The past few years have shown the increasingly interconnected nature of the world we live in. We’ve seen the knock-on effects one event can have internationally – whether it’s the financial crisis or the wave of dissent that has spread across the Arab world and beyond. Capitalism is truly global in nature. Any revolution that seeks to put an end to capitalism would have to spread internationally. Could this ever happen?
Karl Marx argued that capitalism creates its own gravediggers – the working class. The system brings workers together in large numbers in factories and offices. This means that if workers go on strike they can bring the whole system to a halt – but only if they act collectively. As capitalism has expanded across the globe, it has created a global working class with a common interest in challenging the system.
To say there could be an international revolution isn’t utopian. Throughout history working class struggle in one country has quickly spread. In 1917 Russian workers not only managed to overthrow the repressive regime of the Tsar, but actually went further, smashing the capitalist state and taking power for themselves. But this revolution wasn’t the only show in town. It took place against a backdrop of waves of working class revolt and revolutions across Europe, most notably in Germany. Russia had become a beacon, inspiring struggles around the world. Similar waves of struggle happened in 1848 and 1968.
Just this year the revolts that spread across North Africa and the Middle East have highlighted the tendency for working class struggle in one country to give confidence to other movements and spread. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have inspired uprisings in Libya, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere. The mass demonstrations and industrial action in European countries have consciously sought to re-create the spirit of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Socialists see the continuation of struggle globally as intrinsic to the successes of already existing revolutions. It’s not possible to achieve socialism in one country. Ruling classes have shown themselves time and again to be prepared to intervene to butcher successful revolutions. The Nato intervention in Libya is an attempt by the West to regain control of a region exploding with revolt. It’s unrealistic to imagine ruling classes around the world would allow a socialist revolution to progress unchallenged. But such pressures can be countered by workers of different countries supporting each other.
There is a long tradition of international solidarity among workers. But workers are encouraged to think that their interests lie instead with their nation. The media encourages us to support “our” sports teams, “our” soldiers fighting abroad – even “our” politicians. We are encouraged to fear foreign workers and unite instead with our oppressors. But in reality workers in all countries share a common interest in getting rid of bosses, bankers and bourgeois politicians.
That struggles spread internationally reflects the structure of capitalism itself. The turmoil created by the First World War set the scene for the uprisings that followed in Europe. Today the global economic crisis has created the conditions for revolt as ruling classes in different countries seek to make workers pay through cuts and wage restraint. Production is increasingly organised across borders – but this is the result of the same dynamics that Marx identified in the 19th century. Capitalists are driven across the world in search of new markets in which to make profit.
Of course struggles don’t develop at the same rate. While capitalism is global, its effects are conditioned by the nation state. States are crucial for capitalists – they set taxes, preside over labour laws and exercise a monopoly over the use of armed force. So struggles in different countries will be different partly because of the differences between states. But movements that have successes can inspire others to take action while setbacks have wider implications. Struggle can shoot up and go down again. One country’s victory can feed another’s fightback and vice versa – it’s a dialectical relationship.
This has been apparent in the past year. The Arab revolutions have spurred on further resistance to austerity across Europe. This is the concrete reality of the nature of struggle, not a utopian concept. It is exactly struggles such as these that we can point to when we argue that working class self-organisation and revolution are tangible ideas that can win.
Only a global struggle can overthrow a global system. That doesn’t mean we have to wait for all countries to simultaneously have a revolution. Instead waves of unrest abroad can build the confidence of our own domestic working class. Most importantly history teaches us that the failure to hold on to an internationalist strategy for revolution means inevitable defeat.
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