Richard Burgon writes:
Some commentators have recently been suggesting that things would be so much better with a Labour leadership retaining Jeremy Corbyn’s domestic anti-austerity politics but stripped of his internationalist politics. Such a state of affairs is neither achievable nor desirable.
It’s not achievable because of the international nature of capital and its institutions. For example, tax havens are a key tool that the mega-rich use to protect their privileges. They need to be tackled at the national and international level. A socialist economic strategy requires us to engage with progressives the world over.
And it’s not desirable because socialism is not socialism without the internationalist principles of ending global poverty and exploitation, war and occupation and the financial domination of the IMF and the like.
My interest in politics and socialist politics wasn’t kindled by an international issue but by a domestic issue. Growing up I heard about the 1984-5 miners’ strike and it got me thinking about the unfair and sometimes brutal way society is governed and it also got me thinking about how society could be run in a less unfair and more decent way.
But learning more about the 1984-5 miners’ strike inevitably opened my eyes up to the politics of internationalism.
I heard about the solidarity cheque sent to support striking miners in Britain by the South African National Union of Mineworkers, who were standing up for black workers under the oppression of the apartheid system supported by racists and imperialists in the Conservative Party and the British press.
Britain’s NUM decided to frame the cheque as a symbol of internationalist solidarity rather than cash it. I also heard about the convoys of children’s toys sent over the channel by CGT trade unionists in France in time for Christmas in the British coalfields.
Just as British miners received practical and political support from progressives in other countries, so progressives in other countries also drew inspiration from the miners’ struggle here. Nelson Mandela described Arthur Scargill as “a workers’ hero, respected by progressives of all continents.”
Working-class politics and socialist struggle cannot be divorced from progressive international causes. And this is becoming clearer and clearer to more and more people as the ruinous and exploitative effects of the type of globalisation run by big business and free markets become increasingly apparent.
The first demonstration I attended on an internationalist issue was on February 15 2003, when I caught the coach at the crack of dawn from outside the steps up to Leeds University Library to go down to London to protest against Tony Blair’s plan to back George Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Jeremy Corbyn was one of the speakers that day.
In relation to the size of that mobilisation, what was significant to me wasn’t just the fact that it was the biggest demonstration in the history of our country but the fact that up to 30 million people around the world were estimated to have taken part in such anti-war demonstrations that day.
The world made clear its opposition to Bush and Blair’s bloody war.
The international solidarity of the 1984-5 miners’ strike and the anti-war mobilisation of February 15 2003 were two hugely formative factors in the development of my socialist politics. And the truth is, virtually all MPs are interested in international affairs.
Some may carp that “international issues” shouldn’t be something MPs really engage with.
As someone who holds nearly 70 advice sessions for my constituents a year — Boris Johnson publicly boasts that doing 16 a year makes him a highly energetic champion for his constituents — I’m a passionate believer in the importance of “bread and butter” issues and local engagement and I put that into practice.
But the reality is that Members of Parliament want to be part of a government which shares, and puts into practice, their principles.
One of the important functions of government is our relations with other countries and the international community. We can’t ignore that and often the pretence that international issues can be side-lined is cover for backing the status quo. As the great Desmond Tutu rightly explained, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
As with domestic politics, the key question is what your vision for the world is.
Some MPs are unwavering and very vocal advocates of bombing, invasion and being a junior partner of each and every US president in each and every foreign war come what may. Some MPs are intensely relaxed about Britain being a weapons supermarket for the royal family of Saudi Arabia which is inflicting death and misery in Yemen. Some MPs will defend Netanyahu’s government whatever policies it pursues and whatever human rights it breaches.
Some MPs will revel in the very real hardship caused by the severe economic difficulties in Venezuela because they believe it “proves their point” about socialist movements but have remained studiously silent about the slaughter of trade unionists, human rights lawyers and journalists in Colombia and the murder of progressive students in post-coup Honduras.
Some MPs still believe that British “interventions” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria are badges of honour — so much so that they’d do the same again elsewhere.
Make no mistake, a socialist Labour leadership relinquishing its internationalist perspective would leave the field clear for all the foreign policy errors of the past, and present, to be repeated again and again, with all the human misery and danger that this entails.
A socialist leadership of the Labour Party dropping its internationalist perspective is not an option. And it’s certainly not an option that someone with Jeremy’s politics would countenance.
A theoretical Labour leadership that jettisoned progressive internationalist politics would be forgoing the chance to play a major and practical role in the push for a world of peace, where poverty is banished to the history books, equality in and between countries and continents is advanced and where almost apocalyptic climate change is avoided.
It would also be forgoing the chance to create a fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth, power and control in favour of working people and their families in this country because both the economic and political forces with whom we must work to achieve this and the economic and political forces who will work against us when we try to achieve this are international.
The truth is that the commentators arguing the Labour leadership drops its internationalist politics are, in reality, in favour of dropping a socialist approach at home and abroad.