Scottish Socialist Party: ISM leaves CWI

David Welch david.welch at
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
   September 1998.

   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.

   Peter Manson

SSP replys to SA

   December 31 2000
   To Pete McLaren and John Nicholson,
   Joint convenors, Network of Socialist Alliances

   Dear comrades

   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

   Allan Green
   national secretary

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