Editorial Note: The Challenge of Socialist Internationalism Today

We dedicate this issue of Socialist Forum to the question of internationalism. Internationalism has been one of the core values of the modern socialist movement since its founding in the mid-nineteenth century. While much has changed between now and then, working people around the world are still grappling with capitalism and imperialism and their most destructive expressions, militarism and war. And today, we face a scourge that threatens to make all of the conflicts and contradictions of capitalism worse than they already are: the global threat of climate change. 

Our approach to internationalism in the twenty-first century will be shaped by two overarching developments: the return of great power competition and the impact of climate change on the social and ecological systems that sustain human life. We no longer live in a unipolar world system dominated exclusively by the United States, but an increasingly multipolar world shaped, above all else, by the rise of China as a world power and a potential rival for global leadership. The continued decline of the U.S. as the unquestioned world leader will not only affect the global economy and geopolitics, but the domestic political situation as well. The same is true of climate change, whose impact is making itself increasingly clear and which is already disrupting sociopolitical order around the world. 

The swirling, multidimensional conflict in Syria offers a chilling preview of what much of this century might look like. A severe drought drove many Syrian farmers off their land and into the cities, where social discontents boiled over into an uprising that turned into a civil war. This in turn triggered intervention by a number of foreign powers, which intensified the carnage of war and exacerbated a refugee crisis that upended politics not only in the region but across Europe as well. The political and intellectual maps we’ve inherited from the twentieth century have not equipped us to effectively deal with situations like this, which are being caused by a novel confluence of factors that defy easy explanation or resolution. As such, our theory and practice of internationalism needs to be refined and updated to meet the challenges of today’s deeply unsettled world order.  

DSA disaffiliated from the Socialist International in 2017, but we have still not developed a clear orientation to building solidarity among the world’s working people and oppressed. We present in this issue a number of articles that examine just some of the many questions raised by the challenge of democratic-socialist internationalism today.

We lead the issue off with two articles that address DSA’s recent approaches to acting on its internationalist principles. Outgoing DSA International Committee co-chair Ethan Earle draws up a balance sheet of the organization’s international politics since 2017, and outlines a proposal for reorganizing this work moving forward. Morgan Dowdy and Jack Suria-Linares cover much of the same ground, and make their own proposals to establish closer cooperation between national-level institutional structures and DSA members at the chapter level, where so much of our international solidarity work is actually carried out. 

In their contribution, Dan La Botz and Jason Schulman offer a spirited case for an approach to international politics that, during the Cold War, raised the slogan “Neither Washington Nor Moscow, but International Socialism.” They argue against “campism,” which in their view “runs counter to the Marxist and broader democratic socialist tradition insofar as it stresses solidarity with states rather than international working-class solidarity.” Instead of siding with an “anti-imperialist” bloc of states against the U.S. and its allies, La Botz and Schulman argue that democratic socialists should support “the workers of the world fighting for their rights and liberties, for political freedom, for their basic economic needs, and even for socialism,” regardless of the ideological coloration of the governments they confront. Their argument is likely to generate debate and disagreement among DSA members, and we welcome responses from readers who have a different perspective on these questions. 

A group of contributions address the contemporary political situation in a number of countries and regions. In their article “Neither Washington Nor Beijing,” Ashley Smith and Kevin Lin survey the dynamics driving the rivalry between the U.S. and China and argue for a perspective that supports the development of anti-imperialist, democratic, and progressive movements in both countries, including the recent wave of protest in Hong Kong. Alessandro Tinonga looks at the Philippines under president Rodrigo Duterte, who has tried to solve the country’s problems through ever-increasing authoritarianism and violence. He reminds us that, despite the gloomy situation in the Philippines, Filipinos have a long tradition of fighting oppression and will not submit to Duterte’s crimes indefinitely. 

In her article on the ongoing events in Lebanon, Alexandra Lamirande explains the origins of the Lebanese revolt and the important role that women have played in the struggle. In the process of raising their own demands, Lebanese women are developing a vision for Lebanon that transcends its long history of sectarian divisions. David Duhalde and Alan Minsky report on recent political developments in Europe, and detail the ways in which U.S. socialists can help our comrades there adapt to and take advantage of the growing Americanization of European political parties. 

Dan La Botz, Fred Murphy, and Jared Abbott survey the state of Latin American politics in the wake of the Pink Tide, and argue for a socialist internationalism that opposes both imperial U.S. intervention in the region and domestic authoritarianism, whether from the right or from nominally progressive governments. Finally, we present an interview with André Frappier, a leading member of Québec solidaire, on the left’s recent breakthroughs in Québec and the need for a stronger internationalist perspective in North America. 

Latin America has long been a focus of international solidarity work among U.S. socialists. In his article, veteran activist David Grosser looks back at the Central American solidarity movement of the 1980s, when Americans mobilized to oppose the government’s support for dictatorships and death squads in the region. He argues that it offers many lessons for activists looking to rebuild an internationalist movement, particularly its focus on building organizations like CISPES that still exist today. Aparna Gopalan also looks back at more recent history for contemporary political inspiration. She surveys the experience of the global justice movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which burst onto the global scene in the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. She argues that activists interested in making international solidarity real need to find ways to bring the institutions that run the global economy under democratic control through both social movements and government power. In addition to an institutional orientation, the left needs a cultural strategy for making international solidarity real. Jackson Albert Mann and Patricia Manos analyze the ways in which the twentieth century Latin American left used popular culture, particularly popular music, to reach a mass audience. They focus on the Nueva Canción (New Song) movement, which originated in Chile and spread throughout the region, as an example of what an effective cultural political project can look like.

Two articles on the U.S. anti-war and anti-imperialist traditions round out the issue. Dee Knight surveys the history of internationalist socialist activism in the twentieth century, from the heroic stand of Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party against World War I through the opposition to today’s “forever wars.” In his contribution, Griffin Mahon looks at the class character of the U.S. military and considers the ways in which troops and veterans can play a key role in a revived anti-war movement. Together, these articles remind us of the proud tradition we come from, and give us a sense of how we might carry it forward today.