Party notes

Either the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party is being deliberately disingenuous, or it is composed of the dimmest set of leaders on the British left. The notion that the proposals coming from Scottish Militant Labour to dissolve their organisation into an amorphous ‘Scottish Socialist Party’ are an unexpected “bombshell” is simply nonsense (see pages 4-7 of this paper)

Any comrade who has followed our coverage of developments in Scotland - and some of our most avid readers are to be found on the Socialist Party EC - will have expected the move. For years, we have chronicled in detail the growing nationalist infection in SML and through it, the pollution of the Scottish Socialist Alliance over which it has hegemony over. Time and again we have denounced the failure of SP leaders - centrally, Peter Taaffe - to take up the cudgels against the nationalist turn of SML. We have sounded alarm bells continually. Indeed in this column I warned that we were “witnessing the nationalist disintegration of the Socialist Party without a peep of protest or hint of a fight from the organisation’s leadership” (Weekly Worker February 16 1998).

At the 11th hour, the SP tops have moved to prevent the imminent departure of its organisation in Scotland. They do so reluctantly, with a heavy heart. When comrades write that “any discussion within our ranks at the present time is inevitably carried into the public domain”, they are tacitly acknowledging the fact that some SP members have recognised what they as a leadership have not. That these political struggles are not the narrow property of any particular organisation. The struggle against nationalism that has contaminated the movement in Scotland is the concern of all partisans of our class, in Britain and world-wide.

It is this understanding by members of SP that ensures that the Weekly Worker is able to carry - and intervene in - this vitally important debate. Clearly, the SP leadership is right that “it is vital that there is a full discussion” on SML’s breakaway proposal: however, it is instructive that “full”, for it, means being confined to the “all-British organisation and in the Committee for a Workers International” - ie, the SP’s international co-thinkers.

Even at this late stage, the SP EC seems determined to keep discussion of principle out the exchange. The reply disputes tactics with their comrades in Scotland. The “main issue” according to Taaffe and co is not the principle of one state, one party, and the fight for unity against the existing state but “the situation opened up by the coming elections for the Scottish parliament”. SML is criticised for its tactical approach to a “unified platform” of the left - the liquidation of SML is apparently “too high a price”.

The SP reply thus studiously avoids mentioning the underlying issue at stake here - that is, SML’s complete adaptation to the nationalist milieu it operates in. It is this that explains the “bombshell” to liquidate. Taaffe and the central SP apparatus have all along made concessions to the sectionalism which is now destroying their organisation in Scotland. Outrageously, they justified the formation of SML as a separate nationally defined organisation in an utterly opportunist fashion - ie, opinion polls not principle:

“The decision to go for autonomy in Scotland on financial matters, but also on organisation issues, arose from the objective situation in Scotland itself. The growth of a distinct national consciousness requires a change in the form of organisation adopted …” (my emphasis Members Bulletin No16, March 18 1996).

Finally - and perhaps fatally late - Taaffe tries to lead his followers into battle. Unfortunately he simply does not have the theoretical or political weapons to fight - crucially programme.

Thus, the SP reply talks of the danger to “our distinct organisational identity and political cohesion”, or even of “the distinct character of our organisation and its links with the CWI”. Without being snotty, it might be expected that by now - after a succession of similar problems - the comrades would have come to realise something about the nature of having “a distinct organisation and political cohesion”.

When in the Labour Party, political cohesion was provided negatively, by the enclosed environment it worked in. Because it was brittle programmatically, the revolutionary Trotskyites of the Revolutionary Socialist League themselves became Labourised. As Jack Conrad put it, “…far from changing Labour it is they who have been changed. The pressures and demands necessary to maintain deep entryism on already weak politics … produced assimilation” (J Conrad Which road? London 1991, p207).

Since detaching itself from that host, the SP has suffered over and over again from the ideological centrifugal pressures of the wider world and again sought to overcome contradictions by adapting to them. Outside Labour, SP activists spontaneously took on the coloration of their political surroundings, whether that be black separatism, trade unionism, feminism or Scottish nationalism. Thus, the SP leadership can bleat on about the political ‘distinctiveness’ of its organisation in Scotland. In truth, the politics of SML are now virtually indistinguishable from others in the left nationalist swamp. It is an entirely logical opportunist step for SML to thus propose sloughing off its old pink skin for the tartan of Scottish nationalist socialism.

This paper will spare no effort to fight nationalism in the workers’ movement in Scotland - and to fight it openly, not in internal bulletins, or through the type of committee room compromise that the SP leadership seems to specialise in so unsuccessfully. Fundamentally, we know that this battle must be won programmatically. This is why the SP leadership has proved itself so inadequate.

Mark Fischer
national organiser