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

Postscript - Building the cwi (1998-2004)

In the years following the first publication of the 'History of the CWI', the sections and supporters of the cwi were involved in an even more hectic pace of activity.

It is not possible, in the space provided here, to give a detailed account of the activities of the cwi and its sections, but a summary of the main areas of work will show the cwi’s wide scope and important influence.

Anti-globalisation and anti-war movement

As well as an upturn in class struggles in many countries, recent years were marked by the growth of the anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist movement and, of course, the huge protest movement against the Iraq war and the imperialist occupation of Iraq. The CWI analysed these processes, and the world situation following the S11 attacks in New York and Bush’s aggressive imperialist policies, providing clarity to CWI members and supporters in times of a great sharpening of politics. The CWI rejected the widespread pessimism of many on the left, who saw only an ‘unstoppable’ imperialist machine. On the contrary, we argued that US led military invasions would only make the world more unstable and dangerous and that it would mean creating new problems for imperialism. In fact, the CWI warned months beforehand that Iraq would become a morass for the US and other occupation forces, and their presence in the country would lead to widespread Iraqi resistance.

The broad anti-globalisation movement represented a radicalisation of young people, in protest against many of the results of capitalist globalisation. This process – a political re-awakening after the setbacks of the 1990s – was predicted by the CWI during the last decade (when many on the left internationally had given up on the ability of youth and the working class to change society). It marks a step towards a general upturn in class struggles. Of course, this process is still at an early stage. But the anti-globalisation movement, and anti-war protests, did include those attracted to the ideas of genuine socialism, as the only viable alternative to the capitalist system.

The CWI participated in the anti-globalisation protests, including in London, Seattle, Prague, Melbourne, Gothenburg and Genoa, and put forward a socialist programme. In many cases, CWI members played a vital role in organising and running these protests. We also found an enthusiastic reception to the CWI’s ideas during the World Social Forum gatherings in Porto Alegre, in Brazil, and Mumbai, in India. To participate successfully, meant combining CWI forces in Brazil (2002 and 2003) and in India (2004) with several other CWI sections – a practical illustration of socialist internationalism.

Undoubtedly, the broad anti-globalisation mood aided the development of the anti-war protests and debates, which started with the demonstrations in 1998 against the NATO powers’ war against Serbia, followed by the protests in 2001/2002 against the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and, of course, the enormous demonstrations in opposition to war on Iraq, in 2003. The CWI sections played a crucial role in these protests, in many countries. Members helped to initiate ‘Youth against War’ in several countries in Europe, in North America, Australia and elsewhere, which held high profile school strikes on the outbreak of the war. Around 200,000 students marched throughout Germany. Thousands came out from schools in London. In Northern Ireland, Youth against War brought out thousands of Catholic and Protestant school students. The CWI in the US, Socialist Alternative, helped hold university college protests, as part of a magnificent spread of protests across the country.

Industrial struggles

The last several years also saw a rise in industrial struggles, especially in Europe. Most of these struggles were defensive and in opposition to government cuts. CWI members in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, played an important role in aiding the fire fighters’ strike during 2002. Through this, the CWI increased its influence in this important union. Leaders of the FBU, the fire fighters’ union, joined the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland.

The German section of the CWI, against the wishes of the trade union leaders, was instrumental in campaigning successfully for mass protests against Schroeder’s huge attacks on workers. This led to huge demonstrations on 1 November 2003 and since.

In 2003, French CWI members are active in the teachers’ union, and played a leading role in the worker’s offensive against the cuts package of Prime Minister Raffarin. The 2003 strike wave in Austria provided a boost to the ‘Platform for Fighting and Democratic Trade Unions’, a network of union activists, initiated by CWI members, which resists cuts and the block of the right wing union leaders.

CWI members are also involved in important offensive struggles to win better conditions and rights, such as the successful classroom assistants’ dispute in Northern Ireland for better wages, and the recent nursery nurses’ dispute in Scotland.

The CWI now has an important influence in several unions in Britain and in Ireland. Eighteen CWI members sit on the national executives of British-based unions. Janice Godridge, the President of the PCS, a public employees’ union, is a CWI member, as is Chris Baugh, the Assistant General Secretary of PCS, the main civil servants’ union.

The President of the main public sector union in Northern Ireland, NIPSA, is Carmel Gates, a CWI member, and other Socialist Party members sit on NIPSA leadership body. For a period, the Socialist Party in Ireland also held the position of President of the CPSU (civil servants union) in Southern Ireland.

Union activity is also crucial for the CWI in the neo-colonial world, from Chile to Kashmir. CWI members play an important role, for example, in the teachers’ union in Brazil, and are involved in the re-assembling of independent workers’ organisations in the very difficult circumstances of the former Soviet Union (including in Russia and Kazakhstan).

Anti-racist campaigns

It is not only in ‘Third World’ conditions that a fight to construct workers’ organisations, for basic union rights and for an end to low pay needs to be conducted. In June 2004, in Australia, a young workers’ rights campaign, ‘Unite!’, set up by CWI members, successfully forced the management of a store of the multinational ‘Borders’ book shops to agree to improve the conditions of its young workers.

Both in words and in deeds, the CWI stands on the side of women, youth and the poor, and, in particular, oppressed minorities. Successful work amongst immigrants by the Greek section of the CWI has resulted in many immigrant activists joining the party. Sozialistische Linkspartie, the CWI in Austria, was to the forefront of the ‘resistance movement’ in 2001, which protested against the inclusion of the populist right, FPO (‘Freedom Party’), in a national coalition government.

Australian comrades were instrumental in the campaign against the harsh and inhumane anti-immigrant policies of the John Howard Liberal government. This included helping to organise high profile protests outside desert detention centres. The Socialist Party (England and Wales), and ‘Youth against Racism in Europe’ (YRE), consistently campaigns against anti-immigrant policies of the New Labour government and also against the racist far right and populist right. The ‘Blocbuster’ campaign in Belgium, initiated by the CWI, was to the fore in protests against the populist, far right, Vlaams Blok. The Dutch CWI, Offensief, organised lively contingents, in 2004, during the large protest demonstrations against the plans of the right-wing coalition government in Netherlands to forcibly ‘return’ thousands of refugees to war zones, extreme poverty, torture and even death.

Working with other left forces

As well as building its own forces, the CWI is prepared to work with other left organisations, including in elections, where this is possible and in the interests of working people. During the June 2004 local elections in Germany, a member of the CWI, Sozialistische Alternative (SAV), won a seat in Rostock, standing as part of a left election list that included non-SAV members. Sozialistische Alternative is also currently working in the association, ‘Electoral alternative for Work and Social Justice’, which aims to become a new party. Sozialistische Alternative members will campaign for it to take on flesh by putting forward a socialist alternative to the SPD.

In Brazil, the CWI section was part of the PT (Workers’ Party) but left this party, after it assumed power and carried out neo-liberal attacks on the working class. The Brazilian CWI is currently collaborating with other left forces in the newly established P-SOL (‘Party of Socialism and Liberty’) with the aim of creating a mass socialist and Trotskyist alternative to Lula’s PT.

In Scotland, the Netherlands and Portugal, the CWI participates in broad left formations, while upholding the banner of Marxism. Following the departure of former CWI members in Scotland, in 2000, to form the majority of the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – abandoning Trotskyism, and the goal of building a Marxist party, in the process – the CWI in Scotland (International Socialists) are winning new members, both inside and outside the SSP. The CWI puts forward a principled Marxist programme in the SSP, and is to the forefront of the opposition to the increasingly reformist and left-nationalist policies of the SSP leadership.

The Dutch CWI, Offensief, has won members of the Socialist Party (a broad left party), by advocating Marxist ideas inside the party. In 2003, Offensief supporters, and other SP activists, managed to force the SP leaders to call a special meeting in Amsterdam to discuss the SP’s limited internal democracy and the party’s left reformist policies. This led to an attack on Offensief supporters by the Amsterdam SP leadership. However, in the following year, new Offensief supporters were won inside the SP, including a SP councillor, who joins other SP councillors, in the town of Breda, that support Offensief

Alternativa Socialista, in Portugal, participates in the Left Bloc and a CWI member sits on the Bloc’s National Table, its national leadership body. Again, the task of Marxists in a broad formation like the Left Bloc is to promote a bold socialist programme and action that can win the support of the working class and youth.

The CWI also consistently struggles alongside local working class communities. Socialists in the Czech Republic, Socialisticka Alternativa Budoucnost (CWI), work with tenants’ organisations in Prague in a fight to stop the privatisation of their homes.

A campaign against the hated bin tax, in southern Ireland, reached a peak in 2003, when local councils tried to implement the unfair levy in Dublin’s working class areas. The Socialist Party (CWI) were to the fore in the mass community opposition to this tax, helping to organise demonstrations to stop the bin collectors operating. At the same time, the campaign made an appeal to council workers to join the struggle. For taking this principled stand, anti-bin tax campaigners were brought to court and some were imprisoned, including Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (Member of Parliament) for Dublin West, Clare Daly, who is a Socialist Party councillor in North Dublin, and other courageous youth and community activists, including Socialist Party members. By fighting in the interests of working people, Clare Daly was re-elected as a local councillor in June 2004, topping the poll, and Joe Higgins won an excellent vote, in the same month, when he stood for the European parliament.

Strengthening the CWI

Since the ‘History of the CWI’ was first published, in 1998, the CWI has strengthened, or even re-built sections and groups, and also implanted the CWI in new areas of the world.

One of the most impressive developments is in Belgium where, through audacious and determined campaigning work, amongst youth, in unions and in elections, the comrades have built a significant presence in both the Flemish and French speaking parts of the country. The section won 20,000 votes during the European elections in 2004. Similarly, the CWI in Sweden produces a weekly paper and is involved in all the major struggles in society, such as the council workers’ strike in 2002. The section was a main force behind the anti-capitalist protests in Gothenburg in 2001, fought for women’s rights, and also campaigned against the far right (facing physical attacks in the process).

The second largest CWI section, after the SP in England and Wales, is the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Nigeria. This achievement followed a significant change in the country, once the last military dictatorship fell. For years, the DSM comrades worked under military repression, winning influence and respect for their class approach amongst the poor, workers and students. Towards the end of military rule, in 1998, the DSM was launched as an open organisation. The new ‘democratic’ period of civilian rule saw the DSM respond with boldness and initiative, and the growth of the section was rapid after 1999. The section is an important component of the broad, radical Nigerian Conscience Party (NCP) and has authority amongst organised workers, especially in Lagos. Nigerian CWI comrades call for militant action, including properly prepared for general strikes, to resist government attacks, like fuel price rises. The section also warns against labour leaders and the NCP leaders bending to pressures from the capitalist elite – only the building of mass, independent workers’ organisations, with a socialist programme, can show a way out of poverty, corruption, and divisions along tribal, ethnic and religious lines.

Also in the neo-colonial world, the United Socialist Party, in Sri Lanka, is rebuilding the rich traditions of genuine Trotskyism on the island. Unique amongst the left, the USP contains members from both the Sinhalese and Tamil sections of the population, and wins support from the wider communities during numerous elections.

The CWI in the US, Socialist Alternative, is now present in cities and towns across the continental sized country. A high priority is put on winning youth, in the universities, colleges and in the communities. Socialist Alternative participated in the fledging ‘Labor Party’ until it became no more than a pressure group on the big business Democrats. During the 2000 and 2004 Presidential election races, Socialist Alternative called for a vote for Ralph Nader. Despite Nader’s limited radical policies, he attracts many youth and workers, looking for an alternative to the two big business parties. During Nader supporters’ rallies and meetings, the CWI comrades put forward a socialist position, arguing that only this can build a viable mass alternative. Recent energetic anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigning by the CWI in Toronto is also helping to widen the influence of that group in Canada.

In some countries the political situation was relatively ‘dormant’ for years, but once the working class and youth were awoken, the CWI responded. The CWI in Japan participated in the large anti-war demonstrations in 2003 and put forward a socialist case against foreign military adventures in Iraq. The CWI comrades in Cyprus find a warm response to their call for working class unity and a socialist solution on the divided island. CWI supporters in Spain and the Caribbean, for example, took part in anti-government, anti-war movements in 2003/2004, and are involved in struggling to build fighting, democratic unions.

New sections

The section in Israel, Maavak Sozialisti, was officially established in 1999. It stands for workers’ unity against the bosses and the Sharon government, and has given important support and assistance to workers’ struggles in Israel. The Maavak Sozialisti comrades also support the right of Palestinians to self-determination, and advocate an independent, socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel, as part of a socialist confederation of the region.

The CWI now also campaigns in the extremely difficult situation in Kashmir, a country divided and occupied, and which suffers terrible repression, poverty and joblessness. It is against this background that CWI members helped organise May Day demonstrations calling for workers’ unity.

New CWI groups were established in New Zealand (2003), Poland (2004) and Italy (2004). Convinced that the CWI is the best Trotskyist international force, these comrades are striving to build in their countries.

The last few years have also seen a resurgence in the activities of the CWI in South Africa, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). The end of apartheid was a huge step forward for the black masses, but the coming to power of the ANC government on a neo-liberal programme provoked dismay and even disillusionment amongst many on the left. These included some former CWI supporters, who concluded that globalisation and capitalism were unstoppable systems that socialists could do little to change. The CWI, however, pointed to the limits of globalisation and the need for the working class to organise to consciously change society (arguments that are increasingly accepted by growing numbers of youth and workers in South Africa and internationally). Armed with a confident programme, the DSM is re-building its forces in South Africa, and helps to lead struggles against privatisation in the townships and against fees hikes in the colleges. The bitter experience of life under pro-capitalist ANC governments means the DSM’s call for a new mass workers’ party is becoming more popular amongst the masses.

An important factor in the success of establishing the CWI in new parts of the world is the role of the CWI websites. The CWI’s main site (socialistworld.net) and the CWI’s resource and archive site (Marxist.net) are vital means of spreading Trotskyist ideas internationally. Alongside socialistworld.net (which is widely seen as one of the best left sites internationally), the sites of many national sections of the CWI are bringing fresh forces to the CWI. Clearly, Trotskyism on the internet is an invaluable compliment to the newspapers, journals, pamphlets and books of the CWI and its sections.

The CWI has also built new forces in countries where we previously were involved in necessary debates that led to some former members leaving our ranks and leaving Marxism. Following our break with the increasingly reformist leaders of the ‘Labour Party Pakistan’ (LPP) in 1998, the CWI re-organised as the ‘United Socialist Party’. This enhanced the position of the CWI in Pakistan, especially in the eyes of many left activists who are fed up with the corruption and sell-outs of their ‘leaders’. In 2003, other socialists from the revolutionary left in Pakistan joined the CWI, to form the ‘Socialist Movement’. With the newly established group’s influence in unions and amongst communities, allied with a correct programme and policies, the CWI is now poised to make significant headway in Pakistan.

The French CWI section, Gauche revolutionaire (GR), emerged from the debates inside the French CWI group over several years. Eventually, some former members returned to the Mandelite LCR, and quickly dissolved into the left reformist milieu. The Gauche revolutionaire comrades have, in contrast, built an important base for revolutionary Trotskyism in northern French towns, like Rouen, and in other parts of the country. The section has important points of support in the teachers’ unions and amongst youth. Early in 2004, a GR member stood as part of a LCR/LO slate in local elections, putting forward the GR programme, and won a respectable vote.

Enduring and relevant ideas of Trotskyism

The fact that the CWI has not only maintained a presence in the former Soviet Union, but also extended its support across the CIS, including in Russia, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine and Moldova, and is currently winning new supporters in the Central Asian republics, is a testament to the enduring and relevant ideas of Trotskyism in the land of the 1917 socialist revolution. Conditions in the CIS (‘Commonwealth of Independent States’) have markedly worsened since the collapse of Stalinism and restoration of capitalism, leading to a fall in life expectancy. The working class has suffered big defeats and is mainly at the stage of re-assembling its independent organisations. However, despite these factors, and the barrage of ruling class attacks on Bolshevism and Marxism, the CWI has managed to build an important presence in the CIS. Youth, trade union and anti-war campaigns (including against the ongoing Chechen conflict), have raised the profile of the CWI and brought new working class and youth militants to its ranks. Furthermore, the CWI has had to resist the high levels of corruption and opportunism in the workers’ movement, and to uphold the principled position of Marxism. No other Trotskyist force, let alone any left organisation, has managed the same success in the former Soviet Union.

In fact, no other avowedly Trotskyist organisation has the same international presence as the CWI. Of course, the CWI is still a relatively small force and the task in front of it – the socialist transformation of society - is enormous. Nevertheless, armed with the rich ideas and traditions of Marxism and Trotskyism, the CWI membership is not daunted by the road ahead. Rather, the CWI looks forward confidently to playing its part in creating mighty organisations of the working class and a new mass workers’ international, which can set about ridding the world of capitalism and all its horrors, once and for all.

Glossary of parties and organisations

Comintern (Communist or Third International) – Founded in 1919 as world revolutionary party; under Stalin became a counter-revolutionary instrument of foreign policy and furthered the interests of the privileged ruling caste in Russia; dissolved in 1943

Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) – International Trotskyist organisation, with affiliated organisations and parties in over 35 countries

Democracia Socialista (DS) – Brazilian section of the USFI (see below)

Fourth International – Established by Trotsky and co-thinkers in 1938 as revolutionary successor to Second and Third Internationals; however, after Trotsky’s death and following WW2, the Fourth International degenerated and split, under the leadership of Mandel, Pablo, J P Cannon and co.

International Working Men’s Association (First International) – Founded in 1864, with Marx and Engels as central leaders; organised many workers in Europe and North America; faced stiff repression after 1871 Paris Commune; went into decline and dissolved in 1876

International Socialists (IS) – CWI section in Scotland

International Socialist Movement (ISM) – Majority leadership grouping in Scottish Socialist Party (see below), which left the CWI in early 2001

International Socialist Tendency (IST) – International grouping established by Tony Cliff; dominated by its British section, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP)

Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (LIT – International Workers’ League) – ‘Morenite’ tendency, mainly based in Latin America

Unidad Internacional de los Trabajadores (UIT – International Workers’ Unity) – 1995 split from the LIT

Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) – USFI section in France

Linksruck – IST/SWP tendency in Germany

Lutte Ouvriere (LO) – a Trotskyist party in France

Respect Unity Coalition (‘Respect’) – electoral grouping in Britain, dominated by the SWP and expelled Labour MP, George Galloway

Partito della Rifondazione Communiste (PRC) – Left party in Italy, formed in the 1991 from a split in former Italian Communist Party

P-SOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) – Brazilian party, which was formed in 2004 by expelled and ex-PT (Workers’ Party) members, including Trotskyist groups

Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – broad left party formed in late 1990s

United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI – ‘Fourth International’) - International tendency which was led for a long time by Ernest Mandel