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a socialistworld is possible: the history of the cwi by peter taaffe
new introduction

The 'Internationals'

All these movements were instinctively internationalist – looking for solutions on the international plane – and evoked tremendous support from the world working class as a consequence.

From its inception as a force in its own right, the working class looked for a solution not just on the national sphere but internationally, as well. The Communist League was organised by the young Marx and Engels in the 1840s when the influence of Chartism in Britain – the first independent industrial and political movement of the working class worldwide – was still felt. Indeed, there have been five serious attempts to harness the mass political power of the working class on a world scale: the Communist League, The International Working Men’s Association, also organised by Marx and Engels, the Socialist (Second) International, the Communist (Third) International, following the Russian Revolution, and Trotsky’s Fourth International. All of these organisations played an important role in raising and enhancing the power and understanding of the working class, as we have explained in the History of the CWI.

Yet, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, when capitalism demonstrates its failures and, at the same time, globalisation enhances the case for real internationalism and an international organisation, there is no mass political international of the working class based on mass parties. The task of the CWI is to help to create the conditions for the formation of such an International. However, this is only possible on the basis of learning from the lessons from the past and, particularly, from the failings of previous Internationals. A big step towards such a mass International would be the creation of mass parties on a national level. But the outline of such an International cannot be left until the creation of such parties. A powerful embryo for a mass International must be created in the new explosive period that is opening up. We believe the CWI can play a vital role in this process.

However, the political terrain is littered with the remnants of failed and would-be ‘Internationals’. Some of them had very shallow roots in the real movement of the working class, if any at all. Most of these organisations are fragments. Most are either organically opportunist or ultra-left; many of them, unfortunately, stand under the banner of ‘Trotskyism’. We explained in the 1997 of the ‘History of the CWI’ the reasons why Trotsky’s original conception of the ‘Fourth International’, launched in 1938, did not take off. It never became a mass force, although in some cases Trotskyism had a powerful effect on the labour movement, such as in Sri Lanka, Latin America, Vietnam, France, and Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. The reason why the ‘Fourth International’ did not succeed was because of a combination of unfavourable objective factors and difficulties, together with the mistakes made by the leaders of the ‘Fourth International’.

The twenty-first century, however, presents an opportunity to learn from the past. The process can begin – some steps at least can be taken – to lay the foundations for such a new International. But this task is, first and foremost, political. The only justification for trying to build a political organisation, separate and apart from others, certainly as far as Marxists are concerned, is the existence of serious differences on policy and programme. Incidental, secondary, personal or tactical differences are not sufficient justification for maintaining a different organisation, particularly when such an organisation is numbered in dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

For this reason, following the collapse in the Berlin Wall and the new situation which opened up, the CWI did explore the possibility of whether we could arrive at agreement on fundamental issues with other trends within Trotskyism. We discussed and corresponded with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI, sometimes known as the Fourth International). We had connections and discussions with the Trotskyists around the ‘Morenoite’ current, largely based in Latin America. We sought to work, and still do (unfortunately with little success) in common organisations and alliances with the International Socialist Tendency (IST), whose most prominent section is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain. We approached these discussions with an open mind in the hope that, as we had done, these organisations would perhaps learn from their past mistakes, readjust their political stance and, thereby, lay the basis for common work and possible political agreement on the tasks ahead.

Unfortunately, the conclusions which most of these organisations drew from the new world situation confronting the working class and the Marxist movement were at variance with ours, and in some cases quite decisively so. The collapse of Stalinism, symbolised in the fall of the Berlin Wall, was one of those decisive moments in history which, unless correctly assessed, can lead to grave mistakes, in policy, programme and organisation. None of these other organisations adjusted to the main features of the immediate post-Stalinist situation as quickly or as clearly as the CWI.