SSP needs unity

As the Scottish Socialist Party gathers in Dundee this weekend for our first ever delegate conference, comrades will no doubt be reflecting on the executive's paper, 'Preparing for 2003', which places the party firmly on the Scottish parliamentary road to socialism through the ballot box. Since its launch in 1996 (as the Scottish Socialist Alliance) the SSP has continued to attract support and build its membership. We are the fastest growing political party in Scotland and, quite correctly, promote ourselves as the champion of the working class, the only party that consistently campaigns against the inequalities and injustices facing our class in the struggle for survival against the ascendancy of capital. In Scotland, the working class has traditionally looked to the Labour Party to serve its interests, but that party is no longer considered by increasing numbers to have the interests of ordinary people anywhere on their agenda, and a credible alternative has to emerge to fill the vacuum created by Labour's departure to the right. The SSP has taken on that responsibility, and has certainly made a tremendous impact on the consciousness of many people in Scotland and elsewhere - a remarkable achievement, given the short period of time the SSP has been around. Credit must obviously be given to the SSP's only representative in the Scottish parliament, Tommy Sheridan, but there has also been massive activity and contributions made by grassroots members. However, we have to be aware of the dangers that lie ahead. The executive's paper ponders whether we should concentrate our electoral energies and resources only in areas where we might be successful or whether we should maximise our challenge throughout the whole country. The drain on party funds is of course daunting, but it is important that the SSP is seen not just as yet another political party which appears from time to time only when seeking electoral approval, but as a genuine fighting force against the enemies of our class, before, during and after elections. To build a mass party capable of withstanding the attacks (that will surely follow) from those who would oppose us, we have to organise our forces on the widest possible front and in every community and workplace so that we can reach everyone who will be attracted to and supportive of our politics. Delegates must realise that the socialist alternative we talk of in our manifesto cannot be achieved by voting in SSP candidates - and it certainly cannot be achieved in Scotland alone. Our prime aim in contesting elections must be to build a mass socialist party, one prepared to join forces with comrades in England and Wales to take on the power of the UK state. Using elections and the Scottish parliament to express our socialist principles is a perfectly acceptable tactic, but as our support throughout Scotland increases, as it surely will, can delegates be certain that by choosing the parliamentary road to socialism the SSP does not itself become like the establishment parties we oppose? Secondly, if the aim of the SSP executive to work with other parties in favour of an independence referendum after the next Holyrood election is successful, and if the people of Scotland decide to sever all constitutional connections with the rest of Britain, delegates would do well to consider the SSP's chances of survival in a post-independence Scotland. As we struggle to build a society free from the poverty that still entraps far too many of our families, as we struggle to remove all forms of prejudice, inequality and intolerance suffered by our class, the SSP may find that trying to build socialism within the confines of Scotland will strike fear and alarm into those neighbouring states who do not share our desire to destroy the economic system that enslaves humanity. We may find that we experience the conditions Cuba has had to endure during the last 43 years. Whether or not the people of Scotland would tolerate having to put up with similar experiences and make the personal sacrifices necessary to sustain such a 'socialist government' remains to be seen. The SSP recognises in formal terms that in this age of global communication and transnational capitalism the battle for socialism cannot be confined within the borders of a single state. So why independence? Breaking away from our working class comrades in the rest of Britain can only be regarded as a retrograde step in the struggle for socialism. The British state can be permanently defeated only through its destruction - which can only be achieved through the united action of workers throughout Britain. Interestingly, despite the SSP's separatist drive, there is a motion before conference (B2) which calls for the "creation of a broad-based European Socialist Alliance" with a programme of opposing the anti-working class programme of the European Union. Excellent. But surely there is a gaping contradiction here. If it is correct to unite organisationally on a Europe-wide scale why is it so wrong to do so in Britain? To the extent that the EU takes on state form, to that extent the organisations of the working class will need to come together to oppose it. That means EU trade unions, an EU TUC and a single political party of the working class organised throughout the EU - a European SA could be the first step towards achieving that. But in Britain we have a more urgent task. The UK constitutional monarchy state already exists. Our class enemy organises its "armed bodies of men" under a single command across the whole of its territory, yet, criminally, our working class forces are divided by nationalism. Our party should reject the chimera of a Scottish independent road to 'socialism' and actively seek unity with the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, with the aim of uniting within an all-Britain party capable of taking on and defeating the system of capital and its state. Ronnie Mejka