In political campaigns in the UK, US, Canada and elsewhere we are seeing the importance of big politics--ideas radical enough to tackle the vast challenges we face--and big organising--building social movements and empowering volunteers to drive campaigns at scale. The left must work together across national borders to combat the threat of the far right. An internationalist approach to movement building brings new ideas, new techniques, new solidarities and a new sense of optimism when times are tough.
Reject austerity or face rejection by voters,' Jeremy Corbyn advised European sister parties on a trip to the Netherlands in July. (1)
Corbyn's trip, with his bold and confident message, is one of numerous signals that the British left can, and must, play a leadership role in building a renewed and expanded progressive internationalism. In order for the left to win, this new internationalism must stretch beyond policies and relationships between party leaders and states; it must also forge mutually supportive networks of solidarity amongst grassroots organisers and activists pushing for progressive change.
With social democratic parties across Europe in woeful decline, it is little wonder that so many are looking to the UK, where the Labour Party is bucking the trend. Whether seeking to understand the difference a bold, socialist manifesto can make, or learning from the innovative, volunteer-driven campaigns run by the Labour Party and Momentum, progressives across the globe are looking to the UK for inspiration, support and cooperation. Of course, nobody is suggesting that we have all the answers here; huge challenges loom ahead and we have much to learn from our peers across the world. But with its recent gains, the British Labour movement, from top to bottom, is well placed to foster stronger international networks of mutual solidarity and support. Since the 2017 General Election, there have been various welcome signals that a renewed internationalism is emerging at all levels of the Party and wider movement: from the Labour leadership and National Executive Committee (NEC), to the organisers and activists of the movement's grassroots.
This cannot happen soon enough. What Owen Jones dubs the 'Far-Right International' is also on the rise. (2) The 'Free Tommy' movement is becoming a growing threat on British streets and the emboldened hard right is on the ascendency in the Tory Party. Steve Bannon, Trump's former advisor who praised Mussolini, is touring Europe and wealthy 'alt right' extremists in the US are looking to fund a British far right resurgence. (3) All the while, Trump is the US president and openly racist parties are winning votes across Europe.
In this climate, internationalism cannot be some lofty ideal; it has to be a fundamental pillar of our collective strategy now. The left must work together within and across national borders to combat the threat of the far right. We must learn from--and support--left parties and movements across the globe in this struggle. And we must champion an internationalist politics that can take on the far right's racist and misogynistic nationalism. As Jones makes clear, 'Only a left that offers a genuine alternative--to hold powerful vested interests to account, rather than scapegoating migrants and Muslims--can hope to defeat this political poison'. (4)
Even Labour members and supporters who have been critical of Corbyn or Momentum in the past must recognise that it is the Labour Party under its current leadership that is bucking the trend across Europe. Similarly, Bernie Sanders, who represents a similar politics to Corbyn (both in political substance and their movement-based approaches), is consistently polling as the most popular politician in the USA, and the most likely person to beat Trump at the next election. (5) All those who fear the rise of the far right should embrace 'movement-style' politics and a genuinely transformative political programme.
As two of the co-founders of Momentum, we both worked as National Organisers from the organisation's launch in October 2015 until after the 2017 General Election. In the year since, we have each spent time working with organisers and activists across Europe, North America and Africa, sharing our experiences from the UK context, and gaining first-hand insights into the dynamism and creativity propelling grassroots movements and campaigns across much of the globe. These experiences, both in the UK and abroad, have made two core principles abundantly clear. First, it's the policies, stupid. If we are going to win, the political offer has to be bold and transformational--'offering solutions as big as the problems we face'. (6) And second, the organising approach must also be 'big'--embracing movements and building systems to empower volunteers to drive the campaigns at scale.
This article will explore how these two core principles--'big politics' and 'big organising'--are being expressed in different contexts across the globe. We highlight some promising examples of where mutually supportive, international cooperation is strengthening progressive causes and argue that only by sharing our experiences and learning from each other's struggles does the left have any chance of winning.
'Big politics' is the call for a bold alternative vision of the future. This must start by recognising the very real pain and indignity that the status quo inflicts on vast swathes of the population. For many years, a general criticism has been lobbied at politicians that they're all the same. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 'more than 1 in 4 children grow up in poverty in the UK'. (7) Prior to Momentum, we both taught in different schools in parts of Birmingham with high levels of poverty and deprivation: children coming to school hungry, families stressed out and struggling to get by, support services slashed. For the many people living in such difficult circumstances, technical-sounding policy announcements tinkering at the edges of systemic problems aren't going to cut it. The solutions being offered must be as big as the problems they seek to address, or why should anyone believe that voting this way or that way is going to make any material difference to their life? This isn't just about 'talking left'. It's about socialist and social-democratic parties viewing their role as serving human need over...