Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction. Wherefore Youth Work?

My days long past in the Trotskyist movement have rendered me supremely cautious when it comes to calls for an International. Back then we had fierce disagreements about what constituted the authentic Fourth International, which would lead the struggle against Capitalism. The Third was but a Stalinist front. Some spoke even of a Fifth International. I have no desire to sneer at this part of my life. In the main we were committed sincerely to changing the world for the better. However our commitment was always haunted by its elitism. We knew best. None of our proposed Internationals were rooted in the social movements from below.

I’m moved to write this brief preface. which begs many questions, because this very weekend sees the launch of a Progressive International following an initiative from the Democracy in Europe Movement and the Bernie Sanders Institute. We are asked to unite around the following vision.

Our Vision

We aspire to a world that is:

  • Democratic, where all people have the power to shape their institutions and their societies.
  • Decolonised, where all nations determine their collective destiny free from oppression.
  • Just, that redresses inequality in our societies and the legacy of our shared history.
  • Egalitarian, that serves the interests of the many, and never the few.
  • Liberated, where all identities enjoy equal rights, recognition, and power.
  • Solidaristic, where the struggle of each is the struggle of all.
  • Sustainable, that respects planetary boundaries and protects frontline communities.
  • Ecological, that brings human society into harmony with its habitat.
  • Peaceful, where the violence of war is replaced by the diplomacy of peoples.
  • Post-capitalist, that rewards all forms of labour while abolishing the cult of work.
  • Prosperous, that eradicates poverty and invests in a future of shared abundance.
  • Plural, where difference is celebrated as strength.

I find it difficult to believe that any youth worker sympathetic to the politics of In Defence of Youth Work and its cornerstones of practice could be at odds with the above. This said, and given the doubts expressed in my opening thoughts, how many of us will be moved to embrace the call to be involved, expressed eloquently if problematically in Noam Chomsky‘s keynote speech.

Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction – read in full

Noam Chomsky

He begins:

We are meeting at a remarkable moment, a moment that is, in fact, unique in human history, a moment both ominous in portent and bright with hopes for a better future. The Progressive International has a crucial role to play in determining which course history will follow. We are meeting at a moment of confluence of crises of extraordinary severity, with the fate of the human experiment quite literally at stake.

He identifies the growing threats of nuclear war and of environmental catastrophe, and the deterioration of democracy as the key issues facing humanity. Going on to assert that the last might at first seem out of place, but it is not. Declining democracy is a fitting member of the grim trio. The only hope of escaping the two threats of termination is vibrant democracy in which concerned and informed citizens are fully engaged in deliberation, policy formation, and direct action.

There is much to discuss. I have my disagreements. How could it be otherwise? Crucially though, from an IDYW perspective his emphasis on the imperative of creating a vibrant democracy chimes with our sense of open youth work as both a process of ‘intimate democracy’, the vital need to listen to one another, ‘to look into one another’s eyes’ as David Graeber put it and a process of active, collective democracy, which seeks to question and challenge the growing authoritarianism seeping into so many corners of our existence.

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