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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Oct 23 2011

Mary McGregor reviews ‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’, by Alan McCombes

Like many others who have been members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for a number of years, I did not want to read Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story by Alan McCombes. As a founder member of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) and then the SSP, I had been filled with hope (but with no illusions) about the potential of this party as a unifying force in Scottish politics. It felt like the best chance we had had in my lifetime of building a non-sectarian, democratic, socialist party that would allow for open dissent and comradely debate. It felt for a while like the dogma so many of us had been steeled in, could be replaced by a willingness to listen and to understand, supported by democratic and accountable structures.

It was not all a bed of roses. These democratic strides had to be fought for every inch of the way. The constitution had to be protected and battles had to be waged in its defence. As a member of a very small platform, taking on the numerical superiority of other platforms, such as the CWI, the SWP and the ISM, could be pretty uncomfortable. But – and the but was huge- it was the most democratic, socialist organisation in Europe, blending campaigning and mass participation with significant electoral success in the Scottish parliament. The SSP gained first one MSP, in the form of the eponymous villain in Alan’s book, then followed on with the election of six MSPs; more than half of whom were women! Instead of small dispirited groups who hated each other plying their separate wares on Saturday morning stalls and heckling passers by, we were part of a movement where people participated in our campaigns and activities and queued to sign our petitions, knew what we stood for and liked it.

So, being part of this movement and then to watch it crumble so ignominiously before our eyes as Tommy Sheridan embarked on his Kamikaze mission against the News of the World (NOTW) was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit via the pages of Alan McCombes’ book. However…… we can only learn from mistakes if we understand them. So, Alan’s book must be an important part of that process. We may never really understand just how Tommy’s mind worked through this time but if anyone could shed light on some of the causes of the debacle, then surely it would be Alan McCombes – by his own admission, the mentor, the architect, the creator of Tommy Sheridan, the icon.

For those of us who were there, there was not a lot new in this book. It was a very easy read and McCombes’ style, though laden with simile and metaphor, has a charm, which is hypnotic. McCombes does infuse the past with a wistful rosy glow and his sincerity and pain at seeing his creation turn against him is palpable. McCombes himself comes over as the thoughtful, courageous, political apparatchik that he is. However, the book is as much about the fatal flaws of the SSP as it is about Tommy’s fatal flaw.

The RCN has rightly asserted from the start that the split in the socialist movement in Scotland can be laid at the door of Tommy Sheridan, aided and abetted by the CWI and SWP. Through his vanity and arrogance, he was prepared to sacrifice the movement to protect his image. He seemed to believe his own lies and even more worryingly was supported in pursuit of his greater glory by those in the CWI and SWP who also knew the truth but by some absurd warped logic believed it was OK to lie because those lies were against the NOTW. The fact that they were also lying to the working class became irrelevant.

Alan’s book captures the madness of the time effectively. Particularly the National Council, which took place while he was in jail defending the minutes of an SSP Executive meeting. While reading about it, I could imagine folk who weren’t there thinking it could not have been that bad. Well it was. It was probably the first time I had seen the collective, destructive power of Tommy and his new allies given full vent. Although I do not recall anyone being hit, it was none the less a violent, vicious and intimidating meeting. There was literally baying for the blood of those who refused to support Tommy. It was a meeting, which shamed the socialist movement and publicly marked the end of everything the SSP had stood for. I was no great fan of Tommy and he had turned his wrath on me on a number of previous occasions but I was shocked at this screaming, parody of a socialist leader who ranted at his enemies.

Perhaps I would not have been so shocked if I had known what Alan and Frances, and Keith and Colin all knew. Maybe if I had realised what a creation Tommy had been from the start then I would have known that this kind of behaviour was possible. It was like he had won an X Factor type competition to become the poster boy of the Scottish left. Because, what Alan’s book does make clear, is that the myth of Tommy Sheridan was a façade. He was a media creation. He oozed warmth and sincerity and cultivated the idea that he was the personification of fairness and justice. Yes he did great things – the Poll Tax imprisonment, the warrant sales bill, the oratory which could touch people’s hearts in a gifted way but it was part of an act, of a role he had chosen to play. It was a role in which he was supported and coached and protected within by his former comrades. According to Alan, Tommy was in fact shallow, self centred, lacking in political understanding and messianic from the start.

So how does this reflect on the SSP and particularly the ranks of the ISM platform from whence Tommy came? Where was the culpability on the part of the SSP in what followed on from the NOTW revelations? Well Alan’s book shows how a cult of the individual, while yielding short-term benefits, is ultimately dangerous and destructive – it is anti democratic. Tommy, like ALL other leaders, needed to be under democratic control so that his undoubted talents could be used effectively. However, within the movement and the party, he should have had no special dispensations, rights or privileges.  Tommy’s private life is his business. What Gail knew, what was accepted within their relationship, is all speculation. McCombes is right when he makes it clear that there was no Calvinistic witch-hunt against Tommy because of his sexual proclivities. The problem was that having been allowed by the party to court the media using his Mr Clean family man image, charges of liar, cheat and hypocrite could easily have been thrown at him and the SSP when it came out. Had, of course, Sheridan resigned as convenor and let it blow over; no one would have cared after the furore had died down. Instead it was Tommy who insisted on taking the NOTW to court!

When Alan explains why the minutes of the Executive meeting where Tommy told the truth were kept secret, we can see another manifestation of the SSP leadership’s fatal flaw. It was done out of concern for Tommy and his family. The irony when Tommy shows no concern for the families of those he brands as liars and scabs is not lost. However, this came before party democracy. Obviously at that stage Alan and the Executive thought the matter could be contained but at the expense of the membership. Ultimately the party leadership believed the membership had to be protected or could not be trusted.

And so it went on with behind the scenes machinations, secret meetings, secret affidavits and secret filming. Alan does the party the courtesy through the book of explaining why what happened did and why the SSP leadership took the decisions it did at each stage. It does not however mitigate the fact that during this time, loyal party members were treated as people who could not understand the full implications of what was happening. Old friendships and loyalties are once more put above party policy and democracy as neither in the book nor at any subsequent party meeting has George McNeilage been condemned by the leadership for selling his story to the NOTW.

The sacrifices that Alan and the others have made for the socialist movement are undeniable. Downfall catalogues the misery brought to their lives during this process. The book must undoubtedly have been cathartic and it was necessary. It was intended to vindicate the position of all those dragged into court against their will and cross examined by a comrade that had been revered by substantial sections of the working class of this nation. And it does that very well.

By writing the book, I hope Alan can see the mistakes that were made were not all Tommy’s, not all his, nor the leadership’s, but mistakes we all made or allowed to happen. After reading this, I became more convinced than ever before that a new type of politics is necessary if we are to attract people into socialist activity and keep them there. We need a politics that is open, democratic and where all party members are equal. We need a politics, which can debate, question and hold to account those privileged enough to be chosen to lead us. We need a politics where disagreements are not seen as tests of friendships and where principles are more important than appeasing someone’s ego. We need a politics which is compassionate and caring but at the same time, determined and honest.

The SSP went some of the way to providing this but certainly during the crisis and sadly since the imprisonment of Tommy Sheridan, we have seen signs that the damage done by Tommy Sheridan has had a catastrophic effect on the SSP, its democratic structures and its potential as a uniting force in Scottish working class politics. It is very sad but it is too easy just to blame Tommy. We need to look forward to a party where the myth of Tommy Sheridan or his like does not have to be created.

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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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Apr 26 2010

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism (edited version in Weekly Worker, no. 211)

Independent Action Required to Achieve Genuine Workers’ Unity

First, I would like to thank Nick for the tenor of his contribution to the debate about communist strategy in the states of the UK and the 26 county Irish republic. After our initial sparring in earlier issues of Weekly Worker and on the RCN website Nick’s contribution develops further his own case for a British approach and a British party. (I am still not sure to what extent the alternative and logically more consistent one state/one party stance of having an all-UK party is supported in the CPGB.) Nick also usefully clears up some points himself (e.g. over his attitude to Luxemburgism) and asks a question which is designed to advance the debate. Before going on to the other issues Nick raises, I will therefore answer this question on whether I support breakaway unions in Scotland.

How to win effective union solidarity

I have consistently argued that the struggle to attain effective union organisation can not be reduced to which national flag flies over a union HQ. Most of the Left, in practice, uphold the sovereignty of the union officials located in their existing union HQs, hoping to replace these some day. This is why many of their union campaigns amount to electoral attempts to replace existing union leaderships with Broad Left leaderships. In more and more cases, the latest Broad Left challenges are being mounted against old Broad Left leaderships, suggesting a serious flaw in this strategy!

Of course, many on the Left would say – ‘No’, we champion the sovereignty of the union conference. However, the relationship between most union conferences and their union bureaucracies is very similar to that between Westminster and the government of the day. In both cases, executives only implement what they wish to, whilst systematically undermining any conference/election policies they, or the employers/ruling class, oppose. In the case of unions, this division is accentuated by elected-for-life and appointed officials, who enjoy pay and perks way beyond those of their members – a bit like Cabinet ministers.

Therefore, I uphold the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces – a republican rank and file industrial strategy, if you like. From this viewpoint ‘unofficial’ action, the term used by bureaucrats to undermine members and to reassert their control, is rejected in favour of the term independent action. Action undertaken by branches can be extended by picketing, and by wider delegate or mass meetings. Certainly, this places a considerable responsibility upon the membership in the branches concerned, necessitating their active involvement in strategic and tactical discussion over the possibilities for extending effective action. Furthermore, instead of politics being largely confined to the select few – union bureaucrats and conference attenders – as when unions are affiliated to the Labour Party – politics becomes a vital necessity in workplace branches.

Nick asks, how can the SSP effectively support action by, for example, civil servants who are organised on an all-British union basis, when we are organised on a Scottish political basis? Actually, it is quite easy. The SSP has members on the executives of all-Britain trade unions, and we seek wider unity for effective action with officers and delegates from England and Wales. Indeed, we can go further and state that we would seek cooperation with union members in Northern Ireland, when action involves all-UK unions, such as the FBU. Yet, in the latter case, support for joint action over economic issues should not prevent socialists raising the political issue of Ireland’s breakaway from the UK state. There is an obvious analogy here for the SSP.

Indeed, there are three other territorial union forms in these islands, – Northern Irish unions (e.g. Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance), Irish unions which organise in the North (e.g. Irish National Teachers Union and the Independent Workers Union) and all-islands unions (e.g. UCATT). Nick’s attempt to equate more effective action with all-Britain unions would in no way help socialists to bring about unity in such varied circumstances. Championing the sovereignty of the union branch, and the forging of unity from below in expanding action, offer the best way of achieving this.

Nick mentions the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the major teaching union in Scotland, and one of the last unions organised on a Scottish basis. The EIS is affiliated, not only to the STUC, but to the TUC and, although not affiliated to the Labour Party, its leadership has, since the mid 1970’s, been as loyal to Labour as any. The EIS is one of the strongest adherents of ‘social partnership’, with large chunks of its official journal indistinguishable from government/management spin – especially its articles on governmental education initiatives.

Until I retired, I was a member of the EIS, a union rep (shop steward) for 34 years, and served on the union’s Edinburgh Local Executive and National Council. I was also a member of Scottish Rank & File Teachers (until they were sabotaged by the SWP) and later the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers. I always upheld the sovereignty of the membership in their branches. Furthermore, I was also centrally involved in the largest campaign that rocked the Scottish educational world and the EIS, in 1974. Here, for the first time, I came up against the sort of arguments Nick raises.

The 1974 strike action was organised unofficially/independently. It took place over more than three months, with huge weekly, school delegate-based meetings. We also argued within the official structures of the EIS (whilst even drawing in some members of the two other small unions). It was here that the old CPGB, Labour Party and Militant supporters told us we should end our independent action and confine ourselves to getting motions passed calling on the union leadership to take a national lead.

If we had done this, it is likely there would have been no industrial action at all. As it was, the massive independent action forced the official leadership to move. And it was the independent rank and file movement which sent delegates to schools in England to try and widen the challenge to the Tory government over pay. Labour Party and CPGB union officers, all stalwart Left British unionists, confined official union activity to Scotland!

There is a definite parallel between Nick’s advocacy that the SSP should abandon its own independent organisation and join with the British Left, planning for the ‘big bang’ British/UK revolution they hope for in the future, and those old CPGB, Left Labour and Militant arguments I first faced back in 1974.

The anti-poll tax campaign – ‘internationalism from below’ in action

Some years later, in 1988, I became chair of the first Anti-Poll Tax Federation (Lothians) and co-chair of the conference of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation. The campaign against the poll tax started a year earlier in Scotland, due to Thatcher’s propensity to impose her own form of devolution here – testing out reactionary legislation in Scotland first.

Militant emerged as the largest political organisation in the Federations. Militant became torn between those who wanted to maintain an all-Britain Labour Party orientation, continuing to prioritise activities inside the party’s official structures, and those who saw the necessity to become involved in independent action through the anti-poll tax unions. Fortunately, it was the latter view that won out.

The negative effect of pursuing a tacitly British unionist strategy was demonstrated by the SWP. Their slogan was – Kinnock and Willis {then TUC General Secretary}- get off your knees and fight (i.e. pushing for others to lead). They argued that only a Britain-wide campaign backed by the official trade union movement could win. When a special Labour Party conference in Glasgow voted against non-payment, the SWP declared the game was over, and some Scottish members went on to pay their poll tax.

The majority in the Federations stuck to their guns and built the independent action first in Scotland, e.g. through non-payment, confronting sheriff officers (bailiffs), etc, and by sending delegations to England and Wales, to prepare people for widened action the following year. Spreading such action from below contributed to the Trafalgar Square riots of March 31st 1990, which put finally paid to the poll tax and to Thatcher.

‘Internationalism from below’, which the SSP International Committee has advocated at the two Republican Socialist Conventions, represents a wider and more politicised development of such actions by our class. Any reading of our documents will show that our ‘internationalism from below’ stance flows from an analysis the concrete political situation, and unlike Nick’s and the CPGB’s stance, does not stem from some abstract attempt to extend a ‘one state/one party’ (or trade union) organisational form over all British/UK socialists; or from a belief in the efficacy of the top-down bureaucratic ‘internationalism’, which is intrinsic to such attempts.

Although rather belated in its formation, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, set up in 1996, directly stemmed from the lessons learned in the anti-poll tax campaign. (Socialist republicans in the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation had argued for the setting up of such organisations from 1990.) Furthermore, contrary to what Nick maintains, far from having a purely Scottish orientation, SSA/SSP members took an active part, providing speakers, to help set up the Socialist Alliances in England, Wales and the Irish Socialist Network. The main obstacles we faced in helping to form new democratic united front organisations came from the British Left!

Perhaps it is also significant that, after addressing large meetings in Scotland, some of the striking Liverpool dockers (1995-8) and their partners said that support here was often wider than in England. Even the response received from the SNP trade union group in Dundee was compared very favourably with the coolness of many Labour Party members closer to home! The SSA was particularly prominent in trying to win solidarity for the dockers in Scotland.

Comparing records in trying to build socialist/communist unity

Now, Nick goes on to make some valid criticisms of the SSA’s successor organisation, the SSP, particularly over its handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair. However, here it is necessary to compare like with like. The CPGB is only a small political organisation with very few connections to the wider working class. In reality it is a socialist/communist propaganda organisation. The SSP, at its height in 2003, united the vast majority of the Left in Scotland, had over a thousand members, won 128,026 votes in the Holyrood election, gained six MSPs and had 2 councillors. It was a party of socialist unity, unlike today when it is an organisation for socialist unity.

When you attempt to organise amongst the wider working class you come under all the immediate political pressures, as well as having to face up to the legacies of past Left traditions. We live in a UK state with a deep-seated imperialist legacy, and where our class has been in retreat in the face of a Capitalist Offensive since 1975.

So, if we are to engage meaningfully amongst the wider class, we have to acknowledge this, and develop a strategy to prevent socialists/communists being dragged back, and to find new openings that enable us to advance both the case and the struggle for a genuine socialist/communist alternative. This means forming definite political platforms. The RCN is a platform in the SSP; the CPGB was part of a platform (Workers Unity) in the SSP. So let’s compare our roles in trying to build wider principled socialist unity.

Now, just as Nick points out that the CPGB has already made many of the criticisms of the SWP and Socialist Party that I raised in my critique, so I will point out that the RCN publicly raised criticisms of the SSP Executive’s handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair, which he also quite rightly criticises. The RCN was the only political organisation to oppose, in principle, socialists’ resort to the bourgeois courts to get legal rulings on how they conduct themselves.

The split, which eventually emerged on the SSP Executive, was about the tactical advisability of a resort to the courts, not against the principle. The Executive, having unanimously warned against such a course of action in this particular case, came to an agreement with Sheridan, who insisted on ignoring this advice. In this agreement, he was allowed to stand down as SSP Convenor in order to pursue his court case as an individual. The Executive hoped this would remove the pressure upon the SSP itself.

This was extremely naïve, showing little understanding of how the state operates. In the case of the CWI/SP, they still haven’t learned this lesson, as their misguided resort to the courts to defend four victimised activists in UNISON has recently highlighted. Back in 2006, the Scottish courts made it quite clear that they made no distinction between the SSP and the activities of its most prominent member. It jailed Alan McCombes for refusing to hand over party minutes covering the Executive decisions on the handling of the Sheridan affair.

This led to a public split on the SSP’s Executive Committee, between those who wanted to continue with Sheridan’s case in the bourgeois courts, and those who could now see that the state held the whip hand. Sheridan was asked to abandon this particularly flawed and potentially disastrous course of action. Unfortunately, with the encouragement of the SWP and the CWI/IS – Sheridan went on regardless, resulting in a split in the SSP. They refused to attend the post-trial Conference organised to address the deep-seated differences, which had emerged in the SSP. Solidarity has been little more than a political ‘marriage of convenience’. You only have to look at the SWP and SP’s continued organisational separation in England, Wales (and Ireland/Northern Ireland) to understand this.

Certainly, mistakes had also been be made by the SSP Executive majority, but these could have been rectified. Indeed, the RCN initiated motion to condemn the resort to bourgeois courts and newspapers to deal with differences amongst socialists was passed at the post-split SSP Conference in 2006.

Ironically, the one issue, which played no part in the split, was the territorial organisational basis of the SSP. The left nationalist Sheridanistas (now the Democratic Green Socialist platform) joined with the Left unionist SWP and with CWI/IS in Solidarity. The Left nationalist influenced (now former) ISM, along with the Left unionist and carelessly named Solidarity platform (!) (AWL), and the republican socialist RCN stayed with the SSP. The left nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement left the SSP to urge support for the SNP, whilst the Left unionist CPGB ended up telling people to vote New Labour in the recent Euro-elections. Yes, a sorry mess!

Now, if ever there was an opportunity for the British Left to make some headway in Scotland, the SSP split this should have been it. However, the CWI/SP had already sabotaged the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, whilst the final coup-de-grace was administered by the SWP, when it decided to move over to pastures green in Respect. Losing support there to Galloway and his allies (the SWP seemed to have learned nothing about cultivating celebrity politics in Solidarity) they then sabotaged Respect. Perhaps, the one thing Nick and I could agree on, is that a particular organisational form – Scottish or British – provides no guarantee of principled socialist unity! That has to be fought out on the basis of principled politics and democratic methods.

Now, some time after the CPGB’s advocacy of giving no support to either the SSP or Solidarity (to my knowledge it no longer had any members involved at this stage), it came up with its own Campaign for a Marxist Party (CMP). Here surely, given the balance of political forces (much more favourable to the CPGB, than say to the SP or SWP in the old Socialist Alliance, the SWP in Respect, or the SP in No2EU) it should have been able to make some real headway in advancing its own brand of socialist/communist unity politics – the organisational unity of self-declared Marxists in an all-Britain (UK?) party.

However, as every non-CPGB report on the CMP has shown (see New Interventions), the CPGB played an analogous role to the SWP in its front organisations. And, just as in the case of the SWP, there has been no honest attempt to account politically for the demise of the CPGB project in this respect. Instead, we have been given personalised attacks – once again shades of the SWP. From the outside, it looks as if the CPGB was just attempting a new recruiting manoeuvre – much like the SWP.

Now the CMP certainly organised on an all-Britain basis, including the Critique/Marxist Forum group in Glasgow. Yet, far from bringing about greater unity, the CMP experience has only resulted in greater disunity! Nick I’m sure witnessed much of this, and I would think it unlikely that he was entirely happy with the way the CPGB conducted itself. However, this wasn’t an accidental one-off.

Before Nick became involved in the CPGB, there had been an all-Britain RCN, which included the Red Republicans (including myself), the Campaign for a Federal Republic, the CPGB and the RDG. The CPGB, in alliance with the RDG, decided to marginalise those who disagreed with their own ‘federal British republican’ position. In Scotland, federal British republicans were a minority in the RCN, but were still well represented on our Scottish Committee. In England, federal republicans were in a majority, but the CPGB and RDG acted to ensure there were no non-federal republicans on the ‘organising committee’ there (in reality very little organising had gone on).

Their idea was to refashion the RCN into an organisation, which would intervene with the ‘federal British republican’ line in the SSP. The CPGB and RDG had no wider role for the RCN in England. They saw their job as conducting Left British unionist ‘missionary work’ in Scotland only.

A rather unpleasant all-Britain RCN meeting was held in London, and through the votes of CPGB and RDG members, the majority of whom had never lifted a finger for the RCN, they won the day. The RCN in Scotland decided it had had enough of the bureaucratic manoeuvring and withdrew. Even the Scottish members of the Campaign for a Federal Republic members joined with the RCN majority in Scotland, and together we constituted ourselves as the RCN (Scotland).

It is not even necessary to accept my interpretation of these particular events to make a political assessment of the consequences of the split. The RCN now only existed in Scotland. The CPGB and RDG were attempting to link up with the very Left unionist (and social imperialist) AWL, and the Glasgow Critique group which still had members in Scotland, to build a new Left unionist platform within the SSP. An additional advantage was the support they had in England (and Wales).

So, which of the two platforms was able to advance in the SSP? Using Nick’s argument about the obvious superiority of all-Britain political organisations it should have been the CPGB and its allies. Yet this wasn’t the case, despite the CPGB’s hope of also winning the support of other Left unionist organisations in the SSP, such as the SWP (Weekly Worker assiduously tried to court Neil Davidson, the SWP’s leading theoretician in Scotland, then advancing a strong Left unionist politics.)

Now, it could possibly be argued, from a CPGB viewpoint, that the task of winning over the SSP to ‘principled’ British Left organisational unity was just too big a task in the face of the opposition. However, then the fight conducted by the CPGB and its allies should have at least solidified a more united pro-British tendency in Scotland. However, the CPGB soon fell out with the AWL and, after the CMP debacle, with the RDG, also leaving members of the Glasgow Critique/Marxist Forum split! And Nick wonders why I think supporters of British Left unity tend to mirror the bureaucratic methods utilised by the British state!

The historical basis for ‘internationalism from below’

The UK is not just any old state. It was once at the centre of the world’s largest empire upon which the sun never set. Today, it forms the principle ally of US imperialism, the dominant power in the world. Today, the UK is ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the USA’s ‘Tsarist Russia’.

For the greater part of their political lives, Marx and Engels argued that socialists should make opposition to the Romanov/Hapsburg counter-revolutionary alliance fundamental to their revolutionary project. Support for the Polish struggle to gain political independence, particularly from the Russian and Austrian Empires, was central to Marx and Engels’ strategy. Engels held on to this perspective until the end of his life, opposing the young Rosa Luxemburg on Polish independence, in the process. Socialists need to adopt a similar strategy today towards the US/UK imperial alliance.

It took some time before Marx and Engels came to an understanding of the best method needed to unite socialists organisationally to promote revolution and struggle against reaction and counter-revolution. However, they outlined their most developed position within the First International, when, significantly, they had to confront the British Left of their day. This tendency tried to uphold a ‘one-state/one-party’ stance, when they denied the Irish the right to form their own national organisation within the International. In arguing against a prominent British First International member, Engels argued that:-

The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal, but that of Poland with regard to Russia… What would be said if the Council called upon Polish sections to acknowledge the supremacy of a Council sitting in Petersburg, or upon Prussian Polish, North Schleswig {Danish} and Alsatian sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin… that was not Internationalism, but simply preaching to them submission to the yoke… and attempting to justify and perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism. It was sanctioning the belief, only too common amongst English {British} working men, that they were superior beings compared to the Irish, and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave States considered themselves to be with regard to the Negroes.

The Second International was formed as the High Imperialism of European dominant-nationality states (German, French and Russian) and top-down imperial national identity sates (British and Belgian) were in the ascendancy. The Second International abandoned Marx and Engels’ ‘internationalism from below’ principle. They adopted a ‘one state/one party’ organisational principle instead, which soon became the conduit for social chauvinist and social imperialist thinking within the social democratic movement.

Luxemburg and Lenin both accepted this new organisational principle. Luxemburg thought, though, that dominant nation chauvinism, which she still recognised, could be combatted by pushing for all-round democratic reforms, without regard to the specific nationalities in any particular state (albeit, as Lenin noticed, with the inconsistent qualification that, after the revolution, Poles should enjoy political autonomy).

Lenin also recognised the dominant nation social chauvinism and social imperialism found in the Second International, but thought this could best be combated through the 1896, Second International Congress decision to uphold ‘the right of nations to self determination’. Lenin thought, though, that any need to actually fight to implement this right was constantly being undermined by ongoing capitalist development, which he thought led to greater working class unity. Furthermore, after any future revolution, national self-determination would not be required, since workers would then want to unite together, initially within the existing state territorial frameworks, after these had been suitably transformed.

However, mainstream Second International figures, as well as Lenin, went on to consider various exceptions to both these organisational and political principles. In the case of some of the major constituent Second International parties, support was sometimes given to non-state parties in other states (often ones in competition with their own imperial bourgeoisies!). In this way the PPS (Poland) and IRSP (Ireland) were able to gain official recognition as Second International Congress delegates.

Lenin, in contrast, tended to support the exercise of self-determination retrospectively, only after he had recognised its political significance, e.g. Norway in 1905, Ireland in 1916. Lenin’s refusal to recognise the real political significance of Left-led national movements within the Russian Empire from 1917 (e.g. Finland and Ukraine), contributed to the isolation of the Revolution, and also to the burgeoning Great Russian bureaucratic character of the new USSR.

Luxemburg’s refusal to get socialists to fight for the leadership of national democratic movements contributed even more to the particular political marginalisation of socialists in Poland, compared say to those ostensibly less revolutionary Finnish socialists. They had been much more brutally crushed in the 1918 White counter-revolution in Finland, than the Polish socialists had been in the imperial backed nationalist revolution there. One reason why Finnish socialists and communists were able to rise from the ashes, is that were still remembered as leaders in the national struggle against Tsarist Russian and German occupation.

The role of an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy in combating the current US/UK imperial alliance

Fast forward to today, and we can see the leading role of US/UK imperialism in the world, promoting the interests of the global corporations. The UK state has been awarded the North Atlantic franchise by the US. Here it operates as spoiler within the EU to prevent it emerging as an imperial competitor to the US. It can even designate Iceland a terrorist state! Through the Peace (or more accurately pacification) Process, UK governments, in alliance with their own junior partners, successive Irish governments, have rolled back the challenge represented by the revolutionary nationalist challenge of the Republican Movement.

Sinn Fein is now a major partner in upholding British rule in ‘the Six Counties’ through their coalition with the reactionary unionist DUP. The ‘Peace Process’ was designed to create the best political environment to ensure that the global corporations can maximise their profits in Ireland. This political strategy has been extended throughout these islands, by the policy of ‘Devolution-all-round’ – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

This strategy has easily tamed such constitutional nationalist parties as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. The SNP, for example, is pursuing a Devolution-Max policy to uphold Scottish business interests in an accepted global corporate dominated world. The UK state strategy has the full support of the USA, the EU, and trade union leaderships locked in ‘social partnerships’ with their governments and the employers.

The constitutionally unionist form of the UK state places the National Question at the heart of the democratic struggle. Middle class nationalism is continually forced into compromises with unionism and imperialism. (At the height of British imperial world domination, the overwhelming majority of the Scottish and Welsh, and a significant section of the Irish middle classes, could be won over to acceptance of various hyphenated British identities – Scottish-British, Welsh-British and Irish-British – in their shared pursuit of imperial spoils). However, today’s SNP support for the monarchy, and for Scottish regiments in the British imperial army, show that unionist/imperialist pressure can still have an impact. Even the ‘independent’ Irish state has given Shannon Airport over to US imperial forces, particularly for ‘rendition’ flights.

Unfortunately, the CPGB has only the most abstract understanding of the British unionist state. As yet, it doesn’t even fully comprehend the difference between a nation and a nationality. During the 1997 Devolution Referendum campaign, Weekly Worker denied there was such a thing as a Scottish nation, claiming there was only a British nation, in which there lives a Scottish nationality. The existence of a wider Scottish nation, and not just a narrower ethnic Scots nationality, can easily be demonstrated in the well-known Scottish names of Sean Connery, Tom Conti, Shireen Nanjiani and Omar Saeed.

The logic of the CPGB’s position, if it had upheld its own particular version of national self-determination, should have been to argue for the 1997 referendum ballot to be confined to (ethnic) Scots. This would of course brought it into line with the far right nationalist, Siol nan Gaidheal! The CPGB also got itself into so many knots through promoting its own particular sect-front, ‘The Campaign for Genuine Self Determination’, that it buried any report of its end-of-campaign public meeting and rally in Glasgow. This meeting was certainly entertaining, but hardly a triumph for CPGB politics!

Indeed the beginnings of the CPGB’s political decline in Scotland can be identified with this particular meeting, which it was so reluctant to report on. I made an extended political assessment, which was sent to Weekly Worker to review. It declined to do so.

However, the confusion between nation and nationality has been taken to greater lengths in ‘the Six Counties’. Here Jack Conrad has identified a 75% Irish-British nation (!), scoring somewhat higher in the nation stakes than Scotland. The fact that Irish-British nationality identification went into rapid retreat after the Irish War of Independence is just ignored.

What undoubtedly exists in the ‘Six Counties’ today is an ‘Ulster’-British identity, buttressed by official Unionism and unofficial Loyalism alike. However, this relatively new nationality identification isn’t fixed either. There are a minority of ‘Ulster’-British who would happily become fully integrated into the British unionist and imperial state. The majority in the UUP, DUP and TUV, still want to maintain Stormont and other Northern Irish statelet institutions to hopefully ensure continued Protestant Unionist ascendancy. An ultra-reactionary minority has contemplated declaring UDI (Rhodesia style) to form an independent Ulster state, through ethnic cleansing (or, as the relevant UDA document puts it – ‘nullification’). They all, of course, proudly champion the British imperial legacy.

Ironically, there has been a limited rise of British-Irishness in ‘the 26 counties’, particularly in ‘Dublin 4’, amongst former Official Republicans and a new wave if ‘revisionist historians’. Significantly, this usually goes along with support for the UK and the USA in its current ‘anti-terrorist’ (i.e. imperial) adventures. These people represent a similar phenomenon to the Euston Manifesto group, formed in 2006 along with others, by former AWL member, Alan Johnson. The AWL, of course, has gone further even than the CWI in its apologetics for working class Loyalist organisations (anticipating its similar attitude to Zionist Labour organisations), so it is not surprising that it has given birth to strong social unionist and imperialist tendencies. Therefore, as long as the CPGB champions the ‘nation’ rights of this particularly reactionary nationality, it is in danger of following the path of the AWL and the CWI.

Now, the majority of the real Irish-British in ‘the 26 counties’ did eventually become Irish themselves, despite the undoubted barriers posed by the Catholic confessional nature of the state there. This development shows the possibilities of creating Irish national unity, especially if full nationality and religious equality is promoted.

The RCN appreciates the real nature of the UK state, and the strategy being pursued by its ruling class to contain potentially threatening national democratic movements. These can take on a republican form in their opposition to the anti-democratic Crown Powers soon wielded against any effective opposition. The RCN also recognises the need to supplement this by engagement with major social issues. This social republicanism (which needs to be developed by communists into conscious socialist republicanism) isn’t just an added-on extra. The fight against jobs and housing discrimination in the Civil Right Movement, and against the poll tax in Scotland, soon became linked with the national and (latent) republican movements in their respective countries.

When the RCN argues for a challenge to the UK state and to its anti-democratic Crown Powers in Scotland, this stems from a recognition that republican political consciousness is currently higher here (itself a reflection of the importance of the National Question). By way of analogy, in the 1980’s, the wider working class appreciated the more advanced class consciousness of the NUM and recognised they were in the vanguard of the fight, not just to save pits, but against the Thatcher government. The Great Miners’ Strike was itself triggered off by independent action. The job of socialists soon became to organise effective wider solidarity, and generalise this into a wider political struggle against Thatcher.

If socialist republicans in Scotland can take the lead in the political struggle against the UK state, the task of socialists in these islands becomes something similar – to build solidarity and to extend the challenge by breaking each link in the unionist chain. Whether we end up with independent democratic republics (and only weaken imperialism – nevertheless a better basis for future progress than the UK imperial state which exists at present), or are able to move forward to a federation of European socialist republics, depends on the ability of socialists/communists to build ever widening independent class organisation, culminating in workers’ councils.

Abstention from the democratic struggle on the grounds it isn’t specifically ‘socialist’ would be equivalent to abstention in supporting workers fighting for increased wages, on the grounds that they weren’t fighting against the wages system. Socialists/communists can only gain a wider audience by participating in all the economic, social, cultural and political (democratic) struggles facing our class. To do this effectively, socialists throughout these islands need to build on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’.

 __________

Nick Rogers replies to Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee

(Weekly Worker, no. 809)

The very first point I made at the February 13 Republican Socialist Convention in London was that the most pressing task for communists was to build an international working class movement that could challenge the capitalist class globally.

In the letters column of last week’s Weekly Worker I argued that it was necessary to build pan-European workers’ organisations (Blind alley, March 4). The masthead of the Weekly Worker carries the slogan, Towards a Communist Party of the European Union. Yet Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee characterises my position as Brit left (Left mirror of the UK state Weekly Worker March 4). In this reply I want to explore Allan’s revealing conclusion.

In my original report I criticised the SSP, represented at the February 13 meeting by co-convenor Colin Fox, for refusing to unite in an all-British party to combat the actually existing British state (‘Debating with left nationalists’ Weekly Worker February 18). Granted, Allan advocates united action across the British Isles, but, as he puts it, on the basis of the same kind of relations that Hands Off the People of Iran has established between British and Iranian workers. He asks, Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work cannot be effective because British and Iranian socialist do not live in the same state?

I applaud the work of Hopi, but everyone in that organisation – Iranian, British or whatever – recognises that workers in the two countries face quite different political environments that, for the time being, make unity in one centralised party both undesirable and unrealistic.

The difference between the kind of internationalism that Hopi encourages the British and Iranian workers to engage in and the level of unity workers in Scotland and England require can be illustrated quite simply by considering the nature of their respective struggles.

When Iranian bus, car or oil workers take industrial action, their grievances will generally be very specific to conditions in Iran – albeit sharing common characteristics with workers anywhere, given the drive by capitalist regimes all round the world to step up the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights. Generous financial support, logistical support where practical, solidarity messages, pickets of the Iranian embassy, etc – actions such as these are what it is feasible for British workers to do. Of course, we also place direct pressure on the British state by opposing sanctions against Iran and any preparations for war. These are the tasks that Hopi has set itself.

If Iranian workers in struggle were facing a western transnational, other types of action become possible, from workers’ sanctions to solidarity industrial action. Since the mullahs and revolutionary guards dominate profit-making activities in Iran, these opportunities are relatively rare.

British workers, by contrast, face capitalist companies that do not respect national boundaries within Britain (and increasingly the boundaries separating European countries). Effective industrial action also has to take place across these boundaries and requires close British and pan-European organisation by workers. In Britain workers confront laws made by the capitalist state – and also laws laid down by the European Union. For many workers the capitalist state is their employer. Defensive actions such as last week’s two-day strike by the Public and Commercial Services union inevitably assume an all-Britain character.

Allan affects to believe that the nature of the joint action by workers in Britain and the solidarity British and Iranian workers can achieve is essentially no different. In that case, what about British-wide unions? Does Allan believe that the struggles of civil servants (or any other group of workers) would be more or less effective if they were split into separate English and Scottish bodies? I honestly do not know Allan’s position on this. Some left nationalists, such as the Scottish Socialist Republican Movement, do advocate forming separate Scottish unions. I have observed that quite often it is the teachers in the SSP – organised, as it happens, in a Scottish union, the Educational Institute of Scotland – who least grasp the merits of Britain-wide industrial organisation. The majority in the SSP has, though, always cautioned against industrial separatism and argued that even Scottish independence would not undermine the rationale for all-Britain unions.

We are some way off a situation where we can contemplate signing up workers in Britain and Iran to the same unions. So it seems we agree that the existence of a British state – and the shared political, social and economic environment that goes along with it – makes the closest possible cooperation between workers in some types of organisation essential.

That leaves us with the rather extraordinary conundrum of explaining why communists – supposedly the most advanced militants of the working class – should unite on a less ambitious scale than workers seeking to defend their immediate economic interests.

For most it is self-evident that civil servants defending their redundancy terms need to organise in the same union against the British state in its role as an employer. How far would civil servants get if the PCS were to be split into separate Scottish, Welsh and English unions and leave the coordination of joint industrial actions to their respective ‘international departments’? I suggest that we would not be expecting anything very dynamic or effective to come of it.

But for the left nationalists in the SSP the proposal that revolutionary socialists need to achieve the same degree of unity in seeking to overthrow that capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ democracy draws forth accusations of ‘unionism’. For them, building joint activities with communists in England and Wales must be left to the SSP’s international committee in case we were to inadvertently imply that a closer form of unity just might be appropriate.

An observation. Allan points to the SSP’s participation in European Anti-Capitalist Alliance in last year’s European elections and the speaker tour they organised for a member of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party. I would say that was a principled stance as far as it went. But when has the SSP ever stood as part of a Britain-wide electoral front in a British general election? What principle allows the SSP to collaborate with European socialists to the extent of forming a common platform, but prohibits a similar step with socialists across Britain?

Allan takes me to task for using the word ‘foreign’ to describe the SSP’s attitude to English communists. He thinks the word carries inherent connotations of xenophobia. What nonsense. The capitalist international system of states is a reality communists are obliged to acknowledge, even while they strive to overcome it. Allan, however, in his refusal to accept that the existence of a British state requires a united struggle by workers against it, departs from reality.

‘Brit left’

So what is the ‘Brit left’? According to Allan the epithet is aimed at those socialists who seek to build party organisations throughout Britain – who try to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. Allan admits that this is to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy: ie, one party for each state. Within the SSP it struck me as an insult hurled most fiercely at fellow Scots – a jibe implying deficient Scottish patriotism.

Allan sketches out a litany of the failings of ‘Brit left’ organisations: the Socialist Workers Party’s opposition to Hopi, the British nationalism of last year’s ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’ electoral front, the cowardice of Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party over migrant workers.

What is he driving at? Is he saying that the sectarian failings of the left in Britain are intrinsic to all Britain-wide ventures? The political project of the CPGB could be summed up as advocacy of left unity on the basis of principled politics. The examples of unprincipled left politics that Allan cites could very well be drawn from exposés in the Weekly Worker.

Certainly, the sectarian fragmentation of the left makes a nonsense of attempts to present an effective challenge to capitalism in Britain. Not much of an excuse, though, for the SSP to add a nationalist twist to that fragmentation.

Does the fact that the SSP operates only north of the border really make it immune to much the same failings as ‘London-based’ organisations? What about the whole Tommy Sheridan debacle? It was the leadership of the SSP that built up Tommy as a political superstar. That carried his picture on the masthead of most issues of Scottish Socialist Voice. That incorporated a message from Tommy and his portrait on every election leaflet. That added his name to that of the party on ballot papers. That ran a prominent story about his wedding.

Most in the SSP now accept that the hero-worship of Sheridan was a mistake – a re-evaluation that is rather a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Today the whole organisation pretty much reviles him. I can understand the anger at Tommy Sheridan, but that in its turn does not excuse what is effectively collaboration with state authorities (a British state, moreover) and News International to put the man in prison. A perjury trial, whatever the outcome, is not going to place the SSP back in the big time. It is not even going to remove a martyred Tommy Sheridan from the Scottish political scene.

The fact of the matter is that such get-rich-quick schemes distort the priorities of most of the left in Britain – and internationally for that matter. You could argue that it is Trotsky’s transitional demands – a concept built into the DNA of most so-called revolutionary groups – that provides the excuse to describe any campaign for however modest a reform as a coherent aspect of a revolutionary strategy. I think the tendency towards political opportunism is more deep-rooted than that, but a lack of seriousness about programme is certainly a feature of virtually the whole left, including the revolutionaries in the SSP.

Republicanism

An understanding of the importance of demands around democracy and the part these should play in the strategy for achieving working class power should be at the heart of the programme of a communist party. That programme must take seriously the national question. I think that is a position I have always taken – and certainly before I joined the CPGB. I do not remember ever saying I was a ‘Luxemburgist’ – not that association with Rosa Luxemburg counts as a very severe insult in my book.

Like the rest of the CPGB, I have always maintained as a fundamental principle the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to choose independence. A right which a federal republic would enshrine with Scottish and Welsh parliaments having full powers to decide their future. What Allan has difficulty with is the dialectical subtlety of an approach that defends the right to self-determination, while advocating that the option for separation should not be exercised. Allan describes that as “condescending”.

In fact, paradoxical though it may appear to some, upholding the rights of nations is the only practical strategy for superseding the existing system of states. This is the task that will confront the working class as it seeks to build a world socialist order. What does Allan think this will entail? Would Allan either force nationalities against their will into broader federations or accept indefinitely as a fact of ‘human nature’ the national fragmentation bequeathed by capitalism?

The principle that any nation can choose to withdraw from a larger entity must hold, even after the working class has taken power. It is the only way of assuring all nations that their national and democratic rights will be respected and that they have nothing to fear from the construction of a socialist world.

Of course, there are national situations that pose particular problems. The CPGB supports the right of the Irish people to choose the unity of their island. This is the position we set out in our current Draft programme, as well as in the redrafted version proposed by the Provisional Central Committee. In addition, the majority within our organisation argues that the best way of assuaging the fears of the ‘British-Irish’ is to establish a federal Ireland with the right of self-determination for a British-Irish province covering a smaller geographical area than the current six counties.

I acknowledge the majority’s attempt to apply political principle consistently. However, I think there are problems with a formulation the leaves open the possibility of a repartitioned Ireland in which the rights of an Irish minority in a new Protestant statelet might not be guaranteed. As always, we will continue to debate our differences with the objective of achieving greater clarity.

The national rights of Scotland and Wales pose no problems of this kind. Their national boundaries are not in question. People in Scotland or Wales who regard themselves as English are unlikely to suffer any oppression – although grievances around the division of state resources might well exacerbate national tensions in the short term.

But what is the prospect for independence in Scotland? We were told at the convention that the most recent polls report support at levels of 37%. This is where support for independence has plateaued for the last decade or two. Occasionally, polls show support for independence spiking higher, but usually it oscillates around the mid-30s.

Clearly, there is a national question, but as things stand the Scottish people do not want separation. Yet left nationalists such as Allan argue that the key task for socialists north of the border – a task which justifies splitting the organisations of revolutionary socialists in the face of a very united British state – must be to win a majority of Scots to see the benefits of breaking with England.

This strategy is dressed up as an assault on British imperialism. Allan at least has the honesty to acknowledge that independence under the Scottish National Party would not involve a break with the circuits of international capitalism. But that is precisely the form in which independence is most likely to be delivered. According to Colin Fox, even an independent capitalist Scotland would be more progressive than the current British state.

Even if that were true (it is not), a communist programme must be more ambitious than that. Allan talks in terms of taking “the leadership of the national movement here from the SNP”. How about taking the leadership of the working class movement throughout Britain and Europe?

Allan criticises the tactics of the CPGB during last year’s European elections. However, contrary to his assertion, the CPGB did raise the question of migration. It is simply that the sticking point with the Socialist Party candidates in No2EU was around the right to bear arms. I was critical of making that the key issue in those elections, when it was the nationalism of No2EU that should have retained the focus of our tactics (‘Against sectarianism’ Weekly Worker June 18 2009).

But raising the demand that the British state’s monopoly of armed force should be broken is key to a republican agenda. It exposes the undemocratic nature of the rule of the capitalist class and, therefore, has far more radical potential than the separatism to which Allan aspires. It is the kind of republican politics that can lead the working class to challenge for state power. That is the prize for which all communists should strive.

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Mar 20 2009

Edinburgh People’s Festival: Inspirational and Educational

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:53 pm

Colin Fox speaks to Allan Armstrong about the vision and mission of the Edinburgh People’s Festival

What made you revive the Edinburgh Peoples Festival after almost 50 years?

We didn’t start off with the intention of reviving the Edinburgh Peoples Festival (EPF). At Hamish Henderson’s funeral in 2002, a group of us, including Bill Scott, Karen Douglas and Craig Maclean, started to discuss Hamish’s achievements. This was the man after all who had formally accepted the Italian surrender in the Second World War, first translated Gramsci into English, was the driving influence behind the Scottish folk revival, wrote Freedom Come All Ye and the John Maclean March, a working class intellectual and the man who founded the Edinburgh People’s Festival in 1951.

Years before I had come across an essay Hamish had written on the significance of the Edinburgh People’s Festival in Andrew Croft’s book Weapons in the Struggle, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

So, a group of us decided to organise a one-off event to commemorate Hamish and his contribution to our struggle. We opted to have it at the Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar for several reasons. One, Councillor Jack Kane had been the original Chairman of the EPF back in the 1950’s. Two, Craigmillar, on the city’s southern outskirts is Edinburgh’s poorest district and the Edinburgh Festival itself never went beyond EH1. We also had good community activists in the area we could rely on to publicise and promote the show. Things just escalated from there.

I guess looking back we recognised the importance of the original People’s Festival in acting as a foil or critique of the Edinburgh Festival itself. It has never really been designed for the majority of the city’s people. Ticket prices are now disgracefully high. Local indigenous performers will find it difficult to find a stage or platform and are shunted away for the month.

Where does most of the support for the EPF come from?

We found our original support in Craigmillar where we quickly got the backing of lots of local community groups, like the Craigmillar Artspace. We also learned quick lessons. We put on Bill Douglas’s film, My Ain Folk in the Newcraighall Miners’ Welfare without realising that, although people dearly loved Bill, they felt his depiction of their village rather dismal. Nonetheless the area is proud to have produced such talented people. At the last count we have presented shows in 20 different communities throughout the city and Midlothian.

Beyond local support, the EPF has received backing from the organised active Left. Tommy Shepard, who runs The Stand Comedy Club has been a fantastic help. Support has also come from local playwrights Cecilia Grainger and Barry Fowler, and from many key artistic community development groups in Wester Hailes and North Edinburgh.

Local trade union branches have been key to our financial success. It has been their support that has enabled us to take performances to the local communities and always keep tickets at affordable prices. [We usually charge £2 when the performances and events are not entirely free]. We are indebted to Unison healthworkers, posties, railworkers, teachers, firefighters, railway workers and civil servants unions. They have been very generous, partly, as I remind them, because they haven’t been giving out much strike pay over the last eight years!

As a socialist, why do you see it important to promote popular culture?

Art and culture can be thoroughly inspiring and educational. In Gramsci’s writings you can see the blueprint which led the Italian Communist Party to have one million members in the early 1970’s.

My partner, Zillah and I, attended a festival in France in the late ‘80s organised by the French Trotskyist party Lutte Ouvrier (LO). We were amazed to see 30,000 people there in the grounds of a chateau just outside Paris being entertained and enjoying themselves on an array of attractions. Festivals like these are still common on the left in France, Italy and Spain, bringing together tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. It became clear to me that much of the mass support for socialism on the continent, came not so much through public and party meetings, but because of the wider cultural activities of the Communist Parties and groups like the LO.

The French Communist Party’s L’Humanite by all accounts attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

In Britain we have had Miners’ Galas, May Days, and more recently the Tolpuddle Martyrs celebration. In the 1980’s, when I was in the Militant we used to organise huge political and cultural events in the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and the Wembley Arena with 8000 people. They were brilliant. I have to admit that I enjoyed those performances with groups like the Who, Billy Bragg, Red Wedge, Paul Weller and Skint Video more than the Conferences. Truth be told, I probably still do!

In your opinion, what have been the highlights of the EPF so far?

There are very many that spring to mind. Perhaps the earliest is the EPF’s ‘discovery’ of David Sneddon, who we found busking on Chambers Street. We got him to perform at the Jack Kane Centre that first year with his group, The Martians and people were really bowled over by him. A few weeks later, I remember, Alan McCombes phoned me and told me to switch on the TV. His daughters had been at the Jack Kane Centre and were telling him that David Sneddon had just won the BBC’s first Fame Academy! The press were all over us for photographs of him at his first public performance, in Craigmillar.

We also had Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson. We cheekily phoned her up and asked if she would perform at our show Bart Comes to the Simpsons. All the kids in Edinburgh are born at the Simpsons Maternity! She was terrific about the whole thing and the show was just a fantastic success.

We also took the comedian, Mark Thomas, and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six into Saughton Prison for a show. Originally, it had been agreed that STV would film the event but the governor pulled the plug. The show went on without the cameras and the guys inside thought it was brilliant. They were all over Paddy Hill at the end. We have been back ‘inside’ just about every year since.

We had a line up in 2003 for a cultural debate, or ‘flyting’, which looking back was quite unequalled anywhere in Edinburgh since.

Whose Culture is it anyway? starred Paul Gudgeon, then Director of the Fringe, the irrepressible Richard Demarco, Tommy Shepard, actor Tam Dean Burn, Joy Hendry the publisher, Kevin Williamson, the late Angus Calder and Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas. They were all going at it hell for leather with poor Sian Fiddimore from Wester Hailes desperately trying to keep it all in order.

Last year, we launched the first of what will become the Annual Hamish Henderson Memorial Talks. It was given by Hamish’s biographer, Timothy Neat. And that went very well, certainly one of our highlights – and I think our first sell out event!

The exhibition we mounted, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, telling the story of the Edinburgh People’s Festivals from 1951 is just excellent. It was subsequently shown last November at Wordpower’s Radical Book fair at the Out of the Blue Art Centre in Leith. It is currently on show at the Jack Kane Centre before it goes off on tour.

With trade union financial backing, we also organised a local Art Competition last year, with £1000 in prize money. This was a great success too and a foray into a new field for us.

Richard Demarco, one of the leading figures associated with the Edinburgh Fringe, has given the EPF considerable encouragement. Do you see this as a sign of wider recognition for the EPF?

Richard Demarco is the only person who has been to every Edinburgh Festival. He has been responsible for bringing over many artists to Edinburgh, including from Eastern Europe, when it was unfashionable to do so. Despite Demarco’s centrality to the Festival and the Fringe he has always been an outsider. He remains driven by a passion for the arts and his effervescence is infectious. He has given the EPF a helluva lot of encouragement. He made a typically passionate contribution to the debate we organised at Out of the Blue in August 2007, on the future of art in an independent Scotland. Elaine C. Smith also spoke in similar vein.

But the truth is the People’s Festival has been treated with complete disdain by the Edinburgh establishment and its media, including the local Evening News. Bourgeois commentators have turned their noses up at the popular culture we offer. Nevertheless, they have grudgingly been forced to recognise our innovative approach on a number of occasions.

The People’s Festival has begun to organise events outside the traditional Edinburgh Festival slot. Why did you decide to organise a celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution for example?

People have often said that, even if with some exaggeration, that Edinburgh is a cultural desert outside the official Festival in August. The People’s Festival decided to ‘cash in’, if I dare utter the term, on the fact we are here the whole year round. And since we had grown considerably we felt that it was time to try and extend our activities beyond August.

The opportunity came then in 2007, with the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, an event I believe is the greatest of the twentieth century. Others in the People’s Festival saw the possibilities so I approached Trevor Griffiths, the scriptwriter for the film, Reds, and asked him to come up and celebrate the occasion with us. In the interview he did with me at the event in The Stand, Trevor explained that in fact he was the fifth person chosen by Warren Beattie to write the script. Beattie had bought the film rights to John Reed’s classic, Ten Days That Shook The World. Tommy Shepard offered us The Stand for the event on a night in October. The comedian, Paul Sneddon (aka Vladimir McTavish) and Alistair Hulett’s folk group, the Malkies, performed alongside the Oscar nominated Trevor Griffiths. It was quite a night!

We also worked with Edinburgh’s excellent Word Power bookshop to produce the pamphlet, What the Russian Revolution Means To Me. Word Power is are markable resource. Elaine Henry and Tarlochan Gupta-Aura do a great job in sustaining a radical bookshop, when most other left bookshops have disappeared.

The following January, the EPF took on the organisation of an alternative Burns Supper. For the previous decade, this responsibility had been successfully taken on by the SSA/SSP, but it was good to broaden it out. The radical and controversial Burns scholar, Patrick Scott Hogg, spoke, whilst comedian Bruce Morton performed. People even came from as far away as Dublin to attend that one – seeing it advertised on our website!

This January the EPF organised a very successful event to celebrate 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. Tell us how the contributors were chosen and what else has been planned this year for this anniversary?

We wanted to offer an even better Burns event than that held the previous year. At first we hoped we could get the noted Marxist literary critic and writer Terry Eagleton to speak, but he could not make it. John McAllion stepped in and spoke tremendously well about the link between Burns’ art and his radical commitment in the 1790’s. The ever popular, Vladimir McTavish provided the comedy, whilst we had great musical sessions from the young black American jazz player, William Young, and from Edinburgh’s rising singer songwriter, David Ferrard.

We have also received money from the Lipman Milliband Foundation to produce a pamphlet later this year, What Robert Burns Means To Me.

You have a particular interest in the Scottish artist, Alexander Naysmith. What plans have you for the EPF to bring Naysmith to people’s attention?

Alexander Naysmith is known to everyone but they perhaps don’t realise it, he painted the most famous portrait of Burns. Like Burns, Naysmith was a radical and was blacklisted for his views. He began life as an apprentice coach painter in the Grassmarket before becoming a very successful portrait artist, possibly Scotland’s best, studying under Allan Ramsay, and working in Paris and Milan. But the big mystery about Naysmith is why he suddenly changed to landscape painting apparently at the height of his career. None of the art books will say why, but I know why and actually so do they. It was his politics. His wealthy patrons refused to give him any commissions because he made no secret of his radical republican views. He talked with great passion on the American and French Revolutions during the long portrait sittings. So, under advice from no less a figure than his close friend and ally Robert Burns he took up landscape painting instead. He rose to equal heights in this genre too.

Naysmith was a close friend and collaborator of Burns and out lived the poet by 40 years. He was one of us. And I want the People’s Festival to recognise one of Edinburgh’s people, to organise an exhibition, this August, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, with Naysmith’s portrait of Burns at its centre. We want to make Naysmith’s work and life more widely known. We display work by new artists inspired by him.

Angus Calder is another important writer, who has recently died, associated with Edinburgh. Are there any plans to organise an event celebrating Angus?

There was recently a memorial event for Angus, which I was unable to attend. Angus made many contributions to history and culture and was himself an award-winning poet. He was a member of the SSP and I got to know him quite well. He was a generous and strong supporter of the People’s Festival. I can still remember his contribution at The Flyting we organised in Wester Hailes in 2003. The idea was to revive the great Scottish tradition of cultural polemic, much associated with Hugh MacDiarmid and others, once again largely centred on this city.

The EPF would like to work with others to get more commemorative events organised. We don’t want to take responsibility for everything and I think that’s the best way forward with Angus’s work.

Recently Patrick Scott Hogg asked us if we could organise something to celebrate the great Scottish radical, Thomas Muir. The EPF thought it would be more appropriate that this was done in a West of Scotland setting.

One of Edinburgh’s most controversial figures has been James Connolly. Do you see the EPF trying to reclaim this great socialist republican for Edinburgh?

One of the members of our Committee is Jim Slaven who is well known in the city as organiser of the James Connolly Society. Jim played a key role, in the face of strong opposition, in trying to get Connolly’s legacy recognised in this city. Last August, we hoped to get Terry Eagleton up to speak. This may still happen.

However, in June, Jim was successful in getting the City of Edinburgh Council to organise a one-day event, to coincide with Connolly’s birthday. The event, Over the Water, had speakers from Ireland and Scotland. This June, the EPF hopes to organise a Connolly event in the evening, after the day’s official events. Connolly is very much one of our people and we feel he should be supported by all on the Left especially.

What else has the EPF got organised for this coming year.

We have worked with others, particularly on the Trades Council, in re-establishing May Day in this city. Last year we had Aida Avila from Colombia, Sean Milne, the radical journalist, and Pat Arrowsmith, veteran CND activist, amongst others, as speakers. This year we have Mark Lyons, convenor of the UNITE branch at Grangemouth Refinery, Hilary Wainright, editor of Red Pepper and Matt Wrack from the FBU joining us. We hope to give pride of place to Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s daugher, in celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution.

We are also putting on a 20 years after the Poll Tax exhibition, which will concentrate on the role local people and communities played here in defeating this hated measure. The fightback started in Edinburgh, and included such veterans of the struggle as Sadie Rooney, one-time Labour councillor for Prestonfield – until she saw sense!

We also hope to bring a piece of theatre from London’s West End would you believe. The EPF’s producer Barry Fowler is going down to attend the London premiere of Maggie’s End written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood in the Shaw Theatre. The play is about the reaction of mining communities in the North East of England to the announcement of Thatcher’s death. Just the job, eh!

It would be great if we could put this on as our first full theatrical production. Even better, if our showing of Maggie’s End coincided with Thatcher’s actual demise!

What event would you like more than any other to put on the EPF?

Along with the photographer, Craig Maclean, I have often discussed the possibility of putting on some free ‘Outdoor Cinema’. Craig and Rob Hoon (from Out of the Blue) have already experimented with projecting huge images on prominent city landmarks. I certainly think the EPF should remain ‘dangerous and challenging’. I like the idea of guerrilla cinema as agitprop!

Edinburgh People’s Festival website

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Oct 03 2006

The Rising Phoenix

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 13RCN @ 7:35 pm

The rising phoenix

Learn the lessons and defend the SSP

The last two years have been a turbulent and destructive time for the SSP. Starting with the Emergency Executive meeting in November 2004, which led to Tommy Sheridan’s resignation as convenor, through to the ordeal of the libel court case he brought in the full glare of the media, concluding with the split and the launch of Solidarity.

Most members, including many who have joined Solidarity, will have gone through emotional turmoil and will have kept asking the question – when will this all end so we can get back to fighting imperialism and rallying the working class to the cause of socialism?

As the dust settles over the chaos of the court battle and the impact of the split becomes clearer, it is time to attempt to make some assessment and ask some searching questions about where the SSP stands now, what its immediate tasks are and what are the lessons to be learnt?

In this edition of Emancipation & Liberation we attempt to bring together the central events and their political significance, supported by some of the key documents and articles produced to explain them.

It will be quite clear to the reader that we have not only reproduced those that support our position to stay in the SSP. We need to understand why others have walked away from the SSP. A drawing up of a balance sheet is vital, for socialists to learn the lessons of these regrettable events. The SSP conference in October will be significant in dealing with these and moving on.

Why did the RCN decide to stay with the SSP and not join Solidarity?

We are clear. The decision of Tommy Sheridan to pursue his court case against the unanimous advice of the SSP Executive Committee represented a rejection of inner party democracy and the accountability of party officials to the membership – an anti-party action, which has had dire consequences for the SSP. It was a gross political mistake.

The subsequent decision to form a new organisation, Solidarity, on little other political basis than personal support for Tommy Sheridan, represents a continuation of this anti-party action and heralds one of the most serious mistakes made by socialists in post war Scottish politics. It places personality and individual egos before principled politics. It weakens the working class in the face of the current ruling class offensive.

Sectarian agendas

The decision of the SWP and CWI to back this split, further demonstrates their own sectarian agendas. These organisations’ lack of commitment to principled socialist unity has already been clearly shown by their separate ‘unity’ initiatives in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland (Six Counties); whilst in Ireland (26 Counties) the SWP and CWI just promote their own organisations.

From the birth of the Scottish Socialist Alliance through to its transformation into the SSP and beyond, the RCN and its members have been partisan and dependable SSP activists. The political and organisational development of the SSPhas been at the core of our work. We continue to recognise that a united socialist party is essential if there is going to be any chance of socialism being established. In that sense unity is strength. To this end, the RCN has put the building of the SSP above the recruitment to our own platform. Unlike the SWP/CWI we have never seen ourselves as an alternative ‘leadership in waiting’ focussed on toppling the incumbents but rather concerned ourselves with promoting the major lessons of the international class struggle. First and foremost amongst these is the necessity of promoting and defending a comradely and democratic culture within a united socialist party, the SSP. A key strategy of the SSP was to unite the Left

However, while doing this we have also been fierce and vocal critics of some of the directions and policies that the SSP has pursued. We have not been afraid to voice our opposition to proposals that we feel would have a negative effect on the socialist movement in Scotland.

Socialist morality not bourgeois morality

One of the key lessons that must be learnt is that a socialist party must have a socialist morality at its core, informing its politics and practice. This should not be confused with bourgeois morality. This socialist morality has to be built on honesty, transparency, democracy, accountability and an absence of the hypocritical double standards displayed by bourgeois politicians. To establish genuine and lasting roots within the working class and to be worthy of the name Socialist, a socialist party must be honest with our class. Honesty has to extend from policies to organisational matters, such as membership figures and the numbers who attend demonstrations or meetings that we organise. The SWP is notorious amongst the left and the organised workers’ movement for deliberately inflating attendances at its events.

Do they not trust their readers and members with reality? How can the working class movement, and socialists within it, be expected to make informed decisions on deliberately distorted information? If you are fast and loose with the truth, why should workers trust you? To paraphrase Trotsky, one small cut can lead to gangrene!

Democracy, transparency and accountability must go hand in hand. These combine to act as a guard to ensure that the party leadership is in touch with the membership, reflecting and representing its collective view and acting as a check on the rise of the cult of a particular personality or leader.

For open and principled platforms

From its founding the SSP has, almost uniquely, allowed open platforms/factions to exist in our party. This is a healthy tradition that must continue. Some blame our current predicament on this tolerance of platforms. While the behaviour of some platform members has been unacceptable, this is also true for some SSP members who are not in platforms.

Furthermore, Tommy was himself a member of the International Socialist Movement, the dominant platform in the SSP, along with Alan McCombes and Keith Baldassara. A strong argument could be made that it was the weakening and decline of the ISM platform which removed much of the discipline that had reined in Tommy’s destructive ego, and permitted Tommy’s strengths as a communicator to be used for the benefit of the SSP. Principled and open platforms can be one way to increase accountability. The alternative can be the formation of an undeclared ‘leadership faction’, which tries to avoid accountability and hides the truth from the members.

The socialist transformation of society requires the widening and deepening of democracy within society including the democratic control over all the resources of society. This commitment to democracy must be reflected within any socialist organisation otherwise it is just another political cul-de-sac which working class activists and their allies should rightly shun.

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Oct 03 2006

A critique and exposure of Tommy Sheridan’s Daily Record and The SSP has reached the crossroad ‘manifestoes’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 13RCN @ 11:53 am

Allan Armstrong (Republican Communist Network) examines the politics behind the ‘SSP Majority’s’ letter and Sheridan’s contributions to the Daily Record

i)    Tommy’s battle against the News of the World

Tommy Sheridan has won a famous victory over the News of the World. This has been proclaimed by Tommy’s immediate supporters, the SWP and CWI, and by that section of the press and media, which likes to pretend it is morally superior to the News of the World. People from Margo MacDonald to Ian Bell have hailed Tommy’s triumph over the News of the World. When it comes to its effect on the SSP, they either show little concern, or cynically declare that the SSP project was doomed from the start. The Left could never unite. For some, this is no doubt said with regret, as they wistfully remember their lost and youthful radical past. And, in a desperate desire to fill the vacuum, left by the wholesale retreat of working class politics since its 60’s and 70’s heyday, some of these people might claim that only celebrity politics has a chance of getting any progressive changes today. First it was Ken Livingstone, then George Galloway, and now it’s Tommy Sheridan. And, even some of those on the remaining Left seem to agree with them. They just hope for a little slice of the action. Working class heroes are our only saviour – follow the true leader!

ii)   Tommy’s hidden battle against the SSP

What has been hidden from most of the public and many SSP members, throughout the lurid 4 week trial, is the other battle that has been raging. That has been the attempt by Tommy to break the SSP, in order to have an organisation, like putty in his hands. This would be, in effect, a leadership cult – the Tommy Sheridan Party (TSP). In order to achieve this Tommy was prepared to resort to a bourgeois court to promote his campaign of bravado and public denigration of one-time close friends, fellow comrades in the former International Socialist Movement (ISM), and other socialists in the party, including many with a long record of working class struggle. Tommy has been mightily helped in this, by his attempt to portray his stance as a heroic, one-man battle against the scabby News of the World and the right to maintain his family’s privacy.

The sub-text in Tommy’s campaign has been to conjure up a secret organisation, the United Left, which conspired to topple him as SSP leader on November 9th 2004.The purpose behind this has been twofold. First, to whip up hatred within the SSP, directed against those members of the Executive Commitee prepared to stand up to him; secondly, to play to the wider perception of the public (some, of course, who became members of the jury) that the SSP wasn’t worth a toss. It is just another joke organisation – a combination of The Life of Brian and Citizen Smith. Given the Left’s past history it is not surprising that this image is all too prevalent amongst the wider public. However, in appealing to this particular widespread prejudice, Tommy has highlighted his intention to destroy the reality of what the SSP has achieved. Instead he wants it replaced either by the TSP, or left as an empty shell, gutted of any independent-mindedness and democracy.

iii)  Tommy’s anti-party course was a response to being challenged by close friends, on November 9th, 2004

When did Tommy decide to pursue this course of action? Quite clearly he was shocked at the emergency November 9th 2004 Executive meeting when his closest friends and political allies were not prepared to give him unqualified backing. Protecting the leader’s public image, promoted in the media at every opportunity – the squeaky clean President and First Lady – was his primary concern. The real issue, therefore, was not about Tommy’s sex life. This is indeed his and Gail’s affair, but it has been Tommy who seems determined to make it everybody else’s. The problem is Tommy’s image promoted for political purposes maybe very different from reality. The wider issue isn’t a concern over Calvinist morality, but over bourgeois hypocrisy. It was Tommy’s decision to go to the courts, instead of shrugging off the News of the World allegations, which showed his own moralistic uncertainty about sexual conduct. Even John Prescott and Bertie Ahern have handled press allegations about their private lives better – either, It’s none of your concern, or, So what!

And for Tommy, the threat to sue the News of the World, at this stage, was all a bluff! The Executive Committee was faced with the choice – to follow the politics of bluff and short-term tactical expediency, or to follow the politics of truth and long term principled gain. It should have been a ‘no brainer’.

Tommy could even have gone to the following Executive Committee meeting, the next National Council, or to the 2005 Conference, to argue his case in front of the members. That was his right and the proper way to pursue his grievance. Certainly, the membership would have been up for a SSV campaign to expose the scabby News of the World. Direct appeals could have been made to that paper’s unions.

Instead, Tommy, at this stage with the Executive’s support, decided to pursue a private action in the bourgeois courts. However, Tommy was nurturing his hurt, so he also moved behind the scenes in the party. First he broke off personal relationships with his former closest friends. Next year, he backed Colin Fox for SSP leader, hoping that at least Colin could be manipulated into advancing his course. Colin, one of Tommy’s close political allies, was not for being so used. So, in Tommy’s mind, Colin too joined the ‘imaginary’ conspiracy directed against the unchallengeable leader.

Lastly, when it became quite clear that the SSP could not be kept out the courts, due to the state’s stance (something the RCN maintained was inevitable), Tommy wrote his Open Letter, with the help of the CWI and others. From then on he has played a constant game of ‘bluff’, which can, with a skilled poker face like Tommy’s, deliver the wins he craves – but not forever. Tommy’s cards will eventually be called and they will be exposed as knaves, when aces are required.

However, since the date of Tommy’s court case was declared, his battle against the News of the World – the bluff – has taken second fiddle to Tommy’s very real battle against everything the SSP stands for.

iv)    The record of the real SSP

Tommy’s public portrayal of the SSP has been a travesty of reality. The RCN knows better than any other platform that Tommy and his allies’ are twisting and misrepresenting the reality of our party. The SSA, and its successor organisation, the current SSP, was built on the firm grounds of working class resistance – the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, the Save Our Water campaign, the Glaciers’ occupation and many other struggles. In the process, the SSA, then the SSP, pulled in the overwhelming majority of socialist organisations in Scotland (including the local branch organisations of British-based organisations), which had previously only enjoyed a separate sect-like existence.

The RCN is probably the only political organisation, currently in the SSP, which argued for the welcoming of all socialist organisations into the Alliance’s/Party’s ranks. The condition of membership was that they accept the SSA’s/SSPs’ defining principles and constitution. That means we championed the right to affiliation of every organisation, which has subsequently joined, from the CPGB-PCC (now defunct in Scotland!), the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement to the Socialist Workers’ Party. We welcomed people as comrades into the party, only opposing their politics whenever we disagreed. We have always tried to maintain fraternal relations with comrades as individuals.

Furthermore, the RCN, far from supporting the politics of the ISM, or other platforms or individuals in the Executive Committee, has always been prepared to very publicly take on positions we disagreed with. We have opposed both Tommy and Alan McCombes, on their shared slide towards Scottish nationalism. We have opposed both Carolyn Leckie and Richie Venton, when they failed to fully support the extension of the principle, ‘an SSP MSP on a workers’ wage’ to the principle that any ‘SSP TU official should be on the average wage of the workers they represent’. We have opposed the CWI’s and Allan Green’s welcoming of loyalist paramilitary, Billy Hutchinson to ‘Socialism’. We have opposed the SWP’s continued resort to undemocratic front organisations.

However, we have also been been approached by members in all other platforms to speak for, or to support key policies of theirs. We have welcomed support from members of most other Platforms, and non-aligned individuals, when they have supported our politics. We have published articles by members of all Platforms in Emancipation & Liberation, even when this has not been reciprocated. We aren’t scared of real debate.

Political debates and struggles inside the SSA/SSP, have been overwhelmingly conducted in the spirit of brotherly and sisterly comradeship. When there have been occasional lapses, apologies have been made later, and good personal relationships re-established. The RCN, which is the smallest of the active affiliated Platforms, and frequently in the minority in the final votes, is proud to stand up and state that, despite any remaining weaknesses and shortcomings, the SSP has been the most democratic and comradely wider organisation our members have been involved with during in their political lives (and that includes the Labour Party, the IS/SWP, CPGB-PCC and the SNP!).

I don’t think it is ‘blowing our own (RCN) trumpet’ to state that we have moved from being perceived as a marginal, somewhat bizarre, republican-supporting sect, to being respected as a hard-working, SSP supporting Platform, which has ‘punched above its weight’. We have been seen as champions of SSP internal democracy and have pushed the debate on republicanism from the margins of the SSP to its centre.

Therefore, I repeat that Tommy’s portrayal of the internal life of the SSP is both dishonest and sickening. If the democratic and comradely tradition established in the SSA/SSP was to be finally broken, in favour of the type of hatred-promoting bile displayed in Tommy’s latest contributions to the scabby Daily Record, it would represent a major set-back for our class.

v)       The political situation after Tommy’s court victory

The RCN has issued several statements, giving our view of events, since November 9th 2004. Our most recent statement, published on August 4th was drafted before the results of the trial were known. Beforehand, we were sometimes asked what we thought would be the best verdict. We said that politically it didn’t matter – that Tommy was pursuing an anti-Party battle regardless. Win or lose, he would try to rally party members around him to purge, what he or his close ally, Hugh Kerr, have shamefully characterised as either scabs or supergrasses.

We also said that there could only be two official results to this court case:- either News of the World – 1, Tommy – 0; or Tommy – 1, News of the World – 1. The real result, however, would be – the State 5, the SSP 0. In the end the official verdict was Tommy – 1, News of the World – 1. Why do we not agree with the current wider opinion that Tommy has trounced the News of the World? First, the £700,000 they had to pay out (penalties and costs) was small beer, compared to the four week’s of unparalleled publicity they received. Furthermore, on top of the persuasive direct evidence offered particularly by Katrine Troll, her flatmates, and from the mobile phone calls, the News of the World was able to ladle on much more completely unsubstantiated salacious material, to get their money’s worth.

Yes, the News of the World would have preferred to claim the scalp of another prominent politician, but it was always a win-win situation for them. Far from feeling defeated and browbeaten, the News of the World went on to print another story, in their very next issue (August 6th) attacking Tommy’s friend, former policeman and SSP member, Dennis Reilly. He was accused of getting a gangster, John Lynn, to intimidate one of the witnesses. Now that Tommy is at least £230,000 the richer, will he spend a little of this money trying to clear the name of his good friend in the courts? These accusations are far more serious than any stories about Tommy’s alleged sex life.

The one thing the News of the World can not of be accused of, is having a party political agenda – it would print the same sort of attacks, whether it was directed against Tory, Labour, Lib-Dem, SNP or SSP politicians. Certainly, its owners and editors would not be averse to handling and promoting information fed to them by the state’s security services, but the state has its assets in all the major media – from the serious liberal and conservative press, through to the populist gutter press. In the meantime, the News of the World has moved on unimpeded, with its usual diet of salacious stories and scandal.

Furthermore, the state probably knows the content of all those phone calls and e-mails mentioned in the trial. It probably knows a lot more about the private lives of all our MSPs and other leading officials. The state has the choice of leaking this information in the future, either directly or indirectly, through its various assets in the media and elsewhere; or it can blackmail individuals, who don’t want some aspects of their private life revealed to the public. The case of Denis Donaldson in Sinn Fein, a much more security conscious and intelligence service-savvy organisation than the SSP, is a warning of how they operate.

When renegade ex-Trotskyist, George Kerevan, saw the success of the SSP in the May 2003 elections, he cynically, but accurately, said to Alan McCombes, When you had one {colourful, and impassioned} MSP you were an ongoing media story; now you have 6 you are a threat to the state (or words to that effect). In other words the media likes and revels in celebrity politics (of whatever political persuasion, or of none), but it cannot tolerate a real socialist opposition. Tommy wistfully wants to take us back to this days of celebrity politics, with him self as President, and Gail as First Lady of the SSP.

vi)   Tommy’s ignores some of his supporters’ advice

Tommy’s court win has had a material affect to the way he is now running his anti-Party campaign now. If Tommy had lost, his allies in the SW and CWI Platforms would have had to conduct their present anti-Party campaign in a different manner (although I’m sure they would have continued anyhow – sectarianism seems to be hard-wired into their very being).

When asked what their attitude was to members initiating such actions, which involved attacking other members in the bourgeois courts, they adopted a Blair-type apologist stance, ‘We are opposed to the use of courts (war), but now we are there, we have to support Tommy (our boy/s).

Others, such as John Aberdein and John Dennis (both of whom I would consider good friends) have called either for magnanimity, or burying past differences, after Tommy’s triumph, and for uniting all the party around a campaign for its policies, particularly in the run-up to the May 2007 Holyrood elections. Tommy’s highly paid Daily Record ‘manifesto’/rant on August 7th doesn’t quite seem to fit with this political advice!

vii)   Tommy’s attack on the SSP shifts from the bourgeois courts to the bourgeois press

So what is the political essence of the new political situation? Tommy has moved his anti-Party campaign from the bourgeois courts (previously disguised as defence against the News of the World) to the bourgeois press. He is now being paid by New Labour-supporting (and politically much more dangerous) Daily Record to conduct this anti-Party campaign.

Now, you can have two views on this. Either, by so publicly and generously providing Tommy with the means to conduct his own campaign (it was given priority on their front page, as well as on several other pages on August 8th, 9th and 10th) the Daily Record, has joined the principled battle for socialism in Scotland. Or, you can take the view that the Daily Record has been presented with a golden opportunity to attack socialism, the SSP, and is proceeding with great relish.

Any serious person examining August 7th and 8th Daily Records, can see its editors and journalists are taking the piss. They just can’t believe how far Tommy is prepared to go to further his celebrity status and bid for Leader of the SSP. They even conned Tommy and Gail, on page 7, to pose for a ‘royal photograph’, with King Tommy, Queen Gail and the wider family! On August 8th, we had former Royal Marine, James Moncur, lauding Tommy’s fitness, in testosterone-fuelled prose (page 4). In passing, Tommy mentions his old pal, Ally McCoist – Coisty has been on the phone and texted me a couple times. (No, you couldn’t make this up). Sadly, we are seeing a macho-man wallowing in the world of his celebrity friends!

So whilst Tommy thinks he is working jointly with the Daily Record to destroy the SSP as it is presently constituted, he can not see that he is also being set-up for a great fall. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Daily Record’s response to Tommy sacking his lawyers – was Tommy Drops His Briefs (Daily Record, 15th July) – ho, ho, ho!

Tommy is falling over himself to help the Daily Record, to break the socialist opposition in parliament before next year’s Holyrood elections. He apparently cannot even see that he is being used. The Daily Record is far more politically conscious than the News of the World. It props up New Labour in Scotland. Jack McConnell and Gordon Brown’s political careers are more important to the Daily Record than the ‘tits and bums’ used to sell the News of the World.

Four days after Tommy’s court triumph, even one sympathetic journalist, Ruth Wishart, was beginning to send him warning signals, after his post-victory behaviour (Daily Herald, 8th August). You might have thought that Tommy’s supposedly politically astute advisers in the SWP and the CWI would have warned him too about the political designs of the Daily Record. Tommy’s outrageous calls for the ‘destruction’ of members and for ‘purges’ have an ominous Stalinist ring about them. Time, you would have thought, for Trotskyists to call time, and to try and rein this unacceptable behaviour.

But then Trotsky supported the clampdown on internal party democracy, after crushing the Kronstadt sailors and workers. Trotsky helped to suppress Lenin’s Last Testament. Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that Trotsky later became a victim of his own political manoeuvrings. Tommy may have a more immediate political target in the United Left, but he holds no love for either the SWP and CWIFactions, factions, let me be rid of factions! – the United Left today, and then the SWP and CWI tomorrow.

viii)  The Daily Record, the new Socialist Worker in Scotland!

Colin Fox, our party’s convenor (voted in 2005, by the majority of delegates, in an election where he received Tommy’s backing) has appealed to SSP members to protest against Tommy’s scurrilous anti-Party attack, on four of our MSPs, in the Daily Record So far, some SWP members have declined to sign this appeal. They appear to approve of Tommy/Daily Record’s methods. So these SWP members must approve of the Daily Record’s campaign too.

But, then of course, the Daily Record is able to reach those parts which Socialist Worker can not reach. What, with Tommy’s five page ‘socialist salvo’ and the page 2 war coverage, hey, we have a new ‘Socialist Worker’ for the masses!

And, I suppose that, given all the Daily Record’s pages of publicity, given over to Tommy, the paper at least managed to cover the war in Lebanon on page 2. They even managed to relegate their own salacious material to page 9 – beyond the five pages of Tommy and Gail coverage. As yet, Tommy himself appears to be oblivious of this wider world situation, devoting not one word to it, in all the extensive space he has received.

But wait a moment, let’s look again at that page 2 Daily Record headline, ROCKETS RAIN DOWN AS TRUCE BID FAILS, Dozens hit in Hezbollah attack on Haifa. Ah, so it’s all Hezbollah’s fault! And SWP members joined the anti-war march in London on July 22nd, chanting the slogan, We are all Hezbollah. I hope the SWP’s London offices are well secured against uranium-tipped, bunker-busting bombs – cheered on by the Daily Record!

ix)   The SSP – the Sycophants and Sectarians Party?

However, Tommy isn’t going to get his TSP in one bold leap. First of all the letters of the SSP have to be changed to mean the ‘Sycophants and Sectarians Party’. This sadly is the political intention behind the political statement, The SSP has reached a crossroads (see this issue), issued on August 7th. Pre-conference delegate meetings are to be packed by SWP and CWI supporters. The October Conference is to be converted to a rally and coronation. Yes, we could all join Respect if we like this sort of behaviour.

Apparently, the SSP’s arrival at the crossroads has underscored a number of political differences, outlook and methodologies that have been increasingly apparent over the year. Funnily enough, I can agree with this so far. So let us examine some of the differences which have indeed emerged.

x)    The political differences not mentioned by the Crossroads Group

One bone of contention in the party has been the drift towards Scottish nationalism. This has been contested by the socialist republican wing of the SSP, (led by the RCN) on one hand, and the Left British unionist wing (led by the CWI, SWP and Workers’ Unity) on the other. It was the CWI which coined the highly ambiguous, but definitive SSP policy – an ‘independent socialist Scotland’. They have never dropped this as a paper political position, but have grown increasingly uncomfortable at the way this is interpreted by sections of the leadership (especially Alan McCombes). Yes, and so are we in the RCN. We have consistently opposed this Scottish nationalist drift, and its mirror image, Left British Unionism, by advocating a republican and Scottish internationalist strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. But, the most public advocate of the Scottish nationalist road is none other than Tommy. He also was amongst the first to sign up to the overtly Scottish nationalist ‘Independence First’ grouping! Tommy joined Alan at this year’s Conference to help to overthrow the SSP’s independent republican and Scottish internationalist strategy (proposed by the RCN and won at the 2005 Conference and enshrined in the Calton Hill Declaration) by a course of action that paves the way for tail-ending the SNP, in the Scottish nationalist strategy advocated by Hugh Kerr and ‘Independence First’. The Crossroads Group’s ‘manifesto’ evades all this.

Differences have also emerged over the anti-G8 campaign. Rosemary Byrne and film-maker, Peter Mullen, publicly attacked the parliamentary protest made by four of our MSPs (I suspect that Peter Mullen was articulating Tommy’s stance on this). When the RCN moved a motion at the subsequent National Council, strongly approving the protest action, Phil Stott for the CWI, and a couple of other delegates, opposed it. Apparently this protest wasn’t understood by your average Daily Record reader! (This may help us understand why Tommy has chosen the Daily Record to issue his own ‘manifesto’.) In reply, the RCN said that may indeed be the case, but the protest was taken on behalf of more politically conscious workers, and the large international socialist contingent, which had been prepared to take far stronger measures to defend anti-G8 protests in their own countries.

The SWP delegates appeared to agree with us, and were part of the overwhelming majority who voted for our motion. Since then, in contrast to Peter Mullen’s mean-spirited attacks in the press (but Peter, please keep producing the films which you are good at) Benjamin Zephaniah, has shown real solidarity with the SSP, by producing the excellent fine-raiser, the Fight the Power CD. Benjamin has put ‘internationalism from below’ into practice

xi)   The SWP and the CWI – the two faces of sectarianism in the SSP

On the day of the July 2005 ‘Make Poverty History’ demonstration in Edinburgh, the two faces of sectarianism, represented by the SWP and CWI, were on public display. The CWI insisted on forming a separate red T-shirt wearing contingent on the march, despite having no major differences with the slogans of the considerably larger official SSP-organised, and also red T-shirt wearing contingent! If the CWI had joined the main socialist forces, with its own contingent and banners, they would have been most welcome and helped to maximise the public face of socialism.

In the meantime, most SWP members donned white T-shirts, as called for by the official organisers of the ‘Make Poverty History’ march, whose politics had been colonised by Gordon Brown and New Labour. In effect, ‘Make Poverty History’ was calling upon the G8 leaders to be generous to the Third World – a utopian campaign for a nicer, fairer imperialism! But tail-ending liberal pacifist sentiment has been one consistent thread of SWP’s politics in recent years. A sub-text of the weekend’s events was SWP’s attempt to marginalise the official SSP presence on the following day of meetings and debates, by ensuring that most of the prime spots in the Usher Hall were filled by SWP front organisations, and the official SSP stand, relegated to Chambers Street!

xii)   More political “differences” unacknowledged by the Crossroads Group

The SWP also has claimed there have been significant political differences, justifying a new leadership bid, but they are mostly the opposite of those held by the CWI! The SWP feels that the SSP leadership wasn’t/isn’t fully committed to either the anti-G8 or anti-war campaigns. In as far as it did need a little outside pressure to push our MSPs into a stronger stance over the anti-G8 protest at Gleneagles, it certainly wasn’t the CWI who came to the SWP’s help to defend the right to demonstrate at Gleneagles. Pressure, when holding official office (particularly parliamentary or trade union), will always take its toll. We only need to remind the SWP of the stance taken by its own PCSU trade union official over the recent pensions ‘climbdown’ – oops, sorry ‘victory’, in the CWI version of events – to highlight this. The key point is that our MSPs (well four of them at least) were indeed successfully pressured into raising their game in Holyrood.

When the draconian penalties were imposed by Blair’s New Labour mouthpieces in the Scottish Executive, in response to the Holyrood protest, our MSPs publicly exposed the panoply of forces that US/UK imperialism would bring to bear to break any opposition to their designs. They also exposed the spinelessness of the SNP and Greens, in particular, when it came to defending the autonomy of the Scottish Parliament. No, for them it’s not ‘independence first’, but doing down the socialist opposition!

And, as for the ongoing permanent war situation, the SWP is particularly upset at the Scottish Socialist Voice’s stance over Hezbollah. So are we, as indeed are some United Left supporters. However, the RCN also believes you can give wholehearted support to the struggles of the Lebanese and Palestinian people, without tail-ending Islamicist forces. This contrasts with the SWP’s slogan We are all Hezbollah. Soon, no doubt, we will be asked to shout out We are all Taliban, as US and British imperialism steps up its attacks on Afghanistan!

Almost exactly a century ago, socialists lived in a world of ongoing, vicious, anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish asylum seekers, fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. They faced the first racist immigration legislation in the UK, with the Aliens Act of 1905. Whilst being prominent in the many protests to defend the Jewish community, socialists of the day were always clear in their opposition to Zionist politics. The Islamicists of 2006 are the political equivalents of the Zionists of 1906.

So, exactly where did the politics behind this particular SSV article come from? Well, straight from the old Militant tradition, as currently upheld by the CWI. I have seen no evidence yet, in this particular respect, that Tommy has fully broken from this tradition either. The continued debates over Ireland, at successive SSP Conferences and branches, have shown the hold of old Militant-type politics, when dealing with anti-imperialist struggles, even amongst many ex-members. Tommy has only publicly broken with this stance over Cuba, but not over the less popular, non-state led, anti-imperial resistance found elsewhere, especially in Ireland.

In as far as ex-Militant members have begun to break from this particular tradition (some United Left members) I think that they would admit that the RCN’s campaigning on republicanism and consistent support for the anti-imperial struggle in Ireland has influenced their thinking. We welcomed their participation in Edinburgh’s annual James Connolly march this year. We didn’t expect any CWI supporters, who publicly declared their opposition at Conference, but oh, where were the SWP, who voted for support, even if they were rather shy in speaking up at Conference!

xiii)  The Crossroads Group’s proposals would lead to purges then splits and splits again

So the August 7th Crossroads Group’s document claims there have been differences – indeed there have. But so far, it is the signatories themselves who have been the most divided over these differences! So, failing to outline exactly what these differences may be, the Crossroads Group, quickly moves on to their practical proposals. Tommy and his supporters want a purge of the SSP’s ULN faction (declared and undeclared) – presumably the ducking stool will expose the latter!

If the SSP ‘Crossroads’ Group was to get its way, the long-standing political differences would be posed even more starkly, on an even more polarised Executive. They are at a 3-way ‘crossroads’, with Tommy, the SWP and CWI pulling in different directions. It is only the fact that there have been other forces, carrying some political weight, and many non-aligned and anti-sectarian members inside the SSP, that has prevented these two particular sects’ mutual loathing from leading to a split. You, only have to look south of the border to see the likely future – with the separate SWP promoted-Respect versus the CWI-promoted Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. Or, is it possible that Tommy’s undoubted charisma, and his desire to be the sole public voice and leader of the SSP, can force both the SWP and CWI to bury their hatchets? But then we would have a Scottish-type Respect, only with Tommy Sheridan as unchallenged leader, instead of George Galloway. This may be acceptable to the SWP – but to the CWI?!

And, apart from Tommy’s Scottish nationalist politics, in which political direction would he be heading off in, from the ‘crossroads’? Tommy’s support for ‘mandatory jailing for knife crime’ gives you some indication of the Rightwards populist drift (gallop?) that he would adopt. It’s not surprising that the SSP’s Scottish Socialist Youth (SSY), who successfully opposed this at Conference, is not signing up to be run over at the ‘crossroads’!

xiv)  The Crossroads Group – witch-hunting and finding scapegoats

Having failed to explain the substance of the political differences that have emerged, because the co-signatories could not possibly agree on them, the Crossroads Group has gone on to find a scapegoat for the SSP’s problems instead. What is the Crossroads Group explanation?

For a long-time, Tommy seemed to put it all down to the influence of ‘a coven of witches’! When Tommy turned to others to for political assistance in drawing up his Open Letter for the May 28th National Council, the blame was laid at those he claimed opposed the real essence of the SSP. We are a class based socialist party. Not a gender obsessed discussion group. A little evasive, but all party members understood who was the target of the emerging ‘SSP Majority’ (supporters of the Open Letter and The SSP has reached the crossroads manifestos). They were attacking the party’s socialist feminists, particularly in the Womens’ Network and in Holyrood.

Like socialist republicanism, Left nationalism, Left unionism and Green socialism, socialist feminist politics will form part of any large socialist party in Scotland today. However, the attack on our party’s socialist feminists as being a gender obsessed discussion group is completely inaccurate and insulting. Rosie Kane, Carolyn Leckie and Frances Curran have been at the centre of working class resistance, whether it be very publicly defending asylum seekers (Rosie), at the forefront of the nursery nurses’ strike (Carolyn) or occupations of threatened council facilities in Dumbarton (Frances).

Carolyn wrote a devastating reply to Tommy’s Open Letter, which was published in the Sunday Herald (and really forms the ‘manifesto’ of socialist feminists in the current party dispute). It was scrupulously honest, outlining her working class upbringing in a loyalist family (so, no diplomatic courting of the RCN there!) It showed the link between capitalist exploitation and women’s oppression, and showed how working class women in particular are doubly oppressed. In the process, she clearly demonstrated the shallow thinking of the writers of Tommy’s Open Letter. We would like to print her contribution in Emancipation & Liberation. The editors would even make our first ever payment for an article – an enamelled James Connolly badge! And the RCN didn’t support 50:50!

They showed their capability in organising and publicly debating the 50:50 proposals at the SSP’s 2002 Conference. They persuaded the SWP to wade in behind them! They even silenced Tommy on this issue! (But as in the ‘mandatory sentencing’ proposal and opposition to the G8 parliamentary protests, maybe others were speaking on behalf of Tommy!)

xv)   The attack on the United Left

However, the ‘Crossroads’ Group now have another scapegoat – the United Left Network – declared and undeclared. Funnily enough, this group, only formed on June 9th (and therefore, unsurprisingly, not mentioned in the Open Letter) seems to have been secretly plotting Tommy’s downfall from the beginning. It is guilty of a bureaucratic and centralising tendency! This is standard Stalinist/Trotskyist gobbledegook – inventing impressive sounding names to label the enemy, but which are devoid of any content. (I don’t know who was responsible for this particular ‘gem’, but it has the hallmarks of the CWI!)

On November 9th 2004, the United Left did not exist and Tommy was in the same Platform as Alan McCombes, Keith Baldassara and Frances Curran – the ISM! The ISM was undoubtedly facing a period of internal crisis, and meetings went on to discuss its future, Over a year later, Tommy actually attended one of these. The ISM invited others to participate in the discussions. The RCN attended some meetings. The main problems in the party (creeping parliamentarianism at Holyrood and dull routinism in the branches) were seen as stemming from poor political education in the party. However, those who took a lead in this discussion thought we needed participatory education of a completely different type in the SSP to that traditionally found on the Left.

However, overshadowing this interesting debate was another. Should the ISM be wound up and what should replace it? The debate was between an emerging anti-Platform tendency (an anarchistic and decentralising tendency?!) and those who wanted to form a new, more open Marxist Platform in the SSP.

Eventually the ISM was closed down, but the nature of the organisation to replace it was not resolved. It was only the shock experience of this year’s May 28th National Council meeting which eventually precipitated a new organisation, the United Left. Its reluctance to form an open Platform reflects the earlier debate about the very need for Platforms. The RCN has called for them to form an official SSP Platform. However, there are other limbo-land, semi-platforms in the SSP, like Socialist Resistance (Fourth International) supporters. The latter has given its support to Tommy’s campaign. So, the uncertain Platform status of the United Left cannot be put down by Tommy’s supporters to the sin of ‘factionalism’.xv)   Operating outside official party structures

There can be little doubt that people have caucused outside official party structures. But then Tommy’s closest supporters, and the SWP and CWI, are also ‘guilty’ of this all the time too. The branches (and even the Highland Region) where Tommy’s supporters in the ‘SSP Majority’ are in control, seem to have the ability to conjure up ‘emergency’ motions on a Sunday, within a couple of hours, after reading the Sunday papers! How many regional members participated in that decision, or were even told about the ‘meeting’ in advance? As it turned out, the emergency motion dealt with no real emergency, but was merely a panic response to a newspaper report, which turned out to have no substance. The most likely explanation for its appearance was a well-timed state leak designed to cause the maximum disruption within the Party.

As for those in the Crossroads Group who are looking to expose the state agent in the oppositional camp, they don’t seem to appreciate how such agents work. They try to cause maximum dissension by trying to play one side off against the other, whilst also undoubtedly trying to groom assets in any significant grouping. Democracy and a politically well-educated membership is the best way to counter such activities in an open organisation like the SSP.

There can be no doubt too that members on both sides of this current dispute have leaked compromising material and personalised attacks on other members to the media. The RCN condemns these methods from whatever source and will have a motion to Conference, which addresses the use of bourgeois courts and media and what alternative options are open to support members under attack from the state or media. Several prominent United Left members seem set upon copying Tommy’s flawed method and want to initiate actions in the courts, or leak documents to the police and press. We oppose these courses of action too.

When it comes to upholding democracy and best practice, the RCN is not partisan. We defend these principles for everybody in the SSP. The Crossroads Group, however, is quite hypocritical in this respect. They have shown no principled opposition to the use of the state’s courts when dealing with internal party matters, nor of resort to a very hostile press. They cannot credibly attack others who have done the same.

xvi)   Tommy in the bourgeois courts

But, of course, the ostensible concern of the Crossroads Group are scabs and Supergrasses. These terms of abuse aren’t being correctly used to describe real political actions, but are being invoked to suppress debate and call for purges. The resort to these terms can not be distinguished from the methods of agent provocateurs. But that is where bad politics leads you – wide open to the activities of hostile forces.

The Executive Committee tried very hard to forget the impending trial and to maintain Tommy’s confidentiality. Witness the good recovery made by this year’s Conference and the improvement in the SSP’s polling ratings. Witness Alan McCombe’s jailing and defence of the right to confidentiality in the courts.

When it became clear that Alan was about to be jailed, Tommy was presented with the golden opportunity to abandon his court case. He had already won the whole-hearted backing of Gail (the only person he really had to persuade), and he could have demonstrated his pro-party stance, by withdrawing from his case and preventing Alan from being jailed. This action would have won Tommy the widest support in the party. But it meant that Tommy couldn’t satisfy his desire for revenge. Even if the party was destroyed in the process, well there would still be ‘The Tommy and Gail Show’ and the world of celebrity politics! For this he doesn’t necessarily need an SSP, just the attention of other celebrities and the media. However, having an organised ‘fan-club’ (the TSP?) does give celebrities a certain edge!

If that seems a cruel verdict, what are we to make of Tommy’s revelation in August 7th Daily Record, Tommy admitted his initial threat to sue the {News of the World} was just bravado! His case would never have come to court if he had not been offered legal representation on a no-win, no fee basis. How many workers, subject to hostile media attacks, can conjure up such backing. You need to be moving in a celebrity world to get this sort of support. It wasn’t available to Alan when he faced jail.

When the lemming leader calls on all the others to jump over the cliff, the sensible ones don’t follow (they form the more intelligent breeding pool for the next generation!) But when the head lemming tells all the others to jump over the cliff, but has his own bungee-rope protection (‘no-win, no-fee’, newspaper contracts), it is incumbent on the sensible lemmings to warn all the others too. This was attempted, but unfortunately it was not completely successful. A small minority of the Executive Committee decided to follow Tommy. They have no bungee rope, when the final crash into the rocks below occurs!

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