Confusing workers

A meeting between the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party was held on August 8 to investigate the possibility of SWP comrades in Scotland joining the SSP. This is the SSP's summary of the discussion

The SSP has, since prior to its formation, repeatedly written to the SWP and to other smaller socialist forces (i.e. CPB, CPS, SLP) asking them to consider joining the SSP as a recognised platform. The SWP has always previously said they were against joining the SSP (and previously the SSA).

The latest letter to the SWP was sent on June 26 as a direct result of the decision at the June SSP national council (as part of a wider motion on preparations for the general election) to again invite the CPB, CPS, SLP and SWP to join the SSP. This time, the SWP replied that they "would gladly meet with us to discuss the proposals outlined in your letter" and that they would be back in touch in August (after their Marxism event in London and holidays) to arrange a meeting.

The SSP executive's first opportunity (due to the holiday period) to consider the SWP reply was on August 8 and the executive agreed the statement, 'The general election and developments within the SNP and SWP' [see Weekly Worker August 24 - ed.]. The first meeting with the SWP was held immediately afterwards. Allan Green, Alan McCombes, Tommy Sheridan and Richie Venton represented the SSP. For the SWP: Chris Bambery, Ian Mitchell and Julie Waterson.

The SWP opened by saying that they welcomed the decision of the SSP to stand in all 72 seats at the Westminster election and, subject to discussion, they were interested in taking up the offer of joining the SSP. They said they were not interested in entry work or a smash and grab exercise. Instead, the SWP said the process was similar to that of the London Socialist Alliance.

The SWP were asked if they have changed their political analyses of the SSP, especially with regard to previous statements that it was fundamentally wrong to unite socialists from different backgrounds in one party. They were also invited to comment on previous SWP descriptions of the SSP as nationalist, reformist and electoralist.

The SWP replied that they:

(a) previously, had suspicions that the SSP may be adopting the politics of the PCR in Italy or the United Left in Spain but now the SWP recognised that the politics of the SSP were different and not simply electoralist;

(b) feel on day-to-day issues - e.g., the Balkans War and the Pro-Choice Action Group - that the SWP and SSP were now usually campaigning on similar lines and working well together;

(c) recognised the growth in support for the SSP has been impressive;

(d) recognised the objective pressure from the working class for socialist unity;

(e) still had criticisms - e.g., bending towards nationalism, inclusion of reformism and dangers of electoralism.

The SSP said that, in many ways, members of the SSP and SWP see themselves as rivals and there is a degree of mutual suspicion. Recent examples of campaigning work - e.g., the Legalise Cannabis demo and Asylum Rights campaign - have highlighted continued problematic SWP campaigning methods that have not convinced SSP members that the SWP are working towards unity. Therefore, an understanding of the political strategy of the SWP with regard to the SSP was important to help build unity in practice, especially if the SWP acknowledged that their past attitude to the SSP was mistaken.

The SSP opening position was in line with the statement 'The general election and developments within the SNP and SWP'. The SWP was congratulated for their work in the LSA and their willingness to discuss unity in Scotland was welcomed. On the one hand a united socialist party in Scotland could be a very positive development. However, a party can also tear itself apart through factionalism if there is not an agreed basis for unity: e.g., Scottish Labour Party and CPGB in the 1970s. It was, therefore, crucial for the SSP and SWP to agree to written 'ground rules' (the SWP had previously used this term themselves) prior to unity. The membership of both parties must be given the opportunity to consider the issues within their respective organisations. It was also hoped that the SSP could speak at SWP events and vice versa.

The SWP agreed that there should be written ground rules and that both memberships must be given the opportunity to consider and decide on the issues. However, as soon as the SSP mentioned the question of the newspaper as the public face of the party, the SWP said that the paper was going to be a stumbling block (perhaps a point of principle that was non-negotiable). Therefore, the only ground rule to be seriously discussed at this meeting was that concerning the party paper.

The SWP said that Socialist Worker would be supportive of the SSP and, although the SWP may be publicly selling Socialist Worker, they would be recruiting to the SSP. The SWP would also be willing to be part of the Scottish Socialist Voice editorial team and SWP members would also sell SSV. Socialist Worker already has a significant sales level and loyalty from SWP members. Therefore, there would not be a problem for there to be two public papers.

The SSP said that it did not make sense, if the SWP were serious about building a united SSP, for the SWP to publicly promote Socialist Worker, as it is the public organ of another party. Duplication of papers at public activities - paper sales, stalls, demos, strikes, public meetings, etc - would cause confusion amongst the working class. The SSP repeatedly asked why is it necessary for the SWP to continue to sell Socialist Worker in public activities rather than SSV?

The SSP said that SWP members could of course, like any other platform, sell their publications, including Socialist Worker, at branch meetings, etc, but - again just like any other member/platform - they would be expected to sell the SSV in public activities.

In conclusion the SWP said that they believed the paper would be the main stumbling block. They believed that agreement could probably be reached on ground rules, resources, etc, if this problem were overcome. The SWP said they would report back to their CC and consider the SSP response.

The SSP said that if agreement were to be reached on the paper and ground rules, they would encourage the integration of the SWP into the party. However, the SWP would have to use SSV in public activities in the same way as any other member/platform.