Affirmation of the proletariat as a single global class in the face of global capitalism, with a single set of interests, tactics and strategy and with a project, socialism, which can only be realized globally.
The world market as the foundation of the universal class
From their first approach to the proletariat as a universal class, Marx and Engels realized that the world market which capitalism was developing was a fundamental element in the very nature of the class, a class which was not only revolutionary because it was universal in the sense of not fighting for a particular privilege which would configure it as a new exploiting class, but because it was itself born out of the same historical and world situation: the universalization of capitalist exploitation. The proletariat is called upon to become a universal historical subject, not a national or local one:
The mass of simple workers (…) and therefore the non purely temporary loss of that same work as a secure source of life, presupposes, through competition, the world market. Therefore, the proletariat can only exist on a world-historical level, just as communism, its action, can only come into being as a universal-historical existence. Universal-historical existence of individuals, that is, the existence of individuals directly linked to universal history.
Marx and Engels. The German Ideology, 1846
This idea will come back again and again, starting with the 1848 Manifesto: the creation of the world market shapes a unified world into a single, interconnected mode of production that creates a single revolutionary world class.
Through the exploitation of the world market, the bourgeoisie has given a cosmopolitan character to the production and consumption of all countries. With great concern for the reactionaries, it has taken away the national base of industry.
The old national industries have been destroyed and are continually being destroyed. They are being replaced by new industries, the introduction of which becomes a vital question for all civilized nations, by industries which no longer use indigenous raw materials, but raw materials from the most distant regions of the world, and whose products are consumed not only in the country itself, but in all parts of the globe. Instead of the old isolation and bitterness of regions and nations, a universal exchange, a universal interdependence of nations, is established. And this concerns both material and intellectual production. The intellectual production of one nation becomes the common heritage of all. National narrowness and exclusiveness are becoming increasingly impossible; a universal literature is being formed from the many national and local literatures.
Marx and Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
Communism, empirically, can only occur as the “coincidental” or simultaneous action of the dominant peoples, which presupposes the universal development of the productive forces and the universal exchange that goes with it
Marx and Engels. The German Ideology, 1846
The proletariat is not part of the nation
This statement and perspective are all the more valuable considering that they occurred in the midst of rising capitalism, when the bourgeoisie was still struggling to constitute itself as a nation in countries that were to become central to the system. But Marx and Engels are careful to emphasize that all the national/democratic tasks that the proletariat can take up are to assist the bourgeoisie in seizing power as soon as possible, not to define itself or to delude itself by seeing itself as part of the nation.
In Germany the decisive struggle between the bourgeoisie and the absolute monarchy still lies ahead. But since the Communists cannot count on a decisive struggle with the bourgeoisie before it comes to power, it is in the interest of the Communists to help it to conquer domination as soon as possible, in order to overthrow it, in turn, as soon as possible. Therefore, in the struggle of the liberal bourgeoisie against [absolutist] governments, the Communists must always be on the side of the former, while being careful to avoid the self-deception of the bourgeoisie and not relying on the seductive claims of the latter about the beneficial consequences which, according to it, the victory of the bourgeoisie will bring to the proletariat. The only advantages that the victory of the bourgeoisie will bring to the communists will be: 1) various concessions that will relieve the communists in the defense, discussion and propagation of their principles and, therefore, will relieve the cohesion of the proletariat in an organized class, closely united and ready to fight, and 2) the assurance that the day when absolutist governments fall, the hour of struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will come. From that day on, the policy of the party of communists will be the same here as in the countries where the bourgeoisie already dominates.
Frederick Engels. Principles of Communism, 1847
Therefore, even at the moment when the proletariat must fight alongside the bourgeoisie to sweep away the absolutist state, the last bastion of feudal power, the communists introduce the unity of class perspective and fight against the illusions with which the bourgeoisie tries to seduce them, illusions which in the end are summed up in the illusion of the “national community”.
By its form, though not by its content, the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie is first and foremost a national struggle. It is natural that the proletariat of each country should first of all put an end to its own bourgeoisie. (…)
The workers have no country. You can’t take away from them what they don’t own. But, inasmuch as the proletariat must first of all conquer political power, elevate itself to the status of a national class, constitute itself as a nation, it is still national, though by no means in the bourgeois sense.
Marx and Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
What does it mean “to become a national class”? Precisely the opposite of accepting and fitting into the “national community”. It is obvious that in 1848 in every place, the “organization of the proletariat in class and, therefore, in political party” will take place in the first place within the national borders, in the space of the national state. But this is a form, a geographical container. Not its content. Because the proletariat cannot assert itself within or as part of the nation, under the bourgeois “national community”, because that would be the same as proclaiming that there is a community of interests, if not with the bourgeoisie, at least with national capital.
To the contrary, the proletariat constitutes itself as a national class by destroying it: it leads the rest of the non-exploiting classes which understand that in order to effectively defend their interests they must join it in the destruction of the national state and immediately proclaims the “world Republic” as happened in the Paris of the Commune or in Russia in 1917. The constitution of a “national class”, a political subject capable of disputing power to the national state, does not aim at creating or enclosing itself in a national state, neither “its own”, nor even less in command of the bourgeoisie. Each revolution itself will be “only national in form, not in content” and in any case it can only be maintained in that stadium for a very short period. As Engels already stressed in 1847 in “Principles of Communism”:
XIX. Is this revolution possible in one country?
No. Great industry, in creating the world market, has already so closely united all the peoples of the earth, especially the civilized peoples, that each depends on what happens on the other’s land. Moreover, it has levelled out social development in all civilized countries to such an extent that in all these countries the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have emerged as the two decisive classes in society, and the struggle between them has become the main struggle of our time. Consequently, the communist revolution will not be a purely national revolution, but will take place simultaneously in all civilized countries, that is, at least in England, America, France and Germany. It will take place in each of these countries either more rapidly or more slowly, depending on the degree to which industry is more developed in each of them, where more wealth has been accumulated and more productive forces are available. That is why it will be slower and more difficult in Germany and faster and easier in England. It will also exert a considerable influence on the other countries of the world, and it will change at the root and accelerate extraordinarily its previous course of development. It is a universal revolution and will therefore have a universal scope.
Internationalism as a class boundary
Communism, the future and programme that shapes the class in the present, is a permanent affirmation, in strategy and tactics, of the internationalist principle. In fact, it is its defining element.
Communists differ from other proletarian parties only in that, on the one hand, in the different national struggles of the proletarians, they emphasize and assert the interests common to the whole proletariat, regardless of nationality; and, on the other hand, in that, in the different phases of development through which the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie passes, they always represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
Marx and Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
The direct consequence is revolutionary defeatism: in the face of imperialist war – and in the face of decadence all “national” wars are imperialist – communists claim that the main enemy always lies in the country itself. The basic position of Marxism since 1914 when the first great imperialist war broke out, the internationalist position, is “conversion of imperialist war into class war. This is what happened in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1919. The first great slaughter of imperialist capitalism was not “over”–it was stopped by the class struggle.
The transformation of the current imperialist war into civil war is the only just proletarian slogan, indicated by the experience of the Commune, pointed out by the Basel resolution (1912) and derived from all the conditions of the imperialist war among the highly developed bourgeois countries. However great the difficulties of such a transformation may seem at one time or another, socialists will never give up systematic, persevering and continuous preparatory work in this direction, since war is a fact.
Lenin. War and the Social Democracy of Russia, 1914
Internationalism is the political expression of the nature of the proletariat as a universal class. Every notion of class collaboration during war, of “national defense,” of “national liberation,” of “sacred union,” makes possible and underpins imperialist war and the tendencies toward its extension. It only serves to frame the workers in their own slaughter at the hands of other workers equally derailed from their own class interest. It is the ultimate and most obvious negation of internationalism. Internationalism does not consist in defending the same imperialist in different countries, even across the front lines of war, but in confronting each and every one of the competing bourgeoisies, all of them imperialist, as a single universal class. It means to understand once and for all that “the proletariat has no country” and to act accordingly, as a single global political subject with its own program and objectives: communism.
Internationalism [means] Solidarity of the world proletariat as unity in the face of international capitalism. Solidarity in both ideas and deeds, directed against nationhood and patriotism in the first place, colonial countries included. There can be no higher interest than that of the world proletariat, not even that of a country where the revolution would have triumphed. The internationalists fight equally fiercely against the two contending sides in the local imperialist wars as in the wars of a world character, and they point to the respective partisans and propagandists as traffickers in human flesh. They propose and strive to organize the action of the exploited, on the front and on the rear, against their respective governments and military commanders. All national defense – even in its degree of resistance – masks exploitation and oppression. The immediate enemy is, for each proletariat, in its own country; hostility to it to the maximum is a condition for unleashing the struggle of the proletariat in other countries and undertaking, together, the destruction of capitalism throughout the world.
G. Munis. Lexicon of Contemporary Political Thuggery, Compared to the Revolutionary Lexicon, 1970.
This is why internationalism is a class boundary. When a tendency or organization abandons it, framing the proletariat for war, it transcends a limit that objectively places it on the other side of the class line and indicates a previous deadly degeneration that can not be treated as a mere punctual error. That is why the abandonment of internationalism by the majority of the Second International when the first imperialist world war breaks out is responded to with the formation of the communist parties and a Third International. And when the latter subordinates the world revolution to the needs of the Russian state (“socialism in one country”) a new rupture is produced which leads the internationalists to the formation of a Fourth International from the Communist Left.
In 1939, when World War II broke out, the Fourth International immediately published a revolutionary defeatist manifesto, directly inspired by that of Lenin a quarter of a century earlier. But behind this excellent statement of principle, there were only a few genuinely communist groups (in France, Mexico, Greece…) that were able to defend proletarian internationalism tooth and nail. Glued together with gum and wire (American SWP gum, de la Vérité wire in France, for example), the Fourth International quickly fell into the national resistance, where it became fatally inferior to stalinism. It could no longer be a revolutionary force.
Old Nations, New Struggles, Old Song, 1990
Omnipresence of internationalism in capitalist decadence
When a political trend betrays internationalism it is condemning itself to sterility. Consistent internationalism is vital because it defines the only possibility for political development of the class. That is why internationalism is the touchstone to be able to contribute to class consciousness in our time.
All [guidelines of any form of political unity] are encompassed in internationalism. Its abandonment, in 1914, by the Second International for the sake of patriotic (capitalist, it cannot be otherwise) defense was a great setback for the proletariat. Put back on track by the Russian revolution, it gave rise to the first wave of revolution in the world, which was contained in one country after another until it was defeated in Spain. A direct cause of this elimination of the proletariat as a class in struggle was the betrayal of internationalism by the Third International, a betrayal that stemmed from the interests of state capitalism erected in Russia and hypocritically labeled socialist.
Internationalism thus gives us the clue to understand all the problems and to adopt in conclusion the theoretical notions necessary for the next offensive of the proletariat. It allows us to identify the merits and errors of the Russian revolution, to understand its backward march to the stalinist counter-revolution, its world reactionary role through its parties, the defeat of the Spanish revolution, Franco’s victory and its duration in power, the war of 1939-45, national-imperialist resistances and all subsequent national wars or movements of the same nature, the conversion of former Communist parties into anti-Communist parties, the degenerative industrial growth in the West as well as in Russia, China and the backward countries, the long stagnation of the proletariat since the war here and the growing reactionary importance of the trade unions; It also allows us to understand the current retrograde stupidity of Trotskyism, and even the primitivism, quackery, theoretical error or indigence of numerous groups that are more self-aggrandizing than purely revolutionary.
On the other hand, going far beyond the situation of generalized or regionalized imperialist war, internationalism also gives us the key to the tactic and strategy to be adopted in the struggle of the proletariat against capitalism, a struggle that pushes at the frontiers and that can only be worldwide, wherever it starts. Worldwide in the geographical sense, worldwide in its concrete content, worldwide in its demands. We will thus be forced to confront each and every one of the political regimes of capital (that of Spain, the United States, Russia or any other Angola), with the solutions that the communist revolution prepares for the various aspects of the exploitation of man by man.
G. Munis. Acendremos camaradas, 1975
It is certainly not a “theoretical” question, it is a question of basic class perspective that manifests itself from the workplaces to the mass struggles, because the subject of the class struggle today, more than ever, is the world proletariat.
Proletarian internationalism, which apart from the theoretical analysis and the formation of the consciousness of the revolutionary did not find in the past almost any more practical application than during the war, today becomes indispensable in the midst of peace, daily and in many ways. The immediate struggle of the proletariat against its closest enemy, be it bourgeois or stalinist, can only be carried out in an illusory manner without being imbued with internationalism. The very economic demands that are necessary today are indefensible, even unspeakable, if not based directly on the world proletariat as the subject and object of those demands, and above all as the annihilator of national barriers, armies, war production, capital and wage economy. Revolutionary internationalism, with all its consequences, must make its appearance in the factory, where the paramilitary trainers of the two blocks place the proletariat, like a straitjacket, in their respective uniforms.
G. Munis. “The Fourth International”, 1959