The 10th World Congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) started last week in Belgium. The event is attended amongst others by delegates and visitors from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England and Wales, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Quebec, Russia, Scotland, Spain, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, USA and Venezuela. Unfortunately, the denial of visas meant delegates from Bolivia and Pakistan could not attend.
The congress will last one week and is discussing the main issues facing the working class internationally in this period of savage austerity attacks, and the tasks for the CWI.
The main Congress discussions are on World Relations and the World Economy, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Building the CWI.
The CWI is a democratic, socialist international organisation. During the Congress, documents and resolutions will be discussed, amended where necessary, and then voted on. Also a new CWI International Executive Committee will be elected.
We will publish the final versions of the main Congress texts. Socialistworld.net has already published the initial draft Congress document on World Relations. An update version of this document will be subsequently published, along with Congress documents on Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe, and a document on the situation in Africa.
Below we publish a report of the first Congress discussion on World Relations, by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, from the England and Wales (Socialist Party) delegation. Other reports of the main discussions taking place at the 10th World Congress will follow over the next few days.
Millions have participated in demonstrations and general strikes in France. There have been general strikes in Greece, in Portugal, the biggest since the revolution of 1974, in Spain, and in India, involving 100 million workers.
There has been a huge and partially victorious movement in South Africa, and many more expressions of anger at the most devastating crisis since the 1930s.
In introducing the discussion Peter Taaffe from the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI, quoted WB Yeats - “All is changed, changed utterly” - to describe the events of the last few months, not least the poet’s home country, Ireland.
Contributions to the discussion dealing with the countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, the Middle East, Europe and Eastern Europe made it clear that there is not one part of the world that has not been affected by the world economic crisis.
Governments in some countries and regions may claim that their economies are healthy or in recovery. As Lynn from the IS described there is the potential for a further downturn in the world economy or for it to stagger on with low rates of growth.
In fact there is no clear ‘medicine’ for the bourgeois to apply and divisions exist between and inside different ruling classes over what measures should be taken.
Governments can be prone to sudden shifts in direction in these rapidly changing times. Dramatic social and political upheaval is pregnant in the situation.
World relations are in a state of increasing instability. We no longer live in a ‘unipolar’ world where the ultimate power of the US, as the biggest economy, is accepted. This can lead to an increase in friction and conflict.
The overriding impression is that we are in a period of flux. Working class struggles are taking place or on the cards in every area. Socialists must be prepared to adjust tactics and organisational methods as the class struggle develops and as the objective conditions change. New slogans and demands will be thrown up and required.
Peter described how, in a relatively short period of time, the Irish economy has been plunged from being one of the most prosperous into, not a recession, but a depression.
In a poll of 100 countries six years ago the Irish people were found to be the happiest on the basis of increasing wages and a seemingly unending boom. But on 27 November 100,000 people marched in Dublin in arctic conditions to express their rage, revulsion and bitterness at the changed situation where the majority face dire cuts in their living standards.
The Irish working class has shown that, even where its trade union leaders have abdicated responsibility for leading the struggle in a most craven way, they will find the road to struggle and the government, elected less than two years ago, is on the ropes.
The presence in Ireland of the CWI and Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, means that there is a voice to articulate opposition to the pro-market policies and the potential to build a challenge for the general election in early 2011 around the recently established United Left Alliance.
The world economic crisis, which began in the sub-prime crisis in the US in 2007, made itself widely understood in the 2008 banking crisis. The CWI warned that the bosses, whose greed and profit-motivated system is responsible for the crisis, would not be able to find an easy way out of the crisis and that they would seek to make working class people pay.
So severe was the crisis that initially it was not clear that a depression on the scale of the 1930s could be avoided. However, many governments peered over the cliff of a repetition of the depression of that decade and, taking fright, enacted major emergency stimulus measures to mitigate the worst effects.
Workers pay for the crisis
Many contributions to the discussion illustrated how the workers and poor have not been protected. For example, since the start of the crisis the US stimulus package has prevented one million job losses in the US but a further eight million were lost since 2007.
Across the OECD countries 17 million have been evicted from the factories. That does not account for the workers who suffer in part-time and precarious work, what has become known in the US as ‘survival jobs’.
At the G20 meeting in Toronto there was general agreement to move from a policy of financial intervention, of implementing stimulus packages, to one where austerity packages have been designed to satisfy the markets. There is not full confidence in the policy which has resulted in enormous cuts in many countries, already provoking working class anger and action.
But anger, frustration and opposition has not yet found expression in the formation of new mass parties of the working class. This presents a major barrier to struggle. As the world relations document points out: “If mass parties of the working class existed – even the limited bourgeois workers parties of the past – then, in all probability, left reformist, centrist and revolutionary ideas would now be widely discussed in society and particularly within the ranks of the organised working class and labour movement.”
An important feature of the discussion was the role of the huge stimulus package in China. This was combined with a massive expansion of credit from mainly the state banks. Investment in the building of roads, buildings and other infrastructure projects has been an attempt to focus the stimulus on increasing domestic demand.
One very important impact of this has been on the confidence of workers to struggle. 2010 has seen a new wave of strikes in China, in large part of an offensive nature, to secure higher wages. Workers have seen the economy growing and have demanded their share. Crucial to the development of the workers’ struggle worldwide will be the growth of this movement and its development.
In his reply to the discussion, Robert from the IS pointed to the important questions that are posed: what are these workers’ attitudes to the struggle for democratic rights, for trade union rights, to the official trade unions, to the state and the government?
However the discussion made it clear that the consequences of the Chinese stimulus package were felt in many areas. The economic growth in a number of countries, such as Germany, is linked to the Chinese stimulus package.
Anthony from Australia explained that one of the reasons that the Australian economy has so far been able to avoid the worst effects of the crisis which have beset other countries is the strength of the mining sector and the massive exports of raw materials to China. Any slowdown in the growth of the Chinese economy could have disastrous repercussions.
Following the end of the 30 years long civil war the working class and poor in Sri Lanka face the most difficult conditions. Siritunga from Sri Lanka, who has lived half his life with that war, described how the promised ‘war dividends’ have spectacularly failed to materialise. Instead the 2010 budget saw an increase in spending on defence to around a quarter of the budget, signalling the escalating repression under the Rajapakse regime.
Regional powers like China and India, who backed the war effort, continue to intervene in Sri Lanka in their own economic and strategic interests, with no benefit to the working people of the region.
A number of speakers addressed the struggle for influence between the US and China, especially in certain regions such as Asia-Pacific.
Behind the figures of economic growth China is exporting a sweatshop mode of production, low wages and no workers’ or trade union rights.
Both Andre from Brazil and Patricio from Chile explained how exports of raw materials to China have had a certain cushioning effect of the world economic crisis in a number of countries of Latin America. In Brazil a process of ‘reprimarisation’ of the economy is beginning with a growing de-industrialisation. This, if it develops, will be accompanied by attacks on workers’ rights, degradation of the environment, and horrendous treatment of indigenous people.
At previous meetings of the CWI the revolution unfolding in Latin America in the earlier part of this decade was at the forefront of the struggle. While this is temporarily slowed down, the European working class is on the move.
There, even in the absence of their own mass or even semi-mass parties, workers are taking very bold action and instinctively developing their demands. Andros from Greece explained how the experience of the mass movement in Greece has led to one in two Greeks being in favour of nationalisation of the banks and one in three in favour of non-payment of the Greek debt, which the working class is not responsible for. This is in the absence of most sizable parties, with the exception of the CWI in Greece, Xekhinima, putting these demands to the fore.
Rob from Russia described the eye-watering slashing of public services, wages and pensions that has taken place across Eastern Europe. Protests in a number of countries have been huge, with, for example, the mass movement on the streets of Latvia, bringing down the government. But with no workers’ party to take power a version of the old regime has assumed power.
The presence of the CWI in Kazakhstan means that there exists the potential to build a new mass workers’ party. Kazakhstan 2012, which involves CWI members, grew out of campaigns to defend people’s homes against repossessions and to build independent trade unions. It stands for the “renationalisation of everything that was privatised, under workers’ control”. 2012 is the date of the next presidential elections when they hope the current repressive regime will be replaced. A new trade union centre has also been founded recently.
The latest Wikileaks exposé has brutally revealed the frictions that exist between the different regimes in the Middle East, which the CWI has pointed up previously.
Yasha from Israel explained that the latest documents suggest that the Israeli regime is seriously preparing for a military attack on Iran although it is probably a highly unlikely scenario.
Robert described how the intervention by the US in Iraq has led to the strengthening of the regional role of Iran. But the Iranian regime is not stable, as was made manifest in the movement of 2009.
The Egyptian working class has been finding its strength through a number of struggles over recent years. A turnout of 15% in the recent elections shows that none of the political parties can appeal to workers and youth. But, as Igor from Russia pointed out, when a movement does develop against the hated Mubarak regime the working class can play an important role.
With the ‘contagion’ of economic crisis spreading from Greece to Ireland and now potentially to Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Britain, the question of the very survival of the Euro is posed.
Illustrating the financial wizardry that led to the economic crisis Robin from England described how the notional value of all the ‘derivatives’ was equivalent to eleven times world total output! He explained that the current world economic crisis is not merely a cyclical crisis of the boom and bust ridden capitalist system, but a crisis of a lack of demand. The massive austerity packages have reduced working class people’s buying power. Every country is seeking to export its way to recovery – but who will import the goods?
Aron from Germany contributed on the tendency towards protectionist measures in the struggle for a greater share of the world market. This is the background to the ‘currency wars’ which are taking place.
The US has launched another massive round of quantitative easing and is attempting to flood the world with dollars to improve its export opportunities. Paraphrasing a US politician Aron described the US administration’s current attitude as: “It’s our currency, but it’s your problem”.
However the US cannot snap its fingers and expect rest of world to fall into line. Peter explained that the Chinese state is not willing to take the hit and threatens that if it were to revalue its currency it could face the closure of 40 million factories which could then provoke a mass movement of the Chinese working class, something governments in all countries would look to with trepidation.
But currency wars are not the only conflicts threatening the world. The friction between North and South Korea could develop. Iraq is a running sore. And Judy from England showed that Afghanistan, which is now seen as Barack Obama’s war, is unwinnable for imperialism.
This undermines Obama’s support but, as Philip from the US said, so too does the huge and growing anger among working and middle class people over unemployment, foreclosures and other effects of the crisis on their lives.
On the basis of this experience an anti-incumbent mood dominated the recent November US elections. The Tea Party, which poses as anti-status quo while actually being linked to the likes of right-wing pro-big business Fox News, can take advantage of this mood in the absence of a working class left wing alternative. However one poll reveals the urgent need and potential for such a party with over half of respondents having an unfavourable view of both the Democrats and the Republicans. In fact the Tea Party has itself provoked two counter protests held in Washington.
Youth fight back
Ty from the US described the magnificent battles that have taken place in the field of education. Students, teachers and parents have organised against budget cuts and against the vicious attacks contained in the Charter school programme.
Even while implementing stimulus packages pro-big business governments will attempt to push through their vicious neoliberal agenda of unravelling all the past gains of the working class such as education, health and pensions.
But the student action in the US is just one example of a new wave of youth protests that is developing. Vincent reported on the 2,000 Chinese students who trashed a privatised cafeteria in a school after the price of bottled water increased. In Britain school and university students are on the march. In Greece, Malaysia, Italy and Ireland students are fighting for their futures.
In Nigeria, where the average age is 19, fighting for a future is daily life. Segun from Nigeria graphically summed up the horrors of the lives of working class people under capitalism in the neocolonial world. Broken promises on investment in roads, schools etc has lead some older workers to start to think that life may have been better in colonial times. He described the extremes of privatisation and profiteering that sees three toll gates built on 6km of road!
However the working class has shown its potential strength in the fantastic eight general strikes in the last decade, the challenge is to mobilise that potential into a struggle to change society.
The crisis of climate change and the destruction of the environment is just one piece of evidence that shows how the idea of capitalism as a progressive system has been undermined. Bart from Belgium proposed slogans to cut across a certain scepticism that can develop towards so-called green measures such as environmental taxes. Socialists should link the issue with the general crisis, questioning the private ownership of scientific research and linking the issue to the crisis with demands such as green jobs and retooling of factories.
The discussion made it clear that the mood and outlook of the working class, the youth and sections of the middle class is changing and evolving through the experience of the world economic crisis, the political and social crisis and especially the emerging struggles.
Mood of workers and youth
Anti-banker, anti-elite and anti-politician moods exist. Sascha from Germany argued that there is the potential for this mood to develop very quickly and that among some layers it has more of a developed anti-capitalist character. As the experience of the worst crisis since the 1930s and the cuts raining down on working class people take their toll there will be a greater questioning of how the cuts can be fought and what is the alternative.
But that is not to say that severe attacks on living standards automatically herald a greater mood to struggle and openness to socialist ideas. There can be a certain stunning response as existed in Greece at the beginning of the crisis. The question of leadership of the working class will also play a role in the evolution of a fighting and socialist consciousness.
Inherent in the situation is the potential for the working class to inflict defeats on governments who are divided and hesitant. Sudden changes in the tactics of the bourgeois cannot be ruled out. As they attempt to push through their agenda they may go from wielding the axe of austerity to printing banknotes in further stimulus packages. Lynn pointed out that a number of economists, who have previously preached monetarism, now call for stimulus measures.
Kevin from Ireland described the situation in the south of Ireland as “pregnant with revolt” and the discussion drew the conclusion that, for Ireland and for world relations, this is a fundamentally different period.