Towards Global Democracy: 21st Century Internationalism, Emancipatory Struggles and Self-Governance

We are now two decades into the 21st century. On a world scale, humanity is already facing the consequences of ecological disasters driven by climate change, massive air pollution and exhaustion of natural resources and shrinking biodiversity. Following some, this ecological crisis is the result of productivism, consumerism and anthropocentred relation towards nature. These affirmations certainly contains truth but we should also acknowledge the fundamental responsibility of a social system that is equally blind towards nature as humankind and only consider profit making as the unique ‘regime of truth’. This social system bears a name: a capitalist world-system.

But humanity is not only facing its own possible disappearance through a ‘run away scenario’ of that ecological crisis. It is also confronted to the growing inequalities on a world scale, to frequent religious and ethnic cleansing, to the on-going oppression of women and the deprivation of basic human needs like access to water, education care or housing. This dramatic situation of a majority of the human condition reflects the fact that this capitalist world system is beyond the end of its capacities to develop humanity. Even more, we should say clearly that this social system is an obstacle in the development of humanity. The more this system survives in decadence, the more we can see all kinds of barbarism spreading on all continents.

The fact that fascism is finding again support on large scale in many countries show we are engaged in a speed race. Emancipatory movements are now in front of that reality and this should strengthen our commitment to develop a real alternative to the present situation of a rotten system. Some sections of the population in some countries may think they can protect their relative wealth by excluding and rejecting many others. But this will only lead to more suffering, conflicts and dehumanisation of the most vulnerable, the new damned of the earth.

What does history teach us? More than 150 years ago, the newly born workers movement opened the horizon for international emancipation of all oppressed and exploited. The central idea was ‘workers of the world, unite’ since workers have no fatherland and world socialism was called to be the next step in the development of humanity.

But quite rapidly, the awareness grew that freeing people form capitalist exploitation was not enough. It became clear that oppression was also an immediate goal for those that where exposed to chauvinism, alienation of their culture and repression of their spiritual beliefs.

Divide and rule was of course a ‘trade mark’ of many empires that where still ruling large parts of the earth at that time. For a very long-time, Irish Catholics (or Welsh and Scottisch communities) where opposed in between or to English Anglicans. Divide and rule made it possible for the feudal ruling class to rule Britannia as well as the seven seas of the world. But the peasants and labouring classes united themselves and found a way to struggle shoulder on shoulder in the same unions. Still the national question remained unsolved, specially regarding the Irish people.

But a the periphery of the world system, even early 19th century, and thanks to certain ideas of the Enlightment like democratic sovereignty, in countries such as in Latin America, the idea of freedom became linked with independence and produced a kind of progressive nationalism. Above all because Simon Bolivar wanted not only independence on a statist national basis but also on a continental scale.

In Eastern Europe, several empires (Tzarist Russia, Autro-Hungarian) perpetrated or let pogroms happen because racism was useful to control populations while ethnic hierarchical stratification helped to foreclose the access to the feudal elite to a tiny – like an elite among the elites. The struggle for emancipation was therefore very quickly confronted to the question how to deal with the question of nationalities.

The bourgeoisie, as upcoming class of merchants and industrial entrepreneurs, was ready to contest the autocratic or feudal rule and she needed a popular basis to gain a majority. In many cases, this bourgeoisie made an appeal to ‘the nation’ to find that popular support.  But once the nation-state was formed, the democratization stopped half way since it was better for this new ruling elite not to deal with social justice… Also, the newly formed nation-state institutions tended to use borders to guarantee a new class domination while it used patriotism and nationalism as way to develop class collaboration. In many cases, it also searched to enlarge the territory of the nation-state, in order to find new markets, which lead to the first world was, when imperialist nation states waged a bloody war against each other scarifying the lives of millions of ordinary people.

Some of the progressive forces (mainly social-democrats) tended to cope quite rapidly with the new institutions and their borders, considering that any greater scale on political and economical level was automatically progressive. This was the case of Rosa Luxemburg considering separatism or independence would be a ‘regression in any case’. Following her, the right of self-governance and independence is only a hollow aim. Austro-Marxists like Otto Bauer advocated national-cultural autonomy but one that recognize rights to persons of different cultural communities, independently from the territory they live upon. Following Lenin, the position of the Austro-Marxists was inconsistent because it made it possible to avoid to campaign against the Austrian Empire of the Habsburgers. Lenin made a distinction between oppressed nations and oppressing nations and following him, the question of nationalities is far from resolved since the bourgeoisie is not capable anymore to carry out this democratic battle.  Lenin was opposed to abstract internationalism but also against patriotism and chauvinism. From 1913, he advocated the right to self-determination of the people. At the same time, socialism is always started at a local and national level but can only prevail at an international level. Forming a (con)federation of socialist states could open the possibility to organise centralisation on a higher level as long as social justice, democracy and equal treatment between all nationalities is respected. If Lenin and the Bolsheviks hadn’t endorsed the call for the right of self-determination (including the right to form a separate state) straight on from February 1913, the Russian Revolution would have been limited to Petrograd and Moscow….

Thanks to the inclusion of this right of self-determination, the Russian revolution became the first anti-imperialist revolution ‘from within’. This is also linked to the multinational character of the laboring classes and plebeian masses while Tzarist Russia was at the same time imperialist and feudal-capitalist regime. In the aftermath of the October revolution, the Bolsheviks held a conference of the eastern oppressed people in Baku (Azerbaijan). This conference took place in 1920 and was attended by about 2000 representatives of India, South-East Asia, China, Central Asia and Middle-Eastern countries. It paved the way for an alliance between the 3rd international communist party’s with nationalist-democratic leaders and organisations. It opened also the way for the anti-colonial struggles of the second half of the 20th century, and was based upon the firm position of the ‘right of self-determination of all people’. But, from the thirties on, a new kind of ‘panslavism’ came back on the forefront and translated itself into Russification of all channels of power, specially in the peripheral republics with many displaced minorities or even attempts of genocide.

Through the 20th century, after two world wars and a death toll of tens of millions, state rule grow on a world scale. Still, thanks to the cold war as well as the anti-colonial revolution, an important number of regions and countries escaped for a certain time from imperialist domination. In Western Europe, the fear for revolution pushed the ruling class to accept compromise and let social democracy to enter the game, even at the cost of accepting a large based universal social security and recognising trade unions. For the ruling elite, this was meant to domesticate the revolting masses while for social-democratic leaders, it was a way to gain power and to win positions in order to change gradually society. Unfortunately, this change stopped half way and in the late 1970, the counter-offensive began with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both inspired by the neoliberal policies applied with shock therapy in Chile after the coup against Pinochet. When it comes to keep masses out of the real power,  all means are useful like a coup, bonapartism or rampant fascism. Or tension strategy like in Italy in the same period.

Of course, 1989 was a turning point. The fall of the Berlin wall and short after that the crumbling of the USSR as well as the slow conversion to capitalism of the ruling caste of Popular China (or Vietnam) let all social movements and struggles alone in their fight against capitalist despotism. Algeria became more and more state-capitalist while Yugoslavia was turned apart by war and internal ethnical conflicts

It is clear that the neoliberal globalisation represents the political expression of a counter-offensive of the world ruling classes. It has the purpose to eliminate any obstacle in the process of capital accumulation and profit making at a moment that profit rate and markets was stagnating since the early seventies. Even if the present day global capitalism still need state system to regulate and support accumulation, it also need supranational regulations and for a to obtain agreements around conflictual issues. Multinationals and financial oligarchies submit the statist (national) democratic spheres. But since globalisation is not resulting in harmonic growth but in widening gap between countries, inside every country, the ideology of it sooner or later start to lack legitimacy.

Even if the neoliberal ideology of globalisation uses local /particular identities (like all the exotic tastes of the food industry), it also violates national, local or specific cultural traditions. Also because everybody is asked to sell itself on that global world market, the impossibility of that fosters a kind of neo-nationalism, most of the time it is reactionary but sometimes it contains progressive aspirations. The reactionary trends move towards racialisation, purity, the will of closing borders and exclusion of the ‘other’. In case of progressive aspirations, it expresses the aim to win sovereignty, self rule or self-governance. Such as ‘we, ‘the people’ need to be able to decide again about our common future, both on political, economical as cultural level’.

Of course, ‘socialism in one country’ is even more nonsense today as 80 years ago. Still we have to answer the question how do we combine struggles at local/regional levels with possibilities of small advances with an internationalist and global perspective?

I think it must be said that the writings of Abdullah Ocalan contribute very importantly to ask oneself the good question and therefore to find a way to develop both on a theoretical as on a practical way the solutions to crisis humanity is confronted with. The key issue is to understand that power relations always come first. This is true regarding patriarchy and state despotism as much as the oppression of many cultures and national identities as well as the surplus extraction of work by capital. Power is also the first and last issue when it comes to emancipation: will power be shared and controlled from below or monopolised by a party that will rule in name or on behalf of the people. Ocalan succeeded to articulate a balance sheet of the 20th century with the tasks we face in this 21st century. He was inspired by social ecology of Murray Bookchin and the traditions of communalism and direct democracy. Still, Abdullah Ocalan also recognizes the importance of the struggle against patriarchy and that is why women, still ‘the niggers of the world’ and their emancipatory struggle has to be put at the very centre of all struggles.

From the moment democracy – meant as a way to decide through collective deliberation, about our fate and our future, and this on all levels, from the neighborhood up to cities regions or on a higher continental or global level, the need to develop a confederalist approach becomes evident. This is also why ‘democratic confederalism’, not of states but of communities, ready to self-organise their daily lives represents a major programmatic and strategic contribution to our present struggles.

This answer for example lacked completely in the debates held during the World Social Forum (started in Porto Allegre in 2002). Unfortunately, after a few years of promising gatherings, this dynamics seem to be limited to NGO’s, avoiding any discussion about tasks, campaigns and active support of each other. So we only have that archipelago of front and struggles. The reason why the NGO-isation became problematic is quite easy to see: being dependent on state subventions, in many countries, this galaxy of structures tended to disconnect itself from their social basis and social struggles. This can also be said of international trade movement, but at the very lowest level of the shop-floor, the reality of class struggle still exist and lead new generation to engage, in renewed ways, into that fight, as it is the case against privatisations, social cuts, austerity, precarization and so on.

Today, the need for international and global solidarity and is urgent: the fight against war and state terrorism of which both Palestinian and Kurdish people are suffering; the  and struggle of indigenous peoples; women struggles around the world for their ful sovereignty over their life and body; the peasants fighting against land grabbing; urban communities fighting to maintain water as common good against the commercialisation and marketization; fight against criminal warlord capitalism in the neighborhoods of metropolitan cities etc.

But developing links, solidarity networks between social movements is very important, it does not suffices. These connections can only lead to concrete results if they are underpinned by the goal that the people should decide about their future instead of the ‘Moloch’ of the capitalist state system. Aiming for democracy is in fact a fight to reclaim sovereignty, power and the collective capacity of self-rule (on all levels of social life, both individual as collective) to eradicate oppression and to change the relation with nature in a non destructive way.

Personally, I still think present day Internationalism should be founded upon a systemic alternative of a post-capitalist society. Do we have to call that system socialist or even eco-socialist? For the answer is yes but if I want to have a dialogue with all those that also want to fight this system but that do not recognize themselves in the terminology of state socialism or something like authoritarian communism, I must broaden the discussion. Other wise, I will only discuss with representatives of those currents of the 20th century and engage in polemics that belong to the past.

In the present times with the systemic crisis we are facing, humankind is emerging and coming together ‘thanks’ to climate crisis and threats of survival imposed by capitalist system. All fundamental problems of humanity are caused directly and indirectly by this system. Of course, we should be ready to support the striving of independence or self-rule. But this has to be linked with a content based upon the interests of the social majority (working classes, plebeian sectors, oppressed categories such a women, migrants, youth). We have to reject ethnocentrism and propose an horizon for society that is emancipatory, radically democratic and based upon social justice.

Solidarity and developing cooperation at a higher level should always be part of the political methodology: autonomy or devolution can go hand in hand with cooperation upon a higher level like a confederation of cantons, republics with a common social contract or constitution.

The need to break with present institutional order is very important to me. With the present institutions, struggles are tied and integrated or domesticated. The state is a separate from society, weights above and upon society. It has a social nature, which mean that it is not neutral and one can’t use it to implement social justice for example. The recent experience of progressive governments in Latin America (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia) have demonstrated that even being in government with new constitutions does not eliminate the ‘deep state’ and the oligarchy and her capacity to organise sabotage and to corrupt massively those progressive forces.

It is very difficult at the present time to formulate an institutional answer, specially because the balance of forces is far from good. Still, since capitalist world system is floating upon an ocean of hug debts. Since profit making and growth is hiking behind the further increase of even more debts, we know the financial system will find itself dragged into a new huge crisis. One of the ways these crises are solved is through war, the impoverishment of middle classes and the starvation of large sections of the world population. This eventuality, together with the underlying ecological crisis will lead the most conscious sectors of humanity to search post-capitalist solutions. This scenario, in combination with very illegitimate global and national statist institutions can bring emancipatory social movements to be in charge of responding to human needs as never before. This can lead to partially liberated or ‘abandoned’ territories, to cities or regions where self-rule can develop as long as social movements, activists, scholars and technical skilled people are able to grasp these tasks of the moment. The only way to connect all these struggles, experiences and advances is with the aim of global democracy. We should be prepared.


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