Doing a Scottish jig

Alan Woods has performed a 180 degree about-turn. Daniel Harvey comments

The decades of deep entry in the interstices of the Labour Party have taken their toll on Socialist Appeal. According to SA’s guru and founder, Ted Grant, this was where the working class would be found when it was ready for a fight. This has led to a situation not unlike something out of a certain Samuel Beckett play - except longer for a lot of the comrades involved.

Socialist Appeal, of course, originated as a split from the Militant Tendency over this very question. After the witch-hunting in the Labour Party reached its height at the end of the Kinnock years up to 1992, the majority in Militant gave up on entrism and went on to form what we now know as the Socialist Party in England and Wales. This led those around comrade Grant to part company with Militant - Socialist Appeal set up the International Marxist Tendency, formed by groups still committed to entry around the world. Naturally it was testament to the openness and democratic culture of the far left that this factional struggle was only made public in the letters page of The Guardian newspaper.

The long-term commitment to entry was informed by the notion that Labour could be won to Militant’s left-reformist programme, famously centred on the nationalisation of the top 200 monopolies. SPEW under Peter Taaffe has not abandoned this schema, but has decided that the Labour could no longer be won to a ‘socialist’ programme - therefore what is needed is a Labour Party mark two, to be set up by the unions. The vehicle to achieve this was for a time supposed to be the now long-forgotten Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, while today it is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Socialist Appeal has been rather less visible than its parent organisation, and has been notable for its fairly cringe-worthy sucking up to Hugo Chávez (ironically, this did not go down well with SA’s Venezuelan section, whose comrades left the IMT in 2010). Nevertheless, despite Labour’s sharp turn to the right under Tony Blair, Socialist Appeal stuck at it, and slung no end of criticism at the Taaffites for abandoning their post.

Unlike SPEW’s Committee for a Workers’ International, SA campaigned for a ‘no’ vote in the independence referendum in Scotland. The IMT, in the shape of its current leader Alan Woods, attacked much of the left for “jumping on the nationalist bandwagon”,1describing the idea that workers in Scotland would “get a better deal out of the nationalists” as a “ foolish illusion”. It declared that Scottish independence would break apart the oldest historically constituted working class in the world - a principled position, even if in the hands of the SA it is interpreted in an economistic way. The refusal to go along with the majority of the left’s adaptation to nationalism was noteworthy.

However, a few weeks later an article appeared on the Socialist Appeal website which flatly contradicts the previous position. According to the IMT Scottish committee:

The ‘yes’ vote was not an expression of crude nationalism, but a massive rejection of ‘austerity Britain’ and all those who represented it. It has served to draw in hundreds of thousands of workers from the housing schemes into political activity for the first time. The turnout was the largest of any election in British history. Such developments have important revolutionary repercussions and represent a new stage in the class struggle in Scotland and throughout the British Isles. It can be compared to the awakening of a sleeping giant.

What is more,

The political groundswell has also resulted in the Green Party growing to 6,000 members. The Scottish Socialist Party has grown from a small base to some 2-3,000. It claims to have grown by 2,000 members in 72 hours, with branches springing up throughout Scotland. The Radical Independence Campaign has also drawn in thousands of supporters and is now talking about a new Left Project in Scotland.

And now an important decision has been made:

We have discussed the new situation and how best to utilise our energies in the next period in order to further the cause of socialism. We believe the Labour Party has been largely discredited in the eyes of most youth and workers. As Marxists, we are not going to stand on the sidelines in the present political realignment in Scotland.

We believe that the best way forward is the building of those forces on the left in Scotland, on a revolutionary and internationalist basis, beginning with the Scottish Socialist Party.

We therefore urge all our supporters in Scotland to join us in this new task.2

This is the same SSP which, in the words of Alan Woods’ September 20 article, had “abandoned the class position and shamefully tagged along behind the capitalist SNP”. In fact, “Whoever strays even one millimetre from the class standpoint will inevitably land in the swamp of capitulation to bourgeois nationalism”.3

Yet now, according to IMT Scotland,

The struggle for an “independent socialist Scotland” cannot take place in isolation, but must be linked to the spread of socialist revolution throughout these islands and internationally. We have no truck with the Stalinist idea of ‘socialism in one country’. Socialism is international or it is nothing and is determined by the international character of capitalism.

Our tendency stands for the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and Maclean, which are the most relevant to the tasks of the present epoch.

If the working class comes to power in Scotland, it will be faced immediately with counterrevolution from the British state and international capitalism. The only way it can succeed is through revolutionary unity with the working class of England, Wales and Ireland, as well as worldwide.4

So is the IMT/SA now in favour of an “independent socialist Scotland” or not?

How can we account for this rather abrupt turn-around? At first it seems easy enough to explain in terms of pure opportunism. Maybe comrades in Scotland demanded the shift. Maybe it was comrade Woods. Who knows? Either way SA shares with much of the left an infatuation with being where the masses are, of chasing spontaneous and superficially ‘radical’ movements. As a speaker at SPEW’s Socialism 2014 school put it, the independence movement has “just hit them in the face, and they don’t know what to do.”

Previously, of course, comrade Woods effectively denied that the SSP was even functional, claiming it was “near dissolved” in the article quoted above. Then there is the problem of how this will relate to the IMT’s position in the rest of the UK - SA is still inside Labour in England and Wales. If that is not an acceptance of a separate Scotland I don’t know what is.

What we are dealing with here is obviously quite minor in the scheme of things - Socialist Appeal is hardly the largest left group in either Scotland or Britain as a whole. But all this indicates what a dire state the left is in when a self-avowed Marxist group appears to abandon its entire strategy, followed tenaciously for decades, simply because of an upsurge in nationalism, in order to join up with those it had been so furiously denouncing.


1. www.marxist.com/lessons-of-the-scottish-referendum.htm (September 20 2014).

2. www.socialist.net/scotland-needs-a-revolution.htm (October 27 2014).

3. www.marxist.com/lessons-of-the-scottish-referendum.htm.

4. www.socialist.net/scotland-needs-a-revolution.htm