For working-class internationalism - not the United Nations!

Submitted by on 7 April, 2003 - 1:08

By Frank Higgins

Many of those who now oppose the war say that they would support it if there had been a "second UN resolution". Much of the opposition to the war is expressed as rejection of "an illegal war". Had the UN Security Council voted for it, then it would be both "legal" and right.
But how could a war that is bad have been made into a good war by a mere UN vote? How, conversely, can we seriously oppose a war that would be good if only the UN Security Council voted for it? Amajority of the British Parliament had voted for it.

Many who opposed the war before it started have now swung to support for it. Some shifted saying that, whatever you may think or might have chosen, you must support your country when it goes to war. Many others shifted because the moral and political ambivalence of the line that war would be right with a second UN resolution left them confused and uncertain in face of the real war when it came.

The idea that the UN is some sort of democratic international agency or world government, able to bestow or withhold legality, is either pretence or delusion. What would it have meant had Blair and Bush got their "second resolution"? Only that the US and the UK had bullied and bribed enough UN voters to endorse what they would be doing anyway.

Why didn't they get their "second resolution"? Because other big powers-France, Germany, Russia-opposed the USA, could use their great power vetoes, and had some capacity of their own to bully and bribe the smaller states.

It is tempting to use whatever argument is at hand to oppose this war. That can be confusing and treacherous if the ideas are not worked through. For many it has proved a short road from "I'd support the war if there were a second UN resolution" to "I'll support the war because it has started".

But there are more fundamental things wrong with looking to the UN. What moral authority can the decisions of such a body as the UN Security Council have with honest people? The anti-UN right-wingers in the USA argue that they can have none because many of the states on the Security Council, not to speak of the General Assembly, are themselves miserable dictatorships. That is unanswerably true.

All that the pro-UN left can counterpose to it is make-believe and pretence. People would like to live in a world where there is international order and security, enforced rules of behaviour and laws. But those things do not really exist. So? Pretend that they do exist - in the UN.

Never mind that at every turning point in the history of the last 60 years, what has happened at the UN has actually been determined, as in recent weeks, by the interaction of the great powers. Never mind that this war - its driving forces and its goals-would be exactly what they are even if the UN had licensed the war.

World government and international justice are fine ideals. But we will not win them by playing games of make-believe with the UN. How will we win them? Can we win them at all? In the last 150 years two types of internationalism have competed with each other - bourgeois internationalism and working-class internationalism.

There have always been bourgeois liberals who advocated equality and democratic order in the relationships between peoples and states. They have had varying degrees of success. In certain favourable circumstances they have done historically very important work, like uniting the once-warring nations of Europe into the European Union.

The victors of World War Two set up the United Nations. But nationalism and state rivalries have time and again disrupted the schemes of the bourgeois liberals - inside the UN, too. We see that now again in the disruption of the UN by the growing rivalry between the USA and some of the European big powers.

The bourgeoisie, competitive and greedy by its very nature, will never be able to realise the ideals of peace and international order which people mistakenly think the UN represents. Those ideals will be made reality only by working-class internationalism - by the victory of the socialist working class all over the world.

Working-class internationalism exists now in fragmented and weak forms, in the international ties between trade unions, the connections between working-class organisations all over the world, and campaigns and movements like "No Sweat".

It was once much stronger, before Stalinism and the victories of fascism and then of liberal capitalism undermined it. It is reviving. That is where those who subscribe to the great ideals of international order and justice should look, then: to the development and education of the working class throughout the world.

For us in Britain now, it is urgent to promote the unity of the working class within the European Union. On a longer perspective, only the US working class, allied with workers throughout the world, will be able to counter and destroy the maverick US hyperpower, replacing the rule of the US and other capitalists with that of the US working class and the workers throughout the world.

Don't look to the United Nations: build "No Sweat"!

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