CWO Public Meetings on Internationalism: A Balance Sheet

Between the months of January and March 2024, CWO comrades held three public meetings (in Manchester, London and Birmingham) and gave presentations at two other events (an NWBCW Liverpool public meeting and the Sheffield Radical Bookfair). In recognition of the seriousness of the world situation, the topic of discussion at each of these meetings was centred around the drive to war, the meaning of internationalism, and the tasks of revolutionaries.

The Presentations

A number of different presentations were prepared for the meetings, each emphasising a slightly different angle of the question. Instead of reproducing them all, the essence of the message we tried to put forward can be summarised as follows.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 marked an important step on the road to global conflict. As in any war, the main victims have been workers, whether in uniform or civilians; perhaps half a million dead and injured, millions displaced, fleeing both the war and conscription.

The last few months have seen the war in Gaza, which erupted on 7 October 2023, eclipse the situation in Ukraine in the world’s media – as it stands, more than 30,000 are dead on the Palestinian side, including more than 10,000 children, in response to a Hamas offensive that left around 1,200 dead Israelis and some foreign nationals.

Both wars are the products of decades-long disputes where there is no end in sight. There can be no peace, only pauses for exhaustion, and preparation for later resumption of conflict.

These wars are a symptom of a system in crisis. For 50 years, since the post-war boom came to an end, the ruling class has been trying various tactics to reverse declining growth rates, with no great success. They have increased the exploitation of workers worldwide, moved production to low-wage economies, deregulated financial institutions to engage in reckless speculation, and piled up debt for future generations.

None of it has resolved the underlying problem and now the competing ruling classes are forced to adopt more direct methods to gain advantage over their rivals. The result is an intensification of rivalry leading to increased military tensions. The wars in the news may be between Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, but worldwide the main imperialist rivalry brewing is between the US and China.

China is vying to be the premier economic power by 2049 – the centenary of the foundation of the People’s Republic – while the US is not going to give up its pre-eminent position without a fight. Like Gaza, like Ukraine, there is no room for compromise here either. The US has made no secret recently that it sees China as its main rival. Even when discussing the war in Ukraine, the US attacks China as much as Russia; and while China seeks to play the peacemaker in Ukraine, it condemns the US for ‘interfering’ in Taiwan, which it still regards as a rebellious province.

The war in Ukraine has already reinforced the strategic divide in the world. For 35 years, the US and its allies have used sanctions against their enemies, such as Russia, China and Iran. This has brought these three into an anti-American alliance of convenience that has become closer in the last two years.

On the other side, the US has been able to discipline wayward NATO members like Germany, and the war has provoked Finland and Sweden to join NATO, even if some NATO members, such as Turkey and Hungary, have dragged their feet.

Other states have tried to steer a course which has avoided inconvenient imperialist entanglements. No countries in Africa or South America have joined the western sanctions regime, and South Africa has taken a lead in condemning Israel over the Gaza war. American superiority has taken a knock with the disastrous consequences of its involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan; India has been aiding Russia by buying its oil, as has Saudi Arabia, one of the US’s most important allies in the Middle East.

A global arms race has begun – 2022 saw the biggest annual rise in global arms spending since the Second World War. Both world wars of the twentieth century were preceded by similar races to rearm.

There has also been a drive for food and energy security, as well as a scramble for vital raw materials. These moves both increase instability and, at the same time, destroy any chance that capitalism could even begin to tackle the problem of climate change.

The situation in recent months has worsened considerably. The slaughter in Gaza has been accompanied by an increased military presence in the region by the US and other NATO countries; even China has sent warships.

The war has spread to Yemen, where the de facto – though not universally recognised – government of the Houthi militia is backed by Iran. The Houthis have attacked shipping in the Red Sea in support of the Palestinians, and has also sent missiles and drones towards Israel. In response, the US and UK have bombed Yemen. In the short- to medium-term, closure of the Red Sea and Suez Canal as commercial shipping lines seek a less dangerous route looks likely to cause inflation in Europe, which will of course continue to hit the working class hardest.

In this situation of increased tension, some voices have been calling for conscription to be re-introduced in Britain, as well as echoing voices in Germany and other European countries which have scrapped it in recent decades.

But the working class has no interest in killing and dying for the profits of the capitalist class.

In both the First and Second World Wars, there were groups that stood against the tide of nationalism, who put forward the idea that the struggle against war was the struggle for socialism, and who worked towards that end. In that spirit, our political ancestors founded the Internationalist Communist Party in 1943, calling workers to “desert the war, desert it, under whatever mask it shows itself to you”.

It is hard to oppose the war once it has begun, especially if you are on your own. Survival is hard enough sometimes. We have to acknowledge those in Russia and Ukraine, Gaza and Israel, who have already deserted, sabotaged and refused to fight. However, while we give vocal support to all sorts of refuseniks, we have to say that individual acts based on pacifism, liberalism and humanitarianism are not enough. Sympathy for the victims of war does no remove the causes of the war, and individual actions, no matter how heroic, self-sacrificing or desperate – and we could mention the cases of young Israelis who have been sent to prison for refusing to be conscripted into the IDF, or the protest-suicide of a young American airman who “refused to take part in genocide” – will not stop the war machine.

Workers must reject all national causes. They exist to bind us to our oppressors and separate us from our class siblings. We must find ways to unite on the basis of class, not nation, race or religion.

For our part in the Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT), we have supported the creation of No War but the Class War (NWBCW) committees as an attempt to bring the revolutionary alternative to the working class – to link the attacks the class is suffering worldwide to the ongoing crisis of capitalism and to put forward the revolutionary perspective – world revolution against a capitalist system threatening the future of humanity.

The Discussions

Generally, our views found a receptive audience and the discussion during each of the meetings took a comradely form. Among the attendees we noted members of the International Communist Current (ICC), the International Communist Party - Il Partito Comunista (ICP), the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG), the Revolutionary Anarchist Group (RAG), the Solidarity Federation (SF), the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), and the Old Moles Collective, as well as many individuals not currently part of any organisation. The AnarCom Network (ACN) sent their apologies for not being able to make it this time. Naturally, certain disagreements arose during the discussions, and it is worth focusing on some of them here, since they are indicative of wider trends.

In Manchester, the main disagreement came from the comrades of the ICC. While they endorsed the presentation (only questioning some of the terminology), they objected to the idea of NWBCW. We were told only the Communist Left represents genuine internationalism and it is a mistake to partake in an initiative with "leftists and anarchists". Of course, we agree that the Communist Left, the tendency to which we belong, has the clearest view on the question – as demonstrated by the confusion that arose within all the other tendencies claiming to be revolutionary when faced with war. But that doesn't mean the Communist Left alone has a monopoly on internationalism – as also demonstrated by various groups and individuals from outside the Communist Left who have arrived at similar conclusions to us. The NWBCW initiative recognises this, and in response to the seriousness of the world situation, calls for all genuine internationalists to work together by bringing an alternative message to the wider working class (not just by signing statements, but where possible through active intervention in the class struggle). The initiative never closed itself off to potential involvement of the ICC, but it does actually aim to exclude "leftists", whether they consider themselves "communists" or "anarchists", because as we have shown in our own publications, behind their ostensibly "internationalist" proclamations hides support for one of the warring factions or at best a "part-time internationalism".

In Liverpool, the main disagreement came from a trade union activist who, while agreeing with the presentation in principle, argued that in the absence of a real working class movement, we are nevertheless forced to pick the "lesser-evil". In practice however, this position translates to defencism, or as Rosa Luxemburg once put it: "proletarians of all countries, unite in peace-time and cut each other’s throats in war". The task of revolutionaries is to preserve the internationalist message, no matter how unpopular it may be in the immediate term, because eventually, as the war takes its toll on the working class, they may look for an alternative to the capitalist system that has produced such misery and bloodshed. The absence of a real working class movement that could influence the course of events is of course the biggest obstacle we face – but giving up on internationalism in the face of war will not help such a movement come about.

In London, it was a couple of young students (possibly from a Trotskyist background) who defended the idea of self-determination as a "transitional demand". Throughout history we have seen countless examples of national movements for self-determination, some successful others less so, the aftermath of which has neither strengthened the working class movement nor has it banished the nationalist poison. In fact, often it has done the exact opposite, creating an environment very difficult for internationalist groups to work in. At the end of the day, like all "transitional demands", even critical support for self-determination means support for the capitalist faction which attempts to carry it out. The ICC, who were also present, argued that our perspective was wrong and overly alarmist since world war could not happen in the near future as blocs did not exist and the "undefeated" European working class could not be mobilised for a war. However, this long held assertion of the ICC fails to explain how in the war in Ukraine, despite all the desertions, hundreds of thousands of workers have nevertheless been mobilised (through conscription and the war economy) for the conflict to keep going. Furthermore, a member of the Old Moles Collective pointed out that blocs need not be fully formed for war to break out, as occurred at the start of the Second World War.

In Birmingham we faced no disagreements when it came to internationalism, though some questioned whether the falling rate of profit is the motive force behind the drive to war. However, our insistence on economic analysis helps to understand that what’s currently happening is not the result of irrationality, the madness of certain world leaders, etc. but that it is the workings of the capitalist system itself which create the conditions for generalised conflict. This does not mean that individual capitalists are all secretly hoping for war to eventually bring about the next economic upsurge (though some probably are!), but it does mean that low profitability leads to fiercer competition, where the adoption of desperate military measures is more likely. The other aspect of the presentation which came under question was around what world war would actually look like and whether that’s where we’re heading. It was pointed out that it’s a secondary issue whether the drive to war results in a direct clash between two or more superpowers or if we will see the steady proliferation of regional conflicts around the globe, as the consequences for humanity will be dire either way.

In Sheffield, we heard a contribution from a teacher who, while initially finding our position on the war in Ukraine refreshing, said that the longer that it goes on, the more difficult it becomes to imagine the possibility of any outcome that's not simply the victory of one or the other side (in which case, they'd consider a Ukrainian victory to be the "lesser-evil"). The participant brought up a dispiriting example from their work life, where some of the Ukrainian kids that they teach now greet each other with the nationalist salute "Slava Ukraini". We could only reiterate that reneging on internationalism when it's unpopular gets us no closer to a different society which could truly put an end to war. Internationalists have to say what only internationalists can say, otherwise other workers who begin to recognise the current system offers no solution will have no reference point to draw on. The roots of the current war in Ukraine go back not only to the collapse of the USSR, but to the days of the Russian Empire. A temporary settlement might be arrived at eventually, but the conflict doesn't just end there, it only opens a new chapter. It is the framework of capitalism itself, which divides humanity into nation states which compete for profits, markets, resources and territory, that ensures war and nationalism will continue to thrive while millions suffer.

The Prospects

In the immediate term, we can expect workers everywhere will be asked to make more and more sacrifices for the state and nation. The resistance put up so far has largely remained within the strait-jacket of the unions, which only negotiate the sale of workers' labour but do not question it. Among all the current waving of national flags, there is no doubt that internationalists are swimming against the current. But the fact that strikes and protests are happening at least provides internationalists with a pond to swim in. Furthermore, over the past few years we have seen a new generation of workers arrive at internationalist conclusions – despite decades of class retreat, the torch is being passed on. If nothing else, the experience of this series of meetings, with new contacts emerging and old ones resurfacing, speaks to the fact that now is not the time to despair or retreat into isolation.

Communist Workers’ Organisation
18 March 2024
Monday, March 18, 2024


Anyone looking for absolute certainty, and I think this includes myself, is going to be disappointed when it comes to matters of any complexity. Do something, do another thing, do nothing, critique, support, participate, nothing escapes contradiction, the dialectical conflict. Is NWBTCW initiative serving a purpose that would not be otherwise served? It is a question, I am not answering it. Is it possible that both the ICT and ICC are correct, in other word that there is no absolutely correct position here, there is only a decision to go one way or another, both ways being problematic? Should we endorse a similar initiative, i.e. one that is not simply the ICT or one of its affiliates, as regards, say, the environmental catastrophe that may well be the end of us?

We are open to any initiative that can play a part in putting the consequences of the crisis to more workers in more places across the world. NWBCW is not confined to those whose tradition is the communist left but for all those who can see that the future for humanity can only be secured by the independent struggle of the working class itself (as opposed to all the legatees of the counter-revolution who programmatically stand for state capitalism which they masquerade as socialism). NWBCW is a practical realisation of the need for cooperation across organisations and is not confined to the talking shops of some intenational gatherings which so far have yielded nothing concrete (partially because in reality they are divided between internationalists and those who still support one or other capitalist power on the planet). We also are not expecting the generalised imperialist war in the next few years but the direction capitalism is going in is clear (and given the crisis and all the expedients to escape it which have only added to the contradictions of the system this is not in doubt). In Russia and Ukraine today the internationalist elements have to operate clandestinely - we need to try to organise something internationally now while we can before war engulfs us all and so we have at least a network that exists to promote the fight against war on a class basis. Given that the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have already led to the abandonment of "sustainable" energy goals in the name of "energy security", it already links imperialist war to the other existential threat to humanity.

The issue I am thinking about is that it is posible that we are contributing to the creation of illusions that there is some means to prevent the imperialist conflagration (or perhaps series of conflagratons however it plays out) other than the conditons set out by the ICT or those close to its positions. Outside of what is actually required - a global revolutionary organisation worthy of the name of Internationalist Communist Party or similar, everything else is doomed to fail and will happen anyway regardless of any input by revolutionaries. I accept all of this is debateable, but we can agree all day with a constellation of organisations about the independent struggle of the working class but what they mean is independent from the very organisation which is the central objective of the ICT. The question being whether we really have friends in these organisations, that although we may coincide in many of the words, the meaning is very different and the organisational alloy which binds us and these organisations is unable to fulfil the needs of the proletariat, regardless if at this moment in time they are largely oblivious to their own plight.

We have always said that a new international political organisation will only arise alongside a new rise of resistance in the wider movement. At the moment what separates genuine revolutionaries is the different lessons they draw from the way the counter-revolution occurred 100 years ago. We still live with its consequences in the form of all those organisations who defend state capitalism as socialism. And amongs the remainder there is a great hesitation to form any organisation at all. Only once the class is moving in an incipiently revolutionary way will the old issues be transcended (or forgotten as irrelevant now) as the real questions of a positive movement will replace idle discussion about the past. In the meantime all we can do is to try to link with as many internationalists as possible (and in doing so we help to define what real internationalism is) to organise against the coming danger. The alternative is just carry on as before and that would a failure to act in line with what we see is happening.

I think we can do both, and I doubt NWBTCW is the priority or has any real value apart from getting a bunch of people looking for solutions to consider the ICT positons. In other words, the ICT in broad terms has the solution, at least to the extent that we can ahead of the events, but it does not have the numbers, the members. That attempt to extend influence is not insignificant, but as regards the needs of the proletariat and solving the symptoms of capitalism's crisis of which war is not the only aspect which poses an existential threat, it comes down to the spontaneous struggle marrying the class party so to speak, which NWBTCW cannot offer. ICT for the win!

The only "win" is for the world working class and that will only come from a wider perspective on where we are now.

Very true, as I generally say as regards your input, but I think in this case, the path to the working class victory goes through the ideas as already set out by the ICT. So I am not at all saying that the objective is simply the promotion of the ICT, that is just one condition for the ultimate outcome.

At the risk of being repetitive, there is no underemphasising the necessity for the revolutionary organisation and this cannot simply be a bunch of local organisations pulling in different directions. As Marx said of the peasantry IIRC, like potatoes in a sack. We need a powerful political reference point that to the extent possible will give the working class the perspective it requires and which it will not gain otherwise. I am not sure about your formulation up above about the working class moving in an incipiently revolutionary way, my thought is that we eliminate the concept of spontaneous revolutionary consciousness even if it is not as black and white as that suggests. I think we cannot operate on the assumption that the working class outside of a possibly insignificant minority, will come to a perspective beyond the framework of capitalism through their daily experience or partial, superficial explanations.

I think time and time again, the downfall of the revolutionary movement is to abandon "pristine theory" for "practical" outcomes in the here and now. If the conditions of capitalism do not provoke a working class thirst for profound societal change which means they are receptive to our materials, which means that there is significant growth of the revlutionary organisation offering the total revolutionary critique, then it seems to me that we remain where we are, marginalised outliers. There is no way around it. No expedient, clever presentation, organisational twist and turn makes a difference. It does not matter that a few of us are super motivated, super active, masterminds of revolutionary theory, chomping at the bit, it comes down to masses of workers feeling the urgent need for change and receptive to a revolutionary message they cannot formulate otherwise. It takes a powerful, unified revolutionary organisation operating on clear theoretical premises, that main objective has to be the focus, and there is no substitute. That NWBTCW acts as a vehicle to extend awareness of the ICT wider than its absence would, I do not know, I would imagine that most of the participants are aware of each other without declaring any specific organisational form to unite them. I do not think it is doing any harm, at the moment it seems to me that it is at best a step towards an organisation but as things stand it is not an organisation, it does not share a common perspective, and the chief issue is the need for revolutionary party without which the working class will not go beyond the capitalist framework and outside of which there is no perspective of resolving the issues of war or any other which arise as a consequence of capitalism.

I think a long time ago I tried to say it in a nutshell.

  1. No support for any bourgeois faction.
  2. For the power of the proletrian expressed through its own organs.
  3. For the revolutionary organisation to propagate this perspective.

This is simply an attempt to produce a focus that is easily transmitted. I find it difficult to accept that any initiative of value violates any of these points.

  • No support for any bourgeois faction.
  • For the power of the proletrian expressed through its own organs.
  • For the revolutionary organisation to propagate this perspective.I think when I iniititially offered this, it was seen as being wrong for the situation. But I was not really aiming it at the class in general, it was aimed at the revolutionary minority looking for a basis on which to co-operate. I considere it cut through the complication, the mountain of verbiage, the fountain of ink. It did not require formal recognition of the pre-established labels, "left communist" "anarcho xyz" "council- marxist situation - communiser" It was the bare foundation which I thought could serve as a "pole of regroupment" or whatever phrase means " a practical realisation of the need for cooperation across organisations" in a situation where maybe mistrust and even ignorance means that it is unlikely that there is going to be a settlement on a more complex basis requiring acceptance of ever more conditions. Perhaps the context of NWBTCW would allow the emergence of such an agreement, even if not ideal, better than "the alternative is just carry on as before, and that would be a failure".