Scottish Socialist Party: ISM leaves CWI
david.welch at SPAMst-edmund-hall.oxford.ac.uk
Sat Jan 20 14:41:16 MST 2001
Weekly Worker 367 Thursday January 18 2001
Scottish Socialist Party
ISM leaves CWI
The International Socialist Move ment - formerly Scottish Militant
Labour - has finally completed its break with Peter Taaffe's Committee
for a Workers' International. On January 14 the ISM conference
formalised the situation that had in effect been the reality for
almost three years.
Taaffe himself had sanctioned the division of the CWI's British
section into two organisational units in the mid-90s. In England and
Wales Militant Labour changed its name to the Socialist Party after a
somewhat fraught and highly secretive internal debate in 1996-97,
while in Scotland the organisation retained the name, Scottish
Militant Labour. However, SML's increasingly nationalist orientation
and unwillingness to submit to Taffeite diktat served to deepen the
divisions, which flared up in a bitter row over the transformation of
the Scottish Socialist Alliance into the Scottish Socialist Party in
The SP general secretary insisted that SML should remain intact as a
"revolutionary Marxist" organisation (that is, a grouping under his
control) within the newly formed SSP. Alan McCombes, Tommy Sheridan,
etc declined the invitation, preferring to go their own separate way.
Although the CWI in Scotland still existed in formal terms in the
shape of the ISM (the "Marxist Platform of the SSP" which grouped
former Militant members), in practice it had all but ceased to exist.
SML was effectively wound up and its paper, Scottish Socialist Voice,
became the organ of the broader, more influential SSP.
So last weekend's decision was merely the final act in a long drawn
out divorce. All that remains of what was once one of the CWI's most
flourishing sections is the small, Dundee-based, pro-Taaffe loyalist
minority - about 16 members in all.
Leading SSPer Catriona Grant states: "We, the ISM, will produce a
statement on why we came to leave - ie, we were effectively expelled,
as the majority comrades were ignored by the international
secretariat. They stated that they could only collaborate with the
minority faction of the CWI in Scotland. The only reason they did not
expel us was because they were not brave enough to expel their
Scottish section" (International Socialist discussion list, January
15). Comrade Grant also announces the intention to set up a website
"with all the documents, statements, etc, so comrades throughout the
world can read for themselves".
The ISM leadership says that the final parting of the ways "follows a
protracted, three-year debate centring on the future of the SSP and
the role of Marxists in creating new parties of the working class"
(International Socialist Online January 15). The ISM was indeed
opposed to Taaffe's model of a bureaucratic "small mass workers'
party" sect. But in its place it posed a broader organisational form,
wholeheartedly embracing nationalism and overt reformism.
In fact nationalism is the specific path that the ISM has chosen on
its long march away from the Trotskyite version of internationalism:
ie, the international unity of cloned sects. As we reported last week,
comrade Grant has welcomed as "a breath of fresh air" polemics written
by SSP nationalist extremists against the CPGB and supporters of the
Workers Unity tendency (Weekly Worker January 11). These included
threats of violence against those who have had the temerity to oppose
the SSP's call for an "independent socialist Scotland" - in reality
Scottish independence pure and simple - and to campaign for working
class organisation on an all-Britain basis.
But this total embrace of Scottish nationalism is not restricted to
former members of the CWI. Apart from those around the Workers Unity
tendency and a few other notable exceptions, the SSP as a whole is now
a million miles away from a principled position on working class unity
against the UK state. In its headlong rush towards separatism the SSP
views cooperation amongst socialists throughout Britain as purely a
question of diplomatic nicety. It is all very well for comrades in
Scotland to express solidarity with struggles in England and Wales,
but a single organisation to unite and advance them is considered
beyond the pale.
In December the Socialist Alliance Liaison Committee unanimously
adopted a CPGB motion calling for negotiations with the SSP and Welsh
Socialist Alliance with a view to forging a joint general election
campaign. This would open up the possibility of a party political
broadcast to be relayed to millions across the United Kingdom, thus
demonstrating in a powerful way that a viable all-Britain working
class movement could be constructed. In addition the motion invited
the SSP and WSA to take up seats on the SA Liaison Committee.
However, far from welcoming this initiative, the SSP leadership
apparently regards it as a devious Brit plot to subvert its autonomy.
In his letter of reply SSP national secretary Allan Green pretends not
to understand what is being proposed. He ticks off the SA convenors
for `misusing' the term `national' - which of course in the eyes of
such comrades can only be used in a British context when referring to
Scotland, Wales and England, and never Britain itself.
Comrade Green even goes so far as to write: "...can I suggest that it
might be more productive in future if there is an explicit recognition
that our respective organisations operate in different countries and,
although we are striving to build stronger links, we are organised
Although England and Scotland can be described by those who wish to
stress divergent nationalist roads as "separate countries", they are
obviously part and parcel of the same state. It is ABC for Marxists
that we must unite to defeat our common enemy. That is why the
principles of the early Third International - to which the SSP
leadership formally still adheres - stressed the obligation on
communists to organise along the lines of `one state, one party'.
Although we are the most consistent advocates of national
self-determination, we favour separation only in the most exceptional
circumstances - ie, when objective circumstances effectively preclude
working class unity in the same state. In general we are for the
largest possible state formations and, reflecting this, the closest
possible working class organisational unity.
But the Socialist Alliance is hardly proposing a quick merger. Of all
the SA components only the CPGB is at present campaigning for the
alliance project to form the basis for the coming together of all
socialists in England, Wales and Scotland in a single democratic and
centralised party. But we are not so foolish as to be unaware that for
the moment we are all "organised separately". And the proposals for a
joint campaign are hardly a recipe for the involuntary absorption of
the SSP by an English chauvinist monster.
We do not like the fact that for the moment communists and socialists
are not organised as a powerful united force to smash the UK state.
But we accept that unity must come through consent, through the
recognition that only in this way can the cause of the working class
be advanced. However, for comrade Green separate organisation ought
not only to be recognised as a fact, but should be regarded as a
positive virtue. Even separate election broadcasts would be preferable
(although there is no facility for an England-only broadcast, as he
seems to believe). We have to ask, just what is the purpose of
building "stronger links" if, to all intents and purposes, even joint
action around an election cannot be countenanced?
True, comrade Green does not rule out "taking forward our cooperation
for the general election campaign". But, since he seems to regard the
mere suggestion that the SSP be invited to attend meetings of the
"Socialist Alliances in England" as an affront to his Scottishness, it
is difficult to envisage how this could extend beyond the expression
of pious good wishes.
If, for one moment, comrade Green could put aside his nationalist
prejudices, then surely he would be able to see that a joint campaign
could make us both "stronger than the sum of our parts". Let us
examine ways in which both an SSP broadcast in Scotland and a joint
UK-wide broadcast could be won. This would almost certainly mean the
adoption of a single electoral name across Britain, but would still
allow separate and distinct propaganda.
SSP replys to SA
December 31 2000
To Pete McLaren and John Nicholson,
Joint convenors, Network of Socialist Alliances
The SSP would like to congratulate the Preston Socialist Alliance for
their recent by-election success. The continued growth and development
of the Socialist Alliances in England have also encouraged us.
Thank you for your letter of December 11, which asked the SSP to
consider an SA Liaison meeting motion on the general election and TV
election broadcasts. Given that the SSP has already come to an
understanding with the Socialist Alliances in England and the Welsh
Socialist Alliance over the general election, I have to say that I
found the references to "national" in the motion ambiguous.
Consequently, it is not easy to understand exactly what is being
proposed and why.
The SSP already operate on a national basis and are preparing,
finances permitting, a nation wide electoral challenge. The SSP will
qualify for a national TV broadcast in Scotland. The SSP simply could
not contemplate not having a national SSP electoral broadcast. As a
party, we have developed a strong base of support across the country,
a nation wide branch structure, a strong national profile and we have
already twice had national TV broadcasts. We would be very surprised
if you were asking us not to have an SSP broadcast in favour of a
looser UK-wide broadcast.
Perhaps you were thinking about a UK-wide broadcast in addition to a
Scottish one? In principle, of course, the SSP would be open to this.
However, the broadcasting companies are highly unlikely to be
responsive to such an approach. It is very probable that they will
simply look at the number of seats being contested in each country -
eg, in Scotland the threshold is likely to be 12. It may be more
productive for the Socialist Alliances in England to find out what the
threshold for a broadcast in will be England (as opposed to the UK as
a whole) and start planning accordingly.
You also said that the SSP is invited to send representatives to
meetings of the Socialist Alliances in England Liaison Committee. We
are not sure what is being asked of the SSP here, and why. The motion
again is neither clear nor detailed, but it does refer to a committee
to coordinate election campaigns. Is this why the SSP is being invited
to the Socialist Alliances in England Liaison Committee?
We appreciate that the Socialist Alliances in England are approaching
the SSP in the spirit of developing further cooperation. In this
spirit, can I suggest that it might be more productive in future if
there is an explicit recognition that our respective organisations
operate in different countries and, although we are striving to build
stronger links, we are organised separately?
In any event, it might be more productive for office-bearers from our
respective organisations, initially, to open discussions on
cooperation around the elections rather than one side or another being
presented with a set of organisational conclusions before the
political dialogue is underway.
We value our links with the Socialist Alliances in England and we look
forward to further cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps you could
get in touch by phone and we could discuss ways of taking forward our
cooperation for the general election campaign.
Yours for socialism
More information about the Marxism