“I’m piecing this together from about 50 text messages” reported Dave Griffiths, a delegate from the Socialist Party of England and Wales. “The riot police have kettled thousands, mostly school students, just outside Parliament. But our comrades and the rail union leaders are leading a rally inside the kettle!”
As the final session of the 10th World Congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) was wrapping up, 35,000 determined British youth descended on Parliament to protest the impending vote to raise university fees and cut student aid. CWI supporters there had played a leading role initiating this demo as well as the 130,000 strong student strikes and school occupations two weeks earlier.
In fact, several of the younger Congress delegates from England, after reporting on their excellent work building the youth revolt, had to leave the Congress early to help lead the demonstration.
Events in Britain were symptomatic of the complete change in the international political situation. This was the background against which the eight day meeting of the CWI Congress brought together elected representatives from around the world to democratically map out perspectives, programme, and strategy for the global movement for socialism. Already in the week, sessions on World Relations, Europe, Latin America, and Asia had resulted in agreed documents. These will soon be published on Socialistworld.net after all amendments are incorporated.
The final two days of the CWI Congress focused on the challenges of building the CWI’s national sections, and expanding the forces of revolutionary Marxism into new countries. Already this year, the CWI has expanded our reach more than ever, with a presence in 47 countries and every continent. Four new full sections with voting rights were recognized at the Congress – Venezuela, Bolivia, Italy, and Taiwan/Hong Kong. Groups in Argentina, Quebec, Spain, Portugal, and Malaysia also had representatives present and were recognized as sympathising sections of the CWI.
Against the backdrop of the continuing world economic crisis, now in its third year, every section of the CWI represented reported on their work. The session was introduced by Stephan Kimmerle and summed up by Clare Doyle. Virtually all sections are grappling with the sharp turn of the capitalist class internationally from unprecedented stimulus to unprecedented austerity. The class contradictions are deepening, opening up a new phase in the crisis characterised by mass movements of the working class and youth. In a number of countries, this has already radically altered the prospects for building the CWI, especially where we are playing a leading role in mass struggles.
Progress in Asia
The European working class and youth, among whom CWI has established our strongest bases of support, has emerged at the forefront of the global resistance to capitalist austerity over the last year. At the same time, the economic crisis has revealed more clearly than ever the growing strength and significance of the emerging Asian economies and, with them, the vital strategic importance of the massive Asian working class to the struggle for international socialism.
In this context, among the main highlights of the World Congress was the progress reported in building the CWI sections in Asia, and our inspiring role in struggles, often in the face of state repression.
In oil-rich Kazakhstan, the largest economy in Central Asia, CWI members are in the leadership of the growing opposition movement to the twenty-year dictatorship of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The broad umbrella opposition group “Kazakhstan 2012” organises solidarity for all major strikes, saving thousands of jobs in recent years and “allowing us to present ourselves as leaders of the working class,” explained one of the Kazakh delegates. “Kazakhstan 2012 is not a fully socialist organization but our comrades are at the centre of the organisation.” The Socialist Resistance Kazakhstan website is among the 10 most viewed in the country.
He explained further: “This has enabled us to establish the foundations of a new national, independent trade union. We have travelled the country meeting with genuine trade union activists. Of course major difficulties exist because of the repression of any new leader who emerges, and repression against our comrades as well.”
Another indicator of our growing influence came this Autumn when CWI Congress delegate and prominent Kazakh opposition leader Ainur Kurmanov testified before the European Parliament’s Human Rights Commission. Reporting on the event, an oppositional newspaper in Kazakhstan ran a headline featuring Ainur’s picture next to president Nazarbayev’s, and reading simply, “Who will beat who?”
In Pakistan as well, amidst deepening political tensions and the devastating floods, the CWI has continued to develop. Visa difficulties prevented the Pakistan delegates from attending the congress, however, the heroic flood relief work and leadership of a new 500,000 strong trade union federation was reported. The CWI in India remains small, but has expanded to several new areas in the last year, and the delegates painted a vivid picture of the 100 million strong general strike which shook India in September.
In the aftermath of the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka the Tamil minority, as well as all opposition forces, continues to face severe repression. Despite the extreme difficulties, the United Socialist Party is energetically rebuilding in both the Sinhala and Tamil areas and is a leading anti-war and opposition force in the country. The CWI in Malaysia, first established only several years ago, now has branches in three cities.
A major step forward in the last year is the development of branches in both Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the continued solidarity work with workers’ struggles on the mainland through Chinaworker.info. The recent strike wave in China underscores the regime’s instability and the potential openings for building independent trade unions and broader support for democratic socialist ideas.
On developments in Latin America, delegates from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela made valuable contributions. In Venezuela, for example, there is growing impatience and disillusionment among workers with Chavez’s reforms, which have stayed within the confines of capitalism and therefore failed to transform social conditions. In this context of mounting frustration, repression of trade union and left activists demanding further-reaching anti-capitalist policies from Chavez, with a number wrongfully jailed. CWI supporters in Venezuela have campaigned for their defence and for that have themselves faced arrests and threats.
Brazil is where the CWI has made the most significant progress. A merger with another group last year substantially expanded the reach of “Liberty, Socialism and Revolution,” the CWI section there, both geographically and in terms of diversity of struggles. In Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro we have a strong position in the education struggles, among both the teachers and students, including leading a month-long university strike.
In Minas Gerais, CWI members lead the print workers union of the state and a federation of eight print workers unions from around the country. In the state of Goiás we lead important work in the landless workers’ movement, organising several ongoing land occupations.
Europe in Revolt
“We are all French today!” This was the oft-heard statement of the British youth on their first mass demonstration in early November. It was emblematic of the instinctive class and internationalist consciousness developing across much of Europe as resistance to capitalist austerity spreads.
The determined struggle in France against the pension reform, uniting wide sections of workers with the youth and student movement, was a trial of strength between the classes. While Sarkozy was, in the end, able to force the reform through Parliament, the morale of French workers and youth was not broken and mass struggles are inevitable. Gauche Revolutionnaire, CWI in France, grew substantially out of this struggle, particularly among the youth among whom we played a leading role. In Rouen, the delegates explained, CWI youth were able to organize several of the lycee student strikes and build general assemblies in their schools to coordinate the struggle.
Despite the anaemic economic growth in Germany, which has temporarily held off mass struggle there, the neo-liberal reforms and cuts continue to provoke anger. Most inspiring has been the ongoing mass struggle against the ‘Stuttgart 21’ railway replacement project widely seen as a waste of billions of tax-payer funds to enrich contractors, Ursel Beck explained to the Congress. Tens of thousands participate in weekly demonstrations. On 30 September Sozialistische Alternative, CWI in Germany, played a central role organising a big school student strike in Stuttgart. The youth were brutally attacked by police, but the following day 100,000 came out to protest!
In Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, dubbed the “PIIGS” in the business press due to the threat of sovereign debt defaults in these countries, the struggles against austerity are among the sharpest in the world. These countries are also where the CWI is poised to make major headway in the coming months and years. The general strikes in Spain and Portugal this fall where the largest since the fall of fascism nearly four decades ago opening up a new period on the Iberian peninsula. Out of these struggles the CWI has established new groups with roots in the union movement.
In one of history’s great ironies, the Italian working class must confront the great recession just as the once-powerful PRC (Communist Refoundation Party) staggers toward complete collapse, depriving workers of political representation or a clear pole of attraction. But out of this crisis of working class representation, which has inspired deep questioning and debate on the Italian left, the CWI has established solid points of support for our ideas in Italy.
After several years of discussion, an important left tendency within the PRC, Controcorrente, agreed at their conference earlier this year to embrace the CWI. And more recently several other PRC branches have expressed interest in the ideas of Controcorrente! While the political situation in Italy remains extremely complicated, with a strong anti-party mood especially among the youth, the deepening political and economic crisis is spurring workers and youth toward militant mass action out of which the forces of genuine Marxism can gain a growing echo for our ideas.
The historic attacks on the Greek working class, imposed under the dictates of the IMF/EU bailout, have been ferociously resisted with a series of general strikes and mass demonstrations. Xekinima, among the largest sections of the CWI, has played an important role in these struggles, putting forward a clear programme of transitional demands and a fighting strategy to contrast with the government-linked union leaders’ use of strike action to simply “let the steam out of the movement.” The ruling so-called socialist party (PASOK) has revealed itself more clearly than ever as the direct representative of Greek and even European finance capital. In this context Xekinima has campaigned for the left to unite around a clear programmatic alternative to crisis-ridden Greek capitalism, including the nationalization of the big banks and refusal to pay off the parasitic creditors, both national and international.
Opportunities in Ireland
Ireland is the second European country after Greece to agree, under intense market pressure, to accept an IMF/EU bailout combined with a severe austerity programme. And it is here where the CWI has the potential to make a major political break-through. The upcoming elections, forced on the governing coalition by mass anger at the economic disaster, offer the potential for the Socialist Party to win several seats in Parliament. With Joe Higgins as the leading public figure, we have launched the United Left Alliance with other socialists in Ireland to run a broad slate of candidates for national and local office. The potential exists for a historic electoral break-through for the revolutionary left there.
Already, Joe Higgins’ victory in the European Parliament election last year positioned the Socialist Party to play a leading role in the growing protest movement against the deep public sector cutbacks being proposed. Across Europe, Joe was able to use his European Parliament position to initiate and build broad support for the idea of a European day of action against the cuts on 29 September.
In Sweden we expanded the vote for our party where we stood in the recent elections, maintaining five local council seats. This position has been built with a record of community struggle against cuts and the growing threat of racist far-right groups. Through this work our support among immigrants in particular has expanded. Similarly in Melbourne, Australia, our record of struggle in the community won the support of several unions for Steve Jolly’s bid in the state election where we received nearly 10% of the vote.
A new wave of struggle also appears to be building across Britain. The tremendous determination of the youth and students has shaken the new “ConDem” coalition government, and inspired confidence among wider layers of the working class. With dramatic, 20% across-the-board public sector cuts threatened, we have received a growing echo for our call for a one-day public sector general strike.
The Socialist Party of England and Wales has established a strong position within the still powerful labour movement, with 19 members elected onto union national executive bodies. We play a leading role in the growing National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), which is set to launch an “All-Britain Anti-Cuts Campaign.” Already the NSSN, along with anti-cuts unions we lead, initiated regional demonstrations of 4,000 in London, 2,000 in Bristol, 600 in Cardiff, 1,000 in Nottingham, 500 in Leicester, plus many more smaller local demonstrations. These initiatives, alongside the youth movement, is putting tremendous pressure on union leaders to organise mass action, including a public sector one-day general strike.
Fighting the Right
Since the onset of the economic crisis, elections in country after country have starkly revealed the crisis of working class representation. Mass anger is reflected at the polls in a sharp anti-incumbent “throw the bums out” mood. Where there is a clear left alternative standing, the potential for significant gains exists, as in Ireland. However, in its absence as was demonstrated in U.S. mid-term elections, populist right-wing forces like the Tea Party can make significant headway.
The CWI there, Socialist Alternative, warned of this danger, explaining in advance that unless labour and other social movements broke with the Democrats and offered a fighting left alternative, right populism would grow. We held well-attended public debates with the Tea Party, explaining the need to clearly answer their arguments. In the growing wave of protest against school closures and cuts, where we play a leading role in some areas, the idea of building a political voice is consistently raised.
The threat of right-populism and racist parties is growing internationally as the economic crisis drags on. In Austria the CWI is setting up “Hands off our friends” committees in schools to organise immediate protests against the deportation of immigrant youth.
In Russia too anti-fascism is a central focus of our work. 1500 football fans, organised by fascists, marched through Moscow in December, protected by police. CWI members there face constant threats, both from government and right-wing forces. Despite this we have mounted successful high profile campaigns against domestic violence and for LGBT rights.
A new period
Like a thread running throughout the reports, virtually all sections reported a marked shift in consciousness beginning to take shape. Not only is there a growing questioning of capitalism and openness to socialist ideas, which has been a key feature of consciousness especially since the 2008 financial crisis. But also, especially in the growing list of countries where mass struggle has begun to erupt, there is a growing thirst for ideas on how to effectively fight back – programme and strategy – and what the alternative is. This opens the possibility for major growth in numbers and influence where the sections of the CWI can position themselves to reach wider layers with our ideas.
This was clearly demonstrated on a small protest in Coventry, England, on the same evening that the 35,000 youth were storming Parliament in London. There, as reported on the final evening of the Congress, a teenage Socialist Party member marched 250 school students out of his school.
Addressing the crowd he asked, “Are we against these cuts?” The students yelled back, “Yes!”
“Are we going to keep up this fight?”
“Yes!” the youth replied.
“And are we for changing this society and fighting for socialism?” All 250 youth and even several police officers, it was reported, responded with a united “YES!”