Challenge to CWI
The crisis in Peter Taaffe's tattered Committee for a Workers International is set to take a lurch forward in early September with the formation of a rival international grouping. This will be based primarily on the expelled United States minority, but includes former and current CWIers from at least eight other countries. In the spirit of the resolution reprinted below, it is hoped by some participants that observers from other revolutionary traditions will be able to attend the founding conference, in which case the Communist Party will send a representative.
The comrades write that, "On the basis of the events of the past decade and of the new struggles that lie ahead forces for a new healthy international can also come from revolutionary left organisations with a different tradition to ourselves." This refreshingly open approach - in contrast to the sterile monotheism of the Taaffe group - should be given concrete expression through an open conference. While it can be useful for comrades who share the same programmatic methods and a common history to organise together, this should not stand in contradiction to starting to engage with other revolutionary traditions in the here and now.
This new tendency will not have huge numbers, but does appear to be well organised. Leading figures of this latest challenge to Taaffe's misleadership have prepared the ground for their international conference through personal visits to identified dissidents in Britain and internationally. Comrades in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Ireland (north and south) and Scotland have been contacted. Not all are certain to follow. For instance, the nationalist/reformist orientation of the majority of the International Socialist Movement (the CWI in Scotland) makes its comrades unlikely candidates. In tone and content, the material of this new opposition smacks too much of old-style CWI mechanical Trotskyism - precisely the politics the ISM majority are leaving behind in their rightist drift.
Despite this, the new international trend will be another blow to the besieged Taaffe leadership. First, it will have resonance because it speaks the language of SPers/CWIers. Second, because it appears to be well prepared with premises, full-timers and a journal in the offing. Third, because the comrades involved claim to eschew the traditional sect narrowness customarily displayed in new political initiatives such as this. They suggest that the immediate aim is not to split the CWI, to launch a short-term membership raid on this declining group. Rather, the intention seems to be to open it up, to call the leadership to account for the CWI's political, theoretical and organisational decline.
This will present far more of a problem to the leadership clique than a clean, definitive break. It much prefers to place its critics swiftly outside its ranks, rather than have them continue to 'confuse' members on the inside. As it has shown in its farcical handling of the Harry Paterson case, this is a leadership bereft of political arguments. It is reduced to organisational fiat, manoeuvre and outright lies to maintain a pretence of political coherence.
For instance the June 16 issue of The Socialist features a report of the June 11 conference of the London Socialist Alliance. The reporter, Hannah Sell, makes some broadly correct points against the methods of the Socialist Workers Party. However, the general tone of her piece is quite venomous. We get this amazing claim for instance: "The Greater London Assembly elections demonstrated the fractured nature of the opposition to New Labour. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Socialist Party, the left was split ..."
In fact, as readers of this paper will be well aware, the SP did not simply contribute to the sectarian fragmentation of the left: in many sense it embodied it. A leading SPer in the capital, Arwyn Thomas, actually ended up standing against the London Socialist Alliance on the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation's slate. SPers in some trade unions took the lead to block support for the LSA. The Socialist did not carry adverts for LSA events - not even ones which featured prominent SPers like Dave Nellist as speakers.
The "efforts of the SP" in fact contributed to the splits on the left. For most of the campaign, the SP sought to undermine the work of the main left bloc, the LSA. The motive for this was crystal clear - petty sectarianism. Taaffe admitted as much in April issue of Socialist Today, where he bluntly stated that, "What is transparent is that it is not possible for genuine socialist alliances to be established with the SWP." Thus, the LSA is presumably not a "genuine socialist alliance" and is more of an obstacle than a step forward in the perverse mind-set of the congenital sectarians at the head of the SP.
Other CWIers clearly do not agree. Most tellingly it is an open secret that Nellist's project is pulling him away from the Taaffe clique. There is speculation that he will keep doors open to the new international grouping, although will not jump ship yet.
Now is to the time for rebellion in the ranks of the SP/CWI. To rescue what was healthy in this tradition, comrades must stand up before it is too late. In that spirit, we critically welcome the new move. It appears that the comrades' healthy 'non-confessional' attitude towards the building of international links between revolutionaries is coupled with a principled approach to the right to form factions, to open polemical struggle. However, whether this equates to the type of genuine democratic centralism outlined in the excellent Harry Paterson document (see Weekly Worker March 23) remains to be seen.
It needs to be. The strength of comrade Paterson's contribution was that he showed how the 'organisational' norms of genuine democratic centralism are inseparable from the fight for correct - Leninist - politics. As these brief extracts show, the comrades have considerable political baggage to ditch. Much of what they write smacks of the clunky, objectivist Grantism that characterised the group from its origins and continues today in the slightly wacky apocalyptic warnings of Taaffe.
Dumping Taaffe organisationally must go hand in hand with breaking from the rotten politics that spawned him.Ian Mahoney
Resolution passed at May 2000 conference in California
We commit ourselves to the building of a new international organisation. To this end we hope to be able to work with other comrades with whom we have been in contact to produce a platform in the months ahead. And work to holding an international meeting somewhere in Europe in September. We see this September meeting as being an important first step towards the building of the new international. Another important step will be increasing our public identity in our respective countries as well as strengthening ourselves organisationally. And most crucially of all will be the discussion of perspectives, programme and policies and written documents on these issues.
This process must be started immediately. We envisage that the main forces at this meeting will be from the old CWI. We regard these forces as upholding the best traditions of this organisation, as well as being prepared to critically assess the experience of this international and learn the lessons.
We recognise that a new international will only really be built on the basis of an upswing in the class struggle which will produce a new layer of fresh radicalised workers internationally. One common feature of these forces of ours which have come out of the CWI is that we have resisted the drift of that organisation in the direction of abstract propagandising. We have consistently fought for and taken concrete action in the working class struggles utilising the transitional method.
We recognise that on the basis of the events of the past decade and of the new struggles that lie ahead forces for a new healthy international can also come from revolutionary left organisations with a different tradition from ourselves. However, at this moment there are forces such as ourselves and other comrades in a number of countries with a common tradition and it is necessary to organise ourselves. We think that this is a necessary step to prepare for the future mass workers' international because these forces will constitute a crucial and specific contribution in organising the new international.
All of us who were present at this meeting this weekend are very excited about our decision which was passed unanimously. We look forward to the months ahead. This resolution was agreed to by the US minority comrades, the Berlin comrades and some former CWI comrades in London, England.