cwi: European school – Socialist ideas back on the agenda

Over 350 members and friends of the cwi from all over the world gathered in Gent/Belgium to discuss the current world situation and the tasks of the cwi in building a strong world party for socialism which will play a vital role in bringing an end to this inhuman, profit-hungry and exploitative system of capitalism.

The huge optimism felt was based on political clarity and on the successes of the CWI in the past year.

A world school

There are many reasons as to why a lot of comrades felt particularly enthused by this year’s school. Over the last year or two, what used to be an almost exclusively European school has changed into a genuine world school. Next to the European comrades from Austria, Belgium, the CIS, England and Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands, Greece, Cyprus, Germany, France, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic and from Ireland North and South, comrades and visitors from the US, Brazil, Pakistan, South Korea and Australia as well as a representative from the PSM (Socialist Party Malaysia) attended this year’s school. Receiving first hand insights into the political situation and living conditions of the working class, the impoverished farmers and the urban poor in Asia and Latin America in particular, largely contributed to the excellent character of the event. This great turn out was only overshadowed by the fact that the visa applications of the Nigerian comrades were turned down at the very last minute.

The Greek and Cypriot comrades came straight from their very popular and successful annual summer camp to Belgium. They had to travel for 40 hours but brought the exciting news of 39 new recruits to the CWI in just that one week. The Greek section is amongst the fastest growing in the International. All who attended the joint CWI and ISR (International Socialist Resistance) camp in Scotland at the time of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, were convinced of the benefits and necessities to organise another- and maybe even bigger- international youth camp next summer.

The clear socialist and international character of the CWI’s intervention into the G8 protest and the large number of particularly young people who became interested in socialist ideas and the ideas of the CWI as a result of our intervention, filled comrades with pride and confidence. Even the media could not ignore the lively and youthful “Red Bloc” that stood out at the massive but NGO and church dominated white march in Edinburgh. It was “Britain at its finest” as the Scottish paper “The People” subscribed a photo which in the main carried the “Red Bloc” of the ISR contingent.

Scottish CWI members also reported of the month long suspension of Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) MSP’s and staff as a result of their protest in the Scottish Parliament re the right to demonstrate in Gleneagles. The school unanimously decided to send its support and solidarity to those affected. The CWI in Scotland is part of the SSP, a broader socialist formation, with six representatives in the Scottish Parliament.

The GAMA dispute

There is no other revolutionary International which can claim to have exposed and won such a substantial victory over a multinational company as the CWI did in the case of the Turkey based multinational construction company GAMA International. Due to our intervention, GAMA workers won thousands of € in outstanding wages. The labour court also ruled that GAMA had to pay workers € 8,000 per annum in overtime pay.

This was the message that came across when Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MP (TD) presented a compilation of video footage on the GAMA dispute. Mick Murphy, a newly elected Socialist Party councillor in Dublin South got to know how GAMA was exploiting Turkish immigrant workers on Dublin building sites. On average, they were paid between € 2.5 and € 3 an hour and worked up to 80 hours a week without overtime payment. Most of the workers resided in barracks on the building site. At the same time GAMA was storing huge amounts of the workers’ wages at Finansbank in Amsterdam. However, none of the workers ever knew anything about those accounts let alone have ever had any bank statements. It was only through Joe Higgins intervention in the Dail, the Irish Parliament, and his visit to Finansbank which exposed this huge scandal. Comparisons to the conditions of workers in the early stages of capitalism spring to mind. It was fascinating to hear and see how the Socialist Party comrades in Ireland won the confidence of the Turkish immigrant workers and were crucial in assisting them in their struggle and in the marvellous strike actions they took. It is no exaggeration to say that the comrades at the school were delighted, amused but mainly moved to see Turkish workers carrying Joe Higgins on their shoulders to express their gratitude towards the Socialist Party and Joe Higgins in particular.

A couple of GAMA workers joined the Socialist Party in the course of the dispute and are vital in developing our work amongst immigrant workers in the country. Needless to say, the video left a lasting impression on all the comrades and assisted in the excellent result for the financial collection.

Revolutionary theory and practise

It once again became clear to everyone that the CWI is not only an organisation of revolutionary talk but of deed. Our elected representatives, who live on a worker’s wage, can really make a difference to the lives of working class people. Last year, the CWI won new council seats in Germany and Australia. However, revolutionary practice flows from revolutionary theory and vice versa. Methods in struggle flow from political ideas, programme and perspective.

That is why this school is so important to the CWI. It helps to educate our members, collectively develop perspectives and gain from international experiences.

The school took place against the background of continuous upheavals and turmoil on the Latin American continent, the quagmire imperialism faces in Iraq, the London Bombings and the “No votes” in the Dutch and French referendum on the European Constitution. Other important aspects in the world situation are China’s ongoing and increasing development as one of the global players, the downturn in the world economy, the significant shift –at least in words- of President Chavez in Venezuela towards a more outspoken but not rounded out socialist rhetoric and the important coming into existence of the P-SOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty) in Brazil and the WASG (Electoral alliance for work and social justice) in Germany.

As the school came to a close, many participants- regardless of whether they were long standing members or had attended the school for the first time- commented about their renewed energy and commitment in building the forces of the CWI worldwide. There was a visible show of confidence and enthusiasm in the ideas and methods of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

Europe and the world economy

Separate plenary discussions on Europe and the world economy, Asia, Latin America and on Building the CWI were extremely valuable to everyone and increased everybody’s understanding of the important and fascinating developments and challenges in the world situation at this particular conjuncture. In addition to that, ten different commissions were held on important subjects such as ’ Women and the struggle for socialism’, ‘ the Middle East’, ‘Political Islam, terrorism and the socialist approach’, ‘New Left Parties’ as well as ‘Marxism and Science’, ‘A socialist approach to saving the environment’, “Eastern Europe and the CIS” and many other issues.

The discussion on Europe and the world economy, which was led off by Bob Labi and replied to by Lynn Walsh, both members of the International Secretariat, had to deal with a large variety of issues that went beyond the situation in Europe as such.

It touched on the increasingly difficult domestic situation facing George W. Bush. His approval rates are falling due to his unpopular austerity policy against the working class. Protests are paving the way for major explosions to come. The split in the American trade union federation AFL/CIO is an indication of the political, economic and organisational challenges the American working class will face in the near future. It is also the first time since the outbreak of the war against Iraq that the majority of the American population opposes the war. This coincides with the call for the “rapid withdrawal of US troops” by part of the organised labour movement in the US. It is against this background that Socialist Alternative, the CWI in the US, has conducted successful campaigns against military recruitment in schools and has increased its membership by one third in the past year.

Also the US position as the locomotive of the world economy is increasingly feeble. The attacks on living standards in the US have slowed down consumer spending, one of the most important pillars for the growth of the US economy. There is an ever greater interdependence between the global economic players and events in one country can act as trigger to plunge the whole of the world economy into crisis. The high value of the US dollar is unsustainable and substantial devaluation will have major consequences and repercussions in the rest of the world. The impressive industrial and economic developments in China and India- despite their respectable growth rates- will not in the long run serve as a lifeline for world capitalism.

While neo-liberalism is still the dominant trend in the world economy at present, governments- on behalf of their respective ruling classes, will probably resort to protectionist measures in order to save their own national economies and profits. In one form or another, those discussions are already taking place, for example around the question of Chinese textile quotas for the European market.

The discussion laid the basis for an understanding of the type of period we are facing.

It will be a period of rapid changes which will require enormous flexibility in our tactics in order to benefit from the window of opportunity that is opening up for the CWI in a number of key countries in Europe.

The “No” votes in France and the Netherlands have shocked the political establishment in the whole of Europe and have unleashed a debate on the future of the Euro and the European Union.

The overwhelmingly working class NO vote in both countries first and foremost underlines the deep disgust felt by the working class for their own political leaders and the neo-liberal policy they represent but also a more general rejection of the “Anglo-Saxon” model of capitalism.

In France, the No vote is accompanied with an increase in the class struggle and a crisis in the French Socialist Party (Social Democracy). The situation is still volatile but major explosions of the French working class and the youth are on the agenda. A number of important ingredients for a 1968-style eruption are present in the current situation.

The developments in Germany remain key to the developments in the whole of Europe. Given Germany’s position in the world economy, the potential strength of the highly organised working class and the important developments around a joint list between WASG and the Left Party/PDS which is led by Oskar Lafontaine (a previous chair of the SPD and finance minister under the first term Schröder government), it will have an effect on other European countries. Opinion polls indicate that the new party is about to become the third biggest in the general elections scheduled for September 18. The political establishment is in panic. Socialist Alternative, the CWI in Germany, is playing an important role inside the WASG in a number of areas.

Asia

It is difficult to single out any of the thrilling contributions that were made throughout the week but it was the contributions by the Latin American and Asian comrades in particular that hammered home the importance and significance of those regions for the development of revolutionary forces.

Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party and a member of the International Secretariat of the CWI, introduced the discussion on Asia. Peter who had been on a month long political visit to Asia earlier in the year highlighted the courageous struggle of the working class, farmers, urban poor and fishermen in countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia and others.

Obviously, developments in and around China are of great importance to socialists. The potential for social explosions is increasing by the day. It was impressive to hear about the daily and often very bitter struggles of Chinese farmers and workers against the bureaucratic Chinese elite. The regime in return uses the most brutal methods to repress any resistance. And while the weight of private sector production increases, the majority of workers are still working in state owned and controlled companies. Several comrades gave examples of how China features all the elements of combined and uneven development which Trotsky analysed as characteristic for the industrial development of the so called underdeveloped world. While in parts of China, the living standards have reached the level of countries like Portugal, others are thrown into extreme poverty. High- tech workplaces and extremely dangerous working conditions are part and parcel of the same development. China’s growth rates, although unsustainable and its huge demand for energy have turned China into an important global player, both politically as well as economically. This brings along increased tensions with US and also Japanese imperialism as tensions over Taiwan, the Chinese currency, China’s deals with Venezuela and other countries indicate. Japan faces potential political turmoil as well. Huge opposition against the plan to privatise the postal service in the country may well lead to President Koizumi’s downfall.

The discussion was enriched by first hand contributions from comrades from the region or comrades who had recently visited the area in order to try and strengthen the forces of the CWI.

It became clear how crucial the understanding of Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent revolution is in that part of the world. The working class and poor masses have over and over again proven their strong determination to stand up and fight against exploitation and oppression. But often, the collaboration on the part of organisations of the working class with so-called progressive bourgeois forces and an incorrect understanding of the role of the working class as the decisive and driving force to bring about socialist change have led to terrible defeats which the working class is still paying for. Certainly, this discussion has increased comrades’ appetite to find out more. A political intervention into the Asian Social Forum in Pakistan and WTO protests in Hong Kong were seen as important by all those present. The work that has been done around the www.chinaworker.org has been widely appreciated and the site will most certainly get more hits in the next period. Clare Doyle from the International Secretariat replied to the discussion. Amongst other things, she underlined that comrade Letchmi’s contribution from Malaysia has emphasized the importance of continuing the political exchange with the PSM. This is also true in relation to the important contribution that was made by the comrade from South Korea who is a member of the newly formed Korean Democratic Labour Party (KDLP).

Latin America

The discussion on Latin America which followed was introduced by Tony Saunois, the general secretary of the CWI, had an enthusing effect on everyone in the hall and reinforced the necessity to increase the CWI’s attempts to build strong forces on this continent which has been in continuous turmoil. Upheavals have often had an insurrectionary character and in many countries, Presidents have not lasted longer than a couple of months. Even in countries like Mexico and Chile, countries which for different reasons were not to the fore in the class struggle, significant changes are taking place. It is the youth in Chile who is not carrying the heavy burden of the defeat of the Allende government that is rediscovering the ideas of socialism.

The discussion focussed on the events in Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela, the key countries in Latin America at this particular conjuncture. The struggle and demand of the predominantly indigenous masses in Bolivia for the nationalisation of the water and gas companies are highly significant. The concrete experience with neo-liberal policies has left the masses no choice but to resist ferociously. In his reply, Simon Kaplan from the International Secretariat explained how the privatisation of water supplies in Bolivia has led to a situation where the monthly water bill exceeds eight times the average wage. As a result of the protest, the government had to flee the capital. It now seems to be very likely that Morales will win the upcoming elections but despite the fact that his movement is called the “Movement for Socialism”, he remains within the framework of capitalism and will not by himself challenge capitalist rule. He may be pushed by the masses but it is also not excluded that the country will be driven to the brink of civil war.

Brazil, a country of continental size, has seen decisive changes in the last year or two. Ignacio Lula da Silva got elected as President in 2003 when the PT, the workers’ party got power. He was cheered by the masses and there was huge hope that the situation for the masses and the landless would finally improve. Those hopes have been shattered. Lula has turned out to be the most reliable representative for imperialism. Like no other, he complies with all the rules dictated by the IMF and the World Bank and takes on the working class and poor instead. The PT has undergone almost the same changes as New Labour did in the past. On top of that, the PT is now involved in a huge corruption scandal. So far, that scandal has not dramatically affected Lula’s standing within the population. All sides, including the capitalists, have got an interest to keep Lula clean for the time being but nevertheless it has damaged the PT. P-SOL the new party which was launched by former members and MPs of the PT has great chances to grow as a result of the PT crisis. Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI in Brazil is still a very small force in Brazil and works inside P-Sol. We have got members on the NEC of P-SOL and its youth wing which leaves us with great possibilities and responsibilities to build this party into a mass force for socialist change in Brazil. The events and developments in Venezuela have wide-reaching repercussions for Latin America as a whole. Chavez’s standing in the population is very firm. 80.5% of the population supports the government. Venezuela benefits from the rise in oil prices. Oil revenues are used to improve the living conditions of the poor masses in that country. Literacy programmes, improvements in the health services and special food programmes have positively affected a large number of people. There have been moves by the government to nationalise land and also factories in the recent period which leaves Chavez to be a thorn in the side of imperialism. Chavez is not a revolutionary Marxist and a rounded out socialist but has now started to positively refer to socialism on a number of occasions. Even if this sometimes happens in a distorted way, it helps to raise the banner of socialism amongst the masses in Venezuela. It is the task of revolutionary Marxists to very skilfully and in a concrete manner explain what socialism means, how to implement and achieve it. Whole layers of youth in particular have started to identify with the ideas of socialism. They are ready and willing to fight and to go the whole way. In order to not waste this dedication and determination to struggle, independent organisations of the working class and youth need to be built in Venezuela, Brazil and internationally to tackle and overthrow capitalism and imperialism.

The CWI School has played an important part in that process. Internationally, the sections of the CWI have made important progress. We have deepened our roots in the workers movement and have won the confidence of important layers of the working class. We have made important steps forward in our trade union and youth work in a number of countries. And it is the youth that will have a decisive role to play in the battles to come. And they have expressed their stamina at this year’s school. Next to the official sessions, the youth comrades from all the different sections organised a separate youth caucus to exchange experiences and ideas. During short lunch breaks and after intense meetings that lasted all day, they got together to discuss how to speed up the growth of the CWI in the next year. Per Ake Westerlund, member of the International Executive Committee from Sweden, in his introduction on Building the forces of the CWI alluded to the 1905 revolution in Russia. He reminded the audience that one of the many important lessons of the revolutionary 1905 events was the need to build a strong and powerful revolutionary party who made all the difference in the successful Russian revolution in 1917. The celebrations of the final party reflected the experience of an exciting and inspiring week of new insights, a deeper understanding of Marxist theory and practice and the strong will to build the revolutionary party.

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