British SWP and the SSP

Nigel Irritable nigel_irritable at
Fri Dec 6 13:21:24 MST 2002

The second statement on the British SWP is from the
Scottish Socialist Party Executive Committee. It deals
primarily with the arrogant and dangerous behaviour of
the SWP with regard to the firefighter's strike.

To give a bit of context, the SWP joined the SSP some
time after the SSP had got off the ground. Up until
that point they had been hostile to both the SSP and
its predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance.

Given the extremely different methods and outlooks of
the SWP and the organisations and individuals who
founded the SSA and SSP it was unsurprising that when
the merger was proposed, some within the SSP argued
that there should be a long period of close
cooperation before the SWP could actually join.

Such a period would enable the SWP could get used to
the methods of the SSP and both organisations could
better judge if a merger was a good idea. The
leadership of the SSP, mainly the ISM, disagreed and
pushed for a quick fusion and carried most of the
party with them. The CWI platform and others in the
minority took the view that trying to skip ahead would
just leave the SSP with an unreformed SWP in its ranks
and that there would inevitably be serious conflicts.

The deal under which the SWP joined was criticised on
a number of grounds. Two of the most notable problems
with it were that the SSP leadership insisted on
introducing certain restriction on the rights of the
SW Platform, most notably a ban on public sales of
Socialist Worker, and the SWP's insistence that SW
Platform members would pay their subs to the SWP in
London and that a portion would then be passed on the

In the short period in which the SWP has joined the
SSP the predicted problems have materialised, starting
with their amazingly foolish and dangerous antics in
Sighthill, continuing with rows over fulltimers,
finance and paper sales and culminating in the present
row over the firefighters strike.

Is mise le meas
Brian Cahill

>From the SSP Executive Committee

It has always been a trademark of the SSP, and before
its foundation,
the SSA, that we have been able to bring together
socialists from
different traditions into a united party. This unity
has not come
naturally to the left. It involved socialists and
organisations making a determined and sustained effort
over several
years to work towards achieving and maintaining unity.

The party has been pleased to eventually welcome the
SW Platform into
its ranks. There is no doubting the energy, experience
and commitment
that the comrades from the SW Platform have brought to
the party.

On every big issue there has been agreement on core
principles â€"
from taking a clear anti-imperialist position on
anti-war activities
to the importance of solidarity with the FBU. Of
course, there are
differences over tactics and emphasis but these are
the sort of
discussions that should be easily accommodated in an
open, democratic
and pluralist party like the SSP.

Given that the SWP was consistently hostile to this
unity project
until shortly before the SWP members in Scotland
joined the party, we
have always been aware of the potential difficulties
maintaining such
a spirit of unity. This is why a set of guidelines was
agreed on how
the SW Platform should operate within the party. It
is, therefore,
with deep disappointment that we are now forced into a
position where
we have to write to express our serious concerns over
the ongoing
activities of the SW Platform.


The SSP has been aware that the SW Platform did not
have prior
experience in working in a unified manner with others
on the left.
Likewise much of the SSP had little or no experience
of working with
the SWP. It was always anticipated that there would be
problems - and there were. However, there was the
political goodwill
all round to discuss the problems and to work to
overcome them.

Now, more than 18 months after the SWP joined the
party in Scotland,
the problems are of a different order. The SW Platform
Committee now knows that it will considerably raise
tensions in the
party if it by passes party structures and launches
initiatives linked to the SWP in England & Wales.

In October, at the request of the SSP Executive, there
was an informal
meeting between representatives of the SSP Executive
and the SW
Platform Steering Committee. This took place after
increased tensions
in the party over the nature of SW Platform activity
over the summer.
The SSP EC was concerned that the SW Platform had been
operating out
with the spirit of the unity agreement. We believed
this was
confirmed by the tone and approach taken in SW
Platform Notes
distributed to its members.

After the informal discussion, it was then reported to
the October EC
that there was a possibility that the SW Platform
would now work in
closer co-operation with the rest of the party in the
build up to the
May elections. Unfortunately, this has not happened.


The fire fighters strike is the most significant
national trade union
struggle since the miners strike. The stakes are huge
in terms of the
wider class struggle. It is clear that the government
wants to dampen
down general expectations over public sector pay, pave
the way for
further privatisations and take on and smash one of
the most
organised and determined trade unions in the country.

The New Labour Government has itself politicised the
strike by
declaring the dispute as a litmus test for the entire
public sector.
Simpson's reference to the fire-fighters as fascists
and Raynsford's
description of them as criminals are just the more
expressions of the New Labour's determination to crush
the trade

The SSP has been at the forefront of organising
support for the fire
fighters. We have agreed with the FBU in Scotland a
range of solidarity activities that the party should
be involved with
building support in workplaces, trade unions,
communities and support
groups. We have supported FBU activities and rallies
and also held
impressive SSP rallies (for example around 250
attended the SSP
solidarity rally in Partick Burgh Halls).

The trust and respect that the rank and file fire
fighters and the FBU
leadership in Scotland have for the SSP is clear. The
FBU have invited
Tommy Sheridan onto their public platforms, have
publicly spoken
warmly of the SSP and are happy to speak at SSP

Indeed, the question of the trade unions breaking the
link has been explicitly raised from the platform of
their national
rally. FBU Scottish officials have been openly
speculating in the
media that, due to rank and file pressure, the FBU
could ditch its
links with Labour and support the SSP. This dispute,
in addition to
being crucial in immediate terms, has huge longer term
for trade unionists and trade unions drawing lessons
about the role
of the New Labour Party and the need for a clear

At times like this it is crucial that the party takes
the opportunity
to discuss its solidarity role, comes to a clear
position on what
should be done and then operates in a serious,
coordinated and united manner. The SSP has always been
proud of its
record as a class struggle combat party that has open
discussion then
unites together in the struggle.


The SW Platform will certainly agree with the rest of
the party on the
importance of this dispute. The SW Platform has also
agreed a set of
guidelines (enclosed) which indicates how unity of the
SW Platform and
the rest of the party can best be achieved. The SW
participated in the SSP National Council where the
party's solidarity
role with the fire fighters was agreed without any
opposition. On the
surface then there should be little room for confusion
and division
over the solidarity work of the party as a whole,
including the SW

However, in practice, independently of the SSP, the SW
Steering Committee has been organising its own
parallel intervention
around the FBU strike. The SW Platform has been
organising around the
Red Watch paper in street activity, public rallies,
fire station
pickets and ongoing communications with individual
fire fighters.
This has usually been at the expense of the
intervention around the
party paper and the SSP Bulletin the ˜Fire fighters
Voice". The SW
Platform basically is organising and coordinating
activity as if it
is a separate party and one in competition with the


The SW Platform did not even make an attempt to first
engage in a
discussion with the rest of the party over the use of
Red Watch. At
the 17 November National Council, papers from SSP
Organiser, Richie Venton, outlining the solidarity
role of the party
were passed unanimously. Yet, the SW Platform did not
seek support
through party structures where it is represented -
branches, trade
union committee, National Council and Executive
Committee that the
SSP should publicly promote Red Watch. Party members
have instead
turned up to public events to discover that the SW
Platform is not
working with the rest of the party but is working on a
line of its

SW Platform members did take part in a recent session
of the SWP
(England & Wales) Annual Conference where Red Watch
was discussed and
promoted as part of the industrial strategy of the SWP
in England &

All the SSP knew about Red Watch, through having an
observer at the
SWP Conference in London, prior to the SW Platform
distributing it in Scotland was that it was one of
several papers
promoted by the SWP at their annual conference. As
well as Red Watch
there is The Class Issue (for teachers), The Post
Worker, The Health
Worker, Civil Unrest (Civil servants) etc.

Even where there is agreement on what to do around the
strike, there have been difficulties. For example, the
SSP is for
building support groups. The recent NC agreed that
there should be
support groups, co-ordinated on a city-wide basis when
Even here, SW Platform comrades have been centrally
involved in
setting up localised support groups, without the
co-ordination agreed
at the NC and, incredibly, sometimes without even
prior discussion
with the appropriate SSP branch organisers. These
actions breed
confusion and are unnecessarily divisive.


With regard to Red Watch, there are several points
that are valid
questions for discussion within the SSP prior to its

Red Watch is a declared rank and file fire-fighters
paper. But it does
not represent an already existing organised left
current within the
FBU. SSP members of the FBU were not approached about
it prior to it
being sold by SW Platform members (who by and large
not members of
the FBU). This is a very serious point why make no
effort whatsoever
to consult with SSP fire fighters before deciding how
to build a rank
and file movement in Scotland? Does the SW Platform
really believe
that the line on Red Watch agreed by the SWP
Conference in England
automatically takes precedence over the opinions of
other party
members and fire-fighters in Scotland?

The party has a clear position around solidarity with
the FBU in
Scotland. The SSP must always be willing to put its
own position and
be willing, if necessary, to criticise any trade union
But we must bear in mind that Tony Blair and the
Labour Government
have launched a direct attack on the entire FBU
including its
leadership, which it describes as Scargillite.
Compared to many other
trade union leaderships, the FBU leadership in
Scotland have a
tremendous record on a wide range of trade union and
wider political
issues (eg support for Scottish Campaign against
Anti Nazi League, Chhokar Family Justice Campaign

In these concrete circumstances, our emphasis is not
to build a left
opposition inside the FBU to its leadership in
Scotland. Therefore,
why should party members who are not even FBU members
be making their
main intervention selling Red Watch rather then
distributing the
SSP's own Fire-fighters Voice (which is openly the
bulletin of the
SSP)? At the very least this is a point that the SW
Platform comrades
should have been willing to raise and discuss.

The SWP in England & Wales appears, in its approach to
the fire
fighters dispute, to be underestimating the
opportunity of building
the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance has
some good leaflets
and posters but, as will be confirmed by a quick
glance through the
Socialist Worker paper, the main emphasis of the SWP
is certainly not
on working through the Socialist Alliance.


The SW Platform does not appear to be willing to work
in a unified
manner along the lines agreed in the guidelines.

The SW Platform has ensured that there has been no
possibility of a
united SSP intervention in a dispute as important as
the current fire
fighters strikes. This is unhelpful to building
effective solidarity.

The SW Platform, by its action clearly believes that
the line of the
SWP in England & Wales should be implemented in
Scotland. So why not
try to convince the rest of the party? Perhaps the SW
Platform is not
confident that this line would stand up to scrutiny
within the SSP?
Maybe the SW Platform is more concerned about getting
a few more
people persuaded about their line (and recruited to
the SW Platform)
rather than trying to influence the party as a whole?

The SW Platform appears to deliberately by-pass the
structures of the
SSP when it has doubts over whether the SSP will
accept its position.

It as very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the
SW Platform is
simply following the position of the SWP in England &
Wales as if it
is still part of the SWP.


Different individuals and branches will have different
experiences of
the problem. Many SW Platform members on an individual
basis continue
to play a very positive role.

The problems arise when the SW Platform Steering
Committee directs its
members towards a particular line of work without
reference to party
structures or agreed priorities. In some cases, this
has led to a
severe breakdown of trust and very difficult working
relations within
the party. The unhealthy atmosphere has a negative
impact on party
activity as it encourages an unofficial division of
labour, with the
SW Platform and other party members tending to
concentrate on
different campaigns.

Branch members around the country have been noting,
and often
complaining of SW Platform comrades working to their
own agenda
without reference to the party branch or priorities.
SW Platform
members frequently organise meetings where the only
SSP speakers are
from the SW Platform. More and more SSP members are
being left with
the impression that the SW Platform is first and
foremost interested
in building itself and the initiatives it chooses to

There is a real danger that at a time when the party
is gearing up for
an historic breakthrough in the Scottish elections in
6 months times,
the actions of the SW Platform, no matter their
intention, are causing
confusion, division and poor morale.

The party is currently working to deliver one million
bulletins to
Scottish households but, with a few heroic exceptions,
the SW
Platform does not appear to be throwing their weight
behind this. At
a time when it is more important than ever for the
party to try to
pull together and work in a systematic, co-ordinated
manner the SW
Platform appears to be withdrawing co-operation with
the rest of the


The unity project in Scotland has formally existed at
least since 1995
and, through joint campaigning and socialist forums,
the process was
underway even earlier. Through most of this time the
SWP in Scotland
was openly hostile to the unity process. It ironic
that the SWP in
Scotland only became interested in joining the SSP
after the SWP in
England had some modest success, achieving 1.6% of the
vote across
the city, working with the London Socialist Alliance
at the Assembly
elections in 2000. With the SWP subsequently resolving
to work
through the Socialist Alliances in England in the
build up to the
2001 Westminster election, the SWP finally agreed to
respond to the
SSPs unity advances. Even then it was noteworthy that
the unity
discussions were conducted between representatives of
the SSP EC
and the SWP London-based leadership.

There has always been a tendency for the SW Platform
comrades to want
to work along the lines of the SWP in England & Wales.
In many ways
this is understandable. However, as the tactics of the
SWP have
started to diverge more and more away from
prioritising building the
Socialist Alliance in England towards, STW, GR, Red
Watch etc this
has obviously posed a challenge to the SW Platform.
How does the SW
Platform adjust when they are part of a unified party
in Scotland?

In England & Wales, the SWP has developed a political
line that says
the Socialist Alliance is one united front (albeit of
a special kind)
among many that the SWP will work through. We believe
that this
policy is mistaken and is partly responsible for the
lack of
development of the Socialist Alliance in England.
There is a price to
pay for the lack of a strong unified socialist
political force in

In Scotland the SSP has established itself as the
major radical force
to the left of the pro-business parties, achieving in
opinion polls
over the last 18 months between 5% and 9% support
nationally. The
Socialist Alliance in England clearly does not have
the same breadth
and depth of support.

In England, the Greens have been clearly out polling
the Socialist
Alliance in most elections. Far more dangerous has
been the rise in
support of the nazi BNP in England whilst in Scotland
they are still
very marginal and isolated.

However, if the comrades in the SW Platform believe in
the superiority
of the approach of the SWP in England, they should say
so. But at
least the SW Platform should acknowledge and
recognise, through its
activity, that the SSP is a political party not a
united front. It is
bound to create tensions within the SSP when the SW
Platform acts as
if the SSP is just the same type of body as the
Socialist Alliance.
In short, it is just not appropriate for the SW
Platform to act along
the exact same lines as the comrades in the SWP in
England & Wales.
Yet this appears to be exactly what the SW Platform is


The SW Platform is part of an international tendency,
International Socialist Tendency with the main party
being the SWP
England & Wales. This international tendency is well
known for
working in similar ways in different countries. After
the SWP decided
to support the Socialist Alliances in England, this
approach was
taken up in other countries. For example, the
International Socialist
Organisation in Australia supported the creation of a
Alliance in Australia.

However, with the SWP in England now appearing to rule
out that the
Socialist Alliances should prepare for working towards
a unified
pluralist party and instead concentrate on a range of
united front
tactical activity, there has been a noticeable shift
and not just in Scotland.

In Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party is the
largest component
of the Socialist Alliance. The Democratic Socialist
Party has
proposed that it stops operating as a party and
instead becomes a
tendency inside the SA. DSP staff and resources would
then, after
discussion and agreement with the rest of the SA, be
at the disposal
of the SA. In some ways, although clearly not in an
situation, this could be compared to the approach of
SML/ISM at the
time of the launch of the SSP. The Australian
counterparts of the
SW Platform has responded by saying that if the DSP
votes for this at
their congress, they will pull out of the SA.
Basically, it appears
to be the case that they would prefer that the SA
unity project be
damaged rather than allow a deepening of the process.

If the approach is typical of the thinking inside the
tendency which the SW Platform is part of, then this
is a very
worrying development for other socialists
internationally, including
the SSP.


The SW Platform Steering Committee may not be
experienced in working
in a pluralist party but it is well used to the
arguments for the
importance of a party uniting in the struggle.

The SWP England & Wales constitution states

"Permanent or secret factions are not allowed".
Temporary factions
are permitted during pre-conference debates but even
here their
documents "must be circulated through the National

"The SWP is democratic centralist because the
revolutionary party
must be a disciplined, activist, combat organisation.
It is
democratic in reaching its decisions and centralist in
carrying them

"The lower bodies of the party are subordinated to
higher bodies and
all are subordinate to the delegate conference."

"A member is one who .. works within and under the
direction of the
appropriate bodies of the organisation."

"The branch structures .. direct the work of the
branch and its
members within the framework of national policy."

Therefore, there can be little doubt that the SW
Platform Steering
Committee is well versed in the arguments in favour of
unity in
action. Indeed, the SWP England & Wales would simply
expel any
members who, without prior agreement within the SWP,
campaigns on the political lines of another party.

However, the SSP is an open, democratic and inclusive
party. We prefer
to deal with problems politically rather than through


In these circumstances, the SSP EC is formally asking
for a written
response from the SW Platform Steering Committee to
the following

Is the SW Platform still committed to the long-term
building of the
SSP as a mass socialist party?

Does the SW Platform accept that the SSP is a unified
party and not a united front (even one of a special
kind)? If so,
does the SW Platform accept that there are then
obligations on the SW
Platform to discuss issues through the SSP rather than
operating in the same way as the SWP in England does
with the
Socialist Alliance?

Does the SW Platform agree to work according to the
agreed by the SWP and SSP prior to the SW Platform
joining the party?

Does the SW Platform agree that it is vital for the
SSP to have a
unified and co-ordinated campaign around issues such
as solidarity
with the fire fighters? Will the SW Platform agree to

Will the SW Platform give an undertaking to discuss
political issues
(eg the use of Red Watch) within the party and not
simply launch
initiatives in Scotland that have been decided by the
SWP in England
& Wales?

At the Holyrood elections in 6 months, the party is
poised to make an
historic advance for socialism. This will be another
huge step forward
in our march towards the building of a mass party. The
effects of a team of socialist MSPs being elected will
be felt well
beyond Scotland.

We believe that the actions of the SW Platform
Steering Committee are
disruptive, divisive and damaging. In the current
period these actions
are quite simply reckless.

We hope that the SW Platform will take this
opportunity to carefully
reflect on its actions and its relations with the rest
of the party.
We call on the SW Platform to adopt an honest, open
and constructive
approach. We appeal to the SW Platform to actively
work for a united
Scottish Socialist Party.

Allan Green
1 December 2002

Platform members, like any other members, main
priority should be
the building of the party. Platforms should not
operate as a party
within a party. Once party policy is agreed, Platforms
should accept
and work according to the national campaigning
priorities of the
party as a whole.

Platform members, like any members, have the right to
dissent from party policy. Platforms are entitled to
try to influence the direction of party policy.
However, Platforms should not organise public
campaigns in opposition to party policy.

Platforms are free to distribute their own materials,
journals, within the party but the SSP paper, the
Scottish Socialist Voice, should be sold on public
activities rather than platform journals.

Platforms should recognise that the majority of SSP
members belong to no platform and that all party
members have a right to expect open debate and
discussion within party structures. Attempts by
Platforms to enter party discussions with a
predetermined, uniform line, which all members of the
platform are forced to adhere to, will tend to breed
resentment and hostility rather than co-operation and

Platforms should, therefore, not operate ‘shadow’
branch structures. It is expected that Platform
meetings will tend to be less regular than SSP branch
meetings and tend to operate over a larger area eg
city or regional meetings.

As far as possible, platform meetings should be open
and transparent. Any organised group operating within
the SSP would be expected to form a platform.

Platforms have the right to organise private meetings
and it is accepted that private meetings will
sometimes be appropriate for a Platform.

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