Nov 28 2012

UNITING THE LEFT IN SCOTLAND ON A PRINCIPLED BASIS

On February 5th, 2011, after the ending of the court proceedings arising from ‘Tommygate’ [1], the SSP held a special meeting in Glasgow to discuss the lessons to be learned from the whole affair. The SSP annual conference, held in Dunfermline in April, also considered aspects of this.

It became quite clear, that not only was the leadership of the SSP not prepared to examine its own conduct during this period in a critical manner, but that it had also retreated from the decisions made at the party’s post-split Conference in 2006. Then the leadership had advocated a unanimously supported pro-socialist unity strategy. That conference had also pledged the party to oppose any initiation of action in the bourgeois courts, or resort to the bourgeois media, over disputes amongst  socialists, a decision that was subsequently breached.

The sometimes highly personalised attacks, either made by, or allowed without any criticism from the leadership, upon comrades who had stuck by the party through the whole of ‘Tommygate’, led to both resignations and the emergence of party dissidents not in any platform.

Attacks were also made upon RCN platform members (which had become, in effect, a ‘dissident’ platform in the SSP [2]). The RCN had provided one of the most consistent and thoroughgoing political critiques of Sheridan and his political supporters. However, we were not prepared to go along with the demands for uncritical loyalty to leadership figures when they had made mistakes or breached party policy. It was precisely such practice that had led to ‘Tommygate’ in the first place.

Some of the ‘dissidents’ organised two meetings in Glasgow, where a number of very important issues were aired. Members of the RCN were invited. The organisers of these particular meetings asked the RCN to arrange a further meeting in Edinburgh.

This was organised for September 15th in the Out of the Blue Centre in Leith. 25 people attended, with several others giving their apologies. It attracted comrades from Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow in almost equal proportions, as well as a comrade from Bradford, who used to be in the commune.

This meeting though, went far beyond ‘Tommygate’ [3], or the SSP. It examined the whole culture of the Left, and its inability to provide a meaningful alternative to capitalism, despite the deep-seated crisis (indeed crises) that has engulfed the world since 2008.

Everybody present thought that this was a very successful meeting. Here is an account of the issues addressed by that meeting and its conclusions:-

 

REUNITING THE SCOTTISH LEFT’,

Out of the Blue, Leith. 15th September 2012

Main themes from the discussion groups based on the two questions:

[1] Can we develop a new politics and what will it look like?

[2] What are the barriers to this and how can we overcome them?

What is the vision?

Possibilities – of an alternative society; a clear articulation of communism rather than a diluted ‘popular’ alternative; shared political aims, despite political differences; built on integrity, an ethical framework and militant democracy; needs to address the issue of power – an enabling power; will it inform our politics and organisation?

Language was a big issue – do we use established ‘left’ lexicon or develop a new one?

Ethos and mode of practice

Comradely, respectful debate; emphasis on democracy and what we mean by it; creativity, critical thinking and self-questioning encouraged; open, honest and transparent participation; development of trust; no ‘great leader’ or unofficial ‘elite groupings’; radical socialist education – based on how to think not what to think; acceptance that people can and will change over time.

Organisation of ‘new’ politics

Creating engaged, democratic and participative forms of organisation; based on principled unity, possibly at three levels – united campaigns on issues, united fronts at elections and a series of meetings on the left; electoral or not; looser structure of groups and individuals coming together for specific purposes; how to create unity with diversity; need local, national and international structures e.g. local campaign work/discussion groups, broad coalitions [but problems if ‘good’ Labour/SNP/TU ‘lefts’ are supported by some], difficulties in establishing truly democratic ‘internationals’; how do we relate to women, ethnic minorities and other sections of people often neglected/ignored by left groups?

Independence Referendum

Opportunity to engage with others and challenge the SNP’s notion of an independent Scotland; debate about whether to get involved with Radical Independence Convention; what would a Scottish Socialist Republic look like?

Consciousness, socialisation and ‘human nature’

Much of what is considered ‘human nature’ is learned behaviour and so can be challenged and changed; transforming society can be about transforming ourselves too, in the process of class struggle or through an understanding of our own psychology; if there is to be mass participation – and emancipation of the w/c is an act of the w/c – the class needs to regain the idea of individual and group power, at work and in communities; the left needs to regain credibility within our class. It has very little influence at present.

 


[2]             The RCN ceased to be an organised SSP platform in January, 2012. See:-

 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/the-rcn-platform-and-the-ssp/

 [3]             For a full RCN account of the SSP experience see:-

 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

 ___________________

It was agreed to organise further meetings on a geographical basis in a rota to include Glasgow and Dundee. The next of these meetings will be held in Glasgow on December 8th.

Agenda

(drawn up by Glasgow organisers)

12:30 –  Start of meeting and personal introductions

12:40 – Break into groups for general discussion of 1st theme –How can we build a socialist organisation that is truly democratic and non-hierarchical?

13:40 – Group feedback

14:00 – Lunch

14:50 – Group discussion on 2nd theme – What issues would such an organisation find most important to address in the current political situation in Scotland?

15:50 – Group feedback

16:10 – AOCB

16:30 – DONM

Edinburgh RCN, 29.11.12

 

______________________

The Edinburgh based comrades, who attended the September 15th meeting, have also decided to form a local group. This had its first meeting on November 3rd, where it was agreed to organise further monthly meetings. The contents of the letter, originally sent out to those who could not be contacted directly, also provides additional information about RCN thinking in regards to principled socialist regroupment, and can be found in the comments section below.

 

Allan Armstrong

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “UNITING THE LEFT IN SCOTLAND ON A PRINCIPLED BASIS”

  1. RCN says:

    LETTER SENT TO COMRADES IN PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 15th CONFERENCE

    The RCN was originally formed as a platform during the early days of the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Members of the RCN have come from a variety of political backgrounds, including the Labour Party, SNP, CPGB, IS/SWP, USFI and anarchism.

    Perhaps we are best known for our encouragement of comradely and democratic debate and discussion. This has been highlighted in our work in the SSA and SSP, in our role in organising the Republican Socialist Convention and the three Global Commune events, and in the way we conduct our own meetings. Non-RCN members have been invited to RCN meetings and have left with a favourable impression.

    The RCN has taken the initiative in organising this event on September 15th in response to the crisis that overtook the SSP. For a period of time, the SSA/SSP brought together most of the significant socialist/communist political currents in Scotland. The SSA and SSP was where the key debates on the Left took place. This is no longer the case. Following from this setback, some of us attended two meetings organised by other SSP or former SSP members in Glasgow to discuss the situation in the SSP. These have not been followed up. When we made further enquiries, it was suggested that perhaps the RCN should take the next initiative. That is one reason why we have taken responsibility for this meeting.

    There are comrades invited to this meeting who have left the SSP, those who remain members, and those who never joined, but still appreciate the political significance of the growth and decline of the SSP. It is not the purpose of the meeting to have a discussion over the issue of “In or out of the SSP?” The RCN itself is no longer a platform in the SSP, although we have individual members who remain in the organisation (1). We have already posted our analysis of the rise and fall of the SSP (2).

    More important for the meeting on the 15th September are the political consequences we think can be drawn from this experience. You can find our suggestions for the basis of future socialist/communist regroupment. These can be found at:-

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/26/the-rcn-call-for-socialistcommunist-regroupment-in-scotland/

    However, we are very much aware that our own political analysis is far from the final answer, and that other non-RCN comrades have valuable contributions to make, drawing on their own experiences, or by providing different viewpoints. The RCN welcomes this. This is why we would very much like you to come to this meeting.

    Indeed, the RCN does not have a shared position about socialist regroupment to impose on others. In the SSP, many non-RCN members were surprised to see that we didn’t always argue from the same microphone or vote the same way. On some issues we did have an RCN position, but members could still disagree with this in their own name. On many issues though, we had no agreed position and wanted to learn from others through the debate. We publish our own members’ discussions, including where we disagree with each other, on our blog. This is the open approach we also want to encourage on September 15th.

    i) Internationalism from Below

    However, apart from our well-known commitment to democracy, especially within socialist and working class organisations, the RCN has perhaps become best known for its distinct socialist republican ‘Internationalism from Below’ approach to the National Question in the UK. We think that this is particularly important in the context of the forthcoming Scottish ‘independence’ referendum. After a considerable period of debate the RCN has issued a statement to address this issue (3). Nevertheless, there is still continuing debate within the RCN over this (4). We have tried to develop deeper theoretical work on which to base our politics (5). We also try to provide up-to-date analysis of the political situation, using contributions from non-RCN members too (6). We believe it is vital that socialists offer an alternative to the Left nationalism and Left unionism that dominates the current debates on the Left.

    ii) The need for a genuine socialist/communist alternative

    However, an area where non-RCN members in Scotland may not be quite so aware of our developing politics is our belief that, in the conditions of the continuing and deepening economic capitalist crisis, the Left has to go beyond the mere defence of past gains (important though these are), and especially beyond the autocratic statist socialism of the old USSR and official Communism, and the bureaucratic welfare statism and Keynesianism of Socialist Democracy. We first argued for the need for such an approach in the immediate aftermath of the Credit Crunch (7).

    However, by this time the SSP had become so traumatised by the Sheridan affair, that it was in no position to take up such a debate. Instead, the RCN, along with the commune, jointly sponsored the first Global Commune event in Edinburgh. Here the need for developing a communist alternative to a crisis-ridden capitalism was discussed and debated (8). Since then, we in the RCN have gone on to develop such thinking amongst our own membership (9).

    Furthermore, the RCN also continued the debate over the communist alternative at the second Global Commune. Here the RCN’s concept of ‘Internationalism from Below’ was discussed and debated, not only for the UK, but in a global context, highlighting the wider application of this approach (10).

    iii) Rank and File versus Broad Left approach

    The third Global Commune event, Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose? (11) addressed another important issue. The RCN has always advocated a distinct Rank and File approach to work within trade unions, in contrast to the Broad Left approach, which had dominated the thinking of the SSP leadership and others (12). In the aftermath of the aborted TUC-led Pensions Strikes, and the tentative beginnings of independent working class action in the recent Spark’s dispute, we see the need for a Rank and File approach as crucial.

    Working together for socialist regroupment

    These are just three areas we would highlight in the quest for socialist regroupment. However, it will not be possible to discuss these in a considered way in the short time we have available on September 15th. There are also several other areas, where we think we have contributed to the wider socialist debate in Scotland, particularly over secularism, Ireland, Palestine and the importance of cultural struggle. However, we appreciate that others have also made significant contributions to these and other important debates. One area, for example, where we would particularly welcome further discussion, is the issue of women’s struggles and what is meant by Feminism today.

    Therefore, we hope, as a minimum, that the meeting on September 15th can lead to a shared agreement over how socialists/communists conduct themselves and organise in a democratic, non-sectarian manner.

    However, we also very much hope that this meeting will encourage comrades to want to come together again so that we can begin to organise around:-

    a) important political areas for action, e.g. over the forthcoming Scottish ‘independence’ referendum.

    b) ongoing political debates, e.g. the need for a genuine socialist/communist alternative and how socialists provide effective support for workers’ and women’s struggles, especially in the context of today’s capitalist crisis.

    If we can agree to organise further meetings there will be additional areas for common political action and debate, which you and other participants will want to raise. We look forward to your suggestions.

    About the RCN itself

    There may be individuals at the meeting who wish to join the RCN. We would welcome such new members, but this is not the purpose of the meeting, which is to open up a wider debate amongst socialists/communists. However, if anyone is interested in finding out more about the RCN, they should look at What We Stand For. This can be found at:-

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/06/11/rcn-what-we-stand-for/

    We welcome non-RCN members to our own meetings. Anyone wishing to join the RCN only needs to accept that ‘What We Stand For’ provides a framework for future debate. It is not fixed in stone, but subject to ongoing discussion and debate. Furthermore, you don’t need to be a member to comment on our ‘What We Stand For’. You just have to be committed to making non-sectarian and democratic contributions.

    Yours in struggle,

    Allan Armstrong

    ___________________________________

    1) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/the-rcn-platform-and-the-ssp/

    2) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

    3) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/08/05/for-an-independent-scottish-socialist-republic/

    4) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/18/the-scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-3/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

    5) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

    6) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/07/30/why-the-independence-referendum-is-being-turned-into-one-on-nat/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/06/20/the-independence-lite-referendum-and-a-tale-of-two-campaign/

    7) http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/08/30/beyond-props-for-capital/#more-3305

    8) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/02/05/report-of-the-first-global-commune-day/

    9) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/08/05/is-communism-possible/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/16/debating-the-possibility-of-communism/

    10) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

    11) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/01/17/trade-unions-are-they-fit-for-purpose-global-commune-event/

    12) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/08/13/after-the-pensions-strikes/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the-first-place/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/09/21/fighting-the-cuts-beyond-october-1st/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/08/19/major-gains-for-low-paid-at-heron-tower-dispute/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/04/17/international-resistance-to-public-sector-cuts/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/09/06/brian-higgins-anti-blacklist-campaign/

  2. Emancipation & Liberation » CRISIS IN THE SSP says:

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