International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

International Socialist Alliances - Minority reply

Harvey Duke replies to Murray Smiths article

The former mass workers parties in Europe, now largely devoid of workers, are more and more discredited in the eyes of the working class. In Britain, France, and other countries workers are increasingly in struggle against governments they recently elected - hoping then for a defence of public services, higher wages, and an end to privatisation. Instead, it was more of the same pro-market policies. Inequality and poverty has increased under the new 'Left' governments, despite the boom. As their traditional leaders have deserted them, workers are beginning to turn in significant numbers to new parties or reinvented parties of the Left. The purpose of this article is to analyse these new political developments and comment upon the role of Marxists within them.

To understand how the new parties evolved it is necessary to look at the defeats and struggles of workers over the past 20 years. In the late 1970's the forces of capitalism began an offensive against the gains made by the working class during post war economic upswing. The bosses were determined to make workers pay for the crisis of their system following the world recession of 1973/74. These attacks were met by fierce resistance from the working class. The Callaghan government in Britain faced a major movement in the public sector culminating in the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79. Under Thatcher the monetarist, neo-liberal policies of the ruling class which included privatisation and the cutting of public expenditure provoked a backlash. In London, in 1980 140,000 marched in support of the steelworkers strikes. In 1981, 150,000 marched against unemployment in Liverpool. It is important for socialists today to understand the multi-sided reality of the situation at that time. Within the mass social-democratic organisations, there were big left-wings. Marxists worked within these struggles and movements, putting forward a fighting strategy to defeat the bosses’ offensive, attacking the right wing leaders, and criticising illusions that it was possible to reform capitalism into a fairer system. This task was generally carried out without a hint of sectarianism. Marxists were conspicuous in explaining the need for a socialist programme to be implemented by the workers parties as the only way out of the economic crisis.

As international capital increasingly transferred enormous wealth from investment in manufacturing to the financial markets and services, right wing governments acted as the cheerleaders for unregulated greed. In the late 1980s, as Stalinism fell, the political confidence of the capitalists increased, as it appeared that their system was destined to be the only viable world economic system. Already reeling from their total inability to defend or inspire workers, the leaders of the social-democratic organisations prostrated themselves before the god of 'globalisation'. The 'Left' in the labour movements of Europe imploded. Former Stalinists, like Peter Mandelson, became born-again free-marketers. The 'soft Left' supported right-wing leaders. Only the Marxists kept faith that in the working class and its capacity to change society.

The CWI were the first Marxist International to explain how the fall of the Berlin wall had changed the entire world situation. The capitulation of the leaders of the former workers parties to the neo-liberal policies of the ruling class resulted in these parties losing their base within the working class. For many years the leaders of these parties had been pro-capitalist, but had retained their roots within the working class. These roots were now going, workers still voted for these parties but no longer saw them as "our party". In many countries this meant that it was necessary to begin the task of re-building the political organisations of the working class. At the 1993 World Congress of the CWI we wrote: "In the minds of important layers the traditional parties are no longer associated with 'reforming governments'. To a greater extent than ever the 'reformists' have become the vehicle of counter reforms and consequently in opposition to big layers of the proletariat". (From resolution on traditional workers parties 6th World Congress 1993) At the same time we saw this as part of a dual task; this would mean while assisting in the task of re-building mass parties of the working class, we would continue to defend the idea of the need to maintain Marxist organisations within these new formations and parties.

This stemmed from our understanding that the experience of the working class internationally proved that mass parties would need to adopt a revolutionary Marxist programme and methods if socialism was to be realised. Therefore the need to maintain a cohesive, Marxist force was at all times paramount, as this could both assist in the task of building new parties, and help to ensure that a correct programme could be made available to workers and youth joining these new formations.

So, what parties have so far emerged out of these processes; the collapse of Stalinism, the bourgeoisification of the former workers parties, and efforts by different Lefts to regroup and reach the working class with socialist ideas? Also, what has been the role of the CWI?

In 1992, first in Scotland with the launch of Scottish Militant Labour, then in England, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, followed by most of the European sections of the CWI, we broke with the decaying, former workers parties like the Labour Party in Britain and the South of Ireland; the SPD in Germany; and the social democracy in Sweden. Already in many countries as these parties moved towards the right CWI comrades had already been expelled from them. We now saw our role in most countries as standing under our own banner, independent of the social democratic parties we had worked in for many years. Although even then, in 1992, we argued that Marxists in Italy should work as part of the PRC- the left split from the Italian Communist Party.

The "open turn" of the CWI resulted in our forces being the first in the 1990s to begin to work to both re-popularise the idea of socialism and build our Marxist parties. In Scotland, England, Ireland and Sweden we won elections, and participated in mass campaigning work like the water charges campaign in Dublin. Already before we had led the victorious campaign in poll tax in Britain. However we did not foresee that our parties would automatically become mass parties immediately. In the vast majority of countries we saw that there would be the need to re-build the political organisations of the working class in a broad way, within which the members and sections of the CWI would play a key role.

During the 1990's we have made important advances for the sections of the CWI and participated in alliances, electoral blocs, new parties etc. Events like the recent protests over fuel prices and the rash of disputes taking place across Europe are helping to prepare the ground for the emergence of new mass parties at a certain stage. The impact of a new economic downturn will act as a decisive catalyst for the appearance of such formations. We do not expect that the revolutionary programme of the CWI will be accepted by these parties at the outset, nevertheless we would still work to build these organisations while continuing to advance our Marxist programme and appeal to new workers and young people to join our International.

There have of course been developments to the left of the traditional workers parties which, while not of a mass character, represent an important step towards their appearance at a later stage. The Scottish Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party are examples of this, as are the PRC in Italy and the Left Bloc in Portugal. Of course the programme activities and democratic structures of such formations will ultimately decide whether they grow into much bigger forces or fall back. There are some important lessons already of this in Europe that we can learn from.

In Germany, the collapse of Stalinism in the East, and the reunification of East and West on the basis of capitalism was the background to a new party emerging. The PDS was formally the ruling Stalinist party in the East. It has a mass base in the East where it voiced the concerns of workers about the effects of unification i.e. mass unemployment. However, it supported unification and has no internationalist socialist answer to either Stalinism or capitalism. Nevertheless, as unemployment in the west rose the PDS western vote increased by 100,000 in 1998. This protest has not led to many members - in the west it has around 2-3000. It seems incapable of building a mass membership base out of the disappointment with the right wing policies of the Red-Green Coalition government. Instead, the PDS leaders are trying to push the party to the right, openly accepting the market economy.

The political evolution of the PDS shows both the potential of a left alternative and the inadequacies of a reformist leadership which, moving to the right, rejects leading real struggles. Having won the backing of workers on the basis of being to the 'Left' of social democracy, the PDS won dozens of councillors and mayors. However, in many cases these representatives, lacking a programme for mass struggle against the Red-Green government has implemented cuts. At a meeting of SAV (The German section of CWI) earlier this year, in a debate with Irish SP TD Joe Higgins, a PDS Berlin councillor said; "In these councils where we have a majority we sometimes wished the old times would come back when we were in a minority, because there is not enough money and not much we can do". The PDS also joined a federal state coalition government with the SPD in the Eastern state of Mecklenburg -Vorpommern and has backed cuts there.

In Italy, the PRC grew out of a split in the old CP. It was the most left-wing of the new parties, with a membership of 130,000 by the end of 1997, and significant support from workers and youth. It became an important factor in Italian politics. However, in the struggle for socialism. the size of a party is not the only key factor. Lacking a clear socialist programme, the PRC has zigzagged. It veered from not supporting the Prodi-led "Olive Tree" government to propping it up, then in 1998 stopped backing it. Since then its opposition to the "Olive Tree" government has resulted in it regaining support, in April’s regional elections it won 1,292,774 votes, 5.1% compared with 4.5% in the 1999 Euro election.

In Portugal, the Left Bloc was formed in 1999 out of various left groups. In the June 1999 Euro elections it won 1.9% of the vote (60,000). In the October 1999 parliamentary elections, it won 2.5% nationally, 10-11% in parts of Lisbon and two MP's.

The political ideas of these MPs demonstrate some of the confusion of the left groups which gravitate towards the new parties. Luiz Fazenda is the General Secretary of the Maoist UDP - a key group in the Left Bloc. He is the chief architect of a political philosophy calling for 'social democracy' and to defend the vague interests of 'citizenship'. This group has given up basing itself upon the interests of the working class.

Another Left Bloc group is the PSR, a section of the "Trotskyist" USFI. It has an influence in some trade unions but has long ago abandoned its 'Trotskyist' ideas. PSR leader and now Left Bloc MP Francisco Louca, speaking after the October 1997 Congress of the PSR claimed that the "great causes of the Left do not centre anymore on workers but on social movements... the rights of citizens versus the rights of automobiles'.

The ideas of the leaders of these new parties cannot be defined as Marxist, or as representing the best interest of the working class in Europe. This is an important barrier to the further development of these parties as instruments in the struggle for socialism. However in judging them now, it is also important to look at the participation of workers and youth in their activities.

The Left Bloc attracted 1,100 people to its conference in January, including radical workers and youth. An anti-socialist motion was soundly defeated by 670 to 30 votes. However, a motion was passed calling for UN intervention in East Timor. Clearly, these is a mixed consciousness amongst the rank and file. Although the ideas from the leadership aim to reform capitalism in Portugal, the Left Bloc can act as a pole of attraction to workers and youth. That is why the CWI participates in order to argue for a Marxist programme amongst workers and youth seeking a genuine revolutionary alternative. In every country, the CWI examines the concrete political situation within these new parties in order to determine the kind of initiatives our comrades can take to assist in building new, genuine workers formations.

In reality the Left Bloc leaders and others like them represent reformist ideas. The idea that capitalism can be changed "bit by bit" or that significant reforms can be won under capitalism and through parliamentary action alone. Left reformist ideas, including those that stand for widespread public ownership, will be a big attraction for a section of the working class in the period we are moving into. Not all, or perhaps even a majority of, workers will automatically draw revolutionary conclusions. The task of Marxists is to patiently explain that the ideas of reformism and of centrism (ideas that move between reform and revolution) cannot secure victory in the struggle for socialism. This is a task for today as well as for tomorrow as all the new parties and alliances that have appeared during the 1990's have significant reformist ideas within them. It is necessary to positively differentiate the programme of genuine Marxism to these trends at all times, including periods of struggle. This idea is especially at the present when it may seem to some that, because we are fighting to regain popular support for socialism, differences among socialists do not matter today.

There has been, during the 1990's, discussions between the Marxist left as to whether there was the basis for "regroupment" between organisations that stand formerly on the basis of Trotskyism or are moving towards revolutionary ideas. The CWI has also participated in these discussions. In Belgium and France groups have fused with us to form or reinforce CWI sections. However internationally, so far, there has not been the necessary principled political agreement over both programme and methods of work that would make such a step possible. This experience has not prevented the CWI from discussing and being involved in joint work with other left groups. But unfortunately these groupings are all, including the CWI at present, relatively small, our sights have always to be also set on the mass of youth and workers currently not active in the socialist movement.

In the non- Marxist left, particularly amongst new layers of workers, such debates within Marxist forces in the new parties can seem sterile. The CWI explains that the experience of the twentieth century shows that struggle ion its own cannot win socialism, Marxist ideas are needed as a concrete guide. But sometimes the democratic right for groups to exist in these new parties is itself questioned by their leaders who make an exception of their own factions! This is one of the reasons why Scargill’s Socialist labour party was, in effect, still born. The CWI plays a vital role in demanding that workers control the new 'workers parties', and that Marxist ideas can be heard.

The example of France shows that this is not a straight forward issue. The 'Trotskyist' Lutte Ouvriere has for some years won significant electoral support, in the 1995 Presidential election it won 1,615,552 votes, 5.3%. However it is not a party involving significant sections of workers and in practice did not attempt to organise its voters into a new political formation. Last year’s joint LO/LCR list in the Euro election presented another opportunities to approach workers and youth with the idea of forming a new workers party. It gained 914,680 votes, 5.18%, but neither the LO or LCR seized the opportunity which was then presented. It is the role of the CWI to monitor and intervene in workers and youth struggles, raising the slogan of a new workers party in France while maintaining a cohesive revolutionary organisation.

The need for Marxist leadership is most clearly demonstrated by the failures of those 'leaders' who seek to reform capitalism. The United Left (IU) in Spain made and initial big impact as a radical alternative to the right wing Socialist Party government. Thousands of workers elected IU MP's whose reformist policies then created enormous disillusionment. The IU lost many seats in the most recent General Election after making an electoral pact with the Socialist Party.

It is essential for any genuine workers party that it maintains political independence from the capitalist parties. As recession approaches, unless this key principle is followed, the leaders of new parties will inevitably be forced to comply with attacks on workers living standards as 'progressive' governments act as the executives of capitalism.

In other countries across Europe, other new formations will face the same opportunities, tests, and tensions. It is a step forward for the working class in Norway that it has elected nearly 100 local councillors from the Red Electoral Alliance. It is unfortunate that the leaders of this group follow a peculiar route away from internationalist ideas - claiming that all Internationals are divisive. This is not true of the CWI which seeks to unite and not divide workers in struggle, whether in industrial battles or in efforts to build new workers parties. Hopefully, the rank and file of groups like the Red Electoral Alliance, and the Red Green Alliance in Denmark, which has 5 MPs, are allowed to hear from the CWI. The key question facing all these groups is what kind of programme is necessary for overturning capitalism through out Europe and the world. Only an open, democratic debate throughout the new workers parties can clarify this issue.

Where able to participate our comrades argue for Marxist ideas within the new workers parties. In the new Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, the CWI participates, defending the idea of keeping that body as a genuine alliance and with the perspective that, while the Socialist Alliance may develop into a part of a future workers party, it is not necessarily the only road to such a formation. Within trade unions like the RMT, FBU, and CWU debates have begun over the future of their links with the Labour Party. Such developments will be crucial to the emergence of a workers party, and will be accelerated with the experience of a Blair second term, and recession.

In Ireland, North and South, the CWI's Socialist Party has played a key role in preserving Marxist ideas, and re-popularising the ideas of socialism. In the North, whilst in the past debating with the PUP, the Womens Coalition, and the Left of Sinn Fein, the SP realised that these forces would not form a cohesive socialist alliance. The SP has not abandoned the demand for a new workers party, and played a major role in the Labour Coalition which won, in 1996, 2 seats to the peace talks. However, it will require an escalation of class battles, some of which our comrades are leading, to unite sufficient number of Catholic and Protestant workers to lay the basis for a new mass workers party.

In the South, the SP has developed a tradition as a campaigning socialist force, winning Joe Higgins a seat in the Dail, and are likely to win others. Again, the demand for a new workers party is not ignored whilst building the SP in the working class areas.

Great events create, radically alter, and destroy major political parties. For the Scottish Socialist Party to arise, for example, and for it to have the impact it has several factors were necessary. These included; the bourgeoisification of the Labour Party in the 1980s and 1990s, enormous class struggles against the Tory governments of Thatcher and Major - including the massive anti-poll tax battle, and industrial struggles like Timex where thousands of activists from different traditions fought side by side. Marxists such as Tommy Sheridan came to prominence by leading and intervening in the struggle.

The collapse of Stalinism was also a factor - forcing among some a rethinking which cleared the way for Left individuals from previously antagonistic factions to band together in the SSA, and then in the SSP. The approach of Scottish Militant Labour was anther key factor. The SML adopted an open, democratic attitude to forces willing to unite, in stark contrast to the formation of the Scargill's SLP. There was no attempt by SML to ban factions or the sale of newspapers in either the SSA or SSP. This is totally unlike the situation recently in the London Socialist Alliance where the Socialist Workers Party supported the removal of the right of member organisations to sell their newspapers during LSA election activities.

A revolutionary Marxist perspective involves mapping out likely developments in the evolutions of workers struggles and parties. This is done not as an academic exercise, nor to abuse other 'Lefts'. It is so that Marxists can intervene with guidance on the way forward towards mass workers parties, at the same time building powerful Marxist organisations which can lead these parties in a revolutionary socialist direction. Again, this is never purely a matter of the subjective wishes of Marxists! Whilst we maintain, as the CWI, an adherence to Marxist principles of organisation, our tactical flexibility is evident throughout the world.

The period that is opening up will offer tremendous possibilities for the building of a mass socialist alternative to the insanity of the capitalist free market. Millions of workers and youth will be forced into conflict with a economic system that offers continued poverty, inequality and repression. The recent anti-capitalist movements and fuel protests represent the wind before the hurricane. The CWI will campaign for the building of mass parties to challenge capitalism. New parties that will be open and democratic and with a programme that can achieve the task of building a new society. The lessons of the twentieth century prove however that mass parties are not enough. A Marxist programme that does not compromise with the ruling class, a steeled and educated mass membership, and a willingness to go all the way all these ingredients are necessary to build a new society. In 1913 the German SPD, which then officially claimed to be Marxist, had one million members; 13,000 elected councillors and MP's; 11,000 full time organisers. But the next year its leadership supported its own ruling class at the outbreak of the First World War, betraying the German working class who had put their faith in this party.

The lessons of history make a struggle for ideas and programme a question ultimately of life and death. Only a Marxist programme and methods can assure the victory of socialism. That is why the building of a Marxist force today is so important. The CWI is attempting to build such a force, and while welcoming and participating in new broad parties we retain the right to also make our own ideas available to the membership of these parties and the wider working class.