New cwi book: A socialist world is possible

The history of the cwi by Peter Taaffe.

New cwi book

a socialist world is possible

A new cwi publication: ‘A socialist world is possible – the history of the cwi’, by Peter Taaffe (cwi publications August 2004), is now available by airmail (see below for ordering details). This important book celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) (established in April 1974) and also the ideas, programme and achievements of the CWI.

The book consists of an update of the popular 1998 publication, ‘History of the CWI’, which gives a summary of the origins of the CWI and how it built sections in Europe, North and South America, Australasia, the former Stalinist states and Africa. The Committee for a Workers’ international (CWI) has affiliated parties and organisations in more than 35 countries, on all continents.

A new introductory section examines the ideas, methods and programme of the CWI in contrast to other left groups, in particular, the British-based Socialist Workers Party/International Socialist Tendency, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI – ‘Fourth International’) the international tendency which was led for a long time by Ernest Mandel.

Finally, a postscript summarises the main areas of work and campaigning by the CWI from 1998 to 2004. Amongst other things, it looks at the important campaigning work of CWI sections during the anti-war movement, the anti-capitalist protests, CWI members’ work in the unions, amongst youth, women, and immigrants, in working class communities and in contesting elections.

This book will be of great interest to all members and supporters of the CWI but also to others on the left and for those who follow left politics. It outlines the historic development of an important and influential Trotskyist international in the post war period and the role the CWI continues to play. The book introduces our ideas and history and answers the question often asked: “What is the difference between the CWI and other left groups?”

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The following is a sample from the first part of ‘A Socialist World is Possible’:

History of the CWI

Introduction on the 30th anniversary

The thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) took place in April 2004.

The International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI decided to celebrate the activity and contribution of the CWI to the workers’ movement internationally over the last 30 years by republishing an amended version of the pamphlet, ‘History of the CWI’, first written in 1997. The period since then has, however, been full of important events, incidents and developments – both objectively, and in the workers’ movement. The role and influence of the CWI has developed but also changed, and in some regions and countries quite dramatically.

We have seen the emergence of the anti-capitalist movement, as well as the colossal elemental movement of millions in opposition to Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq. This has been accompanied by a ferocious defensive struggle by the working class, particularly in Europe, against the brutal neo-liberal offensive launched by the capitalists against their rights and conditions. This has resulted in a series of strikes – some of them one-day general or public sector strikes – throughout the continent.

In view of this, the IS of the CWI felt that it was necessary to provide an update of the views of the CWI, both in relation to these developments and on how our role contrasts with the views and actions of others claiming to be Marxist or Trotskyist. Of necessity, this will involve an analysis of the policies and programme of other organisations and how they compare with those of the CWI. This method of making contrasts was employed by the great Marxists – beginning with Marx, as well as Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – when dealing with ideas, trends and organisations which they believed did not meet up to the needs of the working class and labour movement.

It has to be recognised that this method – polemics – fell somewhat out of fashion in the “post-modernist” period, particularly in the 1990s. “Conversations” – polite exchanges which passed as “debates” – became the norm for the ideologists of capitalism and their echoes, the leaders of the ex-social democratic and communist parties. The superiority of capitalism and the triumph of the “market” were to be automatically accepted; discussions were intended to take place within this context.

The sharpening of the political situation, however, particularly in the first few years of this new century, has resulted in more intense conflicts than was the norm in the 1990s. For instance, over the Iraq war there have been divisions even between the ruling circles of the US and Britain on the one side, and France and Germany on the other. Similarly, the embittered mood of the working class at the betrayals of right-wing labour and trade union leaders has resulted in angry demands within the labour movement for a lead to be given from the top and a clearer class explanation of the way forward. As always, the precondition for understanding what methods and organisation the working class needs in this era is organically linked to the understanding of the main political features of the situation. This, in turn, involves understanding recent history and how changes, some of them extremely sharp in character, have taken place or will take place in the next period.

The situation in the 1990s proved to be difficult terrain for the CWI and others who stood on the left, particularly the socialist and Marxist-Trotskyist left. The collapse of Stalinism ushered in an entirely different period to that which had confronted previous generations in the 20th Century; it was the most difficult, in a sense, for 50 years. No other Trotskyist ‘International’ understood so quickly and clearly the main features of the situation which flowed from the collapse of the Berlin Wall as the CWI. With the Berlin Wall collapsed not just Stalinism but also the planned economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

In contrast, as we shall see from an analysis of the positions of different organisations, some acted like political ostriches. They buried their heads in the sand, refusing to recognise until much later that these events represented a major defeat for the workers’ movement internationally. Some saw it as a ‘setback’ but not of a decisive character. Others viewed it as a terrible historical catastrophe; socialism and the prospects for a socialist revolution were off the agenda for decades, if not for ever. The CWI concluded that the collapse of Stalinism was a defeat and a serious one, but not on the scale of those of the interwar period, when fascist regimes triumphed in Italy, Germany and Spain. These had prepared the way for the calamity of the Second World War and its countless victims.

The collapse of Stalinism did provide world capitalism with the possibility of indicting ‘socialism’ as an ‘historic failure’ (it falsely equated socialism with the Stalinist regimes). This, in turn, provided them with the opportunity to conduct a ferocious ideological campaign against the ideas of socialism. At the same time, they argued from a thousand platforms that only the ‘market’ could provide a permanent model for humankind. This was summed up by Frances Fukiyama’s ‘sophisticated’ assertion that “History has ended”. By this, he meant that liberal, capitalist democracy could not be improved upon. It was, therefore, the only form of organisation of society which was now possible or desirable.

Greenspan declares triumph of “market economies”

The Wall Street Journal, more crudely, simply declared on behalf of the big business jackals that it represented, and world capitalism as a whole: “We won!” Even recently, the spokespersons of US imperialism – seeking reassurance for themselves and their class in a more troubled world than appeared likely in the post-1989 situation – extolled the virtues of their system and made the same point. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, and chief economic guru for US capitalism, recently declared when in Berlin: “I have maintained over the years that the most profoundly important debate between conflicting theories of optimum economic organisation during the twentieth century was settled, presumably definitively, here more than a decade ago in the aftermath of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Aside from the Soviet Union itself, the economies of the Soviet bloc had been, in the pre-war period, similar in many relevant respects to the market-based economies of the west. Over the first four decades of post-war Europe, both types of economies developed side by side with limited interaction. It was as close to a controlled experiment in the viability of economic systems as could ever be implemented.

“The results, evident with the dismantling of the Wall, were unequivocally in favour of market economies. The consequences were far-reaching. The long-standing debate between the virtues of economies organised around free markets and those governed by centrally planned socialism, one must assume, is essentially at an end. To be sure, a few still support an old-fashioned socialism. But for the vast majority of previous adherents it is now a highly diluted socialism, an amalgam of social equity and market efficiency, often called market socialism. The verdict on rigid central planning has been rendered, and it is generally appreciated to have been unqualifiedly negative. There was no eulogy for central planning; it just ceased to be mentioned, and a large majority of developing nations quietly shifted from socialism to more market-oriented economies.”.

However, against the background of a looming world economic meltdown and the catastrophic chaos in the wake of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, these comments by Greenspan amount to little more than whistling in the dark to keep up the spirits of the possessing classes that he represents. His remarks pertain to the previous era of the 1990s. For a while in the 1990s, socialist consciousness – and the broad understanding of the working class, in particular – was undoubtedly thrown back. Weakened though it was, the basic potential power of the working class remained intact. The relationship of class forces was not as significantly weighted in favour of the ruling class as it was in the 1930s.

The ideological campaign of the bourgeois undoubtedly had a material effect in underpinning neo-liberal policies, which weakened the rights and conditions of the working class. The other side of the coin, however, is that intensified capitalist globalisation has lowered national barriers, certainly as far as the ‘free movement of capital’ is concerned. It has led to the rapid transfer of resources from one country and one continent to another. All this has compelled working class people into thinking in continental and even world terms. In other words, capitalism has prepared the objective basis for a new internationalism in outlook, manifested, in the first instance, in the powerful ‘anti-capitalist globalisation’ movements of the late 1990s and the early part of this century.

From London to Seattle, from Prague to the historic and bloody clashes in Genoa and Gothenburg, at Nice, Quebec, Porto Allegre, Paris and Mumbai, inhumane, ‘modern’ capitalism, and its brutal juggernaut of globalisation, were rejected. In the first instance, this has been manifested in the changes in outlook and the actions of young people, supported, in some instances, by significant sections of workers. In the germ, this is a new internationalism that identifies with the struggle of the ‘people’ in continental and global terms. However, a class differentiation will come at a certain stage. Karl Marx was the first to recognise “globalisation” in his day, the development of a world market, and with it, the world working class, which made possible ‘world history’: “The proletariat can…only exist world-historically, just as communism, its movement, can only have a ‘world-historical’ existence.” And further: “The extension of markets into a world-market, which has now become possible and was daily becoming more and more a fact, called forth a new phase of historical development…”.

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July 2004