Mises Wire

Marxism versus Libertarianism: Two Types of Internationalism

There are two main philosophical and ideological schools of thought that include the problem of internationalism in their principles. The first is liberal internationalism, which developed within the framework of classical liberalism. The second is orthodox Marxism and its various derivatives that entertain the idea of proletarian internationalism. The concept of internationalism has different origins, meanings, and practical implementations in the two schools of thought.

Because the term “liberal” in a politico-philosophical sense was highjacked by the Left and changed its meaning in people’s perception, it is better to use the term “libertarian internationalism” for the purpose of this discussion.

As a component of political doctrine, libertarian internationalism is based on the concept of laissez-faire, which implies, among other things, free trade and free movement of capital. The main goal of libertarian internationalism is to ensure economic and individual freedom on a global scale that would lead to the prosperity of individual, family, community, and country, and ensure a peaceful world order. From an economic and philosophical point of view, libertarian internationalism is a logical continuation and generalization of the concept of division and cooperation of labor. Division and cooperation of labor are the result of the societal development process that obeys the objective economic laws.

Division of labor results from an interplay between the evolutional forces of natural selection and market forces, and has influenced the development of human society from prehistoric times to this day. It is clear that specialized labor achieves better productivity and quality of the end product or service. Specialization was a manifestation of natural selection based on specific individual skills. At the same time, specialization suggests that an individual voluntarily gives up the production of a commodity that he is less qualified to manufacture but whose consumption is still essential to him. He relies on acquiring these lacking goods and services in the market. Basically, he trusts that some others will supply him needed things that he does not produce anymore. That someone is supposed to know better than everybody else how to produce his specialty commodity or service and, in turn, relies on others to produce something else for him, and so on. In other words, a high degree of division of labor brought members of society together as one, relying on each other. However, it is not collectivism but a voluntary cooperation of individuals who respect each other’s property rights. Division of labor creates atomic, independent producers and consumers, and cooperation brings them together in production and in a marketplace. In other words, division of labor induces cooperation.

The whole of humanity has found this mode of operation more advanced and gradually intensified the division of labor and reciprocal and beneficial trade. It is not done by someone’s order; it simply reflects behavioral changes that humans experience under an influence of selective pressure and the unrestrained laws of the market economy. The domestic mode of production gradually drifts from “production for use” to “production for exchange.” The scale of exchange has steadily increased, crossing the boundaries of the individual household over time and eventually reaching a global level. The entrepreneurial class has taken on many risks to enter manufacturing, service delivery, and trade to meet consumer demand. Under developed capitalism, national borders are crossed not only by goods and services but also by capital.

Libertarian internationalism is constructive and peaceful in nature and is possible due to the entrepreneurial qualities of individuals and a universal consensus on respecting property rights. Thus, libertarian internationalism is essentially entrepreneurial internationalism. Conversely, the idea of globalization, in which the world political bureaucracy interferes with the economic issues of sovereign enterprises or entire countries, is alien to entrepreneurial internationalism. Libertarian internationalism is the ideal that the world community should strive for, but unfortunately, the continuing interference of politics in the economy and worldwide collectivist trends are alienating humanity from a natural and more just order.

Proletarian internationalism arose in the minds of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as they developed their materialist conception of history. Marxism is a deterministic catastrophe theory applied to the evolution of human society. Using the Hegelian method of dialectics, the founders of Marxism divided capitalist society into two dichotomous classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The unsolvable conflict between the two antagonistic classes, caused, according to Marx, by the unfair appropriation of surplus value by the capitalists, had to reach a boiling point, the result of which would be a social cataclysm. Marx appointed the proletariat as the driving force, agents of the socialist revolution, designed to sweep away the liberal democratic state and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional stage on the path to building a classless society.

Marx considered his theory to be the pinnacle of scientific research in economics and sociology, in which he uncovered the objective laws of the development of society. The objective laws of the development of society, as well as the laws of nature, have to be universal and operate independently of someone else’s will. They cannot be disabled, canceled, or changed; they are a given that affects everything and everyone.

But it was precisely with objectivity that Marx had problems. First of all, the division of society into only two classes and the appointment of the proletariat as an agent of the revolution are unwarranted. Moreover, the workers themselves have not yet realized that they are the proletariat or the role that the founder of Marxism has assigned to them. Marx understood this perfectly and proposed theoretical and practical measures for the emancipation of the proletariat, awakening their class consciousness, and preparing for the political struggle against the bourgeoisie. However, in order to meet the criterion of objectivity, the class consciousness of the proletariat would have to develop naturally and spontaneously, without the influence of anyone’s will. Artificial and purposeful incitement to revolutionary sentiments and instigation to overthrow the existing system do not meet the criterion of objectivity and instead completely falsify it. Indeed, a scientific theory of the development of society is not needed to prepare for a coup.

Moreover, as objective laws must be universal, the same societal developments must occur in other countries. Marxism argued that the socialist revolution must have a universal character, that is, take place on a global scale, or at least in the most industrialized countries. Marx and Engels well understood that entrepreneurs were genuinely international, as capital does not have borders and the economies of different countries are interconnected. At the same time, labor was mostly local, lacking international organizations and representations. Therefore, Marxism invented proletarian internationalism in order to accommodate Marx and Engels’s teaching to these socioeconomic realities and attempt to mobilize the world proletariat for the world socialist revolution. In The Communist Manifesto, the founders of Marxism simply postulated that the proletariat has no boundaries and called on the proletariat of all countries to unite. Marx substantiated this postulate by the fact that the capitalists themselves created the preconditions for the proletarian brotherhood that would ultimately erase the “national one-sidedness” of consciousness within the masses of the proletariat. This conclusion seems farfetched and looks more like wishful thinking.

The Marxist suggestion that proletarians possess exceptional moral qualities which oppose nationalism and bigotry and exhibit an unconditional love for all people is empirically unwarranted, and there is no historical evidence to support it. It was, instead, a necessary condition in order for the Marxist theory to be logically consistent; that is, the world socialist revolution against the world bourgeoisie could not take place without a united front of proletarians. Marxism consolidated and expanded internationalism as an integral feature of the workers’ and socialist movements, placing itself in opposition to the contrived nationalism of capitalist society. It was an act of intellectual dishonesty that is still difficult to eradicate.

Thus, internationalism in the interpretation of libertarian philosophy and Marxist doctrine are completely different concepts. Proletarian internationalism is a political myth postulated by the founders of Marxism and used as a propaganda tool then and now. It is characterized by extreme aggressiveness, since it was invented as a weapon for the political fight against world capital. Libertarian internationalism, in contrast, is peaceful and constructive. It follows naturally from the logical and consistent development of human society in terms of the division and cooperation of labor and is based on respect for private property rights.

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