A crisis in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), the international network associated with the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SP), has broken into the open. Several members’ bulletins have been “leaked” and a document from a majority of the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI, led by SP general secretary Peter Taaffe, declaring a faction.
An obscure incident in the Irish group (obscure to this writer) appears to have levered much wider political tensions to the surface. Disagreements cover women’s liberation, LGBT rights, trade unions, the national question, and electoral politics.
Taaffe, for the majority of the International Secretariat (IS), claims that the CWI “faces an opposition to the policies and programme of the CWI with tendencies towards petty-bourgeois Mandelism. This opposition originated with the leadership of the Irish section, but it is also present in the leadership of a number of sections of the CWI who support them.”
The Irish group charges the IS majority of “plans to isolate the Irish section and move towards a rapid split”, which so far have been “confounded by the resistance of so many sections.”
The Socialist Party of Ireland is one of the CWI’s most high-profile groups, and it is supported by Socialist Alternative in the US, the second-biggest group in the international network after the England and Wales one. They claim backing also from groups in Brazil, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, China/ Hong Kong/ Taiwan, Russia, Australia, Sweden, Israel-Palestine, Nigeria, and Poland.
The Irish group got a boost from its activity in the water charges struggle, which saw it win 3 TDs in the Dail. The US group includes prominent Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.
The SP’s one-sided sectarian turn away from the Labour Party since the 1990s, denouncing it as a straightforwardly capitalist party, has been dramatically disproved by the “Corbyn surge” and the regrowth of the Labour left. Its attempts to build a parallel labour movement for its own sect (“a new workers’ party”), combined with fruitless electoralism on a watered-down platform (TUSC), have been an utter failure. Its bureaucratic practices in the PCS union (which it has dominated for 20 years) are now coming home to roost, with an open split among the SP members in PCS over rival claims to top union posts. These facts cannot have but registered in the wider CWI.
Taaffe and his co-thinkers are hammering the increasingly independent-minded Irish section. They accuse it of errors (such as failing to raise explicitly socialist demands such the expropriation of the banks in its election literature) which the SP itself is scarcely immune from. The Taaffites criticise the Irish comrades for an alleged turn away from work in the trade unions. That, they say, manifested itself during the recent abortion referendum, when the SPI’s socialist-feminist campaign ROSA allegedly made no “consistent demands...on the trade unions to mobilise the working class in defence of [abortion rights].” A correct approach towards even bureaucratised trade unions, we are told, is to “maintain a consistent orientation by placing demands on them, and by attempting to build rank-and-file opposition groups..”
Anyone familiar with the SP’s role in PCS would baulk at the double-standards on display from Taaffe and his allies.
Accused by the Swedish, Belgian and Greek sections “for not understanding the importance of the new women’s movement, the LGBTQI movement and the environmental movement,” the Taaffe faction states dismissively that “pressures and dangers of such petty bourgeois trends affecting some sections of the CWI are clearly emerging”.
Taaffe’s is a degenerated-Cannonite response to a faction fight. When this method was used in the 1939-40 faction fight among the Trotskyists (which Taaffe explicitly cites), the leader of the minority which had been labelled the “petty bourgeois opposition”), Max Shachtman, responded: “Even if this division corresponded to the reality — and we deny it — it would be necessary to emphasise that it would not have the same significance in our tiny organisation that it has in a mass party of tens or hundreds of thousands which, because it is deep in the turbulent streams of the class struggle, is directly affected by the changes of the prevailing current”.
It would be wrong “to make the arbitrary deduction... that at any given stage, and in any political dispute, that party or group in a party which is predominantly proletarian in its composition, is correct in its political standpoint, as against another party or group whose social composition is, from the proletarian viewpoint, inferior... The problem... boils down, as it always does fundamentally, to the question of the political position”.
On the specifically Irish context, one interesting feature is that the statements and resolutions passed by the Irish leadership do not include the signature of the party’s TD Paul Murphy. He provides his own critical comments on the Irish section’s attitude towards Sinn Fein. Murphy criticises the Irish leadership for rejecting “any aspect of the united front method in relation to Sinn Fein”, even though he himself characterises SF as a “nationalist, pro-capitalist party”, and “a sectarian party, which acts to deepen sectarian divisions and divide the working class.”
The narrowness of Murphy’s victory over Sinn Fein in the 2014 Dublin South-West by-election may be behind his emphasis on Sinn Fein’s working-class support in the 26 Counties, and his counselling against “a more denunciatory approach”. It is typical of the bureaucratic centralism of formations like the CWI that big issues such as these are only coming to light following leaks, rather than being debated openly in the socialist press.