Sunday, 29 November 2009

Split in Russian CWI

Eagle-eyed left watchers will have picked up on the news that the Committee for a Workers' International section in Russia has split. However, while others on the left prefer to pass over splits in silence while hoping no one notices, the CWI has a tradition of publishing relevant documents and commenting on these sorts of setbacks. After all, every difference, every split within the far left is pregnant with lessons for all revolutionary socialists. Below I reproduce the CWI's statement on the split (original here). Normal blogging will resume shortly.

Russia/Georgia War, capitalist crisis and the workers’ movement…
Vital debates for socialists

Statement from the CWI in Russia

For over twenty years, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Russia and throughout the former Soviet Union has worked to build the forces of genuine socialism, with modest but significant successes - given the huge tasks ahead for socialists - which no other Trotskyist or serious left force has matched. This vital work has been conducted in extremely difficult material and political conditions, as a consequence of the collapse of Stalinism and the disastrous imposition of capitalism and authoritarian rule. The important steps forward we have made were only possible as a result of the CWI’s clear historical analysis of Stalinism and its demise in 1989-91, the maintenance of principled Marxist ideas and methods of work, and by developing clear analysis, perspectives, and socialist policies and programme.

One of the most pernicious legacies of Stalinism is the widespread ideological confusion in Russian society, coupled with an avalanche of capitalism propaganda and reactionary ideas. Inevitably, this ideological confusion finds expression in the developing workers’ movement and even in the ranks of the CWI, in a period when the working class has not yet decisively intervened into the political life of the country. For over 18 months, a sharply polarised debate has taken place inside the CWI in Russia. This culminated, last weekend, in the parting of the ways between the CWI and a grouping based around a three-person so called ‘Executive Committee’ of the Russian organization. This grouping has clearly shown, in words and deeds, that they do not even agree with some of the most basic elements of the CWI programme, methods of work or party democracy. This former opposition grouping has placed itself outside the ranks of the CWI.

The former opposition grouping rushed to publicized their completely disingenuous version of the outcome of last Saturday’s CWI meeting in Moscow, including on the ‘blogosphere’. Of course, they do not mention the real and fundamental political differences between us and try to spread all sorts of ridiculous falsehoods and personal attacks. In the process of building the CWI, we have previously parted ways with similar grouplets representing opportunist and reformist trends, a type of which unfortunately are found all too often in the developing workers’ movement in the former CIS.

We welcome the opportunity to put on public record the opposition groupings’ completely erroneous political positions on key issues, such as the Russia/Georgia War, the political programme required by workers’ today and on party democracy. We believe the workers’ movement in Russia and internationally can learn from this debate and it can help prepare socialists for the tasks ahead, as we enter a stormy period of capitalist crises, conflicts and workers’ struggles.

At a meeting organised by the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI, held on 21 November 2009, in Moscow, an IS Statement was read out by visiting IS member, Peter Taaffe. This stated that it is now clear that the so-called Russian ‘Executive Committee’ and its supporters had broken from the CWI on crucial political and organisational principles. Peter went on to state that the Russian section of the CWI, with the support of the IS and the whole CWI, will continue to build and develop the forces of genuine Marxism and invited all those comrades who want to be part of this crucial task to get involved. Two thirds of those at the meeting expressed their support for the CWI.

Russia/Georgia War
This brings to an end a period of sharp disagreement within the Russian CWI. Months of growing differences over ideas, programme and methods amongst the leadership of the Russian CWI erupted throughout the entire Russian organisation during the Georgia-Russia War, in August 2008. Articles published on the organisation’s website and in its newspaper failed to put a clear socialist and class alternative to the bloody conflict that broke out between Russian imperialism and Georgia, backed by US imperialism. In fact, the opposition grouping capitulated to Russian chauvinism. Rather than demand the withdrawal of all troops from the region, for the unity of workers to resist the bloodshed and ethnic conflicts, for the overthrow of capitalism in the region and advocate the struggle to establish a free and democratic socialist federation of the Caucasus, these articles preferred to call for “friendship” between peoples and argued that only the Russian army could defend South Ossetia. They wrote: "In this situation the only force capable of defending the population of South Ossetia are the Russian troops". This incorrect position was repeated in articles on the Russian site, in written comments on the CWI members' forum and in discussions. To give just one more example, they claimed: “The Georgian aggression can only be resisted by Russian troops”.

These articles even went as far as praising the role of the reactionary ‘Narodni Opolchentsi’ militia in Abkazia and Ossetia at the beginning of the 1990s, “who succeeded in driving out the Georgian occupants”. In 2008, one of the opposition groupings’ leaders declared that it would be perfectly logical if today people rushed to join these opolchentsi to defend their “brother peoples” in South Ossetia. In the early 1990s, the Narodnii opolchentsi were involved in, and provided cover for, those conducting brutal ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Abkhazia. The ‘volunteers’ who were signed up in 2008 were, according to press reports, mainly from reactionary Cossack bands.

The call to join the ‘opolchentsi’, alone, would have served as grounds for immediate expulsion from the CWI. It was clear, however, that the majority of members of the Russian section were not fully aware of the significance of the arguments and therefore a discussion was opened up inside the Russian CWI on the question of the Russia/Georgia War. This is in line with the proud history of the CWI in Russia and internationally, in allowing full internal democratic debate and discussion. The opposition grouping was given ample opportunity to put forward its ideas to the Russian membership and an international audience. The IS was fully involved in this discussion, including corresponding with the leaders of the opposition grouping and organizing two visits by Niall Mulholland, on behalf of the IS, for meetings and discussions with all comrades in Russia. The IS strenuously opposed the shameful and undemocratic methods used by the opposition against those Russian comrades that supported the political position of the CWI, including the denial of faction rights.

After a period of intense debate in the Russian section, a Russian conference in June 2009 adopted a resolution rejecting the opposition grouping’s serious errors concerning the war and agreed a position on the war completely in line with the principled Marxist approach of the CWI. A new EC was elected by the conference that reflected the decisions of the conference and the position of the CWI.

It was therefore a great shock to many Russian comrades that during a meeting of the organisation’s Russian Committee (RC), in September 2009, the opposition grouping once again resorted to underhand, undemocratic methods to remove the EC elected by the June conference and to impose three supporters of the opposition as the new ‘EC’. This provoked a new period of intense debate inside the Russian organisation. The so-called ‘EC’ soon tried to steer the Russian organisation back to the opposition groupings’ completely wrong political positions. This can seen by a statement drafted by the ‘EC’ on 18/11/2009, which defended and praised the shameful position of the opposition grouping on the Russian-Georgian conflict, during which they capitulated before Russian nationalism. This was a clear rejection of the position adopted by the Russian Conference in 2009.

Consciousness of the working class
During the last year of debate, other political disagreements arose within the Russian organization, revealing how far the opposition grouping had moved from a Marxist position. The most important of these relates to an estimation of the mood and consciousness of the working class and the programme needed for the emerging workers’ movement. The current economic crisis has led to big attacks against the working and living conditions of the working class throughout the world. Although there have been some spectacular protests, and strikes and occupations in different countries, these have not yet taken on a generalized character. Despite the growth of a searing anti-banker and even anti-capitalist mood, this has not yet developed into a generalized socialist consciousness. But it is clear that the effects of the economic crisis will continue to be felt for years to come. There are five countries from the former USSR now in the list of “ten most likely” to default on their debts, with the Ukraine in first place, joined by Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Kazakhstan. It is inevitable that protests and opposition will grow in the coming period. In some countries, including Russia, there could be dramatic social explosions. The CWI believes that in this situation it is necessary to present a programme that answers the day-to-day needs of the working class, around demands such as “no to job losses and wage cuts”, together with a strategy to fight for these demands. These demands have to be made in the wider context of the need for nationalization of the major parts of industry and the big banks, under workers’ control and management, for an alternative plan of production, and for a planned economy and a socialist government. There have already been examples of workers in Russia who have raised the demand for nationalization, seeing that as the only way to save their factory.

As the discussion inside the Russian CWI organization developed over the course of the last year, supporters of the opposition resisted demands such as our call ‘open the books’ and for nationalization, under workers’ control and management, just as they refused to call for a socialist federation of the Caucuses, during the 2008 war. As a result of the debate, several members were won over to the CWI’s position, and under this pressure the leaders of the opposition grouping grudgingly and disingenuously ‘accepted’ that such demands could be used as “propaganda”. However, their real position quickly resurfaced at the September 2009 meeting of the Russian Committee, when one of the groupings’ leaders spoke in favour of the “optimization of personnel” at the AvtoVaz car plant, i.e. he argued in support of job losses. Other supporters of the opposition began to support these proposals, only attempting to cover them up with left phraseology.

In a recent document produced by the so-called ‘EC’, it described the demand for a democratic planned economy and a workers’ government with a socialist programme as “stupid ultra-left sectarianism”. This is a complete rejection of the transitional approach outlined by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky described how it was necessary to present a programme of immediate demands to answer the direct needs of the working class, while, at the same time, presenting a series of transitional demands, whose aim were to build a bridge between the current consciousness of the working class and the need to for a socialist transformation of society, which entails campaigning to transform workers’ struggle into a fight for socialism.

What type of organisation do we need to build?
Naturally, the last few months’ internal debate also centred on the nature of the organization that we are trying to build. The structure of an organisation should reflect its political programme and tasks. We place a priority on the need to develop political clarity. If the structure does not correspond to the programme, then contradictions within the organisation grow. A Marxist organization operates on the basis of democratic centralism, which sees full and free discussion on perspectives, programme and tactics, to develop a politically unified organization, with a leadership and party structures that both develop and defend a Marxist position and which are capable of implementing tasks.

The rejection of democratic centralism by the former opposition grouping is perfectly in line with their political points of view and reformist trajectory. Their clear opposition to democratic centralism, as practiced by the CWI, was demonstrated by their article, “Democratic centralism, principles and political practice” in which they argued that “…Trotsky did not understand the principles of democratic centralism. Being a first rate personality, who won over the masses by his personal qualities, Trotsky in 1917 remained a lone genius. His unification with the Bolsheviks took place at the very moment when the principles of democratic centralism were already being replaced by administrative principles, which for Trotsky became characteristic of his style of leadership”.

It is clear that the former EC was, in words and deeds, following a non-Marxist, reformist political and organizational route.

The opposition grouping also attempted to hijack the media of the CWI in Russia, by publishing articles, for example, on the war, on ‘civil society’ and the national question that directly contradict the approach and programme of the CWI, while, at the same time, censoring material written by elected leaders of the CWI and refusing to publish the CWI section’s newspaper for months. This situation left the Moscow branch of the CWI with no option but to print its own newspaper, which is in line with the political position of the CWI and the Russian conference in June - a decision that was fully supported by the IS.

The former opposition grouping has chosen to put itself outside the CWI and to join the marsh of opportunism and reformism in Russia. For our part, we are confident to continue our task of building and developing the ideas of genuine socialism, of the CWI, in Russia. Even in the few days since our parting of the ways became public, we have been contacted by people in Russia, who had been watching the evolution of our organization with interest and who expressed their support for our principled political stand.

The world has changed over the past two years. There is now a more favorable situation for building support for socialist ideas. The workers’ movement in Russia may, for the moment, be relatively quiet, but as the masses of workers and youth move into action, which we believe is inevitable in the coming period, they will be looking for answers. We are confident that by developing the ideas and programme of the CWI in Russia, our overwhelmingly youthful and working class organization will grow significantly in the coming period.


Derek Wall said...

'Of course, they do not mention the real and fundamental political differences between us and try to spread all sorts of ridiculous falsehoods and personal attacks' so its an amicable divorce then.

It is to do with SPEW failure to support Jerry Hicks or I am reading too much into this?

Anonymous said...

yes that is good that the documents have been published.

you could ask however, why have these debates not been made available sooner? (internally, or in public)

also, not all documents in such splits are published.

what about the previous split in russia? what about the pakistan sections' expulsion? what about the ukraine fraud? documents and statements relating to these are not published.

publishing both sides in a debate is obviously correct. also, the way a debate is conducted within an organisation, without underhand manoevers and personal attacks, or abuse of power by the current aparatus / bureaucracy is very important. changing the culture about debate and factionalism is also necessary.


Phil BC said...

I think you're reading too much into it, Derek. I doubt the folk who've recently parted ways with the Russian CWI follow the ins and outs of British trade union politics.

That said, as far as I'm aware the party's position is based on his less-than-exemplary conduct during the United Left meeting earlier in the year. While Gerry will do well in the election and I personally wish him all the best, I hope he and his comrades learn lessons from what's happened and that in future he'll assume a more cooperative attitude to his natural allies on Unite's left.

Phil BC said...

As you know, on this blog I've suggested many times that I think the party should have a more open internal culture. I realise other comrades don't agree and are more or less happy with the way things are. But as a general rule, in my opinion, we should endeavour to publish factional documents publicly as and when.

P said...

Hi all

the Russian section of CWI has new website at where both sides of debate have documents. they are in russian at the moment.

KS I think you are being a little harsh to be honest. the pakistan debate is about the only one thats not on, and i would guess that is an oversight rather than an attempt to hide anything (lpp was getting money from dodgy sources and liquidating itself from rev party to something else). theres not really much else to say about the cis, ukraine was well and truly out in the open (the fraudsters) and i am assuming you are also talking about the small group around budraikis that formed the 'forward / vperod' group which is now linked with the mandelite usfi (budrakis was / is doing deals with libyan embassy in moscow). theres nothing to really say about them at all

all the best



Phil BC said...

I really ought to pay more attention to Leftist Trainspotters (on reflection, perhaps I ought to have had you peer review my 'Post-war history of British Trotskyism' chapter ...)

Anonymous said...

agree, nothing much to say on them. but the documents could be made abvailable still, for those who didnt see them at the time or are new.


skidmarx said...

The dispute of Georgia is interesting. I was talking to a longstanding SWP member last week, having assumed that their position on the war was partly due to a belief that US dominance in the last twenty years had made it a universal villain, but he said no,that their opposition to Georgia was based on being in the Western sphere of influence(as well as the claim that the Georgian's started the conflict, which is questionable at least),and he hoped that Russian socialists would oppose their own country's involvement in the war.

Good luck with getting over the split.

Anonymous said...

War always appears to seriously divide and therefore weaken the left, this seems like a paradox or an irony. Not sure which.

Dominic Smith said...

During my recent Russian holiday in August I had the privilege of speaking at a Moscow branch meeting of my own limited involvement and that of the SP in general role in the Vesters dispute. During my talk when I brought up the point that the Vesters workers themselves began to raise the demand for nationalisation, one of the opposition members present simply walked out, looking annoyed, coming back later and it must be noted that both before and after neither of them showed any interest in either challenging my position in open debate, which as the statement above outlines, goes against their views, neither it must be said did they seem even remotely interested in engaging in or even paying attention to any of the practical activities and campaigns being disused, including preparations for an anti-fascist march, instead continually getting up, walking around, looking bored and content instead to just whisper among themselves like typical factionalists.

I think one of the important things to bare in mind is that, especially when others accuse the SP and CWI of being bureaucratic-centralists, when these differences first arose a heavy handed tactic was NOT taken, there were no expulsions, no removing of comrades from positions and because of this the opposition were allowed to grow considerably for a time, even talking key positions in the party and resulting in those comrades loyal to the CWI being in a minority. We allowed this to happen because not only are we opposed to such practices in principle, knowing they damage a party, stifling debate and leading to a culture of stagnant submission, but also we have total confidence in our ideas and program and that in time we would win back the majority on the basis of continued discussion, which we did.

On the issue of the publication of factional documents, whatever else may be said about the SP and CWI, no one can honestly claim that we are less open and willing to disclose than our opponents, the factional documents published on contrast very favourably with the CMI's website and their 'selective' choices for example. Should we do more though? Well, as Phil said that really depends on the membership, my advice to you Phil, if you feel strongly about this issue, is to produce a document for the Members Bulletin that can raise the various arguments among the membership, leading to it possibly being disused at conference, although in the case of fractional documents for CWI sections outside of England and Wales, it would be unreasonable for the membership here to impose this on them, rather the discussion has to involve the comrades from that section and the elected bodies of the CWI itself before final decisions can be taken, although as I've said it would allow the issues to get disused, which would be the first step towards that potentially happening.

Some comrades may roll their eyes at this, knowing the irregularity of the publication of the Members Bulletin, however this is only really because of the lack of material sent in for it from comrades, given the strong united agreement on fundamental analysis and tactics within the party itself. At the moment I'm working on some kind of reading/study guides for comrades on various subjects that deal with various aspects of our party's history and while containing nothing I would not be happy to see published openly, cannot be prioritised over more important stuff, so they should appear there when I'm done.

Cde Bish said...


Cde Bish
Popular Front of Dedea

Dave Riley said...

Well I guess, things are OK in Russia now because the new group has a website and the flag of the CWI can still fly over Moscow.

But how many people are we talking about? The CWI may have authorised sections every which where but their existence as franchises doesn't tell us very much about the politics of these countries nor what essentially different is the ways and means advocated by the CWIers from what else may be happening on the left there, offshore.

This split does tell us that a grouping that had the imprimatur as the real Russian revolutionaries are no longer sanctioned and that the CWI strategy of building its Russian section by dint of accumulating ones and twos -- recruited to the CWI program -- will continue. So in one country there may be 10, 20 or 50 CWI adherents and in another 100, 200 or 500 who embrace the "unstained banner" but isn't the CWI simply exporting the same ecology that exists on the British left and saying that's the way it should be? The same POV of primitive accumulation of cadre around a codified and patented program.

And when we consider earlier partings of the way -- with the SSPers in Scotland; or the Labor Party of Pakistan -- is it the case that these others ceased to suddenly be revolutionaries or socialists because they were no longer allowed to wear the CWI badge?

Mark P said...

No, Dave. The ISM majority (RIP) and the LPP ceased to be revolutionaries before they split from the CWI. And that's precisely why a split was necessary in each case.

The ISM remnants have, of course, now dissolved into open reformism, although even that's too kind a word for most of them now. The LPP has stayed together settled down into an NGO funded rut as brave, relatively admirable, reformists.

Of course, given that the DSP is itself dissolving into a reformist organisation I'm not really that surprised that you are impressed by more successful reformists, even if, as in the case of the ISM that success is long over.

Marxists organise internationally because capitalism is an international system. It's as simple as that.

Dominic Smith said...

I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by Dave's comments regarding the CWI, either they come from extreme and total ignorance of our history and recent developments, which is doubtful given our strong presence within the far-left or are conscious attempts to mislead people, either is beneath him.

Dave writes with an air of condescending arrogance,

"...the CWI strategy of building its Russian section by dint of accumulating ones and twos -- recruited to the CWI program -- will continue."

And a little later,

"...but isn't the CWI simply exporting the same ecology that exists on the British left and saying that's the way it should be? The same POV of primitive accumulation of cadre around a codified and patented program."

Where does one even being with this? Apart from the shockingly liquidationist thrust of the comments the above poster has already commented on, where simply defending a Marxist analysis from reformist-bourgeois degeneration to shown to be somehow a bad thing, there is the total historical fallacy about the history of the CWI and how we have built up and continue to build sections and supporters all over the world.

There are many, many, examples and comrades would benefit highly from reading the short book on the history of the CWI 'A Socialist World is Possible.' For now though, let me just mention a few,

Back in the 70's, successive discussions with representatives of the CWI lead to the affiliation of the Marxist opposition grouping in the Sri Lankan Lanka Sama Samaja Party to the CWI who established themselves as the NSSP following their expulsion.

In the early 90's, though the YAR (Youth Against Racism) organisation founded by Militant Labour and various supporters, we established contact with another Marxist opposition grouping, Gauche Revolutionnaire, in the French LCR who, following their expulsion in 1992 and a series of discussions later affiliated to the CWI.

More recently in 2004 the independent Polish Marxist group known simply as 'Group for a Workers Party,' after a couple of years of discussions decided to affiliate to the CWI and who’s inspiring statement 'Why we joined cwi' can be read here,

This very year! Throughout the principled participation of the Brazilin section of the CWI, Socialismo Revolucionario, in PSOL over the last few years, opposing the reformist elements, SR worked in a 'left bloc' with 3 different revolutionary Marxist parties, these organisations are: CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective), AS (Socialist Alternative) and ARS (Revolutionary Socialist Alternative) yet over a period of working together it became more and more apparent that on the majority of fundamental issues SR and the CWI were in broad agreement with CLS and so a process of fusion began to take place resulting in the unification of the 2-paries in May this year with the birth of LSR (Liberty, Socialism and Revolution.) Again, here is a report from the unity conference,

Given the endless jokes about the far-left continually splitting and fighting amongst itself this merger really does stand out and gives the CWI some well deserved bragging rights.

It must also be noted specifically that in the last 3-cases, one of main factors that lead to these groups joining the CWI is precisely because the CWI has maintained Leninist democratic-centralist principles, in the CWI itself and it's various sections and defended the idea of a revolutionary party, something the Australian DSP does not.

In any case, the above examples show, contrary to Dave's assertions, that far from the CWI wishing only to clone itself, "exporting the same ecology that exists on the British left" as Dave puts it, we are a serious socialist force capable of winning other groups to our banner.

andy newman said...

This isn't meant unkindly, but CWI documents really do read quite poorly for those of us in the wider left, due to your habit of continual self praise.

I know all the left groups do it, but there is a particular stylistic aspect to CWI documenst that is particularly prone to saying how you have a "proud tradition", and all that sort of thing.

Neil said...

I've noticed you make that obervation before in your review of 'Socialism and Left Unity' I think it was.

I think it's mostly a reflection of the fact the CWI has often taken positions that have isolated it from the rest of the Left for a considerable period of time (and of course led to a series of denunciations and distortions from said left about the particular positions) that were then vindicated in the long run. The 'proud tradition' stuff is often code for 'we've been right before and we're right about this'

I'm thinking of things like the decision to stay in the Labour Party in the 60's ad 70's, the opposition to individual terrorism and emphasis on class unity in Northern Ireland, opposing the Indian 'peace keeping' force in Sri Lanka, refusing to go along with the deification of Third Worldism and guerillaism by the 4th International in the 50's and 60's etc.

There is also a very strong culture in the CWI of seeing ourselves as a link in a chain that goes back to the International Left Opposition so statements like 'proud tradition' are more than just self congratulation (although that's there for sure!)

Finally although I'd agree with my gran who often says, "self praise is no praise" on the other hand if we don't congratulate ourselves no one else will. Outside of a few individuals in the left very few people in the labour movement, journalism or academia give the Militant much credit for the Poll Tax victory for example.