Tony Saunois, CWI secretary

Over the weekend of 20-21 April 1974, a small but crucial international meeting took place in a room at the Old Mother Redcap pub (now the World’s End) in Camden, London. This meeting decided to launch a new revolutionary Trotskyist international organisation, the Committee for a Workers’ International – the CWI. The new international was to be wedded to the ideas and methods of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

Present at the meeting were supporters of the Militant newspaper in Britain and very small groups which had been established in Ireland, Germany and Sweden, together with individuals from Sri Lanka, Jamaica and some other countries. Although tiny in number at that stage, the CWI was to take important strides forward in the second half of the 1970s and in the 1980s and have a significant impact internationally. For 50 years, the CWI has been involved in a political struggle for a revolutionary socialist programme for the working class, participating, and in some situations playing a leading role, in the struggles of the working class and oppressed.

Upturn in class struggle

Today, the CWI has successfully intervened in the upturn in the class struggle which has been apparent with the rise in strikes in Britain, Germany, the US and some other countries. In the horrific situation in most of Asia, Africa and Latin America we have maintained the revolutionary core in crucial countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Chile, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere, our forces actively participating in the struggles taking place there.

The deepening crisis of dystopian global capitalism with wars, polarisation, and class conflict and struggle, poses the urgent necessity for the working class to rebuild support for the independent political alternative of socialism.

The CWI is part of that process and is rebuilding the revolutionary Trotskyist movement and building revolutionary socialist parties that can eventually become large or mass parties. In the struggle to build such parties, new forces and parties will emerge that will also be a part of that process. To build revolutionary socialist parties, two components are essential. One is that it is essential they are based on a solid Marxist theoretical base, perspective and programme. At the same time, they must be rooted in action, intervention and participation in the class struggle and lives of the oppressed. The CWI is confident and optimistic that it can play a crucial role with others in building the revolutionary socialist parties and international that will be essential to defeat capitalism and build a socialist future.

Interview: Clare Doyle – eyewitness to history

How did the building of Militant lead to the foundation of the CWI?

There was a decade between the founding of Militant and the founding conference of the Committee for a Workers’ International was held, but that did not mean we were idle. On the contrary! In Britain we were constantly analysing world events and looking for ways to build our forces internationally.

We followed up various links with people we knew who called themselves Trotskyists in Scotland and in Ireland – North and South. We recruited youth like Peter Hadden – a student at Sussex University (after my time) and Davy Dick in Scotland – a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). All through the late 1960s and early 1970s we built up the LPYS from a small organisation, when we first won a majority, to one which would later have no fewer than 2,000 young people at its annual national conferences.

Unfortunately, we did not have the possibility to intervene in the revolutionary events of May 1968 in France. But just weeks before they exploded, in public debate in London, our secretary, Peter Taaffe, declared that the leaders of the Fourth International were facing the wrong way. They were ruling out significant workers’ struggles even in France and saw the struggle of a peasant army in Vietnam as the equivalent of the Bolshevik revolution!

In Spain in the early 1970s, the challenge from below to Franco’s dictatorship was also gathering momentum. We conducted a massive Spanish Young Socialists Defence Campaign, arranging speaking tours around Britain, organising visits to illegal Spanish Young Socialist conferences (in southern France) and sending printing equipment into the country in the backs of cars or on ships!

In 1970, we produced a ‘Programme of the International’. It summarised our international experience since the end of World War Two. We held a conference in London on how to proceed, and decided not to attempt to rejoin the existing ‘Fourth International‘. We would work to build support internationally through discussing with other revolutionary and left-moving forces. We would use our position in the LPYS to go to new layers in the youth sections of the social democratic and other parties wherever we could.

The LPYS chairperson at the time, Peter Doyle, and other comrades visited various conferences abroad. One was that of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth where part of an already growing left opposition was won to our ideas. In Germany, a number of Jusos (Young Socialist) members joined us when they saw the LPYS’s campaigning work. Already in the year that the CWI was set up – 1974 – the paper ‘Voran’ was launched. It got a very positive response, growing significantly in the mid-1980s.

Sri Lanka is the home of the first mass party of Trotskyism – the LSSP. We already had contact with members of that party who opposed its increasingly reformist policies. Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe met young revolutionaries on visits to Sri Lanka and India, including Siritunga Jayasuriya and, later, Jagadish Chandra. They have for decades now been leading the Indian and Sri Lankan sections of the CWI and assisted each other in the building of our forces in Asia.

What do you think are the central tenets of the CWI’s approach and analysis?

Wars and revolutions are the biggest tests of revolutionary forces – not just in terms of maintaining their organisational cohesion but in standing the test of analysis and programme. We are convinced that we have passed these tests politically, even if our forces are still weak from a global perspective. But we have to struggle with the consequences of the mistakes of the reformist and Stalinist mass organisations of the past, which have not made it easy for us to convince workers and young people to join our ranks.

However, our emphasis on the vital importance of working-class struggle and the building of parties that fight on socialist programmes is a sine qua non, without which revolutionary leaderships cannot be built.

The CWI in all its 50 years of existence has adhered to Trotsky’s dearly held tenet that a real workers’ international can only gather sufficient forces to carry through the transformation of society by developing a programme of ‘transitional‘ demands. By that he meant in each country showing how the most reasonable of demands – on wages, jobs, education, health, housing etc – can be achieved and consolidated only by making the transition from capitalism to socialism.

It is not impossible, where the weight of numbers is overwhelmingly on the side of the working class, that a socialist transformation can be carried through peacefully. Sections of the state’s own forces can be won over to the side of the working class, especially with a class appeal to their ranks. But as we have seen so many times in history, the ruling class will not give way without a fight if they have the forces to resist.

A party trusted by workers, with clear-sighted leaders who are subject to election and immediate recall, and receive no more than the wage of a skilled worker, like the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, is the only force that can lead to the ending of capitalism on a national and international scale.

In today’s conditions, an appeal by workers coming to power in one country would spark a prairie fire of successful revolution across borders. The forces of our international can grow rapidly – into a substantial fighting organisation that plays a decisive role in uniting workers’ struggles worldwide to transform the future of mankind on the basis of socialism and communism.

Archives A Socialist World is Possible – the History of the CWI (2004)

A Socialist World is Possible – the History of the CWI, by Peter Taaffe, was originally published in 2004 on the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Committee for a Workers’ International, to celebrate the ideas, programme and achievements of the international up to that point.

The book was an update of Peter’s 1998 pamphlet, History of the CWI, which summarised the origins of the CWI and how it built sections on every continent. The introduction written for the 2004 update examines the ideas, methods and programme of the CWI in contrast to other left groups and currents claiming to stand in the tradition of Trotskyism.

Finally, a postscript completes the history of the CWI’s first 30 years by summarising the main areas of work and campaigning by the CWI from 1998 to 2004. This includes the important campaigning work of CWI sections during the anti-war movement against the US-British invasion of Afghanistan and the anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist protests of the era, as well as CWI members’ work in trade unions and among youth, women, and immigrants, campaigns in working-class communities and in elections.

Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of the CWI, the full text is made available online for the first time at

Watch CWI video series marking 50 years

To celebrate the CWI’s fiftieth anniversary, a series of videos have been commissioned. Veterans and pioneers of the CWI, both internationally and in their respective countries, share their experiences.