The Spirit of Internationalism

The movement for the emancipation of the working class of the last 150 years has been one of the central forces for progress in the world over this time period. As all human action has a spirit associated with it, so too with the international workers movement.

There are certain aspects of this movement, beginning with Karl Marx and continuing straight through to the rule of Joseph Stalin, which have brought forth, out of necessity, a challenge from the peoples. For example, the principle that humans are the most powerful and the most important force in the world, and even in the universe, is one of them. Indigenous spirituality the world over sees nature, Mother Earth, the universe, as one unified whole, as a Higher Power (in other words, as a power greater than humans), and a power with which it is our mission as humans to be in harmony.

The views that (1) humans are the center of the universe, (2) that humans must “master” nature, and further, that (3) the more control over nature humans exercise, the more “free” “we” are, are challenged all along the line by indigenist thought, womanist spirituality, and by liberation theology.

In American Indian thought… natural state of existence is whole. Thus healing chants and ceremonies emphasize restoration of wholeness, for disease is a condition of division and separation from the harmony of the whole. Beauty is wholeness. Health is wholeness. Goodness is wholeness. (Paula Allen, The Sacred Hoop, p. 60)

Another aspect of working class spirituality which has been scrutinized and resisted is that of its ideological nature. The working class movement has laid waste to all oppressor class ideology. In other words, all ideologies which justify and help to extend the oppressive rule of one section of the population over another — the spirit of the working class movement has opposed and thoroughly exposed the historically specific content of these ideologies. By historically specific we mean that these ideologies were born to serve the needs of a specific class at a specific time in history, and they have now outlived whatever useful role they have played in the development of humankind.

Again, the working class movement has itself been described by some of its proponents as being ideological. This proposition has been challenged by the Indigenous People’s Movement, by women’s liberation advocates, and by leadership in the national liberation movements against imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism (Cabral, 1969). As we have seen in the above discussion regarding the differences between religion and spirituality (pp.150–151), an ideology is exclusive; it is “right” and anything outside of it is “wrong.”

Some proponents of the view that the working class has an ideology go further to claim that the working class movement does not have a spiritual component. This view cannot bare the light of investigation. The most visible and profound leaders of the working class movement have always maintained a spiritual disposition as central to the movement:

  • Describing the selflessness and heroism of Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who lost his life in service to the cause of the Chinese people’s war of national liberation, Mao Tse-tung asked, “What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism.” (1967, p337)
  • Lenin adjured us that the obstacles facing us as we attempt to create a new world may seem daunting, but in the face of them, “We have an advantage over the enemy. We have a magic weapon — the masses of the people are on our side.” This is an expression of faith (a spiritual pronouncement) which has been born out in real life. As the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text insists, “If it’s not practical, it’s not spiritual.”

When the Vietnamese National Liberation Front declared that the love of the people for themselves and their cause is stronger than man’s technology, they were declaring a spiritual truth, a truth which was born out in the victory of the mighty Viet Cong over the colossal U.S. invader, the most technologically devastating military juggernaut in the history of humankind. The People’s Army textbook, The Military Art of People’s War (Giap, 1970) is based in this precept of the power of the people over the power of destructive technology.

  • When Ho Chi Minh was in prison for the crime of being a communist revolutionary he taught,

Thy body is in jail.

But thy spirit, never.

For the great cause to prevail,

Let thy spirit soar, higher!

(Prison Diary, 1972, p17)

  • One of the most famous spiritual postulates known world-wide to be espoused by a leader of the international working class was Che Guevara’s when he said, “Let me say at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that a revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” Love is a spiritual sentiment… In Che’s Man and Socialism (1965) he explains in detail why socialism requires a “new man,” of higher quality than the human living in class society.
  • On that note Jean Paul Sartre, in his outstanding introduction to Franz Fanon’s panegyric to the people’s liberation movement (Wretched of the Earth, 1964) explains the difference between the spirit of the oppressor class and that of the oppressed when he effused,

It will not be without fearful losses; the colonial army becomes ferocious; the country is marked out, there are mopping-up operations, transfers of population, reprisal expeditions, and they massacre women and children. He knows this; this new man begins his life as a man at the end of it; he considers himself as a potential corpse. He will be killed; not only does he accept this risk, he’s sure of it. This potential dead man has lost his wife and his children; he has seen so many dying men that he prefers victory to survival; others, not he, will have the fruits of victory; he is too weary of it all. But this weariness of the heart is the root of an unbelievable courage. We find our humanity on this side of death and despair; he finds it beyond torture and death. We have sown the wind; he is the whirlwind. The child of violence, at every moment he draws from it his humanity. We were men at his expense, he makes himself man at ours: a different man; of higher quality. (Quoted in Fanon, p25)

  • When Mao Tse-tung makes the declarations “The universe is in great order,” and “The future is bright, the road is tortuous,” he is expressing faith — a sentiment basic to all spiritual dispositions.
  • Similarly, when Lenin adjures us that “We have fought better than our forebears; our children will fight better than we do. They will surely win…” he is expressing faith in the people’s cause, he is expressing the spirit of confidence in the ultimate victory of humanity over evil. (Lenin, 1913)

Mao Tse-tung tells the story of the old man who worked diligently and unceasingly to remove mountains that were in his way. Through his dogged determination this old man pleased God and God removed the mountains. Mao told the cadre of the Chinese Communist Party during the national revolutionary war: “We must persevere and work unceasingly, and we, too, will touch God’s heart. Our God is none other than the masses of the Chinese people. If they stand up and dig together with us, why can’t these two mountains [imperialism and feudalism] be cleared away?” This is a pronouncement of the spirit of communism.

One more aspect of working class “ideology” which has been scrutinized is the view of the progressive nature of history — that it proceeds from primitive to civilized, on to modern and to “post modern,” past capitalism to socialism and communism. Again, womanism and indigenous spirituality have questioned this linear logic, favoring instead a wholism which sees each moment in the development of humanity as a hologram. Wholism understands the communal nature of indigenous societies as a hologram for the kind of world we strive to live in. Not only the working class (according to Marxism), but the ways of matriarchy, the identity of the national liberation movements, and the Indigenist peoples movements carry within them the foundation stones of a social order free of the exploitation of human by human.

Revolution is not an event; it is an inevitable historical process. The new society we are trying to build is being done so, day by day, in the image of the ways of the above-described movements.

Finally, the socialist (or working class) analysis of the economic basis of what is often called alienation, and we are calling addiction, has stood the test of practice and time, and the elucidation of this theory uncovers a core element of human spirit: As the fruits of labor and production increasingly became separated from, alienated from the producers, as the spirit of labor no longer was the good of the community, as ownership of the means of production came into the hands of a smaller and smaller minority of the world’s people, as the goal of life has become, in some form or fashion, connected to that ownership and power-over others, the consequent worship of things, the worship of wealth, of money, of power-over, as against a healthy worship of Mother Earth and a spirit governing the universe in great order; and as the rest of the population, the vast majority of the people, have become materially subject to the rule of these objects of production in the hands of maniacs, so, the entire social order is in the grip of a soul sickness of alienation, which we are calling addiction, obsession and compulsion.

The Marxist sense that for humankind to genuinely fulfill its mission, that in order for humanity to fully become itself, will depend on the extent to which we can organize our collective labor in such a way as to contribute to the collective well-being of the peoples, is a spiritual proposition. It is a proposition regarding the nature of humanity. The sense that our labor is a defining element of humanness, and that, in order for us to be free each of us must be able to develop all of our productive talents — this sense is not merely a political or economic sense. It is a spiritual disposition as well.