Tony Saunois for the IS majority
Six months after the November IEC meeting, the ‘Non-Faction Faction’ (NFF) finally managed to assemble together a political platform (‘The world at a crucial conjuncture: new phenomena and tasks – the crisis in the CWI’). The document is, in part, a combination of truisms and generalisations. Taken, as a whole, it confirms, as we have consistently argued; the NFF represents an opportunist right-ward departure from a Trotskyist method and programme. Like those from a ‘Mandelite’ trajectory, it includes insurance clauses of correct points but then defends opposing or contradictory ideas.
The first five pages of this ‘platform’ attempt to give a political summary of the current political conjuncture, most of which has been plagiarised from previous CWI documents that were prepared by the International Secretariat (IS). As we will comment on, the few additional points they have inserted are wrong or one sided, especially when dealing with issues relating to consciousness and the current stage of the class struggle. The platform falls far short of the alternative ‘perspectives’ that we were promised by the leaders of the NFF. They accuse the IS majority of not facing up to the new period but bring nothing new themselves to the table.
At the November 2018 IEC, and immediately following it, the leaders of the NFF denied that any fundamental differences existed. Now, at last, they recognise that, “The debate has revealed important differences on how to respond to the new period” (para 4). At the recent meeting of the England and Wales NC, Stephen Boyd (Ireland), went further and admitted that “fundamental” differences exist”. We are also told that these important differences are “not so crucial or so fundamental as to raise the prospect of a split of the CWI as the faction claims”. But it is the degree of political divergence away from the political foundations of the CWI and Trotskyism, on the part of the leadership of the NFF, which is the cause of a threatened split.
They argue the differences relate to “perspectives and methods of work” (para 34). In paragraph 36, they list the differences which have emerged concerning the trade unions, the women’s movement, the national question, the united front, the youth and environmental movements, and the transitional programme and method. They go on to claim, “It is beyond doubt in our opinion that the IS has not been able to respond, in recent years, in a satisfactory manner in relation to the challenges of the epoch which we live through” (para 38). They continue with the assertion that the IS “has been slow in capturing the mood and the needs of the new phase in the class struggle internationally.” (para 40) Comrades will search in vain for any alternative documents that have been presented by the leaders of the NFF to the analysis produced by the IS in “recent years”. The leaders of the NFF have supported all of these documents, with some minor amendments. They allege “top down methods” have been applied, without giving any specific examples. For a Trotskyist revolutionary organisation, all the differences listed by the NFF are on fundamental questions. If there is not agreement on these crucial issues it is clear a political rupture has occurred. The NFF talks wildly about “threatened expulsions” but the IS Majority/Faction is making a political judgement; the current trajectory of the NFF sees them turning away from the fundamental ideas, programme and methods of the CWI.
The NFF wants it both ways. They list a catalogue of fundamental differences which they say have developed with the CWI leadership, over a period of time. They then argue that, in reality, they are not so different fundamentally, as to justify a split. Yet they do want a change in leadership of the CWI – regime change! This is the right of all comrades to propose. However, what is the political motive for such a change? Is it because they have embraced “ageism” and think some of the IS members are too old! If so, at what age do they propose the leaders of a revolutionary party should be compelled to retire? Will some of the NFF leaders meet the age criteria they seem to want to lay down? Would they also apply the same criteria to Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn?
The NFF have tried to portray the faction as “old” and out of touch. Yet, unlike the NFF, we have sent not only more experienced, older comrades to the debates but also younger comrades, especially from England and Wales and Scotland. The spokespersons for the Faction in the debates have included many female comrades, along with comrades who are from an Asian background, and also comrades who are LGBTQ+. It is not the question of “age” which is the issue. It is, as we have argued, a change in leadership, as proposed by the NFF, with the political aim to alter the course of the CWI on the issues listed above, in a more opportunist, rightward direction. The NFF are dishonest in not clearly stating that this is their real objective.
The ideas defended by the Irish leadership, and then other NFF sections, cover ‘Identity Politics’, how we intervene in the social movements (such as, the environmental movement, the women’s movement and LGBTQ+), the trade unions, the transitional programme, and the methods needed to build the revolutionary party, and some other issues. This all represents an opportunist turn away from the principles, programme and perspectives that the CWI was founded on. As a cover for this historic retreat by the NFF, they accuse us in their platform of moving in the direction of an “abstract, even economistic approach to the class struggle”.
In their latest document, new differences have emerged from the NFF leaders, particularly over the question of the political consciousness of the working class and the role of the revolutionary party. At some of the debates, for example, during the recent England and Wales NC, we were falsely accused of arguing that this period is now “reactionary” and of explaining the question of political consciousness in a one-sided manner. We have never argued that this period is dominated by reaction, in general. There are elements of both revolution and counter-revolution present. However, we cannot simply dismiss the complications which exist, as the former Spanish section does, and bury our heads in the sand. As we have explained in other material, these complicating factors relate to the political consciousness of the working class and the character of the new left, which has emerged in some countries. This is largely the result of the legacy of the collapse of the former Stalinist regimes and the throwing back of socialist consciousness – the legacy of which we still have to confront today.
The NFF leadership appears to have been infected with the same virus as the former Spanish section. They claim that we do not take into account the “radicalisation to the left of tens of millions of workers and youth in the wake of the economic collapse in 2008-9…This has included the re- emergence of a basic level of class consciousness”. In fact, we laid great stress on the radicalisation which took place following the economic crisis in 2007/8, and all of its political consequences. Yet we also pointed to some of the limitations and weaknesses which existed in the movements that erupted at the time. Initially, we hoped that the 2007/8 crisis would result in the emergence of a more pronounced socialist consciousness. However, this did not happen, and we have acknowledged this at numerous international meetings. We explained how, with the onset of a new crisis, there will be the emergence of a more pronounced anti-capitalist, socialist consciousness amongst layers of workers and youth.
Following the crash in 2007/8, there were complications in the movements which did develop, as we analysed, at the time. During the movement of the ‘Indignados’ a pronounced “anti-party” mood was present. This involved some positive features, including a hatred of the existing political parties but also present was a reaction, sometimes violently, against the very idea of building a new party. The same sentiment developed in many other countries, including in Brazil and Chile. This eventually gave way to a new mood. We saw the emergence of PODEMOS, in Spain – a new party, but with big weaknesses and limitations. The former Spanish section argued against the idea that an anti-party mood had existed in Spain during the ‘Indignados’ movement. One of the leading NFF supporters, DB, echoed, at the time, the ideas defended by the Spanish leadership. Yet comrades who were present on some of these protests were literally chased away by some anti-party elements!
We heralded the tremendous combatively of the Greek working class, reflected in more than thirty general strikes against the austerity package of the Troika. However, we also commented on the character of these strikes – they were more “protest” actions rather than a challenge for power by the working class, as was the case in other countries, notably France in 1968. Of course, with a revolutionary leadership, they could have developed in this direction. However they did not. In Greece, during the economic crisis etc., the political consciousness of the working class was not sufficiently developed to enable it to go over the heads of the reformist leadership. Of course, the question of political consciousness is not totally separated from the question of the leadership – the two are related. However, it is necessary to have an accurate assessment of it, at each stage.
It was very different during the revolutionary events in Barcelona, in July 1936. The working class went over the heads of the leadership, took matters into their own hands, armed themselves with hunting rifles and chair legs, and stormed the military barracks. In Chile, 1970-73, the working class formed the Cordones Industriales, and neighbourhood committees or ‘JAPs’. This was in opposition to the CUT (TUC), the Communist Party and the right-wing of the Socialist Party (PSCh). At the same time, large left reformist and centrist parties and groupings developed in the PSCh, MAPU and Isquierda Christiana (the latter two of which split) along with the growth of the Movimiento Isquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). These two revolutionary movements were a measure of how much further advanced the political consciousness and confidence of the working class was in these situations, compared with the movement which erupted in Greece, and elsewhere, following the crisis in 2007/8.
It is important to discuss these features. This does not mean challenging the need for a revolutionary party but in order to have an accurate estimation of the situation, which is crucial. How else can we avoid confusing the first month of pregnancy with the ninth, as Lenin warned against?
The NFF leadership have caught the Spanish virus and seem to dismiss the importance of estimating the political consciousness of the masses. However, in adopting this mistaken premise, the NFF have turned in the opposite direction to the ex-Spanish comrades. The former Spanish section has drawn sectarian conclusions from their denial that political consciousness is a problem. They reduce everything to the absence of a revolutionary party and leadership. The NFF leadership diminish the importance of political consciousness, reducing everything to the absence of a revolutionary party but then draw opportunist conclusions.
Everything is reduced to the question of the “party”. The absence of a revolutionary party is crucial but is not the only issue. The question is posed – why have revolutionary parties not grown or developed in the recent period? Why is it that in Spain the IR remains with approximately 360 members after such massive mobilisations, some of which they help initiate? This is reflection of some of the obstacles which still exist, and need to be overcome, in the next period of time, through a combination of workers’ and youth experiences in struggle and by the intervention of revolutionary socialists. To assist workers and young people overcome these obstacles, revolutionary socialists need to recognise that they exist in the first place!
In paragraph 38 of their document, the NFF say revolutionary upheavals in Egypt, Syria and Libya “turned into open counter-revolutions, due to the absence of the subjective factor – i.e. the lack of a mass revolutionary party”. They continue, “In the past 10 years, the weakness of the subjective factor, i.e., the lack of mass revolutionary parties, enabled the ruling class to go on a counter-offensive, on a global scale, after the 2007-8 crisis and make the working masses of the planet pay for the crisis that the capitalist system itself created.”
The subjective factor for us has two main components: the revolutionary party and also the question of the political consciousness of the working class. The weakness or absence of these, in turn, inevitably becomes a part of the objective situation. They are interlinked, as we have explained many times in the analysis of the CWI. It was not just mass revolutionary socialist parties that were absent during the movements in Egypt, Syria and Libya. There were no mass workers’ parties, at all, and only in Egypt did some unions exist outside the official state organisations. In Tunisia, a different situation existed with the UGTT, where we formulated demands to take this into account, which CG (IS Alternate) initially opposed in the IS. In Egypt, the vacuum which existed allowed the Muslim brotherhood to step in for a period. The absence of the creation of mass parties was itself a reflection of the consciousness which existed.
As we explained, the radicalisation which did take place after 2007-8 represented as step forward but it had limitations. The question of political consciousness is not static and neither are the political consequences or organisations that flow from this. The situation in many countries has changed since the movements which developed post 2007/8, largely due to the limited character of the “new left” that emerged. The NFF leadership seem blind to this development. In paragraph 17, the NFF argue that the traditional social democratic parties are increasingly rejected by wide sections of the working class and middle class. They argue that there has been a growth in support for the new left parties. This was the situation post 2007/8. However, now it has become more complicated because of the weakness of the new left. The former social democracy, in some countries, has recently experienced an electoral revival, such as in Spain, Finland and Portugal, and opinions polls point to a likely similar development in Denmark. This has been mirrored by a decline and stagnation in the “new left”, including PODEMOS and the Left Block. There has been an ebbing in the enthusiasm for Corbyn, in Britain, which may damage the electoral recovery the British Labour Party had experienced under his leadership. The growth of Salvini’s support, in Italy, and right-populist forces in other countries, all point to a more complicated situation due to the failure or limitations of the new left radicalisation that followed the crisis in 2007/8. Since then, amongst significant layers, political consciousness has taken a step back. In Britain, this is reflected in the current rapid growth of the newly-formed ‘Brexit Party’ led by Nigel Farage.
This, of course, is not uniform amongst all layers, in all countries. A layer of youth have been radicalised on the environment, taking part in movements in which we have successfully intervened. However, the situation is not the same as the radicalisation that followed the crash of 2007/8. This, of course, will change and can be very rapidly, given the underlying social and economic situation of capitalism. This is demonstrated by the mass protests in Brazil, at the present time, against Bolsonaro’s policies, like his pension ‘reform’, and in defence of education.
Political consciousness is not static. It can take leaps forward but also steps back, if it is not channelled into a real alternative for the working class. The onset of a new crisis is certain to lead to even deeper polarisation and will include the emergence of a more pronounced anti-capitalist socialist consciousness amongst crucial layers of the working class and young people. Mass struggle in a number of countries can also help to speed up political consciousness in a left and socialist direction.
This raises the question of the revolutionary party and the absurd allegation, made by the Spanish and now repeated by the NFF, that PT (IS) argued that a revolutionary party was not necessary during the Spanish revolution. This point has been answered by PT (IS) in his reply to BK from the US section. The supporters of the faction, including PT, fully defend the essential need for a revolutionary party. We have been working for decades to build one!
Yet, as we have explained, theoretically it could not be excluded that in some specific situations the working class could take power prior to a mass revolutionary party being created. This is not a new issue for Trotskyism or the CWI. This point was raised by Lenin in relation to the 1918 German revolution. We commented on this in an article by BL (IS) on the centenary of the 1918 revolution, which was recently republished on the US section’s website. Trotsky, as we have explained, also dealt with this issue. The CWI echoed this point in the past, in relation to Hungary during the uprising against the Stalinist regime, and in some other specific situations. However, to consolidate power and develop the revolution, the crystallisation of a party would become essential.
In a certain sense, the completion of the social revolution, albeit in a distorted form, without a party being formed beforehand, did take place in Cuba. Castro took the power with a small band of guerrillas, as the former Batista regime collapsed. A party, although in a bureaucratic form, was only established a considerably long time after the revolution.
Differences on these issues, together with the other central questions of the transitional programme and method, ‘Identity Politics’ and the need for a systematic, consistent orientation to the trades unions, represent a fundamental point of departure by the leadership of the NFF from the ideas that the CWI was built upon. To pretend that these questions are of secondary importance, as the NFF leadership do in their statement, is to deny reality.
The question of the trade unions has been a central part of the debate which has opened up. In their platform document the NFF authors insert an insurance clause, proclaiming they agree with the importance of work in the trade unions. They argue, in paragraph 59, that Marxists should have an “ongoing flexible orientation towards union work. What we are discussing is adopting flexible tactics in relation to the trade unions, depending on the differences in the objective situation from country to country”.
The debate is not about adopting flexible tactics, taking into account the specific situation in each country. Our specific tactics to intervene in the trade unions have always been flexible. The difference is over whether always to conduct systematic, consistent work in the trade unions or if it is justified to turn away from them, for a period, as the Irish and some other sections have done. One of the conditions for affiliation to the Comintern was that Communist Parties “must systematically and persistently develop communist activities in the trade unions….” [our emphasis] This ‘condition’, of course, was aimed at mass or large Communist Parties but it is relevant to our work today.
The NFF has given extensive quotes from Trotsky regarding the question of the trade unions, none of which refute what we have argued. Where have we ever adopted an approach that means “passively to tolerate subordination of the revolutionary mass movement to the control of openly reactionary or disguised conservative (progressive) bureaucratic cliques”? (From The Transitional Programme, 1938). The NFF omit to quote Trotsky in the same Transitional Programme document: “It is necessary to establish a firm rule: self-isolation of the capitulationist variety from mass trade unions, which is tantamount to betrayal of the revolution, is incompatible with membership in the Fourth International”.
The position of the Irish leadership was justified by them because of the rightward shift in the unions after the Croke Park deal and the lack of a militant rank and file. Then they rejected a proposal made by the IS, during a visit by TS (IS), that they launch an opposition trade union platform in the trade unions. They have subsequently argued that it is correct to temporarily turn away from the unions to win radicalised layers, especially of young women and LGBTQ+ people who could then be re-orientated towards the unions, at a later stage. This classic Mandelite approach has been defended by the leadership of the Greek, Swedish, US, Russian and other NFF sections leadership. The NFF seem to argue we only undertake union work when a favourable situation exists within the unions. But a solid base of support for us cannot be built within the trade unions and work places with such an approach.
The Irish leadership began by making appeals to Irish ‘exceptionalism’ – the low level of unionisation and activity in unions. As the debate has progressed, we have now heard of American exceptionalism, Greek exceptionalism, Swedish exceptionalism and more. AM (USA) justified a turn away from systematic trade union work citing the SEIU as an example of how rotten the trade unions have become. Yet the SEIU local in Seattle has recently endorsed Kshama Sawant’s election campaign!
The current low level of unionisation and lack of a large active base, like that of the 1970s and 1980s, is part of an international problem which exists. This is something the IS has explained in many documents in recent years, before the crisis erupted in the CWI, and during this internal crisis. Yet recognising that this problem exists is not a justification for turning away from the trade unions or not placing demands on the union leaderships. Neither is it a reason to abandon doing consistent, systematic trade union work. This does not mean that we identify the “official trade union structures with the whole of the ‘working class’”, as the NFF accuse us of. This absurd argument is a strawman put up to mask turning away from systematic, persistent work in union branches and structures.
It is not a question of having a “fetish” about the trade unions, as the NFF states. It is recognising that, despite the difficulties which exist, the trade unions still are vitally important as mass organisations of the working class, even if a minority of workers are organised within them. For Trotskyists, it is a matter of principle that we undertake persistent work within unions, and challenge the leadership of them.
The relatively low level of unionisation reflects the set-backs which have taken place since the collapse of the former Stalinist regimes, the increased bureaucratisation and swing to the right by the union leadership, and also changes in the economy and the decline in manufacturing industry that has occurred in many capitalist countries. Yet the low level of trade union density is not a new issue. Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Programme that trade unions, even the most powerful, usually organise no more than 20-25% of the working class. The high levels of unionisation in the post-world war two-era, especially in the industrialised countries, were the exception rather than the rule.
In their latest statement, the NFF justify the Greek section not placing demands on the Greek TUC (GSEE). Initially, they denied this was the case, despite Andros P having made exactly that point in his document. Now they add the rider that they called on the GSEE to call a plan of strikes, culminating in an all-out general strike. After 2015, they argue, it would have been “out of touch with reality” to do so. The call for an all-out general strike after 2015 may not have been correct, however this does not mean it was correct not to place any demands on the union leadership. Given the betrayal which took place, the demands should surely have been sharper, denouncing the leadership for not calling the necessary action.
There is no contradiction in doing this and also demanding workers take the necessary steps to organise action themselves, if the leaders are not prepared to do so. Following the betrayal of the 1926 general strike, in Britain, Trotsky still raised the issue of placing demands – very critical demands – on the trade union leadership. The approach of the Irish and Greek leadership, now justified by the NFF, has been to turn away from the struggles inside the trade unions following a betrayal and/or defeat of the working class, when the situation inside the trade unions has become more, and sometimes, extremely, difficult. This approach has echoes of the British SWP and their counter-parts. But we must work in the trade unions even in the most difficult conditions.
The lack of understanding of the leadership of the NFF in how we place demands on the trade union leadership is reflected in paragraph 54 of their document. Referring to the Indignados movement, the ‘Occupy’ movement and the Water Charges campaign, in Ireland, they say that none of our sections, when intervening in these movements, “simply called for the existing trade union and left leadership to assume the leadership of these movements, as we would have done in past decades, when big active left currents and a sizeable layer of militant and combative shop stewards were present”. We never approached the issue in this way! We never demanded the union bureaucracy, left or right, “assume the leadership” of movements. We made specific demands on the leadership to take action, in order to expose them and, in some cases, this was done to push them to take action. This was also done to assist workers reaching the conclusions themselves of what was necessary to take the movement forward and to build a new leadership, if necessary.
The question of our approach to the women’s and LGBTQ+ movements, and the necessity to combat identity politics, has been a central aspect of this debate. Numerous documents have been produced on this issue where we have explained our position. It is necessary that we intervene in these movements. The difference between the two diverging trends is how this is to be done. We have argued that we need to intervene, defending our revolutionary socialist ideas, and to resist separatist ideas and pressures to buckle under the influence of identity politics, which threatens the unity of the working class and the centrality of the role of the working class. The leadership of the NFF have bent to these pressures.
The NFF, in their latest statement, accept that maybe mistakes have been made and they should be discussed further. However, they also say in the next sentence that “we do not accept that any mistakes that were made in this work were crucial”. In their usual manner, they do not say what mistakes were made or when and where. We remind the NFF that these “mistakes” in Ireland include the failure to put forward a socialist programme in the 2016 election campaign; taking an “open turn” away from the trade unions; and intervening in the 2018 Repeal campaign without raising any wider class or socialist ideas in the mass material we produced. Are these not crucial mistakes? Do the NFF support the main election slogan of the Irish section in the European Union elections, for a “socialist feminist voice for Europe”? In writing, the NFF make no comment on this election slogan but verbally the NFF fully defend and refer to it as a “model campaign”.
The NFF protest that there has been a “consistent under-coverage of women’s movements in our international material, including our key political documents”. Yet the CWI website has a section on women’s struggles and issues. In their latest document, the NFF extensively quote from the “significant” 2016 World Congress document on women but fail to point out that it was prepared by the International Secretariat. Comrades will search, in vain, for alternative documents from these comrades in recent years. Did any of the NFF comrades raise their voices in opposition to the positions of the IS at numerous CWI schools and IEC meetings, when these issues were discussed? Did NFF supporters DB and GG ever raise concrete proposals concerning women’s struggles at IS meetings or provide a coherent alternative analysis? The answer is no!
However, a different approach was being adopted by the Irish leadership on this question. Following the 2018 CWI school, it was the IS who proposed, in August 2018, to the Irish leadership that a meeting take place to discuss these and other issues before the current crisis erupted. It is the Irish leadership, and now apparently the NFF leadership, who are departing from the CWI approach towards dealing with these and other issues.
We have explained that we, of course, support an intervention into the women’s movement, the environmental movements, LGBTQ+ struggles, and movements to combat racism etc. but with our class orientation and socialist policies. The NFF pushed for us to call for an “international strike” on International women’s day despite there not being a uniform situation on this question in many countries and a multiplicity of issues emerging. A few weeks later, there was the outbreak of big youth protests, in many countries, on climate change and the environment. We have organised a combative and audacious intervention in the environmental movements which developed. In many areas of the neo-colonial world, the struggle on environmental issues is assuming an extremely sharp character and includes a big class polarisation. The issues involved over water supply, deforestation, fishing and other issues, directly affect the working class and poor, which brings them into conflict with the big multinational companies.
We need to be aware of the opposition we will encounter in these movements from a layer of petty bourgeois and even bourgeois element that are also involved in them. The NFF diminish the importance and threat these obstacles pose. Yet we need to confront them. The US section’s leadership go into contortions in documents trying to justify their approach on this issue. Despite claims to the contrary, the main point is that the chief slogan on posters, placards etc. produced by the US section have mainly called for a “Green New Deal” rather than a “Socialist Green New Deal” or a “Workers’ Green New Deal”. The poster produced by comrades prominent at Kshama Sawant’s election launch carried the slogan, “Seattle needs a Green New Deal”. But slogans including ‘socialist’ or ‘workers’ are necessary to distinguish us from those layers of the petit bourgeois and bourgeois, who are beginning to support the Green Deal idea.
Articles in the sections’ newspapers or the websites are not, at this stage, aimed at a mass audience, but the posters, especially election posters, are aimed directly at broader masses. The position adopted by the US leadership on this question points towards a form of the “maximum” /“minimum” approach to programme and propaganda, rather than the use of the transitional method. Amongst the ideas we need to combat are the demands of some sections of the petit bourgeois involved in this movement who argue that production and consumption must be reduced for all rather than developing production on a planned socialist, eco-compatible basis.
We note the silence of the leadership of the US on our criticism of the opportunistic slogan they have used: ‘Trump Out; Bernie In – Build a mass movement’. As the IS Majority/Faction argued, we should have demanded: ‘Trump Out- Bernie In, with a socialist programme’ or ‘Trump out – Bernie In, and fight for a socialist programme’. In the material produced by the US leadership, the weaknesses of Sanders’ programme are evaded. Some US comrades have even argued we should wait until a movement has been built before we raise criticism of Sanders.
While it is necessary to pose the need for socialism and the impossibility of fully resolving the climatic and environmental crisis on a capitalist basis, we also need to develop a transitional approach to this question. This includes a transitional approach to the workers employed in polluting sectors of the economy, like the gold miners in Greece. Amazingly, the Greek section now defends the dismissive approach they took towards the gold miners and the unions involved. They argue that they did take up the demand for alternative work for the workers, but, when this got no response, they simply dropped it! This approach is a departure from the approach of the CWI. It underlines the lack of a consistent intervention and orientation towards different sections of the working class using a transitional approach and trying to open a dialogue with the workers concerned.
In the latest NFF statement, it is clear that the leadership of this opportunist trend have lost the transitional method and understanding of how the transitional approach needs to be applied. Our criticism of them is not just that they have not raised the issue of socialism. In some material they have but it is simply tagged onto the end of their articles and texts. There are no transitional demands or proposals that link the immediate demands or struggles to the conclusion that socialism is needed.
The NFF make the absurd allegation that we are re-writing CWI history. They draw on the debates that took place over the Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) programme, and the later youth initiative we attempted, International Resistance/International Socialist Resistance (IR/ISR). The NFF lump together the YRE and IR/ISR. In the 1990s, the YRE did develop and take off, and captured the mood, at that time, and we gained a lot from it. The IR/ISR, in the main, did not get an echo and failed to develop.
In relation to the issue of the YRE programme, there was extensive debate in the CWI on this question. The IS was clear that as a broad organisation, it would be preferable but not essential to include the question of socialism in the YRE programme. This was particularly an issue in Germany following the collapse of Stalinism and reunification of the two states. The IS produced a resolution on this question for the IEC, at the time, explaining that while the YRE did not have to include a full socialist programme, the CWI sections would argue, in a united front method, for socialist ideas and programme. We were bitterly opposed by the Swedish leadership and Laurence Coates (LC) on this. They argued in a rigid, dogmatic way that it was essential to include socialism. The Belgian leadership and others, at that time, agreed with the position of the IS. The IEC Swedish comrades, and LC, are now signatories to the recent NFF platform and we may assume they have modified their position on this question. The same issue applied to the debate on the IR/ISR.
We also stressed that, while it was not necessary to have our full programme in the YRE or IR/ISR, we, as an organisation and as individual comrades, had an obligation to raise our socialist ideas and programme in the publications of the party and in discussions.
The issue we have raised regarding ROSA, in Ireland, and other campaigns, was not that our full programme was not raised. It was that Rosa lacked a working class orientation, was limited to only demands on abortion, and there was a total, or near total, absence of our own party profile – programmatically and as a party. It is not us who are re-writing CWI history. It is the NFF who are mixing up what we said about the YRE, a broad organisation, and what we emphasised regarding our own revolutionary party.
The IS has always been open to discussing new international campaigns, as the CWI has done in the past – very successfully in the case of the YRE – where it is agreed that there is the basis and resources for it. But now, the NFF lambast us for not taking ROSA-type initiatives on women’s oppression across sections (not that the leaders of the NFF formally proposed any such concrete initiative, at the time). But the situation was not comparable on an all-European basis. Likewise, the Greek section’s ‘Green Attack’, was launched, by the comrades’ own admission, “in a previous period”, when there was not the same strong mood internationally amongst the youth on the environment/climate change, as has developed more recently.
It is true that it would be a serious mistake to be “afraid of engaging with large sections of radical young people (including when they come from a middle class background)….” But this should include when they are influenced by petty bourgeois ideas like ‘Identity politics’. A revolutionary party needs to conquer a base amongst the students in the universities and other sections of the middle class. The task is to engage with them and confront petty bourgeois ideas, not adapt to them. If we succeed in convincing students and young people of revolutionary socialist ideas, we need them to adopt the standpoint of the working class.
To say the IS/Faction have evaded these tasks is answered by the growth of our work in the universities in England and Wales, where we are now the largest organisation on the revolutionary socialist left. As a point of historical accuracy, what marked the early days of Militant, in Britain, was that it was rooted amongst young workers. In the early 1960s, the growth that took place was mainly amongst young workers, especially in Liverpool, with a thin layer of students in other areas, mainly Brighton, who did place themselves on the standpoint of the working class.
The NFF have conducted a global campaign claiming they are defending “democracy”. They demand the COC resumes its role and functions. They falsely claim both DB and CG were “banned from the centre”. The NFF leadership has tried to use the COC as a replacement for the International Secretariat. We are not prepared to accept this attempted political coup. DB and CG were never banned from the centre. It was agreed by all concerned, including DB and CG, that they should work from home and come into the centre when they needed to or to attend meetings. They were given full access to the resources at the CWI centre. Then having consulted the leaders of the NFF they conducted a global campaign trying to present themselves as the victims.
The NFF protest in their latest document about PT’s comments regarding the existence of “propaganda groups” in the CWI. This only reveals their lack of a sense of proportion about what real forces the CWI has, at this stage. The term “propagandist” groups, was not an insult but an accurate assessment of what we have in most CWI sections. We have some sections which have undertaken mass or semi-mass work. But we also have small groups which have, in some cases, intervened very energetically in a number of movements. However, with 10, 20 or 50 members, they are not parties but propaganda groups.
The NFF demand an IEC in August. They claim they will not remove the IS “in August” but have made clear they will do this at a subsequent world congress. It is the democratic right of any member to challenge the leadership and, if necessary, propose it is changed. Yet, if this is to be done, it must be on a political basis, with a clear political alternative, programme, perspective, method and orientation put forward to justify such a change.
The leadership of the NFF do not admit in writing that there are fundamental political differences. Yet clearly a political rupture has occurred in the CWI. The alternative leadership sought by the NFF signifies a right-ward turn, in an opportunist direction, which would shift the political axis of the CWI away from the principles it has defended since its foundation in 1974. We will not be a party to such a political breach of method and orientation. We will continue to struggle for building a working class, Trotskyist CWI in the coming years. We confidently look forward to the impending class battles that are already beginning to unfold. They will offer big opportunities to build revolutionary socialist parties and a Trotskyist International, based amongst the working class and youth.