Can the Revolutionary Communist Network go forward?

The Republican Communist Network has come to a crossroads. We can identify the issues that need to be addressed if the organisation is to go forward. In Scotland the RCN has established itself on the left of the Scottish Socialist Party. Much solid work has been done since the Scottish Socialist Alliance turned itself into a party. But the RCN needs a clear republican strategy as the cutting edge of its work.

The SSP has lined itself up with the Scottish Nationalist Party in a struggle for Scottish independence. The RCN has to position itself correctly in relation to this with a viable alternative. It has three options. It can stay neutral and take no position. But, unfortunately, this would spell political failure. Alternatively, the RCN could line up behind Tommy Sheridan, but taking a more extreme nationalist position. Donald Anderson's Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, with its call for a Scottish workers' republic, occupies that space. Or the RCN could line up against independence and in favour of internationalism from below: a joint, cross-border struggle with RCN comrades in England for a federal republic.

In England, we have a different set of problems. It is almost the mirror image of Scotland. The RCN has a correct policy, but no record of work in the SA. This is not because comrades have been lazy. On the contrary much has been done and progress made. There was a definite republican communist challenge at the recent Socialist Alliance conference in Birmingham. But the republican communists were wearing different hats.

The RCN has not been a vehicle for fighting for a federal republic either in Scotland or in England. In Scotland, it has been the Campaign for a Federal Republic that has taken up the issue. In England the Revolutionary Democratic Group and CPGB have acted on their own. The fight for a federal republic has taken place outside the RCN.

In December, the RCN (England) took a first tentative step when its aggregate voted to support the Socialist Alliance and get involved. The RCN affiliated and made a submission on republicanism to the SA programme commission. Unfortunately this was not greeted with universal approval by RCN members. Some were not happy. There was a fear that RCN involvement in the SA would queer the pitch with the Socialist Workers Party.

The RCN is an all-Britain organisation. It needs to have an all-Britain perspective. It must fight for this common perspective within the SSP and the SA. How that is put into practice is the responsibility of the RCN (England) and RCN (Scotland). Having said that, the RCN (Britain) cannot impose a perspective on either national section. We are surely a voluntary federal republic. The 'Scottish assembly' of RCN members have autonomous rights. They can decide whether to support a democratically decided all-Britain perspective or not.

What should this all-Britain perspective be? The RCN should fight for a federal republic and a united Ireland against the forces of nationalism - British, Scottish and Welsh. This fight cannot be conducted separately in England and Scotland. In England, the SWP cites the SSP as an argument against a federal republic. To conduct this struggle we need internationalism from below. We need Scottish voices helping us in England. We need English comrades supporting the RCN in Scotland. RCN comrades need to cross the border to help each other.

At present this perspective is not operable in Scotland or England for different reasons. The argument in England is that an all-Britain perspective is all right for Scotland, but it has no role here. This of course is not true. The words 'no role' constitute a failure of political leadership. They represent an adaptation to nationalism. If nationalism is merely a Scottish problem, then the RCN should be active there, but not in England. But if it is an all-Britain problem, the RCN should be active in both countries.

The RDG is fighting for the RCN to adopt this perspective. In England it means in essence a united front with the CPGB and Alliance for Workers' Liberty. At the Birmingham conference, the three organisations supported the federal republic with 70 or 80 votes. The RCN should play a role in facilitating and building this united front.

What we need and what we have are two quite different things. Whether the RCN can ever play that role is open to question. It raises a number of fundamental questions about the RCN and the role democracy plays in the network.

What is the RCN actually for? We have to answer this basic question. It could have three possible roles. First, it could be a debating society, where we come together occasionally to chew the fat. Second, it could function as a sort of 'parliament' or assembly for republican communists. The assembly contains representatives of three republican communist groupings. One of the current issues to divide republican communists in England is whether the SA should become a party and if so what type. A 'parliament of republican communists' could debate this issue. Majority and minority opinions could thus be clarified.

Third, it can be an interventionist network, advocating republican communist policies, drafting motions and leaflets, organising caucuses, intervening in election campaigns, etc. In all these functions it is a voluntary network, not a disciplined tendency or party. This has been the role played by the RCN in Scotland.

If the RCN is simply a debating society then its role is limited. I would not leave the RCN simply because it was a debating society. There are not sufficient forums of this type and political education is always underestimated. A debating society would not need majority votes, except on purely organisational matters. We would not need a glossy magazine. It would be more like an internal bulletin. We would certainly not want a high level of subs for an occasional discussion.

If, on the other hand, we want more than a debating society, then majority voting on policy is essential. We could not carry out the 'parliamentary' function or the interventionist role without it. Democratic majority decision-making is essential for an interventionist organisation. That in return requires rights for minorities. It requires the strengthening of the magazine.

There is a rumour going round that comrade Allan Armstrong is considering leaving the RCN if a majority voted for a federal republic. This rumour could well be false. I hope it is. Just in case it is true, I want to put the case against Allan or any comrade leaving the RCN.

The RDG went to the SA conference and argued for a federal republic. We lost. But we did not walk out. Had there been a significant violation of our democratic rights or if at some stage in the future our rights were violated, then we might leave in protest. But the issue would be clear. It would not be that we lost the vote on a federal republic, but that we lost our democratic rights to fight for it.

In the RCN (England) there is a minority in favour of a Scottish workers' republic. At the last meeting, they were given every opportunity to state their case. We bent over backwards for them. If the supporters of a Scottish workers' republic found that their democratic rights in the RCN were abused and curtailed, they would be obstructed from winning their case. This has not happened.

All RCN (Britain) meetings are characterised by high tension, with rumours of plots and counter-plots. They usually turn out rather more mature, democratic and sensible than the pre-match hype suggests. There seems to be a fear that a majority might take over. Unfortunately that is one of the problems of democracy. Eventually a majority will take over. Most damage comes when the minority try to extend their hold on power. This is what happened in Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party. He even came up with a block vote from a miners' welfare association to cling on.

The Scottish workers' republic slogan, at this moment in time, enjoys support from only a minority of organised republican communists. That may not always be the case. However, there should be no rules or bureaucratic measures to deny a majority. To try to prevent the majority expressing itself as a majority is profoundly undemocratic. It is a veto.

The classic minority veto is the protestant veto in Northern Ireland. The history of the last 80 years has been about denying the right of the majority of the Irish people to self-determination. Such a denial is profoundly undemocratic. In Ireland the minority is fearful that they will lose all rights if their true status as a minority is reflected in reality. Our minority seems to have the same siege mentality.

Once our minority becomes a recognised minority, there will be nothing left for them to lose. If the majority starts to stitch them up, the Scottish workers' republic will take the moral high ground. The federal republicans will be losing. We would be bureaucratically in power, but our political bankruptcy and downfall would only be a matter of time.

If the minority was to walk out on the basis that a majority of republican communists passed a motion in favour of a federal republic, then it would not be our political bankruptcy that was on show. It would be theirs. They would be saying that their arguments are so weak and their self-confidence so low that they will never be able to win their case.

The RCN is a kind of federal democracy. We have three 'parliaments' or assemblies of republican communists. There is an all-Britain assembly, plus assemblies for Scotland and England. This structure will enable us to get a clear picture of the nature of the majorities. At present there is a majority in England for a federal republic. It seems probable that there is a majority in the All-Britain assembly. That will be decided on Saturday. But there is no majority for this position in RCN (Scotland). It is possible that the Scottish workers' republic might win a majority there.

The RCN is a federal network, not a democratic centralist network. The fact that we may have an asymmetrical view is quite acceptable. Even if there were majorities in all three assemblies, there would still be a minority of Scottish workers' republicans in all three. They still have autonomous rights. They have access to all official publications. Nobody has proposed or is proposing that supporters of the Scottish workers' republic are excluded or voted off the editorial board, for example. Certainly the RDG would want the minority to be represented on the editorial board. The minority will also have complete freedom to publish whatever criticism they like, not only inside the RCN, but outside.

In our network there is no limit to freedom of expression. Neither will any comrade be bound by discipline or the threat of discipline to act or vote in a particular way. The network is not a tendency or a party. It is simply an association of comrades with similar, but different views.

What additional freedoms would these comrades want? The only one I can suggest is their right as a minority to prevent the current majority expressing its position as a democratically recognised majority. It is a 'freedom' that cannot be supported or justified by any democrat.

Dave Craig (RDG)