CWI International Meeting: Developing a socialist programme to meet the needs of workers and youth during capitalist crisis

Policies and demands for a new period

Over 70 representatives of sections and supporters of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa met in Belgium, from 2-9 December, to discuss the world situation in a period of deep capitalist crisis and when working people are facing intense attacks against their living standards.

We previously published a summary of the CWI International Executive Committee (IEC) meeting discussion on the ‘World economy and World Relations’, a Statement on the current world situation adopted by the CWI IEC (‘World Perspectives: Global capitalism’s enduring crisis) and a report on the discussion on Europe.

Today, we publish a summary of another of the main discussions at the IEC, on ‘Programme and Demands’ (the Transitional Programme today).

The final discussion at the meeting of the International Executive Committee of the Committee (IEC) for a Workers’ International, held in Belgium from 2-9 December, was on Programme and Slogans. As Stephan Kimmerle, from the CWI, who introduced the discussion, pointed out, all of the wider political discussions over the course of the week naturally led to this discussion. The aim of it was to discuss further and clarify the slogans and programme of the CWI.

On the one hand, some on the Left internationally base themselves solely on their programme, failing to connect the objective need for socialism with the current level of mass consciousness of workers and young people. On the other hand, others on the Left base themselves only on existing masse consciousness, ignoring the objective necessity of the socialist transformation of society. In contrast, the CWI approach is based on the experiences of the workers’ movement, including those of the Russian revolution, summed up in Trotsky’s ‘Transitional Programme’. Transitional demands are designed to connect to current consciousness and to act as a bridge between existing consciousness and the objective need for socialist change.

The discussion on programme is not an abstract one, where Marxists develop a programme in isolation. As Peter Taaffe noted in his sum-up to the discussion, even Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, written in 1938, was not the product of just one man, no matter how brilliant. It was the product of a dialogue with the working class and the ranks of the Fourth International, at that time. That should guide the approach of socialists today.

The discussion had vitality because of the current deep capitalist crisis and the workers’ struggles that have sprung up in response. In many countries, like Ireland, the CWI’s programme is being taken up and given added life in the course of mass movements and actions.


The discussion began with an assessment of mass consciousness, as it currently exists. Stephan argued that at this stage, there are primarily features of anti-boss and anti-bank consciousness. Although important sections of advanced workers and youth are drawing more far reaching conclusions, this has not yet seen big sections of the working class reach rounded-out anti-capitalist and socialist ideas. However, it is clear that because of the perspective outlined in the course of IEC discussions, one of further crises and class struggles, that consciousness can quickly develop further.

The struggles waged under the impact of the recession have shown a tendency to develop at fast speed and with rapid radicalisation. For example, under the blows of the economic crisis, we have seen important struggles against factory closures. Gary, from Northern Ireland, discussed this development in relation to the Visteon car plant occupation in Belfast. The initial demands of the workers’ in occupation were for fair redundancy packages, and the issue of saving jobs was not the key issue. The Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) participated in the action and raised the need to save jobs through nationalisation. Through the development of the struggle, the confidence of the workers grew and the demand for nationalisation gained widespread support. It was seen that it was enough to just fight for better redundancy, but that the workers were fighting to save jobs. By the end of the dispute, there was majority support for the idea of nationalisation of the factory.

This tactic – occupations to defend jobs – was a common feature of the discussion. Stephan outlined how its adoption illustrates the explosive situation we have entered with the onset of economic recession. Where appropriate, socialists should call for occupations to defend jobs and for continuation of production under workers’ control and management.

Nationalisation under workers’ control and management

A central theme of the discussion concerned the slogan of ‘nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management’. Stephan pointed out how the demand for nationalisation is crucial for workers, especially when confronted by job cuts. However, as capitalist governments have carried out “capitalist nationalisations” to save banks, with a view to re-privatisation, at a later date, it is necessary to be clear about the nature of nationalisation we stand for.

The essential issue which many speakers emphasised is that we stand for a completely different type of nationalisation – nationalisation under democratic workers’ control and management. The need to emphasise the democratic character of this demand was stressed, with flexibility about exactly how it is posed, but essentially stressing the need for directly elected representatives of the workers in the factory concerned, as well as representatives of the interests of working people generally across society.

In certain circumstances for example, we raise the need for representatives of users, consumers, environmental activists etc. To emphasise the fact that we call for workers’ interests generally to be taken into account, Nicos from Greece explained how Xekinima uses the phrase “workers and social control”.

In summing up, Peter Taaffe, on behalf of the CWI International Secretariat, pointed out the distinction between the demand for workers’ control and for workers’ management, the former is a demand from below – for control of hiring, workplace practices etc., while the latter is a demand for management of the workplace by the workforce. The second in particular poses the central need for a democratically planned economy.

One of the questions that emerge in relation to the demand for nationalisation is when there is insufficient demand for the goods produced. This is particularly the case in the car industry today, when even many workers may consider nationalisation as unrealistic because of the absence of a market. Speakers emphasised that in that case the need to put forward changing production to what is socially necessary, like the plan developed by Lucas Aerospace workers in Britain in 1976, where the workers at this military aircraft factory proposed a shift to socially useful production, as part of a struggle to defend jobs.

Left governments

The absence, generally, of strong workers’ parties has an important effect on the demands that are put forward. A key slogan for most of the CWI sections is the demand for new mass workers’ parties and proposals to build existing new left formations into mass parties. Where mass movements develop which have the potential to bring down governments, the question of who should be in government is implicitly posed.

Where left forces do exist, generally the call for a workers’ government, or workers’ and poor government, can be made more concrete with the demand for a left government of those forces on a socialist programme. In Greece, in elections a few months ago, the Greek CWI section argued for a left government on a socialist programme, involving the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and Syriza, a broad left coalition, which they participate in.

The question of ‘lesser evilism’ and coalition politics is another crucial issue for the Left in the coming years. Sometimes this can mean that workers will reject governing parties and without any enthusiasm back former workers parties, to keep out the most right wing capitalist parties. The ruling classes will also try to incorporate left formations into the establishment, to act as a ‘safety vent’, while they push for drastic social cuts.

Given the current level of class consciousness and movements, sometimes significant sections of workers could push for left parties to take part in government coalitions, particularly alongside former ex-workers’ parties, such as social democratic and communist parties. This is a key discussion in Germany, in particular, where the idea of what would be presented as a ‘Left’ government of the social democratic SPD, the Greens and Die Linke (Left Party) could win wide support. As Sascha from Germany argued, we are opposed to participation in governments that administer capitalism, which in this period means deep social cuts. In some circumstances, socialists can advocate putting forward a series of specific demands on a ‘Left’ government, while always reserving the right to oppose and vote against any anti-worker measures.

‘What we stand for columns’

Another feature of the discussion concerned updating the ‘What we stand for’ columns in the sections’ newspapers.

Judy, from Britain, outlined how the column is simply a small taste of our overall programme, as it is impossible to convey our full programme on many issues in just a few words. She outlined the formulation in the Socialist where the call for, “Trade union struggle to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour, without exemptions, as an immediate step towards £10 an hour” is linked to the need for struggle by the unions and working class to realise this and other demands.

Philip, from the US, spoke about the discussion in his section on their newspaper’s “What we stand for” column. This was extremely beneficial for the section because it was educational for the members. Philip stressed the need to be firm on substance, but flexible in how we formulate our demands, in a fresh way, which can connect with today’s level of understanding and consciousness, while putting forward demands, including those that go one, two or three steps ahead of consciousness, to help develop the workers’ movement.

Ongoing discussion

The discussion illustrated clearly how closely connected the CWI sections are to the struggles of the working class and how our programme has gained a real echo and support in this period. It also underlined the necessity to hone and adapt our slogans in the present economic crisis.

In summing up, Peter Taaffe emphasised the increasingly relevant nature of our transitional programme, and that a discussion on programme is continuous, to develop the CWI’s participation in the class struggle that are developing.

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December 2009