On Sunday 21 July over 200 delegates at a special conference of the Socialist Party in England and Wales voted overwhelmingly, 83.2% to 16.8%, (173-35), to sponsor an international conference to reconstitute the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI – the international organisation of which the Socialist Party is part).
The international conference that followed over the next four days was attended by delegates and visitors from England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, Finland, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Chile, South Africa and the USA. Unfortunately, comrades from South Africa and Nigeria who had planned to attend could not due to visa problems.
The international conference’s decision to reconstitute the CWI followed an intense debate in the CWI over seven months. This political struggle has been fought between those represented at this meeting, who defend the Trotskyist method and programme the CWI was founded on in 1974, and an opposition moving away from this position.
This opposition has taken a rightward, opportunist turn. It has buckled to the pressures of identity politics, turned away from conducting a systematic and consistent struggle in the trade unions, and blunted the socialist programme that the CWI and its sections have fought to defend.
The debate erupted at the CWI’s International Executive Committee (IEC) in November 2018. It centred initially on the work of the CWI organisation in Ireland. This was not the first time differences had emerged with the leadership in Ireland. There was, for example, discussion with them about their programme in the 2016 general election which, by having increased corporation tax as its furthest-going demand, did not pose the need for a break with capitalism.
This time, a key issue, alongside questions of party democracy, was the approach to movements against women’s oppression. The Irish Socialist Party had begun to give in to the pressures of identity politics, and was tending to see all struggles through the prism of the women’s movement. The leadership of the CWI, therefore, put the issue on the agenda of the IEC, hoping to convince the Irish comrades to reassess their approach. Instead, a number of IEC members uncritically defended their stance. The main political platform of the international opposition, for example, described it as “erroneous” that any section of the CWI had made concessions to identity politics.
This, when the mistaken approach of the Irish Socialist Party was being demonstrated in their 2019 European election campaign. The main slogan of the campaign, “a socialist feminist voice for Europe”, was not designed to try to enter a dialogue on our programme – of course, including opposing women’s oppression – with the whole of the working class, but only to the minority who consider they are feminists.
This was based on the Irish leadership’s wrong analysis that gender oppression was the central source of radicalisation at this stage in Ireland, and to a large extent internationally. This completely mistaken approach was one factor in the Irish Socialist Party suffering a heavy electoral defeat and losing significantly more votes than any other left-wing force in the subsequent poll on May 24 (from 29,953 in 2014 to 4,967).
The act of defending the mistakes of the Irish Socialist Party led to an acceleration of opportunist trends in parts of the CWI, combined with attacks on its leadership for ‘conservatism’. For example, the leadership of the CWI and the Socialist Party in England and Wales have been accused of taking a conservative approach towards women’s oppression, saying of us that: “In practice, they developed an increasingly rigid distinction between classical working class industrial struggle over economic issues, and mass movements against specific forms of oppression (gender, race, sexuality etc)”. (A New Chapter for Revolutionary Socialism in Britain, socialistalternative.net)
No concrete example of our supposed conservatism has or can be given. The CWI and the Socialist Party in England and Wales believe it is vital to support and take part in mass movements against specific forms of oppression, and have a very long record of doing so. In intervening in such movements, however, we always put forward a programme which points towards class society as the root cause of oppression and, therefore, to the necessity of socialism and the need for the united struggle of the working class to achieve it. We fight tenaciously for the rights of all oppressed groups, always striving for the maximum possible unity of the working class rather than fostering divisions.
It is not chance that the pressure to make concessions to identity politics was a central part of the opposition’s rightward turn. These pressures are bearing down on Marxist forces globally. Capitalism increasingly cannot provide working-class people with a secure future even in the richest countries. Anger at this is profound but the working class has not, as yet, put its stamp clearly on events. The working class as the central agent of social change is therefore not widely understood. This, however, will change on the basis of events. The CWI has to work to prepare the ground for the class battles to come not, as the opposition has done, give up our programme in favour of echoing the current outlook of layers of radicalised youth.
The re-founded CWI was constituted on the basis of the political and organisational principles adopted by the first four congresses of the Third International, the founding documents of the Fourth International in 1938, and the congresses of the CWI.
The conference agreed that the International Secretariat will seek to convene a world congress in 2020 of CWI sections and groups that defend the programme of the CWI. The congress will also invite revolutionary socialist organisations that are committed to building revolutionary socialist parties based on the working class and which are prepared to discuss and collaborate on an honest and principled basis.
Following the decision of the Socialist Party conference, a small number of members have announced they have left our party. They have tried to disguise their decision by numerous slanders against us, including claiming they were expelled. In fact, not a single person has had their membership revoked.
The resolution that was overwhelmingly passed by the Socialist Party conference called on all members, regardless of their position in the debate, “to continue to help build the Socialist Party as part of a healthy Trotskyist international organisation in order to prepare for the mighty class battles ahead”.
The resolution agreed was “confident that the overwhelming majority of Socialist Party members will wish to participate in this historic task”. However, it went to on to explain that, “if a small minority decides instead to build an alternative organisation”, they “will have to do so outside of the Socialist Party where they will have the opportunity to test their ideas against the reality of the class struggle”.
Even before the Socialist Party conference had taken any decision, a few dozen members had clearly made plans to launch a new, rightward-moving organisation, the launch rally of which was held an hour after our conference had finished. The vast majority of members, however, have come out of the recent debate with a renewed confidence in our party.
We defend the programme and approach of the Socialist Party which, historically, in an era of heightened working-class struggle, enabled us to lead the struggles of Liverpool city council and the battle against the poll tax, the latter bringing down Maggie Thatcher.
At the present time, our methods have allowed us to orient effectively to those mobilised in support of Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning for the removal of the Blairites and the transformation of Labour into a workers’ party with a socialist programme.
We are pioneers of the fight against council cuts. We play a vital role in the trade union movement, including our members playing a leading role in the rank-and-file National Shop Stewards Network.
At the same time, we have built a significant base on the university campuses. Most importantly, we are building a party based on a clear socialist programme, currently over 2,000 members strong, which will be able to play a vital role in the mighty struggles of the working class that are ahead.