On Tuesday 13 July, attention at the European Summer School, held by the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) last week in Belgium, with over 400 attending, turned to the question of building new mass-based workers’ parties. The call for the building of new mass workers’ parties has been a vital part of our political programme for almost 20 years in many CWI sections. The summer School was an ideal arena to share the varied experiences of our sections so far, discuss the perspectives for the development of new parties and draw the key lessons to assist our dual tasks of building revolutionary Marxist forces and assisting the development of new mass parties.
Introducing the discussion, Tony Saunois (CWI International Secretariat) reviewed the developments over the past years. He explained that the process of bourgeoisification of the former social democratic and ‘communist’ parties was the key element that pushed us to call for new mass workers’ parties. This is the process by which the parties like the Labour Party in Britain and the Social Democratic Party in Germany went from being parties with an active working class base and pro-capitalist leadership, to being out and out capitalist parties that were losing their roots.
Replying to the discussion, Andros from Greece pointed out that the call for new mass workers’ parties today is in many ways a continuation of the traditional orientation of the CWI to mass formations of the working class. In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, this tactic was easily applied with an orientation to, including participation in, the traditional social democratic parties and sometimes other parties. Now we have to apply the tactic in a different way, in particular with the call and work for new mass workers’ parties.
Since the decisive movement to the right by social democratic parties, new left formations have come into being. However, with the exception of Rifondazione Communista in Italy, none of them have yet been decisively filled out by large numbers of working class people and become true mass parties. Two key points featured in the discussion as reasons for this. Firstly, the lack of a clear left, anti-capitalist, socialist programme that would attract workers and youth in the context of the current capitalist crisis. Secondly, the consistent lack of orientation to workers’ struggle and activity has meant that these parties have not been infused by the struggles which have erupted around Europe. Due to this, the process of development of these parties and work within them has been complicatTony pointed out that the question of new workers’ parties is rooted in the objective situation, as it is not possible for the working class to give birth to mass revolutionary formations overnight. Generally, given the current level of class consciousness, the development of broad mass workers’ parties is a necessary step on the road of development of consciousness and mass revolutionary parties.
Why we participate in new left parties?
The complications with the new formations that have developed at this stage were reported by a number of members. The reality is that most of the leaderships of these formations do not see themselves as having the job of presenting a clear opposition to the Establishment parties. One of the German CWI members emphasised that none of the leadership of Die Linke, for example, sees socialism as a realistic alternative to capitalism. This can lead to the work inside being frustrating, with our initiatives being constantly blocked by the party bureaucracy.
Sascha from Germany outlined why, nonetheless, being part of these parties is important for the CWI. The reason for this is the perspectives for these parties. With its current public policies, Die Linke is unlikely to grow directly into a genuinely mass workers’ party in Germany. However, it is possible that the present formations will play a role in the forming of mass parties of the working class.
In reality, there are two parties within Die Linke – a reformist workers’ party and a social liberal pro-capitalist party. It is vital that SAV members (CWI in Germany) are present for such developments, to put forward clear left socialist politics and try to organise a strong left that can grow into a mass party. The other possibility that cannot be ruled out is that the party could be pushed to the left by the class struggle, which would probably result in the more right wing elements splitting off.
As has been indicated by the instability of the new left formations, there is no possibility of stable workers’ parties being created along the lines of the social democratic and ‘communist’ parties in the post-war period. This is because of the nature of the economic period and crisis, where there is not the same material basis for reforms to be delivered by reformists as in the post-war period. The question of coalitions with capitalist parties and joining governments that attack working class people are posed. Therefore, these new formations are inherently unstable, with internal tensions and splits often posed.
The Left’s reaction to the economic crisis
The new left formations, in different countries, all have different origins and different characteristics. For example, the New Anti Capitalist Party (NPA) in France was formed by a Trotskyist organisation, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire, moving to the right and dissolving itself into a broader formation. The process of building Die Linke in Germany was kick-started by rank and file and lower level trade union officials breaking in 2004 with the SPD to form the WASG and later joining together with the successor to the former east German ruling party. The Left Bloc in Portugal was initiated by a coming together of existing left organisations, in particular Maoists, Trotskyists from the USFI tradition and Eurocommunists. Syriza is an alliance of left organisations, the biggest of which is Synaspismos, which emerged previously as a Eurocommunist split from the Greek Communist Party.
However, there are key common features to all of them. The most striking has been the tendency to move, not to the left under the impact of the economic crisis, but to the right. Marco from Italy, in reflecting upon the experience of Rifondazione Communista, highlighted the dangers of that approach and participation in capitalist governments. The Prc, which had over 100,000 members at its height, has now been effectively destroyed by its right-wing leadership and CWI members are campaigning for the establishment of a “left of the workers” involving both old and new activists.
Dimitrios from Greece reported how at a certain stage, the Syriza alliance had reached 17.5% in the opinion polls, but it had fallen to 4% largely because of the political zig-zags of its leaders. Even when a formally socialist position was taken by its leading bodies, none of its public representatives put forward that position in public. Dimitrios criticised the new programme for Syriza, proposed by its leaders, which is a mish-mash of demands, without posing a clear left alternative for workers in the context of the profound crisis.
As a result, Syriza is now in a serious crisis. The right-wing in Synaspismos (the biggest group in Syriza) had played the role of a brake on every move to the left. A month ago, this right-wing split off and Xekinima (CWI in Greece) welcomed the split as an opportunity for Synaspismos and Syriza to take a decisive move to the left. However, our position was attacked by others and generated a lot of debate and attention for our arguments.
Cedric, from the CWI, spoke about the left forces in Portugal. The Left Bloc unfortunately displays many of the weakness of other forces of the new left around Europe. It has not responded effectively to the crisis, not launching any concrete proposals that would mobilise workers and youth. Its main slogan is “more justice in the economy”, which shows no way forward for those looking to struggle. In reality, large sections of its leadership want to create a so-called “modern Left”, which in reality means a Left that sees class struggle as outdated.
Lise, a member of Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France), described how the NPA has been slow to react and orient to the big struggles of workers and pensioners. For example, the NPA’s most well known figure, Olivier Besancenot, is a postman, yet during the postal workers’ strike, they did not use his position effectively to intervene to try to point the correct way forward for the struggle. This also reflects the fact that the party, like many other new left forces across Europe, has been overly focused on elections, rather than the class struggle in workplaces and on the streets.
CWI and new left formations
One of the tasks posed inside many of these parties now is to build left opposition groupings with others to oppose the leadership’s shift to the right. In Brazil, by doing so, the CWI section, Liberdade Socialismo e Revolucao, has played an important role in getting a left candidate, Plinio, selected as the Presidential Candidate of the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL).
In the NPA in France, CWI comrades have played a vital role in bringing together a left opposition grouping. They managed to win 30% in a vote of party members for their clear left socialist position. Inside Quebec Solidaire, a left-wing grouping that now stands at 9% in opinion polls, our members work with others to try to pull the party to the Left. In Greece, we have also been involved in similar national initiatives and it is likely that we will see a similar development in Die Linke at some stage.
In countries where there are no new left parties yet, our members are involved in campaigning for such parties and where we have substantial forces, we have a crucial role to play. This is the case in Britain, where we helped launched the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) involving militant trade unionists and socialists, which stood in the last election.
Dave from the Socialist Party in England and Wales (CWI in England and Wales) outlined the difficult objective conditions that faced socialists in the recent elections, with a deep fear and hatred of the Conservatives pushing many back to the Labour Party, which resulted in all small parties losing out. The importance of maintaining TUSC as a field of work was emphasised, as a step towards the building of a new workers’ party.
Michael from Ireland reported on our work towards building a new mass workers’ party. The right-wing nature of almost the entire trade union leadership means it is unlikely for initiatives to be taken by an “Irish Bob Crow”. However, the prime position that the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) occupies on the left in Ireland means that we will have a particular role in the development of a new formation and can have the key position within it. The strong likelihood of the Irish Labour Party entering government after the next election can create the circumstances that are favourable to the launch of a new party. In the meantime, the Socialist Party is seeking through negotiations to construct a left alliance for the next elections.
Developments in the Communist Parties
One of the threads of the discussion was the need to pay attention to developments in the Communist Parties, which can also be affected by the crisis. The example of Izquierda Unida (United Left - Spain) was used to illustrate that process. Its new leader is speaking about class war and it is shifting to the left, becoming much more attractive to many workers and youth in Spain.
The Portuguese Communist Party retains a strong base amongst working class people, with 57,000 members and still attracts a layer of youth. It holds key industrial positions, including the leadership of the CGTP union. Unfortunately, it has a sectarian approach, refusing to do common work with others, and, having no understanding of a transitional method, it puts forward no bridge between resisting the cuts now and the socialism that it professes to stand for. However, within this party there is growing discussion, with members looking to the wider left.
Even the KKE (Communist Party of Greece), which is formally a Stalinist party and extremely sectarian, will be affected by the crisis. Greek members explained how this had been happening. After every serious class struggle, honest rank and file workers leave the KKE because of the KKE’s extremely sectarian approach, where for example it always organises separate demonstrations of its own trade union front, PAME, rather than engaging with workers in the major PASOK-led unions.
Our response where there are both old Communist Parties with serious roots in the working class and new formations is to argue for united front actions and joint discussions between both parties. Syriza’s approach in Greece is broadly correct, where it repeatedly calls for the KKE to take common action with it and for joint discussion, even though Syriza’s politically its programme is limited. If it had remained at 17.5% in the opinion polls and continued with that approach, it would have had a real impact on the KKE.
From small groups to mass parties
In summing up, Andros emphasised that the organisation of mass political parties does not necessarily happen overnight. The British Labour Party took decades before the process was completed. However once a serious, class struggle-based party has been built, however, it will be easier and speedier process for new parties elsewhere. The examples of southern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s illustrate how speedily the process can also happen in the context of a crisis. In a number of countries, very small groups exploded into mass parties in an extremely short space of time, like the Socialist Party in Portugal in the course of the Portuguese revolution.
The economic crisis is now a crucial factor in the development of new workers’ parties. It will be decisive in determining the speed and character of developments. It is entirely possible that Syriza and other left formations can take a huge leap to the left under the impact of the economic crisis. However, it is equally possible that the fate of the Prc could befall them because of the trend of the leaderships to the right.
Although it has not been a straightforward process, it is clear that in many countries developments towards new mass workers’ parties are progressing. It is clear from the experiences, so far, that the CWI can play an important role in this development, as well as crucially building our own forces that fight for a socialist programme.