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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 February 2007

CWI world congress report (3)

How will new workers' parties be built?

AT THE recent world congress of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) a key discussion took place on the demise of the traditional working-class parties around the world but also the emergence of new left-wing political formations that have the potential to articulate the interests of the working class.
ROGER BANNISTER Socialist Party visitor and national secretary of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party reports.

WHILST THE development of new workers' parties may be complex, few can now deny their growing impact in an increasing number of countries.

This session at the recent CWI world congress was introduced by Kevin Simpson, who pointed out that in May last year over five million Germans watched SAV (German section of the CWI) member Lucy Redler on a political discussion programme on national television as part of the pre-general election coverage, based on the intervention of the new WASG* party in the election.

(*WASG - Election Alternative for Work and Social Justice - a broad anti-neo-liberal electoral alternative launched in 2005, which contains a variety of political currents including the CWI.)

Elsewhere in Europe there is evidence of growing support for left parties as workers search for an electoral alternative to the traditional social democratic organisations they have abandoned in increasing numbers since the 1990s.

The recent general election in the Netherlands witnessed a dramatic increase in votes for the Socialist Party (SP), within which Dutch CWI supporters are active.

With 1,624,349 votes, the SP won 16.6% - a big jump from the 2003 elections when the SP got 608,490 votes. The traditional workers' party, the Labour Party (PvdA), lost many votes, including a chunk that went to the SP. Its parliamentary seats fell from 42 to 33.

This result strikes a blow against what Kevin described as "lesser evilism", the argument often advanced for continued support for social democratic parties as the "lesser evil" choice in an election.

Faced with attacks on welfare provision and living standards, the 'neo-liberal' agenda, often carried out by former working-class based political parties, workers all over the world are seeking political alternatives to the sterile, pro-capitalist policies of the traditional parties.

CNWP

The Campaign for a New Workers' Party in England and Wales has been in existence for almost a year, co-launched by the Socialist Party, but on as broad a base as possible, and supported by a large number of prominent trade union activists.

Dave Griffiths, a Socialist Party delegate, explained that there is a relatively low level of industrial struggle in Britain at present, and union leaders who seldom inspire their members. However, workers often agree one hundred per cent with the arguments for a new party, whether or not they are ready to get involved in building it themselves at this stage.

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party and CWI executive member, outlined the history of the CNWP, and said that as fresh layers of workers move into struggle to defend their living standards, they would be increasingly receptive to political action and socialist ideas.

Hannah explained that a new party with a basic programme against privatisation, cuts, the anti-trade union laws etc could be a significant step forward, but the Socialist Party will also argue for a clause stating the need for socialism.

There is not yet a well-known national figurehead who has become involved in building a new party in England and Wales. By contrast Angelika Teweleit, a visitor from SAV in Germany, outlined how the involvement of former leading Social Democratic Party member Oskar Lafontaine had given the WASG a profile that made it a credible force.

Unfortunately Lafontaine's insistence that the WASG should merge with the former ruling communist party of East Germany, the LPDS (which has a record of cuts and attacks on local government services), will undoubtedly damage the new party.

In Belgium, although at an earlier stage, some ex-trade union leaders and a former social democrat MP are assisting the development of the newly formed CAP ('committee for another kind of politics').

The support of fighting, left-leaning trade unions can also give a boost to the creation of new parties. A Polish speaker outlined how the most left trade union federation in the country had set up a new party and how, following active support for striking tram workers and victimised miners, CWI supporters in Poland had been approached to join the new party, and had made a formal agreement with it on joint working arrangements.

No panacea

A left party is of itself no automatic panacea as far as the working class is concerned. Christine from Italy pointed out that the decision of the PRC (the Communist Refoundation Party) to join Prodi's government had resulted in splits and a loss of members.

Clearly any would-be workers' party has to maintain its pro-working class policies, and not put itself into a position where this is compromised. Failure to do this will merely add to the cynicism many workers have to politics in general, as a result of their experience of the mainstream parties.

This point was underlined by Jim McFarlane from Scotland, who described the degeneration of the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party, culminating in their disgraceful attacks on Tommy Sheridan, to the extent of their siding with the arch-capitalist Rupert Murdoch's scandal rag News of the World against Tommy in his recent court case.

Against this background the decision to found the new party Solidarity is entirely justified and the forthcoming elections for the Scottish Parliament in May will give Scottish workers the opportunity to re-elect Tommy Sheridan, who is standing for this new formation.

In Brazil, the process of the degeneration of a once-left party (the Workers' Party, PT), has gone much further as the Lula government implemented neo-liberal policies, leading directly to the formation of PSOL, the Party of Socialism and Liberty.

Role of CWI

Summing up the discussion Tony Saunois pointed out that it was the CWI that first posed the question of creating new mass workers' parties in 1991/92 when others on the left opposed us.

To illustrate the pitfalls of incorrect tactics Tony referred to France, and the failure of the far left organisations LO and LCR to build a movement towards a new party following the last presidential elections, as well as emphasising the damage done in Scotland by the SSP leadership.

Tony underlined the importance of flexibility, given that a comparison of the multitude of situations on a world scale clearly shows that there are different routes, and speeds, for the creation of new workers' parties.

  • For full world congress articles and resolutions see www.socialistworld.net
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