Eighth CWI World Congress
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Building the socialist alternative around the world
France, Kashmir, Netherlands and Nigeria
Reports from CWI sections in France, Kashmir, Netherlands and Nigeria 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, 19 December 2002
Our organisation has been rebuilding since January 2001 after a split in the organisation [a group left and melted into the Mandelite LCR, in the process becoming indistinguishable from all the other reformist currents - Ed.]. The movement against Le Pen earlier this year helped us to build in a new way. [The conservative candidate Chirac and far right figure Le Pen carried enough votes to go through to the second round elections. The CWI called for a vote for the Left during the first round. In the second round the French CWI resisted the pressure to call for a vote for the Tory Chirac to "keep Le Pen out". The CWI explained that Le Pen had no chance of winning and that a big vote for Chirac would be used by the traditional right to consolidate its position and to launch new attacks on the working class. The French section opposed Le Pen and Chirac and called for a mass mobilisation on the streets against the right. They used the opportunity to call for the creation of a new mass workers’ party, given the big vote received in the first round by the LCR and LO. Unfortunately these two parties, by a combination on sectarianism and opportunism, failed to capitalise on the situation and to initiate the possible beginnings of a new workers’ party.]
The results of the presidential elections showed a great polarization in the society along with radicalisation. The movement against Le Pen was politically hijacked by the social democrats, with their call for a "vote for Chirac" or "vote against Le Pen". This lead to a huge de-politisation of the movement, narrowing it to a single issue, and reinforcing temporally the institutions. For most of the people, the huge score of Chirac was seen as the end of the matter.
This gave the right wing parties a certain period of ’quiet’ which they used to win the parliamentary elections reorganised themselves in a unify right wing party, the UMP. It will nevertheless experience growing tensions because of the two main tendencies that have always existed in the French right (strong centralised state vs. a lose more federal state).
The government, after having been careful during the last 4 months, is now making more and more announcements of attacks against all sections of workers, youth and "fragile" people (those which situation is really hard: travelling people, the homeless, foreigner prostitutes etc.). It is revealed as a real "hard blue" government.
At the same time, there has not yet been a general and unified fight-back, largely because of the lack of resistance of the Left generally during the last 5 years, and because the scale of attacks. Many people are against what is happening but have not yet found how to fight back. We have not yet heard ’Tous Ensemble’ in response to the attacks (’All Together’ - the slogan of previous mass movements). It is more likely that protests will take place in different branches of the working force.
For example, a recent general strike in education was responded to well. But in many cases the unions put a brake on everything and the Left, with their weak demands, do not really put the leadership under great pressure. But only a strengthening of the struggles in each sector, with appropriates demands, can develop the general level of struggle to defend workers’ interests.
The CWI in France
We have comrades in a number of areas in France, including in Rouen, Paris, Lille and Amiens.
Following our successful electoral campaign during the presidential and the parliamentary elections, the organisation is more and more consolidated. Comrades made a good job explaining our independent class position and during debates. We have met a lot of new people interested in the CWI. We have succeeded in selling a lot of issues of our paper. The paper is central for our work.
We reorganise the Rouen branch into two branches in the last few months. This initiative has helped us build the CWI in a fresh and bold way and it has also encouraged more comrades to take on organisational responsibilities (treasurer, paper organiser etc).
The Paris comrades live and work in five different areas of the city. They go along to national demos in Paris. Student work is now an important priority.
Trade union work
We carry out regular work in the primary school trade union. We are involved in a Left opposition in this union, and we have two comrades in the leadership of a local branch area. We have a presence in the social workers’ union and in the CGT mail workers’ union.
We decided to launch RI/ISR and to organise young people. Our comrades in Amiens and Lille are students. In Lille, with the help of the Belgian comrades, we have begun regular work.
This movement is at the beginning but we have produced placards and leaflets for it. We are involved in an anti-war committee at a university in Rouen and in the co-ordination anti-war meetings of the city.
The Sans Papiers movement
We are involved in the immigrants’ rights ’Sans Papiers’ movement in Rouen, where we are recognised as enthusiastic builders of this important movement.
It was against this background that we campaigned within the ranks of the youth movement around the NSF (National Students’ Federation) in Kashmir. The CWI has been established in Kashmir fairly recently, in what is one of the most difficult and dangerous places on the planet for socialists to work.
Our comrades had a quite an influence amongst a layer of youth, and began more open discussions about the CWI within the ranks of the NSF. With the CWI analysis of the S11 attacks, which was translated into Urdu and discussed, our comrades campaigned for a demonstration against the war between India and Pakistan, while linking it with the launching of a broader education campaign by the NSF, to be called ’Fight for Free Education Campaign’. This proposal was accepted and a demonstration was held on 25 December 2001.
CWI comrades also helped organise an anti-war demonstration later on, which involved a broad layer of groups, particularly the student wing of the main nationalist organisation, the Liberation Front.
The demonstration created the basis for CWI comrades to mark the anniversary of a radical nationalist leader on 11th February. We participated in a broad commemorative demonstration distributing and reading out of our programme (titled ’What We Want’), and chanting socialist slogans.
By May 2001 the successful establishment of our second branch hugely lifted our profile. Within the ranks of the youth movement the CWI was discussed. Comrades from this new branch led the May Day rally and they also supported the struggles of people displaced from the LoC.
For the first time we were able to bring out a paper on May Day called ’Socialist Liberation’, which was well received. Amongst other articles our new paper reproduced a translated version of the CWI May Day Statement. These activities gave us the opportunity to put forward socialist ideas and to clearly link the class struggle with a solution to the national question.
During 2001 the teachers in Pakistan and POK (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir) had ongoing protests against privatisation and other attacks by the Musfhraaf regime against the working class. The CWI was gave support to the local chapter of the school teachers’ unions. We held a press conference with clear support for the public sector workers’ struggle, which received coverage in Urdu papers. Our comrades took part in a protest sit-in outside the district education offices and were welcomed by a section of teachers. With our paper ’Socialist Liberation’, we took part in a protest action by 1200 teachers in the POK capital, Muzaffarbad.
During this protest we made useful contacts with a teachers’ group called the Democratic Teachers Organisation, whose representative criticised the role of imperialism, the IMF and the capitalist class for the problems faced by the working class. (The school teachers’ union is dominated by right wing trade unionists, and no union elections have taken place for years.)
We also at that time made important links with workers from the municipal corporations and supported their demands through resolutions and press statements.
Prior to May Day, on the 29th April, we publicly celebrated the famous 1865 Weavers’ Strike, highlighting the past struggle of workers in Kashmir and the link between that and the solution to the national question today.
During May/June the military escalation between nuclear India and Pakistan reached an unprecedented level after an attack by Islamic groups on an army camp in Jammu (the winter capital of IOK). This led to further displacement of internal refugees (over 100, 000 people were effected) on both sides of the LoC. These refugees still lack housing and other basic necessities. This military confrontation was the biggest since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and the masses of the sub-continent faced possible nuclear catastrophe! Our group campaigned against this madness, around the slogans, ’Stop the War! No to war! Yes to free Education and Drinking Water!’ ’Down with US Imperialism the IMF/ World Bank and for Workers’ unity!’ On 8 June, we organized an anti-war demonstration of school students, activists of NAP/NSF, unemployed workers etc. We distributed ’Stop the War!’ leaflets throughout the city.
Immediately after a public rally, members of the Hizbul-Mujadeen, the largest Kashmiri armed group of Jamiat-e-Islami, attacked our comrades and activists of NAP/NSF. It was at this point that the importance of the international solidarity was realised by our comrades. The solidarity protests and actions taken immediately by CWI sections across the world were essential in defending the Kashmiri comrades and forcing the reactionaries to back off. The letters of solidarity from comrades and unions from all over the world raised the confidence of our comrades.
The anti-war demonstration organised by our comrades was later followed by youth in IOK and later in Pakistan and India. However in both these countries there have been no concrete steps taken toward building an anti-war movement by either the reformist parties, such as the CPI (M), who were in fact in the fore front of war mongering, and the trade union leaders also failed to demonstrate the strength of their membership (the force of which was seen during the massive strike of the Indian working class in April).
Nevertheless, the CWI put forward a principled position against the war fervour. We appealed to the youth, workers and poor peasants and the trade unions to unite against the war and build solidarity to save the sub-continent from a nuclear catastrophe.
Building the socialist alternative
At this stage the biggest task confronting our new CWI group has been winning and developing the first members. After S11, efforts were made to clarify the ideas and methods of the CWI not only verbally but also through practice. This was reflected in the anti-War demonstration of 25th December 2001, when in preparation we discussed thoroughly our slogans, how to organise our contingent (with banners, collecting funds etc).
Our successful intervention further raised the confidence of our comrades. We also won new comrades during the protest actions. Through the local press we got coverage on issues concerning attacks against workers. We have made useful contacts amongst teachers, hospital workers etc.
Comrades have agreed to take part in the study circles and have committed themselves to holding regular sessions to develop themselves theoretically. We were able to hold study circle and discussions in branch meetings on different subjects, including the Russian Revolution (although the lack of socialist literature in Urdu is a certain obstacle we have to strive to overcome). We have to some extent used study packs to develop our new comrades, which has been successful.
As of September 1998 we have been active in the Socialist Party, which is a former Maoist sect and now a broad small mass party, that in electoral terms is perhaps poised to overtake the traditional social democratic party (PvdA).
Working inside the SP has helped us to overcome the difficult period of the Nineties. We have experienced a doubling of our membership and we enjoy a quite widespread and important influence in the SP as a Left opposition. Many SP members now see us as the small but persistent ’Left wing’ of the SP. It has raised our profile in such a way that more class-conscious workers are looking at us, and even joining us.
The most active members of the SP know us. We sell our paper and put forward amendments at congresses, for example.
We now have four CWI comrades who are SP city councillors and two ’vice-councillors’. We have a member and several sympathisers in the leadership of the new SP branch of Haarlemmermeer, south of Amsterdam, which covers Schiphol Airport. We have members and sympathisers in the leadership of the Breda branch of the SP. We are active in the Amsterdam SP. We have the chair of the SP in the borough of Amsterdam South-East. We have comrades and good contacts with other left-wingers in the SP in Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam. Comrades are establishing a certain authority either amongst more critical members or even by the leadership of their branches because of their hard work and experience.
As well as SP work, we also raise our profile outside the SP.
We are much more present at demonstrations than ever before. We sell our paper quite easily, carry our new ’Offensief’ flags, and make also use of pamphlets. We are also part of the bigger and more important broad committees, like the one against the war and the one against the government [the recent coalition government which included the populist and racist right]. In general this raises our profile, and we are much more visible than in the past. We are a recognised part of the Left.
We intend to initiate more of our own campaigns. We need especially to use specific campaigns under our own banners to reach some of the best radical youth. Quite a number of contacts find us through our website.
New members are active in the CWI branches and also encouraged to attend our monthly National Meetings.
We are planning a more structured way to deal with new members and new educational courses.
Work amongst youth
In the last few years we have had campaigns that were at least partially aimed at youth. Most notable of those were the now non-existent ’Free Mumia Campaign’, a broad campaign of Lefts and others.
The ISR in the Netherlands requires more resources and time. We do operate an ISR website however and are discussing new ISR campaigns.
Trade union work
We have comrades in important union positions and in workplaces.
Last year a comrade who works in the railways played an important role during a dispute and we launched our call for a general strike against the government (which is no longer applicable).
We have comrades active in each of the following companies: Dutch Railways (NS), Hoogovens/steelmills (Corus), Amsterdam municipal public transport (GVB), British Telecom (BT Nederland), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and most are known union activists (the main struggle at BT is to actually establish a union). We also have two comrades at Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM). One of them is a member on the central KLM works’ council. The workers in this industry all are very militant and involved in present struggles, which opens up great possibilities.
We have a number of comrades from an immigrant background. We are discussing issues related to immigrants in more detail and how to develop a programme.
For the last year, each issue of our paper has been sold out. Anti-war-demonstrations last year resulted in sales of 75 copies on one occasion. A demo this year in solidarity with Palestinians saw 50 sales. The anti-government demo recently saw 150 sales. At a typical SP branch meeting or regional conference with 50-150 people will sell between 10 and 25 papers (at a SP congress 75 copies on an average). The paper is a valuable way to raise our profile and the increasing sales show the thirst for socialist ideas.
Our website has been improved, and we try to update it several times a week. People on the Left, especially the ones we meet in the SP, state that they visit our site regularly and say it is good. It is clearly another means to make people familiar with our ideas, and it does attract many young people as well.
Every 6 to 8 weeks there is a National Meeting for all members. Both current and more theoretical themes are discussed, as well as our day-to-day work and possible campaigns. It is a good way of getting the most of the active comrades together. We also invite new people to these meetings.
We have CWI branches in the key cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and also other towns, such as Breda in the south.
Our CWI branches strive to hold regular public meetings and are establishing regular paper sales.
We have a drive at the moment to increase the amount of subs/dues our comrades pay to finance CWI activities. We are also campaigning to make sure people renew their subscriptions to our paper.
Patrick Zoomermeijer, Amsterdam
In 1998, the Nigerian CWI section decided to conduct more independent work to take advantage of the relative weakening of military dictatorship and the growing fighting mood and radicalisation among the working masses and youth at that period. We experienced a rapid growth in membership, with the number of members increasing by hundreds within two years of the public launching of the organisation.
But in the past two years, while we have generally maintained our influence and public profile, the rate of recruitment has slowed down. The key reason for this is that unlike four or more years ago, the political situation is much more complex.
In the decade or so leading to 1998, there was massive opposition to the military and a generation of activists emerged who were committed to the struggle to chase out the military from power. Pro-democracy and human rights groups bloomed. With the exit of the military and return to civil rule in May 1999, the ranks of activists have shrunk.
Among the masses, understandably, the initial attitude was to wait and see whether the civilian politicians would solve the nations social-economic crisis and raise living standards. However, within one or two years of civil rule, it became clear to a great and increasing number of the working people that the civil elites could not deliver. Unfortunately, partly due to the failure of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leaders to provide a genuine independent working class political alternative, the masses are made to view their problems through ethnic and religious prisms.
This has been one factor in the upsurge in ethnic and religious conflicts in the first three years of civil rule.
At the same time, the marvellous mass response to the two general strikes that the NLC leadership called in June 2000 and January 2002, over the issue of fuel price increases, shows the potential for building a mass working political alternative. The popularity of the National Conscience Party (NCP) among a wide layer of the downtrodden masses also underscores the widespread desire for change.
The conduct of the civilian elite as the next elections draw closer have once again confirm our position that the ruling class is inherently incapable of putting an end to the cycle of instability that has characterised Nigeria’s post-independence history. There have been ferocious struggles between the various factions of the elite and political violence has been on the increase in most parts of the country. Hundreds of people have been killed, mostly in the course of fighting between different factions of the same political party. In some cases, state-sponsored militia and thugs, such as the Bakassi Boys in the south eastern part of the country, perpetrate the killings.
In the voters registration exercise conducted in September, the electoral commission claimed to have printed and circulated 70 million registration cards for an estimated voting population of 55 million. Yet millions of people of voting age could not be registered due to shortage of materials. Against this background, widespread rigging and violence will mark the 2003 elections. This again shows why labour and youth activists and socialists in Nigeria must approach with urgency the task of building an independent mass working people’s party with a socialist programme.
This, in brief, is the political background to the situation within the organisation.
The bulk of our memberships are students. Due to our interventions and activities on the campuses, we have built considerable influence in the south west Zone D of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). In July this year, student comrades were elected into the leadership of NANS Zone D for the third consecutive year.
The ISR day of action on education on 15 March 2002 was a huge success in Nigeria. Comrades succeeded in getting the NANS Zone D to officially back the programme and activities were organised in five schools (with each school serving as rallying point for the schools in each of the five states in the zone) and at the national conference of NANS.
The recent period has witnessed an upsurge in the commercialisation of education and introductionincrease of school fees by many schools. The student comrades are therefore discussing the setting up of anti-fees campaign.
Students are the most active layer of the organisation. The greatest challenge before us is to increase the proportion of student comrades who are won to all-rounded revolutionary, working class and socialist perspectives and who would remain behind to build the organisation after graduation from school.
Trade union work
Our trade union comrades have faced a spate of retrenchment and victimisation in the public sector over the past three years. More than a dozen worker comrades, including our leading trade union comrade, have been sacked from the Lagos State public service and the Federal Housing Authority in the past eighteen months. Using the platform of our trade union campaign body, the Campaign for Independent Unionism (CIU), in June we re-launched the campaign for the reinstatement of the sacked comrades and workers. A similar programme is being planned for trade union activists and workers retrenched in Osun State, also in south-west Nigeria.
Despite this setback, we made successful interventions in the few workers’ struggles which had taken place in the past one year. In January 2002, we intervened in the two-day strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) against the increase in fuel price. Two comrades were arrested and charged to court. We also had a successful intervention at this year’s May Day. Comrades intervened with our paper in nine cities and sold 1,473 papers.
Work targeted specifically on women’s rights issues is very important for us. In the past one year, our women’s section has organised two meetings and a public symposium on the issue of beauty pageants. This is against the background of the Miss World beauty contest, which Nigeria is currently hosting [this lead to big religious riots in the Muslim north and the abandonment of the event - Ed.].
After a period of almost three years of very little activities there has been a relative revival of the National Conscience Party (NCP), since last year. The basic reasons for this are the increasing disenchantment with the existing registered political parties and the brighter prospect that the NCP would be registered and thus be able to present candidates in the forthcoming local and general elections.
On the 8 November 2002, the NCP and others political parties earlier refused registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) won an important victory when the Supreme court voided most of the criteria used by INEC to assess the parties. By this judgement, technically the NCP is now a registered party though INEC had again announced that it would not publish the list of new registered parties until 5th December [the NCP was published as a registered party on 5 December, allowing it to contest new elections - Ed.]
The DSM has prioritised our work in the NCP since the current revival started last year. We have comrades in the leadership in three states and two local chapters of the party. In Lagos State, most of our recruits in the past year have been from the NCP.
But our work inside the party would require even greater attention if, as we expect, the party should be registered to contest in subsequent elections. It is certain that such development will lead to an influx into the party of both genuine change-seeking working people and youth as well as political opportunists and careerists. While this creates a wider audience for our ideas, it will also pose new challenges for the organisation.
We have held a series of discussions to convince comrades and our branches on the importance of the NCP work and how to put the work on a systematic footing. For instance, sufficient attention has not been paid to contacts and recruitment in the NCP during our work in the past one year. We have also been discussing what our electoral tactics should be (e.g. how many comrades to run as candidates, in which areas, and what would the manifesto of the comrades contain, etc.). Through these discussions, we are preparing the organisation for the turbulent period ahead.
The section’s membership is well over 600.
Greater emphasis has been placed on integration of members and development of cadre in the past two years. More attention is being placed on political education by the branches. Also during this period, we have held three successive socialist schools. These events have enabled a wider layer of the membership to be introduced to the basic ideas of the organisation and to interact and learn from the more experienced comrades.
To partially solve the problem of shortage of reading materials, which is a common problem in the neo-colonial world, we have been making photocopies of Marxist classics and political materials from the CWI and selling them to comrades.
The frequency of visits to branches from the national centre has considerably increased and we hope to improve on it.
The section is also encouraging young comrades to take up greater responsibilities in order to prepare a second layer of leadership for the organisation. The young comrades are being encouraged to write, to be speakers at national meetings and to visit the national secretariat and branches other than theirs. The best of those recruited during the influx of 1998-2000 are beginning to play important roles in the organisation.
The wider audience provided by the revival of NCP coupled with a more serious approach to the paper in more of the branches have enabled us to double the print-run of our paper. Since last year, we have been publishing four issues per year. The publication of the Nigerian perspectives document for two consecutive years has similar impact.
The organisation faces the future with confidence. Despite the complexity of the political situation, we should not only be able to maintain but in fact increase our profile and influence in the labour and youth movement in the coming period with correct perspectives, the right political orientation and a serious approach to building.
To achieve this objective, we will work in the NCP, while being on the alert for any mass or semi-mass radical formation that may develop in other parts of the country. We also stress work in the trade unions and continue to emphasise political education and cadre development among the students and youth comrades.