In response to the murderous war in Ukraine, the ICC has repeatedly stressed the need for a common response by the most coherent expression of proletarian internationalism – the communist left – in order to create a clear pole of reference for all those seeking to oppose imperialist war on a class basis.
Although the appeal for a joint statement, and the text that came out of it, was received positively by three groups, the Bordigist groups more or less ignored our call, while the Internationalist Communist Tendency, while stating that they were in principle in favour of such joint statements by internationalists, have rejected our appeal for reasons that in our view remain unclear: disagreements in analysis were mentioned earlier on, then divergent views on what constitutes the authentic communist left and a rejection of our conception of parasitism seemed to come to the fore. We will take up these arguments elsewhere; here we aim to focus on the ICT’s alternative proposal, which is to push for the formation of local/national “No War but the Class War” groups, which they see as the starting point for an internationalist action against the war on a much wider scale than a common statement signed by the groups of the communist left.
When we examine the text of the first appeal to set up No War but the Class War groups in response to the Ukraine war , published by Liverpool NWCW, we can say that it is clearly internationalist, opposing both imperialist camps, rejecting pacifist illusions, and insisting that capitalism’s descent into military barbarism can only be halted by the revolutionary struggle of the working class. We think however that there is a definite element of immediatism in the text, in the following paragraph: “The scattered anti-war actions that have been reported so far – protests in Russia, soldiers disobeying their orders in Ukraine, refusals to handle shipments by dockers in the UK and Italy, sabotage by railway workers in Belarus – need to take on the working class perspective to be truly anti-war, lest they get instrumentalised by one side or the other. Support for Russia or Ukraine in this conflict means support for war. The only way to end this nightmare is for workers to fraternise across borders and bring down the war machine”.
The statement is correct to point out that isolated protests against the war can be recuperated by various bourgeois factions or ideologies. But the impression is given that the working class, in its present situation, whether in the war zone or in the more central capitalist countries, might be able to develop a revolutionary perspective in the short term and “bring down the war machine” to end this present war. And behind this lies another ambiguity: that the formation of NWCW groups could be a moment towards this sudden leap from the present state of disorientation in the working class to a full-blown reaction against capital. If we examine the involvement of the Communist Workers’ Organisation, the UK affiliate of the ICT, in previous NWCW projects, there is clear evidence that such illusions do exist among these comrades.
We will soon be publishing a more developed analysis of the perspectives of the class struggle in this phase of accelerating barbarism, explaining why we don’t think that a mass movement of the working class directly against this war is a realistic possibility. The ICT might respond by saying that the NWCW appeal is mainly aimed at regrouping all those minorities who defend internationalist positions and not at sparking off any kind of mass movement. But even at this level, a real understanding of the nature of the NWCW project is required in order to avoid errors of an opportunist character, in which the unique coherence of the communist left is lost in a labyrinth of confusion strongly influenced by anarchist or even leftist ideas.
The aim of this present article is therefore to critically examine the history of the NWCW idea in order to draw the clearest possible lessons for our current intervention. This dimension is entirely lacking from the ICT’s proposal. In 2018, when the CWO made a similar appeal and set up a series of meetings under the NWCW banner with the Anarchist Communist Group and one or two other anarchist formations, we explained at one of these meetings why we could not accept their invitation to “join” this group. The principal reason was that this new formation had been brought together without any attempt to understand the mainly negative lessons of previous efforts to set up NWCW groups. This failure to carry out a critical examination of the experience was repeated when the group simply disappeared without any public explanation by the CWO or the ACG.
Regarding the ICT’s most recent foray into this project, we have specifically invited the comrades to participate in our most recent public meetings on the war in Ukraine and to provide their assessment of the evolution of the NWCW project so far. Unfortunately, the comrades did not attend these meetings and an opportunity to take the debate forward was lost. Nevertheless, we offer this examination of the background and history of the NWCW idea as our own contribution to advancing the debate.
No War but the Class War groups: a brief history
The idea of creating NWCW groups first emerged from the anarchist milieu in Britain. To our knowledge the first attempt to set up such a group was in response to the first Gulf War in 1991. But it was with the formation of new NWCW groups in response to the war in ex-Yugoslavia and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 that we were able to gain a direct experience of the composition and dynamics of this initiative.
Our decision to participate in the meetings organised by these groups, mainly in London, was based on our recognition of the ‘swamp-like’ nature of anarchism, which comprises a series of a tendencies going from outright bourgeois leftism to genuine internationalism. In our view, these new NWCW groups, while indeed being extremely heterogeneous, did contain elements who were seeking a proletarian alternative to the “Stop the War” mobilisations organised by the left of capital.
Our intervention towards these groups was based on the following objectives:
- Clarifying the principles of proletarian internationalism and the need for a sharp demarcation from the left of capital and pacifism
- Focusing on political debate and clarification against activist tendencies which, in practice, meant dissolving into the Stop the War demonstrations
- Despite accusations that our approach, emphasising the primacy of political discussion, was purely “monastic” or “inactivist”, that we were only interested in discussion for discussion’s sake, we made some definite proposals for action, in particular the possibility of calling an “internationalist meeting” in Trafalgar Square at the end of the big Stop the War march in November 2001. This would be in direct opposition to the leftist speeches coming from the STW platform. This proposal was partly acted on – not by NWCW as such, but by the ICC and the CWO… . We will return to the significance of this later.
The CWO gets involved
In 2002, the CWO also intervened in this process, particularly in Sheffield where it played a central role in the formation of a new NWCW group – one which took up positions close to and even indistinguishable from those of the communist left. In our article “Revolutionary Intervention and the Iraq war” in WR 264, which aimed to draw a balance sheet of our intervention towards NWCW, we welcomed this fact, but we also criticised the CWO’s overestimation of the potential for the NWCW network, particularly its main group in London, to act as a kind of organising centre for proletarian opposition to the war, linking up with some of small expressions of class struggle that were taking place in parallel to the “anti-war” movement.
Against this idea, our article made it clear that “we never thought that NWCW was a harbinger of a resurgence of class struggle or a definite class political movement that we had ‘joined’. It could at most be a reference point for a very small minority that were asking questions about capitalist militarism and the elitist and pacifist frauds that accompany it. And this was why we defended its -albeit limited – class positions against the reactionary attacks of leftists like Workers Power (in WR 250) and insisted from the beginning on the importance of the group as a forum for discussion and warned against the tendencies to ‘direct action’ and to closing the group to revolutionary organisations” .
For the same reasons, in another article “In defence of discussion groups” in WR 250, we explained our differences with the CWO on the question of “intermediaries” between the class and the revolutionary organisation. We had always opposed the idea, developed by the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (today the ICT’s Italian affiliate) and later taken up by the CWO, of “factory groups”, defined as “instruments of the party” for gaining an implantation of in the class and even for “organising” its struggles. We saw this as a regression to the notion of factory cells as the basis for the political organisation, advocated by the Communist International in the phase of “Bolshevisation” in the 1920s and strongly opposed by the communist left in Italy. The later evolution of the factory group idea into the call for territorial groups and then anti-war groups changed the form but not really the content. The CWO’s idea that NWCW could become an organising centre for class resistance against the war betrayed a similar misunderstanding of how class consciousness develops in the period of capitalist decadence. Certainly, alongside the political organisation per se there is a tendency towards the formation of more informal groups, whether emerging out of workplace struggles or opposition to capitalist war, but such groups – which are not part of the communist political organisation - remain expressions of a minority seeking to clarify itself and spread this clarity within the class, and cannot substitute themselves for or claim to be the organisers of more general movements in the class, a point on which, in our view, the ICT remains ambiguous.
Manoeuvres against the communist left
Although there were a number of fruitful discussions in the early phases of the NWCW groups, it became clear that, as an expression of anarchism, NWCW was subject to all sorts of contradictory pressures – a real search for internationalist positions and practices, but also the influence of leftism and of what we call parasitism, groups and elements motivated essentially by the will to isolate and even destroy authentic revolutionary currents. Such elements had a growing weight in both phases of the NWCW groupings. In 1999 the ICC was excluded (albeit by a narrow margin) from participating in the group on the grounds that we were Leninist, dogmatic, dominated meetings etc; and the main elements pushing for this exclusion were those such as Juan McIver and “Luther Blisset” who have produced two extremely slanderous pamphlets denouncing the ICC as a paranoid Stalinist cult, as small-time burglars, etc.
In 2002, we saw another round of manoeuvres against the communist left, this time spearheaded by K, an element close to Luther Blisset. In RP 27 the CWO itself talks about the irresponsible role of K and his “circle of friends” within NWCW, after K had done his best to exclude both the Sheffield group and the ICC from NCWC meetings. This time the mechanism eventually used was not a “democratic” vote as in 1999 but a behind-the-scenes decision to hold closed meetings, with the venues and times being withheld from the ICC and the Sheffield group.
What does this show? That in an environment dominated by anarchism the groups of the communist left have to wage a hard battle against the destructive and even bourgeois tendencies that will inevitably be present and will always push in a negative direction. It should be an elementary response of the groups of the communist left to stand together against the manouevres of those who seek to exclude them from participating in the temporary, heterogeneous formations produced by the attempt to fight against the dominant ideology. The CWO’s own experience in 2002 should remind them that such dangers are real. We should add that groups who claim to be part of the communist left but who act in a similarly destructive way deserve the label of “political parasitism” and should not be given the freedom of the city by the genuine groups of the communist left.
The charge that the ICC’s attitude towards intervention during these episodes was “monastic” was made by the CWO in their article in RP 27, referring to a demonstration that took place in September 2002. But prior to a previous big demonstration which was to take place in November 2001, the CWO had written to us supporting our proposal for a distinct internationalist meeting in Trafalgar Square, and at the march itself there actually was a fruitful cooperation between the two groups. As our article in WR 264 said, we had overestimated the potential of the NWCW group to organise a large-scale oppositional meeting in Trafalgar Square, since most (though not all) of its participants preferred marching with an “Anti-Capitalist Bloc” which had little if anything to distinguish itself from the Stop the War organisers. But if there was a small meeting at the end it was mainly due to the initiative of the ICC and the CWO, supported by a few members of NWCW, to hand over our megaphones to those willing to advocate an internationalist alternative to the leftists on the main platform. Further evidence that the best way to assist those outside the communist left to approach a clear internationalist position and practice is for the groups of the communist left to act together.
Returning to the current NWCW project, in a recent article on a NWCW meeting in Glasgow, the ICT claims that the project is meeting with considerable success: “The first group was formed in Liverpool a few weeks ago and since then their message has been picked up by comrades across the world going from Korea, via Turkey, Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Canada to the United States as well as other places”
We are not in a position to evaluate the real substance of these groups and initiatives. The impression we get from the groups which we know something about is that they are mainly “duplicates” of the ICT or its affiliates. In this sense, they are hardly an advance on the groups that appeared in the 1990s and 2000s, which for all their confusions, at least expressed a certain movement coming from elements seeking an internationalist alternative to leftism and pacifism. But we will have to return to this question in a future article, and we continue to call on the ICT to make a contribution to the discussion.
Amos, July 2022
 See “Communists work together at ‘anti-war’ demo, WR 250
 See for example “Communism against the war drive: intervention or monasticism?” in Revolutionary Perspectives 27
 The organisation of the proletariat outside periods of open struggle (workers' groups, nuclei, circles, committees) | International Communist Current (internationalism.org); also World Revolution 26, “Factory Groups and ICC intervention”
 See World Revolution 228, “Political parasitism sabotages the discussion”