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30th anniversary of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
Building A Socialist International
APRIL 2004 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
To mark the event, we carry below an interview in which Tanja Niemeier asks PETER TAAFFE (a founding member of the CWI and the general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales), about the CWI origins and its developments.
TN: As one of the co-founders of the CWI. Can you tell us against what political and social background the CWI was launched?
PT: It took place while explosive events were under way. It was a period of revolutionary and semi-revolutionary upheavals. The whole period was still under the influence of the revolutionary events of France 1968, where at one point, more than 10 million workers and students took part in a general strike and the then president, Charles de Gaulle, fled the country. The ruling elites feared that France was lost for capitalism.
At the same time, we saw the upheaval against Stalinism of the people in Czechoslovakia, which was brutally crushed by the Russian Stalinists' state forces.
This period was also dominated by the movement against the Vietnam War. Only a few days after we had launched the CWI, a revolution took place in Portugal which finished off the brutal dictatorship.
It was a time of massive youth movements but also a period of political ferment in the trade unions and the workers' parties.
TN: Why was it necessary from your point of view to set up a new International then?
PT: We were very careful not to call ourselves "the" International but the Committee for a Workers' International because we were not, and still are not, an International with a mass presence in the working class. We had an honest assessment of our own forces but at the same time it was, and is, our task to help to build such an International.
Our goal was an International that had strong roots in the working class comparable to those of the Second and Third Internationals (see below). There is no space here to go into detail about why those Internationals failed to establish socialism but we have explained the reasons in detail in our history of the CWI.
However, the main reason to start building a new international force was the lack of clarity in programme and methods of other international organisations, which in our opinion were not capable of providing answers and perspectives for the new world situation which was unfolding at that time.
TN: What differentiated the CWI - even though it only had relatively small forces at that time - from others?
PT: First and foremost, it was our political clarity and our perspectives. We differed from others who referred to themselves as 'Marxists' or claimed to be 'Trotskyists' on a number of key questions. Obviously, if those fundamental differences did not exist, there would be no need for a separate organisation!
We had fundamental differences on the role and importance of the working class in the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. In our opinion, the working class was, and is, the decisive force. Because of its importance in the process of production, the working class is the only force capable of changing society in a socialist direction.
It is the working class that produces all the goods and the wealth in society. If they took control over the means of production and distribution, and therefore also over the wealth that is produced, the enormous wealth could be used in the interests of the working class instead of benefiting the capitalists. However, other Trotskyist organisations believed that populist, middle-class movements, guerrilla movements or the peasantry, for instance, had taken on this role.
TN: If you look back today, what do you think has been the biggest challenge for the CWI so far?
PT: To constantly clarify and sharpen our ideas and to then translate them into the language of the working class, to relate them to the real level of understanding of the working class and the youth in particular.
Another challenge obviously was to intervene into the movements that were taking place and to start and build significant forces in the different countries across the world.
TN: Can you give us some examples of what the CWI has achieved in the past 30 years?
PT:I find it very difficult to single out just a few examples. The CWI has now got a presence in 40 countries. In some countries, we have got sizeable groupings, in some countries we are still small but nevertheless, we have initiated important struggles.
In Nigeria, for example, where we have our second biggest organisation of the CWI, our comrades have been crucial in organising resistance against the horrendous rise in fuel prices. These led to a further decrease in living standards of the masses in Nigeria and a general strike.
In Sri Lanka, a country that is divided along ethnic lines and where, on both the Tamil and the Sinhalese side, different groupings try to stir up the divisions, our members - at the risk of their lives - stand for the unity of the working class. We are the only organisation that produces a paper in both languages.
In Brazil, where discontent about President Lula and the PT (Workers Party) is growing because Lula has not taken on the rich and the international capitalist institutions, our comrades are now involved in the leadership to set up a new workers' party.
In Germany, it was our organisation that was crucial in initiating the first national demonstration against the massive attacks on the welfare state and the living standards of the working class. That demonstration attracted 100,000 people and sparked off a wave of protests throughout the country.
In Ireland, we made a breakthrough in the campaign against the introduction of water charges which laid the basis for the subsequent election of Joe Higgins into the Irish Parliament.
We have since led the campaign against the bin charges, in which Joe and Councillor Clare Daly were imprisoned for fighting against these unfair taxes on the poorest sections of society. This marked a significant step forward, not only for Ireland but for the whole of the CWI.
In Britain, we were an important part of the council leadership in Liverpool that set an example of socialist policies in practice. At one stage, we had three MPs who all openly adhered to the ideas of Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party).
The Liverpool struggle was a dress rehearsal for what we did in the Anti-Poll Tax struggle, a mass movement of non-payment which was led by us and which not only defeated the tax but also brought down Thatcher. We could give many other examples of initiatives of other sections of the CWI.
TN: What is the biggest task for the CWI in the next period?
PT: To win over the new generation to Marxist and Trotskyist ideas, and events are certainly helping us in that respect. The Iraq war has exposed the character of US imperialism. The economic situation in Europe and the world is radicalising the working class and the youth in Europe.
The events in Spain are an indication of how quickly the mood can change. Within a matter of only a few days after the horrible attack on commuter trains, the grief of the population changed into anger against prime minister Aznar's conscious attempt to fool people by blaming ETA (the Basque guerrilla separatists) for the attacks. Subsequently, this led to the defeat of his party in the elections and the coming to power of PSOE (Spain's social democrats).
These events are still related to the start of the Iraq war one year ago. History is always a bit delayed and we could see a situation unfolding that could bring down Tony Blair and Italy's PM, Silvio Berlusconi.
Even though it is still not certain, George Bush could go at the end of the year, which would be seen as a victory for the anti-war movement internationally. There could be a clean sweep of all the warmongers who created the horrific situation in Iraq.
Out of the radicalisation that develops, the need will come for political action by the working class. The transformation of the ex-workers' parties into capitalist parties has created a huge political vacuum on the left. We have to try to direct the working class to filling this by creating new mass parties of the working class.
TN: In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between 30 years ago and today?
PT: There are many differences. In 1974, when the CWI was set up, the post-war world economic upswing had not been completely exhausted. That only came later with the oil shock and the crisis of 1974/75 which marked a turning point in the developments of world capitalism. Also, the political consciousness of the working class was different, especially that of its guiding layers who in general looked for a socialist alternative. The debate then concentrated around what kind of socialism and what programme was needed to achieve it.
The debate is different today because of the collapse of Stalinism, which on the one hand meant the end of authoritarian regimes but also a return to capitalism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. This strengthened the ruling class, at least ideologically. They conducted a struggle against socialism and socialist ideas and had some success in doing this. The leaders of the Social Democracy capitulated and as a result, consciousness was thrown backwards.
However, that situation could not last and we see today that consciousness is starting to come to terms with the economic reality that the majority of people are facing.
There is huge anger and a growing awareness of the fact that capitalism does not work. Especially over the past two or three years or so, we have seen a revival of the class struggle in many countries across the globe.
However, those struggles still lack a mass political expression. We are confident that the working class in the next period will begin to re-establish its own political organisations and will re-discover the ideas of socialism.
The CWI wants to play a major role to assist those developments and wants to help and build a socialist society free of war, poverty and environmental disasters.
Workers Of The World Unite
TODAY, IN this age of capitalist globalisation, giant multi-national companies dominate the world. In 1997 the Washington based Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the 51 largest economies in the world were corporations and only 49 were countries.
But this is not a new phenomenon. Over 200 years ago the East India Company collected £3.5 million in taxes from the British colonies at a time when the total expenditure of the British government was £7 million.
The great socialist thinkers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, explained in the 1848 Communist Manifesto how the capitalist system was ensnaring the world and exploiting workers internationally for profit.
Such is the integration of the world economy today that any attempt by the working class to abolish capitalism and change society along socialist lines cannot restrict itself to one country. By necessity, a socialist revolution must attempt to spread internationally in order to be free from capitalism's grip or risk isolation and eventual defeat by counter-revolution.
In recognition of this Marx, Engels and many other socialists since them, have sought to build a worldwide workers' movement - an international - that could challenge the rule of capitalism. Marx's first international, established in 1868, later collapsed folowing the bloody defeat of the revolutionary uprising in France - the 1871 Paris Commune. But there have been several attempts to create an international workers' movement as a political weapon in the fight for a socialist world.
Even the Labour Party remains part of a moribund (second) Socialist International set up in 1889. But this really ceased to be socialist when the majority of its leaders, who had been bought off by capitalism, abandoned the programme of international revolution. This betrayal meant that in 1914 they supported their "own" ruling classes at the outbreak of the First World War leading to imperialist slaughter of millions on the battlefields of Europe.
The (third) Communist International, launched by the Bolsheviks following the successful 1917 Russian revolution, grew rapidly to embrace millions of workers worldwide. But its revolutionary potential was betrayed by Stalin's clique which had come to power under the conditions of the isolation of the Russian revolution in a economically backward society. The political degeneration of the third international went hand in hand with the purging by Stalin of Leon Trotsky and many other revolutionaries.
In 1938, Trotsky and his supporters began the task of rebuilding the international. This task is continued today by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). The CWI defends the tradition of Trotsky's struggle against Stalinism and imperialism. Our aim is to create a "World Party of Socialist Revolution", a Fourth International.
For further reading see history of the CWI online at www.socialistworld.net
The CWI has members, sections and sympathising groups in 40 countries across the world. They are engaged in day-to-day struggles to counter the attacks of the bosses and the ruling governments on the living standards of the working class, the youth and the poor.
At the same time, the CWI explains that the struggle - in order to be successful - should not only be led against the effects of capitalism but against the capitalist system as a whole.
For more details including CWI publications write to:
CWI, PO Box 3688,
London E11 1YE.
In The Socialist 1 May 2004:
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