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Building for a socialist world
A SOCIALIST World is Possible is a new book by Peter Taaffe (Socialist Party general secretary), to mark 30 years since the founding of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).
THOMAS HOUSE reviews this important contribution to the building of a genuine socialist international organisation.
The book contains two main sections. The first of these deals with the tasks currently facing socialists, and draws a distinction between the outlook and approach of the CWI and other groups that claim to be Trotskyist. The second deals with key events in the CWI's history, based on a speech made by Peter Taaffe in 1997 and containing reports from some of the 36 countries in which the CWI organises.
"The world political situation is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis in the leadership of the proletariat [working class]." So wrote Trotsky in 1938, at the start of a document widely known as the "Transitional Programme" that he circulated amongst the few genuine socialists of the time in preparation for the political tasks ahead of them.
It was clear at that point that another major war was likely to break out but also that this terrible situation could have been avoided were it not for the treacherous role played by the leadership of the mass Social Democratic and Stalinist 'Communist' parties of the time.
Recognising the bankruptcy of these organisations, Trotsky and his co-thinkers saw the need for a new worldwide, socialist organisation based on the revolutionary potential of the working class - a Fourth International.
The long period of post-war economic growth, together with the weakness of the Fourth International's leadership, meant that, after Trotsky's death, the Fourth International was not able to establish itself as a mass force in working-class politics. Yet capitalism was unable to keep making progress due to its inherent weakness as an economic system.
The mid-1970s, for many marked the end of the era of Keynesian economics (where governments attempt to avoid recessions and boost the economy by injecting extra public spending), with a downturn in the world economy. This coincided with US imperialism's defeat in the Vietnam war, and a revolutionary situation in Portugal.
In 1974, a group of British Marxists around Militant (forerunner to the Socialist Party), together with their comrades from eleven other countries, founded the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).
When the capitalists abandoned Keynsianism, they reworked classical (liberal) capitalist economic policies that are today usually called "neo-liberal". These meant attacks on workers' pay and conditions, privatisation of everything possible and the dismantling of the welfare state.
In the course of fighting these attacks, mass struggles of workers and young people developed, with active involvement from the CWI and, in some cases - particularly in Britain - the CWI playing a decisive or leading role. Some of these workers and youth drew socialist conclusions and joined the CWI, making Militant at one point one of the largest Trotskyist organisations in the world.
Collapse of Stalinism
The ruling class nevertheless scored a significant victory in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe collapsed and established capitalism, rather than genuine socialism based on the democratic control of society by the working class.
This led to a long period of capitalist triumphalism, with socialism being falsely equated with Stalinism and the 'superiority' of the market was trumpeted at every opportunity in the capitalist media. At the same time, the old workers' parties like the Labour Party in the UK swung violently to the right, robbing the working class of serious political representation.
However, the contradictions, inefficiencies and injustices of capitalism are again coming to the surface and will be reflected in the struggles of the working class and amongst young people. The relatively low levels of militancy of the 1990s in some areas in no way imply that the working class is no longer the main agent of social change or that socialist ideas will always be unpopular.
The first part of Peter's book is an excellent response to the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) and other socialist groups which have succumbed to political opportunism.
This opportunism includes burying socialist ideas in order to promote broad formations and jettisoning the need for revolutionary parties and a revolutionary international.
It is essential to learn the lessons of previous international organisations. The First International founded by Marx and Engels was ideologically divided and short-lived, but nevertheless set the precedent for the international organisation of the working class.
The Second International was founded by Engels but eventually fell prey to reformism and, with the outbreak of World War One, most of its leaders capitulated to imperialism. Blair's New Labour still has links to this degenerated Second International.
After the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 in the Soviet Union they created the Third or "Communist" International, which quickly became a mass socialist force. But by the mid-1920s it had become a tool of Stalin and the Russian bureaucracy and ceased to play a revolutionary role. The working class must learn from these failures when it creates new parties for political struggle.
In almost every country where the CWI is active, we argue for the building of new mass workers' parties with a broadly socialist programme.
We believe that a socialist world is possible and a revolutionary socialist international is necessary to achieve it. CWI members should buy and read Peter Taaffe's important book and, if you're not already a member, join the CWI and help us fight to change society!
In The Socialist 21 August 2004:
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