The document Preparing for revolution was first circulated in May 2009, but the ideas within it had been germinating over several years. It was a collective enterprise produced by socialists based in different countries who had been exchanging ideas on our online discussion list and at occasional get-togethers over the years. At one such international meeting, held towards the end of 2008, it was agreed to prepare a document putting forward the consensus that had been arrived at by those comrades who had been corresponding and meeting over the years. All list members had been invited to these meetings, and in the course of the discussions those who had attended had arrived at a certain political approach. This document is an attempt to present this common outlook.
No claim is made here that it reflects the views of the socialist discussion list as a whole; it expresses the ideas of those comrades who have evolved a certain set of ideas over a long period of mutual discussion, and who for purposes of identification have adopted the nameWorkers’ International Network.
At a meeting in Dublin in 2009, it was agreed that the draft document presented there would be extended and revised and then sent out to the whole list as a political statement. It represents the views and approach of one group among several that are already represented on this list. In that sense it is a distinct political tendency.
In the past, the word “tendency” was sometimes used as a deliberate euphemism for a disciplined organisation, with internal finances, fulltimers, a headquarters, a constitution, a conference, a central committee, an executive committee, a general secretary, etc. It often meant an organisation claiming to be a vanguard of cadres of the future revolutionary leadership.
We say we have plenty of those already. Our document spells out – uniquely among all other such documents – that establishing such a vanguard is not the immediate task of the day. We have more modest pretensions. We are simply making a contribution towards the development of ideas which we hope will help to clarify the next steps forward. We are a tendency in the sense of its original definition: a group of like-minded people with a common outlook who wish to identify themselves as such and argue for their point of view. WIN is not a revolutionary party, even in embryo. It is a network. And this document is not intended as a blueprint, it is offered as a basis for discussion.
We hope to reach active committed workers engaged creatively in real struggles. Any hint of the old instant-answer I-told-you-so attitudes which were the negative side of the old left groups’ tradition will alienate them, and rightly so. There is understandably a scepticism on the part of even the most experienced and committed activists at any hint of the old exclusivist messianic postures. This is a healthy attitude on their part.
Theory is distilled experience, and Marxism is the concentrated experience of revolution. We are keen to place at the disposal of the new generation of fighters for a new world whatever theoretical lessons we think might be learned from history.
And yet hundreds of thousands have found themselves packed together for weeks on end of protest – on Tahrir Square in Cairo, on Syntagma Square in Athens, on Puerta del Sol in Madrid, in Occupy Wall Street and Oakland, in tent cities in Israel…. Literally millions have been marching, mobilising, striking and above all talking non-stop about the prospects and lessons of what is happening. We can be sure that the heated debates they have had will have at least as much to teach us as whatever abstract lessons we may have gleaned from our study of the textbooks. We need to learn from their experience and their ideas, and to find ways to engage in mutual discussion of the way forward for workers throughout the world.
We have a case to argue – the need for an international working-class party – but in a language and tone which will not alienate potential allies or tarnish us with misleading associations. Our case is that the movement will come and go in waves, that the current wave of occupations can’t last forever, and that it should not be allowed to ebb without leaving a permanent presence behind it.
Certainly, historical precedents are crucial as a key to understanding events as they unfold. However, we should guard against the temptation to artificially graft preconceived templates on to living processes. The most important quality – something almost uncannily possessed by Lenin and other great revolutionaries – is an ability to listen.