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Communities, International and Otherwise

The concept of a community is generally viewed in a positive light. So people may speak approvingly of community involvement in some project, or community support for some idea. You may live in a thriving community, or one that is undergoing community regeneration.

Dictionaries offer various definitions of community, often along the lines of ‘a social group residing in a specific locality and often having a common cultural and historical heritage’ (adapted from dictionary.com). A community can be a place itself, or ‘a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists’.

This last definition is the one that underlies such expressions as the gay community, the Jewish community or the scientific community. The common characteristics may include sexual orientation, language or religion, among others, and need have little or nothing to do with where people live. There is often an assumption here that members of communities of this kind do indeed share the same interest, whatever that may be. People may claim to speak for a particular community or to be community leaders, though it is not always clear on what basis such claims are made.

Benedict Anderson wrote a book on nationalism called Imagined Communities, since nations could not be proper communities in any real sense. A similar point might be made about other uses of the word, such as the business community, which presumably points to the capitalist class, especially one within a particular country. They may share the interest of deriving profit from those they employ and of having their access to markets and trade routes defended. Yet they hardly constitute a community in any other way, and are often at each other’s throats in terms of competition for sales and profits. They may resemble another group viewed in similar terms, the criminal community.

Another use, and a very frequent one, is the international community. This might be taken to refer to the General Assembly of the United Nations, but it usually has a rather more specific meaning. Noam Chomsky points out (www.chomsky.info/articles/200209--.htm) that it often just means the United States and some allies and clients, and he refers to this by the label Intcom. The international community in this sense is those who rule the most powerful capitalist state plus those who hang onto its coattails. Whenever you read or hear about the international community, you should ask yourself who it really includes: does it perhaps mean a tiny but extremely powerful and influential group of people who do indeed see themselves as ‘distinct in some respect from the larger society’? Of course, it is nice for them if they can pass themselves off as representing the consensus of the world’s population.

The Socialist Party’s Object speaks of the means of production being owned and controlled ‘by and in the interest of the whole community’. This means what it says: all the people of the Earth will own the land, factories, offices and so on in common. And we will form a true community, one with shared interests but not distinct from or in opposition to anyone else or any other group. The global community of World Socialism will truly be a positive notion, offering support and opportunity for all those who are part of it.  

PB