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Posts Tagged ‘workers of the world’

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The Thick-Walled Room (Masaki Kobayashi, 1953)

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“To speak of literal music for a moment more, it has been a very long time since insurgents worldwide shared a moral equivalent of “The Internationale,” the anthem adopted by the (second) Socialist International in the late nineteenth century and subject to the contesting claims of socialists and communists ever since. International solidarity and the putative brotherhood of workers crashed and burned in 1914, when the German Social Democrats voted war credits to the Kaiser so that Germany could slaughter its ostensible class allies, and left-wing parties across Europe split over whether to support their respective nation-state or oppose an “imperialist war.”

In 1917, Lenin’s Bolshevik heresy was able to capitalize on antiwar sentiment in Russia to seize power. A few years later, the Soviet Union was promoting a version of “internationalism” that conveniently withered into a defense of the Kremlin’s foreign policy interests of the moment. As Vaclav Havel wrote in his great 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” universalist slogans like “Workers of the world, unite!” shriveled into loyalty cheers lacking any concrete meaning.

All these years later, the left is still tuneless. Missing from social democracy is a galvanizing cross-border spirit, a sense of historical destiny, and yes, a literal song. In the twenty-first century, attachment to the identity tribe is fiercer, more binding, than any attachment to a common purpose. Today’s most prominent left-wing chant, “The people united will never be defeated,” is a tautology. When it originated, in Allende-era Chile, it meant something topical. Today, it is strictly sentimental. Trump supporters could cheerfully sign on to their version of what it means to be “the people united”—designating immigrants and Muslims, not the bourgeoisie, as the excludables.”

– Todd Gitlin, “The Missing Music of the Left.” New York Review of Books blog, May 28, 2018.

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