This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Following an intense and polarized factional struggle in the last 12 months an international conference was convened by the International Secretariat in London in July 2019. This very successful and optimistic meeting agreed to re-constitute the CWI. The conference was attended by 200 delegates and visitors from England and Wales, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Africa, Chile and the United States. Apologies were received from comrades in Nigeria and Israel who has travel and visa problems. This meeting endorsed the document below as a balance sheet of the conflict and prospects for build a revolutionary Trotskyist international organization.
CWI has faced a political division and split with those who have capitulated to the pressures of opportunism, identity politics and turned away from systematic consistent trade union work. Identity politics is a weapon of world capitalism to divide the working class by reinforcing separatism. This has posed the need to reconstitute the international organisation on a firm Marxist and Trotskyist basis. This is an historic task which confronts us in preparation for the eruption of big class battles in the coming period as a consequence of the profound crisis facing global capitalism.
The debate which has raged during the last seven months has revealed an ideological and programmatic corrosion and collapse that has taken place in sections and groups of the CWI. This is defended by the opportunist trend which has crystalised, represented by the leadership of the NFF – Non Faction Faction – opposition grouping. It is now clear, as we have explained in many documents produced by our faction, that the fundamental principles upon which the CWI was founded in 1974 have been abandoned by the NFF leadership. In order to defend the principles which built and maintained the CWI it is necessary to reconstitute the international to build a working class, revolutionary Trotskyist international organization.
The crisis began with a clash with the Irish organisation over the use of alien, profoundly undemocratic underhand methods of a breach of its own membership by the leadership, which broke with democratic centralism. Together with the huge breach in the methods of the CWI, the Irish party had moved away from a strategic, consistent orientation and intervention in the trades unions and buckled to the separatist pressures of identity politics. The defence of our revolutionary socialist programme and transitional method was abandoned in the mass and semi mass work undertaken by the Irish party. Reflecting these political and ideological retreats the profile and concept of building a revolutionary party were largely lost.
When the IS raised these issues with a view to correcting them, a series of leaders of sections, which later grouped together in the NFF, rose up to defend the Irish organisation. As the debate ensued it became clear that the same ideological and political corrosion which had infected the Irish organization was also present in other sections of the NFF.
This development represents a set- back for the struggle to build a revolutionary socialist workers’ international. However, it would be fatal to ignore the political reality which exists – that of a political rupture in the CWI as it was formerly constituted has taken place. In this situation it is necessary to re-establish ideological, political and organisational clarity In order to defend the programme of the revolutionary party – which is the International – to actively intervene in the intense political polarisation and working class struggle that is already unfolding.
The ideological and political collapse which has taken place in many sections, and on the left in general, is, at root, a reflection of the objective pressures which exist. The main element that has given rise to a more complex and contradictory period since the 2007/8 crisis has been the absence of the working class, in general, clearly putting its stamp on the situation either politically or in struggle. This is reflected, as we have explained, in the extremely weak and inadequate character of the new left parties at this stage which have developed, which are politically weaker than even the left reformist trends in the 1970s and 1980s. They have so far in the main assumed more the character of left-populist rather than “socialist” parties. We are confident that this situation will change in the coming period. The first winds of the impending storms to come have already arrived. However, the recent conjuncture has resulted in the short term in a certain impasse in the class struggle, reflected in the growth in some countries of the right-wing populists and far right, which have been able to partially step into the vacuum. This can rapidly change, as has been recently illustrated in Brazil. The crisis now facing the Bolsonaro regime following the general strike of 45 million illustrates this.
Pernicious role of Identity Politics – a Trotskyist approach
However, in the situation which has existed, the growth of the pernicious ideas of identity politics has been a test for revolutionary socialists. The question is not if it is necessary to intervene in the women’s, LGBTQ+, environmental or other movements. We fully support and must energetically intervene in these movements. The question is how? As Marxists we must realistically appraise the positive feature of these movements and also recognize the limitations of them, including their multi-class character. It is necessary to intervene in them on a class basis with the socialist programme which we defend. It is not the duty of revolutionary Trotskyists to buckle to the petty bourgeois and bourgeois pressures of identity politics and separatism as the NFF faction and its leadership has done.
The petty bourgeois pressure of identity politics has provoked a crisis not only in the CWI but throughout the revolutionary left. It was a major factor in the implosion which has taken place in the ISO in the USA. It has affected the SWP in both Britain and Ireland. It has provoked debate and upheavals throughout the Morenoite organisations in Latin America. These petty bourgeois ideas have also been imported into the broader workers’ movement, including trade unions and left parties in some countries.
Faced with the threat of this political virus infecting the revolutionary and workers’ movement, it is crucial that we combat it ideologically and withstand the alien class pressures which flow from it.
This is a test for revolutionary socialists which the NFF have failed as reflected during the debate. They buckled to the pressure of identity politics in the hope of finding a short cut to win radicalized layers from these movements but without raising our socialist programme. The recent Euro and local council elections in Ireland, which were a disaster for the Irish party, were partly the fruit of these opportunist ideas and methods.
The trade union question – a crucial issue for Trotskyism
The question of the trade unions and the need to undertake consistent systematic work in them is decisive for a revolutionary Trotskyist organization. It was one of the conditions for affiliation to the 3rd International and a condition of membership of the 4th International when Trotsky helped to found it in 1938. The CWI has always defended and maintained this approach. Yet this cardinal principle has been abandoned by the Irish, Greek, Swedish and other sections. They have justified this because of the degree of bureaucratization and low level of active membership and low level of unionisation.
These problems are real as we have commented in previous documents and our political analysis. However, they are not justification for a revolutionary Trotskyist organisation to turn away, (albeit for a “temporary period”) from undertaking patient and consistent work within the trade unions. It is not enough simply to visit picket lines – important though this is. We must also, through consistent work, build a base in the trade unions and work places, developing opposition groupings, together with other workers, to fight the trade union bureaucracy. Initiatives to build trade unions amongst the new unorganised sections of workers is also a crucial task facing the working class which CWI members and sections need to engage in. We entirely reject the claim that we have adopted an “Anglo-centric” attitude towards trade union work. The exact tactics we deploy or advocate in any particular country has always been extremely flexible, to take into account the differences which exist in. The bureaucratised nature of most of the trade unions and low level of active membership is an international feature of the current situation. However, despite the obstacles and problems that arise it is entirely wrong to use this as an excuse to turn away from official trade union organisations, even in some countries with “yellow unions” or unions integrated into the state machine, as Trotsky pointed out in the 1930s. Work in the official unions does not preclude, when the situation warrants it, supporting or initiating movements or organisations outside the official union structures. This aspect of the work of the CWI is central for building a revolutionary party.
The Transitional Method and the CWI
The defence of the ‘Transitional method’ and programme is another aspect of the struggle we have ferociously defended. The transitional method, which recognizes the existing consciousness of the working class, and seeks to link it with the idea of the socialist revolution. As Trotsky explained, it is necessary to raise demands that correspond to the current consciousness and through a series of transitional demands construct a bridge which will assist workers concluding the need for a socialist programme to break with capitalism. In the course of the recent struggle, some in the NFF have not adopted this approach. The idea of “socialism” is abstractly tagged on the end, with no preceding demands or argumentation leading to such a conclusion. Or, where it is explained, it is done in articles in journals or web-sites but not raised in propaganda material when intervening in mass movements. The use of the transitional programme and method is a crucial weapon to build a revolutionary party based on the working class. It will be necessary in the reconstituted international for every section and group to produce a programme, to be reviewed and discussed not just by each section but in the international organisation itself.
The degree of divergence on these issues, and also democratic centralism between us and the NFF, is fundamental for Trotskyists. They represent a political rupture. The roots of the current crisis in the CWI are to found in the objective situation. However, this explanation of the ideological collapse in some sections is not an excuse for some long- standing former cadres of the CWI who have capitulated to the pressures of the objective situation in an opportunistic way.
Building a revolutionary International
This crisis in the CWI is not the first time that objective conditions have provoked a crisis and collapse of Marxist cadres and workers’ leaders. Although on a much more serious and dramatic manner and under different conditions we saw the collapse of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Internationals. The 2nd and 3rd Internationals were mass organisations unlike the small but significant forces in the CWI at this stage. The USFI capitulated under the opportunistic pressures of the objective conditions of the post-war boom and then looked towards students and the guerrilla movements as a more immediate “revolutionary force” at the time. Then it was necessary for the comrades to break from this organisation and take the necessary steps to re-build the movement. Without this bold step the powerful base we built in the ‘Militant’, leading the mass poll tax movement and the struggles in Liverpool, and the building of the CWI, would not have happened. The method and approach adopted in that period need to be reconquered through the political and organisational re-founding of the CWI and applied to the new world situation we face with the historic crisis of global capitalism.
There can be no guarantees how any individual, party or International organisation will face up to the pressures of opportunism or sectarianism which inevitably arise during the class struggle. However, it is crucial that we learn lessons from the recent experiences we have had as an international. Some sections in the recent period have recruited from a layer of youth, mainly from university backgrounds. It is necessary for any revolutionary organization to build a base in the universities, which will include a layer of the petty bourgeois. However, we need to ensure that they are steeled in the ideas and methods of Bolshevism and put themselves on the standpoint of the working class. Comrades recruited from this milieu need to be tested out through intervention in the class struggle and imbued with the spirit of self- sacrifice in time, sub payments and commitment to building the revolutionary party. This has not been done with many of those recruited from this background in the recent period.
In part, this was inevitable given the current stage of the class struggle in many countries. However, we must draw the lessons from this and test out youth from such a background over a period of time. We should try to avoid putting even some committed and self-sacrificing young comrades into leading positions before they have been tested and developed through self-sacrifice and intervention in the class struggle. We should strive to apply Trotsky’s advice to the US SWP, in the 1930s, that comrades from a petty bourgeois background are regularly involved in recruiting workers to the party.
This is crucial if we are to build a solid cadre in the sections and an International that is able to face up to the challenges the class struggle will bring with it in the coming period.
With workers we need to take a more flexible approach to recruitment. We still need to sustain an audacious attitude towards recruitment. However, at the same time, as part of the struggle to rebuild the revolutionary movement, we should return to the concept of a period of discussions with contacts and new recruits with a systematic plan of political education coupled with intervention in the class struggle.
Whilst we need to build a base amongst the students it is also crucial that our youth work involves a plan to win young workers to our ranks.
The building of a section of our International will go through many different stages. There is nothing wrong with a small group beginning with a base amongst a layer of students understanding the role of the working class. However, then it needs to turn towards intervening amongst the working class and begin to recruit workers and educate them with our programme, methods and traditions and begin systematic consistent interventions into the trade unions, work places and communities.
We are and will emerge from this crisis as a more hardened revolutionary International both politically and in the spirit of self-sacrifice needed for party building. We must never allow again the situation to arise as it did in southern Ireland where a national section becomes entirely dependent on income from the state rather than the subs and money raised from the working class. Any money accrued from the state or other sources must be separated out and under the control of the party structures. We must ensure that the full timers, which are essential to build the party, are a lever for party building and not a substitute for the party. We should ensure that the ratio of full timers to party members is of a healthy political balance. Flexibility is needed, especially in the neo-colonial world but in the initial stages of building a revolutionary party a ratio of 30 subs paying members per full timer is an approximation we should aim for.
This conference of the international faction drawing on the lessons and experience of the struggle in the CWI during the last seven months therefore concludes:
- That we reconstitute the CWI as a revolutionary Trotskyist working class international.
- We stand on the principles and methods of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the first four Congresses of the Comintern, the founding documents of the IVth International and the founding documents, programme and congresses of the CWI.
- All members and sections of the refounded CWI are committed to defending these ideas and programme; work amongst the youth including students and young workers; undertake systematic work in the trade unions and amongst the working class; audaciously intervene in the womens, LGBTQ+, environmental and other such movements on a class basis, defending a revolutionary socialist programme and combating the ideas of separatism and identity politics and all alien ideas; struggle to build revolutionary parties and a world party of revolution.
- We are confident that the forces of the CWI will play a crucial role in the struggle to build a mass revolutionary socialist international. At this stage our forces on a world scale are limited numerically but with enormous potential and can make significant gains. We can be strengthened in the coming period given the crisis that confronts capitalism. The building of the CWI into a more powerful force will not be done on the basis of lineal arithmetical growth. It will involve a process of coming together through principled political agreement with other revolutionary socialist organisations and parties and new parties that are seeking a revolutionary way to break with capitalism. It will involve unifications and also splits.
- This conference, therefore, agrees that the International Secretariat should be mandated to convene a world Congress in 2020 for the parties and groups which stand on the central tenets of the CWI. Other revolutionary organisations and groups which are prepared to seriously and honestly engage in debate and collaboration about the building of working class revolutionary socialist parties should also be invited.
- We agree to elect an International council representing the sections and groups present at this conference. The International Secretariat who are members of the International Faction should continue to function as the IS and bring proposals to the 2020 Congress regarding structures and functioning of the International.
- In refounding the CWI, including comrades present at its foundation, as a majority of the membership we agree that we continue to use the name, ‘Committee for a Workers’ International’, as the defenders of the methods, tradition and programme that it was founded on in 1974.
International Secretariat 10/7/19