Allan Armstrong analyses recent attacks on the SSP and points the way to an ‘internationalism from below’ perspective

Galloway resorts to the gutter press

George Galloway’s recent attack upon the SSP has raised the issue of socialist unity in these islands in a stark manner. Galloway’s suggestion that he could stand, on a joint ticket with Tommy Sheridan, in the next Scottish Parliamentary elections, to be held in 2007, has certainly caused much consternation and speculation.

The first thing that needs to be emphasised is Galloway’s amazing choice of platform to announce his proposal. Although the leading member of Respect (the anti-war electoral coalition in England and Wales), he completely ignored its representative bodies, and made his announcement in none other than the rabidly right wing Mail on Sunday (5.12.04)! You might think, so soon after his libel victory over the right wing Telegraph in the courts, that Galloway would be particularly careful in his choice of publicity outlets. However, it is clear that Galloway is not averse to resorting to the anti-socialist press to promote his own politics, rather than debating issues first with other socialists.

Now, of course, the other leading force in Respect is the Socialist Workers Party. Socialist Worker members are also organised in their own Platform in the SSP. SWP leadership attempts to duck and dive in the face of the quite legitimate demand that they explain their own position has fuelled much speculation in the ranks of the SSP. There has even been talk of a secret agreement between Galloway and the SWP leadership to sabotage the SSP, the better to pave the way for an all-Britain Respect.

The inability of leading SW Platform members, Mike Gonzalez and Angela McComack, to put up any coherent defence of the SWP position at the December 12th SSP National Council in Edinburgh, did not provide evidence for this view. Quite clearly, they were profoundly embarrassed and wanted to talk about anything – the war, G8 – but the question they were being asked. A closer look at Galloway’s statement in the Mail on Sunday, shows exactly how little respect Galloway holds for his fellow coalition partners in Respect. Reverting to his own Stalinist past, he attacked the role of Trotskyist apparatchiks in the SSP, knowing full-well that the relative strength of Trotskyist apparatchiks is even greater within his own Respect – and precisely in the form of the SWP full-timers and office bearers!

Galloway has learned that, when it comes to dealing with the SWP, he is fireproof. Galloway’s well-known opposition to being paid a workers’ wage and his opposition to abortion are no problem for the SWP. Respect can accommodate anything George asks! Therefore, it’s not surprising that he holds the SWP in contempt, holding himself quite unaccountable for his views.

Promoting British state unity

There is another position which Galloway has famously long adhered to. This is his support for the unity of the British state. Unlike the SWP, for Galloway this is a principle. Galloway has politics, albeit classically Left unionist politics. The SWP is economist, and has no independent politics when it comes to the continued existence of the British imperial, unionist and monarchist state. When forced to address the national question, the SWP tail ends the liberal wing of the ruling class. This is why it gave its support to New Labour’s ‘toytown assembly’ proposals in the 1997 Scottish referendum.

In Scotland, the SW Platform has accepted the SSP’s ‘independent socialist Scotland’ position. Those lingering Left unionist aspects of SWP Platform politics have largely been left at a theoretical level, particularly in the form of Neil Davidson’s major historical contributions. However, Neil, and other SW Platform members, have gone to some lengths to state that historical arguments for the ‘progressive’ nature of the British union in 1707 provide no basis for contemporary support for the Union. It is just that, like the CWI, the SWP remains unconvinced of the current necessity to break-up the UK state. They would prefer that the working class in Scotland ‘spontaneously’ gave them a clear political direction, before committing themselves. In the meantime, they will continue to take their lead from the ruling class’s liberal wing.

If Alan McCombes’ public statement in the press (The Herald, 6.12.04) responding to Galloway’s attack on the SSP, revealed a rather sensitive and bunker-like over-reaction, then Allan Green’s measured and considered correspondence with both the Socialist Alliance in England and Respect, asked the right questions (7.12.04 and 12.12.04). Neither the letter (11.12.04) from Rob Hoveman (SWP/Socialist Alliance National Secretary) nor those (11.12.04 and 19.12.04) from John Rees (SWP/Respect National Secretary) have provided adequate answers.

Is it possible for the SWP to work simultaneously within Respect and the SSP? Certainly, but they must be clear about their own politics and stand-up to Galloway. There is another Trotskyist organisation which works, and has leading members, in both Respect and the SSP. That is the International Socialist Group. John Lister, Respect National Council member and Norman Lockhart, Roland Sherret, Gordon Morgan, all SSP members, have published articles criticising Galloway’s unionist politics (Socialist Resistance no. 21, 2005).

Galloway pulls Respect in Wales into the British unionist camp

Unless the SWP makes its opposition to Galloway’s Left unionism clear, then he will take Respect even further down the unionist road, with damaging consequences for socialist unity in these islands. In the days of the Socialist Alliance, there was independent organisation in England and Wales. When Galloway announced the formation of Respect in Cardiff he made it quite clear that he would not countenance any notion of Welsh self-determination. Respect was to be a unified English/Welsh organisation (presumably as a step to a future British organisation).

Now previous to this, the SWP had a position where it argued for the non-legislative Welsh Assembly to be given the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. This was hardly very radical, but it was fully in line with the SWP’s tail ending politics and, at least, a nod in the direction of greater democracy for Wales! After Galloway’s intervention, the SWP made sure that Respect dropped any mention of democratic political demands for Wales. However, such silence seems only to affect the SWP. Galloway publicises his own views regardless!

Worse still, whereas there had been previous agreement amongst socialists in Wales, over which seats to contest in the Welsh and Westminster Elections, the SWP gave its support to Respect in the European elections last June. Yet there was another more credible organisation in place – Forward Wales.

Unlike the SSP, which has a public leadership mainly schooled in revolutionary socialist politics, neither Respect, nor Forward Wales, choose to emphasise this need. Respect’s campaign was deliberately launched from a mosque, whilst Forward Wales headed its list with former Labour Secretary of State, Ron Davies. Forward Wales already has John Marek, former Old Labour supporter, as a member of the Welsh Assembly

The SSP (quite consistently, following its earlier support for the autonomous Welsh Socialist Alliance) publicly declared its support for Forward Wales. John Rees, in his letter of December 19th to Allan Green, stated that the SSP continues to call for a vote against Respect in Wales and to assist a smaller and more rightwing organisation (i.e. Forward Wales). Rees provides no evidence for this attack on Forward Wales. This isn’t surprising, since it would be hard to sustain. In the Euro-elections Forward Wales won three times the number of votes received by Respect in Wales. In the simultaneous local elections it was also successful in getting Dave Blithell, local RMT Secretary, elected in Wrexham. It looks more than likely that Forward Wales will put up a stronger electoral challenge than Respect in this year’s Westminster (yes, all-UK!) General Election.

So much for the charge of being smaller, but what about that of being more right wing. First, Forward Wales and its current MWA, John Marek, supports the position of a worker’s MP on a worker’s wage.

Secondly, there has been no equivalent desertion of the principle of ‘the right to choose’ as that demonstrated by Galloway’s public opposition to abortion rights, or Respect’s parliamentary candidate in Leicester, Yvonne Ridley, sending her child to a private school! Thirdly, Forward Wales challenges the current New Labour unionism in Wales, again, something Respect has failed to do.

This is not to suggest that Forward Wales is the direct political equivalent of the SSP. However, the SSP has made the correct choice in giving its support to Forward Wales. Furthermore, given the SWP and Galloways’ shallow notions of internal democracy, things are likely to get worse for Respect in Wales.

Countering the ‘New Unionism’ of the British and Irish states

The one thing that should be clear is that the old British Left’s notion of ‘socialist unity’ – an all-Britain Party, leads to the exact opposite, socialist disunity. The argument used by various ‘Leninists’ is that a one-state party is needed to combat the British state across the board. There is an initial problem. The two main advocates of this position, the SWP and the CWI, hardly seem to have noticed that the British state is a United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland. Both have separate organisations there, the (Irish) SWP and the (Irish) Socialist Party respectively. In practice, both of these organisations practice partitionist politics, pursuing separate electoral alliances in the North. The SWP has allied itself with a section of the Communist Party and some environmentalists. The Socialist Party has allied itself with Northern Ireland trade union officials – although there have also been flirtations with the loyalist PUP!

Whenever the SWP or the CWI do raise the issue of Northern Ireland over here, it is never to counter the British state’s current ‘New Unionist’ political strategy. This consists of ‘devolution-all-round’, with the re-establishment of Stormont as a central aim, alongside Scottish and Welsh assemblies and more tentatively, until derailed by the North East referendum, assemblies for the English regions too. Instead, the CWI raises the prospect of working class unity in Northern Ireland on an economic basis, ignoring the constitutionally-entrenched sectarianism of the Good Friday Agreement (and its subsequent further retreats). These are designed to ensure a permanent divide in the working class. The SWP in Northern Ireland has tried to take the lead of the anti-war movement, calling for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. At the same time the SWP ignores the larger number of British troops still occupying ‘The Six Counties’!

However, this shared poor ‘geographical’ understanding of the real extent of the British state is part of a bigger problem. History has shown that, far from unifying the instrument needed for the centralised state’s overthrow, one-state parties tend to duplicate the bureaucratic centralist politics of their host state. This was true of the CPSU (as both Chechens and Ukrainians can testify), the CPGB (particularly with regard to Northern Ireland) and the
PCF (with regard to Algeria). It remains true of all-Britain parties today.

So, is the alternative a go-it-alone separatism, with each constituent nation’s party doing its own thing and purely diplomatic agreements between neighbours? This certainly has been the nationalist response to dominant nation/state chauvinism. However, there is an alternative and that is ‘internationalism form below’. We do need to unite our efforts in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (not just Northern Ireland). The UK and Irish states coordinate their efforts to make these islands safe for the multinational corporations. The Good Friday Agreement (with its permanent British/Irish government collaboration and its parliamentary-based Council of the Isles) and the common strategy of pursuing state/employer/trade union partnerships (involving British, UK, Irish and both-islands trade unions) covers both states and islands.

The RCN argues that the only successful strategy for longer term unity is to push for a federation of organisations from each nation. We appreciate that political conditions and experiences for the Left are different in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Internationalism can not be imposed bureaucratically, especially when political conditions in the imperial metropole, are less well developed. Even the SWP recognises that Respect in England (and Wales) is merely an electoral alliance, not a socialist party like the SSP in Scotland. It is certainly a strange situation when ‘internationalism’ is equated with the geographical boundaries of part of one state – a ‘Britain’ bounded by the English Channel and the Irish Sea! We have to look to Europe and the world as the basis for building a truly international socialist organisation.

In the meantime, Emancipation and Liberation is open to all socialists in these islands who want to promote more effective unity to counter the designs of New Labour’s triumphalist British imperialism and its junior partner, the Fianna Fail’s ‘26 Counties’ crony capitalism.