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A call for internationalism

From our readers: May Day 2022 remarks

Bob Kosuth, in his remarks from May Day 2022, argues for the centrality of an internationalist perspective in our political work.

I delivered the following speech at the 2022 May Day Rally in Duluth, MN. I was attempting to challenge my local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other lefties to think more internationally.

There are two themes I want to share with you on this International Workers Day:

“A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end.”

“The United States doesn’t have friends; the United States has interests.”

We say, there is no socialism without internationalism. Workers of the world unite! But it is politically opportunistic nationalism that we are constantly peddled. As one of my students put it, nationalism is a powerful drug with very dangerous side effects.

Don’t tell me about Trump and those nasty Republicans. The Democrats drank the Kool-Aid of nationalism long ago and are now ladling it out of the punch bowl because it feeds capitalism and justifies conquest. Democrats, like all politicians, appeal to it or at the very least are fearful to challenge it.

Right here in Duluth, Minnesota, the 148th Fighter Wing is an Air National Guard unit stationed here not to protect truth, freedom, and justice but for purposes of nationalist propaganda. We hear endlessly in the local media about its contributions to democracy and the “service” of its members, etc. etc., and any politicians who would dare challenge these myths do so at great peril to their political future. Thus, the most important thing the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) or lefties of any stripe can do is clearly separate themselves from establishment Democrats so as to unequivocally challenge militarism, challenge the U.S. empire, challenge “America.”

As Cornel West has written, to the extent that U.S. imperialism expands abroad, democracy dies at home. We are seeing it on a daily basis.

Let me share a couple of brief personal examples. After I was drafted in Chicago in 1971, I was put on a huge airplane and sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Maybe sixty percent of us on that plane were Black and the other forty percent were white working-class kids like me. We were on our way to get weapons and go to Vietnam to kill peasants defending their country.

“A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end.”

Near the end of my basic training, I got an infection that spread quickly up my arm and could have been very serious. As I looked around that ward, I saw my fellow soldiers, all E-2 to E-5 [enlisted men – Eds.], white, Black, Latino, Native, mostly medevaced from Vietnam, each messed up in his own medical (physical and/or mental) way but all with one thing in common. We were rural or urban working-class kids, all cannon fodder, all lured or forced to serve the empire.

“A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end.”

But to learn these things you have to get out of this propagandized la-la land of make-believe that is the United States of America. Turn off National Pentagon Radio (NPR) and the Pure Bullshit (PBS) News Hour. You have to work hard to learn other people’s languages. Don’t just talk to the people who speak English.

For sure there is evil out there in the world that is not of this country’s doing, but propagandizing U.S. citizens or exaggerating the evil of others does not make “America” good. When it comes to U.S. international relations–Trump-Biden-Pompeo-Blinken—it’s all the same pursuit of empire—the empire of power and profit.

There are always choices whether to deal with underlying problems or exploit them for the sake of the empire.

After the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, there could have been a peace dividend. It was actually talked about, but the U.S. quickly got right back on the war horse because…

“The United States doesn’t have friends; the United States has interests.”

After the fall of the USSR, the U.S. could have promoted a demilitarized neutral central Europe as promised to Gorbachev but Bill Clinton, a good Democrat, started the push of NATO all the way to the Russian border and then on to Bosnia, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. “The United States doesn’t have friends; the United States has interests.”

And who’s propagandized to do the killing? Who does the dying? Obama’s kids? Bush’s kids? Hardly.

“A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end.”

Am I making you uncomfortable? Do I sound angry? Might I need therapy or counseling? Not interested.

Some years ago, when I worked at the university a south Asian student printed out the saying: “If you are not outraged you’re not paying attention” and without asking or telling me pasted it on my office door because she knew I was angry, had a right to be angry and indeed a duty to be angry.

So let me close by offering some challenges to DSA and its allies.

  • We are not international enough.
  • We are too close to Democrat/Republican nationalism. As the old saying goes, when Democrats get elected liberals go brain dead. It’s happened again and again.
  • We are too focused on electoral politics, which changes nothing regarding U.S. power and empire. Rather we need to focus on the dysfunctional political culture from which the empire springs.
  • We are too focused on domestic identity politics while forgetting international class politics.
  • We must recognize the U.S. for what it is—an arrogant, aggressive, violent militarized empire stitched together with the thread of capitalism in manufactured competition with other would-be empires, no different and no better. There’s no better illustration than the current proxy war in Ukraine.
  • In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We can see these issues clearly if we always remember that there is no war that is not a lie because…

“A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at either end,” and “The United States doesn’t have friends; the United States has interests.”

And those interests are power and profit—interests that are hostile to workers everywhere.

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Bob Kosuth View All

Bob Kosuth is the Convenor of the International Working Group, Twin Ports Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and is also a member of the Anti-War sub-committee of the DSA International Committee. He is based in Duluth, Minnesota.