Internationalism and local activity: Emancipation without false dichotomies – Judit Rodríguez Fernández

Photo: Álvaro Minguito

The following article by Judit Rodríguez Fernández  was published first in Spanish at laU – Revista de cultura y pensamiento. A French translation is also available, via the Collectif Palestine Vaincra

“What binds me to her is something that I could not explain exactly,
although perhaps it is her deep roots in that heroic and oppressed class,
thrown into the misery of the fields, that class in the midst of which I have lived and
with which I still live. I live, although I can’t say to what extent I live for her.”
Ghassan Kanafani, A Palestinian Trilogy. Um Saad. Asturias: Hoja de lata, p. 177

In recent months and thanks to the committed work carried out by the Collectif Vacame(s) Films, responsible for the production of the documentary “Fedayin: Georges Abdallah’s Fight,” as well as the activists of the Collectif Palestine Vaincra and Samidoun all over the world who organized screenings of this film in numerous theaters in various countries, hundreds of activists and a diverse public from civil society were able to find a space for reflection on the historical notion of internationalism. This forces us to recognize the active role that we play as civil society in the country where we live and to recognize our ability to influence the geopolitical context around us. The documentary is, without a doubt, an ode to the freedom that we still have, as communal subjects, to transform the world, no matter how big and monstrous it may seem.

The visual projection of the story of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a Lebanese communist of Christian origin who has been imprisoned in France for 38 years for dedicating his life to achieving the liberation of Palestine from the colonial yoke, invites us to revisit the question that many asked themselves, before leaving for unknown countries, becoming hundreds of thousands of women and men who, from all over the world, put their bodies at the service of the liberation of multiple peoples and communities ostensibly foreign to them. It is about the following question: “Why should I get involved in the struggle for the liberation of another people or give my life in another country that is not mine? Is it empathy? Universal love? Brotherly solidarity? commitment? or maybe madness?” The truth is that the triumph of liberation movements such as the Vietnamese or the Cuban movements in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as their impact and influence on other anti-colonial struggles, is not generated solely from a contagious emotionality, nor from the example of the superhuman daring of a few men and women.

As activists for the total decolonization of Palestine from the colonial structure that is Israel, as well as for emancipation from the neoliberal yoke in our countries of origin, we are convinced of the importance of reflecting upon and clarifying categories such as “internationalism” that, although often unnoticed, govern our daily political practice at the international, national and local levels. In the lines that follow we will try to explain the theoretical and practical reasons that lead us to the following affirmation: internationalism is not only a merely emotional question of international solidarity, historical memory or universal brotherhood and, although we understand the friendly and profoundly ethical intentionality behind these explanations, it is necessary to move beyond these slogans if we want this concept to become operational in defining a direction for successful political action.

In what follows we will highlight an aspect of internationalism that has more to do with a collective project of national and international emancipation than with almost heroic acts carried out by select individuals whose iron will and unparalleled level of empathy carry their memory into the annals of history.

Internationalism, a political practice and a project of national and international emancipation

In order to answer the question that begins our article, and whose answer is the engine that drives the internationalist’s determination, we will say that what moved Abdallah to give his body for Palestine was a profound understanding of the interrelationship between the political and economic crisis in Lebanon and colonialism in Palestine. Undoubtedly, all of this was affected by the broader Arab collective consciousness that, especially in those years, moved Arabs from all regions to join the action of the popular liberation commandos, the fedayeen, established mainly in Jordan and Lebanon.

It is not, therefore, about the action that a specific individual from a specific country exercises abroad, giving everything for a cause that is foreign to him and with which he feels solidarity. It is, instead, an action motivated by the deep understanding that in the suffering of two apparently different peoples there are common culprits and that, when we seek those responsible for the misery, hunger and death of our communities, we find that they are the same forces that are killing the popular classes of different countries. So internationalism from this perspective becomes a collective political action made up of heterogeneous subjects who understand their deep interdependence to achieve their freedom. That is to say, when in our countries, cities or neighborhoods, we ask ourselves who is responsible for reducing our lives to mere survival, we find that the strength of the enemy lies in the fact that their political agenda operates and feeds on dispossession in multiple places and that, therefore, to defeat them we need to build an alliance equal to or stronger than theirs.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine already detected in 1969 in the text of the Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine the overlap between the Palestinian national struggle with the international struggle of other popular movements against imperialism and capitalism. In the European context, Gramsci carried out numerous reflections on the relationship between the national and the international, especially on the need to internationalize the national question and nationalize the international perspective. This does not mean anything other than understanding that every internationalist militant starts from the circumstances and political problems of his own territory and that every national problem, in turn, experiences its fate on the world geopolitical chessboard.

If we have used Abdallah’s story as a paradigm, it is, among other reasons, because he understood very well that getting involved in the Palestinian liberation struggle was fundamental to ending the Lebanese sectarian regime that, hegemonized by the political forces of fascism represented by sectarian Phalangism, in alliance with Zionism and US and European colonialism, turned Lebanon into a private preserve for financial capital, whose most voracious expression was and is found in investment funds and tax havens. Abdallah understood that the Lebanese political order was a project dependent on the interests that the European states, the US and “Israel” had in the region. Abdallah sharpened his gaze and saw clearly that what the Zionist movement was doing in Palestine was signboarding the project devised for the entire Arab world. For this reason, defeating Israeli colonialism meant breaking the pretense of establishing a world order whose priority was unlimited economic growth at the cost of the poverty and dispossession of the majority of the world’s population.

In clear contrast the Zionist insistence on categorizing the struggle against them as a race war fueled by Judeophobia, whose ambition would be to annihilate every Jewish person, Abdallah recognized the Palestinian liberation movement as an anti-colonial, democratic and progressive liberation movement that considered the existence of the state of Israel illegitimate, as it was and is a “military, political and economic establishment based on aggression, expansion and organic connection with imperialist interests.” The Palestinian liberation movement, while seeking to establish a democratic national state in Palestine in which all citizens live with equal rights and duties, where sovereignty rests with the people and the interests of the popular masses, won the adherence of Abdallah, who gave the most precious years of his life to strengthening the anti-colonial struggle because he knew to recognize that the achievements made in Palestine would have repercussions in his country of origin and would serve as an example for the establishment of progressive and democratic societies throughout the world. It is for this reason that his political practice did not understand pseudo-contradictions and was always attentive to the systemic interdependence between local and international politics.

In order to demonstrate that the case of the Lebanese feda’i is not foreign to us, citizens and activists in the Spanish state, and that we have more than enough reasons to embody a position that embraces this interconnection between our political activity at a local and international level, we will illustrate the positions theoretical exposed through the case of the real estate investment trust of Israeli origin VBare (VBA Real Estate), a company dedicated to real estate speculation that has been operating in Spain for six years and that today is one of the 20 largest owners in the entire country. country. This company is currently involved in the eviction of families in 26 different homes in the city of Madrid. Its biggest shareholders? Israeli war criminals responsible for crimes against humanity in Palestine.

Internationalism, from national territory and local work: the case of VBare in the Spanish State

The problems that our neighborhoods, towns and cities face do not have uniquely local causes or stem from the particular idiosyncrasies of Spanish politics, but rather respond to a complex combination of political and economic operations on an international scale. That is, of transnational political agendas. This combination acts together with the neoliberal policy carried out by the neocolonial axis headed by the United States, the European states, Israel and reactionary Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia. The financial capital of these powers operates through their banks and companies in our closest geographical spaces, plundering our families, friends and neighbors.

In the Spanish state we are well aware of one of the most scandalous tools of institutionalized and unpunished dispossession, evictions. In 2018 alone, 59,671 evictions were carried out, in 2019 there were 54,006 and in 2020 there were 11,042, despite the health emergency caused by the pandemic.

Now, the speculative interests that operate in our State are connected to the extensions of the Israeli Zionist regime, one of its arms being that of the Israeli real estate investment trust VBare (VBA Real Estate), a company that, through blackmail, threats and a tax regime that allows tax exemption for this type of corporation, operates in Spain with complete freedom. VBare is currently responsible for the imminent eviction of the residents of the Vallehermoso 94 block, in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí.

Upon investigation, we found that the shareholders of VBare are investment funds headed by Israeli soldiers, war criminals, arms manufacturers, cybersecurity and espionage businessmen, such as Nir Barkat, Dan Ramoni and the Wertheim family, including Moshe Wertheim, who in his youth served in the Palmach group, one of the armed Zionist militias responsible, among many others, for the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians in 1948. Later, this terrorist group would be included in the army of Israeli occupation. Moshe Wertheim later joined Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service responsible for the persecution, espionage, torture and killing of thousands of Palestinians as a routine practice.

Do we now understand the system of interdependence with respect to the international context in which our political activism and the daily struggle in our neighborhoods takes place?

The funds that the Israeli real estate investment trust VBare extracts from speculating on our homes and evicting our neighbors not only finance the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, but it is also the profits obtained from colonial theft that allows this company to establish itself as one of the largest real estate speculation companies in the Spanish state. So the concern is twofold: We should care about what happens in Palestine insofar as it is a war crime and insofar as it has repercussions on the impoverishment of our popular classes.

We understand, therefore, from this point of view that local and grassroots activism must raise and direct its gaze towards the international context, since the only way to properly guide our action is through an adequate analysis of the factors involved in the impoverishment of our lives. . Moreover, it is not that the perspective should be international, but that it must be internationalist.

Following Gramsci, it is important to emphasize the need to always start from local roots, that is, from the pavement of our streets in internationalist activism. All of us who are militant internationalists and who dedicate the best of ourselves to strengthening anti-colonial popular liberation movements come from and are in contact with the social strata of our own country. Among others, one of our objectives must be to always win over more people in commitment to the anti-colonial struggle. For this, speeches haranguing about internationalism in an exercise of sentimental euphoria are not enough. In order to develop political subjects who are aware of and actively committed to the internationalist struggle, we must present the material realities that show the obvious links, despite their differences, between our misery and theirs. Only in this way will an internationalist political action become sustainable, with the capacity to influence and transform society nationally and globally.

The feeling of abstract humanist connection can be exhausted in a long and draining struggle such as those of the peoples’ liberation movements, but the political conviction that comes with the certainty that the problems of life in your neighborhood will not be solved if it is not accompanied by the defeat of the enemy that murders Palestinians on a daily basis. This understanding allows you to withstand years of protracted struggle against colonial forces. No one is obligated to remain in the struggle for years if it is entirely external to one’s own situation, and no one is forced to become involved if it is not considered relevant to the daily lives of people.

We consider that internationalism is a project that must be part and parcel of our grassroots work in our own country, which must appeal to our communities and their specific situations, because they have many more things in common than they may know with colonized peoples elsewhere in the world, and because addressing these urgent issues of life necessarily require the defeat of colonialism elsewhere.

Without false dichotomies, there are no contradictions

Until now we have only talked about the links between the national and international horizons from the perspective of those that Fanon called “the wretched of the earth”, subjects who inhabit all corners of the planet despite their imposed invisibility and oppression. But there are other aspects for which we must not fail to point out the interrelationship. Among these is the issue of the democratic nature of our institutions, whose radical transformation we aspire to achieve.

Who are we trying to deceive by cloaking in the guise of democracy those institutions whose foreign relations are fueled by political, economic and military alliances, agreements and treaties with colonial entities such as Israel? Do we perhaps believe that such institutions protect the interests of the popular masses they claim to represent? It is well known, or rather it should be known, that democracy as a philosophical and political concept is incompatible with its partial application. The democratic quality of a state is linked to a multitude of factors which we do not address here, but when we point out that our institutions lose democratic quality in their relations with colonial states, we do not simply refer to the tarnishing of their image, but rather to the fact that the internal functioning of these institutions is corrupted, and they cease to serve the popular interests, which, deprived of mechanisms by which to demand accountability from their institutions, lose all sovereignty.

There is a general tendency among political parties on the progressive spectrum and even among our popular movements to speak about “hegemony.” We are aware that taking away the monopoly of the construction of ideology from the far-right and neoliberal forces necessarily involves the construction of a popular hegemony that challenges all the political and community frameworks on the right. However, it seems that this notion of hegemony has a merely national space for action. We ask ourselves: Does hegemony not have a fundamentally internationalist aspect? Do we believe that the construction of popular hegemony is carried out without fighting the international forces that aim to impose a purely economic rationality in all areas of our lives? Building awareness and democratic institutions that serve and obey popular interests entails fighting a type of governmentality that, through multiple international agents, imposes political agendas in our countries that degrade the lives of our popular classes.

The construction of the dichotomy that turns the national level into the primary horizon on which to intervene, undervaluing and postponing the international significance of our daily concerns is a false antagonism that obscures the causes of our suffering, and, therefore, slows down and hinders our ability to eradicate these problems. Phrases like: “How are we going to worry about what happens in other countries if we are overwhelmed here?” are logics that are inserted in the political field by the neoliberal forces, whose fundamental strategy is to individualize suffering that is in reality collective and to disintegrate resistance actions that should be collective. It would seem from this dichotomous logic that those militants who take both levels into consideration in their activism always find themselves split in the contradiction between the local and international plane. However, we salute all those who give their time and their bodies to actively participate in the problems of their community, but also to internationalist practice.

It is the work done in common under the blue skies of many shades from different lands that gives the necessary encouragement for the long march and that accumulates the small daily victories that weaken the hundred-headed dog that is the enemy. It is a clear and rigorous analysis of the causes of the deterioration of our lives, and not emotional but empty slogans, that provide the political conviction that will allow us to carry out a long-term strategy of resistance, and it is the recognition of our interdependence with other diverse communities, which will allow us to remain united on the path to achieving lives worth living, avoiding the abandonment of our militants at the first dissent or obstacle encountered.

In this sense, from Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, we recognize the latent potential in the union with the neighbors of Chamberí who, organized through the Chamberí solidarity network, are committed to give a collective response and resist the attacks by the Israeli real estate company VBare. We consider the collective work between both groups not as a conjunctural, strategic or temporary union, but as the beginning of the progressive construction of a network that it intends to build, from the local struggle and from the urgent and daily problems of ordinary people in the Spanish state, an increasingly broad and growing front that expands in parallel and points out those responsible, the common enemies who are strong enough to operate with impunity in the Spanish state thanks to the dispossession and systematic theft of Palestine. And who, in turn, are able to extend the colonial crime in Palestine thanks to the economic benefits they obtain from the exploitation and plunder of the working classes in our country.

For this reason, from Samidoun Spain, we give our most sincere thanks to the residents of Chamberí who are fighting for the right to decent housing. Thanks to them for considering the thread that unites them with the struggle of millions of Palestinians who risk their lives daily to build a home in which to live with dignity.

We hope that the story of this common experience will serve as an example for an efficient and influential internationalist and local political praxis that is capable, from the closeness of the land that dusts our shoes, to find the common ground from which we rise.

An internationalist and local practice understood in its radical nature allows us to break the solitude and isolation in which we usually find ourselves thrown, facilitating the construction of solid alliances capable of confronting the multiple and complex enemy that renders our lives expendable.

Judit Rodríguez Fernández ( @aiiitormenta ) is an activist in Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, a member of the United Left and a philosophy student at the Complutense University of Madrid.