The formation of the Scottish Socialist Party on September 20 was a setback for the entire workers’ movement. The founding principles of this new group cannot be ‘accepted’ by communists, socialists or revolutionaries as the basis for joining. What has been created is a right centrist nationalist organisation, a new opportunist party born through a process of splitting existing all-Britain workers’ organisations - the Socialist Alliances and the crisis-riven Socialist Party in England and Wales - of Peter Taaffe. (He ‘fought’ the formation of the SSP purely on the basis of technicalities - he has not a principled bone in his political body). Generalised to the entire workers’ movement, this process would spell utter disaster for our class.
This is the defining characteristic of the SSP, not its militant rhetoric or its spurious ‘internationalism’. It does not seek to organise workers on the basis of their class interests against the state that rules over them. Instead, it aims to split our class in this country along lines of nationality or geography. There can be no compromise with these politics - they are a foul poison and genuine partisans of our class can have no truck with them. This organisation pledges itself to intransigently fight such weakening of our movement by petty nationalism and to dissuade those who would accommodate to it.
A good place to start is with the two articles in last week’s paper from comrades Tom Delargy and Dave Craig. Faced with this important change, this duo present us with perfect examples of tactics not to employ.
First, Tom presses us to make an “orientation on the Scottish Socialist Party”. He presents what he calls a “radical alternative” to this paper’s demand for a “principled split” (all quotes from Weekly Worker October 1). Tom unfortunately misunderstands badly the reasons we have put forward for this call. He suggests that we make the “inaccurate assumption” that “all supporters of the slogan of an independent socialist Scotland are indifferent to the class struggle throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond”. He also seems to have the idea that we have a grump with the fact that the SSP has no facility for “automatic representation of political groups” at the leadership level, a ‘principle’ that is apparently “very important to the CPGB”.
Tom is simply wrong. We have never claimed that people in the SSP would be automatically “indifferent” to the class struggle in other parts of the world. Individuals can sincerely (or hypocritically) back this or that struggle. But the foundations and perspectives of the new party are explicitly left nationalist. The very act of its formation has split existing united working class organisations along the lines of nationality. The mouthings about ‘international solidarity’ by Alan McCombes and co are therefore worthless. The founders of the SSP have put nationality before class. There is a long record of this sort of betrayal in our movement.
Comrade Delargy should thus stop alibying his essential personal decision to join the SSP with foolish ideas such as “this new party is the only credible organisation anywhere in the UK today that stands any chance of uniting the anti-capitalist challenge to New Labour” (my emphasis). By definition, the founding of the SSP is about splitting or dividing, not uniting the proletarian response to Blair’s all-UK project for recasting official politics.
Second, the notion that we have a ‘principle’ about the organisational structure of the SSP is also nonsense. Our call for the automatic representation of political groups is a demand specific to the stage of development of the Socialist Alliances. This is not some generalised measuring stick against which we ‘morally’ evaluate each and every new organisation. The democratic structures of the Socialist Labour Party were hardly exemplary, for example.
Ah, but Tom thinks he has us when it comes to the SLP. He cites the appalling internal regime of witch hunt and bureaucratic heavy-handedness, yet points to the supposed irony that “far from proposing a split in that organisation, the CPGB has pilloried those that abandoned ship as ‘I Ran Aways’”.
This misses the point spectacularly. We must have a fundamentally different political approach to the formation of the SLP than to the SSP. The SLP was a break to the left from Labour by a small layer of militant workers led by one of the most important trade union leaders of this century. It gave an important opportunity for communists to win a hearing for their politics among sections of the class lurching in what could have been a fundamentally healthy direction, even if they were dragging large items of social democratic political baggage along with them. There is no comparison with the formation of the SSP.
Here we have a small political organisation (Scottish Militant Labour), despicably splitting along national lines, in order to tail and positively promote the petty nationalist sentiments in Scotland. It thus leads advanced elements in the direction of the outright bourgeois nationalism of the Scottish National Party. Who has suffered the setback with the formation of the SSP? Not the forces of capital, but the forces of labour. Tom’s main preoccupation appears to be with embroiling the Socialist Workers Party with the new formation, to ensure the electoral collaboration without which both organisations “will be condemned” to see “our vote melt away and channelled to the Blairites”. In fact - given other considerations - the SWP might well deserve the support of socialists against the SSP.
Whatever its centrist and sectarian limitations, the SWP remains a revolutionary group committed in theory and practice to all-British working class unity. It should be axiomatic that this socialist organisation moving at long last onto the field of electoral contest against Blair’s Labour would deserve critical support against the left nationalists of the SSP - which is hardly a movement of the class itself. Certainly it is extremely difficult to envisage how a principled call for an SSP vote could be made.
The articles of Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group have on occasion been noteworthy for their abstract formalism. His tactical prescriptions have an air of other-worldliness. On one side, comrade Craig tells us that “we must fight tooth and nail” against nationalism. Concretely, this means “[opposing] separate workers’ parties for England, Scotland and Wales” - with obvious implications for the formation of the SSP, you might think.
Yet a few short paragraphs earlier he had been telling us that the SSP was “yet another communist-Labour formation” such as Scargill’s SLP. He suggests that “as revolutionary democratic communists, we are not opposed to this type of formation in the current circumstances of the class struggle”. So are we against the setting up of the SSP, or in favour of it as “a communist-Labour formation” like the SLP, something demanded by the contemporary “interests of the working class”? Should we accept the ‘inevitability’ of formations such as this in the same way that we would not rail against a “donkey because we want it to be a racehorse”?
The idea that the SSP constitutes a “communist-Labour” formation is clearly wildly optimistic. Where is the communist pole of the contradiction, and how has it been expressed in the party’s formation, its structure or founding principles? Clearly, what we actually have in front of us is a centrist-reformist-nationalist bloc. This is what characterises its essence and its dynamic and this is what demands that communists pursue hard, confrontational tactics towards it designed to cleave any healthy elements away (if therefore are any). The most pressing need in contemporary working class politics in Scotland is to bring to the fore the contradiction between tartan nationalism and proletarian internationalism. Comrade Craig’s ‘communist-Labour’ definition acts to obscure this necessity.
The only correct position remains the call for principled opposition.