Eighth CWI World Congress
Increased membership | Australia Austria | Belgium Brazil | Canada CIS Czech Republic | England Wales Finland Germany | Greece India Ireland Israel | France Kashmir Netherlands Nigeria | South Africa Sri Lanka Sweden | United States | Building the CWI
Building the socialist alternative around the world
Reports from CWI sections in Greece, India, Ireland and Israel 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, 18 December 2002
Perhaps the most important development during the last 18 months was that we were able to lead sections of youth and workers into struggle.
In May, last year, we played a leading role in the university occupations in Salonica and Volos and established our comrades as very well known leaders on an all city basis.
In Athens we had an impact in the trade union movement by building a trade union fraction in a hospital of 1,500 workers. We won 1/3 of the seats based on the work of one comrade and established a reputation which goes far beyond the specific hospital. Last month we took a bold initiative to replace the executive of the local union (controlled by PASOK) because of the rotten character of the majority and the anger of the rank and file and forced new elections.
Last October we stood with candidates in the local election in the area of Zografou (Athens), as part of a Left list of different organisations and many individuals (the big majority) not committed to any party. The result was very good. We were able to build a branch of school students during the campaign, acquire an excellent reputation amongst old Left activists and to build cadres by training youth comrades in their late teens or early 20s to dive deep into local problems and community work. The final vote was surprisingly good: we came 6th out of 46 candidates.
We have a strong base within immigrants and have developed very successful campaigns. We now have about 30 African comrades and have a plan to expand into the Asian and Albanian communities.
One of the most important successes of the last period has been the re-establishment of out base amongst the school students. The paper, ’School Students’ Xekinima’, is now produced on a regular base (every 6 weeks). There is a new mood among school students and a radicalisation of an extremely young layer around 14 and 15 partly due to the extreme pressure of the older students due to the new exam system.
New comrades have come through over the last couple of years from work amongst university students. University and technical colleges students produce ’Matseta’, a student magazine, on a regular basis. We had a big campaign against racism and the far right after the stabbing of our comrade Alex by fascists, in October. We were able to seriously expand our influence and membership. We now have comrades in around 25 different colleges and in new towns.
A very important part of our work is the participation in the movement against capitalist globalisation though the newly formed Greek Social Forum and other coalitions of the Left. This is particularly so in view of 2003 EU summit in Salonica. This work is done in the name of Xekinima and the YRE.
This year has been a very difficult one politically, except for a few instances where the class has moved into struggle. It has largely been a reactionary period. The Indian state and political establishment have used reactionary and communal methods to maintain power.
The sore induced into the body politic of India by the British imperialists according to their strategy of divide and rule during partition has become a cancer of unimaginably proportions. In a billion plus country where the most dispensable commodities are humans, only a pogrom of Gujarat proportions makes news. India has indeed become a land of hundred mutinies, if not a thousand communal carnages.
The bluff of ’secular India’
All the ’five estates’ of the so-called Indian democracy are viciously poisoned by Hindu communalism. ’Secular India’, the fig leaf with which the Indian state was covering all its ills and lingering communal and upper caste bias, is completely exposed.
The emergence of Hindu communalists in the form of the BJP as rulers of this tumultuous country has seen a complete sea change in the attitudes of the hitherto dormant middle class. The previous regimes of the so-called secular parties, of which the Congress was in power for most of the time at the center, had passively nurtured the Hindu communalism in a peculiar way. The capitalist and landowning class, which is overwhelmingly Hindu, put its stakes on Indian National Congress precisely for the reason that their interests are safe in the hands of the Congress, which had Gandhi as its mentor. Gandhi saw very clearly that an exclusive Hindu Nation is inimical to the business interests. His slogan of "Hindu Muslim Bhai Bhai" and "Iswar Allah Tere Nam" (’Hindus and Muslims are brothers’ and ’Allah and Hindu Gods are same’) were all far-sighted political strategies on behalf of the big business interests.
The aura around Congress, due to its role in the movement to throw out the British, was of immense usage to it (thanks to the Stalinist Communist Party of India for having betrayed the working class and the poor peasantry, during the struggle for independence). But the failure of the Indian ruling class to solve any one of the fundamental tasks it faced meant that after 55 years of independence all the talk of ’secular democratic India’ is laughing ghoulishly in their faces.
With the end of the boom in the 1970s, the once vice like grip of Congress over entire India began to slip. It even resorted to parliamentary Bonapartist methods by declaring an emergency in 1975 and last power later. However, Congress came back to power in 1980s with a very truncated base. It lost its grip over two thirds of India and it has never been the same for Congress again (though it presently rules 11 out 25 states).
The regionalisation of Indian politics is the manifestation of the failure of the capitalist class to keep India together. The caste-sub-caste, sub castes within each sub-caste, region and linguistic states, dialects within the linguistic states and the North-South divide within India are all the ghost children of Indian capitalist rule. Even issues like river water distribution among the states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and Haryana and Punjab are threatening to bring down the edifice of India as a unitary state. Eclipsing all this the communal divide on religious basis. There cannot be a better display for the theory of Permanent Revolution other than the tragedy that is India.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s Marxists analysed the situation in India as revolution and counter-revolution proceeding simultaneously. The working class of India has time and again shown its combative spirit, the most recent example one being the general strike of April 2002. It is the bankruptcy of its leadership that has pushed India in to the abyss of prolonged communal and casteist strife. The CPs have miserably failed in providing any leadership to the working class and the poor peasantry. In the face of communal upsurge they coat tail behind the so-called non-BJP "secular" opposition parties such as Congress and other regional capitalist parties in the name of progressive forces. In fact, some of these "progressives" are nothing but passive communalists. For example, the ’Socialist Party’, which has some base in the North of India, is a Hindi language chauvinist Party apart from being a party based on Yadavs a land owning upper castes. During the Kargil War, it mainly campaigned on a jingoist platform. The DMK and Telugu Desam of the South which were long considered by the CPs as secular progressive forces did not have any compunction in joining the BJP coalition and forming the 23 party National Democratic Alliance which is ruling at present.
Yet old habits die-hard. The Stalinists still are in the search and hope of reforming these parties to form an alternative to both Congress and the BJP.
It is only the working class and the poor peasantry that can rise above these castes, religious and regional considerations and offer an alternative to the present imbroglio of the strife-ridden system. But it needs a revolutionary leadership.
Fighting communalism and the caste system
It is in this background of a minefield of communal and casteist politics that the forces of the Indian section of the CWI fight for genuine socialist ideas.
First and foremost, the bulk of our activity has been around anti-communal struggles along with the other Left currents. Our main base is in Bangalore. Through our multi-lingual leaflets in opposition to the WTO, the Gujarat communal carnage and, prior to that, on the Kargil War, and the recent stand off between India and Pakistan, we have put our points and ideas of the CWI across and joined the network of anti-communalists and anti-capitalist struggles.
Apart from the anti-communal struggles, it is the struggles and protest against caste atrocities on Daliths, which take a significant share of our time. Last year we produced a leaflet to commemorate the birth centenary of Ambedkar, who is known as a fighter for the Daliths’ cause by the community of Daliths all over India. Though as socialists we are critical of his ideas and methods during the British period, we understand that he has a legacy of a fighting spirit among the Daliths who worship him as the Messiah of the downtrodden. The best elements that look to him can undoubtedly be won over to the fight for genuine socialism.
The leaflet referred to earlier on the issue of caste discrimination has been reprinted and is widely circulated amongst Daliths and working people. Our programme is widely discussed. We take up land relations and caste relations, the right to self-defence against upper caste atrocities, and the general demand of defense committees of trade unions and other working class organisations to defend the Daliths and other minorities during the communal and caste atrocities.
This is in contrast to the communist parties’ empty parroting of class struggle only. Caste is a divisive issue and is abhorred by the combative sections within the Dalith Youth. We, over a period, are getting a good ear among the Daliths.
On the industrial front we have intervened in many local strikes, protest actions against closures and lay offs. On April 16th 2002, when the very poorly organised general public sector strike took place, our comrades sold hundreds of our paper. Our leaflet against the WTO that was produced last November for a rally of the Left against the WTO in Delhi was widely distributed during this strike. Because of our continuous involvement in the trade union struggles and the role of the paper, we are invited to many independent initiatives of the rank and file. One such important development is the ’new initiative for trade unions’, which is an all-India effort. Its Southern convention is taking place in the first quarter of the next year in Chennai and an invitation is already given to us for participation.
Another important development is the emerging struggle against the second Labour Commission Report. Though the report is placed before the parliament for ratification, there is a ground swell of opposition to it. Some of the obnoxious recommendations against the working class are expected to bring the class to the streets, irrespective of their political affiliations. We are in touch with the other struggle groups to co-ordinate a countrywide protest against this draconian Labour Commission Report.
One of our main aims is to increase of presence outside of Bangalore. Recently a group has been established in Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu, which is a knitwear-manufacturing town.
Our recent intervention in the protests against the Gujarat Government has given us a number of contacts in professional colleges within Bangalore and also outside of Bangalore, such as Ahemadabad and Assam.
The result of the elections in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir indicates the BJP is fast loosing its ground, which may force it to resort to more strident Hindu ideology. Their ’brigade’ has already indicated that December 6 will be celebrated as Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) when the Hindu communal goons demolished the Babri Mosque in 1992.
The BJP may move to become more jingoistic, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian and anti-Dalith in the coming future. In such an event, which is likely, the coming period will be much more difficult and reactionary.
But the BJP is already loosing ground in many of the states. With its enthusiastic neo-liberal programme the BJP has become very unpopular amongst its own vote base. In the cow belt and elsewhere the rich farmers are up in arms against the BJP for cutting food and fertiliser subsidies. The starvation deaths of poor and marginal peasants, not able pay off the agriculture loans, are a daily news item.
The BJP’s power base has been eroded in Uttar Pradesh, the heart of the Hindi belt. Since coming to power at the centre four years ago, the BJP has lost in almost all state elections except one in Goa [since this report was written the BJP have won an overwhelming victory in the state elections in Gujarat, on 15 December, playing on communal tensions and fears. The Congress of course provided no real opposition to the masses - Editor].
In state after state there are desertions of the BJP’s legislators, joining the other opposition parties. Combined with this and the class moving into action, the paralysis engulfing the Left political arena should be overcome.
In the year ahead there is bound to be a turn around in the situation, which should provide us with more favourable opportunities to take advantage of and help us build the Indian section of the CWI.
The peace process has reached an impasse. The Assembly, set up through the Good Friday Agreement, has been suspended following allegations of an IRA spying operation being conducted through their Assembly offices. There is no possibility of the suspension being lifted in the short term and a big question over whether it will ever be reinstated.
The real underlying reason for the suspension is the ongoing sectarian polarisation and the draining away of support, especially Protestant support, for the Agreement. On the ground, the sectarian division has deepened and the conflict continues in the form of a long drawn out war of attrition over territory.
Despite this, the last twelve months have also seen a development of the class struggle and the radicalisation of a layer of the working class and the youth. We have had the January 18 half-day strike in opposition to sectarian attacks which brought around 100,000 people onto the streets. There have been important strikes - in Belfast airport, by Local Government workers, by other public sector workers - all of which the Socialist Party (SP - CWI section) have successfully supported and some of which have been led by our members.
The anti-capitalist movement and the build up to war against Iraq have also had an impact on a layer of young people. While sectarian ideas have gained a greater hold over the majority of the youth, especially working class youth, an important layer has recoiled from what is happening and has been affected instead by the radicalisation they see taking place internationally. Many are open and responsive to socialist ideas.
The beginnings of a redevelopment of the class struggle, even if it is taking place against a very difficult background, have created openings and opportunities for us. We have been able to take advantage of this situation and new workers and youth have joined the SP.
Importance of political ideas
We have been able to maintain our organisation through difficult times, and are now able to grow, because of the firm theoretical foundations that we have laid. All the other groups on the Left, including the Left Republicans associated with the IRA and the various splinters from it, are in a state of total political confusion, unable to find their political bearings in the very complex situation that has developed.
By contrast, we can now see that the time we spent painstakingly developing and fine-tuning our analysis has paid dividends. Our comrades have a political confidence and clarity that is completely lacking in all other groups. The perspectives document we produced for last year’s conference has been published as a pamphlet - ’Towards division, not peace’ - and is being used to ensure that those now coming round the party have a firm grasp of our analysis of the conflict and of our position on the national question.
Trade union work
As in Britain, there has been an increase in strikes and the beginnings of a shift to the Left in the trade unions. We were very active in an important dispute by airport security staff who were victimised by the company. Similarly with the fire fighters’ dispute. We have a SP member in the leadership of the FBU locally. But for their dispute, they were prepared to send observers to our recent national conference.
Through our positions in NIPSA, the main public sector union, we were able to play a leadership role in the one-day strike by local authority workers in the summer. While the main unions in Britain recommended acceptance of the very poor deal they negotiated and got their members to vote for it, we committed NIPSA to opposition with the result that over 70% voted no.
We have been in the leadership of a number of other strikes in the public sector: a dispute by social workers over resources for child care and a dispute in social security (unemployment) offices over opening hours, which is still going on.
We have executive positions in a number of unions, notably the FBU and CWU. At the start of the year a comrade won an election as the Northern Ireland representative on the executive of one of the main Irish based teacher’s unions, the INTO.
Our main union base is in NIPSA, which is the biggest union in Northern Ireland with 40,000 members. We are the main component of the Left ’Time for Change’ bloc in this union. At the start of the year Time for Change won a majority on the union executive, the first time in its history that the Left has had a majority.
We followed this by running a SP comrade, Carmel Gates, as the Time for Change candidate for the general secretary. Despite the fact that the whole union machine was mobilised against us, with all officials given leave to work in the campaign, we got 38.5% of the vote. The right wing candidate, the current deputy general secretary, has clearly been shaken. Most importantly the campaign brought a new layer of shop stewards around the SP. The election has firmly established the Socialist Party as the main force challenging the right wing bureaucracy.
As well as the very successful ’End Low Pay Campaign’, we are launching a ’Keep it Public’ campaign to oppose privatisation. Already we have had a very good response on the issue of the threat to privatise the Post Office. We want to generalise this into a political campaign highlighting the support of all the main parties, including Sinn Fein, for privatisation.
The biggest and most important breakthrough we have made has been in the youth work. The launching of Socialist Youth (SY) by SP youth members over a year ago has been a timely initiative that has allowed us to set up SY in a number of schools and to extend the work of the party into new areas.
As well as Belfast we now have active Socialist Youth groupings in Derry, Coleraine and Bangor and have members in other areas. Socialist Youth has campaigned on a range of issues such as low pay, the rip off of the music industry, globalisation etc. At the start of the year we launched ’School students united against sectarianism’ and were able to mobilise in the schools for the January 18 demonstration under this banner.
Currently Socialist Youth are concentrating on the coming war. Protests against the war have been small compared to what has happened in other countries but this could change.
We participate in the broader anti-war movement and have mobilised separately for any protests that have taken place. For example, in Derry in November there was a small demonstration of around 100. We brought about 20 people from the area to it and were by far the biggest organised contingent on it.
Socialist Youth has given us a base among 14-18 year olds. The main activists in the various Socialist Youth branches have joined the party. We have been able to integrate them into the branch meetings with a hugely reinvigorating effect for the whole party.
The opportunities bring problems but these are now the problems of growth rather than the difficulties of trying to hold the organisation in a period of setback and retreat. We are also in the process of revamping the party structures, bringing on some of the best of the youth.
We have one paper in Ireland, a 12-page monthly with separate front and back pages for North and South, although whenever the political situation has required it we have instead produced a separate 8 page Northern paper. We intend to continue with this flexible approach for the time being. Quite often our print run is sold out.
Opportunities may close
We now have a favourable situation and have to make the most of it. All comrades are acutely aware that a worsening of the sectarian conflict could once again make our work very difficult. It is therefore a matter of urgency that we seize the opportunity to build our numbers and our influence within the working class communities and among the youth.
Peter Hadden, Belfast
For the first time in 30 years an outgoing government was re-elected in the general election this May. Although the economy has slowed down sharply over the last two years, the key underlying reason for their re-election was that they had presided over the biggest boom in the history of the state. The absence of any real national alternative, as well as the fact that the government lied about the real weakness of the economy and their intention to implement significant cutbacks, were also important factors in the result.
Since then their has been a sharp decline in the support of the Fianna Fail [the main capitalist party] / Progressive Democrats [a small right wing party] coalition government. This was not reflected in the recent referendum on the Nice Treaty. It was passed by 63% to 37% in a turnout of 50% because the establishment was successful in presenting the Treaty as being overwhelmingly about the enlargement of the EU, which most people supported. However the sharp decline in the economy (growth is down from 10.5% in 2000 to 3% currently) is creating very unstable conditions for the capitalist establishment. In this environment issues like corruption scandals can have a much bigger impact than previously. There are currently nearly ten different ’Tribunals of Inquiry’ investigating corruption on issues ranging from corrupt politicians, clerical sexual abuse to corruption within the police. All these have the potential to further explode the authority of the state and the capitalist establishment.
Right now the big issue on the horizon is the budget in December. For the first time in years the government are preparing to implement serious cutbacks, which more than any other development will demonstrate that the days of boom and relative stability are gone. The basis is being laid for significant struggles and big opportunities to build our party. Apart from the general potential that is emerging, our work in the unions and amongst the youth will be key in the next period.
The national elections to the parliament (Dail) in May were a major success for our party. Given the objective conditions we have been operating in, the easy re-election of Joe Higgins in Dublin West was an outstanding performance. Our result in Dublin North with Clare Daly was, if anything, even more impressive. If one percent of those who voted for Fianna Fail in Dublin North had instead of voted for us anywhere on the ballot paper, we would have won a second seat in the Dail. Clare’s vote was an 85% increase on the last general election. The party put in very credible performances in three other constituencies.
Youth work is the over riding priority for the party. It is the fundamental basis upon which the party will be built and leaderships developed throughout the party.
The launching of SY as the youth section of the party has had a very positive effect. The potential for SY is immense. SY mainly does work with school students, which we believe are the most open section of youth. Building amongst school students today inevitably means having a base of young workers and in the colleges tomorrow. This in fact has already materialised.
We have been able to play a leading role in the campaign against fees in the biggest college in the country this autumn because a block of developed SY members went into the college.
Although still a relatively small force, our party has an unrivalled position on the Left in society in the Republic of Ireland and is in a strong position to develop in a dramatic way in the changed political and economic situation that is emerging.
Kevin McLoughlin, Dublin
Israeli society is in unprecedented crisis. The ongoing brutal repression of Palestinians has resulted in widespread violence. The waves of suicide bombings have undermined the sense of security of Israeli workers, while the Israeli army’s war in the territories meant wholesale devastation, with the entire Palestinian population being imprisoned by Israeli road-blocks and curfews.
The economic situation is catastrophic, with a 3% reduction in economic activity, a 10% reduction in wages and living standards being driven back to 1995 levels. Average wages have dropped by 4.2% over the course of 2002. Workers have been forced to pay the price for the crisis with wholesale redundancies, while government cuts have decimated the once generous welfare safety net. The education minister recently called on charities to enter schools to feed the hungry children.
Such vicious economic attacks would in ’normal’ times have led to massive protests. But combined with the terror attacks and war in the territories, the tendency for national unity during wartime has held back the fight back. The Histadruth leaders have also played a role in holding back the anger of the workers. But enormous anger is building up beneath the surface, leading to sporadic eruptions of struggle.
The youth have been the hardest hit. After 3 years of army service they find that "their country" has no jobs to offer them, except perhaps work as security guards (human shields to defend businesses against the next terror attack). The Israeli working class have experienced war and hardship in the past. The difference today is the utter lack of any kind of hope for a better future.
The situation has been a test for the CWI in Israel. During the waves of attacks we have found the town centres deserted, and had to move our street stalls and other public activities into other areas. But our biggest problem was countering the wave of demoralisation, which affected Israeli society. But the desperate nature of the situation, and the clear lack of any capitalist solution, brought a new layer of first class recruits into our ranks.
The level of party activity is higher than ever before. Comrades have had very successful paper sales outside unemployment offices, and intervened on a day-to-day basis in tent camp protests against the cuts in Tel Aviv and in Rehovoth. National interventions in events such as May Day demonstrations have been particularly inspiring, with around 20 comrades wearing red Maavak T shirts intervening. We are regularly the largest, the most youthful and most dynamic political contingent in demonstrations of the Left.
We have produced 3 issues of the paper since the last year. Most copies are sold at solidarity price. We have developed a periphery of youth who read our paper and follow our organisation. A few of these youth are in the process of joining us and others will join in the future. We aim to increase the frequency of the paper to a monthly during 2003.
We have established a new branch in Haifa, a city with rich traditions of workers struggle and a mixed Jewish/Arab population. We also have members in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Rehovoth and Haifa.
In October Maavak Sozialisti held its founding conference. A lengthy political document as well as an organizational resolution was voted on and agreed. The discussion of the political document led to a far better political discussion than at any previous national meeting.
The brutal objective situation has created big difficulties for a socialist organisation but has also brought some of the best radical youth and workers towards us. We have shown that we can weather the storms of war, and have won a good foothold for building a solid base for genuine Marxism in Israel.