The campaign for a genuine ballot?

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group (faction of the SWP) continues the debate on the national question

In the Weekly Worker (March 6) we were told that a Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination was being set up on the following platform:

  1. For genuine self-determination
  2. For a multi-option referendum, including the right to vote for a sovereign Scottish parliament with full powers
  3. No to Labour’s narrow, rigged referendum

It was on the basis of my criticism of point 2 of this platform that the current debate began. There are two major criticisms of this platform. First, the campaign does not demand a sovereign parliament with full powers, but rather the right to vote for it in a referendum. It is a campaign for multi-options on the ballot paper, rather than a “narrow, rigged ballot” (point 3). It is a Campaign for a Genuine Ballot.

Second the platform identifies one demand which is given special emphasis. This is the sovereign Scottish parliament with full powers. We note that the word ‘republic’ does not appear on this platform. We note that a federal republic, which means a new voluntary union with England, is not mentioned even as an option.

Are we expected to believe that this is really a republican campaign, and that a sovereign parliament with full powers really means a democratic republic? Will the Scottish people understand that we meant to say ‘republic’, but that for some matter of diplomacy or clever tactics we decided to use six words when one would do the trick?

The RDG is in favour of a Campaign for a Genuine Republic rather than a Genuine Ballot. A republican boycott campaign fights for a republic by using the boycott tactic. Please note: we are calling for a republic, rather than a referendum for a republic. The CPGB seems to be calling for a boycott of this ballot in order to get a different ballot. This seems like a load of old ballots to me.

The platform is not derived from the revolutionary republican interests of the Scottish working class. It comes from a much narrower reason. It was written to catch Scottish Militant Labour (SML) and expose them for abandoning their own position. I have no problem with exposing the SML. But we must do so on the basis of the revolutionary republican interests of the working class, not the reformist politics of the SML theoreticians.

Let me begin my reply to Jack Conrad (WW July 10) by restating the argument in a different form and then dealing with his criticisms. I treat the slogan of ‘a parliament with full powers’ in the same way as ‘Vote Labour with no illusions’. Of course you can have more radical versions, such as ‘Vote Labour and build a fighting socialist alternative’ or ‘Vote Labour and reforge the communist party’ or ‘Vote Labour and start a world revolution’. Take your pick. It depends on how left sounding you want your ‘Vote Labour’ slogans to be.

The SWP thought that ‘Vote Labour and build a fighting socialist alternative’ was a bridge from Labourism to the SWP. The call for a Labour vote would not upset any pro-Labour workers and put the SWP ‘on their side’. Then building a socialist alternative spelt out the next step for those disillusioned Labour workers. Look, you can join the SWP and still vote Labour!

Many communists, including the RDG and the CPGB, would see the ‘Vote Labour’ slogan as a barrier, not a bridge. Therefore our task is to destroy the slogan. We must blow it up. We may even go the extreme of calling it the “most vile piece of stinking Labourism ever invented by so-called Marxists”. Let the SWP call us ‘ultra-lefts’ and ‘anarchists’ and say that we are unreasonable. But they have a choice. They could say, ‘You are right - it is a crap slogan. We will ditch it and in future we will oppose Labour by standing our own candidates or backing the SLP’, etc.

It is my contention that a ‘sovereign parliament with full powers’ serves the same function and should be blown up in the same way. It is not a bridge to republicanism, but a barrier.

The demand for Scottish and Welsh parliaments has a long history going back to Gladstone. It appears under various guises as home rule, devolution and now Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. The liberal wing of the capitalist class wants to reform the constitutional monarchy. Today, Blair’s New Labour urges us to vote Labour and support these parliaments.

The Labour left, SWP, Militant Labour (as was) and Workers Power are critical supporters of these reformist policies. They want us to vote Labour “with no illusions” and call for Scottish and Welsh assemblies with “more powers”, “real powers” and “full powers”. In practical, every-day politics, this bloc is left monarchist. They adopt a policy of critical support for devolution under the crown as easily as a duck takes to water. Will they vote ‘yes, yes’ or ‘quack, quack’?

My attack on the left monarchist slogan is directed primarily against the Labour left, SML, SWP and Workers Power. These organisations have no tradition of republican struggle and are hostile to republicanism. They do not adopt revolutionary republican slogans.

Yet comrade Jack implies that it is only the CPGB that calls for a parliament with full powers. Consequently it is suggested that my attack is directed solely at the CPGB. Not true at all. For example in the Weekly Worker (December 12 1996) I wrote an article directed solely against Workers Power. They had abandoned their opposition to a Scottish Assembly in favour of a sovereign Scottish parliament. I said this was a step forward, but sharply criticised them for remaining in the monarchist camp. By the same token, someone who moves in the opposite direction, from a federal republic to a sovereign Scottish parliament, is taking a step backwards.

Jack is at pains to point out that “the CPGB is not suffering from ‘reformism’, stinking or otherwise”. He reminds us that the CPGB is for the abolition of the monarchy and a federal republic: “Can comrade Craig deny our revolutionary republicanism? No, not if he has read and is honest.”

I did not call the CPGB ‘left monarchist’. I did say that ‘a parliament with full powers’ was a left monarchist slogan. When the revolutionary republican CPGB adopts such slogans, everybody, including the PCC, must be concerned. It does not mean the CPGB is now left monarchist. But there is a contradiction between a revolutionary republican programme and left monarchist slogans. The CPGB is giving republican respectability to the left monarchist position.

The revolutionary republican CPGB now has a scratch. A scratch can become a sore that can turn into gangrene. It is out of concern for the health of revolutionary republicanism that I pointed out this scratch.

If comrade Jack really had a case it would be based on proving that ‘a parliament with full powers’ was a revolutionary republican slogan and not in contradiction to other republican slogans. Instead he spent too much time commenting on how old I am, how naive I am, how many years I have criticised the SWP, and whether I have grown wiser in my retirement, since “age does not necessarily bring wisdom”. I am slightly disappointed that comrade Jack, for whom I have considerable respect, should waste time on this type of argument.

Of course if Jack could prove that ‘a parliament with full powers’ was a revolutionary republican slogan, he would need to tell the Labour left, SWP, SML and Workers Power that they, without realising it, were the vanguard of revolutionary republicanism. In truth, they don’t give a fig about republicanism, revolutionary or otherwise. Then he would need to convince those like the RDG and RWT, who claim to be revolutionary republicans, that we too must adopt this slogan. Everybody, it seems, is marching out of step except the CPGB.

According to Jack, there are two Dave Craigs. Dave One (Dr Jekyll) says: “When SML supported the call for a democratic republic in Scotland and the renegotiation of a federal relationship with England and Wales, they took a major step in the right direction.” Nice Dave praises SML.

Enter Dave Two. According to Jack, this Dave turns into nasty Mr Hyde. Apparently he dismisses “the SSA’s slogans for ‘a parliament with full powers’, a ‘democratic republic’ and a ‘federal relationship’ as ‘worse than Blair’” and goes on “to ‘oppose’ them ‘totally and absolutely without any compromise whatsoever’.” I would like to meet this Dave who says a federal republic is worse than Blair. I suggest he is a figment of Jack’s imagination.

So that there is no ambiguity, let me restate the argument. The SML was (and still is) a Labourite and pro-devolutionist organisation. A devolved parliament with full powers is its real position. It therefore critically supports Blair’s proposals. Recently the SML through the SSA has added on a new idea of a “democratic republic” and a “federal relationship”. Quite likely these new ideas came from work done by the CPGB Scottish comrades. Excellent.

The SML is still at heart in favour of Scottish devolution. The SML slogans of the past and of the future are vying with each other. So what do we do? We support and encourage the SML to fight for “a democratic republic” and “federal relationship”. This is what I called for in my letter to the Weekly Worker (June 19) and is supported by comrade Jack.

At the same time we wage an all-out war against the old Labourite “vile stinking reformist” pro-devolution politics, which is holding the SML back. By destroying this old crap we might have half a chance of pulling SML into the future. This is exactly what I doing. The Dave Craig who slagged off the ‘parliament with full powers’ is not in contradiction to the Dave who wants the SSA to fight for the republican and federal part of its platform. Jack explains the approach taken by the CPGB. He says: “We critically support any step SML takes in the ‘right direction’. We critically defend what has been gained. And again through criticism encourage further steps ‘away from Labourism’. At the same time we fight against and denounce steps towards nationalism or back to Labourism.”

This is exactly the approach I took. I supported SML’s moves towards a federal republic and “denounced” a ‘parliament with full powers’ as “steps in the wrong direction” and “back to Labourism”, or - if you prefer - “stinking reformism”. Unfortunately the CPGB does not do what Jack claims. They support and encourage the moves towards a federal republic, but then they become the chief defenders of the rotten devolutionist slogans of the left monarchists.

When I looked at the Menshevik slogan, ‘a Duma with full powers’, from 1906, I clearly and specifically rejected any nonsense about comparable situations between 1906 Russia and 1997 Scotland. The lessons I drew concerned only the nature of the slogan itself.  Lenin argued that ‘a Duma with full powers’ was an ambiguous slogan, meaning one thing to republicans and something else to monarchists. The Mensheviks wanted to unite with the liberal monarchists and so this slogan could form the lowest common denominator. The ambiguous character of this monarcho-republican slogan remains true, regardless of the date on which it is used.

Jack’s reply completely misses the point. He says, “Needless to say, Russia 1905 is not Scotland 1997.” From this (indisputable) observation he says, “Different times demand different slogans”; and later that, “If Scotland were in the grips of a revolutionary crisis then the slogan would have to be supplemented.”

My argument has nothing to do with whether this slogan is applicable in revolutionary or non-revolutionary situations. Jack uses this as a straw person to dismiss the whole issue. If Jack was seriously interested in arguing against what I took from Lenin, he would have to consider whether a ‘parliament with full powers’ was ambiguous. He would have to explain what the different interpretations meant to the named organisations that used it today, and what workers might understand by it. Then of course he would need to justify why ambiguity was better than clarity.

Jack’s final argument for a ‘parliament with full powers’ is a classic example of tailism. First he admits “a preference for the demand for a constituent assembly”. Then he says: “But the Scottish masses have in their heads the idea of self-determination through some kind of parliament.” The implication is that communists should adapt their slogans to the spontaneous consciousness of the masses. Why should the political preferences of a communist like Jack be less valid than the bourgeois consciousness of the man or woman in the street?

What would Jack say if I said I preferred the SLP, but that the masses want a Labour government? Therefore we should vote Labour. How about the idea, that since the masses want “some kind of parliament”, the communists should clarify what type of parliament - a republican parliament or republican constituent assembly. Beginning from where the masses are, the party tries to take them in the correct direction, educating the movement about the republican programme and its significance for the class struggle.

However, we can end on a note of optimism. The new pamphlet written by Jack shows us the way forward. On page 13 we see reference to a “sovereign - ie, republican - parliament”. On page 21 we hear about a “republican parliament with full powers” and on page 31 “a republican parliament with full constitutional powers”. Later on the same page we hear of a “republican parliament”. These formulations are surely acceptable to all who want political clarity.

Yet they prove my point. The words “ie, republican” are in effect an amendment proposed by Jack. Why does he feel the need to qualify the original slogan with this amendment? Answer, because the original was ambiguous and Jack needs to make clear what he really means. This point of agreement has nothing to do with 1906 or 1997.

We are entitled to ask whether Jack has persuaded the PCC to accept his amendment? Certainly the RDG would support Jack on this. Why doesn’t Jack try to get his amendment added to the Campaign for Genuine Self Determination point two? A cynic might say because he does not want his pamphlet to be ambiguous, but he couldn’t care less if the Campaign deceives the Scottish people. Or perhaps Jack has such little influence that he can amend his pamphlet, but do nothing to change the Campaign platform. I am sure this cannot be true. Unfortunately at the moment it just looks like it.