The document entitled 'Scottish Socialist Party conference - review and conclusions' (Weekly Worker March 23) can be considered either yet another indication of the failure of the Committee for a Workers International to keep its ever decreasing membership or a reflection of the every increasing reformism of the SSP. In truth, it is probably a reflection of both.
There appears to have been a conscious effort on behalf of the SSP leadership, including those in the International Socialist Movement (current name of CWI Scotland), not to take any risks when dealing with electoral popularity. Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes et al have been seduced by the prospect of five or six MSPs after the next Scottish parliament elections, and will make every effort not to jeopardise that. Therefore the SSP leadership feel the need to distance themselves from the 'revolutionary' international organisation.
The rank and file membership of the ISM also feel the need to loosen their ties with the CWI. This is probably a result of the hostility with which the Scottish section were treated by the rest of the international when they embarked upon the SSP project. It comes across, from an outsider's perspective, that there is a general mood towards winding down the 'revolutionary' organisation in favour of concentrating all efforts into building the SSP.
The only opposition to this attitude is coming from the faction, based mainly in Dundee, who wrote the closed document, 'The SSP one year on', as well as 'Review and conclusions'. Both describe the SSP's move to the right and advocate the importance of a revolutionary organisation within it, namely the CWI.
Philip Stott and co rightly point out how unprepared ISM comrades were for the SSP conference. Not only did they fail to attract their usual numbers to their fringe meetings and only had Dundee comrades selling their magazine, but actual intervention in debate was badly conducted.
The Dundee faction have, quite rightly, put this down to the abandonment of democratic centralism and also to the fact that "the forces of the CWI have largely become absorbed into the SSP".
I have some sympathy for Philip Stott and the others who have found themselves abandoned by their own comrades for the sake of building an organisation which mentions Keir Hardy more often than Karl Marx. This does not mean that I agree with the politics of the CWI of course. On the issue of Ireland, just as one example, I find slightly more common ground with the SSP position than with the CWI's (non-) position. Although the CWI's can be regarded as nothing more than a fudge, it appears to be too contentious for leading members of both the ISM and SSP. According to the Dundee faction, the decision taken at ISM national council to present the CWI position on Ireland at conference was overturned without discussion.
Another example of the disregard for the CWI mentioned in the document was Frances Curran's objection to Peter Hadden (CWI Irish section) being allowed to speak at their fringe meeting. The reason she claimed was fear of RCN members turning up. If this is true, then it exposes something more serious than hostility towards the CWI: it shows an unwillingness to allow genuine debate and discussion.
Although Peter Hadden was eventually allowed to speak at the ISM fringe meeting, there were no CWI members on the list of international speakers to address conference, until Dundee comrades intervened at the last minute. The absence of CWI international representatives was noticeable even to non-CWI members like myself, who are routinely subjected to the usual line-up at any SSP event.
It is also suggested in the minority document that it was no accident that Frances Curran and Murray Smith were the two comrades elected at conference as international officers. Both comrades are said to be in favour of building new, more reformist international links. I am informed that Murray Smith is a firm believer in the parliamentary road to socialism and was responsible for a significant loss of CWI membership in France. If this is the case it is likely to be no coincidence that he has recently moved to Scotland and instantly taken up a leading role in the SSP.
The concluding section of the minority document mentions their need to recruit to the CWI. If Philip and co want to win non-ISM members of the SSP to their views, then they should have an open debate with the majority, which would allow non-affiliated SSP members to make an informed decision on what kind of organisation they wish to be a part of.
I respect the comrades in the Dundee faction for sticking to their principles and fighting against the SSP slipping any further to the right. However, it is important to be critical of the CWI for its own opportunism: eg, in the reformist way it has chosen to present itself to the working class and for the extent to which it has pandered to nationalism in Scotland. Therefore I think that the comrades are wrong to suggest that a return to the type of organisation CWI was prior to the forming of the SSP would "ensure that the working class of Scotland has the leadership it deserves".
The most interesting scenario to occur as a result of the two documents would be if the Weekly Worker was right in predicting a split. One of the most positive aspects of the SSP is the level of tolerance and openness as regards minorities. This was recently threatened by the executive in a motion to conference advocating delegate conferences and the removal of the right of branch minorities to put forward motions. Thankfully this was defeated in favour of an RCN motion which defends minority rights and the level of democracy within the party.
If a split does occur in the ISM, it would be interesting to find out what effects, if any, it would have on the level of internal democracy. If the rights of minorities within the SSP were to become threatened, it would have a catastrophic effect on the whole project, not just the Dundee CWI faction.
Communists and Labour
On the subject of the intervention of revolutionaries in a party like Labour, this demands a clear strategy. The starting point must be the recognition that simply carrying a party card is not enough: the intervention needs to be vigorous and active.
The best example of this is the attitude towards LP meetings. These should be seen as an opportunity to present our political views to an audience, no matter how small, and answer our opponents' arguments. The intervention also needs some sort of publication.
This publication should fulfil two tasks: firstly, it should act as a dispenser of communist ideas; it should at every juncture argue the correctness of these ideas. It should also seek to combat those ideas which mislead our class (including left reformism).
Secondly, it should report on all aspects of the working class struggle. It should report on the actions of other left groups within the LP. It should provide a critique of these groups' policies where necessary. It should seek to build opposition to Blairism, using the united front tactic.
The intervention must at all times be aware that its ultimate goal is to split the proletarian base from the structure of the LP into the Communist Party. There must be constant assessment of the conflicting processes at work in the LP, which must guide the actions of comrades at all times.
The practical proposals that flow from this are:
(1) Those comrades that support the CPGB should be put in contact with each other. Those comrades within the LP should establish a dialogue with each other and the PCC with the aim of building an effective intervention within the LP.
(2) This should mean constituting ourselves as a cell, and beginning work on a publication.
(3) The publication should form a central part of the discussion as it is a vital tool for intervention. This publication should not detract from the role of the Weekly Worker. It is just a recognition that an intervention within the LP requires a slight adjustment to the specific conditions.
I hope the PCC will accept these proposals and open up a dialogue between comrades within the LP so we can all move forward.
Communists and Labour
Communists and Labour
RDG supporter Jane Berryman (Weekly Worker March 30), asked Geoff Collier to elaborate on his misgivings (Weekly Worker March 23) about the 'dual power republic'. Perhaps I might be allowed a few words.
Under workers' power (the dictatorship of the proletariat), the workers are the ruling class; under bourgeois power (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie), the capitalists are the ruling class. If the capitalists were the ruling class under dual power (as Jane's guru, Dave Craig, asserts), the phrase would be exceedingly ill-chosen. But this is not the case. As far as Marxists are concerned, this term, 'dual power', is the scientific expression of the lack of a ruling class.
From a purely legalistic, constitutional point of view, it might appear as though the old ruling class still reigns supreme. However, those capable of weighing up the real balance of class forces are not hypnotised by legal documents. Dual power, for Marxists, is what fills the vacuum left in the wake of the collapse of the old state power; it is the dynamic tension between organs of workers' power, organs which mushroomed, almost overnight, inside the old bourgeois society (causing its state to shatter into pieces, simultaneously shattering workers' illusions in its invincibility) on the one hand, and, on the other, the scattered remnants of the old state power. The latter lie weak, only needing to be put out of their misery and swept away.
Unfortunately, however, due to the misleadership of the traditional workers' organisations, the workers' councils tend to be dominated (initially) by those who want workers to satisfy themselves with their new historically unprecedented 'sharing' of state power. Kautsky, Hilferding (and even the Old Bolsheviks, Zinoviev, Kamenev and, to a considerable extent, Stalin) wanted workers to make do with dual power, rather than to resolve the internal contradictions within it positively: ie, by centralising the workers' councils, partly in order to smash to pieces every last remnant of the organisations of the counterrevolutionary classes.
To the extent that Jane (and Dave) want revolutionaries to settle for the "combined state", they need to be exposed every bit as much as do their centrist forebears. But let us give them the benefit of the doubt. Dave has attempted to extricate himself from the position he initially seemed to endorse by describing dual power as but a necessary stage on the road to workers' power, as an indispensable launching pad onto it. If that was all he was saying, then I would have no problem with his formulations.
But the strategy he endorses seems to be rather different. Dual power is presented as something worthwhile in itself. To the extent that this is what he is saying (and it does seem to be the case), then he is profoundly mistaken. Is dual power more democratic than what we have at present? From the workers' point of view, it undoubtedly is (although, from the point of view of the propertied classes, things look a little different). But the last thing revolutionaries should do is attempt to sell dual power to the workers in the manner of the RDG.
I will try to explain by way of an analogy. In order to be crowned the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, it is necessary to step into a boxing ring. Likewise, in order to become the undisputed master of society, the working class must enter the arena of dual power. Comrade Craig is the 'Marxist' equivalent of a charlatan trying to lure people into the boxing ring on the basis that it is an extremely beautiful boxing ring.
I consider this the height of irresponsibility. It is irresponsible because he is neglecting to warn people about the stakes. Dave is like someone who seduces innocents to enter the ring without explaining that they are going to be fighting a psychopath wielding a chainsaw. To describe dual power as a republic (rather than a bridge between bourgeois power and workers' power, or between one variety of bourgeois power and another, an extreme authoritarian variety - possibly fascism) is inappropriate. It is inappropriate, given that dual power is merely an exceptional stage in the class struggle, one which does not last more than a few months. Dave compounds his errors by failing to introduce something with which to genuinely inspire the working class: the prize. The real prize is not dual power, but workers' power.
Phil Watson (Weekly Worker March 30) considers that Trotskyism defends an abstract and dogmatic universal, when considering the history of official British communism in terms of the political and ideological dogmatism of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
His alternative approach seems to consist in providing critical (yet sympathetic) justification for the localised narrative accounts of the rank and file membership of the CPGB, which of course shows that the CPGB had many people who were sincerely committed to the cause of socialism. But, as we know, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. The complex aspirations and actions of the CPGB rank and file did not transcend and overcome the ultimate domination of the CPGB by the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy.
Significantly, Watson makes no mention of the 1939-1940 period, when the popular frontist illusions of the CPGB membership were undermined by the political expediency of the Nazi-Soviet pact, and Harry Pollitt was effectively forced to relinquish his leadership role within the party.
If the CPGB had been effectively autonomous from the counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy, then surely the 1939-40 period would have represented the political potential to oppose Stalin? The fact that no rebellion happened shows that the CPGB, like most other official communist parties, was ideologically and politically dominated by the perspective that the CPSU was leading the world proletariat to ultimate and inevitable victory.
This idealist standpoint led the CPGB to justify the role of Stalinism in acting against the interests of the world proletariat. After all, 'if history is on our side', then one or two defeats will not stop the future success of world socialism!
Phil Watson alleges that Trotskyist accounts of the history of the CPGB strengthened cold war, bourgeois propaganda.
To buttress this false view, he invents his own version of Trotskyist orthodoxy on the question of socialism in one country. Trotsky and Trotskyists who criticised the Stalinist programme of socialism in one country are supposed to have presented an undialectical, one-sided analysis of the history of the CPGB, as simply agents of Stalin, dancing to the Kremlin tune. In his political ignorance, he assumes the Trotskyist critique of Stalinism in the USSR has nothing more to say about the CPGB than the fact that many of its policies were slavish support for the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.
Let us throw some light on Phil's dark political prejudices. As early as 1928 in his Marxist internationalist demolition of the Comintern's draft programme, Trotsky anticipated the degeneration of the Comintern's national sections into nationalism and reformism due to the notion of socialism in one country. As Trotsky explained, if socialism could be realised within the national boundaries of a backward country like the USSR, then all the more reason to believe socialism could be realised within the boundaries of France or Germany or Britain.
He predicted that, one after another, the sections of the Comintern would advocate national reformist roads, drawing on their own national traditions, leading to fragmentation and ultimately disintegration of the International. It was not difficult for Trotsky to foresee this development, since Stalin had already borrowed the theory of socialism in one country from the national reformist traditions of German social democracy. An obscure revisionist called Vollmar was the originator of this nationalism.
Phil even has an alternative to his own straw Trotskyist (Trotskyite?) orthodoxy. He asserts that, "The alternative is to present the interaction of the Comintern and the CPGB in a dialectical sense, whereby the power of the CPSU is simultaneously transcended and preserved in the application of tactics [by the CPGB] to the British class struggle." In so far as this has any political meaning, this is the old Stalinist lie that the national interests of the Soviet Union coincided with the class struggle in Britain, but heavily disguised in philosophical jargon.
The degeneration of the Russian Revolution undermined confidence in national roads to socialism and the Stalinist parties. Has the comrade not grasped, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the regimes in eastern Europe, that socialism in one country means socialism in no countries?