By Dominic Tweedie
- Publisher’s note: In one of the discussions here we recently got into a consideration of the Treaty of Westphalia. Dominic Tweedie (aka Domza) proposed that the topic needed a lot more examination. I agreed, and invited him to lead off this discussion. He got back with amazing rapidity with a launch-text for this discussion. Thanks, Dominic!
I am very happy indeed to put this up on JWN. Given the importance of the topic commenters are hereby freed from the 300-word limit; but maybe try to keep them below 1,000 words? Also, I’ll try to follow the discussion on the comments board as closely as I can, and to keep it serious and on-topic. ~HC
We have been quarrelling over Iran. We have no sure common idea of the path to follow or of what we have in common at all. What are we? Concerned? Interested? Compelled? On what common ground could we stand? Where, in the past, have such ties bound? Internationalism goes back to Lafayette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and most powerfully, to the International Brigade that fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and to Che Guevara, the extraordinarily successful champion of the wretched of the earth, who was born of a white-settler family in Argentina.
Historical internationalism would also have to include “liberation theology”, and the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as championed by Paulo Freire.
The fully constituted independent nations of the earth are more numerous than ever. At about 200, they have probably doubled in number in living memory, and now for the first time in history they cover almost the entire habitable land-surface of the planet. The available common model for internationalism is therefore the anti-colonialism that has led to this proliferation of free nation-states. The next available common model is the 1939-1945 World War against fascism, in whose shadow we have all lived.
For those who used to be involved in it, it is still a surprise that the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) that was such a poor relation for most of its three decades of life, appears now in retrospect as a mighty exemplar of both these compulsive strains of internationalism: anti-colonialism and anti-fascism. How, then, did the AAM work?
The AAM was a movement of the country where it was founded (Britain) and subsequently and independently, of other countries. It was not subsidiary to the South African liberation movement, and did not report to it or take orders from it; but it had close contact with the liberation movement and did not ignore it. The AAM was democratic. It had to rest upon the interests of the British people in the first place, and to strive to become an expression of their will. It published, demonstrated, ramified, diversified and allied itself. It was a democracy. It was a mass movement. It was not an NGO or “non-profit” organisation beholden to its funders. The AAM had a small full-time staff but its strength was its voluntary membership, who paid for the maintenance of the organisation with their contributions.
Its aim was to have opposition to apartheid accepted by the entire British people as being an embodiment of their best interests. The AAM did achieve this goal, having started decades earlier with a small appeal around a few shops in North London, for people to voluntarily stop buying South African oranges. It was a direct mass-action movement, and not primarily a movement that called for sanctions or any government action. Sanctions were government’s attempt to recover the initiative after the mass movement had become strong. The AAM wanted voluntary mass boycott, not sanctions. It wanted the direct agency of common people to prevail; but sanctions came along like the lamb’s tail that follows the lamb.
Contemporary with the AAM was another voluntary mass democratic movement of similar size, which still exists because its task is not yet complete. This is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). But outside Britain, it seems that such large institutionalised democratic “single-issue” campaigns are rare. In South Africa, although we have a serious interest in Zimbabwe and Swaziland, both of them on our borders, solidarity groups are in practice small, unchanging cliques with no hold on a mass membership. In the USA, a peace movement may mushroom but at election time, instead of it rising to the occasion, it melts away to nothing.
So now, almost a generation after the “democratic breakthrough” against apartheid in South Africa, we find at international level that a country, or countries plural, might adopt “sanctions” (punishments) against another country. These could begin with the summoning of ambassadors for a telling-off, and escalate from there. Presently there are sanctions on Zimbabwe.
But sanctions are problematic. Sanctions start to imply a virtual world authority. Sanctions tend towards reversing the independence struggle. Sanctions interfere with national sovereignty. So we must ask, what is this thing called national sovereignty?
We could begin with the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 theses to a church door in Germany nearly 500 years ago. That was the beginning of the end of the globalism of Rome, which globalism had by that time reached the Pacific Ocean. The Protestant Reformation sparked a series of huge events including wars. These wars had now to be concluded in the absence of an over-arching power in Rome. It took until 1648 to establish the Peace of Westphalia that fixed the idea of national sovereignty, equality between nations of all sizes, and the prohibition of interference in the internal affairs of other nations.
This Westphalian idea of sovereignty is what was fought for in the 20th century, from the 1905 independence of Norway onwards, but especially after the end of the anti-fascist war in 1945. Westphalian independence was for all intents and purposes taken as synonymous with freedom, or “the good that contains all other goods” as International Brigader Christopher Caudwell called it.
The counter-trend, towards creation of world authority in the shape of the United Nations and many other world institutions, is at least ambiguous, if not altogether reactionary. It dilutes and sometimes negates (as recently, for example, in Iraq) the national sovereignty that the Europeans had upheld for three centuries. When national sovereignty began to apply to their former colonies, the ex- and neo-colonial powers sought to modify it.
How might we construct a general grand unified theory of sovereignty and solidarity? What firm material can we assemble for this construction project?
All phenomena owe their development to the struggle of opposites within the unity that is the phenomenon’s system. The phenomenon of the nation-state began to be understood in this kind of way after the publication in 1651, three years after the Peace of Westphalia, of Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan”, including its astonishing “Frontispiece” showing a giant made up of millions of individuals.
So the first firm thing we have is the internally-generated determination of the nature and quality of each nation-state. Westphalia recognised this. Upon the back of this a doctrine is erected of “the right of nations to self-determination”. In this way the pretext for, but also the limits of, the Byronic or Guevaran solidarity initiative from outside can be formulated. Caudwell and Guevara were not afraid to invade and fight, and both died as a consequence, whereas the Anti-Apartheid Movement grew by confining its actions to individual boycott, albeit on a mass scale. There is legitimate international action, but the boundary of its legitimacy is always contested and judged according to circumstances.
The second thing we must reclaim for our building project is the advance from globalism to equality. We must insist that in 1648 the Peace of Westphalia got it right, whereas centralisation of moral and legal power today (in Europe, of course) as the “international community” of public opinion, or as the International Criminal Court, or as trump-card “human rights”, is NOT getting it right, three and a half centuries later. To see this, we must be able to see why a single planetary republic would be different in kind and a worse thing as compared to democratic republics that have formed voluntarily, and meet each other as equals. The easiest example of self-organising equality is the Internet. We know it makes sense. Reversion towards a quasi-papal world authority is a big step backwards. We are all called upon to be adults now. It is no use for us to be arguing about who are parents and who are children.
On JWN we manage, as autonomous individuals, to sustain a visible community in the absence of any external coercive apparatus. This is the way forward.
Other commonplace principles apply. It is not all right to presume guilt. It is not all right to accuse and then to treat the accused as tainted. Our now-President, Jacob Zuma, had to endure such things for many years. We fought them with him and elected him President of our country. South Africans would not like to see a world where allegations are treated as fact, and governments hastily toppled on that basis. We have to presume that they present themselves in public as free agents responsible for themselves, just like individual citizens.
Nothing is said above about “colour-” or bogus foreign-power interventions dressed up as “revolutions”, except insofar as such bogus revolutions are invariably in favour of “the globalism of the rich” or new papacy, which we must explicitly reject (see above). The powers should be even more circumspect than individuals. National sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of other countries; these are the watchwords.