By Martin Thomas
Several socialist groups, meeting in Paris on 18 June, agreed on the project of an international demonstration, some time in the coming months, in support of the workers’ movement in Iraq.
The idea is to have simultaneous demonstrations in many cities — Paris, Warsaw, Sydney, London... — on the slogans: “Against the occupation, against the Islamists, for workers’ rights, for a socialist republic”.
General demonstrations against the military occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies are commonplace; but often they suggest at least implicit support for the Islamist and Sunni-supremacist “resistance” in Iraq, and many leftists either do not know of the existence of the Iraqi workers’ movement or dismiss it as insufficiently “anti-imperialist”.
Activists from the Worker-communist Party of Iraq have endorsed the idea of the demonstration. The job now is to sort out a date — preferably one geared to a struggle or an initiative by Iraqi workers, but also one allowing some months for work to build up the demonstrations — and approach as wide a range as possible of left and labour movement organisations to endorse them.
The Paris meeting was a follow-up to one organised by the AWL, also in Paris, at the time of the European Social Forum in November 2003. This time the groups represented were the AWL, the Revolutionary Left Current of Poland, and five French groups: the Démocratie révolutionnaire current of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, associated with the publication Débat militant; the Convergences révolutionnaires current of Lutte ouvrière; Liaisons; Ni patrie ni frontières; and Solidarité Irak, a group active in solidarity with Iraqi workers whose core activists are also involved in an incipient grouping of a more general political character, the Réseau mondialiste révolutionnaire.
We agreed to continue organising such international meetings, probably with more focus on current questions.
In November 2003 the AWL presented a short general political statement. The aim is to establish more systematically our points of agreement and disagreement — on the level of general politics, not just day-to-day stuff — with the groups with whom we have links in other countries, and thus help us see better where we can learn from them.
This June 2005 meeting had before it some amendments written by AWL in response to the November 2003 discussion, and detailed comments by Yves Coleman of Ni patrie ni frontières and Nico Dessaux of the Réseau mondialiste révolutionnaire. We will be continuing the discussion in writing.
The face-to-face discussion on 18 June was mainly about revolutionaries’ attitudes to the unions. AWL had emphasised revolutionaries “assisting the development of that basic mode of organisation of the working class constituted by trade unions (and sometimes also factory committees, strike coordinations, etc.)”. Yves Coleman had commented: “Why should we limit the possibilities of working class organisation to trade unions?” In discussions with AWL in October 2004, Yvan Lemaitre of Démocratie révolutionnaire had said: “he expected the renewal of the labour movement to take place largely outside the trade unions, in groupings like the cross-trade ‘collectives’ set up in strikes like those of 1995 and 2003. The trade union movement is too much of a mess to have a systematic perspective on it”.
AWL pointed out that the fact of trade unions as basic organisations of the working class is not just some relic from the past in Europe, but also the new reality in, for example, Iraq.
The French comrades were outspoken about the need not to fall into the illusion that the often withered world of trade-union routine represents the whole of the working class. Anna Rzymska from Poland explained that today the unions there are weak and heavily rotted by corruption.
But there seemed, in fact, to be agreement that revolutionaries must work in trade unions and strive to build them up, while also looking out for every opportunity of flexible ways of organising that draw in workers not regularly active in union structures.
The last part of the 18 June meeting was a debate on clear disagreements. Olivier Delbeke of Liaisons, and Yvan Lemaitre of Démocratie révolutionnaire, saw the victory of the “no” in France’s European constitution referendum, on 29 May, as a major “weakening of the enemy”. “There were not two bourgeois camps in the referendum. The ‘no’ vote was a de facto break with the whole policy of the bourgeoisie”.
Yves Coleman favoured a policy which would have said that “yes” or “no” on the referendum were fake choices: “The ‘no’ pseudo ‘victory’ is the progeny of an unnatural alliance between six million Le Pen and de Villiers [ultra-right] voters... with nine million CP and SP voters (and this estimate is optimistic because it assumes that the traditional Right did not make the slightest contribution to the ‘no’ camp...). Such a ‘victory’ has nothing to do with defending the interests of the exploited”.
AWL and Convergences révolutionnaires agreed broadly with Coleman’s view. The Polish comrades have not yet discussed the European constitution, but favoured a “no” vote on Poland’s entry into the EU, a position which suggests an approach closer to Delbeke’s and Lemaitre’s. Bjarke Friborg from Denmark has contributed a text arguing for a “red no”.
The debate will continue, alongside our collaboration on issues like Iraq. All the texts from the 18 June meeting can be found here.