Marxists and the British
The 'Open Turn' debate
Thesis on the former workers’ parties and our tactics
Resolution Three (October 1998), Seventh World Congress of the Committee for a Workers' International
The last World Congress (6th) of the CWI undertook a thorough reappraisal of the role of, and perspectives for, the former traditional workers’ parties. At that time in some countries there was a clear process towards the complete bourgeoisification of these parties. This was at an initial stage of development but since then it has become an international trend. Since the 1993 congress there has been a qualitative change in many of these parties. It has been necessary for us to develop our tactics and methods for building open independent revolutionary parties as a consequence of this changed situation.
The resolution adopted at the 6th World Congress, ‘The traditional workers parties’ explained, "The leadership has swung further to the right. In general they have embraced the bourgeoisie to a greater extent than before..." As a result of this development it concluded that, "In the minds of important layers the traditional parties are no longer associated with ‘reforming’ governments. To a greater extent than ever the "reformists" have become the vehicle of counter reforms and consequently in opposition to big layers of the proletariat. They are even hated by a layer of the most combative elements, especially the youth."
The resolution went on to point out, "...the class basis of the traditional parties always assumed a two-fold character with both bourgeois and proletarian elements within them. We would make a mistake to approach the class basis of a party as being set in stone for ever.."
The majority of the sections of the CWI are currently undertaking open, independent work in order to intervene in the class struggle and win the new generation of workers and youth to Marxist ideas. This does not mean that the CWI has adopted "one world tactic". We have always been extremely flexible in developing our tactics. The tactic/s that are adopted by our sections are worked out after a careful evaluation of the concrete situation that exists in the relevant country. This was reflected in the discussion about launching an independent, open organisation in Scotland in 1991/2. The CWI majority at that time argued that in Italy it was correct to undertake work inside the PRC. Since then we have adopted numerous tactical turns in some countries such as Brazil where our section undertook work for two years in the PSTU. Our section in the USA is working in the Labor Party. Although it is not a mass workers’ party this, together with the other examples illustrate our flexible approach to tactics.
Following the Sixth World Congress the process of "bourgeoisification" of the former traditional workers’ parties in western Europe has qualitatively transformed most of them. The leadership of these parties has swung even further to the right and fully embraced capitalism. This, combined with the collapse of the left reformists/centrists inside these parties, has meant that there is nothing to attract the most conscious working class and youth to these parties.
There is no prospect of a revival of a mass left reformist or centrist current within the social democracy in this period. Although in some countries small "left" fragments may break from these parties these will not represent a major left/centrist split. The degree that this phenomena may develop will of course vary from country to country. In the British Labour Party there is no real left-wing. In France, from the PS there may be the prospect of a relatively larger split to the left. Even here the "left" in the PS is a shadow of its former self. Elements of these may play a role in the formation of new workers’ parties that will emerge at a certain stage. This does not contradict the predominantly bourgeois character of the PS or Jospin’s government.
The process of bourgeoisification has also taken place in the former colonial world amongst the workers’ parties. In addition the radical bourgeois nationalist forces that enjoyed the allegiance of the working class in some of these countries have dramatically swung to the right and adopted the programme of the "free market". The ANC in South Africa and the Peronist (Partido Justicialista) in Argentina are two examples of populist bourgeois formations that have embraced the "neo-liberalism" of the past period. The same process has affected the guerrilla organisations of the 1970’s and 1980’s like the FSLN in Nicaragua and the FARC in Colombia. The latter has continued a military campaign but, like the FSLN and others, have openly embraced "social democracy" and the ideas of the free market.
In some countries the process of bourgeoisification may have been slightly slower than in others and may take a somewhat different form. In Brazil the process is still unfolding in the PT and has not yet been completed. In the light of the recent Presidential elections, it may result in a split from the PT to the right - with some similarities to the "neo-socialists" who split from the SFIO in France in 1933. The terminology of the party leadership may also have been more restrained in some countries than in others. However, the direction they are heading in is clear.
Tony Blair has undoubtedly been in the vanguard of this process. He has the conscious objective of transforming the class character of the former workers’ parties. The objective he has is to roll back the wheel of history and change the traditional workers’ parties into liberal capitalist parties and thereby rob the working class of independent political representation. As the bourgeoisification of the former workers’ parties is completed in more countries it means that a similar task is posed to that which has existed in the USA, where only bourgeois parties exist and it is necessary to pose the need for an independent workers’ party . Although the process of bourgeoisification of the former traditional parties is being completed the more general idea of Blair (to rob the working class of independent political representation) will fail when it confronts the objective reality.
The British Labour Party was born because of the failure of the capitalist Liberal Party to satisfy the needs of the strengthened working class that developed. This took place at the end of the last century as the curtain began to fall on British imperialism’s global supremacy. In the more recent history, in Greece, PASOK was built in the 1970s because of the failure of the Centre Union to satisfy the interests of a strengthened proletariat that also was looking for an alternative to Stalinism. The current intensification of capitalism’s global crisis is certain to ensure that none of the existing pro-capitalist parties is able to satisfy the interests of the working class and will pose the question of the need for the working class to establish its own independent political party. This process has already been seen in South Korea and other countries of the Asian region where the question of the need for a party to express the needs of the working class has emerged as an important issue.
The international forum of the "Centre-Left" which has been established linking up the Democratic Party of the USA is a reflection of how far the leaders of the former workers’ parties have gone in attempting to link themselves with capitalism. For Blair and some others this represents an attempt to break totally with the past and even move towards the break up of the Second International. The fact that Jospin and the French Socialist Party did not attend was more out of his concern to defend his own particular interests than out of any principled ideological opposition. The "left-wing" Jospin, outlining his version of Blair’s ‘Third Way’ has declared that, "We say yes to market economy but no to market society."
The recent election victories of social democratic parties in Western Europe represents two processes. Firstly, because of the undermining of the basis of the traditional bourgeois parties, they are the most reliable instruments through which the capitalist class can rule at this conjuncture. Secondly, despite the pro-market programme of the social democracy, for the masses they signify (in a distorted way) a left-ward protest against the "neo-liberal" policies that have been implemented during the 1990s.
The new social democratic governments in Europe are all regarded as "safe" by the ruling class and they have willingly embraced the programme of capitalism. In the past the ruling class also regarded the leaders of these parties as defenders of capitalism. However, the bourgeoisie feared that they could be forced, under the mass pressure of the working class, to take measures which threatened the capitalists. This is now less and less the case as the parties have become more and more bourgeoisified.
One of the most dramatic illustrations of this process is the Chilean Socialist Party. Under the Popular Unity government of Allende the party leadership was compelled to go much further than its leaders intended because of the pressure of the revolutionary aspirations of the working class and party rank and file. Today, without this pressure, its leaders sit in coalition with the Christian Democrats and support every reactionary step taken by the government. This year PSCh ministers even defended the killings and repression by the state forces that took place on demonstrations marking the 25th anniversary of the military coup in 1973.
In France also despite a certain "radical" phraseology, Jospin is regarded as a reliable defender of capitalism. His pledge to introduce a 35 hour week has been revealed for what it is - a cover to attack conditions and labour rights. Jospin, although avoiding the word "privatisation", has in fact privatised more than the previous Juppe administration.
Amongst the decisive questions for Marxists when determining the class character of a party are: its programme; tradition and how it was formed; class character of the leadership and membership; and the attitude of the working class and the masses towards it.
The former traditional workers’ parties are now increasingly seen as simply part of the established society and no longer as parties that defend the interests of the working class and most exploited layers of society. The hostility by sections of workers towards these parties was reflected in Spain where striking miners in the Asturias attacked the offices of PSOE.
In the case of the British Labour Party the membership is now unrecogniseable compared with what it was only a few years ago as workers have been replaced by various layers of the petty bourgeoisie and even some individual capitalists and financiers. The influence of the trades unions has been slashed and the financial basis of the party has become increasingly dependent on big business. Most importantly the possibility of the working class changing the party is cut off as every avenue has been blocked by a series of bureaucratic obstacles that have concentrated power and policy decisions into the hands of the parliamentary leadership.
In Japan the process of bourgeoisification of the former Socialist Party (initially re-named the Social Democratic Party) has taken a somewhat different route. After politically swinging to the right the SDP has followed a path of splits, fragmentation and then virtual disintegration of the party. The party voted to disband itself. This process ended in big sections of the SDP merging into the Democratic Party and a small section even joined the LDP.
These processes now mean that there is no prospect of a movement by the working class and youth to join these parties. The hostility towards these parties is set to increase in Europe because now in government they will become the instrument through which the attacks of the ruling class are carried out.
Although the ruling class regards the new governments as "safe" this does not mean that they will be stable. The hopes that greeted Blair’s election in Britain are beginning to turn into opposition, as the pro-capitalist programme of the new government become more apparent. This is not contradicted by the high support Blair is getting in the opinion polls. These reflect the fact that economic recession has not yet fully hit home. The total collapse and disarray of the Conservative Party means that it is not seen as a viable alternative. The same has also begun to take place in Jospin’s France, especially after the protests by the unemployed. Schröder in Germany will be subject to the same development, especially with the onset of a recession in Europe.
The process of bourgeoisification of these parties does not mean that they will not be able to win electoral support. The elections in Britain, France and Germany and the victory of the social democratic formations were undoubtedly greeted with a great relief by the working class and big sections of the middle class. The vote was mainly fueled by the prospects of the defeating the established parties of capitalism. This was particularly the case in Britain and Germany after a prolonged period of rule by the Conservative Party and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union. The CDU got its worst result since 1949 and the combined vote of the "Left" (SPD, Greens and PDS) was the highest ever. In France, after a relatively brief period of government by the traditional right-wing parties, Jospin’s election was also a by-product of the mass movement that took place in 1995. Internationally there has been a pronounced tendency to vote against all governments in order to punish them.
The striking feature of the process that has developed is how quickly the mood has begun to turn to opposition to the governments in France and Britain. Any honeymoon enjoyed by the social democratic governments will be short lived. This reflects the programme of these governments and the increasingly changed attitude of workers towards these parties. In Greece, the PASOK government of Simitis has seen a massive erosion in its support following savage cuts in public expenditure, labour reform laws and a massive privatisation programme that has provoked strikes of bank workers, a national strike of transport workers and protests by other others sections of the working class.
The consciousness of the masses usually lags behind the demands of the objective situation. A layer of older workers may still continue to harbour some illusions in these parties. This is based upon the memory of the history of reformism - in particular the period of reforms that were conceded after the Second World War. The reality of the new situation will be burned into the consciousness of the masses as the new governments are forced to attack the proletariat because of the economic crisis that is currently unfolding. This will not allow lasting reforms anything like those of the 1950s, 1960s and to an extent the 1970s to be implemented by these parties. Any concessions that they are forced to make will rapidly be taken away and accompanied by further cuts and attacks on living standards.
This does not mean that these parties will simply disappear. They can maintain an electoral basis for a period, especially given the absence of viable alternatives being formed in the short to medium term. This was illustrated in Spain where, despite losing the general election, PSOE was able to maintain an important electoral base mainly due to the hatred of the right-wing PP and its association with the Franco period in the eyes of many Spanish workers and youth. The Izquierda Unida, led by the Anquita of the PCE, did not put forward a left alternative to PSOE and failed to win the support that potentially existed for it.
However, the recent general election in Sweden illustrated how even the electoral support for the Social Democracy can be rapidly eroded as its pro-capitalist programme is exposed. The vote for the Social Democracy was the lowest received by the party since 1922!
The dramatic increase in the vote of the Left Party (former Communists) to 12% illustrates the rejection of the openly capitalist programme of the Social Democracy. Big sections of blue collar workers, the unemployed and youth voted for the Left Party because they perceived it as representing something to the left of the Social Democracy. Amongst the unemployed the Left Party won 28.3% of the vote compared with 33% for the Social Democrats. Amongst first time voters 19% voted for the Left Party and 22.4% for the Social Democrats.
This took place despite the Left Party having moved to the right and having supported the cuts that have been carried through by local councils. The perception of the party amongst the mass is that it is to the left of the social democracy, despite the programme it has defended and the cuts it has carried through.
A similar phenomena was also seen in the German election (although to a lesser extent than in Sweden) in relation to the PDS which despite its role at local level still managed to increase its share of the vote in eastern Germany. For the first time it obtained over 5% of the national vote and increased its support in the west by 100,000 votes. However, this was significant and has boosted the PDS so that it could be seen more as an all German party. In the semi-colonial world the Chilean Communist Party also increased its electoral support in elections during 1997.
The votes for both these former Stalinist parties by a significant minority should be distinguished from the electoral swings to the social democracy in Britain, France and Germany. Those who voted for the former CPs are looking for a more "left-wing" or socialist alternative to the right-wing policies of the social democracy. In this sense they reflected in a distorted way a higher level of political consciousness. Despite the swing to the right in policy by the Japanese Communist Party, the dramatic increase in its vote to more that 14% also reflected an element of this. However, the programme, role and methods of these parties will, in the main, prevent them from attracting significant layers of workers and youth into their ranks.
In France, this element of a protest vote to the "left" of the Socialist Parties has partially been reflected in a different way. The vote of the PCF (French Communist Party) has generally continued to decline in part because of a rejection of its association with Stalinism and also because of the role it has played in France i.e. during its period in government under Mitterrand, in the mass movement and now in its participation in Jospin’s government. The PCF remains an important force because of its influence in industry. However, the left protest vote against the PS has mainly gone to Lutte Ouvriere and to a lesser extent the LCR. ( The LO and LCR because of their policy and wrong methods will not be able to fully capitalise on this increased electoral support. The sectarian ideas and methods of LO was illustrated by its refusal to take an initiative after the success of their candidate in the last Presidential elections. The wrong methods and programme of the LCR are reflected in a more opportunistic direction).
The role of the PCF leaders has resulted in the development of opposition groupings amongst the rank and file. This reflects the more ‘open’ situation that has developed in most of the Communist Parties since the collapse of Stalinism. In Portugal a similar development has also taken place because of the role of the CP in carrying through cuts at local level where it has controlled the local councils. This provoked strikes against the councils, often with the active participation of rank and file CP members. The CP subsequently lost control of some local councils around Lisbon in 1997. The opposition currents often have a proletarian make up. Where relevant we should undertake joint work and a certain political orientation towards them. However, they are frequently made up of older workers who still have an allegiance to some of the ideas and methods of Stalinism making it difficult to recruit them to the CWI.
Where ex-Stalinist parties like the PDS and VP (Left Party, Sweden) do win a significant degree of electoral support it may be necessary for our sections to undertake a certain political orientation towards them. This political orientation would mainly be required to reach those who had voted for such parties rather than to win the existing members.
At the last World Congress the Socialist Left Party in Norway and the then recent "left" split from the Labour Party in New Zealand, the New Labour Party, and other parties in other countries, were featured during the discussion. The resolution ,‘The traditional workers’ parties’ stated, " Whilst such left splits are likely to be posed as a central part of our perspectives in many countries, in others they can be delayed or may not develop for various and diverse factors". It also pointed to the limited nature of the programme put forward by the left splits that had taken place.
Since the last world congress an important feature in the situation has been the incapacity of the new formations that have been established in some countries to consolidate a stable and firm basis. Most, although initially opposing cuts in welfare spending and "neo-liberalism", did not assume a clearly defined left reformist or centrist character. They failed to oppose capitalism and defend the ideas of socialism and rapidly also moved towards the right.
This was the case with the Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI) in Greece that split from PASOK in Greece but adopted a mildly "left" policy that was heavily coated with Greek nationalism. This formation failed to develop significantly or gain any major base. In New Zealand the New Labour Party (NLP), after eventually making some electoral gains, developed in a rightward direction. It has recently re-established some relations and a pact with the Labour Party from which it originally split. The Socialist Left Party in Norway quickly moved in a rightward direction and the support it was winning evaporated from having 20% support in the opinion polls to 5.9% in the election that took place in 1997.
The reason that these formations have developed in this way was because of developments in the international economic and political situation. Most importantly is the inability by national governments to withstand the enormous domination of the world market. The abandonment of the reformist measures of the Mitterrand government in 1981/2 were an anticipation of what was to follow later internationally. The internationalisation of the capitalist world economy made it impossible to adopt an independent "national road" and oppose the "neo-liberal" programme that has been implemented by all governments during the last decade. This was the situation during the recent economic conjuncture in which the programme of "neo-liberalism" was the policy that was applied internationally by capitalism and its representatives. In this period only the adoption of a revolutionary and internationalist socialist programme could offer a viable alternative to capitalism and "neo-liberalism". The leaders of the new formations were not prepared to embrace the alternative of Marxism.
In the former colonial world the radical bourgeois nationalist formations fell into line with this trend and opted for the adoption of a "free and open market" and opposed state intervention. In Mexico, even the PRD, a radical bourgeois party established by Cardenas, initially won massive support and aroused high expectations. Although it has maintained electoral support it has also gone back to the right and the tremendously high illusions in it that existed have substantially declined. Its leadership is dominated by former leaders of the PRI and it has now supported the idea of a governmental pact with the PRI and the right-wing PAN to deal with the developing economic crisis.
The onset of the current economic crisis will partially check the increased globalisation of the economy and even reverse the recent trends that have taken place in this direction. The left-reformist/reformist leaders and others are raising "neo-Keynesian" ideas of capital control and other means of state intervention. The capitalists themselves will resort to these and other measures in order to try and protect their interests during the rapidly developing crisis and new conjuncture in the world economy. These processes will be one factor that will again lead to the re-emergence of new mass reformist currents and parties.
In Europe the exception to the lack of any left-wing or socialist alternative appeared to be the PRC in Italy. The PRC was ( and probably still is) the most left-wing of the new parties. This party grew and developed an important basis. By the end of 1997 it had a registered membership of 130,000. It contained within it important elements of centrism as well as Left-Reformism. The youth within this party formed an important basis for the most left-wing of the tendencies within it. However, the party has now entered into a crisis and its future is far from certain.
The absence of a Marxist programme and a clear decisive leadership has meant that the party has been unable to face up to the tasks that confronted it in Italy. The PRC was left with the worst of all possible worlds when, firstly, it withdrew support from the Prodi government without preparing its own members and supporters. Lacking a clear alternative, under intensive pressure from the PDS and trade union bureaucracy that had mobilised important sections of workers against it, the PRC leadership then reversed its decision, within twenty four hours, and returned to prop up the Prodi government. It subsequently voted for the biggest public expenditure cuts that have been implemented in Italy since World War II. The IEC resolution ‘The Current Situation and Tasks for the CWI’ ( adopted in November 1996) warned that if the PRC "...fails to distance itself from the policies of the Prodi government it could begin to see its base eroded".
A section of the PRC apparatus led by Cossuta is now clearly opposed to Bertinotti and is intending to remain with the Prodi government. This opens the prospect of split in the party and the possibility of Cossuta and his supporters returning to the PDS. An important feature in the development of the PRC has been the relatively low level of activists in the party. According to one report out of 130,000 party members only 20-30,000 are active. Of these 5,000 hold either regional or local government positions!
These developments in the PRC are important because they illustrate one feature that new parties of the working class are likely to have when they are eventually established. They will tend to be less stable, more transitional and have a more precarious existence than the former workers’ parties. It will therefore be a mistake to assume that they will enjoy the relatively secure and stable basis of the old workers’ parties in the post Second World War period. The new parties will be established in a period of sharp economic and social turmoil. The former workers’ parties maintained an extended lease of life for two main reasons, apart from their historical roots amongst the working class.
Firstly, the prolonged period of capitalist boom after the Second World War allowed a lengthy period of reforms to be conceded by the ruling class in the advanced capitalist countries, especially western Europe. Secondly, they appeared to offer an alternative to the totalitarian regimes of Stalinism to the working class.
The decade of the 1990s has shown that the formation of new workers’ parties will be a complicated and quite protracted process. Many of our sections have got a good response amongst a layer of workers for the idea of forming a new party of the working class. This was the case in Belgium during the struggle of the steel workers at the Forges du Clabeqc and during the ‘white movement’ in 1996. The masses were disgusted at the corruption of the traditional parties and the role they have played. The question of a new party arose during a specific struggle. Numerous "parties" were in fact launched although none of them were workers’ parties and were launched on specific social issues. Because of a lack of programme and leadership none of them developed.
However, although a sympathetic response to the idea of a new party illustrates the loss of a solid base by the traditional parties and a certain development in consciousness, a greater leap in consciousness is required by the most class conscious workers before they take the necessary steps to actually build such a party. Before reaching this conclusion workers and youth will need to pass through further experience of both industrial and political struggles.
The formation of new broad workers’ parties, even on a reformist basis or in some countries without even initially adopting the idea of socialism, would represent a step forward. Such a development would represent the working class establishing its own independent political organisation. This provides an umbrella under which the most conscious workers can engage in political struggle. With the audacious intervention of revolutionary Marxists it can assist in raising the political consciousness and confidence of the proletariat.
Although the onset of a deep recession and crisis can speed up the process towards the formation of new workers’ parties it is still likely to be a more protracted process in most countries. The issue can develop in the consciousness of important sections of the working class but it still can initially be delayed for subjective reasons. This has been illustrated in South Korea where the question has featured in the KCTU as an important issue during the recent upheavals. However, the union leadership has thus far derailed the formation of a combative independent party of the working class. A ferocious struggle is taking place on the issue but even the new a militant leadership seems to have accepted the vague concept of a "people’s" movement.
The steps towards the formation of new broad parties of the working class will develop more rapidly in some countries than in others. Some forces from the CPs in some countries may play an important part in the process. Initially they can also hinder the formation of a new party. In general this development will still tend to be of a more protracted nature because of subjective weaknesses and obstacles.
The subjective weaknesses relate both to the existing consciousness of workers and to the role played by Stalinists, ex-Stalinists and some trade union leaders. In Britain the attempts to form a new broader workers’ party were effectively blocked by the role of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and Scargill’s Stalinist methods.
In Indonesia the PRD is an important force with a self sacrificing membership. It still needs to build a mass membership, which if it fails to do could result in other formations arising during the revolution. The leadership of the PRD has also embraced ideas such as "the two stage theory" which can derail the Indonesian revolution. The CWI needs to argue for the party to adopt a Marxist alternative.
Where appropriate we should put forward the demand for the formation of a new workers’ party. We should propagate and fight for this demand in those countries where it is relevant. Under the new Social Democratic governments we can also begin to raise the question of the trade unions withdrawing financial and political support for the social democracy in countries where this is relevant. At the right moment it is correct to raise the idea of the trade unions giving financial support to other socialist candidates in elections and other struggles (including our own).
When raising this demand we must ensure that we do not reduce our own section/party to merely campaigning for the establishment of a new workers’ party. In some countries through this demand we can reach a layer of workers and youth. Our German section (SAV) was able to do this during the recent general election by featuring this demand and linking it to the need to join our party and support our programme and ideas.
We must guard against the risk of neglecting the building of our own organisation and reducing our forces to a campaigning body for a new workers’ party. We cannot build and recruit on a solid basis without convincing workers and youth of our general programme and ideas as well as our intervention in the class struggle.
When the opportunity does present itself and where the forces exist we should go further than simply raising the demand for a new workers’ party in a propaganda fashion. Our sections should be prepared to take initiatives and propose concrete steps to participate in launching a broader party of the working class. The British section (SP) attempted this in 1995. An opportunity arose when Scargill was launching the SLP. We approached the SLP and proposed concrete steps to launch a broader umbrella formation. The opportunity that existed to establish a substantial party was lost because of the sectarianism of Scargill and the SLP.
In Greece at the end of 1995 our comrades had numerous discussions with Tsavolas, a "left" PASOK MP who prepared the split from PASOK and formed DIKKI. We tried to convince him of the need to launch a new workers’ party with socialist ideas. Unfortunately he restricted himself to trying to construct a "movement" rather than an organised force of the most advanced workers and embraced a nationalistic programme. As a result of his role this opportunity was also lost at that time.
The World Congress stresses to all sections that when such an opportunity arises and the forces exist we should seize it in an audacious but correct fashion.
Any proposal or initiative that our sections take to establish a broad workers’ party must also ensure that we fight to win support for own independent programme and recruit new members of our section/party. It will only be possible to do this effectively if we ensure that we maintain our own clearly distinct and coherent party and structure.
Many tactical turns will be necessary as mass left reformist and centrist currents develop. It will not be possible for us to intervene in them effectively if we only have a loose political cohesion and organisational structure. It will be vital for us to have the necessary political cohesion and clarity and a well organised structure if we are to win the best workers and youth involved in these formations to genuine Marxist ideas and methods. An important aspect of winning such forces will be the question of the need for a revolutionary international.
At this conjuncture in the majority of countries our sections are not yet confronted with this development. Nevertheless, we need to be alert to the prospect and possibilities of new workers’ formations being established, and the CWI and its sections reject any idea of passively waiting on such developments. On the other hand it is not correct for us to conduct a fruitless search for small worn out forces and individuals thinking that they will constitute the basis for a new workers’ party. The situation that is opening up will enable us to building substantial revolutionary formations. In some countries at national level these can become small mass parties. In others, initially we will be able to achieve this at a regional and local level. The development of our party (Socialist Party) in the south of Ireland and the election of a members of parliament (TD) are an indication of how we are already strengthening our forces there. This can be repeated in other countries.
The main task we have is to intervene and undertake initiatives to reach fresh layers of workers and youth independently as an open organisation. We need to intervene in the struggles of the masses with a view to recruiting the fresh generation of workers and youth. Through this emphasis we can win the most combative and radicalised sections and introduce them to revolutionary socialist and Marxist ideas. (See Resolution on building the sections of the CWI).
Initially many of those we reach will be attracted to us by our interventions in the class struggle and the initiatives we take amongst the workers and the youth. These can begin on very basic questions. The most politically aware and combative layer we must try and recruit and then systematically introduce them to our programme and the nature of national parties/sections and the international. The recent success of our Swedish section (SJP) is an indication of what we can achieve elsewhere in the near future.
This emphasis on building our own independent forces does not mean that we adopt a sectarian approach.
Most of our sections have adopted ‘united front’ methods of work with other groups in order to try and reach a broader layer. This has applied to struggles of workers and youth, in the trade unions and in our revolutionary electoral work. The Sri Lanka section (USP) is currently participating in a left-wing electoral block, the New Left Front. Our Swedish section participated for a short time in a block, the Justice List. When doing this work we have maintained our own independent political and organisational profile and publications.
The flexibility of our tactics has been shown in the work of our Nigerian comrades (DSM). Our work in the National Conscience Party (NCP) has involved elements of both a united front character and a certain aspect of entrism. After the recent upheavals it has been possible for us to launch a publicly open organisation and continue to work in and around the NCP. In the past, in some countries of the former colonial world we have conducted work in and around radical bourgeois formations that have had an important basis amongst the working class and other exploited layers.
For a period our sections conducted work in and around the SLFP and SLMP in Sri Lanka, the PPP in Pakistan and others. Because of the changed attitude of the masses towards these organisations and the swing to the right that has taken place in them, this tactic has not applied in recent years. However, the emergence of new radical bourgeois formations in some countries of the former colonial world will mean we should be prepared, where necessary, to work in and around them. If we had forces in Mexico it may have been correct for them to orientate in/around the radical bourgeois PRD when it was launched at the end of the 1980’s.
Although the majority of our sections are undertaking open, independent work, this does not prevent us from undertaking some entry work when the situation justifies it. The re-entry of our Brazilian section into the PT in the recent period is an indication of this. This may be only a short term tactic. However, if the right-wing do split from the PT it may develop for a period of time, under the impact the deep social and economic crisis that is taking place. Our Brazilian, in such a situation, may need to continue to work in the PT.
The application of the method of the united front has been beneficial to our work in some countries. It has enabled us to develop our influence, build our own forces and take the struggle forward. At the same time the World Congress stresses that when applying ‘united front’ methods we must ensure that we maintain a correct balance. In undertaking this work we must ensure that we do not loose our own independent programme or party profile.
‘United front’ methods will inevitably mean conducting a joint struggle with other forces on specific issues and in support of concrete slogans. It is important that we apply the transitional method when taking our ideas to the new generation of workers and youth during this activity. We must also ensure that when participating in ‘united front’ methods of work we do not lower our own political and organisational banner. We must maintain our own independent publications explaining our programme and the need to join our own organisation. The old maxim of ‘march separately but strike together’ must continue to be applied.
The twin dangers of sectarianism and opportunism need to be guarded against. We must combat any tendency towards a sectarian attitude towards the working class and the youth that may develop in our international. However, sectarianism should not be mistaken for adopting a principled stand to defend our programme and build our organisation in opposition to other political groups who are presenting a wrong programme, analysis and method of work which confuses and disorientates the proletariat.
It is important that we maintain a sense of proportion when applying the method of the united front. In the main the activity some sections have participated in has not been the application of a classical united front which related to the mass organisations of the working class. It is important that when sections discuss these type of initiatives we seriously consider what investment in time and resources we put into them and what benefits we are going to get out of them. Formal alliances with other political groups are inevitably temporary and may not be long lasting.
This Congress emphasises to all sections the importance of our work in the work places and the trade unions. The early 1990’s was marked by a crisis and fundamental change in the former workers’ parties. The onset of the current crisis is already having profound repercussions in the trade unions. There has been a marked tendency for the trade union leadership to be increasingly integrated with capitalism. However, the trade unions are not the same as the former workers’ parties. The concrete situation in the trade unions varies greatly from country to country and our tactics must be based on the concrete situation.
We must avoid a sectarian and ultra-left attitude towards the official trade union structures. It is necessary to combine work at the base with the building of opposition currents to the trade union bureaucracy. Although guarding against any sectarianism we need also to be alive to the possibilities of splits taking place from some trade unions because of the role of the bureaucracy. The acceptance of the market and capitalism by the trade union bureaucracy in the current period will mean that emergence of unofficial oppositions currents and splits from the trade unions will be a stronger feature than previously was the case. In certain concrete conditions such splits will need to be supported and even initiated by ourselves. This has been illustration by some of our work in Durban, South Africa, amongst the dock workers.
Marxism is faced with two key tasks in the new period that began with the collapse of the former Stalinist regimes. Firstly, to face up to the new features present in the situation and draw the necessary conclusions for the tasks of revolutionary socialists. One crucial task in this period is to assist in the process of rebuilding the idea of socialism as an alternative to capitalism.
Secondly, to defend the method and fundamental ideas of Marxism from the ideological offensive that has been launched against them. A crucial aspect of this is the need to educate and train a new generation of cadres and members in the political and organisational methods of Marxism. This does not mean repeating Marxist ideas as dogmatic formulae but of applying the Marxist method to the new world situation.
The decade of the 1990’s has been marked by a period of ideological confusion and collapse on the left, including some of the revolutionary left. The CWI has withstood this pressure far more effectively than other organisations. However, in this period a danger exists of diluting the programme of Marxism in order to find a short cut and to reach a general accommodation with other forces/individuals on the socialist left. This process has been re-enforced in the recent period because of the absence of a cohesive left-reformist current in many countries. This can lead to a blunting in the presentation of our programme and ideas if we do not guard against it.
Powerful centrist and left-reformist currents and parties will develop in the future. Even when we are in a minority Marxists have a responsibility to explain to workers why our programme is necessary. In periods of ideological confusion it is even more important that we patiently explain to workers our analysis and why our programme is necessary.
If our cadres are not steeled in our programme and how to defend it we will pay a heavy price in the next period as reformist and centrist ideas are expressed in a more formulated way. The ideas of popular frontism and the stages theory that have emerged again during the Indonesian revolution are an indication of the need for us to sharpen the understanding of our sections on all aspects of our programme and ideas.
The 7th World Congress of the CWI recognises that we must avoid the twin dangers of opportunism and sectarianism. It is necessary that we apply the maximum flexibility when developing our tactics. At the same time it is necessary to combat any attempt to water down our programme and to accept an opportunistic adaptation.
Lenin and Trotsky fought to differentiate themselves politically, programmatically and organisationally from left-reformism and centrism. As the experience of the POUM in Spain demonstrated, at critical moments in the class struggle the most fatal role can be played by centrism and left-centrism.
The 7th World Congress instructs the IEC/IS to review these aspects of the work and to ensure that the experience of each section is fully discussed throughout the CWI. This will strengthen the work and experience of all sections and help ensure that we are fully prepared to face up to the tasks that we have at the present time.
International Secretariat 6/10/98.