Such is the anger at today’s unparalleled inequalities; it was even felt in a very different conference taking place a week later, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There, the representatives of capitalism were warned by Stephen Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, that there were signs that inequality was leading to a political shift left.
The ninth world congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) took place in Belgium in mid-January.
Delegates and visitors from 25 of the 36 countries in which the CWI organises came together against the background of a worldwide increase in struggle against the effects of brutal 21st century capitalism.
world congress 2007 – Building the forces of socialism worldwide
“Look at the shares of national income in the major economies of the developed world. The share going to labour is at historic lows; the share going to capital is at historic highs. The [political] pendulum is moving left towards politicians more in favour of pro-labour economic policies. There is potential for a shift in the relationship between labour and capital.” Another economist warned the Davos summit that: “We have to do something or the backlash is going to be very, very severe”.
Forces of Marxism
The dire warnings of the World Economic Forum are designed to safeguard the future of capitalism by vainly trying to curb its wildest excesses. The CWI conference had a very different purpose, to discuss building the forces of Marxism worldwide, in order to fight against the endless attacks raining down on workers’ living conditions, and at the same time to aid the struggle for the socialist transformation of society, as the only way to fully and permanently bring an end to poverty.
Capitalism is a blind system driven by the craving for profit. It is obscenely wasteful. Last year alone, for example, $1 trillion was spent on armaments while 1.2 billion people lacked clean drinking water.
By contrast a socialist society would be able to harness the enormous potential of human talent and technique in order to build a society and economy which could meet the needs of all. By bringing the vast companies that dominate our planet into democratic public ownership it would be possible to begin to build a society, based on a democratic world plan of production and development, that would genuinely meet the needs of the billions not the billionaires.
Internationalism has stood at the heart of genuine socialist ideas since their inception. Today, however, when just 500 giant multinationals dominate the globe – employing 46 million people and controlling 45% of world production – the need for a global struggle against capitalism is more pressing than ever.
At this stage the forces of the CWI are still modest – particularly in comparison to the tasks that we have set ourselves. However, as even the World Economic Forum dimly realises, the experience of 21st century capitalism is leading growing numbers of people to search for a socialist alternative. The CWI congress showed the significant progress we have made and the important role we are already playing in taking class struggle forward in a number of countries.
The political documents discussed at the conference are available on the CWI website, and more detailed organisational reports of the work of the CWI will also be available shortly.
In some countries we have been able to play a role in the developing mass struggles of the working class. In the US, the Bush presidency has been shaken to its foundations by the growing opposition of the working and middle classes. The CWI section, Socialist Alternative, has been extremely active in the anti-war movement since its inception.
In particular, it has helped to initiate and lead school students’ strikes and movements. In April, for example, it led thousands of students across the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul) who walked out of class to protest against the occupation of Iraq and military recruitment in schools, demanding money for education and social needs, not war.
However, while Iraq remains a central reason for the discontent of the US working class, there is also growing anger that wages are stagnating for the majority while a few at the top make vast profits.
The young US CWI section is increasingly building a base amongst broader sections of the working class. For example, it has established links with Soldiers of Solidarity, the rank and file network of auto-workers who want to fight back, and sells up to 300 copies of each issue of its paper to auto-worker activists. It also played a role in the magnificent immigrant rights movement which swept the US in the first half of 2006.
In Boston the CWI members initiated the May Day coalition which organised a demonstration of up to 3,000 immigrant workers as part of the national immigrant rights day of action. Socialist Alternative now produces four pages of its paper in Spanish, and has also produced several pamphlets in Spanish, as part of a campaign to win Latino workers in the US to Marxist ideas.
In Europe as well, building amongst immigrant workers whilst putting forward a programme for unity between indigenous and immigrant workers, is increasingly important. The CWI section in Cyprus has helped to lead a successful campaign for the right to asylum for 100 Kurdish workers, out of which a number of Kurds have been convinced to join the CWI.
Delegates from several sections – including Poland, Nigeria and India – made the point that the West European sections could assist their work by building amongst immigrant communities.
While in general the political situation is becoming more favourable for socialist and Marxist ideas, in individual countries the situation had become more complicated since the previous world congress in 2002.
The Nigerian section, the second largest in the CWI, had played a leading role in a rising tide of class struggle from 2002 to 2004 – when a series of general strikes against fuel price increases paralysed the country. However, the trade union leaders’ last minute calling off of a general strike in November 2004 led to a loss of confidence and a sharp downturn in the activity of the labour movement. In a situation of deepening social crisis the lives of most working people was dominated by the struggle to survive.
The vacuum that exists means it has been left to the CWI section, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), and a handful of others to raise the ideas of socialism. However, the DSM has been able to do so with considerable success, and has a high profile in the press and on national television. Its role in supporting workers in struggle has won it considerable authority.
For example, DSM intervened to support unjustly sacked flour mill workers in their struggle for reinstatement. After a long struggle they were able to win a victory. The way this group of workers saw DSM is shown by the €600 they donated to it following the struggle.
The CWI section in Kazakhstan, Socialist Resistance, is facing brutal repression by the state. However, its determination to struggle for the rights of the working class and poor has won its members enormous authority. As a result of their role in the ongoing struggle of the Almaty shanty town dwellers, a national Kazakh magazine published a four page spread on the work of Socialist Resistance.
One headline called it an “echo of Leon Trotsky”. The article explained the coverage by simply saying, “Socialist Resistance won the sympathy of journalists because of their courage.”
In Pakistan, and many other sections, CWI members also face far greater repression than we do here in Britain. However, it is perhaps in Sri Lanka that our international most urgently needs international solidarity to assist the tremendous work that Sri Lankan CWI members are doing. Siritunga Jayasuriya, general secretary of the United Socialist Party (and presidential candidate in 2005 – coming third and winning 35,425 votes), arrived at the CWI congress straight from the murderous attack on a rally he was chairing by 100 armed thugs, led by a government minister.
The rally, which thousands were originally expected to attend, was called under the slogans of ‘No to the brutal (civil) war!’ and ‘Against repression and poverty’. It was in response to the escalating military clashes between the Sinhala state forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and against state and extra-parliamentary harassment of Tamil-speaking people and of those who defend them and fight for workers’ and human rights.
It was because of the USP’s exemplary record in standing for the right of self-determination of the Tamil and Muslim minorities that Siritunga had been asked to chair the rally. The CWI congress agreed that it was necessary to repeat the ‘practical internationalism’ shown by the CWI at the time of the tsunami, by launching a major campaign to try to safeguard the USP and other anti-war campaigners in Sri Lanka.
In a number of countries, CWI sections are at this stage concentrating mainly on popularising socialist ideas while working as independent parties – in Australia and Sri Lanka, for example, the sections have succeeded in getting the only socialist councillors in either country elected.
One of the key tasks facing the working class internationally is the creation of political parties that act in its interests. It is widely recognised by working people that parties such as New Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, no longer in any sense represent their interests – but are brutal neo-liberal parties. The CWI fights for new mass workers’ parties to be founded. In a number of countries the CWI is involved in campaigns for the establishment of new workers’ parties – including here in England and Wales and in Belgium. In Belgium, against the background of the first general strikes in over a decade, the campaign CWI members helped to initiate is taking the first steps towards setting up a new party.
The founding conference of CAP (committee for another kind of politics) brought together more than 600 people, young and old, but mainly union based. Unlike in Britain at this stage, a number of leading left figures have broken with Social Democracy and have joined the campaign. CAP how has 14 branches, and is planning to stand in the next elections. CWI members in Belgium are playing an important role in its development.
In Poland, members are helping to build the Polish Labour Party (PPP) which is an anti-capitalist party, largely based on the Silesian miners.
However, it is far from guaranteed that these new broad parties will reach their potential. As well as fighting to build them, we must also campaign to make sure that they stand firmly against cuts and privatisation – in deeds as well as words. The potential limitations of such formations if they do not do so is shown by developments in the WASG – the new left party in Germany.
In the 2005 general election it was widely accepted that ‘the only winners were the left’ because of the excellent vote of the WASG. They stood together with the PDS and received 8.7% of the vote and got 54 MPs elected. This gives a clear glimpse of the possibility for a sizeable new workers’ party to be built in Germany. However, the leadership of the WASG has successfully argued for a merger with the PDS, which is part of regional coalition governments with the SPD (the equivalent of New Labour) in Berlin and elsewhere which have carried out major attacks on the working class.
The CWI section in Germany, SAV, has argued that a new left political force must have policies in the interests of the working class. It therefore successfully argued within the Berlin WASG that the Berlin WASG should stand independently of the PDS in the recent regional election. Despite the attempts of the national leadership of the WASG to use bureaucratic means to prevent it, Berlin WASG went ahead and stood, receiving an excellent 52,000 votes.
The way this vote was seen was shown by one TV presenter, who introduced SAV member Lucy Redler, the head of the Berlin WASG list, saying, “Now let’s talk to the winner of the evening”. Nonetheless, due to the limited resources of the Berlin WASG, it was not possible to mobilise a large enough vote for candidates to be elected.
The support that exists within the WASG nationally for the stand of its Berlin organisation was shown at the end of the year by Lucy Redler’s election to the WASG national committee. Nonetheless, the future development of the merged party will be limited by the continued neo-liberal attacks being carried out by the PDS at local level.
In Brazil we play a role in another new formation, the Party for Socialism and Liberty (P-SoL). The potential for a left alternative was shown by the 6.6 million votes that P-SoL candidate, Heloisa Helena, received in the recent presidential election. As part of the campaign, the Brazilian CWI section stood a candidate for state MP in Sao Paulo, distributing 80,000 leaflets, and receiving more than 1,500 votes.
The CWI’s relatively small forces in Brazil have been able to more than double in size over the last two years, moving from being based only in Sao Paulo state to also having branches and groups in Rio de Janeiro, Parana, Sergipe and Ceara. They have also played an important role within P-SoL, campaigning for it to develop as a socialist, campaigning, struggle-based party rather than as a primarily electoral organisation. A key aspect of that has been arguing for P-SoL to more fully develop branches, structures and a membership.
In the rest of Latin America, the sub-continent where class struggle has reached its highest pitch in the recent period, the CWI has also made important steps forward.
We have begun to build an important base in Venezuela, and the CWI section in Chile has made a turn to young people as a result of the magnificent school student movement last year.
There is much that the Socialist Party can learn from its sister sections internationally. Two of them, Belgium and Greece, are currently the fastest growing sections of the CWI. In every country of Europe big business’s neo-liberal offensive is being stepped up. Increasingly – for example, in Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, and Greece – the working class is entering the scene. There have also been magnificent movements of young people in France and Greece. CWI sections have turned to these movements energetically – with audacity and a clear programme and as a result have made important steps forward.
The CWI world congress gave us all renewed confidence that the CWI is capable of building a force which will play a critical role in the future socialist transformation of society.