In Defence of Trotskyism - IS majority documents

Platform of ‘In Defence of a Working Class Trotskyist CWI’ Faction

December 2018

At the recent meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC), twenty four comrades took the very considered decision to declare a faction in the CWI. This important step was not taken lightmindedly but because we believe that there was no alternative, given the deep political differences that were revealed in the highest level of the leadership of the CWI, the IEC.

We believe that two main political trends emerged at the meeting, revealing sharp differences on principled questions for the International. They include democratic centralism and its application to internal democracy and the membership, the methods needed to build revolutionary parties and a Trotskyist International, and key issues related to political perspectives and our orientation and tactics needed to intervene in the class struggle.

This development will undoubtedly come as a big shock to comrades throughout the CWI. At root, this crisis has an objective basis. It reflects the contradictory political situation in the class struggle internationally, which has developed since the crisis of 2007/8. In many countries, an extremely polarised situation is opening up, reflected in Trump’s victory, Modi’s rule in India, the coming to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil, and AMLO in Mexico, and now the explosive situation in France and the Spanish state. These illustrate the character of the period we have entered. Reflected in the debate in the CWI is the issue of preparing the revolutionary party to be ready to face up to the new era which has opened up.

At the same time, the working class has not yet put itself at the head of the movement, with a conscious socialist programme. The new radical left forces that emerged from the crisis of social democracy and the communist parties have demonstrated not only their reformist confusion but also their incapacity to lead the mass movement and orientate it towards a struggle for the socialist transformation of society. At this stage, the crises within capitalism, the turn towards the left, and advances in an anti-capitalist consciousness among layers of the masses, especially the youth, have not yet resulted in the emergence of powerful, distinct new workers’ parties. A strong socialist consciousness has not yet emerged as a viable alternative to the global crisis of capitalism. This is the price we are still paying for the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism, the bourgeoisification of social democratic parties, and the opportunism of the new left formations, which inevitably creates difficulties for the development of a Marxist force such as ours.

Under these conditions, the pressure to look for opportunist shortcuts is extremely strong. It has affected other organisations on the left, including the revolutionary left, which have dissolved or partially dissolved as a result. The CWI is not immune from these pressures. This is a central aspect of the debate which has now opened up. It can, and has, led to a tendency to lower the profile and programme of the party to accommodate to these pressures. This is not necessarily a conscious decision but happens as a result of the objective pressures.

The crisis that erupted at the IEC emerged initially because of criticisms raised by the International Secretariat (IS) of the methods used by the majority of the Irish leadership when it confronted indefensible actions taken by a member of the Irish section. These criticisms were not raised in order to question the great achievements of the Irish section in crucial struggles, such as the anti-water charges and Jobstown Not Guilty campaigns and, more recently, the intervention comrades made in the recent Repeal the 8th campaign. All of these are recognised as great achievements throughout the CWI.

In spite of these achievements, the IS has, for a period of years, had serious concerns regarding the political orientation and methods used by the Irish leadership. In the opinion of the IS, Philip S (Scotland), who has participated in the work of the Irish section, and other comrades, there has been a marked tendency to lower the profile of our party and our socialist programme for a period.

From our point of view this reached an alarming point during the Irish section’s election campaign in 2016, and again during the recent campaign on abortion.

In the 2016 election, the programme the Irish comrades put forward in the AAA (Anti-Austerity Alliance) and in their media appearances to a mass audience advocated the central demand for tax rises on the corporations and the rich. The Socialist Party had little profile during the entire campaign. In general, the comrades did not go further, to put forward a socialist programme, including the nationalisation of the banks or strategic sectors of the economy. Nor did they raise how a socialist government would respond to the attacks that it would confront from the ruling class and the EU. This was particularly important following events in Greece in 2015. After a series of sharp discussions with the IS and Philip S, in which comrades said they were “indignant” that such issues were being raised with them, they formally accepted that the IS had a valid point of view. Following these discussions there were some changes in the Irish comrades’ public material. Socialism was mentioned more frequently, although often in an abstract way and not as part of a transitional programme.

However, even today, much of the public material on the website of Solidarity (the successor to AAA) still does not include a socialist programme, despite our overwhelming influence within Solidarity. The same weakness in programme was revealed during the recent abortion campaign. ROSA – the comrades’ socialist feminist platform – was the main vehicle through which the comrades participated in the Repeal movement. Yet the primary ROSA campaign leaflet was completely devoid of any mention of socialism, capitalism or even the working class. It did not include any of ROSA’s anti-capitalist and anti-austerity demands, which formally ROSA stands for, or explain how the fight for a woman’s right to choose is also a class issue, linked to the fight against social cuts and for better child care, a living wage, equal pay, etc.

The tendency to downplay class and socialist demands is evident in the Irish comrades’ material when they engage in mass campaigning. Rather than use the mass audience they have to raise consciousness of the tasks facing the working class in fighting capitalism, they tend to limit themselves to reflect existing consciousness and to adapt to ideas which could be advocated by the new reformist left.

In our view, one of the crucial issues that emerged at this IEC is the centrality of the collective role of the working class and our orientation towards it. Linked to this is how we engage in the women’s liberation movement – which in the last period has been a very important axis of social mobilisation and the class struggle in a large number of countries – and other movements, such as those in defence of refugees, LGBTQI people, and on the environment.

The IS majority and supporters of the ‘In Defence of a Working Class, Trotskyist CWI’ Faction are fully convinced of the importance of these movements and of intervening in them with the view of trying to push them forward, on the basis of a working class, socialist revolutionary programme, and without bending to petty bourgeois prejudices and identity politics which attempt to separate these movements from the broader workers’ movement. We must support the legitimate rights and demands of women, LGBTQI and trans people but maintain a class approach and oppose tendencies to split these movements from the working class. Petty bourgeois prejudices are common in the movements and organisations, and often dominate the outlook of the leadership. In order to ensure we have the strongest possible intervention, and to educate our own members, we need a scientific, Marxist analysis of these movements and how they are expressed in different countries.

The main characteristic of movements of this kind is that they are multi-class in nature, and it cannot be otherwise. It is important that we recognise this when we plan how to intervene and what our central slogans should be, and how to confront the confused petty bourgeois prejudices and ideas which are present.

We must ensure that we intervene with the aim of winning, in particular, working class layers and young people from working class backgrounds to the banner of revolutionary socialism. We need to intervene with a view to using the methods of the working class in struggle and to link up with other sections of the working class. This has been exemplified in the demands of the Spanish section and how it has driven the call for general and students’ strikes.

The traditional sections of the industrial working class have been numerically weakened due to the decline of manufacturing industry in many countries of Europe and the USA. Yet in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America there has been a strengthening of the working class. Globally, the working class remains the most powerful force because of its collective role in social production and in the international division of labour. We have also seen that other sectors, including transport, communications, etc., are also potentially extremely powerful sections of workers. In addition, new sections of the working class are beginning to emerge, in logistics and other sectors, and there is an increasing proletarianisation of other social layers that formally comprised layers of the middle class.

Another crucial aspect of this discussion is our attitude towards the trade unions. This is an issue which has arisen in the debate with the comrades from Ireland and in the IEC. In Ireland, as in most countries, the situation in the trade unions is one of increased bureaucratisation and a weakening of the active membership base. There are exceptions to this of course. The bureaucracy in the trade unions has, in general, acted as a gigantic brake on the workers’ movement and has often become the guarantee of ‘social peace’, resulting in the bureaucracy losing authority in the eyes of many workers and young people because of their collaboration in cuts and austerity. In many countries, traditional unions have lost support among some layers of workers, with the majority of young people and precarious workers not organised, in the main. This has resulted in some workers’ struggles taking place outside the official union apparatus or even in opposition to the bureaucracy. In such conditions, we cannot of course adopt a policy of waiting for the official trade union apparatus to be transformed. Where necessary it is correct to circumvent the official apparatus, organising opposition groupings of workers to take unofficial action, etc. We have done this on many occasions. Even during the anti-poll tax struggle in Britain, the movement we led did not go through the official trade union structures, which refused to act.

At the same time, the trade unions are – or, in some countries, potentially – the mass organisations of the working class and retain a mass base. It is essential that we maintain a consistent orientation by placing demands on them, and by attempting to build rank-and-file opposition groups.

Unfortunately, this has not been the approach of comrades in Southern Ireland or as expressed by some other comrades at the IEC. It was argued that the comrades in Ireland had previously drawn the conclusion that the mass anger against austerity would not be reflected in the trade unions because of the sell-out by the leadership. It was also argued at the Irish NC and the IEC that comrades turned away from the unions, with a plan to return later, and that it was not necessary to maintain a consistent, systematic orientation towards them. This was clearly reflected in the political propaganda of ROSA in the South of Ireland during the campaign for abortion rights. There were no concrete, consistent demands made on the trade unions to mobilise the working class in defence of that right. Our approach to the trade unions was even equated to the ‘Open Turn’ away from the bourgeoisified British Labour Party that we undertook in the 1990s, which meant an end to our entry work. This is mistaken. We have always argued that our orientation to the trade unions’ base and workplaces is strategically necessary to sink roots in the working class, while fighting against any adaptation to the union bureaucracy and its policies. That has always been a Marxist approach.

The CWI must – in our programme, activity, campaigns and propaganda – reassert the centrality of the role of the working class for us in the struggle for socialism. This is now even more necessary when a conscious movement of the working class has not yet placed itself at the head of the struggle.

We have always emphasised the importance of youth for the revolutionary party. We are in favour of building a strong base in the universities and among school students. We are in favour of winning students to the revolutionary party, including those from a middle class background. In the initial stages of building our sections, it may be necessary, sometimes, to begin with a base among students. Yet it is essential they put themselves on the standpoint of the working class and strive to win a working class base for our sections.

It is essential that a revolutionary party builds its strongest base among the working class, especially young workers. We do not agree, as some comrades argued at the Irish NC, that students in higher education from a working class background have the same consciousness as the working class. While in many countries more students from a working class background are in higher education, their role in the struggle will never be comparable to the role of young workers in the workplaces, who develop a collective consciousness as a class.

Other issues of disagreement have also emerged in relation to the national question. Comrades from the Irish leadership explained their disagreement with the position adopted by the Spanish section on the crisis and revolutionary movement that developed in Catalonia. This was fully discussed at the IEC in November 2017, and has been covered in many political publications and statements not previously challenged. At the same time, other differences have emerged between the IS and the Irish leadership on the application of elements of the method of the united front, particularly how it applies when dealing with petty bourgeois or bourgeois nationalist parties which have a significant base among sections of the working class.

All these political issues were questioned by the majority of the Irish leadership and by some IEC comrades. In addition, comrades from Sweden, Belgium, Greece and others strongly criticised the IS for not understanding the importance of the new women’s movement, the LGBTQI movement and the environmental movement, and of not giving sufficient emphasis to them. One Swedish comrade even argued that we lack a political strategy to intervene into these movements. We entirely reject these allegations and re-state our position on them, as we have argued. These movements can and do have a radicalising effect on the consciousness of significant layers of workers, young people and the layers of the middle class who participate in them. However, we need to intervene to assist the most advanced layers to draw more rounded-out conclusions about the role of capitalism as the cause of their oppression, the need for a socialist programme, and the central position of workers in the struggle against any kind of oppression, while linking these movements to the broader working class movement which is the decisive force to change society.

In our opinion, these are fundamental questions for the CWI and its sections. The leaders of the Irish section, together with the comrades from some of the sections which supported them against the position put by the IS, complained about the ‘tone’ of the debate and also about the fact that we have used the term ‘Mandelism’ in the course of the debate or have warned about the danger of a degeneration of our party similar to what happened to the former Scottish section in the 1990s. The comrades have protested insistently against our use of these terms. However, for the IS and the supporters of this faction, these terms are a political characterisation. Mandelism has represented a trend which has weakened or loosened the Marxist programme to the point of abandoning it, advocating methods of building the party which represent the liquidation of the revolutionary party. This trend developed in our former Scottish section. In our opinion, the pressures and dangers of such petty bourgeois trends affecting some sections of the CWI are clearly emerging as a reality that we need to confront and were clearly reflected at the IEC meeting. Defending the CWI from this threat was the reason we took the step of forming the faction and to raise the level of the debate onto a clearer political foundation.

The present crisis initially erupted because of the methods used by the majority of the Irish leadership and the stand taken by the IS in opposing them. As a response to the indefensible and reprehensible action by one comrade, a part of the Irish leadership took counter-measures which the IS believed to be totally alien to our democratic norms and regime. These actions were taken by this small group of leaders without being discussed or approved on any of the democratically elected structures of the party or International – and who were not informed of the situation for almost two months. The majority of the Irish NEC and the IS were not made aware until September, despite this small group of leading comrades taking those measures in July and discussing it amongst themselves at the CWI school. In our opinion, this and the other steps taken by this group in the leadership of the party in Ireland broke the norms of democratic centralism and constituted a threat to the democratic rights of the party.

The IS majority attempted to discuss and resolve these issues with the Irish leadership. A meeting with the IS took place in London in mid-September. Then two IS comrades went to meet the Irish NEC. Following this, a full debate took place at the Irish NC in October, involving four IS members and Philip S from Scotland. However, despite these discussions and debates, the Irish NEC comrades remained insistent in defending their actions. At the Irish NC meeting, the NC endorsed the actions of the group of NEC members. When the methods used were challenged some comrades defended them on the grounds that the successful struggles of the Irish section showed that the comrades who led the party must have had correct methods. We do not accept this argument. In other meetings, the actions of the NEC grouping were defended as “proletarian methods”.

The IS was not prepared to agree or endorse such methods which broke the norms of democratic centralism.

The differences were then taken to the IEC meeting. It became clear at the beginning of the IEC that a group of leaders from a number of sections – initially, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland, then Greece and the USA – had been co-ordinating to oppose the IS’s handling of this question, which is their right. This grouping acted to defend the Irish leadership from criticism, arguing that the IS wanted to discredit and even “crush” the Irish leadership and provoke a split in the CWI.  In discussion with IEC comrades, IS members had simply stated that, given the significance of the differences on methods and programme, a split was possible, depending on how the discussion unfolded. At the IEC, the IS simply proposed that the debates with the Irish leadership were discussed openly and publicly. There was no proposal for a vote or decision on any issue.

From the beginning of the IEC, this group of leaders organised numerous meetings among themselves outside of the plenary and acted in a co-ordinated way against the proposals and interventions of the IS. They denied they were, or are, part of a faction but operated as a ‘non-faction faction’ in the run-up to the IEC meeting and during it.

It was in this context that the political issues emerged during the IEC. The supporters of this platform reached the conclusion that we had no alternative but to declare a faction. This was done to oppose the methods and ideas of the political trend that had developed around the leaders of the Irish section during the IEC, and also to allow the political differences on method and programme to be raised in the clearest possible manner throughout the whole of the CWI and its membership.

This step provoked angry protests from the Greek, Belgian, Irish, American and Swedish leaders, and from some other sections. They refused – then and now – to recognise that some IEC members were acting as a faction, even though they had not openly declared one. Lenin, in July 1911, pointed out: “In these circumstances the shouts against ‘factionalism’ are so empty, especially when coming from those who have just formed their own faction. Surely it is time to understand that shouts against factionalism are meant to distract attention from the really important question – that of the party or anti-party content of the activity of the various factions.” (The State of Affairs in the Party, July 1911)

Then, at the end of the IEC, we were presented with a resolution from a leading Greek IEC comrade. Arguing for this resolution, he demagogically congratulated the IEC, especially younger members, for taking a stand against the IS: “And it has happened with very young comrades with little experience [as] members of the IS. This means that in the CWI there’s a powerful cadre being developed.” He argued: “We think we had an obligation to send a very strong message to the IS that if they are determined to crush the Irish leadership, because this was the plan … if they are determined to crush the Irish leadership, they would have to crush the Greek leadership. Then they would have to crush the Belgian and Swedish leadership, and they would have to crush the US section leadership.” Yet all the IS had proposed was that a full discussion and debate take place on the methods used by the Irish leadership, which we think were indefensible and not in line with the methods of the CWI.

Previously, over two days of discussion at the IEC the majority of Irish comrades had defended their investigation. Yet, on the IEC’s last day, this Greek resolution, stated that the Irish leadership recognised many of the criticisms that had been made of how the confidential investigation had been conducted, criticisms that had originally raised by the IS in September. However the resolution also stated that the paragraph dealing with the criticism of the investigation should only be circulated to the ECs of the sections and the Irish NC. Why such fear of informing the members of the International of this conclusion? We find it unacceptable that such conclusions should be kept from, at least, the leading NCs/CCs of all the sections of the CWI. Moreover, following the IEC, the subsequent meeting of the Irish NC took no decision regarding the criticisms made of the Irish leading group by the IEC. The Irish comrade who reported on the IEC meeting to the Irish NC did not mention the IEC resolution’s criticisms of the Irish NEC and the investigation, but concentrated most of his remarks on attacking the IS. The Irish NC’s previous decision, to endorse the actions taken by the leading group as “democratic and principled”, has not been corrected or modified. The Greek resolution – adopted at the IEC by a majority of three full IEC members – was, in effect, a protective shield placed around the undemocratic methods used by the leading group of the Irish leadership. The IS majority and supporters of this platform find this unacceptable in a Trotskyist International. 

The IEC comrade who moved the Greek resolution argued that the IS had to accept the decision of the Irish NC to endorse the actions of the leadership in Ireland and that, while maintaining its criticism, the IS had to move on. Yet the same comrade was moving a resolution – carried by the IEC – that made criticisms of the Irish leadership – criticisms that had been previously rejected by the Irish NC in October. The IS majority and supporters of this platform find these methods unacceptable and undemocratic. These methods by some IEC members provide a cover for actions which broke with the methods of democratic centralism and created the basis for the emergence of cliques. We are not prepared to accept this.

This goes to the issue of the type of International we want to build and the methods that should be used. The CWI is not a federation of parties and groups. It is a revolutionary International based on the methods of democratic centralism. The leadership, the IS and IEC, have never adopted the method of bureaucratically imposing a position on national sections. Yet this does not mean that the leading bodies of either the International or its national sections should be party to ‘moving on’ and covering up serious mistakes in method or programme. The role of the IS is to intervene politically when important political and organisational issues arise in sections, to clearly express its views and opinions, and make proposals.

During this debate some comrades have argued that the IS should intervene to provide political leadership and ‘mediate’ in disputes which arise. We do not agree with this approach. While sometimes it is correct to attempt to mediate between comrades, the primary responsibility of the International leadership is to state its political opinion in any debate or dispute. We do not aim to build a looser International where the role of the IS is to make general political comment but not to intervene in a concrete way in the work of the sections. This is not the concept of a unified revolutionary International, based on democratic centralist ideas that we can agree with. 

Where a leadership thinks a serious mistake has been made on programme, tactics or method, it has a revolutionary obligation to say so, and to debate the issues out. When principled issues are on the table for discussion, such debates should be conducted in a comradely manner. However, where serious issues are at stake, the debate will inevitably assume a sharper character. Diplomatic formulae should not be used as a means of masking or obscuring serious political or tactical questions. This issue also consistently emerged at the IEC meeting, with some comrades complaining about the tone of the debate. In any polemic or debate there should be an effort to avoid exaggerations or excesses, but they are inevitable. However, the central issue is not the ‘tone’ but the political content and the character of the International. It is very significant that those comrades insisted on the ‘tone’ of the IS and accused it of not understanding that the Irish section has a “very special” position because of its mass influence and lack of cadres. But, at the same time, these comrades remained silent about the fact that the party apparatus in Southern Ireland is soon to be comprised of 27 full-timers, plus three TDs, overwhelmingly financed by the state via the elected positions we hold. A majority of full-timers are connected to work associated with the elected positions.

The debate has now opened up throughout the CWI. We look forward to an open and honest political discussion which we believe can clarify the decisive issues and tasks we face in order to build revolutionary parties in the era which has now opened up. We urge comrades to engage in it to clarify all of the political and organisational issues, and draw the necessary conclusions in relation to the methods we use, and the tasks we are involved in, as we face up to the working class battles in the coming period, such as we see developing in France, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, the Spanish state and many other countries. This is a debate to prepare the revolutionary forces for the era which has now begun, and to discuss and clarify the programme, tactics and methods we need to build a revolutionary Trotskyist International, based on the working class and using the methods of democratic centralism.

IEC members and alternates

Weizmann Hamilton (South Africa), Michael Koschitzki (Germany), Philip Stott (Scotland), Clare Doyle (IS), Peter Taaffe (IS), Sascha Stanicic (Germany), Hannah Sell (England & Wales, IS), Judy Beishon (England & Wales, IS), Shaun Arendse (South Africa), Babara Areal (Spanish state), Juan Ignacio Ramos (Spanish state), Victor Taibo (Spanish State), Carla Torres (Mexico), Miriam Municio (Spanish state), Miguel Campos (Spanish state), Felix Martinez (Veneuela), Christine Thomas (Italy), Jagadish Chandra (India), Niall Mulholland (IS), Ravi Chandra (Malaysia), Srinath Perera (Sri Lanka), Siri Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka), Bob Labi (IS), TU Senan (IS), Tony Saunois (IS)

We ask to be able to address all sections’ CC/NCs and meetings where the International debate is being discussed.