Labour or SSP

Much of the debate between Vince Mills and Hugh Kerr has focused on what John McAllion or George Galloway may or may not have said at recent meetings.

For the record, I can confirm the accuracy of Hugh’s recollection of John McAllion’s speech at the SSP’s Socialism 2003 conference. To paraphrase, John McAllion did say he would have nothing further to do with New Labour as a candidate or member (perhaps the ‘New’ is his get-out clause) and that he was contemplating joining the Scottish Socialist Party. If John McAllion has changed his mind, that is his prerogative, but for Vince to threaten Hugh with “legal consequences” for drawing conclusions from John McAllion’s words of just five weeks ago suggests that Hugh has struck a sensitive part of Vince’s political anatomy (Weekly Worker November 20).

But beyond any individual’s decision about his or her political future lie issues of longer lasting relevance. Should socialists be active in the Labour Party? As a Labour Party member for many years (and, for that matter, a member of the Campaign for Socialism) until I left to join the SSP five years ago, I understand the attractions of involvement in a mass party with ‘organic’ links with the trade union movement.

However, I concluded that Labour Party membership, in the present era at least, is a trap for socialists. Just consider. If all socialists were in the Labour Party, where would be the socialist lead in campaigning against New Labour’s privatisations and cuts? In Glasgow, for instance, without the SSP, who would have opposed the city council’s privatisation of schools, sell-off of council housing or closure of vital local facilities? Certainly not the Campaign for Socialism’s councillors, who voted through these attacks on historic working class gains.

I agree with Vince that apolitical trade unionism is one of the biggest threats to the British labour movement. But, surely, it is New Labour which, with one assault on the working class after another, demonstrates to trade unionists the futility of their current political links? It is those building a socialist alternative to New Labour who offer the hope of a new political initiative to the millions in Britain’s trade unions. Vince seems unaware of the moves by the RMT in Scotland to support the SSP. Already £5,000 has been donated for research into the SSP’s rail nationalisation bill. Affiliation by RMT branches in set to follow.

By the way, the SSP polled particularly strongly in Kelvin’s council seats this May. As organiser for Kelvin SSP for two years until last year, I can confirm that membership doubled to 200 in the course of the election campaign with a particularly strong influx of young people. Indeed, the relative youth of SSP membership compared with almost all other parties is a striking affirmation of the party’s vitality.

Vince bemoans a cult of “activism” in the SSP, which he believes diverts attention from theoretical work. Well, activism is certainly in short supply on the Labour left - although Vince and other comrades are to be congratulated on the Labour Against the War initiative - but it is also many a decade since anyone on the Labour left produced a comprehensive theoretical, or just plain policy, alternative to the onward march of New Labour.

In the SSP, by contrast, we openly discuss and debate even core issues, such as the SSP’s support for Scottish independence. And I speak as one of those who Vince observes have expressed “unease” about the SSP’s “nationalist turn”. I believe that a rising tide of working class activism across Britain will present a strong challenge to the SSP leadership’s focus on an exclusively Scottish context.

The SSP could do with a theoretical journal, but, even now, the weekly Scottish Socialist Voice hosts debates, we organise political discussion meetings at branch and regional level and every year a weekend political education conference discusses a wide range of issues.  SSP platforms provide further avenues for developing political ideas.

Vince obviously does not intend to leave the Labour Party. I wish him luck in his endeavours. But there is no reason why he and other comrades on the Labour left should not engage with the debates within the SSP or even with the SSP’s “activism”. Socialists, whatever their current political home, should strive to keep open channels of communication.

Labour or SSP
Labour or SSP

Democratic centralism

I recently engaged CPGB member Ian Donovan in a discussion on the UK Left Network email list which moved on to the question of democratic centralism, with Ian arguing that the CPGB’s version - with minorities (and individuals) having the right to publicly argue for their minority views and have them published in the party press - was a continuation of the method of Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Ian gave a number of examples that on the surface seemed to back this up.

I did some research on the Marxist Internet Archive and found two resolutions from the 2nd and 3rd Congresses of the Comintern dealing with the organisational forms and methods of communist organisations (‘Terms of admission into Communist International’ - http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm; and ‘The organisational structure of the communist parties; the methods and content of their work: theses’ - http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/3rd-congress/party-theses.htm).

I quoted the relevant sections of these resolutions that expose the CPGB’s claim to stand in the tradition of Bolshevism as untrue and asked if Ian agreed with the political content of the resolutions. Instead of responding directly Ian referred to a document written by Lenin prior to the 4th Congress of the Comintern in which Lenin criticised the 3rd Congress resolution (available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/nov/04b.htm - the last two paragraphs are what is in dispute). Ian argued that this showed that Lenin disagreed with the political content of the 3rd Congress resolution and in Ian’s opinion both the 2nd and 3rd Congress resolutions were examples of creeping bureaucratisation and Zinovievism.

This is a blatant misrepresentation of the historical record and I write this letter to expose Ian’s revisionism to his comrades and other readers of your paper. In the document Ian referred to, Lenin actually said: “... the resolution is excellently drafted; I am prepared to subscribe to every one of its 50 or more points. But we have not learnt how to present our Russian experience to foreigners.”

It is absolutely clear that there is no hint anywhere in this document that Lenin thought that the 3rd Congress resolution was politically flawed in its content. Lenin quite clearly thought that it was a problem of presentation.

I personally very much doubt that the CPGB’s petty bourgeois, individualistic version of democratic centralism is the best way to organise communist organisations, but what is absolutely without doubt is that it is not in the tradition of the revolutionary Communist International.

Democratic centralism
Democratic centralism