What has happened to the Left since the Westminster 2005 General Election
This year’s SSP Conference takes place in the context of the run-up to a likely General Election in May. Despite the opportunities provided to socialists by the deepest crisis of capitalism since the 1930’s, the Left in the UK is weaker than it was in 2005. In that election, the Left populist, Respect gained 68,094 votes in England and Wales, and George Galloway took the Bethnal Green and Bow seat. Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party’s electoral front, gained 9,398 votes. Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, standing in seats throughout Britain, gained 20,192 votes. Many of the Left in Wales campaigned for the Left populist, Forward Wales, which gained 3,461 votes. In Northern Ireland, the Left unionist, Workers Party gained 1669 votes, whilst the SWP-initiated, Left populist, Socialist Environmental Alliance gained 1649 votes. However, the highest proportional Left vote was gained in Scotland by the then still united SSP, with 45,514 votes.
Despite the divisions that existed on the Left, in the run-up to the 2005 election, debate concentrated on the need to put forward an organised Left electoral alternative to the hated New Labour government. Labour had lost any credibility, particular through its backing for the US imperialist promoted war in Iraq. However, the highpoint of opposition to this war had already passed, with the massive mobilisations in London and Glasgow (part of worldwide protests) on February 15th 2003. Despite the huge numbers taking part, these protests did not stop the war, nor did they end British military participation. This was one of the main reasons for socialists mounting an electoral challenge to New Labour in 2005.
However, this particular challenge also failed to stop the UK government’s continued commitment to war, both in Iraq and Afghanistan; whilst the so-called ‘Credit Crunch’ has since cowed the majority of workers here. Many have accepted cuts in their working week, pay and conditions to try and hold on to their jobs. Militant resistance has largely been confined to those workers facing the sack or slashed redundancy payments, e.g. in the occupations of Vestas, Visteon and Prisme; or confused strike actions, with strong chauvinist undertones, e.g. at Lindsey and other oil refineries.
Thus, the one revealing thing, about much of the current debate amongst the British Left over the forthcoming General Election, has been the emergence of talk about the possibility of voting Labour to keep out the Tories. An early indication of this was the bizarre recommendation made in Weekly Worker, in last year’s Euro-elections, that socialists should vote Labour because the Left unionist, CPGB (PCC) had failed to persuade the Left chauvinist, No2EU/Yes2Democracy to champion people’s militias! Another small Left grouping, the social imperialist and Left unionist, Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), is now throwing its weight behind Labour, calling for “a socialist campaign to stop the Tories” (Solidarity, 4.2.10) – sounds a bit like ‘Heretics for Roman Catholicism against Satan’!
Furthermore, Lindsey German, just before her resignation from the SWP, wrote an article in the February issue of Socialist Review, claiming that,
A Tory victory represents a defeat for organised labour and for more progressive attitudes in society – as if a New Labour victory won’t intensify the attacks on “organised labour”, through massive social welfare cuts and state actions in support of the bosses; as if “progressive attitudes” will not be further undermined by attacks on civil rights, state promoted racism, and support for imperial wars.
So, what is our class now up against? All the mainstream British parties, New Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem, are agreed over the next government’s priorities. These are to ensure that capitalism gets back on its feet, through continued mind-boggling financial subventions to the banks responsible for triggering the current crisis; that the costs of this bailout are met by massive attacks on social spending; that unquestioning state backing is given to employers attacking workers’ jobs, pay and conditions; and that the UK remains committed to the US and its imperial wars, especially in Afghanistan, and through its continued backing for the Israeli apartheid state.
Any differences amongst the mainstream parties are about the timing of the cuts, or about trying to identify particular niche groups of voters, offering them some ‘sweeties’ to comfort them during the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, those parties, which form part of the UK’s devolved administrations at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont – the SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP and Sinn Fein – have all accepted the main priority of big business – the need for public sector cuts. In the forthcoming Westminster election, these parties may try to offer the carrot of some protection against the worst cuts within their particular jurisdictions, but they will still go along with ‘the hard decisions that have to be made’.
All the time that is currently being devoted on the Left to discussions over ‘selective’, ‘critical’, or tactical’ support for Labour, would be much better spent on how to build an independent fight back against any of the possible governments’ arising out of the forthcoming election – Tory, Tory-Lib Dem, New Labour-Lib Dem, New Labour, or even a crisis Coalition formed from all the mainstream parties. Any of these woeful possibilities could also win support from the unionist parties in ‘the Six Counties’, in return for further sectarian concessions; or from the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, in return for constitutional referenda or more limited devolutionary changes.
The BNP not German Nazis but British neo-fascists
Furthermore, things have moved so far to the Right, that the neo-fascist BNP is mounting its most serious electoral challenge yet, following from its various local election victories and its winning of two MEPs last year. However, this threat has only sown further confusion on the Left. This is particularly marked in the largest anti-fascist organisation – the SWP front – Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
UAF couples two particularly misguided strategies – a continued attempt to tar the BNP with the German Nazi brush, with the call to cobble together the widest political opposition to the fascists, from the Tories (maybe even UKIP) to the SWP. The purpose of this is to unite all right-thinking supporters of good old British democracy against that nasty foreign Nazi threat. UAF wants to recreate the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ for the twenty first century. Therefore, ‘BNP thought’ should be expunged from liberal society, and especially from the airwaves transmitted from the British Broadcasting Corporation, ‘defender’ of universal liberal values since the Second World War.
The problem is that fascism has its own very British roots. These are demonstrated in Chris Ford’s article in this journal. It is the Union Jack, not the swastika, which the BNP wants to wave. It was the BNP that coined the phrase, ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. When Griffin invokes Winston Churchill, he can find plenty of common ground. Griffin, unlike those still remaining, German Nazi worshipping fascists, has distanced himself from such virulent anti-Semitism. He gave the BNP’s support to the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Griffin is a pragmatist and can recognise an ethnically-based, apartheid state when he sees one.
Furthermore, much of British fascism’s latest political trajectory was anticipated by that most lethal of fascist grouping on these islands – the Loyalists of the ‘Six Counties’. The BNP has continuously, if somewhat coyly in public, tried to establish links with these Loyalists, especially hoping to recruit amongst their supporters in Scotland. The BNP look on in envy, when they see the role that Loyalists have been allowed to play by the UK state and the Unionist parties in the ‘Six Counties’ over recent decades. And, when Loyalists intimidated Roma families in Belfast last year, the local police force, the old RUC with a makeover, far from defending those attacked, obliged their tormentors by arranging for the removal of the victims overseas!
The BNP hope to copy this in their campaign to pressurise Basildon Council to evict a thousand Irish Travellers from their homes at Dale Farm in Essex. The Conservative Council seems only too willing to comply, just insisting the evictions are conducted by ‘professionals’ and not by fascist goon squads.
Although, the mainstream parties want to talk up the undoubted ‘nastiness’ of the BNP, with the SWP/UAF shouting loudest about the ‘Nazi’ danger, it is important to appreciate the real nature of the threat posed by fascists today. The Left has mainly looked at post-First World War fascism, especially those parties that successfully took power under Mussolini in Italy in 1922, and Hitler in Germany in 1933. However, these fascists succeeded in gaining major ruling class support because of its fear of a militant working class and the possible challenge represented by the official Communists of the day.
Quite clearly, nowadays, Europe’s principal ruling classes hold no such fears. The working class does not represent such an immediate threat anywhere in Europe and, in many countries, is still cowed. Nowhere is the Left in a position to mount a revolutionary challenge to the existing order. Therefore, there will be no ruling class backed, fascist ‘March on Rome’ to take power in London, Paris, Berlin, or Rome for that matter.
However, this does not mean that the fascists no longer represent a danger to workers, ethnic and religious minorities, or to the Left. The issues, which fascists organise around – promoting national chauvinism and scapegoating ethnic and religious minorities – are also key to the strategies pursued by the ruling class to divide the working class in the ongoing capitalist crisis. Furthermore, the present weakness and divisions amongst the Left help the fascists and the state to form their loose ‘marriage of convenience’.
Neo-fascism, or the change of image ‘from boots to suits’, acknowledges that fascists are unlikely to be given the opportunity by the ruling class to seize power in the near future. However, there is still considerable scope for neo-fascism to enter mainstream politics. This was the path adopted by the National Alliance, which merged into Berlusconi’s mainstream Right populist, People of Freedom Party, in 2009. The murderous attacks on migrant Roma and Africans in Italy now enjoy considerable tacit Italian state backing. Alternatively, neo-fascist parties can go into local Right wing coalitions, or just use their electoral weight to push the existing mainstream parties further Right.
Following such a neo-fascist strategy causes similar tensions amongst fascists to those on the Left, when some adopt a strategy of merging into, or joining coalitions with, social democratic parties. Some of the current fall-outs amongst fascists reflect such concerns. However, the present split between the ‘suited’ BNP and the ‘booted’ EDL/SDL/WDL does amount to a fundamental rupture between them. Just as Paisley’s DUP maintained publicly invisible links with the Loyalist paramilitaries, whilst feeling free to condemn them in public when necessary, so there are overlaps between the BNP and EDL/SDL/WDL. Some of their mutual public hostility is real, but there are also some who share membership. Significantly, EDL/SDL/WDL provocations have often been located in areas, where there has been recent BNP electoral activity, such as the initial attempted SDL ‘demonstration’ in Glasgow on November 14th, two days after Glasgow North East by-election.
What Griffin and the BNP leadership have recognised is there may be a lucrative future for them within mainstream politics; whilst the EDL/SDL/WDL, like the Loyalist paramilitaries, can aspire no higher than to be publicly disowned goon squads, called upon, when necessary, to perform certain illegal services for the employers or the state.
The electoral challenge posed by the neo-fascist BNP is accentuated by the widespread working class disgust at the performance of New Labour, especially in response to the current crisis. Furthermore, it’s not only the much-hated bankers and their obscene bonuses that arouse so much anger; but also the corruption in Westminster and the lack of any real democracy or popular control of politicians. This has been highlighted by the scandal over MPs expenses and perks. This hostility has been added to by the obvious ability of businessmen to buy favours, whether from the Tories, New Labour, Lib-Dems, and also the DUP and the SNP in Westminster’s devolved offspring. This is why the UAF’s strategy of joining in an alliance with the mainstream parties is so disastrous. It leaves the BNP as the main electoral alternative to protest against the discredited mainstream parties.
The beginnings of a real alternative to this fatally flawed SWP/UAF strategy are highlighted in the article by YK. He describes the growth of the independent Anti-Fascist Alliances in Glasgow and Edinburgh. These directly saw off the SDL by confronting the fascists on the streets.
What is unforgiveable is that the UAF, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, tried to demobilise the forces of the Anti-Fascist Alliances, who were directly taking on the SDL. UAF stewards used disinformation and lies, including the accusation that those wanting to physically confront the fascists were just sectarian football casuals. However, what was striking about the Anti-Fascist Alliance mobilisations was their youthful and multi-national character.
The SWP/UAF could have confined their activities to helping to mobilise those who understandably wanted to avoid physical confrontation with fascist bone heads. It could have used the public platform it shared with the Scottish establishment, in Scotland United, to congratulate those who were actually seeing off the fascist SDL at the time. It could have pointed out the desperate need to mobilise support behind those asylum seekers and migrant workers who are currently experiencing what life would be like for us all under a fascist regime – arbitrary arrests, separation from family, detention and deportation. This is all being done by the current ‘liberal’ state administered by New Labour. However, to take such a stance, would have meant the SWP/UAF breaking unity with the hypocritical liberal establishment.
Nothing could better demonstrate the importance of the need to defend asylum seekers and migrant workers than the joint suicides of three members of the Russian Seryk family at the Red Road Flats in Sighthill, It has been suggested that the father suffered from mental illness. Lesley Benzie of Life Link has pointed to an epidemic of poor mental health amongst asylum seekers. Many have suffered traumatic experiences in their original homelands. They then face the constant threat of children being taken away, or having their front door kicked in, during early morning raids by immigration officials and police. Not surprisingly there have been several other suicide attempts.
Red Road residents have indeed had to witness the activities of local fascists and other racists; but these are still less of an everyday threat to them than the brutal, unfeeling actions of the British state, defended by New Labour and the Tories alike.
Building New Labour or building a new ‘Old Labour’ party provides no real defence to our class
Arguing today for giving electoral support to Labour is being complicit in New Labour’s countless attacks on our class. What we have here is a severe case of ‘turkeys voting for an early Christmas’! There may have once been a time, when socialists could have argued for a vote for Labour candidates. This was when Labour put forward a manifesto with some worthy social democratic reforms – but even then it was necessary to warn workers that a Labour government would inevitably retreat in the face of capitalist pressure. Now though, New Labour does not renege on its manifesto promises any more. It doesn’t need to, since these are designed to meet the needs of big business anyhow. New Labour openly espouses neo-liberalism, deregulation and privatisation, banker bailouts, public spending cuts and imperial wars.
Socialists arguing for a Labour vote are rather like those panicked onlookers, casting their eyes to the horizon, who see the massed hordes of would-be attackers. In the face of this, some want merely to surrender in advance.
Others, however, are looking around for loose bricks to erect some form of wall to stave off the impending attack. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is hoping to follow this course of action. The main political force behind TUSC is the Socialist Party (SP). TUSC has obtained different degrees of public support from some other Left organisations, often coupled with muttered criticisms behind the SP’s backs. Unfortunately, TUSC is having to rebuild a ‘wall’, after several of its ‘bricks’ removed themselves, as a result of the poor performance of last year’s hurriedly built and failed, social chauvinist, No2EU ‘wall’.
One common ‘keystone’, in both the TUSC and No2EU electoral alliances, is the resort to prominent trade union bureaucrats, such as RMT General Secretary, Bob Crow, as leaders. This leads to very obvious points of weakness. Trade union bureaucrats see themselves as being above the ordinary membership, both in their own unions and other political organisations. They defend the privileges of union officials, who often enjoy a lifestyle far removed from that of their members. If they can’t exert their influence on parties though block votes, they tend to want veto rights.
Hence, following Bob Crow’s say-so, no TUSC opposition can be mounted against Kate Hoey, the right wing, ultra-unionist, supporter of the Countryside Alliance, advisor to Boris Johnson, and the existing RMT sponsored, Labour MP for Vauxhall! This leaves gaping holes in the ‘wall’ for the enemy to enter through. Therefore, it very much looks as if TUSC represents another opportunistic electoral alliance, which is unlikely to survive much beyond the General Election.
Furthermore, TUSC has mainly been thrown together to face up to attacks on the economic and social front. There is little attempt to build up a democratic bastion, which could form a beach-head to take advantage of the outstanding weakness of the other side. The UK state’s Westminster parliamentary frontline has fallen into near total disrepute, over the expenses scandals, payments by businessmen, and its kowtowing to the much puffed up and conceited generalissimos of the corporate world.
This can only be opposed by fundamental democratic reforms calling for an end to this corrupt pseudo-democratic Westminster system, with its monarchy-fronted Crown Powers wielded by the executive, its Privy Council which can replace parliament in ‘emergencies’, its appointed House of Lords, its first-past-the-post electoral system, its executive-chosen dates for general elections, and its bureaucratically-enforced union of three nations – England, Scotland and Wales – and part of another – the ‘Six Counties’ of Ireland.
Furthermore, the leading political constituent of TUSC, the SP, is not averse to seeking guidance from within the enemy camp itself. When four of its members were attacked by right wing witch-hunters within UNISON, they scuttled off to the state’s courts appealing for support. Not surprisingly they got short shrift there. The court supported the witch-hunters. What this reveals, though, is that sections of the Left cannot even see that the state machinery represents a weapon in the enemy’s hands. This goes a long way to explain why the SP and TUSC see little need to include fundamental democratic reform of the UK state in its manifesto.
It is not surprising to find right wing officials in the trade union and labour movement readily colluding with the employers and the state. This has been recently been highlighted in the case of Alberto Durango, the Colombian worker who has tried to organise migrant cleaners in London. It has also been highlighted by the probable role of certain construction union officials in helping the employers (and the state) in maintaining a black list against such trade union militants as Brian Higgins. These two cases are covered in this issue and can be found on the SSP website.
The Left can only build long term effective organisation for our class if this is done on clear independent class lines, not by depending on the state for help, or upon trade union officials, who are often closer to the employers and the state than to their members. Indeed, that is what ‘social partnership’ is all about.
The need for independent class organisation and a republican socialist opposition
What all this highlights is the necessity for workers to build independent economic, social and political organisations, firmly under the democratic control of our class. The old Broad Left ‘capture the trade union machinery’ strategy just ends up capturing the Broad Left! Indeed some of today’s Broad Left union election challenges are targeted against previous Broad Lefts. What is needed is a well-thought out Rank and File strategy, designed to democratise and transform existing unions and, where that is no longer possible, serious consideration being given to building new unions.
Similarly, attempts to capture the Labour Party for the Left, or just to build a new ‘Old Labour’ party, such as TUSC is attempting to do, can only lead our class into further dead ends. In the face of the current crisis, such attempts will be unable to counter the much greater resort made by employers and government to the Crown powers the UK state has at its disposal, and which are not subject to any democratic scrutiny.
A meaningful opposition today must be republican socialist from the outset, seeing sovereignty as lying with union members in their workplaces, not in trade union HQs. In the world of politics, republican socialism means championing the sovereignty of the people, not of Westminster – or the Crown in Parliament.
Furthermore, any independent socialist opposition should be highlighting the necessity now for a real transformation of society. Neither neo-liberal nor neo-Keynesian measures can rescue capitalism from the mess it is currently in. This is as good as it gets, and unless socialists begin to argue for a replacement for capitalism, every attempt by the bosses and politicians to maintain their own social position and privileges can only result in further economic and social setbacks, more environmental deterioration, and further devastating wars, all at our expense.
How does the SSP measure up? The positives and some weaknesses
So, how does the SSP measure up to the situation the working class is now confronted with? First let us emphasise the positive. We have survived a terrible split, which was not of our making. In the face of this we have held on to internationalist politics, when others have collapsed into social chauvinism. Last year the SSP stood in the Euro-elections as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). With mounting fascist, employer and state attacks upon asylum seekers and migrant workers, the SSP has committed itself to ‘No One Is Illegal’ – the defence of the most oppressed section of our class. The SSY has also played a leading part in building the independent Anti-Fascist Alliances, which have seen off the SDL for now.
The SSP has been the only party out campaigning around the country against the Afghanistan War. Hopefully, the Maryhill branch amendment to the Edinburgh South branch motion on this issue will be accepted at conference, so that we can advance further still over this issue. Over the last year, we have seen Obama’s rebranded US imperialism in action. The war in Afghanistan has been extended to Pakistan, there are new attacks on Yemen, and there has been continued tacit support for Israel in its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, as reported by David Landy in this issue. Following on US backing for the coup in Honduras, and the occupation of Haiti under the guise of providing ‘emergency aid’, it is clear that Obama intends to spend more time than Bush addressing the challenges the US has recently faced in its ‘own backyard’.
Furthermore, the prospects for heightened inter-imperialist conflicts loom large. China is quietly building up its economic power and its influence in the ‘Third World’ whilst biding its time. Russia, after its success in ousting US-backed Georgian forces from South Ossetia last year, has managed, through none too subtle economic pressure, to partly reverse the ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine. Pro-Russian, Viktor Yanokovych has now replaced pro-US, Yulia Tymeshenko in the recent general election. The SSP will need to use all its international acumen to keep abreast of such worrying developments.
The SSP has taken considerable steps forward in adopting a socialist republican, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy. This was shown by our lead in initiating the first Republican Socialist Convention on November 29th 2008, in Edinburgh, and by our participation in the second on February 13th, 2010 in London (see report from Allan Armstrong).
There are still weaknesses though in the SSP’s stance over constitutional, or more accurately, democratic political issues. With the exception of the small AWL, there are few supporters of Left unionism remaining in the SSP. Most of the Left unionists, particularly in the SWP and SP, went with the Left nationalists around Tommy Sheridan in Solidarity. Yet, despite the undoubted republican socialist gains made within the SSP, there still remains a latent Left nationalist current within the party. This tends to take its lead from the SNP over matters constitutional.
In the lead up to the 2007 Holyrood elections, the national populist, Independence First, was set up. Originally it adopted an Ally Macleod, 1978 World Cup approach to gaining independence. It seemed to believe that little more was needed to win, than to loudly cheer on your side at every opportunity, without worrying much about the strengths of the opposition. So first, there was to be a qualifying Holyrood election victory, quickly followed by a referendum surge forward, which would blast the independence ball right through the British net. The SSP attempted to offer Independence First its support, despite the presence of some very dubious rightist forces amongst its supporters.
SNP leader, Alex Salmond, not wanting anything to do with the nationalist fringe, adopted a quite different strategy. He wanted to persuade the Scottish corporate figures that, through his recognition of the Queen as head of ‘FIFA’ (or the whole of the UK, including Scotland), he would play the constitutional game by the official rules, and accept the rulings made by the appointed referees. Now this might not lead to victory, but it could probably win more corporate sponsors, and maybe a place in the next round. If the fans felt a little cheated, so what?
The corporate sponsors, however, weren’t too impressed with the SNP’s reserves – the Scottish Greens and the SSP – held in the locker room of the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC). Salmond quietly reassured the sponsors that these players were never likely to be used. Indeed, he was so good at his word that he completely forgot about the SCC locker room, and began to promote a very different game on the field, more finely tuned to his corporate sponsors – Independence-Lite.
The SSP should withdraw from the SCC and develop its own independent, anti-imperialist, anti-unionist, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy, winning over disillusioned republicans in the SNP, as well as democratic socialists from other parties, and from none. Left nationalism, like Left unionism, is another political dead end for our class. The SSP needs to end its still ambiguous stance and commit itself fully to a republican socialist strategy. This is the purpose of the RCN platform motion to Conference.
The future independence referendum
There can be little doubt that the constitutional issue will raise its head once more in Scotland, particularly if the Tories become elected in May. Yet, the SNP is now finding it hard to counter British unionist warnings, and indeed threats of Scotland being forced into a permanent ‘arc of insolvency’, unless its people meekly accept whatever the corporate bosses and US/British imperialism have in store for them – more cuts and a renewed Trident for starters. The SNP has been too tied to the Scottish banks and other businesses to offer any convincing alternative to voters.
Salmond’s insistence on going forward with the SNP’s Holyrood ‘Independence Referendum’ Bill, in politically inauspicious circumstances (i.e. no Holyrood majority) probably reflects his desire to at least retain some bargaining counter, to advance his real aim – Devolution-Max. The opportunity for this could later be provided in a hung parliament, or less likely, by the SNP winning a majority at Holyrood in 2011.
In reality, all that the SNP may be able to achieve, by acting on behalf of Scottish business interests within the existing corporate and imperial world order, is the implementation of some of the ‘milk and water’ Calman Commission devolutionary proposals, or the further devolution of taxation powers in agreement with the Tories. Scottish business would then push for these to be substantially reduced to promote the country as a low tax haven.
However, there are also some possible darker prospects in store for the future. A section of the British ruling class now thinks that any further devolution of power from their reliable Westminster is undesirable. People like the ultra-unionist Tory, Michael Forsyth, and the property magnate’s friend, Labour’s Wendy Alexander, have publicly called for a referendum on independence. They are doing this, though, to kick further constitutional change into the long grass for the foreseeable future. A precedent can be found in the Ulster Unionists’ Border Poll of 1973. Cameron has recently been trying to cultivate Conservative pan-Unionist links with the Ulster Unionists, which can only reinforce such die-hard unionism.
Whereas the Ulster Unionists in 1973 could depend on an inbuilt demographic majority within the ‘Six Counties’ for their poll (although a little bit of extra Loyalist intimidation never went amiss!), British Unionists would have to make more use of the antidemocratic powers provided to the UK state under the Crown Powers to be guaranteed a victory over the constitutional nationalist opposition in any referendum.
It is also revealing that, when Griffin was in Glasgow last October, he said he would support a referendum, but would commit the BNP to fight against independence in the ensuing campaign. This amounted to a public declaration to the state, that his members were there to be called upon when needed. In 2007, 20,000 members of the Orange Order marched in Edinburgh to defend the Union. The grounds for strengthening fascist/Loyalist links are there. Once again, only a republican socialist strategy could possible counter such dark forces.
Beginning to develop a real republican socialist alternative to the current crisis and articulating a genuine communist vision for the future
Given the SNP’s role in passing on Brown and Darling’s imposed cuts through Holyrood; in making wholesale attacks on workers’ pay and conditions; in closing schools and other public services, in those local councils they jointly run; and in sliding into tacit support at Westminster for the imperial war in Afghanistan; whilst also suspending SSP councillor, Jim Bollan in West Dunbartonshire, there is no case for tail-ending the SNP, either directly in the SCC, or indirectly in Independence First. A campaign for an independence referendum that is not clearly linked with economic and social demands, which support our class through the ongoing capitalist crisis, provides an obvious target for reactionary forces to mobilise against.
Therefore, as a start, it is certainly time to revive the independent republican approach the SSP first put into practice with the Declaration of Calton Hill on October 9th, 2004. The Dundee motion to Conference suggests how to do this. Furthermore, this needs to be part of a debate over seriously thought-out strategy, which assesses the forces at our enemy’s disposal, and places our own campaign firmly within a class-based, internationalist perspective.
The SSP will not be putting up candidates in all the Scottish Westminster seats in this election. We have a clear conference policy to promote socialist unity. There are signs that Solidarity is falling apart. They have lost key members over the No2EU debacle. ‘Celebrity socialism’ can not build a soundly-based democratic party. This is not only true of Tommy Sheridan, but of George Galloway, Arthur Scargill and Ken Livingstone too.
Solidarity’s main constituent organisations, the SWP and SP, seem keener on promoting their own particular front organisations than Solidarity. Yet, it would represent some small achievement if the SSP could make a non-aggression pact with Solidarity for this election. However, it would also show our genuine commitment to socialist unity, if we called for a vote for TUSC candidates, not all of whom may be in Solidarity.
In England, there may be a case for socialists giving their vote to the handful of Left Labour candidates, like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. In Scotland it is very hard to identify any such candidates. The same can be said for the republican Left in the SNP, which now has an even lower public profile than the Labour Left.
However, there is a way of testing any such possible support. We could call for candidates to publicly declare their support for a few key demands, e.g. i) The immediate withdrawal of the UK’s armed forces from Afghanistan ii) Opposition to the bailout of the banks at the expense of public services, iii) Opposition to the renewal of Trident, iv) Support for an early referendum on Scottish self-determination. An Edinburgh South conference amendment adopts a similar approach. However, as the SSP has shown, in the case of John McAllion, former Labour MP for Dundee East, our longer term aim should still be to win over any such Left figures to independent political organisation.
The SSP has become associated with the populist, ‘Make Greed History’ campaign. This isn’t saying anything very different from the other populist, nonmainstream parties, including, on occasions, the BNP. Unfortunately, the opportunity provided by the capitalist crisis to argue for the need for an alternative to capitalism (not just a change in its managing personnel) has not really been taken to the wider public. The bosses’ own thinking media outlets have been talking about a crisis of capitalism, and even mentioning Karl Marx. Why should the SSP remain so coy? Nor did the SSP stick firmly to the EACL’s ‘Make the Bosses Pay’ approach to win support and win over workers taking independent class action.
For too long, much of the Left has hidden behind so-called ‘transitional demands’, which get watered down by the mainstream parties and prove to be transitions to nothing more than the renewal of the existing system and its parties. The SSP is far from alone, in not having a clearly articulated, wider socialist or communist programme with which to win support for any new independent organisations formed by our class. Such organisations, to sustain themselves in the face of adversity, need to have a vision of eventually taking power, and completely transforming society. The collapse of official Communism, and many of its unconscious emulators amongst such dissident Communists, such as the Trotskyists, does not mean that the Left should abandon the idea of struggling for a genuine communism.
On January 15th, the RCN organised a joint day school with The Commune group, entitled ‘The Global Commune’. Mary MacGregor reports on this in this issue. The purpose of the day school was rekindle the much needed debate over the alternative to capitalism. We need to go beyond the nebulous, ‘Another world is possible’, which seems to have satisfied much of the Left for the last decade or so. Today, we seriously need to consider what a genuine communism could look like, based on the principles of ‘from each according to their ability and to each according to their needs’ and ‘where the freedom of the individual is the condition of the of freedom for all’. We also need to further develop democratic methods of operating as we organise to bring about our emancipation and liberation. SSP members are most welcome to join in the next round of discussions at the second Global Commune event being held in Edinburgh on May 22nd.