Towards a Mass Organization

1992 – Open Work

As comrades know, in 1992 there was a split in Militant and the CWI. There is no time to go into all the issues involved in this split – we have done this elsewhere. But what is clear is that the small minority that split from our ranks were utterly incapable of facing up to the new period and the new tasks which were posed by developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The decision to conduct more independent work laid the basis for the successes of our organizations in the course of the 1990s. The initiative of setting up Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) led to great success, which we have detailed in The Rise of Militant.

But alongside of the establishment of independent national sections we have, since 1994, launched the CWI as an open International. It would not have been possible to do this successfully in the previous period. The baggage we carried from our work within the mass organizations inevitably led to us concealing the true extent of our international organization. The truth is that virtually everybody knew about the existence of the CWI, which was often listed by the different labor bureaucracies in the “evidence” they amassed to carry through our expulsions. The bureaucracy knew about it, our opponents on the left, particularly the Stalinists, spoke openly about this. It was the working class, unfortunately, that did not have a full knowledge of the existence of the CWI. Now, as a more independent organization, we have corrected this.

We have moved to establish more independent work and an independent international organization at perhaps just the right historical moment. A huge vacuum now exists in the workers’ movement. Just look at the Malmö meeting of the so-called Second International in 1997. This was a gathering of social democratic leaders and bankers who very often were one and the same thing. Significantly, the opposition to this meeting, in the streets around the conference, was organized by our Swedish section. There is no mass Stalinist International today, merely fragments of Stalinism – some of them quite important – scattered throughout the world. Unfortunately, the comrades of the USFI, at their Congress in 1995, in effect abandoned the idea of building, in this period, mass revolutionary Trotskyist parties or a mass revolutionary Trotskyist International. We believe also they have begun to abandon the idea of the party as a revolutionary, democratic centralist organization. It is quite obvious that you cannot have a rigid centralism in any organization today. Maybe we will have to alter the terminology, perhaps we cannot use the phrase itself because of its connections now with Stalinism. But though we have to carefully examine terminology and change it where necessary, nevertheless the idea of a unified International, of revolutionary unity, is an idea we must defend, as we must also defend and develop the idea of the need to create parties to ensure the victory of the working class.

On another level, the dockers’ strike in Britain shows the need for international action of the working class like never before in history. The 1995 Danish bus workers’ struggle, as with their Indian counterparts in Bangalore, also demonstrated the need for the working class to link up on the trade union level internationally. At the same time there is a greater need today, as I mentioned earlier, in the era of globalization, to not only adopt a general internationalist stance but also to create mass political organizations which are linked together through a real mass International.

Reassembling Revolutionary Forces

The question is how to build such a mass International. We have a vital role to play in this process. We have in the past, as I described, sent comrades to different countries and continents throughout the world to establish the first forces of genuine Marxists. If necessary we will continue to do this. But a new mass International will not develop in a linear fashion. The process will involve fusions, splits and the reassembling of genuine revolutionary forces on an international and national plane.

We have been very successful in this regard. From the beginning we managed to absorb into our ranks organizations that did not agree with everything that the CWI stood for. In Cyprus, for instance, the group mentioned earlier that eventually joined us, after quite lengthy discussions, was somewhat heterogeneous. Many of those who remained with the CWI and who played a key role in building a very important section in Cyprus were, from the outset, committed to the general perspectives and program of the CWI. But there were others who could be described as occupying a left centrist position, vacillating between the ideas of the CWI and centrist ideas. Some of them dropped by the wayside as the group became more serious, while others evolved into genuine revolutionaries with a rounded-out outlook. Similar developments took place in Sri Lanka. While the NSSP affiliated to the CWI, the leaders of this organization, particularly Bahu, never fully agreed with the analysis that we had made of Stalinism, of developments in the former colonial and semi-colonial world and the national question, etc. While successful collaboration ensued for a period, the differences never disappeared and were a factor in the split of the NSSP from the CWI in 1989 (although a very important minority led by Siri stayed with the CWI).

A more recent example of a very successful fusion was in France. Comrade Renaud from Gauche Révolutionnaire (GR), the French section of the CWI, comments:

“We came to the CWI from the USFI. We had come into political opposition to the leadership of the organization in France, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR). From 1987 they had been pursuing a policy of “automation”. They interpreted this to mean that every initiative undertaken by themselves was deemed “sectarian”. Leading comrades of the LCR would even argue that to sell the paper was sectarian. The line was that we should try to intervene in “new kinds” of organizational forms, new formations, for example, the developments on the environment and amongst the ecologists.

“There were, of course, some correct points in what they said. We have never hesitated to aid any group of workers in the labor movement, particularly those evolving towards the left, environmentalists involved in serious struggle, etc. But the problem with the USFI’s position was that they never tried to put forward their own political line, but tended to adapt their program, in an opportunist fashion, to the leaders of these “new formations”. For example, when a left group within the Socialist Party [PS] launched a school students’ union the USFI deliberately played down their own role and forswore any attempt to win this group over. At every demonstration, they lent them [the PS] megaphones, etc, because this group, according to the USFI, should be the “leaders’ of the school students’ union. In reality, the Mandelite youth organization was bigger than this group. This role of merely “helping” the leaders of the traditional left organizations and not politically challenging them we opposed.

“In the beginning it was not clear in our heads but we wanted to build the forces of Trotskyism in an open, fighting organization. We wanted to build and recruit to our party with our program. Our clash with the Mandelites on this issue is what shaped our tendency inside their organization. We had already begun to bring a newspaper out whilst still within the LCR. We won a majority of the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire [JCR – the LCR’s youth organization] in 1989. But you will see there have been many changes in our political line as we have sought to clarify our position. In the French Mandelite organization there are several tendencies, which are really factions. In fact, the LCR is not a party but a federation of factions.

“They expelled us in October 1992 when we were quite well organized with a group of 50-60 young people around us. When we were expelled we were approached by many groups. I think comrades would be astonished at the number of Trotskyist groups throughout the world, many of them very strange to say the least. We know, we met them all. We had heard of the Militant, and at first thought it was a kind of left, social democratic, “workerist” tendency within the social democratic and labor movement. But then we went through the experience of the Brussels demonstration after a comrade had seen a poster in Ireland.

“After the demo we approached the CWI with a view to launching the YRE in France. We originally thought that we would have to join the CWI as a condition for us setting up the YRE. But we were pleasantly surprised that this was not the case and that we were given permission to form the YRE. We thought that this was a very good start, which then led to political discussions and eventually a large level of agreement which resulted in us joining the CWI.”

David Cameron was also one of the founders of GR in France and, at the time he made the following comments, was a member of our International Secretariat. He has now returned to France to help build our French organization. David adds:

“The USFI and Mandel had completely failed to understand the changes in the world situation. We had definitely drawn the conclusion that this organization was impossible to reform after their congress in 1991. So, as Renaud has commented, we started looking around for other organizations. We did not confine ourselves to that but also began to develop our own ideas in opposition to the LCR. This led us to contact with many organizations, more than we wanted to!

“A comrade from the JCR who is no longer with us – he ended up badly, going back to the LCR – went on holiday to Ireland in the summer of 1992 and bought a copy of Irish Militant in a newsagents. This is how we came to learn about the October 1992, anti-racist YRE demonstration. In fact, we had been arguing for years within the LCR and USFI for them to take such an initiative. Following the Brussels demonstration we had many discussions with the CWI.

“What did these discussions actually amount to? We first of all had to get rid of any misconceptions that we were dealing with “left reformists”. When you approach an organization, you have to ascertain the nature of that organization. Are these people Marxists? Are they reformists? Are they sectarian? Are they Stalinists? The second point is how do these people analyze what is going on in the world? What are their perspectives? And, of course, vitally, are they competent in building viable organizations both on a national and international scale? Through discussions we became convinced that both the Militant and the CWI met the criteria that we had set ourselves.

“There are many lessons in relation to how we joined the CWI which will be useful in similar experiences in the future. I don’t think that fusion with other groups is the main way of building the International. I think we will build out of the new layers coming into action but, also, the question of working with other groups and fusion can be posed as well.

“In France, at the moment, there is a certain flux on the left. In my opinion there is the beginning of a break-up of the three largest Trotskyist groups – which were set up in the 1960s – with the emergence of an opposition in Lutte Ouvrière, for example. And at the same time, there is the emergence now of defined political currents, even with their own newspapers, within the PCF [French Communist Party]. There is, therefore, the possibility of fusions and regroupments posing further questions for our intervention in the mass organizations. I think similar questions will be posed elsewhere. Renaud said at the end of his contribution that when we joined the CWI we weren’t perfect – we’re still not perfect. I think we have learnt a lot from the International and I also hope that we have contributed to the International.

“Just a word on work within the traditional organizations in the past. The French section is one of the few in the International which has never actually done entry work. We came into the International after the CWI had exhausted the tactic of work within the mass traditional organizations. I wonder if we had come in ten or fifteen years before, what we would we have done in France? Let’s put the question another way. Could the LCR with 1,500 members, in 1968, and 3-4,000, in the mid-1970s, have been more effective in working within one of the two major mass organizations of the French working class? Hundreds of workers joined the French Communist Party in the decade after 1968 and tens of thousands joined the Socialist Party. Now, if the LCR had decided to employ the tactic of the CWI (given the size of the LCR) to enter the PCF – difficult but not impossible – or go into the PS – easier but not so profitable – is it not possible they would have made a much bigger impact? It seems to me that when an organization of this size – and from that point of view size is important – could have maintained an independent organization and yet, at the same time, worked within either wing of the mass organizations, that could have been the most effective method.”