CWI Scotland split looms

The lines of division in the Committee for a Workers International in Scotland are becoming clear. Following Peter Taaffe’s recent tour a surrogate war has been launched against the majority, using Philip Stott and his Dundee based faction (Harvey Duke, Bruce Wallace, Jim McFarlane, Alec Manley and Mark Walker).

The opening salvos were fired by comrade Stott before Taaffe arrived in Scotland. In August he produced a short review of the Scottish Socialist Party one year after its launch. The gist of his analysis is that while the SSP has been a success - there are 1,300 card-carrying members and around 40 branches - work around building the CWI ‘party’ has suffered. Unless that is rectified, argues comrade Stott, there is a distinct danger that the SSP will fall prey to either left reformism or nationalism. Softness on the tuition fees issue is cited as evidence.

In September he followed up his ‘The SSP one year on’ with an ‘Organisational resolution’. Here he outlines his - and Taaffe’s - proposals to build the CWI as a party within a party. There must be recruitment material, contact discussions, the publication of International Socialist bimonthly (instead of quarterly), a monthly newsletter, a CWI conference, an elected committee, a budget and closed branches.

The Stott faction was answered by Alan McCombes. He amended Stott’s document and presented it to his comrades in the form of ‘SSP one year on’ mark II. Here comrade McCombes - editor of Scottish Socialist Voice - celebrates the SSP as his party, which he distinguishes from Labourism and left social democracy, because it is a “class struggle” organisation.

Comrade McCombes also decisively trounced the Stott faction on CWI Scotland’s executive. Six of its seven members - the dissenter being comrade Stott - agreed his ‘Marxism in the new millennium’. As can be seen in the extracts we reprint, the majority is determined to wind down CWI Scotland, or, as they want it to become known, the International Socialist Movement. Instead of comrade Stott’s ‘party within a party’, the majority insist on open discussion forums and a mere ideological trend.

Not surprisingly, this is not to the liking of the Stott faction. For them the CWI is key - not least with its “breakthroughs” in London, Coventry, Ireland, etc. The Scottish majority is accused of wanting to “throw everything into the SSP”: ie, liquidation.

Revealingly, the Stott faction perfectly reflects comrade Taaffe’s obsession with organisational forms and failure to tackle the political problems which are driving the CWI majority in Scotland to the right and to nationalism: eg, the demand for an independent Scotland.

The material reprinted here comes from November’s Members Bulletin of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, whose editor, Hannah Sell, adopts for form’s sake a studiously neutral stance between the two warring CWI factions in Scotland.

Marxism in the new millennium

Agreed by six of the seven CWI Scottish executive members

The first 12 months of the SSP have vindicated completely last year’s decision to transform the Scottish Socialist Alliance into a coherent political party and to devote the major part of our time and resources to the building and political and organisational development of the new party.

It is no exaggeration to state that the creation of the SSP has had a profound effect on the consciousness of a huge strata of the working class. In a generally difficult situation for socialists and Marxists internationally, the political terrain in Scotland has been partially transformed as a result of the intervention of the SSP.

The SSP has given confidence to tens of thousands of people who would previously have regarded themselves as socialists, but who had become disorientated as a consequence of the serious defeats suffered by the working class in Britain and internationally over the past 15 years ....

If we can consolidate such a party within the next few years, the struggle to overthrow capitalism in Scotland will be substantially accelerated. It would be criminal negligence for the forces of Marxism within the SSP to now squander this historic opportunity by retreating from or diluting our previously agreed strategy. The hugely favourable situation we now face in Scotland is partly rooted in the objective situation, including the development of the national question over the last 10 years ....

However, there are also other wider political factors that have enabled us to emerge as the major ideological current on the left in Scotland. In particular, the historical annihilation of Stalinism and the collapse of left reformism - both of which were mass forces in Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s, with which we could not have hoped to compete - have now cleared the road for the rise of genuine socialism.

That is not to suggest that reformism is dead and buried. In the future, under the impact of events, reformist currents are likely to reappear within the Labour Party and the SNP. These ideas will undoubtedly get an echo among the broad mass of the population because they seem to offer an easier option than the militant anti-capitalist, pro-socialist stance of the SSP.

At some stage there could even be a vertical split­-off from Labour and/or the SNP based on a section of the trade unions and MPs/MSPs in which reformist ideas would predominate. Because of the advanced political programme of the SSP, which includes support for an independent socialist Scotland, wholesale democratic public ownership and a policy of workers’ MPs on workers’ wages, it is highly unlikely that significant sections of the trade union bureaucracy or the Parliamentary Labour Party would join the SSP ....

The possibility of such a perspective unfolding in the future underlines the urgency of the tasks we now face. If we grab the window of opportunity that has now opened up to develop the SSP into a powerful force within the working class, any future reformist-based workers’ party would find it much more difficult to build a mass active base, although inevitably it would attract electoral support.

However, it is one thing to recognise that left reformism is likely to develop within the trade unions, Labour, the SNP and the wider working class. It is another thing entirely to suggest that left reformism will achieve the mass roots or the stable political base that it was able to achieve in the past, particularly in the 1970s and early to mid-1980s ....

Rather than being fearful and defensive about phantom organisations which do not even exist at this stage, we should engage in the SSP brimful of confidence that the ideas of genuine Marxism, of revolutionary socialism, will ultimately prevail ....

However, we have to base our organisational strategy upon the situation as it is now, and upon how it is likely to develop in the future, rather than on some worst case scenario which is contradicted by all of the existing evidence.

And rather than viewing the SSP as a hostile or potentially hostile environment in which our main role is to carry out a variant of entrism, we should recognise that the SSP is a working class, socialist party made up in the main of people who want to break with capitalism.

As was the case with SML or Militant in the past, most people joining will not have fully worked out ideas as to how socialism will be achieved. That does not mean that there will be absolute clarity or agreement on all issues facing the SSP. In the future, political clashes are unavoidable. In any growing, living, dynamic party which is successful, there will inevitably be different currents reflecting both the caution of some sections of the working class and the impatience of others.

Even the central leadership of the Bolshevik Party split on the eve of revolution faced with the decisive question of taking power. The leadership of the old Militant organisation split in the early 90s when faced with a new situation in relation to the mass workers’ parties and the need for a new strategy in Scotland.

And it is no secret that there have been a whole series of differences, including organisational splits within the CWI over the past period; or that the CWI leadership was and remains strongly opposed to the political strategy of the Scottish section of the CWI.

Any successful socialist party will at different stages come under pressures from opportunist and from ultra­-left ideas. There may at a certain stage be pressures, for example, to dilute our programme on the national question, or on the issue of workers’ representatives on workers’ wages, in order to entice trade union leaders and Labour politicians into the party.

There will be other pressures on the party to run too far ahead of events or to advance ideas and slogans which do not sufficiently take into account the stage of consciousness of the wider working class. Some elements of the SSP, for example, have argued that our MSP should have refused outright to swear the oath of allegiance - a position that would not have been accepted or understood even by the most advanced sections of the working class.

And of course, in the future, there will be even more decisive issues to be battled out within the SSP, as the party begins to face up to the task of leading the working class to power.

For these reasons, it is essential that we maintain a vibrant Marxist current within the SSP that can provide a framework for key issues to be debated out and at the same time can promote the ideology of Marxism within the SSP and help equip the party with a clearer and stronger theoretical grounding.

However, the task of developing such an organisation is more complicated than the task, for example, of building an independent organisation such as SML, or an entrist organisation such as Militant operating in the hostile environment of the Labour Party.

For many of our members, there seems to be no difference between how they operated in the past as part of SML, and how they operate today as part of the SSP.

The elections and other campaigns and interventions have been conducted on the basis of our politics and our methods. The programmatic document agreed virtually unanimously at the SSP founding conference is, if anything, a more far-reaching programme for the overthrow of capitalism than the founding constitution and manifesto of SML ....

The strength of our organisation cannot be simplistically reduced to the crude yardstick of attendance at branch meetings. It is a fact that there are far more active Marxists in Scotland today than was the case before the launch of the SSP.

However, while most are active in the SSP, a layer do not attend CWI meetings for a variety of reasons. For some members, especially in our strongest areas, the problem boils down to the question, ‘What is the role of our organisation, when the SSP itself seems to provide virtually everything - political discussion, public campaigning, intervention in the class struggle, fighting elections, etc - that SML itself provided in the past?’

To simply say, ‘We need to raise the consciousness of these members about the role of the CWI organisation’ is inadequate, not least because it poses the question in turn, ‘But what is the role of the CWI organisation?’

Until we answer this point politically, we will fail to raise anyone’s consciousness about the role of the CWI organisation.

So what is the role of the CWI organisation? Is it an alternative ‘party within a party’ waiting in the wings for the SSP to fail, or to fall under the spell of reformism? ....

The CWI organisation … is a tendency, or a platform, or a current, within the SSP. Its orientation is not towards the broad mass of the working class, as a party’s orientation would be, but towards the SSP and its membership .... That does not mean we should not seek to build the CWI organisation The bigger the force of Marxism within the SSP the stronger our influence is likely to be.

But clearly, the task of building an organisation within a party in which Marxism is the predominant political influence is a more complicated task than the straightforward process of recruiting to an independent party.

The following organisational resolution does not pretend to provide all the solutions to this problem. However, it does represent an attempt to develop an organisation of Marxism within the SSP that can assist the party to develop a much clearer understanding of the measures necessary to see the struggle for socialism in Scotland through to a victorious conclusion.

We propose the following measures:

The ISM will participate fully in the work of our international, including European schools, world congresses, IECs and meetings of the British NC that we are invited to attend. We will also seek to utilise e-mail and the internet to forge direct lines of communication with all individual sections and members of the CWI, in order that we can exchange information and experiences. Our IT group should use the internet, newsgroups to obtain and distribute any useful information from the CWI and from other revolutionary and socialist organisations around the world.

Finally, we call upon the leadership of the CWI to withdraw its opposition to the launch of the SSP and to give full backing to the strategy democratically agreed by the Scottish section.

A reply to the Scotland EC

Phillip Stott, Harvey Duke, Bruce Wallace, Jim McFarlane, Alan Manley, Mark Walker

The purpose of this reply to the EC statement, ‘Marxism and the new millennium’, is to outline our political opposition to the arguments contained in the statement. We hope to show how the EC’s characterisation of the SSP and its programme, as well as perspectives for the development of reformism and other related questions lead to the resolution proposing organisational changes that would seriously weaken our revolutionary organisation in Scotland ....

We reaffirm our commitment to the building of the SSP and call on the EC to change their proposals for the CWI section in Scotland.

The introduction to the EC resolution deals with the impact of the SSP and the perspectives for the growth of the party over the next period. We can, and should, all recognise the tremendous breakthrough the SSP has made and the potential for the party to grow in the months and years ahead. Both in the document, ‘SSP one year on’, and the resolution, ‘Building the CWI’, these points are made. One of the key tasks the CWI have to carry out is the continued building and consolidation of the SSP itself ....

When we agreed to the launch of the SSP last year we explained that we were attempting to carry out a dual task. To popularise and recreate a socialist consciousness through the launch of the SSP and to strengthen the forces of Marxism, the CWI. The resolution proposed by the EC has effectively now declared that to be a redundant strategy.

The resolution is clearly arguing that we adopt a new strategy. Our revolutionary organisation/party is now to become an ideological current within the SSP rather than an organisation/party. Why is this now being proposed?

In the document, ‘SSP one year on’, the SSP was characterised as a “broad, class struggle-based socialist party with a strong revolutionary core in its leadership”. The programme of the SSP was described as a socialist programme, but not a revolutionary programme because the party does not accept, at this stage, the need for a revolutionary transformation of society and all that goes with it.

If this characterisation of the SSP is agreed then the need for a distinct revolutionary faction is clear. To draw around it the people in the SSP who are attracted to Marxism and the need for a revolutionary outlook on how to change society. The training and education of a new cadre in the ideas and methods of the CWI cannot be achieved within the structures of the SSP. In other words to continue to build a revolutionary organisation while carrying out the tasks of building the SSP.

The decisive reason why the EC is proposing this change in our strategy is because there is a false conception of the character of the SSP and its programme. The majority of the EC would describe the SSP has having a revolutionary or a transitional programme. The EC resolution says, “[The SSP] is inspired by a Marxist analysis of society”, and it goes on to say, “The programmatic document agreed virtually unanimously at the SSP founding conference is, if anything, a more far-reaching programme for the overthrow of capitalism than the founding constitution and manifesto of SML.” How is it possible that a broad socialist party would have a more “far-reaching programme” than that of SML, a revolutionary party which was part of a revolutionary international?

There is clearly a difference between the public programme that a revolutionary party puts forward, at each stage, to the mass of the working class depending on the consciousness of the working class, and its overall understanding of how socialism is to be achieved. For example SML did not call in 1991 for the arming of the working class in Scotland and the setting up of soviets or workers’ councils. Did that mean that SML was not a revolutionary party? No, our method of advancing transitional demands precisely tries to take account of consciousness. On East Timor the CWI programme calls for the arming of the workers and peasants and the convening of a constituent assembly to prepare for a workers’ government, which is correct, given the position in East Timor at the present time. For a revolutionary party a transitional programme is a bridge between the current consciousness or understanding of the working class at any given time and the socialist programme of the revolution ....

Another theoretical justification for the winding down of our organisation into a loose ideological grouping is the perspectives for the growth of left reformism in the future.

Up to now in the discussion the case has been put that left reformism would not develop as a significant force because the organisations who promoted those ideas in the past like the Labour Party and the communist parties no longer exist. In ‘Marxism in the New Millennium’ the comrades seem to accept that left reformism will now develop under the impact of events: “These ideas will undoubtedly get an echo among the broad mass of the population because they seem to offer an easier option.”

This is correct but there is a new twist added. Left reformist ideas will grow in the “Labour Party, the SNP, in society as a whole”, but not in the SSP. This would only be possible if the SSP was a revolutionary party, which is what is hinted at in the resolution, or if the SSP was to stay a tiny organisation with no influence in society. And yet the SSP is to become a mass party in the next few years. But how? Surely if the SSP grows under the impact of events then some new members of the SSP would have illusions in reformism.

This would be especially the case if there was no other viable anti-capitalist party in existence in Scotland. The onset of an economic crisis will see a re-emergence of reformist socialist ideas against the background of a big anti-capitalist mood. The ideas of left reformism are an inevitable stage in the consciousness of a big section of the working class. Especially a working class being newly awoken to socialism after a period of ideological retreat. This can rapidly give way to workers drawing revolutionary conclusions. Events can be speeded up by the intervention of Marxist forces, but not if these forces have been allowed to weaken to such an extent that they are incapable of responding to such events ....

In Scotland the ideas of nationalism will also be a complicating factor for any revolutionary party to contend with. Particularly under the impact of economic crisis and major class battles the ideas of extreme leftwing nationalism will develop both in the SNP and in society generally, including the SSP and/or any other workers’ formations that may arise. Given the determination of the British ruling class not to accede independence for Scotland, the struggle for socialism is very likely to be bound up with an increasing polarisation on the national question. It will be essential that a genuine revolutionary force can stand against very radical, even revolutionary-sounding, ideas that are also shot through with nationalist ideology. Which again, if not combated, could lead to disorientation and defeat.

What we are sketching out here is the much more complicated terrain on which the SSP and the CWI will be fighting on as events unfold than is recognised in the EC resolution. There is no hint of these complications in the EC statement, which tends to give the impression of a straightforward development of the building of a mass SSP which will lead the struggle for power in Scotland. It is a simplistic view of events and especially on how the consciousness of the mass of the working class will develop on the road to drawing revolutionary conclusions.

Some comrades may argue that these are problems for the future. That we can accept the EC position and tighten up our revolutionary organisation when faced with these events. Unfortunately that would prove a disaster. A revolutionary party needs to constantly develop, generate a new cadre, train and educate the new generation, as well as cut its teeth in debate and discussion and intervention in the class struggle. The proposals in the EC resolution will make such a task impossible.

Our position, that the implementation of this resolution would result in the weakening of our revolutionary party, is not an assertion, but is explicitly stated in the following terms: “Instead of seeing the CWI organisation as ‘our party’ and the SSP as ‘somebody else’s party’, we should state clearly that the SSP is our party” … “The CWI organisation,  in contrast is a tendency, or a platform, or a current within the SSP.”

Apart from the false assertion that we have ever described the SSP as someone else’s party, these sentences are not an accident. Nor are they simply written with a public audience in mind. These words clearly describe the view of the EC that the SSP should now be accepted as our party ideologically. That our tradition, the years of work we carried out in the Labour Party, through SML, the SSA and now the CWI organisation in the SSP can now be represented by the SSP as it currently stands.

If that is the case why not describe the SSP now as a revolutionary party? Why not pose affiliation to the CWI? Why not indeed. Because the membership of the SSP would not accept it. We would have a revolt on our hands if we even raised the question of the SSP accepting the banner of a revolutionary party. Far less joining our revolutionary international.

The growth of the SSP has been in no small measure due to the fact that the party is perceived as a broad party. A party that all socialists can participate in. What purpose is there to be served by asserting that the SSP is our party and the CWI is not. Of course we are all members of the SSP. We have been among the most enthusiastic builders of the SSP and we will continue to be so. There is nothing wrong with our comrades describing the SSP as “our party”. But it is wrong and will “result in the disorientation of our members” if we pretend the SSP now represents our programme or tradition.

First and foremost we are members of the CWI. Why? Because encompassed in the CWI, its ideas, methods, programme and outlook is the continued tradition of Marxism, Trotskyism and revolutionary socialism. Because the programme of the CWI will be the programme that a mass revolutionary international will be built around. Because only this programme can win the liberation of humankind from capitalist barbarism.

When we worked as an entrist organisation in the Labour Party we understood we were a revolutionary party working in the mass organisations of the working class. Entrism was a tactic to put our forces in contact with workers and youth who could be won to a revolutionary position. When we formed SML, which by the way was as a result of the analysis of the CWI internationally that the former workers’ parties no longer provided fruitful work for the revolutionary party, we stood as an independent revolutionary party that was able to win significant numbers of workers and youth to a Marxist banner. The turn taken to the SSA and now the SSP was done to carry out the dual task of assisting in the building of new political organisations of the working class, while at the same time building our own revolutionary party ....

One thing is certain: if we downgrade our organisation as proposed by the resolution and fail to build an active Marxist organisation, it is extremely likely that the SSP will fall to other ideologies which, as argued above, will be major contenders to Marxism in the future. Is this scaremongering? We would argue it is a sober assessment based on the tradition historically of the struggle for socialism. There is no straight road to the socialist revolution. The accumulated experience of the revolutionary movement is full of examples of parties, including Marxist parties, who failed the working class.

The proposals in the resolution argue for four city-based meetings of the CWI in which we debate issues of interest to the SSP membership. We are not opposed to debates but the thrust of the resolution is that the big majority of our meetings should be debates. If that was the case we would be unable, as we do at present, to discuss the building of the CWI, who the contacts are, or the tactical and strategic issues facing the SSP. Debates as proposed would inevitably consume the whole meeting. Our organisational tasks would be abandoned. Our own membership would be reluctant to raise issues of concern if other political opponents of ours were present at such meetings ....

The [EC] resolution also attempts to abandon democratic unity as a method of our organisation - “It would be a mistake for the ISM to function as a tightly knit caucus” - because it would “generate suspicion and resentment among non-ISM members”. This statement and the whole resolution reflect the very real pressures that exists on us to wind down our organisation and throw everything into the SSP. Of course we would not insist on CWI members voting the same way on every issue, but it is vital that we maintain an organisation based on Marxist ideas and methods precisely because the SSP does not stand on that basis. And because we will not achieve the revolutionary overturn of society without such a party.

In reality the political arguments and proposals will lead to the weakening of the forces of Marxism because the resolution attempts to give the SSP and its programme a character it does not have. The only role this resolution can play is to lower the consciousness of our members as to the need to retain and strengthen our revolutionary party here in Scotland. It will re­inforce the weaknesses that already exist in Scotland within our organisation and ironically will complicate our work in the broad SSP as our specific weight in the party reduces ....

The CWI is unique among Marxist internationals in that it has more fully and better analysed the period we have come through, in the last decade, than any other international organisation on the planet. This is not accidental. The CWI through its programme represents the most consistent and clear defenders of the ideas and methods of Trotskyism. This applies not just to the post-Stalinist era but also to the analysis of the post-war boom, the return of recession and slump in the world economy, the colonial revolution, Northern Ireland and many other questions.

Every revolutionary organisation makes mistakes. Lenin and Trotsky made many. Marxism is not a crystal ball that can foretell the future but a scientific method, a guide to action. The past 10 years in particular has been a very difficult and disorientating time for revolutionaries. Inevitably this has been reflected within our own international as well. The splits that have taken place in the CWI over this time are rooted in political questions and the effect of the ideological retreat of the 1990s. There is not time to deal with these issues here, except to say that in our view the CWI remains, still, the only international that has consistently and most clearly understood the period we have been through. The work we have carried out in Ireland both North and South in very contrasting conditions has been and should continue to be an source of inspiration for our comrades in Scotland. The breakthrough we have made in London and Coventry in elections, as well as the work around tuition fees, has demonstrated the viability of Marxism across Britain ....

We appeal to the conference to delay a decision on these proposals to allow a more full discussion to take place that we hope will result in the withdrawing of the EC resolution and the acceptance of a resolution that will ensure we continue to build the SSP and the forces of the revolutionary party here in Scotland.