Symbiosis: Internationalism Beyond the Nation-State

"True internationalism means building people power wherever we live and work."
Symbiosis is a confederation of community organizations across North America building a democratic, just, and ecological society from the ground up.
Symbiosis is a confederation of community organizations across North America building a democratic, just, and ecological society from the ground up.

Our first congress of movements was held in September 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Allies and member organizations gathered to discuss strategies for how to build popular power outside the governing institutions of our present system. The confederation aims to supplant these institutions with truly democratic ones of our own. We call this process dual power.

We are writing as members of the Symbiosis Research Collective, a network of activists creating political education resources to support Symbiosis' goals. The Research Collective works autonomously from but closely in sync with Symbiosis, members of whom have given critical input for this statement.

We want to use this opportunity, offered to us by Progressive International, as an invitation to think through a couple of questions:

  1. What does internationalism mean for us?
  2. How, as an emerging confederation of movements, do we practice it?

By sharing our own reflections, we hope to encourage others in navigating this vital concept.

What kind of internationalism?

Broadly, we understand internationalism to be the concerted effort of building effective and organized networks of solidarity around the world. For this definition to be meaningful, we must answer what our internationalism tries to accomplish: the dismantling of structures of domination everywhere, while healing and building social and ecological relationships. We frame our analysis using the image of a foundation with three pillars.

The foundation: capitalism

Because of its exploitation of care and reproduction, capitalism is inherently patriarchal. It perpetuates itself through wage labor, private property, and the global commodity market, where people must work alienating jobs to survive. From here, classes are stratified; our value is determined. Wealth created by nature and people is bought, sold, and destroyed in the world market, according to a proprietor’s will. It is this particular political and economic system that is to blame for the breakdown of our climatic and ecological systems, not humanity.

First pillar: The nation-state

We question the word "inter-nation-alism", as it implicitly endorses the nation-state as a legitimate entity. The state is an inherently hierarchical structure, whose main functions are to (1) maintain a monopoly over violence, (2) protect the institution of private property, and (3) entrench the power of capitalism. Our internationalism is shaped by a conviction in both the need for peoples' self-determination and an understanding that the nation-state is a deeply flawed vehicle for that process. Autonomous movements must be able to chart their own paths, which may or may not include strategic alliances with states. That is why we work across and beyond nations, and prefer the term intermunicipalism to describe networks of autonomous municipalities, rural and urban alike. Within this framework, we demand the freedom of movement for all.

Second pillar: Colonialism

We recognize the ongoing reality of colonialism on the territories we inhabit known as the United States, Canada, Mexico… or otherwise called Turtle Island by many Indigenous peoples. As a North American confederation, we must condemn and work to undo settler-colonialism and anti-black racism. In turn, we must champion Indigenous solidarity and black liberation by listening to, learning from, and supporting these struggles. Internationalism is achieved when we cultivate relationships with the First Nations stewarding this land, with black communities seeking self-determination, and with Hawaiians and Puerto Ricans resisting occupation.

Third pillar: Imperialism

Peoples the world over continue to suffer from the legacy of US-led global hegemony through its international institutions. Canada also has played a major role in the ecological destruction and genocide wrought by its transnational extractive industries. As we are located in North America, the onus is on us to center these realities in our organizing. Our internationalism must involve committed solidarity with the peoples bearing the brunt of US imperialism and Canadian mining interests. We must denounce embargoes and sanctions, US-led wars, and the arms industry, as well as the global financial and multilateral institutions that fuel them.

How do we practice internationalism?

1. Critical solidarity with struggles around the world is at the core of our members' work. Many of us have been active in the global movement for democracy; for returning land to the people; for fair trade; and for an end to extractivism and war. One member organization, the Asamblea de Pueblos del Istmo en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio in Oaxaca, Mexico, is engaged in a fierce defense of their land from the Inter-American Development Bank. Additionally, at the inaugural congress held in Detroit, the Global Majority Caucus was formed to prioritize anti-racism and anti-imperialism in our own organizing. Member groups such as Cooperation Jackson affirm black liberation as central to their organizing.

We are greatly informed by knowledges and political models in practice elsewhere, exemplified by the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the Kurdish Freedom Movement in Northeast Syria. We are inspired by the rising tide of feminist struggles, and likewise by the long history of women organizing against patriarchy and oppression. Support work for these struggles, including fundraising and elevating awareness through publications, presentations and protests, has been a core feature of our movements.

We offer a critical solidarity, which does not worship our own or others' struggles. This kind of solidarity work was essential for the launch of our confederation at the congress, which involved reaching across the borders that divide us to develop relationships based on trust. Ultimately, the greatest act of solidarity is to build people power where you are, while forging direct links with activists near and far.

2. Political education as a form of internationalism, and internationalism as a form of political education. Many of us became politicized through learning about and supporting movements for self-determination and autonomy in Palestine, Northeast Syria, and Mexico, as well as Indigenous struggles in the United States and Canada. Our own journeys of political awakening have come about through popular education; in turn, organizing popular education about these movements has been pivotal for furthering our goal of building power in our own communities.

3. We envision a world linked through a confederation of autonomous, democratic peoples’ organizations. At heart, Symbiosis is motivated by the goal of democratic confederalism — a political system of direct democracy at the local level, with recallable delegates sent to regional and supra-regional deliberative bodies. The Rojava Revolution is the latest example of this model in action. Thus, we prioritize organizing across borders and invite aligned organizations based in so-called Mexico, Canada, and the United States to collaborate with us.

Call to action: no internationalism without real power

True internationalism means building people power wherever we live and work. Global structures of domination imprint themselves onto us and the ecosystems in which we live, promoting division — from nature and from each other — in every locality. A dual power strategy establishes people power from the local to the regional level by defending, caring, healing, and bridging across diverse ecologies and identities. Economic democracy, embodied in unions, cooperatives and the commons, is fundamental to how we will achieve this. It lays the base for building a directly democratic political system that challenges, and ultimately supplants, existing capital-state systems. A dual power strategy allows us to shift from merely reacting to world events, to forming meaningful relationships of interdependence that cut across borders.

Rather than simply offer a negative solution — anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-war — internationalism must offer an alternative to hierarchical systems of domination. We envision an internationalism of creative resistance and autonomous projects that meet real human needs. Let us not merely advocate, but demonstrate that alternatives are possible. As the Zapatistas put it: Queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.

Although building our movements along these lines has been slow-going and often trying, still, we believe this is a fundamental step forward. Will you walk with us? We’re going the same way, after all.

Photo: Jeanette

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