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A.J. Muste

Labor Internationalism

(20 December 1933)

From Labor Action, Vol. 1 No. 13, 20 December 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

INTELLIGENT workers cannot espouse a narrow national isolationist attitude. What happens to the workers in one country has its effect on workers elsewhere. Just as the bosses try to create all kinds of divisions between workers in one country, so they whip up false patriotism to divide workers in various lands from each other, and then lead them to slaughter.

The problem of the revolutionary movement in one country has important similarities as well as dissimilarities from that of the movement in other lands. International conditions and events effect the life of the workers in each country. As distinct from Fascism, labor moves to an international world, a universal human brotherhood.

Capitalism and Fascism organize internationally, so must labor. Wars made by imperialist interests threaten all the workers of all lauds. Unquestionably international machinery is needed through which the labor and revolutionary movements may exchange views and organize joint activities to advance the ultimate object of a workers’ world. Under certain circumstances, the most direct and practical kind of cooperation between the labor and revolutionary movements of two or more countries is possible, and may profoundly influence world movements, as e.g. a general strike against war in several countries. Joint revolutionary movements may conceivably be carried through simultaneously in several countries in some international crisis, and an international revolutionary general staff would be required in such a situation.

There is danger, however, of being sentimental and unrealistic in this matter of labor internationalism and putting the cart before the horse. An International with nothing but weak and insignificant national sections is only a thing of paper, a discussion group that exercises no real influence over events. The primary contribution revolutionary workers in any country can make toward building an effective International is by building an effective revolutionary movement in their own country. This is not to say that an International cannot in its turn contribute to the building of its affiliated national movements but there is something ludicrous in the preoccupation of some parties and groups with the “grand strategy of world revolution” when there is as yet only a mere beginning of a revolutionary movement in their own country and they exercise little or no influence within even that.

THE matter goes deeper, however, The primary and fundamental problem of any revolutionary working-class party in the present period is to get possession of state power. State power is national, not international. It has to be taken in Berlin, London, Paris, Washington, not e.g. in Geneva. The thought of any effective revolutionary party must be concentrated upon this specific job. The workers in each country, furthermore, are faced with certain conditions, they have a certain background, tradition, psychology. A revolutionary party must “feel” all this, feel how the workers in the country feel and think. It cannot acquire this by reading or even direct observation from outside.

Furthermore, since revolution means the transfer of state power, in other words, the overthrow of existing government in any given country, it is certain that the surest way to defeat the revolution will be to have it come or appear to come not from the working masses of that country but by order from without, i.e. from a rival country. This consideration will, in many instances certainly, place limitations upon the idea or the functioning of a general staff of the International. The chief weakness of the Second International was not that it was a loose federation, but simply that it and its affiliated bodies were not at all revolutionary.

It should be pointed out also that Labor Internationals are dominated inevitably by the parties of the more powerful and advanced national affiliated with them. The Socialist Party of Germany in the Second International did not accept the leadership of the Socialist Party of Bulgaria or Denmark, but the other way around. If there had been no indigenous movement in Germany it could not have been created by missionaries from the Balkans. No revolutionary movement can be created in the U.S. by missionaries from other lands. When an effective revolutionary movement exists in the U.S. it will unquestionably be the leading factor in the American-European labor world at least, and it may well be that the reconstitution of a truly effective international of revolution must wait upon the building of an effective revolutionary movement in the U.S.

SOME of these facts were obscured for a time by the position of the Bolshevik party of the USSR in the Third International. It is now clear that there was something artificial and inadequate in the set-up of that International. The Third International came into existence toward the close of the war with the successful Bolshevik revolution which put the working class in power and abolished feudalism and capitalism in Russia. Because it was the International brought into being by the Party which had achieved the epoch-making victory in the USSR, it enjoyed at the outset an immense prestige. Had the Russian Revolution been followed by a labor revolution in other, especially Western European, lands, the history of the Third International would have been entirely different. As it was, the Bolshevik party of the USSR came completely to dominate the International. This alone seriously limited its International outlook and character. The International became the appendage of the Foreign Office of the USSR, waxing and waning, following this line and that, according to the desires of that office rather than the needs and developments of the revolutionary movement in countries where capitalism still prevailed. Also, as years passed and the USSR committed itself more definitely to the so-called policy of “Socialism in one country,” the problem of the revolutionary party in a country like the USSR became more and more different from that confronting the revolutionary movement in capitalist lands, and it was less and less possible for an International practically completely dominated by the C.P.U.S.S.R. to properly envisage and meet the needs of the revolutionary movement in these advanced capitalist countries.

It should be needless to add that these observations, as well as our criticisms of the C.P.U.S.A., do not affect our position in favor of vigorous and untiring defence of the workers’ regime in the USSR against the machinations of any of its capitalist and imperialist enemies.

Obviously the problem of developing an effective international of revolutionary labor is an exceedingly complex one. We have dealt with only a few of its phases. We shall continue to be concerned to do all that is in our power toward its solution, and remain in sympathetic contact and engage in discussions with all who are interested in that problem, and especially with those parties which like ourselves cannot accept either the Second or the Third International today. The American Workers Party stands for one compact revolutionary labor international built up by actually functioning revolutionary parties of various countries and fusing their parties into a unit for waging the battle of the workers for the defence of the Soviet Union and against unemployment, war, capitalism, Fascism, on a worldwide front.

Emphatically, however, we assert that our absorbing concern is with the colossal job on our own doorstep, building a revolutionary party in the U.S. rooted in American soil, its eyes fixed primarily upon American conditions and problems, attracting American workers concerned about their own situation. This is not chauvinism; it is the only way chauvinism will be defeated. This is not to desert the workers of other lands or the international labor movement. Capitalist-imperialist America would crush them. Only the American working class can defeat American capitalists and imperialism. When, and as we do that, we shall best serve the toilers of all lands, shall indeed play a leading part in their emancipation.

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