Eighth CWI World Congress
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Building the socialist alternative around the world
Canada, CIS and Czech Republic
Reports from CWI sections in Canada, CIS and the Czech Republic on their party campaigns and activities over the last twelve months. These are edited versions of reports presented to the Eighth World Congress of the CWI, held in Belgium from 23-30 November. Over the next week, CWI Online will publish many more party building reports from all areas of the world. We urge all readers that agree with the ideas of the CWI to help us in the struggle for a socialist world. Join the CWI today!
CWI Online, 14 December 2002
We operate a website which is updated quite regularly.
We plan to improve campaigning on members’ dues and raising fighting fund.
We aim to build the CWI on both sides of Canada, which is an enormous country. Our CWI comrades in the US have often helped in this work. The US Seattle branch has also agreed to try to do some work in the Canadian city of Vancouver, three hours from Seattle and Canada’s third largest city.
Most of our comrades are workers, including those who slave in the call centre industry, and students.
The morale amongst comrades is good. We aim to make a breakthrough in recruitment and consolidation over the next couple of years. We are also considering running a candidate in the 2003 municipal election in Toronto.
The CIS CWI section is unusual because it represents a region rather than a country. The biggest country both geographically and in population in Europe, the new capitalist Russia combines elements of the Third World (for example, an economy dominated by the export of raw materials), with elements of a highly developed country, (for example, Russia has an aerospace industry and also attempts to play a regional imperialist role). Ironically, since the collapse of the rouble in 1998 the country has experienced growth rates exceeding those found anywhere else in the world. This is due partly to the high oil price (Russia is now the largest exporter of oil in the world) and the under-valuation of the rouble.
Former FSB ("reformed" KGB) head Vladimir Putin is the key figure in political life. Since coming to power he has taken steps to restrict the powers of the Upper House, the Senate or Federation Council and his party Edinstvo (Unity) not only dominates the lower house (Duma) but has succeeded in splitting part of the neo-liberal opposition and the communist party.
Putin’s policy is summed up by the continuation of neo-liberal reforms (privatisation, land privatisation etc) with an increasing restriction of democratic rights (trade union laws, laws restricting rights of political parties, restrictions on the media). Foreign policy has become increasingly pro-American (full support for Bush’s anti terror war, drive to join the WTO) whilst attempting to at least hold Russia’s interests in the region and with former Soviet allies such as Iraq and India.
Increasingly the second Chechen war is eating away at the economic position and the social superstructure of society.
The main opposition party is the Communist Party headed by Gennady Zhuganov.
The Ukraine - torn between Russia and Western Europe
"Ukraine" means "on the edge" - on the edge of Russian - on the edge of Europe. With a population of over 50 million is one of the biggest countries in Europe. After the 1917 Revolution the CP in the Ukraine was headed by Trotsky’s closest friend and political ally Christian Rakovsky (until his capitulation to Stalinism in the 1930s). Ukraine suffered horribly from Stalinism, first with forced collectivisation, which caused a famine in which millions died, and then under the brutal occupation of Hitler.
Of all the republics, it is probably the most similar to a west European democracy - to an extent. President Kuchma is attempting to create a system mirroring that of Putin’s Russia with politically castrated opposition parties and a vertical power structure where all decisions end up on his desk.
The West try and use the Ukraine as a bulwark against the spread of Russian imperialism but the increasingly authoritarian actions of Kuchma make this position difficult to hold. The Ukraine holds the record as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in - nearly 20 were murdered last year.
Increasingly Russia is dominating the Ukrainian economy - this is leading to an open conflict between the Western orientated political parties and the Russian orientated Kuchma. Russia’s "Ambassador" in the Ukraine is Victor Chernomyrdin, Russia’s (former) longest serving Premier, whose main role is to extend Russia’s economic domination.
The Ukraine is wracked by the national question between the Ukrainian speaking West (Lviv, Rivno), which is mainly dominated by light industry, textiles etc and the heavily populated Russian speaking East (Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov etc) where most mining and heavy industry is based. The Crimea, which was presented by Khrushchev as "a present" to the Ukraine in the 60s, considers itself Russian but also has a national question issue linked to the Tatars. Kiev, in central Ukraine, is the capital (with a 4 million population). It is mainly Russian speaking but with a big Ukrainian influence.
The Ukraine has been a bit slower to privatise industry than Russia but has been affected by all the same problems. Living standards are significantly lower than at least European Russia. A good wage in Kiev would be $2-300 a month. In the rural areas, wages are often non-existence and people live a "natural" existence. Under the influence of Russia, there is a superficial growth that is most evident in cities like the big port city on the black sea - Odessa.
The main opposition parties are the Communist Party and neo-liberal parties. The CP has its main support in the Russian speaking industrial areas of the East. But its recent block with the neo-liberal opposition may mean it is changing its orientation. Slightly stronger are the two main neo-liberal parties led by former Premier Yushenko and former deputy Premier Timoshenko.
Kazakhstan - between Europe and Asia
Another huge country stretching from China in the East to the Caspian Sea with large areas of desert, Kazakhstan covers an area comparable to Western Europe with a population of just 14 million!
President Nazarbayev, former CPSU PolitBuro member and close ally of Gorbachev, who after he rejected "communism" went very rapidly to the market, leads it. He initially worked closely with the multinationals and neo-liberal reforms were introduced very quickly. But as he wanted to concentrate most benefits within his family he has in recent years moved against the interests of the giant corporations. His son owns large sections of industry; his daughter controls the mass media.
Elections are largely falsified both at national and local level. The Parliament that exists is largely a rubber-stamping body and local authorities have few powers. Nazarbayev extends his national powers by referendum.
For a long while the main opposition was the CP. This party was relatively healthy - at one time there were five members of the CWI on its Central Committee. However it was another organisation, The Workers’ Movement of Kazakhstan (WMK) that was seen not only as the left wing of this party but was also responsible for organising many of the protests against Nazarbayev’s rule. The CWI has played an important role in the WMK.
The leadership of the CP however has been moving increasingly to the right and recently joined the pro-Western neo-liberal opposition in the Democratic Choice Party. Lefts, including the CWI, have been expelled. Those expelled and other Lefts have formed the Committee for a Workers’ Party.
The national question of course exists. Nazarbayev follows a Kazakhisation policy - all state bureaucrats have to speak Kazhak - he calls it creating a "national cadre". (It should be remembered that Kazakhstan did not exist in 1917 - it gained a national identity during the Soviet period). The problem is that the vast majority of industrial workers, particularly in the north and west, are Russian.
The country has many towns that have been "written off" by the regime. Nazarbayev argues publicly that if a particular factory is not needed it should be shut and the town, which can no longer pay for electricity, water etc is simply allowed to die.
Ecological problems are severe - the Aral Sea - one of the biggest inland seas in the world is dying. Semipalatinsk in the north-east is a huge radioactive wasteland, where the Soviet bureaucracy tested their nuclear weapons with no regard for the local population.
Moldova - squeezed between Ukraine and Rumania.
Moldova is a small country - until the Hitler-Stalin Pact part of it was in the Soviet Union and part in Rumania. (Part was formerly known as Bessarabia).
It is a largely agricultural region which, as is often the case in the former Soviet Union, is split between the agricultural, mainly Moldovan areas, and the industrial, mainly Russian speaking areas.
After the break up of the Soviet Union the government attempting to reunite with Rumania - the Moldovan language is largely a dialect of Rumainian. But because during the Second World War Rumania was allied to Germany, this created a huge reaction amongst the Russian population. War broke out between the Kishinev (pro-Rumanian) government and the Russian-speaking region of Predniestra (Transdniestra).
The economic catastrophe has been unbelievable. Moldava is the poorest country in Europe and many workers get a couple of hundred dollars a year to live on. As a result there is a huge outflow of workers seeking better-paid work in Russia or Western Europe. Many women are persuaded to go to work in Western Europe and end up as sex slaves.
As a reaction to the early and mid Nineties when firstly the pro-Rumanian neo-liberals dominated the state and then simply Moldovan neo-liberals, Voronin, leader of the Communist Party, was recently elected President. He was elected on a relatively radical programme but in power has implemented a very pro-capitalist policy.
CWI Work in the CIS
When CWI work started in this region the country was called the Soviet Union. In the mid-Nineties, when we were much smaller in numbers, there was still much in common between our work in the different countries. The work was mainly carried out in Russia and the Ukrainian, and Kazakhstan groups were at least assisted by the Russian comrades.
The section’s last Congress (3rd) was held in May 2001. The Congress decided to elect all-CIS bodies, with separate transnational committees - one for the Ukraine and Moldova, the other for Russia and Kazakhstan. In the future however we will have to look at creating separate national sections. Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine all have enough members to warrant this important step and are forging their own national structures.
At present the CWI section has one main publication, the paper "Levii Avangard" which is issued 5 times year. Although mainly in Russian, the journal also has articles in Ukrainian. The CIS paper is supplemented by a new bulletin in the Ukraine. In Kazakhstan a paper that we will have a big influence on, called ’Young Guard’, is soon to be launched.
There has been rapid growth in the section in the past year.
In Russia we have comrades in 9 cities. The main orientation of our work in the last year has been on anti-globalisation, with an active part played in Attac. However, comrades are also actively involved in campaigning on many other questions - on the ecology, on trade union issues, against the rent reforms of the government etc.
In the Ukraine, we have comrades in over 15 cities. Significantly there are groups of comrades working in all the key regions from the West to Odessa, the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In the past we have worked as a faction within some of the Left parties but as these parties have gone further to the right and are not attracting new workers and youth, the CWI now concentrates on independent work. It has also put in considerable effort to establishing an independent trade union with a base amongst transport workers, in particular.
In Kazakhstan we have a national profile. The Kazakhstan CWI section was launched with a successful Conference in May this year. For a long while we were the main part of the left faction in the CP but have now been expelled. We are now working as an independent organisation and as part of the broad ’Committee for a Workers’ Party’.
In Moldova we are based in the Russian speaking area. However we are beginning to make contacts in the capital and Moldovan speaking areas. Extreme levels of poverty and fact that the CP is in power but pushing through a IMF programme make it quite a difficult objective situation for the comrades but they have maintained a stable base and should benefit when objective conditions turn in our favour.
We receive names of youth and workers interested in our ideas from all around the CIS. For example, a left, anarchist group from Belarus who have known us for some time have expressed an interest in joining the CWI. A recent visit to Central Asia has turned up some potential contacts. Tentative contacts have recently been made in the Baltic States and in Armenia.
We are confident we can develop in new areas and extend our established base of support. The CWI will continue to build the most successful Trotskyist forces in the former Soviet Union.
Rob Jones, Moscow
The election of the social democratic (CSSD) government in 1998 lead to several important changes in the Czech Republic. For the first time since the collapse of Stalinism there was a so-called Left government, which ruled for four years with the silent help of "traditional" capitalist parties. They signed an "opposition agreement". CMKOS, the trade union confederation, was very open to this government and began new talks. Some of the CMKOS-leaders are personally involved in the CSSD as members, or in some cases as MP’s for the party.
The few trade union disputes there where over the last few years, while heroic, remained isolated. CWI members played a role in two of the disputes (a teacher’s dispute in Kladno-Vrapice and a miners’ strike and occupation of a pit in Kohinoor).
The protests against the IMF in 2000
An important event of recent years was the IMF meeting in 2000 and the protests against it. Although the protest was mainly built on foreign visitors and activists, it also drew the attention of the Czech people. At first there was hostility towards the Left and in particular towards the radical Left, as the result of a huge media campaign which held the Left responsible for the riots and the acts of vandalism in the centre of Prague.
This did not affect us too much. We were able to attract new people to us during and after the protests. We held a quite successful ’Rally for Social Justice’ on 17th November (the anniversary of November events in 1989, which spelt the end of the old Stalinist regime).
After this we increased our regular paper sales and decided to have well prepared branch meetings.
The Afghan War
After S11 we produced and sold 200 pamphlets giving a socialist analysis of world events and we produced two special newspaper (one on S11 and one once the war in Afghanistan had started). We participated in the all the anti-war demonstrations, which in most cases were small.
Our apprentices’ rights campaign started after the International Socialist Resistance’s (ISR) international day of action on education (15th March 2002). We went to one particular school (which has around 1000 students, including apprentice building workers, wood workers, postal workers and garden workers) several times with petitions and small leaflets. One young woman from this school phoned us and asked us to help her and others to form a union branch in the school. We took the initiative to send a union hygiene inspector to their workplace.
Together with them we will start with a new petition about the minimum wage for apprentices. We will continue work around the working conditions in the school. We are discussing the idea of launching a Youth Rights’ Charter, which could be used to organise other students.
From 20th till 22nd November the NATO Summit will be held in Prague [This report was written the week prior to the Prague NATO summit - Editor]. The protests will be smaller than those at the time of the IMF Summit. The propaganda against all demonstrations has already started.
We have planned a meeting with Iraqi refugees, who have a CP background, if a war starts in the Middle East.
A broader based ’Campaign against War’ has been launched. We hope to be able to participate in this.
Our comrades are mainly workers, apprentices and students.
We have rebuilt our offices in central Prague following the devastating floods earlier this year.
The Czech Republic has not been an easy place in which to build socialist ideas in the decade following the collapse of Stalinism. However we have noticed an increasing radicalisation amongst many people due to international events and disillusionment with the consequences of capitalist restoration, and we are confident our ideas will find a much bigger audience over the next period.