INTERVIEW | Clare Doyle – Eyewitness to History

Clare Doyle attended the founding conference of the CWI in 1974 and has played a key role in its development throughout its fifty years of existence, serving on the CWI’s leading body, the International Secretariat, for decades. Earlier this year, members of Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität – SOL, the CWI in Germany, interviewed Clare about her experiences.


Clare, you attended the founding conference in 1974 when 46 Marxists from 12 countries established the CWI. Before we ask how this came to happen, we want to ask, why have an international at all?

International analysis and solidarity across borders is as vital today as it was in the time of Marx and Engels when the First and Second Internationals were set up in the nineteenth century or of Lenin and Trotsky when the Third International was founded on the basis of the successful socialist revolution in Russia.

The young German revolutionaries, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – in exile in Belgium in 1848 – where they wrote the Communist Manifesto – witnessed revolution spreading across Europe. Later they saw the heroic struggle of the Paris Commune in 1871 and how the intervention of a foreign power could assist in drowning a revolution in blood. They learned from its bitter failure that the working class, on coming to power, must take over the main levers of the economy and of the state.

The Second International developed large organisations but collapsed as a force for revolutionary socialist change when the Social Democrats in Germany’s parliament and elsewhere voted in support of an imperialist war. One of the central leaders of the Russian Revolution, Lenin, famously joked that the number of genuine revolutionary internationalists travelling to the Zimmerwald Conference in 1915 could barely fill four stage-coaches.

Yet, only two years later, the socialist revolution in Russia was successful. The Third International was then founded in 1919 to promote revolution across the world and rapidly gained large support in some countries. The valiant attempts of revolutionaries in Germany to overthrow capitalism and end the isolation of the Russian Revolution were tragically defeated.

The political counter-revolution under Stalin after Lenin’s death, led to the ‘Comintern’ becoming what Trotsky described as a ‘border guard’ for the protection of Stalin’s regime in the USSR. The 1930s saw mass repression and slaughter of millions at home which was accompanied by the crushing of revolutions abroad – most notably during the Civil War in Spain and the massive sit-in strikes in France. Previously Stalin’s policy of ‘Social Fascism’ destroyed workers‘ united action against fascism in Germany. This allowed Hitler to come to power which led to another war and the deaths of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians, including in the USSR itself.

In the run-up to world war two, the exiled revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, was operating with very few forces internationally – predominantly in the US and a few supporters elsewhere. After Hitler’s victory, which did not trigger any serious debate inside the Comintern, he felt it necessary to launch a new, Fourth, revolutionary international. Thus in 1938 he drafted a ‘transitional‘ programme, showing how all the basic and reasonable demands of workers and young people could only be carried out on the basis of the elimination of capitalism. It is this approach which still serves as an invaluable foundation stone for all sections of the CWI to base themselves on.

By the time the second world war broke out and Trotsky had been assassinated in 1940 by Stalin’s agent, Ramon Mercader, the forces of genuine revolutionary Marxism on a world scale numbered just a few thousand.

Why was it necessary to break with the forces that led the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death and how did this come about?

The two decades following the war saw both a temporary upswing for capitalism and one of triumphalism for Stalin and so-called ‘Communist’ parties around the world. It was a difficult time for the handful of Trotskyists in Britain organised in the 1940s in the Revolutionary Communist Party.

The leaders of the small forces of the Fourth International (of which we were historically members) were confused by the post-1945 situation which was not what Trotsky had expected. There was a revolutionary wave, but capitalism, with the help of both social democracy and the Communist parties, was able to contain it. On an international scale Stalinism emerged enormously strengthened. Increasingly, the leaders of the Fourth International, based in Paris and headed by Ernest Mandel, Michel Pablo, Pierre Frank and Livio Maitan – lost their way politically.  First they did not realise that capitalism had entered a boom phase, then they exaggerated the effects of this boom on the consciousness of the working class. In practice, the possibility of mass action, let alone movements towards revolution, was pushed into the distant future. Sometimes these Trotskyist ‘leaders’ sought short-cuts, supporting individual ‘renegade’ Stalinists, like Tito in Yugoslavia. Later, these ‘leaders‘ actually turned their backs on workers, preferring to see the key to the socialist revolution in ‘revolutionary‘ students  and ‘guerrilla‘ and peasant movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

These issues came to a head in the mid-1960s. Our small group in Britain at that time, working in the Labour Party, started in 1964 to produce the monthly newspaper, Militant. Technically still members of the Fourth International, we argued for a different programme and perspective. We produced documents on the nature of the post-war boom, the class character of China and the colonial revolution against imperialism. Of key importance, we stressed the building of a base amongst workers and fighting to win support for Marxist ideas in the organised labour movement. In 1965, Peter Taaffe and Ted Grant travelled to a world congress of the Fourth International, only to find that their documents had not even been circulated to other sections in their so-called ‘International’!

Our Revolutionary Socialist League was promptly informed it would no longer be a full section of the International but a ‘sympathising section’ along with another group in Britain – a group that it had previously proved impossible to work with politically, as they produced material with a limited, non-socialist, programme. We then decided to concentrate on building up our own organisation. Our comrades at that time worked as members of the Labour Party, which was then a bourgeois-workers party with strong roots in the working class. Since the mid-1920s its pro-capitalist leaders had sought to drive revolutionary Marxists out of the party. The Labour Party in Britain was not then in turmoil, in the way that the French ‘Socialist Party’ had been in the mid-1930s when Trotsky advised his French supporters to work in it. However, as the intensity of class struggle increased in Britain, we managed to build significant support inside both the Labour Party and in the trade unions. In 1970 we won a majority in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) and then built this into a strong fighting organisation of working class youth.

How did the building of Militant lead to the foundation of the CWI?

It was nearly another decade before the founding conference of the Committee for a Workers‘ International was held, but that did not mean we were idle. On the contrary! In Britain we were constantly analysing world events and looking for ways to build our forces internationally.

We followed up various links with people we knew who called themselves Trotskyists – in Scotland and in Ireland – North and South. We recruited youth like Peter Hadden – a student at Sussex University (after my time) and Davy Dick in Scotland – a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). All through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s we built up the LPYS from a small organisation, when we first won a majority, to one which would later have no fewer than 2,000 young people at its annual national conferences.

Unfortunately, we did not have the possibility to intervene in the revolutionary events of May 1968 in France. But just weeks before they exploded, in public debate in London, our Secretary, Peter Taaffe declared that the leaders of the Fourth International were facing the wrong way. They were ruling out significant workers’ struggles even in France and saw the struggle of a peasant army in Vietnam as the equivalent of the Bolshevik revolution!

In Spain in the early 1970s, the challenge from below to Franco’s dictatorship was also gathering momentum. We conducted a massive Spanish Young Socialists Defence Campaign, arranging speaking tours around Britain, organising visits to illegal Spanish Young Socialist conferences (in southern France) and sending printing equipment into the country in the backs of cars or on ships!

In 1970, we produced Programme of the International. It summarised our international experience since the end of the War. We held a conference in London on how to proceed and decided not to attempt to rejoin the existing Fourth International. We would work to build support internationally through discussing with other revolutionary and left-moving forces. We would use our position in the LPYS to go to new layers in the youth sections of the Social-Democratic and other parties wherever we could.

The LPYS chairperson at the time, Peter Doyle, and other comrades visited various conferences abroad. One was that of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth where part of an already growing left opposition was won to our ideas. In Germany, a number of Jusos (Young Socialist) members joined us when they saw the LPYS’s campaigning work. Already in the year that the CWI was set up – 1974 – the paper Voran was launched. It got a very positive response, growing significantly in the mid-1980s.

Sri Lanka is the home of the first mass party of Trotskyism – the LSSP. We already had contact with members of that party who opposed its increasingly reformist policies. Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe met young revolutionaries on visits to Sri Lanka and India, including Siritunga Jayasuriya and, later, Jagadish Chandra. They have for decades now been leading the Indian and Sri Lankan sections of the CWI and assisted each other in the building of our forces in Asia.

So major uprisings and even revolutionary situations arose in both the 1960s and 1970s. How did the CWI intervene in such movements?

In the run-up to the founding of the CWI, Greece had been on fire. There was the murderous attack on the radical students at Athens Polytechnic in November 1973 by the military regime. In July of 1974 the colonels’ junta, the military regime which had been ruling Greece since 1967, collapsed. A period of revolutionary developments opened up. An unlikely socialist, Andreas Papandreou, founded the party, PASOK, which then grew rapidly and shifted a long way to the left. Possibilities were opened up for developing a section of our new International.

One of those attending the founding conference of the CWI had been a Greek Trotskyist, George Gikas, living in exile in London at the time. It was he who led us to Nicos Remoundos and other Greek and Cypriot revolutionaries who soon joined us after discussions with Peter Taaffe. Towards the end of the same year a CWI section was established in Greece and later a section in Cyprus.

In Portugal, just four days after our comrades and sympathisers met in the ‘Old Mother Redcap’ pub, in London, to set up the CWI, the 40 year Salazar-Caetano dictatorship was brought down. A group of revolutionary army officers seized power and established what they called a ‘transitional government’. We rapidly got out a pamphlet – ‘Portugal – the socialist revolution has begun’ – and got it translated into Portuguese. Bob Labi, without any knowledge of the language, was despatched to Lisbon to intervene. He followed up tenuous links we had with one or two members of the Portuguese Socialist Party emerging from the underground and met others radicalised by the unfolding revolution. Lynn Walsh then lived in the country for a while to try and get a foothold for the newly-born CWI.

In November 1975, after years of strikes and demonstrations in Spain against Franco’s brutal dictatorship, the old dictator died and a new era opened up in that country. Many of the Young Socialists with whom we had close relations, regarded themselves as revolutionaries. They fought vigorously for the Socialist Party (PSOE) to adopt a full socialist programme to transform the lives of the country’s long-suffering workers and youth.

Italy had been experiencing not just the ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1968 but a decade of strikes and factory occupations throughout the 1970s. With a clear leadership, rather than that of the Craxi Socialists and Berlinguer ‘Communists’, a European, even a world, revolution could have been set off in that country! Over the following decades different new left forces developed in Italy, even winning parliamentary representation, but unable to build lasting organisations with clear fighting programmes. We, as an International, were able to send various comrades to help build and rebuild our forces there – most recently, Christine Thomas, who lived and worked in the country for more than a decade.

In 1979, revolution broke out in Iran, against the Shah. Bob Labi was again despatched by our International without knowing the country’s language, to make contact with Marxists there. In the white heat of the revolution, we hoped, it might be possible to develop the embryo of a viable section of our International – which unfortunately would not came about.

From 1979 to 1981, Tony Saunois, current Secretary of the CWI, played an important role as LPYS representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee. He visited Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’, discussing with the H-Block hunger strikers and other fighters, publicising our principled, socialist approach on the national question. In 1984, Tony moved to Santiago, Chile, with two comrades from a Chilean Socialist Party background to participate in the growing underground revolt against the Pinochet dictatorship and find a base for our Trotskyist ideas. Tony was also a key comrade for the development of a CWI section in Brazil and in many other countries.

At around the same time, we met Nigerians at a ‘book fair’ in London who were keen to circulate our material in Nigeria. In 1985 Bob Labi made the first of many subsequent visits to Nigeria. He met trade union and student socialist activists who joined the CWI and, through courageous and energetic campaigns, have built in that vast country what became, for a time, the second largest section of the CWI. Hannah Sell, now Secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (the largest section) has been much involved in this development.

You yourself have visited different countries, trying to build the forces of Marxism. Tell us a bit more about how you built the International in different countries?

In the turbulent ‘60s and early ‘70s, before our International was officially established, I travelled to France and Italy where the class struggle was ‘hot‘, looking for ‘points of support‘. I also visited comrades and ‘sympathisers’ in Ireland (North and South) and, along with one of them, John Throne, drove into Franco’s Spain with funds and equipment for socialists working illegally there.

After being a Militant full-timer in the North of England in the tumultuous mid-70s, I moved to London to ‘relieve’ Pat Craven as national Treasurer so that he could go to Scotland to develop our work there. Later, the Scottish comrades set up Scottish Militant Labour. Much later – in 1998 – after big debates in our International on the national question, a split took place. A Scottish Socialist Party was set up but foundered on the rock of left-nationalism and reformism and a majority of our members at the time formally dissolved their own Marxist organisation. The present Socialist Party Scotland is a section of the CWI with strong roots in the workers‘ movement.

Before this development, and just after the founding of the CWI, we diligently raised funds to send comrades to various countries to get a foothold for our International. Alan Woods went to live in Spain, Bob Labi spent long periods in Greece after initial visits by Peter Taaffe and others. Work in India, Sri Lanka, Sweden, the US and elsewhere was developed by comrades going for prolonged visits or even upping sticks and living there.

In London, we helped South African comrades in exile building support by producing a journal called Inqaba ya Basebanzi (Workers’ Fortress), with a fighting programme to unite workers against apartheid and capitalism. They moved back to South Africa at the beginning of 1990 as Nelson Mandela was being released and Stalinism was collapsing.

In 1986, when a mass movement erupted in Paris over the police killing of a young immigrant – Malik Oussekine – I travelled with a team of comrades to intervene. We got numerous names and addresses to be followed up. We had a couple of English comrades living in Paris, trying to develop a base for the CWI. Only later did we meet the comrades of the present-day Gauche Révolutionnaire, a healthy, growing section of today’s CWI.

At the end of the 1980s, when five of us on the Militant Editorial Board, Peter Taaffe, Keith Dickenson, Lynn Walsh, and Ted Grant and myself, were expelled from the Labour Party, we had over 8,000 workers and young people as members and thousands more supporters. We were the largest Trotskyist organisation in Europe, leading mass struggles like no other. Between 1983 and 1987 we led the socialist Labour Liverpool City Council. Under our leadership, the city’s working class resisted the government of Margaret Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’, and won important improvements for the people. Under the slogan “Better to break the law than break the back of the poor”, the socialist council refused to implement cuts demanded by central government and instead mobilised the city’s working class against Thatcher. We mobilised thousands of members and supporters to fill London’s Albert Hall – twice – and then, in 1988, the massive Alexandra Palace in north London.  A few years later, we led the largest civil disobedience movement in the country’s history when 18 million citizens refused to obey the law and pay their poll tax!

It was this rapidly growing organisation in Britain that still provided most of the finances for our international work. In ‘88 I had been ‘released’ from direct involvement in finance organising to write a book about the revolutionary events in France of 20 years before. Judy Beishon, now on the CWI’s International Secretariat, took over the reins on finance.

A major turn in history was the disintegration of the Stalinist states and the restoration of capitalism there. You and others went to Russia. What were your experiences? How did the CWI react to these developments and its consequences in the Labour movement?

Towards the end of the 1980s, Mikhael Gorbachev – as president of the USSR and Secretary of the ruling Communist Party – was trying desperately to breathe life into the sclerotic Stalinist ‘Soviet‘ system. As we in the CWI saw it, he was struggling vainly to introduce Glasnost (opening up) and Perestroika (restructuring) to try and avoid a political revolution of workers against the 20 million strong parasitic Communist Party bureaucracy in his vast country. He was also trying to hold the lid on revolutionary upheavals spreading across Eastern Europe.

Our International called on a number of comrades to ‘up sticks’ and go and live in all of these ‘Stalinist states’ – from Czechoslovakia to Romania, Poland to Hungary and, of course, East Germany and the USSR. The aim was not only to observe and report directly, but also to try and build new forces with our Trotskyist ideas and programme, all but unknown in the region because of decades of Stalinist repression. In Poland and the then Czechoslovakia, we were able to create small groups. In Russia and Ukraine more substantial organisations were established. The CWI group that was built in East Germany from 1989 onwards merged with that in the west of Germany just before the former Democratic German Republic merged with the Federal Republic.

The reports that all of us wrote for the CWI at that time showed a revolutionary ferment developing, but revealed the realities of life under ‘Soviet’ rule – the positive and the negative. It was too late to stem the tide that was flowing towards a restoration of capitalism. Not only did the privileged party bureaucrats want it, and would go on to become actual (oligarchic) capitalists; but also, many workers who had suffered too long from shortages and humiliations under ‘communism’, wanted to go full tilt ‘to the market‘. This was reinforced by the fact that there was no political force that could offer the incipient political revolution a program for a real workers’ democracy. Trotsky had warned in his book ‘Revolution Betrayed’ that Stalinism could prepare “An explosion which may completely sweep away the results of the revolution”. Decades later, due to the absence of a conscious force fighting for workers’ democracy, this is basically what was happening.

There were some members on the leading body of the CWI – the International Secretariat – who refused to believe what we were reporting. Not least of them was the previously much-respected founding figure of our organisation – Ted Grant. He and Alan Woods, plus a few others refused to believe that the restoration of capitalism was already irreversible at the time of the defeated coup in August 1991. This and our decision to leave the Labour Party (long after wholesale expulsions had been carried through and the LPYS effectively closed down) led to the split in the CWI of 1991. They characterised this change of policy and leaving the Labour Party as, “A threat to 40 years work”. (For more detail see

Our experience in testing out our ideas in the former Soviet Union, including in what Russia calls its ‘Near Abroad’ of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and elsewhere are still invaluable for our International. Niall Mulholland made visits to the region after I had come back to London and follows developments in Ukraine and Kazakhstan among his many other responsibilities. Our International had not only grasped the nature of Stalinism, but was also able to explain the consequences of its collapse more quickly and fully than others.

The 1990s were a difficult period for Marxists as capitalism went on the offensive. In the early 2000s, there was an upsurge of an international movement against globalisation. How did the CWI develop in this period?

We totally disagreed with the academic, Francis Fukuyama, that the ‘victory’ of capitalism in the Stalinist world meant the struggle between the classes had come to an end. We felt there would be a lifting of the dead weight of Stalinism on the consciousness of workers which would assist the development of new struggles. But unlike some other socialists, we did not believe it would replace the need for strong trade unions, workers’ parties and clear, socialist leadership.

We participated in the big anti-globalisation movements that took place around the world from Seattle to Sao Paulo, Nice to Genoa, Trivandrum to Quebec. We had no illusions that this amorphous movement, aiming to represent a world population of over 6 billion people at the time, could defeat the capitalist governments represented at these summits. Nevertheless, we enthusiastically took part in these mobilizations – whether in Gothenburg, Seattle or Melbourne – and launched a socialist youth movement with International Socialist Resistance. Even before that, in the early 1990s, we had taken the initiative to found Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) and organized the largest international anti-racist demonstration in European history with 40,000 participants on 24 October 1992 in Brussels, where we met French comrades who went on to found Gauche Révolutionnaire. Even with modest forces, our International has been able to organise worldwide protest campaigns when class fighters in various parts of the world have been victimised. The fight against all forms of oppression and discrimination, including for example of women and minorities, has always been an important part of the struggle against capitalism and of our practical work.

Very important for our International were the mass movements of workers and young people developing in Europe and in Asia. Towards the end of 1995 for example we were on the streets in France in the powerful battle of public sector workers against the Chirac/Juppé government. In 1997 a massive general strike paralysed the ‘Asian Tiger’ economy of South Korea in the first major workers’ battle against globalisation. Our comrades in Japan had given the necessary funds for the CWI intervention (in a country where just talking about socialism was illegal!).

During the rapidly developing ‘Asia Crisis’ we followed up any link we could. Through Australia, where we had a handful of CWI members, we went to Indonesia as the Suharto dictatorship was being brought down. We met ‘revolutionaries’ there who, unfortunately, had no perspective of a fight for socialism.

In Malaysia, where the ‘Reformasi’ movement was in full swing, we had contacts with Socialists (through one recruit in Britain) who also stopped short of challenging capitalism. Similarly, the ‘revolutionaries’ in the Philippines whom we visited during a lively election campaign, in spite of them having an impressive base amongst organised workers in the vast factories around them.

Even as the 21st century opened, capitalism was far from booming. Only in China, where we have seen a special form of state capitalism, was there still substantial growth (now stalling). Within the CWI there were one or two debates on this issue but our overall cohesion and numbers were maintained. Some new bases of support were developed in different parts of the world, not least the USA.

The financial crisis of 2007/08 was another major turning point. Since then, the multiple crises of capitalism have reached unprecedented levels. At the same time, the labour movement and Marxists have to deal with the consequences of setbacks in the past and also the failures and betrayals of new left formations such as Syriza and Podemos.

What do you think are the central tenets of the CWI’s approach and analysis?

Wars and revolutions are the biggest tests of revolutionary forces – not just in terms of maintaining their organisational cohesion but in standing the test of analysis and programme. We are convinced that we have passed these tests politically, even if our forces are still weak from a global perspective. But we have to struggle with the consequences of the mistakes of the reformist and Stalinist mass organizations of the past, which have not made it easy for us to convince workers and young people to join our ranks.

However, our emphasis on the vital importance of working class struggle and the building of parties that fight on socialist programmes is a sine qua non without which revolutionary leaderships cannot be built.

The CWI in all its 50 years of existence has adhered to Trotsky’s dearly held tenet that a real workers‘ international can only gather sufficient forces to carry through the transformation of society by developing a programme of ‘transitional‘ demands. By that he meant in each country showing how the most reasonable of demands – on wages, jobs education, health, housing etc. – can be achieved and consolidated only by making the transition from capitalism to socialism.

It is not impossible, where the weight of numbers is overwhelmingly on the side of the working class, that a socialist transformation can be carried through peacefully. Sections of the state’s own forces can be won over to the side of the working class, especially with a class appeal to their ranks. But as we have seen so many times in history, the ruling class will not give way without a fight if they have the forces to resist.

A party trusted by workers, with clear-sighted leaders who are subject to election and immediate recall and receive no more than the wage of a skilled worker – like the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky – is the only force that can lead to the ending of capitalism on a national and international scale.

In today’s conditions, an appeal by workers coming to power in one country would spark a prairie fire of successful revolution across borders. The forces of our international can grow rapidly – into a substantial fighting organisation that plays a decisive role in uniting workers’ struggles worldwide to transform the future of mankind on the basis of socialism and communism.

What do you think are the prospects for the building of the CWI and a revolutionary International in the 2020s?

The conditions for building a genuinely revolutionary socialist International of workers’ organisations may be more difficult than fifty years ago when the CWI was launched. We are surrounded by wars, environmental destruction and economic crises, which are radicalising many youth and workers. But a clear understanding of the need for socialism has not yet developed. We see heroic mass movements which however lack a programme and an experienced leadership. But that is what makes the task of building trusted and self-sacrificing revolutionary leaderships even more vital.

Clear, far-seeing analysis and a bold transitional programme are as vital for our time as they were when Trotsky decided to launch the Fourth International. The experience of Stalinism and of working class parties implementing pro-capitalist policies has badly affected the confidence of workers and young people that real socialist change can be carried through. And this is just when there is a widening disaffection amongst the mass of the population with the ruling elites. Our task is therefore a dual one: on one hand participating in rebuilding fighting workers’ organisations and developing a consciousness that socialism is the answer and is achievable by mass action; on the other the building of our revolutionary Marxist organisation.

A new generation of class fighters will come into the orbit of the CWI in the white heat of tumultuous events across the world. They will be as determined as the pioneers of all former internationals to lay the basis for the victory of truly international socialism.

There are many experiences that I have not had the space to describe here – helping small groups of socialists in Lisbon or Seville in election campaigns, travelling to see activists in Copenhagen, intervening with a team in a three million strong demonstration in Rome, discussing with trade unionists in Osaka. On behalf of the CWI, I visited Sweden (many times) and Norway, and Hong Kong, and Scotland, and Austria. I have participated in ‘Socialism Days’ in Malaysia as well in Germany (more than once). And there has always been plenty of work in England and Wales to participate in.

My own experience in a lifetime of revolutionary work, has repeatedly confirmed the absolute correctness of our analysis and programme. We stand on the shoulders of those political giants of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals.

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April 2024