SSP retreats before drugs onslaught

On April 1 Scotland's mass-circulation Daily Record is organising an anti-drugs demonstration in Glasgow. The paper hopes to boost its circulation and is quite happy to create hysteria as a by-product.

Needless to say, its plan is working. Apparently hotlines have been inundated with calls from those wishing to 'name and shame' drug dealers, and it would be fair to speculate that the demonstration will be well attended, mainly by members of working class communities, where social conditions create the negative effect that heroin, for example, has in such circumstances.

Thankfully, this reactionary demonstration will not go unopposed. Originally Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party's drugs spokesperson, Kevin Williamson, tried to book George Square in order to hold a counter-demonstration. However, Glasgow city council refused to grant permission on the grounds that violence between the two groups of demonstrators would be the likely result.

There has also been some debate within the SSP over this tactic. Some (namely the rump Committee for a Workers' International) have suggested that by staging a separate demonstration we would be alienating workers who have seen their communities destroyed by heroin. What of course we should be doing is making 'Fight heroin' our main slogan, with 'Legalise cannabis' becoming a secondary demand. How very Peter Taaffe. To the CWI's credit, however, it did also point out that at the time when comrades Sheridan and Williamson tried to book George Square, nobody, not even the executive, had been consulted - which yet again raises the important issue of the accountability of the leadership.

Now it seems the counter-action to the anti-drugs march will be a lot tamer. It has been advertised in Scottish Socialist Voice in this way: "Fight heroin - legalise cannabis. For a new approach to drugs. After the Record's vitriol and propaganda, hear the truth about our drugs policy." There will be a public rally following the protest.

The SSP seems to have been taken aback by the Daily Record's attacks on comrade Sheridan, following his principled condemnation of the latest reactionary campaign and his public call to legalise cannabis - not at all what the populist press wanted to hear from an MSP.

But now the SSP is going to great lengths to counter what it sees as bad publicity. Not only has the emphasis of the action changed to 'Fight heroin' - exactly what the CWI was demanding - but large sections of this week's Voice are devoted to the same cause. The front page article tells the story of SSP comrade Jim Bollan, whose daughter died of drug "abuse" (March 14).

What the SSP is doing is pandering to reaction. Although it is sticking to its guns in maintaining the call for the legalisation of cannabis, this goes nowhere near far enough. In itself it is not a demand which raises working class consciousness. In isolation it ends up simply tailing bourgeois liberal (and not so liberal) opinion, elements of which are already making the same call. What the SSP should be calling for is the legalisation of all drugs.

The 'war against drugs' is really part of the ruling class's armoury to control the lives of the population. It has been used as a cover for the introduction of repressive legislation.

It is not drugs per se that create the negative social effects, but the way in which they are sold and used. Not only would legalisation provide for quality control, preventing drugs from being cut with extenders (generally more hazardous than the drug itself); at a stroke it would remove the power of the anti-social illegal gangs. It would also do something even more important: it would socialise these drugs.

Alcohol, one of the most dangerous of drugs, is of course fully legal. Alcoholism is a real problem, but, because alcohol consumption is socialised, only a small percentage of users become addicted. It is the very illegality of 'hard' drugs that exacerbates the problems associated with their use, including addiction. Social stigma acts to further alienate from society sections that are already largely excluded, and has a far more detrimental effect on users than any addiction.

Tommy Sheridan instinctively stated his opposition to the Daily Record's reactionary campaign and for that he should be commended and defended against attempts to witch-hunt him. Unfortunately, however, the SSP shows signs of being intimidated into playing down its call even to legalise cannabis.

The left must consistently put forward independent working class politics. It must avoid the temptation to tail.

Carol Newson