From 1 – 5 August, the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) held its Summer school in Ghent, Belgium, with over 300 participants from all over Europe, but also with delegates from our sections in Nigeria, Brazil, Venezuela, US and Israel.
CWI Summer School 2006
Build a international socialist alternative against war and chaos
The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), with whom the CWI has discussed with recently, was also present. The international character of this summer school was an important element in its tremendous success.
The political discussions were dominated by two themes. On the one hand the chaos and instability in a period of capitalist crisis and a shaky world economic situation. That of course was reflected in the discussions on the Middle East and the development of war in that region. But on the other hand the discussions also made clear that in the search for an alternative we face a growing openness towards the construction of a genuine revolutionary socialist force like the CWI.
That was clearly demonstrated in the discussions on the work of the Socialist Alternative (SAV – CWI in Germany) members in the WASG and especially with the situation in Berlin where the WASG with SAV-member Lucy Redler are participating in the regional elections.
The main discussions at the school dealt with perspectives for world relations between the main powers, Latin America, Europe and the building of the CWI. Besides these meetings we also had space for a number of smaller discussions in commissions dealing with a wide range of subjects, from Hungary 1956 and the Spanish revolution to the role of the CWI’s youth work, the struggle against racism, to our work in Nigeria or Eastern Europe.
Imperialism leads to chaos in the Middle East
The world situation is dominated by the conflicts in the Middle East, especially with the destruction of Lebanon that is taking place. The attacks by the Israeli army on southern Lebanon and Beirut show the barbaric nature of world relations in modern world capitalism. Capitalism is not able to solve the national and social contradictions and also has no answer for the economic problems.
The Israeli regime’s policy of state terror in southern Lebanon is, of course, not the only example of the barbaric character of capitalism. In Somalia there is a danger of war as a result of the US-backed intervention in the area. The imperialist plundering of a country like Congo has led to a bloody conflict there with over 4 million deaths since 1998.
While US-imperialism in the 1990s seemed invincible, it is now clear that this is not the case any more. This is shown by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, where US imperialism is sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire. One of the main reasons why Bush has been able to get away with what his administration has done so far is because of the weak and cowardly position of the Democrats. While Bush is giving presents to the rich and the elite through massive tax cuts, US workers and their families will have to pay the huge costs of the war. This can become an even greater problem if the US-economy is entering a period of downturn.
Even the so called victories of US imperialism are now under pressure. In Afghanistan the Taliban was initially easily removed from power, but at present Bush and his allies don’t even control the whole area of Kabul. President Karzai is sometimes referred to as ‘the mayor of Kabul’ and even that is exaggerated. In order to try to strengthen his position, Karzai is attempting to forge alliances with warlords or Islamic fundamentalists. However, this will not lead to more stability let alone progress for the majority of the population in Afghanistan.
The problems with the occupation of Iraq and the situation in countries like Afghanistan, has led to military overstretch for the US army and is limiting its possibilities to intervene in other regions or countries. That has an impact on the relations between the US and Iran. US imperialism is clearly supporting Israel in its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is seen as an ally of Iran. However, it remains highly unlikely that the US would go for an invasion and occupation of Iran. Even air strikes against the Iranian regime’s nuclear installations would be highly risky for the Bush administration. It would lead to an even bigger political and social crisis in the region.
At the moment the occupation of Iraq is no longer making the same impact in the news headlines because it has been pushed off the front pages by the crisis in Palestine and Lebanon. Despite this it is still important to emphasise the disaster which US imperialism and its allies like Tony Blair are confronted with in Iraq. And this is nothing compared to the horror facing the working class and rural poor of Iraq. There is a growth of sectarian violence between the Shia and the Sunni militias, which is taking the form of ethnic cleansing as we witnessed earlier in Bosnia. There are elements of an uprising against imperialism, but this is led by nationalist and extreme reactionary elements that offer absolutely no way forward for the poorest layers of the Iraqi people. The CWI has consistently raised the right for all communities to organise self-defence against sectarian attacks. We believe that this can only be done successfully is by raising the burning importance of class unity over religious and ethnic divisions.
Many Lebanese and Arab people are enraged by what they see as the completely disproportionate response by the Israeli regime in their brutal destruction of southern Lebanon and Beirut. We are witnessing barbaric war crimes. The Israeli regime’s propaganda machine portrays the Palestinians and Hezbollah as responsible for the situation in south Lebanon. The brutal national, economical, social and political oppression of the Palestinians has been an important element in building more support for Islamic forces such as Hamas or Hezbollah.
The war in Lebanon is a collective punishment of the whole Lebanese population. The brutality of the attacks will not decrease support for Hezbollah, on the contrary. The position of Hezbollah amongst the Arab masses will be strengthened. On top of this the Israeli ruling class will be faced with military difficulties if it decides to reoccupy south Lebanon again. If it does so it will be faced with a continuing guerrilla campaign from Hezbollah – regarded by some military commentators as the fourth strongest military force in the region – resting on the popular support of the population in south Lebanon problems because of the popular opposition and the forces of Hezbollah.
The CWI defends the right of the Lebanese people to their self-defence. We call for creating democratic defence committees that include workers and poor from across the ethnic and religious divide.
CWI members in the region play an important role in defending a socialist class analysis of the conflict. At the moment ideas like this mean that CWI members have to swim against the stream in a country like Israel and have to work under difficult conditions. Members of Maavak Soztialisti (CWI in Israel) who attended the summer school reported on their work and played a crucial role in the discussions on the Middle East. They made it clear that even under very difficult conditions, our organisation is working to build its forces and will play a role in an anti-war movement as it develops in the future. The development of such a mass movement involving layers of the Israeli Jewish working class would play an important role in building resistance to the war in Lebanon.
Not only in the Middle East but elsewhere, CWI sections have played an important role in building opposition to the war in Lebanon. In Pakistan for example members of the Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) organised anti-war demonstrations the day following the Qana massacre in 4 major cities with hundreds present. A group of CWI members from England and Wales left the school early to participate in the London anti-war demo on Saturday. At the end of the school a report from those attending the demonstration in London had sold over 500 copies of the Socialist, the newspaper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Similarly a group of comrades, including international visitors at the school, participated in an anti-war demo in Brussels on Sunday with 10,000 present. 176 papers were sold and if we had more papers with us, more would have been sold!
In the Middle East we can see the results of the anarchy and bloodshed capitalism breeds. This is in a period of where there is slow growth despite enormous imbalances in the world economy. The super-profits of big business have been based on the increased neo-liberal exploitation of workers internationally and especially of those workers in the neo-colonial world. However, this relatively favourable period for world capitalism could soon come to an end with the growing contradictions, especially between the US and China.
Development of class struggle in Europe
In the discussion on Europe, many examples were given of the important development of working class struggles. The movement in France against the CPE involved millions of workers and youth participating in demonstrations and strikes. It was a movement from below that pulled the leadership with it. One very important characteristic of this movement was the emphasis on the need for unity between workers and youth. The withdrawal of the CPE as a result of the movement had a huge impact on the youth protests in Chile and Greece. In that sense we can see a globalisation of experiences in struggle. In other European countries as well, we saw important movements. One example of this was the resistance against the attacks on early retirement in Belgium leading to two days of action with a general strike and a demonstration of 100,000 workers in October 2005.
The European Union is going through a period of ‘euro-paralysis’ combined and strengthened by political instability in most countries. This was recently shown in the Netherlands with a new crisis in the government leading to early elections.
While we have seen limited economic growth, there also is growth of poverty, unemployment and misery. This is mainly caused by the neoliberal policies of more flexibility, liberalisations and privatisation. In Spain, one in three jobs is an insecure low paid job. The downward pressure on working conditions and wages is strengthened through the use of immigrant workers, especially in Britain and Ireland. The German chancellor Merkel already said: "the living standards of the past are not coming back" and her main adviser added that Germany would go through a period of cuts for 30 years!
There is a growing polarisation between rich and poor. The ruling class is arrogant about the wealth it has amassed only because of the passivity of the leadership of the workers’ movement and the lack of workers parties. This arrogance is also present amongst the political establishment that has been confronted with a number of scandals, for example in the New Labour government in Britain. But even the Austrian trade union leadership has been involved in financial scandals which could lead to its possible (financial) bankruptcy.
The CWI’s work inside the unions is important to rebuild the traditions of struggle and solidarity and fight against the acceptance of capitalist logic that cuts in workers rights and conditions are unavoidable. In the unions in Britain, CWI members are playing a role with 25 comrades elected on to the National Executive Committee’s of trade unions and a strong position inside the fifth biggest union, the PCS which organises amongst civil service workers. Trade union campaigns and struggle however won’t be enough to go beyond temporary victories. We will need a political struggle and therefore a new workers party is necessary. In several countries we are involved in new initiatives or in spreading the idea of a new mass workers party.
The WASG in Germany is an important example of such a new initiative. Germany is a laboratory for neoliberal measures, but also for the resistance against those measures. The WASG is not a fully developed party with a clear program. Socialist Alternative (CWI in Germany) member, Lucy Redler will lead the WASG-list in Berlin, despite the opposition of the national WASG-leadership and the Linkspartei.PDS against standing such a list. Lucy has been interviewed in many papers and television programs because she is seen as one of the main leaders of the WASG Berlin. At the CWI summer school Lucy explained how the WASG in Berlin is receiving a lot of support, with even 5% in the opinion polls.
Political ideas, programme and a determination to fight to defend working class interests are very important elements in the building of a new workers party. The program of such a formation can be decisive for its future. Unfortunately we have seen examples to prove this in a negative way with, for example, the present crisis in the Scottish Socialist Party.
One of the tasks of the CWI is to build a new workers party and participate in the rebuilding of the workers movement. However, as well as this we also aim to win people to revolutionary ideas – the ideas of the CWI. This is the case in Germany and across Europe where there are huge possibilities for growth in the membership of the CWI.
The experiences in Germany will be crucial for other European countries as well where we are involved in discussions on new formations. During the school some Belgian newspapers for example took up the initiative of two former MP’s and a former union general secretary to launch a political initiative in which our Belgian section is playing an important role. The paper "De Standaard" had an article with the title: "New workers’ party in autumn"…
Massive struggle against neo-liberalism in Latin America
Latin America is at the forefront of the struggle of workers and poor peasants against neoliberalism. There have been massive movements in different countries such as Bolivia and Mexico. The continuing neoliberal attacks of the past years have lead to a sharp polarisation between rich and poor. 53 million people in Latin America have no access to clean water. There are barbaric living conditions that show the true face of neoliberalism.
In Latin America we see a movement to the left with different left election victories. The ruling class is unable to hold back the development of this movement and is instead compelled to wait for better times to intervene. The dominant force is still the preparedness to fight amongst the workers and poor peasants. However, this relatively favourable situation will not last indefinitely and the ruling class and the forces of reaction will strike back when they feel confident. It will even use some of the so-called left leaders, some of whom have been elected to power to do this job for them.
Former US president Nixon once said to Donald Rumsfeld that Latin America was not of any importance to US imperialism. Today Rumsfeld is forced to speak out against for example the Venezuelan President Chavéz. He said that Chavéz is an major danger who was "democratically elected, just like Hitler".
There have been a number of leftwing election victories, but there are differences. A whole number of "left" presidents and government leaders try to work inside the logic of imperialism and neoliberalism. Bachelet in Chile and Lula in Brazil are therefore themselves implementing severe attacks on the working class. Lula stated in relation to the mass redundancies that occurred as a result of Varig, the national air carrier’s liquidation that it is not up to the government to take over bankrupt companies. In Venezuela, however, there have been nationalisations of bankrupt companies.
Lula will probably win the coming presidential elections in Brazil, but we also see the emergence of an alternative in the form of the P-SOL (Party for Socialism and Liberty). Heloisa Helena from P-SOL is at 10% in the opinion polls for the presidential elections nationally. In a big city like Rio de Janeiro she is only 1% behind the main right-wing candidate who has 18%. As was explained by a Brazilian CWI member at the summer school, this shows the potential for a socialist force, but it will be important to have a clear program and to build an active force that intervenes in struggle for this potential to be transformed into reality.
A number of traditions of working class struggle are being rebuilt in Latin America. This was shown very strongly in Bolivia with the mass protest and uprising to demand the nationalisation of the huge natural resources in the country. This movement led to an election victory for Morales, but it also leaves him little space to implement any neoliberal policies.
Building the CWI
The CWI is making important progress in Latin America and is building its forces on the basis of a clear revolutionary approach defending a socialist program. At the summer school we had for the first time a visitor from Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI’s new group in Venezuela who reported on the work there. We are also active in Chile and Brazil, where our forces are playing a role in P-SOL and where we are starting to become more of a national organisation.
Elsewhere in the neo-colonial world CWI members are in the forefront of struggle. A Nigerian comrade who attended the school gave a report of the work of the Democratic Socialist Movement, the second biggest section of the CWI. At the school comrades were also informed about the important progress of our work in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the fastest growing sections of the CWI at this moment. This growth is taking place despite the renewed development of civil war in Sri Lanka and difficult social and political conditions throughout Asia.
At the summer school comrades from a lot of our sections gave reports of their work. While there of course was a lot of attention on the situation in Germany with the developments in the WASG, comrades also reported how in England and Wales, Socialist Party Members were elected as councillors (comrade Jackie Grunsell who was recently elected in Huddersfield attended the school) and how we will have an important campaign in next years elections in Ireland to get Joe Higgins re-elected and to try to get Clare Daly elected to parliament.
The school devoted a lot of attention to the role we play in struggles and workers’ movements around the world. A highlight was the showing of a DVD on the struggle of Gama workers in Ireland. This recounted the struggle of Turkish immigrant workers employed under slave labour conditions by the GAMA construction company to complete state construction projects in Ireland. With the support of the Socialist Party and our TD (MP) Joe Higgins, these workers secured important victories in terms of pay and conditions.
At the school inspiring reports were also made on the progress that is being made by CWI members in countries such as Greece, Kazakstan, Belgium, Cyprus, Russia, and Poland. Concrete plans were made to have a joint campaign of our Polish sections and comrades in Engeland/Wales, Ireland and other countries to organise workers from Eastern Europe who are working in Western Europe in a joint struggle against attacks on our living standards. The ruling class is undoubtedly using immigrant labour to create divisions amongst the working class. That has an impact, but with a clear program on workers unity and concrete steps in that direction we can take steps forward.
The CWI summer school concluded with a powerful rendition of the ‘Internationale’ and an energetic party afterwards for all who attended. The dynamic and the huge enthusiasm were not only shown during the political discussions, but also at the party. The self-confidence in our organisation grows by the day and comrades showed this during the financial appeal by donating over €15,000 to build the CWI. Our sharp political analysis and our determination to help organise struggle on a principled basis, will play a crucial role in building a socialist alternative that can end the barbarism of capitalism. Don’t hesitate to join us!
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