Left unity forum launched
The founding conference of the Republican Communist Network took place on July 3 in Edinburgh.
The majority of those present were Scottish Socialist Party members who are supporters of the Red Republicans and the Campaign for a Federal Republic; representatives of the Communist Tendency and the Revolutionary Democratic Group also attended. The CPGB and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty sent comrades as observers, who contributed fully throughout the conference. Apologies and comradely greetings were received from the Workers’ Republican Forum in England and a member of the Glasgow Marxist Forum.
The conference marked a small but significant step for communist organisation and agitation in Scotland. The establishment of the network was all the more significant because, far from aiming to exist as a purely Scottish entity, or solely as a faction within the SSP, the founding members seek to make this network operational in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland and at various levels within a number of different organisations. No accusations of narrow nationalism can be aimed at this organisation even though a number (but not all) of its members call for a Scottish workers’ republic. It is de facto a site for communist rapprochement, not only at a theoretical level, but crucially at the level of practice.
The main players to date have been the Red Republicans, who advocate the break-up of the UK state as part of the fight for socialism; and the Campaign for a Federal Republic, who advocate the fight for a federal republic as a mechanism for uniting the working class across Britain and defeating nationalism. On this basis, it is difficult at first to see how this can be more than a marriage of convenience or at best a united front against a common enemy. However, when put to the test, for example over Ireland or during the war in Kosova, then unity has been shown to be much deeper than any ‘paper’ position would suggest.
The founding of the RCN came about not as the result of a whim or the grand design of one organisation hoping to grab a few more members, but developed as part of a process. The experience and comparative success of the Scottish Socialist Alliance led to groups and individuals being brought together who were significantly to the left of the SSA leadership. As both groups acted as a republican united front and a temporary alliance of a tactical nature, so other people came to caucus meetings and found themselves in support of the positions being taken in challenging the SSA leadership. Through practice, there grew a culture of trust, tolerance and respect which has been the hallmark of this organisation.
The formula proposed by the SSA leadership for turning the SSA into the SSP was opposed by both organisations. We had seen the pull of the right wing on Scottish Militant Labour (now CWI Scotland). They were more concerned with courting the right than in creating a revolutionary party, although this fact eluded some of its own members, who were convinced that the SSP would be a revolutionary organisation! We felt therefore that it was of crucial importance that republican communists create a coherent challenge to the right and to SML, and work towards providing a revolutionary alternative for the working class as a whole. There was a need to win comrades within the SSP to revolutionary politics and to attract revolutionaries to the SSP.
It was this set of factors which prompted comrades from the Campaign for a Federal Republic to propose the creation of an ideological bloc - ie, principled unity around common slogans - to a meeting of republicans within the SSP. After a debate over a number of months, the platform was put to the founding conference. Despite differences on a number of issues, most sharply on the national question, this platform was unanimously endorsed. One amendment was added setting up a quarterly magazine with a three-person editorial team.
Our emphasis on republicanism is no mistake, as we see the fight for republicanism as integral to our fight for world communism. There is a strong commitment to education and debate - particularly around the slogans - and, rather than trying to bury our differences, we are determined to debate them out in a fraternal manner during the course of the coming year.
‘Revolutionary democracy’ seemed to be misunderstood by some comrades who attended preliminary meetings of the network, but this was discussed at organising meetings and then the debate continued through the pages of the Weekly Worker. The debate around the slogan of ‘international socialism’ took off during the conference, forcing comrades to clarify their own thinking on the nature of socialism and communism.
The liveliest debate of the day was when Alan Armstrong of the CT opened a discussion on ‘Blair’s strengthening of the union’. He spoke to a section of the political programme and reopened the argument of ‘A Scottish workers’ republic versus the fight for a federal republic’. Alan would not be pinned down on the question of whether the advocacy of a federal republic was ever acceptable, whereas an independent monarchical Scotland appeared to be.
During the discussion over how to take the network forward in England and Wales, comrades from England stressed the importance of bringing the national question to left organisations south of the border in an effort to make the issue of self-determination for the people of Scotland a real question for them and the working class throughout Britain. Given the abysmal state of socialist unity projects in England, there was also a hope that the network could provide an example of how socialist unity can work in practice.
In this period of reaction in which we live, the Republican Communist Network is an exciting and positive development. The risks of sectarianism and slipping into a sect mentality are always present amongst organisations on the revolutionary left. But the network’s commitment to openness and the combination of a high level of theoretical discussion with revolutionary practice should help to guard against this at least to some degree. Within the network, there exists an optimism and vision born not out of naivety, but of years of combined experience, struggle and determination not to make the same mistakes again.