Growing tensions

Beneath the surface not everything is well between the Scottish Socialist Party leadership and the Socialist Worker platform. In this controversial and closed document, presented to the SW platform's October 5 aggregate, Mark Brown discusses what he calls the "risk" of a shift by the SSP leadership "in the direction of a left-nationalist, reformist politics", the leadership's anti-Labour sectarianism and the need to increase the circulation of Socialist Worker. While we pose the necessity of an all-Britain democratic centralist party, the SW comrades still suffer from a narrow, sect-building perspective

The history of the left in Britain is riddled with overblown claims about 'historic' demonstrations and strikes which were supposed to have 'turned the tide' of the class struggle. However, it should be apparent to all socialists that the 350,000-strong anti-war demo in London on Saturday September 28 was a genuinely historic occasion. Not only was it the biggest anti-war or peace protest in Britain in living memory, not only did it occur before the war has even started, but revolutionary Marxists played a far stronger and more coherent role within it than has ever been the case in the British Isles before. The march was the most socially diverse demonstration that Britain has ever seen and reflected the fact that the post-9/11 'war on terrorism' - far from undermining the anti-capitalist movement by generating sympathy for the United States - has deepened its politicisation. September 28 was overwhelmingly an anti-imperialist protest (as the huge support for the Palestinian cause showed); that is why the politics of Socialist Worker cut with the grain. Comrades who walked past the US embassy in Grosvenor Square after the demo and witnessed the temporary concrete barriers and fences and the police armed with sub-machine guns will know how nervous the British and US ruling classes were. The effect of September 28 is that the anti-war movement is now in a position to split the Labour Party and create mass social unrest if Blair backs Bush's war, or even to force him to withdraw from the imperialist adventure altogether. The willingness of the firefighters to take industrial action over pay at a time when an FBU strike could stretch the British army to breaking point is the sharpest indication of the level of opposition to the war within the organised working class. New mood As we saw on September 28, the anti-war movement and the anti-capitalist movement are very much related. The link was made between the madness of imperialist war and the capitalist system which breeds it. The number of trade union banners on the demo indicated that organised labour is in no way separated from the muslim community or radicalised students where the anti-war movement is concerned. John Monks and rightwing union leaders such as Roger Lyons (of MSF-Amicus) were only able to get their soft anti-war motion (which leaves open the option of supporting a UN-sanctioned attack) with the use of the block vote. The majority of delegates backed the harder motion supported by the likes of Bob Crow (of the RMT) and Mark Serwotka (of the PCS). SSP and the war The history of socialists and imperialist war has usually seen the labour movement split into two distinct wings: pro-imperialist social democracy (as characterised by the British Labour Party) and anti-imperialist revolutionary Marxism (rooted in the tradition of the Bolshevik Party in Russia). However, there is a third, centrist, position on war - one which counterposes domestic issues to imperialist war. Such politics make a false separation between the poverty and exploitation of capitalism within any given nation (the so-called 'bread and butter' issues) and the question of imperialist conflict. Such centrists take a formal position opposed to war, but prioritise political activity on domestic issues over anti-imperialist mobilisations. This is the politics of the SSP leadership at the current time. Not only did the party leadership entirely abdicate its political responsibility by pressing ahead with the cultural event in Glasgow which clashed with the September 28 demo, but members of the leadership openly attempted to obstruct and undermine the building of the march. The SSP leadership has long held up the Clydeside revolutionary John MacLean as a model for the left in Scotland. It is correct that it does so. There has never been a better time to re-examine MacLean's legacy. MacLean came into conflict with communist leaders such as Willie Gallagher because they created a false separation between supposedly 'domestic' industrial issues and World War I. While they were personally opposed to the war, Gallagher and others on the Clyde Workers' Committee took an effectively syndicalist position which left anti-war agitation to 'political' mobilisations separate from the 'economic! struggle of the workplace. MacLean made it clear that a war abroad creates a deepening of the class war at home. Firstly, it is in the interests of working class people to oppose war and build international solidarity against capitalism as a global system. The jingoism that attends war weds workers to their bosses and separates them from workers of other nations. Secondly, the ruling class uses the 'national emergency' of war as an excuse to increase the rate of exploitation, attack wages and conditions, and even raise rents. MacLean and like-minded revolutionaries conducted their industrial and rent strike work on the basis of their opposition to the war: they did not see such campaigns as separate from their anti-imperialist stance. It is the job of revolutionaries within the SSP to fight for this interpretation of MacLean's politics to be understood and put into practice. Future of SSP The danger is that if the MacLean model is not adopted by the SSP in the coming months the ongoing issue of the war will be seen as a distraction from, rather than a central mobilising issue of, the Scottish parliamentary election campaign. The majority of people in Scotland, as across Britain as a whole, are opposed to the war. No matter how ruling class arguments, such as over the legitimacy of a UN-sanctioned war, affect that, the fact remains that an anti-war stance can only gain votes for the SSP. MacLean's internationalism is both correct in principle for the SSP, and potentially advantageous electorally. The audience for a socialist party such as the SSP in the current period is an anti-war audience. Disillusioned Labour voters and, to a lesser extent, radical SNP voters could swell the SSP's support, both in terms of new members and new voters, on the basis of a renewed commitment to the anti-war movement. General disillusionment with the Blair government and McConnell's Scottish executive (and the Scottish parliament itself) is likely to see a rise in SSP support in any case. We should be clear, however, that if the party fights a 'bread and butter' campaign - with the war as a footnote - any rise in support will come despite, not because of, the lack of anti-war propaganda. SW platform comrades must be bringing the best experiences from the anti-war movement into the SSP branches in order to convince the SSP membership, and, in turn, the leadership of this perspective. Related to the SSP's position on the war are the issues of our attitude, as socialists, to members of the Labour Party and the SNP. There is a tendency within some SSP circles to write off the Labour Party membership entirely, and see the SNP membership as fertile recruiting ground. The September 28 demonstration saw a significant minority of Labour Party members turn out in defiance of their party leadership. Ken Livingstone, who is desperate to get back into the Labour Party, and who has supported Blair's military actions in the past, spoke in opposition to the war. He calculates, correctly, that his stance is popular among Labour members in London. The Labour membership in Scotland is no different. The SSP should be the natural home for disillusioned Labour members, many of whom are moving to the left. By contrast, the SNP's project to break through in working class areas remains a failure. The brief flirtations which have occurred in the past between a minority of workers - mainly in Govan and Hamilton - and the Scottish Nationalists do not suggest that the primary audience for socialists in Scotland lies among SNP members and voters. Again, Marxists within the SSP must be at the forefront of attempts to win the argument that a sectarian attitude to Labour members and an over-enthusiastic view of the SNP membership threatens to damage the party's prospects of growth and political development. The risk of the argument being lost is that the SSP shifts in the direction of a left-nationalist, reformist politics. Finally the SW platform has to readdress itself to how it operates within the SSP. When policies, such as those over a secular Palestinian state or a rank-and-file trade union strategy, are passed at party conference, we must be at the heart of galvanising party members around them in order that they are implemented, and do not remain as merely paper resolutions. Sadly, over the course of the process of selecting candidates for next year's elections, the SSP leadership has not acted in a way that suggests it wishes to see the SW platform at the heart of the election campaign or of the SSP project. We must address this by bringing the new mood - not only from the anti-war movement, but also from the anti-capitalist movement, Palestinian solidarity work etc - into the SSP branches, rejuvenating the party and making general political work and the election campaign fully integrated, rather than separate issues. Where now? Few comrades would claim the SSP project as the best model for international left regroupment. The inability of our platform to sell Socialist Worker publicly has clearly had a damaging effect on sales of the paper and, in combination with the generally poor standard of Scottish Socialist Voice, the situation has been damaging to the morale of many of our comrades. The experiences of platform comrades within the SSP varies considerably throughout the country, but generally it has been our united front work - over the war, the anti-capitalist movement, Palestine, refugees, etc - rather than our work in the SSP branches which has helped us to maintain our political focus. Our 17 months in the SSP have been a learning curve. We did lose many of the best habits of our SWP tradition - such as our rapid, independent response to industrial events, to name but one. However, we have begun to address the organisational weaknesses which have crept in and we have seen good results in strong platform meetings in various parts of the country and, of course, the superb Scottish contribution to the September 28 demo, at which we were at the very heart. The strengthening of the platform must continue, in the shape of new local committees to take care of new members and existing members who have drifted, and increasing the circulation of Socialist Worker through re-established distribution networks. The committees, unlike the old SWP district committees, should not become substitutionist clubs which take on the work of the district. They should spearhead the delegation of work throughout the district so that comrades are taking care of membership, paper distribution and activity within their localities. The success of such tightening of organisation and attention to detail, along with vibrant regular platform meetings, will be easily measured in the increased sale of Socialist Worker and the number of comrades becoming re-engaged politically. It is also the best defence against any future attempt to disband platforms, which may occur soon after the Scottish parliamentary elections, and would, first and foremost, be an attack on us. The crucial point is that we relate primarily to the historic events going on around us, and act independently of the SSP leadership whenever necessary in order to seize the opportunities the new political mood gives us. So, for example, the September 28 demo creates a superb opportunity to link the war and the industrial struggle amongst firefighters. The SSP leadership will not do this, but we must: wherever possible through local SSP branches; otherwise through propaganda produced through local anti-war groups, Globalise Resistance, etc. The obstructiveness of the SSP leadership is not an excuse for inactivity, but a challenge to be politically creative. We must not become obsessed with the SSP leadership in the way that they are obsessed with us at the expense of relating to the outside world. Events may yet knock the leadership's parochial electoralism off course, but, whatever the future of the SSP (whether it shifts rightwards, or takes an unexpected move to the left, or, indeed, splits, as many centrist organisations have done in the past), our ability to shape the situation as it develops depends entirely on how we relate to the struggles of today and the weeks and months to come, and how we build the SW platform in the process.