In the final report from the 2009 Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) Summer School, held from 12-18 July, in Belgium, we look at the last plenary session, on ‘Building the CWI’.
Over 350 people attended the very successful School, mainly from all over Europe and also from other parts of the world, including Brazil, Quebec, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Australia.
Building socialist ideas in a time of deep capitalist crisis
The final plenary session of the 2009 CWI Summer School was, in many ways, the most important one. Following a week of discussion that concentrated on the character of the current world economic crisis, the important struggles of the working class that have already broken out and the potential for the development of class struggle, the session on building the forces of the CWI outlined how we have intervened in struggles already and the potential for us to grow exponentially as a Marxist pole of attraction within the workers’ movement.
Kevin McLaughlin from the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) introduced the discussion by outlining the period of rapid change that we are now faced with. He pointed out how the Russian Revolution, the greatest event thus far in human history, was led by a party that based itself on a Marxist world view (dialectical materialism). Now, in the new stormy period we have entered, the Marxist methods on which the CWI bases itself will be put to the test, as we see rapid change and development. Marxism plans and prepares for events; to achieve the great historic task of socialist change. These methods will be vital to win new workers and youth to the CWI and to develop a new generation of socialist fighters.
One of the dominant issues discussed throughout the CWI Summer School was the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike in England. Many speakers outlined the positive issues stemming from the dispute; the militancy displayed by the workers, the strength of the working class when it moves into struggle and the openness to socialist ideas amongst an important layer of those workers. However, Kevin pointed out how the widespread ideological confusion of the last two decades and the initial vacuum in the leadership of the Lindsey struggle meant that victory was by no means guaranteed. Sometimes there is a very thin line between victory and defeat – in the case of Lindsey, the role of Socialist Party members was that ‘line’. Kevin pointed out the decisive role of Socialist Party members and of the ideas and tactics they put forward. This is an inspiration to CWI members everywhere.
Kevin pointed out how we should not place false limitations on how far the social radicalization process can go in this new period. The reality of mass unemployment will mean that instability and crisis are the dominating features of this period and this will leave an indelible mark on the consciousness of workers; without the specter of mass unemployment, the attacks on workers’ terms and conditions at Lindsey may not have provoked the heroic fight-back that they did. Kevin pointed out how the Financial Times advice to the Irish government to deal with their deep economic crisis was to cut €5.3 trillion in public spending over the next few years. Austerity measures such as this will mean that many working people feel that they have no choice but to stand up and fight back.
It is also the case that a certain economic ‘recovery’ could spur workers on. In the US, it was after unemployment peaked in 1934, and as it began to drop, that workers most decisively responded to the depression of the 1930s, leading to the foundation of the CIO union federation.
Some of the conditions that workers face will be brutal, and many workers and their families will suffer badly from the social and economic crisis. But it is clear to a growing number of working class militants that world capitalism offers no way forward for humanity. How to move forward from this conclusion will depend on the ideas, tactics, methods and fighting spirit of the working class. The CWI must play a role in helping speeding forward the process of radicalization.
This balance, of recognizing the challenges facing the working class but also the important opportunities to build support for socialist and Marxist ideas, was reflected throughout the plenary discussion.
In particular, comrades from France, Germany and Greece outlined the specific role of the CWI within new left political formations. To varying degrees, in each area, the struggle between bold socialist and reformist ideas manifested itself in a struggle between those who want to build an active organization based on class struggle and the participation of the working class, on a mass scale, and those who want to limit themselves to little more than electoral activity. This debate, which was already underway, has been accelerated by the increasing pace of development of the economic crisis.
Socialists combating sectarianism and far right
A CWI comrade from the Lebanon spoke about the specific difficulties of countering the politics of religious sectarianism, populism and the religious/ethnic far-right. Like CWI comrades in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the security situation is often very difficult for these comrades, but they are nonetheless involved in pioneering work and have been involved in many industrial actions and protests. The Lebanon comrades are in the process of translating some of the key writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky into Arabic, which will be of great importance in the historic task of building the forces of genuine socialism throughout the Middle East.
On the 10th anniversary of the founding of Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel), comrade Roni outlined some of the important work that the section has been involved in, including their courageous participation in protests against the invasion of Gaza, at the start of 2009. On demonstrations against Israel’s brutal war, Socialist Struggle Movement supporters advocated the need for class unity amongst Arab and Jewish workers in the face of vicious police intimidation. Roni also outlined an important industrial dispute of 2400 Kindergaden workers against attacks on pay and conditions that CWI members are actively involved in supporting. This dispute is of particular significance because it is led by two women – one from an Orthodox Jewish background and another from an Arab Muslim background. This demonstrates clearly how shared economic and class interests can unite workers and begin to break down barriers that have been put up between them by the bosses. As the economic crisis intensifies, other struggles like this will be thrown up and organised socialists have an important role to play in discussions about the way forward.
Momentous electoral victory of Joe Higgins
The introduction to the party building session also stressed the importance of public representatives of the CWI and the momentous victory of Joe Higgins in his election as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency, in Ireland. Two years ago, Joe had narrowly lost his seat in the Irish Parliament (Dail), but in June 2009 he was elected to Europe, with the consequences of the changed economic situation in Ireland playing an important role in his recent election. In the discussion, Matty from Ireland pointed out that of voters in the Dublin constituency who lost their jobs in the last six months, 32% voted for Joe. This is an indication of the potential to build support for bold socialist ideas during the crisis, as workers are forced to ask important questions about the system they live in based on their own bitter experiences. This theme was taken up by a number of other speakers from the floor, including Joe Higgins himself, who explained how, although the MEP position allows him to campaign for every step forward for workers possible, he will also use the MEP platform to appeal directly over the heads of the European Parliament to the working class and to help support struggles on the ground. One example of this is the critical role that Joe and the Socialist Party will be able to play in the new referendum on the neo-liberal Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, to be held in October.
Working class needs instruments to put bold socialist ideas into practice
Els Deschoemacker (LSP/MAS – CWI Belgium) summed up this important plenary discussion on building support for the CWI by pointing to the fear of the political establishment that revolt and even revolutionary situations could develop over the next period. These fears are fully justified. They may be able to temporarily hold back the development of such movements, either through economic measures or by state repression and intimidation, but they cannot solve the fundamental contradictions and problems that exist in society and that capitalism will continue to worsen.
Else pointed out how the lack of mass political parties of the working class, in most parts of the world, meant the bosses were given some room to breath. The working class and the forces of socialism need to change that, and help create the instruments that can put bold socialist ideas into practice. The discussion showed that the CWI is fully engaged in this struggle, across the globe.
In this new period of stormy economic, social and political events, many workers and youth will find the ideas and methods of the CWI attractive. The efforts of CWI supporters across the world in recent months have resulted in big steps forward in many areas. However, as Else concluded: “We have not seen anything yet!” With correct ideas, policies, programme and methods, genuine Marxism can become a serious force on a world scale and we have to prepare our ranks to work for that now.
In closing the 2009 CWI Summer School, which outlined the severe problems facing working people and the poor and oppressed across the globe, and the socialist ideas and policies needed to resolve these problems, the call was made for CWI supporters to step up the fight to build an international organization of the working class worthy of the historic tasks that we must prepare to face over the coming years.