Unity and the SSP

Is working class unity helped by a separate Scottish Socialist Party and the strategy for an 'independent socialist Scotland'? The following exchange took place recently on the Socialist Alliance internet discussion list between Bob Goupillot - a member of the Republican Communist Network (Scotland), one of the SSP's smaller platforms - and Jack Conrad. Things kicked off when comrade Goupillot defended the SSP after a posting by Jim Gilbert


Trotskyist groups and 'parties' exhibit no understanding of what real democratic centralism is about. They seem to understand the centralism part and assume that the 'democratic' modifier has the effect of stifling any public disagreement with the group's line; this is not democratic centralism, but bureaucratic centralism. The 'official' CPs were much the same, but often less 'disciplined' about it (ie, a little more leeway before expulsion). But Trotskyist understanding seems to see splitting as a positive thing, a bastardised spiritual cleansing of the soul.

What we need is a Marxist party, untrammelled by this nonsense about halfway houses. Anything else is, quite literally, a waste of time and effort. We can't build it overnight, but it has to be started. This discussion forum is one small part of that beginning.

The shame of the SSP is that like all good intentions, apparent or real, they pave the way to hell. In this specific case, the nationalist hell. Leading SSPers actually welcome being in the same camp as the vile bourgeois nationalists of the SNP, come the next elections in Scotland. Incredible. It is also a crime against the British working class.

Jim Gilbert


Where is your evidence that "Leading SSPers actually welcome being in the same camp as the vile bourgeois nationalists of the SNP"?

Bob Goupillot


Quite frankly I find it amazing that comrade Bob needs 'proof' from Jim Gilbert about the intentions of the SSP.

One would expect someone who is a member of the Republican Communist Network (Scotland) to be aggressively and tirelessly campaigning against the national socialism of both the Sheridanite and McCombesite wings.

But then maybe not. Does not the RCN (Scotland) back an independent 'socialist' Scotland?

Jack Conrad


In response to Jack and Jim.

You assume that breaking up the UK state is the same as breaking up the unity of the working class, which it isn't. The RCN and the SSP support workers' struggles all over the globe, including in England, Wales and Ireland.

From another perspective how do you think politically conscious workers in Venezuela, Nepal, Iraq, Ireland or anywhere else would view the break-up of the UK state by socialist forces?

You mistake your own unquestioned assumptions for facts.

In comradeship,


European strategy

Dear Bob

I'll let my old friend Jim speak for himself.

Communists - at least communists organised in the CPGB - do not look forward to breaking apart the UK state by cleaving away an SNP Scotland. Nor do we look forward to an SNP Scotland in which the SSP minority has the great privilege of arguing about whether the working class should be exploited through sterling, the euro or the Scottish pound. That is all true.

Instead, we look to smashing the UK as an integral part of the struggle for a Europe dominated by the working class. That would be our best possible contribution to the world revolution.

As a general principle we begin with the idea of one party in one state - that was put forward by Marx himself at the last congress of the First International, the Second International and the Third International. I don't know about the so-called Fourth. But obviously none of that that has anything to do with patriotism. We say, unite all working class forces against the UK state.

Clearly the SSP is opposed to this general principle. Ideologically it stands not in the tradition of Marxism, but national socialism of the kind espoused by Joseph Pilsudski. It not only advocates the disunity of the working class in Britain: its strives to deepen and exacerbate divisions. Only a nationalist or a sycophant would deny it.

Given uneven development, we have to develop a viable strategy that can put the working class into a position of standing up to US imperialism - without being reduced to the abject poverty and hollow pretence of a Cuba. Hence our strategic emphasis on a Communist Party of the EU.

I don't know what communists - not Maoists or Stalinites - in Nepal have to say on that in detail. But from my knowledge of them, I guess they find it inspirational. Hopefully they will in the future hold out the hand of party coordination/unity to their fellow communists in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc. When I have spoken to them that is what I strongly advise.

As for Venezuela, unless I am badly mistaken, Chávez envisages a Bolivarian revolution uniting the South American continent. With due criticism of the limitations and dangers inherent in his petty bourgeois radicalism, I certainly find that inspirational.

Something, sadly, I cannot say about the prospect of a Scottish 'socialism'. Surely a repetition of Joseph Stalin, albeit in miniature.

All the best

Jack Conrad

As quickly as we can

Dear Jack

I will respond as best I can to what I see as your most relevant points.

1. One party, one state

My understanding is that Marx did not adhere to this principle in all situations. Specifically he supported Irish socialists having their own organisation when Ireland was part of the UK state. This is not to say that the situation of Scotland is the same as Ireland, but merely to point out that the 'one party, one state' rule does not always apply and might be superseded by other political considerations. We value our abstract principles, but they are not a substitute for thinking about each situation concretely and practically.

2. Working class unity against the UK state

I am very much in favour of this. However, the UK state is an involuntary union of three nations and a part of Ireland. Your policy of a federal republic recognises this but does not, in my opinion, address it sufficiently. In order for there to be a voluntary union the constituent nations must first experience real autonomy/independence, organise some sort of democratic and representative constituent assembly and then vote for union. This logically presupposes a period of independence of unknown length. I believe that recognising and addressing this issue sensitively increases the likelihood of working class unity against the UK state. The federal republic slogan doesn't indicate how we might achieve such an arrangement and so remains merely that - a slogan.

Given the lack of unity amongst the left in England and Wales, we are not proposing to wait but to move ahead as quickly as we can. We are not separatists: we seek close, fraternal relations with other socialists, particularly within the UK and Ireland, because we oppose the same state. We have a different experience, analysis and strategy than the CPGB, but that does not make us nationalists.

For comradeship and internationalism


Thinking things through

Dear Bob

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply.

1. 'One party, one state' is not an absolute principle. Of course, you are right. But few principles are - except perhaps that there are no absolute principles. Nevertheless, 'one party, one state' is a general approach for Marxists. The exceptions prove the rule. You cite Ireland. But Ireland, as you will readily acknowledge, was/is an oppressed nation with a powerful and dominating national movement. Scotland was/is an integral part of the British imperialist project.

2. Marx moved a motion on 'one state, one party' at the last congress of the First International. And that principle was, as I said in my last posting, taken up by the Second and Third Internationals. Why? Not because they were incapable of thinking. We are interested in the most effective unity of the working class. We are interested in the unity of the working class on an international scale, but specifically, in the first instance, against our 'own' ruling class. Politics moves according to a common rhythm within particular states - the working class needs to respond as one. Eg, general elections, wars, interest rates. Hence the principle of 'one party, one state'.

3. There is nothing within Britain at the present moment that leads me to conclude that Scotland has become an oppressed nation and that antagonisms between English-Welsh workers and Scottish workers has become so intense that trade union, party, etc unity is impossible - the situation in the 19th century UK with Ireland.

4. Things are decided by struggle and politics. Lenin and Luxemburg - correctly in my opinion - came to oppose the Marx-Engels line on kingdom Poland: ie, for independence. Despite Poland still being an oppressed nation they favoured working class unity in the tsarist empire and fought against Joseph Pilsudski's Polish Socialist Party. This was possible not least because Russian workers opposed tsarism and stood by the principle of self-determination. Proven beyond doubt by their splendid militancy in 1905.

5. That is why the CPGB stresses the necessity of workers in England/Wales taking up the Scottish national question. We do not leave it up to the Scots, but champion their right to self-determination. Something that could be realised in a federal republic, which would represent a higher - ie, more democratic - form of unity. In general, it should be pointed out, we are against federalism and for centralism.

You are right to point out that we must think things through and not simply repeat this or that biblical certainty from the past. We in the CPGB have done exactly that. Our federal republic is no less and no more concrete than the SSP's independent Scotland. Both are strategic goals. But, whereas one is integrated into a plan for the unity of the working class against the UK state, European unity and serves to unite our forces for world revolution, the other points to a coalition government with the SNP, with the SSP serving as the junior partner. And frankly, if it ever came about, an independent 'socialist' Scotland would be a Cuba. We want to set the whole of Europe aflame. The revolution should be based not on tiny units rushing ahead in suicide missions, but planned on the basis of building deep organisation and winning a majority in the EU.

6. Your idea that every nation must first be independent before there can be unity is clearly nationalist. Do you extend that to the EU too? And are not Scotland and Wales characterised by highland-lowland, north-south national divisions? There are very few nation-states and plenty of oppressed minority nations/nationalities in the world. Think about India, China and most of Africa. The idea of 'Yugloslavising' the whole world - ie, breaking up most states into small national units, presumably initially under capitalism - is a recipe for barbarism, not socialism.

Best wishes