Out of the Clear Blue Sky?

Out of the Clear Blue Sky?

CWI Crisis

Understanding the Roots of the CWI Crisis and Finding a Way Forward

Contact us: info@ReformAndRevolution.org

April 24, 2019

The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) faces its deepest crisis since the split with the group led by Ted Grant and Alan Woods in 1992. The issues raised by this debate has relevance for the rebuilding of the influence of revolutionary forces internationally for Marxists in the CWI and beyond.

We begin with a summary of our main views about this:

  1. The International Secretariat (IS) Majority is pushing through a reckless and hasty split without politically clarifying the issues and engaging in a democratic debate in all sections in the run-up to the World Congress in January 2020. The reasons for this profound crisis are of a political nature which need to be politically resolved.
  2. We think it is incorrect to downplay the political disagreements as the leadership of the anti-IS bloc (the “coordinating sections”) appears to do. We believe there is truth in the claim that the CWI and its sections were pushed toward opportunism and sectarianism in the past period. This needs to be addressed in an honest, open, and democratic debate.
  3. There needs to be a serious debate in the CWI and beyond to clarify the challenges for Marxists in a completely new period with enormous challenges but also huge opportunities. All of us need an open political debate on the consciousness of the working class, on new political formations, on the influence and character of Identity Politics and how to apply methods of the united front toward movements under the influence of Identity Politics. A deeper debate is overdue on how to connect with formations with significant influence amongst the most advance layers of our class, from the DSA in the U.S. to Podemos in the Spanish state, the Left Party in Germany, and in a different way Sinn Fein in Ireland. How can Marxist principles be defended without just commenting from the sidelines?
  4. Democracy was not cultivated in the CWI over the years. This is true for the IS but also - to varying degrees - for the sections now in opposition to the IS. The lack of democratic traditions, an openness to challenge longstanding leaders (from which they could hugely benefit themselves!) makes the debate toxic. For all currents that want to contribute to future mass revolutionary parties, democracy is not optional, but is a precondition to master the challenges of understanding objective developments and create a meaningful unity of activists. The fight for political clarity in the CWI is a fight for democracy.

Our Starting Point

The crisis of the CWI takes place against the background of major shifts in the world situation, shifts which are becoming more and more apparent. This new world situation represents a major test for the radical left internationally which has revealed political and organizational shortcomings in many forces. This was the background to the debates within Socialist Alternative in the U.S. in 2017-2018, and now it has triggered a much larger crisis in the CWI. It also appears to be an important element in the recent collapse of the International Socialist Organization in the U.S., alongside accusations that the ISO leadership had covered up a rape allegation.

As former CWI members and leaders we have no desire to see the CWI weakened. The break-up of the CWI would be a tragedy, endangering six decades of work by thousands of revolutionaries. We view the CWI as the politically strongest Trotskyist international today. It has developed a rich and extremely valuable tradition to which we are deeply indebted.

As those of us in the U.S. said in our statement protesting our de facto expulsion from Socialist Alternative, we hope that with time and experience it will be possible to find a road back to working together to build the revolutionary socialist movement.

We also made clear, we are not interested in focusing our time debating another Marxist organization. We want to direct our energies outwards towards building a Marxist tendency as part of newly emerging left forces. Since leaving the CWI we have had to take time to clarify the political basis for our new groups. We have made small steps forward, bringing together new people, and beginning to develop our work. Those of us in Germany have recently published the first issue of a new magazine Lernen im Kampf, and those of us in the U.S. will be launching a magazine this spring.

However, in light of the scale of the crisis in the CWI, we have decided to write this document to explain our views. Given our long experience in the CWI, we believe we have a contribution to make in clarifying the issues under debate.

We recognize that there can be a certain organizational prejudice against us from members of the CWI, as is natural when people outside one's own organization comment on it. Nevertheless, we hope this document is taken in the spirit of comradely debate and judged on its political merits. We believe we can also learn from this debate and welcome the feedback of comrades in the CWI.

In our view, neither of the two main trends in the CWI debate have an adequate explanation of why the CWI has so suddenly arrived at this impasse, nor do they provide a principled political approach that can overcome it in a healthy manner. Instead, we believe the leadership of both sides of this conflict are unintentionally preparing the way for further crises and fragmentation of the CWI along opportunist and sectarian lines.

We would welcome discussing these issues with comrades in the CWI, and to the extent we can find a common understanding, to take steps toward joint work.

For a Democratic and Political Debate

Marxists have to develop an engaging, but principled approach to the new struggles of working-class people and oppressed groups of this period, whether they are expressed via workplace struggles, new left formations, or through “identity/privilege politics.” As a result of the set-back in consciousness and the bourgeoisification of the former workers parties following the collapse of Stalinism, new struggles of working-class, young, and oppressed people are starting from a low political and organizational level. These struggles initially can take the form of cross-class movements. They leave a lot of space for populism including, in some instances, right-wing populism. Formations based on such developments are contradictory and crisis-ridden. However, this is where class struggle often begins in the 21st century.

Marxists cannot wait for better times, for struggles to develop on a higher level or in a pure form. Nor can we throw away our principles without also giving up the only way to liberate the working class, and, through them, all of humanity from capitalism, exploitation, and oppression. This is the challenge.

When there are real disagreements, a leadership confident in its ideas will promote a democratic debate rather than rush to split. Nor will it paper over disagreements with general appeals for unity that downplay politics. Such a political and democratic approach to the debate would mark, unfortunately, a real change for the leadership of both sides in the current dispute within the CWI.

It appears that the majority of the IS is on course to carry out a reckless and damaging split in the CWI. The political issues the IS has raised are valid and should not be brushed aside in a rush to “unite.” But there is no principled reason that the political differences as they currently stand could not be patiently discussed within the framework of a common revolutionary international. On the basis of the strength of the political arguments, combined with reviewing the experience of different sections testing out different approaches, it would be possible to overcome the current differences, or events would demonstrate that there is a growing divergence too great for the two groups to function together in one international.

However, this does not appear to be the approach of the IS. Instead, they are driven by the narrow needs of their prestige and attempting to maintain control over the leadership of the CWI. Faced with opposition from a substantial section of the International Executive Committee (IEC) and the leadership of an unprecedented number of CWI sections, the IS launched a faction and are preparing to carry through an international split to avoid a serious challenge to their domination.

The IS presents this historic crisis of the CWI as having emerged suddenly, as if it fell out of the clear blue sky! Only after a threat to their leadership developed did the IS start to openly raise major political differences with different sections (some of which they had only recently hailed as exemplary).

That said, the politics and methods of the leadership of the opposition to the IS are also inadequate in our view. While they correctly point to the undemocratic approach of the IS, the opposition utilizes undemocratic methods themselves. They downplay the political issues raised in this debate and avoid taking a clear stance on the issues to maintain a broad anti-IS bloc. In a mirror image of the IS, they depict the eruption of this crisis as falling out of the blue sky. They therefore cannot offer a deep analysis of it, or offer a way to overcome it in the long-term.

There is a striking similarity between how this debate is being conducted and the methods used against us in the internal struggle in the U.S. from 2017 to 2018 (and in a different way in the internal debates we went through in the German section). Contrary to this current debate, in the U.S. debate the IS formed a bloc with the U.S. Majority leadership which downplayed the political issues and argued that the differences raised by the Minority did not justify factions. Instead, the IS and Majority leaders claimed the debate was about “bad methods of leadership.”

In the debates we went through in both the U.S. and Germany, the IS supported the leadership of both sections in avoiding debate on political issues by exploiting their members’ desire for unity and loyalty to the organization. However, now that these same arguments are being used by the anti-IS bloc against the IS, the IS has re-discovered the importance of striving for a scientific appraisal of movements and the need to wage a struggle for political clarity!

Key Political Issues of the Debate

The discussions developing in the CWI are about how Marxists can deal with the challenges in the current epoch. There appear to be three key political issues at the heart of the discussion, which are genuinely important issues with which we must grapple:

  1. How to relate to the rise of identity/privilege politics. With the setbacks of the workers’ and socialist movements after the fall of the Berlin Wall, struggles against oppression have a much bigger importance but also a much lower level of class-consciousness than before. There are new challenges in how to approach them positively while arguing for Marxist ideas, the role of the working class, and a transitional program. This also featured in the previous U.S. debate, with discussions around the opportunism of the city council office in Seattle toward Identity Politics (such as the decision to vote for a liberal black woman to lead the Seattle Police Department) which were brushed aside, including by the IS at that time.
  2. How to relate to parties or new formations which have the affiliation of working-class people on the basis of populist, left-populist, Keynesian or other “anti-establishment” sentiments. This has been raised in particular in relation to Ireland and the need for using “United Front methods” towards Sinn Fein. Similar issues arose in the recent debates in the U.S. section firstly about how to relate to Sanders in 2015, and then after that on the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). These were a continuation of previous sharp debates between our U.S. comrades and a propagandistic and workerist trend in the U.S. section about how to apply United Front methods in a new era of populist forces and cross-class movements. In Germany, the question of United Front methods were posed in the debates about work in the Left Party and trade unions. In particular there was an important debate about how the Left Party should relate to soft-left trends in Social Democracy, and how Marxists could help to build a vibrant left wing that actually engaged in the real debates in the Left Party.
  3. How to develop healthy, democratic internal regimes in a period of low political consciousness. Examples of unhealthy methods of the Irish leadership and of the IS have featured in this debate. They are a mirror image of each other, and of similar undemocratic methods we have seen ourselves in the U.S. and German sections. With the setback of the workers movement and class consciousness in the 1990s, there was an inevitable pressure pushing Marxist organizations toward a conservative posture of “defending the ideas.” Internally, this was expressed by the leadership of sections adopting an unstated attitude of needing to protect the organization from “alien ideas” brought into the organization by new members.
  4. This contributed to the development of an undemocratic internal culture where the leaderships believed they had the right to act as a benign “educational dictatorship” within the organization. It also encouraged a tendency amongst CWI leaderships to try to avoid discussion and debate in the sections that they feared they could not control, and instead to rely on their authority and prestige. When crises strike, this then descends into even poorer methods as is now being highlighted. It's no accident that these ossified internal regimes clash with reality exactly at a time when new movements and new dynamics develop, like the new international feminist wave, Sanders and DSA in the U.S., the abortion rights struggle in Ireland, and Corbyn and Brexit in Britain (where the lack of lively debates about how to relate to Corbyn or Brexit within the British organization speaks for itself).
  5. Unfortunately, rather than openly discussing and fully debating these complex issues, there has been a growing tendency to sweep issues under the rug by all sides, but eventually these pressures reached a breaking point.

Triggers of the Crisis

Several issues appear to have triggered this crisis.

  1. The IS has criticized the approach of the Irish section to Identity Politics. They have argued that in the women’s movement the Irish section has not clearly argued for the crucial role of the working class in the struggle for women’s liberation, which they describe as Mandelism. In response, the leadership of the Irish section has accused the IS of essentially taking a dogmatic and economistic approach (reducing the struggles against oppression to just economic demands and struggles of the working class).
  2. There are allegations that a group of leading comrades in the Irish section acted in a highly undemocratic manner in responding to an unspecified “breach of protocol” by a comrade in Ireland.
  3. The Irish leadership accuses the IS of not openly raising criticisms they had of their work over a period of years, but instead working behind the scenes to undermine them and split the section.

The allegations against both sides of undemocratic methods ring true to us based on the evidence offered in the documents and given our own previous experience in the CWI. There is a history of heavy-handed interventions of the IS into different sections where the power and prestige of the IS has taken precedence over principled politics.

Examples of this include: the very rapid fusion with the IR in Spain which the IS hailed as “historic,” brushing aside concerns of CWI members in Spain; the handling of a debate in France in 2012; a rushed fusion with a suspicious organization in Pakistan; the IS’s sponsorship of a new dubious group in Pakistan after the previous one collapsed; one-sided exaggerations about our forces in Kazakhstan; and our own experiences in Germany and the U.S. of being driven out.

Another example is how the 2017 IEC meeting voted unanimously - with the exception of Stephan K. and Philip L. - for the IS resolution supporting the U.S. Majority. This resolution was subsequently used as a vital source of authority for the U.S. Majority against the U.S. Minority. However, Stephan and Philip report that several IEC members told them that they did not agree with the IS resolution and believed the debate at the IEC was undemocratic. In the current debate, some of these IEC members are supporting the IS faction, and others are supporting the anti-IS bloc. Yet Stephan and Philip say all of these IEC members told them in 2017 that they believed they could not openly raise their views or vote accordingly, fearing political retribution by the IS.

It appears the Irish section is now on the receiving end of the IS’s undemocratic organizational methods. In this case, however, it was an overreach. The leaders of a number of other key sections of the CWI feared the IS’s criticisms of the Irish section’s ROSA work would meet resistance within their own sections, that the IS’s domineering approach had gone too far, and that the IS's behavior could be a threat to them at a later point if left unchecked.

This comes against the background of the IS’s political authority slowly being diminished over the past period as they have been producing lower quality political material, and their ability to effectively lead and take new initiatives has been declining. Rather than make room for a younger generation, the IS has increasingly relied on appeals to authority with references to the great work of Militant or the Socialist Party in the last century. We value the contribution of the CWI in those struggles, but for any neutral reader it would appear strange that the IS answers criticisms of their work today by pointing to achievements 25 years ago such as Panther UK and the Campaign against Domestic Violence.

Over many years, votes within the CWI on points of political importance were almost always unanimous. Now suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there was an eruption of intense debate at the 2018 IEC meeting. On the surface this appears paradoxical. However, these two phenomena are interrelated. Doubts and criticisms of the IS have developed over the past period by a whole section of the IEC and the international membership.

These concerns have not been allowed the necessary ventilation of open and democratic discussion and debate. Instead they have been accumulating under the surface. The clash between the IS and the Irish leadership has provided a opening for these stored up tensions to be released. This explains why the character of the debate is so out of proportion to the actual issues formally under discussion.

All of this can explain a lot of the bitterness, and deserves attention in its own right. However, it does not sufficiently explain the depth of the crisis the CWI is in.

IS’s Increasingly One-sided Analysis of the New Period

At its root, the crisis in the CWI is based in the changing political situation. Since 2007/08 Marxists have been confronted with a new period. The economic crisis has led to a series of working-class battles and movements, but starting on a terrain of a low level of working class consciousness, organization and leadership. Objectively, the depth of the crisis has created a situation of revolution and counter-revolution, and has led to the emergence of new left formations and the growth of right-wing populism and far-right forces.

The crisis of working-class consciousness, organization and leadership is rooted in the fundamental change in world relations in 1989/91 that the CWI analyzed well in the 1990s. However, its consequences and challenges have become clearer with the beginnings of new struggles in the aftermath of the crisis of 2007/08. In a sense, after 2007/08 a new period of building the workers' movement internationally has begun, but it also reveals more clearly the challenges created by the aftermath of 1989/91.

On the surface the declaration of the IS faction recognizes this. They write:

“At root, this crisis [in the CWI] has an objective basis. It reflects the contradictory political situation in the class struggle internationally, which has developed since the crisis of 2007/8. In many countries, an extremely polarised situation is opening up, reflected in Trump’s victory, Modi’s rule in India, the coming to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil, and AMLO in Mexico, and now the explosive situation in France and the Spanish state. These illustrate the character of the period we have entered. Reflected in the debate in the CWI is the issue of preparing the revolutionary party to be ready to face up to the new era which has opened up.

At the same time, the working class has not yet put itself at the head of the movement, with a conscious socialist programme. The new radical left forces that emerged from the crisis of social democracy and the communist parties have demonstrated not only their reformist confusion but also their incapacity to lead the mass movement and orientate it towards a struggle for the socialist transformation of society. At this stage, the crises within capitalism, the turn towards the left, and advances in an anti-capitalist consciousness among layers of the masses, especially the youth, have not yet resulted in the emergence of powerful, distinct new workers’ parties. A strong socialist consciousness has not yet emerged as a viable alternative to the global crisis of capitalism. This is the price we are still paying for the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism, the bourgeoisification of social democratic parties, and the opportunism of the new left formations, which inevitably creates difficulties for the development of a Marxist force such as ours.

Under these conditions, the pressure to look for opportunist shortcuts is extremely strong. It has affected other organisations on the left, including the revolutionary left, which have dissolved or partially dissolved as a result. The CWI is not immune from these pressures. This is a central aspect of the debate which has now opened up. It can, and has, led to a tendency to lower the profile and programme of the party to accommodate to these pressures. This is not necessarily a conscious decision but happens as a result of the objective pressures.”

There is a lot of truth in this statement. There is a huge opportunist pressure on revolutionary forces today given the weakness of the Marxist left and the low level of consciousness in the working class. However, the IS faction’s statement is blind to the other side of this pressure, i.e. sectarianism. The isolation of revolutionary forces from the mass of the working class and the low level of new movements has also led to conservative and sectarian errors as well in the CWI over the past period.

The IS faction’s one-sided approach of arguing that opportunism was the danger facing the CWI left them blind to ultra-left pressures, as is now shown in how the Spanish, Portuguese, Venezuelan, and Mexican sections are poised to leave the CWI as a “sectarian ultra-left trend” (in the words of the IS faction).

A positive side of the statement of the IS's faction is its patience. We must not lose sight of the fundamental role of the working class, even in this period where the working class has not yet decisively demonstrated in practice its revolutionary role. However, what presents itself first as a healthy patience on the IS’s part is in practice used by them to justify disengagement from the real battles that are unfolding, such as women's struggles or environmental battles.

While the huge changes in the outlook of our class have become clearer since the Great Recession, the analysis of the IS of this consciousness has tended to become less precise. The crisis in consciousness and organization in the working class has been emphasized less consistently, compared to the analysis the CWI pioneered in the 1990s. There has also been a tendency at times to portray the challenge facing the working class as mainly being a crisis of leadership.

As new mass movements and formations emerged that have reflected this low level of consciousness, the IS has tended to shy away from actively engaging in a principled way. That is why, despite the best intentions, the IS was not able to effectively argue against the opportunism of the Irish leadership by offering a serious alternative that could actually be applied by those playing a leading role in the women’s movement. Instead, the IS was largely silent during the height of the Irish ROSA work, but has now suddenly raised largely sweeping criticisms after the fact.

The IS faction seems to base themselves on a perspective that the preponderance of cross-class movements will quickly be dispelled by events, and class struggle will revert to a more classical form of how it was in the 1970s and 1980s. It is true that on the basis of big events consciousness will develop and the class struggle will mature. But nonetheless it is false to expect the class struggle to express itself according to a schema from a different historical period.

Struggles on issues such as racism, sexism, and the environment look set to be a major factors in the re-development of the socialist movement in the coming period. The influence of postmodern ideas in identity/privilege politics are not simply a flash in the pan which will disappear by themselves. Nor can Marxists simply dispel these ideas by preaching abstract truth from the sidelines. We need to boldly engage in these movements to show in practice the crucial power of the working class, and that it is Marxism which provides the best guide to action to lead the working class to power.

Anti-IS Bloc Lacks Political Answers

Despite our criticisms, at least the IS faction discusses politics. The core of the anti-IS bloc is an alliance of leaders of different sections who appear to be most concerned about avoiding the intervention of the IS into “their” national sections. They have not provided a serious analysis of the problems that led to this crisis in the CWI, nor have they clearly articulated an alternative to the IS’s political perspective and program for this new period. Politically weaker than the IS, they tend towards a more federal international organization, based on a certain form of peaceful coexistence.

The appeal of the anti-IS bloc is its opposition to the clumsy formation of a faction by the IS and opposition to a split. This can appear attractive to comrades repelled by the reckless approach of the IS, but it would do nothing to actually address the underlying causes that led to this situation.

This non-political approach is a recipe for further crises, splits, and fragmentation. It was the approach used by the IS and the U.S. leadership against those of us in the U.S. when we were a minority in SA. They sought to avoid debate on the political issues we raised, instead building a majority against us on the basis of maneuvers, administrative removals of comrades from leadership bodies without allowing alternative proposals to be raised, hiding the debates from members for over one year while the leadership carefully built its majority, and basing themselves on appeals to members against “factions” and for loyalty to the organization.

Both sides within the CWI are correct to highlight the bad methods and bureaucratism of the other side. However a way forward is not offered by either side to overcome this impasse. This points towards a split which will result in two main organizations that will both be unstable and likely to further fragment, as both sides are lacking political clarity (in different ways). On such a basis the danger of even larger opportunist and sectarian mistakes are bound to grow. There is a pressing need for a fundamentally different approach - one based on a thorough democratic renewal of the CWI and establishing Marxist clarity on the key political issues.

An exception to this downplaying of politics is the January 4, 2019 document from the leadership of the Greek section which addresses the challenges of this new period. They highlight how the setbacks for the working class mean that “mass radicalisation takes new forms” such as the women’s movement, indignados, Occupy, etc. They correctly recognise these kinds of movements are not just a short-term phenomenon but are “characteristic of our epoch.” They do not show the same hesitancy as the IS to actively engage in these movements, instead favoring a “turn” to these movements.

However, they fail to address how we develop a program to engage in these populist or cross-class movements in a distinct Marxist fashion. This is a recipe to repeat the mistakes of the Irish section, who boldly intervened in the women’s movement (correctly in our view) but appear to have failed to sufficiently point to the key role of the working class and the need for a socialist program.

The document by the Greek leadership also defends the decision not to engage with the real battles of the working class to alter the course of history in the case of the Syriza government. Several projects were put forward by the Greek leadership over the years as alternatives to joining Syriza where Marxists could have more effectively engaged in the battle against the Tsipras leadership. The Greek CWI leadership developed the “Initiative 1000” and other attempts to stay equidistant from all forces of the Greek left. When real battles were developing within Syriza to counter Tsipras’ policies and later on his impending betrayal in the summer of 2015, the result was that the Greek section of the CWI was not part of the process.

Instead the Greek leadership promoted a policy of commenting from the sidelines, a policy blessed by the IS after 2013. This represented a reversal by the IS which had previously strongly argued that the Greek comrades should rejoin Syriza. This was based on the perspective of having a fighting chance to win a seat in parliament and using that platform to reach a much bigger audience to build our forces and fight against Tsipras’s policies.

Even worse, this U-turn was never formally agreed by the IS but was decided informally by Peter Taaffe. This changed position was never properly explained by the IS in written material or debated on the IEC nor in the ranks of the CWI.

For Real Engagement with the New Left Formations

This mistaken policy towards Syriza is related to an underlying issue in the current CWI crisis - what tactics to adopt towards new left formations (or the new way that old formations are now seen, such as left Democrats, Corbynism within the Labour Party, etc.)

Following the IS’s U-turn on Syriza in 2012, they appeared to have drawn far-reaching conclusions that it is not necessary, and in fact is dangerous, to really engage with these new formations. This is reflected in the IS’s Thesis on Europe which was drafted for the 2018 IEC. Despite the debate that exploded in the CWI at that IEC, the leadership of both sides share the political approach in this document. It deals with the new left formations by repeating truisms about their “mixed class character,” “low level of political consciousness,” and “center-left Keynesian” programs. Again, the implication is that this phenomenon is just temporary, existing only “in the clouds,” not to be engaged with seriously.

This has led to a tendency towards a hesitant and unengaging approach of CWI sections toward Die Linke, La France Insoumise (where the leadership of the CWI section reportedly resisted engaging in the Melenchon campaign), Corbynistas, Podemos, DSA, and others. This has resulted in lost opportunities while also leading to a feeling of unease within the CWI at being unable to grow significantly during the last period.

Concretely in terms of the Left Party in Germany there is real ferment within that party, yet there appears to be no real discussion in the CWI on this. The German CWI section is well placed to play a large role in the debates in the Left Party, but have instead too much commented on events from the sidelines. The German CWI is not playing a role in developing a new broader alliance of the left within the Left Party. The new German group, Lernen im Kampf, has good material on this debate, which we would urge comrades to read.

Sinn Fein’s sectarian role and the complication of the National Question in Ireland clearly mean the situation there is not straight forward. More discussion and a critical review of the material will be needed regarding the Irish debate on the approach to Sinn Fein and the United Front method. But it does seem that the Irish section too has retreated at times to the safe ground of stating truisms about why the working class cannot trust Sinn Fein. This appears strikingly similar to the reliance on crude and abstract denunciations of the Democratic Party that we regularly argued against when some of us were part of Socialist Alternative.

This all reflects a lack of clarity in the CWI about how to engage in principled mass work in this era when we are faced with cross-class formations and left populism (rather than class politics) which often dominate new movements.

2018 World Perspectives Document Falls Short

The political weaknesses that are shared by the leaderships of both the IS faction and the anti-IS bloc is also visible in the World Perspectives statement. This document was agreed unanimously by the IEC at its 2018 meeting where the CWI debate erupted.

The World Perspectives document does not provide a clear characterization and overall analysis of the current world situation. It lacks a clear synthesis or generalization of the main processes and stage of development. Furthermore, there is a lack of perspectives - what are the main lines of development we expect for the coming period? Or what are the various scenarios we should be prepared for? Instead, the document has the character of a jumbled commentary on issues arising in various countries with various general points thrown in in an unsystematic way.

The lack of political precision in its analysis is striking. This is in contrast to the tradition of the CWI which has emphasised the importance of precise and scientific analysis, characterizations, and perspectives. Examples of this in the World Perspectives document are:

a. The enormous wave of feminist struggles are not adequately addressed.

There is no mention of “#MeToo” or “feminism.” There is a glaring lack of analysis of this movement, and no perspectives for it. This reflects an underestimation of this movement as a side issue rather than a central part of our analysis of the world situation and balance of forces. Nor were these issues dealt with in depth in previous CWI world perspectives documents over the past several years (with the partial exception of the 2016 World Congress document on women. This is a politically good statement with which we agree, but it only deals in a very limited fashion with an analysis of the new feminist wave and its specific features and contradictions. For example, it does not deal with the left-wing strands of identity politics which have become so influential among the radical wings of these struggles).

b. Major new developments in climate change are not dealt with.

Nor is there a deeper analysis of how this will impact perspectives for the next 5 to 10 years for example with a new wave of migration, its economic impact and importantly its impact on the radicalization of new layers in society. Nor were these issues dealt with in depth in previous CWI world perspectives documents over the past several years.

c. The historic growth of DSA in the U.S. is hardly dealt with.

It has grown beyond 55,000 members and is the 3rd largest socialist formation in U.S. history. It now has two members elected to the Congress and dozens to state and local government. It is of international importance as the U.S. is an indicator of how the growth of socialist ideas will develop in other countries in the next period, though, of course, with their own national characteristics.

d. The document has a very loose characterization of “the prospect of revolution and elements of counter-revolution now inherent in the world situation.”

This is an important characterization, but what it means deserves to be spelled out and elaborated. In a certain sense, it is correct. But as formulated, it is too sweeping and imbalanced given the weakness of working-class consciousness, organization, and leadership internationally. Given this, we need to be clear that the coming revolutions will have a partial, uneven and crisis-prone character. The development of the socialist revolution in this period will be a protracted process as the working class struggles through painful experiences to overcome the crisis of consciousness, organization, and leadership where struggles often start in cross-class movements and are even reflected in multi-class organizations.

The characterization also implies the forces of revolution are at this time dominant over the forces of reaction by qualifying counter-revolution with “elements” but not having any comparable qualification for revolution. While the underlying objective processes are laying the basis for a massive swing to the left, currently the forces of right-wing populism internationally are stronger than left-populism on balance. This is shown by the victories of Trump, Bolsonaro, the swing to the right in Latin American governments more generally, the rise of the AFD and stagnation of the Left Party in Germany, the betrayal of Syriza and the victory of the Troika, right-wing authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, Duterte in the Philippines, and the dominant wave of reaction and counter-revolution in the Middle East.

Of course, there are also extremely significant progressive developments internationally such as Sanders, DSA, huge anti-Trump protests, and the major wave of teachers strikes; the election of AMLO in Mexico; Corbyn; the yellow vests in France; the revolt in Algeria, Sudan and the ferment in other countries in the region ; and the new global feminist wave. The underlying processes are pointing to further explosive events, progressive struggles, class battles and revolutionary upheavals. The radicalization of young people on issues of oppression, inequality and the environment is predominantly in a left and anti-capitalist direction. The coming economic crash will further expose the inability of capitalism to provide for ordinary people. But it does us no good to have an imbalanced assessment that does not soberly recognize the strength of right-wing forces at this current conjuncture.

While the 2018 document was especially weak, it is not fundamentally different from the quality of world relations documents of the last period. There has been a decline in the quality of IS documents, falling far short of the level, for instance, of the 1993 World Congress documents.

How is it that there is no correction, or even open discussion, of these shortcomings on the IS or the IEC? It is a result of a situation where the IS is dominated by one person (Peter Taaffe) who has been the General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales (the CWI’s largest section) for 54 years. There is a deeply unhealthy culture of a lack of open criticism of points that Peter makes - until now where the anti-IS bloc seems to be taking revenge for their accumulated grievances. However, this is largely in the form of a outburst of anger rather than a developed political alternative.

Similar criticisms can be made about the 2018 IS thesis on Europe. Our class is discussing the impact of the Brexit and how to avoid the worst case scenario in the UK, in Northern Ireland, in Ireland, and the rest of Europe. However, the Europe document comments from the sidelines that we can't predict further developments. That's fair enough. However, where is our programmatic approach?

Marxism and Identity Politics

Despite the weaknesses of the IS in politically analyzing new developments, reality inevitably asserts itself, causing friction and tension within the CWI as different sections struggle with how to respond. This is shown in the discussion on identity politics that has now erupted.

The IS and the Irish majority comrades both raise correct criticisms of each other, yet neither have put forward in our view an adequate, rounded out, Marxist position.

A huge strength of the Irish comrades is that they recognize the importance of the new global feminist wave and have actively fought to find tools to participate and intervene. Flowing from that, they have inevitably had to deal with the prevailing ideology of identity politics. Whatever their shortcomings, it was correct for the Irish section to boldly turn towards this field of work. Marxists must base themselves on an active participation in the real movements of the oppressed and the working class.

The Irish comrades make absolutely correct criticisms of the IS: that it has underestimated the importance of the new global feminist wave, it has been hesitant to actively intervene, and when it is forced to deal with these issues, it tends to adopt a crude position.

We also agree with the Irish comrades’ criticisms that the IS has a tendency to adopt an economistic approach on this issue. We would add that the IS tends towards an abstract propagandistic approach on this question. By this we mean a dogmatic approach of asserting Marxist fundamentals rather than utilizing the transitional method, flexible tactics, and united front methods.

There is a parallel here with the dogmatic approach taken by Ted Grant to the movement against the first Gulf War, which Peter Taaffe correctly criticized at the time. Grant’s approach was to condemn the petit-bourgeois pacifism that influenced the (multi-class) anti-war movement. In response Peter argued in The Rise of Militant:

“Such movements were initially bound to have pacifist overtones. Marxists are not pacifists. But at all times Marxists distinguish between the false hypocritical 'pacifism' of the capitalists and their reformist shadows within the labour movement, which invariably acts as a cover for war, and the genuine anti-war mood of the youth.”

We must take a similar approach to distinguish between the identity/privilege politics coming from the establishment, and that of genuine youth, women and people of color who are expressing their opposition to sexism and racism.

Instead, the argumentation of the IS points away from the issues that are at the forefront of women’s struggles today. While there have been important struggles for pay parity (e.g. Glasgow council workers, Irish nurses etc) the dominant issues in the women's movement so far have been democratic, social, and cultural issues such as reproductive rights, violence against women, sexual harassment, rape, etc. The IS tends to artificially try to move the discussion away from democratic and social demands onto the plane of economic demands. For example, a recent article by the British section for IWD 2019, A socialist programme to end women's oppression, puts economic demands front and center rather than the demands related to gender violence.

Marxist feminists should absolutely champion economic demands for women’s liberation, which petty-bourgeois and bourgeois feminists strive to avoid and are incapable of waging a consistent struggle on. But it is profoundly mistaken to see this as counter-posed to championing democratic, social, and cultural liberation as well.

In the Ted Grant era the CWI suffered from a tendency towards a crude workerism in relation to women’s and especially LGBTQ struggles. In the 1990s important steps were taken to correct this. The CWI made important steps towards developing a politically strong approach towards Marxist feminism and LGBTQ issues.

However, the legacy of workerism and a lack of clarity on how to take up issues of special oppression of women and LGBTQ people were not fully overcome. This has been compounded by the failure of the CWI to seriously and systematically engage with and critique identity/privilege politics, which developed as a new feature at the forefront of struggles by women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and youth since the 1990s. These ideas, as well as the postmodern philosophy underlying them, are not just limited to those movements; they have a much wider influence on the outlook of a radicalizing layer of youth and left-wing workers.

It is to the Irish comrades’ credit that they took the initiative to launch ROSA in 2013. Behind the scenes, the IS argued against this initiative and urged other CWI sections not to follow this example. Unfortunately, this was not openly raised by the IS with the IEC and the membership of the CWI for discussion and debate.

It is also the case that the Irish comrades were raising criticisms of the IS on this issue over the past several years, but also in a informal fashion behind the scenes. Neither side openly argued for its position in a frank, transparent, and democratic manner.

The CWI has missed opportunities to recruit and develop its members by not boldly intervening as a cohesive revolutionary international in the global feminist wave. We think the ROSA initiative should have been taken up internationally far earlier. We recognize that it would not be applicable in some countries for objective or subjective reasons. But it is clear that such an initiative should have been adopted in far more than the Irish, Belgian, Spanish, and Mexican sections. It had, and still has, the potential that Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) had in the 1990s which drew great strength from being an international campaign.

On the other hand, we agree with a number of the criticisms of the IS of the Irish ROSA work for politically adapting in an unclear manner to the underlying ideas and assumptions of identity/privilege politics. The question of the role of the working class is central and crucial. The Irish leadership has opportunistically bent to the existing consciousness of the left wing of the women’s movement. There is a lack of emphasis of the role of our class in general, not just in this or that leaflet or speech.

The debate on identity/privilege politics will need to continue. We believe this debate is of interest not just to CWI members, but also to the left wing of the new women’s movement and others on the revolutionary left. The debate should therefore not be kept just behind closed doors, but should feature on SocialistWorld.net or Marxist.net, and in the journals of the sections. This was done in the past with the debates over the class character of China and the Scottish debate. It was the norm for debates in the Bolshevik Party to also be aired publicly, and this tradition was continued by the American SWP in the 1930s. This is a tradition of democracy and transparency which the CWI should renew. The debate also needs to be politically deepened beyond name calling and defending prestige.

What Way Out of this Crisis?

The CWI is faced with its deepest crisis in over 25 years and a major international split. Yet the main issues under discussion (identity/privilege politics, the internal regime of the Irish organization, and the methods of the IS) - while very important and deserving of robust debate - should not in themselves generate or justify such a polarized debate which so quickly has posed the danger of a split.

The CWI, if it is democratic, should be able to have vigorous exchange that is beneficial to the entire international on the new women’s movement, identity/privilege politics, and how we intervene. There should be patient, educational debate which should be frank and not paper over differences. A politically confident and democratic approach would allow for differences of opinion and trends of thought on this issue within the international. A confident leadership would allow for time and experience, combined with open Marxist polemics, to clarify the issues.

Unfortunately, it appears that neither the IS nor the anti-IS bloc want a debate conducted in such a manner. Instead the IS are rapidly escalating the discussion and driving towards a split, while the anti-IS bloc try to paper over the political issues, and seek instead to focus the debate on issues of “tone.”

The leaders of the anti-IS bloc correctly point to the unhealthy methods of the IS and their attempts to drive out the Irish section and others who oppose them. But do they seriously believe this is the first time such methods have been used?

In truth, for a whole period the IS has operated with elements of unhealthy methods. Many comrades have seen this in different ways, but there has been very little open discussion about it. This has created an atmosphere where many comrades have criticisms or doubts but do not openly raise them.

The comrades on all sides have good intentions, and are motivated by revolutionary aims. The problem is not with individual comrades, but a culture that has developed unconsciously throughout the CWI. This developed slowly, behind the backs of us all, in a imperceptible way at first.

In retrospect, we recognize that those of us who were leaders in the CWI also bear responsibility for being complicit in allowing this to develop and not openly speaking up about problems much earlier in the hope that the they would correct themselves or be corrected by events. But this undemocratic culture has now grown to such proportions that it represents a mortal danger to the CWI.

Under these conditions, it is comrades’ political responsibility to face reality squarely, call things by their right names, and to struggle to get to the root of this crisis. No longer can there be any tolerance or continuation of a culture of pretenses, diplomatic evasions, and deference to leaders. Only by addressing the issues in a frank and open debate can this danger to the CWI be confronted and halted.

The explosive dynamic of this crisis is not only an expression of the unhealthy regime within the CWI, which can be characterized as “democratic on paper but an undemocratic culture in practice.” It also reflects a lack of political clarity and engagement with key contemporary challenges and new developments.

There is a lack of political cohesion and clarity within the CWI on how Marxists should relate to the new feminist wave and how to approach/critique the left-wing strands of identity/privilege politics which predominate in these movements. We are now paying the price for a significant lack of internal discussion, written material, and clarification on these issues over the last period.

It is not true, as is sometimes said in the CWI, that it is only recently that ID politics has emerged as important in Europe. The development of “post-Marxist,” postmodern ideas and identity/privilege politics goes back decades (starting in the 1980s), and it has become an important political-ideological force on the left since the 1990s. To effectively develop Marxist cadres who are ideologically equipped to struggle against the pressure of various bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas, the CWI needs to develop a through-going analysis and critique of these trends. This includes a nuanced critique on the philosophical, theoretical, and political planes.

This is not an academic exercise foreign to genuine Marxism, as is too often the attitude in the CWI. We need to remember the enormous priority Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky placed on the struggle for clarity on issues of philosophy and theory.

It is to the Irish leadership’s credit that they were the first in the CWI in writing to make a serious attempt to develop a theoretical-political critique of identity/privilege politics. However, it must also be acknowledged that even this, in 2013, was quite late given that the issues had been posed for at least 20 years prior. And while the material produced was a step forward, it was insufficient and had political weaknesses.

Within all of that, let's not forget: The weaknesses of the CWI are made visible because there is a first hint of an upswing of the movements against oppression, a resurgence of socialism flowing from the U.S. into international debates, a promise of a rekindling of working-class struggles, and not least the posing of the question of a workers’ government in the UK through Jeremy Corbyn (without sufficient answers yet, but still pushing ahead).

The opportunities for a genuine Marxist international tendency within the workers' movement are opening up. There are many reasons for Marxists to be optimistic about the coming years. It's in the hands of the cadre of the CWI and those trained by the CWI to turn this time of crisis into a starting point to build in a healthy, democratic and truly Marxist way in the growing struggles of the working class.


Co-signers from Lernen im Kampf (Germany)

Aron Amm, former IEC member of the CWI and editor for more than a decade of the newspaper of SAV (German section of the CWI)

Daniel Behruzi, former NC member of SAV

Pablo Aldereto, former NC member and Stuttgart secretary of SAV who left the CWI in 2014 along with their branch

Richard Ulrich, former member of SAV

Co-signers from Reform & Revolution (U.S.)

Alexander Davis, former Columbus Branch member of Socialist Alternative (U.S. section of the CWI)

Bianca Davis, former Columbus Branch Committee member of SA

Bobby Lambertz, former Seattle Ravenna Branch Committee Paper Organizer of SA and Renton Education Association member

Bryan Watson, former NC member of SA and Finance Director of 2015 Sawant campaign

Corey Andon, former Dayton Branch Organizer of SA

Ember Vogel, former Columbus Branch Committee Finance Organizer of SA

Evan Seitchik, former Boston Branch member of SA

Harris (Rebekah) Liebermann, former staff member for Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and former Seattle City Committee member of SA

James Whitney Kahn, former staff member for Councilmember Kshama Sawant, former Seattle City Committee member of SA; shop steward in Seattle Education Association

Jared McCollum, former Columbus Branch member of SA

Jennifer Barfield, former Tacoma Branch member of SA

Jeremy Thornes, former Seattle South Branch Committee Paper Organizer of SA

Jerry Liebermann, former Seattle Georgetown member of SA

Josh O'Grady, former Columbus Branch member of SA

Kyle Kamaz, former Columbus Branch Organizer of SA

Linda Harris, former Seattle Georgetown Branch member of SA

Mark Rafferty, former Seattle University District and NYC Bushwick Branch Committee member of SA

Manuel Carrillo, former Seattle Georgetown Branch Organizer of SA; shop steward in UNITE HERE Local 8

Mary Smith, former NC member and founding member of the Tacoma Branch of SA, shop steward in Teamsters Local 313

Meg Strader, former Seattle First Hill Branch member of SA

Philip Locker, former National Secretary of SA and former IEC member of the CWI

Ramy Khalil, former EC and NC member of SA and Campaign Manager of 2013 Sawant campaign

Ruth Oskolkoff, former University District-Seattle Branch member of SA, Extinction Rebellion member

Sara Parent, former Seattle Georgetown branch member of SA

Sarah White, former NC member and National Grievance Officer of SA

Stan Strasner, Vice President of the Seattle Substitutes Association and Executive Board member of Seattle Education Association

Stephan Kimmerle, former member of the IS and IEC of the CWI, former EC member of SAV (Germany) and later SA (U.S.)

Stuart Strader, former Seattle Georgetown Branch Committee Paper Organizer of SA

Contact us: info@ReformAndRevolution.org