The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) held its annual summer school in Belgium from 31 July to 4 August.
Over 60 members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales travelled to Belgium, where they met with hundreds of CWI members from 13 other CWI European sections. Representatives of some of the CWI sections and some individual CWI members in other continents also participated, including from Brazil, Venezuela, the USA, Nigeria, Israel and Malaysia. Following discussions on different aspects of the world political situation, CWI sections gave inspiring reports on their campaigning and recruitment work. The socialist gives here some excerpts of the reports given by its sister European sections.
Over the last few years, the Greek CWI section – Xekinima – has had the most rapid growth of all the CWI sections. Its membership has tripled since 2003, mainly as a result of energetic campaigning work among young people.
The CWI school took place during the same week as the 14th Greek Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) camp, this time held on the Greek island of Paros. This clash of dates was due to the postponement of exams in Greece and unfortunately reduced the number of Xekinima members who could travel to Belgium. However, during the CWI school, news was received that the Paros camp was very successful, and that over 35 people attending it had joined the CWI.
CWI members in Greece have been very active in the recent year-long student movement, and have produced a new education newspaper containing news of the movement and key arguments against the government’s strategy. They continue to spearhead the immigrants’ rights movement in Greece and following the recent demonstration in Athens calling on the government to act on global warming, are planning to launch a new campaign on the environment.
The work of Greek Cypriot CWI members continues to go forward, based particularly on two major campaigns. One of these is on the rights of Kurdish asylum seekers, and has forced concessions from the government.
The other campaign is against school uniforms, and is run by school students. As a result of this campaign so far, uniform rules have already been relaxed and the minister of education has announced that jeans will be allowed from the next school year.
Despite a growth rate in the economy of 3.6% this year, the Swedish government is planning further major attacks on ordinary people, including a programme for selling-off council housing. Members of the Swedish CWI section, the Socialist Justice Party, have already initiated several tenants’ groups in defence of their homes.
The Socialist Justice Party increased its number of councillors from five to eight last September. Party members have been involved in constant campaigning work in the recent period, including against education cuts, for the rights of asylum seekers and against sexism in schools and workplaces.
They have maintained over 2,000 subscribers to their weekly paper for over ten years now, a significant achievement that will help them intervene in future events and struggles.
The Austrian government has launched new attacks on workers’ conditions and rights. Workers can be fired at any time during the first two years of working for a company and it is now legal to force workers to work 60 hours a week and 12 hours a day. In a poll, 77% of people said they don’t trust the government.
The Austrian CWI section, the Socialist Left Party, campaigns for a strong left force in the trade unions to defend workers from these attacks as well as campaigning on other issues.
The section now has its highest ever membership. As well as branches in Vienna, it has developed branches in Salzburg and Linz, and has members in other parts of the country too.
CWI members in the Netherlands are in the group Offensief, and they are members of the 53,000-strong Dutch Socialist Party that obtained 16% of the vote in the last elections. However, there is discontent in the Socialist Party on both organisational and programmatic issues. An important new development is the setting up of a ’committee for democratisation’ in the party. Already, 400 Socialist Party members and 400 ex-members have expressed support for the committee. CWI members will be participating in the discussions initiated by that body, in order to help develop the party on a democratic and genuinely socialist path.
The Netherlands government is continuing to make cuts, including in the health service, education and public transport, so Dutch workers badly need a party that is up to the task of fighting in their interests.
Since two general strikes in 2005 against the Belgian government’s pension attacks, CWI members in Belgium have stepped up their recruitment of trade unionists to the Belgian CWI section – LSP/MAS. These were the first general strikes since 1993 and although they did not stop the government’s plans, they forced some concessions to be made.
Recently there have been workers’ struggles at the Volkswagen (now Audi) plant in Brussels and General Motors in Antwerp against job losses. The bosses were willing, with the help of the trade union leaders, to secure job losses by paying the largest redundancy payments ever seen in Belgium, of up to 144,000 euros.
Members of LSP/MAS have helped and participated in these struggles and others, and are working hard to promote the new formation ’Committee for Another Policy’ (CAP), which was started by former social democratic politicians and union leaders. Although CAP was not well-known enough in the last Belgian elections to achieve a high vote, it already has the support of a layer of trade unionists and has the potential to grow into the embryo of a new workers’ party.
The report from Poland was particularly inspiring, because a small number of CWI members are having a huge effect. Organised as the Group for a Workers’ Party (GPR), they have been active participants in a "whirlwind of demonstrations and pickets". In March and April there was a wave of one-day strikes in private companies.
GPR has also been involved in numerous campaigns for victimised trade unionists and has helped to get a number reinstated in their jobs. They have worked closely with the most radical trade union in Poland – August 80 – in a number of campaigns, including helping to expose the cause of a mine explosion last year that killed 23 miners. GPR also campaigned against an attack on abortion rights, which contributed to preventing a total ban from going through.
However, their biggest campaign recently has been to support a major struggle by Polish nurses for decent pay, during which a protest ’tent city’ was set up for four weeks. They helped with vital practical work such as the night patrols to protect the camp, and with a noisy ’orchestra’ of trumpets and drums that played outside the prime minister’s residence every half-hour. The tent protest has ended for the time being, but the nurses’ campaign continues.
The German CWI section, Socialist Alternative (SAV), thanked other CWI sections for sending members to Germany in the summer of 2006 to help with the election campaign of the Berlin WASG, and again in June 2007 to participate in the CWI’s contingents during the anti-G8 protests in Rostock.
SAV reported a number of successes in its party building work, including a large increase in the sales of its monthly newspaper. They are now building for their ’Socialism Days’ public event on 28-30 September, and invited CWI members and supporters from other countries to attend if they can.
Russia and the CIS
Russian CWI members are now very noticeable on demonstrations, as they invested in a supply of large red flags printed with their party (and the CWI) logo. In Moscow, they have been active in visiting workers taking strike action and in organising solidarity from other workers and local communities.
Sales of their monthly paper outside factories and metro stations have increased.
The geographical extent of the CIS (the former soviet republics) is an obstacle to holding regional CWI events, but as an example of the determination to overcome this, it was mentioned that one member had travelled for seven days by train to attend a CIS summer camp, and then for seven days back home.
In Kazakhstan, CWI members have been active in a long-running housing campaign. The Kazakh regime has shown its hostility to the campaigning work done by the CWI by imprisoning leading CWI member Ainur Kurmanov for a week at a time on two occasions this year.
During the recent presidential and legislative election campaigns, a number of new members have joined Gauche Revolutionnaire (GR), the French section of the CWI. A new party branch consisting of 14-16 year olds has been set up in Elbeuf near Rouen.
The new Sarkozy government has not wasted any time in announcing attacks on workers’ jobs and living standards. A government plan to axe 22,700 public sector jobs was reported during the CWI school. This, and other attacks such as further steps towards privatisation of university education, could provoke huge protest from workers and students. CWI members will be actively involved in the next protest movement as they have been in the many previous ones.
They got off to an early start after the presidential election by being the only left organisation in Rouen to join an angry demonstration against Sarkozy’s victory on the night of the election day itself.
In the run-up to the Northern Ireland Assembly election, all four main parties claimed to be against water charges. However, with an Assembly ’review’ of the plan for water charges due to report in October, the same politicians are starting to say that some type of charging is only ’realistic’. So CWI members in the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland are preparing for a renewal of the "we won’t pay" campaign, which they initiated last year.
In Southern Ireland, CWI members have kept up their strong reputation for assisting workers’ struggles by helping nurses in their recent major strike. It was reported that unfortunately, despite their determined stand, the nurses had been badly let down by their trade union leaders.
It was clear from the reports given at the school that despite the loss of Joe Higgins’ seat in the Dail (parliament) in the last elections, leading CWI members in Southern Ireland like Joe and Clare Daly retain massive support among Irish workers and in many of Dublin’s local communities, including from hundreds of supporters who are willing to distribute leaflets during election campaigns.
Italy has been marked by great struggles – a series of general strikes – but also by the disappointment of ordinary people with all the existing political parties and main trade union leaders. Just one year after the election of the Prodi-led government coalition, any illusions that it might be worker-friendly are rapidly going. This situation has resulted in what could be a terminal crisis for the Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC).
The government has just announced further pension ’reform’ and CWI members are preparing for the battles that are certain to come over this and on other issues. They have already produced three issues of their paper and are proving themselves to be very active – for instance they were the only left group selling a paper and giving out a leaflet on the recent gay pride demonstration in Rome, despite there being over 20 small left organisations in Italy.
Scottish CWI members elaborated on the results of the May 2007 Scottish parliamentary election, in which the Scottish National Party gained one more seat than New Labour and small parties and independents had their vote squeezed. Organised as International Socialists, CWI members in Scotland are developing their presence on university campuses and are continuing to be active in all major workers’ struggles. They are part of the leadership in the current battle by 600 Glasgow council workers for higher grading, and are involved in building the new formation ’Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement’.
NB: CWI members from Portugal and the Czech Republic were unable to attend the school. For reasons of space we have been unable to include reports from the CWI sections in other continents that were present, but for more information on all sections, visit the CWI website www.socialistworld.net
In the tradition of the Bolsheviks
On the Friday evening of the CWI school, a rally was held to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution.
Matt Dobson, Socialist Party, England and Wales
Additional Belgian CWI members and supporters swelled the ranks of those attending the five-day school, in a hall surrounded by red banners.
Geert Cool from Belgium introduced the rally by explaining the importance of learning from the lessons of the Russian revolution and applying them in the struggle against capitalism today. The Russian revolution overthrew dictatorial Tsarist rule in the first democratic socialist revolution in history. Geert explained that the Russian working class had an effective political instrument in the form of their own party, the Bolsheviks. Today the CWI is organised in 35 countries across the globe and stands in the same tradition as the Bolsheviks.
Film footage followed showing the excited outpouring of the masses onto the streets during the early days of the 1917 revolution and how the revolution developed, with mass demonstrations addressed by Bolshevik street agitators.
The first rally speaker, Lucy Redler from the CWI German section, SAV, explained how the 1917 February revolution had an inspirational affect on the German working class. They moved into struggle with massive strike waves. Hundreds of thousands of workers ignored the pleas of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and trade union leaderships to support a war effort which represented none of their interests. Inspired by the example of the Bolsheviks and responding to Lenin’s call for world revolution, the German working class moved into action in 1918. They overthrew the Kaiser and came to the brink of seizing power, with Karl Liebknecht declaring a socialist republic. Tragically, the German capitalists found they could rely on the SPD leadership to defend them and crush the revolution, brutally murdering Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg in the process.
Lucy explained the policy of Lenin and Trotsky for an international revolution. This was urgent for the Russian masses, as Russian industry was comparatively undeveloped. But as other revolutions failed, Soviet Russia became isolated and under Stalinism there was a degeneration of the democracy of the revolution.
Lucy gave the example of the former East Germany, where despite the benefits of a planned economy the regime was a gross caricature of the democratic socialism the Bolsheviks had fought for.
The next speaker, Sandy Martinez from CWI Venezuela, drew parallels between Venezuela and the revolutionary processes in Russia in 1917. He said: "We can see that in Venezuela the conditions are there for the working class to seize power but because there is no mass revolutionary party the masses are not conscious of it. Lenin and Trotsky built a party not so they could seize power for themselves but because they wanted to create a real socialist society. You cannot have a revolution by decree; the workers have to make it possible. Building a revolutionary party in Venezuela is our job".
Denis from CWI Russia then explained that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the capitalists had gloated that their system was victorious and that the ideas of socialism were dead. But this is not true as the ideas of genuine socialism are presently being built in the home country of the Bolsheviks by the CWI.
Denis explained that since capitalism had been restored in Russia, people’s living standards had dropped and national tensions had exploded. He contrasted this with the planned economy brought in by the 1917 revolution, which gave free health care, education and advanced the whole of Russian society, while giving all nationalities rights and freedom to develop their cultures.
Peter Taaffe made a rousing closing speech, explaining that the Russian revolution was the greatest event in human history. The working class and poor established their own government. But for the capitalist class it is an event that haunts them and that they wish was forgotten. Peter pointed to the biggest slander campaign in history put out by capitalist historians about the revolution. He also outlined the development of revolutionary strategy from Marx to Lenin and Trotsky and illustrated the importance of a correct revolutionary programme.
Peter concluded that workers will always struggle against capitalism, as shown by the events of the 20th century, but in order for this struggle to be successful in the 21st century, a mass international revolutionary party needs to be built.