WeeklyWorker

21.08.1997

Open letter to SML

Party notes

Dear comrades,

Relations between the Communist Party of Great Britain and Scottish Militant Labour have recently taken an interesting new turn. Essentially, leading members of SML have accused the CPGB of calling their organisation “fascist”, of equating it in a direct way with Hitler’s national socialist movement.

Far from labeling SML as ‘national socialist’ in some puerilely sectarian attempt to blacken its reputation in the eyes of militants, the term is used to scientifically describe the opportunist plague that threatens to engulf this working class organisation (see Jack Conrad p4-5).

No one should make grave charges against another organisation without the theoretical or empirical evidence to back them up. Thus, certain leading comrades in SML must substantiate their charges that the CP has equated SML with Hitlerite fascism.

In fact, it seems obvious to us that this charge is a sectarian stunt on the part of a particular group on the leadership of SML. And before these comrades entertain us with another contrived outburst of ‘hurt’ over this political estimation, let us explain what we mean by sectarianism in this context.

Sectarianism is not defined by believing in the message of your organisation, by sharp criticism of your opponents in the movement or by standing against the Labour Party in elections. In fact, it is characterised by putting the narrow interests of a group before the interests of the class as a whole. Thus, the arbitrary slander of SML as “fascist” would be a sectarian insanity, possibly an attempt to insulate some sect’s members against its politics.

Yet by the same token, the unsupported claim that this is what we have done is clearly an attempt to seal rank and file members of SML off from the arguments and publications of the CPGB. This, comrades, is a particularly crass example of sectarianism.

It does real damage to the project of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, a united bloc containing SML, our organisation and others. This has been a serious attempt to overcome the paralyzing affects of the splits and divisions on the revolutionary left; it is a political formation that begins to anticipate the type of inclusive revolutionary party our class needs.

To us, this whole ‘national socialist’ issue - and the manner in which it was raised - smacks of an inept coup against the whole SSA project, not simply against us as an organisation.

We are fully aware of tensions within SML and between sections of it and Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party in England and Wales over the future direction of the SSA. Taaffe has been instrumental in SP’s retreat into a narrow “small mass party” perspective in most of the rest of the country. This has entailed the dropping of the Socialist Alliances (apart from in areas such as Coventry where authoritative local figures have been able to pursue an independent line).

Taaffe has become increasingly insistent that SML adopt the same narrow sectarian course, a call that has met a resonance among some sections of SML’s leadership. This perhaps explains the attempted ‘coup’ by comrades Sheridan and Venton.

Some SML comrades may now object to our use of the word ‘coup’ to describe the manoeuvres of elements of the SML leadership. In fact - just like the phrase ‘national socialist’ - it is a precise and scientifically accurate term.

Lenin writes that a coup or “putsch” emanates not from the mass, but from “a circle of conspirators” (Collected Works vol 22, p355). Thus, we wonder whether the decision to raise this foolish charge against our Party - and the profound implications it could have for the SSA - was thoroughly debated by SML’s leadership, let alone its rank and file? We suspect not. Yet neither can we believe that it is simply the result of Richie Venton’s bruised feelings.

Perhaps the comrade’s outburst was prompted by something altogether different. We have already publicly identified him as a supporter of Peter Taaffe’s narrow sectarian perspectives for SML, a replication of the same tactics in Scotland that has seen SP’s influence in England and Wales decline noticeably (see Jack Conrad’s pamphlet, p22). This has elicited no response from comrade Venton. Instead, what we have had is corny melodrama over his wounded feelings. Surely the time is overdue for a more serious approach?

Certainly, other leading members of SML - sincere supporters of the SSA project - had no idea that comrade Venton intended to raise this issue as a matter of such sharp contention. This is a serious abdication of duty. SML is the leading force in SSA and thus has tangible responsibilities to the wider movement, not simply to its own narrow interests. If there is a brewing debate in its ranks about the future direction of SSA, what the movement needs is an open, honest, no-holds-barred discussion involving all comrades. What it certainly does not need is cynical sectarian stunts by elements of SML’s leadership, attempts to ostracize sections of the SSA for their “sectarianism” as a prelude to dumping the organisation as a whole.

Lenin writes that “we [cannot] avoid hard struggle within the party.  It would be sheer make-believe, hypocrisy, philistine ‘head-in-the-sand’ policy to imagine that ‘internal peace’ can rule ... The choice is not between ‘internal peace’ and ‘inner party struggle’.

“...The real choice is this: either the present concealed forms of inner-party struggle, with their demoralising effect on the masses, or open principled struggle ...

 “... both trends will everywhere come out with their own independent views and policies, will fight each other on matters of principle, allowing the mass of party comrades, and not merely the ‘leaders’, to settle fundam­ental issues - such a struggle is both necessary and useful, for it trains in the masses independence and ability to carry out their epoch-making revolutionary mission” (VI Lenin Collected Works vol 23, pp159-160).

In this spirit, we offer SML a public debate. We are happy for the topic to focus initially on the question of ‘national socialism’ if that truly does remain a problem for its leadership. We will show in such a debate how an opportunist infection left untreated will change SML into its opposite: from a scratch to the danger of gangrene, as Trotsky put it. Or perhaps the comrades would like now to discuss the future prospects for the Scottish Socialist Alliance.

Either way, the substantive content of the debate will remain the same, we believe - what sort of party does the working class need? And in the context of the politics today, how is it to be built?

We look forward to your reply.

Yours for revolutionary unity,

Mark Fischer