International solidarity has a tendency to be treated as an optional extra by revolutionary movements, the type of thing you do if you have the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Showing solidarity with others in struggle is a central component of communist ideology.
It should be recognised that internationalism is not selfless—on the contrary, it is vital for the victory of revolutionary movements in our own conditions, just as the United Irishmen sought assistance from revolutionary France or, more pragmatically, from imperial Germany for the Easter Rising.
Solidarity is not just material, it is also moral, the example of the Choctaw native Americans who donated money to the Irish during the genocide inflicted on us by Britain being a powerful example. There is a massive difference between charity and solidarity.
In Ireland, it is our own experiences of national oppression that make us have an instinctive solidarity with the Palestinians, Basques, and others. In turn, people from around the world have an admiration for the Irish struggle for national liberation—notwithstanding that this is usually a result of an over-romantic view of the Irish struggle, with a rose-tinted view of the recent conflict in the north of Ireland especially.
Unfortunately, many in Ireland, and elsewhere, seem to have an idealistic, abstract view of internationalism. Nothing is more bastardised among the left than the concept of internationalism. Many see true internationalism as being ashamed of one’s own country, or in a dismissal of our own unique conditions. What these people seem to miss is that internationalism can only exist if nations do, that it is the solidarity of friendly but separate nations. What they imagine is a sort of supranationalism, where the nation-state has been removed.
It is no coincidence that this tendency mainly exists in the imperialist core, where uneven development has seen most countries reach the imperialist stage of national development.
Of interest is that this same mode of thinking was supportive of a Remain vote in the Brexit referendum. Not only was it a coarse perspective of the reason working-class people voted Leave but it also showed the limits of liberal cosmopolitanism, since it supported falling in behind the European Union, which has enforced the Fortress Europe policy, keeping refugees stranded or dying on makeshift rafts, as well as keeping Africa underdeveloped and dependent, through cheap EU food surpluses squeezing out small producers.
In oppressed countries, patriotism is necessary for internationalism. If someone cannot fight for themselves, how can they fight for others, and vice versa? It’s an example of how much imperialism has infected our psychology that we cannot even stand in solidarity with black Americans without “checking our privilege” as white people.
In reality, what inspires comrades from all over the world is not the Irish acting the same as those who conquered us—a concept that Frantz Fanon dealt with as a result of colonisation—but our resistance to it. Artificially importing political concepts from the left in imperialist countries is to completely misunderstand the conditions we are faced with in Ireland. Our history shows that we have more in common with those in struggle in Africa, Latin America and Asia than with those in the United States or Britain.
The best way we can show solidarity with other oppressed peoples is by struggling for our own liberation, to create what Connolly called “the haven of the oppressed.” The reconquest of Ireland will be a victory for workers all over the world, most especially in Britain.
Socialist Cuba has proved unmatched when it comes to internationalism, sending doctors and other medical workers all over the world. While a small nation under a vicious blockade, what resources it does have are shared. At the same time Cuba is a very patriotic country, with its national slogan Patria o muerte (Homeland or death). Perhaps there is a lesson there.
As a new Cold War looms, the importance of standing in solidarity with all those struggling against imperialism cannot be overstated. The socialist countries—warts and all—of Cuba, Viet Nam, China, Laos and North Korea have to be defended, as do revolutionary countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela.
As we progress to a multi-polar world, imperialism will use fascism in an attempt to crush those who stand against it. Anti-communism has already been employed against China (note the subtle change in references to the Chinese Communist Party in place of the Chinese state). In Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America, communists have been murdered by far-right paramilitaries working with the state, as happened in the 1980s. The blockade against Cuba has been stepped up, and communist parties in Ukraine, Romania and Poland have suffered repression.
Terence MacSwiney wrote that “if Ireland were to win freedom by helping directly or indirectly to crush another people she would earn the execration she has herself poured out on tyranny for ages.” A young Ho Chi Minh, then working in London, on hearing of MacSwiney’s death on hunger strike remarked that “a country with such citizens will never surrender.”