Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC activist) provides the following initial assessment of the proposed Scottish Left Project. This is the final part of three articles, the first of which examines the role of the UK state and SNP in attempting to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/) and the second which looks at the inadequate response of the Left across these islands (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/).
The Scottish Left Project (SLP) has been mooted in the context of the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, and the success of RIC as a movement within this. There is now a concerted effort by the unionist and nationalist parties to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ . Therefore, the success of the SLP will depend upon whether it takes up the baton bequeathed by these momentous events, or lets itself become a bit-player in others’ political projects.
a) the role of the International Socialist Group (ISG)
As with RIC, the ISG has been the SLP’s prime mover. It is therefore useful to examine the way the ISG operated within RIC, to come to some better understanding of how it could see its role in the SLP.
The ISG did not affiliate as a political organisation to RIC, but operated off-stage, with its members taking positions as national organiser (Jonathon Shafi), as local branch organisers particularly in the Greater Glasgow area (e.g. Nicky Patterson), as political publicists (Cat Boyd, James Foley and Pete Ramand) and as employees of Common Weal (Ben Wray). David Jamieson has provided a more theoretical underpinning for the ISG’s politics .
Jonathon has been an excellent diplomat, negotiating between the different political organisations, or sometimes just having to deal with more opinionated individuals! Such skills are very much required in the initial stages of setting up any new organisation. The dynamism, flair and technical competence of other young ISG members has also been very welcome, as well as their ability to communicate with others.
Nevertheless, there comes a point when ad-hoc diplomatic and informal relations have to give way to fully democratic methods of organisation. The RIC National Forums were only set up in early 2014, after the second RIC conference, but much was still left to the behind-the-scenes ISG organisers. Despite the current move to form a properly democratic membership-based RIC, with provision for affiliated political organisations retained, it is by no means certain that the ISG itself will affiliate. Whilst individual ISG members will certainly participate, their appeal for support is more likely to be on the basis of their hard work for RIC, and not on the basis of their specific ISG politics.
Therefore, when it comes to the SLP, a big question is how much of the ISG’s practice in RIC will be carried over. Could the behind-the-scenes method of operating still form the model the ISG wants to bring to the SLP? In an earlier article, Radisson Blu or Post-Radisson Red , written immediately after the first RIC conference, in November 2012, two conflicting pulls were identified, which could be seen in the ISG’s approach.
One of these pulls came from Counterfire , which, like the ISG, is a split from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), albeit in England. Counterfire represented a ‘Eurocom’ or more rightist response to the crisis in the SWP. However, ISG members had also been involved in the Hetherington Occupation and challenges to the SWP front organisation, Unite Against Fascism (UAF). UAF had accommodated to mainstream, statist official anti-racism, seeking the support of Scottish Conservative leader, Annabel Goldie. UAF also tried to demobilise people attempting to directly confront the Scottish Defence League in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Countering this, ISG members worked with Irish Republicans, anarchists, RCN members  and others. This represented a left response to the crisis in the SWP.
These two contradictory pulls and other tensions have continued within the ISG. Key members have left in Edinburgh, whilst Nicky Patterson, former ISG organiser in East Kilbride, has written a critique of the ISG’s mode of operation . Tensions and difficulties will arise in any political organisation. There is nothing unique to the ISG about this. The issue is how are these resolved. Are they brushed under the carpet (and if so, why?), or is a serious attempt made to resolve them, identifying the underlying political causes.
There is a danger that the ISG will dissolve itself before the creation of the SLP. This would be going a stage further even than Counterfire, which still maintains itself as a political organisation. The ISG’s website has not published any new material for some time now.
So those who once declared themselves to be in a “Marxist organisation” pursuing a “revolutionary transformation of society”  could end up as politically amorphous individuals inside a new SLP. If this were to happen, it would represent the final working out of the rightwards pull on the ISG.
There may be a material basis to this accommodation too. It is considerably easier to make your way in the world of academia and trade union officialdom, or make an electoral pitch, if you are not part of an openly declared revolutionary organisation .
b) the democratic need for platforms and a revolutionary pole of attraction within the SLP
Under today’s conditions of continuing economic and constitutional crisis, which soon ruthlessly undermines any unprincipled electoral alliances, no matter how immediately successful they appear, it is the other side of the ISG which needs to be developed. This is the left side, which openly declared for the “revolutionary transformation of society”.
This means organising a clear and openly revolutionary pole of attraction. The original About the ISG stated that, “we do not believe our organisation can provide all the answers” . There are other organisations (including those most recent SWP breakaways now joined in the International Socialists Scotland) and individuals who were once members of what have turned out to be other revolutionary socialist sects, who have come to a similar conclusion. The RCN includes people from some of these organisations (as well as former Labour and SNP members) and also agrees with the need to develop a revolutionary pole of attraction along with others.
There is also a material base to this approach too in the ISG. Unlike the earlier generation of self-declared student revolutionaries from the ’68 Generation’, far fewer of the 2011 generation, who formed most of the ISG’s membership, now find themselves in secure jobs. Many students have joined the precariat, often in some of the worst paid, poorest conditions jobs. These people could form the base of a renewal of the left alternative, which was also present in the ISG at its launch.
The need for some new wider political party, which can further advance Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ by extending it throughout these islands and linking up with those fighting against austerity and for democracy elsewhere in the EU, is clear enough. This is why it is necessary to participate in the Scottish Left Project.
Such a coalition will include those who still look to the SNP for their constitutional lead, and do not see that party’s leadership’s determination, above all else, to act in the interests of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. It will also include those who still don’t recognise the real nature of the UK state, rather than the mere limitations of Westminster. It will include those who see the monarchy as mere outdated “feudal relic” to be abolished sometime in the future, rather than a front for the UK state’s formidable Crown Powers, which provide the British ruling class with an armoury of anti-democratic weapons. It is not surprising that in a state where parliamentary politics have a longstanding basis, many still believe that the locus of real power lies with Westminster, and hence can potentially be transferred to a fully devolved Holyrood, either under Home Rule/’Devo-Max’ or ‘Independence Lite’.
Such views are inevitable given the relative weakness of the Left, accentuated by the break-up of the SSP following ‘Tommygate’. The point is neither to pander to these illusions, nor to adopt sectarian and moralistic stance towards those holding them.
Is there a way of reconciling such differences within a new Left/socialist organisation? The best way to achieve this is to ensure the fullest democracy and rights for different platforms to put forward their politics. One important reason for having different platforms is to allow structured discussions and debates to take place. These can then contribute to the organisation reaching a shared higher level of understanding that can lead to more effective practice.
However, there will be occasions when principled differences can not be resolved in such a manner. When this happens, traditionally there have been two responses – the first, a call to marginalise or expel those who challenge the current majority position; the second, an indignant and moralising shout of betrayal of principle by the minority.
If a clear division of opinion reflects the choices confronting the movement of the exploited and oppressed at any particular time, then those involved need to acknowledge this. Indeed, if they are confident in their own approach, they should welcome the chance to argue openly about consequences of pursuing their particular course of action.
In the process of discussions and debates, there could be a shift of support from a previously dominant platform to other platform/s, reflecting a shift in the wider political balance of forces. Having real democracy and encouraging a real democratic culture are the best ways to ensure the continuity of the wider political organisation.
Are there any forseeable circumstances where such important differences could emerge? Yes, when a particular group of workers or service users come into conflict with an SNP government or SNP-led Local Council, and perhaps their ‘Red Tory’ allies, e.g. on Edinburgh City Council at present, or in possible open or tacit alliance with a Miliband Labour government after May.
When people who entertain illusions in the SNP are presented with a clear and open political alternative, they could well change their minds about the political course being pursued by the SNP leadership. Some may even begin to appreciate the need for the ISG’s declared “revolutionary transformation”. However, this also means they will have to have encountered, discussed and debated such ideas first.
Therefore, the precondition for an effective political organisation, which can meet the challenges arising under conditions of deepening crises, is having provision for platforms, including one which acts as a clear revolutionary or republican socialist pole of attraction.
This is something those ISG members, who uphold the organisation’s original left challenge to the sectarianism of the (“We are the Party”) SWP should see as important. An ISG dissolving itself into the SLP would represent a retrograde step. Behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvring between individuals would take the place of open democratic discussion and debate.
ISG members, joining with others, to form an open revolutionary pole of attraction, would represent a real advance, and also a positive contribution to an SLP, helping it to develop as an organising centre for advancing social justice, real democracy, international solidarity and helping to create the kind of society, which can replace the current global corporate capitalist order.
c) the experience of the SSP and Podemos
Here the history of the SSP is important, since the ISG appears to want the SLP to fill the political space the SSP once held in Scotland before ‘Tommygate’. By examining the SSP’s strengths and weaknesses, much can be learned. If no such analysis takes place, the SLP could repeat some of the SSP’s negative features, whilst not taking forward some of its positive features .
Now one positive feature is that the SSA/SSP saw itself as a specifically socialist organisation. Certainly, it was prepared to invite Left social democrats from both the Labour Party and SNP who had become increasingly disenchanted with these parties and were more open to persuasion. Attempts were also made to get trade union affiliations, with Scottish wide success in the case of the RMT, and local branch success in the case of the CWU. However, these people then also faced political challenges to their previous thinking, since there were open platforms able to argue for a different way of seeing things other than many people’s inherited social democratic views.
The SSA/SSP leadership remained in the hands of those who considered themselves to be revolutionary socialists, with the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) affiliated Scottish Militant Labour , followed by the International Socialist Movement (ISM), being dominant. These both constituted themselves as platforms in the SSA/SSP. Other platforms were also openly accepted and given constitutional recognition. These included the International Socialists (as the CWI affiliate later became), Republican Communist Network (RCN), Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, Workers Unity, and later the Socialist Worker Platform (Socialist Worker Party affiliate).
The existence of platforms, including those that openly declared themselves to be revolutionary socialist, was a positive feature of the SSP. Differences could be openly discussed and debated, sometimes with a new higher level synthesis emerging, which benefitted the whole party. This is a positive reason for having organised platforms .
However, the SSP experienced the sectarian behaviour of two platforms – the IS (CWI) and SWP – with their allegiances to unaccountable bodies elsewhere, and their sectarian belief that they were already the actually existing revolutionary party, with nothing to learn from other socialists. Furthermore, these socialist sects have not gone away, and continue to alienate people by their entirely self-serving conduct, whether in ongoing campaigns, movements or wider political organisations.
Many draw the wrong conclusion from these experiences. Thus, Neil Davidson, with his long experience in the SWP, witnessing in turn the Counterfire, ISG, ISN and RS21 splits, and becoming increasingly disturbed by the SWP Central Committee’s (CC) anti-democratic and shrill sectarian methods of suppressing debate, has come out against the SLP having ‘platforms’. He now dismisses this as “parties-within-parties” or “permanent factions” – the identical accusation the SWP CC made of Neil and those who persisted in challenging the leadership’s course!
A key part of the answer to platforms which have behaved badly (as in the case of the SWP and CWI affiliates in the SSP and former Socialist Alliance in England and Wales) is not ‘no platforms’, but having a Code of Conduct, which outlines platforms’ responsibilities as well as rights.
Where there is no real provision for platforms then you can be sure that an undeclared inner leadership ‘platform’ will emerge. You can see this clearly in the SWP . The SNP also bans platforms, the better to protect a less accountable leadership which can then more easily pursue its own version of Scottish independence – ‘Independence-Lite’ under the Crown, City of London, the British High Command and NATO, without any effective challenge.
ISG members have suggested we need a new Scottish party, which models itself on Podemos in Spain . As Podemos dilutes its politics further to win votes Left and Right, the tendency to bureaucratically maginalise those who differ with the leadership will increase. Podemos has recently adopted an internal slate system for leadership elections. The chosen model resembles the bureaucratic centralist slate system found in the SWP. Only in Podemos’ case it is being used to buttress the position of an emerging celebrity populist leader, Pablo Iglesias, rather than a Central Committee. What this demonstrates is that previously anarchist or movementist inspired organising methods can sometimes mutate into bureaucratic organising methods .
But the experience of the SSP over ‘Tommygate’ provides another closer example. The part played by the leading ISM platform in this setback is not always fully appreciated. ISM members retained their domination of the party, after its CWI members split away and formed their own IS platform. However, the wider ISM became less important to many of its leaders who continued to form the de facto SSP leadership, making their own new personal links with others.
This decline of the ISM as a platform removed any political accountability from founder member, Tommy Sheridan. It left him unchallenged by the SSP leadership, as he pursued his own celebrity Left populist course – with drastic consequences.
After the eventual closure of the ISM platform in 2006, an inner leadership, but still largely drawn from the old ISM pool, dominated the SSP. Falling back on movementist arguments, ISM finally rejected the need to operate as an open platform at all, and opted instead for an arms length publication – Frontline. Frontline became an “independent Marxist review for Scotland”, but was unable to halt the further decline of the SSP.
Having an independent journal also appears to be Neil Davidson’s alternative to the need for open platforms. It has also been the ‘solution’ of the USFI-affiliated Socialist Resistance. However, not having an open organised platform contributed to the political incoherence of their members in the Left Unity Party during the Scottish referendum campaign .
d) Socialist, Radical or Left – the experience of Syriza
When it comes to seeking support, the SLP is casting its net wider than the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which preceded the SSP. The Greens have been invited, as well as prominent former Labour and SNP members.
Therefore, the name of the SLP, unlike the SSA/SSP, does not even have a formal socialist label. Abandoning a socialist label has political consequences. It is not the retreat from the SSP’s formal ‘Socialist’ to the SLP’s (and LUP’s) ‘Left’ label that is needed; but making a serious attempt to give real meaning to a socialist alternative that goes beyond discredited social democracy and official (and indeed much dissident, e.g. Trotskyist) communism.
This is something the SSP and other parties of the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL) failed to do. This has contributed to the political retreat to more populist self-descriptions – e.g. Syriza – the Coalition of the Radical Left, or the fairly vacuous name of Podemos – We Can. Resorting to such labels may initially draw in wider electoral support, based on trying to be all things to all people, but the contradictions in this approach soon become apparent.
Podemos, whose electoral support is growing in Spain, albeit on an increasingly populist basis, has yet to be put to the test. However, we have the current example of Syriza in Greece . The rapid retreat by the new Syriza government, in the face of the ECB, highlights the political problem of thinking that capitalism, in a period of severe global crisis, can change its spots.
Some socialists have claimed that Syria’s retreat was a necessary ‘Brest Litovsk’  moment. However, it is difficult to see where the prospect of popular renewal will come from, when Syriza’s Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis , sees his role as “saving capitalism from itself”.
Wolfgang Sheuble, the German Finance Minister, who publicly humiliated Varoufakis in the first round of the EU negotiations, has hardly exhausted the options available to him. In the lead up to the next round of negotiations, he will find plenty of allies as committed to a world dominated by the banks and corporate capital, and just as concerned that the Greek people do not provide an example of successful defiance.
If necessary, they will then use their economic clout through the WTO, IMF, World Bank; their political clout through the EU and US (backed behind-the-scenes by the UK); as well as bypassing the local recalcitrant Greek government and parliament, to reach out to elements in the domestic state machinery beyond effective parliamentary control (e.g. the security forces), with the help of local reactionary groups.
Of course, Syriza is not in a position to be able to dictate the terms of credit needed under continued capitalist conditions to keep the Greek economy running. Ironically Syriza enjoys its current dominant position in the Greek government, courtesy of Greek election rules designed to benefit the Right and Centre (shades of the New Labour government’s intentions behind the proportional electoral arrangements for Holyrood, designed to prevent a majority SNP government). Currently stymied at the EU level, the Syriza-led government is looking to Podemos and Left Bloc victories in the Spanish and Portuguese elections this year. These countries’ electoral arrangements do not permit Left parties to form governments on the basis of 36% of the vote. Furthermore, Syriza’s turn to other non-EU, non-US (and non-UK) forces for support, e.g. Putin’s Russia and China, does not come without other political consequences.
However, there are still things that a Syriza government could be doing on a national basis. These include taking on the tax-dodging Greek oligarchs; beginning to dismantle the Right wing dominated security service; ending the privileged position of the Greek Orthodox Church, a longstanding bastion of reaction; and removing Greece from NATO. Certainly these measures would meet strong resistance from the Right within Greece, but the majority of those voting for Syriza, and indeed some others who did not, do understand the need to challenge these reactionary forces.
Now the Thessaloniki Programme, on which Syriza was elected, does contain as its fourth item – “Transforming the political system by deepening democracy”. However, supplementing the existing Greek constitutional order with more elements of direct democracy does not make the reactionary features of the Greek state disappear. Syriza’s current retreat, in the face of the ECB, will be followed by a greater determination of Greek reaction to undermine the government, and in the process squash these elements of direct democracy. There will be those within the existing state machinery, who will, if necessary, do this through a temporary resort to the fascist street fighters of Golden Dawn, in order to create the conditions for the state to restore ‘law and order’ and reimpose neo-liberal ‘normality’.
Mobilising to challenge the state (and not only the fascist Golden Dawn) would perhaps be more useful than organising nationally-based protests directed against Merkel, the German government and German banker-dominated ECB, which in their impotence, take on an increasingly strident Greek nationalist, anti-German tone (when even in Germany, there is a Left which opposes the behaviour of the government and bankers).
The support given to Syriza by the Greek working class means socialists should have been participating in Syriza. The Greek people, and the working class in particular, are currently involved in that most meaningful process of self-education – the school of struggle. Quite understandably, workers and their allies want to test out each possibility, trying out what seem to be the least painful courses of action first, before committing themselves to more radical courses, as the crisis deepens.
There are two possibilities as the Syriza leadership prevaricates. In the event of no effective challenge, this increases the possibility of growing working class disillusionment and the growth of reaction. However, there is also provision for open revolutionary socialist platforms in Syriza, outlining a different path to the leadership’s “saving capitalism from itself”. Therefore, the possibility still exists for others to take up the baton, winning over greater sections of the Greek working class. This underscores the need for platforms, which can offer an alternative to existing leaderships, when necessary.
Now Scotland is not Greece; yet the economic and constitutional crises can only grow deeper here too. This also underscores the need for the Scottish Left Project to have democratic structures with provision for openly declared platforms. Then the wider public (supporters and voters) can see and join in the debates being conducted amongst the party membership and assess for themselves the different political options that are available. The socialism we seek can only come about through the active and mass participation of workers, and that means as thinkers as well as doers. If necessary, workers can transfer their support to platform/s that offer a better way forward, when the existing leaders falter. Otherwise the party’s electoral supporters will become disillusioned or worse, when the existing party leaders fail to deliver what was promised.
However, arguing for the necessity of socialist approach does mean a party (or other political organisation) going beyond the merely socialist self-description of the SSP, SPS and SWP; or an abstract propagandist declaration that ‘Another World Is Possible’. When a socialist label is merely a formal description, the retreat to a Left or Radical label is understandable. The real issue is whether any new organisation is prepared to open itself up to the sort of discussions and debates, where some flesh can be put on the slogan ‘Another World Is Possible’. We need some serious attempts to formulate what socialism actually means and how this can be developed from the contradictions of the current capitalist crisis. It is only when a significant minority are initially convinced of the need and possibility of such an alternative, that we will be prepared for the sort of struggles necessary to bring this about, and draw in others behind them.
Hoping that workers will spontaneously see the limitations of the social democratic or populist reforms and then decide to opt for socialism is a recipe for retreat, disillusionment and possible disaster. This was the shared approach of Trotskyist organisations in the EACL, who denied the need to consciously develop a socialist alternative, hiding behind the ‘transitional method’. This means adopting various social democratic policies in the here and now – ranging from neo-Keynesian measures to nationalisation. However, when such reforms fail to deliver what was promised, and no meaningful socialist alternative has been argued, then the bosses and their spokespersons just turn round and say, “Look we told you so, only now you will have to take an even stronger dose of the medicine we had in store for you.”
Under today’s conditions, socialists have to emphasise the need for the development of independent class organisations. These can provide effective defence in the here and now, and enable the transition to socialism to take place in the future. It is the role of a political organisation, initially based on a minority, to win over the majority to such a vision in the course of struggles. To do so this means going further than merely having a separate organisational existence. It must have an independent political perspective that does not tail-end social democratic nationalists (either British or Scottish).
e) defending and advancing Scotland’s’ democratic revolution’
The SSP and the EACL had initially enjoyed enough working class support to make their marks in the official political arena – local councils, national parliaments and the European Parliament. However, for reasons already outlined, one imploded and the other went into serious decline.
The Left social democratic Syriza and Left populist Podemos represent a new phase of challenge to the European corporate order. Given the gravity of the current crisis and the toll it has taken upon working class in Greece and Spain, working class support for these parties is greater than was the case with the SSP or EACL. However, the Syriza and Podemos leaderships’ politics appear to be little more equipped for the challenges ahead than the SSP’s or EACL’s were.
One of the strengths of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ is that increasing numbers have questioned not just the political parties in office (Cameron’s Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition), or in alliance (add Labour), and the corrupt and anti-democratic Westminster order, but have gone further and questioned the whole UK set-up. This provides an audience when socialists argue against the widespread belief, which appears to be held by both the Syriza and Podemos leaderships that, when you have gained a parliamentary majority, you have won effective state power.
The problem, though, as has already been demonstrated, is so many socialists in Scotland and the UK still have to catch up with the politics of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’. The British ruling class and the wannabe Scottish ruling class are fully aware of this challenge. This is why the Smith Commission was put in place, to confine the choice to different unionist options (liberal and conservative) within the existing UK state order.
Smith made the correct calculation that the SNP leadership, through its role in administering the Scottish branch of the UK state, could be expected to return to the Westminster road after September 18th. Together, the mainstream unionists and nationalists want to switch Scotland’s “democratic revolution” into official Westminster channels, with debate limited to the extent this can be diverted into its Holyrood conduit.
The divide amongst socialists in the coming Westminster General Election this May, whether as Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) or SSP candidates, is mainly over the degree of accommodation to be made to the SNP. TUSC will not vote for SNP candidates on socio-economic grounds. The SSP will vote for the SNP where socialists are not standing. However, both share a tailist attitude when it comes to the future exercise of Scottish self-determination, leaving it to a future SNP government to reopen the issue.
Furthermore, unlike the SNP, neither TUSC nor the SSP looks to allies elsewhere in these islands to support their own vision of self-determination . Ironically, in this respect they are more nationalist than the SNP leadership, which looks beyond Scotland to Plaid Cymru and the English Greens and even to Miliband-led Labour to assist them in further devolutionary reform. The British unionist Left can also be more parochial than a British Labour Party, which brought English and Welsh MPS and others to Scotland to campaign for ‘No’ vote in the referendum, whilst also ensuring it maintained the support of key sections of the British ruling class. Those in the Left Unity Party in England and Wales supporting ‘No’ or abstention organised nothing north of the Border. This was left to George Galloway and his ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow. Indeed even UKIP and the Loyalists showed more ‘internationalism’ than the British unionist Left!
The failure by many on the Scottish Left (and, of course, the British unionist Left) to advance a distinctive republican and Scottish internationalist politics will become more apparent when they join an SLP with its invite to Greens and former SNP members too. They may well be strongly opposed to the Westminster clique and the mainstream unionist parties, but they have very little understanding of the fundamentally anti-democratic UK state and its Crown Powers. Yet any movement for genuine self-determuination will increasingly be up against these.
Amongst many on the Scottish Left, there is little deeper understanding of the wider impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, nor much understanding that the SNP leadership represents a wannabe Scottish ruling class, looking for a junior managerial buy-out of the UK state’s ‘assets’ in Scotland, preparatory to making new deals with the global corporations and the US and EU states. They think that the Left can act as a pressure group on the SNP, in away that old CPGB once thought was possible with the British Labour Party.
Some look hopefully to the impact of the many thousands of new members on the SNP, radicalised by the referendum campaign. This ignores the fact that, unless there is an alternative organised socialist republican party to act as an alternative pole of attraction, the top-down, bureaucratic structures of the ‘New SNP’ will dilute or marginalise this radicalism. At the same time, any lack of an alternative will also pull the party’s new members in behind the SNP leadership’s’ ‘internationalism’ – as part of NATO, the British High Command, the Crown-led British Commonwealth, subordinate to the City of London and making Westminster government deals with the pro-austerity, pro-war, pro-Trident ‘Red Tories’.
The SLP’s initials have probably been chosen to allow the possibility of the ‘P’ changing from Project to Party, but with the 2016 Holyrood elections in mind. Could the decision that appears to have been made to delay the launch of the SLP, until after the May General Election, reflect the ISG’s uneasiness about having such discussions about the nature of the SNP and the UK state, which would reveal such political divisions?
However, it could also show a more electoralist approach, rather than a strategy to form a Scottish internationalist, republican socialist party, which seeks to involve itself in the leadership of every aspect of the struggle – economic, social, cultural and political – in the full knowledge not only of the ever-deepening constitutional crisis facing the UK state, but of the increasing inability of the British ruling class to mount a coherent response, and the SNP leadership to stick to an anti-austerity course, in the context of the continuing unresolved economic crisis, particularly in the UK and EU.
Some people have argued for an SNP vote everywhere on May 8th to get rid of the ‘Red Tories’. Outside of Scotland they include Tariq Ali, invited to RIC and SLP events, and also Counterfire. This organisation tail-ends the SNP’s strategy most consistently by arguing for an SNP vote in Scotland and a Labour vote in England. The purpose behind setting up the SLP should be to build upon the highest political understanding found in RIC in Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, based on the principle of working class political independence, not ending up as a Left outrider for either the SNP or the Labour Party.
RIC’s 5 Principles do provide a good platform, which a new SLP could have argued as the basis for deciding who to support in May. Under the ‘New SNP’ machine, no openly RIC-supporting SNP member was ever likely to be adopted as a Westminster candidate. Potential Green candidates would have been divided between those who want to replace the Lib-Dems as the main left centre party, and perhaps those who could have been persuaded to publicly back RIC’s 5 Principles. However, unlike the Green Party in England, which has an organised Left Green platform, such an organisation does not appear to exist in Scotland, so the rightist pull on the Scottish Greens, wherever it re-emerges, will be harder to challenge.
Where there are electoral clashes between candidates who claim to support RIC’s 5 Principles – socialist (SSP and some TUSC supporters) and some Greens – the opportunity could have been taken by SLP advocates to question them further (say, at RIC backed hustings) to decide upon whom to recommend.
f) the Republican Socialist Alliance and the need for an ‘internationalism from below’ approach
One very important question would be:- How do you see Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ being extended throughout these islands, and who do you see as allies in this process? The SNP leadership is seeking its own ‘internationalist’ allies, as part of NATO, the British High Command, the Crown-led British Commonwealth and now, in the lead up to the General Election, in the form of possible Westminster government deals with Miliband’s ‘Red Tories’ in England,with the assistance of Plaid Cymru and the Greens (south of the border anyway!).
The Greens, SP and SWP (now joined in TUSC) did not organise any solidarity action in England (or Wales or Ireland) during the ‘Yes’ campaign, despite having common or fraternal organisations there. Neither did the LUP leadership. Counterfire was a somewhat lukewarm supporter of Scottish independence during the referendum campaign.
However, Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance (RSA) (and a member of the Republican Scotland Yes Platform in the LUP) is standing in the May General Election as a pro-RIC candidate in the Bermondsey and Old Southwark constituency. He has good record of support for RIC. In 2014 he helped to organise LUP branch debates, and the ‘London Says Yes Rally’. Steve was also a speaker at the first of the ‘Internationalism from Below’ session at the 2013 RIC conference. In 2010, he helped to organise the second Republican Socialist Convention, held in London, then supported by the SSP’s International Committee.
There has been a continued slide of politics to the right in England. The Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems form a pro-austerity, pro-war, pro-Trident, pro-UK alliance; and UKIP is their principal non-mainstream party challenger. Steve’s electoral statement makes an anti-Unionist appeal to extend Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’. In other words it goes far beyond the standard anti-austerity and narrow trade unionist fare offered by TUSC and the LUP.
Neither TUSC nor LUP are likely to make much electoral impact. Worse, by ignoring the growing constitutional crisis (which is at least recognised by the mainstream unionist parties and UKIP), they will not even be preparing the ground for the political challenges ahead. Steve Freeman will also not get an electorally significant vote under the present political conditions. However, he will be challenging the British Left’s failures, the better to build for the future. He will try to draw more people to the RSA. Such small beginnings are necessary though for real advances to be made.
This is where having a clear Scottish internationalist, republican socialist platform in the SLP, alongside those RSA supporters in England and Wales moving beyond the limitations of the LUP (and other organisations, such as TUSC and the Labour Party), could be taking the first steps towards the creation of allied parties in these islands based on these principles. Steve’s candidature should be supported.
Furthermore, Steve Freeman rejects the top-down bureaucratic ‘internationalism’ of the Left British unionist ‘One State/One Party’ advocates. He sees allies amongst the Scottish internationalists in RIC. He also recognises the limitations of the Irish exceptionalist arguments found both on the British and Irish Left, and already recognised by people like Bernadette McAliskey. Therefore there is a possibility of extending this socialist republican alliance to cover the whole of these islands. Only on this wider basis, can both the liberal, conservative and reactionary unionist, and nationalist challenges we are up against be successfully opposed.
g) Anti-monarchism or republicanism?
A political highpoint for RIC was the declaration, at the May National Forum, that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, this represented an exercise in the republican principle of popular sovereignty. This would have been followed by an open appeal to all those autonomous ‘Yes’ campaigns and bodies to begin a process of campaigning for a new Scottish constitution to be placed before a Constituent Assembly convened for that purpose. This represented a direct challenge to the SNP government, which sees its mandate as stemming from the offices it holds under the system of the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament, with selected powers devolved from Westminster to Holyrood.
However, the eventual ‘No’ vote, although representing a considerably lower percentage than its promoters originally expected, has led to a wider slippage amongst RIC members towards a narrower anti-monarchist understanding of what is meant by republicanism. This was highlighted in RIC’s Vow to the People at its November 2014 conference:-
“We Vow to establish a republic. The monarchy is an affront to modern democracy, a feudal relic. How can we call ourselves free when we pay fealty to one family, a family which owns vast tracts of our land, which rubber-stamps our laws, to whom we must ask permission to form a government and whose head ‘purred’ when she discovered our freedom had been denied?”
Yet, when it comes to the five People’s Vow Commitments, following this preamble, the commitment to a republic is no longer there. For, if republicanism is merely about getting rid of the monarchy as a “feudal relic”, then this does not seem to be an immediate priority in the context of the General Election. Other Commitments on Trident, TTIP and fracking are already mobilising people, and furthermore appearing to have some impact. Therefore, the only “feudal relic” which can be mentioned in the Commitments is the need for land reform.
The problem with this is that the role of the monarchy is no longer that of a “feudal relic”, but the public front for a whole host of anti-democratic institutions protected under the UK state’s Crown Powers. These are constantly being upgraded and provided with the latest technologies – whether in population surveillance, law enforcement or military provision.
We saw a few of these powers being used by the UK state in the referendum campaign. Under Westminster rules, we wont know about others for 30 years! Even when the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) in Northern Ireland fought for political and social reforms within the UK state, this was seen as such a challenge to British ruling class continued rule that they soon fell back on the Crown Powers. They resorted to the security services and military repression, culminating in Bloody Sunday in Derry on January 31st, 1972.
Bernadette McAliskey was one socialist involved in the CRM, who quickly appreciated the significance of the need for a republican response, based on the sovereignty of the Irish people. In Scotland, the new republicanism, which was first taken into the SSA/SSP, stemmed from the assertion of popular sovereignty during the anti-Poll Tax Campaign, when Thatcher’s Tories fell back on Westminster sovereignty to impose this hated tax first in Scotland. Forthcoming battles against TTIP, fracking and any future retreat of the SNP government over Trident will carry considerably more weight when they invoke the republican principle of the sovereignty of the Scottish people.
As the gap between the growing popular aspirations encouraged by Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ and the inability of Westminster and its devolved Holyrood to deliver widen, the political issue of where sovereignty lies will become an immediate issue, not just one of clearing up some “feudal relics” in the future.
h) the bridge between republicanism and the socialist republic – independent class organisation
However, as socialist republicans we do need to go one step further. The bridge between republicanism now and a socialist republic in the future lies is the creation of independent class organisations. One important arena where this struggle will take place is the trade unions.
Trade unions in the UK (and indeed the whole of these islands, in the case of unions like UNITE) practice a form of Westminster or parliamentary sovereignty. On paper, sovereignty lies with the annual conference (parliament). In reality, control lies with the union bureaucracy (the ‘cabinet’ or often an ‘inner cabinet’ around the General Secretary). These senior union officials enjoy pay conditions and perks way beyond the members they represent. They usually spend far more time with corporate or national and local state managers than they do with the members.
Furthermore, as in the case of Westminster, there are elections in the trade unions (although often less frequently). Just as Labour candidates seek to replace Conservatives, so Broad Left candidates in the unions seek to replace right wing incumbents. However, just as Labour rarely challenges the Westminster system itself, with many of their MPs becoming corrupted in the process, so Broad Left candidates rarely challenge the undemocratic nature of their unions, or the privileges enjoyed by officials. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that more and more Broad Left candidates are standing against previous Broad Left incumbents, who have become the new right in the union.
Countering this requires a Rank and File, or socialist republican approach to union organisation. A socialist republican approach champions the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces and their right to take whatever action they see fit. Then there is no such thing as union HQ-dismissed unofficial action, but only independent action, for which wider support can be sought at whatever level is appropriate – area, regional, national or international. All union officials should be regularly elected and on the average pay of the members they represent.
In the midst of the Scottish referendum campaign, we witnessed the truly dead-end nature of a Broad Left/Left Labour approach at Grangemouth, under Left-talking, Right-walking UNITE leader, Len McCluskey . He used UNITE members as a bargaining chip to contest One Nation Labour, with his alternative trade union careerist candidate, Karie Murphy, for the Falkirk parliamentary constituency. Miliband and INEOS Grangemouth owner, Ratcliffe, called McCluskey’s bluff. He quickly abandoned Grangemouth’s oil workers to their fate – fewer jobs, worse conditions, lower pay and cut pension rights – whilst eating humble-pie and trying to patch up his relationship with Miliband once more .
Now, to build effective unions involves more than adopting a rank and file organisational approach, however necessary this is . Furthermore, the principle of developing independent class organisation is not just for trade unions, but applies to every arena of struggle – economic, social, cultural and political. This is why we need a Scottish internationalist, socialist republican platform in the proposed SLP, which clearly understands this.
The depth and extent of the current multi-facetted crises needs more just confining oneself to a continuous hamster-wheel of frenetic activity, doomed to going round in circles, or worse – not noticing the wheel is working its way loose.
To conclude, the SLP is an important development. It should, though, have provision for platforms, including the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction, and see democratic discussion and debate as a vital part of its culture. With members engaged in every aspect of the struggle against exploitation, oppression and alienation, then the fact that some may initially adhere to social democratic, left nationalist or populist notions, can then be challenged, as the ongoing and deepening capitalist crises undermines the basis for such politics and creates the political space for the creation of a new social order.
 see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/
 For an example see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/23/david-jamieson-of-the-the-isg-replies-to-allan-armstrong/
 see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/12/20/radisson-blu-or-post-radisson-red/
 Counterfire is one of several breakaways from the SWP, as a result of that organisation’s ongoing crisis. Its politics mirror that of the old CPGB in the late 1980’s and early 1990”s. Counterfire’s method of operating is similar to the Eurocommunists. They became the non-party Democratic Left, and later the New Politics Network. They increasingly took on the role of think tanks, trying to influence broader politics at arms length, rather than using the more heavy-handed sectarian approach of the old ‘Tankies’. The SWP/Counterfire division, in their organisational approach to politics, have duplicated the old ‘Tankie’/Eurocom split.
Counterfire has been involved in a couple of arms-length organisations. This includes the Coalition of Resistance (which competed with the SP’s Shop Stewards Network and the SWP’s Unite the Resistance in courting Left trade union officials). More recently Counterfire has thrown its weight, alongside the CPB and others, behind the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity. Courting trade union officials and voting Labour in May are the main priorities.
However, Counterfire, which took little part in winning wider support for the ‘Yes’ campaign in England, has now decided that in Scotland, people should vote for the SNP instead in the General Election. Presumably that also includes a vote for Angus Robertson with his “commitment for Scotland to play a full part in NATO” (see http://www.angusrobertson.org)
 Militant anti-fascism: the achievements of Scotland’s Anti-Fascist Alliances by Y.K. in Emancipation & Liberation no.19
 see https://echocollective.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/an-organisers-view-just-how-radical-is-scotlands-radical-independence-campaign-nicky-patterson/
 see About the ISG at http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/get-involved/
 Although such people may be perhaps prepared to divulge their revolutionary Marxist credentials in private to consenting adults!
 see http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/get-involved/
 For a more elaborated account of the strengths and weaknesses of the SSP, and what these continue to mean mean for socialists see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/
 See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2008/10/04/the-role-of-platforms-in-the-ssp/
 Technically, the SWP allows short-lived platforms to exist just before their annual conferences. However, if they challenge the leadership, far from creating the conditions for a proper debate to be conducted, the Central Committee’s appointed full-timers work overtime to marginalise them.
 see http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2014/09/a-scottish-podemos/
 Anarcho-bureaucratic organisational methods were explained in section iv of Radisson Blu or post-Radisson Red:-http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/12/20/radisson-blu-or-post-radisson-red/
 See section 6 of http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/
 Cat Boyd and Jonathon Shafi (ISG) and Colin Fox (SSP) went to Athens to witness Greek General Election and speak to Syriza members in January.
 The Bolsheviks were forced by the German imperial government to sign the draconian Treaty of Brest Litovsk in early 1918, when the Soviet forces collapsed in the face of the invading German Army. This led to a major split in the Soviet government and incipient civil war. The military collapse of the Germans on the western front in November, led to their defeat and withdrawal, allowing the Bolsheviks to regain control over much of the lost territory.
 See http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/feb/18/yanis-varoufakis-how-i-became-an-erratic-marxist
 See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/
 Nor is this call for a Rank and File approach a mere propagandist call, as the well-supported rank and File candidacy of Jerry Hicks, challenging McCluskey for UNITE General Secretary, highlighted (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/04/16/we-did-not-win-but-we-are-now-the-left-in-unite/). In Gerry’s case, though, it would be great to see his industrial republicanism extended to cover a wider socialist republican political challenge to the existing order.
 See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/10/28/after-grangemouth-what-now-for-the-left-in-scotland/
 For a further development of this argument see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/
I still plan to write an article on the ISG. Just a couple of corrections on the above:
1. The characterisation of CF is impressionistic and false. CF is a more or less traditional Leninist outfit – with a branch structure, democratic centralist constitution and an annual conference that elects a leadership body. The ISG has always been more ‘liquidationist’ than CF.
And to be fair to CF it is not true that they “took no part in winning wider support for the ‘Yes’ campaign in England” they did as much as anyone else – which is to say not very much.
2. No one from the ISG was invited to Athens by the Syriza leadership – I have really no idea where that came from.
Thanks for these comments, David.
1. You are right that I have based my impression of the political nature of Counterfire by the image they put across – the piss-taking badges of Marx and Lenin for example. Your response made me look at their website so I could find their constitution. It doesn’t seem to be based on traditional Marxist-Leninist style democratic centralism to me; but is formally democratic. This warrants more attention though.
2. However, you are wrong about other organisations in England not doing anything about winning solidarity for Scotland. Red Pepper and others helped to organise the meeting at Westminster which Cat Boyd and Pete Ramand addressed. The Chartist magazine responded to an earlier meeting I had addressed in London by commissioning an article by me on republicanism and unionism. Socialist republicans in LUP got several branches to debate the issue, with Cat and Mick Napier speaking. They also organised the ‘London Says Yes’ rally, which Bernadette McAliskey and myself addressed. This is better than the record of Counterfire, the SWP or Socialist Party, especially given their relative political weights.
3. Thanks for pointing that footnote 16 out. I have corrected it. The original incorrectly stated that “ISG members, because of their leading role in RIC, were invited to Athens by the Syriza leadership in the lead-up to the Greek General Election in January”.
I am looking forward to your article on the ISG. The more information I have, the better I will be able to make a rounded assessment. ISG, which rose out of the ‘2011’ events, is part of the Scottish Left experience, and that needs to be recorded and recognised by others.
Allan Armstrong, 27.3.15
Allan, If you look near the the footnotes of your article on the SLP and the need for organised fronts – I think there is typo which may lead to mis-interpretation – I think it should read –
SLP is an important development.
I can not believe you think the SLP is unimportant as it currently states?
Hope you are well.
You are right, that was due to the annoying predictive text facility, which I can not turn off! I have corrected it now.