Republican Communist Network
Anti-nationalist role impaired
The CPGB has never made a secret of our attitude towards the Republican Communist Network. Although the majority of RCN members are now based in England, there is no doubt that for us its prime role is in relation to Scotland.
Whereas south of the border the main vehicle for left unity, for revolutionary rapprochement, is clearly the Socialist Alliance, in Scotland the most important site for such work is the Scottish Socialist Party. The RCN, while operating as a left opposition faction within the SSP, has no comparable function in England.
But the SSP is dominated by the left nationalist majority around the former members of Scottish Militant Labour and their support for an "independent socialist Scotland". Ignoring the fact that, if we are to not merely weaken, but overthrow, the United Kingdom state, we will need to organise politically in all its constituent parts through a united Communist Party, these comrades increasingly uphold the separate organisation of socialists in England and Scotland as almost a sacred principle.
For that reason a genuine left opposition within the SSP must challenge not only its dominant reformism, but the overarching nationalism. In fact right now the defeat of nationalism specifically must be our main concrete task within the SSP. Without all-Britain unity the left cannot be revolutionary in any real sense.
And this is where the RCN comes in. Communists must vigorously uphold the right of Scotland to self-determination, up to and including the right to secede, and back the fight to guarantee it through the struggle for a federal republic. But we must be equally insistent on the need to oppose separatism - i.e., the belief that separation is positively desirable as a principle - not simply when it applies to states, but especially when as a consequence it weakens and divides historically united working class organisation.
If the RCN could be unambiguously won to such a position, then it would be well placed to advance revolutionary organisation in two ways: firstly through an intransigent opposition to nationalism within the SSP; and secondly through coordinating this struggle in the SSP with the broader fight for working class unity across Scotland, England and Wales via its all-Britain membership.
This is the main thrust of the CPGB's intervention in the RCN. That is why, at the October 28 AGM, we made two key proposals. Firstly we put forward a motion opposing "all forms of nationalism" and supporting the "fight for the highest unity of the working class". This formed the core of the successful, unanimously agreed resolution. Secondly we called for the editorial board of Republican Communist, the RCN's quarterly discussion journal, to be expanded to reflect more accurately the RCN's anti-nationalist majority.
The RCN, as a network, has no elected political leadership. The role of its officers is primarily organisational. That is why our principal public political face - Republican Communist - must be edited in a consciously anti-nationalist way. I hasten to add that this does not mean the exclusion of any minority viewpoint. Indeed we proposed that the main proponent of left nationalism within the RCN, comrade Allan Armstrong, should remain on the board.
Unfortunately, the Edinburgh meeting was swayed by comrade Armstrong's argument that only one member, or representative, of each self-defining political group should be elected to the editorial team, irrespective of how that would affect the actual balance or reflect the influence of each group and the main political trends. Lack of time did not help. As well as comrade Armstrong, the AGM elected another supporter of the separatist Scottish workers' republic, Phil Walden of the two-strong Trotskyist Unity Group.
The other two editors are John Bridge of the CPGB (who regards his membership as provisional) and Nick Clarke. Comrade Clarke is ostensibly a supporter of the Revolutionary Democratic Group and therefore supposedly an anti-nationalist, but he has shown by his actions that his desire for conciliation is stronger than his commitment to either working class unity or the RDG (he voted for comrade Walden and against Steve Freeman, the RDG leader, for the fourth and final editorial place).
In his letter published in last week's Weekly Worker comrade Armstrong implies that the CPGB and RDG were being inconsistent in not wanting to "maximise the different tendencies on the editorial board" (November 16). He states: "We believe the CPGB and RDG have voted recently for a similar representation principle in the Socialist Alliances."
He is incorrect. We fought to have an automatic representative on what we expected would be an overwhelmingly SWP-dominated leadership. That is what we proposed both in London and Coventry. Moreover, it should not need pointing out that the SA and the RCN are two completely different political phenomena (and I am not just referring to their size). The SA is, as its name spells out, an alliance of existing political groups which see it as a vehicle for some kind of closer unity in the fight to construct a working class alternative to New Labour. Of course the degree to which each component is committed to the project and the extent and nature of the unity they envisage varies tremendously.
Nevertheless, an alliance brought together to undertake concrete tasks must have inclusion. Each organisation must be represented at all levels to enable each to participate in decisions which facilitate their closer unity. But we champion the democratic right of the majority to be the majority. We have also argued on the LSA steering committee for the majority to come to clear political positions - even though we, the CPGB, may disagree with what is decided.
However, the RCN, as comrade Armstrong himself points out, is a network. Its existence does not imply the desire by its members to advance "towards a single tendency", to use his words. For our part unity with TUG or comrade Armstrong's four-member Communist Tendency is hardly at the top of our list of priorities.
The RCN's membership is not characterised primarily by groups seeking unity, but, in Scotland at least, of individuals who have come together as a result of their membership of the SSP. The RCN has a comparatively large proportion of comrades who do not belong to the CPGB, RDG, CT, etc. The democracy we adopt within the RCN should ensure representation not for the groups as such, but for the main political trends, roughly in proportion to their supporters.
We are not in favour of winner-takes-all democracy in either the SA or RCN. As a rule we are in favour of proportional representation, whatever the organisation, but this is quite different from automatic representation as a principle to be applied in every case. In the RCN majority voting should decide, and comrades should not feel obliged to elect a representative from each grouplet that announces its existence.
Comrade Armstrong is the most significant proponent of the left nationalist Scottish workers' republic and should have his place on the board as the representative of this minority. The two TUG comrades were actually recruited by him to bolster his own influence and that of separatism - they certainly back the notion of a Scottish workers' republic, but their commitment to the RCN's founding principles are rather more questionable. Comrade Walden has publicly stated his opposition to both 'republicanism' and 'revolutionary democracy', two of our agreed slogans.
The unbalanced contents which have marred Republican Communist are the result of the unfortunate composition of the editorial board. I have already commented extensively on RC No3 (see Weekly Worker July 20). Clearly the outgoing editors (comrades Armstrong and Clarke) noted these criticisms when it came to issue No4 (autumn). Gone is the most blatant partisan editorialising by comrade Armstrong seen in the previous issue, whereby the distinct impression could be given to a casual reader that the politics of Republican Communist were identical to those of his microscopic CT.
Nevertheless, although comrade Armstrong appears to have put a less partisan stamp on this issue, it still bears the unmistakable thumbprints of his dominance. The platform of the now defunct Red Republicans (a small umbrella grouping of left nationalists in Scotland, who published Red Republican - editor: Allan Armstrong) is still on the inside of the back cover, together with the platform of the Campaign for a Federal Republic. This gives the wrong message that the RCN consists mainly, or entirely, of these two organisations, even though one of them no longer exists. And the pointless 'Republic of letters' - a list of publications which once wrote to Red Republican - still appears on the back cover (actually though, the Weekly Worker is included. We never had any relationship with comrade Armstrong's last venture).
It was comrade Armstrong who insisted, with the backing of comrade Clarke, that Jack Conrad's review article of Neil Davidson's book could not appear in Republican Communist. Apparently it is the only article that has ever been refused. As a consequence there are no contributions from the CPGB in RC No4. Though we have members paying dues to the RCN, our viewpoint gets no representation.
Let me say openly that I believe this article has been omitted because of comrade Armstrong's personal disagreement with it. I am not alleging, as he states, that he has "attempted to suppress" the review. I am alleging that he has suppressed it. The excuse he gives - that because of its length it would have to be serialised over several issues, "where it would lose its impact and delay any possible debate" - is just that: an excuse. Why not produce a special? Why do readers wanting to criticise or reply to a particular instalment have to wait until the end? Why is comrade Armstrong refusing point blank to allow this fully theorised internationalist attack on the myths behind Scottish nationalism to appear in the pages of RC?
Instead he suggests that the Conrad piece could be published in a pamphlet, paid for in no small part by the CPGB, which would include other articles on 'Scotland and nation', crucially one written by himself. But the CPGB is not interested in the publication of a collection of 'interesting views' just for the sake of it, especially one which gives comrade Armstrong the last word. As with the Weekly Worker itself, whenever we promote and finance the publication of political viewpoints, we have a particular purpose in mind. Our paper, for example, is dedicated to the fight for a single Communist Party.
Finally, comrade Armstrong in his letter accuses me of "misrepresentation of events" in my article on the RCN AGM. Since he does not specify which "events" I reported inaccurately, I cannot of course rebuff the accusation .