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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 July 2010

Building new workers' parties and the tasks of socialists

For many sections of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), the call for the building of new mass workers' parties has been a vital part of their political programme for almost 20 years. The recent CWI summer school included a session on this issue, that looked at the first steps being taken in some countries towards regaining political representation for workers. Paul Murphy, Socialist Party Ireland, reports on the discussion at the school.

Introducing the discussion, Tony Saunois (CWI International Secretariat) explained how parties like the Labour Party in Britain and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany went from having an active working class base and pro-capitalist leadership, to being out and out capitalist parties that were losing their roots.

Since this decisive move to the right by these parties, some new left formations have come into being. However, with the exception of Rifondazione Communista (Prc) in Italy in its earlier stages, none of them have yet been filled out by large numbers of working class people, to become true mass parties.

Two key points featured in the discussion as reasons for this. Firstly, the lack of a clear left, anti-capitalist, socialist programme that would attract workers and youth in the context of the current capitalist crisis. Secondly, the consistent lack of orientation to workers' struggles and activity has meant that these parties have not been infused by the struggles which have erupted.

Due to this, the development of these parties and work within them has been complicated. Tony pointed out though that the question of new broad workers' parties is rooted in the objective situation and they are a necessary step in the development of working class consciousness towards forming mass revolutionary parties.

Participation in new parties

The complications with the new formations that have developed were reported on by a number of CWI members. Most of the leaderships of these formations do not see themselves as having the job of presenting a clear opposition to the establishment parties. German CWI members emphasised that none of the leaders of Die Linke (the Left Party in Germany), for example, portray socialism as a realistic alternative to capitalism. This can lead to struggles within the party, with the initiatives of CWI members being blocked by the party leadership. It is vital though that SAV members (CWI in Germany) are present to put forward clear socialist policies and to help organise a strong left force.

Splits in Die Linke are possible. It can, however, as can left formations elsewhere, play a pivotal role in the future formation of a new mass party.

As has been indicated by the instability of the new left formations, there is no possibility of new workers' parties being created along the lines of the reformist social democratic and communist parties in the post-war period. This is because the nature of the present economic period and crisis means there is not the same material basis for reforms to be delivered.

The issues of coalitions with capitalist parties and joining governments that attack working class people have arisen in some of the new formations. This adds to their inherent instability, with internal tensions and splits often posed.

The new left formations have different origins and characteristics. For example, the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France was formed by a Trotskyist organisation, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, moving to the right and dissolving itself into a broader formation. The process of building Die Linke in Germany was kick-started by some lower level union officials and other individuals breaking in 2004 with the SPD to form the WASG and later joining with the successor of the former East German ruling party.

The Left Bloc in Portugal was initiated by a coming together of existing left organisations, in particular Maoists, Trotskyists from the USFI tradition and eurocommunists. Syriza in Greece is an alliance of left organisations, the biggest of which is Synaspismos, which emerged previously as a eurocommunist split from the Greek Communist Party.

However, they have key common features. The most striking has been the tendency to move, not to the left under the impact of the economic crisis, but to the right. Marco from Italy, in reflecting on the experience of Rifondazione Communista, highlighted the dangers of such a move, and of participation in capitalist governments.

The Prc, which had over 100,000 members at its height, has now been effectively destroyed by its leadership. CWI members in Italy are campaigning for the establishment of a "workers' left" involving both old and new activists.


Dimitrios from Greece reported on how at a certain stage, Syriza reached 17.5% in the opinion polls, but has fallen to 4% largely because of the political zig-zags of its leaders. Even when a formally socialist position was taken by its leading bodies, none of its main representatives put forward that position in public. The new programme for Syriza, proposed by its leaders, does not pose a clear left alternative for workers in the context of the profound economic crisis.

As a result, Syriza is in a serious crisis. The right wing in Synaspismos has been a brake on every move to the left. A month ago, this right wing split away, and Xekinima (CWI in Greece) welcomed this as an opportunity for Synaspismos and Syriza to take a decisive move to the left.

CÚdric, from the CWI, explained that the Left Bloc in Portugal unfortunately displays many of the weakness of other forces of the new left around Europe. It has not responded effectively to the economic crisis, by launching concrete proposals that would mobilise workers and youth. Large sections of its leadership want to create a so-called 'modern left', which in reality means a left that sees class struggle as outdated.

A member of Gauche Revolutionnaire (GR, CWI in France), described how the NPA has been slow to orient to the big struggles of workers and pensioners. That party, like many other new left forces across Europe, has been overly focused on elections, rather than the class struggle in workplaces and on the streets.

One of the tasks posed inside many of these parties is to build left opposition groupings to oppose the leaderships' shift to the right. In Brazil, by doing this, the CWI section has played an important role in getting a left candidate selected as the presidential candidate of the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL).

In the NPA in France, CWI members have played a role in a left platform grouping that won 30% in a vote of party members. Inside Quebec Solidaire in Canada, a left-wing grouping that stands at 9% in opinion polls, CWI members work with others to try to pull the party to the left. In Greece, we have been involved in similar national initiatives.

In countries where there are no new left formations yet, CWI members are involved in campaigning for new mass workers' parties. This is the case in Britain, where the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales) helped launch the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which stood in the last election. In the discussion, the importance of maintaining TUSC was emphasised, as a step towards the building of a new workers' party.

Michael from Ireland reported that the right-wing nature of almost the entire Irish trade union leadership means initiatives by an "Irish Bob Crow" are unlikely. However, the prime position that the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland) occupies on the left means that we will have a particular role in the development of a new formation and can have a key position within it. The strong likelihood of the Irish Labour Party entering government after the next election can create circumstances that are favourable for the launch of a new party. In the meantime, the Socialist Party is seeking through negotiations to construct a left alliance for the next elections.

Communist Parties

One of the threads of the discussion was the developments in the Communist Parties, which can also be affected by the crisis. The example of Izquierda Unida (United Left - Spain), of which the Spanish Communist Party was a founder, was used to illustrate that process. Its new leader is speaking about 'class war' and it is shifting to the left, becoming much more attractive to many workers and youth in Spain.

The Portuguese Communist Party retains a strong base amongst working class people, with 57,000 members and key industrial positions. Unfortunately, it has a sectarian approach, refusing to do common work with others, and it puts forward no bridge between resisting the cuts now and the socialism that it professes to stand for. However, within this party there is growing discussion, with members looking to the wider left.

Greek CWI members said that after every serious class struggle, some rank and file workers leave the KKE (Communist Party of Greece), because of its sectarian approach. For example it always organises separate demonstrations of its own trade union front, rather than engaging with workers in the major PASOK-led unions.

Where there are both old Communist Parties with serious roots in the working class and new formations, the CWI argues for united front actions and joint discussions between the parties. Syriza's approach in Greece is broadly correct, as it repeatedly calls for the KKE to take common action with it and for joint discussion.

From small to mass

In summing up the discussion, Andros from Greece emphasised that the organisation of mass political parties does not necessarily happen overnight. The British Labour Party took decades before the process was completed. However, once a serious, class struggle-based party has been built, it will be an easier and speedier process for new parties elsewhere.

Examples from southern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s illustrate how speedily the process can happen in the context of a crisis. In a number of countries, very small groups exploded into mass parties in an extremely short space of time, like the Socialist Party in Portugal in the course of the Portuguese revolution.

The economic crisis is now a crucial factor in the development of new workers' parties. It is possible that Syriza and other left formations can take a leap to the left under the impact of the economic crisis. However, it is also possible that the fate of the Prc could befall them if the trend of the leaderships continues towards the right.

Although it has not been a straightforward process, it is clear that in many countries developments towards new mass workers' parties are progressing. The CWI can play an important role in these developments, as well as crucially building our own forces that fight for a socialist programme.

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