Failed Attempts to Bring the Internationalist Ideal to Life in the 20th Century

The idea of internationalism, in order to succeed over the long-term, must develop within the mind and heart of mankind, so that it becomes a central concept and primary way of seeing things.  This is in the nature of a reversal of old habits similar to the revolution of thought that took place when scientists announced the fact that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa.  It took a considerable time for humanity to come to grips with the heliocentric nature of the solar system, and even today, a sizable portion of humanity acts as if the sun revolves around the earth!  We can, however, recognize that the heliocentric idea is now firmly fixed in the mind of man.

Similarly, the idea of internationalism must weave its way so deeply into the ways of seeing and acting of humanity that it overcomes the current overarching domination of the nationalist idea.

As Sri Aurobindo has noted, ideas want to be embodied in life and they tend to impatiently grasp onto any established form or idea that appears to have power which may be willing to form an alliance or at the very least join forces temporarily.  The idea of internationalism had several such attempts in the 20th century.  Sri Aurobindo has described the result of two of them.  One failed from divergence of goals and focus between the two ideas, while the other failed through lack of power of effectuation.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But this is at present a slow process, and meanwhile the internationalist idea, eager for effectuation, allied and almost identified itself with two increasingly powerful movements which have both assumed an international character, Socialism and Anarchism.  Indeed, it is this alliance that most commonly went by the name of internationalism.  But this socialistic and anarchistic internationalism was recently put to the test, the fiery test of the European war, and thus tried, it was found sadly wanting.  In every country, the Socialist party shed its internationalist promise with the greatest ease and lightness.”

“Russian socialism, it may be said, has, at least in its extremer form, shown a stronger root of internationalistic feeling.  But what it has actually attempted to accomplish is a development of Labour rule on the basis of a purified nationalism, non-aggressive except for revolutionary purposes and self-contained, and not on the larger international idea.  In any case, the actual results of the Russian attempt show only up to the present a failure of the idea to acquire the vital strength and efficiency which would justify it to life; it is possible to use them much more as a telling argument against internationalism than as a justification of its truth or at least its applicability in the present stage of human progress.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pp. 281-282