Power & Market

Why Is Proletarian Internationalism a Political Myth?

The article “Marxism versus Libertarianism: Two Types of Internationalism”

argues that socialist internationalism was postulated by the founders of Marxism without a coherent proof of the proposed premise. This axiomatic notion was necessary to achieve the inner logic of historical materialism. The matter of fact is that Marx and Engels could not imagine how the global socialist change could unfold in economically interconnected countries. Their solution was to call for an international brotherhood of proletarians who would be the agents of the coming socialist revolution.

Their justifications boiled down to the fact that the capitalists united the economies of all countries - thereby incidentally confirming the truism that capital has no borders and that entrepreneurs are truly international - and that is why the proletariat must be organized into world associations, in order to imbue them with class consciousness and ensure readiness for an upcoming struggle. The emancipation of the working class ran like a cross-cutting theme in the writings of Marx and Engels because it was they who assigned workers the role of gravediggers of world capitalism, which the proletariat itself did not even know about.

On the other hand, the founders of Marxism pursued another goal. They wanted their contemporaries to see their theory as not only scientific but also morally superior to any competing doctrines. Highlighting the predetermined historical role of the proletariat, Marxism insisted that people with the best intentions would make the social change, in order to eliminate the contradictions in the development of productive forces and production relations under capitalism. Marxism endowed the proletariat with the moral qualities of holy people - this is an innate sense of equality, brotherhood and justice, unconditional love for different ethnic groups and races, contempt for fetishism and wealth, and readiness for mutual help. That is why, from the earliest works, they intensively hammered the point of internationalism as the highest form of collective proletarian brotherhood in opposition to capitalist individualism. Internationalism became a trademark of Marxism, concluding the Communist Manifesto with the powerful slogan “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”

In fact, Marx’s conclusions have not stood the test of time. At the very first actual trial, where the working class had to show its moral superiority over the bourgeoisie and choose an internationalist stand, the proletariat showed a willingness to fight and die for their countries in the First World War. The overwhelming majority of European socialist parties supported their people, regardless of class affinity, and did not unite with the proletariat of their enemies. Lenin noted with bitterness that in more than two years of war, the international socialist and workers’ movement in each country formed three currents: social chauvinists, “center” and true internationalists, where he ranked the Bolsheviks.

Proletarian internationalism became a stumbling block in the labor movement, and insoluble contradictions between various factions led to the dissolution of the Second International in 1916. Moreover, the First World War became the catalyst for precisely the opposite trend, namely the nationalist turn in the socialist and workers’ movement and the departure from the principles of orthodox Marxism. During the interwar period, National Syndicalists, Fascists, and National Socialists emerged on the European political scene and challenged ideological tenets of the communist international.

Ironically, even within the communist international, the racist card was played, as can be seen in a bitter quarrel between the Soviet and Chinese communist parties in the early sixties. For instance, the Chinese stated that communism for non-white peoples should be kept separate from the communism of such “non-Asian whites” as Russians. Maoists prevented the Russian delegation’s participation in an Indonesian journalists’ conference on the premise that “the whites have nothing to do here.” The Chinese went so far that the Maoist version of internationalism apparently read: “Non-white workers of the world, unite!” - effectively killing Marxian objectives by replacing class solidarity with racism.

But there is something else that rips the internationalist mask off the face of leftist movements. Internationalism is an all-encompassing and reciprocal concept that is falsified if there is even a single exception or contradiction. If an individual, community, party, or country exhibits love for everybody except one, their internationalism does not pass the criterion of all-inclusiveness and thus gets debunked.

Historically, anti-Semitism turned out to be a litmus test that unmistakably distinguished an internationalist from a nationalist and a real internationalist from a false one. The recent book by German historian Götz Aly, Europe Against the Jews, 1880-1945, examines the prehistory of the Holocaust, which, the book posits, would not have been possible without the assistance of thousands of collaborators worldwide belonging to different ethnicities, social statuses, and political affiliations. In his groundbreaking research, the author has collected historical evidence of blatant anti-Semitism, including from prominent figures on the traditional left. For example, the author pointed out that French socialists such as Pierre Leroux, Pierre Proudhon, Georges Duchene, and Auguste Blanqui displayed fervent anti-Semitic sentiments, not to mention that the leaders of the Paris Commune and members of the First International Gustave Tridon and Albert Regnard were openly Jew haters. There are many such examples in the book. The truth comes out over time and the reappraisal of certain heroes of the socialist movement is still waiting in the wings.

Anti-Semitism can be found in places that seem incredible at first glance. In his research paper, Anti-Semitism in International Brigades, Andrew Smalling explores the paradox of hatred toward the Jews in International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, which were organized and managed by the Comintern and fighting a coalition of Nationalists supported by Italian fascists and German Nazis. Anti-Semitism was widespread enough to undermine military performance of the Brigades, according to a secret report by Soviet emissary Karl Sverchevskyi to his Moscow leadership. It turns out that irreconcilable enemies were able to find a common denominator in anti-Semitism, which in itself is a refutation of genuine internationalism in the leftist milieu.

Thus, proletarian internationalism is an empty slogan, which is weakly argued theoretically in Marxism and does not stand up in practice. This conclusion has great consequences not only as another exposure to Marxism but also as the overthrow of nationalism/racism as a factor influencing the polarization of the political spectrum. The paper The Theory of the Political Spectrum demonstrates, from a purely formal mathematical standpoint, that an element of nationalism/racism does not pass the test for sufficiency and necessity, and should not be used as a marker to distinguish ideologies on the political spectrum. This is due to the fact that nationalism, as a watershed between ideologies, loses its meaning when opposing doctrines converge on the national issue, whether in words or in deeds. The semantic constructs “if nationalism then the Right-wing” and “if internationalism then Left-wing” have neither logical nor practical argumentation under it but are a propagandistic cliché that has become an axiomatic blunder in contemporary political science.

The historical developments in the first part of the twentieth century invalidated Marxist postulate about an international brotherhood of proletarians. It turned out to be an ordinary political myth. But this myth has been kept alive by Communists as an extremely convenient propaganda ploy, allowing them to choose a high road in their international relations. The Communists often played this card, covering up their atrocities against their own people and other nations, on a par with the crimes against humanity of the fascists and nationalists, hiding behind the slogan of international duty.

In psychology, the effect has long been noticed when the guilty party blames others for the same sins that they themselves have committed. This is just the case that applies to the propaganda rhetoric of the leftists. They accuse their opponents of racism and xenophobia, while they themselves have racist skeletons in their closet. But the truth of the matter is that it was predominantly the leftist totalitarian regimes that created the nationalist monsters that killed millions of innocent souls, either overtly or through camouflaging their actions with internationalist rhetoric.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute