We had a similar, although different, situation in Germany. I had met a German comrade at the LPYS conference in 1971. He was soon recruited to our organization and, in turn, attracted a layer of youth who traveled into our ranks. But if in Sweden we had arrived just in time, as Arne commented, this was not perhaps the case in Germany. Angela Bankert comments: “The CWI came a bit late to Germany. The radicalization of the youth was well under way. This was reflected in the youth wing of the social democracy, the Jusos. Unfortunately, it was not genuine Marxism, in the form of our ideas and organization, which successfully intervened in this situation, but Stalinist-influenced organizations.”
In a different historical context of sharp crisis, of a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation, this position in Germany could have been fateful, as had been the case in the past in other countries. For instance, in Spain in the 1930s, the “Trotskyists” refused Trotsky’s advice to enter the Spanish young socialists. But the Stalinists were not so “pure”. They entered and won virtually the whole of the socialist youth which not only strengthened the Spanish Communist Party but resulted in the lost opportunity for Trotskyism to establish a mass base. The consequence was the isolation of the Trotskyists and the defeat of the Spanish revolution. Angela comments: “We intervened, with our very small forces at the beginning, just when this radical wave was beginning to recede. Nevertheless, there was a very keen audience for our ideas. At regional conferences of the Jusos and the party, with sometimes 300 people present, we could usually sell about 150 papers.”
The Belgian section of the CWI was founded in 1974 again by “accident”. Roger Silverman was on his way back to Britain and missed the boat from Belgium to Britain and was, therefore, compelled to stay overnight. He therefore looked up a contact from an LPYS conference and from this original introduction, a group of youth active within the Belgian social democracy came towards us and were eventually won over politically to our ideas.
François Bliki, who has participated in the Belgian section of the CWI almost since its inception, comments:
“If we would have been in touch with the CWI prior to the 1970s, it is no exaggeration to say that we would now be the largest section in the whole of the CWI, perhaps exceeding the numbers in the British section. There was tremendous turmoil within the workers’ movement in the early 1970s. This was reflected in the social democracy with the shift towards the left, particularly by the youth. The biggest Trotskyist current at that stage was around Ernest Mandel’s organization, which refused to involve itself in this struggle within the social democracy. We were very young and inexperienced but, nevertheless, we had a big impact right from the beginning. In 1986 we organized a mass movement of 26,000 students in 25 different towns in Belgium. It was organized under the name of our organization because the Belgian Young Socialists would not let us use their name. We made significant gains through the work we conducted within the social democracy.
“From an historical point of view, this work was entirely justified. But of course, conditions change. The split with the Grant group in 1992 was also felt in Belgium. This resulted in 32 comrades remaining with the majority and 30 with the minority. This minority merely repeated ideas from the past that were quite adequate for their time but had become completely outmoded by the change in the situation. Whereas they have stagnated, we have undergone a big growth. Now we have over 100 and they have 20, largely older, comrades with a stagnant membership.
“In 1995, there was a split from the Mandel group with the best of the comrades coming towards and joining our organization. At that stage, the SI [the Belgian group linked to the British SWP] had 34 members. They actually approached the ex-Mandel group, led by a comrade who is now with us, but there was no question of him joining this organization rather than us. Then in 1997, at a national meeting with 21 present, the London-based leadership of the SWP tried to impose their international “party line” [although not implemented in Britain], which meant that the members of the Belgian SI would have to enter and submerge themselves into the social democracy. This is against the background where the conditions for work within the social democracy no longer exist for a serious Marxist tendency. We approached them and had discussions with the 13 who voted against [it was a majority] and, subsequently, the majority of these comrades joined us. It was the comrades who left the Mandel group earlier, and who had been approached by the SI to join them, who now went and participated in persuading the Belgian SI to join our organization.”
April 1974 – CWI and Greece
By 1974 it was clear that the conditions were ripe to take the initiative in forming a properly structured international organization. Big movements took place throughout Europe. The CWI was founded at a conference in London on 20/21 April 1974. Four days later, on 25 April, the Portuguese revolution exploded and we immediately intervened. Similar upheavals were to take place in Greece and Cyprus soon afterwards, and the Franco dictatorship was on its last legs in Spain.
The history of our International is one of ideas, of an attempt to work out the most effective strategy and tactics for the building of the forces of Marxism. With a small organization it is always a question of concentrating all, or most, of your forces at the “point of attack”. At that stage – the early 1970s – for us, that was clearly within the mass organizations that still retained the overwhelming support of the proletariat. In one case, Greece, we predicted the need to work in mass organizations even before they had been formally created. Almost as soon as the military junta had been overthrown in Greece in July 1974, our organization outlined the perspective for the development of a mass socialist party. We argued that this inevitably arose from the situation following the overthrow of the junta, that would open the floodgates for the mass participation in politics that would inevitably take a new form to that which existed prior to the military coup in 1967. The new generation, in particular, was looking for a revolutionary road but was repelled by the parties that still clung to Stalinism. We identified the figure who would probably lead such a party – Andreas Papandreou. He had evolved from the leader of the “left” in the liberal bourgeois party, the Center Union, prior to the seizure of power by the colonels into a radicalized socialistic opponent of the junta. And very quickly after he returned from exile, in September 1974, Papandreou took steps to organize a socialist party, PASOK, which rapidly attracted big layers of the youth and working class who were looking for a revolutionary alternative. Our ability to intervene in Greece arose from another “accidental” encounter with a Greek comrade in Britain. I happened to be speaking at an LPYS meeting in the west of London soon after the junta had seized power and a Greek comrade, a playwright who spoke little English, immediately identified us as ‘Trotskyist’. This comrade participated in the fringes of our organization over a period of years. When he returned to Greece in 1973, and tried to re-enter Britain he was excluded by the authorities. This rather repressive measure against him turned out to be very fortuitous for us. He was there when the junta was overthrown and immediately made contact with a group of Trotskyists who had played a heroic role in the struggle against the dictatorship. He urged us to visit Greece, which we did shortly afterwards. At the end of 1974, I was able to win this group and another group to the CWI. The first group was led by Nicos Redoundos. Nicos still plays a vital role in Xekinima, our Greek organization. Also, as we have explained elsewhere, we won a very important group of young socialists in Cyprus. Comrades Doros and Andros remain in our organization and still play an important role. From the original group who joined us, Andros is now active in the leadership of the Greek organization. We were able to carry through the fusion of the two groups in Greece, which, for a period, worked quite effectively. Unfortunately, this unity did not last but, nevertheless, our organization rose, at one stage, to a membership of 750. Moreover, it played quite a decisive role in the developments of the left in PASOK over a very important historical period. Now PASOK, alongside many of the other traditional parties of Western Europe, is in the process of abandoning its class base and, therefore, the task in Greece is to work as an independent organization.
The CWI, right from its inception, was extremely energetic in intervening in any serious workers’ movement. For instance, as soon as the Portuguese revolution broke out, both Bob Labi and Roger Silverman were on the streets of Lisbon distributing material hailing the revolution and outlining the perspective of what we considered was the likely development of events. For us it was not just a question of correct ideas but of ideas linked to action and intervention. A similar and very successful approach was adopted in relation to Spain. We have outlined in our book how we intervened in the Spanish situation. What is not generally realized is that there were many attempts to establish contact with Marxists and revolutionaries but they were not successful until we came across serious forces in 1974. Lynn Walsh, at a later stage, was also sent to see whether the CWI could make headway in Portugal. We then looked on any international contact, as we do today, as gold dust to be carefully nurtured and developed with the hope that this would lead on to much greater possibilities later on.
We called our international organization the Committee for a Workers’ International for very good reasons. There were a number of “Internationals”, all of whom maintained that they were “The” International. We did not want to go down this road. We, therefore, called ourselves a “Committee”, for a future mass International. We used the word “Workers” because we wished to emphasize the central role of the proletariat, in contradistinction to others who based themselves on the peasantry, guerrillaist ideas or the students, as the “detonators” of the revolution.