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.