cwi international conference.
Reports from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States - ex Soviet Union), the Czech Republic and Poland presented to the 2004 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium, 14 - 20 November.
Contradictions and possibilities
On the one hand, there is the more favourable objective situation developing internationally. This is having some effect on the consciousness of the masses in the CIS, as it is no longer possible for the ruling elites in the former Soviet Union to present the West as a haven of stability and contentment.
But on the other hand, there is a combination of factors that make the objective situation in the CIS more difficult. The continuing increase in oil and gas prices on the world market is fuelling a spending boom by the different governments. Whilst this is not solving the deep underlying problems faced by the majority of the population, it is creating a superficial stability. In the Russian city of Voronezh, for example, all our members are now in full-time jobs. The tightening of the political regime, particularly in Russia, is making it increasingly difficult to organise. Even when events are sanctioned by the state, such as September’s anti capitalist march in Moscow, it was cordoned off by the police with metal detector frames "to stop outsiders joining in".
In Russia and Kazakhstan, the official opposition parties, and with them the smaller ‘left’ groups, have capitulated to the regimes. This is increasing the political vacuum in society and to some degree we can fill the vacuum. For example, one well known TV show in Russia featured the youth sections of political parties and we were invited as the only left youth organisation to speak against the four bourgeois parties represented. In Kazakhstan, the official CP now no longer celebrates the day of the socialist revolution in 1917, so we organised the march this year. Around 3,000 people turned out in Almata - about half of whom were youth from the colleges that we leafleted.
While this all offers us opportunities and to some degree explains what growth we have had, despite the difficult conditions, there is, of course, a danger that this vacuum can be filled by other social trends.
The objective position, when there is no real clash of ideas taking place in society, has allowed a certain laxness to affect some of our older comrades in relation to political clarity and organization but newer comrades are redressing the balance.
But there are many encouraging reports from the comrades. In the Russian city of Yaroslavl, comrades organised a small but good summer camp. Now it has been successful, the camp will most likely become a regular event. The Yaroslavl comrades also managed to overcome the resistance of the local authorities who did not want to allow us to organise a protest in the city over the attacks on higher education. A decisive and audacious campaign by the comrades, aimed at the local press, forced the authorities to back down. We are developing our work in Tver, a city to the North of Moscow, and in St Petersburg we also initiated a protest over the attacks on education.
October 1 was deemed a ‘national day of action’ against the attacks on education by the official trade unions. But, apart from Moscow, where about 3,000 participated, the protests in other areas were organised by us. To intervene we prepared a 4-page special on education - 10,000 copies; we are concentrating on education as our main campaign.
There is also a layer of youth in the Communist Party (numbered in hundreds rather than thousands) that are becoming increasingly critical of the leadership and are prepared to work closely with us. But it is proving difficult to overcome their loyalty to what they see as the main opposition organisation.
The visit of a comrade from Belgium to Kazakhstan had a very positive effect. He was able to highlight the fact that the political regime in Kazakstan appears to be more liberal now and it could mean that new opportunities may soon open up for us. We need to be prepared for these possibilities to make sure we are not caught by surprise.
The situation in the Ukraine is still very complex and difficult from a political point of view and with rebuilding our forces there. (This was written before the mass protests over the election results). A ‘club of supporters of the CWI’, has been formed in Kiev. The comrades have been doing some good work, around the workers’ protest in West Ukraine, and also against the new labour laws. In December, a comrade from the International Centre is visiting Kiev, along with comrades from Moscow.
A congress of the section is planned for next year. This will allow us to assess the changes in the political situation and our work. We will be able to renew the leadership and also set new targets for recruitment, finance and sales of our paper.
The social democratic party (CSSD), which is the main coalition partner in the Czech government, met a humiliating defeat at the European elections in June.
It polled less than 10% and only got two of its candidates elected to the European parliament. The then Prime Minister, Spidla, resigned, moving on to a post as European commissioner. He was replaced by his Interior Minister, Gross. The government reshuffle left the new government with a tiny majority of just one in parliament.
Although ODS, the conservative and eurosceptical party, won the election, it still suffers from the reputation of being corrupt and ultra-liberal. The CSSD is trying to recover lost ground by attacking regional governments, mostly ruled by the ODS, for wild privatisations. The CSSD announced a law which would prohibit the privatisation of public hospitals. In central Bohemia the CSSD started a campaign and petition on this issue. Initiatives like these have increased the standing of the CSSD in opinion polls but they are still a long way off the standing that won them the general elections in 2002.
There was a big commotion arround the alleged attempt by the secretary of the ODS leader to bribe a CSSD MP. It drew attention to the fact that the police had been listening in to the phones of a number of politicians. The ODS demanded the resignation of the head of the police services and nicknamed the policeforce the "Grosstapo" after the name of the Prime Minister.
The disillusionment with the established political parties has almost reached its zenith. Even the support for the Communist party (KSCM) that, after receiving most of the protest vote, polled 20% in June, is sliding. The KCSM made no attempt to organise against the implementation of austerity measures and limited its activity to issuing statements in which they boasted that, if it was in the position of the CSSD it would keep its promises.
There are rumours that the left wing of the social democratic CSSD is preparing a split. This would be welcomed by the right-wing but it is unclear if the left-split-off of the CSSD would end up in an alliance with , or possibly join, the KSCM. Overall, it is possible that the Communist Party will gain a few percentage points in the polls over the next period. However they are not seen as an alternative to the established parties and are certainly not seen as an instrument for struggle. The current support for the KSCM would probably melt away when a right wing government comes to power and the social democracy takes up the role as main opposition.
The disastrous role played by the trade union bureaucracy is the decisive feature of the present situation. They demand that the burden of reform should be shared by all layers of the population and not only the workers. Last September’s national demonstration was seen as a disaster when only 2,000 people attended compared with the 150.000 workers who rallied in 1997 and brought down the ODS government of Klaus.
The failure of the trade union leaders to organise a generalised struggle against austerity measures has seen the development of single-issue campaigns and isolated protests. Protests are taking place against the privatisation of health care, against the freezing - and in some cases a reduction - of wages in the public sector, the disintegration of the national railways and the closing of schools. There has been a steady increase in the prices of basic food items. Workers in the big cities are facing rent deregulation and the privatisation of council housing.
When we make interventions in the workers’ movement or in community campaigns we need to explain that each attack forms part of a package of the same neo-liberal policies which need to be fought through democraticallly-controled, fighting trade unions and campaign structures. We have openly called for the establishment of an activist-based opposition network across different trade unions. We have called a meeting in the name of Socialisticka Alternativa Budoucnost (CWI in Czech Republic) aimed at activists in three trade unions to discuss these issues. We are also in the position to start an organised opposition in the teachers’ trade union and in the independent ASO trade union federation.
We have already had discussions with some of the leaders of the tram-drivers’ union about the necessity of a new workers’ party. As part of the campaign, initiated by one of the comrades, against the privatisation of council flats in Prague 6, local residents argued for running an anti-corruption list composed of local community campaigns and environmental activists. We are open to the proposal and are arguing that it should be an anti-cuts list. It is almost certain that a local anti-corruption list will stand in the next council elections. Our support for it will depend on our ability to introduce important anti-austerity demands and gather some working class forces around it. We are thinking of suggesting the activists of the tram-drivers’ union should participate.
In both our trade union work and our local interventions we have lost a certain ‘reticence’ in advertising our political identity. But there is still much improvement possible in strengthening the political confidence of the comrades and our organising ability.
Recruiting young people
It is hard to identify any campaign or issue with which the organisation could reach out to youth. The layer of anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist youth is extremely thin. We will be taking initiatives towards some schools on both specific issues and general propaganda.
At our weekly branch meetings in Prague, having prepared political discussions is the norm. We have produced the 50th issue of our paper this year and a record number of comrades participated in writing and producing it. We have sold all of this issue and we have been selling subscriptions. We are registering the organisation officially and are preparing for a conference to consolidate the work of the recent period.
The CWI in Poland works as ‘Grupa na rzecz Partii Robotniczej’ (Group for a Workers’ Party) in Warsaw and in Cracow, with people interested in joining us in Katowice in Silesia and in Lublin.
Following the European Social Forum in London, we are in touch with a number of people in Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) and elsewhere.
The Polish group is an overwhelmingly youthful organisation. We produce a paper, Jednosc Pracownicza (Workers’ Unity), irregularly as yet. The last issue came out at the beginning of November and we are planning to produce four issues next year. We also have a website that has recently been completely redesigned. This contains a lot of extra articles which do not appear in our paper, plus a pamphlet that we have produced and links to the CWI sites.Activities/TU work
Our work is concentrated at the moment in the workers’ movement. We have been active in Ogólnopolski Komitet Protestacyjny (All-Poland Protest Committee) which raised the demand for the renationalisation of factories facing closure. Thanks to the comrades’ initiative, OKP started producing a paper, Walka Trwa (The Struggle Continues) for its membership. Two of our comrades were members of the editorial board and many of our articles were published, including one which explained the need for a general strike during the wave of strikes in the Autumn of 2003.
Unfortunately, there were also pro-business elements involved in OKP, such as the Polish Industrial Lobby, which sows illusions in Polish capitalists, and some members of OKP were influenced by right-wing parties. Nevertheless, our work in OKP has helped us to meet and develop a lot of contacts in workplaces all over the country. These are people we can work with and discuss with when there are strikes or protests. Our work in OKP has allowed us to open up a dialogue with many workers.
Over the course of the last year the comrades have made trips to striking workers in the Jedynka company in Wroclaw, visited the occupation in Ozarow on a number of occasions, and most recently, have met striking tram workers in Warsaw, persuading them to attend the workers’ conference which we are co-organising. In addition, we have intervened in the anti-summit demonstration in Warsaw, the May Day demonstration and the anti-war demonstration.
OKP, however, instead of developing is actually declining and now our attention is focusing on the series of workers’ conferences which are organised in cooperation with some anarcho-syndicalists. In attendance at these conferences are groups of workers in struggle. One of the aims is to get the workers’ groups that attend the conference to cooperate more closely together and adopt Walka Trwa as their paper.
In the summer this year we organised a successful week-long summer camp. The main discussions were a report-back of the discussions at the CWI Summer School in Belgium and we discussed how we would be building the CWI in Poland.