In response to this polarization, there are repeated outcries against growing economic inequality and disenchantment with the ruling classes everywhere. In Lebanon, where one percent of the population concentrates a quarter of its total income, hundreds of thousands of people flooded into Beirut’s Martyrs Square in protest when a new tax on Whatsapp calls was announced. The instability that followed was such that it led to the resignation of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the forming of a new government with opposition parties led by the armed group Hezbollah.
In Santiago, the national capital with the highest Gini coefficient (an indicator that measures inequality) in the OECD, the announcement of an increase in public transport fares sparked the largest organized protests in Chile in over thirty years, shaking the cabinet of President Sebastián Piñera and the consensus around the triumph of the neoliberal model established in the country during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Protest enthusiasts should however realise that polarization and disenchantment lead not only to the mobilization of progressive sectors, but also fuel national, regional and ethnic chauvinism of many kinds. It is clear that Brexit, the fascism of Jair Bolsonaro and the supreme nationalism of Narendra Modi in India, Donald Trump in the US and Vladimir Putin in Russia are the other side of the coin of the uprisings in Santiago, Port-au-Prince, Hong Kong and Beirut. Global resentment is not the heritage of any one sector and it feeds both the right and the left.
It is becoming increasingly clear that contemporary societies lack mechanisms to deal with these global tides of resentment and anger. Liberal observers speak of the need to think in terms of global “governance” to face the challenges of economic collapse and global warming while local politics around the world simultaneously tend ever more towards nationalism and sectarianism. Beyond good intentions, the only real global structures are in fact market structures like the networks of large corporations or those of organized crime, and those of bodies like the International Monetary Fund.
In contrast to the transnational organization of capital, the search for an internationalist agenda has long been abandoned by the left. The only possible scenario is that of local resistance and, in the best of cases, short-lived regional alliances organized around changing, conjunctural and fleeting demands.
Some see the possibility of an internationalist platform of organization and resistance in the protest against climate change. However, the various movements that have adopted this banner have been unable to articulate agendas beyond the urban spaces of the North Atlantic. Moreover, in countries such as the United Kingdom, the limitations of this protest are rapidly becoming apparent. In a recent comment about the Extinction Rebellion movement, which emerged from the 2018 protests in London and, on its website, presents itself as a global movement against possible planetary extinction, activist Athian Akec states: “when I look at the media coverage of the student strikes against climate change all I see are white faces” which is far from being “an accurate reflection of the diversity of British society”. Akec asks: “if the worst effects of climate change are being felt in the Global South, why are so few voices in this movement speaking out on the issue?”
At the same time, environmental mobilisation often ignores the fact that for two thirds of the people on this planet the dystopian future anticipated by anti-climate change activists arrived years ago. In the vast territories of the Global South devastated by armed conflict, deregulated industrialization, livestock farming, industrial agriculture and unbridled urbanism, the immediate problems of survival overshadow the possibility of thinking about a link between people's daily struggles and the political agendas forged in urban areas and the territories of the First World.
These difficulties highlight the need for a type of internationalism that can unite the demands and energies of the recent wave of global protest and, at the same time, resist the rise of ideological fascism.
The first crucial step is to denounce and analyze the identifiable and in many cases well-known production structures at the heart of this global crisis and make this the centre of the present debate and political imagination again. We must recognize that this is not a problem of democracy, governance or consumer habits. What we currently face is the need to recognize that capitalism cannot be sustainable, democratic nor egalitarian. On the contrary, it has shown its capacity to generate cyclical and increasingly powerful waves of dispossession, frustration and violence for centuries now.
The vision put forth by nineteenth century liberal imagination, in which freedom, private property and individualism could bring happiness and progress to the bulk of humanity has collapsed. The energies that this has unleashed act unchecked, and through channels and networks of global reach. However, we cannot be so rash as to declare this the moment of breakdown of the old order or the mythical origin of some future era. Capital and the right wing have plenty of resources to conjure up an agenda that allows them to benefit from this situation.
Furthermore, it is tragically clear that the left has renounced internationalist thinking. To this effect, we would do well to look at the ideals and organizational processes that shaped the great anti-imperialist left internationalist projects of the 20th century. From pan-Africanism to Third Worldism, through the Non-Aligned Movement and Tricontinental anti-imperialism, we have a rich legacy of movements which, contrary to what demagogues on both sides of the ideological spectrum have tried to make us believe, were not failures of corruption or tyranny but the obverse and victim of what we have been calling globalisation for some decades.
We are witnessing the final phase of the end of history and the recycling of old behavioural patterns, discourse and mobilization typical of the extinct 20th century. Neo-fascism, Cold War liberalism, regionalism and nationalist chauvinism are resurfacing. The world today allows us to paraphrase Indonesian President Ahmed Sukarno who, in his inaugural speech at the 1955 Bandung Conference, proclaimed: "Irresistible forces are sweeping all continents. New conditions bring new concepts; new problems bring new ideals."
The central ideals of the Third World project were peace, understood as nuclear disarmament and an end to imperialist aggressions, the creation of a new international economic order in which profit was not above people, and justice, imagined as the result of an international project of shared social development and a frontal attack on racism, nationalism and regionalism. They all resonate powerfully with the current situation.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the anti-imperialist internationalisms of the 20th century is the conviction that it is possible, and urgent, to think about a new global order. An order that can guarantee bread, peace and justice. In today's collapsing world, the demand for a new internationalism is not only a nostalgic reflection of another era, but a necessity to face the future that is fast approaching.
Daniel Kent Carrasco is a Mexican historian.
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