As a small contribution to the discussion within the modern U.S. left about how we practice anti-imperialism and internationalism in our struggles, I would like to contribute two examples of praxis (or near/potential praxis) of concrete and practical internationalism. What I mean by that is that we can organize to have groups of people take action in ways that have a material impact on the money/resources flow of the bad guys in other countries in solidarity with movements on the ground there.
One simple truth for me is that the highest international solidarity we can have as leftists in the U.S. is to tear down the U.S. empire from within through revolution. That means a lot of different but related kinds of work. For us in Cooperation Northfield it means organizing workers and youth, building a mass movement of direct action for climate justice, and building dual power institutions. This is the work, in our geography of southern Minnesota, that we think best positions us in the medium-to-long-term to help make societal crisis into revolutionary moments. Furthermore, as we build power in these arenas, this also puts us in a position to leverage that power in specific struggles when calls for international solidarity are made. I will detail two such examples later in our particular context. While these examples will help illustrate the broader argument I am making about practical solidarity,
Almost any version of a root cause analysis can help us understand that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Similarly, there’s no perfectly ethical way to exist, even while organizing and building power to use against the enemy, while living and participating in the United States and its economy/political system. In that context of never being able to do it exactly right, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to keep it simple. Build relationships, turn those relationships into groups, and move those groups into action on concrete fights for tangible changes that can also help radicalize the participants beyond the single concrete fight. That’s a gross simplification, but for me a clarifying and useful one.
Good organization starts in part with understanding the enemy/target. Specifically through power mapping or power structure analysis. Power mapping means researching to get a clear picture of the ideological and material systems of the enemy. For example, if we wanted to fight tar sands we need to answer the following questions: Where are the mines? Which companies build and operate the pipelines? Which banks fund it? Where are they located? Which railroads transport the pipes? Which towns do they stop in? Which unions represent workers in those areas? Which politicians are aligned against it and who for it?. Where do all the head honchos live? Which organizations have grassroots bases of people that aligned with this movement? How do we build up a base with the analysis necessary to take action in those key pieces of infrastructure? And many more. Specifically, many of the answers to these types of questions lead us to specific places like roads, buildings, houses, railroads, and offices. These then can become targets of non-violent direct action or protest that have a material impact on the ability of the bad guys to function normally. When we stop them from functioning normally, we create a crisis for them. When we create a crisis for them, they have to respond in such a way that resolves the crisis. There are only two options in a strategic fight: use the force of the state to stop the actions/protests or negotiate and concede on some demands. If we are being strategic then both scenarios can work to our advantage.
The point is, the only way to have a serious impact on our enemies is to have an organized base with enough power to impact their systems, especially the flow of money or materials. Actions that even remotely successfully target these kinds of intervention points, with some publicity, can also force a societal choosing of sides and raising of awareness.
Therefore, as it applies to internationalism, our task as leftists in the US is that when we build relationships with other movements internationally, or just hear their calls to action, we engage in power mapping to understand the material flows of resources/money from specific institutions or infrastructure in the US in relation to their fight. From the power mapping we then mobilize existing bases people to take action (as close to direct action as possible, meaning not just protest but directly stopping operations) on these targets. If that base doesn’t exist, and we are serious about being in solidarity with those struggles, then that base needs to be built. That’s slower and requires organizing, training, popular education, and structure. But if we are serious then that’s what we have to build.
My simple analysis is that often internationalism in action is entirely symbolic or oriented to raising awareness. Which is fine. But I think more effective, and what can achieve the same goal and possibly much more, is publicized actions that target key systems and infrastructure of resources and money flow.
Even better is to engage in building around this for the long term as opposed to short one-off actions or campaigns. But we gotta do what we gotta do as rapid response sometimes and that’s okay too.
To be more specific I have two examples of this in my own life and organizing.
The first is, so far, the more successful example. The fight against the tar sands industry, and therefore its pipelines – tar sands cannot be profitably transported by railroads – is a fight that has been waged by First Nations/Indigenous people in Canada for decades. Between the price of oil and very successful grassroots direct-action movements, the tar sands industry in Canada is fleeting. The industry has been and is relying on a couple of key U.S. based tar sands pipelines to get the oil out of the fields and into key markets. Grassroots movements to delay these pipelines at the regulatory level, in the courts, and in actual direct action on construction have been critical to stopping two massive tar sands expansion projects in the last year. The industry was planning on those mines being built in part because they were planning on the ability to export more oil by new pipelines, especially in the U.S., where they expected to be able to build the pipelines much faster due to less resistance. They have not been able to because of the resistance met on the ground. Led by Indigenous people in the US to in part protect their own lands and people as well as the climate but also in direct cross border solidarity with the fight in Canada.
Our local fight is against the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. It has already been delayed more than a year longer than the industry expected entirely due to the grassroots and Indigenous resistance at the regulatory, courts, and construction/direct action level. That is the fight in which we are engaged in locally. We can see the tangible results of international movement where indigenous/grassroots movements have been using direct action campaigns to stall the tar sands industry for years since the call went out for solidarity of doing the same to the tar sands oil pipelines coming through the us. So that is what has been built. The same type of grassroots indigenous led movements willing to use direct action campaigns to delay pipelines. Very tangibly the results have been the cancellation of two massive mines in the last year. This has been a huge victory! This would not have been possible without the solidarity of indigenous people on this side of the border and allies building movements here. Not only is it solidarity when requested but it is clearly politically linked in our analysis to climate change, colonialism, and capitalism more broadly. It is, in one truth, as much our fight here as it is their fight up north. Which is important beyond the basic ethical solidarity as a way to understand systems as inherently connected and interpret them as part of the same genocide colonial capitalist project across state borders. This is one example of a few decades and especially the last several years for the US anti-colonial indigenous led internationalist praxis.
Another example I have in my own organizing life has not come to fruition but I think the example of the possibility is an important one. I organize with union factory workers who produce a particular kind of specialized technology. This is the one U.S. factory owned by a much larger Chinese corporation. The production here was halved a few decades ago and the other half of it was sent to factories in the Philippines. These workers have much less union/government protection and experience exploitation oppression much more than their U.S. counterparts in the factory I organize. A few years ago, before I worked for the union, Filipino workers called the union workers here to learn to start a union. The folks here gave some information but the relationship did not go any further than that. As we are slowly rebuilding class consciousness and combativity and organization within the factory, the opportunity and the potential exists to reconnect with the workers in the Philippines, at least once we’ve built up organization and consciousness here to at least to a baseline level, so that we could link up the struggles across borders. The potential for the political education for the American workers in particular is to start to get a grasp on imperialism and colonialism and how it is directly tied to harming workers here as long as their co-workers in the Philippines are also harmed. That potential is there but we as an organized force are not there yet. But the important thing about it is that because it is so concrete and practical, we may be able to link the struggles so directly between the same production across borders and oceans and class. It’s the type of internationalist anti-imperialism that represents much more power, in the form of workers taking direct action to halt production, than symbolic solidarity actions. But obviously, it’s harder. It’s more challenging to build enough consciousness and organization on the ground here to be able to start to build relationships there in the first place. And yet that is the kind of work that can change material conditions for the factory workers but also ideologically help them become committed anti-racists and anti-imperialists. But again, we have not done that yet. For me, it exemplifies the kind of organizing and political education, the kind of power that can be built, and the type of consciousness that can be raised if we can focus on practical and concrete connections of power and resource flows of money across borders. It’s the kind of solidarity that can really matter in a material way for working class people and oppressed people across borders.
Suffice to say, if you are looking to build worker power, it is very useful to trace international resource flows and identify (in the medium and long-term at least) what can be built into it international solidarity with workers on the other side of the globe. If you want to specifically build power and movement for a movement in another country that’s not just based on worker organization then it is useful to power map and understand the specific material resource flows in order to build a base of activists around using direct action to intervene in those. These are different but related kinds of organizing but they are bound together by their practical impact to stop the flow of resources and money between institutions as well as their ability to gain publicity, raise awareness, and help shift consciousness.
These are not the only kinds of methods to practice internationalism, but I think this simple analysis about being serious about power and direct action can be useful. We are on the cusp of it in our local organizing. As an organizer in both of the fights I’ve mentioned, it feels good to be able to talk to our base, workers in one scenario and climate activists in the other, about the connections between countries and that it is all one fight and then watch people work and transform their consciousness based on that information. It is not yet enough but I think we are on the right road.
Some resources to learn from and about:
Power Mapping/Power Structure Analysis: For a specific and useful power mapping tool/method contact SCOPE or Cooperation Northfield (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also some basic concepts here https://beautifultrouble.org/theory/pillars-of-support/
Intervention Points: See a great intro here https://beautifultrouble.org/theory/points-of-intervention/
Direct Action: Check out an intro here https://beautifultrouble.org/tactic/direct-action/ and a lot of details here https://issuu.com/earthfirstjournal/docs/dam_3rd_edition