Unity is democratic demand too

The Scottish Socialist Party's national council met in Stirling on Sunday October 26 with around 150 delegates and observers in attendance. Sarah McDonald reports

The main debate of the afternoon was a continuation of the independence convention discussion from the last NC, and to some extent the NC before that. At June’s meeting Alan McCombes had presented a document on the national question in the light of May’s Scottish parliamentary election. He asked for and won endorsement of his paper calling for the setting up of a convention to put the SSP at the head of the pro-independence movement. The NC voted overwhelmingly to accept the idea in principle, with the proviso that the document was looked at so that technical problems could be sorted out.

At last Sunday’s meeting the NC had to return to the issue for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Socialist Worker platform had objected to the idea that independence was something to be actively pursued. This was brought out into the open at the previous weekend’s Socialism 2003 school in Glasgow, which featured a high-profile debate between the SW platform’s Neil Davidson and comrade McCombes - ‘Is independence progressive?’ It was widely thought that the SW comrades would continue to voice opposition to the SSP’s policy shift to championing an independent capitalist Scotland on the NC. But, as it turned out, it was comrade McCombes, not the SW platform, who was up for a fight. A fact underlined by his flying visit to their platform meeting the day before. He is determined to hammer them into submission … and indeed the SW platform’s main concern now seems to be asking technical questions, such as who was likely to be involved in the convention and what it would actually entail.

The independence debate was also re-ignited as a result of the motions and amendments submitted to the NC. A friendly one, from Springburn branch, was accepted by comrade McCombes and carried by the NC. The other came from Dundee and had its political source in the Committee for a Workers’ International. It was aggressively oppositional. The CWI motion argued against the convention on the grounds that independence was not in itself progressive and that calling for an independent Scotland rather than an independent socialist Scotland was an abandonment of class politics.

Comrade McCombes pointed out to the CWI comrades that in the past they had seen independence without the precondition of socialism as progressive and had voted for previous documents that had contained this notion - the same argument he had used to savage the SW platform the previous week.

These documents comrade McCombes referred to were, of course, written by himself before what is now the International Socialist Movement split from the CWI. Since then Peter Taaffe’s remaining loyalists in Scotland have made a significant change in emphasis, if not an official change in policy, on the national question. Their motion - in effect a defence of yesterday’s orthodoxy - still called for independence (albeit of the “socialist” variety).

As a result of this hopelessly muddled and politically incoherent position it was impossible for those of us who defend working class unity as a matter of principle to vote for it. Communists envisage for the future transition to communism not a myriad of independent ‘socialist’ states. We oppose moves to Balkanise the world. Instead we favour the biggest socialist states objective  circumstances permit - not least a European socialist republic. In the meantime we adhere to the organisational guidelines laid down by the First International and repeated by the Second and Third Internationals - one state, one party.

The CWI motion was defeated by a large majority, with 13 delegates, including the SW platform, voting in favour and 10 abstentions.

Comrade McCombes spoke for about 20 minutes. His main thrust being that Scottish independence was a democratic demand. That is why socialists should support it. Independence would not necessarily lead to socialism - but then nor did the anti-apartheid movement and other movements for democracy.

For the Marxist point of view comrade McCombes is fundamentally wrong. He has substituted nationalism for socialism. Yes, communists champion democratic demands - the struggle for socialism is victory in the battle for democracy. But as a general rule we favour the democratic demand for unity over the demand for separation. That is why in the programme of Marxism, as opposed to nationalism, one generally finds the demand for national self-determination. This is not a call for independence, but enshrines the right to separate and the right to unite. That is why the CPGB raises the demand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, in which each national component is guaranteed the right to self-determination, a right which communists advocate should be exercised in favour of voluntary unity.

Comrade McCombes has pointedly asked the SW comrades at their platform meeting to clarify their position on independence. How would they respond to a referendum on the question at some point in the near future? He demanded to know what they would be calling for in a referendum campaign. Apparently the comrades were not forthcoming with an answer. They could not, would not, say one way or the other - because it was “hypothetical”. As comrade McCombes correctly pointed out, socialists are faced with all manner of hypothetical questions all the time. And in fact the prospect of revolutionary socialists and communists having to deal with such a situation in the next few years is not so improbable. More to the point, it is a living question in the SSP and Scottish politics now - because of their programmatic and political weaknesses the SW platform is unable to give an answer.

Of course Alan McCombes and the majority of SSP comrades would vote ‘yes’ in a referendum, because, allegedly we would, in his words, be “faced with a choice of lining up with the progressive elements calling for independence or lining up with the conservative elements supporting the British state.” Comrade McCombes would vote for the “break-up of the British state.”

Marxism eschews such a crude ‘either-or’ approach. We must begin by asking, what is in the best interests of our class? Surely we want to do more than weaken the British state through separatism. We want to overthrow the United Kingdom state - and that can only be achieved through the militant unity of our class.