Donald Trump Victory: How to Tackle the New 'Nationalist International'

Donald Trump rally
Signs lie discarded following Donald Trump's election night rally, Manhattan, New York, November 9. Andrew Kelly

Walking the other day through a street in Belgrade still called “International Brigades,” I was reminded of another period during which a “nationalist international” ruled over the whole of Europe. It was, of course, the 1930s and 1940s, an era dominated by the narratives that Donald Trump and Brexit have brought back from the dead.

In the 1940s, Europe was at war. Most of its territory was occupied by Nazis or their collaborators. But a persistent partisan movement in the woods and mountains of Yugoslavia was resisting and liberating the country. Inch by inch, island by island, Croats, Serbs, Slovenians, Bosnians and others, regardless of their nationality, language or religion, joined forces to defeat their common enemy.

One day, Winston Churchill sent a British military mission to Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito and his partisans, led by Fitzroy Maclean who in his memoirs Eastern Approaches described Churchill’s simple and brutal message: “Find out who is killing the most Germans, and how we could help them to kill more."

And this is precisely what Maclean—later the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character James Bond—did. In September 1943, he parachuted onto a remote Bosnian mountain range. Soon, despite being a fervent anti-communist, he became one of Tito’s closest allies and convinced Churchill that Tito and his movement could help defeat the Nazis.

As the latest post-election WikiLeaks releases show, these kinds of pragmatic politics were missing in the U.S. Indeed, these days, putting politics and reason in the same sentence—whether we are speaking about the United States or Europe—risks causing laughter. But it is not a joking matter that Hillary Clinton’s advisers actually believed that bolstering Trump’s press coverage was the smart thing to do. (Similarly, European Union officials truly believed that crushing the Athens Spring, in 2015, was a great idea—until Brexit came back to bite them.)

Of course, establishment figures lacking political reason are bound to be hit by their own boomerang. Instead of learning from history, as Churchill did, that attacking potential allies is not a good idea when you are facing fascists, the Democratic Party sealed its own fate by undermining Bernie Sanders—the only progressive alternative to today's nightmare.

The second lesson from the clash with fascism is even more important in our post-liberal and pre-fascist present. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, the International Brigades came together, sourced from more than 50 different countries, to fight the fascists in Spain. The connection with the Yugoslav partisans was the internationalist solidarity that bound its members together—a bond that eventually led to the Bandung Conference in 1955 and to the Non-Aligned Movement, probably the strongest genuine “third way” in history.

What we need today is a new “progressive international,” which is why we have formed the Democracy in Europe Movement DiEM25, bringing together thousands of Europeans who don’t want to live in the world of Sarkozy, Le Pen, Orban, Erdogan or Trump. Immediately after Trump's victory, it became clear even to those who didn’t believe us before that we are rapidly sliding into a postmodern 1930s; that we are doomed without an internationalist movement in Europe that reaches out to Sanders's political revolution and other progressive forces globally.

Recently, when I traveled across the Atlantic to speak to Noam Chomsky for an Al Jazeera documentary about Europe’s current crisis, among other things we talked about the flows of refugees entering Europe. Chomsky made an illuminating comment that could be applied to the “Trump world:” “We are at a point where we must decide whether the human race will survive or not. What will happen if the sea level rises and floods part of the coast of Bangladesh and a few hundred million people from Bangladesh have to flee to survive?” This is a warning that is coming true: in the face of a future catastrophe, Europe’s current refugee crisis may end up looking like a walk in the park.

After Trump’s victory, it is clear that unless a progressive international confronts the emerging nationalist international, Trump and Brexit will soon look like small fry against the specter of a modern fascist post-democracy. Already we have “illiberal democracies,” from Hungary to Turkey, and across Europe we are seeing governments beholden to an unelected cabal of bailiffs working for international creditors, as well as the poor treatment of refugees, the erection of new boundary walls, terrorism on the streets of Paris and Brussels, secret trade agreements, mass surveillance, populism and xenophobia.

All of these are global problems that can be solved only at an international level. To date, institutions that operate at this level have either failed (U.N., etc.) or are part of the same machinery (IMF, World Bank) that have helped produce today’s politics of resentment and hopelessness using the raw materials of self-defeating austerity policies and authoritarianism.

As one born in once-upon-a-time Yugoslavia, and presently horrified by the processes that have helped create Trump and Brexit, I stand convinced that only a progressive internationalist movement can stem this evil tide.

Srećko Horvat is a philosopher and co-founder of DiEM25.

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