perhaps the closest approximation we have to a Fifth International is the Sao Paulo Forum (1990). This is a regional conference or confederation of numerous Communist, Socialist and Radical-Nationalist parties and it has survived almost 20 years. It includes, however, parliamentary and insurrectionary parties, those in neo-liberal governments (the Brazilian PT) and a sclerotic party-state (The CP of Cuba). It has, moreover, a low profile even in Latin America, compared with the World Social Forum - to which it gives scant recognition.
  3. The most successful contemporary example of a workers' international has to be the International Trade Union Congress (2006). Bringing together most of the national union centres of the three post-1917 traditions (Social-Democratic, Communist and Social-Christian), it also brings together most national unions of the North, South and (old) East. It claims over 150 million members. The major present demand of the ITUC, however, is 'Decent Work' - a notion it got ready-made from the UN's International Labour Organisation, upon which the ITUC is heavily dependent. However, the ITUC is simultaneously and increasingly involved in the World Social Forum and the broader global justice and solidarity movement.
  4. Attempts internationals of third-world states, or of radical-nationalist third world states and 'peoples', such as the Non-Aligned Movement (associated with Bandung 1955), or with the OSPAAAL (Cuba-dependent Organisations of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America), have followed the fates of the sponsoring states.
  5. The idea of an organisational/political international arose within the period of national and industrial capital, a comparatively simple capitalism, when the major means of communication were the printing press and the railways. This was also a period in which 'power' was understood primarily in political (or military) terms, and more specifically in terms of control over the machinery of state and economy. It was, moreover, premised on the myth of an exponentially growing industrial working class, both revolutionary and internationalist, both desirous and capable of taking power nationally and of creating 'a socialist world republic' (in the words of a famous German Communist song). And it was dependent on the (bourgeois-liberal) notion that the political party represents the highest expression of social interest/identity and citizen will.
  1. We are now living under an increasingly globalised and computerized capitalism, clearly of a much more complex nature, more interdependent, more resilient, but just as violent, even more destructive of life and liberty, more than ever dependent on ideology and culture for its continuation.
  2. In explicit or implicit recognition of the interdependence of capitalist/ imperialist/militarist/industrialist/sexist/racist exploitation and repression, there has developed the wide variety of radical-democratic social movements, operating (often simultaneously) at different social levels or scales, asserting civil society against the state, the commons against commodification, and a wide panoply of the emancipatory demands – of the indigenous, women, children, farmers, urban residents, workers, professionals, academics. In recognition of the logic of computerization, the new site of struggle represented by cyberspace (‘real virtuality’), these commonly take on the relational form of the network. Their public appeal increasingly lies not on their claim to ownership of truth (the claim of religious, ethnic and socialist fundamentalists) but their capacity to dialogue, to self-transform, to communicate (verbally and audio-visually), to link flexibly with others and to include, deepen and spread.
  3. In 1992 I wrote a paper entitled ‘International Labour Communication by Computer: The Fifth International?’ To which the implicit answer was, of course, if we have the first, who needs the second? A decade and a half later, the ‘new global solidarity’ is increasingly carried by computerisation and networking. Indeed, even those would-be global vanguardists calling for a 19th century organizational international are increasingly dependent on it. In 1992 I knew I was standing on the shoulders of giants, amongst whom was that maverick Peruvian representative of the Third International (later buried by it), José Carlos Mariátegui. He had said, in his essay on nationalism and internationalism, something to the effect that communication was the nervous system of internationalism and solidarity
  4. These propositions in no way answer the problem of creating a global social movement capable of surpassing capitalism (and archaic socialism). They simply hope to suggest the place/space in which such answers are likely to be developed.
Peter Waterman
Lima, Peru
February 2008

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