War

Working People Have No Country

by Matt Stannard
January 3, 2020

Try this early and often–in every conversation about the administration’s war-drive against Iran, every discussion online and offline. Say:

“You and I have more in common with an Iraqi or Iranian militia grunt than with Donald Trump.”

. . . and simply: “Working people have no country.”

If your concern is beating this administration, and thus restoring the legitimacy of things like U.S. military hegemony, then this strategy and this blog aren’t for you. If your concern is to use the present political moment as an opportunity to strike at one of the root causes of this administration’s existence, the kind of world where mobbed up landlords become world leaders, then understanding our commonalities with Iranians is more than just liberal cosmopolitanism.

The warrant for “working people have no country” as an anti-war slogan is that if we see ourselves as beings in a common material class, and have adopted cooperative economic praxis, it won’t make sense to go to war with one another–at least where the interests of the majority are concerned.

There’s a large body of work on this, and it would be counterproductive for me to recommend that one read too much of it before diving right into direct political engagement. In reviewing the topic, I wanted to center on a singular explanatory text, and not necessarily a “Marxist” one, explaining why Marx and Engels were concerned that working people struggling for socialism or communism would center the ruling class in their own countries as the first oppositional force needing overthrow, and would view the working class as an international class.

So I tracked down Evan Luard’s Basic Texts in International Relations, in which Luard devotes an informative overview, “Class Consciousness as a Restraint on War” to the issue of why shared working class consciousness rejects war between states.

Part of the working class’s motivation for rejecting their own governments’ war drives is that the aspiration of working class political power includes eliminating those drives. “Once they had acquired power,” Luard puts it, “they would cease to have any interest in a war against any other state where the people had taken power. War would then, like the state itself, wither away.” Wither away because “the state” is based on antagonisms, war is a flare-up of such antagonisms. Luard points out that 50 years after the Manifesto Karl Kautsky, in a more utopian tone, wrote that workers would recognize the interdependence of their needs and the common conditions of their existence. In one form or another, most socialists adhere to that belief.

But I think it’s obvious, and probably necessary, to point out that we don’t need to view these beliefs as subscriptions to inexorable, mystical axioms. There might still be conflict. There might still be bloodshed. You can think this because you think humans are just inherently that way, or you can predict that the antagonisms of previous orders take a long time to exorcise and may never completely go away, or whatever. You don’t have to accept these premises as anything other than general prediction of tendencies. And you don’t have to believe that overcoming class will cause all other differences to be erased, synthesized, dissipated, or otherwise minimized. You can simply believe, as more and more people do, that capitalism and material hierarchy make it much, much harder to solve the conflicts that accompany those differences and conditions.

Class politics– emphasizing our shared materiality and shared security needs, using that shared materiality as a way of faithfully and vulnerably working through and dwelling in our other differences–can inform our anti-war politics, and connect our opposition to war to our larger ecological and economic justice agenda.

And, in many ways, most of us already recognize that our ethical obligations to each other transcend national origin. If the breakdown of such consciousness today can be discerned by opposition to the current administration’s actually existing fascism on immigration. Granted, it’s not a magic 8-ball on working class internationalism, but most Americans want more immigration and diversity, not less. Recently, political researcher Stanley Greenburg described how this administration has hastened the crystalization of such attitudes:

Pew asked whether immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” or “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” The proportion embracing immigration jumped from 53% in 2015 to 62% this year. Trump sent troops to the border, warned of an America exposed without a wall and ran ads showing illegal immigrants who murdered innocent Americans, and yes, he made immigration the most important reason to vote against the Democrats in the off-year elections. His party lost the House in a 53%-45% landslide last year and has lost the battle of public opinion on immigration by much more than that.

This is an example of the various accelerations we currently live, whether we want to admit it or not–and at least some of this consciousness will survive even if trumpism does not. On immigration, as on climate and healthcare and, I ultimately suspect, on warmaking, a large cross section of America is turning sharply socialist, almost leapfrogging over more moderate-liberal analogs, and while it’s not the same as storming the palace, it points to what could turn out to be a massive fucking anti-war movement, assuming the administration treats the current war drive as a traditional war drive.

At least as important as magnitude will be motivation. Mass movements don’t often stop wars from starting, but mass opposition to those wars energizes class politics. We have an opportunity to make the slogan “working people have no country,” and the careful and powerful analysis behind it, central to our argument against this war and all wars, and in so doing, invite more people into socialist politics.

Uttering and explaining the slogan will help win people over. It will cause some other people to yell back “yes we do have countries” and invoke their fatherland myths–and it’s useful to know who those people are too.

Matt Stannard is operations director of Solidarity House Cooperative and produces content on cooperative economics and law.