1. RCN Bulletin
SSP AGM In Dunfermline, April 2011
Facing Up To The Crisis In The SSP
The motions for this year’s Conference highlight the toll taken on the SSP over the last six years. Is the Scottish Socialist Party still a party, or we have we just become a loose alliance, looser even than the preceding Scottish Socialist Alliance?
Auto-Electoralism Or Sleep Walking Towards May 5th
Motion A1 from the Executive Committee on the Holyrood election only views the national election on May 5th as a preparation for the Scottish local elections next year. It doesn’t address the political situation we currently face. Labour and SNP are vying with each other to be seen as the embodiment of ‘capitalist responsibility’, implementing the cuts programme demanded by corporate capital, the EU and Westminster; whilst hypocritically claiming to minimise effect of the cuts on the workers or people of Scotland. Nor does the EC motion take stock of the situation we face in the aftermath of the Sheridan Trial, with a split Left and the continued challenge the SSP faces from the supporters of ‘celebrity socialism’. Only now it is in the guise of that opportunist George Galloway and his cheerleaders in the CWI, SWP and Solidarity – when will they ever learn!
However, in order to rally the troops, at least until May, our leadership is also highlighting a recent opinion poll, which places the SSP on 4% in the Regional List. Yet, in the latest council by-election in Paisley, the SSP only received about 2% of the vote. This is in a solid working class constituency with an active branch and a locally well-known candidate. But this is not enough. The SSP still has a lot to do to win back key sections of the working class in Scotland. A ‘back to business as usual’ approach is unlikely to achieve this.
Taking Full Account Of The Problems Caused By The Split
The court’s decision last December, in clearing the names of our leading comrades, was very welcome. However, the jailing of Sheridan for the non-violent crime of perjury does not constitute justice. It also creates a false martyr. It still leaves Sheridan unaccountable for his offences against our class, and his courtroom and media attempts to drag sexual relations back fifty years. Nor does the decision of a bourgeois court amount to a vindication of all the actions taken by the SSP over these difficult times. This is why we in the RCN have stuck by our motion remitted from the February Special Conference, which addresses these concerns. Until the SSP can publicly acknowledge our need to be self-critical and learn from our mistakes, we will not regain the confidence of our class. As a result, workers’ support will be directed elsewhere, or many will just retreat into apathy and cynicism.
Other Conference motions also acknowledge the continuing crisis facing the SSP. In particular, Motion B7 from Glasgow West argues that, “The SSP has suffered over the past 6 years because of our inability to discuss openly and candidly the experience of the party and its members surrounding the Sheridan court cases and the split in the party in 2006”. Furthermore, this motion goes on to make some useful proposals involving a structured discussion around important issues. There are a number of other issues which we think could usefully have been added – such as the role of trade unions and how socialists should relate to them; and an assessment of the ‘National Question’ and its impact on the UK – but these (and other) issues could still be added by future ECs or NCs. The Glasgow West motion deserves support.
So too does motion B8 from Edinburgh South calling for the SSP to initiate another Convention of the Left, to be held in Scotland. This would probably bring along others who are now distinctly hostile to the SSP. However, we should not be afraid to publicly debate such issues as ‘celebrity socialism versus genuine socialism’, tolerating sexism under the guise of ‘class politics’ versus challenging women’s oppression and sexism as part of the struggle for human emancipation. We also have a distinctive socialist republican approach to the ‘National Question’ to counter the British Left. Furthermore, if the SSP can show that we have learned important lessons from the trials and tribulations of the ‘Tommygate Affair’, we are likely to get a hearing once more from those who used to look to the SSP for a political lead.
Motion 3 from Scottish Socialist Youth recognises the slippage of the SSP from a properly structured party based on branches to, in effect, a loose alliance. Indeed, the SSY itself has increasingly become another semi-detached part of this federal mix, despite their key role initiating the independent Anti-Fascist Alliances and the continuing Free Hetherington Occupation. The SSP, as a whole, needs to learn from these valuable experiences, and seriously address our young comrades’ concerns.
Problems Still Unrecognised And The Approach Needed
There are other problems for the SSP accentuated by the current crisis, which are not the subject of debate at this Conference. The Scottish Socialist Voice has become another largely autonomous body, not subject to the control of a wider Editorial Board, responsible to Conference, ECs or NCs. Although we have a prolific Industrial Organiser, there is no regularly meeting Industrial/Trade Union Committee. Many of these problems have arisen, not through bad practice, but due to the loss of SSP members and the fall-off in branch activity, leaving smaller numbers of comrades trying to hold things together as best they can.
In conclusion, can this Conference fully acknowledge the nature of the crisis that has engulfed the SSP? Can we address our own ‘inner demons’ without acrimony and rancour, and in a spirit of shared comradeship? If we can do this, then we have a chance of reversing the current tendency to fragmentation and of becoming a party once more.
2. RCN Bulletin
SSP Special Conference In Glasgow – February 5th, 2011
Recharging The SSP
There has been a slow erosion of Labour Party dominance over the working class in Scotland since the late 1970’s. The first signs of independent Left organisation outside Labour’s ranks followed Callaghan’s decision to bow before the dictates of the IMF, and his failure to throw the Labour government’s full weight behind its own Scottish Devolution Bill. This contributed to the formation of the Scottish Labour Party, in 1976, led by Jim Sillars. The SLP only represented a limited political break with the Labour Party. However, it highlighted two features of future breakaways to the Left – a questioning of mainstream capitalist economics and a concern for greater national self-determination.
However, the SLP had no clearly developed socialist alternative to capitalism. It also accepted a devolutionary reform of the UK, ignoring the state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers and its ongoing war in the ‘Six Counties’. Most significantly, the initials SLP turned out to mean the Sillars’ Labour Party. The party fell apart when Sillars attempted to bureaucratically suppress anyone who questioned his leadership and policies. This negative aspect has shown itself to be a recurring problem.
The next significant breakaway was the Socialist Labour Party, formed by Arthur Scargill, in response to Tony Blair’s successful campaign to reject the Labour Party’s Clause 4, in 1996, thus consummating New Labour. Whilst the SLP had a traditional Left Labour statist critique of neo-liberalism, its support for Scottish self-determination was virtually non-existent. However, the second SLP turned out to be Scargill’s Labour Party. It too fell apart when Scargill suppressed all those who opposed him.
When the Scottish Socialist Party was formed in 1998, things had obviously advanced politically since the 1970’s. The new SSP was avowedly socialist in its critique of neo-liberalism, advocated the break-up of the UK and opposed the US/British imperial alliance. However, it was less clear both on what a socialist alternative would look like, and the strategy to be supported to challenge the UK state (tail-ending the Nationalists or a republican socialist ‘internationalism from below’ alliance). Nevertheless, the SSP was able to unite Left nationalists, Left unionists, socialist republicans, socialist feminists, environmental activists and others in a single organisation – no mean achievement.
However, the SSP was also afflicted with the ‘great leader’ syndrome, initially promoted by comrades from the former Scottish Militant Labour and others. This contributed to the ‘Tommygate crisis’ in November 2004. Could the SSP maintain itself as an independent socialist party, or was it doomed to become Sheridan’s Socialist Party? In October 2006, that role was taken on by Solidarity-SSM (the Suck-up to Sheridan Movement) when it split away, after Sheridan’s earlier court ‘victory’.
However, the remaining SSP has yet to prove it can successfully reconstitute itself as the party of socialist unity. There are questions over whether the restriction of internal debate over the last four years on this issue went beyond what was necessary to avoid the legal problems caused by the state’s perjury trial. Some members appear to believe that the letters ‘SSP’ now stand for the Stuff Sheridan Party, and that the decision of a bourgeois court last December means that we can just continue as before. The very welcome clearing of our leading comrades’ names by a jury majority, however, is not the same as the SSP still being seen as the party of socialist unity, either by the wider working class, or even just by those former members and supporters, most of whom never joined Solidarity.
Any party wanting to overthrow the existing order will be presented with unforeseen challenges. They can either try to ignore the unwelcome consequences of this, pretending that things can go on just as before; or they can use the experience to learn how to deal with such challenges. Everybody in the SSP would now accept that celebrity populist politics, built around the ‘great leader’, has to be rejected. We all share some responsibility for not dealing with this earlier – including the RCN. However, the SSP has still to address two other issues, which its founding members had not considered.
First, what is our attitude to the bourgeois courts? What chance have socialists got of bringing about socialism in the face of capitalist economic and state power, if we run to their courts to sort out our internal problems in the here and now? The original November 2004 EC decision to allow Sheridan to go to the courts to take on the News of the World was misguided. When he rejected the unanimous EC decision to advise him not to, this was his first anti-party action. But this was disguised from the membership by the EC-Sheridan ‘deal’, with fateful consequences. Similarly, Frances Curran’s decision to go to courts for a ruling on Sheridan’s disgusting Daily Record attack highlights two things. There still remains a belief in some quarters that bourgeois courts are a legitimate arena for socialists to settle disputes with each other; and secondly, an unwillingness to criticise and bring leading office bearers to account – something that can and should be done in a comradely, political and non-personalised way.
Secondly, what is our attitude to the bourgeois media? We shouldn’t secretly resort to their media to criticise the conduct of other socialists, no matter how provocative their actions. Secrecy can lead to malicious rumour spreading, as we soon found out. Even worse is taking money to attack others. The fact that Sheridan first started this in the Daily Record provides no excuse for others. Any responsible jury member should reject paid-for evidence. George McNeilage’s tape threatened to undermine those SSP witnesses who had nothing to gain in court but maintaining their own personal integrity.
The traumatic post-split October 2006 SSP Conference was conducted in a genuinely comradely manner. It took many principled decisions, which still need to be upheld today. However, this means an end to the refusal to answer questions concerning elected office bearers’ public behaviour and the personalised attacks on those raising criticisms, which we have sometimes witnessed since. This post-trial Special Conference must re-establish that earlier tone once more.
Unless there is a shared agreement that have been some major misjudgements in the SSP’s handling of the whole affair, then we will go the same way as the two earlier SLPs. To avoid this means:-
- an unequivocal rejection of celebrity populism. We are radically democratic and egalitarian.
- not having leading members beyond question and therefore unaccountable to the membership.
- a refusal to go to the bourgeois courts and media in an attempt to solve our own problems. We need to develop our own socialist methods of dealing with such issues.
Whatever the outcome of today’s Conference, the now long-proven need for a united socialist organisation in Scotland (joined to others in an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance) will remain. How much better, if that organisation was to be a recharged SSP, showing that it can meet any challenges thrown at it in a principled and imaginative way.
3. RCN Bulletin, January 2010
General Election 2010 – A short contribution to the debate
Should the SSP stand?
The RCN has generally advocated standing in elections to provide the electorate with a socialist alternative at the ballot box. In the 2009 European elections, we argued vociferously that we should stand as part of the European Anti Capitalist Left.
However, it is important that we continue to review our election strategy particularly in the light of recent election campaigns and results. Therefore, we must consider whether or not we stand in the coming Westminster elections.
Within the RCN, there are a number of different opinions (we never have an RCN line and do not practise democratic centralism) but the majority are in favour of standing in a limited number of seats with local branches having the final decision on whether to stand or not. However, we agree with others who say we need to have a clear idea of why we are standing (beating other socialist parties by a few votes is not a good enough reason) and we need to stand on socialist demands not populist slogans.
What was right about the Glasgow North East By Election?
We had a very good candidate who had considerable political experience and who is an excellent communicator. Comrades worked very hard over a long period of time and reported positive responses on the ground. Mobilising against the SDL was a particularly important and significant spin off. Given these factors and the horrible effects of the current recession, we should have been pushing at an open door.
However, we had to fight against celebrity politics and other socialist parties, the SSP having decided not to discuss the prospect of a socialist unity candidate.
What was wrong with the Glasgow North East By Election?
Instead of a campaign based on strong, socialist, agitational propaganda, we resorted to populist politics in order to chase votes. Kevin was never going to “Make Greed History!” Why did we not use our excellent record as the anti war party to good effect? What was our socialist response to the capitalist crisis and the environmental threat to humanity posed by climate change? If we are only going to get 0.7% of the vote, let’s get it for an explicitly socialist alternative. The politics of populism failed.
What should our election strategy be?
We should stand in a limited number of seats given our numbers and financial position. We should support those branches that want to stand candidates. We should throw our weight behind the areas that want to stand in the election, but should be arguing for a socialist campaign. Ditch ‘Make Greed History’ and adopt either the SSP’s own ‘Make Capitalism History – Make Socialism the Future’ or the New Anti-Capitalist Party’s ‘Make the Bosses Pay for their Crisis’. We need to stop policy being made on the hoof. We must develop our programme and outline in much more detail our socialist alternative to capitalism. This is a longer term project for the party than just for these elections.
Instead of chasing passive voters, our approach should be one of “making socialists” by producing educational materials and holding meetings on key topics – War, Recession, BNP, Climate Change – educating our membership in the process.
We should also be emphasising the importance of the Scottish independence referendum, on the democratic grounds of upholding the right to self- determination, not by raising any false belief that the SNP can deliver, or that we should enter into any popular front with them.
What about other left parties?
We need to combat any illusion that we are the only left alternative on offer in any election. Unpalatable as this may be, we should consider non-aggression pacts in specific areas. We could enter a non-aggression pact with the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition, without sinking ourselves into the bureaucratic, anti-democratic stitch-up that it constitutes. The BNP are targeting Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy’ s seats. These are areas where it would make sense to consider non- aggression pacts.
We need to integrate any election work into work we are involved in generally and not see elections as separate from our normal activity of developing ourselves as socialists. We should be building branches ensuring they are functioning in as many areas as possible. Political education and the democratic building of a socialist programme should be a priority for the party.
4. RCN Bulletin, September National Council, 2009
Why we produced the motion on socialist unity
This statement explains why the Republican Communist Network (RCN) produced the motion on socialist unity* which has been put on the agenda for the National Council.
Firstly, the statement was not initially intended to be a motion because we did not think that platforms were allowed to put motions to the National Council (NC). We have never done so before but because it asked the Executive Committee (EC) to reconsider their statement, the National Secretary advised that it was more appropriate as a motion.
It is also important to remember the political context of the motion. The European elections took place on 4th June. Working class people across Britain, despite the worst crisis of capitalism in living memory, saw a left which was fragmented and in disarray. The mainstream, bourgeois parties could offer no solutions and voters were looking for answers. The split left was decimated in Scotland (it fell back far more here than in England and Wales). The BNP and Christian Party overtook every left/ socialist party in Scotland. The economic crisis does not mean that people will automatically turn to the left. The dangers in such complacency are clear to all when the BNP were able to win 2 seats in the European Parliament.
Following these elections, tentative and in some cases, possibly cynical moves towards “socialist unity” were made. As well as invitations to meet from those involved in “No 2 EU”, local initiatives were springing up via social forums and Red /Green groups. Non party members were asking about the possibility of “unity candidates” or non aggression pacts for the imminent Westminster election and the questions around the Glasgow North East by-election was even more pressing.
The Executive produced a statement, which said, “Once all of the legal obstacles have been cleared from our path, we intend to initiate a full, open and democratic discussion around left unity in Scotland and the role that the SSP can play in achieving it.” This statement left many party members unsure which, if any, initiatives they could be involved in. We believed that this statement was too vague and that the “legal obstacles” referred to could potentially drag on for months if not years. We felt that comrades could not simply ignore the initiatives, which were taking place, nor could we refrain from discussion indefinitely and still claim to be the party of socialist unity.
The RCN felt there were real dangers for the party in adhering to the course of action suggested in the EC statement and brought forward our position in order to seek clarification and facilitate a debate in the party on the matter. We believe that such a debate could be held without breaching any legal advice.
We have to say that as a platform, which is made up of hardworking, committed party members, we have been dismayed at the reaction to our statement by some within the party. We recognise that it probably represents a minority viewpoint but we are a party who has recently overhauled the constitution to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and that all shades of opinion are heard and dealt with in a comradely manner. We hope that this is a tradition the SSP will return to.
We want to sincerely emphasise that our statement was not intended to cause further distress to any party member who may be a witness in any legal case. We are also clear as a platform and have written at length in our magazine, where the responsibility for the split in the socialist left in Scotland lies. That for us is a political crime, which is unforgivable.
We are not under any illusions about what can be achieved in any left unity discussions. The process, which brought about the SSP, took years of joint work and building of trust between groups. That will be far more difficult after the events of the last few years. However, no one can deny that in the current global economic and environmental crisis, socialist unity is needed more than ever.
We welcomed members of the EC who came to speak with the RCN platform last week to offer some clarification of their statement and to seek clarification and explanation from us. We would also like to thank individual SSP comrades who contacted us directly seeking clarification of our position. It is so much easier to understand comrades in a face-to-face discussion rather than via e-mail tirades.
We were assured that local initiatives as we outlined were not forbidden. The content of the executive statement was to protect any potential party witnesses for being held in contempt of court or being accused of obstructing the course of justice which is a criminal offence. We have no wish to place any of our comrades in such a position. We were also assured that the legal obstacles referred to mean the trial which is likely to take place early in the new year.
Comrades the embargo on this discussion cannot go on indefinitely or we will become totally ineffectual as a political force in Scotland. The debate on socialist unity must take place in the spring of next year at the latest or we will lose support and members if we are perceived to be an obstacle to the progress of socialist ideas.
However, given the clarification from the EC, we accept their request to remit the motion to the earliest possible date after the trial.