Samidoun Gothenburg proudly presents an audio recording of our panel talk ”Imperialism and International Solidarity”. The panel was organized on September 15 2018 as part of the radical book fair ”Radikal Bokmässa” in Gothenburg, Sweden, hosted by the local radical book shop and popular educators Syndikalistiskt Forum. Participating in the panel are Charlotte Kates from Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and Torkil Lauesen from Internationalt Forum. Aside from the efforts of individual comrades in the struggle, the panel was made possible through the support of the international solidarity organization Emmaus Björkå.
In discussing imperialism and international solidarity, the panel is an attempt at contributing to a vital debate on the why and how of liberatory struggle. Topics covered include: Imperialism as the contemporary capitalist world system and the imperialisms of capitalist social formations on national and international levels; neoliberal globalization as a phase of imperialism; relations of contradiction and identity between neoliberal imperialism and the insurgence of chauvinism and fascism; war and superexploitation as the two faces of imperialism; imperialism and the state; migration and imperialist extraction of resources, commodities, labour power and value; racism and the labour theory of value; local and global social struggles and imperialism; the history of radical international solidarity; the case for a global perspective on imperialism and for international solidarity as possibilities and necessities for radical organizing; the Palestinian struggle for liberation and Palestine solidarity as examples of the possibility and necessity of radical international solidarity; anti-terror laws, militarization and migration restriction and possibilities for anti-imperialist organizing; the ”anti-imperialism” of reactionaries; the significance of the question of strategy for radical organizing; the future of imperialism and international solidarity.
Transcript as taken from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a-gzhQFKSnT8Ks0TIU3p0AR0VtAXUlffLiMr8vnYudk/edit
N: You might have heard a drilling noise which might happen again during the conversation, we’re sorry about that, they are doing some construction work in the building. But you’re very, very welcome here, and let’s give a warm round of applause for our guests.
L: All right, thank you very much [Nino] and thank you Syndikalistiskt Forum for hosting this wonderful book fair and I’d like to mention this panel is organised in collaboration with Emmaus Björkå who made it possible to invite these two interesting guests to Gothenburg. So, thank you for coming to this panel on imperialism and international solidarity, some of you might have read the short little intro in the lovely program of the book fair. With me, I have, as you heard before, Charlotte and Torkil. They are two organisers and activists with both differences and similarities in experiences of today’s topics, so I would just like to ask the two of you to briefly introduce yourselves, what your previous experiences are of organising around these issues and anything else you might feel is interesting to know about you.
C: Hi, my name is Charlotte Kates. I’m the international coordinator of a network called Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network. We’re very pleased that Samidoun Gothenburg is hosting this event and this panel discussion today. I’ve been involved in Palestine solidarity and other international solidarity work for some years, I suppose my work in Palestine solidarity began in the time around the second Intifada when I was a high school and university student. And I’m very much thankful to Emmaus Björkå, Syndikalistisk Forum and Samidoun Gothenburg for hosting us here.
T: And my name is Torkil, and on a strictly personal level I have very little – no problems with imperialism because I grew up in Copenhagen in the welfare state in the 60’s and 70’s in the imperialist centre. But nevertheless I got mobilised in ’68, by the spirit of ’68, and also by the Vietnamese struggle, and later on I was involved from the late 60’s to the beginning of the 70’s with Palestinian solidarity and also with the African liberation movement. Actually, I cooperated with Emmaus Björkå in supporting the African liberation movements in the 70’s, and I continued with different kinds of solidarity work, both legal and illegal. I have also been involved in support of political prisoners, at the moment mostly with the old prisoners from the old, sorry, I cannot remember, but the old political prisoners from the Black Power movement, and they have been behind bars for more than 45 years now and are still in prison. So these are some of my priorities.
C: You know, I should just add on a personal level, I come from the United States, which is of course the global centre of imperialism. And I’m not living in the U.S. now but when I got involved in activism this was in the Clinton era and moving into the George W. Bush era, which was a very particular era of imperialism. So at the same time as there was a rising movement of Palestinian communities and also of Palestine solidarity on campuses across the United States, it was the same time as there was this desperate need to organise an anti-war movement, to try to resist the attacks of Afghanistan, the bombing of Iraq, and so it was a quite a pivotal time in which I think many people became involved in the movement through recognising the very deep dangers that imperialism posed to people around the world and even to us people in the United States as well.
L: Thank you very much. And briefly about myself, I’m László, I’m here today as a representative of Samidoun Gothenburg, a local chapter in the international solidarity network for Palestinian prisoners. But we previously started, or Samidoun Gothenburg was started as the initiative for Freedom for Ahed Tamimi, or Frihet åt Ahed Tamimi. We’ve done some local organizing, but when Ahed Tamimi was freed from the imprisonment of Israeli prisons to the imprisonment of Israeli occupation, we realised we had to organise in other ways. So that’s us, and that’s me, today. So, you have already implicitly answered my first question, which is a simple yes or no question, but it is: Should we talk about – should we as radicals of different kinds talk about imperialism today?
T: Yes, I think that imperialism is more relevant than it has been for many years and it also my feeling that it’s becoming more relevant to more people because, if I just go ten years back, anti-imperialism and imperialism was something retro from the 70’s like orange lamps or teak furnitures or something, people thought of it like something from ’68 or something, but it has become very relevant in the last 20 years, especially with the outsourcing of industrial work to the Global South, there have been 100s of millions of new proletarians in the Global South especially in China but also in Mexico and Brazil and Vietnam and Indonesia and so on, and they are becoming very very important for imperialism and the transfer of value from the Global South to the Global North has increased very much so imperialism is very relevant still.
C: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that imperialism and fighting imperialism is necessary for our movements today and it’s not a side issue or secondary to the issues that we face within our own countries and its not separate from them either, so facing issues about police brutality, racism, issues with education, with housing, with healthcare, with lack of jobs, with forcing people into a kind of school to prison pipeline in the United States, with the ongoing super-exploitation of racially oppressed people, with the ongoing settler colonial domination in the United States, Canada and Palestine and elsewhere. Imperialism isn’t something that, you know, I don’t know, is a thing of the past, I mean when we’re looking at obviously the incredible resource exploitation and labor exploitation that’s also driving climate change and forcing people – destroying the planet and forcing people from their homes and taking the greatest toll on the most oppressed people, even beyond the bombs that we see dropping in Yemen and Syria and in Libya and in Iraq and Afghanistan still today, people around the world are suffering and dying and the earth is suffering and dying because of imperialism. And so it’s perhaps a greater responsibility than at any time in history to make a stand and really fight back against this.
L: Thank you. So we’re organising this panel in sort of an attempt to locate our own activism as Samidoun Gothenburg but also as an attempt for us as radicals, as anti-capitalists to locate our struggles, to orient ourselves, so in your answers now on whether we should talk about imperialism today both of you already touched slightly upon the question of what is imperialism, what do we mean when we say imperialism. Of course, there can be – there can probably be many understandings of such a concept and for example one such understanding is what both of you brought up, that it’s a thing of the past, and so one such thing is that it’s not a thing of the past. Would the two of you like to try to make it a bit more clear what we mean or what the two of you mean. You already brought up both on the one hand outsourcing of industrial production but on the other hand also military actions, so please, if you will.
T: For me it’s very important that imperialism is part of capitalism and vice versa. It’s very integrated, and it has been from the very beginning. The first kind of imperialism was in fact colonialism and colonialism was very very important for the birth of capitalism. So already in the beginning these two concepts capitalism and imperialism mingled. And also in the history of capitalism, imperialism has always been necessary for the development of capitalism. Capitalism isolated in itself is not an ongoing machine in balance with itself, it needs constant expansion, it needs imperialism for getting more profit, it needs imperialism to get larger markets, it needs imperialism to get raw material. Capitalism cannot live without imperialism. And in the last I think 30 years they have more and more grown together so now we can develop I think one theoretical framework of imperialism and capitalism, we don’t need a special theory of imperialism anymore because it’s going to be more and more the same thing. And I think it’s also very very important that imperialism is capitalism and vice versa because many people think for instance of Iran as anti-imperialist but Iran is a capitalist society so it cannot be anti-imperialist. Iran maybe is against American dominance but it’s not against imperialism. So I think it’s very important to link these two concepts together.
C: I agree that capitalism and imperialism can’t be delinked from one another. And we also cannot understand it as bad things that countries do in the world because sometimes there is an attempt to kind of equate imperialism and the attacks of the US, the attacks of other capitalist powers with doing bad things or things that are immoral. And one of the very deep problems of capitalism is that this immorality is part of the system, it’s not a choice of a bad leader making a bad decision or a particular political party being elected to power but it’s part of the very logic of the system itself so if we’re going to fight against wars, if we’re going to fight against climate change, if we’re going to fight against ecological devastation, if we’re going to fight against settler colonialism in Palestine or if we’re going to fight for black liberation or if we’re going to fight racism, I mean all of these things that are deeply linked, we have to fight capitalism. And it’s not possible to do any of these things effectively without putting anti-capitalist struggle at the top of the agenda. At the same time it’s not possible to effectively fight capitalism, to effectively defend workers’ rights or the ability to organise, or to challenge the increasing drive toward austerity and privatization by viewing that as something that happens in separation from imperialism, or while continuing to have discussions on whether or not the United States or Canada or the UK or the European Union or Sweden should be involved in humanitarian bombing campaigns. We can’t separate these issues from one another instead we can make, we have to make all of our movements stronger by standing with those people who are on the frontlines in those movements, who are on the frontlines of the Global South leading that resistance to imperialism and to capitalism.
Audience 1: I have just one question, what should we as persons who are sitting here listening to you do to help in this struggle? Physically, I mean.
L: We can come back to questions later towards the end, if it’s okay.
Audience 1: Yeah, sure.
L: I hope we will touch upon that topic during the talk…
L: But we will come back to individual questions later. So, the two of you have already touched upon how for example you started by mentioning Denmark, how in your example you said that you weren’t afflicted by imperialism necessarily because you grew up in Denmark, and Charlotte you mentioned for example the EU and Sweden as well, but both of you have also mentioned the US, and I think one misunderstanding might be that, maybe in line with the idea of “imperialism is when states do bad things”, that, since it’s quite hard to argue that it’s not the United States that does the most bad around the world with its constant wars and exploitation of other nations, but if you could just briefly or at length try to elaborate on the fact that imperialism is not, imperialism, you could use the concept of imperialism as a global system of relations between nations and classes but you can also talk about imperialisms of different social units, different nations, different states.
C: One of the things that is interesting about the so called Trump era is that, more and more, we are seeing kind of intra-imperialist, inter-imperialist contradictions rising to the forefront, so when we see these discussions about the EU and Trump battling it out over trade deals or these kinds of conflicts that actually get a great deal of media attention. You know, what we’re seeing is not a clash between systems but, you know, kind of an increased level of rivalry over the ability to extract profit, over which power will be the dominant power in this imperialist world system. And that’s something that has I think been hidden a little bit in the previous era there was always a lot of talk about you know coalition building, western democracy and other kinds of terms as a way to describe the entire imperialist world system, the entire, you know, global centre and the perpetrators of imperialism against the world, against the people and the nations of the world. But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that the contradictions between imperialist powers are developing and the contradictions between capitalist powers are developing, and so we’re seeing this playing out you know for example in the ongoing conflicts between United States and Russia over influence in markets, we can say that the United States is kind of clearly the greater threat to peoples of the world but that doesn’t mean that what’s happening between the US and Russia isn’t fundamentally an intra-capitalist, intra-imperialist conflict, and this is something that could hold actually some potential in the ability to fight back against this system but also holds a great deal of very real danger and very real costs for people who will be those who pay the price in proxy wars and other battles and who are facing you know multiple exploiters vying for the ability to take resources and labour. There is a possibility to move into the breach of this confrontation and to use that space in order to fight back, I mean what we’ve seen since the end of the socialist bloc and the fall of the Soviet Union, not claiming that those countries were, you know, prime examples of socialism or the liberated world we want to see, but the decreased space of conflict, even though that was not an inter-imperialist conflict, has led to the further empowerment of capitalist powers to ramp up exploitation to massive degrees, ramp up economic and environmental devastation and ramp up wars of military control and domination, and there does, as this kind of inter-imperialist conflict rises along with crises in capitalism, there could be potential for kind of seizing that day to confront it, but in order to do that it’s necessary for us to organise and be ready to fight back.
T: If I could elaborate a little on this, I think from the point of view of capitalism, neo-liberal globalisation went very well from the late 70’s up to the financial crisis in 2007, they had 20 glorious years with very high profit and also very much political success of neoliberalism, they constructed all these transnational organisations, WTO, and also they strengthened their cooperation with all the G-meetings in this period. After the financial crisis, things start getting worse for neoliberalism. In many terms, economically, but I would like to talk about the political problems of neoliberalism, because it started to backfire in the imperialist centre because people were losing their jobs and there was coming pressure from immigration, and these two things started to pressure the political system because we have a parliamentary system and when people try to push these issue, they put pressure on the parliamentarian system and it was a problem for neoliberalism. It was very hard for the political parties to both go on with neoliberal globalisation but also taking care of mounting pressure from the population which was unsatisfied with deindustrialization and the pressure from refugees and immigrants, and this puts a very high pressure on the parliamentarian system and we have seen the rise of the right, the populist right all over in Europe and also in America we have the same situation. So I think this is, actually I am aware that Trump is a menace for the American people but he is also a sign of big problems for capitalism and I think like you that we will see in the future an imperialism which is more linked to certain countries like in the old time, as the old imperialism. Trump has already spoiled the G-meetings, I don’t think there will be new G-meetings, he has weakened NATO…
T: … and he is threatening to weaken WTO. He is a menace for neoliberal globalisation, so he is not a bump on the road but he a sign of very serious problems in the capitalist system, and I think we will in the next 20 years we will have a very dramatic period, we will see all strange new kinds of alliances, we will see many many changes in politics and we can expect a very dramatic period, and its very very important that we are prepared for this change in the system.
L: Yes, thank you for explicating on the issue of multiple imperialisms, as both of you described and explained. I also think that we will, if we have so far, in the previous 20-30 years, not realised that imperialism is not just one monolithic global system but is actually a system of competitors, we will definitely see how the big economic units of the world will compete, increase their competition with one another and this, personally I think this is one of the shocks for especially the political establishment that there could be rivalry not just between the US and Russia, the US and China, but also between the US and the EU, between the US and the UK and the UK and the EU…
L: So, as one first small, as a first beginning to an answer to the question of what we can do around the issue of imperialism is I think trying to genuinely understand global capitalism, imperialism, as a system of conflict, as a system of competition, not the old time free market competition of small scale capitalists freely competing with one another in peace on the marketplace of goods and ideas, but a social and economic system dominated by a few large monopolies. And Charlotte, you have multiple times mentioned racism in your answers, and Torkil, you have mentioned the resurgence or insurgence of the new far right. If maybe you could try to relate modern imperialism to both the imperialist wars and climate change as maybe a mode of extraction of resources and extraction of human resources from the Global South to the Global North and maybe relate it to also border regimes such as Fortress Europe’s and the relation of these global and traditionally maybe very neoliberal systems to the modern far right. Charlotte?
C: Well I mean there is a very kind of obvious connection between imperialism, racism and migration, or forced migration as is the case in much of the discussions that we’re having, whether we’re talking about people directly fleeing war and violence or people fleeing a lack of jobs, a rapidly changing environment and an inability to survive in that context that was deliberately created. These flows of people have been created by imperialism through its… through wars, through its support… whether it’s a direct war or through the funding and training and creation of proxy wars, we have definitely seen this in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere throughout the region, when Palestinians were seeking to flee Gaza it’s not because they suddenly decide that they’d rather live in Sweden or Germany or Belgium, but because they are being forced to flee their country in order to survive. I mean we’ve seen UN reports saying that Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020 and people saying that in fact it’s already reached that stage. And this is something that isn’t a natural disaster or a natural tragedy, it’s something that is absolutely being created by the actions of imperialist powers, by the actions of the United States, by the actions of the European Union and its constituent countries, certainly by the actions of Israel, their chief ally in the Arab world, in the Arab region, and other imperialist powers around the world. People are being forced to flee because of the devastation that imperialism has wreaked on their countries and this isn’t an accident, it is as you said, I think a very sharp way of describing this, an extraction of human resources from the Global South, it’s not an accident, it’s not a mistake, it’s something that is being done that is forcing people from their homes, forcing people from their societies, forcing people from their cultures, and then labelling them as dangers, perpetrators and villains, and setting them up as the enemy of the people instead of, obviously, the actual enemy of the people, the imperialist powers that are creating this situation to begin with. I mean, that being said, aside from this, obviously, people should be free to migrate, people should be free to move, but this isn’t a choice that people are actually being able to freely make, this isn’t an option that is available, it’s an act of violence that is being committed against the people in the Global South and it’s a massive act of violence. And in a really kind of morally sick way the victims are being turned into the perpetrators and I suppose it’s much the same as the propaganda that we see about Palestine, the propaganda we see against whatever government in the Global South that is today’s target of imperialist wrath, but the transformation of victims and protagonists and people who want to live in and save and find freedom for their countries and for their peoples as dangers when obviously the real dangers are those who are creating these wars, those who are responsible for climate change, who are sitting in government offices and in corporate boardrooms around the world. So the, I mean capitalism has always used racism, capitalism has always used division in order to keep people apart, in order to create super exploited classes of people, and at the same time, those who have been targeted by racism, those who have been targeted by imperialism, have also been those who have been leading the struggles against imperialism, so when we’re talking about who’s fighting against imperialism, in the United States, those made the greatest contributions to the struggle against imperialism have been movements like the black liberation movement fighting against super-exploitation and fighting against racism as well as, you know, working with the trade union movements and others, but these are the movements that haven’t been to the same extent co-opted by imperialism, have not been taken over. When we look internationally, the reason why you will see the cause and support of Palestine in demonstrations for justice around the world, whether it’s in South Africa or Brazil, is because the Palestinian struggle has become kind of a symbol of oppressed people who are fighting against all of the forces of imperialism and a direct settler-colonial occupier on their land and have been carrying the burden of you know leading the struggle for all of us around the world. Of course the Palestinian people are not alone, there are numerous examples around the world, of peoples who are leading this movement, and so the peoples and nations that are being attacked and are being forced into migration who are losing their agricultural capacities due to climate change that’s being created by capitalist globalisation, these are the same peoples who have created the movements that have been leading the world in fighting against imperialism and so if we’re going to talk about fighting racism, once again it’s not simply a moral issue of rejecting racist stereotypes or being appalled by the far right and you know Trump or the AfD or the Sweden Democrats, but actually building direct alliances with those who have been most directly affected by imperialism, who includes in all of our countries the people who have been forced to migrate, the people who have been forced to move as well as people who are currently in the Global South, this you know, there’s always this kind of move on the center left to talk about “oh, what we need is more immigration restrictions, maybe we need more deportation, we need to differentiate between economic migrants and real refugees and asylum seekers, we need to research people for criminality, we need check people against terrorist lists”, and so you know all of this is a way of really avoiding the real issue of confronting the global terror that is imperialism and if we’re going to actually confront the far right the only way that this can be done is by organising and working with and empowering the most oppressed sectors of our societies to be a full part of and take a leadership roles in our struggles, and that involves completely rejecting the idea that some people don’t belong or need full scrutiny or that the very same imperialist powers that are causing devastation around the world are those who should be judging and deciding and determining who is real or legitimate among their victims who are seeking some form of survival. So and that struggle for survival and that struggle against racism is absolutely necessary for all of our survival as a world, as humanity, as a planet, as for any kind of future and the rhetoric of groups like the AfD, of the Sweden Democrats, of Trump, this use of the term you know “animals” to describe people, putting up you know posters in the Bayern elections about “Islamfreie Schulen” and this kind of you know attempt to just turn working class people into looking at each other as the enemies and specifically to looking at each other as the enemies instead of confronting the actual powers that are causing this division or causing racism and are making their money and profits on it on a daily basis is an absolute crisis and it can’t be solved by accommodating the far right or trying you know make an analytical appeal to their demands but only by confronting it directly with the leadership and participation and full involvement of those who are most directly targeted by those attacks.
T: I think that imperialism has two main faces, if we look around the world, and it has one face which is the exploitation of low wage workers in the Global South mainly in Asia, and here is the economic aspect very clear. And then you turn to the whole Middle East area, here is the face of imperialism as war and there have been around I think 40 years of constant war in the Middle East. So this is two very different pictures of imperialism: We have the Middle East with all the wars and we have Asia with the economic exploitation, and these two aspects are linked together because struggle in the Middle East is not just about oil, it’s a geopolitical struggle, who rules and which type of regime rules the Middle East is very much setting the terms of global exploitation, so these two aspects of imperialism supplement each other, and you have talked a lot about the refugees and immigrants cause by war and another aspect which causes immigration is the huge difference in living conditions between the Global North and the Global South. It’s a huge difference in wages, between Sweden and China it’s 1:15, between Sweden and Bangladesh it’s 1:30 or 1:40. And the standard of living is so very very different and that’s why many refugees want to be part of the capitalist welfare state. And therefore the borders of the welfare state are becoming more and more important. Capital can move globally, goods can move globally, but even if you put more and more pressure on people they cannot move. Citizenship is becoming one of the most important things if actually it’s more important than racism, racism has turned into this struggle about citizenship, who is and who is not a citizen. This is so important today and there’s all kinds of sub-citizens, people who are nearly citizens and not citizens and in-between and this whole circus of citizenship is a symptom of the division of the world between rich and poor.
L: Thank you, you both raised many interesting connections between, well basically between imperialism, neoliberalism and fascism, in a word. This might be a topic for another discussion, but I think it’s interesting what you mention about the standard of living, how dramatically they differ, and for whoever recalls the labor theory of value the imperialist regime of the world basically says that the lives of the people of the Global South are in fact worth [less], for example the people of Bangladesh, the life of a Bangladeshi is worth 1/30th of [that of a Swede].
T: Can I make a small drawing? Fast drawing to explain it.
L: Sure, go ahead.
T: If you have the Global North here and Global South here and the Global North here again, and then you have value here, if we first take a value in capitalist terms, the value of your smartphone, for instance, in capitalist economy, value added looks like this in capitalist terms [T draws a curve with high values in the GN and low value in the GS in the diagram] in the production of a smartphone. If we have here in the Global North, there are research and development and design and it adds a lot of value to the smartphone in capitalist terms. And then it’s produced here in the South, no, it doesn’t add very much to the value. And then it’s again sold here in the Global North with marketing and with branding and all this, which is also very costly. So this is the value chain for the production of a smartphone. But if we take it in marxist value theory, it looks like this: It’s not a happy smiley, it’s a sad smiley, where you have the value of the production here, in the Global South it’s much value and not so much value in the hot air production here. Of course the research and development and marketing is also some value but it’s so many smartphones so it’s very little. Actually a smartphone which costs maybe 2000 Swedish kronor it’s about less than 100 kronor which goes to production in China. And if the whole production of a smartphone should take place in Sweden the price would be triple of what it is at the moment. Sorry.
L: It’s okay. And it illustrates the point how the very basic economic foundations of capitalism, which has now developed into imperialism, how that in simple economic terms lays the ground for such systems of oppression such as racism that with a simple diagram as this the capitalists, the imperialists can easily motivate that the life of for example a Chinese worker or a Bangladeshi worker is worth a fraction of a Swedish worker, which of course transforms and mutates into many various different social forms, cultural forms of how this valuing of life expresses itself. But I also found it interesting that both of you have mentioned the state multiple times, especially on the issue of citizenship, of how the capitalist state is not a neutral actor, it is in fact a capitalist state which can decide whether you more or less live or die based on the needs of the exploiters and oppressors, so that’s another thing I think is useful to bring along from this panel, to really critique the state as whether it’s a neutral actor in both capitalism as such but also imperialism as a global system. And also how the state is not limited to for example in Sweden it’s not just the very strictly defined state of the number of institutions that the state is, but it’s much more meaningful for us as radicals to think of the state as a much more far-reaching social institution that in the EU stretches all the way to the international level and downwards reaches to the levels of municipalities and how this state power is exercised to reproduce the social order necessary for exploitation, and as both of you have mentioned super-exploitation in specific. But this most recent discussion before our example of marxist theory of value, I think it lead quite nicely into the question of international solidarity. I think we will go on with this panel for at least ten minutes or so, where we will discuss international solidarity, then I suggest we start wrapping up and after that we can take some individual questions. So, if you could just maybe in some well chosen words sum up perhaps the history of international solidarity and in relation to imperialism in some key elements that you think are necessary for this panel.
T: If I should start then I don’t think we have had international solidarity enough, it has been lacking in the whole history of the communist and the socialist movement. It started out very well with The Communist Manifesto, there was a lot of “international” and “the proletariat has no fatherland” and they founded the first International and so on and so on, but I think that Marx was very disappointed that actually the socialist movement got more and more nationalist, that socialism was something which should be created within the nation and the nationalist forces becoming stronger and stronger in the end of the 1800’s and in the beginning of the 1900’s and especially when Germany became the leading socialist power. Even at the time when we had the Russian revolution Lenin still believed very much in internationalism, he didn’t believe that the Soviet Union would survive without other revolutions and strong internationalism, but the Soviet Union turned to some kind of, becoming more and more nationalist, and I think that has been the trend for many many years. We have seen that actually internationalism has been nationalised, of course the Soviet Union continued the rhetoric of internationalism but it was in the state which was showing international solidarity and so on. Of course there have been examples of internationalism, we have the Spanish civil war, we have the solidarity movement with Vietnam and now we have some solidarity movement with Palestine, but actually I think that this international solidarity is not very much prioritised in different socialist movements, it is something on the sideline when we have visits from abroad we have nice speeches and so on, it’s not in the center as it should be of their policy. Most socialist groups they start with the national or the local perspective and you should not do that, you should start with the global perspective, what is the global struggle, what are the global forces, what are the main contradictions, from that global perspective you make your national strategies and your local strategies and not the other way around.
C: I fully concur with your critique of the movements that we have had. In addition, I think it’s important that we differentiate between the idea of nationalism in imperialist countries and the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples, because sometimes these issues become conflated or they are lumped together under the banner of nationalism and what that actually serves to do is to obscure the issue of perpetrator and victim and obscure the issue of who is actually leading resistance and what forces are those that are actually making the possible the continued struggle against imperialism and capitalism, and by and large, the last decades, those forces have been those struggling for liberation in their homelands and countries and places to be free of imperialism and to be free of colonialism and settler-colonialism and neocolonialism. And it doesn’t mean that it takes a solely nationalist form for the creation of statehood, you know absent any other form of liberation. I mean this is a struggle that in, for example, to take the Palestinian context, we’re speaking on September 15th, this only 2 days after the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, which not to get too much deeply into the history of the Palestinian national liberation movement and the Palestinian struggle and the Palestinian revolution and resistance, but the Oslo Accords were purported to be a path to statehood, of course they haven’t even been that, but what they were also about was a transformation of fundamental kind of, a final way of attempting to transform the Palestinian struggle from a liberation movement of oppressed peoples that was confronting not just Israel as a zionist settler-colonial project in occupied Palestine, but also imperialism and also the reactionary regimes in the Arab world that were part of that world system and making it possible. So that struggle, you know the attempt to transform it entirely to one that was nothing more than for the potential power of some few Palestinian capitalists who have some kind of small hook, some kind of small seat in the world system, that’s what Oslo was about and of course I mean it’s been a disaster for Palestinians and so now the movement is looking towards how do we actually build on a basis on the movements and organisations and struggles that exists, how do we actually build that Palestinian and Arab and international movement that’s necessary to actually fight all of those enemies. And we can say oh, these are the institutions that are the enemy camp for the Palestinian people, but it’s not really separate from those same entities and states and systems, namely capitalism and imperialism, that are the enemy camp for all of our struggles for liberation, whether we’re, until we, I agree that a lot of times there is a debate in the movement, like when we talk about international solidarity almost as if it’s extraneous or a distraction from dealing with issues that are local and affect people directly, so when we’re talking about you know access to appropriate health care, or access to services for people who are using drugs, the ability to use public transit for free without facing fines or exclusion of people who are living in poverty, like all of these issues they are not unimportant but they are not separate from the battle against imperialism, and we can’t effectively actually fight against the same enemies with recognising that we do need to do that standing alongside Palestinians, standing alongside oppressed workers in Asia, standing alongside – and that includes – standing alongside countries that are, however imperfectly, fighting to exist and carve out a space that doesn’t completely and entirely cohere to the goals and rules and restrictions of imperialism such as we see today in Venezuela, such as we see today in Cuba, we might not see these as socialist revolutionary countries that are firmly on the path to liberation, but we definitely have a responsibility to fight back against our governments when they attempt to use sanctions as a weapon of war, when they attempt to, it’s not enough for us to have the right critique of the imperfect ways to socialism that are taking place in these countries, what we have to do as our first and primary priority is fight back against our governments that are committing these crimes and fight back against the corporations that are you know creating this capitalist system, that are doing so on a daily basis. And so, just as Torkil said, international solidarity isn’t something that we have done effectively enough but it’s a necessity. It’s a necessity for us and it’s a necessity for the future of the planet, and I mean there are many examples, I would say perhaps more in the past than today, of movements that have done an incredible amount of work in directly working with those movements that are fighting imperialism on the frontlines around the world, whether that’s Palestinians in Palestine and those in the refugee camps in Lebanon, whether that’s the revolutionary movement in the Philippines, whether those are the movements in southern Africa which were fighting against colonialism and fighting for revolution, whether it was the Latin American movements that were fighting against US imperialism in the 80’s and of course are continuing to fight today. But I would argue that the limited international solidarity that we had was perhaps mobilised more effectively in that era, but that it only presents a stronger challenge to us and it’s hard to say that, you know, we have all of the answers, we’re facing also new technologies and tools of the state and tools of imperialist and capitalist powers that are constantly being refined in research and development offices to make their ability to stop our international solidarity stronger. So, while effective international solidarity has always been repressed by the state, we see the creation of so called anti-terrorist laws that create entirely, that build upon repressive laws that already existed to create these new mechanisms of repression that are designed to both prevent international solidarity and also prevent those people of the Global South who have migrated from playing an effective role in their own liberation movements. And we see these being replicated from one country and one state to another. We see the growth in global surveillance, the growth in extradition and sharing of prisoners as we’ve seen in attacks on Turkish and Kurdish movement leaders, specifically across Europe. So this is the time that we have to come together, to work in our parties, in our movements and our organisations to bring international issues to the forefront, to recognise that we’re not just talking about Palestine because Palestinians are oppressed and we feel sympathy and solidarity when we see oppression happening and we want to stop it, but because we cannot fight back against Fortress Europe and we cannot fight back against the military companies that are profiting immensely from the destruction of many places around the world and we cannot fight back against the states that are part of this system unless we entrench our abilities within our parties, our collectives, our groups to as, you said, starting from the question of identifying the primary contradiction and then determine how we can fight from there, whether that’s by doing direct involvement in, say, Palestine solidarity or whether that’s including and always recognising that we’re talking about fighting an imperialist system even when we’re organising workers on the shop floor, these aren’t separate questions, they are ones that go together and they have to go together if we’re going to talk about a different future for this world in which we are changing the equation of what value means and who profits from it and that if anyone profits at all, or if we’re going to talk about a society in which people have the ability to benefit from their own labour as a collective, as a society and as a movement, and I guess that means I think if we’re going talk about international solidarity, it does mean that we also need to talk about what that liberatory future that we see is. If we’re talking about socialism, if we’re talking about revolution we can’t just leave these issues off the table and speak about international law and human rights because as much as there might be positive ideals embedded in these concepts, they also represent the systems that were meant to create the legitimisation of imperialism and means for its regulation on a global scale. If we’re facing a period of crisis in which this is falling into place, the tools of our enemy will not save us and so it’s up to us to construct those, working together with those resistance movements that are on the frontlines fighting the struggle on a daily basis to create those that can.
L: Thank you, so if you could just as a conclusion to this panel just maybe give a few or just one concrete example of how you engage in internal solidarity or in anti-imperialism and which you maybe think that others could take after.
T: Well I think that, I work in an organisation called Internationalt Forum in Copenhagen, and what I work for in that organisation right at this moment is firstly that I think we should plan, in an intermediate scale, we should plan our work in a five years perspective, not what we shall do tomorrow or next week or next year but we have to plan strategically in a five year perspective. It’s this perspective which we don’t often plan with but it’s very important, it’s much more important that planning for tomorrow or planning what kind of socialism we shall have in 50 years. It’s that five years perspective, five to ten years perspective, which is important. And I think also that I said that I think we will go into a very dramatic period, so we have to prepare our organisations for I think this change. In this “War against Terror” the state has changed its face, there are coming new laws, there is coming much more manpower, they have got new technology in surveillance and control of people, and we have to be aware of this change because it will turn against us in these dramatic years. If we oppose imperialism seriously they will turn against us in full force, and we will be criminalised and we have to prepare for that situation because I think it will occur in the coming years. Yeah.
C: I agree, I think it’s already happening, I think that why we see I mean for example in terms of anti-terror laws, there are people in the United States serving up to 65 years in prison for sending money to Palestine, and even actually sending money to recognised NGOs and things like that and not even sending money to the resistance. There are people, because they were accused that the charitable organisations that they sent money to were associated with the Palestinian resistance, and so this, but the purpose of this case wasn’t to put these five guys behind bars, the purpose of this case was to prevent anyone else from doing similar fundraising projects for Palestine, the purpose of this case was to say that the United States and/or the European Union and/or other entities get to decide who actually is the appropriate and recognised target of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Palestinians don’t get to determine that, and the Palestinian liberation movement definitely doesn’t get to determine that, instead the United States does, the European Union does and if Palestinians don’t comply, they’ll be listed on the list of foreign terrorist organisations and so you can be prosecuted for sending money or for getting involved in even the most, you can be potentially, even in the most, at least under US law, ostensibly doing things like providing assistance or training even in things like how to set up a website, or how to organise a program. So the purpose of these laws, though is in fact not to prosecute people, it’s to change our movements. And so I do think that one of the practical things that we can and should do, I work with an organisation called Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, we do work on Palestine solidarity in general but we focus on political prisoners at the center of the struggle both because it’s central for Palestinians, but also because political prisoners are targeted because they resist Israeli occupation, settler colonialism and its deep links with imperialism. This is why Palestinian political prisoners, this is why Palestinians are in jail, this is why they are prosecuted. So if we’re going to build a movement to defend the political prisoners, this means that what we are doing is we’re defending the resistance. And so if we’re going to build solidarity with Palestine, that means building solidarity with Palestinian resistance, it means consciously not allowing the state and imperialism through the use of anti-terror laws and the use of foreign terrorist list designations as a mechanism of determining the future of our international solidarity movements. So you know in some extent this can involve legal cases in which people are challenging these cases in court, in which people are fighting against these laws, because we do have to fight back against them, because they are a weapon of our enemies to use against our movements, and to use against our movements in the Global South and because it’s also a means of attempting to cut off the oxygen of political and financial and material support that’s provided by international solidarity. But we have a responsibility to face down these laws, even as they are simply one mechanism, one manifestation of state imperialism, of what capitalism looks like today and the kind of high level of surveillance and repression that’s associated with it. They are one simple mechanism, but fighting against them is absolutely critical to building an international solidarity movement that comes together on the basis of liberation struggle and resistance, rather than the terms that are set out by the very enemy that we are seeking to fight. So why we focus on political prisoners is frankly the vast majority of people who are imprisoned are members of the very same organisations that are designated as terrorists by the Israeli state and that same designation then becomes replicated by the European Union, the US, Canada, the UK. It doesn’t mean that doing solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners is illegal under those laws, but we absolutely have to fight back not just kind of ideologically but also materially against the idea that the very same forces that are ensuring the oppression of Palestinians, of Filipinos, of Kurds, of people in Turkey, people elsewhere, have the right to determine who the political leadership of those people are going to be. And if we’re going to stand with those resistance movements, that means building our solidarity first and foremost with those resistance movements, that means listening to what Palestinian prisoners themselves have to say, and highlighting those things in our demands. It can include something as simple as being part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements, something totally legal and legitimate and not particularly demanding on people, but it’s also a demand that every single Palestinian resistance organisation has put forward, to move forward on the boycott of Israel, to say that it’s not, that settler colonialism isn’t acceptable, but we can do that not just on the basis of human rights, international law or calling on capitalists to come to their senses and stop supporting oppression, but on the basis of building international solidarity from a revolutionary perspective and towards empowering a Palestinian liberation movement that has the potential to actually move beyond Oslo and reclaim the liberatory heritage of the Palestinian struggle. But I mean I’m focusing on Palestine but the same is true for many other movements around the world, Palestine isn’t unique in that sense. It may be central to the struggle against imperialism but it’s not unique, I’m simply using it as an example because it comes from our own experience and I think that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned for all of our movements and for all of our struggles for liberation.
L: Thank you. And to conclude, before I open up for a few questions, because in about 15 minutes the next session in the program starts and I wouldn’t want to interfere with that, I want to try out a little interactive exercise in reference to the Burkinabe revolutionary struggle and their leader Thomas Sankara. So when I say “imperialism”, you say “down with it”. Imperialism!
Everybody: Down with it!
L: When I say “all the power”, you say “to the people”. All the power!
Everybody: To the people!
L: Great, thank you very much!
L: So if there aren’t any questions, you’re free to go grab a coffee, grab a sandwich or anything in the wonderful café organised by Syndikalistiskt Forum. Feel free to raise your hands or in any other way signal that you have a question. *indicating Audience 1* Would you perhaps like to restate your question of what we can do or do you feel that you have an answer?
Audience 1: Ehm, I’m not sure right now. I will come back to you, maybe.
L: All right.
Audience 2: *signals for attention*
L: Oh, okay, we have a question.
Audience 2: Just one question. How do we decide who to work with in this resistance movement? Because, for example Palestine, I would say, I’m from Germany so it’s quite confusing to have solidarity with groups that are clearly antisemitic, like Hamas or something. And, the other side is, how do you explain the IS, because on one point, it’s an anti-imperialist movement, on the other point they are not revolutionary or socialist or something, they are enemies of our comrades in Kurdistan, but they are also fighting against the US and the imperialists.
L: Okay, so the question is: How do we decide who we work with? Who wants to start?
T: My solidarity with Palestine is not mainly a national struggle. My solidarity with Palestine is for international communism or socialism. Or if there would be a Palestinian state under the leadership of Hamas or a bourgeoise government like in the West Bank or an Islamic government, it’s no friend of mine and it’s no struggle of mine. My struggle is for global socialism, and therefore I supported the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was a socialist and a communist movement. And this is essential for me because they fight imperialism. The others don’t fight imperialism. So this is what I started with, that there’s a link between socialism and… a link between imperialism and capitalism. So, yeah.
C: So first off I just want to say like for most of the Palestinian movement from the very beginning utterly rejects the existence of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, and those things aren’t antisemitic, and so I think we really need to start from that perspective. Like we can’t take the framework of European antisemitism, which is a very real problem and continues to be a very real problem, especially from right wing and fascist groups who more and more are lining up with the Israeli state at the same time they haven’t done anything to change their anti-Jewish rhetoric and beliefs and you know real threat that they pose to actual people. There’s been an attempt to really reframe the threat of European fascism and antisemitism and direct that threat and that danger on Palestinians and Arabs, whether they’re in Europe or whether they’re in Palestine and in the Arab world, and I really think that as like people who are committed to fighting against fascism, we all have a real responsibility to stand up against that and fight the actual forces that are promoting antisemitism, who actually include many supporters of zionism. I mean you have Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary lining up with the Israeli state at the same time that it’s disgustingly antisemitic and actually presents a real threat to Jewish people in Hungary. So, and this isn’t, you know, it’s not alone, you see people from the old EDL in the UK do the same thing, we see, I mean, we see even in Germany, we see groups like the AfD lining up to declare their allegiance to the Israeli state and supporters of the AfD are lining up to bring Israeli flags on streets in Berlin where a lot of Palestinians and Arabs are, you know, active, have businesses and social activities in an attempt to provoke anger and say that “Oh, this is antisemitism”, even though none of the people involved are Jewish and the only thing that’s involved is the Israeli flag, which is the representative of a repressive state that was created on the basis of the expulsion of the Palestinian people, not on the basis of, you know, the rights of Jews or a fight against fascism. So, I just really want to differentiate between total opposition to the Israeli state and its existence in occupied Palestine, and antisemitism, because they are two very different things, and antizionism and antisemitism, because they are two very different things. And in fact, equating zionism, which is a racist ideology that’s based on the same kind of colonialism and international imperialism that we’re seeing around the world, with Jewishness, is actually in and of itself quite antisemitic because I think it’s pretty antisemitic to say that Jewish people and Jewishness should be associated with the dispossession of the Palestinian people and the war crimes that have been committed for the past 70 years. So I just, and I also, but I think it’s really important that if we’re going to analyse Palestinian politics and Palestinian political groups, that we don’t attempt to take the framework of European antisemitism and the crimes that European states have committed against Jewish people and for that matter the crimes which the US committed against Jewish people, I mean turning back refugees that were fleeing Nazi Germany, creating all kinds of racists laws and restrictions, saying that “Oh, this is what’s happening in Palestine”, were Palestinians aren’t even dealing with Jewish people as such, they are dealing with an Israeli state, a settler colonial project, which is calling itself “the Jewish state”, regardless of the legitimacy or validity of that claim. Now I mean, I would say that that claim is not legitimate, it’s not legitimate for the Israeli state to claim to be “the Jewish state” or to claim to speak on behalf of Jewish people, including, you know, communists and antifascists who fought and died for liberation struggles, not to create a state that’s an oppressor. And I think it kind of goes back to Torkil’s point, you know, in terms of who do we stand with, so just, you know, to start with making that really clear differentiation between opposing Israel and being antisemitic, because the equation of Israel with Jewish people is antisemitic. So, if we’re going to fight antisemitism, we have to stop equating Israel and Jewish people, and we have to stop equating Palestinian liberation with antisemitism. But secondly, you know, in this context, yeah, Hamas has some reactionary views, they are not the same thing as European antisemitism and the lengthy lengthy deep history of the persecution of Jewish people by European states, it’s just not the same history and it’s not the same problem. But at the same time, there are absolutely… and so, why do Palestinians vote for different political parties, it’s a, it can be, perhaps it was clearer in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, perhaps it was more apparent and more obvious, but you know, Palestinians vote for some political parties not because they are necessarily lining up along people’s ideological positions or saying they really want a religious state, but because they want to resist occupation. And if Hamas is the main other force that people are seeing and that actually has popularity and support and financial support and the ability to fight materially with weapons, and the other side that’s available to people as the large opposition party is the party in power in the West Bank, in power of course because there’s no real authority in the Palestinian Authority, it only serves to be a buffer to the Israeli occupation, is Fatah, and a policy of accommodation and collaboration with imperialism, with the Israeli state, engaging in so called “security cooperation” which means the arrest of Palestinians, that’s not much of a choice. Now, there are absolutely still communists and socialists Palestinians, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that’s struggling and fighting. Ahmad Sa’adat, the general secretary of the PFLP is currently serving 30 years in Israeli prison, I witnessed part of his trial in the military courts, and there are socialist and revolutionary Palestinians that are fighting both in our countries in Europe and in occupied Palestine and in the refugee camps in Lebanon and people who are in Syria and Jordan who are continuing that struggle today. And I do think that we have a responsibility to work to support progressive and revolutionary movements, but we also have a responsibility to see that honestly, our first priority here has to be stopping the crimes of our governments, has to be stopping the crimes of the capitalists in our countries, has to be stopping the policies of our states, and right now those states are… so boycotting Israel isn’t actually about a referendum on our particular views on Palestinian politics. It is about stopping the crimes of our states and their allies, stopping military cooperation and trade and supporting a military embargo isn’t about our referendum on Palestinian politics. By doing that we’re actually going to create an environment where Palestinian progressives and socialists can come to the forefront again an be leaders in their movements if we can start by working on doing what we can to lift some of the violent attacks and the vicious pressure from the backs of the Palestinian people.
L: Thank you. Also, I would, we’re going to end here. Do you want to…
Audience 3: I have a question, if you have time for it.
L: Okay, then I’ll just briefly say that the IS or Daesh, they are not anti-imperialist.
C: Oh, I forgot about that.
L: That’s my version for you. We can discuss it later on, anybody who would like to discuss that issue. But, yes!
Audience 3: Time may be running out, but I would like to ask, because we are entering into a dramatic shift in the imperialist system now, I would like to ask about do you see any emerging opportunities, emerging forces, for the international resistance against imperialism in the coming years?
L: You have one minute.
T: I think in that dramatic period we are going into a global situation where we have a multipolar world. It’s not only, we’re going from US hegemony to a lot of powers. We have the rising power of China, which is very interesting, I think. And it’s, China is the most important thing, I think, what is going in China, and the Chinese working class is very very central in that struggle. So if I would concentrate on looking at one aspect, it is what is going on in the labor struggle and the political struggle in China, both inside and outside the Communist Party, because this would be, it’s a fundamental of what is going to happen in the next decades or so. And I’m not that pessimistic of what’s going on in China as many people are. That’s one aspect. And then of course there is also the Middle East, which is an interesting aspect also, but for me, it’s, I’m very interested in China and following China.
L: ??? Do you want to… ???
C: ??? I think… ???
L: And to reiterate, don’t worry, you do not need to support ISIS/Daesh if you’re an anti-imperialist.
C: Yes! Oh yes! I forgot about it in the context of talking about Palestine, but yeah, there’s nothing anti-imperialist about IS. Just having some conflict with the United States at some point in time isn’t actually what fighting imperialism is. IS is a full-fledged reactionary movement that has actually served the interests of imperialism in the region in a very obvious and dramatic way.
L: Thank you very much.