Distortion and misrepresentation Weekly Worker (January 18) carried the Committee for a Workers' International press release responding to the International Socialist Movement split from them. Here we publish the forthright reply in which the ISM also rounds on Hannah Sell
One of the main reasons why the ISM decided to disaffiliate from the CWI was because for three years the CWI leadership refused to engage in a genuine political dialogue with its Scottish section. Instead of discussing in a calm and reasonable manner the opportunities for building the forces and influence of socialism in Scotland, the leaders of the CWI responded with hostile polemics and hysterical accusations of betrayal. Even worse, instead of honestly criticising the politics of the ISM and the SSP leadership, these comrades instead distorted and misrepresented our positions at every turn.
The latest diatribe by Hannah Sell against the ISM/SSP in The Socialist (January 19) perpetrates that method. So too does the press release sent out by the CWI leadership to the capitalist press (January 16) attacking Tommy Sheridan. We have no wish to carry on this sterile debate with a leadership which is presiding over a dwindling organisation which in the last few years has lurched from crisis to crisis internationally.
However, we want to set the record straight on at least some of the points raised by Hannah in her article in The Socialist.
Hannah quotes a sentence from a document on international links which she claims was discussed at the ISM conference: "The model that they [ie, the various rival Trotskyist internationals, including the CWI, which sought to build in opposition to one another] tried to apply is obsolete, if indeed it was ever credible in the first place."
This document was not discussed at the conference. It is not an ISM document. It has not been discussed at any level within the ISM. It is a draft article written by one individual member. The article expresses our support for the idea of an international socialist alliance within which the Marxist/Trotskyist left would organise. This is in essence no different from the position advocated by the CWI leadership in the mid-1990s, when Peter Taaffe spoke in similarly disrespectful tones about aspects of the CWI's past. Eg: "In the political ice age following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the old sectarian dinosaurs of Grant, Cliff, Mandel, etc became extinct" (Peter Taaffe at Militant Labour national committee, November 1995, reporting back from international discussions with various other organisations, including the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, with a view to unification).
Past contribution of CWI
Hannah also says that, "The ISM have written off their history in the CWI." Her evidence for this assertion is that in the book Imagine Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes do not mention the CWI, Militant or Scottish Militant Labour. But neither does the book mention the Scottish Socialist Party nor the ISM. In agreement with the publisher, the book is about ideas rather than about political organisation.
Exaggeration of SSP's success
Hannah half-quotes Alan McCombes to create a misleading impression of what he actually said: ""¦if there are revolutionary movements there is one country in the world where the working class stands a chance and that is Scotland." But, taken in context, Alan was simply pointing out that the big problem facing the sections of the CWI is not lack of a chemically pure programme, but lack of real influence or roots. He argued that if there was mass movement of the working class next week, the one country where those from a CWI tradition could be in a position to potentially take the leadership of such a movement was Scotland.
Hannah says that, "The SSP has a left reformist programme that is completely inadequate for changing society "¦ It does not argue for decisive sections of the economy to be brought into public ownership under workers' control."
In fact the SSP draft manifesto states: "While fighting for immediate improvements in the living standards and conditions of the working class of Scotland, the SSP is committed to building a new, democratic socialist Scotland which will stand up the forces of globalisation and capitalism.
"In the meantime we will fight for:
- the bringing back into public ownership of those industries, services and utilities privatised over the past 20 years;
- the extension of public ownership to include other key sectors of the economy, including North Sea oil, the big banks and financial institutions, and the major construction, transport, and manufacturing companies;
- the replacement of unelected boards of directors with democratically elected boards which would involve representatives of the workforce and the wider public."
We would point out that the lengthy 'What we stand for' document of the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland does not mention public ownership at all. It does not even call for the bringing back into public ownership of the 60 public enterprises privatised by the Tories, but says only: "New Labour must not continue Tory privatisation policies." If the SSP economic programme is "left reformist", based on the criteria laid down by Hannah, does that mean the CWI section in Northern Ireland is right reformist?
Hannah also claims that the "SSP argues against public ownership of foreign-owned assembly plants." This is simply untrue. What we have said is that it would neither be practical, possible nor necessary to take every single branch assembly plant or call centre into public ownership.
The attempt by the CWI leadership to equate the SSP with the witch-hunting wing of the Labour Party in the 1980s would be laughable if it were not so offensive.
In contrast to the Socialist Party in England and the CWI internationally, the SSP has never carried out a single expulsion. It is the most open, democratic socialist party probably in the world, with organised tendencies having the right to their own meetings, to produce their own publications, to send resolutions to party conferences and to be represented at meetings of the party's national council.
In return for these far-reaching rights, the SSP national council (which includes representatives from every branch) has proposed guidelines to the coming conference which would ensure a single socialist newspaper sold on the streets, on demos, etc by SSP members. This is in line with every other socialist and left party in Europe today. The SSP is not a loose electoral pact or alliance, as the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales are at present. It has moved way beyond that stage. It is now a cohesive combat party aiming to take power in Scotland in the future.
The SSP also applies more rigorous conditions to its public representatives than the Labour Party ever did. For example, all candidates for public office must agree to live on no more than the average wage of a skilled worker. Perhaps this is also a bureaucratic measure?
Hannah denounces a resolution of the SSP executive which suggests that any decision by a party conference to overturn any of the seven core aims of the party should then be subject to ratification by the entire membership via a referendum conducted in the branches, after a proper debate. This was proposed as an alternative to a resolution which calls for the aim of an independent socialist Scotland to be entrenched by means of a two thirds rule (ie, only if two thirds of delegates vote for it can it be changed). It is also a concession to those who have argued for all-members conferences (ie, whoever turns upon the day can vote).
It is an assurance to the general membership that they will have the final say if any far-reaching changes are made to the basic aims of the party. To compare the SSP - an avowedly socialist party fighting against the stream - with the NUT, a mass trade union with an extremely heterogeneous membership, is not to compare like with like. The assertion that, "The justification for these highly undemocratic methods [sic] is that they are deemed necessary to cope with the SWP when they join the SSP", is simply a lie, designed to stoke up suspicion within the SSP. No such justification has been provided by anyone.
Indeed, the SWP's membership tends to be concentrated in a few big cities rather than spread across Scotland as a whole, which would mean, if anything, that the SWP would tend to be less influential at a delegate conference than in an all-members referendum.
Coalition with the SNP
No one has more vigorously exposed the pro-big business policies of the Scottish National Party than Tommy Sheridan and the SSP. There is virtually no support in the SSP for a coalition with the SNP. Tommy Sheridan has made his position clear a thousand times on this issue. Yet the CWI leadership insist on repeatedly dredging up an old quote based on a telephone conversation with Tommy, which gives a completely false position of Tommy's attitude to the SNP. No one in the SSP has ever raised this issue for the simple reason, as Tommy pointed out at the ISM conference, that no one actually believes that Tommy supports a coalition with the SNP.
Ironically the CWI leadership was this week misquoted in two separate Scottish newspapers: "The CWI denounced Tommy Sheridan as too 'rightwing and as a neo-Stalinist capitalist'." At least Tommy was not misquoted in the capitalist press attacking socialists.
The ISM conference a year ago did support a resolution which referred to "the socialist republic of Cuba". The resolution was in essence expressing solidarity with Cuba against US imperialism, while maintaining the right of the SSP to make criticisms of the regime. The resolution was supported almost unanimously; members of the CWI-backed minority faction voted for the resolution and made no attempt to intervene at the conference to make any criticisms or qualifications of the resolution. In contrast, two speakers - both supporters of the ISM majority - intervened to criticise Cuba's lack of democracy.
The use of terminology like 'neo-Stalinist' - especially in the capitalist press - to describe Tommy Sheridan is designed to discredit Tommy and damage the standing of the SSP. It is a sectarian insult which bears no relation to the political stance of Tommy on socialist democracy.
We would ask all members of the CWI to carefully read both Hannah's report and our reply. We have never claimed to be politically infallible; we are prepared to discuss any of these issues with anyone who contacts us. But, whether or not you agree with our political positions, we would ask you to reject the method of the CWI leadership.
Nothing more clearly illustrates the political weakness and lack of confidence of this leadership than their continual distortion and misrepresentation of their opponents' positions.