The one-year anniversary of Ali Mustafa’s death passed on March 15, 2015. The one-year mark allowed many in the community and around the world to reflect on his art, his words, and his insistence to be in spaces of open conflict. As a new art exhibit opened in Toronto showcasing never before seen photos, one can see how his photographs captured the humanity and the resistance of people in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. His commitment to people’s resistance along with his talent showed a level of internationalist politics that is rarely shown.
In an interview done by Stefan Christoff in Upping the Anti Issue 15, Ali was very frank about the general lack of interest of activist mobilization around the violence happening in Syria. He spoke of his disappointment of the lack of interest and lack of solidarity, almost as if large sections of the Left did not care about what was happening in Syria. While Ali made a political choice to enter that area and develop relationships, his thoughts and general disappointment with the socialist and anarchist Left haunt us. When discussing solidarity with the people of Syria he said,
“I quickly came to the realization that the daily images of the horrors taking place in Syria – all of the death, destruction, displacement – although tragic, simply aren’t enough to move people to action. I felt very demoralized after leaving because I learned that no matter how much you try to show people the reality of what is happening, by itself it isn’t likely to make much of a difference. Most people will probably just tune out because it doesn’t affect them directly in any way.”
We reflect on these words with the one year anniversary of his death and with the sober reality that the Syrian uprising against Assad is now in its 4th year with little sign of ending, with ISIS controlling half of the Syrian territory, and with Canada and the US continuing their military intervention in the Middle East. Thinking beyond Syria to various armed conflicts around the world to the rise of #BlackLivesMatter to the international response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the question of international solidarity is one that remains murky and confusing. It is not only a question of effectiveness, but also about the process of what is deemed worthy and unworthy of political support. And while we may not have a template of “What Is To Be Done” in these conflicts, we find it perplexing how little energy is used to engage with Leftists in Syria or with the Syrian diaspora around the world, even with the Canadian government’s implicit ties to the exploitation and violence in the Middle East.
For the editors of Upping the Anti, this reality has led to many discussions and reflections on the history and politics of internationalism and international solidarity. With histories of working class movements attempting to build an ideology of internationalism through solidarity work with anti-colonial movements, anti-war organizing, and anti-globalization resistance, we wanted to take a humble look at international solidarity in the current political moment. How do activists in the West currently engage with politics of internationalism? How do we think of international solidarity beyond crisis responses? How do activists maintain long-term engagement and connect local organizing to international struggles (if they do at all?) While we organize for liberation close to home, what is our role in getting others free – especially when the governments and economies in North America cause so much exploitation and harm abroad?
For some of us on the editorial committee, we became politicized when principles of internationalism were more popular than in the current political context. In the emergence of the anti-globalization movement and at the height of the Zapatismo struggle, campaigns around East Timor, solidarity with Burma, fighting the US blockade against Cuba and raising awareness of the rise of maquiladoras were strong. Neo-liberal restructuring was clearly global with international free trade agreements, privatizations, and relocation of manufacturing everywhere. Organizing had to focus on global issues. This not only meant direct action campaigns, but there was support from unions and non-profit organizations, which often meant access to resources.
While the assault of neo-liberal capitalism on workers internationally has not diminished, and instead caused a global crisis that further impoverished millions, anti-globalization campaigns and the international solidarity of local organizations have waned. Radical international projects exist such as the international solidarity work in Palestine, migrant justice and the on-going caravans to Cuba by Pastors for Peace, but there is a retreat in continued, cultivated forms of international solidarity from various grassroots activists and labour unions in North America. Even with ongoing campaigns in Palestine, our experience in Canada is that there lacks a generalized engagement by the broader Left. There have been effective responses over the years that have quickly emerged and swelled, such as the responses to the Sri Lankan government’s war against Tamil communities to stamp out the resistance in 2009, the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, or the offensive against Gaza in 2014. However, such swells tend to die down quickly even though there is no fundamental change in the conditions that produced these crises. There has been continued engagement by activists on the ground – where we find limitations is a more general response beyond those activist organizations to the broader left.
In the last few years, several mobilizations and uprisings have defined a new way of organizing. Movements such as Occupy, Idle No More, and now Black Lives Matter have engaged in different forms of mobilization and organizing. These movements have had international reach, connecting with different movements. Alongside the movements for migrant justice, Indigenous sovereignty, anti-mining, and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, we will explore the opportunities to connect local organizing with international solidarity, what some of the pitfalls are, and thoughts about the role of internationalism in emerging political movements. We find a great deal of inspiration in how these recent movements have used internationalist politics to articulate solidarity and resistance, but we also have questions with how activists see local community organizing (or what some have called “The Return to the Local”) and international solidarity.
Many of the examples of international solidarity through the decades show the possibilities of being able to mobilize and respond to the needs of the community while at the same time linking those needs and struggles internationally. And often these formations happened outside of (and in spite of) bureaucratized trade unions and party structures. With the on-going awareness of global capitalism, activists also utilized the growth of technology to develop new friendships with revolutionaries around the world. What activists will continue to struggle with is how various internationalist movements lose their success and momentum by becoming co-opted by state and NGO structures, turning solidarity to charity and minimizing autonomous organizing.
The question here, though, is how to address an international economic system that impacts and controls the local economy and politics, and then to bridge these struggles internationally. How do we effectively respond to the globalizing system in a local way? Our response to that globalizing process requires equivalent tactical moves, but what do we risk in following the enemy onto its privileged terrain? As we witness various forms of globalization crisis that impact people locally, how do we fight on that level without being subsumed into the shape of the tactics and models of the enemy? We will only repeat our failures if we’re running after capitalism into an ever expanding globalized system (we’re running into a trap, so to speak). How do we regain a tactical advantage by inventing a new form of struggle? How do we take back the advantage of ground? You’ll never find Guerillas chasing the imperial army into open fields! Nor should we find a global solidarity campaign chasing globalized capitalism into the open markets of the networked expanses. How do we transform the terrain of struggle to our advantage? Where are the “Guerilla terrains” of the global scene?
The task at hand is not to create a variety of solidarity rallies in the hopes of revitalizing movements of the past. Rather, we want activists to question how the politics of internationalism factor into their organizing, if it does at all. This isn’t to create another list of issues to mobilize against. Rather, it is an ideological and political intervention, especially when so much international work is taken up and dominated by international NGOs. It is necessary for activists to revisit the politics and changes to internationalism and work to integrate international solidarity in our activism in clear and understandable ways.
While we are in a political moment where internationalist organizations are on the decline, the politics of internationalism remain relevant. Internationalism means supporting struggles against global capitalism and supporting peoples’ resistance for dignity and self-determination. It means finding commonality amongst our differences of struggles and making these connections to discover our own common adversaries and using these connections to develop larger networks or organizations. It also means creating awareness and opportunities for intervention and direct opposition when local state governments and/or corporations are the cause of the exploitation and violence in our own homes and abroad.
In response to the role of international NGOs in what Dru Oja Jay and Nikolas Barry-Shaw describe as “human internationalism” Jay and Barry-Shaw give examples of building relationships of solidarity to oppose austerity and war. They call for an “ideology of solidarity”:
1) to build ties of mutual support between Canadians and social movements in the South, 2) to raise awareness about the international role of Canada and mobilize opposition to the depredations of Canadian foreign policy and corporate interests, and 3) to connect “out there” issues with domestic struggles, as part of a broader effort to create a more just and ecologically sustainable world order. 1
While they do not describe what this new world might look like, we agree with their sentiment that both building relationships and creating narratives of internationalism through local organizing is a practice that is needed – especially one that is anti-imperialist and anti-racist.
To understand the potential for international solidarity now, we can consider the successes and limitations of other movements of generalized solidarity in the past. This is the more pressing the more neo-liberal capitalism advances, diminishing our capacity to maintain a living connection with the old struggles and shattering our collective memory. However, looking back to understand what was effective or ineffective at specific actions remains incomplete without understanding the changing processes of capitalism. This does not mean replicating tactics of the past, but understanding the shifts in internationalism. For example, many activists are often no longer connected to a revolutionary organization that gives direction on international solidarity. Many trade unions no longer engage in radical solidarity. And as is the case of Syria, it is difficult to align support with one specific organization. Rather, the shifts in internationalism rely on a re-articulation of how activists understand the nation-state, organization and autonomous organizing.
The political uprisings of Idle No More, Black Lives Matter as well as the organizing for Palestinian solidarity and migrant justice have shown how activists can experiment with tactics and autonomy – often rejecting the involvement of political parties and NGOs. We feel that connecting these moments in a more coherent way would not only connect somewhat disparate struggles together, but provide an ideological and political intervention with how activists relate to struggles outside of their community. For us this means not only interrogating local organizing in connection to internationalism, but also examining the question of organization. The writers of the 2010 Turbulence publication What Would it Mean to Win take up these questions by saying,
The point is to create forms of project-representation that open a space for experiments and conflicts with the institutions and the ‘official’ representative subjects (parties and unions) based on flexible relationships and a variable geometry, so that the autonomy of movements remains intact and the irreducible distance in relation to the political system is extended. The autonomy of the movements has to pass through the crisis of representation. Only then does it seem possible to us to imagine reaching beyond it to a non-state public sphere, to finally a common. 2
We realize these questions are an inadequate response to Ali’s challenge. Perhaps there is a level of despair with the increase of war, poverty and militarization – that we look at the face of the imperial order, and then look at each other with hopelessness. Our victories in the future need people from beyond our borders and more importantly; we have a role to play to defend the dignity and humanity of the people in Syria. A possible re-imagining of internationalism can move us from abstraction and hopelessness to creating more possibilities of connection, and spaces of debate on how we understand different movements against imperialism, the nation-state, sovereignty and armed struggle.
Looking Back: Autonomy and Solidarity
The question of solidarity always refers to how we position ourselves beyond these divisions in order to support other oppressed peoples and how we build the organizations that allow us to feel those needs against the structures that oppress us and keep us apart. For Leftists, proletarian internationalism through workers’ organizations was a fundamental struggle and often this meant constant negotiation between or against leadership. We wanted to pull out a few examples from the past to see how these dynamics still influence internationalism in contemporary organizing. Do the internationalist moments during the First International, the anti-colonial and anti-war uprisings in the 1960s, and the emergence of anti-globalization movements in the late 1900s influence the tactics and strategies of today?
The International Workingmen’s Association, better known as the First International, was the first time revolutionaries came together to create an international workers organization in 1864, with anarchists, socialists, communists, and Irish nationalists in its ranks. It responded fundamentally to the common problems of the working class in Europe during the initial capitalist expansion and was successful in coordinating organizing and actions of its affiliated groups. It had to deal with questions of organizing in the poorest regions of Europe and the colonial questions within Europe, but it remained a fundamentally European organization. For instance, although there were contacts with Cuban and Puerto Rican independentists, there was no coordination, nor even endorsement of solidarity campaigns.
The anarchists’ criticism against communists in the First International for their emphasis on the state or the state-like structures (e.g. the party) seems to be founded when one looks at this history. But there is also an analysis on the question of structure coming from the communists. It hinges on questioning the relationship between the leaders and the rank and file members of a movement, rather than questioning the existence of an organization with a centralized direction.
Troubled by the divisions between the rank and file workers and the official representative organizations of the working class, Sardinian communist leader Antonio Gramsci criticized the static and ossifying structures of working class organization, saying that these organizations were not supposed to be the bureaucratic headquarters of “leaders” of the masses. He wrote, “Rather, it is a mass historical consciousness, objectified in a vast and complex general movement of the international proletariat. Hence, it must consist of a network of proletarian institutions which themselves give birth to a complex and well-articulated hierarchy, capable of waging all aspects of the class struggle such as it takes place today nationally and internationally.” 3
Gramsci was thinking about the councils in Turin, Italy, organized in the same way as the soviets (councils). The factory council movement in Italy in 1919 was a highly localized struggle – located almost exclusively within Turin, a fight rooted in Turinese car factories but also involving the neighbourhoods and broader working class through the co-occurring ward councils. The council movement was one based entirely on an autonomous working class uprising, distinct from – and even opposed by – the more ossified and “official” organizations of the working class, such as the Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour (CGL) (the largest trade union in the country). While the official organizations did not substantively support the early Soviet republics, and though other workers’ organizations openly refused to demonstrate in support, the Turinese workers did not hesitate in supporting the republics. As Gramsci explained, the workers in the soviet republics had organized their own structures of administration and it was in the interest of other workers to defend these republics against the attacks of capitalist states. Since workers in other parts of Europe did not have their own organizations, the unions and parties that purported to represent them responded to other interests and these workers had no capacity to support the Soviet republics. Unlike the official representative organizations, the Turinese workers were consciously internationalist, with shop-floor militants calling for proletarian unity on an international scale, and discussions of the successes of the Soviet revolution being a centre-point of their analysis and struggle. The Italian councils were seen, like the Russian soviets, as the embryonic site of a new worker’s organization that would be able to take over the directing and coordinating functions of the capitalist state.
The Comintern would dampen the potential of the worker’s councils by imposing the interest of the then bureaucratized Soviet state. While during the 1930s, the formation of the International Brigades formed to fight fascism in Spain saw close to 60,000 international volunteers fight in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republican Army where volunteers experienced prosecution and oppression from their national countries. While many hold up the model as a legacy of international solidarity, it remains marred with the contradictions and betrayals when the International Brigades were disbanded in 1938. By then, fascist and later Cold-War repression would dismantle what was left of the vibrant communist agitation and organizing of the early twentieth century. The next significant wave of international solidarity came with the anti-colonial movement in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, where internationalism manifested in supporting communist and anti-colonial movements, and in the US, large opposition to the Vietnam War coinciding with several civil rights movements. During this time, the role of international brigades continued in Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua where many activists travelled to help build and support the revolutionary aims. Here, revolutionary organizations actually posed a credible alternative to capitalism and Western hegemony.
Successful radical national liberation revolutions in the South saw the need to support other anti-colonial struggles. In Che Guevara’s words:
If one’s revolutionary zeal is blunted when the most urgent tasks have been accomplished on a local scale and one forgets about proletarian internationalism, the revolution one leads will cease to be a driving force and sink into a comfortable drowsiness that imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize to gain ground. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity.
The oppressed people in the North engaged in liberation struggles also became natural allies of the national liberation movements in the south. The politics of segregation and the brutal repression of oppressed groups in the US and Canada, as part of their settler colonial history, had obvious similarities to the reality of the neo-colonies in the South. Racism was deployed in similar ways in the North and the South. The ruling class in the US was also the imperialist adversary in the colonies. One of the most important organizations of this period, the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, also known as the Tri-Continental, formed in 1966, provided support and coordinated the efforts of liberation movements.
A defining feature of this time was the global opposition to the Vietnam War - a catalyst for emerging radical, communist movements often engaging in high risk forms of direct action to oppose the war. Radical organizations such as the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) organized not only in the name of solidarity, but to also transform the US. Their politics and tactics continue to resonate to this day because, “The Weather Underground saw itself as intimately connected and accountable to the world’s people. Its strategic decisions were based on both domestic and global considerations.” 4 Not only were direct relationships made with movements with which they were organizing in solidarity, but they made direct connections to imperialism in order to transform the US as well.
Additionally, groups like the Black Panthers or the Young Lords would take direct action to defend local communities against state violence, but they would also cultivate structures that allowed people to engage politically in their communities and establish services not provided by the state. Revolutionaries in the south, especially guerrillas, attempted to form similar participative structures. The question of revolutionary internationalism was present at the heart of those movements. And their structure was theorized to integrate socialism with community organizing.
In a 1970 speech, interrogating the role of nationalism and socialism from within the jaws of the empire, Black Panther leader Huey Newton drew upon the Maoist theory of intercommunalism, which rejected internationalism due to the imperial design of borders and nations. He called for a revolutionary intercommunalism in order to reconstruct resistance against empire.
In 1966, we called ourselves, that is, the Party, a Black nationalist Party. We called ourselves Black nationalists because we thought that nationhood was the answer. Shortly after that we decided that what was really needed was revolutionary nationalism, that is, nationalism plus socialism. After analyzing the phenomena a little more, we found that it was impractical and even a contradiction. So, therefore, we went to a higher level of consciousness.
We saw that in order to be free – and this is what we really want, to be free – we thought the nation would make us free – we saw that in order to be free we had to crush the ruling circle and, therefore, we had to unite with the peoples of the world, so we called ourselves Internationalists. We sought solidarity with the peoples of the world. We sought solidarity with what we thought were the nations of the world. But then what happened? We found that because everything’s in a constant state of transformation and that because of the development of technology, because of the development of the mass media, because of the fire power of the imperialist, because of the fact that the United States is no longer a nation but an empire, that nationhood did not exist, because they did not have the criteria for nationhood….
The ruling reactionary circle through the process of being an imperialist, transformed the world into what we call reactionary intercommunalism. They laid seige upon all the communities of the world, dominating the institutions to such an extent that the people are not served by the institutions in their land. The Black Panther Party would like to reverse that and lead the people of the world into the age of Revolutionary Intercommunalism.
These questions about the nation state and how activists engage with nationalism continues to be central to current struggles around internationalism and solidarity, especially for those who are involved with migrant justice organizing and Indigenous sovereignty. And we can see similarities in more contemporary concepts such as border imperialism. Harsha Walia points out that understanding how borders and nation-states have been imposed on much of the world allows activists to not understand “immigration as a domestic policy issue to be managed by the state [but] focus the conversation on the systemic structuring of global displacement and migration through and in collusion with capitalism, colonial empire, state building, and hierarchies of oppression.” 5
The early neo-liberal stage saw the anti-globalization movement with the emergence of a different kind of coalition not seen in a long time in the North where labour unions, grassroots organizations, and NGOs were able to coordinate quite efficiently to mobilize against neo-liberal institutions. Reflecting on its emergence, the editors of Monthly Review commented that its distinction is that the protests were, “not so much [aimed] at the state (as in the Sixties) but at global corporations and international economic institutions, and thus raises fundamental issues about class power and international solidarity with third-world workers.” 6 While not without conflict and disagreement, it was the first time mass mobilization saw the participation and engagement of different levels of activism – whether militant anarchists or those in NGOs. People connected with other activists fighting globalization in other parts of the world which were also experiencing neo-liberal restructuring. Activists experimented with different models of decision-making and direct action and it was visibly noticeable how bureaucratic trade unions were supporting these movements with funding.
While reactionary politics existed within these movements, what was clear was how much more prominent these issues were in mainstream spaces. The term “sweatshops” became a household term. Complicated trade agreements such as APEC, MAI, FTAA and WTO were easily explained in transformative educational campaigns often led by radical activists. And often expressions such as “Teamsters and Turtles together at last” represented a sense of solidarity not felt in some time. It was a time when international connections were made and some activists were willing to travel to challenge trade summits - often internationally. And importantly, the rise of the EZLN in 1994 showed a different form of guerilla organizing that people all over the world could connect and organize with - outside of the party structure.
The contradictions and limitations of these movements obviously led to their demise. For some, the constant “summit hopping” was seen as a form of privilege and unsustainable activism. And some elements of the movement exposed protectionist and nationalist elements where globalization was seen as an “attack on the West.” And finally, with the World Trade attacks, the war on terror and rise of militarized war and surveillance took the air out of the movement, although ostensibly it was when neo-liberalism and militarism were even more linked.
Understanding the Local and the International
This overview of different forms of internationalism is obviously incomplete, but we wanted to pull out some central features that continue to influence the Left today and how we understand internationalism in its tensions and contradictions. However, as romantic as some get with history, our current political context shows how replicating tactics and ideas would not work. We want to see how to carry on the legacy through emerging and developing/creating forms of internationalism, especially when considering the local.
After 2000, critiques began to emerge of the unsustainable and contradictory forms of the anti-globalization movement. Namely, what is the point of spending resources sending activists to different cities when resistance needs to happen at home? It is with this sentiment that Lesley Wood names the “return to the local” in her book Direct Action, Deliberation and Diffusion. Looking at militant movements in Toronto and New York, she writes of the various ways that activists took what they learned from the anti-globalization movement to concentrate on local organizing.
It is difficult to clarify the meaning of the “local” and community – terms that are often taken for granted by activists. 7 However, since the demise of the anti-globalization movement, the retreat from international organizing to focus more on local-based organizing often feeds upon assumptions that local organizing is pure or true – more humble and easy to assess in its scope. The global is left aside as the camp of corporate and state manipulations. For example, during the G20, rather than discussing the role of the G20 in international exploitation, many activists preferred to critique the local impacts of the G20 on Toronto in terms of security, militarization, fences in communities and, so forth. Little research or analysis was created on the G20’s impact on structural adjustment programs and its impacts on people outside of Canada.
The historical examples of organizing we have cited also had strong local bases addressing immediate issues, but they didn’t separate these from global connections. This unity, as we saw with Guevara and Gramsci’s comments, was not simply a matter of duty, but of survival. As the editors of Organize describe,
Local organizing work begins with people where they live and the issues they face, and can contribute to the building of a wider oppositional culture. Organizations committed to social change have an impact on the daily lives of citizens that encourages their participation in social change activities. These processes have the potential to help community organizations move beyond their specific goals and day to day activities and help create a culture of opposition. Mobilization for action, education and agitation with democratic processes are the key elements within these and other community organizations and movements. Building opposition is thus two pronged. It has a dimension of action that transcends the local and of building alternatives that are democratic. It also draws on the tradition of creating social alternatives to either the state or capital, a tradition particularly rooted in anarchism. 8
This culture of opposition was seen in an action in 2014 in Detroit where the largest turnout for Palestine occurred. Coined with the hashtag #DetroitGazaSolidarity, the success of the action was based on connecting the water crisis in Detroit to the on-going water shortages in Gaza. One organizer commented, “It’s a long term work to connect Black populations to the struggle in Palestine, and it’s a long term struggle to connect those groups supporting Palestine to the struggle in black Detroit.” 9
Creative ways of integrating internationalist politics in local organizing is a way to build capacity, create new hegemonies and move beyond emergency actions. It also strengthens our analysis of global capitalism. In our interview with Gregory Lewis in this current issue, he cautions activists in Black Lives Matter against accepting grant or foundation funding due to their links to global capitalism that exploit Black people outside of the US. This process of integration can be accelerated when grassroots activists and organizers recognize that there can be no separation between the local and the global and integrate internationalist analysis as part of their campaign work. Ensuring long-term success in our movements also means engaging with world-wide transformation. This is evident in current movements such as Indigenous sovereignty movements, Palestinian solidarity work, anti-mining initiatives, and Black Lives Matter. Recently, Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been connecting imperialism at home and abroad. Ferguson, of course, has become shorthand for the extrajudicial murder of Black people at the hands of the repressive state apparatus – the police. In 2014, this free reign to murder and subject Black people in the US to violence was powerfully connected to similar impunity in murder and genocide in Israel’s decimation of Palestinian lives and land.
Palestinian organizing has had significant power and strength to engage different communities because of how the systems of colonialism and capitalism operate in the Middle East, but also here at home. A basic tenet is that for people to develop solidarity with Palestine, solidarity must be built with Indigenous communities in the West. While this politics has been both successful and sometimes not so successful, in action, efforts are increasingly made to connect Indigenous sovereignty movements with Palestinian struggle.
“From Ferguson to Palestine” became a well-known slogan to describe a world system of colonialism and oppression and to assert the humanity of Black people and Palestinians resisting both the American and Israeli states, respectively. One of the founders of Black Lives Matters, Patrisse Cullors, stated at the 2015 Colors of Violence in Chicago, “Palestine in also our fight. Palestine was the first to respond to Ferguson when we were being teargassed.” Following a 10-day visit to Palestine, Black Lives Matters is now connected to the BDS Movement, where the connections of struggle reveal an international system of dispossession, racism and violence. As Patrisse Cullors tweeted while in Palestine: “Ingredients to building an empire 1. Steal land 2. Control the ppl 3. Erase History 4. Denial.”
Making these kinds of international connections will not have immediate impacts. After all, these connections are working against narratives and realities of individualism and isolation as well as limited resources. But what these alliances show is a constant assertion of defiance and humanity. While we are excited when these links happen in a surprising, unpredictable way, it is not enough to have a few examples of different movements connecting with other movements on a case-by-case basis. The question is how we can build these relationships to include other networks and to create long-term solidarities so that these connections do not end up to be fleeting.
While making links to Black Lives Matter and Palestine have been inspiring to many, the question is how to grow these to links to an international analysis of police brutality and militarism internationally. For example, how communities can make direct links with police brutality in Canada and US to the mass kidnapping of the 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico. This massacre occurred the same time as the rise of Black Lives Matter in 2014 and yet, little international links were immediately made. Not only are we at risk of understanding police violence as isolated features within communities, but also solidarity remains abstract and fleeting as well. Making international demands not only strengthens our movements at home, but also creates new frameworks of internationalism globally.
Ali’s question of what moves us needs to go beyond the portrayal of violence and oppression in images or words. To build wider and stronger responses means developing practices where results are felt, even if they feel small. To build on these initial forms of international solidarity, more coordination is needed between radical anti-capitalist movements at home and abroad. These networks could eventually develop into stronger organizational capacity where skills and resources could be shared and coordinated and provide a space where these questions and debate could happen. It cannot be a given that simply stating solidarity means there will be solidarity. Finding creative and intentional ways to create these connections could also mean a way for these conversations to go further. Rather than one-off events where we Skype in activists from far away, how could we possibly create larger convergences for coordinated planning? How can international convergences against the Olympics, Pan Am Games, or other economic neo-liberal summits be more than one-off events, but ways to build upon each other and be present in local organizing?
The question of the nation-state, providing a framework for building capacity and sharing resources as well as direct confrontation with the actions of our own governments, is a multi-pronged strategy of the Palestinian solidarity movement. We are not arguing for the creations of new solidarity movements based on different issues. Rather, we are wanting to connect the struggles of Palestine to the struggles of colonialism in Canada to the war in Syria to the uprising in Rojava. The bombing in Suruç,Turkey that targeted members of the Socialist Youth Associations Federation is a moment for all radical movements to speak out on and show support. They were directly targeted by the Islamic State for assisting in the rebuilding and reconstruction of Kobani, one of the strongest examples of international solidarity shown through the Syrian war.
A point of convergence that holds promise is the current mobilizing against austerity. With uprisings and demonstrations occurring internationally, this could be a catalyst for an integrated international movement where solidarity can be made with direct links to local struggle. For national Canadian initiatives such as smartchange.ca, which has brought together a diverse set of radical activists and some unions to “resist the austerity and support efforts to build a just and ecologically sustainable society and economy,” there are opportunities to link specific local struggles against austerity with the global capitalist structure and international mobilizations, directly tying in anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles against resource extraction, war, and occupation. And when uprisings occur as they do in Greece or in Chile, these national initiatives could potentially link local struggles directly, offering new ways to respond.
Part of building on this moment is the potential we have with community-based research and activist media to counter the hegemonic narratives within mainstream media. Developing community-based research (often published in the pages of Upping the Anti) is a way to also build an internationalist analysis, especially if we reveal the atrocities of our national governments. Dan Berger wrote of the power of internationalism and research with the Weather Underground saying, “The WUO, to its credit, constantly raised the issue of civilian casualties and massacres, whether caused by the US military in Vietnam or European colonialism in Angola or Buinea-Bissaw. Such an accounting is needed today, when the official term “collateral damage” conceals the fact that today’s high-tech warfare – much like the non-state terrorism it is said to oppose – by design targets civilians.” 10
Finally, being able to articulate a commitment and practice to anti-racism and anti-colonialism as a central tenet to internationalism would provide a break in the circular debates around Western privilege and white-centered movements in the West where some see international solidarity as charity. This was sadly needed in the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings, which not only revealed the contradictions of solidarity, but showed the lack of nuance around violence coming from Islamist organizations. In this case, activists were found at two poles of either mobilizing around the Charlie Hebdo murders or dismissing the mass rallies as another expression of Western supremacy where the lives of Western victims are more meaningful than the victims in the East. Criticisms and attacks were launched against publications such as Ricochet for admonishing activists for not stepping up to defend journalism. 11 Publications countering with the contradictory response to Charlie Hebdo were also attacked as being sympathetic to Islamist violence. While not immediately recognizable, the past traditions of internationalism and anti-colonialism emerge as contradictory politics that regretfully could not transform the situation. On the one hand, hundreds of thousands converged under the hubris of “An Injury to One is an Injury to All” - except only if those injuries were not black or brown bodies in Pakistan or Nigeria or Somalia. And then on the other hand, we had some activists rationalizing the attack as having anti-colonial roots due to France’s colonization of Algeria. While the context is important, it often equated Islamist violence as a progressive force of liberation against colonialism. Which it is not.
It is unfortunate that an anti-colonial analysis did not emerge that could engage with the brutality of the deaths in France at a level that opened people’s’ consciousness around concepts of border imperialism and militarism that connected different people around the world. Imagine the potential if hundreds of thousands also emerged to demonstrate against drone attacks in Pakistan or the Islamist attacks in Nigeria where scores more are killed than what France experienced that one day. What makes people care about the deaths of French journalists and not Nigerian students? And rather than dismissing it as racist or colonial, how can activists continue to centre and build upon an internationalist anti-colonialism that can create cultures of solidarity? Rather than take up those questions, reactionary forces were able to feed off the Charlie Hebdo killings to justify continued armed intervention and soon the debates quietly dissipated.
By centering anti-colonialism, international Indigenous activisms can provide a framework in understanding the nation and state beyond our own borders. While Indigenous sovereignty movements may seem, on the surface, to be strictly local indigenous struggles, they are linked to the international process of forced border imperialism on Indigenous communities around the world. The imposition of state structures and accumulation by dispossession is not only revealed in local sovereignty struggles, but also when international forms of networking occur through international law mechanisms or to mobilize against resource extraction. This does not mean romanticizing Indigenous tradition or co-opting practices that are not our own. But rather, for activists to think about internationalism through Indigenous ontologies of inter-connection and transformation. In her book The New Imperial Order: Indigenous Responses to Globalization, Makere Stewart-Harawira not only looks at the activism in Maori struggles that link local struggles to global capitalism, but also writes of how traditional Indigenous knowledge can provide an alternative to the global order and to a new political ontology of being. 12 This is why Idle No More had the international impact it had – many Indigenous communities and settlers were inspired not only by the resistance to colonialism, but the global outlook communicated by the actions.
Linking international struggles with local campaigns not only means creating possibilities of alliance and struggle; ideologically, it does a lot more. It forces people engaging with particular politics to see our struggle and liberation connected to spaces to which we wouldn’t normally feel connected. For many people, it was difficult to initially understand the connection between Ferguson and Palestine, but this difficulty is due to the normalization of violence and occupation. Seizing moments to connect movements means to connect people from across the world. Despite its contradictions, connecting local struggles to international oppression was the strength of anti-globalization mobilizations. And it is with that connection that may make a difference that move us beyond crisis-mode responses. Seizing opportunities to do this, whether it is expanding local campaigns, making creative links to other struggles, or even engaging in direct confrontation against economic summits with the, would reinvigorate the politics of internationalism and also the potential for new organizations and networks. Corporations, the UN, economic structural adjustment organizations, and development NGOs are all invested in a specific world order with international consolidation. While we lack the resources and capacity, we can build towards a new form of internationalism where people can no longer tune out the suffering and violence from beyond our borders.