Long live Tommy Sheridan!

David Welch david.welch at SPAMst-edmund-hall.oxford.ac.uk
Thu Jan 18 17:14:31 MST 2001

On Thu, 18 Jan 2001, Louis Proyect wrote:
> We were shocked and dismayed that our, now former, members in the
> leadership of the SSP have proposed "guidelines" for that party which would
> preclude the right of organised trends within the SSP to produce public
> material, sell public journals, etc. These guidelines argue that organised
> platforms should "not act as a party within a party".
> [Maybe, as former Trotskyists, they understand that "entrism" is a cynical
> maneuver to recruit people to a sect.]
The presence of factions is hardly desirable of course, but it was the
guarantee of democratic rights to organized trends that allowed the SSP to
unite large sections of the Scottish left in the first place. One of the
problems for the SSP leadership is an approach by the Scottish part of the
SWP to join, the SWP is at best ambivalent about Scottish nationalism and
so would potentially block a prospective alliance between the SSP and
a minority SNP government after the next elections to the Scottish
parliament. Removing SWP members' right to sell Socialist Worker and
requiring the almost complete liquidation of the SWP organization in
Scotland is a way to, in the first place, diswade it from joining, and
to reduce the influence it would have if it did. Despite Louis's
sniping, the CWI loyalists in Scotland are right to be concerned with SSP

More generally, it wouldn't surprise comrades that these events have
very little to do with Cuba. This is an article by a Socialist Party (the
English and Welsh section of the CWI) member published in the Weekly
Worker last year giving some background.

Weekly Worker #328 Thursday March 23 2000

Pat Strong of the Socialist Party

Final divorce in Scotland

Crisis in CWI will leave it a rump

   Following the recent haemorrhaging of our South African section (see
   Weekly Worker March 16), a closed document released by the Phil Stott
   faction in the Scottish Socialist Party marks yet another stage in the
   disintegration of the Peter Taaffe-led Committee for a Workers
   International (see inside, pp4-5).

   The document, entitled 'SSP conference review and conclusions', is a
   stinging attack on the SSP majority, signed by Taaffeite loyalists
   Phil Stott, Sinead Daly, Alan Manley, Jim McFarlane, Bruce Wallace and
   Mark Walker. It seeks to draw a clear 'red' line between their small
   grouping, which they insist is committed to "a cohesive, revolutionary
   organisation based on the principle of democratic centralism", and the
   McCombes-Curran-Sheridan axis, which "seeks to abandon the building of
   an independent revolutionary organisation". Both factions were
   previously part of the now liquidated Scottish Militant Labour and
   remain affiliated to the International Socialist Movement - the CWI in

   The opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the text. The
   comrades speak of "the fundamentally wrong position the majority of
   the leadership have taken during the debate about how we organise
   within the SSP. During the discussion which led up to the CWI
   conference on February 6 2000 we repeatedly warned that if the
   comrades pressed ahead with the attempt to turn our organisation into
   a loose Marxist grouping it would have serious repercussions for our
   work within the broad SSP. Sadly these warnings have gone unheeded and
   the continuing disintegration of our revolutionary organisation is the

   The sentiments expressed in this document do not come out of the blue.
   Many of us have wondered how long it would be before our general
   secretary could no longer tolerate the brazen flouting of CWI
   'discipline' by the majority in Scotland. The CWI, like the Socialist
   Party itself, is rapidly disintegrating. Thus over the recent period
   we have seen UDI in Scotland, the loss of Liverpool, autonomy for Dave
   Nellist in Coventry, including freedom to pursue his Socialist
   Alliance project, and revolt in London over the LSA. Alongside that,
   an exodus in South Africa, schisms in France, as well as the
   expulsions of the Pakistan section and the US former minority. Comrade
   Taaffe and his CWI lieutenant Tony Saunois are, I am told, prepared to
   recognise comrade Stott's Dundee faction as the official section -
   much to the delight of comrades McCombes, Curran, Sheridan, etc. We
   have seen the same process elsewhere. Overall membership of the CWI
   has slumped from some 11,000 at the beginning of the last decade to
   the 4,000 claimed today.

   One SP comrade, a closet sympathiser of the McCombes minority, has
   been predicting for over a year now that McCombes and his band will be
   expelled - although of course the majority may well decide to pre-empt
   such a move by formally leaving the ISM. It looks likely then that
   comrade Stott's loyalist statement is the latest salvo in a kind of
   push-me, pull me war of attrition.

   Sadly, the familiar charges of duplicity and underhand manoeuvrings
   that seem inevitably to accompany these frequent internal schisms make
   an appearance: "The comrades ... organised a meeting of the
   international visitors on the Sunday. Peter [Hadden] and Niall
   [Mulholland] reported that as representatives of the CWI they were not
   informed and only found out from the comrade from the Left Bloc in
   Portugal. Only after the meeting had gone on for a period did the
   comrades come back to tell Peter and Niall of the meeting. On the
   Sunday morning, as all the international visitors were addressing the
   conference, it became clear that the CWI were not on the list to
   speak. Only a last-minute intervention by a comrade from Dundee
   ensured that the CWI were allowed to address the conference. It is
   also noticeable that the Scottish Socialist Voice is carrying
   interviews with all the international visitors except those of the

   So pretty much the standard fare for yet another civil war. But what
   about the politics? Surely we should support comrades who stand for a
   "cohesive revolutionary organisation based on the principle of
   democratic centralism"? Unfortunately things are not that simple. Of
   course there is a great deal of truth in many of the charges levelled
   against the McCombes leadership. There is, for instance, a clear
   dilution of anything remotely resembling a revolutionary programme.
   Also there can be no doubt by now that the leadership is liquidating
   any remaining semblance of factional organisation. The ISM is, to all
   intents and purposes, being quietly left behind by the majority.

   The Stott minority see this as a capitulation to left reformism
   induced by the pressures of the comrades working in a
   non-revolutionary SSP. The irony here though is that in reality the
   trajectory of the Scottish leadership is merely the logical outcome of
   the fundamentally opportunist method raised to an art form by none
   other than Peter Taaffe himself. Tail-ending opinion polls and a
   willing collapse before the forces of nationalism are simply Taaffe's
   method with a Scottish accent.

   In our organisation, both in the SP and the CWI, there exists 'a
   wilderness of mirrors'. A strange terrain of Orwellian double-speak
   where reform is revolution, bureaucratic centralism is democratic
   centralism, and so on. We see exactly the same processes unfolding
   that we previously witnessed in Merseyside, Pakistan, etc.
   Predictably, while the Stott rump dress up their criticisms in
   revolutionary rhetoric, there is an absence of any genuinely Marxist
   critique. Thus the main thrust of the loyalist document concerns
   itself with purely organisational questions.

   It comes then as no surprise at all to read that, "There was a very
   limited intervention at the conference. The comrades from Dundee
   [Stott's home ground] were the only ones who openly sold the journal
   (30 copies sold - the bookstall also sold an encouraging amount of CWI
   material). There was no meeting prior to the conference to plan our
   intervention, or a drive to attract our own members and potential
   members of the ISM to the fringe meeting. As a result the meeting was
   only partially successful with around 30 in attendance and one new
   comrade approaching us to join. Only Frances (who spoke at the
   meeting) and Philip Stott attended the meeting from the former CWI

   The concerns of the document's authors are all too clear. Building a
   "revolutionary" organisation is simply a matter of selling journals,
   recruiting members and so on. The reason for this of course is
   perfectly understandable. We have for years miseducated our comrades
   to such a degree that any discontent will almost inevitably propel
   them in a rightward direction. A rejection of Taaffeism and the
   bureaucratic methodology that underpins it leads comrades to a
   rejection of revolutionary politics. One is simple equated with the
   other. McCombes and co have taken the Taaffe method to its logical
   conclusion, but at the same time in their desire to break
   organisationally with him, any avenue is open to exploration. It is
   this wearily familiar theme tune that now accompanies our internal
   meltdown. The document unwittingly highlights this:

   "We think that there is an attitude in Scotland that the CWI is not
   worth a candle, it is sectarian and a burden on our work in Scotland."
   Such an attitude exists not only in Scotland, but throughout what
   remains of the international organisation. It is precisely this
   attitude that has resulted in near-total collapse, both here and
   abroad. Regrettably though, the comrades cannot draw the necessary

   With this in mind the points made on democratic centralism are
   particularly revealing: "Democratic centralism is not just an
   essential ingredient to ensure disciplined and effective intervention
   into the SSP; it is also the best method of ensuring party democracy.
   Particularly in acting as a check on the leadership."

   Here is bitter, bitter irony indeed! Comrade Taaffe's loyalists
   hoisted by his very own bureaucratic petard! Of course, were we
   discussing genuine democratic centralism in relation to a
   revolutionary organisation, these points would be pretty
   uncontroversial. But the regime that prevails in the CWI is no such
   thing. On the contrary, it is an undemocratic, bureaucratic
   centralism, intended not to facilitate arrival at a coherent,
   principled revolutionary programme, but rather to ensure the
   continuation of comrade Taaffe's rule. For years now the leadership's
   terror of openly and publicly identifying with revolution has resulted
   in stripping the Marxism from our politics.

   So, where do we go from here? As we are all aware, our crisis has seen
   us stumbling from disaster to disaster without respite. If all that is
   best from our tradition and history is not to be wasted, it is
   incumbent on us all to reclaim it in the service of our class. What
   this practically means for all members of the Socialist Party and CWI
   is a principled struggle to prise open our internal bodies so that we
   may openly argue out the best way forward.

   I commented last year on the forthcoming one-day conference to debate
   the Socialist Party constitution. Comrades must ensure that their
   branches submit well-prepared resolutions to facilitate the widest
   possible debate. We must call the leadership to account via branch
   resolutions and contributions to the Members Bulletin every time they
   simply ignore conference decisions. We must start the fightback now.

   We built and led a movement of millions in the fight against the poll
   tax, but what use are we today to our class? Comrades, in order to
   serve our class again we must rebuild. Our slogans must be: For a
   revolutionary programme! For genuine democratic centralism! For a
   genuinely revolutionary CWI!

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