Aug 11 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2

This is the second part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. the first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/

 

2. EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION AND INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

IN RESPONSE TO NATIONAL SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, AND OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNIST

INTERNATIONALISM FROM ABOVE

 

Contents of Part 2

 a.     Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

 b.     The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour

 c.     To party or not to party, that is the question

 d.     Autonomous organisations

e.      International organisation

f.       Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice 

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 a.      Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

i.      One thing that needs explained is how did Corbynism and Left social democracy make a revival which nobody predicted? If we look to Greece, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, we can see well-supported independent Left organisations, which have developed outside the traditional social democratic parties. One answer to this question is the sheer resilience of conservative organisational forms in a state like the UK with such a long and deep-rooted unionist and imperial history. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2”

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May 19 2011

A Reply to James Turley’s ‘Who’s Afraid of George Galloway’?

 

In Weekly Worker, no. 865, James Turley has attacked those who wrote an Open Letter urging no vote for George Galloway in the Holyrood elections on May 5th. The Open Letter was originally published on the Manchester-based blog, Infantile and disorderly (The Editorial Board of Emancipation & Liberation added its members’ names after the initial publication). So Turley’s response was not made with the Republican Communist Network in mind. However, since his letter addresses the situation in Scotland, and seems singularly misinformed about the situation, here is a reply.

Turley begins well enough, agreeing with many of the criticisms of Galloway already made by others. However, he soon reveals his ignorance of the situation in Scotland. He claims that Solidarity certainly did better under {Galloway’s} tutelage than Sheridan’s. In the recent 2011 Holyrood election, the Left unionist Galloway-fronted, Solidarity-backed slate received 6972 votes. However, in the 2007 election, the Left nationalist Sheridan-fronted, Solidarity slate received 8574 votes. On neither occasion were Galloway or Sheridan elected. Sheridan only managed to achieve this as part of the united socialist SSA and SSP slates in 1999 and 2003. Under their auspices he received 18,581 and 31,116 votes respectively. However, it is easy to see how Turley makes such an elementary mistake. As a member of the CPGB he believes that being a Left British unionist wins more support from the Scottish working class. Since Galloway is one of Scotland’s foremost Left British Unionists he must, by definition, have done better than Left nationalist, Sheridan. Reality mustn’t be allowed to cloud ideology!

Turley goes on to claim that the Open Letter signatories are misguided in basing their judgement on Galloway over Iran, because he is not standing for election in TehranOne can find all manner of Labour Left or Morning Star-type candidates with extremely dodgy record of supporting dictatorial regimes abroad, but the CPGB’s intervention is about drawing a class line on the cuts issue.

This represents a fairly rapid retreat to a narrow British and economistic focus, especially in the context of the major ongoing democratic struggles being waged throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Galloway appears to have greater internationalist pretensions than the CPGB. He has very publicly extended his support to a Muslim revolution… because a very significant number of the population of Egypt support the Islamic Movement of Egypt and that Movement has no need to hide itself under a bushel. (Stop the War Coalition meeting in London on 2nd February). In the Guardian of the 12th March, Galloway wrote that, I welcome the imminent victory of the Islamic movements in Egypt and Tunisia, which I think will provide very good government on the Turkish model.

With the collapse of Mubarak, the US and UK states are looking to the Muslim Brotherhood to buttress their slipping imperial control in the area. The Erdogan regime in Turkey is an ardent promoter of global corporate interests including privatisation. It continues to oppress the Kurds. Faced with ongoing democratic revolutions, in which the most advanced participants currently desire not Muslim but secular republics, and oppose ‘their’ state’s wholesale handing over of resources to the global corporations, Galloway’s genuine anti-imperialist credentials begin to look rather thin.

However, the crux of Turley’s argument focuses on Scotland and the CPGB’s  class line on the cuts issue {which} involves  a vote for a) candidates of the workers’ movement who b) oppose, and (at least say they) will vote against all cuts to public services. We also argue that voters should prefer Labour candidates who meet the conditions to non-Labour, though this is irrelevant in the Galloway case.

Funnily enough, Weekly Worker has not been able to name a single Labour MSP candidate in Scotland who meets their anti-cuts criteria, despite their own turn to the Labour Party. Furthermore, this is not so irrelevant in the Galloway case. Anybody reading his Daily Record column over the last few years would soon realise that, not only is Galloway pro-Labour, but he has been selling himself as, in effect, another possible future Labour MSP. This was based on his (misguided) assumption that Labour would gain most of the FPTP seats in Glasgow in the 2011 Holyrood election, leaving less space for further Labour MSPs on the top-up List seats. So he pointed out that a vote for Galloway was, in effect, a vote for an extra Labour MSP.

It looks very like Galloway was trying to work his way back into the Labour Party in a similar manner to Ken Livingstone. First, however, he would have to show that he enjoyed enough electoral support. However, when  Galloway was expelled by Blair from the Labour Party in 2003, he took very few people with him, unlike Livingstone. This is why he has had to seek the backing of those Trotskyist groups – in turn, the SWP, Socialist Resistance (they later abandoned him) and now the CWI and the SWP again (!) along with their Scottish breakaway, the International Socialist Group – all of whom he despises. Their role is to act as his unquestioning footsoldiers on the ground.

However, if we look to Galloway’s own stance over fighting the cuts he has no principled record in this regard either. He may verbally claim to be against all cuts to win the support of the gullible CWI and SWP. However Galloway is a member of Respect, which in East London is now little more than an Islamic communalist organisation. Respect councillors have voted through cuts in Tower Hamlets without a word of public criticism from Galloway.

Perhaps realising that a call to support Galloway as a principled anti-cuts candidate lacks a certain credibility, Turley points instead to his support from the Sheridan splinter group Solidarity {with} its two main activist bases, and later to the fact that Galloway remains reliant on support from willing left groups  – he means the SWP and CWI. Here Turley is retreating to another dubious aspect of CPGB politics – its belief that a principled Marxist Party can be built by uniting all the self-declared Marxist organisations in Great Britain into a single party. The ignominious break-up of the CPGB-backed Campaign for a New Marxist Party highlights the futility of this approach. This collapse was more rapid than that of any other recent socialist unity initiative (the SLP, SSA/SSP, SA, Respect, CNWP), despite the much more limited range of Marxists involved.

If you are serious in opposing the cuts, you certainly have to confront Labour complicity in their implementation, along with their MPs’, MSPs’, councillors’, Party officials’ and Labour-supporting trade union officials’ opposition to any effective independent class action. But you also have to confront those Marxist sects, such as the SWP and CWI, which act as outriders for the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy when it comes to demobilising independent class action. They promote their own front organisations to derail and split any independent movement. This is strikingly obvious in the fight against the cuts. Here we have to confront the wrecking tactics of the SP-controlled National Shop Stewards Movement and the SWP-controlled Right to Work Campaign (whose very names demonstrate they were both created with a different Party-recruiting project in mind than fighting the cuts).

Turley’s resort to the SWP’s and CWI’s declared support for Galloway only demonstrates the dead-end nature of this particular course of action. With the impending demise of Solidarity, the parting of the SWP and CWI in Scotland can not be far away. Look to Ireland, where despite their coming together in the United Left Alliance (essentially an electoral non-aggression pact), south of the border, they still managed to stand candidates against each other north of the border in the Stormont election on May 5th. And we are often lectured by the CPGB about the superiority of all-Britain or all-UK organisations because of their ability to unite socialists and the working class!

However, Galloway has gone one step further in his attempts to promote disunity. Much of his campaigning has been on his own terms, with little regard to his CWI and SWP allies of convenience. Publicly he has placed a lot of emphasis on cultivating the sectional support of Catholics and Muslims. However, where Galloway has attended joint meetings he has played to the CWI and SWP gallery in his thinly disguised attempts to whip up verbal and physical abuse directed against prominent SSP members in the aftermath of the Sheridan debacle. Sadly, given the number of emotionally damaged, attention-seeking individuals to be found in our society, there are some people who have stooped to such attacks. However, the prime purpose, of resorting to the misplaced use of ‘scab’ accusations to encourage such behaviour, is to deflect attention from the CWI’s and SWP’s own roles in promoting socialist disunity.

They seem to forget that Sheridan was once prepared to hand over the names of Trafalgar Square anti-poll tax protesters to the Metropolitan Police. The CWI didn’t raise any criticisms then. Meanwhile some SWP members in Scotland had started to pay the poll tax, because they argued that once the STUC and Scottish Labour Party had withdrawn their backing from a campaign of defiance the struggle was over! They both have short memories!

So, if you claim that you support candidates of the workers’ movement who oppose and vote against all cuts to public services, who should you have been supporting in Scotland?

Turley mentions the fact that Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Party has regularly out stripped the SSP which has even less reason to exist than the SLP. Now certainly, the SLP did win considerably more votes in this Holyrood election than either the SSP or Solidarity. However, the mere accumulation of passive votes at an election count is of little more significance than the vote for similarly 9th placed Georgia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The number of new active SLP members resulting from their vote in Scotland, will probably be outstripped by the sales here of Georgia’s Eurovision entry, One More Day!

In addressing the anti-cuts struggle we have to look to the roles of Solidarity and the SSP, which Turley grudgingly concedes still has activists. In the last Local Council elections, held in Scotland in May 2007, both Solidarity and the SSP gained a councillor each. Solidarity managed to get Ruth Black elected in Glasgow. So how has she performed in relation to the anti-cuts struggle? Well first she defected to the Labour Party and soon became embroiled in accusations of financial irregularity – a prominent anti-cuts spokesperson on the Glasgow Council she certainly is not.

In contrast, Jim Bollan was elected SSP councillor in West Dunbartonshire on the same day. Here he has been to the forefront of the struggle against the cuts, putting forward a ‘No Cuts’ budget, opposed by all the controlling SNP and the ‘opposition’ Labour councillors. Jim has backed trade unionists and supported direct action by council service users. As a result of his staunch opposition to cuts, the SNP ruling group suspended him for six months in 2009. In the person of Jim, we have somebody who has gone considerably beyond Turley’s second voting criterion for giving electoral support – i.e. saying they oppose the cuts. If you add Turley’s first criterion –  support for someone from the Labour movement – Jim had the support of Clydebank Trades Council in the face of his earlier suspension from office.  Jim headed the SSP slate for the West of Scotland on May 5th.

In Glasgow, the most significant anti-cuts struggle at present is the continued Free Hetherington occupation at Glasgow University.  Once again the SSP has been prominent in this, particularly Scottish Socialist Youth.

Now, of course, it is easy for Turley to make a smug dismissal of the current voting support for the SSP. There is much that the SSP can be criticised for in this and other regards. However, when it comes to assessing the anti-cuts opposition on Turley’s criteria, then it is Galloway and his backers, not the SSP, that is found wanting.

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Nov 14 2009

Can the SNP deliver independence?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 7:15 pm

We assess the politics behind the SNP government’s proposed independence referendum and its likelihood of success.

Megrahi, behind-the-scenes deals and the ‘liberal’ US onslaught

Political developments in Scotland are hotting-up in the aftermath of the decision by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s Justice Minister, to release Abdelbaset Ali-Mohamed al-Megrahi, the so-called Libyan bomber, on compassionate grounds.

Whatever the undisclosed background negotiations behind this move, involving New Labour at Westminster and SNP at Holyrood, the political fallout has been considerable. Earlier negotiations between the British and Libyan government, involving Tony Blair and Jack Straw, had strongly implied a prisoner transfer agreement. Megrahi would finish his sentence in Libya, in return for BP oil concessions. The Scottish government thwarted this. It denied any right to the British government to interfere with the decision taken by the Scottish judiciary, which had been given original responsibility for Megrahi’s trial, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, in 2000-1.

What has become abundantly clear is that Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson wanted Megrahi released before his death, to ensure that British corporate interests in Libya weren’t jeopardised if he died in a British jail. MacAskill’s willingness to take responsibility for Megrahi’s release was an added bonus for the New Labour-led British government. It meant that the SNP-led Scottish government could take all the blame, when the right wing press, both in Britain and the US, orchestrated the howls of outrage about ‘weakness’ in the face of terrorism.

It is possible that the SNP leadership thought that, with Barack Obama as President, the new US Democrat government would welcome MacAskill’s compassionate approach. After all Obama had personally given an undertaking to the Moslem world in Cairo on June 4th that he represented a new type of American leader. However, as the continuing war in Afghanistan (and now Pakistan), the continued build up of pressure on Iran, and the US’s failure to discipline Netanyahu in the face of continued Israeli settlements on the West Bank demonstrate, Obama is only trying to re-brand US imperialism, not challenge it.

So ‘liberal’ Obama, Hilary Clinton, and the late Ted Kennedy, led the attack on the Scottish government. Meanwhile, the rabid American Right soon ended any delusions about the longstanding affectionate ties between Scotland and the US. In their eyes, Scotland replaced France as the country all ‘good American’s love to hate. Only now it is the Scots who are ‘haggis-eating surrender monkeys’. Back in Scotland, the British unionist parties, New Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem, characteristically decided to echo the sentiments emanating from the US. They launched an attack on the Scottish government and the nationalist SNP.

The SNP recovers from the attacks and announces its independence referendum

The SNP has been trying for years to win the approval of corporate America, with the prospect of low business taxation and the attempted cultivation of Scottish-American business figures and politicians. Donald Trump, the dodgy property speculator, has been assiduously wooed. Therefore, defending MacAskill’s decision in the face of blatant US imperial pressure did not come easily to the SNP leadership, particularly after the display of Scottish saltires being waved at Tripoli’s airport, welcoming Megrahi upon his return. After all, MacAskill still insisted that he acted solely on compassionate grounds, and that he upheld the Scottish court’s extremely dubious decision that Megrahi was guilty. MacAskill didn’t want to tread on the toes of the Scottish legal establishment.

Early opinion polls seemed to indicate that MacAskill was indeed isolated. However, the Church of Scotland, followed by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, gave their public backing to MacAskill. Whilst this was undoubtedly embarrassing to sections of the unionist alliance, it was the decision of Nelson Mandela to support MacAskill that turned the tables. Within days, support for MacAskill’s decision had risen to 45% in Scotland.

Sensing a possible drubbing in any Scottish General Election their actions might precipitate, the unionist opposition retreated from a vote of ‘No confidence’ in MacAskill at Holyrood. They settled for a motion condemning the Scottish government’s handling of the affair. Although the unionist parties have an overall majority in Holyrood, their alliance began to break up. Former Scottish Labour Ministers, Henry McLeish and Malcolm Chisholm, backed MacAskill, and the Conservatives decided to switch the focus of attention to Gordon Brown and Westminster Government involvement in Megrahi’s release.

It was in this context that the SNP Government announced next year’s legislative programme on September 3rd, with its proposal for a referendum on Scottish independence given flagship status. Now the unionist parties can kill this off at the first hurdle, by using their majority to vote down any such bill in Holyrood. Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, Alex Salmond well knows this, but has likely calculated on there being a British Conservative Government under David Cameron next year. This could place the SNP in a good position before the next Holyrood General Election in 2011, especially with an impotent New Labour in ‘opposition’ at Westminster.

The November 12th Glasgow North East by-election

However, a more immediate by-election battle is taking place in Glasgow North East on November 12th, after the resignation of the disgraced Westminster Speaker, Michael Martin. With the SNP not wanting to be portrayed as the ‘Orange’ party (Labour’s main accusation against it, when it stood against Scottish party leader, Helen Liddell, in the notorious Monklands East by-election in 1994) their leadership is taking no chances. It has adopted David Kerr as candidate. He is a member of Opus Dei!

Glasgow City Council is one of the few Scottish councils still under Labour control, so the SNP cannot so easily be held responsible for the type of unpopular local policies, which contributed to their surprise defeat in the Glenrothes by-election last November. So, Labour has now switched its focus to an alleged SNP bias against Glasgow city, highlighted by the Scottish Government’s decision to cancel the planned Glasgow airport rail link.

The SNP strategy of trying to appeal to all Scots, regardless of class, has also come unstuck. The introduction of new local service charges for pensioners in Fife was just one indicator of where the SNP’s real loyalties lie. In Edinburgh they share responsibility with the Lib-Dems for the council’s attempt to impose draconian pay cuts on refuse disposal workers, with the threat of privatisation looming. In West Dunbartonshire, they have suspended SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, for nine months, for his tireless commitment to working class communities.

The long honeymoon, enjoyed by the current SNP government, is now under strain. The SNP is wedded to a neo-liberal economic model, which once placed failed corporations such as the Royal Bank of Scotland in the driving seat of their proposed new Scottish economy, and lauded the successes of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’. Today, the SNP meekly accepts its role in administering the Westminster government’s measures to deal with the current crisis – massive public spending cuts to bail out the bankers.

The Scottish government has also frozen council taxes now for three years. This further contributes to the squeeze on social spending. Added to all this, the full consequences of the SNP’s fawning before Trump means that the Scottish government looks prepared to back a compulsory purchase order to evict residents from their homes in Aberdeenshire to make way for Trump’s new golf course and leisure complex –the new Clearances.

The build-up of reactionary forces and the divided Left

Although the prime press interest in Glasgow North East will be the battle between New Labour and the SNP, there will be other significant political struggles going on. In the last election here, the Conservatives did not field a candidate, following the mainstream parties’ convention of not standing against the Speaker. This left the way open for the Scottish Unionists to stand. They represent that traditional Orange wing, abandoned by the Conservatives, when the party broke their link with the Ulster Unionist Party in the 1970’s. David Cameron has recently reforged that alliance. Official British Conservative backing for a Protestant unionist party in ‘the Six Counties’ will have knock on effects in Glasgow, where sectarian divisions still exist.

However, the Orange Order in Scotland is still not prepared to throw its weight fully behind the Tories. Grand Master, Ian Wilson, has said the Order will be backing the Labour Party, wherever they are best placed to defeat the SNP in elections. Labour remains Scotland’s premier Unionist party.

Both the previous New Labour/Lib-Dem and current SNP Scottish governments at Holyrood have promoted a bureaucratic and moralistic campaign against sectarianism in Scotland, based on the false notion that there is a ‘war between two tribes’, Protestant and Catholic or, sometimes more simply, between Rangers and Celtic. The real underlying issue is support for, or opposition to, the British occupation of part of Ireland. One of the aims of this official ‘anti-sectarian’ campaign is to cutback on the many Orange Order and the handful of Irish Republican marches held in Scotland’s Central Belt. This will become a focus of opposition for hard line loyalists. There is also the planned provocation in Glasgow, organised by the fascist Islamophobic English Defence League’s satellite organisation, the ‘Scottish Defence League’ (SDL), on November 14th.

The BNP are standing in the Glasgow North East by-election. They would love to have the sort of clout that loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrated, when the PSNI meekly bowed before their intimidation of Roma families in Belfast. Furthermore, despite BNP denials, there is obviously an overlap between BNP and EDL/SDL. Like the loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’, they have shown a growing admiration for the apartheid state of Israel and its brutal methods. So, it is only an inner hard core of Nazi ‘Sieg Heiling’, swastika worshippers that cling on to the old anti-semitism. The majority of Union Jack waving fascists find plenty to celebrate in the history of British unionism and imperialism.

Furthermore, there are other nasty links being forged. The mainstream, usually socially liberal, Church of Scotland is under growing attack by the reactionary Fellowship of Confessing Churches (FCC), with 45 parishes threatening to break away, unless the Church publicly condemns homosexuality. The FCC is backed by Sam Cole, DUP councillor and Orange Lodge chaplain, along with Maurice Bradley, former mayor of Coleraine, Danny Kennedy, Ulster Unionist depute leader, Sir David McNee, former Chief Constable of Strathclyde, and a hundred members of the ultra-conservative Presbyterian Church of America, which also opposes the ordination of women ministers.

Tragically, the Left today is divided in Scotland. In the last Glasgow North East election, the SSP easily defeated both the Scottish Unionists and the BNP, although Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was able to do better still and get 14% of the vote, in the confusion caused by the absence of an official Labour candidate, with Michael Martin standing solely as the Speaker. The SLP has left no organisation on the ground and is, in effect, now only one man’s vanity party.

The concern now is that, with a Left split between the SSP, Solidarity/Tommy Sheridan party and the SLP, the BNP’s vote could overtake the Socialist vote. Whilst Sheridan will cultivate the celebrity vote, he faces competition from John Smeaton, the ‘people’s hero’. Meanwhile, John Swinburne, the ex-MSP, from the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, and Mikey Hughes, former Big Brother runner-up, campaigning for the disabled, are also standing. More worrying than any likely BNP vote in itself, would be the opportunity this could provide them to become the ‘shock troops’ of hard right unionism in Scotland, at a time when the issue of Scottish independence is coming to the fore.

When Nick Griffin visited Scotland on October 28th, he said he supported a referendum for Scottish independence. However, he made it quite clear that the BNP would strongly oppose those campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. He is lining himself up with ultra unionists like the Tory, Michael Forsyth, and New Labour’s Wendy Alexander, who also want a referendum campaign to see off any threat of Scottish independence for the foreseeable future. You can rest assured, whatever differences they still have, that these ultra-unionists don’t intend to confine their opposition to polite democratic debate – and the BNP are signalling that their services can be called upon to defend the Union.

The SNP unprepared for the British state counter-attack – a socialist republican and ‘internationalism from below’ approach needed

The SNP remains a thoroughly constitutionalist party, and has indicated, by its recently declared support for the British monarchy, its complete willingness to play politics by Westminster rules. The problem is, that the British ruling class only play be these rules when it suits them. When their state is under threat, both Conservative and Labour governments have shown their preparedness to utilise the antidemocratic Crown Powers to thwart any challenges, as any Republican living in Ireland can testify. If necessary, they would not be averse to covertly encouraging British loyalists, as the British state’s continued financial support for their organisations in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrates.

Furthermore, the SNP’s complete lack of appreciation of the continued imperial role of British troops in the world is highlighted by its continued support for the British Army’s Scottish regiments. SNP Westminster defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, has announced that ‘English’ troops would be welcome to remain in Scotland after ‘independence’. It probably won’t be long before the SNP retreats further to accommodate US imperialism. They could settle for Scotland being removed from the NATO frontline to become a ‘supporting’ state within NATO’s Orwellian renamed second tier, ‘The Partnership for Peace’. NATO bases in Scotland would still remain available for imperial use.

Scotland, with its North Sea Oil, and its numerous British and NATO military bases, is far more central to ruling class interests, than ‘the Six Counties’. It is unlikely that the British state will just wait until the Scottish independence referendum bill comes to Holyrood. US and British security services are probably preparing a strategy, using both official and unofficial forces, to marginalise the threat of the break-up of the UK and the potential loss of NATO bases.

Although there is no deep-seated tradition of independent republican organisations in Scotland, there is nevertheless widespread popular support for a Scottish Republic. Furthermore, this is strongly linked to support for public services provided on the basis of need, and opposition to British and American imperial wars. A vote for the SNP has sometimes expressed this feeling in a sentimental way. As the SNP moves further to the Right such support is becoming as undeserved as a vote for Labour from those hoping to improve their lives.

It is the job of socialist republicans to organise such sentiments in an effective way, by linking everyday struggles, such as the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign in Glasgow today, with the demand for a Scottish Republic tomorrow, when the SNP independence referendum comes up against British unionist intransigence. Only the SSP links its support for independence with opposition to all imperialist wars, whether or not they are sanctioned by the UN – a thoroughly undemocratic body, which is nothing other than a plaything of the imperial powers. In contrast, the SNP stance on the ongoing US/British war in Afghanistan has been profoundly ambiguous.

Since the British state and its Irish government allies coordinate their actions through the ‘Peace Process’ and Devolution-all-round; and both the British and Scottish TUCs and the Irish CTU promote ‘social partnerships’, which subordinate workers’ interests to those of the bosses; whilst the BNP and loyalists are trying to cement links ‘across the border’ and ‘across the water’, it becomes all the more imperative that Socialists in these islands organise ourselves on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ to more effectively promote working class interests throughout these islands. We need to build on the success of last year’s Republican Socialist Convention.

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Jul 26 2002

The Socialist Alliance in England

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:44 pm

Dave Spencer has been a committee member of Coventry Socialist Alliance since 1992. Before its abolition in 1986, he was a Labour Councillor on West Midlands County Council. Here he assesses the way forward for the SAs in England.

The SA in England is a hybrid organisation – neither a party nor a federation. On the one hand it consists of several Left Groups who seem intent on maintaining their own identities. On the other hand it attracts individual members who would probably prefer the SA to be more like the Scottish Socialist Party. It is an organisation in transition.

United organisation is needed

In my view it should be in transition towards a party. This means the Left Groups should have some strategy of withering away within the SA in the not too distant future. As I see it there are no major political differences between these groups that could not be contained in an open and democratic socialist party. The most important differences used to relate to the nature of the old Soviet Union – was it a deformed workers’ state, state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivist? Some believe it still is a workers’ state apparently – good luck to them – but is it a dividing issue here and now? I think not. So why do they still maintain their separate existences when the crying need is for a united organisation to fill the vacuum left by the implosion of Stalinism and the commitment to global capitalism of Social Democracy?

Events in the recent French presidential elections show that this is not just a British disease; the French Left is split into several Left Groups for no obvious political reason. The separateness is historic, stemming back into faction fights in the 1950s. These Groups find it difficult to move on politically, to think strategically or to work with other people without running the show. They seem stuck in the world of several decades ago yet with an incredible air of smugness and self congratulation – in spite of what is quite clear to everybody else – that they have failed to attract a large working class base. Frankly would you like to live in a society run by Peter Taaffe or Chris Harman and his cohorts or by Lutte Ouvriere, the Lambertistes or the Sparts for that matter. I rest my case. The working class may be somewhat backward in consciousness at the moment but they are not entirely stupid – they are not going to vote en masse for these people. These Groups appear to outsiders more like the revolutionary groups in The Life of Brian than anything that is seriously going to change society.

The two characteristics of Left Groups almost as an iron law are sectarianism and bureaucratic centralism. I take sectarianism to mean putting their own organisation first above the interests of the working class as a whole. I take bureaucratic centralism to be a top down approach from the central committee – no real democracy, no accountability, no involvement of the creativity of the membership or of the working class. To me these two features of Left Groups need to be exposed and fought against; they are obstacles on the road to building a mass working class party.

Sectarianism

Examples of sectarianism abound but just to take a few examples. The December 1st Conference of the SA in England saw the sectarian departure of the Socialist Party who had to some extent dominated the SA since 1996. At that time they had seen the SA as a tactical means of heading off the possible appeal of Scargill’s SLP. They really did not have any strategic idea of what to do with the SA. They could pick it up and use it for their own party building or drop it as the case may be. They could have developed it along the lines of Scottish Militant and the SSP. They chose not to do so. In the run up to the December Conference the SP comrades in Coventry argued for a federalist structure for the SA on the grounds that why should they give up the hard won contacts and bases that they had built up through consistent work day in and day out so that the SWP could walk into their patch and make members — why should their members be told what to do by people with less commitment and experience. To me the role of the SP in the SA has been sectarian from day one. They put the building of their own party before developing a broad alliance. Their view now is that the SA is a rival to be fought against.

Since December 1st the SWP have become the dominant force in the SA. At the SA public meeting in Coventry during the local elections, on every chair was placed a leaflet advertising the next SWP Marxist Forum meeting, not the next SA meeting. The SWP do not seem to be clear what to do with the SA either! They seem to see SA activities as a vehicle for SWP party building in the same way as the SP did.

Old habits die hard of course but they have to die and be given a kicking on the way. Some comrades argue that it is a really good sign that the Left Groups have come together. Others argue that this is more a sign of huddling together for warmth rather than a desire to build something new. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. At the first meeting of the SA Independents in Birmingham in January there were two main points of view. One welcomed the new SA structure and the involvement of the SWP. Their idea was to swamp the SA with more independent socialists so that the members of the Left Groups become less dominant, less sectarian and the political differences less obvious. The other view was more critical of the SWP and gave examples of SWP sectarianism in their SA branches which make it very difficult or well nigh impossible to work with them. Their view was that the Left Groups are actually a barrier rather than a help in recruiting independent socialists to the SA.

In my view sectarian behaviour should be exposed on every available opportunity, even at the risk of being called sectarian because you are being critical! As Trotsky put it in the Manifesto of the Fourth Internationalnot for one single day should we tolerate sectarians in our organisation.

No to Machiavelian manoeuvrings

The question of bureaucratic methods should also be exposed. The internal regimes of most Left Groups make the bourgeois courts seem enlightened. Members are encouraged to behave like sheep rather than being trained like self sufficient Bolsheviks. In some cases Left Groups from the Stalinist tradition like Scargill’s SLP do not believe in democracy and at least that is clear. To me that is a splitting issue; we should have nothing to do with people who are against democracy. No say in the running of the organisation – no membership. Marxism and socialism must be heard and must be debated openly. No diktats from above, no Machiavelian manoeuvrings and spindoctoring. Full accountability of the Central Committee with instant recall. At the moment it is as though some Left Group leaders are frightened of their membership and certainly frightened of them talking to heretics from other groups or independents in case they get contaminated.

Open political and theoretical discussion is absolutely vital in the SA branches. There are a number of reasons for this. It is no longer clear what socialism means any more. The Stalinist and Social Democratic versions have gone but their message still lingers on. The idea of nationalising all industries as in Clause 4 of the LP constitution was a simple slogan. But in the age of globalisation we need more international ideas for running a socialist economy. And nationalisation itself is not the end of the matter. We can demand the re-nationalisation of the railways but what we want is a socialist integrated transport policy. What would that be like? We can demand more money for the NHS and an end to privatisation but what would a socialist health system be like? Green ideas of sustainability must be addressed; the ideas of changing the course of rivers and moving mountains about like Trotsky promised during the Russian Revolution seem to us like a nightmare today. We need to draw together programmes for a socialist future – not just react in a defensive way to the attacks of the ruling class. In planning our programmes we should draw on the experience of the workers in the industries and services concerned.

Prioritise long term aims

Political discussion at a time when the answers are not obvious must be open. That means comrades must be prepared to say what they think and sometimes get it wrong and change their mind. It must be a process where comrades develop politically not an arm wrestling contest between various Groups or factions or a fight for who can win the vote.

To transform the SA into a mass party, creative ways have to be found of involving the working class – the youth, the women, ethnic groups as well as Trade Unionists. This means organising in working class estates in a consistent manner not just arriving at election times. This is not easy but it is very rewarding and examples of good practice need to be shared and copied. This sort of work tends to break down sectarianism and bureaucratic methods because the long term aim of building a working class party is put before the short term aim of winning a few recruits or a vote for a particular sect.

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Mar 23 2002

War against terrorism and the threat to freedom of expression

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 01RCN @ 7:40 pm

Steve Kaczynski highlights the Blair government’s further attacks on our civil liberties

Since September 11, 2001, the bourgeois democratic mask of respecting rights has been slipping. In December, a car bringing the left-wing Turkish language weekly magazine Yasadigimiz Vatan (The homeland we live in) was stopped by British police at Dover, and two issues of the magazine impounded under the Terrorism Act.

The magazine has been transported into Britain regularly in this way for some time. The British, and sometimes the French police or customs, frequently stopped the car bringing the magazines in, holding it up for varying lengths of time and questioning the driver before allowing him and the vehicle to proceed.

Continue reading “War against terrorism and the threat to freedom of expression”

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