Dec 23 2011

BEYOND THE SSP AND SOLIDARITY – ‘FORGIVE AND FORGET’ or ‘LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON’?

INTRODUCTION

 

The rise and initial success of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), between 1998-2004, was a significant historical event, not only for the history of the Left in Scotland (with knock-on effects in the UK and Europe), but also in the wider world of Scottish politics. It is therefore vital that we account for this success, despite the SSP’s subsequent fall from grace. This record can not just be left to cynical media and academic figures who have claimed that the SSP project was always doomed from the start, so we should all just accept the current world order and make the best of it.  Nor can we leave the accounting to those Jeremiahs in their ‘revolutionary’ sects, who cover their own inability to grow significantly, by issuing their anathemas and pouring scorn on those who try.

Before the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg said that the choice facing humanity then was ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. Istvan Meszaros has modified this for today’s crisis-ridden world of corporate imperialism, with its austerity drives, mounting environmental degradation, and the continued threat to humanity posed by weapons of mass destruction. He claims that the choice we face now is  – ‘Socialism or barbarism if we are lucky’!

Therefore, to provide new hope, we must account for the factors that contributed to the initial success of the SSP, and see what can still be useful in the future. However, any meaningful accounting also means identifying those weaknesses, which contributed to the SSP’s decline, so that these are not repeated.

Many, from either side of the ‘Tommygate’ divide, still hold fond enough memories of “the good old days” before the split, to hope that something like the SSP can be built again. Recently, some have even been tempted to say, “Let us forgive and forget”. This may sound attractive, in the face of the current unprecedented attacks on our class. However, such a stance would just lead to the repeat of earlier mistakes, perhaps in more desperate situations.

This contribution, which is also based on a strong desire to rebuild that lost unity, argues that to be successful in such an endeavour, we need instead to ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Then we can indeed recreate socialist unity, but on a higher basis. We must take account of those challenges, which the SSP failed to meet, to better prepare ourselves for those that we will certainly meet in the future.

 

1. THE STRENGTHS OF THE SSP

a)          Politics

The drive for greater socialist unity in Scotland originated in the experience of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. This drew together socialists and communists from diverse backgrounds in a successful struggle against the Tories and their official Labour Party helpers – one of the very few.  Later campaigns against water privatisation, the Criminal Justice Bill, and in support of the Liverpool Dockers, also brought socialists and communists in Scotland together in common campaigns.

Militant, a section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), led by Peter Taffe, had learned, through the bitter experience of the Liverpool Council Fightback and the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, that conducting a successful major struggle was incompatible with membership of the Labour Party (LP), and that Labour is an anti-working class party that acts as a block to socialism.

The CWI majority (1) formed Scottish Militant Labour (SML) to challenge Labour more effectively. However, SML went beyond this, and drew upon the experience of those earlier working class campaigns. With the help of others, they initiated the wider Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA), in 1996, to draw in these forces, as well as those members in the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) concerned about their parties’ rightwards drift. In the process, the CWI in Scotland changed from being the organisationally independent SML to becoming the International Socialist Movement (ISM), a platform in the new SSA. They called for the unity of socialists in Scotland.

The size of SML/ISM was important. Others had called for socialist unity before the SML had been able to ditch its Labour Party entrist past, and to seriously consider such an initiative.  However, it needed an organisation with a certain critical mass to make any such unity initiative gel.  In Ireland, for example, there have been a number of politically experienced people who were inspired by the example of the SSA/SSP. They formed the Irish Socialist Network to bring about such socialist unity there. However, they have not had the critical mass to create an Irish Socialist Alliance, then to build this up into an Irish Socialist Party.

The ISM wanted to build a wider organisation, which was not just a front for its own tendency – something that proved a stumbling block for the Socialist Alliance in England (and Wales), where ISM’s parent organisation, the CWI, prevented this. This problem was highlighted there by the competitive sectarianism of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the CWI/Socialist Party (SP) (as Militant later became in England and Wales).

The ISM also wanted the SSA to move quickly beyond being an alliance, which might end up as little more than an electoral non-aggression pact between different participating organisations. Today, in Ireland, this remains a strong danger with the recently formed United Left Alliance (ULA). The ULA is heavily constrained in any attempt to move forwards to a new united party by the desire of its two major components, the CWI/SP-Ireland and People before Profit (an Irish SWP front), to preserve their own control above all else. The SSA, however, was able to move on and become the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998.

When it was founded, the SSA drew in other political groups or some of their key activists. Allan Green had pushed from the start to get the Socialist Movement (socialists in the LP) signed up, whilst Bill Bonnar of the Communist Party of Scotland, and George Mackin, former member of the editorial board of Liberation (socialist Republicans in the SNP) joined up.  Members of the Trotskyist United Secretariat for the Fourth International (USFI) in Scotland joined, although they did not constitute themselves as a platform. The Red Republicans, who emerged from the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle in the Lothians, and the Dundee-based Campaign for a Federal Republic also joined. These two organisations later merged, on a new political basis, to form another SSA platform, the Republican Communist Network (RCN). The SSA soon threw itself into activity in support of the Glacier workers’ occupation in Glasgow, then in a variety of actions to save schools and other council facilities.

By 2002, all the major political groups in Scotland were in one political organisation (2) – the SSP. The SSP eventually included left Scottish nationalists, e.g. the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement (SRSM), many in the ISM, and some ex-SNP’ers; left British unionists, e.g. the CWI, SWP, Workers Unity (3) and some ex-Labourists; and socialist republicans, e.g. the RCN and others. Key figures from the Labour and SNP Lefts joined, e.g. John McAllion and Ron Brown (ex-Labour MPs), Hugh Kerr (ex-Labour MEP), Lloyd Quinan (ex-SNP MSP). The SSP included socialist and radical Feminists, and a small number of green Socialists (4).

Tommy Sheridan (former SML) was elected to Holyrood in 1999. He was re-elected, along with Frances Curran and Colin Fox (both former SML), Rosemary Byrne (former president of Irvine Trades Council), Carolyn Leckie (prominent Unison activist and strike leader) and Rosie Kane (environmental activist), in 2003. An impressive 117,709 votes were gained in this election. Keith Baldassara (former SML) and Jim Bollan (former CP member and Labour leader of Dunbartonshire Council) were also elected as local councillors. This was a considerable achievement. It showed that the SSP had become an important force amongst a significant section of class-conscious workers in Scotland.

SSP MSPs were seen to give public support to workers in struggle, including nursery nurses and working class communities occupying threatened public services. Tommy had been very publicly arrested in 2003, whilst Rosie was jailed for failing to pay a fine in 2005, as a result of the protests they made at the Faslane nuclear base. This highlighted the SSP’s policy of committing its elected representatives to taking direct action when it was deemed appropriate. The SSP policy of having a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage was actually implemented by the SSP MSPs between 1999 and 2007.

The SSP provided inspiration for the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, and for the Irish Socialist Network. It also formed a part of the new European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). The SSP inspired the USFI, including its largest European section, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) in France. They later went on to form the wider New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in 2009.

After the split in 2006, the SSP continued to form part of the EACL, standing candidates under its banner in the Euro-elections of 2009, whilst the breakaway Solidarity retreated into the left British chauvinism of the No2EU campaign (5).

The SSP played a prominent part in the build-up of the Anti-War Movement, beginning in October 2001 with its principled and active opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and culminating, on February 15th 2003, with the massive Anti-Iraq War demonstration in Glasgow, led by the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War. The many marches, held all over the world on that day, formed the largest international demonstration yet witnessed (6).

The SSP played the leading part in organising the wider European Left opposition to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July 2005. Four of its MSPs, Carolyn, Colin, Frances and Rosie organised a protest in Holyrood against its failure to stand up to US/UK security force attempts to severely curtail the right to protest at Gleneagles. The four MSPs were suspended and the party was heavily fined. This led to international solidarity, including support from the acclaimed black poet, Benjamin Zephaniah (7).

The SSA and SSP leaderships recognised that there is a National Question in Scotland and that socialists should consciously address it. Although left Scottish nationalism remained a strong pull on the leaderships of the SSA and later the SSP, republicanism made considerable inroads. The party backed the Calton Hill Declaration, and the successful protest at the royal opening of the new Scottish Parliament building on October 9th, 2004. This was the last SSP big event to gain favourable wider publicity (8).

The SSP contained a well-organised Feminist element with articulate women prominent in the party. The hotly debated and controversial 50:50 rule, addressing the issue of women’s representation at all levels of the party, was passed at the SSP’s 2002 Conference in Dundee. This contributed to the election of four women out of a total of six SSP MSPs in May 2003 – the highest percentage for any party in Europe.

The SSP was also able to draw support from influential cultural figures, e.g. the Proclaimers, Belle and Sebastian, Peter Mullen and Ken Loach.

At the height of its success between 1999 and 2004, the SSP enabled socialist politics to gain a public visibility. This meant that the ideas put forward by openly declared socialists became the topic of conversation, discussion and debate in workplaces and communities throughout Scotland.

 

b)          Organisation

With the founding of the SSA in 1996, the CWI/SML committed its resources and experienced organisers, at national and local level, to the new organisation. As ISM platform members, they took responsibility for developing the SSA, and later the SSP. However, in many areas, particularly where there was little or no ISM presence, other experienced socialist and communist activists played a key role in developing local branches, and exerting pressure to ensure that democratic practice became more embedded in the SSA and SSP, and to encourage the development of an open, non-sectarian culture.

A majority amongst the ISM, who constituted the SSA and SSP leaderships, appreciated the need to exercise a less tight political control over the SSA and SSP membership than the CWI leadership had desired. The ISM was more prepared to listen to suggestions from people who came from other political backgrounds, and with these comrades’ help, the SSA was able to develop open active branches and democratic structures.

Thus, the ISM majority (9) made a considerable contribution to building a wider more inclusive SSA (later SSP). This provided a striking contrast to the behaviour and unity initiatives undertaken by their original CWI mentors. The CWI/SP walked out of the Socialist Alliance in England, when they could not dominate it  (that role was left to the SWP!). Their Campaign for a New Workers Party has proved abortive, because of its inability to attract or hold on to wider socialist forces, whilst the Trade Union and Socialist (electoral) Coalition is turned on and off according to the needs of the CWI/SP. The CWI (and SWP) treats any unity initiative either as a ‘party’-front or as a recruiting ground. Therefore, the ISM’s support for developing an inclusive multi-platform party did represent a considerable achievement, and a big break from the Left’s past sectarian practice.

Platform rights were allowed and respected to a considerable degree. The SSA and SSP constituted a united front of self-declared revolutionaries and left reformists. Comrades could openly state their support for revolutionary politics. A real culture of debate and comradeliness developed in the SSA and SSP, which for a time was even able to rein in some of the sectarian practices of the CWI and SWP (10).

Despite some undoubted remaining problems, the SSA and SSP were more democratic than all previous left groups in Scotland and the wider UK. SSA and SSP conferences were organised where genuine debates took place in a largely comradely fashion. Attractive ‘Socialism’ events, with outside speakers, were also organised.

SSP branches were soon formed in every part of Scotland, including the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland. This represented the most extensive support for socialist politics in Scotland that had been achieved so far.

 

 2)      THE WEAKNESSES OF THE SSP

 a)         Politics

The development and handling of ‘Tommygate’ turned out to be the most public failing of the SSP. One effect of this was to disguise some other weaknesses, which would undoubtedly have emerged more clearly after the election of its six MSPs in 2003. The political conditions, which led to these other problems, were created by the international Left’s inability to prevent the Iraq War in 2003, and the decline of working class action in the UK, including Scotland.

The electoral setbacks of the European Left in subsequent (pre-2007 Crash) elections, including those in Italy, France and Ireland, demonstrated this. The Scottish Greens also lost five of their seven MSPs in 2007. If ‘Tommygate’ had not happened then the SSP would still probably have been reduced from six to one MSP in that election – i.e. Tommy. And he thought he was smart in helping to create Solidarity as his own special fan club to further advance his own celebrity politics!

Yet, there had been no prior public questioning in the SSP of the promotion of the Tommy ‘myth’. This failing was to have dire consequences. When ‘Tommygate’ erupted in 2004, the leadership was left floundering over how to deal with a ‘Tommy’ who had been their very own creation. This confused many members and supporters who began to look elsewhere – often either to the SNP, or even back to the Labour Party.

Remarkably, as Tommy had moved further and further into the world of celebrity politics (aided by his new wife, Gail, whom he married in 2000), the SSP leadership allowed him to build up an entirely new public image for himself as the Daniel O’Donnell of the Left. (He later utilised this in court to claim his leisure activities were largely confined to playing Scrabble with Gail!) This involved publicly turning his back on his pre-marriage image as the Errol Flynn of the Left (which he wistfully recalled in his chats with Coolio on Big Brother).

Key SSP leadership figures knew from early on that this new public image was false, but did not challenge Tommy’s hypocrisy. However, even if Tommy had been able to make a ‘Doris Day’ (11) like conversion, socialists should still not have been involved in allowing the public promotion of such a conservative, 1950’s, family man image.

When Solidarity was formed in 2006, it became, in effect, the Continuity Sheridan-SSP. Celebrity politics were enshrined at its founding conference, with the virtual anointment of Tommy by his mother, Alice Sheridan.  With Tommy in prison for the 2011 Holyrood election, Solidarity sought a new celebrity candidate in the form of George Galloway, accountable to nobody but himself.

The resort to celebrity politics was not, however, rejected in principle by the SSP leadership after the split. An attempt was made by the SSP International Committee to highlight this wider problem amongst the Left in Britain (e.g. Derek Hatton, Ken Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and George Galloway), in a leaflet for the 2008 Convention of the Left in Manchester. However, a section of the SSP leadership suppressed this because it might have upset Galloway and his then Socialist Resistance supporters (12).

Celebrity politics, however, are just one aspect of a wider populism, which avoids the open promotion of socialist politics. Promoting populism is a quite different matter to promoting popular politics in order to extend openly socialist ideas beyond their traditional narrow organisational confines. Populist politics, which downplay the centrality of the working class, have often revealed themselves in the SSP. Although the SSP stood as part of the EACL in the 2009 Euro-elections, it ditched the EACL’s own slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for their Crisis’, and retreated to the vacuous, non-class specific, ‘Make Greed History’ (13).

This resort to left populism, though, was not as bad as Solidarity’s support for No2EU’s, ‘No to social dumping’ – a right populist, thinly disguised racist attack on migrant workers, reminiscent of the NF/BNP/Gordon Brown call for ‘British jobs for British workers’.

One reason for resorting to populism is the fact that those coming from the CWI tradition never developed an adequate understanding of what constitutes socialism/communism. Up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CWI largely equated socialism with nationalisation. Although the weaknesses in this position have been recognised by those who have moved away from the CWI, there has been no real attempt to develop a new clearly articulated socialism/communism, which could effectively challenge a capitalism very much now in crisis since the 2008 Financial Crash.

Part of the problem lies with the CWI’s long sojourn within the Labour Party, where they began to adapt to the reformist milieu they were working with. Whereas Marx had viewed the state as a machine designed to perpetuate the rule of capital, backed by “a body of armed men”; those from a CWI background tended to see the existing state as being in the hands of the wrong people – the capitalist class – instead of the representatives of the working class. In particular, they had looked forward to a future elected Labour government, pledged to socialist policies, ‘capturing’ this state, passing an Enabling Act and nationalising the top 200 companies. But the capitalist state can not be equated with its ‘representative’ institutions – behind these lie the ruling class’s ‘deep state’ with its military, security, judicial and other bodies, all beyond our effective accountability, ready to bypass parliament, and to take ruthless action against any fundamental challenges from our class.

Therefore, the solutions offered by the leaderships of SSP and Solidarity (where the SWP also avoids offering any socialist strategy), to meet the current crisis of capitalism, tend to be national reformist. They stretch from a call for neo-Keynesian state economic intervention to demands for nationalisation  – i.e. from left Labourism to old style, orthodox Marxist-Leninism. The call for nationalisation is sometimes relabelled ‘public ownership’, or supplemented with an unspecified, ‘under democratic’ or ‘workers’ control’.

There has been little appreciation of the international economic integration of the corporate imperialist capitalist order. This places very real restraints on national ‘solutions’, and makes the development of an internationalist strategy and international organisation vital. The massive anti-(corporate) globalisation, anti-Iraq war, anti-G8 and Occupy protests have shown that millions of people already understand the need for an international response. Yet there has been little indication that the Left can build on this by creating a new International (14).

The EACL is very much constrained by the limitations of the ‘socialist diplomacy’ practised between its two dominant political groupings – the USFI and International Socialist Tendency (SWP). There is clearly a glaring need for concerted international action in the face of the EU leaders’ austerity drive, which has led to unprecedented attacks on Greek, Portuguese and Irish workers. These will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the European (including the UK) working class.

There has been no real debate in the SSA or SSP over socialists’ participation in parliamentary and council elections. Are parliament and local councils vehicles for bringing about socialism through accumulative reforms; or do socialists participate in elections to these bodies to support independent class activity, and to put forward the case for socialism/communism?

Again this confusion arises because a significant section of the Left tends to see the state machine as neutral, and just requiring a different hand at the helm, rather than a capitalist state, shaped to meet the capital’s needs. The existing state machine is  worse than useless as a means of socialist transformation. Indeed it is a trap for the working class.  What should be recognised is the need for the state’s destruction and its replacement with a commune-like semi-state, intended to wither away as the lower phase of communism (socialism) gives way to its higher phase.

We never got near this kind of debate about a Maximum Programme within the wider SSP.  This was perhaps understandable in the context of the long debt-financed consumer boom, which coincided with the first ten years of the SSP’s existence. Efforts were concentrated instead on developing and implementing elements of an Immediate Programme. Now capitalism is once more in deep crisis. Attempts to buttress each national economy through superficial reforms can only lead to intensified international competition, with a downward pressure on pay and conditions, and an even greater likelihood of wars, possibly between the imperial metropoles themselves. Therefore, it has become imperative that socialists/communists outline their alternative society and the means needed to achieve this.

The SSP became too election focussed, particularly after winning its six MSPs. This sucked prominent regional or trade union activists into the parliamentary centre. The decision to spend so much money on parliamentary support workers for the newly elected MSPs was an indication of this creeping electoralism. A three way split developed between the SSP’s MSPs – 1) Tommy and Rosemary, 2) Caroline, Frances and Rosie and 3) Colin – as to how to relate to Holyrood. There was little effective party control over these MSPs. The parliamentary ‘tail’ sometimes wagged the SSP ‘dog’.

If ‘Tommygate’ had not erupted, a strongly electoralist wing would probably have emerged in the SSP, offering the party’s MSPs as coalition fodder in the event of a hung Holyrood parliament (15). Former Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr, was already suggesting, before the 2003 Holyrood general election, that the SSP stand down in favour of the SNP in first-past-the-post seats, anticipating such coalitions and a more parliamentary focussed politics (16).

Those who learned their initial politics in the British Left have shown little understanding of the UK as an imperialist, unionist and constitutional monarchist state, and the role of the Crown Powers in maintaining British ruling class control. Nor do they appreciate the real nature of the current British and Irish ruling classes’ ‘New Unionist’ strategy of promoting the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’, aided and abetted by trade union leaders locked in ‘social partnerships’ with the bosses and politicians. This is done to ensure that the UK and the Twenty-Six Counties remain safely subordinated to corporate capitalism and US/British imperialism.

In reaction to their earlier left British unionist training, the majority amongst the SSA and SSP (and later the Solidarity) leaderships have shown a strong tendency to be pulled towards Scottish nationalism, and have become sentimental Scottish republicans rather than militant socialist republicans. Although the 2005 Declaration of Calton Hill represented a partial break from this, the SSP leadership has gone on to tailend the proposed constitutional reforms of the SNP in their proposed Scottish Independence Referendum (17).

After the split between the SSP and Solidarity, some members of the now defunct ISM became divided between the Frontline supporters found in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists (DGS), who played a similar role in Solidarity. It was these two organisations’ initially shared break from the CWI, which had led them to move on from much of the old left British unionist politics (although long retaining elements of such politics over the issue of Ireland), only to court left Scottish nationalist politics as an alternative.

As a result, the ISM/Frontline’s and the DGS’s politics, with regard to Scotland, have not been drawn from the major contributors to anti-imperial/anti-UK state politics prior to the Poll Tax, e.g. the Workers’ Republican tradition of James Connolly and John Maclean, but to a bowdlerised version of Labourism/Trotskyism inherited, but still not fully questioned, from the CWI. This is sometimes topped up with a little sentimental Scottish history and the use of the saltire in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

Those from a CWI tradition also have a poor understanding of the conflict in Ireland. They have been unwilling to address this issue in case any accusations of ‘sectarianism’ affected their electoral campaigns, particularly in the Central Belt. In the SSA’s preparatory stages, the one group, which CWI members went to considerable lengths to exclude, was the James Connolly Society (JCS). It also took years and years to get one-time CWI/ISM members of the SSP on to the JCS’s annual Connolly march in Edinburgh. The CWI’s left unionism was carried into the ISM. This led to their joint agreement to invite Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as a ‘socialist’ Loyalist, with a background in the UVF, from which the British state recruited its death squads (18), to ‘Socialism 2000’ (19).

Despite the 2002 SSP Conference’s 50:50 debate, there was insufficient follow-up discussion about the nature of women’s exploitation and oppression, and how women’s emancipation and liberation contribute to wider sexual liberation and to socialism/communism. In the aftermath of the split in the SSP, a marked division remained between those former ISM members in Frontline, who wanted to take on board a more Feminist agenda, and those in the DGS, who retained an opposition to “gender obsessed politics” (many of them had opposed the 50:50 arrangements back in 2002).

In the case of ISM/Frontline members this led to a blurring between socialist and radical Feminist politics. In the case of DGS members this led to a slippage away from any socialist understanding of the role of women’s oppression, and to a schizoid split between holding to libertarian views on sex (e.g. believing prostitution is just another form of wage labour, not recognising the women’s oppression involved), or to a toleration of very conservative sexual relationships (e.g. not questioning the promotion of the ‘perfect celebrity couple’ in the never-ending ‘Tommy and Gail Show’). The political division over the role of Feminism, between the two wings of one-time ISM members, very much added to the acrimony during ‘Tommygate’ (20).

The SSP and Solidarity leaderships, following on the old CWI tradition, have remained wedded to Broad Leftism in the trade unions. This involves a ‘parliamentary’ industrial strategy, which sees sovereignty as lying in the trade union conferences (‘parliament’), when effective control really lies in the union HQs (where the bureaucracy forms the ‘Cabinet’). Broad Leftism concentrates on getting left wing union leaderships elected to replace right wing ones. This is countered to a Rank and File ‘republican’ industrial strategy of democratising and transforming trade unions to make them combative class organisations with sovereignty residing amongst the union members in their workplaces, who are prepared to take independent (‘unofficial’) action when required (21). There has also been no debate on possible new methods of organising workers, e.g. social unions.

There have been illusions around existing Broad Left trade union leaderships, and a failure to extend the principle of a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage in parliament, to campaigning for all trade union officials being on the average wage of the members they represent.  The SSP’s relationship with the RMT was focussed on its General Secretary, Bob Crow, and its Broad Left leadership (22), rather than its rank and file members.

Cultural developments can anticipate wider social and political developments, even during periods when the working class is in retreat. Whilst an effective struggle against exploitation and oppression needs confident economic/industrial and political organisation, attempts to go beyond the alienation we experience under capitalism often takes on a more disparate cultural form, which the ruling classes find harder to discipline and police. Despite the wider vibrant cultural debate found in Scotland, and signs of support from several significant cultural figures, there was no organised attempt to intervene in this debate and to encourage its development in a Scottish internationalist rather than a Scottish nationalist direction.

 

b)          Organisation

From the beginning, despite wishing to create a wider organisation, which brought in others, the CWI/SML still wanted to remain the leadership group. This in itself is not a problem. The issue is how do you go about achieving this aim – by encouraging the maximum democracy or by political manoeuvring?

The CWI/SML sought to bring about wider unity, not primarily on the basis of an agreed Immediate Programme (23), but by courting specific groups and individuals, whilst playing down the revolutionary side of their own politics. This involved a resort to diplomacy, rather than holding an open debate between some of the more advanced positions held by the CWI/SML (and others) and the undisguised left reformism and electoralism of those coming, in particular, from Labour and SNP backgrounds.

Of course, any such open debate, may well have resulted in the SSA adopting openly left reformist positions anyhow, given the historical weight of reformism in Scotland and the wider UK. This is why it was so vital to create and maintain the SSA and SSP as open democratic organisations, where such ideas could be challenged and changed in the light of experience.

The SSA and SSP depended overmuch on the initial political training given to its members from other political organisations before they joined up. There was no comprehensive political education programme put in place for new members. There was an attempt to produce an SSA magazine, Red, but it was short-lived.

When the ISM split into majority and minority CWI/IS factions, the majority ISM kept to the old strategy of trying to remain the leadership by making openings to certain individuals. An ‘Inner Circle’ coalesced within the SSP leadership, which consisted of Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes and Alan Green (he represented those from a non-CWI tradition) with a close periphery of Keith Baldassara and Frances Curran (she provided a link with the leading influential Feminists, such as Carolyn Leckie). The ISM used its position as the largest platform to ensure that this emergent ‘Inner Circle’ was given wider support in the SSP (24). As long as the ISM continued to exist, there was still some platform accountability.

The ISM also used its numerical strength to get sympathisers into key positions, whether or not they were up to the job. Paid organisers, who were not transparent or accountable, sometimes built their own fiefdoms either in areas of particular activity or geographical areas.

The ‘Inner Circle’ kept things from the membership (either with tacit ISM acceptance or without their knowledge), e.g. how many real paying members there were, and the fact that the SWP did not pay their subs (although some of their members did join as individuals). Therefore, the activities of the ‘Inner Circle’ were neither transparent nor fully accountable.

Many members of the ISM began to doubt the need for a distinctive platform to advance their specific politics. Instead, they increasingly relied on giving support to those experienced former members of the CWI, and founder members of the ISM, who had steered them through the difficult transition from the CWI/SML to the independent ISM platform in the SSA and SSP.  ISM members began to drop out of their platform, whilst still giving their support as individuals to the ‘Inner Circle’.

In engaging with new political forces, ISM members found themselves questioning some of their previously held beliefs. This is, of course, a good general principle for all socialists. Individual ISM members formed friendships and alliances with other individuals and tendencies, e.g. amongst the left Scottish nationalists and the radical Feminists. This led to a process of adaptation that left individual ISM, or former ISM members, strung out at different points along various lines of thought over a number of key issues. That made it increasingly difficult for the ISM to maintain a unified public position on these political issues.

This was demonstrated most spectacularly over ‘Tommygate’. However, over the issues of 50:50, ‘internationalism from below’ republicanism versus left Scottish nationalism, Ireland (particularly the Connolly march), and secularism versus support for specific identity (especially faith) schools, different ISM members also found themselves on differing sides (25).  As the ISM platform began to fragment, this left the ‘Inner Circle’ as the real SSP leadership, since they were no longer restrained by any remaining ISM discipline.

After 2003, those newly elected MSPs, who had their own trusted personal contacts in the party, also had to be acknowledged by the ‘Inner Circle’. That opened up the prospect of personal, rather than platform differences arising, which could bring about a more dysfunctional leadership, in the absence of either any platform discipline, or of effective wider party accountability.

The ‘Inner Circle’ was unable to successfully address the crisis in the SSP, when ‘Tommygate’ split them, along with their close personal and parliamentary supporters. Both sides put more trust in the bourgeois courts and leaks to the bourgeois media than in the SSP membership. Neither side confined its appeals for support to bona fide working class and socialist organisations. Initially a cover-up ‘deal’ was made between the SSP Executive Committee and Tommy, under which the reasons for his mutually agreed resignation were hidden from the membership. The minutes were not circulated. This sowed further seeds of confusion, adding to those created by the leadership’s shared responsibility in constructing the Tommy ‘legend’ in the first place.

This legacy of personalised politics very much added to the ensuing acrimony, which contributed to the split between the SSP and Solidarity. The two respective leaderships centred on Alan McCombes and Frances Curran on the SSP side, and Tommy Sheridan and his family on the Solidarity side. Supporters were expected to show uncritical loyalty for their leaders’ respective stances in the virtual civil war that developed. Those trying to put forward a more critical viewpoint found themselves subjected, not to real debate, but more often to misrepresentation, and sometimes to vilification.

Prior to the split, the SSP leadership had tolerated the existence of sects, in particular the SWP and the CWI. These were able to take advantage of the SSP’s recognition of platforms (26). The CWI and SWP saw themselves as having all the answers in advance, with nothing to learn from others, when important questions were debated. They were organised as alternative leaderships-in-waiting, ready to take over.

However, instead of establishing firm platform guidelines, diplomatic deals were also made between the SSP leadership and these sects. The SSP leadership did not openly and politically challenge the sectarian practices of these organisations’ leaderships (27). Such an approach could have won over some of their rank and file (albeit not their leaderships, whose sectarianism is hard-wired), attracting them with more open and democratic politics.

 

 3. THE CURRENT SITUATION – FACING UP TO REALITY

There has been no real attempt by either of the two post-split leaderships (SSP and Solidarity) to draw up a balance sheet of the strengths and weaknesses of the original socialist unity project, or to make any honest assessment of where socialists and the wider working class now are in Scotland. The SSP leadership’s main remaining hope, after ‘Tommygate’, seems to be that, “Things can only get better”! And, is Solidarity now on hold until Tommy gets out of jail?!

Solidarity launched itself, in 2006, with the claim that it would soon overtake the number of pre-existing SSP MSPs. However, it failed even to retain its celebrity leader, Tommy, despite his loudly proclaimed court ‘victory’ that year. Solidarity’s leadership took refuge in its ability to garner more votes (31,066 to the SSP’s 12,731) in the 2007 Holyrood election. Yet Ruth Black, its sole elected councillor, soon defected to Labour after an acrimonious internal spat (28).

The SSP leadership believed that there would be an upturn in SSP fortunes, once they were legally vindicated in the Perjury Trial. However, the SSP’s vote fell from the lowly 12,731 gained in 2007, to the abysmal 8,272 in the 2011 Holyrood election, despite the December 2010 court judgement, which upheld the SSP leadership’s version of the ‘Tommygate’ events. This electoral result showed the leadership’s wishful thinking.

Although the Tommy/Solidarity-backed Respect/George Galloway celebrity candidate only received 6972 votes, in the May 2011 Holyrood election (compared with the still unsuccessful Tommy’s 8544 votes in 2007), whilst Solidarity’s own vote plummeted to 2,837, this could hardly provide the SSP leadership with much comfort, considering that both the phantom Socialist Labour Party, and more worryingly, the British National Party, gained far more votes than the SSP.

Indeed, the fact that the BNP’s vote exceeded the combined vote of the SSP and Solidarity was not publicly acknowledged by either leadership, despite the BNP’s and SDL’s ongoing attempts to gain a foothold in Scotland, particularly amongst British Loyalists in the Central Belt. There seemed to be more concern at leadership levels, to see that the SSP and Solidarity slug it out against each other in certain Glasgow seats, than to ensure that the BNP were opposed everywhere.

What remains of the SSP has become a much looser alliance than the old SSA. Work is left to individuals, the Scottish Socialist Voice has no Editorial Board, the SSP website (29) is Eddie Truman’s sole responsibility, Richie Venton is the SSP’s industrial organiser without any accountability to a committee of SSP trade unionists.

The Scottish Socialist Youth and the SSP International Committee have taken good initiatives, e.g. the Anti-Fascist Alliances (30) and the Republican Socialist Conventions. However, these have not had real united leadership backing (although individual leaders have sometimes given their support, particularly Colin in the latter case).

The SSP leadership does not necessarily follow through conference decisions (e.g. the principled support given to ‘No One Is Illegal’ at the post-split 2007 Conference, which would have meant working closely with the Glasgow Unity Centre). Part of this is due to exhaustion of leading members, but another factor is the continued SSP legacy of having the remnants of this unaccountable ‘Inner Circle’. Whilst no longer necessarily having the vigour to politically oppose initiatives, which they do not fully support at conferences, they can still ensure that any such agreed initiatives receive little effective national leadership promotion or coordination.

The current SSP leadership is divided over the way forward. Some from the old ‘Inner Circle’ are showing signs of abandoning the pretence of that the SSP is still a real party, and of retreating instead towards the formation of a socialist ‘think tank’, somewhat to the left of that recently formed to commemorate Jimmy Reid. This SSP initiative appears to be Glasgow based.

Colin Fox and Richie Venton, however, argue that the existing SSP can be revived if only the correct campaign can be found (e.g. Fighting Fuel Poverty, or Fighting the Cuts), or if members fully throw themselves into a continuous ‘hamster wheel’ of activity. Both work very hard and lead by example. They can always point towards a model branch out there to show that such activity is the way forward. The current example given is the new Ayrshire branch, built with the help of the party’s latest prominent recruit, Campbell Martin. He is a former SNP and Independent MSP. He remains a strong advocate of a left Scottish nationalist approach to the constitution, coupled with some support for populist politics (including the SNP’s minimum alcohol pricing and their misguided anti-‘sectarian’ bill (31).

Mounting campaigns is indeed an important activity for socialist organisations. However, without a proper assessment of the class forces involved, or of how a particular campaign links up with the organisation’s wider Immediate Programme and the struggle for socialism, then any such campaign will either run out of steam; or, it will be taken under the wing of the larger parties. Then, instead of contributing to the building of independent working class organisation, the campaign merely ends up buttressing these parties’ political position, by providing them with some cover for the cuts, or for the other counter-reforms they are imposing elsewhere. The Free Prescriptions Bill, initiated at Holyrood by the SSP parliamentary group, was only enacted by a subsequent SNP government, after the SSP ceased to have any MSPs.

In contrast to the SSP, Solidarity was formed as an alliance (calling itself a movement) and not a party. John Dennis of the SSP South Region made the original proposal for a breakaway, because he thought that internal relations had become too toxic to be contained in one party. However, Solidarity quickly constituted itself as a ‘marriage of convenience’, between Sheridan and the Sheridanistas of the DGS, and the CWI and SWP. It now has even less political cohesion than the currently loose SSP alliance.

The DSG website is showing signs of wishing to reunite the Left, but largely on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (32). The recently formed International Socialist Group (ISG), a Scottish breakaway from the SWP, also involved in Solidarity, seems to be adopting a similar path. Its co-thinkers in Counterfire, in England and Wales, have already drawn Socialist Resistance (33) into their Coalition of Resistance (CoR) against the cuts. Whilst CoR is all too willing to bow before Broad Left trade union bureaucrats and left-talking politicians, it constitutes the most punchy campaigning organisation fighting the cuts at present (as shown by its contingent on the STUC’s October 1st demonstration in Glasgow).

CoR and ISG have even attracted some SSP members, despite their strong antipathy to those from an SWP background. However, any such unity is also likely to be on the shaky ground of ‘forgive and forget’, rather than ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Ironically, this would just repeat the ‘diplomatic’ approach the ‘Inner Circle’ adopted taken towards the SWP (the tradition from whence the ISG came), back in 2002.

Both wings of the current SSP leadership remain reticent about becoming involved in other political organisations’ unity initiatives, or even in wider campaigns where they might meet up. An exception is made in the case of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), which does bring the SSP into contact with Solidarity and ex-Solidarity members. Furthermore, the various struggles impose their own similar joint work, particularly in trade unions. Just as a shared left Scottish nationalism has led to common work inside the SIC, so a shared Broad Leftism has led to joint electoral slates in some unions (e.g. the Public and Commercial Service [PCS] union).

Some SSP and Solidarity members and former members, who have become disillusioned with these organisations, have called for their virtual dissolution into the various campaigns, e.g. Anti-Cuts. They hope that the experience of working with new forces, or ‘knocking heads together’ (i.e. of mutually suspicious SSP and Solidarity members or ex-members) will eventually provide a new basis for unity in the future. Whilst this path can seem attractive, it means glossing over the real political differences that have arisen, and the challenges neither side addressed. Such a course is also likely to lead to more public ‘diplomatic manoeuvres’ (usually accompanied by personalised put-downs in private), in order to bring about a superficial unity, mainly for electoral purposes. This is never a solid basis upon which to build.

Meanwhile, the CWI and SWP continue to slug it out with their own front organisations – the (now defunct?) Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and the National Shop Stewards Network for the CWI, and the (about to be abandoned?) Right to Work Campaign and Unite the Resistance for the SWP. Neither of these sects is likely to commit itself to building a real united party. They prefer to go no further than forming electoral mutual non-aggression pacts like the United Left Alliance in Ireland (which is likely to flounder, if it fails to develop further, after its initial electoral success this year). The prime political purpose of the CWI and SWP is still to build their own sects.

In 2003, a united SSP showed it had gained a definite foothold of support amongst members of the working class in Scotland. The abysmal 2011 (combined SSP and Solidarity) electoral result is an indication that, not only that most politically conscious workers, but also many socialists in Scotland, have moved on from the SSP and Solidarity.

 

 4) WHAT WE NEED TO DO –

LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON

The inspiring legacy of those successful working class campaigns in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, along with the recognition of the need for the working class to organise outside the Labour Party, and to address the National Question in Scotland in a serious manner, provided a sufficient political basis for the successful launch of the initial SSA and SSP project. However, the major challenges the SSP has faced since then mean that new lessons have to be learned if any successful socialist unity project is to be developed in the near future.

We need to acknowledge that the current SSP project is over. We can see that the attempt just to hold things together, hoping things will get better, has not worked. There has been little recognition, at the leadership level, of the need to face up to the new challenges, which the working class has faced; or of the necessary self-criticism about the handling of ‘Tommygate’. The SSP leadership had put the addressing of ‘Tommygate’ on hold between 2006-10, ostensibly for legal reasons during the Perjury Trail.  The 2011 Conference in Dunfermline took a retrograde step by overturning those self-critical decisions, which had been made at the first post-split SSP Conference in Glasgow in 2006.

In pursuing this ‘head-in-the-sand’ course, the SSP will end up as little more than another sect. The leadership’s refusal (using the Perjury Trial as an excuse) to develop a strategy to win back the more critical elements of Solidarity, which would have involved some self-criticism, was the first step on this dead-end road. When the SSA was being set up, the SML/ISM understood the futility of trying to build a new organisation solely around an unquestioned and unquestioning CWI leadership. They actively sought wider support, and just as importantly, were prepared to be self-critical and to challenge some of their old shibboleths in the light of recent experiences. Those in the SSP today, who wish to re-establish socialist unity in Scotland, need to recognise that real answers have to be given to those challenges the SSP failed to meet.

Socialist unity, which has the capacity to address the many pressing issues the working class currently faces in a crisis-ridden world, can only be formed on a new and higher political basis. Such socialist unity will also involve those outside the SSP’s ranks. Such unity can not be built on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (which will just lead to a reoccurrence of previous bad practices), but must be done on the basis of ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

 

a)           Politics

To meet the new challenges the Left has faced in Scotland, we need to clarify our views over:-

–            What we mean by socialism/communism and how (and if) the immediate struggles we support promote this aim.

–            The promotion of internationalism, through building wider international organisation on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ and by participating in international actions.

–            The rejection of populism and the creation of an ‘Immediate Programme’ that both enhances the position of our class, and encourages the development of  independent working class organisation and struggle.

–            An understanding of the reasons why socialists participate in elections to state bodies.

–            An understanding of how socialists participate effectively in trade union (and other working class) struggles.

–            Moving on from a left Nationalist approach to the National Question in Scotland, by adopting a serious commitment to socialist Republicanism.

–            A deeper understanding of Feminism (how to achieve women’s liberation and emancipation), and how this links with the transformation of sexual and social relations between the sexes, which socialist men (who should also have a vision of a realisable better society) have a real interest in achieving.

–            A serious approach to Ecology which takes into account the meeting of the human need for water, food, fuel, shelter and transport, but in an environmentally sustainable way.

–            An imaginative approach on how we relate to other areas of struggle, e.g, culture.

 

b)          Organisation

To learn from the mistakes of the SSP (and of Solidarity), and become more effective we need to:

–            Emphasise the vital importance of democracy, transparency and accountability in all the organisations of the working class.

–            The role of leadership

–            Reject the lure of ‘celebrity politics’.

–            Acknowledge that neither the bourgeois courts, nor the bourgeois media, are appropriate places for socialists to get rulings on how they conduct themselves, or to conduct their internal disputes.  We must confine our appeals to democratic working class and socialist/communist organisations and media. How can we convince the working class of the case for socialism if we have to run to the ruling class’s courts over how we handle our own affairs?

On November 30th, two million public sector workers went on strike (including 300,000 in Scotland), thousands joined picket lines, and tens of thousands went on demonstrations throughout the UK.  However, there is no chance of defending our pensions, when the ruling class and its supporting parties are determined to roll back our class’s gains, and we remain divided between unions and a plethora of different pension schemes. Trade union leaders will all too soon be jockeying for sectional concessions. Only a class wide political offensive, which links up all struggles against the ruling class’s current austerity drive (and this must extend across the EU), has any chance of undertaking a successful defence and then moving on to make real gains.

Nor can the working class be left to the ‘tender mercies’ of a future Miliband (34) -led Labour government.  The Con-Dems may demand an immediate ‘arm and a leg’ from every worker in the UK; but New Labour also wants to saw off our ‘limbs’ – only more slowly. The SNP wants a Scotland that is a low tax haven for corporate business and a playground for the ultra-rich.

Socialists and communists must offer something better.  So let us ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Iain Robertson, 20.12.11

 

 


1             The Socialist Appeal minority, led by Ted Grant, has remained committed to deep entrism inside the Labour Party, without any visible effect.

2             The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was the last to join the SSP in 2002, forming the Socialist Workers Platform.

3             Workers Unity was an amalgam the Communist Party of Great Britain-Weekly Worker, Alliance for Workers Liberty and the Glasgow Marxists.

4            The Scottish Green Party still retained the majority of activists in this particular arena, despite there being no openly organised Green Left in the party, unlike in England and Wales.

5             The No2EU electoral alliance was forged between the ‘British roaders’ of the  Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the CWI.

6             The Stop the War Coalition organised the massive London demonstration. It was formed by the SWP in alliance with the Murray/Griffiths/Haylett group in the CPB, and has been organised around minimalist popular frontist politics. The SWP had also joined the SSP during the previous year.

7             Later in 2006, when Alan McCombes was jailed for his principled refusal to hand over the party’s minutes to the bourgeois courts, virtually the whole membership rallied once more to raise the money to pay the imposed fine. It only became clearer later, that the beneficial political effect of Alan’s brave action was being sabotaged by some of Tommy’s supporters with their secret submission to the authorities of a false set of minutes to provide himself and his new political allies with some cover, and to prepare a new attack on the SSP.

8            Tommy resigned as SSP Convenor a month later.

9             The CWI leadership under Taffe became increasingly hostile to the ISM majority. The CWI wanted the SSA to be a ‘party’ front organisation. Therefore, they attempted to curtail the autonomy of the ISM. The majority of ISM members in Scotland, led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, broke with the CWI.

The CWI minority formed the International Socialists platform in the SSP. In 2010, some time after they helped to set up Solidarity (in 2006), they changed their name to the Socialist Party of Scotland (SPS), to complement the CWI section in England and Wales, usually just styled the Socialist Party to avoid the unfortunate acronym – SPEW! However, the CWI’s declaration of the SPS was a strong indication that they had given up on Solidarity, which they had originally sponsored, as a longer-term vehicle for forming a new wider party in Scotland, hopefully when they formed the majority and could control it.

10             Of course, those who had originally been in the Militant/SML had already broken with many of that organisation’s sectarian practices, highlighted by split of the ISM from its ranks. SWP members, however, were not in the SSP for long enough (2003-6) to shed members for similar reasons. The SWP leadership also shielded itself by providing its members with an even more hard-wired sectarian training than the CWI. Gregor Gall was the only prominent former member, who stayed in the SSP.

However, the SWP’s sojourn within the SSP did have some longer-term effects on its politics, even after they left. Neil Davidson, who had been the main theoretician for the SWP’s left unionism, later managed to get the SWP to move to tentative support for a ‘Yes’ vote in a future Scottish Independence referendum.

11            Doris Day, the former US movie star, is remembered for having successfully made the transition from more sexually risqué, Film Noir movies in the immediate post-war period to becoming the personification of the squeaky clean all-American woman demanded of movie stars during the Cold War. As one of her long-term acquaintances recalled, “I can remember Doris Day before she became a virgin!”

12             Galloway was then strongly supported by the USFI, whose Scottish supporters remained in the SSP and in Frontline.  The USFI had experienced its own split in Scotland as result of ‘Tommygate’.  Its most prominent members, Gordon Morgan and the late Rowland Sherret joined Solidarity. However, with the backing of the USFI’s British section, Socialist Resistance (SR), the majority of USFI members in Scotland remained in the SSP. They began to up the previously virtually non-existent public profile of the USFI in the SSP, by selling Socialist Resistance and through openly putting forward motions to Conference, e.g. supporting the EACL Euro-election challenge.

Ironically SR was later to break with Galloway and his Respect organisation.

13            There was a time when the SSP leadership knew better. The NGOs’ churchy slogan ‘Make Poverty History’ was adopted in the lead up to the huge Edinburgh march preceding the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005. The white-clad ‘Make Poverty History’ organisers, attendant pop celebrities and demonstrators (and their SWP backers) begged the G8 leaders, in effect, for a nicer corporate imperialism. The red-clad SSP demonstrators countered this forelock-tugging call with ‘Make Capitalism History’.

14             The background to the formation of the First International was the need for trade unions to prevent employers using scab labour from other countries, as well as to extend international solidarity to the Republicans in the American Civil War, the Fenians in Ireland and the Paris Communards. The background to the formation of the Second International was the international campaign for the Eight Hour Working Day. Those recent international actions, already mentioned, would seem to indicate that there are even more grounds today for a new International.

15             This is what happened to the much more radical (on paper) Communist Refoundation Party in Italy.  As a consequence, it lost all the seats it had gained, in 2006, in the Italian parliament after the 2008 general election.

16             Traditionally Labour members, particularly those holding office, have been very hostile to the SNP (dismissing them as ‘Tartan Tories’). However, as Labour itself has increasingly taken on a ‘Pink Tory’ hue, in the guise of New Labour, there has been a growing trend amongst some of those from an old Labour background to see the SNP as sharers in Scotland’s Social Democratic tradition,  Hugh Kerr has warmed to the SNP, John McAllion now argues for a ‘Scottish road to socialism’, whilst even former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, has been prepared to work with the prominent SNP member, Kenny MacAskill.

17            At the ISM’s prompting, the SSA became involved in Labour’s ‘Yes, Yes’ campaign in 1997. Using similar arguments, the SSP later became involved in ‘Independence First’, formed in 2005 by fringe Scottish Nationalists, but not supported by the SNP leadership; and in the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), also formed in 2005, but this time ‘supported’, restrained and reined in by the SNP leadership.

 Just as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which initiated the second Scottish Devolution campaign, turned its back on the Anti-Poll Tax struggle (and hence ended up acting as mouthpieces for New Labour’s much weaker Devolution proposals); so there is little chance of the SIC coming out in support of the struggles against the public sector cuts, when the SNP leadership, which they tailend, implements Westminster’s austerity demands.

18             Hutchinson later played a part in the Loyalist campaign of physical intimidation of Catholic primary school girls at Holy Cross in North Belfast, highlighting his roots in the UK’s most virulent Fascist tradition.

19             Daithi Dooley of Sinn Fein was also given a platform to provide ‘balance’. It was agreed to invite the CWI’s Left unionist, Peter Hadden from Northern Ireland to counter the Loyalism of the PUP and the now constitutional Republicanism of  Sinn Fein. The call to give a platform to the socialist Republican, John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy – Ireland (and a former West Belfast councillor) was denied.

20             Despite claims to the contrary, though, this political divide did not form the main reason for the later split. The SWP, which joined Solidarity, was strongly committed to 50:50, whilst others, who remained in the SSP, including members of the RCN, were opposed or abstained.

21            Before developing their infamous ‘Downturn Theory’, just before the 1984-5 Miners Strike (!), the SWP supported a semi-syndicalist, semi-economist form of rank and file strategy in the trade unions. Since then they have oscillated between empty left posturing (their occupation of the negotiations between Unite union leaders  and British Airways in May 2010) and an acceptance of a Broad Left strategy, similar to that of the old CP, and the present CWI.

22             It was not surprising that RMT leadership ended the union’s affiliation after the split in the SSP. Although the SSP leadership’s poor handling of member (Tommy) confidentiality provided an excuse, once the party showed it was much less in awe of ‘great leaders’, it probably became a lot less attractive to Bob Crow. His own British Leftism, inherited from the old CPGB and CPB, was highlighted by his later sponsorship of the British chauvinist, No2EU campaign.

23             The term ‘Immediate Programme’ is used in preference to ‘Minimum Programme’, which, in Social Democratic and later orthodox Communist Party circles, became divorced from any real commitment to the ‘Maximum Programme’. The term ‘immediate demands’ is also used in preference to the use of the Trotskyist term ‘transitional demands’, especially by those from the CWI tradition to try and glorify their support for routine Social Democratic/trade  union reforms. In the UK, these have often buttressed Social Democratic politicians and trade union bureaucrats, rather than developing independent working class organisation. The appropriate time for a ‘Transitional Programme’ is when there is a situation of Dual Power, which actually raises the possibility of an immediate transition towards socialism, the lower phase of communism.

24             A noticeable feature of Alan McCombe’s Downfall is the relative absence of any explanation for the changes in the politics of the SML and ISM, or of  the shifts that took place in trying to hold the ISM together; along with the lack of any account of its two major offshoots – ‘Continuity ISM’ Frontline in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists in Solidarity. Instead this book concentrates on the thinking in the ‘Inner Circle’, reinforcing the view that this was the most significant group in the SSA and SSP leadership. Downfall has a particularly pained tone of anguish and betrayal, precisely because the initial split was not between organised tendencies, but between the previously very close individual members of SML/ISM who made up this ‘Inner Circle’.

25            In this process of moving away from old CWI shibboleths, some former  CWI/ISM members moved very far along these lines of thought. Onetime ISM socialist Feminists originally saw the Socialist Women’s Network (SWN) as an autonomous group within the SSP, which included both socialist and radical Feminists. Following on from the brutal impact of Sheridan’s misogynistic behaviour towards prominent women comrades and other women, in his two trials, key SWN members seemed to move over to a position of advocating radical Feminist organisational separatism. They showed increased hostility towards socialist Feminists in the SSP who differed from them.

26             It was acknowledged by most of the SSP, including its leadership, that not all the  SSP platforms behaved as sects. The RCN was able to provide an example of principled platform behaviour. This contributed to the 2009 post-split SSP Conference decision to unanimously reject the ending of platforms, despite many SSP members having bad experiences of the sectarian antics of the SWP and the CWI.

27             When the RCN brought a motion to conference calling for no support to be given to ‘party’-front organisations (such as the SWP constantly promote), but only to bona fide, democratically-organised, united front campaigns, the SSP leadership would not publicly identify with it because of the diplomatic deals they had made with the SWP. Fortunately, Jim McVicar (ISM/Frontline) broke ranks and gave it his support. The motion was carried by a substantial majority.

28             However, Jim Bollan, SSP, the sole remaining openly socialist councillor in Scotland today, has remained committed to principled class politics. He was suspended for six months from West Dunbartonshire Council, by the SNP leadership, for his tireless activity in support of his overwhelmingly working class constituents fighting cuts to their services. He had the backing of Clydebank Trades Council for his stance. He continues to defy the council’s imposed cuts budget.

29              see:- http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/

30             The SSY supported Anti-Fascist Alliance challenge to Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which is one of the SWP’s several front organisations. UAF attempted, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to divert anti-fascist protestors from directly confronting the SDL to attending tame rallies, addressed by then Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie (!), well away from the Fascist mobilisations. However, neither did the  SSP leadership give a clear call to other SSP members as to where they should be  (although to Frances’ credit, she  was there directly opposing the SDL in Edinburgh).

The SSY also formed a prominent part in the Hetherington Occupation, which was a very significant contribution to the Student Revolt, which first developed in 2011.

31            The lack of any leadership public response to the SNP’s proposed anti-‘sectarian’ bill highlights the SSP’s continued reluctance to get involved in taking a principled position against British Loyalist, anti-Irish racism, which it believes could negatively affect its electoral chances, particularly in Glasgow.  To his credit, Graeme McIver of the DGS, and a prominent member of what is left of Solidarity, has publicly posted a good contribution on this issue on their website.

see:-  http://www.democraticgreensocialist.org/wordpress/?page_id=1448

32             ‘Forgive and forget’, though, does represent a small advance on the ‘Don’t forgive, don’t forget’ tendencies found in both the SSP and Solidarity. In reacting to Sheridan’s anti-party and highly personalised attacks upon leading SSP members, some have become involved in actions which should have been publicly rejected by the party, e.g. George McNeilage’s selling of the ‘Tommy Tape’ to the News of the World, and Frances’s not surprisingly unsuccessful resort to the bourgeois court to clear her name over Tommy’s ridiculous “scab” accusation in the Daily Record.

However, these mistakes have been dwarfed by the conduct of certain Sheridanistas. Some Solidarity members and Galloway (during his Holyrood election campaign, whilst courting Solidarity support) have encouraged violent  attacks directed against SSP members.

also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/19/a-reply-to-james-turleys-whose-afraid-of-george-galloway/

33           This may cause some difficulties for USFI supporters in Scotland, since the ISG’s leader, Chris Bambery was very much involved in supporting the SWP’s anti-Galloway breakaway from Respect, which was opposed by USFI-SR at the time. The ISG also gave its support to the virulently anti-SSP, pro-Union Galloway (nominally Respect) candidate, in the May 2011 Holyrood election. Political consistency has never been a strong point for those from the old SWP tradition!

Perhaps, political differences may develop between the USFI/SR and the Scottish USFI group such as undoubtedly exist between the USFI/SR and USFI/Socialist Democracy (Ireland).

3            Labour-supporting trade union leaders in Scotland condemned the SNP MSPs who crossed the Holyrood picket line on November 30th, but remained absolutely silent about Miliband and all those New Labour MPs who turned up at Westminster. Here Cameron was quick to highlight Miliband’s earlier publicly declared opposition to the strike.

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Dec 02 2010

Feed The World

Africa’s new global role for the 21st century?

Hands up anyone who thought that the G8 and G20 conferences were modern inventions at which the rich and powerful decide the fate of the world. It could be contended that they had a precursor one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

Between November 15, 1884, and November 26, 1885, the major European colonial powers met in Berlin at a conference under the leadership of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

The stated aims of the Berlin Conference were promoted as controlling the slave trade and the furthering of humanitarian aims and ideals on the African continent.

The conference did indeed pass resolutions concerning the welfare of Africa and the ending of the slave trade. However, all of this was just so much window dressing. The true purpose of the Berlin Conference was to divide up the continent of Africa among the imperial powers in such a way that they would not come into financially expensive and wasteful armed conflict with each other.

And how they succeeded.

A look at a political map of the African continent will show some very strange boundaries, many of them long and straight, unlike, for example, Europe. This came about as a result of the Berlin Conference.

As the Berlin Conference divided the continent between the European colonial powers the borders that the conference decided upon did not follow mountain ranges, rivers nor even ethnic groupings.

Indeed, the arbitrary borders that the conference imposed meant that ethnic groups were split by those borders, a situation which continues to be a source of trouble which haunts the continent of Africa to this day.

However, nothing remains forever and, as time moved on, one by one the countries of Africa declared their independence from their imperial masters. But now, at the start of the 21st century there are fears that a new and very controversial form of colonialism is taking place in Africa, and again, as in the 19th century, it is the rich and powerful who are doing the colonising.

The 21st century’s version of colonialism is all about food. Vast tracts of the African continent are being bought up or leased for the production of crops for export.

Those buying or leasing the land are a mixed but not too surprising bunch. Among them are rich and powerful countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and India among many others, but also to be found are the usual suspects of capitalism, those you can find wherever there are opportunities for exploitation — hedge funds, pension funds, commodity traders, investment banks, multinational corporations, grossly rich individuals, &c., pretty much the usual collection of spivs and profiteers who will turn up like a shark unerringly following a blood trail whenever the poor are to be exploited for profit.

There are various reasons for the rush to what many have described as a land grab.

  • The global food shortages following on from steep rises in the price of oil in 2008.
  • The EU’s assertion that, by the year 2015, 10% of all fuel used for transport has to be obtained from plant-based biofuels.
  • Growing global water shortages also play a part..

To achieve the EU’s required 10% biofuel target it is estimated that an area half the size of Italy would have to be turned over to biofuel production, surely an obscenity in a continent where millions go to bed hungry each night.

Saudi Arabia has another good reason for outsourcing its crop production. It is one of the Middle East’s biggest wheat growers but recently announced that it intends to reduce domestic wheat production by 12%. The Saudis intend to make up the shortfall by purchasing/leasing land in Africa to grow crops on. This tactic will also help to conserve Saudi Arabia’s scarcest asset, namely its precious water supply.

Water, oil, food—the resource wars of our oncoming century.

With the world population estimated to grow to around 9.1 billion by the middle of this century and global demand for food likely to rise by 50 per cent, the lack of fresh land for cultivation domestically means that many developed nations are now taking steps to secure their food supply by growing crops in Africa for export to and consumption by their own domestic markets.

What makes Africa such an attractive agricultural opportunity for capitalist countries / transnational businesses? The cheapness of the land is one of the major attractions. As arable land grows scarcer in Europe and the USA, it can be purchased for around $350-$500 per hectare in Zambia. That same hectare in the United States would cost round about 10 times as much.

But land and its ownership is a contentious thing in Africa.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation believe that only about 14 per cent of land suitable for cultivation is presently being used. But very little land in Africa has documented ownership and much is community owned or even in some cases state owned. Even land that is apparently empty may be subject to intricate patterns of customary usage.

Yet governments in Africa are keen to sell and lease their land in order to provide income from what they see as an underdeveloped resource and also to bring employment to their countries. The reality of the jobs that will be created is that most of them will be as low-paid agricultural labourers or in the provision of security for the foreign investors. The corporations investing in these schemes are probably not head hunting new CEOs among Africa’s tribes.

International Land Coalition policy specialist Michael Taylor put it this way:

If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion. Anybody who has seen these areas identified as unused understands that there is no land in Ethiopia that has no owners and users.

It is estimated that in the last three years that 50 million hectares of land in Africa has been acquired, or is in the process of being acquired, by wealthy countries, individuals and corporations. To give a perspective on that figure, 50 million hectares is more than twice the area of the United Kingdom.

Ethiopia has over 13 million of its population dependent on food aid, making it one of the world’s hungriest nations. The Ethiopian government, however, in deals done with wealthy countries, corporations and individuals, is prepared to lease out three million hectares of its best land to them.

Nyikaw Ochalia, a native Anuak from Ethiopia’s Gambella region, in an interview in The Observer, dated March 7, 2010, stated:

All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it.

It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing that local people see is people coming with lots of tractors, to invade their lands.

All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. The land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.

The Oromo people form about 50 million of the 80 million population of Ethiopia. In an open letter dated February 25, 2010, to Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromo Studies Association, describes his people’s plight.

In the letter he tells of how the Oromos are being evicted from their land by the Ethiopian government and how their confiscated land is being sold to various countries, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China, India and Egypt among them.

On March 4, 2009, the first food crop arrived in Saudi Arabia which had been grown in Saudi farms abroad. At the same time in Ethiopia the Oromo people were dying in a man-made famine.

Ethiopia, is, of course, by no means alone, and other countries affected by the new agri-colonialism of Africa include Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and the Congo.

The Congo (DRC) has done a deal with South Africa whereby it will lease nearly one-third of its land to South African investment for a period of 99 years. If the South Africans use the same model for agricultural development in the DRC as they did domestically it does not bode well for the small-time farmers.

Millions of subsistence farmers and labourers in South Africa were forced to leave the land and move to the squalor of the townships of the big cities as their land rights were taken from them.

Again, the problem exists for the indigenous people of the DRC, and indeed, almost anywhere in Africa, that virtually no documentation exists to prove their legal right to the land, making it easy to evict them in the name of progress.

There is also a huge environmental cost to the deal between the DRC and the RSA in that any rainforest obstructing the deal will be destroyed. Any threatening protests are to be dealt with by the military.

None of this should surprise us, really.

The historical record of colonial powers and transnational corporations regarding showing a duty of care towards indigenous populations is somewhere on the spectrum round about the area occupied by the Easter bunny and the unicorn, that is, very imaginative but with not much actual basis in reality.

As foreign money pours in to buy or lease land from poor African countries a couple of examples, one from the past and one currently taking place on another continent, may shed some light on what might be expected to occur.

The lesson of Liberia regarding exploitation of its rubber plantations is instructive. In 1926, the tyre manufacturer Firestone leased huge tracts of land at six cents an acre to harvest the sap of the rubber tree used in the manufacture of tyres. It is the largest rubber operation in the world yet there is very little benefit to the local communities and the use of child labour has been widely reported.

OK, it’s quiz time!

In 1926 Firestone struck a deal whereby they would pay 6 cents an acre to Liberia for land to grow rubber trees on. In the nearly eight decades between 1926 and 2005 there have been many major events and changes—the world has seen global conflict, man has progressed from flying in rickety bi-planes to walking on the moon and every home in Scotland now has an inside toilet. Bearing all this in mind, how much do you think that Firestone were paying Liberia per acre in 2005? Don’t forget to factor in 79 years of inflation as you work out the answer.

To make it a little bit easier the answer is multiple choice, so have a guess if you’re not sure. Was it:

  • (a) An appalling 10 cents
  • (b) A miserly 12 cents
  • (c) an astonishingly generous 15 cents

Ha Ha! Gotcha! Trick question!

Firestone continued to pay six cents an acre until 2005, when the price per acre was increased to 50 cents, then in 2008 it rose again to $2 per acre, still by any measure a huge bargain.

For a major international corporation to pay the same price for nearly eight decades to a poor African country for the use of its land is beyond exploitation, the word exploitation is simply not big enough to encompass the corporate greed involved in this shabby deal.

In an interview with finalcall.com in August 2008, Elmira Woods, who has Liberian roots, and is director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank and research institute based in Washington DC., said,

We know that Africa has been at the centerpiece of the global economy for five hundred years since the days of slavery.

From the time that we as African people were pushed into slavery to sustain the economies of the West until today, you have had the African economies, the resources that come from the continent whether it is steel or iron ore that creates the steel that comes from Africa, or it is rubber that you could not have the tires on the cars without, the rubber that comes from Africa.

These vital resources for the global economy come from the African continent. What has happened, just as in the days of slavery and in the days of colonialism, Africa is looked to as a place to extract the resource and not really to develop the people.

I think that there has been a sustained effort to under develop Africa, really for five hundred years.

So you have corporations whether it’s the big oil companies now, that are celebrating historic high profits and yet the communities on which the oil lies will have no schools, poor housing, inefficient or non-existing health care and no roads to speak of.

I mean complete degradation of these communities, in spite of the fact that oil has been flowing from some of these communities in Nigeria, for example, since 1956, yet the communities remain without any of the basic necessities of human survival.

This is the problem, especially multi-national corporations going after their greed, going after resources and not seeing the people. And just as it was wrong in the days of slavery, it is as wrong today, to have this type of exploitation of a continent.

Another example of how Africa’s indigenous populations should perhaps expect to profit from the current inward agricultural investment can be found across the Atlantic in South America, specifically Brazil.

The development of industrial scale farms dispossessed many of Brazil’s indigenous farmers as the Brazilian government opened up its huge savanna to soy production. US agribusinesses subsidiaries make vast profits and huge soy farms are owned and run by US farmers. In global terms Brazil is now an agricultural superpower, exporting soy, beef, coffee, sugar and much more.

However, despite this agricultural/economic miracle, 25 per cent of the population, that is 44 million people, live on a daily income of less than $1.06 per day. By any definition this is known as extreme poverty.

Brazil is expected to become the world’s fourth largest economy in the near future. That such an economy could have so many people in dire poverty tells us much about capitalist notions of what a successful economy should look like.

And yet, there is a chance that all the rich, powerful countries and various capitalist spivs currently exploiting Africa may yet have their best laid plans undone.

In July 2008 the giant Daewoo corporation leased 1.3 million hectares of land for the production of maize and palm oil in Madagascar. When the population heard of the plans violent protests broke out which eventually led to the overthrow of Madagascar’s government in a coup, and the cancellation of the deal. People power at work?

And there is another spectre haunting the world which may make many or even all such land grabs void. Climate change may yet wreak havoc on African land deals.

Consider this. Seeking to entice sheikhs to invest in buying land for crop growth the government of Pakistan held a road show in Dubai. They promised tax breaks and exemptions from labour laws and even threw in a 100,000 strong security force solely for the protection of their investments. All this, it should be noted, while Pakistan is at war with the Taliban.

Yet the events of July/August 2010 in Pakistan may prove a warning to all those investing or planning to invest in land deals to grow crops abroad for domestic consumption. Unusually heavy rains have produced floods of biblical proportions, made 15 million people homeless, and destroyed domestic crops in the fertile lands of Pakistan. Last week, on August 27, Pakistan suspended all wheat exports.

At the start of September, 2010, there were food riots in Mozambique after the government increased the price of bread by 30 per cent. The root cause of this massive increase was to be found far away in Russia. Due to wildfires much of the Russian wheat crop has been destroyed and a ban has been placed on the export of wheat.

Russia is the world’s third-largest wheat exporter and the export ban has created a global wheat shortage. This has led to a huge increase in the price of wheat on world markets. As a country which imports over 60 per cent of the wheat that it needs the poor people of Mozambique are being forced to pay the price for international capitalist markets.

As the world heats up currently fertile lands may be hit by drought, flood or some other extreme weather events.

If this were to happen would the distressed and starving indigenous population be forced to look on as any crops that survived but were grown on land purchased by outside investors were driven past them for export, accompanied by an armed escort? Surely something like that would never happen.

Was it just me or did anyone else just hear the mournful melody of The Fields of Athenry?[1]

At the G8 summit held in Italy in July 2009 the Japanese delegation tried to push through a code of conduct to govern land grab deals. Never mind any firm legislation, the proposed code of conduct proved too much for the other seven members to support. Eventually, Japan’s proposal was watered down to a promise to develop proposals on principles and best practices for foreign agricultural investment in land with partner countries and international organisations.

Did you have to read that several times before realising that it is so vague and wrapped up in gobbledygook that it is meaningless? Do you suspect that nothing will actually be done regarding regulating this new colonisation of the ‘dark continent’?

At a time when we are expected to pay for the folly of a rich elite’s reckless pursuit of profit through cuts to our vital services, who, reading this, expects that the same elite will pass up the opportunity to exploit the poorest on our planet? It beggars belief, given their past record, that they will pass up the chance of a profit because it might contravene humanitarian ideals.

Was that an echo rolling down the centuries that I just heard from the promises made at the Berlin Conference?

[1] The Fields Of Athenry is a song about the failure of the potato crop, resulting in the 19th century Irish Potato Famine. The failure of the crop that the poor depended on for sustenance meant that millions either starved or were forced to emigrate. During the famine grain was exported to England under armed escort as the starving Irish population looked on. Due to death and emigration the population of Ireland was reduced by one-third in the famine. When French and American ships tried to land with food and clothing to alleviate the suffering of the Irish they were met by British gunboats and diverted to English ports. There the goods were offloaded and reloaded on to English ships (at a price) to be transported to Ireland. Such was the length of the delays that most of the foodstuffs had rotted by the time they sailed for Ireland. Newspapers of the day, including The Times, published articles and editorials in which they claimed that the potato blight in Ireland was God’s punishment because they were a largely Catholic country.

The Fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Michael, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn
That the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

CHORUS

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters, Mary, when you’re free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled, they ran me down,
Now you must raise our child with dignity.

CHORUS

By a lonely harbour wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

CHORUS

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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. (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/)

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 (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/). 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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Mar 20 2009

Well, the Crisis of Capitalism has arrived – So, what do we do now!

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:39 pm

Not just a ‘Credit Crunch’ – but a ‘Crisis of Capitalism’

This year’s SSP Conference takes place against the background of an unprecedented crisis for capitalism. Every day it becomes clearer that the problems in the economy are not just confined to the over-inflated world of finance, but are having a major impact on the productive sector, as factories face closure or short-time working. Furthermore, the large drop in government revenues, due to the big decline in economic activity, threatens huge cuts in social expenditure and provision too. Brown and Darling officially concede that we are living in an economic recession. Other analysts and commentators openly talk of a new depression, perhaps even deeper than that of the 1930’s.

Marxists have long talked of the crisis of capitalism, albeit often only amongst themselves. What is new today is that so many economic commentators agree.The difference now lies in their proposed solutions to deal with the current economic situation. For the mainstream economists, in the various corporate funded think-tanks and university economics departments, the debate is confined to what is the best way to get the capitalist system fully up and running again. In other words how can capitalist accumulation and profitability be restored?

What has changed, in the thinking of business executives and politicians, is the sharp decline in their earlier belief that everything could be left to the market. When the global economy was ‘booming’, millions of workers could have their real wages and social benefits cut, whilst being offered seemingly ‘limitless’ credit as an alternative. Many more millions of peasants, throughout the world, could be uprooted and forced to seek a ‘better life’ as transient migrant labourers. However, whenever workers and peasants made any calls for government funding to address their immediate problems, they were brusquely told by neo-liberals that this would only stall the engines of economic growth. Now, in the face of the economic crisis, which threatens the rich and powerful too, recent advocates of neo-liberalism are on the defensive, as they shamefacedly look to governments to bail out their system.

Neo-liberalism and neo-Keynesianism – the two faces of capitalism

This helps to explain the rapid rise of neo-Keynesianism, with its calls for greater government spending and state regulation of the economy. Keynesianism originally developed in the 1930’s as the ideology of the capitalist system in crisis. It became economic orthodoxy after the experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War. In 1971, the then Republican US President, Richard Nixon, could say We are all Keynesians now.

By then, the majority of capitalists were in agreement over the economic mechanisms needed to keep any economic crisis at bay. However, just as an earlier Gold Standard, free market, economic orthodoxy was dealt a fatal blow by the Stock Market Crash of 1929; and just as the recent global corporate, neo-liberalism has faced its nemesis in the 2008 Credit Crunch; so too, capitalist confidence in Keynesian panaceas came to an end in the mid-1970’s.

It had then become obvious that the maintenance of profit rates was incompatible with steadily rising wages and an expanding welfare state. Furthermore, after 1968, workers’ rising expectations led to large numbers taking strike action, and even to some workers occupying their factories, to defend and advance their interests. Squeezed between declining profits and rising class struggle, capitalism was once more under threat.

This is why big business turned to the previously marginalised, ‘free market’ economists, such as von Hayek and Friedman, to help them overcome their latest problems. These neo-liberals opposed government intervention in the economy and believed that it could be left to ‘the invisible hand’ of the market. However, it was only with the backing of the very visible hand of the state, that the ‘full freedoms’ of the market were restored. Thousands of Chilean socialists and workers were killed after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, whilst in 1980’s UK and USA, the Thatcher and Reagan led governments promoted mass unemployment and union-busting offensives to discipline the working class.

The Libertarian Right’s dream of a stateless society under the free market proved to be a utopian illusion built on the false notion that capitalism can thrive best without government interference. The application of neo-liberal policies certainly led to the cutting of government spending in the field of direct social expenditure. However, indirect taxes were increased and spending was diverted to the coercive arms of the state – the armed forces, police and judiciary – to undermine the power of the working class; or given directly to the corporations through military spending and other government contracts.

Imperialist interventions were stepped up once more, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East. Some of these had direct economic intent – to ensure corporate control over such vital assets as oil; others were demonstrations of raw ruling class power, to remind people just who was boss, and to promote favoured clients in the ‘Third World’. Eventhe elimination of the USSR-led ‘state socialist’ competition, after 1989, failed to reverse the rise in state expenditure in the West. ‘Free markets’ now depend on massive and continually increased government intervention and spending.

Thus, throughout the prolonged period of neo-liberal ascendancy, from 1979 to 2008, global corporations were benefiting from government promoted wars, and by military, police and security operations designed to break-up ‘communities of resistance’, thus creating pools of cheap flexible labour. Private capital also gained from the huge rip-offs of the tax-payer associated with PFI/PPP schemes; and from the state’s resort to the use of costly private agencies and overpaid consultants.

Far from renewing a ‘free market’ economy, with a much-reduced ‘night-watchman state’, the big corporations and their neo-liberal supporting politicians presided over the continued expansion of, and their dependency upon state power. ‘State capitalism’ was not confined to, nor did it end with the demise of the Soviet Union between 1989-91. It morphed into a new single global order with the definitive victory of the corporate executives over theparty bureaucrats. On a world scale, the global corporations were now the prime beneficiaries of state power.

Furthermore, the demise of the Soviet Union meant that, for a certain period, the US state, which fronted the largest collection of global corporations and had the most powerful armed forces in the world, could either pressure the ‘international’ UN to sanction wars in its interests (retrospectively, if necessary, as in Iraq), or just go it alone. After ‘9/11’, the US state also took upon itself the role of handing out ‘anti-terror licenses’ to supportive governments so they could crush their own troublesome oppositions, e.g. Israel and the Palestinians, Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Meanwhile the arms corporations in the USA, UK, Europe and Israel made billions.

Despite all their support from the state, super-confident and arrogant corporate executives opposed any public scrutiny of their activities. They pushed for the ending of all government regulation of the economy. They demanded the protection of private companies’ ‘commercial confidentiality’, even when undertaking publicly funded projects.

The net result of all this direct and indirect state assistance, combined with the lack of any meaningful public scrutiny and accountability, has been a massive switch of wealth to the ‘masters of the universe’. It also led to greatly increased incomes and perks for their supporters in the media, those they fund in various ‘educational’ institutions, and of course, for their apologists in government. So, by the 1990’s, Clinton’s Democrats and Blair’s New Labour Party could easily have said, We are all neo-liberals now.

However, the current economic crisis has shown that, even in the private, privatised and deregulated sectors of the economy, over which the corporate executives declared their complete competency, they have failed spectacularly. So now they openly demand, on top of all their earlier massive, if largely publicly unacknowledged, state support, mind-boggling financial government subventions – at our expense. This is not to be done for the wider benefit of the public, who have never figured in corporate executive concerns, but to ensure that their current staggering losses are socialised, and to restore their private profits in the future.

(Neo)-Keynesianism, national protectionism and the drive to inter-imperialist wars

As the current economic crisis deepens, even those publicly unaccountable transnational institutions, which corporate capital and its political backers have created or moulded to further their global interests – e.g. G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO, GATT, NATO and the EU – are being subjected to increased internal strains. An overstretched and badly bruised USA can no longer command automatic support for its imperial ventures – especially when they are unsuccessful. China and Russia, and possibly even the EU, or its bigger constituent states in the future, are pulling in different directions, opening up the even more dangerous prospect of inter-imperialist wars.

Faced with falling profits and the devaluation of their assets, competing national ruling classes are beginning to move away from their recent international capitalist cooperation and opt instead for ‘me first and devil take the hindmost’ policies. National neo-Keynesianism is linked to new protectionist drives, designed to uphold particular national capitalist interests, to set worker against worker, and to make future shooting wars between major imperialist powers more likely.

Furthermore, there is the chilling reality that, although several national governments pursued Keynesian policies in the 1930’s, these failed to end the Great Depression. Just prior to the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg had anticipated the choice facing humanity – Socialism or Barbarism. However, it took two world wars, with millions dead and the massive destruction of accumulated capital, to eventually give capitalism a new lease of life after 1945. Any future world war, however, brings the very real prospect of human annihilation, whilst the increased capitalist degradation of the environment adds another twist to Luxemburg’s warning. As the marxist philosopher, Istvan Mezsaros has said, the choice now lies between Socialism or Barbarism if we are lucky!

One worrying early example of the future likelihood of inter-imperialist wars has occurred since the last SSP Conference. The nasty little conflict, which emerged in South Ossetia, last August, highlighted the growing US/Russian antagonism. In this particular case, the US client government in Georgia, led by President Saakashvili, was unable to provoke the direct US intervention it sought on its behalf, despite the rapid Russian reaction to his bloody invasion of South Ossetia. The USA was too bogged down elsewhere to open up a new military front against such a dangerous adversary as Russia.

Saakashvili had to eat humble pie, as the Russian military took control of and guaranteed the ‘independence’ of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The notion that Medvedev and Putin did this for the benefit of two of the many oppressed peoples of the Caucasus would not impress many Chechenyans. Successive US governments, though, have had more success in promoting their imperial aims in the one-time Warsaw Pact countries, and even in the former Soviet Baltic states. These have been drawn into NATO.

US and Russian inter-imperial competition continues, and is now focused upon Ukraine. Its shaky coalition government has recently faced threats to Russian-supplied oil and gas deliveries. This represents a warning from the Russian state not to get any closer to the West. Yet, the lengthy Russian borderlands represent just one potential shatter zone, which could become the focus of a rapid escalation of inter-imperialist wars in the future.

Israel represents another US client state, only too eager to provoke wider wars, to provide cover for its leaders’ desire to ethnically cleanse the remaining Palestinians. During the dog days of the outgoing Bush administration, Barak Obama was keen to be seen to take initiatives to deal with the crisis-ridden American economy, but he remained silent over the Israeli invasion of Gaza. The likely formation of an even further Right Zionist government in Israel, under Netanyahu, seems only to have prompted the US government to attempt to further cripple the elected Hamas government in Gaza, under the guise of foreign aid, channelled through the US/EU/Israeli Palestinian Authority stooges.

President Obama’s new administration includes nobody even remotely connected to those misguided radicals so important to the success of his election campaign. This is because they were not so crucial to his future project – the re-branding of US imperialism – as those big business backers, who now determine the real direction of US state policy. Obama’s Cabinet now includes Republicans, Clintonites and avowed supporters of any Israel – no matter how belligerent and oppressive the government in power. He has, in effect, formed a national coalition. Obama wants to get wider international imperial assistance, after the disastrous gung-ho, go-it-alone record of Bush and his neo-liberal advisors.

After facing unforeseen resistance, Iraq is largely being given-up as bad job. Nevertheless, it has been left in a much weakened and balkanised state, unable any longer to play a role as a regional power. Where outright victory can not be achieved, then a legacy of massive destruction and dislocation has become the preferred US policy option. Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza follow the same pattern. This may still provide openings for non-state terrorist organisations to operate; but if they become troublesome, then massive all-out bombing offensives can be launched, with total disregard for the wider human consequences. Increased numbers of US troops are now being sent to a disunited Afghanistan to cause even more havoc and misery. Meanwhile preparations are being made for more draconian sanctions against Iran.

Thus, just as neo-liberalism was not merely an economic strategy, but was accompanied by massive US imperial interventions throughout the world; neither is neo-Keynesianism confined to purely economic measures. It can only lead to further imperialist wars and to increased inter-imperialist competition, with dire consequences for humanity.

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

Our annual Conference is the time to take a close look at these latest developments, and to debate the policies needed to address the situation we face. The SSP is a broad-based socialist party, which includes different organised platforms as well as less clearly formed tendencies. Conference resolutions are a reflection of these different approaches. The fact that self-declared revolutionary socialists may often find themselves in a minority can easily be understood in today’s non-revolutionary conditions. However, as long as there is genuine democracy in the SSP, the possibility of winning members (and others) to consistent republican and communist politics remains open, in the changed circumstances of the future.

So, what are the political tendencies to be found in the SSP? After the split, overt Left nationalists have become a weaker force, with the departure of the SRSM and several former SNP members. Similarly, Left unionists are a diminished presence, with thedeparture of the CWI,/IS, SWP, and the apparent demise of the Left Unity Platform (although one of their constituents, the Left unionist and social imperialist AWL, still has members in the SSP).

The once dominant International Socialist Movement (ISM) has fragmented, leading to the rise of a variety of Left nationalist, Old Labourist, Green Left, socialist feminist, and pro-social movement, spontaneist ideas. Former ISM platform members still form the majority of the SSP leadership, but are less politically cohesive than they once were. This has allowed other politics, including republican socialist, to make headway in our party.

Although Frontline no longer considers itself to be organised platform of the SSP, in some respects this journal represents a kind of ‘Continuity ISM’, where debates between and beyond former ISM members continue. The former ISM’s international contacts were less extensive than those of the CWI, which they originally broke from, but are still valued by Frontline contributors. Perhaps the closest of these are to be found in the Australian Democratic Socialist Party/Green Left and those Fourth International members, some in the French LCR, and others grouped around the magazine Socialist Resistance in England and Wales. Socialist Resistance has replaced the SWP as the main organised grouping in the post-split Respect Renewal. Unfortunately, Respect’s leader, George Galloway, is a Left unionist. He used his Daily Record column to give support to New Labour in the Glasgow East and Glenrothes byelections. Worryingly, neither Frontline nor Socialist Resistance has publicly commented on this.

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

Since the old ISM came out of the Trotskyist and CWI,/Militant traditions, it will be interesting to see how their view of the economic crisis develops. ‘Nationalisation of the top 200 companies’ was always a particular Militant shibboleth. There has been much loose talk in the media, following the effective nationalisation of several major banks by the US and UK governments. Some have even declared that, We are all socialists now.

This equation of ‘nationalisation’ with ‘socialism’ has been the hallmark, not only of neo-liberal economists, but also of official and dissident communists (or socialists as Trotskyists prefer to call themselves in the British Isles). The last vestiges of effective workers’ control of the Soviet economy had been eliminated in 1921, after the crushing of the Kronstadt Rising. After that, official and dissident communist claims that the USSR was still moving towards ‘socialism’, rested either upon the continuation of Communist Party rule, or the extension of nationalised property relations. The idea of socialism became separated from that of genuine democracy or effective workers’ control.

In the USSR, the reality was that the working class had no effective control over the economy, only the ability to passively resist top-down directives – They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. Indeed, in the West, during the highpoint of class struggle between 1968-75, workers exerted more effective influence over the private companies they worked for, than did those workers in the East over ‘their own’ so-called ‘Workers’ States’. This was because of the relative strength of workers’ organisations in the West, at that time, compared to the situation workers faced in the East, where they had no independent class organisations of their own.

We have to be on guard against any notion of ‘socialism’ that separates state control from effective workers’ and popular democratic control. Any nationalisation or large-scale government funding measures under New Labour can only be aimed at meeting the needs of Brown, Darling and Mandelson’s real class backers – the global corporations.

Therefore, all those parties, which just voted for the government bail out of the banks, behaved in the same manner as those First World War Social Democrats who voted to provide war credits for their governments. For the decision to give trillions of dollars, pounds and euros to corporate capital amounts to a declaration of war upon the working class. We are going to be called on to pay for this through a massive austerity drive and further wars.

What is socialism and communism? – The need for a widened debate in the SSP

Nick McKerrall (Frontline) has been arguing for some time, that the SSP has not yet really developed a programme, which can address the situation we face. The RCN disagrees with Nick’s advocacy of a temporary retreat from public politics, in favour of a period of internal education. We believe, not only that you can do both, but that theoretical and programmatic development stems from political practice as well as from internal party education. However, we do agree with Nick that a new SSP programme is required. To do this though, the SSP needs to undertake a serious analysis of exactly what we mean by socialism (and/or communism) and, in particular, what role we see for the state, both today and in any revolutionary transition to a new society.

This is why, following on from our well-received pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy, we intend to produce another later this year, which addresses the issue of Communism and Socialism. Istvan Mezsaros’ challenging new book, with its essay, Socialism in the Twenty First Century, makes a major contribution to the wider ongoing international debate on this largely abandoned area of theory. The RCN has also been following the interesting ideas put forward in The Commune, a new website magazine, which is also beginning to re-examine earlier ideas about what constitutes socialism/communism.

There have always been some in the SSP who hanker after the days of ‘Old Labour’ (albeit within a Scottish national framework). This is not surprising, given the historical strength of Labourism in Scotland, and the spectacular betrayals of New Labour. The sudden revival of officially sponsored Keynesianism could give some sustenance to those who claim that state ownership is inherently better than private ownership, regardless of who controls the state.

However, the renewed debate between neo-liberals and (neo)-Keynesians should be used as an opportunity to put forward a distinctive socialist challenge to both these variants of capitalist thought. If all we do is become Left Keynesians, championing the role of the capitalist state over the capitalist corporation, then this can only contribute to the rebuilding of the discredited Labour Left, and to the possible demise of the SSP. Over a decade’s hard work to create an independent socialist organisation will have gone to waste.

The political dangers of national protectionism – ‘British jobs for British workers’

If the war in South Ossetia heralded possible new inter-imperialist wars, then the politically ambiguous legacy left by the recent strike at the Lindsey oil refinery, highlights the dangers of the shift to the politics of national protectionism. The defence of hard-won national contracts for all workers, whatever their nationality, is vitally important, especially since Lord Mandelson is the main promoter of ‘drive to the bottom’ in the EU. However, the reactionary demand of ‘British jobs for British workers’ can not be glibly dismissed. The BNP may have been seen off the picket lines, but you can bet it will be their support that grows in the forthcoming EU elections, and not those of some socialist parties hailing a great victory. Furthermore, the claim that such specifically ‘British’ appeals have little purchase in Scotland, are also worrying, given the undercurrent of unionism and loyalism, which can still be found here. Union Jack caps were to be seen amongst the Grangemouth strikers.

At present, the main danger to workers in Scotland is not the BNP, but the revived credibility of such Labour Party trade union leaders as UNITE’s Derek Simpson. He jumped on to the ‘British jobs for British workers’ bandwagon to cover up his opposition to any rank and file control in the union, and to smother the recent exposes of his privileged fat-cat lifestyle, paid for by union members. It was the Broad Left leaders of UNITE who undermined earlier militant strike action by Heathrow cleaners – but they were largely Asian women workers.

There has also been the attempt by Bob Crow of the Broad Left led RMT to play the ‘British workers’ card. He is trying to form a ‘No2EU’ electoral challenge in the forthcoming Euro-elections, with a platform defending ‘British democracy’ and opposing ‘social dumping’, i.e. migrant workers. Much of this could be accepted by the anti-EU UKIP.

The only significant strike in the last year in Scotland was that conducted by Grangemouth refinery workers to defend their pensions. Their success was linked to their key role in the economy, and has not been repeated by other workers whose pensions are under attack. Although there have been other strikes, involving civil servants and post office workers, these have been the token one day strikes used by trade union bureaucrats to let off steam. This perhaps explains the lack of motions this year to Conference addressing industrial struggle.

Broad Left versus Rank and File

Broad Leftism, however, remains the dominant industrial strategy pushed by the SSP leadership. In this there has been little movement from the old Militant tradition. Broad Leftism sees the main job of socialists in the unions as being to try and replace Rightwing leaders with Left wing leaders, through winning leading posts within the union bureaucracy. The underlying problem with this strategy is highlighted by the appearance of new Broad Left campaigns to replace old Broad Left leaders who have themselves become the new Right.

The alternative Rank and File approach, advocated by the RCN, represents an industrial republican approach. We see union sovereignty lying not in the union HQs, but in the collective memberships in their workplaces. Socialists should not accept the union bureaucrats’ right to dismiss workers’ own actions as ‘unofficial’. When such activity occurs, this amounts to independent workers’ action. When action is extended by means of mass picketing, it should still remain under the effective control of the workers involved. Elected officials, on the average pay of the members they represent, should service not control rank and file union members.

Furthermore, there are now large swathes of non-unionised workers in the country. A debate needs to be opened up in the SSP about the possibility of building additional, new, independent rank and file controlled unions. Too often, socialists can become mere recruiting sergeants for the existing cynical dues-pocketing bureaucrats, who offer no real support to their new members. Here, the experience of the Independent Workers Union in Ireland could be valuable. Ireland is a country where trade unionists have been hamstrung, since 1987, by the bureaucrats’ support for social partnerships with the government and employers.

As with Derek Simpson’s posturing, we should also be on the look-out for other moves to hoodwink workers, who are increasingly questioning union leaders’ near total commitment to New Labour and ‘social partnership’. We could well be told that, We are all in this crisis together, and that ‘our’ union leaders intend to push for more widely-based ‘worker participation schemes’, so that our concerns can be aired. Remember, the irregular conjugation of the verb ‘to participate’ in government/corporate speak – I participate; you participate; he and she participates; we participate; you participate, but – They decide.

The real importance of trade unions is that they are a key part of working class self-organisation – well, when they are not the playthings of privileged officials, or instruments in the hands of the governments and employers, that is. We can exert no meaningful control over the wider economy and society if we have no effective control over our own organisations. So the strengthening of independent working class organisations is the most pressing task of all in the current crisis. It will be necessary to return to the Broad Left versus Rank and File debate in the SSP.

Socialist unity can not be divorced from ‘internationalism from below’ in these islands

If motions addressing industrial struggle are absent from the Conference agenda, a call for socialist unity has come from Renfrewshire branch. This, however, is largely confined to Scotland, with a nod and a wink to certain developments in England and Wales – such as the Convention of the Left and the RMT initiative. However, the geographical scope of this motion doesn’t cover the full extent of the UK state, which also includes the ‘Six Counties’. Nor does it address the problem of the shared British and Irish governments’ promotion of the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’. Together these policies are designed to maintain the best political framework for the corporations’ profitable operations in these islands. This common ruling class strategy has the backing of the British, Scottish and Welsh TUCs, and the Irish CTU. They are all locked into the ‘social partnerships’, which have turned union leaders into a free personnel management service for the employers.

Since 1992, the ‘Peace Process’, originally pioneered under Major’s government, has enjoyed shared Tory/Labour support. This reflects the widespread British (and Irish) ruling class agreement, in the face of their pressing need to pacify and reassert control over the republican ‘communities of resistance’ in the ‘Six Counties’. The disillusionment with the lack of any real ‘peace dividend’ has contributed to the re-emergence of physical force republicanism, with the killing of two British soldiers and a local PSNI officer by dissident republicans. In the absence of a wider political and social movement, such actions can only lead to further demoralisation and increased state repression.

It had already become clear that ‘British normality’had not been established in the ‘Six Counties’. Nevertheless, the UK government is now sufficiently in control that current Labour/Tory bipartisan support is fraying, as both parties develop their own strategies to preserve the Union in the face of the wider challenges.

Significantly, the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists have decided to form their own alliance to contest the next UK General Election. This represents the emergence of a new distinct and potentially dangerous Rightist strategy. The UUP is still heavily coloured by Protestant sectarianism, with many members active in the Orange Order. As yet, even after 87 years of the ‘Six County’ statelet and the UUP’s existence, it has not fielded even a single ‘Castle Catholic’ parliamentary candidate. This should be a wake-up call to the SSP, when Conservatives look for support in Scotland for their alliance with the UUP.

In the past, sections of the SSP, still influenced by the Militant’s old Left unionist traditions, were unable to make the distinction between the Irish republican struggle to end political and religious sectarianism, breaking the link with the UK, and the Ulster loyalists’ defence of Protestant privilege and the British Union. This was all dismissed as a ‘war between two tribes’. Gordon Brown’s call for ‘British jobs for British workers’ has been widely condemned for playing into the BNP’s hands. Now that the Conservatives want to give new life to Right Unionism in Scotland, it won’t only be the BNP who are given succour, but those supporters of the even more dangerous loyalist death squads, currently lying low over here.

Real headway has been made in the SSP over adopting a republican socialist strategy to break-up the UK and to end Irish partition, as opposed to a Left nationalist strategy for Scotland only. Nevertheless, the latter notion still enjoys some influential support in our party. The SSP initiated Calton Hill Declaration of October 9th, 2004, and the Republican Socialist Convention held last November 29th, were significant landmarks in the development of socialist republicanism. However, in the face of new reactionary pressures, we will need to stand firm in our commitment to democratic republicanism and to an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance with socialists in Ireland, Wales and England.

Such a strategy will be needed, not only to confront Unionism in all its forms, but to make any meaningful moves towards socialism in these islands. The failure of the ‘Peace Process’ to create ‘British normality’ in the ‘Six Counties’, along with the spectacular demise of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic model, now offer socialists a real opportunity to put forward our alternative to both the unionists and the nationalists, if we can clearly see what is at stake.

The SNP retreats – the Republican Socialist Convention shows the way forward

The Republican Socialist Convention also drew the attention of visiting socialist republicans in England, Ireland and Wales to the political significance of the centrepiece policy of the SNP-led Scottish Executive – a referendum on Scotland’s independence. Although the various unionist parties have been quick to see the possible dangers this represents to the future of the UK, there has hardly been any discussion about this amongst the British Left. Their supporters in Scotland have probably put the issue to the very back of their minds, now that the economic crisis has taken the wind out of the SNP’s sails.

The SNP’s ‘independence’ project was based on the backing of key sectors of the Scottish business community, and tied to continued capitalist economic growth, led by a lightly-regulated Scottish-based finance sector. Indeed the Royal Bank of Scotland’s document, Wealth Creation in Scotland, provided the economic underpinning for the SNP’s proposed mild social democratic measures.

Alex Salmond, once keen to be seen in the company of the likes of Sir George Mathewson, now keeps his distance – at least in public. Whether all Donald Trump’s proposed new business venture in Aberdeenshire survives the crisis remains to be seen. However, other SNP big business backers such as Brian Souter, Sir Tom Farmer and Donald Macdonald recently demanded to meet Salmond. Soon afterwards, the SNP’s other flagship policy, the abolition of the council tax, was dropped. It probably won’t be long before the independence referendum is abandoned too, in favour of the more ‘realistic’ ‘Devolution-max’ proposals emanating from the British unionists’ Calman Commission, which the SNP once scorned.

The RCN has long predicted that the SNP would fall fully into line with other constitutional nationalist parties, such as the Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence, the Basque National Party (PNV) and now ‘New’ Sinn Fein too (after taking ministerial office in her majesty’s Stormont government and voting in the Dail for government bailout of the Irish banks). An SNP, now holding office, will follow these constitutional nationalist parties in opting for gradual political reforms acceptable to the major imperial powers, the global corporations, and in particular, to their respective national business communities. The SNP’s recent, openly declared support for the British monarchy is a clear indicator of the very cautious road they have adopted. It also shows us exactly whose support they are courting.

If the SSP is to make its policy of the break-up of the imperial and unionist UK a reality, this means an end to tail-ending the SNP in such organisations as Independence First and the Scottish Constitutional Convention. These organisations are completely tied to the SNP leadership’s rate of movement – which could very soon be in a reverse direction. The precedent of the successful Calton Hill Declaration, and the new links to Ireland, Wales and England, made through the Republican Socialist Convention, offer the best basis for a campaign of radical constitutional and social change.

There has been general agreement within the SSP that any intervention in an ‘independence referendum’ campaign would be accompanied by clearly articulated economic and social measures, which would point to the type of society that we would want to help create. The fact that a Scottish Executive launched referendum is looking more unlikely does not lessen our need to develop a programme with such policies. Indeed the current crisis of capitalism makes it even more imperative, since it will increase the strains upon the Union.

Two things should be clear though – any calls the SSP makes for government intervention should be coupled with the demand for increased democratic control. Indeed, it is the republican demand for greater democracy, and not the nationalist desire to paint more British unionist institutions tartan, that should inform our campaign for political independence. Secondly, we can’t afford to confine such a campaign to Scotland. The various unionist parties are quite capable of whipping up British chauvinist feeling within the various countries constituting the UK, whilst warning an Irish government, which will be only too keen to comply, to keep its nose out.

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

The ongoing economic crisis has created divisions amongst the leaders of the EU. We can take some cheer from the massive students and workers’ struggles, which emerged in Greece, and the mass strike action in France. The ‘unofficial’/independentworkers’ occupation at Waterford Glass has also given the trade union bureaucrats such a nasty jolt, that it has even prodded the Irish CTU into action. They called the massive 120,000 strong, Dublin demonstration on February 21st. Significantly, the wildcat actions of those fighting for ‘British jobs for British workers’, has not been seen by the TUC torepresent a similar threat. The TUC and STUC remain bogged down in complacent inertia, pleased to hear a few sympathetic remarks from such government ministers as Alan Johnson and Peter Hain.

However, mounting resistance elsewhere will not stop European capitalists from trying to offload the cost of the current crisis on to workers’ shoulders. They are still trying to revive the neo-liberal Lisbon Treaty. Their attempt to browbeat the Irish into overturning their clear ‘No’ vote last year, should be met by an international campaign to back rejection once again. We hope that our Irish comrades in the Irish Socialist Network and Fourthwrite will consider seeking such support.

Unfortunately, the still divided European (and worldwide) Left is a long way from creating the new International we need to properly meet current challenges. This is one reason why the SSP must participate more fully in those wider international initiatives that do exist. To this end, the RCN has brought the formation of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, along with the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance (EACA), to the attention of Conference. We also offer a suggestion on how to improve their election platform for the forthcoming Euro-election.

Hopefully, the South Edinburgh SSP motion, which also advocates being part of the joint EACA campaign in the forthcoming Euro-elections, will also be adopted by Conference. Support for such policies would highlight the SSP’s active participation, alongside other European socialists, in promoting international solutions to counter the austerity and war-mongering drives being promoted by European capitalists, and by the Union Jack chauvinists of the BNP, UKIP, the Tories and sections of the Labour Party, as well as showing those SNP supporters committed to genuine independence that this can not be achieved on the coat-tails of the likes of Matthewson, Souter, et al. The purpose of the SSP is not to represent the interests solely of Scottish workers, but to act as an organisation representing all workers living and working in Scotland, whatever their nationality. This can only be achieved successfully in an active international alliance with others.

Despite the depth of the current crisis, capitalism could still yet be given new life, in a more barbaric form, and at the expense of the vast majority of working people. However, we shouldn’t underestimate its capacity, though, to bring about our complete extinction through nuclear war or man-made environmental catastrophe. Only socialists can offer an alternative future for humanity and the Earth. This is the bold challenge the SSP has to face up to at its 2009 Annual Conference.

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Sep 13 2005

Obstructing a Legal Demonstration

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 1:41 pm

On the morning of July 6th, myself and Raphie DeSantos, both members of the SSP, were tasked with organising buses, bus stewards and getting people on buses to go up to Gleneagles from Waterloo Place in the centre of Edinburgh. It was a chaotic scene, with many more people showing up without tickets than with, and we quickly became swamped. At this point a special tribute should be paid to the contribution of Catriona Grant (SSP) in helping with this process, as without her organisational skills and ability to marshal people as efficiently and effectively as she did, many of the buses that were able to leave filled with protesters would not have.

An hour or so into the filling of the buses the police appeared in strength, led by officers from Lothian and Borders but comprising mostly officers from the London Met and Greater Manchester. They advised us that the march had been cancelled due to trouble up in Auchterarder with anarchists, whom, they claimed, were attacking buses taking protesters to the march. Upon calling comrades who were already up in Auchterarder we found out that this was false and that the police were trying to block and obstruct the demonstration from taking place.

Upon receiving this information we advised the police that they were trying to obstruct a legal demonstration and insisted that we continue filling buses for the demo in Gleneagles. They agreed that they had no legal right to stop us from doing so, but insisted that they go on to the buses to advise protesters not to go up to Gleneagles on the grounds of public safety. As they were doing this, we announced to the crowd still waiting to board buses that the police were trying to stop the demonstration. We exhorted them not to be intimidated or put off, that we were either going to march in Gleneagles or march through Princes Street. They responded with a wall of noise in support.

The police completed their attempt to put protesters, already on buses, off and three double deckers were ready to depart. Just as the first was about to pull away from the kerb, a police van pulled out and blocked it in. Seeking out the officer from Lothian and Borders whom we’d been dealing with, it quickly became obvious that she had deliberately disappeared, with her place being taken by officers from London Met. Our immediate response was to get the waiting crowd to blockade Waterloo Place, where we began chanting ‘Let them Go! Let them Go! and The People united will never be defeated!

By now both Donnie Nicholson SSP and SSY and Nick Eardley SSP and SSY were involved on the frontline, and again a special tribute should be paid to the contribution made by them from here on in.

A Superintendent from Lothian and Borders appeared and we demanded that he allow the buses to leave otherwise we were staying put. The crowd involved was roughly around 600 people and the Superintendent ordered the police van to move back to allow the buses to depart. When the buses left a massive roar went up both from those on the buses and those on the street.

We cleared the crowd back on to the pavement with the assurances of the police that there would be no further attempt to obstruct the demonstration. However, again, this proved to be a lie. For while talking the language of co-operation and conciliation the police were actively doing their utmost to stop more buses arriving to pick up protesters, doing so by calling the bus companies directly and advising them not to send buses.

Our response was to get the crowd back onto Waterloo Place, get everyone to link arms, and march down towards the police cordon that had quickly formed to try and block us from getting on to Princes Street. The superintendent re-appeared and we accused him of acting in bad faith, demanding now that we march through Princes Street. The crowd was by now behind us all the way and off we marched, chanting and singing as we went.

The police tried to steer us up the Mound but we insisted on going straight along Princes Street. They tried to block this with a line of police vans parked across Princes Street, but we succeeded in breaking through and continuing on. We reached the end of Princes Street, where some of us were of a mind to march up Lothian Road and into the Meadows for a rally. However, it became apparent that most of the crowd wanted to stay on Princes Street, so that’s what we did, marching back the way we came.

This time, policing the front of the march, were officers of the London Met. They were more aggressive than Lothian and Borders and some of them had removed the numbers from their shoulder lapels.

Regardless, we continued marching. Another Police Superintendent from Lothian and Borders then appeared to negotiate with us. He assured us that the four buses that they’d previously blocked had now arrived and were parked at the bottom of the Mound. However, he advised that they were already full of protesters (due to the actions, it has to be said, of an organiser arriving on the scene and splitting the march).

We demanded that we be allowed to verify that those buses were full before they were allowed to leave. The Superintendent agreed, but asked for our reassurance that afterwards we disperse the crowd. We gave him no assurance on that, it being obvious that he was trying to use us to do his bidding.

Denying democratic rights

Denying democratic rights

A delegation, comprising myself, Nick Eardley, Kevin Connor and Vanessa Fuertes, all SSP members, left the march to check the buses. Waiting for us was Edinburgh City Councillor, Donald Anderson, whom the police had brought in to negotiate with us. We approached him, refusing to shake his hand when offered, and immediately demanded that he provide buses to take everyone up to Gleneagles. Not only that, we also took the opportunity of making a strenuous complaint at the presence of London Metropolitan Police on the streets of Edinburgh.

He promised to see what he could do to get us buses and went off, presumably to make a few phone calls to that effect. We then continued on towards the buses. Suddenly, the command, take them! was given and we were jumped on by the police and arrested.

The action lasted three hours or thereabouts, during which time we succeeded in shutting down Princes Street completely, a great success considering the role that retail corporations such as Marks and Spencer play in supporting the occupation of Palestine and exploitation in the developing world.

The SSP can be proud of the role its members played throughout, but a special mention should be made of Nick Eardley from the SSY. At just 17 years of age he demonstrated a courage and resolve way beyond his years. SSP National Convener, Colin Fox, sent in a message of solidarity and support to Nick whilst we were banged up in Livingston police station, which we all thought a magnificent gesture.

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Sep 13 2005

Facing up to the Challenge

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 1:38 pm

Nick Clarke looks at the Left’s response to G8

Over a year ago, comrades from the anti-capitalist movement, Globalise Resistance and the Scottish Socialist Party came together to create G8 Alternatives. G8 Alternatives immediately started organising, agitating, and campaigning to make sure that, when the world’s leading imperialists turned up at Gleneagles in July, they were met by an organised, militant, international opposition, in the tradition of Seattle, Genoa and Evian. A programme of events was planned; the G8 Alternative summit, demonstrations at Faslane Nuclear base and at Dungavel Asylum seeker detention centre. The centre piece was to be the Wednesday protest at the Gleneagles Hotel to make sure the G8 leaders heard our opposition. This last event then became the subject of lengthy, Kafkaesque negotiations between G8 Alternatives, Perth and Kinross council and the police – but more of that later.

In December 2004, the Make Poverty History campaign was launched – white wrist bands and a demonstration in Edinburgh on Saturday 2nd July were announced. Dozens of NGO’s and charities joined under the MPH banner. This was followed at the end of May 2005, by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure announcing the Live 8 concerts. By strange coincidence, the one in Edinburgh was due to take place on the same day as the Gleneagles demo.

The challenge to the left, including the SSP, was how to respond to these two belated initiatives. Of the MPH event: Following its launch, numerous celebrities publicly came out in support, including many with a genuine concern for the issues, a record of campaigning, but with a naïve perspective as to the solution. MPH caught a mood and this together with the media coverage that the organisers were able to drum up meant that this event was going to be huge. A glimpse of this was seen by the number of coaches that were being booked by all kinds of organisations, from all over the UK. It wasn’t just the usual suspects.

Hijacked by the right

The SSP’s response, to campaign and mobilise for an intervention on July 2nd, around the slogan Make Capitalism History, was correct. As July 2nd approached, we saw the campaign being hijacked from the right. Following the unprecedented anti-war demonstrations on 15th February 2003, the Labour government had developed new tactics in how to intervene with such mass movements. Government ministers were now insisting on joining the MPH event and speaking from the platform. And the organisers welcomed them – Gordon Brown, Jack McConnell and Hilary Benn all took to the streets.

At the same time as welcoming these representatives of British imperialism, the MPH officials were trying to marginalise the left and the less ‘compromising’ opponents of poverty and global capitalism. They attempted to deny the SSP and other progressive organisations the right to set up stalls in The Meadows – the assembly point for the march. The attempted sanitisation of this event was highlighted by the official call for everyone to wear white – was this a sign of surrender or counter-revolution?

Backfired

This backfired, as it gave socialists the perfect opportunity to make a recognisable intervention by wearing red – making a distinct socialist section of the demonstration highly visible. The SSP rightly seized that opportunity and we attracted many to our contingent from throughout Britain and internationally. Unfortunately the attitude of the SWP and the CWI meant that the size of the socialist section was not at the maximum.

The CWI adopted a sectarian position, refusing to join up with the SSP contingent. Instead of having a CWI section on the socialist contingent, they chose to march on their own – but at least they wore red! The SWP, on the other hand, appeared to submerge themselves into the white-banded, white-shirted morass. Although some of their platform members marched with the SSP contingent, the official SWP position was not to prioritise the building of the largest, coordinated, united socialist intervention.

Then we had Live 8. According to the official website: An estimated 3 BILLION PEOPLE watched LIVE 8 the greatest, greatest show on Earth. What was that about bread and circuses? How does 3 billion glued to a TV screen eradicate poverty? How does it pressurise the decision makers? Deliberately or not, the Live 8 initiative took attention away from the mass protests that were to take place. On July 2 and 3, the media was dominated with images and column inches of coverage of the concerts. TV and the print media treated us to photos and comments of the super-rich of the music business – Why were they here? What did they think of poverty? When’s their next album out? Then, following inane answers they tucked into the free, luxury buffet, as well as the complementary bar! Oh, and by the way, 250,000+ travelled to Edinburgh to take part in the largest demonstration in Scottish history.

MPH: mission accomplished?

MPH: mission accomplished?

So the message from Live 8 was leave it to those who know what they are doing; the masses should just sit back and enjoy the music – Sir Bob and Bono will change the nature of imperialism! Added to this was the decision taken by Bono, Bob and Midge to have the Edinburgh leg of Live 8 on the same day as the controversial Gleneagles demo! I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but… Was this a deliberate attempt to redirect protestors away from Gleneagles, as well as to divert the media from the state’s attacks on civil liberties – Ronan Keating was so marvellous, who cares about the right to march and the right to freedom of movement around Scotland?

Despite, the attempts of Live 8, Perth and Kinross council and various arms of the UK state, (with the US security services lurking behind the scenes) a successful, well attended demonstration did take place on July 6. Those taking part were remarkably patient and self-controlled despite the constant provocations of the authorities. In the lead up to the Gleneagles demonstration, the authorities had continually been obstructive to G8 Alternatives representatives who had tried to get the route and march details agreed with the police and local council. In March, SSP MSPs in the Scottish parliament had got that body to agree that the right to protest at Gleneagles should be upheld. As the G8 summit approached, Jack McConnell, Scotland’s First Minister, failed repeatedly to give assurances to that right.

Absolutely unrepentant

In response, all 4 SSP MSPs in the parliament that day stood up and in silent protest held up placards behind McConnell demanding he defend democracy and uphold the previous decision of the parliament. Reasonable enough you would think. However, by the end of the day, Parliament had imposed some of the most draconian sanctions against protesting parliamentarians in post war Europe. The 4 MSPs have been suspended for the month of September, their wages and allowances stopped for a month, as well as the wages of their researchers. All of this was imposed without them given a hearing. They were tried and sentenced in their absence, without any right of appeal. Frances Curran, one of those suspended, says she is absolutely unrepentant. Quite right.

We must be unequivocal in our support – both financially and morally. Although the August meeting of the SSP’s National Council voted almost unanimously to fully endorse the actions of the four MSPss, there are some in the SSP who have been critical of the MSPs’ action. The role of socialists in such a parliament must be different, to the run-of-the-mill careerists from the bourgeois parties. We are not a parliamentary party that believes that change and socialism will come through a vote in a parliamentary committee or First Minister’s Questions. It comes through the actions of those outside parliament.

If the SSP 4 had not protested about the suspension of our human rights to demonstrate against the world’s top 8 gangsters coming to Scotland, then when are we going to be different? They were articulating, not just the rights of people in Scotland, but of all those internationally that wanted to come and make their opposition seen and heard by those closeted away in the Scottish countryside.

Some critics say that the demonstration had already been given the go-ahead before the parliamentary protest. However the SSP 4’s actions were further vindicated by events on the day of the demonstration. Despite an agreement with the police at the eleventh hour for the protest to go ahead, on the day the police were determined to sabotage the event. It was only through the persistence and ingenuity of demonstrators that so many got to Gleneagles.

Rumours of cancellation, police road blocks and intimidation were all used to prevent us exercising our democratic right. In Edinburgh, many were denied the right to join the march and people were arrested when they organised a march along Princes Street to protest against police actions. (See separate article) However, the actions of the SSP MSPs, the draconian penalties and the media reaction meant that many more people were made aware of the Wednesday protest and the way the authorities from the Scottish parliament to Perth and Kinross council to the police tried to prevent the event taking place.

Although the G8 Alternatives slogan was ‘Stop the G8’, this was rhetorical, not a call to disrupt the official proceedings at Gleneagles. Some groups in the anarchist tradition tried to do just that. However, it was clear that the tactics of the combined security and police forces were able to handle all such attempts. Chillingly, it was only the actions of the suicide bombers in London, which brought a temporary halt to proceedings, as Blair was forced to leave the Summit. The ‘please don’t mention the war’ item, missing from the official G8 agenda, was rudely thrust forward. Not that the G8 leaders responded by recognising the enormity of their actions in Iraq (and elsewhere); the bombings just provided them with the excuse needed to ratchet up their attack on civil rights.

Although the Left’s successful defiance of the attempts by the state to obstruct the Wednesday protest was a definite victory; this too was soon swamped by the media attention devoted to the bombings. Internationally, particularly in many ‘Third World’ countries, where democratic rights hardly exist and imperialist violence is a daily reality, it won’t be the Left’s protests that have made an impact. The Left, particularly with its longstanding British constitutionalist tradition, has some way to go before it can make slogans, such as ‘Stop the G8’ a reality.

Nevertheless, unlike many well-intentioned, but politically naive, supporters of MPH, we at least knew the limitations of the G8 leaders. Is it not ironic that the two specially chosen official agenda items – African poverty and climatic change – should so soon explode in the G8 leaders’ faces? Within days of the Summit’s conclusion, Niger was revealed to be suffering abject famine conditions, with little being done officially to bring immediate aid. Within weeks, a hurricane struck New Orleans, revealing that ‘Third World’ conditions exist in the imperialist heartland of the USA, and the nagging worry that capitalist-induced climate change may be responsible. The need to ‘Make Capitalism History’ should now be clearer to many more people, who attended the massive protests in July. The SSP must match its wider political work with the policies, strategy and tactics, which can reach out to these people and make this slogan a reality.

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Sep 13 2005

The Legacy of the Gleneagles Summit

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 11RCN @ 1:28 pm

The 2005 G8 Summit, held at the luxury Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland from July 6th to July 8th, was notable for many reasons but three which stood out in particular were:

  • (i) the failure to come up with anything to alleviate unremitting poverty in Africa other than a pledge to raise aid by a paltry 15 billion dollars by 2010.
  • (ii) a set of announcements on climate change which amount to the final and complete death of Kyoto and with it the assured continued degradation of the environment.
  • (iii) co-ordinated bomb attacks in central London which came undoubtedly as a consequence of British involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

This lack of substantive progress, any progress at all in actual fact, came despite an unprecedented ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign spearheaded by Oxfam. Designed to put massive public pressure on the leaders of the G8 to cancel the debt and come up with a package of measures on trade and the environment, it culminated in a huge march in Edinburgh in advance of the summit on Saturday, July 2nd, a march which attracted upwards of 300,000 people from across Europe and the UK. In addition, held in conjunction were live rock concerts in London, Berlin, Philadelphia, Tokyo and Edinburgh organised by those sycophants to the political elite, Bob Geldof and Bono. A veritable who’s who of multimillionaire pop and rock stars turned out for this ego spectacular, along with the odd Hollywood celebrity or two, all of whom it is to be hoped shared the same private jet to save on aviation fuel.

Ultimately this latest exercise in bread and circus political campaigning achieved nothing – nothing at all.

That it did achieve nothing would have come as no surprise to anyone in possession of an analysis which penetrates beyond the symptoms of economic policies and an economic system predicated on ever-increasing profits no matter the human, social or environmental cost. Indeed, the very idea that these eight men, leaders of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, would come to Scotland, stay in the obscene luxury of the Gleneagles Hotel and, there, in between champagne receptions and rounds of golf, get to grips with the mayhem, misery and wars resulting from their policies and their economic system, was simply ludicrous from the word go.

This then brings us to that phenomenon otherwise known as the Global Justice Movement.

Arriving on the international stage with a bang at the WTO in Seattle back in 1999, this heterogeneous movement encompassing groups and people of all political stripe has grown bigger and more coherent with each passing year. And taking stock of this movement’s progress in such a short space of time, it does provide a measure of hope where previously there was none. Prior to 1999 institutions like the WTO, FTAA, and the G8, were able to meet in almost complete anonymity anywhere they liked. And at those meetings they went about their business unmolested and totally unchallenged. Well, not anymore they don’t. Now whenever and wherever they meet it’s under a state of siege.

An example of this came at this year’s summit in the shape of the biggest and most expensive security operation ever mounted in British history. A five mile perimeter fence, complete with watchtowers, was erected around the grounds of the Gleneagles Hotel and manned by thousands of police officers. Chinook helicopters were used to ferry riot police from location to location and above them fighter jets flew regular patrols. Out at sea, in coastal waters, a US aircraft carrier was in position with 2000 US Marines on board ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. All of this stands as a testament to the effectiveness and growth of the Global Justice Movement. Perhaps this movement’s most significant achievement in the six short years of its existence is in exposing the savagery and barbarity hidden behind the benign words and terms employed by the masters of the world to describe their economic policies. Words and terms such as globalization, neo-liberalism, free market, structural adjustment, etc., have all taken on a negative connotation in the public consciousness thanks largely to their efforts.

Working class movement

Various people, no doubt buoyed by the successes just mentioned, have referred to the Global Justice Movement, a movement which also encompasses the antiwar movement, as the New Left. It is here where the problem arises. For to label it New Left suggests that there was an Old Left which now no longer exists, or which has been abandoned for whatever reason. Well, this Old Left does still exist – it comprises the working class – and it remains the only force, or class, capable of taking on this juggernaut of imperialism and free market fundamentalism as it moves around the planet destroying both human and natural resources at an enormous rate.

The goal of the Global Justice Movement must now be to engage with the working class and draw it into the movement. Because, as effective and welcome as mass protests and demonstrations are, they can never be a substitute for mass industrial action. For it is only a general strike, in the UK but especially in the US, that can stop this juggernaut in its tracks, only the meaningful intervention of workers around the world that is truly capable of ushering into being the world without war and exploitation which all people of conscience and consciousness aspire to.

The mobilisation leading up to this year’s summit was organised largely by G8 Alternatives – a loose coalition made up of socialists, peace activists, environmentalists, academics, MSPs, and concerned citizens. In a week of protest marches, rallies and vigils, the event that stood out was the Alternative Summit held at various venues throughout Edinburgh on Sunday, July 3rd. 5,000 people attended plenary sessions and workshops on a wide variety of topics and struggles. Imperialism; aid, trade and debt; the politics of oil; and WMDs were just a few of the major issues analysed and discussed. Anti-imperialist struggles represented included those taking place in Palestine, Iraq, Latin America, and Ireland. Speakers and delegates included people like Susan George, Mark Curtis, Scott Ritter, George Galloway, Bianca Jagger, Trevor Ngwane, Dennis Brutus, Tommy Sheridan, and Eamonn McCann.

Thousands protested

Thousands protested

Heavy-handed tactics

Three hundred and fifty protesters were arrested during and around this year’s G8, a direct result of the heavy-handed tactics of thousands of police specially drafted in from various parts of the UK. Their collective mindset was that of an army of occupation. Rather than prevent trouble and facilitate peaceful protest, they went out of their way to intimidate, confront and obstruct anyone who dared try to exercise their democratic rights to free speech and assembly.

Sadly, however, the most significant statistic was the 59 dead and 700 injured as a result of the four bombs which exploded in the London underground during the morning rush hour on Thursday, July 7th. Pictures of Tony Blair in the aftermath pontificating yet again about the need to face terrorism and the terrorists wherever they may be were every bit as nauseating as they’ve always been.

The irony is that the 350 protesters arrested were doing just that when they went up to Gleneagles. For, make no mistake, Bush, Blair & Co. are the most dangerous men on the planet, men collectively responsible for 100,000 and counting dead Iraqi men women and children; for the lives of those soldiers sent to Iraq who won’t be coming back; for the 30,000 children who die each day in sub-Saharan Africa due to hunger and preventable disease; and now for those 59 Londoners, many of whom would have been against the war and were killed on their way to work.

It is simple but true – the only way to prevent terrorism is to stop being a terrorist. These eight men, plutocrats all, their role and function that of representatives of the international ruling class, are terrorists of the most heinous kind. One day, if there is any justice in this world, the perimeter fence erected to protect them in their bubble of luxury at Gleneagles will be a permanent one erected to keep them incarcerated in the high security prison where they truly belong.

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