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History of the CWI

Reassembling Revolutionary Forces

The question is how to build such a mass International. We have a vital role to play in this process. We have in the past, as I described, sent comrades to different countries and continents throughout the world to establish the first forces of genuine Marxists. If necessary we will continue to do this. But a new mass International will not develop in a linear fashion. The process will involve fusions, splits and the reassembling of genuine revolutionary forces on an international and national plane.

We have been very successful in this regard. From the beginning we managed to absorb into our ranks organisations that did not agree with everything that the CWI stood for. In Cyprus, for instance, the group mentioned earlier that eventually joined us, after quite lengthy discussions, was somewhat heterogeneous. Many of those who remained with the CWI and who played a key role in building a very important section in Cyprus were, from the outset, committed to the general perspectives and programme of the CWI. But there were others who could be described as occupying a left centrist position, vacillating between the ideas of the CWI and centrist ideas. Some of them dropped by the wayside as the group became more serious, while others evolved into genuine revolutionaries with a rounded-out outlook. Similar developments took place in Sri Lanka. While the NSSP affiliated to the CWI, the leaders of this organisation, particularly Bahu, never fully agreed with the analysis that we had made of Stalinism, of developments in the former colonial and semi-colonial world and the national question, etc. While successful collaboration ensued for a period, the differences never disappeared and were a factor in the split of the NSSP from the CWI in 1989 (although a very important minority led by Siri stayed with the CWI).

A more recent example of a very successful fusion was in France. Comrade Renaud from Gauche Révolutionnaire (GR), the French section of the CWI, comments:

"We came to the CWI from the USFI. We had come into political opposition to the leadership of the organisation in France, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR). From 1987 they had been pursuing a policy of "automation". They interpreted this to mean that every initiative undertaken by themselves was deemed "sectarian". Leading comrades of the LCR would even argue that to sell the paper was sectarian. The line was that we should try to intervene in "new kinds" of organisational forms, new formations, for example, the developments on the environment and amongst the ecologists.

"There were, of course, some correct points in what they said. We have never hesitated to aid any group of workers in the labour movement, particularly those evolving towards the left, environmentalists involved in serious struggle, etc. But the problem with the USFI's position was that they never tried to put forward their own political line, but tended to adapt their programme, in an opportunist fashion, to the leaders of these "new formations". For example, when a left group within the Socialist Party [PS] launched a school students' union the USFI deliberately played down their own role and forswore any attempt to win this group over. At every demonstration, they lent them [the PS] megaphones, etc, because this group, according to the USFI, should be the "leaders' of the school students' union. In reality, the Mandelite youth organisation was bigger than this group. This role of merely "helping" the leaders of the traditional left organisations and not politically challenging them we opposed.

"In the beginning it was not clear in our heads but we wanted to build the forces of Trotskyism in an open, fighting organisation. We wanted to build and recruit to our party with our programme. Our clash with the Mandelites on this issue is what shaped our tendency inside their organisation. We had already begun to bring a newspaper out whilst still within the LCR. We won a majority of the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire [JCR - the LCRÕs youth organisation] in 1989. But you will see there have been many changes in our political line as we have sought to clarify our position. In the French Mandelite organisation there are several tendencies, which are really factions. In fact, the LCR is not a party but a federation of factions.

"They expelled us in October 1992 when we were quite well organised with a group of 50-60 young people around us. When we were expelled we were approached by many groups. I think comrades would be astonished at the number of Trotskyist groups throughout the world, many of them very strange to say the least. We know, we met them all. We had heard of the Militant, and at first thought it was a kind of left, social democratic, "workerist" tendency within the social democratic and labour movement. But then we went through the experience of the Brussels demonstration after a comrade had seen a poster in Ireland.

"After the demo we approached the CWI with a view to launching the YRE in France. We originally thought that we would have to join the CWI as a condition for us setting up the YRE. But we were pleasantly surprised that this was not the case and that we were given permission to form the YRE. We thought that this was a very good start, which then led to political discussions and eventually a large level of agreement which resulted in us joining the CWI."

David Cameron was also one of the founders of GR in France and, at the time he made the following comments, was a member of our International Secretariat. He has now returned to France to help build our French organisation. David adds:

"The USFI and Mandel had completely failed to understand the changes in the world situation. We had definitely drawn the conclusion that this organisation was impossible to reform after their congress in 1991. So, as Renaud has commented, we started looking around for other organisations. We did not confine ourselves to that but also began to develop our own ideas in opposition to the LCR. This led us to contact with many organisations, more than we wanted to!

"A comrade from the JCR who is no longer with us - he ended up badly, going back to the LCR - went on holiday to Ireland in the summer of 1992 and bought a copy of Irish Militant in a newsagents. This is how we came to learn about the October 1992, anti-racist YRE demonstration. In fact, we had been arguing for years within the LCR and USFI for them to take such an initiative. Following the Brussels demonstration we had many discussions with the CWI.

"What did these discussions actually amount to? We first of all had to get rid of any misconceptions that we were dealing with "left reformists". When you approach an organisation, you have to ascertain the nature of that organisation. Are these people Marxists? Are they reformists? Are they sectarian? Are they Stalinists? The second point is how do these people analyse what is going on in the world? What are their perspectives? And, of course, vitally, are they competent in building viable organisations both on a national and international scale? Through discussions we became convinced that both the Militant and the CWI met the criteria that we had set ourselves.

"There are many lessons in relation to how we joined the CWI which will be useful in similar experiences in the future. I don't think that fusion with other groups is the main way of building the International. I think we will build out of the new layers coming into action but, also, the question of working with other groups and fusion can be posed as well.

"In France, at the moment, there is a certain flux on the left. In my opinion there is the beginning of a break-up of the three largest Trotskyist groups - which were set up in the 1960s - with the emergence of an opposition in Lutte Ouvrière, for example. And at the same time, there is the emergence now of defined political currents, even with their own newspapers, within the PCF [French Communist Party]. There is, therefore, the possibility of fusions and regroupments posing further questions for our intervention in the mass organisations. I think similar questions will be posed elsewhere. Renaud said at the end of his contribution that when we joined the CWI we weren't perfect - we're still not perfect. I think we have learnt a lot from the International and I also hope that we have contributed to the International.

"Just a word on work within the traditional organisations in the past. The French section is one of the few in the International which has never actually done entry work. We came into the International after the CWI had exhausted the tactic of work within the mass traditional organisations. I wonder if we had come in ten or fifteen years before, what we would we have done in France? Let's put the question another way. Could the LCR with 1,500 members, in 1968, and 3-4,000, in the mid-1970s, have been more effective in working within one of the two major mass organisations of the French working class? Hundreds of workers joined the French Communist Party in the decade after 1968 and tens of thousands joined the Socialist Party. Now, if the LCR had decided to employ the tactic of the CWI (given the size of the LCR) to enter the PCF - difficult but not impossible - or go into the PS - easier but not so profitable - is it not possible they would have made a much bigger impact? It seems to me that when an organisation of this size - and from that point of view size is important - could have maintained an independent organisation and yet, at the same time, worked within either wing of the mass organisations, that could have been the most effective method."

Lessons from the Past - for the Future

The main forces for our organisation will come from new layers of the proletariat who have only just begun to move into action or have not yet entered the political arena. The task of winning these layers may appear to be immediately more arduous than the "easier" task of trying to group together different "revolutionary" organisations. There are, of course, some very good comrades in different organisations with a different tradition to our own. It would be a mistake not to seek principled revolutionary unity with genuine forces. However, we have to turn our back on the sectarian fragments who will never be capable of building genuine mass Marxist forces.

The early 1990s were not the easiest of times for us or for revolutionary Marxists in general. But we managed to keep alive the revolutionary thread. We have analysed, we believe in a correct, rounded-out fashion, the objective situation which confronted us and the working class, and are prepared for a new, more favourable position for our organisation. While we are not completely out of the woods yet, the most difficult period is perhaps behind us. This does not mean that we will not have more problems but, at the same time, there will be great opportunities for the development of our organisations and the CWI if we work correctly. The achievements in the future will far surpass what we have done in the past. We must raise the level of all comrades, from the leadership to the newest comrades. Every member has a vital role to play in the development of the revolutionary movement. Each comrade, as Trotsky commented, carries a particle of history on their shoulders. We stand in the best revolutionary traditions of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and the achievements of the revolutionary movement of the last four or five decades. One worker today can win 10, 50, 100 tomorrow and prepare the ground for the development of new mass workers' parties and a new mass workers' International.

We must learn the lessons of the past. There have been enough defeats of the proletariat. Because we have not yet attained mass influence, there are bound to be setbacks and defeats. But there are going to be victories as well. And in defeats and in victories, this new generation will learn the lessons of the past and build an organisation which, this time, will carry the working class to victory.