The Urgent Need for Internationalism on the Left in the US



Mural in Caracas, Venezuela

Any person or movement claiming to be leftist must be internationalist and anti-imperialist.

With the rise of a multi-polar world the United States is scrambling to reverse this trend and regain hegemony. The US’s military aggression towards China and Russia is increasing by the day. In fact, the US appears willing to risk provoking World War III, nuclear Armageddon and the end of organized human life as we know it. Meanwhile the Left in the US appears to be witting or unwittingly cheerleading this debacle which has dire consequences for the entirety of humanity. Internationalist spirit is desperately needed as the stakes are high and it is imperative that we join together to pull humanity back from the brink of destruction. 

Due to US war provocations, the Doomsday Clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to measure the imminent risk of nuclear conflagration, is closer to midnight than at any point in history (100 seconds to midnight). Even when the United States and Russia were closest to a nuclear conflict during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the clock only got to seven minutes to midnight. Despite this terrifying trend, instead of opposing Biden and the hawks in Washington’s increased military aggression or calling for de-escalation, the US is unified in its support for potential World War III.

Just as we saw throughout the 20th Century, in the 21st Century the Left in the US has progressively moved to the Right and abandoned its most effective weapon - Internationalism. Even after the September 11, 2001 attacks, wherein close to 3,000 people died in the US, while there was widespread support and even a bloodthirsty call for payback, there was an anti-war movement that opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Representative of this ideological trend is Congresswoman Barbara Lee who opposed the War in Afghanistan, a position that deserved significant admiration as it required an incredible amount of courage at that time. However, today Barbara Lee is a proud champion of Cold War II and the US military aggression against Russia and China. In fact, on December 21, 2022, the Chair of Congressional Progressive Caucus Pramila Jayapal together with Barbara Lee, issued a formal statement on behalf of the CPC wherein they “applaud” Zelensky’s speech to Congress and note that they “expect strong support from progressives for aid for Ukraine.” In other words, in the middle of a self-induced economic recession, wherein the price of all commodities is increasing, the number of unhoused persons is skyrocketing and the government is defunding the most fundamental of services such as providing potable water and other basic necessities of its citizens, the supposed most progressive forces in US politics have abandoned even the veer of being responsive to the needs of the people and instead “expect” full support for the US ruling elite’s reckless attempt to revive US hegemony (ironically in the name of advancing “human rights” and “democracy”).  

Not only are the Progressives embracing and lining-up to get a photo-op with Zelensky and signing blank checks to fund these ill-conceived, absurd and hopeless wars against China and Russia, but they also seek to punish those countries that oppose US’s futile attempt to regain hegemony.  For instance, Congressman Gregory Meeks authored and championed legislation to punish African countries through economic sanctions or even regime change if they dare to have any sort of dealings with Russia that may “undermine United States objectives and interests.”  This overt neo-colonial legislation is a blatant and flagrant infringement on the sovereignty and independence of Africa countries.  This is nothing more than an effort to coerce African countries into participating in the US's war against Russia (and China). Such legislation also exposes the hypocrisy and desperation of an empire that sees its world economic and political hegemony threatened and now wants to bolster its imperialistic ideology and position at all costs. 

The US has also engaged in similar attacks domestically. On July 29, 2022, the FBI violently and militarily raided the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement’s offices and the homes of its leaders based on what appears to be baseless allegations that they are Russian agents. If the stakes were not so high, the allegations would be truly comical. Nevertheless, like Black Internationalists of the past, the US government is terrified of even the slightest hint that anyone on the Left may seek alliance externally.

Meanwhile despite the fact that numerous reports from Democrats and the media that Russian oligarchs have provided millions of dollars to support the GOP, we have not heard of a single FBI raid on the Republicans with ties to Russia. Apparently, the Biden Administration is more concerned with Black Internationalism than they are with White Internationalism, even though Black Americans are the most reliable voting bloc for the Democratic Party, and in the 2020 Presidential election more White Americans voted for Trump than Biden. This continual move to the Right in the US is directly related to the long-standing attack, isolation and marginalization of the Internationalists, mostly notably Paul Robeson. Robeson, whose father escaped from bondage on a plantation in North Carolina, rose to international fame as a singer and actor. Robeson utilized his fame to publicize the demands of the Black Freedom Movement in the US on the global stage and connected them with the international struggles against imperialism, colonialism and fascism. As the archetype of radical Black Internationalists he forged alliances and friendship with some of the greatest liberation leaders in history including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Jawaharlal Nehru of India and many others.

Unlike the Left in the US, Washington has not forgotten that throughout history Internationalism has been an essential ingredient in liberation movements. Historically, international alliances have allowed even the most oppressed and subjugated to construct a countervailing power against the greatest of foes.  During the Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804, enslaved Africans against all odds, defeated the French, led by Napoleon who is considered one of the greatest military minds in history. The Haitians won their freedom and independence, in part, by making international alliances with France’s opponents. Haitian liberation and independence against colonial France also had monumental historic regional and international ripple effects – namely causing the eventual collapse of the entire slave system in the Western Hemisphere. 

Internationalism also played a significant role is the national liberation movements in Africa and the Caribbean. Similar to the ripple effects that the Haitian revolution had on the world, Cuba’s 1953-1959 revolution, victory and post-revolutionary foreign policy had global repercussions. Immediately after the victory in 1959, the Cubans had not yet devised a strategy on how to help liberation movements, but for the Cubans one thing was certain – the need to confront the common enemy on multiple fronts at once through “solidarity of the weak” or as they labeled it “internationalism” was the only means to win an unequal battle. On the continent of Africa alone, Cuba’s internationalism provided critical military and diplomatic support to the independence struggles of Algeria, Congo, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome-Principe, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. Over 500,000 Cubans took part in these liberation movements which ended colonialism in these African nations. In fact, after spending 27 years in prison, shortly after his release, Nelson Mandela’s first trip was to Cuba to thank the Cuban people for playing a significant role in ending apartheid in Southern Africa and for being "a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."

Internationalism has served also as a rear base and continues to provide refuge to many that struggled for liberation within the US. For instance, Algeria, Tanzania, Cuba, China and other nations provided important support to liberation movements based inside of the US, e.g., the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In fact, Cuba and Tanzania continue to provide crucial refuge and support to revolutionaries such as Assata Shakur and Pete O’Neal.   

The Internationalist spirit that the Haitians and Cubans embodied urgently needs reviving today. Internationalism requires an assessment of global currents to determine how best we can unite across national, political, cultural, racial, or class boundaries to advance common interests. As outlined above, sometimes alliances are made because mutual long-term interests are of greater importance than short-term disputes. In other words, from an internationalist perspective the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a truism that is often embraced in order to confront an unequal opponent. Ultimately, the question for an internationalist is ‘who can we build alliances with to get this boot off our necks.’

The Left needs to stop its overestimation of the progressive potential of this former settler colony. The Pan-Africanist Raffi Lysius explained some of the pitfalls that the Left engages in which impedes their Internationalist thinking and engagement: “US leftists think that by ‘opposing all states’ from within the greatest imperial hegemon and purveyor of genocidal violence the world has ever seen that they are supporting the ‘masses’ and the ‘people’ globally when really they are only yielding tacit cover to the US. Meanwhile, your vocal opposition to US enemy states, regardless of how ‘nuanced’ you imagine it to be, can and will be used to lend credence to the genocidal wars, sanctions, and imperial machinations the US is waging against them.”

As such, the Left needs to stop letting the US decide who its friends and enemies are and instead engage in a rigorous assessment of global currents in order to pave a forward. As the historian and journalist Vijay Prashad has called for, we “must incubate an internationalism that is not utopian, but real.” The Left cannot afford to wait for the ideologically perfect allies to build alliances with, such thinking exposes the lack of political and historical education, the lack of pragmatic strategy and the magnitude of privilege that has blinded many of the Left.

US imperialism clearly has no hesitation whatsoever in building alliances with those that may not share its ideology, so why should our side be hampered. As the author, historian and professor Dr. Gerald Horne often states it is as if “we are fighting with one arm behind our back when we don’t engage internationally, particularly when our opponents are engaging internationally.” 

While Internationalism is undoubtedly lacking on the Left in the US, there is one organization that deserves praise and acknowledgment for its astute and skillful Internationalism, the Black Alliance for Peace. For instance, on October 16, 2022, Black Alliance for Peace “forcefully called on Russia and/or China to veto the Biden administration’s United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize a military intervention in Haiti.” Black Alliance for Peace’s internationalist solidarity with Haiti proved successful such that Russia and China ultimately vetoed the UN resolution.

As the Cold War II progresses and the US increases its military aggression against China and Russia, the stakes will only get higher. As such, the Left must analyze these global currents and begin to build international alliances, particularly with those nations and organizations that support the growth of a multi-polar world. 

As a result, there is an urgent need to revive the Internationalist spirit of Robeson, the Haitians and the Cubans and join together to put an end to US hegemony and neocolonial warmongering, and pull humanity back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Left must pursue an Internationalist agenda and, as well, build working-class coalitions with the grit and strength to confront those on the other side of the barricades. The Left must support existing Internationalist formations such those outlined above, Black Alliance for Peace, and the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement. Lastly, there are countless political prisoners that have been behind the wall or in exile for decades, often times for their courageous, stalwart and Revolutionary Internationalism, who desperately need our support and solidarity. 

Ryan Napoli is an activist and attorney based in New York City. He is also the producer and host of the Activist News Network. The Activist News Network offers news, history and analysis on a wide range of topics focusing primarily on Liberation movements, current and historical activism, Revolutionary Pan-Africanism, Internationalism, and the importance of centering the freeing of all political prisoners. He can be reached at, on Instagram @ActivistNewsNetwork and on Youtube at Activist News Network.

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