ISM deserts the CWI

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxx at xxxxxx.xx
Tue Jan 23 14:13:53 MST 2001

ISM leaders desert CWI
AT A conference on Sunday 14 January, a majority of our sister organisation
in Scotland (International Socialist Movement - ISM) decided to leave our
international organisation, the Committee for a Workers¹ International
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party Executive and CWI international executive
A quarter of those present (it was not a delegate conference) voted to
remain in the CWI. This minority has the support of many more CWI members in
We regret the decision by the ISM leadership to desert the ranks of the CWI.
For three years there has been a debate between the ISM majority and the CWI
over serious political differences.
The ISM majority has not had the support of any other section from among the
34 sections of the CWI. Despite this we wanted to continue the discussion
within the CWI. To this end the CWI sent two representatives to Sunday's
conference, Peter Taaffe and Per Olsson, and the Socialist Party sent one
representative, Hannah Sell. Additionally, Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MP
in Ireland, and all five Socialist Party councillors in England, including
Dave Nellist, have made clear they disagree with them on all the political
issues but, nevertheless, urged them to stay.
This debate began when the ISM (then called Scottish Militant Labour)
leadership took the decision to hand over all of the painstakingly
accumulated resources of our Scottish section to a new party that they
proposed to form; the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
We believed that it was possible to successfully relaunch our own party,
whilst continuing to build the precursor of the SSP, the Scottish Socialist
Alliance. This proposal was not accepted by members in Scotland. However, we
were also willing to support launching the SSP as a politically broad party.
We understood that such a party would not be a rounded-out Marxist party;
but would involve socialists and anti-capitalists of many different kinds.
To put it another way, there might be agreement in the party on the need for
socialism, but no agreement on what socialism is or how it will be achieved.
We argued that such a party must also be organised on a democratic, federal
basis. Crucially, we considered it vital that the Trotskyists organised
within such a broad party to win support for a rounded-out Marxist
The ISM leadership went ahead and created a politically broad SSP whilst
refusing to accept this definition of the party they have formed.
AT SUNDAY¹S conference, Alan McCombes, leader of the ISM, said that the SSP
is, "potentially the vehicle through which the working class could take
power". This is ruled out unless the SSP is won to a rounded-out Marxist
programme, in today¹s terms that means a programme based on the ideas of
Leon Trotsky.
This requires a Marxist organisation consciously setting out to win the SSP
to such a programme.
Unfortunately, the ISM leadership has abandoned this task. This was clearly
demonstrated in a "statement regarding international links" that was
discussed at Sunday¹s conference, which declared that, "the [Trotskyist]
model they (the CWI) have tried to apply is obsolete, if indeed it was ever
a credible project".
This is a complete rejection of the ISM's entire history in the CWI. The
policies and methods of the CWI made a crucial contribution to the successes
of our organisation in Scotland, including defeating the poll tax. The SSP's
current successes are only possible because of these past gains. Yet, the
ISM have totally written off their history in the CWI. Typically, in Tommy
Sheridan and Alan McCombes¹ book, Imagine, there is not one mention of their
membership of the CWI, Militant or Scottish Militant Labour.
Since the SSP¹s launch it has had some successes, particularly the election
of Tommy Sheridan as an MSP. We wholeheartedly welcome these successes.
However, we cannot accept the ISM leadership¹s huge exaggeration on this
issue. At Sunday¹s conference, Alan McCombes, declared the SSP¹s success
meant that, "if there are revolutionary movements there is one country in
the world where the working class stands a chance [of changing society], and
that is Scotland."
The SSP has a left-reformist programme that¹s completely inadequate for a
party aiming to change society.
This programme was largely written by the ISM leadership. It does not argue
for the decisive sectors of the economy to be brought into public ownership
under workers' control and argues against public ownership of foreign-owned
assembly plants.
Yet foreign-owned companies employ 29% of manufacturing workers in Scotland.
Taking this argument to its logical conclusion would mean arguing against
bringing threatened car plants, such as Vauxhall Luton, into public
The ISM majority has also made serious mistakes about SSP democracy. They
are proposing "guidelines" saying organisations within the SSP cannot sell
their own publications, other than to members of the party. These methods
bear more resemblance to those used by the Labour Party right wing against
us in the past than to the methods of Marxism.
The SSP Executive has shamefully agreed, under Alan McCombes¹ prompting,
that the SSP conference should not have the power to change the founding
core values of the SSP. He argues this should only be done by SSP membership
referendums. This is also the right wing¹s method.
It is common practise by right-wing trade union leaders, such as Doug McAvoy
of the NUT, to ignore decisions taken by democratically elected conference
delegates, and instead, through referendums, rely on the passive members at
home, who have had not heard the arguments of the activists, to overturn
conference decisions.
The justification for these highly undemocratic methods is they are deemed
necessary in order to cope with the Socialist Workers¹ Party (SWP) when they
join the SSP. This is no justification.
The only way to cope with the SWP is to confidently counter their political
ideas with the ideas of the CWI.
Many of the ISM leaders played an important role in the past. Tommy
Sheridan, for example, along with other members in Scotland and 34 members
of our party in England and Wales including Terry Fields MP, went to prison
during the anti-poll tax battle.
He has recently been jailed again, over the siting of nuclear weapons. Tommy
Sheridan, and others in ISM, are undoubtedly prepared to make sacrifices in
the struggle for socialism. However, this is not, in itself, enough. It is
also necessary to have a correct programme.
REGRETTABLY THE ISM leaders have made a whole number of important mistakes
on programme.
We were extremely concerned by a Tommy Sheridan quote in the Sunday
Observer. His statement was ambiguous but seemed to imply that the SSP would
take part in a coalition government with the SNP, or would support such a
government from the outside.
The SNP is not a party of the Scottish working class; it is a nationalist,
predominantly middle class party, whose programme does not go beyond the
confines of capitalism. History shows that coalitions between capitalist
parties and working class parties have always been used to derail the
movement of the working class for socialism.
Yet, Tommy is quoted as saying: "You might have the SNP then looking to form
an administration with some of the smaller parties. If that happened then
our demand would be that our redistributive policies are on the agenda.
That¹s a price the SNP would have to pay. Whether they¹d be willing to pay
it I don¹t know but we wouldn¹t be easy negotiators. We¹re not after power
for power¹s sake. Our whole history shows that."
Despite requests to clarify his position, Tommy has never publicly
repudiated this statement.
The ISM leaders have also made major errors on the nature of Cuba. Tommy has
described Cuba as "socialist" without any qualifications in the Daily
Record. At the SSP conference last year ISM members moved a motion which
again talked of "socialist Cuba".
We defend Cuba¹s planned economy and oppose the US blockade. However, we
cannot describe Cuba as socialist.
Cuba is essentially a one-party totalitarian regime. Genuine socialism can
only be based on workers¹ democracy. Unfortunately, Tommy Sheridan and
others, have taken a neo-Stalinist position on Cuba.
Despite these fundamental differences with the ISM majority we regret their
decision to leave the CWI. We would have preferred a continuation of
democratic debate on these issues and were confident that, had this taken
place, we would have won the majority to our position. Unfortunately, the
ISM majority defected because they were not willing to continue the
HOWEVER, SOME of the pioneers of our party in Scotland, including Ronnie
Stevenson, Philip Stott and many others, are determined to build a powerful
section of the CWI in Scotland. A large majority of trade union activists in
ISM have also decided to stay with the CWI.
The SSP general election candidates for Dundee East (Harvey Duke), Dundee
West (Jim McFarlane), Kirkaldy (Kenny McLeod), and others will remain CWI
We regret what has taken place, but are confident that the CWI¹s ideas will
gain a powerful echo amongst the Scottish working class in the future.

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