We’re all looking forward to a Jeremy Corbyn-led socialist Labour government. But many of the problems we face are international and cannot be solved by nation states alone.
Speaking to a packed session of the International Social Forum, held in London in July, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, who convened the event, pointed out that in May students in 1,600 cities and 125 countries walked out and the UK Parliament was the first to declare a climate emergency. “Climate change is a class issue,” he declared.
Such developments constitute not just a challenge to national governments but to international institutions too. But the international architecture created in the aftermath of World War II is in need of a major overhaul.
The record of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in imposing austerity is well documented. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has problems too, including the USA’s blocking of appointments to its appellate body.
Much of the opposition to neoliberal globalisation has come from reactionary nationalism. But, argued McDonnell, this binary choice should be rejected: “Another internationalism is possible.”
These themes were taken up in the opening plenary. Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pointed out that the defeat of progressive forces in her country and the installation of a far right government was possible only with the help of neoliberal institutions. Brazil underlines that the imposition of neoliberal policies takes place not within the framework of liberal democracy but on the basis of democracy’s destruction.
Economics Professor Jayati Ghosh from New Delhi argued that the international institutions had to be reformed, given the regressive role they played. “The WTO has denied India the ability to have food security and upholds an obscene system of intellectual property rights,” she said. In India too far right activism comes with the patronage of global capital. This is now happening in Europe as well.
There were sessions on the climate crisis, global finance, trade and the movement of people. SOAS academic Dalia Gebrial argued that tougher border controls do not decrease the number of migrants, merely the number classified as illegal - a disciplinary mechanism that forces migrants to accept a heap of labour abuses. Her colleague Rafeef Ziadah agreed: borders are indeed open for those who can afford it - the ‘golden visa’ programme, introduced in 2008, had by 2015 brought in £3 billion.
Islington councillor Sue Lukes, the country’s first official migrant champion, argued that the new municipalism sees migrants as a resource rather than a collection of needs. Last year, for the first time, the belief that immigration into the UK is an economic and cultural threat moved from being a majority to a minority view - something politicians should be taking advantage of.
Writer Maya Goodfellow called on an incoming Labour government to scrap the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ rule that is applied to migrants, repeal the 1981 Nationality Act which denies citizenship to people born here and introduce the teaching of the reality of empire and colonialism in schools.
What made the International Social Forum unique was that it was a Labour Party event. It marked a break with the international policies of previous Labour governments and puts socialist internationalism at the heart of Labour’s agenda. This event was an excellent start, but it must be a work in progress if it is to have a lasting impact on policy.