May 07 2011

An examination of the results of the ‘no’ victory

So, the ‘No’ campaign against the Alternative Vote (AV) managed to win decisively in every nation and region of the UK. Even in Scotland, where on paper a ‘Yes’ vote was supported by a confident SNP, sections of the Labour Party, and the Lib-Dems and Greens, the ‘No’ vote won handsomely everywhere, apart from Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvinside (with their large liberal middle class). Yet, this ‘No’ vote provided no succour to the Tory Party in Scotland, whose last city redoubt in Edinburgh Pentlands fell before the SNP steamroller in the ensuing local elections.

So, what does this ‘No’ vote represent? Of course, it had the swaggering support of the Tory bullies, who like to keep a big stick (FPTP) handy to cow the smaller boys in the playground. And many of these boys are afraid, which is not surprising when you consider the nasty things that the Tories have in store. So instead of taking on the bully himself, they have hit out at his hapless little Lib-Dem brother.

Unable to touch the main object of their hatred, what has been the effect of that swipe (the large ‘No’ vote) directed at little brother? He has decided not to go out on any more unaccompanied outings. He has quickly rushed back into the arms of big brother, but puffed out his chest saying, Yes, but I’ll stick up for myself next time, you know! Big brother tries to hide his contempt and says, There, there –  just stay close to me, and you’ll be all right. Don’t be so stupid in the future. Meanwhile, big brother is secretly planning on how to ditch this embarrassment of a little brother as soon as possible.

So, having successfully kicked little brother in the shins, what do the other little boys in the playground think will happen next? Those that said, Give him a good kicking, and that will make him see sense, have not surprisingly been somewhat taken aback by the results. The Labour ‘Nos’ led by that bravado-prone, but essentially cowardly Johnny Reid (always eager for a battle, but quick to fall-in behind his own favoured US bully), have found that little brother hasn’t come running to their corner of the yard.

In the south, Lib-Dem votes have haemorrhaged mainly to the Tories in the local elections. In Wales, some votes have gone to Labour, but others to the Tories. There is a slightly better showing for Labour in the North; but on Johnny’s own patch in Scotland, where Labour managed to increase its share of the General Election vote in 2010, virtually all the Lib-Dem votes passed right past  Labour (and the Tories, known locally as the Dodos) and went straight over to the new kids on the block in the SNP!

In other words, kicking the Lib-Dems by voting ‘No’ may make you feel good for a very short time, but it does nothing challenge Tory big brother bully. Indeed he feels more confident now. Furthermore, it certainly did very little to win over badly shaken Lib-Dem little brother.

And what about those few who said, “How about being nice to little brother’ and forget all our own needs for the moment, and try to help him by voting ‘Yes’?  Unfortunately, little brother didn’t show much fight. He constantly apologised for the lead he was providing (Clegg). He then cried when big brother turned nasty and tugged him sharply by the arm.

OK – let me end this particular analogy and turn to another more direct one. When you start off by calling for PR, and end up asking for people to vote for AV, you are in a very similar position to those who would start off by arguing for the abolition of the House of Lords, but end up saying that you should vote for the direct election of one third of the Lords instead as a way to undermine them. Far from undermining the rotten underlying principle, you merely end up reinforcing it (and AV is just FPTP in a situation where there are more than two main parties. It provides an extra shove past the post).

Furthermore, saying that, Well we know the Lib-Dems are pathetic, but this clears the way for Labour to bring forward PR in the future, overlooks the fact that under Gordon Brown, Labour had their chance too, but fluffed it. Every constitutional innovation New Labour has introduced (Devolution-all-round, reform of the House of Lords) has been designed buttress the ruling class not to challenge it. They only support AV on paper.

The case for abstention rests on the clear understanding that building the forces needed for real change, will mean building independently of Labour (and ignoring those, for the meantime, who have advocated tailing either Labour’s ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ campaigns.) In the lousy situation we currently face, that may seem like a tall order, but it was out of the political wreckage  of the 1980’s that a new political challenge arose from the independent Anti-Poll Tax Campaign.

That longer term political campaign was largely sabotaged by the sectarian Left, with the SWP and CWI playing particularly ignominious roles. Politically side lining these two organisations will be essential for any effective new challenge. There are hopeful signs that they are beginning to fall apart due to their own contradictions. I would still like to rescue some of their hard put-upon rank and file. However, that still means having no truck with party-front organisations; having a real commitment to open democratic methods of organising; and using tactics based not on opportunistic membership recruiting but on following a principled long term strategy. The one thing self-declared Marxists should be able to hold on to in lean times is a clear and sharp analysis and understanding of the situation we face today and shedding any remaining false illusions.

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May 03 2011

The case for Abstention in the AV referendum

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the AV referendum on May 4th will very much play second fiddle to the elections to Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. Ironically though, it is precisely in these three areas that the outcome of the referendum could be determined. People going to vote in the devolved assembly elections will also find themselves presented with the AV referendum ballot paper. Therefore, although, the vast majority of people are indifferent to it, the likely higher voting turnout for other reasons in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could possibly swing the outcome of the AV referendum to a ‘Yes’ vote, if the turnout in England is much smaller.

It is interesting to compare the political line-up over AV with the last major constitutional referenda. These were held in 1997 to decide whether devolved assemblies should be introduced to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Once again, the principal division was between the conservative unionist opponents (Tories, UKIP, BNP and DUP) and the liberal unionist supporters (Labour and Lib-Dems), drawing enthusiastically upon constitutional nationalist support in Scotland (SNP), Wales (Plaid Cymru) and Northern Ireland (SDLP and Sinn Fein, which following the Good Friday Agreement had become a constitutional nationalist party too), as well as former official and dissident (i.e. Trotskyist) communist support, e.g. CPB, SWP, CWI.

In 1997 the liberal wing of the British ruling class, represented politically by Tony Blair and New Labour, was in the ascendancy. They dictated the pace and outcome of the three referenda, despite strong conservative unionist challenges in Wales and Northern Ireland. However, in the latter the liberal unionist pull (which was successfully linked to the widespread demand for ‘peace’) was even able to pull the traditionally very conservative unionist Ulster Unionist Party in behind it.

Today, the conservative unionists are in the ascendancy (see appendix for political line-up over the AV referendum). However, they face a problem overcoming a justified voter disinterest, since neither side offers any democratic advance. AV can lead to even less proportional representation than FPTP.  AV is not PR, merely a modified form of the FPTP, which can be used to buttress the status quo in situations where two-party politics are no longer dominant. Those continued supporters of the status quo believe that the distortion factor introduced by the Lib-Dems emerging as a third party will be eliminated by the squeeze on this party. This could lead either to the Lib-Dems’ retreat back to minor party status, or its split and the merger of the National Liberal wing into the Tories and the anti-Clegg Liberal wing into New Labour.

Unlike the 1979 referenda on devolved assemblies, which the liberal unionists initiated, the current AV referendum has come about as a reluctant Tory concession, grudgingly enacted through Westminster, to keep Clegg’s Lib-Dems on board. However, the Lib-Dems are only there to be used, abused, and if and when necessary, spat out. Cameron may entertain some thoughts of a Tory/National Liberal merger, but his longer term strategy on behalf of British corporate capital does not depend on it. (Mandelson and Miliband are probably more committed to a merger of New Labour and the anti-Clegg Liberals).

The Tories have put relatively little thought into the mechanics of getting a ‘No’ vote. The conservatives’ difficulties are compounded by the inbuilt advantage given to the ‘Yes’ camp through holding the referendum on the same day as the Scottish and Welsh elections, where ‘Yes’ support is likely to be stronger.  If a ‘Yes’ vote is obtained on May 4th by means of higher turnouts in Scotland and Wales, this could well raise an indignant British chauvinist, anti-Scottish, anti-Welsh clamour. It will be used to ramp up the conservative opposition to namby-pamby liberalism. Any majority ‘Yes’ vote won on May 4th can not be guaranteed to lead to the successful implementation of AV, especially if the percentage support is well short of 50% of the total electorate. This will provide the Cameron’s Conservatives with an excuse to renege, and Clegg will most likely back down, whilst Miliband will just move on.

Therefore Cameron is not overly concerned about a ‘Yes’ victory in the referendum. The Tories have another and more central strategy to win wider support to provide cover for their continued Cuts Offensive and the ongoing imperial wars in Afghanistan and Libya. This centres around Cameron’s two year ‘Royalist Britfest’ – two royal weddings, a golden jubilee and a declaration of UK (Trafalgar) Day on October 21st to replace May Day (mightily helped by Labour and trade union officials’ attempts to depoliticise May Day and offer it as a family day instead – soon we’ll all be dancing round maypoles!) Labour criticisms over the timing of cuts notwithstanding (and there is no official Labour criticism of the latest war in Libya), both Labour and the Lib-Dems have signed up for the ‘Royalist Britfest’, so any wider ‘opposition’ emanating from them is going to be very half-hearted.

However, to counter the liberal constitutional supporters’ listless AV campaign in the run-up to the May 4th referendum, the conservative wing of the ruling class has easily won back support from the UUP (which gave its reluctant support to the 1997 liberal unionist Good Friday Agreement), and it has also been able to split the Labour Party (as it did in the 1979 Scottish and Welsh referenda, and to a certain extent, albeit unsuccessfully, in the recent Welsh Assembly referendum). After the CPB’s longstanding populist alliance with the anti-Euro Right, and the CWI’s capitulation to British chauvinism in the No2EU campaign, it is perhaps not surprising to see them in the ‘No’ camp too. Apparently the SWP (not mentioned in the Wikipedia list) recommend a ‘No’ vote too. This is entirely consistent with their frontist Right to Work campaign’s wooing of traditionalist Labour councillors opposed to the cuts in words but not deeds.

There are two mavericks in the new line-up.  UKIP appear to have abandoned their traditional ultra-conservative defence of the British constitution for what they hope will be short term electoral gains through by supporting a ‘Yes’ vote  (good to see that Left opportunism is matched on the Right too!) Respect supports abstention. With George Galloway in complete control, Respect might have committed itself to the ‘No’ camp favoured by the traditional Labour and former official Communists. Possibly Galloway considers AV insignificant.

In 1997 the two political alternatives on offer both arose from divisions amongst the ruling class over the best way to maintain their political control – constitutional conservatism with Westminster direct rule in Britain, plus a devolved sectarian Stormont or constitutional liberalism with ‘devolution-all-round’ for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (also in the form of a devolved sectarian Stormont). Comrades who went on to join the RCN pointed out that the British ruling class had thrown its weight behind the Peace (in reality the pacification) Process and ‘devolution-all-round’ as the best means of creating the political conditions necessary to maximize corporate profitability throughout  these islands. The British ruling class also gained the support of the Irish, key EU and US ruling classes for this stance.

However, we didn’t recommend a vote ‘No’ in opposition to this, since the conservative unionists represented some pretty ugly forces, which could still exercise their malign influence, whatever the majority decision in any referenda.  Any ‘No’ vote would merely strengthen them. The subsequent blocking tactics of the DUP at Stormont, supplemented by the continued murderous activities of the Loyalists, were just two indicators of this continuing influence. Conservative unionists are more prepared to ignore liberal democratic niceties on a day-to-day basis and to seek support from extra-constitutional reactionary forces. Liberal unionists like to keep such forces at arms-length distance, and tend only to resort to them in times of great crisis.

Today’s AV referendum represents nothing more than an intra-ruling class tiff , to provide political cover for Nick Clegg and his Orange Book Lib-Dem careerists in the Con-Dem Coalition. Support for the conservative constitutional option (‘No’ to AV) is probably in the majority in England and Northern Ireland, whilst support for the liberal constitutionalist option (‘Yes’ to AV), which includes its constitutional nationalist supporters, is probably in the majority in Scotland and maybe Wales. Socialists should not be giving their support to either side.

Last November the Scottish Socialist Party had a debate and decided, at its National Council in Perth, that AV did not represent any advance towards PR, which we strongly support.  Therefore we opposed AV although making no recommendation to vote ‘No’ in the ballot, which amounts to abstention in practice.  In reality the subsequent lack of interest in the party over the issue merely reflects the huge yawn factor amongst the wider electorate. This can’t be written off as jaded apoliticism. Much of this feeling represents an accurate class response to the issues at stake over AV.

Those workers, who think that giving Clegg a kick in the teeth by voting ‘No’, are mainly to be found amongst people who have illusions in traditional Labour. Those workers who want to give Cameron a kick in the teeth by voting ‘Yes’ have illusions in New Labour (whatever spurious qualifications we get from some Leftist apologists like the CPGB). You can not build an effective anti-cuts or anti-war movement around these people.

Socialist republicans in Scotland, Wales and ‘the Six Counties’ are more aware of the conservative unionists’ current wider project – the two year ‘Royal Britfest’. Rehabilitating the union jack in Scotland provides the Conservatives and Loyalists with much needed succour and is not something we would want to see. The recent death threats to prominent Catholics (in reality targeted for their perceived Irish connections) and Rangers football supporters’ bigotry (witnessed and condemned by UEFA) shows that no help, even if unintentional, should be given to conservative and reactionary unionism. Conservative unionism provides reaction with legitimacy, just as laws discriminating against migrants encourages the neo-fascist forces of the BNP, EDL, SDL, WDL, UVA and UFF. Thus, instead of getting worked up about AV, the SSP has concentrated instead on the Holyrood elections and republican campaigning against the royal wedding to supplement its anti-cuts and anti-war work.

Genuine socialists in Scotland will not be happy in joining with the conservative unionism of the Tories, BNP and John Reid by voting ‘No’ in the AV referendum. The key strategy in getting a fight against the public sector cuts (initiated by New Labour, stepped up by the Con-Dems, and administered by SNP, Labour/Plaid Cymru, DUP/Sinn Fein devolved assemblies, and local councils led by all these parties) should not centre around whether we are better off with or without a supposedly damaged Con-Dem Coalition. The ruling class has plenty of other parties lining up to deliver the cuts, especially New Labour , and the constitutional nationalist parties too.

When those who went on to become members of the RCN recommended abstention in the 1997 Scottish referendum ballot we had stickers to apply to the ballot papers saying ‘For a Scottish Republic’. Ideally, if we had had enough time, socialists throughout the UK should have prepared stickers to apply to the AV referendum ballot papers saying, ‘No to FPTP, No to AV, Yes to PR’.

Developing an independent working class opposition – independent of both wings (conservative and liberal) of the ruling class and particularly of those trade union officials tied into partnership with the bosses and the state – is the key issue. We began this process in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, which defeated the Tories on the basis of an independent class action and ‘internationalism from below’. Furthermore, it proved possible to begin the process of developing independent political representation for our class – first the Militant anti-poll tax councillors in Glasgow, later the SSP MSPs at Holyrood.

The ruling class managed to contain and reverse this challenge, helped in Scotland by a populist Left nationalist Tommy Sheridan, backed by the British Left sectarians of the CWI and SWP, who also sabotaged the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales. These two organisations have now switched their support to the populist Left British nationalist, George Galloway in the Holyrood election, at the same time as trying to split the anti-cuts movement behind their own front organisations.

The liberal wing of the ruling class and its political supporters can not protect us from the conservative offensive, so let’s not build any false illusions in them by recommending a ‘Yes’ vote.  Furthermore, these liberals and their supporters have no strategy for developing AV into PR; just as they have no strategy for developing the current Devolution settlement into their stated objective of Federalism. They represent a complete political deadend.

The conservatives have a much more coherent strategy, in which AV is a mere sideshow. Either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote will be used by Tories to step up their attack on our class. We have no place in either the ‘Yes’ or the ‘No’ camps. Therefore, it is to the lessons of the Anti-Poll Tax campaign that we need to look, both to counter the current ruling class Cuts Offensive and their ‘Royal Britfest’. This way we can seriously tackle the cuts , which also means opposing their latest imperial war in Libya, which Cameron wants to be his ‘Falklands War ’ just like that which fronted Thatcher’s 1980’s Cuts Offensive.

Allan Armstrong, 2 May 2011


AV Referendum May 4th

1. Voting ‘Yes’

Parties represented in Westminster

Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party

Sinn Féin

Plaid Cymru


Green Party of England and Wales

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

Parties elected to the European Parliament or devolved  assemblies


Scottish Green

Minor parties

Mebyon Kernow

English Democrats

Christian Party

Christian Peoples Alliance

Pirate Party UK

United Kingdom Libertarian Party

2. Vote ‘No’

Parties represented at Westminster

Conservative Party

Democratic Unionist Party


Parties elected to the European Parliament or devolved  assemblies


Ulster Unionist Party

Irish Green Party (Northern Ireland region)

Minor parties

Traditional Unionist Voice

Communist Party of Britain

Socialist Party of England and Wales

3. Split ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

Parties represented at Westminster


4. Abstention

Minor Parties

Respect Party

Scottish Socialist Party

Socialist Party of Great Britain

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Jan 26 2010

SSP and Elections

Members of the SSP have been asked to contribute documents on electoral strategy, here is a contribution from the RCN.

A Contribution To The Discussions Arising From The Glasgow North East By-Election

1. How did the SSP publicly assess the by-election result?

The Republican Communist Network (RCN) welcomes the decision of the SSP Executive Committee (EC) to open up the discussion to members about the lessons we can draw for future electoral work from the Glasgow North East by-election.

All party members recognise that any assessment of this (and other) recent elections must take on board the serious damage done to the SSP as a result of the split caused by Tommy Sheridan, and the sectarian antics of the CWI and SWP. This means that not only does the SSP have far fewer members to get involved in campaigns, but also that a considerable section of the remaining membership still lacks confidence. Sometimes, they do not get involved in the SSP’s prioritised campaigns, or else they confine their activities to other spheres, where SSP leadership political support is slight or non-existent. This meant that, in the Glasgow North East by-election, a huge burden of work fell upon a few members’ shoulders, particularly those of Kevin McVey.

Kevin was a good candidate with considerable political experience. He has the ability to communicate and to deal with the ‘rough and tumble’ of what would almost certainly prove to be a difficult campaign. However, there is probably another quality of Kevin’s, which probably made him an ideal candidate. Given the low expectations that Glasgow SSP held about the final vote in the by-election, Kevin is resilient, can take any hard knocks, and is not easily disillusioned by poor results.

Nevertheless, many members outside Glasgow, who were only minimally involved in the by-election campaign, probably wonder if the very low vote (a drop from 1402 in 2005 to 152 in 2009) will not further deepen some Glasgow comrades’ sense of the SSP’s political marginalisation, leading them to further political retreats (see section 6).

A special issue of Scottish Socialist Voice was produced for the by-election, to be distributed throughout the constituency. Indeed, as far as the Voice went, Glasgow North East became the only national priority, with the suspension and non-distribution of national papers outside of Glasgow. So, SSP members and new contacts in Glasgow North East, as well as members outside Glasgow, would have looked to the post by-election national Voice, issue 350, for an account and analysis of the results and the party’s work in the by-election.

In this issue, we were able to read that, Labour triumph, SNP are rebuffed {and} BNP advance halted – but absolutely nothing about the SSP or the other socialist candidates. This suggests a feeling of embarrassment, instead of providing an honest explanation to our 152 voters, the other 841 ostensibly socialist voters in the constituency, those who came across the SSP in the campaign but are not registered to vote, and our regular readers elsewhere. It was left to Kevin to give his account to the party at the November 28th National Council (NC).

2. A New Labour victory for the politics of despair, and the marginalisation of the politics of misplaced hope in the SNP

If we look at the overall political picture of the Glasgow North East by-election, the results represent the triumph of despair over hope (see Appendix 1). Labour showed no concern over the historic low turnout (33.2%). The vast majority of those who abstained come from those people whose needs can not even be minimally met when capitalism is in deep crisis. The mainstream parties know this. They are quite happy for such people to remain voiceless and to quietly ‘disappear’ in elections.

Therefore, for Labour, battling only for the electoral support of those who do vote, in a constituency they had long held, the over-riding task was to uphold the status-quo. This was done through a campaign of utter negativity and fear-mongering, and saying that ‘things can only get worse’ if any other party won, but especially their greatest immediate threat in Scotland, the SNP.

In the 2007 Holyrood General Election, the SNP was successfully able to counter New Labour’s incessant ‘doom and gloom’-mongering by offering voters some prospect of hope. In effect, the SNP said to the electorate that they would implement some of the social democratic policies which people once expected from Labour, but which New Labour has now abandoned. Independence would be put on a back burner, until an SNP government had shown its competence in office. Then provision would be made for the people to make their choice for Scotland’s future constitutional arrangements in a referendum.

However, the SNP leaders also ensured that, despite their declared support for more radical constitutional reform than the British mainstream parties, this would not be linked to any very radical economic or social changes. Overtures to prominent Scottish and US business figures showed that the SNP accept the constraints of the existing economic order. Promises of low corporate taxes highlight the SNP’s subordination to big business.

The underlying flaw in the SNP’s economic strategy is that the money for their social democratic-type reforms was supposed to come from a Scottish economy buoyed by the successes of its financial sector. The Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland were meant to offer “neo-liberalism with a heart”. There is hope and there is misplaced hope!

The SNP’s response to US and British opposition to its proposed ‘independence’ referendum is to further accommodate to these forces, whilst lowering workers’ immediate economic and social expectations. Perhaps the most spectacular indication of this has been the suggestion by former Left, Jim Sillars, that SNP current opposition to NATO bases and nuclear weapons should be dropped. Sillars may be a fairly marginal figure within the SNP today, but his words will give some encouragement to more influential Right wing figures in the party, such as Michael Russell and Angus Robertson who want to make the SNP into the main representative of Scottish business interests within the existing global economic order, following in the footsteps of the Parti Quebecois (and its offshoot Action Democratique), Catalan Convergence and the PNV in Euskadi.

The SNP hints at some cosmetic changes that could be made to the current global imperial order, with a greater political role given to the UN. Yet the totally undemocratic UN remains a plaything of the major imperial powers, and only provides cover for decisions they have already agreed upon. The SNP’s opposition to NATO remains only a paper policy, with leading figures contemplating a new Scottish deal for British/English and US armed forces, possibly in return for Scotland being removed from NATO’s nuclear frontline to a secondary supporting role in NATO’s Orwellian-named, ‘Partnership for Peace’. This means making military bases in Scotland available for imperial use, when called upon, like the Irish government has done at Shannon Airport. Furthermore, the SNP has been quite prepared to support the use of Scottish regiments in imperial (and unionist) conflicts from Crossmaglen in the recent past, to Helmand Province today. Therefore, the SNP wants to the ‘rebrand’ imperialism, not join any anti-imperialist opposition.

The SNP has taken a similar accommodationist role with regard to the continuation of the UK state. This has been highlighted by the SNP’s new found open support for the British monarchy. They accept the Union of the Crowns and ask people to vote in 2010 for a constitutional ‘return’ to the years between 1603 and 1707! In effect, the SNP wants to renegotiate the Union not to overthrow it. Any possible future ‘independence’ referendum campaign will be conducted under ‘Westminster rules’. However, the UK state only plays by these rules when it suits them. The Crown Powers, which the SNP has no desire to challenge, provide the British ruling class with a whole host of additional anti-democratic powers to be utilised when they feel there is any threat to their continued rule.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the implementation of thoroughgoing Civil Rights within Northern Ireland (yet still within the UK and under the Crown) was seen to be too great a concession, not only by the local Ulster Unionists (no surprise there) but also by the leaders of the UK state. Today’s British ruling class, fixated with maintaining its imperial role in the world, and its control of NATO military bases and North Sea oil resources in Scotland, is not going to confine its opposition to the SNP’s constitutional reforms to ‘gentlemanly’ democratic procedures.

The SNP has also ended up tail-ending the other mainstream parties at Westminster in its support for banking bailouts at our expense. Then, following from this, they are imposing the devolved financial cuts through Holyrood. Meanwhile, SNP-run (or jointly-run) councils press on with school closures, massive attacks on workers’ conditions (Edinburgh street cleaners and home helps), because they meekly accept Holyrood’s transmitted expenditure cuts.

Furthermore, the SNP government has been kowtowing to overtly reactionary social pressure, such as the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to gay rights and abortion. And, just for good measure, the SNP government is contemplating the clearance of some Aberdeenshire residents to make way for US tycoon, Donald Trump’s golf course complex.

However, for the wider electorate, it has been the ‘Credit Crunch’ that has really blown the SNP strategy apart, first in Glenrothes and now in Glasgow North East. So, instead of maintaining their early confidence in office, the SNP government is now stumbling from one ‘cock-up’ after another (e.g. over school class sizes).

In other words, the SNP behave in office much like New Labour. The SNP’s poor vote in Glasgow North East (especially given the political background to Michael Martin’s resignation) represented a further abandonment of hope – only in this case the hope had been misplaced to begin with, given the SNP’s subordination to financial and corporate capital, or ‘neo-liberalism with a swag bag’.

With the prime battle in Glasgow North East being fought out between New Labour and the SNP, even the other mainstream parties – the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems – were marginalised. Why change to untried Tory or Lib-Dem cuts, when the more familiar Labour Party promised its cuts would hurt less?

Voters’ feelings of despair have been greatly increased by inability of the massive Anti-War Movement to stop the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Blair got away with acting as Bush’s tame poodle. Today, we have Brown taking on the same subordinate role with regard to Obama in Afghanistan. Only now he is buttressed by the support of the Right wing SNP Defence Spokesperson, Angus Robertson.

Some thought that the ‘Credit Crunch’ might push New Labour to the Left and force them to introduce some neo-Keynesian economic regulation, supplemented by social democratic policies to increase workers’ incomes. Instead, New Labour at Westminster government has intervened to restore the fortunes and profits of the City, with the costs being offloaded on to workers’ shoulders. This has been highlighted by the return of obscene bankers’ bonuses, and the judicial upholding of banks’ right to set arbitrary and punitive fines upon those who have fallen behind with their payments. And the SNP has meekly accepted this too.

Furthermore, when politicians were exposed at Westminster with ‘their fingers in the till’, some SNP MPs were found to be amongst their number. Meanwhile, Labour-supporting trade union leaders, locked in social partnership, have declared the ‘willingness’ of their members to shoulder ‘their’ share of the burden. They just beg the corporate bosses to do the same! No wonder the politics of despair dominated this by-election, highlighted by the massive abstention rate.

3. Despair and the retreat to populism

Now, of course, in the not so distant past, a united SSP could enter elections in Glasgow expecting to be to the forefront of the second tier of contestants (after the top tier of New Labour and the SNP). In Glasgow, this next tier also included the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Greens. The Holyrood election of 2003 was the highpoint (15.2% for the SSP in the additional member vote), coinciding not only with the massive anti-war movement but the widest socialist unity achieved by any European socialist party at the time.

However, the Left’s failure in the UK to stop the Iraq war, led to the denting of all non-mainstream party support (e.g. for the SSP and the Greens in the 2007 Holyrood elections in Scotland). Nevertheless, the ‘Credit Crunch’ should have provided socialists with new opportunities. The unfolding economic crisis demonstrated the failures of the neo-liberal economics long pushed by all the mainstream parties. A worried ruling class began to adopt some neo-Keynesian measures to save capitalism from itself. This opened up splits in their ranks.

A short-sighted and opportunist ‘opposition’ could act as cheerleaders for that section of the ruling class won over to neo-Keynesian state intervention. A genuinely socialist opposition, however, would take advantage of such ruling class divisions to demonstrate the need and viability of a socialist alternative, and build its own independent support for such a vision amongst those workers and others prepared to fight back against austerity cuts, attacks on ethnic minorities, curtailment of civil rights and never ending war.

The possibilities this offered can be seen on the continent with the formation and growth of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, and the successes of the Left Bloc in Portugal, both our fellow partners in the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. The recent impressive vote for Die Linke in Germany is also an indicator of greater public support for the Left. (However, the fact that a powerful section of their leadership would willingly enter a coalition with the Social Democrats means that Die Linke’s current electoral successes could be transformed into an Italian Rifondazioni Comunista-like meltdown, if they ever pursued this particular course of action nationally.)

Back in 2005, in Glasgow North East, socialist candidates received 5438 votes (19.1%) in Glasgow North East, in the Westminster General Election. Now, certainly a lot of the votes going to the SLP in 2005 were confused with the Labour Party (in the absence of an official Labour candidate, and with Michael Martin standing only as the Speaker). This made the full extent of genuine support for socialism more difficult to determine. However, by the 2009 by-election, the ostensibly socialist vote fell back to 993 votes (4.8%).

What makes this even worse is that any specifically socialist message virtually disappeared. Those parties competing to be in the political mainstream (New Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and the SNP) all want to promote their neo-neo-liberal credentials. The extra ‘neo’ prefix is because the ruling class now accept limited state regulation. However, this takes the form of banking bailouts and the imposition of the ‘necessary’ cuts to restore the old neo-liberal status quo. In contrast the parties outside this mainstream consensus, whether on the Right or the Left, want to project themselves as populist, and hide their underlying politics – fascism on the Right, socialism on the Left.

Populism is a form of politics, which stretches from the Right to the Left. It tries to appeal to the broadest swathe of people, by denying or downplaying the central contradictions of capitalism – the conflict between labour and capital – and looking instead for scapegoats, e.g. ethnic minorities (particularly by the Right), or by targeting the (replaceable) agents of our current woes (e.g. greedy bankers), rather than questioning the capitalist system itself, and highlighting the need for workers to take their own independent action. This latter approach is the only option, if there is to be any longer term hope for the working class living in a crisis-ridden capitalism, or even for humanity itself, given the additional threats from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and the possibility of growing environmental catastrophe, as the capitalist crisis widens and deepens.

4. The BNP and Right populism

The one party that feels at home wallowing in the politics of despair is, of course, the BNP. They offer scapegoats to divert people from the real source of their woes –capitalism. There is very little ruling class or public support for their underlying fascist aims. This is why Nick Griffin has pushed through a change of image for the BNP – “from boots to suits”. This means adopting, not swastika-waving, German Nazi, anti-Semitic colours, but Right populist, Union Jack-waving, Islamophobic, British nationalism. Churchill (and not without reason) rather than Hitler is their new idol. Glasgow, with a still quite extensive loyalist sub-culture, is obviously a good place to try and establish a foothold for militant British nationalism in a Scotland where British identity is otherwise on the decline.

However, there is no immediate prospect of a fascist march to take power, either on Edinburgh, or on London. The Left is too weak at present to make the ruling class seriously support such a course of action. Yet the BNP is pushing at an open door when it comes to influencing the mainstream parties’ policies and the state’s actions directed against migrants and particular ethnic or religious minorities. These parties are also looking for scapegoats, and are quite prepared to ‘mainstream’ anti-migrant or anti-Islamic policies, whilst publicly distancing themselves from some of their more unsavoury sources.

Furthermore, whilst still unable to offer any serious physical challenge to organised labour, or even to well-established immigrant communities, BNP electoral advances can provide cover for those fascists wanting to ‘keep their hand in’ by picking on more vulnerable targets, e.g. asylum seekers, individual migrant workers and Roma/Travellers. In order to maintain a ‘respectable image’, this may necessitate a certain division of labour, e.g. between the suit wearing BNP and the boot boys of the EDL/SDL.

The BNP, as well as attacking their expected scapegoats in the by-election – ‘feather-bedded asylum seekers’, and ‘Islamic terrorists’- also targeted the bankers, hedge fund traders, Tory and Labour “morons” (see Appendix 2). This shows populism in action, because it appears to address some of the same targets as the Left.

The reason for this should be quite clear when reading the following statement from the BNP’s Scottish Secretary about their objectives in the Glasgow North East by-election. Our first aim {is} to beat all the extreme left-wing parties …the combined vote of Solidarity, SSP and Socialist Labour, added together. (

In the face of this challenge, the RCN believes that far more serious attention should have been paid by the SSP to putting up a united socialist unity candidate. Whilst the sectarianism of the SLP is hard-wired, failure to get their support would hardly have been crucial (as highlighted by the spectacular collapse of their vote from 4036 in 2005 to 47 in 2009). The possibilities, however, from sections of a splintering Solidarity should have been followed up assiduously. These growing divisions can be utilised to win over sections of Solidarity increasingly annoyed with the dead-end politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ and the Trotskyist sects, whilst seriously looking for new ways to re-establish socialist unity (see section 5).

So, in the absence of any effective united challenge, and with some in Glasgow SSP and in Solidarity (Tommy and the CWI in particular) seemingly more concerned about presiding over ‘a grudge match’ than seriously addressing the wider political issues – the Afghanistan occupation and the danger of the growth in fascist support – how did the BNP assess their result in light of opportunity provided to them by the Left? “Our first aim, to beat all the extreme left-wing parties was achieved, in spades”. Scottish Secretary, BNP ( If that was the whole story, the Left should be hanging its head in shame.

Fortunately, though, there were SSP comrades in Glasgow, especially those involved in SSY, who played a major part in preventing fascists capitalising on the BNP’s electoral advance when they hoped to take over the streets on the Saturday, 14th November, following the by-election two days before. They helped to organise effective opposition to the SDL. This also meant providing a political challenge to the SWP’s accommodationist party front, ‘United Against Fascism’, initially more concerned with chasing after Labour/STUC’s ‘Scotland United’ and Annabel Goldie, than chasing the fascists. In the event, the SDL was seen off and humiliated. However, until the BNP and other fascists are marginalised at all levels by socialists, including the electoral, there is still no room for complacency.

5. Solidarity, the Left populism of ‘celebrity socialism’, and the widening divisions in its ranks

Solidarity’s adoption of celebrity politics in the person of Tommy Sheridan is an obvious manifestation of populism. ‘Celebrity socialism’ was never effectively challenged in the old SSP. This much everybody in the SSP now accepts. However, the politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ are far from being unique to the old SSP. In the 1980’s, Militant succumbed to the ‘charms’ of Derek Hatton in Liverpool. (The CWI still don’t seem to have learned any lessons from this in Scotland.) Since then, we have seen both Arthur Scargill’s SLP, now reduced to one man’s vanity party (and after their Glasgow North East by-election result, hopefully an early retirement), and George Galloway’s Respect, as divided by the antics of a ‘celebrity socialist’ and the SWP, as the SSP has ever been.

In the by-election, Tommy threw himself into the battle of the celebrities, against John Smeaton and Mikey Hughes. In this battle, he won hands down (794 to 258 and 54). However, celebrity populist politics may be able to create a fan base, but it leaves no effective campaigning organisation behind it. Despite Tommy’s ‘triumph’ in Glasgow, his campaign has not left a stronger Solidarity on the ground. Their recent all-members’ conference was much smaller than their earlier ones. Furthermore, dependence on a celebrity usually works against building up an organisation of independent-thinkers, since it is the chosen ‘saviour’ who is meant to ‘deliver’ the people from their woes.

The fact that Tommy Sheridan, the celebrity politician, easily beat the SSP in Glasgow North East has fuelled the sectarian antics of the CWI in particular. They claim a big ‘Solidarity’ victory and they wallow in the lowest vote an SSP candidate has achieved in a parliamentary by-election. This posturing is just a repeat of their empty triumphalism after Tommy/Solidarity beat the SSP in the 2007 Holyrood elections by a large margin.

In 2007, Solidarity’s celebration of Tommy’s ‘victory’ over the SSP was so much bravado to disguise the fact that he failed to retain his Holyrood seat; and the fact there was a wipe-out of socialist representation (a fall from 6 to 0 MSPs). Since then, Solidarity has been unable to build a united party – with the sectarian attitudes of the SWP and CWI massively contributing to this failure. Solidarity has lost its only councillor (defected to Labour) and several prominent members. In subsequent by-elections, where celebrity Tommy wasn’t standing, Solidarity has been unable to overtake the SSP (although, there is no room for any SSP triumphalism here, for, as Colin Fox has said, to any outsider, the electoral contest between the SSP and Solidarity looks like two bald men fighting over a comb). Tommy and his immediate acolytes, along with the CWI and the SWP, put strict limits on any honest appraisals of Solidarity’s work, or any real accountancy for their actions.

After the Glasgow North East by-election result was declared on October 12th, the CWI once more hailed Tommy’s ‘success’. Again, mired in their purely sectarian concerns, they completely failed to learn the real lessons for the Left. The 794 votes in 2009 for a well-known celebrity candidate today must be compared with the 1402 votes the SSP received in Glasgow North East in 2005, when we put forward a much less well-known black socialist candidate. Also, Sheridan’s 794 votes today do not compare well with the non-celebrity BNP candidate’s 1075 votes.

Back in 2005, a united SSP, with 1402 votes, was easily able to see off, not only the BNP’s 904 votes, but also the (Orange) Scottish Unionist Party’s 1206 votes. And, of course, the possibilities for a united Left should have been even greater today, in view of the ongoing capitalist crisis, as continental socialists’ experience shows.

If the CWI continues to be in denial about what is actually happening, the SWP, the other main Trotskyist sect in Solidarity, has experienced a number of setbacks recently, which may encourage some more critical thought amongst its members. The SWP has been badly burned after its attempts in Respect (England and Wales) to tail-end another celebrity socialist, George Galloway. This must be making many SWP members in Scotland doubt the value of building up a new socialist organisation around Sheridan. With the ‘Stop the War’ coalition strategy of endless demonstrations attracting decreasing numbers (despite growing opposition to the Afghanistan occupation) another central plank of the SWP’s own populist politics is being undermined, and recent internal party divisions may lead to a downgrading of such work. The SWP has been focussing on ‘Unite Against Fascism’ (UAF), another party front, which it hopes will bring in new party recruits.

In this context, it is interesting that leading SWP member, Neil Davidson, has recently come out in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in any future Scottish independence referendum. Since the 1990’s, the Left in Scotland has seen the SWP as the most prominent advocate of left unionism. Those former members of the CWI still in the SSP should recognise the significance of this. In the 1980’s, most socialists outside CWI/Militant ranks saw it as being the most British unionist organisation on the Left. However, their ‘Scottish Turn’ opened up a period of internal questioning that led Scottish Militant Labour to initiate the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Other political organisations were encouraged to participate.

Thus began the break with the CWI’s own sectarian methods. True, not all in the CWI/SML, nor later the ISM, accepted the ‘new enlightenment’, but such doubts are inevitable when members are forced to face up to their ‘old certainties’. They would also be a feature of any moves by SWP members towards an acceptance of fuller democracy on the Left.

Given the SWP’s own long tradition of sectarianism (particularly its addiction to party-front organisations), they undoubtedly still have a long way to go. However, those of us now in the RCN, coming from the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, had also been subjected to CWI/Militant sectarian methods in the past. Nevertheless, we recognised the importance of Militant’s ‘Scottish Turn’ and encouraged others to join the SSA. From our point of view, we still had to argue against some deep-seated ideas and methods still unconsciously retained by former CWI members. Yet, we very much welcomed SML’s, and then ISM’s key role in promoting wider socialist unity. We also learned new lessons from these comrades in the process of the unfolding discussions and debates.

So today, in relation to the latest developments within the SWP, we think that the SSP needs to be bold and take the opportunity to engage with those with whom we may have very much disagreed with in the past, but who are now questioning important aspects of their long held politics.

There are also independents in Solidarity, who have not been taken in by their leadership’s empty posturing. John Dennis, who has been challenging Solidarity’s sectarian trajectory for some time, published his resignation letter after the election. However, he has been unable to see any serious attempt to re-establish socialist unity by the SSP, so he has formed a local organisation in Dumfries and Galloway, called Socialist Resistance (see Appendix 3), not to be confused with the British USFI Trotskyist section of the same name. Socialist Resistance in Dumfries and Galloway involves both former Solidarity and other past and current SSP members. In some ways the model taken up is that of the Barrow People’s Alliance, with an emphasis on local unity in the face of the fascist challenge. John and other socialists have been working closely with socialists over the border in combating the rise of the BNP in the area.

We have to accept that the SSP is no longer ‘the party of socialist unity’, though this is overwhelmingly the responsibility of those now in Solidarity. The 2006 split in the SSP, and the consequent dismissive response of the working class demonstrated in subsequent elections, including Glasgow North East, means that the SSP can not just cling nostalgically to a vision of past triumphs, or hope that ‘things can only get better’ in the future. Things will not automatically improve once the current court case is over. The state hasn’t involved itself in the affairs of the SSP to clear our name, but to leave a political legacy, which will divide socialists for the foreseeable future.

The last thing we can afford to do, is sit and wait for the outcome of the ever-delayed trial. We need to be seen very publicly and actively promoting the socialist unity, which the state and the sectarians are doing their utmost to prevent. Therefore, the SSP must still be ‘the party for socialist unity’. This means publicly upholding the SSP policy agreed at the post-split Conference of 20th October, 2006 in Glasgow (see Appendix 3).

6. The SSP election campaign and the Left populism of ‘Make Greed History’

Left populism doesn’t just take the shape of ‘celebrity socialism’. It can also take the form of socialists dropping specifically socialist arguments and retreating behind populist slogans – such as ‘Make Greed History’. A slogan, which may be quite appropriate for a particular newspaper headline, is not at all suitable as the banner beneath which we subordinate nearly all our politics.

Before the politics of despair, caused by the split, began to affect own our members, the SSP was quite clear about the need to uphold socialism against populism. Whilst the (short-lived) Socialist Alliances in England and Wales campaigned behind the populist, ‘People before Profit’ (i.e. for a ‘nicer’, ‘friendlier’ capitalism), the SSP argued for the socialist, ‘People not Profit’.

However, today’s ‘Make Greed History’ SSP slogan quite clearly draws upon the same populist politics as the pious ‘Make Poverty History’. This was promoted by the liberal alliance of NGOs and churches for the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Like Father Gapon’s people’s march and its forelock-tugging appeal to the Tsar in 1905; the ‘Make Poverty History’ coalition pleaded, on its huge July 2005 Edinburgh demo, asking Gordon Brown to champion their cause. This fawning approach has also been adopted by those similar organisations, which hoped that Brown would seriously take up their concerns about climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December.

Back in 2005, though, the SSP countered the populist, ‘Make Poverty History’ with our own ‘Make Capitalism History – Make Socialism the Future’- an excellent slogan and rallying call. In the context of today’s ever-deepening economic crisis, this approach is even more important.

In contrast, there are many practical problems with ‘Make Greed History’. First, it in no way differentiates us, even from the mainstream parties. Initially, when panicked by the ‘Credit Crunch’, these parties also wanted to blame it all upon the greed of the bankers, and divert attention from the underlying crisis of capitalism itself.

Following this, when exposed as having their own noses in the trough, politicians initially claimed they would sort out their previous greedy behaviour and turn over a new leaf! Once again, instead of calls for a root and branch reform, with the abolition of the grossly expensive Crown, the pampered House of Lords, the overpayment of MPs and their funding by big business, the problem was all reduced to personal greed.

We can get a hint of these politicians’ ‘solution’ to such greed by looking at the way they dealt with the misdemeanour’s of the previous Glasgow North East incumbent MP, Michael Martin. He has been given a half salary pension (MP’s + Speaker’s) for life, supplemented by all the perks of a Lordship. This is a good indication of the type of ‘punishment’ politicians will accept for their earlier greed!

The populist nature of ‘Make Greed History’ is further highlighted by a comparison with the BNP’s own slogan used in the Glasgow by-election – ‘Punish the Pigs, Smash the Bankers’. Such a slogan is indistinguishable from one used by some on the populist Left. Once again it focuses on replacing capitalism’s nastier agents not the system.

Furthermore, all those trade union leaders, locked into ‘social partnerships’, have also used the notion of ‘greed’ to tell workers we shouldn’t behave like the ‘greedy bankers’, but should show our responsibility through accepting ‘our’ share of the cuts, and by showing restraint or making sacrifices, when advancing pay claims.

The one attempt by Glasgow SSP to conjure up a local campaign under the ‘Make Greed History’ slogan was the ‘Jobs for Youth’ campaign, launched to coincide with the by-election. If this was organised on a united front basis and supported by such bodies as the Glasgow Trades Council, local trade union branches and community organisations, then the following criticisms may be misplaced.

SSP members outside Glasgow were only made aware of the Springburn ‘Jobs for Youth’ march being held on November 7th by means of a late e-mail. This called for members to turn up on a march on the same day that East Coast SSP members had decided to go to a protest against the G20 Finance Ministers at St. Andrews. This latter event has been covered in the latest Voice. However, the same Voice makes no mention of the ‘Jobs for Youth’ march, or any follow-up work and activity. This suggests it was more an SSP election stunt and didn’t take root in the local community or the trade unions.

In the wake of the emerging superpower and corporate consensus over climate change we can also expect a lot more calls for an end to ordinary people’s ‘greed’, both at home and especially from all those ‘greedy’ Third World people, wanting to increase their living standards.

There are undoubted dangers posed by climate change. Corporate capital, responsible for promoting resource-wasteful and environmentally destructive methods of production, and for the arms companies that profit from murderous wars which bring their own environmental devastation, can make no positive contribution in the unfolding environmental crisis. ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism’ helps to show where the real responsibility for this lies – and it is not a question of individuals’ greed, but of the failings of a capitalist system fuelled by a thirst for profit.

We need to ‘make socialism’ so that everybody’s basic needs – clean water, nutritious food, decent shelter, education and health care – can be met in an environmentally sustainable socialist society. After addressing these particular needs, we can look once more to the old communist maxim, “from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs”. However, today this means placing a much greater emphasis on meeting people’s non-material needs. These can offer us a more environmentally sustainable human future than a society built upon capitalism’s ‘shop-until-you-drop’ philosophy (remembering, of course, that many in the world today ‘drop’ before they ever get to ‘shop’).

In the face of the current capitalist crisis, we do need to go beyond the propaganda for socialism that the slogan, ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism the Future’, represents, and show how, through agitation, we can work together to protect and advance workers’ immediate interests. When the 2009 Conference voted for the SSP to become part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance, the RCN thought that the SSP leadership would take up the New Anti-Capitalist Party’s (NPA) excellent slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’.

In contrast to ‘Make Greed History’, the NPA’s slogan (which could have been modified to ‘Make the Bosses and their paid Politicians pay’, when the ‘Expenses Scandal’ broke out in the UK) points to a class solution to the current crisis. This also offers workers a vista, showing the way we can struggle with other exploited and oppressed people for socialism.

7. Alternative options for SSP participation in elections.

When examining some of the reasons why the SSP stands in elections, it might be useful to consider the following analogy. A comparison could be made between governments and their associated methods of election with a block of flats.

Thus, the mainstream parties live at the top of the block, with the penthouse occupied by the winning party. The other mainstream parties are usually found in the apartments immediately below. The penthouse provides its occupants with undoubted privileges, not least the opportunity to use patronage to fill strategic posts and the use of official facilities to ensure the current resident’s continued occupancy. Sometimes, long-term occupation of the penthouse suite can lead its residents to believe that they alone have the right to live there. They then use all their accumulated powers to deny others any access. However, other penthouse residents appreciate that occupancy is only meant to be on a limited lease. In electoral terms this means accepting the possibility of replacement by other mainstream parties, and ‘fair play’ in the arrangements to allow for new occupants.

Continuing with this analogy, the penthouse occupants are currently the New Labour MPs at Westminster (including its Glasgow North East seat), whilst the other residents of the upper floor consist of MPs from those mainstream parties who have a chance of moving into the penthouse. They have formed the ruling group in the past at Westminster, have been parts of coalitions at Holyrood, or at various council levels – the SNP, Tories and Lib-Dems. They can depend on certain rights of occupancy at this level, as well as some publicity stemming from their more elevated position.

Below this are the middle levels in the block of flats. These are occupied by down-at-heel mainstream parties, and by up-and-coming parties. The normal function of occupancy in this level is to console the down-at-heel and to tame any new aspiring upstarts. The established rules of residence are designed to ensure this.

Occasionally, however, an occupant appears who is not prepared to play by these rules. They don’t believe that the block of flats should be an exclusive residence, with privileged levels, but should form part of a wider democratic community. They believe many of the privileges enjoyed by some of the current occupants should be terminated, or become equitably distributed (i.e. democratised). Such thinking, though, usually brings the upstarts into major conflict with the other residents living on the same level, as well as those above. They might resort to special measures to try to evict the upstarts (e.g. SSP councillor, Jim Bollan’s suspension in West Dunbartonshire)

Below the middle level lie the block’s lower levels. Here live those hopeful that their fortunes may change. They are divided between those who have devised a viable strategy to get up to the next level, and those who repeat their continuous old pleading to be moved up, but without success (usually coupled with gratuitous mudslinging at others perceived to be blocking their advance). However, the lower levels also have a basement with cold baths. The occupants thrown down to this level either drown largely unnoticed; or are brought to their senses by their sudden immersion in freezing cold water.

In section 3 it was argued that the SSP in Glasgow had attained the second tier (or the middle level of the block of flats) between 2003 and the split in 2006. This position they shared with the locally down-at-heel Tories and Lib-Dems, and another aspiring, recent newcomer, the Greens.

However, by 2009, as a result of the split, Glasgow SSP members, in considering their approach to the Glasgow North East election, accurately judged that the party had fallen to the lower level. Whilst this fact was recognised in the low voting expectations, the RCN would argue that those responsible for the campaign in Glasgow did not come up with an electoral strategy appropriate to the level the party now found itself at.

Unless a socialist unity candidate could be found, there was never any possibility of re-entering the second level in this by-election. The choice therefore lay between two options. One, which in the circumstances might seriously have been considered, was not to stand at all. A section of the Glasgow membership has been arguing for such a course in elections for some time.

Sometimes, this suggested abandonment of the electoral terrain is coupled to other notions of retreat. The idea has been aired of the SSP downgrading itself to a network of activists involved in various campaigns, or joining the campaigns of others (e.g. those SNP activists still campaigning for independence in ‘Independence First’, or the ‘Scottish Independence Convention’ – although active campaigning is not a marked feature of the latter!) Nicky McKerral has argued for another version of tactical retreat. He has suggested that the SSP withdraws from election contests, for a period of reflection, theoretical development and an updating of our programme.

The RCN would see both these courses of action as over-reactions to some bad practices and experiences on the Left, which SSP members have undoubtedly had to endure. Certainly, given our small size at present, the SSP should not be trying to act as if we are the only Left party around, dreaming up front organisations to give this impression. We should be taking part in wider campaigns, insisting they are organised on a genuine united front basis; but where we can also put forward our own distinctive politics (through our members’ contributions, the Voice and leaflets). For example, in relation to the simmering question of the ‘independence referendum’, this would mean reviving the ‘Calton Hill Declaration’ on a united front basis.

We would agree with Nicky’s upholding of the necessity for theoretical and programmatic reflection. However, we would see this being integrated with continued wider public work, including involvement in selected electoral contests. But this would indeed necessitate another way of organising SSP electoral work, to match our requirements in the current situation (see section 8).

Given the fact that the SSP had occupied the second floor in the recent past, the RCN thinks Glasgow SSP comrades were right in taking the decision to stand in the by-election. However, that meant facing up to the fact that we are now indeed on the lower level, a position shared with some still hostile and other more rueful neighbours.

We could choose the “tired old pleading” through puffing ourselves up in populist campaigns under the rubric of ‘Make Greed History’, to disguise our weakness. Or, being honest, and fully acknowledging our lower level position, we could have adopted another course of action, designed not so much to attract the votes to get back to the middle level, but to try and gain new active members, so that together we could break through the lower level ceiling (we should never confine ourselves to purely official ‘stairway’!) the next time round.

8. Campaigning for socialism by educating and organising new socialists

Therefore, instead of chasing passive voters, we should have been trying to make new socialists. Adopting a ‘making socialists’ approach would have meant organising in a different way in the by-election. Stalls, leafleting, fly posting and other activities would have been mainly undertaken to make contacts and to get them to Glasgow North East branch meetings, say twice a month. Branch meetings could have had both outside and local speakers on such key issues as, ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, and ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’. In each of these cases the possibility of follow-up action suggests itself.

If enough people had attended a meeting on Afghanistan, then an anti-recruitment picket could have been organised later at an army recruiting office, involving new contacts, with an attempt to gain media attention. The Glasgow ‘Stop the War’ campaign could have been invited to participate. Now most SSP members hold a pretty jaundiced view of the SWP’s role in the ‘Stop the War’ campaign, but even some of their members have begun to realise that a change of direction is needed. The tired old calls for the next demonstration are no longer being answered.

The follow up activities for a meeting on ‘The New Fascist Challenge’ would certainly have involved organising to counter the SDL provocation on November 14th. Furthermore, the struggle against fascism can not be divorced from the struggle against racism, including the attacks made by fascists upon isolated individuals and those state-organised raids upon asylum seekers and economic migrants. An attempt could have been made to meet up with residents of the Red Road Flats, and with those local organisations, which have been campaigning to support migrants. This would have followed from 2007 SSP Conference support for the ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign.

In the case of any ‘Capitalism and the Climate Change’ meeting, the follow-up activity could have been preparing a specifically socialist contingent on the ‘Climate Change’ demo on December 5th (such as the SSP did on the Edinburgh G8 demo in Edinburgh on July 2nd, 2005).

Furthermore, SSP educational material could have been prepared on these three topics for use on the stalls and at the branch meetings. Socialist education is very much a weak spot in the SSP’s current work. We don’t have the resources at present to produce the attractive glossy pamphlet, Two Worlds Collide, which Alan McCombes wrote for the Gleneagles G8 summit. However, newer technology allows us to produce short runs of pamphlets (repeated as required) like that Raphie de Santos produced, Coming to a Neighbourhood Near You, about the ‘Credit Crunch’.

There may well be some differences held by new and current members over such issues, but then that is in the nature of the SSP. One of our party’s attractive features should be its ability to incorporate a variety of views, and to have mechanisms where proper debates can take place around these. For example, RCN members sold Alan’s G8 pamphlet, encouraging others to read it, as well as writing a fraternal critique in Emancipation & Liberation no. 11.

There were also other public meeting opportunities for the SSP during the by-election. There were over ten weeks available for campaigning, after Kevin’s adoption as candidate on August 31st. One opportunity was provided by the possibility of a national post office workers’ strike. Our Industrial Organiser, Richie Venton, produced some excellent material for this, and it is certainly no fault of Richie’s that a Labour-supporting, Broad Left, CWU leadership backed down. Quite clearly, Lord Mandelson wanted to do to the CWU (prior to plans for Post Office privatisation) what Thatcher did to the NUM.

For those who think that Labour will turn Left (other than in empty rhetoric) after an almost certain forthcoming drubbing in the Westminster General Election, the role of Mandelson, Johnston and others on the Labour Right is most instructive. They know Brown is ‘going down’, but they still are fighting ‘tooth and nail’ to remind the bosses that New Labour can be depended on, when the Tories trip up in office. Compared with what passes for the Left ‘fightback’ inside the Labour Party, the Right fights on even when their backs are against the wall. The very much shrunken Left seems to believe that after the General Election, “Things can only get better”! Now, where have we heard that before?

As well as arguing for wider support actions for the post office workers, an SSP public meeting could have drawn out the full political implications of New Labour’s actions, the failures of the Labour Left, and the dangers posed by trade union leaderships which continue to subordinate their actions (or lack of them) to the needs of the Labour Party.

The SNP’s proposed ‘independence’ referendum was another issue around which a branch/public meeting could have been organised, possibly under the title ‘Can the SNP bring Independence?’ This might also have drawn back some SNP members/supporters, who were once attracted to the SSP, but who had drifted away after the split. They can now see, though, that the SNP is not offering any sort of alternative to neo-liberalism or the Afghan occupation, and has no strategy to link up its campaign for an ‘independence’ referendum with popular economic and social reforms. Furthermore, the SNP is so wedded to Westminster constitutionalism, that the UK state may not even need to resort to its reserve anti-democratic Crown Powers to see it off any referendum challenge.

The RCN considers the Left nationalist course advocated by John McAllion, in the Voice, for the ‘independence’ referendum campaign, to be the wrong approach. Instead, the SNP’s recent wholesale retreat would allow the SSP to revive the republican approach first organised around the Calton Hill Declaration in October 2004. This could now be linked to the wider anti-imperialist, ‘break-up of the UK’, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy developed in the SSP-initiated Republican Socialist Convention held on November 29th 2008. Perhaps the political passivity underlying the Left nationalist approach of ‘waiting for the SNP’ explains why there was no clear SSP message presented to the electorate on the SNP’s ‘independence’ referendum during the by-election.

Does this mean that local issues should have been ignored in the by-election? No, but the RCN isn’t in a position to suggest the best local issues that could have been the subject of other meetings in Glasgow. However, a meeting involving local participants in the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign, linked with a teacher trade union speaker on the campaign to reduce class sizes (a long-standing campaign taken by Scottish Federation of Socialist Teacher members to successive EIS AGMs) would appear to have been a possibility.

Lastly, the RCN questions the postponement of events like ‘Socialism 2009’ to make time for street campaigning. ‘Socialism 2009’ could have provided an SSP showcase for those contacts already attracted to branch/public meetings around these suggested and other topics. New contacts could have been introduced to our national work and met members from Scotland, as well as our international contacts. Now, ‘Socialism 2009’ might have had to be postponed for other reasons, but making time for street campaigning, in a probably forlorn attempt to get more passive votes, is not the best one.

These criticisms and alternative suggestions are not being put forward as the ‘correct’ course of action, which should have been taken. Whilst, the RCN is suggesting a different orientation could have been taken – making socialists rather than winning votes – quite clearly, any campaign, informed by a wide range of SSP members’ contributions, would also take up their ideas and suggestions. Nevertheless, the RCN believes it has some valid points to make.

9. The need to uphold a confident a democratically unified SSP

Perhaps, the most worrying aspect of the by-election for the SSP nationally was the fact that it became a local Glasgow issue, which nevertheless commanded national resources to the detriment of our work elsewhere. The RCN would argue, that if the ‘make socialists’ approach had been adopted, with leaflets and fly posters targeted at getting people to branch meetings and follow-up activities, then there was no need for a Voice election special. The national Voice could have done the job, as well as provided other regions with a paper for their ongoing work.

The issues that we have suggested that the SSP could have campaigned on – ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’ and ‘Can the SNP deliver Independence’ were all national issues, that the whole party should have been united in campaigning for. However, a section of any national Voice could have been devoted specifically to the Glasgow North East by-election campaign and local issues, such as the suggested follow-up to the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign.

Furthermore, there undoubtedly would have had to be some tactical flexibility (this luckily emerged in practice) when a clash of events occurred, beyond the SSP’s ability to influence – the ‘Stop the Fascist SDL’ demo in Glasgow and the ‘Stop the War’ demo in Edinburgh, both held on November 14th. However, if there had been effective overall SSP national political guidance, a bigger presence on the G20 Demo in St. Andrews on November 7th could have been organised; whilst there should have been a major SSP national presence on ‘Climate Change’ demo in Glasgow on December 5th, backed by a stall with a specially produced SSP pamphlet.

What, we seem to have now, though, is almost a confederal SSP, where different areas and different sections are allowed to get on with their own thing, either competing for national resources, or paying for their own. Thus we had the official Glasgow SSP campaign in the Glasgow North East by-election, which managed to corner the Voice. The SSP on the East Coast has been campaigning around the Afghan occupation, with several public meetings, attracting new members and re-establishing a branch in Aberdeen. Meanwhile, other SSP members have been involved in their own work, e.g. the SSY’s work around confronting the SDL, and some, mainly Glasgow, comrades’ organising around the issue of climate change.

All of these issues should have been fully discussed by the EC (and by those NCs which met during the by-election period). EC members should be given particular responsibilities, for which they are accountable at the next EC/NC meeting. We have no effective way of monitoring and assessing the overall work of the SSP. Of the working committees, only the International Committee seems to meet regularly and provide minutes of its activities. There are no regular written reports at the ECs nor the NCs of SSP branch meetings, the political issues discussed there, and the numbers in attendance. Without such reports our local strengths and weaknesses can not be properly measured.

The SSP largely depends for political guidance upon the training of members who received their schooling long ago in other organisations. We have no proper education system in place. The Regions should provide regular monthly education sessions, perhaps, on the same day, straight after Regional Committee meetings, so as not to overstretch the leading comrades. These education sessions could be followed by social activity – food, drink and music.

There are members, who for various reasons (distance being one) can not attend twice monthly SSP branch meetings, but who could be actively encouraged to become involved at such monthly Regional educational/social events. The SSP’s annual ‘Socialism’ should be seen both as the culmination of this educational work, and another event to which we can attract non-members to showcase our politics and activities.

10. Conclusion

The Glasgow North East by-election has highlighted the need to re-establish socialist unity, but this time on a completely principled basis. We need a thoroughly democratic organisation, which has not only jettisoned ‘celebrity socialism’, but is able to meet all the challenges the state and the sectarian splitters throw up, with both confidence and tactical acumen.

Now that we are living in the worst economic crisis in living memory, probably with even worse to follow, the SSP needs to be much more assertive about the need to put forward a convincing socialist alternative. Populist politics wants ‘a nicer capitalism’, which has made ‘poverty’, ‘greed’, or ‘climate change’ history. This is a utopian delusion whilst living under the rule of corporate imperialism in crisis, with its threats of massive falls in living standards, continued environmental degradation, and continuing wars that could bring the major imperialist powers into direct conflict.

Whilst the useful agitational slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’, directs workers’ anger both at those directly responsible and their capitalist system itself, we do need to go further still and develop a viable socialist alternative, and show the active steps needed to achieve this.

This means that the SSP will have to debate exactly what we mean by socialism/communism. We can not depend on stale old left social democratic, or orthodox and dissident communist ideas, which see Keynesian state intervention within, or Party-control over, the economy as the vehicles for socialist transformation. Neither does the semi-anarchist/semi-small scale capitalist notion of loosely networked local self-sufficient communities offer global humanity a viable future. The RCN does not claim to provide definitive answers on the vital issue of what constitutes socialism. We are only beginning to debate what is meant by socialism and communism ourselves. We would be more than happy to involve others in our discussions, whilst also being prepared to take part in initiatives organised by others.

Given the SSP’s current quite small size and support, the over-riding job we face today is creating active socialists, not winning passive votes. This RCN contribution has mainly shown how this could be done in the context of those elections the SSP may choose to stand in. This approach depends on the SSP having a fully functioning branch structure with political topics at every meeting, an organised system of more developed education probably provided at Regional level, culminating in ‘Socialism’ as an annual showcase of our national and international work. It also means producing regular (initially short-run) pamphlets on the key issues we face.

The SSP must be more than an alliance of single-issue campaigners, whether locally, nationally, or even internationally. We must avoid collapsing into a loose federal organisation, where different branches or regions are largely left to do their own thing, whilst competing for national SSP resources. This can only build up local resentments. The EC should take responsibility for the key national political priorities and initiatives between NCs and Conferences. This means upholding the SSP as a democratically unified organisation. It means having a much more task oriented EC, which monitors and reports to NCs and Conference on the progress of branches, regional committees, and national working committees, as well as any specific campaigns we are involved in.

Furthermore, we must continue to develop the SSP as a component of the international Left, including the Republican Socialist Convention and the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. Our participation in the latter was perhaps the highlight of the SSP’s work in 2009. We opposed the Brit Left chauvinism (and its Left Scottish nationalist Solidarity bolt on) of ‘No2EU’, when we stood in the Euro-elections alongside socialists throughout Europe. We were able to take the same pride in the gains made by others (particularly the Portuguese Left Bloc, but also the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France), which they took from the SSP’s great advances in 2003.

Appendix 1

Glasgow North East Election Results

2005 General Election votes 2009 By-election votes
Speaker (Labour) 15,153
Labour 12,231
SNP 5019 4,120
Conservatives Did not stand 1,013
SLP 4036 47
SSP 1402 152
Scottish Unionist Party 1266 Did not stand
BNP 920 1,075
T. Sheridan/Solidarity 794
Lib-Dems Did not stand 479
Scottish Greens Did not stand 332
Jury Team/J. Smeaton 218
M. Hughes 54
% turnout 45.8 33.2

Appendix 2

Note: this is here purely as a reference, we clearly do not endorse the content of material distributed by fascists

Welfare for the Bankers – cuts for the Poor

Is there anything more sickening than seeing both Tories and Labour each seeing how much they can cut from the poor whilst each of them support the giving of tens of billions of pounds of welfare payments to the banks and bankers.

These policies are designed to gain the support of the most selfish bastards in the country – the sanctimonious, selfish, hypocritical 0.5 % of middle class swing voters whose loyalty is not to this country or the British people but solely their own selfish interests.

The fact that the parties are both seeking to gain the support of these people shows how they dont run this country for the benefit of the British people but simply for their own shallow political interests.

The fact is that if the labour government, the tory supporting economists and banks, the bankers, hedge fund traders that fund the tory party and Labour party and the rest of the morons who caused the economic crash, then the money would not need to be stolen from the poor.

Instead the rich get billions in welfare payments when they fucked up our country and the poor get benefit cuts.

If we werent also in the idiotic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan then we would have billions spare and not need to cut public spending.

The fact is that cutting public spending for the poor whilst paying billions for two illegal and unneccasery wars and giving billions to the banks is a sign we live in a sick society.

The tories are scum.

Labour are scum.

Only political party speaks for the working class and the patriotic middle class – the BNP.

We will cut public spending by ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and save billions.

We will end the welfare for banks and bankers and save billions.

We will cut taxes that the patriotic middle class are paying to subsidise the bankers and wars.

Only the BNP will do these things.

The other sum will attack the poor, the disabled and the unemployed – all those who are the victims of the scum that caused the economic crisis.

BNP, 5.10.09

Appendix 3

Perspectives for Socialist Resistance in Dumfries

I’ve decided to leave Solidarity.

The news that Tommy Sheridan was to stand against an SSP candidate in the Glasgow North-East by-election finally convinced me. Both of these competing wee socialist parties are more concerned with opposing each other than fighting for socialism.

Irrespective of the eventual outcome of the perjury trial next year, I believe that the disastrous decisions by leading members of both parties will be mercilessly exposed in the media.

On the one hand you have Tommy’s senseless determination to pursue Murdoch’s sleazy News of the World through the courts. On the other there’s the SSP leadership deciding to keep a detailed secret minute of a meeting discussing an individual’s private life.

The split caused by the disastrous combination of both of these political failings has hamstrung the socialist movement in Scotland since 2006.

In the 2003 Holyrood election the (then united) SSP got 6 MSPs and inspired socialists elsewhere in Europe.

Then in 2006 the pro big business parties were gifted an own goal when Tommy Sheridan took Murdoch’s empire to court – and another when the SSP leaders attempted to conceal their indefensible minutes.

Since 2006 the legal establishment has played out time with their endlessly protracted investigations. Now they’ve scheduled Tommy’s perjury trial with dozens of witnesses just before the General Election (though the further postponement means it may yet impact on the Scottish Elections the following year). In the meantime the divided socialist parties have effectively been banished to the fringes of society.

This persistent pathetic squabble between the 2 factions has let down working people, pensioners, students and minority communities. They should be looking to a united socialist party to lead a fight against the cuts, the war in Afghanistan, the BNP racists and the corruption of the established political parties.

Socialists operating outwith the 2 wee feuding parties can still effectively put forward convincing arguments for resisting the cuts and making the rich pay for the crisis that
their greed has caused.

The effect of Tommy’s perjury trial will prevent socialists making any impact in the General Election (which being 1st past the post is difficult territory anyway as the poor results for the [united] SSP in 2005 in Dumfries as elsewhere showed).

The immediate focus in Dumfries has to be support for any groups of workers that are fighting back. We can support them through solidarity collections in workplaces called for by Dumfries TUC. We’ve shown already by mass leafleting of the town centre by 40 anti-racists and by target- leafleting the streets where the few local BNPers live that we can mobilise effectively against the BNP when they appear.

If any council by-elections occur in Dumfries, we should aim to stand as “Socialist Resistance” with anti-cuts & anti-big business policies. By producing appropriately targeted leaflets against the cuts which focus on the pro tartan capitalism ideas of Salmond’s SNP as well as the unholy Thatcherite Trinity of Brown,Cameron & Clegg, we can start to make an impact.

We should be greatly encouraged by the German Election results. The United Left (“die Linke”) beat the Greens overall getting 12% of the vote and having 76 seats in the Reichstag (out of 622) – and the neo-nazis were nowhere!

With the goal of the socialist transformation of society, we in Dumfries must aim to be part of a wider united socialist electoral alliance throughout the South of Scotland (and hopefully all of Scotland) well before May 2011.

John Dennis 9th November 2009

PS. Please get in touch with your thoughts about what I’ve written. I’m consulting you and other socialists in Dumfries before I consult anyone further afield. I’d appreciate your ideas and I’d be keen to chat with as many people as possible before the Glasgow North East by-election on 12th November (after which I intend resigning from Solidarity).

Appendix 4

Section of motion put forward by the Executive Committee and passed at October 20th, post-split SSP Conference in Glasgow

We resolve to build the SSP as a pluralist party that respects different shades of socialist opinion within its ranks, with open democratic debate but which then aims for public unity in action around democratically agreed policies and campaigns.

This conference notes with regret the formation of an alternative socialist organisation in Scotland, with a political platform indistinguishable from that of the SSP.

Conference further notes that this organisation appears to be founded not on the basis of political difference with the SSP, but rather as the culmination of recent attacks on the SSP.

Conference further notes that some of the comrades have left the SSP for this new formation for different reasons, such as personal loyalty to individuals or platforms.

Conference believes that the interests of the working class in Scotland and internationally are best served by a united movement,

Conference therefore affirms that, despite the misguided actions of some, any individual who has left the SSP will, at any time in the future, be welcomed back as full members of the party without recriminations.

Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it.

Allan Armstrong, 29.12.09

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Nov 14 2009

Portugal’s Left Bloc Consolidates Its Gains

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 8:19 pm

In European elections in June the Left Bloc in Portugal made the most significant gains of any member of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. In September, the Left Bloc made further advances in the Portuguese General Election. We asked Raphie de Santos, a supporter of the Fourth International, to analyse the evolution of the Left Bloc. Raphie’s mother escaped to Portugal in the 1930s from Franco’s Spain, only to seek refuge in Scotland during the 1950s from Salazar’s dictatorship. A shortened version of this article appeared in Scottish Socialist Voice, no. 348.

The Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) has firmly established itself as the fourth largest party, just behind the Peoples Party (Partido Popular), in Portugal after their near 10% vote in the 27th September 2009 legislative elections, up 3.5% from 2005. This consolidated their 10.7% vote in the 2009 European elections when they displaced the Communist Party slate, the Unitarian Democratic Coalition (the Coligação Democrática Unitária or CDU bloc), as the largest left wing formation. The Left Bloc now has 16 members of the Portuguese Parliament, 350 local councillors, 3 members of the European parliament and over 4,200 members. How did the Left Bloc, in the ten years since its formation, becomes Europe’s largest far left party? This article sets out to try and establish this.

A brief history of Portugal

Portugal (from the Latin Portus Cale which means port of the Celts) is a country of 11 million people descended from the Celts, Germanic peoples, Moors and Romans. First formed as country in 868 AD, it was at war with neighbouring Spain for centuries facing long periods of occupation, only freeing itself of Spanish influence in 1640 when John IV was proclaimed King. This dynasty – the House of Braganza – ruled until 1910 when a revolution disposed of the monarchy. During this period, Portugal had been one of the early imperial powers building up an empire in Brasil, Africa, India, China and the East Indies only to see it decline.

The 1910 revolution ushered in a period of financial hardship which was exacerbated by participation in the First World War. A military coup took place and over a number of years Salazar, an economist, who offered solutions to Portugal’s bankruptcy, took sole power and established a military dictatorship. Opponents of the regime were murdered or put in concentration camps. A campaign was started by exiled dissidents in Britain and human rights activists to highlight what was happening to political prisoners in Portugal. This led to the establishment of Amnesty International.

The dictatorship was to last until the 1974 Red Carnation Revolution. Portugal was fighting anti-imperialist uprisings in Angola and Mozambique. Conscripted soldiers were inspired by the rebels they fought against and organised a left-wing coup. This coup took place on 25th April 1974, and six days later on May Day, millions took to the streets, for the first time in decades, to demonstrate their support for the coup which was evolving into a revolution.

For over a year it was not clear which direction the revolution would end up facing: a capitalist democracy or a revolutionary participatory democracy. All over the country there were land seizures, the establishment of workers, peasants and community councils. A situation of dual power was emerging between the capitalist parties that had emerged after the fall of dictatorship and the new forms of popular power. The decisive event came on November 25th 1975 when an ultra-left coup was easily put down.

An ultra-left group, the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat – Revolutionary Brigades (Partido Revolucionário do Proletariado – Brigadas Revolucionárias) (PRP-BR) and army officers, led by Otelo Carvalho, had been behind it. The PRP-BR had links to the UK’s SWP (then the International Socialists) who defended their comrades’ actions. The coup allowed capitalist politicians such as Mario Soares from the social democratic Socialist Party (Partido Socialista) to say you can either have a capitalist democracy or a communist dictatorship. The revolutionary process in Europe that started with May 68 in France effectively came to an end.

The origins of the Left Bloc

The Left Bloc was formed by three currents that had emerged from the politics of the revolution. These groups were the People’s Democratic Union (União Democrática Popular, UDP) a pro-Albanian maoist group (Portugal has a large peasant population); the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Revolucionário) (PSR) the Portuguese section of the Fourth International; and Politics 21 (Política XXI) a group of ex-Communist Party thinkers.

The PSR had stood for several years in elections and had gained no more than 2%, and then stood on a joint slate with PXXI gaining over 3%. The Left Bloc’s real success was attracting initially hundreds and then thousands of independent activists from the political movements.

The Communist Party (PCP)

Portugal’s left had been dominated for years by Europe’s most Stalinist communist party (Partido Cominista Portugues) (PCP) – for example it supported the unsuccessful coup against former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev. They are unique amongst western communist parties in that they were clandestine until April 1974 and consolidated themselves as a pole of resistance during the dark years of the dictatorships. Therefore, they had and have a credibility which did not exist amongst other European communist parties whose policies strategy and tactics had been visible to the working class since the end of the Second World War.

But the PCP played a key role between 1974-1976 in legitimising the capitalist democracy which was counterposed to the developing revolutionary participatory democracy. However, they kept clear of the move to social democracy and Eurocommunism in other European communist parties and this saw their vote decline from a peak of 19% in 1979 to around a 7% in the two legislative elections in 2002 and 2004. They are now in a the CDU bloc with the Ecologist Party (‘Os Verdes’) and the Democratic Initiative (Intervenção Democrática). Both these organisations are PCP fronts under the complete control of the party.

A similar situation exists in the unions where the largest union organsiation – the General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers – is under the control of the PCP.

Breaking the bureaucratic control of the PCP

This left nowhere for the activisits in the many political movements and the smaller left groups to go. The solution to this was the formation of the Left Bloc. Discussions on the formation of the Left Bloc began in mid-1998. The PSR, the UDP and PXXI took the first steps to reaching a basic political agreement and setting the basis for the new movement, without rushing into a fusion, without disolving the existing organisations, and without requiring unity in all areas of activity. The presence from the beginning of independents, who supported the project, was a crucial aspect of the Left Bloc and gave it a much broader appeal than that of a simple electoral alliance of the three organisations.

At the same time a political and organsisational agreement between the organisations committed them to making the Left Bloc a space for the convergence of positions and practices, not an area for political disputes, thereby enabling rapid progress in building the structures needed for the electoral and political campaigns that followed.

The Left Bloc has beome increasingly popular over the last ten years, especially amongst youth, with imaginative campaigns and dynamic proposals. The majority of its support comes from colleges, cities and educated youth or adults from the countryside, gathering in both urban educated communities and dynamic labor unions, together with defenders of human rights and women’s rights, the rights of immigrants and minorities (they are especially involved in supporting a strongly multicultural society), and also many ecologists. At this point the Left Bloc is seen by some an alternative and refreshing “new” left political party compared to the older and more established PCP and SP. It is a diverse entity formed by people from multiple backgrounds.

The Left Bloc proposed Portugal’s first law on domestic violence, which was passed in parliament with the support of the PCP and the SP. It has fought for other important laws on civil rights and guarantees, including the protection of citizens from racism, xenophobia and discrimination, gay marriage laws, laws for the protection of workers, legalisation of drugs and anti-bullfighting laws. They have also campaigned for free legal safe abortion laws, allowing women to decide what they want to do with their bodies.

Some 600 trade union leaders, at factory and national level, appealed for a vote for the Left Bloc in September 2009’s elections. In Portugal they still have workers’ commissions (a remnant of the 1974 revolution) that are directly elected in each workplace. In Portugal’s biggest workplace, Ford-Volkswagen in Setubal, the Left Bloc’s supporters are the majority.

As an example of the Left Bloc’s innovative campaigning style, they created a board game and circulated it amongst young people. If the dice fell on a social problem you had to move back, if it fell on one of the Left Bloc’s proposals you could move forward and win. It was a big hit.

Collective revolving leadership

The Left Bloc operates a policy of having a revolving collectivist leadership.

This is to avod a situation where the party depends on one or a few individuals. When the Left Bloc first had members of the Portuguese parliament it revolved the representatives every 5 months. The National Committee of 80 people meets every two months. It is elected in proportion to the voting on the major resolutions at the annual conference.

Women must have minimum of 30-40 % of all positions in the party. This goes right down to the election to the NC based on support for resolutions.

Prospects after the election

At the time of writing (28th September 2009) the election has produced a hung parliament. The former incumbent – the Socialist Party (SP) – a centre social democratic party has the largest share of the vote at 36.6%. But they have overseen rises in taxes and cuts in pay to try and reduce Portugal’s budget deficit. Unemployment is nearing 10% and all this has seen an erosion of SP votes amongst their working class base. Some went to the Left Bloc, but others went right to the Peoples Party.

Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe with an average annual salary of 15,000 euros and a third of workers taking home less than 600 euros a month. There have been large demonstrations with up to 100,000 teachers protesting and a general strike across Portugal. The right wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) has 30% of the vote and it proposes a program of cuts in public services. As in Scotland, the SP may form a minority government and rely on other parties, such as the PSD, to get key legislation passed.

The Left Bloc will be in the forefront of the opposition, both within and outside the parliament,to the austerity plans of the major parties. They will focus their campaigning around opposition to privatisation, rights for part-time workers and defending public services and pensions, with a wealth tax to help redistribute wealth.

The Left Bloc is an inspiration to all of us with its high levels of organisation and creative campaigning. This has led them to become Portugal’s third major political force despite the dominant role of social democracy and a large influential communist party. This hints at the direction radical anti-capitalist left parties across Europe could take and how the Scottish Socialist Party could grow from its current position.

A beacon of hope

The slogan of the resistance to the dictatorship which my mother applied to struggles everywhere “O povo unido jamais sera vencido” – “a united people will never be vanquished” – is embodied in the Left Bloc and offers us hope that the unfinished revolution of 1974 will see its successful completion with the replacement of capitalism with a just and open multicultural society that can inspire all of us to strive for the same result across the globe.

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Mar 02 2004

Northern Ireland elections lay bare the contradictions of imperialist rule

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:03 pm

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast) analyses the election campaigns run by political parties for the Northern Ireland Assembly and what the results mean for the Good Friday Agreement.

The results

The outcome of the elections in the North of Ireland, in factual terms, is simple enough.

  • 1. Among nationalists Sinn Fein triumphed over the traditional leadership of the SDLP
  • 2. The DUP scored a significant victory over its rivals in the UUP and emerged as the largest party.
  • 3. There was a collapse in the vote of the smaller parties.
  • 4. There is now a significant two-thirds majority among unionists against the Good Friday Agreement and the progress towards a final British settlement in Ireland has now ground to a halt.

There is however one overwhelming fact that dominates even the significant changes registered by the election. After the seemingly pointless election to a structure that would not exist lies the bare bones of British colonial rule led by Secretary of State, Paul Murphy. He will certainly maintain the suspension of the Assembly, in effect collapsing for a fifth time the discredited structures of an Agreement that supposedly resolved for all time the question of Irish self-determination. This close down will mark the final and formal switch-off of the life support for an Agreement that has been dead for some time. It will not re-emerge, even in the battered and distorted form that the British had twisted it into, as they constantly squeezed it to the right in an attempt to placate unionism. The idea that there is some formula that will lead Ian Paisley to form a government with Sinn Fein is sheerest fantasy. Just as fantastic is the idea that the British will break with their unionist base to save the Agreement or that Dublin will do anything about the continuation of British rule.

The statement by the governments after the result, directed more to the DUP, but equally applicable to Sinn Fein, in effect said, ‘So What? What are you going to do about it?’ Behind the cant about respecting parties’ mandates was the sober call for them to live up to their responsibility, i.e. Follow the British agenda or face a long period of exclusion from office. Despite being the largest party the DUP cannot lead a return to unlimited sectarian rule and, despite the undisputed mantle of leader of Northern Nationalism, Sinn Fein face the same demands for humiliating surrender they couldn’t quite meet in the farcical deal that kicked off the election.

DUP Victory

The DUP victory over the UUP is part of a familiar pattern going back at least to the start of the Troubles and the premiership of Terrence O’Neill. A ‘moderniser’, backed by Britain in a desperate attempt to stabilise imperialist rule, falls to bigots on the right and a new right wing leader is then eventually persuaded to support a new British deal. But this too proves too much for the bigots who now lead a new attack. The spiral has continued until the ‘reform’ on offer is an Agreement hat enshrines sectarianism, colonial rule and rules out Irish self determination more or less indefinitely and this time the reformer is the arch-bigot Trimble! The rule within unionism is that the biggest bigot will eventually rule the roost. Trimble, a former organiser for the semi-fascist Vanguard movement of the early and mid-seventies, was elected UUP leader on the strength of sectarian posturing at Drumcree. He was believed to have enough sectarian capital to keep the majority of unionists on board. In the event Trimble himself didn’t believe this. At the slightest sign that he was being outflanked on the right he would break from the Agreement and demand major modifications that were always accepted by the British.

Trimble has fought in vain and is now a minority figure in unionism, easily outweighed by the DUP and the critics in his own party who are openly calling for his head. The idea that the DUP, whose name is synonymous with sectarian hatred, who have come to the position of being the major party on the basis of expressing that bigotry, will now share power with Sinn Fein is too ludicrous to consider for even an instant. A DUP First Minister and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister?

The ‘winning team’

‘The winning team’ – the Sinn Fein election slogan – is clearly justified in terms of votes cast and seats won. It’s quite laughable when applied to their overall strategy. The Good Friday Agreement has involved them in constant retreat. At their last outing the republicans decommissioned a large element of the IRA arsenal and indicated that they would give unconditional support to the British statelet. The pay-off was supposed to be a series of concessions involving the return of former activists who were on the run, the demolition of some army bases no longer required and moves by Unionism to allow the restoration of the Stormont Assembly and Executive. Instead they got a virtual election to a phantom assembly.

The party fought the election promising an ‘Ireland of Equals.’ In fact everything afterwards will show that it is utterly incapable of delivering for its voters, as opposed to its functionaries. They now demand no more than equality within partition and reassurance in the illusion that a united Ireland is in some sense inevitable. The unionist veto on the very operation of the Agreement, never mind the decisions taken within its structures, is a hard lesson that its supporters are not keen to appreciate and its leaders even less keen to openly acknowledge. Already pundits speculate that the party’s strategy involves wiping out the SDLP in the next European and Westminster elections, but hypothesising about the next elections only illuminates the hollowness of the successes of the ones’ past. The question becomes too readily asked – ‘What for?’ Or as the British have said – ‘So what?’

To understand the outcome of the vote we have to contrast the votes within unionism and nationalism. The vote shift within unionism is much less dramatic, but it reflects a genuine strategic debate – not pro and anti reform, but rather, is sectarian privilege best defended from within or without the Good Friday Agreement. In contrast there is only one strategy within Irish nationalism – that is support for the Agreement. The battle between Sinn Fein and the SDLP was about whom was best placed to advance the strategy of meeting the demands of the Irish establishment for stability and accommodation of the interests of British imperialism. The DUP defeated Trimble – Sinn Fein became the SDLP. To be more accurate Sinn Fein has now become a Northern Fianna Fail. As with Fianna Fail in the Twenties they have made the transition from militarism to right wing capitalist politics. The lies and corruption necessarily involved in that transition make them a particularly dangerous political force, combining the ruthlessness of the militarist with the endemic dishonesty of the Irish elite.

The smaller parties in the Assembly

The 108 seats in the Stormont assembly, based on a population of 1.5 million, were designed to bribe everyone. The initial elected convention to negotiate the Agreement was structured, at least partly, so that the thugs in the loyalist death squads would win seats and this was further promoted by the PR system in the Stormont Assembly. Fortunately the thugs of the UDA lacked the political skills to retain seats. The UVF front organisation, the Progressive Unionist Party, managed to win seats and one MLA, Billy Hutchinson. He was touted by the Socialist Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and a number of other groups on the British left as a socialist! Left enthusiasm declined somewhat when Billy emerged as the spokesman of Loyalist mobs attacking primary school children at Holy Cross school, but his departure is welcomed to the same extent that his sidekick, David Irvine’s survival is mourned.

Less dangerous and more vacuous was the Women’s Coalition, a ‘post-modernist’ collection supported by the Communist Party. Despite their name they generally stood back from supporting any issues of women’s rights and saw the latter in terms of women playing a more prominent role in the existing reactionary and sectarian political system. Their only policy was to support imperialism and the Good Friday Agreement – at one stage defining themselves as unionist to do so!

The only minor group with any material base was the Alliance Party based on the vain hope of non-sectarian unionism. They were the only party to survive – just.

What next?

First there are the demands of unionism. The DUP called for ‘A fair deal’. This is the call of ‘white trash’ for the maintenance of their sectarian privilege. A majority of unionists now call for that privilege to be protected by the dismantling of the Good Friday Agreement. Nationalists in contrast voted overwhelmingly for the Agreement.

However it is the British State that will decide the next steps and their concern will be with their unionist base. When Trimble backed out of the last attempt to cement a deal what happened immediately was that British government’s commitments to the republicans were abandoned – a clear demonstration of British willingness to support unionism. It is unionist demands that will have effect despite ridiculous nationalist illusions that the default position is strengthened by Irish government involvement in the North.

The British will express their position through a review of the Good Friday Agreement in which the nationalists will come under intense pressure to accept its renegotiation. These attempts to put Humpty-Dumpty together will fail because, no matter what they say, there are in reality no circumstance in which the DUP would form a government with Sinn Fein.

British analysis suggests that the DUP may fail to retain their vote if they are unable to produce a formula for government or, alternatively, that the party may split into hard-liners and pragmatists. What is noticeable about this is that it is a long-term strategy and is based on a long period of suspension of the Agreement. During this period the business of politics for those who support the Agreement will be lobbying the British colonial administration.

There are fewer difficulties in this for the unionists. They have found the past 30 years of direct rule adequate in protecting their sectarian rights and holding the nationalists at bay. Where some concessions have been made – for example in employment – they at least have the comfort of having made no concessions themselves. In the meantime there are a whole series of committees and quangos through which they can carry on political life. It is perfectly correct that the early mass phase of the civil rights struggle brought down Stormont, but this was hastened by the unionists, even against British pleading, refusing to accept reform.

On the other hand there are difficulties for the Republicans. There is plenty of business to do with the British in terms of troop reductions that the British want to make anyway, and ‘on-the-runs,’ those still formally wanted by the British State. What the Republicans crave most however, Governmental seats, are not on offer in the immediate future. At the same time there will be increased pressure from Dublin. Fianna Fail and Irish capitalism in general are already quite clear about what went wrong – the Provos were too tardy in their surrender to imperialism. They didn’t give enough and they will reckon that a new dramatic capitulation that is clearly total may yet win unionism over. Sinn Fein’s election propaganda was support for the Agreement, the boast that they were best placed to get further peace grants from Britain and the EU and finally a law and order ticket. The have already set up unofficial policing in some areas but can only fully operate their new programme if they sign up to the real police and give unconditional and full support to the state.

While the nationalist working class voted in support of the Agreement yet again, this time they selected the Republicans to lead the demands for implementation. These Republicans promised equality and the perception is that they will be harder and more militant in confronting the British. Support is now tinged with a certain impatience to see the democratic society that they believe is hidden somewhere inside the deal. There are two illusions here. One is that the Agreement contains reform. The other is that Sinn Fein will be able to produce that reform. The opposite is the case.

The ghost of Good Friday has only survived on the back of constant retreat and concession by the Provos. This process will continue into the future. In past blockages to implementation of the Agreement the Republicans allowed things to move forward by conceding to unionist demands. Signing up to the Northern State without the GFA structures would please many of their new middle class voters. But it would alienate many traditional supporters and the capitulation demanded currently by the DUP would, at the moment, be several steps too far even for them. Gerry Adams has optimistically stated that the DUP are where the Ulster Unionists were six years ago. That is, the DUP will come round to dealing with and sharing office with Sinn Fein.

What this prompts is a reminder of where the Republicans were six years ago – promising significant steps to a united Ireland, disbanding of the RUC, support for Articles Two and Three of the southern constitution, ‘not a bullet, not an ounce’ and some lingering claim to be an opposition party. Holding on to all their support, while shifting their programme by as much again, even if it were possible, cannot but create severe strains in the movement. This does not herald a future for the republican ‘dissidents’ since their policy of repeating the past holds even less attraction.

The overall turnout for this election was relatively low by local standards and in part this reflects a section of the working class who have already turned away from the charade, although as yet to nothing very positive. In West Tyrone Dr. Kieran Deeny polled more than 6,000 votes to win a seat, standing as an independent solely on the fight to keep acute services at Omagh Hospital. This does not represent a conscious political break from the GFA process but it is a significant slap in the teeth to Sinn Fein.

While in office they were responsible for implementing the health cuts. It would be a gross mistake however to believe Dr. Deeny represents any sort of political alternative or that his election is an effervescence of class consciousness. It represents the fact that people no longer feel bound to support the GFA above all else. This represents both an acceptance of the Agreement and rejection of its necessary outcomes.

In the months to come the pro-Agreement analysts will come to accept that there will be no deal with Paisley. What they will not accept is that there was no deal with Trimble either. The fact is that the slow decline of Unionism continues while the British stand frustrated, unable to see any other base for their presence in Ireland. The main resistance party, Sinn Fein, have surrendered. They surrendered first to Fianna Fail and Irish capital before being led by them to surrender to the British. Now, even in this instant of capitulation, the British are unable to underpin victory with stable institutions. This instability provides proof that the contradictions of imperialist rule will continue to provide anti-imperialist politics, socialist politics, with an objective basis.

Accepting or challenging British imperialism?

All the parties in the Northern elections agreed on one thing – that British imperialism was the mechanism that could guarantee the future of the Irish people. The rivalry between them was about what programme they should lobby the British to adopt. No-one challenged the British right to rule and only Sinn Fein made symbolic protest when the British indicated that they would once again switch off the lights in the comic-opera assembly

However the suspension of the assembly – effectively for the fifth time if we include the odd glitch when abortive attempts were made to re-establish the Good Friday structures, means that there is a crisis of British rule and that, despite its overwhelming support, it is unable to offer a stable solution for the North or a democratic solution for the Irish population as a whole.

In this situation the socialist movement, as a potential leadership in waiting, able to offer an alternative to imperialist rule, have an importance out of proportion to the tiny vote they attract.

However the election campaign in the North shows that the organisations of the Marxist left are unable to mount even the bare bones of a political challenge to imperialism and are in fact locked in a strategic crisis where the interests of their individual organisations blind them utterly to the interests of the working class as a whole. The left disgraced themselves with their intervention, but as they had no influence to begin with that is an issue for the future of working class self organisation rather than a real factor in the election today.

The Left?

Worth mentioning briefly is the wolf in sheep’s clothing – Billy Hutchinson of the PUP – not that Billy was of the left. The Progressive Unionist Party, a front organisation for the Ulster Volunteer Force, is an organisation of the far right, representing sectarian death squads. Billy only enters on the list because of the attempts by the Communist Party, Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, in the face of all the evidence and direct critiques from ourselves, to present Billy as a socialist, They only finally fell silent when Billy surfaced at the head of howling mobs attacking Catholic primary school children at Holy Cross. Billy’s electoral demise was entirely predictable, given his actual role, not as spokesman for Protestant workers, but as muscle for the Official Unionists of the UUP.

Also presented as the ‘left’ especially by the Communist Party, was the much loved Women’s Coalition. It was especially loved by local capitalist politicians and by the British press precisely because it was innocent of any left policies. Despite its name the Women’s coalition failed to prioritise the fight for progressive polices on women’s issues in an area where there is ferocious opposition to women’s rights. It had only two policies: women should be active in politics, even if the politics were those of utter reaction. Secondly Irish women should support imperialism and the Good Friday Agreement. The coalition was a good example of the old Stalinist theory of ‘stages’ pushed to absurdity.

The CP opposed fighting on socialist demands on the grounds that there was a preliminary stage of Irish independence to go through. Then they argued that democracy in the North was a necessary preliminary to this. Now the Women’s Coalition indicates that a preliminary stage of imperialist rule and sectarian division should also be supported. Unfortunately the voters who agreed with this view preferred to vote for the sectarians themselves rather than the Women’s Coalition. The electoral campaign of the Northern Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions deserves mention, even if they did not stand or formally endorse candidates. NICTU (or NIC, as they prefer to be called to avoid hurting unionist sensibilities) and some affiliate unions such as ATGWU and UNISON campaigned around a ‘bread and butter’ campaign that patronised workers. Workers shouldn’t bother their head with politics but restrict themselves to prices and wages. The fact that this line is always rejected by workers, who always vote on political grounds, is never an issue as the main role of the campaign is to avoid the necessity of the trade union movement taking up any progressive policies. The unions however did have one political position that they were determined to put.

Workers must vote to save the Agreement and bring back the Stormont assembly. The movement founded by Connolly and Larkin now had only one policy they were enthusiastic about – the return of an Assembly that cements British rule and that splits the working class between North and South and then splits it again in the North on sectarian lines. What makes the present position of the unions so utterly shameless is that they spent thirty years banning politics from the trade union movement on the grounds that they were divisive – even then, of course, it was only socialist and democratic politics that were banned.

Socialist Party

There was one organisation which tried to put the trade union line into practice. The Socialist Party stood Tom Black in East Belfast and Jim Barbour of the Fire Brigades Union in South Belfast (even though Barbour apparently isn’t a member of the Socialist Party). The SP candidates received utterly derisory votes. One commentator pointed out that Barbour’s vote of 167 was half that of the Natural Law Party in the last election – a group of cranks who believed in yogic flying! Black did little better on 176 votes.

This represents a serious crisis for the Socialist Party strategy in the North. Briefly summed up it can seen as a sort of pink unionism that links frantic support for a Stormont Assembly with the ‘gas and water’ municipal reformism dismissed by James Connolly over a century ago. This strategy has failed four times now. It failed when they tried to set up a ‘mass labour party’ with loyalist paramilitaries. It failed when they set up a ‘Labour Party’ for the pre-Stormont convention. Not only did the party collapse, it turned out to have nothing to say! It failed in the last election when they stood themselves and now it has failed utterly when they thought they could capitalise on Barbour’s prominence in the Fire Brigades Union.

The Barbour campaign represented another right-wing element of Socialist Party policy. For some years now they have operated as a handmaiden of the bureaucracy rather than their left opponents. Barbour’s candidacy represented this perfectly. Rather than a representative of rank and file fire workers sold out by the FBU bureaucracy, Barbour was the local representative of a bureaucracy that surrendered to the bosses and then rammed the sell-out through the branches. Even from a trade union perspective it is hardly surprising that Barbour got such a derisory vote on the day that his members got a 3.5% wage increase tied to productivity after the FBU promised them 40%!

One last element of the Socialist Party perspective deserves mention. There has for several years been a rather confused unity debate on the left. The SP has always demonstrated an absolute and politically sectarian refusal to participate or consider any unity proposals. Its case has been that the left is irrelevant but that the SP stands in a unique position in real unity with a section of the working class. The election shows how hollow these claims are in the North.

Socialist Workers Party

The narrow sectarianism of the Socialist Party is counterbalanced by the blatant opportunism of the Socialist Workers Party. Politically there was little to distinguish between the two campaigns. Yet again the workers were advised to ignore real politics and vote ‘bread and butter’ politics. Where the SP supported a Stormont executive the SWP ignored it. An election is held to a capitalist, colonial, sectarian structure that is in permanent crisis and whose survival is the main item on the agenda and the left tell workers to ignore the issue! Instead the SWP try to build an opportunist alliance with the Communist Party and Workers Party, with whom they should have nothing in common and who their own supposed programme sees as pro-capitalist parties! A hilarious meeting is held in Belfast where the WP say they are not interested in unity, the CP say that unity must be in support of the Women’s Coalition and the Good Friday Agreement. Other groups argue for opposition to the GFA and the SWP say the issue isn’t important!

The initiative falls apart under its own contradictions but the SWP go ahead with a mini alliance with the CP in Derry. Even the SWP hesitate to call the 2,257 vote of Eamonn McCann a victory. Contrasted with the 137 vote for running mate Marian Baur of the CP, McCann’s is clearly a personal vote, a fact underlined by the transfers to the SDLP and Sinn Fein (the votes splits 50-50 between the two parties, with a handful for the unionists). This indicates that building working class consciousness, the lynchpin of any Marxist intervention in elections, is clearly absent here.


Last, but very definitely least, we should mention the intervention of the republican opposition. A group of six republicans led by Tony McIntyre of ‘the Blanket’ website endorsed the McCann campaign. Nothing illustrates more clearly the bankruptcy of republicanism in modern Ireland. The majority of the signatories have spent their whole lives fighting for self-determination and a number have spent long periods in prison. They refuse to go along with republican capitulation but they not only fail to build a republican alternative but end up endorsing a candidate who says that the National Question doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be an issue!

The truth is that the strategic crisis of the left is not confined to the North. All the tricks of political sectarianism and blind opportunism can be found as readily in South and North Dublin as in South Belfast. Dirty deals behind the scenes, putting their parties before the class, forming alliances with the union bureaucracy against the class. These are all familiar themes.

The tragedy is that a working class resistance is possible. In the North a layer of traditional working-class republican vote has disappeared with no-one to vote for. In Dublin the one sizeable trade union demonstration against the bin charge sees rank and file members of SIPTU throw their union cards at SIPTU secretary Jack O’Connor. The Socialist Party stay well back while the SWP members merely looked confused.

There is only one alternative to imperialist rule in Ireland. That alternative is socialism. The Northern elections show that the left are throwing away a chance to lead the new wave of struggle and are in fact, helping to smother it.

John McAnulty

Northern Ireland Assembly Election Results

Party Seats Increase/Decrease Votes % Vote % Increase/Decrease
DUP 30 10 177944 25.71 7.49
SF 24 6 162758 23.52 5.89
UUP 27 -1 156931 22.67 1.43
SDLP 18 -6 117547 16.98 -4.98
Alliance 6 0 25372 3.68 -2.82
Independent 1 1 19256 2.79 2.22
1 -1 8032 1.16 -1.39
UK Unionist 1 -4 5700 0.82 -3.69

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