This blog has already commented on the earlier organising behind the Radical Independence Conference. It has also provided a fraternal critique of Britain Must Break, written by James Foley for the International Socialist Group (ISG), the organisation which initiated the RIC. Many others have commented on the conference itself (see end of articles below for links to these)

Below are posted two related articles. The first  examines the politics of the ISG and how these could  influence the future of the RIC. The second makes a comparison between the ISG (which has come out of the SWP tradition) and seeks to reunite the Left in Scotland, and the International Socialist Movement (which came from the CWI/Militant tradition) and sought to unite the Left through setting up the Scottish Socialist Party.




i)            The emergence of the International Socialist Group, the main political  group behind the Radical Independence Conference.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow - venue for the Radical Independence Conference
Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow – venue for the Radical Independence Conference

The very well attended Radical Independence Conference (RIC) was held in Glasgow’s Radisson Blu Hotel on November on 24th. The majority of the 800+ present would consider themselves to be Socialists (red) of one kind or another. However, there was also a substantial number of Scottish nationalists [1] of different political persuasions – Left radical and social democrat – but united under the saltire (blue), as well as some Greens. If the Left is defined in fairly broad terms, this was its largest gathering in Scotland for some time.

This successful event has put the political spotlight upon its principal organisers – the International Socialist Group (ISG). They are a very recent phenomenon, but the media noted their presence [2].  The ISG has been the second group to emerge from the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as the result of a crisis that engulfed it between 2009-11. However, the first organisation to split was Counterfire in England and Wales in 2010. Only as recently as 2011 were they followed by the ISG in Scotland.

Nearly a decade ago, in the context of the prospect of war in Iraq, the SWP leadership threw its weight behind the Stop the War Coalition. Later, when the war went ahead and Iraq was occupied, the SWP signed up to Respect. However, neither of these organisations delivered the high hopes of SWP recruits that had been expected of them. The political fallout from the SWP’s initial backing for Respect and uncritical support for George Galloway led to a major internal party crisis from 2009. This backing for a Left celebrity figure followed their earlier support for Tommy Sheridan and the Solidarity breakaway from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2006 – something else that delivered very few new recruits for the SWP.

Thus, the SWP’s poor performance, resulting from these recent political manoeuvres, has contributed to two major splits. In the process, the SWP first lost previously super-loyal Central Committee (CC) members, John Rees and Lindsay German, who went on to form Counterfire. In 2011, the SWP then experienced the loss of another super-loyal CC member and long time party organiser, Chris Bambery. He helped to form the new ISG [3], along with over 30 mainly student members, recently recruited by the SWP.

On earlier occasions, when the SWP leadership had made a sharp change of line, it had been possible to sacrifice lower level full-timers and make them carry the can for positions previously promoted by the whole leadership. They were easy scapegoats since they were appointed by the leadership, not elected by the members. This had happened after the SWP ditched its disastrous ‘Downturn Theory’ – the Left face to Labour’s ‘New Realism’.

Throughout much of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the SWP had pursued a policy that put more emphasis on abstract propagandist methods of working. Abstract propagandism means non-involvement in, or withdrawal from wider coalitions, electoral work, and sometimes organised trade union work. There is an unstated belief that “the mountain will come to Mohammed”, through persistent propaganda – in the SWP’s case, mainly by selling Socialist Worker.

Militant and the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign
Militant and the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign

This negligence of the wider movement allowed CWI/Militant to replace the SWP as the largest organisation on the Left in the UK. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, between 1988-91.

The SWP leadership eventually changed tack in response to what it saw as a new political upturn marked by the rise of the Anti-Globalisation Movement, particularly the mass anti-WTO protest in Seattle in 1999. This led to the setting up a new SWP front, Globalise Resistance [4], and the revival of an older one, the Anti-Nazi League [5]. When the SWP finally adopted this new course, it moved much closer to the style of popular front politics associated with the old British Communist Party. This meant dropping any socialist public political profile, or any policies, that would be unacceptable to the liberal wing of the particular popular front it was working in.  It particularly involved coming to an accommodation with Left-talking trade union officials.

Furthermore, in contrast to the previous ‘doom and gloom’ talk of ‘The Downturn’, a new super-optimism characterised SWP-speak. This was highlighted by its members’ constant verbal resort to “brilliant” to describe every strike, demo or meeting. The climax of this new turn was the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), in which the SWP and the Communist Party of Britain formed the leadership [6]. StWC mobilised up over a million protestors in London, on February 15th 2003, whilst the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War mobilised  100,000 in Glasgow.

However, the political focus was upon splitting the Labour MPs at Westminster in order to win a parliamentary vote, not on building a wider movement, with the  strategy and tactics necessary to stop the war.  Indeed, holding more demos became the strategy, with ever diminishing returns. These protests failed to stop Blair and New Labour from joining Bush’s Iraq war or the subsequent occupation.

George Galloway in characteristic pose
George Galloway in characteristic pose

The SWP’s then helped to cobble together Respect, a hybrid Islamo-communalist/Old Labour electoral alliance, headed by celebrity Left populist leader, George Galloway. In the 2005 General Election, Galloway was elected to Westminster, representing Bethnal Green and Bow. However, the strong Islamo-communalist nature of Respect in London’s East End soon began to reveal itself in the public arena. The SWP found itself increasingly marginalised and it panicked. It pulled out of Respect, creating an alternative front – the Left List. In Tower Hamlets this just turned out to be based on a competing variant of Islamo-communalism [7].  The four Left List councillors soon deserted – three rejoined the Labour Party and one joined the Tories!

Therefore, the resulting internal crisis, which hit the SWP between 2009-11, was more serious than earlier inner-Party struggles. Yet, despite the loss of those who went on to join Counterfire and the ISG, and the continued expulsions to this day, a tentative dissident current, concerned at the lack of internal democracy, still remains within the SWP. This includes Neil Davidson, the person most responsible both for the SWP’s earlier Left unionist line on Scotland and its current rejection. He has voiced some opposition to the SWP’s lack of internal democracy at successive party conferences.

Dissidents have to tread a careful line though. If former key national leadership figures can find themselves outside of ‘The Party’, then no-one, no matter how well respected, can be certain of their future. Any dissent must be kept inside the party, with no resort to discussion and debate within the wider Socialist movement. Critical members have to manoeuvre carefully and not step beyond the SWP’s limited and unclear boundaries of what will be tolerated [8]. One of the key roles for CC-appointed full-timers is to monitor and marginalise dissenters, and ensure that branch leaderships remain in the hands of CC loyalists.

Therefore, the effects of this crisis in the SWP are not necessarily over. It still attracts new young members and it is important that they are not left demoralised, when the party does not live up to their hopes. Furthermore, if some long term members are beginning to question aspects of their party’s politics then this can only be helpful. There are  useful experiences which they can bring to the wider Socialist Movement.

The rest of this article provides some analysis of the possible consequences of these developments. However, its main focus is upon the ISG, because it has emerged as a significant political player on the Scottish Left [9], as a result of its role in organising the RIC on November 24th. The creation of the ISG could lead to positive political developments, but a number of obstacles still remain [10]. One problem with the ISG (as with Counterfire) has been its unwillingness to publicly account for its break with the SWP. Therefore, the ISG has not yet come to real terms with what was positive and what was negative about their members’ earlier experiences in the SWP. This means the ISG is more likely to repeat some of the SWP’s deeper negative traits, which it has not yet fully addressed.  

ii)            Counterfire and the ISG – breaking from the SWP tradition?

The SWP leadership does not see any need for any wider revolutionary political organisation arising from joint struggles, or from considered debates with other experienced Socialist activists. Its members are trained to see the SWP as the ready-made, ‘actually existing’, and only revolutionary socialist party in Britain, which others should join. In this they are not alone, of course. Their main competitor is the CWI/Socialist Party. Experienced Socialists from other traditions are seen as a political threat.

Therefore, in its constant quest for new members, the SWP looks primarily to those relatively inexperienced contacts they come across, who are beginning to question and take action against the existing order of things. These people often do not have any thought-out understanding of capitalism and socialism [11]. That can come later within the confines of the SWP, where those liable to ask too many awkward questions can be quietly weeded out.

When the SWP has been pressured by events into joining up with other Socialists – in the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance [12] (in England and Wales), Respect, the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC), or the United Left Alliance in Ireland – the leaderships’ (both in Britain and Ireland) main concern is to make new recruits and to protect their own organisation from any critical scrutiny. This is why the SWP opposes attempts to make its activities accountable to the wider organisations in which it is participating. It has continuously tried to curtail any democracy that would enable such accountability to take place [13]. After all, the SWP is ‘The Party’, and front organisations are meant to transmit the orders of the CC. When this is not possible (e.g. in wider coalitions), this presents greater problems for the SWP leadership.

Counterfire shows a certain irreverence for official Marxist icons!
Counterfire shows a certain irreverence for official Marxist icons!

However, a somewhat belated questioning of the SWP CC’s control-freakery contributed to Rees, German and Bambery’s subsequent downgrading of any directing role for ‘The Party’ in their future plans, when they left to form Counterfire and the ISG.  Hence, they have abandoned the orthodox Marxist-Leninist model claimed by the SWP.

There are clearly some common links between the formation of Counterfire and the ISG. However, Counterfire arose after the failure of the Anti-War Movement to stop UK participation in the Iraq War; after the full collapse of Respect into celebrity-led Left populism; and after the inability of the student rebellion in England to push the Lib-Dems in the Tory-led coalition into opposing university tuition fees. Such setbacks do not have to lead to political retreat. They can provide a period for greater reflection, a deepening understanding of the system being confronted, and a solidly grounded political preparation for future advances.

However, Socialists can often be tempted into wanting ‘a slice of the action’ now. This usually leads adjustments in their politics in order to appeal to those who cling on to illusions in Labourism, various forms of populism (and charismatic leaders), trade union bureaucrats and neo-Keynesian reforms. Thus, Counterfire has launched the Coalition of Resistance (CoR), in which openly declared socialist/communist politics are seen as a hindrance, rather than a necessity as the capitalist crisis deepens. This trait, though, has been inherited from the SWP and its front organisations.

For the SWP, arguments about ‘socialism’ can be confined to ‘consenting adults’ meeting out of the sight of those non-Socialists who might otherwise take offence. But, in adjusting to working class retreat and current lack of self-confidence, Counterfire has gone further than the SWP in wanting Socialists to lower any public socialist profile. Indeed, the word ‘Socialist’ forms no part of the new organisation’s name – unlike the SWP and ISG. Counterfire has been characterised as the SWP’s ‘Eurocommunist wing’. It has adapted itself – more so even than the SWP leadership  – to the latest phase of ‘The Forward March of Labour Halted’. This has followed the defeats and setbacks suffered by the working class and by Socialists under the continuing corporate capitalist and imperial offensive.

The ISG, though, has come out of the student university protests in Scotland. One of these protests, the Hetherington Occupation at Glasgow University led to concessions from the authorities. Members who later joined the ISG, whilst they were still in the SWP, also came into contact with others  in the universities and colleges. They opposed the tactics of the SWP and, in particular, its front organisation, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), when dealing with the activities of the SDL and the Loyalists in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This anti-fascist work was done through the Anti-Fascist Alliance (AFA). The SSP’s Socialist Youth, Irish Republican supporters, the Republican Communist Network (RCN) [14] and Anarchists were all involved. AFA emphasised the need to challenge the fascists directly.

The SWP and UAF tried to sabotage such actions, in favour of diverting support to its pacifistic, popular front, counter-protests, which included the then Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie! So, although the ISG has been formed within the general context of working class retreat in the face of the current capitalist offensive, because of its involvement in some successful resistance, and its working alongside others in a more open manner, there are elements of a Left critique of the SWP within the ISG. Its membership is overwhelmingly young, and includes a high proportion of women, including Asian women, a welcome development.  

iii)            The need to make a fuller break with the negative aspects of the SWP tradition

However, there are still political hurdles to be surmounted. A big problem in getting over these is the already mentioned lack of any public political account, from those involved, of the political crisis that led to the split, e.g. what is the ISG’s attitude to the SWP’s cultivation of populism and celebrity leaders? In this sense, despite their differences, the ISG (and Counterfire) seem to share that old SWP tradition of denying and forgetting. Perhaps, like the SWP, the ISG thinks that the necessity for such accounting can be avoided by the rapid recruitment of new members who have not been through the recent traumatic experiences [15]. Within the SWP itself, longer-standing members came to accept this need for political amnesia. It is hardwired into SWP’s practice due to its opposition to having any political programme. Changes of line can be abrupt. Having a political programme would make the leadership more democratically accountable for its sudden policy turns, and would involve the whole membership in debating any necessary principled, or unnecessary opportunistic changes.

The late Duncan Hallas, SWP in front of uncharacteristic anarchist colours!
The late Duncan Hallas, SWP opposed political programmes – which perhaps explains him appearing here in front of anarchist colours!

To buttress the SWP’s anti-programme tradition, the late Duncan Hallas pointed to the sterile tradition of the orthodox Trotskyists. They have conducted ferocious factional battles over who adhered most closely to Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme in 1948, 1958, 1968, 1978…. and on up until this very day! In the orthodox Trotskyist tradition the programmatic method acted more of as a shibboleth than a guide to action. To counter this, a revisionist Trotskyism arose, which devised its own reading of the ‘transitional method’ to allow accommodation to official Communism and Left Social Democracy. The battles between the self-declared orthodox and the revisionist wings contributed to that much joked about ‘57 varieties of Trotskyism’  – probably an underestimate!

So, for many existing and former SWP members, having a programme and raising any awkward differences are seen to be, at best, “irrelevant”, or at worst, “sectarian” [16] – instead, “forget yesterday’s mistakes and let’s move on.” For them, ‘non-sectarianism’ means public denial, and the downplaying of their own differences in debates with other Socialists. One unpleasant consequence of this is that the articulating and managing of political differences can often be confined to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, back-biting and rumour mongering.

In contrast, this article will emphasise the importance of accountability and the necessity for listening and learning from earlier political experiences, including those that went disastrously wrong. Such a method of operating encourages the airing of differences, not in order to gain a knock-out, or a points win for one’s own particular political tendency, but to contribute to a new shared higher understanding that can inform political practice. This method seeks to involve as many as possible in constructive debate, rather than depend on the latest line handed down by ‘The Party’ leadership. This is because socialism/communism can only come about through the politically educated participation of the majority in transforming society, and not through imposition by ‘The Party’  – which inevitably means its leadership.

There also needs to be a questioning of the inherited SWP thinking that, because the ideas of communism and socialism have become discredited in the eyes of many, after the failures of official Communism and Social Democracy/Labourism, they should be dropped in public. Those from the SWP tradition have made no attempt to reclaim and reformulate a genuine socialism/communism as an alternative to the dead-end versions, which were offered by official Communism and traditional Social Democracy, prior to their organisational or political collapse [17]. Thus they prefer other terms, such as ‘Anti-capitalist’ and ‘Radical’. ‘Anti-capitalism’ is a label that now has a wider resonance amongst the Left than communism and socialism. ‘Anti-capitalism’ is thus useful for organisations like the SWP, Counterfire and the ISG. It also means that they do not have to publicly promote what they claim to be for, as opposed to what they are against, within the various coalitions or movements they participate in.

Right wing libertarianism - anti-state, pro-market
Right wing libertarianism – anti-state, pro-market

However, the most consistent advocates of ‘Anti-capitalism’ are the Anarchists. They are much more united about what they are against (or anti), than what they are for. Furthermore, like the non-Anarchist Left, Anarchists find their thinking overlaps with some pro-capitalist ideas. This is because others also describe themselves as anti-state Libertarians. Indeed, the anti-state Right Libertarians [18] constitute the furthest right wing of neo-liberalism.

This is perhaps why the ISG has made more use of the term ‘Radical’. This, like ‘Anti-capitalist’, can encompass Anarchists; but it is also designed to attract others like the Greens, Radical Democrats [19] and Left populists [20]. When members of the ISG have made an attempt to provide the term ‘Radical’ with some content, it seems to amount to support for neo-Keynesian state intervention and welfare reform [21]. Thus, the traditional Social Democratic/Old Labour model is rejected in name only. Just as anti-state Libertarianism provides a bridge to the neo-liberal ‘anti-statist’ version of capitalism, so, in the case of the ISG, Radicalism appears to provide a bridge to a social democratic, statist version of capitalism.

iv) the need for an openly declared socialism/communism in a period of deep capitalist crises

In contrast to the Anarchists, for whom the state is the problem, the ISG (coming from the recent SWP tradition [22]) appears to regard the market and neo-liberalism as the fundamental problem. Thus, resort to a reformed (and implicitly class neutral) state is publicly promoted [23] as the immediate solution to the capitalist crisis, e.g. through neo-Keynesian interventions and nationalisations.

Trotsky, leading dissident Communist - but hey, nice hat too!
Trotsky, leading dissident Communist – but hey, nice hat too!

The majority of those from the Anarchist or Trotskyist traditions (including the dissident Trotskyist SWP) usually base their politics around opposition to secondary aspects of capitalism – the state or the market. The real essence of capitalism is wage slavery. Under this, exploitation takes the form of the extraction of surplus labour in the labour process, before its realisation as profits on the market, protected by the state.

Far from capitalism and the ‘free market’ being the ‘natural order of things’, which is suppressed by the state, as the Right Libertarians and other neo-liberals argue; capitalism requires an oppressive state to overcome the continued open and hidden resistance it faces. This state not only intervenes to promote or regulate the market, but to create the optimum conditions for capital accumulation in the workplaces and wider communities too. A state machine designed for this purpose can not be expected to act in the real interests of the working class. And, in the context of deep economic crisis, there is little room even for short-term concessions [24].

The repressive role of capitalism is only partly hidden by various forms of alienation (including commodity fetishism, e.g. the neo-liberal promotion of a ‘shop-until-you-drop’ mentality). Alienation often leads to conscious and unconscious cultural resistance, resulting in a clamour for individual and collective self-determination, meant in its widest sense.

The inability to fully appreciate the real nature of capitalism has contributed to the political ‘solutions’ offered by Social Democrats, former official Communists, dissident Communists (including Trotskyists) and Anarchists. Left Social Democrats [25] see their version of socialism being, in effect, workers (wage slaves) gaining full ‘house slave’ status under capitalism. They oppose the horrors of workers being left as expendable ‘field slaves’, sacrificed to feed the market’s insatiable demand for profits. Thus, to counter this, the social democratic state is meant to protect workers from the vagaries of the capitalist market, by providing support  ‘from the cradle to the grave’. Experts are employed to regulate the capitalist economy by means of Keynesian-style state intervention. Hence Social Democrats traditionally tended to have a more favourable view of the state compared to the market – seen at best as a necessary evil.

Old style field slavery
Old style field slavery

The official Communists, though, argued for a still greater role for the state, to end workers’ ‘field slavery’ and to give their ‘house slavery’ status a more solid grounding. Hence, official Communists supported guaranteed paid work, extensive free welfare and cultural provision, all provided by the Party-state, and unfettered by any market constraints. However, like Social Democracy, official Communism left workers with no real say in the running of the economy or society. Their Party-state Plan was meant to be for the workers, not by the workers.  There was no freely associated labour or cooperative planned production; workers continued to take their orders from others, receiving payment at levels decided by others – in other words, a form of wage slavery under the ‘benevolent’ Party-state.

Dissident Communists have not really moved much beyond this way of thinking. Some, though, would like to popularise Party-state rule through the addition of popular assemblies, where people could express their concerns to the state leadership, hoping they will listen and act accordingly. However, the limits to any such listening are determined by the requirements of the Party-state’s predetermined Plan.  Under classical Roman chattel slavery, some ‘enlightened’ owners consulted their highly educated house slave philosophers and artists, but there was never any doubt about who made the decisions.

In contrast, many Anarchists want to avoid being ‘field slaves’ by removing themselves from the direction of the state (and big business) altogether. This is a modern version of those Maroons who ran away from the killing fields under chattel slavery [26]. Today drop-outism can also lead to a slippage towards ‘Lifestyle Anarchism’ [27].

Genuine socialism/communism, though, is based on an understanding of capitalism as being a system of wage slavery necessitating an oppressive state. Whilst capitalism dominates us, in the here and now, it is necessary to work within and against, whilst looking beyond the economic system of waged labour, whether in its private form (paid by the employer) or its social form (administered by the state). This also means organising within and against, whilst looking beyond the political system and its state, which regulates the wider conditions for capitalism’s survival. That includes the state’s placing of limits upon any rights we have gained in struggle, and creating various scapegoats to misdirect any feelings of alienation we experience. Socialists/communists have to become involved in democratic struggles in the workplace, community and particular states to enhance working class power. The key requirement is not the winning of representation (trade union recognition or workers elected to local and national bodies), but the maintenance and enhancement of independent class organisations – independent of the bosses, the state, the various NGOs and the trade union bureaucrats – which can bring workers’ representatives to account.

Independent working class organisation
Independent working class organisation

Independent working class organisations need to have the widest democratic participation, so they can act as ‘schools of struggle’. Therefore, democracy is not confined to the setting up of new representative institutions, though this may sometimes be important. Participative democracy, involving all those involved in debate and decision-making, is about altering the balance of power between the rulers and the ruled in favour of the latter. Thus, the real answer to capitalist exploitation and oppression lies not in workers achieving privileged ‘house slave’ status, but in the ending of wage slavery altogether, with our complete emancipation and liberation.

Therefore, we need a conscious struggle against wage slavery and all the mechanisms of capitalist rule needed to maintain it. We also need to relate to all those struggles for individual and collective self-determination, including cultural celebration and resistance. These arise in opposition to the various forms of alienation we experience. We need to articulate our socialist/communist alternative now, establishing principles and organisational practices which can be modified in their application during the course of struggle.

In contrast, Left Social Democrat, official and dissident Communist viewpoints see no need to raise the ‘controversial’ issue of socialism/communism now. In their view, a renewed social democratic state will eventually make workers appreciate the need to undertake the next ‘logical’ step – the socialism they currently reject. Therefore, some self-declared Socialists resort to the argument that it does not matter if this step is currently concealed from workers in the campaigns they work within.

The version of this argument [28], argued by those from the SWP tradition, is, in effect, a further step down the road taken by official Trotskyism (USFI and its spin-offs) [29]. As Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme came to have less and less purchase on a changing reality, it became reinterpreted by revisionists to be a method which justifies the tail ending of official Communism or Left Social Democracy/Labour, through advocating a whole battery of acceptable ‘transitional’ reforms.

Die Linke - poster showing where it wants to be - parliament
Die Linke – poster showing where it wants to be – parliament

More recently, with Social Democratic and Labour parties abandoning their traditional reformism, some official Trotskyists have started to back the creation of new ‘real’ Social Democrat/Labour parties – currently Die Linke, Parti de Gauche, Syriza [30] – often fairly uncritically. This is why, within both the SWP’s own dissident Trotskyist tradition and within the official Trotskyist tradition, the promotion of the ‘transitional method’, with a period of renewed social democracy providing ‘transitional reforms’, is  meant to persuade workers of the necessity to take the next ‘logical’ step – ‘socialism’, without any prior period of public explanation.

However, any meaningful social democratic reforms can only make the situation worse for capitalism when it is already in crisis. For, it is profits that provide the engine for the capitalist economy. This engine stalls whenever profits are undermined. Long-term working class gains would certainly have that effect. Thus, far from pushing workers into taking the next ‘logical’ leap to socialism, any refusal to campaign for a real socialist/communist alternative now can only lead workers into accepting the capitalists’ logic – that their actions have made things worse.

Profitability has to be restored in order to maintain individual and social wages. To provide an effective opposition, in a period of multifaceted capitalist crisis, the socialist/communist alternative has to be formulated, explained and publicly promoted as a viable social system from the start. The occasions to do this arise during the actions taken by independent working class organisations, in all spheres of our economic, social, cultural and political existence.Only a strong understanding that there is a real possible alternative can provide the confidence to continually confront capitalism in crisis.

One indication that many Social Democratic, orthodox and dissident Communist organisations have no real conception of our class taking control over the whole of society is their belief that workers are only concerned with ‘bread and butter’ issues, something that the capitalist class very much encourages too. The fact that large numbers of the exploited and oppressed also yearn to overcome the alienation they experience under capitalism has become highlighted in a negative fashion. As official Communist, anti-imperialist Nationalist and Social Democratic governments and parties have faltered and failed throughout the world, many of the most exploited and oppressed have turned to religious and identity-based populist politics to provide themselves with some (false) hope.

Because of the obvious failures of official Communism and traditional Social Democracy in the UK, from the late 1970’s, there has been a widespread rejection of communism and socialism. These began to be understood as more of the same. The Morning Star CPGB promoted an early version of this neo-Keynesian strategy entitled the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES). The AES informed much of the Bennite Left’s thinking within the Labour Party in the early 1980’s. However, they were defeated before a future Labour government could implement this policy.

Mitterand showing where his real allegiances lay
Mitterand showing where his real allegiances lay

In France, though, a Socialist/Communist governmental coalition, informed by similar ideas, took office under Mitterrand in 1981. But, under the pressure of capitalist competition, Mitterrand introduced the ‘tournant de la rigeur’ (i.e. the austerity turn – sound familiar!), and the French Communist Party was forced out of the government in 1983. Three years later, the Socialist Party lost office too, and the Right took over. So, this method of pushing Left Social Democratic style, neo-Keynesian reform has patently failed.So too, have the official Communist Party-directed, nationalised command economies, as shown by their collapse between 1989-91. In the case of the ISG, though, the overwhelming majority of its members are too young to have lived through these experiences.

However, throwing oneself into all the new ‘Anti’ Movements will not, in itself, overthrow the capitalist order we live under. Indeed, failure to articulate a new socialist/communist alternative, can only ensure that, despite all these movements’  ‘newness’ and  ‘youth’, those old failed politics, which do attempt to offer some limited alternative, will be resurrected in new forms, when the new Movements’ initial spontaneous challenges are thwarted.   

v)            Examining Counterfire and the ISG’s attempts to replicate the Movements

Both Counterfire and the ISG have reacted quite strongly against the SWP strategy for involving members. In the SWP, emphasis has been placed upon newly recruited members becoming drawn into a constant round of Party-directed activity [31]. The political focus for this activity is determined by the CC though its appointed local full-timers. Priority is given to ‘The Party’s own front organisations – currently Unite Against Fascism and Unite the Resistance (the follow up to the outdated and unsuitably named, Right to Work [32] campaign). Counterfire and the ISG are quite right to be concerned about the SWP’s traditional mode of operating. They have rejected the SWP’s (and much of the rest of the Left’s) infatuation with CC-directed Party/sect fronts.

Coalition of Resistance - new imagery to replace old
Coalition of Resistance – new imagery to replace old Leftist imagery

Counterfire set up the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) to challenge austerity [33]. The ISG exercises the CoR franchise in Scotland. As we have seen, the ISG was also instrumental in the setting up of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC). In contrast to the SWP Party front organisations, CoR and the RIC have been based on a looser model of political organisation. The organisers of Counterfire and the ISG have been very much influenced by the 2004 Anti-War and 2010-11 student protests, Occupy, and the ‘Arab Spring’ (particularly in Egypt).  They have tried to replicate this type of organisation by creating CoR and the RIC as new Movements.

Yet, there are still problems with this approach. Counterfire and the ISG have opted for diplomatic behind-the-scenes negotiations with others prior to setting up their new organisations. This method does not represent a complete break from the method of the SWP or other Party/sect front organisations. The ISG has not yet taken up consistent democratic methods of organisation. The shared method of organising found on the Left could be described as anarcho-bureaucratic.

Despite the linking of ‘anarcho’ and ‘bureaucratic’, this phrase is not an oxymoron. The ‘anarcho’ side draws upon Bakunin’s model of having a secret inner organisation directing wider organisations. The ‘bureaucratic’ side, which is usually pursued by Parties or wannabe Parties, draws upon the model of those front organisations run by the old official Communist Parties. Others have copied one of these methods, or tried to combine them. The ‘anarcho’ method has more appeal to those inspired by the new Movements; the ‘bureaucratic’ more appeal to those in existing Marxist-Leninist organisations. Despite their apparently opposed political origins, there is a common desire to control things from behind-the-scenes.

Another indication of an acceptance of such frontism is the fact that the CoR competes with the SWP front, Unite the Resistance (UtR) and with the CWI/Socialist Party-front, the National Shop Stewards Committee, over much the same political grounds. They all court Broad Left trade union officials, hoping they will adorn their platforms. This shows that they still share the political aim of giving the existing trade union bureaucracy a key role in leading anti-austerity struggles.

This apparent acceptance of a Broad Left strategy has been reinforced by the ISG’s origins in the SWP. After the SWP abandoned its abstract propagandist approach, associated with its ‘Downturn Theory’, it made no attempt to return to its earlier Rank and File strategy [34]. This had appreciated the need to challenge trade union bureaucrats, both Left and Right, and the need for unofficial (i.e. independent) action. Instead, when the SWP finally emerged from its ‘Downturn’ cocoon, it adopted a Broad Left approach in the trade unions. This followed the earlier defeat of the Miners, which gave the Tories the ability to fully enforce the Anti-Trade Union Laws. Broad Leftism places an emphasis upon getting Left candidates into official union positions [35]. The old official Communist Party had first pioneered this strategy, as one aspect of its general popular front approach. Its Broad Left officials have often found themselves in conflict with the union’s rank and file membership. One even accepted a knighthood in the 1960’s!

Defeating the anti-trade union laws - official lobbies of Westminster or independent action?
Defeating the anti-trade union laws – official lobbies of Westminster or independent action?

The Anti-Trade Union Laws are somewhat misnamed. Although they have hamstrung ordinary union members, the Tories made money available for union bureaucrat-run training courses, often with employers invited. These courses emphasised cooperation with the bosses, even before New Labour had adopted the idea of ‘social partnership’. So, despite ordinary trade unionists’ pay and conditions having been eroded under the Anti-Trade Union Laws, the same cannot be said for the increasingly well-paid senior union officials. They now usually spend far more time with the employers and state officials than with the workers they claim to represent. It is not surprising that these people see their interests as being separate from the members, and hence pursue a different course of action – or often, inaction! Indeed, graduates, recruited straight out of university, often see becoming a trade union official as a good career option. The NUS often provides a useful ‘finishing school’ for these careerists.

And, as in the SWP’s front organisations, CoR also tends to shift the focus of its political attacks from the current generalised capitalist offensive, to attacks on the Con-Dem coalition. However, even the most superficial examination of the political trajectory of New Labour (increasingly morphing into Blue Labour [36]), and of other Social Democrat parties, from Ireland to Greece, shows just how central these political organisations are to the banksters and the current worldwide corporate capitalist offensive.

The demise of the Tories, in 1997, did not give rise to the challenge to neo-liberalism that many hoped for from Blair and New Labour. Instead, the neo-liberal offensive was stepped up, after a few marginal concessions. The replacement of the Con-Dem coalition by the Labour Party would provide no more relief for workers than the replacement of the Tories by Blair and New Labour did. Miliband’s Labour Party will mean business as usual for the banksters, a continuation of their austerity offensive, and the promotion of some deeply reactionary politics. The ISG half accepts this, hence its often uncritical enthusiasm for the new organisations, Syriza in Greece and the Parti de Gauche in France. But leaderships, who want to take a Left Social Democratic course, dominate these parties too.

v)            How will these differences resolve themselves in the Radical Independence Conference?

If there are any tensions within ISG, over competing anarcho-bureaucratic and fully democratic forms of organisation, these are likely to come to the surface, in the aftermath of the Radical Independence Conference held on November 24th.

Salmond and Sturgeon hold the official 'Yes' campaign in their hands
Salmond and Sturgeon hold the official ‘Yes’ campaign in their hands

Should the RIC cuddle up closer to the SNP’s official national ‘Yes’ campaign, acting as a Radical pressure group; or should it aim to take the leadership of the campaign for Scottish self-determination out of the hands of the SNP government? These two options represent the main political division [37], already revealed to some extent on the 24th November. They are likely to become more obvious as things develop.

Why should this tension between two different political approaches open up further? As the ongoing economic and political crisis deepens, the SNP government, and SNP controlled or influenced local councils, will become responsible for more and more attacks upon the working class [38]. This is one reason why the SNP government is determined to gut the democratic demand for Scottish self-determination of as much of its meaningful political and economic content as possible before 2014. Self-determination has to be confined to what is acceptable to its big business backers, whilst simultaneously appeasing the US and British ruling classes.

The SNP leadership knows that it needs a wider voting base to win a ‘Yes’ vote than can be achieved by its own voters [39]. However, they have no intention of basing their campaign to achieve this on meeting the immediate (or longer term) needs of the Scottish working class. The SNP government’s major class backers (think Sir George Mathewson, Sir Brain Souter) will make certain of that. They want to carve a wider national niche out for a wannabe Scottish ruling class within the existing global corporate and imperial order.

In an attempt to overcome this contradiction, the official national ‘Yes’ campaign needs to woo us with future promises – ‘pie in the sky’ after 2014. A few immediate social democratic reforms may be defended or promised [40], in order to appear Left of Labour – not too hard! But the wannabe Scottish ruling class, which is the SNP government’s real ‘constituency’, wants more tax cuts, further retreats over NATO and hence Trident  [41], and continued acceptance of the UK state’s draconian Crown Powers [42].

The biggest danger posed, through an orientation upon the official national ‘Yes’ campaign, will be the pressure ‘to go soft’ on the SNP government in the misguided attempt to maximise the ‘Yes’ vote. If the ISG broadens the RIC’s base of support for a ‘Yes’ vote amongst the working class by consistently confronting the bosses’ austerity drive and the SNP government’s increasing support for imperialist wars (think of all those military contracts), then the current SNP Right wing business backers are likely to desert the ‘Yes’ camp.

Jim Bollan, SSP - suspended by West Dunbarton SNP council for defending workers
Jim Bollan, SSP – suspended by West Dunbarton SNP council for defending workers

If the SNP continues with its attacks upon the working class (and they certainly will), then workers are more likely to support ‘the devil they know’ – the Labour Party, which currently fronts the official ‘No’ campaign. The two places where the SNP lost out most heavily in this year’s Local Council elections were West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire.  The SNP had controlled these councils, and workers had seen unpopular cuts imposed [43].

Some in the ‘Yes’ camp think that it is not so much a case of winning a majority vote through their own endeavours; but more a case of the Tory/Labour/Lib-Dem ‘No’ campaign losing because of their utter negativity. Such thinking is built upon the precedent of Scottish Labour’s woeful 2011 Holyrood campaign and their consequent humiliating defeat. The immediate problem with this is we are currently working in the context of workers and others having lost the confidence to take the necessary action to defend their interests themselves. Instead, many look to saviours to act for them  – a new Labour government or a possible independent Scotland. Thus, they are prone to being alternatively influenced by scare mongering and negative campaigning on one hand;  or by Ally Macleod-style illusion building and revivalist meeting style optimism on the other. Lack of confidence leads to oscillation between fear and misplaced hopes.

Things could change, however, by 2014, if resistance grows. A more fundamental problem with the belief that a positive campaign will always trump a negative campaign, though, is that it naively confuses a devolved parliamentary election campaign for Holyrood with major constitutional reform – a break with Westminster, and for EU and UN recognition of an independent Scotland. The overwhelming majority of the British ruling class opposes this. They will not be confining their activities to the usual cut-and-thrust of public political debate. ‘Better Together’ is only the visible tip of a largely concealed ‘No’ iceberg. Hidden beneath their public campaign lie the measures sanctioned by the UK state’s Crown Powers. These provide the ruling class with an anti-democratic armoury, which can either be brought to the surface as needed to confuse and scare, or be used out-of-sight to hole and sink.

"Staying in NATO and scrapping Trident - you're having a laugh!"
“Staying in NATO and scrapping Trident – you’re having a laugh!”

Nor do the British ruling class and the UK state just depend upon their own resources. We have recently seen how they can also call upon prominent US politicians, e.g. Jimmy Carter and Hilary Clinton, and EU bureaucrats, e.g. Herman van Rumpuy and Jose Barroso [44], to support them. Who can the SNP leadership call upon for international support – Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump!

And if, in the unlikely event of the official ‘Yes’ campaign being able to overcome hardline British unionist, US imperial and European big-state opposition, and managing to balance between two voting constituencies wanting fundamentally different things to win the ‘Yes’ vote; what next from the SNP leadership in 2014, if the vote was won on their terms? The SNP government would begin negotiations with the UK government over how much power could be further devolved from Westminster. They want to ensure that the key powers in their proposed new ‘Scottish Free State’ are beyond any meaningful democratic accountability.

Therefore they are happy to see these  powers remaining in the hands of the Crown, the City of London and the British Military High Command (in coordination with NATO). Thus, there is no intention of setting up an independent Scottish Constituent Assembly after any 2014 ‘Yes’ vote. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon has invited Scottish Labour, Lib-Dem and Tory MSPs to join the SNP government in negotiations with the UK state. So, the SNP ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are only their opening negotiating gambit. These would be further diluted by the involvement of parties deeply wedded to the most conservative aspects of the existing UK state. And, of course, they all accept the need to bow to every demand coming from the banksters.

So, to counter this constant rightwards pressure, the RIC first of all needs to ensure that it maintains an unswerving commitment to every manifestation of resistance in Scotland – economic, e.g. anti-austerity – social and cultural, e.g. defence of women’s and gay rights, support for migrant workers, free education for all, and the promotion of secularism – and political, e.g. opposition to Trident, and support for the Palestinians (in the front line of struggle against US/British imperialism). And this means mounting a republican or rank and file campaign [45] for full Scottish self-determination unencumbered by the Crown Powers, the Bank of England and NATO. To paraphrase Alasdair Gray – ‘Fight as if you live in the early days of a better nation’.

Secondly, for this strategy to get a full airing, and to take deeper root, it is necessary to fully democratise the RIC. The need for the type of campaign outlined above will become more evident to those participating in the RIC, as the contradictions of the official national ‘Yes’ campaign become ever more apparent in a situation of deepening capitalist crisis. There was a need for some ad hoc organisation prior to the November 24th RIC conference, before the nature and level of support could be ascertained. However, this informal, largely behind-the-scenes organisation needs to give way to a broader national organisation, based primarily on affiliated local branches, and agreed campaigning organisations, e.g. Trade Unionists for Independence.

It is clear that, for the moment, large sections of the Left have illusions in either the SNP government’s proposals, or the possibilities for future ‘radical’ advance under any post-2014, ‘Independence-Lite’, ‘Scottish Free State’. However, the SNP leadership’s determination to force through official party support for NATO at its Perth Conference in October, made a substantial number of people, including many SNP members, question this approach. The fact that the SNP’s anti-NATO policy had already become a dead letter, with the Scottish government’s clear support for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, highlights the fact that the SNP leadership felt it necessary to go further and make a public declaration of support for NATO. They hoped to get a pat on the back from the US State Department. This meant it was necessary, not only to back current US imperial wars, but also to be seen signing up in advance to whatever plans US imperialism has for NATO in the future [46]. Unfortunately for the SNP, those future plans currently include a continued commitment to Faslane nuclear submarine base, to keep the UK state happy. The British ruling class, like the Israeli ruling class, remains the principle bulwark for US imperial interests in its agreed geographical area. Furthermore, neither Germany nor Belgium have been allowed to close down US nuclear missile bases located in their countries.

Blair Jenkins, Chief Executive of official 'Yes' campaign sporting a fetching poppy
Blair Jenkins, Chief Executive of official ‘Yes’ campaign sporting a fetching poppy

Blair Jenkins has been put in charge of the official national, ‘non-party’, ‘Yes’ campaign. Unlike the official ‘Yes campaign’s initiator, the virulently pro-NATO, SNP Westminster ‘Defence’ spokesperson, Angus Roberson, Jenkins was under no obligation to follow the line of the SNP leadership. Indeed, as a ‘Yes’ campaign official you might have thought he would, at least, stay neutral over the issue. However, Jenkins made sure that his voice was heard in support of the SNP’s NATO climb down. This was to show those who need to know, that they need not be too concerned about the involvement of a token Socialist, Left Social Democrat and Green on the ‘Yes’ campaign Advisory Council – they are just a sideshow – hopefully happy to act as ‘useful idiots’ to get out the ‘Yes’ vote.

In this the ‘Yes’ campaign resembles the grassroots campaign to elect Obama as US President first time round in 2008. Indeed, on November 24th, Mike Small of Bella Caledonia gave this as an example for the RIC to emulate. After Obama’s election, his grassroots campaigners were jettisoned. Obama, with the support of the Democrats’ big business backers, got on with his real job – rebranding US imperialism and rescuing the banks and other major corporations.

Similarly, the SNP government wants to rebrand the Union and meet the needs of a wannabe Scottish ruing class within the existing global corporate order. Before and after 2014, that is what it hopes to achieve. Between now and late 2014, there will be many more SNP government and local council retreats and attacks on our class. More people will have their eyes opened, whilst still appreciating the even more dismal future offered by the Labour/Lib-Dem/Tory ‘No’ campaign.

This is why it is important that the RIC provides a forum, which will help people break fully from the SNP government’s dead-end political trajectory. The RIC needs to create the democratic space, which allows its activists, and those whom it is trying to win over, to reach these conclusions themselves through a combination of personal experience and debate with others. The democratic model provided by the local Anti-Poll Tax Unions and the Scottish Federation of APTUs provides a useful precedent. The first stage was winning people away from the official Labour Party/STUC ‘Axe the Tax’ campaign, as it surrendered to the politics of appeasing the Tory government, whilst promising us all a better future when Labour was elected! The APTUs took the leadership out of their hands and went on to win that struggle in 1991, something that could not have been predicted in 1998, when we started from small but principled beginnings.

Allan Armstrong, 19.12.12



1             The controversial decision, taken by a very narrow majority, at the  SNP’s Annual Conference on October 19th, to follow Angus Robertson and the party  leadership in overthrowing the party’s anti-NATO policy, probably accounted for the size of this group at the RIC.

2             George Kerevan, past Associate Editor of The Scotsman, noted this. No doubt Kerevan’s own distant Trotskyist past, as a member of the International Marxist Group, helped him here. There was even rueful hint of in his article that, through his own turn to the neo-liberal wing of the SNP (via the Labour Party), he might have backed the wrong horse, and cut himself off from the majority of the Scottish intelligentsia. He was particularly impressed by the presence of key intellectuals present at the RIC, and forecast a possible new Scottish “Red Green Republican Left Party”. See:-

3             The ISG’s young and very enthusiastic membership has stolen a march on the SWP. It published James Foley’s pamphlet on the Scottish  referendum issue – Britain Must Break, before the SWP published theirs. A critique of the ISG pamphlet, and James’ reply can be found at:-

4             Globalise Resistance ended up tail ending the official ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005.  See The SWP and CWI – the two faces of sectarianism in the SSP at:

5.          This was not a very helpful label by the time the BNP emerged as the main Far Right party (replacing the earlier National Front). The BNP tried to link up with the British Loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland’s Central Belt. Their neo-fascism is British, not Nazi German in its inspiration. The BNP has also toyed with Churchill’s British unionist and imperialist war-time rhetoric. They won their first council seat in Millwall, which the Luftwaffe had bombed during the Second World War.

6            This alliance highlights their common popular frontism. The old Morning Star CPGB and its CPB descendent are long-standing supporters of this approach. They would see the CND as a precedent for the StWC.

7             Indeed, this tail ending of Islamic populism has remained a characteristic of the SWP. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Egypt, it gave its backing to Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections. Since being elected Mursi has been courted by US imperialism and has begun to draw up an austerity programme to meet the needs of global capital. To provide himself with some populist cover, Mursi has introduced a new Muslim based constitution, to give sanction to, and mobilise reactionary forces to counter any resistance he will face. Indeed, they were mobilised to suppress the popular resistance to the new constitution and to Mursi – the “new Pharaoh”. Ironically, the sort of arguments the SWP has used to justify critical support for the Muslim Brotherhood, would have led the SWP, had it then existed, to support Zionism before the establishment of the state of Israel.

8             The bizarre insistence that only full CC slates can be nominated for election at the Annual SWP Conference ensures continuity for the existing leadership. The only changes in personnel that have any chance of being approved are the ones made by the majority of the existing CC.  On top of that, internal debate is confined to the immediate pre-Conference period. The short time temporarily conceded to members to question the leadership, also helps the CC to identify such figures, and to ensure that their appointed local full-timers take appropriate action to marginalise them before the Annual Conference.

9            Nowhere is this more obvious than in Glasgow, formerly the Scottish Socialist Party’s (SSP) heartland. Key figures in the Scottish Socialist Youth (SSY)  – an SSP affiliate – have joined the ISG. After ‘Tommygate’, Glasgow SSP has become a shadow of its former self, with many members demoralised, and unable to see beyond a politics defined in terms of pro- and anti-Tommy. Although the SSP leadership’s account of ‘Tommygate’ was vindicated in the courts, their expectation that this would prove a turning point for the 2011 Holyrood elections has been shown to be wrong. The SSP vote fell even from its dismal 2007 level. However, some no doubt took satisfaction when Solidarity fared even worse! The majority of the earlier working class support for these organisations has moved elsewhere.

10             This author also came from the IS/SWP tradition (1972-82). After leaving the SWP, he took several years to fully reject its version of dissident Trotskyism and to give his support to republican communism and ‘internationalism from below’. Republicanism can be seen as the content of an immediate programme relevant to the situation in the UK and Ireland; whilst communism represents a maximum programme – the establishment of a global commune. Although ‘internationalism from below’ has a global relevance, it is also very relevant in contesting both the Left unionism and Left nationalism (see the Part 2 for definitions), which have arisen in response to the impact of the struggles for national self-determination in the UK.

11             In its publications, aimed at a popular audience, such as Socialist Worker and Socialist Review, the SWP rejects the use of ‘communism’ equating it with ‘official Communism’, particularly that of the old USSR.

12            The reformed Socialist Alliance (SA) was widened to include the SWP in 1999, after the example provided by the growing success of the Scottish Socialist Party.  Both the SWP and CWI/Socialist Party made sure the SA did not go beyond being an electoral alliance, since they believed themselves to be ‘The Party’. When the SWP asserted its control, the SP walked out in 2001. When Respect appeared to offer a better recruiting arena, the SWP also abandoned the SA in 2003.

13            This was highlighted when the SWP, whilst still in the SSP, opposed a conference majority-supported motion, calling on the SSP to affiliate only to united front organisations with democratic and accountable structures. This went against the SWP demands that the SSP (and other organisations) should affiliate to their own Party-front organisations – the Anti-Nazi League and Globalise Resistance at the time.

14             See Militant anti-fascism: the achievement of Scotland’s anti-fascist alliances by Iaonnis Kokosalakis, in Emancipation & Liberation, no. 19

15             This belief in the need for new members, with no prior experience in the SSP, is also the strategy Colin Fox, the SSP’s national co-spokesperson, wants to pursue. Colin does not think it is necessary for the SSP to take on board  the lessons of its recent past, but believes that the SSP phoenix can rise again through vigorous public activity and recruitment. This is why Colin was decidedly unenthused by the initial formation of the RIC, which he sees as a likely competitor to the SSP and the official ‘Yes’ campaign. Forget the SSP’s past, everyone should now join up – it has Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson’s recognition as the ‘official’ Socialist wing of the SNP controlled  national ‘Yes’ campaign.

16            This is also an increasing feature of those from the official British FourthInternational USFI tradition. Its leadership stepped into the footsteps of the SWP,  after they became the main organised Socialist group inside Respect, once the SWP had upped sticks and departed for deserts new – the Left List. The ISG then publicly hid any political differences it had with George Galloway.

17             The RCN’s endeavours in this regard can be seen at:- and in two articles, Thoughts on the Transition from Capitalism to Communism by Eric Chester and  Why We Need a Truly Human and  Democratic Communism by Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, both of which can be seen at:-

18             The idea that there can be capitalism without a state is utopian. ‘Anti-state’ neo-liberals like Thatcher and Reagan did not drive the state back, but  diverted state expenditure from welfare to national security and direct support for the           corporations. More recently, after the failure of Bush’s neo-liberalism in the ‘Credit Crunch’, the US government resorted massively to state intervention to bail out the banks and to save capitalism. Those Tea Party Republicans would be faced with the same problem, if they ever took office. However, this is something that key sections of US capital have decided should not happen. Obama’s neo-Keynesianism, or ‘socialism’ for the banks’ CEOs, is now their  preferred option.

19            Radical Democracy is often thought to have petered out by the end of the nineteenth century. However, Andy Wightman, the always interesting land reform advocate, who attended the 24th November RIC meeting, could perhaps be considered a Radical Democrat, in the tradition of that influential  nineteenth century land reformer, Henry George.

20           Scotland’s best known Left populist, Tommy Sheridan, decided to keep well  clear of the conference. George Galloway, the next-best known example in  Scotland holds Left unionist politics, so was also, unsurprisingly, not present.

21             For a critique of this view in James Foley’s pamphlet, Britain Must Break, see, James’ radicalism takes us back to old-style Social Democracy, and A Tale of top storeys, basements and escalators, by Allan Armstrong at:-

22             Whilst the USSR was still in existence, the old SWP took a more consistent attitude to analysing the role of the state in capitalism. However, now that the USSR has collapsed, there have been growing similarities to the attitude of the old official Communist Party towards state intervention (a good thing), as well as to their general popular front approach to politics.

23            Such strategies have been criticised within SWP publications not designed for a popular audience, e.g. International Socialist Journal. But workers have to be offered a different fare in the Party fronts (and in Socialist Worker), more in tune with a Labourist consciousness – a strategy, of course, which just  contributes to reinforcing such social democratic thinking.

24             See Eric Chester on:-

25             Such thinking is confined to Left Social Democracy today. Mainstream Social Democracy, which once supported such views, has gone on to more fully embrace the market, looking for drip-down ‘benefits’ from finance capitalism. Hence it was Gordon Brown who lifted the state’s ‘fetters’ from the Bank of England and encouraged the other British-based banks to compete even more vigorously in the global financial market. Alex Salmond, until recently, believed that Scotland could have social democracy by taxing its then vibrant banking sector, dominated by the RBoS and the BoS.

26              Maroon societies were found on the periphery of many chattel slave based societies. The most famous were those found in Jamaica, the descendants of whom can still be found today in the more mountainous areas of the island.

27             The late Murray Bookchin, always an interesting Anarchist writer, was aware of this problem and made a good critique of it – Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism – An Unbridgeable Chasm.

28            Increasingly this is linked to an argument that very small reforms are potentially revolutionary under the current conditions of capitalist crisis. In practice, though, this leads to tail-ending Labour and trade union leaders, who see their first job, when promoting such reforms, as creating the political conditions under which capitalism can be resuscitated to ensure ‘business as usual’.

29             For quite some time – since 1968- Trotskyism, or dissident Communism has tended to displace official Communism as the focus of opposition to Labourism in Britain. This has been accentuated since the collapse of the ‘People’s Democracies’ in 1989 and the USSR in 1991. More recently, Anarchism, celebrating the ‘spontaneity’ of the New Movements, has emerged as a strong contender.

30             There may be a case for participation in such organisations when and where genuine socialists/communists are in a relatively weak position, but they should always demand the fullest democracy, including tendency rights, make any criticisms in an open manner ,and clearly put forward  their alternatives.

31            All this activity, though, tends to burn out many who become involved in the SWP. They tend either to drop out, or to go on to pursue different paths in whatever arena they work in, e.g. professional, trade union. Those who stay on and become longer-standing SWP members usually find ways to ‘negotiate’ the frenetic demands made by the leadership. In private arenas they can often be quite critical of ‘The Party’.

32             Up until the present, British capitalism has not put is main emphasis on denying people the right to work. It has placed far more emphasis on creating precarious labour, on zero hours contracts, minimum wages (with many hours often going unpaid), supported by minimalist and heavily policed state benefits, than forcing people into unemployment.

33             One political group that has been prepared to give its backing to the CoR in England and Wales is the USFI’s own International Socialist Group (and holder of the official British Trotskyist franchise). In Scotland, however, the USFI had been, in effect, a part of the ex-CWI ISM and Frontline in the SSP. USFI support for the SSP leadership against Sheridan’s Solidarity breakaway, made it harder for Scottish USFI members to line up with the ex-SWP ISG, which initially gave its support to Sheridan (and the strongly Left unionist, Galloway) on the TUSC 2011 Holyrood election slate. The USFI’s problems in Scotland, in this regard, are highlighted by their lack of any public statement concerning the (ex-SWP) ISG and CoR here.

34             This author was very much moulded by that earlier Rank & File experience. He was involved in the mass independent (unofficial) Scottish teachers’ action from 1974-5. He became the convenor of the Scottish Teachers Rank & File group, before it was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982. There were still weaknesses in the SWP’s original Rank & File strategy. These came about as a result of the strong emphasis put on ‘bread and butter’ issues, a weak commitment to democratically accountable forms of organisation, and a belief, even then, that specific socialist arguments did not need to be made publicly, because workers would come to appreciate the need for socialism in the  course of their economic struggles. However, for this author, after he left the SWP, the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle (he was the Chair of the Lothians APTU)  broadened his conception of the Rank & File approach to cover the all-round need and defence of independent working class organisation.

35             This has created tensions within the SWP. Some of its members, elected to the bureaucracy on a Broad Left platform, have ‘gone native’. Thus officials in the PCS, who were SWP members, had to be disciplined by the party. The SWP was also very unsure how to relate to the candidacy of the rank and file worker and Grass Roots Left candidate, Jerry Hicks when he opposed the Broad Left trade union official candidate, Len McCluskey, in the election for the leader of UNITE. The flip side of this tail ending the union bureaucracy was the SWP stunt involving their members (not directly involved in the dispute) invading the ACAS offices in London during the Airport Cabin Crew’s dispute in May 2010, to protest against a likely UNITE leadership sell-out. The common feature of both the Broad Left and Party sectarian approaches is the lack of active involvement by the union’s rank and file members.

36            For those who argued that Labour in opposition would move Left, the emergence of Blue Labour shows the falsity of this claim. Just as New Labour publicly gave its support to deregulation and privatisation to win over Tory voters, so Blue Labour is moving into anti-migrant, anti-EU territory, to win over the Tory Right, UKIP, and former Labour supporters in the economically devastated de-industrialised areas who have deserted to the BNP.

37             This is not to deny other significant differences of approach, some of which were only aired in such a wide milieu for the first time.

38             In the late 1970’s, an incumbent British Labour government decided to push for Scottish Devolution. Initially opinion polls showed majority support for  such a measure in Scotland. However, Callaghan’s attacks on the working class, under the Social Contract, to meet the demands of the IMF, had undermined much of this support by 1979. In Northern Ireland, Labour’s policy of armed repression and criminalising Republican opposition (which often meant attacks on any Nationalist) also contributed to the loss of Irish Nationalist support.

39             Indeed, not all those voting SNP in the 2011 Holyrood election were independence supporters. A good part of that vote thought that the SNP were more convincing social democrats than the Labour Party.

40             However, given the fact that the SNP government accepts its obligations to the banksters, there are problems trying to find the money for these. Hence their flagship policy of free university tuition is being partly financed by sweeping cuts in the less ‘sexy’ FE sector.

41             Under pressure, the SNP leadership promised the party delegates, at its October Annual Conference in Perth, that it would write opposition to nuclear  weapons into any new Scottish constitution. Without massive extra-constitutional pressure, this would likely end up as a purely aspirational clause, rather like Articles 2 and 3 in the old Irish Free State Constitution. These claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland. They lasted for 67 years without any effect before they were dropped!

42             Alex Salmond’s decision to tweet the RIC on November 24th shows he was making a careful assessment of the numbers before committing himself to this token action. It would have been mote impressive if he had thrown his weight behind continued opposition to NATO at the SNP’s October Conference!

43             And. in a warning about SNP future behaviour if they are challenged, it was in West Dunbartonshire, that they suspended SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, for six months, because of his commitment to workers prepared to take action, in defiance of the council, to defend their services.

44            Although both van Rumpuy and Barroso are probably doing this because they oppose any precedent Scottish independence would provide for Flanders, Calalunya or Euskadi, it is interesting that no representative of big Euro-capital has yet commented. This could be because they currently back the Merkel line of extracting the maximum tribute from any member country in difficulty – Greece today, and Scotland in an uncertain post-referendum future, with ‘the vultures circling’.

45              For a fuller explanation of this wider republican approach see Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong, Republican, Socialism and Democracy at:-

46            However, as the subsequent interventions of Jimmy Carter and Hilary Clinton show, once you go down this road, you continually have to jump to order.


 Part 2





The recent creation of the International Socialist Group (ISG) can usefully be compared to that of the International Socialist Movement (ISM) back in 2001. The reason for this comparison is that the ISM, and its predecessor organisation, Scottish Militant Labour (SML) were the organisations that took the lead in the last major attempt to unite Socialists in Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) founded in 1996, which went on to become the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998.

Chris Bambery of the ISG
Chris Bambery of the ISG

On 24th November, 2012, Chris Bambery, of the ISG, linked the Radical Independence Conference with the possibility of providing a framework within which Scottish Socialists/Left can regroup [1]. However, before the similarities between the ISG’s position today, and the ISM’s position in the past, can be considered, some background information is required about the emergence of the ISM.

The ISM was the Scottish section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI)/Militant (today the Socialist Party). CWI members in Scotland had played a leading part in the Scottish Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Unions. The Anti-Poll Tax movement defeated Thatcher’s flagship poll tax. This led to the CWI’s decision to form Scottish Militant Labour (SML), which went on, in the early 1990’s, to have electoral success in Glasgow. Later this was followed by victories in the Save Our Schools campaign and the Glacier Workers’ occupation, again in Glasgow.  The SML initiated the setting up of the SSA, and was the driving force behind its transformation into the SSP.  SML became the ISM in 2001. The ISG has also come out of recent political gains  – see section i).

However, the victories, which led to the formation of the ISM, were much more significant. Nevertheless, there is an interesting comparison to be made between the ISM and ISG in Scotland, and the CWI and Counterfire in England and Wales. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the British CWI leadership’s politics were very much moulded by the defeats experienced by Militant in Liverpool at the hands of the Tories and Kinnock’s Labour Party. And, as was shown in the first part of this article, Counterfire was also formed in the contest of political setbacks which the SWP experienced in England and Wales, before  2010. Yet, there is also a difference between the ISM and both the ISG and Counterfire. The ISM was part of the CWI for a number of years, whilst Counterfire and the ISG were both formed after their members had left the SWP.

Whilst the ISM still remained part of the CWI, many of its members started to question some of the remaining Left unionist aspects of their parent organisation [2]. Left unionists argue that the formation of the UK state and its British capitalist economy have created a united British working class. Therefore, workers have an interest in retaining this territorial framework and, in some cases, the existing institutions of the UK state.  Left unionists concentrate their attention upon economic and social issues, and leave political or democratic change to the mainstream parties.

'The British road to socialism' - one of several on the British unionist Left
‘The British road to socialism’ – one of several on the British unionist Left

Thus, Left unionists see the territory covered by Great Britain as providing the necessary pre-existing framework for working class advance – a ‘British road to socialism’ [3]. Northern Ireland’s position within the UK is either ignored or downplayed.  Furthermore, Left unionists’ bureaucratic ‘internationalist’ politics are limited by the UK state framework they uphold. They can not see the need to break from this dependence by independent working class action acting in solidarity through ‘internationalism from below’.

The SSA/SSP (under ISM leadership) was the first socialist organisation of significant size, since the days of John Maclean, to see the issue of Scottish self-determination as being strategically significant; rather than something that had to be accommodated within a British/UK state framework, before renewing the march along the ‘British road to socialism’. However, the ISM did not adopt Maclean and Connolly’s workers’ republicanism, when it began to question the CWI’s Left unionism. Instead, Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes were to the forefront of pushing the ISM along a Left nationalist road.

Left nationalists also emphasise economic and social issues, but have a much greater interests in democratic and constitutional change than the Left unionists. However, they tend to tail end the constitutional recommendations of others, in 1997, more liberal unionists against more conservative unionists (e.g. over Devolution); or today, nationalists against both conservative and liberal unionists (e.g. over various forms of Independence, Devolution Max, Devolution Plus).

A desire to escape the bureaucratic stranglehold of the CWI leadership also contributed to the ISM’s break with the CWI in 2002. This is because another feature of Left British unionist organisations is the extent to which their internal organisational practice can mirror that of the UK state. Once again, there is an important comparison to be made here with Counterfire and the ISG’s split from the SWP.

The ISM’s particular experiences within a Left British unionist organisation, pushed it in a Left Scottish nationalist direction. The fact that their questioning of the CWI’s greater Left unionism was confined to the issue of Scotland highlighted their specifically Left Scottish nationalist orientation. That wider Left British unionism, inherited from the CWI, and demonstrated over Northern Ireland [4], was still not questioned. Today, the ISG has been formed in a political context where Left unionism is now a minority trend on the Left [5] in Scotland (excluding, of course, in the Scottish Labour Party – although this can hardly be considered part of the Left anymore!). The main danger for the ISG today is being dragged in a more Left nationalist direction, particularly in the context of a two year referendum campaign run by the SNP.

'Britain Must Break' by James Foley, ISG
‘Britain Must Break’ by James Foley, ISG

There is little indication in James Foley’s Britain Must Break pamphlet of an awareness of the need for a republican campaign to challenge the Crown Powers, which hang like the Sword of Damocles over any campaign for self-determination; or of the need for an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy to involve Socialists and workers from England, Wales, and particularly Ireland, despite the ISG’s willingness to locate the current battle for Scottish self-determination within the wider European anti-austerity struggle.

The arguments James has used to dismiss public support for republicanism – it could be confused with Irish Republicanism or with Guardian supporting constitutional reformers influenced by Tom Nairn [6] – are very similar to those arguments first raised by the ISM, when they decided to abandon the British road for a Scottish road to socialism. However, eventually some ISM members did begin to question their earlier fears of giving public support to a republican strategy, after becoming involved in debates with those from the John Maclean/JamesConnolly tradition. By 2004, the ISM also began to draw inspiration from SSP gains at the expense of the SNP. The SSP then began to adopt a more overt republican strategy, which challenged the SNP. This reached its highest point in the Declaration of Calton Hill. It led to the successful demonstration to protest the royal opening of the new Holyrood Parliament on 9th October 2004.

It is to be hoped that the ISG will take its political lead for its work in the RIC, not from tactical manoeuvring in relation to the SNP’s national official ‘Yes’ campaign, but from a strategy based on grassroots campaigns that challenge austerity, imperialism and unionism. This would push the ISG in a more republican direction, as the UK state makes more use of its Crown Powers and the SNP government either bows meekly to them or even supports their use. The SNP government’s attempt to appease US imperialism by supporting NATO; the City of London by continued use of the pound; and the EU bureaucracy by accepting its austerity programme, has not ended the opposition of any of these bodies to the SNP government’s constitutional plans. It has just given them the ‘scent of blood’.

Only a break from the SNP’s pro-corporate, pro-imperial, ‘Independence-Lite’ strategy can lead to any meaningful exercise of Scottish self-determination for the majority. The later experience of the SSP, though, also provides a warning. Since 2005, and the trauma of ‘Tommygate’, the SSP leadership has become involved in one nationalist front after the other – the liberal and social democratic, Scottish Independence Convention [7], then Independence First [8] set up by the ‘fundies’ on the nationalist fringe.

The national 'Yes' campaign - the SNP calls the shots
The national ‘Yes’ campaign – the SNP calls the shots

Earlier this year in June, the SNP set up its official ‘Yes’ campaign [9]. When it awarded the official ‘Socialist’ franchise to the SSP, the SSP leadership saw this as representing the final nail in the political coffin of Sheridan [10]. It seems to be unaware of the dangers of being caught up in an SNP front organisation, which it can not politically influence, in any meaningful way, at a national level.

The ISG could maybe also learn from other SSP/ISM experiences, to avoid making similar mistakes. Both sides in the ‘Tommygate Affair’ – Frontline in the SSP and the Democratic Green Socialists in Solidarity – placed more belief in the state’s courts [11] to settle their differences, than in any independent appeal to the wider working class. What confidence can workers have in a party to really challenge and transform capitalism, if it looks to the state’s courts to sort out its own problems [12]?

This lack of clarity about the role of the state, from both sides of the former ISM, stemmed from their old CWI political training. This sees the state machinery as essentially neutral, but currently in the hands of the wrong people. Hence the old Militant strategy of introducing ‘socialism’ through a Left Social Democrat government (the Labour Party in the past, the Socialist Party in the future) winning a Westminster parliamentary majority and going on to nationalise the major companies.

After the split, the SSP was still able to make some political advances as a consequence of the withdrawal of more Right wing forces into Solidarity in support of Sheridan. The remaining SSP was able to give its support for migrant workers by backing the ‘No-one Is Illegal’ campaign. The SSP took part in the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance’s Euro-election campaign. It organised the Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh on ‘internationalism from below’ principles [13].

The SSP - a shadow of its former self after the split
The SSP – a shadow of its former self after the split

However, the SSP leadership increasingly became a mirror image of Solidarity. Solidarity’s unifying principle was giving its uncritical support to the actions of Sheridan. In the bitter warfare which consumed the two wings of the former party, key SSP leaders also began to define loyalty in terms of uncritical support for their actions [14] – but, in this case, their anti-Sheridan actions.Many SSP members hoped for an end to such practice once the Sheridan Perjury Trail [15] was over, but their expectations were to be dashed at the special post-trial meeting in Glasgow and subsequent 2011 Conference in Dunfermline.

Largely due to the political fall of the SSP, accentuated by its inability to face up to the challenges it has faced, the ISG has been able to emerge as the main force trying to unite Socialists and possibly bring about a new wider united organisation in Scotland. This is analogous to the role earlier played by the old ISM (and its SML predecessor). That is the wider political significance of the RIC. The ISG has reached out to try and encompass most of the Left. What is not so clear is in what political direction do the ISG want to take this initiative? Can the ISG take up the republican baton abandoned by the ISM, soon after its principled backing for the Declaration of Calton Hill in 2004?

There is a danger, though, given the ISG’s propensity to dissolve any Socialist politics into a more amorphous and potentially classless Radicalism. From 2001, many ISM supporters, secure in their majority control of the SSP leadership, saw less and less need for an organised ‘Marxist’ current (which it had claimed to provide). The ISM eventually dissolved itself [16]. Could the ISG go further down this road, abandoning the public Socialist label for itself (like Counterfire), and opt for building a more amorphous Radical or a Left nationalist party?

Another danger, which was carried into the ISM, was its attachment to an earlier CWI/Militant tactic – building up a charismatic leader. Militant had first pursued this in Liverpool, during the 1980’s. In the process of leading the Liverpool Council struggle, Militant created their first charismatic frontman –  Derek Hatton. He was promoted as a ‘working class hero’ to act as the public interface between the party and the wider world (particularly the media). Despite Hatton’s subsequent fall from grace, the CWI, SML, and later the ISM, continued with this approach. They built up another, more charismatic figure – Tommy Sheridan – with disastrous results.  The SWP tradition, from which the ISG has come, never developed a strong personality cult in regard to its own public leadership figures. However, it did abandon any public criticism of the promotion of celebrity figures in the wider organisations it became involved in – Sheridan in Solidarity, and then Galloway whilst they were in Respect.

Gail and George - and Left celebrity politics
Gail and George – and Left celebrity politics

The newly founded ISG also gave its public support to the TUSC/Solidarity/Respect slate for the 2011 Holyrood elections – with its backing for a celebrity Left populist candidate Galloway and a wannabe celebrity candidate, Gail Sheridan [17]. However, the ISG’s decisions in this regard could well have been a case of early confusion as they were emerging from the SWP. The ISG has subsequently gone out of its way not to take sides over ‘Tommygate’, attempting to bring Socialists together once more.

When Chris Bambery spoke on November 24th, he despaired of those older, former SSP and Solidarity members left behind after the wreckage of ‘Tommygate’. He hoped that a new younger generation, without any direct experience of all this, could just ignore them. But a strategy of political amnesia is a false strategy. If old political mistakes are not addressed they will arise in new forms in the future. We do need to go through a process of learning from these experiences before moving on to a new higher level of political organisation. If we are serious about regrouping and building a new Socialist party in Scotland, then there are many things to be learned from the SSP experience, and within that, from the ISM experience. An honest accounting, rejected by the SSP leadership, needs to be drawn up by those Socialists who do wish to bring about unity, but on a higher level.

ISG - for sexual equality in the Socialist movement
ISG – for sexual equality in the Socialist movement

The RCN has attempted to adopt this approach, drawing on our own and others’ experiences within the SSP [18].  We do not pretend our account provides the final answer; just that it opens up the debate about the principles (or sometimes lack of principles) involved. There are areas, like the relationship of women to, and the continuation of sexism in Socialist organisations, which need to be far more fully explored than the RCN has been able to do so far. Furthermore, the ISG experience shows it may well have something important to contribute on these issues, given its high proportion of young women members, including those from the Asian community.

Therefore, it would actually help both the ISG and other Socialists if it gave an account of its members’ own political past in the SWP, outlining its positive and negative experiences. The ISM never really did this with the CWI either. Hence its resort to the state’s courts as a ‘neutral’ arbiter, its continued dependence on an essentially electoralist strategy, and its support for a Broad Left, trade union official-led approach to work in the unions.

The ISG has inherited the SWP’s recent support for an independent Scotland. Yet, the SWP had rejected this whilst within the SSP. Is this a purely tactical turn based on no sound underlying principle? At present the SWP is on the more critical wing of the RIC, with regards to the SNP government. However, given that the SWP priority is always gaining new recruits, once it becomes more fully involved, just how tempting will it be to adapt to a Left nationalist milieu, in the same way the SWP adapted to an Islamic populist milieu, both in Respect and towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

The ISG has not stated if it thinks the SWP’s recent adoption of support for Scottish independence is based on principled politics, or merely represents another tactical turn, unsupported by deeper principle. How does the ISG view the SWP’s methods of work within wider coalitions? And, what if the SWP does not get the recruits it seeks, and its CC finds its own politics too severely challenged once more?

The RCN does not see the purpose behind airing political differences and conducting debates as providing an opportunity for one person or group to impose a ‘correct line’ upon others. We have all had too much experience of sectarian lecturing and hectoring on the Left. It is not attractive and not surprisingly puts many people off. Indeed, an encouraging thing about many young activists today is their refusal to accept the bad practices that have been handed down by official and dissident Communists, or in the Social Democratic parties and trade union organisations. For the RCN, debates are designed to lead, wherever possible, to a new higher synthesis and practice. There have been some quite marked differences amongst our members about the approach to take towards the referendum campaign. Far from being embarrassed about this, we see the debates arising from these as helping us to develop our politics further. The different positions and resulting debates are posted on our website, and we ask others to comment  [19].

John Maclean - a socialist republican approach
John Maclean – a socialist republican approach

Therefore, it would be useful to know what the ISG thinks about John Maclean’s specifically Socialist strategy within which the exercise of full Scottish political self-determination first emerged. After 1919, Maclean adopted a socialist republican, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy to break up the UK state and British Empire. This was part of the wider struggle to bring about what was then termed World Communism, or what the RCN now terms the Global Commune [20]. In the new context provided by the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, this was a further development of the strategy first pursued by James Connolly in Ireland. Both Connolly and Maclean consciously rejected the ‘British road to socialism’ that had been the hallmark of the SDF and ILP, and would become hardwired within the British Labour Party and CPGB, as well as many orthodox, revisionist and dissident Trotskyist organisations.

Under the political conditions we have been experiencing, locating ourselves in the Connolly/Maclean tradition also means going back to that most recent political highpoint over the issue of Scottish self-determination – the Declaration of Calton Hill in 2004. We need to pick up that socialist republican baton, dropped by the ISM and the SSP leadership, and then run with it. This means mounting a Scottish internationalist campaign for full Scottish self-determination based on independent class organisation.

If the ISG could support such a political course of action, it could also contribute much to uniting Socialists in Scotland within a new organisation. This will also mean evaluating the positive and negative features of the SSP experience, which the ISM proved unable to do. For any new socialist unity project can not just be based on restarting where the SSP left off, when ‘Tommygate’ blew it apart. It must reject the politics and practices that contributed to the SSP’s fall and unite around a new set of higher principles. The independent marxist, Istvan Meszaros, has argued that humanity now faces the prospect of “barbarism – or worse” [21]. This is now even truer in the current situation of deepening capitalist crisis. That is why any Socialist organisation, working within the wider RIC coalition, must openly campaign for the real alternative – a socialist/communist transformation of society.

Allan Armstrong, 21.12.12



[1]             Chris Bambery did this at the Democracy and Republicanism session of the RIC. However, there is, of course, a difference between uniting the Scottish Left (which could include Scottish nationalists, Greens, Radical Democrats, Left populists) in a Radical or a Left nationalist party and uniting Socialists in Scotland in a party.

[2]             The CWI had partly abandoned its long-standing Left British unionism by giving programmatic support to an ‘Independent Socialist Scotland’ and forming an ‘autonomous’ section, Scottish Militant Labour (SML). However, such programmatic support was used to oppose the necessity for any active involvement in the wider movement for Scottish self-determination. It was another form of ‘abstract propagandism’. The CWI leadership also reined in SML’s ‘autonomy’.

[3]             The ‘British road to socialism’ is the continuation of that Victorian Radical and Liberal idea of ‘progress’ within the UK and British Empire. It accepts the old Whig historians’ belief in the inevitability of ‘progress’ associated with the British ruling class’s leading role in establishing capitalism. However today, proponents of such a view have usually abandoned the idea that the wider British Empire performs a ‘progressive’ role (well, maybe not the social imperialists of the AWL!).
[4]              This included including a willingness to flirt with ‘working class’ Loyalists in the PUP  – the political front for the UVF, which had provided death squads for the UK state. The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson was later invited to the SSP’s Socialism 2000 event. It was only the following year, when Hutchinson publicly revealed his continued malevolent sectarianism at the Loyalist blockade of Holy Cross School in the Ardoyne, which targetted young Catholic schoolgirls and their families, that ISM claims about him being a ‘representative’ of the Protestant working class were quietly dropped. Currently he is involved in the attempt to reassert Unionist supremacy in Belfast by flying the Union Jack all-year round over the city’s Council Chambers. And, of course, along with other Loyalists, he is a supporter of the  ‘No’ campaign in Scotland!
[5]             Indeed, by the time the ISG was formed, even the SWP had abandoned its Left unionist stance. Neil Davidson, the SWP’s main former theoretical advocate for a Left unionist stance, adroitly changed tack and moved the party to support for Scottish independence in 2010. Those who had read the fine print of Neil’s earlier articles would have noticed he left himself ‘wriggle room’ for such a turn. The remaining Left unionists in the Weekly Worker CPGB, and the social imperialist AWL, have not been too pleased at the turn. The very British unionist, pro-Stalin and pro-Mao, CPGB(ML) did not notice – but then debating with Trotskyists, no matter how dissident, is not a feature they are noted for!
[7]             The SSP initiated the Scottish Independence Conference (SIC) on St. Andrews Day, 2005. Alex Salmond addressed its founding meeting. His purpose in providing official SNP backing was to sit on it, so that it did nothing publicly. In this he was entirely successful. Now that the official ‘Yes’ campaign has been set up by Right wing, pro-NATO Angus Robertson, without any consultation with the SIC, and totally at the beck and call of the SNP leadership, the SIC is likely to quietly disappear.
[8]              Independence First (IF) was also formed in 2005. It rallied those pro-independence ‘fundies’, mainly outside the SNP. This included Siol nan Gaidheal, who turned up at demonstrations dressed in far Right, Central European military attire. IF were wildly enthused by the SNP’s first Holyrood parliamentary victory in 2007, and mounted a campaign for the new government to organise an independence referendum immediately. Salmond ignored them too. He was courting others – e.g. Sir George Mathewson, Sir Brian Souter, Sir Tom Farmer and Sir David Murray – as part of the SNP leadership’s strategy of building up a wannabe Scottish ruling class, and pressing for the powers that would satisfy them, e.g. lowering taxation  – ‘Scottish self-determination for the bosses’.
[10]            Despite behind-the-scenes lobbying by his close ally, Hugh Kerr, (ex Labour MEP, ex-SSP, ex-Solidarity, ex-Green and now SNP member) Sheridan failed to win the official franchise. This prompted Sheridan to issue a statement dismissing the official SNP ‘Yes’ campaign on ‘class’ grounds. But, what if  he had won that official franchise! After all, he had been effusive in his congratulations to the SNP after their 2012 Holyrood election victory.
[11]             Both sides in the ‘Tommygate Affair’ also kept their memberships in the dark, and resorted to leaks in the mainstream press to attack the other.
[12]             Neither did the SWP oppose this resort to the state’s courts to settle differences within the workers or Socialist movement. Unlike the CWI, this was once something they would have done. The SWP had earlier opposed those members of the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers, inside the Educational Institute of Scotland (the main teachers’ union), who were prepared to take union officials to court to over the constitutional changes they imposed which undermined the autonomous status of the union’s Further Education section. However, just as CWI’s long sojourn within the Labour Party undermined their notion of independent working class organisation, it appears that the SWP’s short-lived involvement with Galloway, a frequent initiator of court action, undermined their earlier clarity over this issue. But as Galloway well knows, such resort to the courts is ‘a rich man’s game’. The late Tory MP, Sir Gerald Nabarro, summed it up perfectly – “British justice is the best that money can buy”!
[13]             Both the CWI and SWP were not prepared to make support for migrant workers an electoral policy whilst in the SSP. The CWI threw its weight behind the Left British chauvinist (and thinly disguised anti-migrant) No2EU campaign in the European elections. The Left unionism of the CWI, with regards particularly to Ireland, and of the SWP, then still opposed to Scottish independence, meant they would not have supported any Scottish internationalist campaign either.
[14]             The two most blatant examples were the refusal to criticise George McNeilage for selling his Sheridan tape to the Murdoch Press; and Frances Curran’s decision to defy SSP policy and go to the state courts to challenge the Daily Record’s publishing of Sheridan’s ludicrous accusation of scabbing. But an accusation of scabbing is obviously not a crime in the eyes of the state and she lost her case – something that Frances should have realised!
[15]             There had also been some more critical Solidarity members, who had hoped that Sheridan would drop his abusive methods of dealing with opponents after he had won his first trial in 2006. They were to be disappointed too.
[16]             There were other pressures contributing to this, including growing differences about how to relate to women’s issues, secularism and Ireland. The trauma of ‘Tommygate’, which split the ISM wide open, also greatly contributed to its             organisational demise. Only the Frontline on-line magazine continues as a sort of ‘virtual’ or ‘Continuity ISM’. The other side of the ISM split went on to form the Democratic Green Socialist platform within Solidarity, with its own website, but its editorial board later fell out.
[17]             Despite their opposed Left unionist and Left nationalist politics, the Daily Record also had no problem promoting both candidates. In Galloway’s case, this was probably because he could articulate Labour’s British unionist cause better than any of their own MSPs. In Gail Sheridan’s case, the Daily Record obviously relished the opportunity to further divide the Scottish Left and contribute to the demise of the whole SSP legacy. The SSP had earlier dared to mount a serious challenge to Labour in its Glasgow heartland. The Daily Record is much more politically dangerous for Socialists than the Sun, which will rubbish anyone including royalty, lords and ladies, Tory and New Labour MPs, and any celebrities. It just does not care about their status or their politics – anyone is fair game, particularly self-promoting hypocrites.
[18]             For a contribution to this from RCN members, Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot and Iain Robertson see:-
[21]             Rosa Luxemburg originally coined the phrase “Socialism or barbarism” to describe the choice facing humanity in the run-up to what turned out to be the barbarous First World War. Of course, then, just as today in Afghanistan,Somalia, Congo and other places, barbarism had already been experienced by many colonised peoples under the imperialist boot.


Links to earlier articles

Comments on the Radical Independence Conference from the RIC website:- For an analysis of the setting up of the official national ‘Yes’ campaign and the first open organisng meting of the RIC see:- For a  review of James Foley’s Britain Must Break see:-

Other relevant articles can be found in the RCN’s Special Conference issue (no, 21) of Emancipation & Liberation




  • You are to be congratulated on an outstandingly perceptive analysis and observation. I strongly agree with the need to reclaim communism with it rich history, strategic thinking, tactical acumen and openness about its aims and purposes. We do not attack the wages system at the centre of capitalism’s existence enough. I welcome these statements.

    However, I feel I must challenge some of the analysis and facts with respect to the opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the role of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Scotland..

    The Stop the War Coalition, led by the SWP, dominated this fight across Britain, but this was not the case in Scotland. Instead the Scottish Coalition for Justice Not War was the originator of all the major events and activities that took place at a national level in Scotland including all large-scale marches and rallies and two conferences. This caused massive problems for the SWP. The London centred media and the false claiming of credit often contributes to this misunderstanding.

    Scottish CND created the Coalition and provided its administration and much of the campaigning material. It was run on the basic of affiliation of national (Scottish) organisations with right to send two delegates to each meeting. These occurred at approximately fortnightly intervals. At the time, I was the delegate from the Socialist Labour Party attending all but one meeting during the Coalition’s existence which was from just before the invasion of Afghanistan till shortly after the invasion of Iraq.

    Although the SWP was present on the Coalition, it was not represented as a discrete party. (It was at that time a semi-detached component of the Scottish Socialist Party.) Instead its members appeared in various guises representing various migrants rights campaigns, local stop the war committees even occasionally the SSP. The Coalition was affiliated to the National Stop the War organisation sending delegates to its meetings.

    Almost every meeting was turned into an acrimonious attempt at take-over by the SWP. Various local StW Committees continually sprung up. In many cases, they were often no more than one SWP member. It was ridiculous attempt to swamp the Coalition with often bogus StW committees. Thankfully, the Coalition repeatedly rejected these efforts. But this happened at every meeting for almost two years; focussing on the war build up was often diluted.

    The Coalition’s structure had enormous stability with various national organisations representing political parties, catholic and muslim organisations, migrant groups, Palestinian rights groups and others. None were swamped by one party and a genuine effort was made for all to participate including the SWP. No-one was ever denied the opportunity to speak or participate in the organisation’s work. It was a structure that guaranteed diversity and stability.

    This did not stop the SWP from painting a picture that they were the victims of Stalinist repression. In the run-up to one conference, they made the false claim that the SSP was being denied a speaker. There were no speakers representing any political parties at that conference, it had been earlier decided that the conference would be of an educational nature. Nevertheless, speakers and chairs from different participating organisations, including the SWP were allocated as fairly as possible to all events. In their usual way, shouting of cries of “shameful” and “disgusting” took place during the that planning meeting. Eventually the SSP was given a speaker in the closing address– a right given to no other party. Heckling, badgering and bullying unfortunately won the day.

    Neither the SSP proper or the SWP had very good records of sending delegates consistently to meetings. Their occasional attendance meant that no decision taken at one meeting had any effect on the next. They were like people who thought the world renewed itself every time they opened their eyes after blinking. Also, there was an amazing degree of promiscuity with some people claiming to represent one organisation one week and another entirely different organisation the next. People living in the West of Scotland could be found representing organisations based in Edinburgh. It was clearly visible that members of the SSP had profound misgivings about the conduct of the SWP, especially when they claimed to be speaking on the SSP’s behalf.

    The personal conduct of lawyer Amer Anwar was amongst of the most disgusting I have experienced in my political life. At the Coalition meetings he began representing Chokar family campaign, various migrant groups and Palestinian rights campaigns in Glasgow and Edinburgh. At almost every meeting, he issued threats of violence towards other members of the Coalition, frequently invaded others body space threatening to fight them, and made aggressive gestures while others spoke. On one occasion, he managed to disrupt an entire meeting after the Coalition received a letter from a drum band about his intimidatory conduct during a demonstration.

    Although he had had some past association with the SWP, he often claimed he was not a member of any political party. But he supported the SWP’s demand for local StW committees to individually affiliate and take over the Coalition. Indeed, he was often more aggressive on this matter than the SWP. Although SWP delegates behaved stupidly and abusively, they did not make repeated threats of violence or conscious acts of intimidation, but neither did they condemn them either. He seemed to animate them in a clearly manipulative way. As a Palestinian activist friend put it, “he played the SWP like a fiddle.”

    The largest rally in Scotland pressuring the Labour conference in Glasgow would not have occurred if Amer Anwar and the SWP had got their way. At a Coalition meeting some time before, Anwar and Mick Napier (SWP) both representing an Edinburgh Palestinian rights campaign came to a Coalition meeting with plans for a massive demonstration in Edinburgh. They had already obtained police permission for the route. It had not been discussed by anyone on the Coalition, let alone presented as a proposal. It was announced as a take-it-or-leave-it fait accompli. However, Jim Taggert of Labour CND and myself were talking about a need to put the Labour Party under pressure to help prevent an invasion of Iraq. The British Labour Party Conference was taking place in Glasgow that year. We were both agreed this should be a priority. It was the same day as the Labour Conference. Neither Anwar or Napier seemed aware of this event’s imminence. The delegates enthusiastically backed our proposal, the proposers and the SWP looked visibly so stupid as their poorly planned manoeuvre fell flat on its face!

    On one occasion, the SWP were arguing furiously for a greater role for George Galloway in a forthcoming event –their members south of the border were still in RESPECT- when I looked around the table at the other delegates lack of enthusiasm. The SWP were the only people present with a good word for him. Like me, some of the catholic and muslim charities had experienced his conduct in War on Want earlier in the eighties, the SSP, CP and even Labour activists kept him at bargepole distance as did the Palestinian rights campaigners. No-one had let the SWP in on the secret everyone else knew.

    The work of the Coalition for Justice Not War deserves to be better remembered. It had some profound strengths as well as dangerous strategic weaknesses. In many ways it was model that Scottish CND should have considered giving a more permanent existence. Unfortunately, the Stop the War Coalition in Scotland hope it can be forgotten.

    As for the SWP contribution? That remains a glaring example of how an organisation should not to conduct itself in a non-party campaign.

  • Ross Greer has written to tell me that Blair Jenkins is not a member of the SNP. Thanks for this information, Ross, as I want the facts to be correct, so that any debate can be about the arguments arising from these. I have removed my attribution of Jenkin’s SNP membership from the blog above. However, this only makes Jenkin’s declaration of support for the SNP’s pro-NATO line even more worrying. As Chief Executive of the official national ‘Yes’ campaign, which purports to have no position on this, it would surely have been more appropriate if he had declined to make such a public declaration. SNP member or not, Jenkins obviously represents a safe pair of hands for the SNP leadership.

  • I have been informed that Mick Napier is no longer a member of the SWP, and that his actions described in post were unlikely to have part of an existing SWP policy.