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Some Propositions on: The Old Internationalism, The New Global Solidarity, A Future Global Civil Society

Peter Waterman

1: Internationalism in history (and six lines)

Aspirations for a single world of peace, prosperity, equality and friendship can be found as far back as the major world religions; they reappear in the bourgeois and liberal cosmopolitanism of the European enlightenment; then in the labour and socialist internationalism responding to industrial capitalism; now in the internationalisms of the new global social movements, as well as in projects for some kind of global civil society - or the civilising of global capitalism and democratisation of interstate organisations.

2: Whatever happened to proletarian internationalism?

The old labour and socialist internationalism had widespread appeal to workers who had lost their old worlds of labour and community, and were excluded from the authoritarian dynastic/bourgeois/imperial polities; it lost its appeal with the development of liberal-democratic, socialist or populist nation states and nationalisms - each promising or offering protection from the world capitalist market

3: Whatever happened to socialist internationalism?

The Marxists and other socialists prioritised the labour/capital conflict, the proletarian as bearer of human emancipation and internationalism, and a universal socialist republic as the sole and simple alternative to international capitalism. The prioritisation of one emancipatory subject, one conflict, one universal alternative has proven increasingly inappropriate for an increasingly complex world in which capitalism penetrates all social spheres - and becomes increasingly dependent on these (e.g. the media, culture, communication).

4: 'Globalisation' is more than capitalism's latest ideology or highest stage

If 'globalisation' was only a capitalist ideology, all we would need to do is to critique it. If it was only the highest stage of imperialism, all we would need to do is to oppose it with…the highest stage of nationalism (Pol Pot? Ayatollah Khomeni?). But globalisation, as spatial extension and temporal compression of social relations, existed before capitalism and will continue after. Our neo-liberal networked capitalist globalisation is n exponentially increased - and increasingly dangerous - form of such. What is needed is a people-, cultural-, worker-, women- and ecologically-friendly globalisation. 

5: A complex globalisation provokes complex internationalisms

The globalised networked capitalism (GNC) now transforming the world represents an interdependent complex of practices (economic, productive, organisational, of force, of culture and of gender/sexuality), undermining and threatening traditional ways of life and meaning, and even the ecological base of such - whilst offering significant seductions and compensations: it therefore provokes a wide range of responses, including democratic and emancipatory ones, these being addressed to the varied experiences and problems of capitalist globalisation. [Figure A].

6: Three ideal-type, interlocked, overlapping responses to the big G

Radical-democratic responses can be interwoven with others, in complex, and contradictory ways: 

a) in relation to each other, we can see these responses in terms of celebration (spectatorship, consumption), rejection (religious, ethnic, nationalist and even socialist fundamentalisms) and alternatives (working through and beyond capitalism); 

b) in relation to capitalist/statist hegemony, we can see the problematic opposition/dialectic between movement engagement and autonomy. [Figure B1 & 2]

7: A complex capitalism needs (sorry!) a complex solidarity

Under a GNC, simple notions of solidarity need to be replaced by a complex one (with the mnemonic ISCRAR)







this complex understanding not only allows for the variety of past and existing forms but reveals the one-sidedness of any particular one and provides a potential instrument for measuring, comparing and advancing a holistic solidarity project - international, regional, national, local. [Figure C]

8: South Africa: From a substitution to a rainbow internationalism?

a) However significant may have been 'international solidarity' with the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the civic organisations or alternative media in Apartheid South Africa, this was largely (not solely) a Substitution Solidarity - with foreign states, international organisations and even solidarity movements 'standing in' for the poor, the workers, the rebellious or revolutionaries. 

b) The replacement of the Apartheid regime by an ANC one, has been followed by a decline in international solidarity with South Africans, and a de-centering of South Africans' interest in international solidarity. Although, for example, there may now be a variety of international labour, women's, ecological or gay solidarity activities (with varied external stretch, occurring at different levels, with varied visibility or effectivity), within South Africa, they are not necessarily mutually linked or even mutually aware.

c) The future development of a sustainable global solidarity politics and culture in South Africa surely requires reflection on the many existing or possible areas, levels, reaches, directions and expressions of such - and of some project for monitoring, coordinating and furthering them.

9: 'Poor Mexico: so far from God, so close to the USA'?

a) Contemporary Mexico, in both North and Latin America, is a laboratory in which the new internationalisms are being developed. This is all the more remarkable given the traditional chauvinism of Mexico - elite, left and popular!

b) The Zapatistas of Chiapas, based on rural and indigenous discontents, have been providing a major new stimulus to solidarity activity against neo-liberal globalisation and for a meaningful civil society - locally, nationally, regionally, globally. They offer a striking new language for discussing such and are innovating with forms of electronic communication and social dialogue. 

c) The largely urban- and labour-based RMALC (the Mexican network confronting the NAFTA) has not only been in dialogue and collaboration with its Northern partners. It also provided a major stimulus to the 'cross-frontier, cross-movement' alliance which produced the 'Declaration of the Summit of the Peoples of America', Santiago, Chile, 1997. It overlaps with a Mexico-European Union civil society network. These do not provide a, far less the, model to be copied but major new experiences to be related to and reflected upon. 

d) Poor Peru: so close to Fujimori, so far from the USA!

10: Liverpool, UK: Some defeats are worth more than victories…

The Liverpool Dock Strike (1995-8), though unsuccessful, reveals that the future of even the old labour movement lies in a 'communications internationalism'. These West-European industrial Zapatistas not only established a world-wide waterfront network (now becoming an organisation?); they also got widespread strike support; they demonstrated the limitations of the old institutionalised union internationalism; they produced, or had produced for them, a music CD, TV programmes and alternative videos; and, after defeat, have set up a worker co-operative to both teach and produce electronic informational and cultural artefacts!

11: Relating to other people is not what we do but who we are

A common African saying has it that 'I am who I am because of other people'. It took capitalism's individualist ethic to convert this into 'I am what I am despite other people'. If we are relational beings then the question is of what kind of relations one has with these others (or Others). Globalisation means that we are moving from a period in which reality and relations are national (or local) to one in which they are increasingly global. We simply are related to a global community - one so far largely unimagined. The question is whether we recognise this, how we imagine it, and what we do about it, in our global, regional, national, local arenas. Discovering this, and working it out in dialogical and humane ways is the great adventure to which we are all invited in the coming century. It is also fun (if you don't believe this, ask an internationalist). 

12: 'The future is not what it used to be' (grafito, Buenos Aires),


'A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at' (Oscar Wilde)

An alternative to our actually-existing global dystopia must be a not-yet-existing global utopia. We need to have one foot here, if we are not simply to replace global neo-liberalism with global neo-Keynesianism (the capitalist utopia of technological and managerial pragmatists). Our utopia must differ from the old ones in being: a) realistic (imminent in the contradictions of a GNC); b) not simply a predefined and static 'good place' but a process of continual global dialogue between people and peoples; c) not single but one which allows many utopias to exist. Anyone who wants to help construct it, can join one of the increasing number of radical-democratic and globally-sensitive networks or encounters. Which brings us to 

13: Global civil society: unimagined community?

a) Asked on arrival in imperial Britain what he thought of Western civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi said, `I think it would be a wonderful idea'. The same surely goes for a global civil society (GCS), thought of as a democratic project. 

b) The challenge of imagining and developing civil society at more than national level is no more (or less) difficult than it was to do so for citizenship when it shifted from the city to the nation, or as it moves from the political to the social and economic. Given, indeed, the relativisation of the nation-state as the privileged site of of citizen identity and democratic activity, there is no alternative to working this out for levels above (and below) the nation-state. There are and always have been transborder communities of identity and interest. What is crucial is to develop global civil society as an area both autonomous from and engaged with globalised capital and the inter-state organisations.

c) Just as the United Nations, the 'international community' and 'international public opinion' have been forces for the spread of liberal and/or social democracy at regional or nation-state levels, so can be a new global-civil-society-in-the-making for post-capitalist and post-statist values. The preservation and further development of radical democracy and pluralism at nation-state level depends increasingly on such global guarantees.

14: International democracy as process: civilising global society

a) In so far as our existing GCS includes authoritarians and fundamentalists (religious, national, ethnic, socialist, and even ecological and feminist), this requires the civilising of relations within and between such also. Whilst we could see the new international radical-democratic movements and networks as the vanguard of such a process, this is only to the extent that they 1) overcome vanguardism, 2) recognise that emancipatory ideas and processes occur in multiple spaces, 3) come to terms with the implications of Fig. B, 1 and 2!

b) Under a GNC we must think of a global civil society not so much in terms of institutions as of communications (which institutions traditionally restrict). The `public sphere' nationally is increasingly in or on TV, rather than in coffee houses, on street corners or political meetings. A global public sphere is increasingly taking shape on the World Wide Web, and will do so even more as TV, radio and telephone merge in cyberspace. This requires both struggle for the democratisation of an arena continually colonised by commerce, and development of the necessary mass media skills, popular genres and dialogical styles.

15: Of women's spaces in globalised places: in and from Latin America, the Caribbean, the Latinas of the North 

a) The 1990s have been a decade of intensive international experience for Latin American/Caribbean/Latina women's movements and feminists. Confronted by the contradictory and cross-cutting pressures of liberal-democratisation nationally, of neo-liberalism across the sub-continent, of the globalisation of policy on women, they continued their own networking and encounters, whilst being heavily drawn into the UN's 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995. In the absence of any International Gender Organisation, any International Confederation of Women, Beijing was a historical place and time at which women's contribution to the civilising of global society could be witnessed - and argued about.

b) Two international logics have been identified within feminist internationalism: one of lobbying, addressing and even entering the international/global institutions; the other of developing an own identity and and mode of relationship between different kinds of women, feminists, feminisms. The two logics have been sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, inter-related. Tensions between localism and internationalism, radicalism and reformism have affected even the now-traditional Latin/a/Caribbean Encuentros, sometimes marked by bitter conflict or nervous evasion (e.g. around foreign funding, which still requires analysis, theory and strategy). 

c) The international is, however, now a series of levels, and spaces, in which the LA women's movement is a permanent presence and challenge. The international, as always, provides both support and stimulus to the national and local. The intensity of engagement and increasing seriousness of self-critical reflection on such, provides lessons for other radical-democratic movements, theories and ideologies.

16: On the Battle of Seattle

a) The attempt to further an increasingly anti- and now unpopular neo-liberal trade and financial order at the conference of the World Trade Organisation, Seattle, December, 1999, succeeded only in provoking unease, discontent or outright opposition to the US and and its multinationals, from Europe and Japan, from the South, and from the frankly anti-capitalist/statist, the environmental and trade union movements. Learning the lessons of previous self-defeating inactivity, the US trade unions brought 40,000 members there. Although these (along with other unionists) were the overwhelming majority present, they by no means led or even shared leadership of either the peaceful or violent demonstrations - nor were they the most visible. 

b) Global capital, states and interstate organs are now taking international social movements, their computerised communications and their international alliances seriously. Whether the `Trade Unionists-Turtles' alliance will consolidate and be able to articulate a common alternative to neo-liberal globalisation remains to be seen. Which leads us back to where we began, and the problem of

17: Democratising labour's international affairs

a) The transformation from a national/industrial/colonial (NIC) capitalism to a GNC has brought about a crisis in the two major possible institutional labour contributors to a GCS, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Both were formed as a result of major international labour struggles around the turn of the last century. The symbiotic relation of social-democracy (ICFTU) and liberal-democracy (ILO) is now in question.

b) The ILO, as the instance of inter-state labour investigation, negotiation and norm-setting, has never had the powers invested in the international financial institutions, and is now being circumvented by them. The 11-million-member ICFTU, consists of national and state-oriented unions that grant their international but one percent of their income. It is dependent for almost half its expenditure on state 'development' funding. It is virtually invisible internationally when compared with the much smaller Amnesty or Greenpeace. Although both the ILO and the ICFTU may still be needed, neither of them is going to inspire, lead or mobilise a new international movement around imposed work in all its forms - nor to carry out any self-transformation. 

c) The force for a necessary re-invention of international labour affairs lies in the increasing discontent with and protest against neo-liberalism at the shopfloor, community and national level. But it also depends on the new networks and networking, involving unionised, un-unionised and un-unionisable labour, linking labour horizontally, open to other community and citizen movements. It is in open international networks and networking (real and virtual) that alternative labour strategies, addressed to both the international and the base, are beginning to take shape.

d) If the heroic/tragic age of labour and socialist internationalism is behind us, an effective labour and socialist contribution to the new global solidarities and civil society lies in the future. This will require labour and its ideologists/theorists to go to school with the new radical-democratic internationalisms. But it will also require the latter to learn from the history and engage with present labour and socialist internationalisms. It is difficult to imagine how a post-capitalist global alternative could be developed without reference to socialist ideas and labour interests. But it is just as difficult to imagine how labour and socialists are going to re-establish themselves as respected partners after their years in the wilderness of a NIC capitalism.

Selected bibliography

Alvarez, Sonia. 1997. 'Latin American Feminisms "Go Global": Trends of the 1990s and Challenges for the New Millenium’, in Sonia Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino and Arturo Escobar (eds), Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Pp.293-320.

Alvarez, Sonia. 1999. 'Thoughts on Distinctive Logics of Transnational Feminist Activism'. Unpublished. University of California Santa Cruz.

Castells, Manuel. 1996, 1997, 1998. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vols. 1-3. Oxford: Blackwells.

Cleaver, Harry. 1999. 'Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism',

Escobar, Arturo. 1999. 'Gender, Place and Networks: A Political Ecology of Cyberculture', in Wendy Harcourt (ed.), Women@Internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace. London: Zed Press. Pp. 149-55.

Hall, Stuart, Held, David and McGrew, Tony (ed).1992. Modernity and its Futures. Cambridge: Polity Press. 391 pp.

Harvey, David. 199?. 'The Spaces of Utopia'. Baltimore. Unpublished. 38 pp. 

Keck, Margaret and Kathryn Sikkink. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 227 pp.

Lee, Eric. 1996. Labour and the Internet: The New Internationalism London: Pluto. 212 pp.

Moody, Kim. 1997. Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy. London: Verso. 342 pp.

Munck, Ronaldo and Peter Waterman (ed.). 1999. Labour Worldwide in the Era of Globalization: Alternatives for Trade Unionism in the New World Order. London: Macmillan.

Petras, James. 'Globalisation: A Socialist Perspective', Alternatives to Globalisation: Proceedings, International Conference on Alternatives to Globalisation. Manila: Ibon Foundation. Pp. 148-56.

Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins. 1998. 'Cybercultural Politics: Political Activism at a Distance in a Transnational World', in Alvarez, Sonia, Dagnino, Evelina and Escobar, Arturo (ed.), Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Revisioning Latin-American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview. Pp. 325-52.

Sousa Santos, Boaventura de. 1995. Toward a New Common Sense: Law, Science and Politics in the Paradigmatic Transition. New York: Routledge. 614 pp.

Vargas, Virginia. 1999. 'Ciudadanías globales y sociedades civiles: Pistas para el análisis', Nueva Sociedad, No. 163, pp. 125-38.

Vos, Henk. 1976. Solidariteit: Elementen, Complicaties, Perspectieven (Solidarity: Elements, Complications, Perspectives). Baarn: Amboboeken.

Waterman, Peter. 1998. Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms. London: Cassell. 320 pp.

Waterman, Peter. 1999. 'Reflections on the Export and Import of Civil Society in Times of Globalisation'. Unpublished review article. The Hague. 11 pp.

Waterman, Peter. 1999. 'International Labour's Y2K Problem: A Debate, a Discussion and a Dialogue', Working Papers Series, No. 306. Institue of Social Studies, The Hague. 64 pp.


Figure A: Globalisation, its discontents, movements and alternatives

Aspects of
high capitalist


Dimensions of






global, national

& local










Increasingly rapid movement,



















manipulation &



& consumer

System of






& surveillance








civil &

social rights

Coordinated multi-level









repression &







of war via






of information

& culture




of crucial


relations &



& pluralisation

of information

& culture


& diverse


information &

cultural order




Commoditisation & manipulation of gender, sexuality

& reproduction


Global gender,


sexual, family

commoditisation & programming



sexual rights




& tolerant

G-Z. ???        


Figure C: The meanings of international solidarity

Definition General or






danger or


Identity Solidarity of common interest and identity 'Workers

of the world unite!

You have nothing

to lose but your

chains. You have a world to win'

'Sisterhood is Global' Universalistic;

exclusion of the non-identical; limitation to the



Substitution Standing in for those incapable of standing up for





Gender and Development programmes Substitutionism;

one-way solidarity,

with in-built



Complement-arity Exchange of different needed/desired goods/qualities Exchange of different emancipatory experiences, ideas, cultural products To-and-fro exchanges between movements, feminists on any axis Decision on needs, desires; value of qualities, goods exchanged
Reciprocity Exchange over time of identical goods/qualities Mutual support between London and Australian dockers, late-C19 Mutual support between differently confronted women's rights activists Allows for instrumental rationality, empty of emotion/ethics
Affinity Shared cross border values, feelings, ideas, identities Solidarity of pacifists, socialists, ecologists, indigenes Lesbian, socialist, ecofeminist Inevitably particular/istic: friendship?
Restitution Acceptance of responsibility for historical wrong Swiss compensation for victims of complicity with Nazis Japanese

support for

WW2 victims of Japanese



Buying-off guilt? Reproduction of guilt/resentment?


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