Disagreements in the CWI RS began two years ago. Following weeks of arguments, disagreeing comrades (about half of the section) created a faction. For a short time the faction took the leadership of the section, but for simplicity we shall use the term “leaders” for those who remained in CWI, and the term “faction” for those who left.
Why we joined
We joined the CWI because it was the best left organization in Russia.
Other left organizations (like Left Front) did not conduct branch meetings at all, or organized them badly. They didn’t have any programme of discussions, no reports, no qualitative discussions. In the CWI, we found a culture of discussions and political development. During the debate anyone could intervene to make his or her opinion be taken into account in the programme or tactics of the organization. Without such a democracy, centralism and discipline are impossible to achieve.
In other left organizations (like Russian Socialist Movement), it was difficult to discuss their own programme: it appeared that on their site something was written, but that the rank-and-file activists had another opinion. The CWI had a distinct programme that was advocated by all activists. Without a unified programme, the organization cannot act in a centralized way.
Some left (like Left Socialist Action) acted chaotically: if they found volunteers – there will be an activity; if not, then there won’t. In the CWI, the decisions were taken in a centralized way, to be executed by all activists. Without such a discipline, it is impossible to achieve anything whatsoever.
Other left organizations surrendered to the influence of the right-wing propaganda. For example, they justified nationalism, sexism and homophobia. But the CWI was able to stand to the pressure: even if right-wing, liberal and left-wing activists argue against immigrants, the CWI holds on its own line. Without such a steadfastness, it is impossible to build a revolutionary organization.
Many other left organizations are not affiliated to any International, and didn’t try to build one. But the CWI activists worked as part of a world organization, with a unified programme and tactic. Without an International, it is impossible to build socialism.
But when we got to know the CWI closer, it appeared that not everything was at it seemed at first.
Why we leave
When a new comrade joins the CWI Russian section, he assimilates the minimum. He reads several pamphlets by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, learns how to explain why there isn’t any social problem that can be solved under capitalism. From that moment on, the organization sees him as a cadre. The leaders say that now he understands many things about politics and economy – better than his/her own parents and friends, than professional political scientists and bureaucrats. If this new comrade is loyal and active, he is praised and promoted.
The new comrade believes that the leaders of the Russian section understand politics and economics so well, that they can be relied on at any time. He is amazed at how easily they juggle with economic concepts and links to Lenin’s writings. But after several years, this admiration wears off. The comrade notices that the CWI Russian section’s analyzes are superficial, that its programme sticks to a stereotyped template, and that its tactics do not lead anywhere.
Then he starts asking unconfortable questions. He thinks that he will now discuss these problems with the comrades, and that they will improve the organization all together. But here it turns out that there is no discussion nor democracy in the organization: the comrade must either shut up, either leave.
The main problem is that the section’s leadership does not know how to use the methods of marxism, and doesn’t learn them. Therefore we see mistakes arising in the programme, in the tactics and in the party building. And it is difficult to correct these mistakes, because the organization is not democratic enough.
Russian section doesn’t have analyzis nor programme
If we want to act, we need to understand the economic and political situation. This is why we assess the strength of our organization by its capacity to analyze the situation and to use the methods of marxism. But we see three problems in the analyzes by our ex-section leaders: they are stereotyped, abstract and dishonest.
Stereotyped analyzes. The leaders of the Russian section do not take any issues into consideration, but only apply to them a template that they have worked out over many years. For example, if we talk about a protest movement, our leadership is convinced that if we tirelessly come out with a socialist programme, that movement will turn to the left, we can rise to its head and lead it to victory.
By using this template, we can already predict here the next article that will appear on the Russian section’s website upon the next protest movement: “Even though liberals lead this movement, the rank-and-file protesters are revolted by real problems: poverty and the lack of democracy. But we cannot solve these problems as long as the economy and the politics are driven in the interests of the oligarchs, and not of the working people. This is why we must explain the link between these issues and the policy of the ruling class, do everything we can to attract more and more workers in the protest and lead it towards a socialist course”.
This seems like a useful template: it gives reasons to intervene actively in any mass movement. But it disarms the organization, because it excludes any honest assessment of our strengths, of the strengths of our opponents, any analyzes of the protesters mood, of the class composition of that movement. But without taking all these factors into account, we can never adopt an appropriate tactic.
In 2012, we saw the beginning of a mass protest movement against the elections results. The leaders of that movement were liberals, and so were the main slogans used during those protests. The leaders of the Russian section said that the majority of the protesters were workers, so we should be able drive the movement towards a socialist course and lead it. They said that we would be able to do this if we work on this objective with all our strength. So we did this, but we didn’t find any real understanding among the protesters. After a year of protests, we got only one good contact who then joined the organization.
Our leadership did not try to explain why our perspectives did not came into reality: the protest movement did not become socialist, we were not able to lead it – even more, we were almost not able to draw from it any new members. We asked whether we did not commit any mistake in our analyzis and in our perspectives. Maybe a more appropriate objective in this movement would have been to intervene in order to get a small number of new followers, and not to try and lead the movement. But as a reply to these preoccupations, all we got were reproaches of demoralization. In the heat of the debate, one of the leaders even declared that the relation of forces is absolutely not important – if it got necessary, he could lead the protest all by himself.
Since their analyzis always follows the same template, it is difficult to find interesting articles on our website or in our newspaper. If someone read the Russian section’s website for several months, he surely would soon get to know what they answer to any question, by what ends every article. Every article consists firstly in gathering some information gathered from the main media, then adding to it a “class analyzis”. “We cannot solve this problem as long as the economy works in the interests of profit, and not in the interests of workers. This is why we need a democratically planned economy”. We don’t argue with all this of course, but where is the research? What new can the reader learn from this article? Nothing. This is why even our activists don’t read their own newspaper.
Abstract. The leaders of the Russian section are not used to give any explicit perspectives. In the articles, in the resolutions, the authors usually enumerate every possible scenario of development for the situation, without dividing them between the more probable and the less probable. So one of these perspectives will always prove to be the right one, and no one can ever blame its author for any mistake.
If we have to give a priority to our work, the author will only enumerate all the different directions: “We have to pay a particular attention to the political growth of our cadres, to our propaganda, agitation, recruiting of new comrades and internal discipline”. So the author can never be criticized for any fault. After such a text, we get the feeling that the problem was considered from all directions, but we still did not get a clear view of what to expect and what to do.
Dishonest. Our leaders think that their taks is always to lift the fighting spirit of other comrades. This would be a nice idea, if they would not start to embellish the reality in order to attain this goal. In the end, it prevents us from getting a good assessment of the situation.
Our comrades participated in a mass meeting of the liberal opposition on Nemtsov’s murder. If to read the report made on the CWI website, it seems that the people present there where delighted to read our programme. In reality, two people said that they appreciated our leaflet. But the general mood was liberal and hostile towards us.
Our press presents everything as if the Russian section always wins, as if we never commit any mistakes, and as if it is very popular. This bravado is very dangerous. It is confusing – our followers cannot get a good understanding of the real relation of forces by reading our articles. It is demoralizing – when our readers or comrades discover that all this was a lie, they feel that they have been betrayed. As a result, our press is losing authority. What our organization needs is an honest analyzis of the relation of forces.
We see this self-glorification even in our meetings. The leaders consider an honest evaluation of the situation in the section as unacceptable and demoralizing.
Once at the Moscow city committee, of which ½ of the members belonged to our faction, we gave an account of the work we had performed and honestly mentioned problems with subs, and the activity level on our activities. One of the leaders exultantly replied that “If we were a capitalist company, we would have already fired you”. Later, a new city committee was set up to replace the one where the faction was a majority. This committee appeared unable to organize the comrades, and even stopped to organize the weekly branch meetings. However, it never discussed any of these problems.
On the international summer school, the number of members in our section was, for an unknown reason, given as three times bigger than it actually was. The leaders present the malcontents in the section as an unsignificant group, whereas we were actually a majority of the section. They try to diminish the problems in the eyes of the International Secretariat, thus not helping them to help solve our problems. For some reason, in our section, this “ostrich method” is not considered as a cowardly one, but on contrary, as valourous, as an ability to always keep on smiling.
In our opinion, optimism should not be found in words, but in actions. On our branch meetings, we discuss any problems: comrades see that we talk to them as equals, and not as children.
Russian section does not have strategy nor tactics
With such a stereotyped, abstract and dishonest programme, it is impossible to deduce a working tactic. Since the basis – the analysis – is missing, the Russian section elaborates its tactics by following a method of analogies. But often, it just casts itself from one side to the other, or even refuses to lead any practical activities.
Method of analogies. Since our leadership does not master the marxist method of analyses, they are in practice forced to rely on a method of analogies. For example, if we need to decide how to intervene in an electoral campaign, they will simply recall with which programme CWI members intervened in a similar situation in another country. But since we can’t find an exact analogy, our tactics do not correspond to the real situation. For example, our leadership tried to build a support campaign to the liberal social-democrat Kavkazsky in the same way that our comrades built their own electoral campaign to get Kshama Sawant elected in Seattle. Although the difference between them are bigger than their similarities.
From this method of analogies, funny blunders are committed. For example, our leadership tried to adapt for our teachers the slogan “15 $ an hour”, borrowed from our comrades in the USA. This became “35 000 rouble an hour”. The trouble is that many teachers in Moscow already get more than this wage. Moreover, the pay is not obtained by month, but by workload, taking into account the work done outside the class, the class management and other specificities, that our leadership did not think it had to examine.
The method of analogies is bad because every context is unique, and then we cannot propose something adapted to the concrete situation.
Incoherence. Our leadership does not have any long term plan. For this reason, they constantly cast themselves from one sphere of protest to another, without any logic.
They launch a “broad campaign against budget cuts”, but four months later, discard this theme and start intervening in the issue of LGBT teenagers. Two months later, they throw all our forces on an electoral campaign for the liberal social-democrat Kavkazsky.
Because of this incoherence, we cannot achieve any real result in any movement, we cannot show the effectiveness of our programme in practice. Our organization gets a reputation of people who are not responsible for their words.
But with this approach, there is also a conceptual political mistake. Our leadership takes up any protest, do not analyze how important is that work and what it brings to our organization. The impression is as if what is important for them is the activity of their activists, but not to direct it towards a concrete purpose; they do not see any revolutionary perspective. We should help doctors to save the hospital, then LGBT teenagers to socialize, then Kavkazsky to get elected. But how does this contribute to our organization’s goals? Before launching a new initiative, our leadership should firstly reply to the question of how does it gets us nearer from the socialist revolution.
Self-isolation. Such dilettantism excludes us from any long-term and persistent work inside the trade-unions and social movements. In relation to them, our leadership adopts an attitude of “Everything or nothing”: quickly state our position and slogans, and if it does not work, then discard fully this work and direct our exaggerated critics towards this group.
This happened with the medical trade-union “Dieystviye” (Action). In the beginnig, there was an attempt to make the trade-union take up our slogans, by basing ourselves on a small group of left people in its leadership, but not on its base (which, it has to say, was rather backwards politically). By using the backwardness of the rank-and-file, the top of the KTR (Russian Confederation of Labour) opposed us by using formal pretexts.
In answer to this, we should have done a tactical retreat, take some “time out”, work with the rank-and-file and prepare the next intervention. But instead, the Russian section went out of this trade-union, declared that we were oppressed inside it, and that it was fully taken over by the bureaucracy.
Then our leadership criticized the trade-union at random: firstly for the fact that it organized meetings, and no strike; then for the fact that it does not organize anything; then, finally, for the fact that it organized a strike, but no meetings.
Then our leadership had the wonderful idea to criticize this trade-union for its lack of action exactly at the time when its Moscow branch started getting more members and prepared an “Italian strike” of the clinic doctors. But we learnt this only afterwards.
We suppose that our leadership disregards the patient work in the class structures because they are looking only to the the “vanguard” of workers and apply this concept in a very specific way. They assume that our task as a cadre organization is to find in the crowd already ready CWI members and to attract them. For such a recruitment, any mass gathering of people is good and we don’t need any laborious work inside the trade-unions. It is enough to come, to declare our position, and then leave. Doing this, they don’t notice that:
- We will never find already ready CWI members among people who don’t know anything about the CWI. We need to convince people so that they agree with our position;
- We need to confirm our ideas in a practical way, and this is easier to do if we participate with the workers in a common action;
- It is important not only to find activists for our organization, but also to strengthen its influence in its environment.
Since our leadership do not see their task as convincing anyone, they do not consider the reply that we get from our positions. In our organization, we named this issue as “our language problem” : our articles are written in a way that only our close followers are able to understand. Instead of giving intelligible explanations, we only give slogans. And this is justified by the fact that we need “vanguard workers”.
Refusal to give a practical leadership. Most often, our leadership give a position and a strategy, but do not explain how to implement it in practice. Often we asked: “This is all very good, we need a conference of all workers of the health sector. How to organize this? What should we do right now in order to get to this?”. But our leadership refuse to lead us to the point where our position must be put into effect in practice in the long term.
When our comrades insist, the leadership reply that our activists do not understand their role. The leadership must prepare analyses and our programme in a general way, and the details must be worked out by the activists.
At the time of the protests against the closing down of medical institutions, the leadership rightfully noticed that we cannot achieve anything only by holding meetings, and that only a strike with an occupation can save the medical institutions. We should have given advices on how to get to such a strike, on how to act inside the trade-unions, in order to turn them into instruments of struggle.
But instead, the Russian section only stigmatized the trade-unions (turning away from us the public workers) and proposed them to “discuss the strategy and tactics with us”. In reality, the Russian section did not have any tactics to propose, but only strategic goals: a strike with occupation and nationalization.
Moreover, the leadership were not ready to show how to conduct work by their own example. Sometimes they even went so far as to base this on their own theory of “division of labour” inside our organization. It appeared that some people are “analysts” that should not waste their minds and time on trivial tasks; and that others have to specialize in technical tasks, such as to prepare banners. One member of the leadership was even not ashamed to defend this principle as a Leninist one.
There is no democracy in Russian section
The shortcomings in our analyzis and programme, and even more so, in our tactics, can always be corrected through a discussion. And we tried to do this, until we got convinced that it is now impossible. Our leadership is sharply against discussion, and the comrades who were not able to decide on their position, drifted apart from the life of our organization.
Absence of discussion. Democratic centralism is a method that allows us to act in a disciplined way, while at the same time elaborating our programme together. Democracy is necessary in order that the organization can correct its position in time. But the leadership of the CWI Russian section does not need any correction to their position. The programme is already prepared, so the discussion is necessary, in their eyes, only in order for the clever leadership to explain their position to the rest of the members. That’s even the way they talk: they say not “Let’s discuss the programme”, but rather “Let us explain to you our programme”.
Our leadership decided to participate in an electoral campaign in order to support the liberal social-democrat Kavkazsky in one Moscow district. Our comrades looked at this decision with bewilderment. Firstly, because of the views of the candidate that we were asked to campaign for. Secondly, because this candidate does not have any popularity among the local residents and does not have any movement around himself: he is alone. Thirdly, these elections by themselves did not provoke any interest from the residents.
The comrades started writing letters and demanded a discussion. Soon the leadership answered. But in its reply there wasn’t any honest answer to our preoccupations. However, there were insults. When they got new letters from rank-and-file activists, they called for a meeting entitled “Position of the leadership on Kavkazsky’s campaign”. So it was clear from the beginning that there wouldn’t be any discussion, but only an explanation of the general line. They had already planned a leafletting activity for after that meeting, with leaflets that they had already printed.
By doing this, they showed that a refusal of this campaign, or even only a correction of the agitation material, was impossible as a result of the discussion, even hypothetically. In the end, noone turned up on the “discussion”, except the leadership.
Our organization seemed to us a democratic one as long as we did not have any disagreements. But as soon as disagreements appeared on our evaluation of the 2011 anti-Putin protests and of our tactics in them, our leadership tightened the screws and instead of persuasion, started to use pressures and isolation of the ones who had fell out of favour. It is then than we understood that the discussions in the CWI Russian section are not there to correct our course, but only to explain the programme of the leadership.
Breeding fears. Our leadership nurtures among its activists a feeling of fear and of distrust in their own strength. From on side, they exaggerate any success from new comrades, as long as they remain loyal and do not give any uncomfortable questions. But as soon as a comrade starts to escape their control, they will remind this comrade that he/she is not able to conduct any valuable nor thorough analyzis, like only his/her leaders are able to do. And we believed in this for a long time. But the further our discussions between fractions were taking us, the more we understood: the only thing that separates our leadership from the rest of our activists is self-confidence.
For example, we wrote our resolutions as a fraction. One member of the leadership said that the resolutions include outrageous mistakes that reveal our opportunism, ultraleftism and absolute misunderstanding of marxism. We tried to explain to them that it was not so, but their answer always came down to petty quibbles, distortions and a “search for opportunism in the commas”.
In the beginning, we thought that probably we were so stupid that we could not even understand the critics from our leadership. But this lasted for months, and nor the international leadership, nor the older comrades in our sections were able to formulate where exactly we had made any fatal political mistakes. Then we understood that our leadership gives these critics not in order to find the truth in our disagreemens, only so as to pressure us, or better said: so as to get rid of us.
In order to keep the organization under their control, our leadership do not try to conquer an authority by their deeds, but instead undermine in their activists the faith in their own strengths, and create a myth about their own infallibility.
Forbidden questions. Our leadership nurtures a feeling of fear towards everything that does not fall within the borders of the recommended litterature and approved ideas. If a comrade starts giving uncomfortable questions, telling about an article written by other lefts… they start to frighten you. They will tell you about an ex-comrade who also gave such questions, and now he is… in Russian Socialist Movement! Questions lead to opportunism, revisionism and other -isms. And only on the path of the CWI and its already made answers is there nothing to be feared.
Our leadership started to criticize our electoral campaign in Saint-Petersburg (our comrade Elena was a candidate in the local elections). They did not find what to say against our programme, so they started quoting questions that Elena had asked at the time when we were preparing for this campaign. She had asked how to implement in practice this or that point of our programme. For example, if in our district there are strong right-wing feelings, and we call people to create self-defence committees to protect against crimes, then isn’t there a risk that these committees will start also acting against immigrants? Our leadership was indignated by the very fact that she asked questions. In their point of view, questions are evidence that Lena does not trust in our programme.
The leadership of the CWI Russian section are afraid that if a comrade starts to broaden his/her point of view, then he/she will drift away from the right course. Of course, such a danger exists. But if a comrade trusts in the programme of our organization only because he/she does not know anything else, it is doubtful that this comrade could one day become a cadre.
Rules are not for everyone. Formalities are the last thing that we wanted to discuss. But they are also important. In order to require discipline from their activists, the leadership must themselves strictly submit to the same discipline. The same rules must apply to every member in the organization. But our leadership did not follow the most basic discipline, and preferred to apply a double standard.
A member of the leadership can refuse to participate in routine tasks: to produce banners, to intervene in a small meeting, to clean the party centre after a branch meeting. To be honest, we must say that not all the members of the leadership broke discipline and not in every occasion. For example, whereas two of our leaders did not pay any subs for years and years, others paid regularly.
The problem lies rather in the fact that all the members of the leadership justified these violations of the discipline. To this end, they used the theory of the “division of labour”: some must engage in intellectual work, while others must paint the banner.
Our debate between fractions already lasted for more than two years. In the summer, our leadership turned up with some sly scheme of re-registration, that would allow them to get rid of all the discontent ones. We decided not to oppose this scheme, because in reality they are right. It is really better for us to leave, because we do not believe anymore that the CWI Russian section can bring us any closer to the socialist revolution.