The 'Open Turn' | Home | News | Donate | Join | Print

Marxists and the British

Labour Party

For The Scottish Turn: Against Dogmatic Methods In Thought And Action

Majority Document

[Previous] [Next]

The Scottish Turn

191. The proposal for the Scottish turn was presented to the NEB in April. At that time, it was unanimously accepted. Plans were made for a thorough discussion throughout the tendency. This was before the question of Walton came up. The call for the turn arose out of the experience of the last few years and an assessment of the opportunities for the tendency's growth in Scotland in the next period. The case for the new turn is set out in Scotland, perspectives and tasks, 1991.

192. The tendency has built up a tremendous fund of political capital through our successful leadership of the anti-poll tax struggle. Wide layers of workers recognised that we are responsible for Thatcher's downfall and the defeat of the poll tax. Our leading figures are well known, particularly the leader of the Scottish Federation, and have enormous political authority in the eyes of workers and youth. The question is, how can we capitalise on this political credit, taking account of the complicated situation that exists, particularly in Scotland?

193. The anti-poll tax struggle, for reasons already explained, took place outside the framework of the Labour Party. While the battles over enforcement (warrant sales in Scotland, jailings in England and Wales) continues, the anti-poll tax movement is now scaling down. Given the depth of the social crisis in Scotland, however, new struggles will inevitably develop. But, in the next period, they will not in the main develop through the channels of the Labour Party.

194. The anti-poll tax struggle has already brought many sections of workers into collision with right-wing Labour councils. Although there is a bitter anti-Tory mood, there is also bitter disillusionment with the Labour Party leadership. Their right-wing policies offer nothing for Scotland, where the economic and social crisis is sharper than in the rest of Britain. In the event of a Kinnockite Labour government being returned there will be an even bigger disenchantment with Labour in Scotland than under the 1974-79 Wilson-Callaghan government. Already, there has been a massive upswing in national feeling, a massive growth in support for independence, and increasing support for the SNP. Under a Labour government, inevitably a government of crisis, there is likely to be an even bigger swing to nationalism, especially amongst the youth.

195. What tactics should we pursue to meet this situation? We have led a successful mass struggle outside the Labour Party, but because of the fettered conditions under which we have been forced to conduct our entry work over the recent period, our public profile - the aims, perspectives and independent character - of the tendency have not been clear to wider layers of workers, or even to sections of our periphery. We have to find a more effective way of drawing our periphery into the tendency. If we do not, we are in danger of losing out in the struggles of the next few years.

A bold detour

196. It is vital, therefore, in the situation which faces us in Scotland, to conduct a bold detour around the obstacles created by the right-wing Labour leadership. We must audaciously find a road to the workers and youth who, at this stage, are not attracted towards the traditional organisations. We must give the tendency in Scotland an open character, presenting a rounded-out Marxist programme, and boldly recruiting into our ranks. We must utilise the authority of our best known comrades to the fullest extent, through their clear, open identification with the ideas and policies of an open organisation. If the circumstances are favourable, we should be ready to fight a parliamentary election campaign where we have a strong base, as a platform for our ideas and an adjunct of our campaigning activity. This would be linked to our long-term orientation to the Labour Party and our demand for the regeneration of the party, through our call for the return of a Labour government on socialist policies.

197. The Minority vehemently opposes this turn. But they do not attempt to answer the case made out in Scotland: perspectives and tasks, 1991. Out of 185 paragraphs, seven are devoted to the Scottish turn (The New Turn - a threat 61-67) and another seven (The New Turn - a threat 168-174) to "Nationalism in Scotland". The latter begins with the astounding statement that 'This is not the place to deal with the national question in Scotland in general." (The New Turn - a threat 168) Instead, the approach is to try to frighten comrades with the dire consequences which will allegedly follow the abandonment of "forty years' work" and to conjure up a multitude of dangers which will allegedly accompany a new turn. Nowhere do the Minority outline any perspective or strategy or tactics for building the tendency over the next few years.

198. The position of the Minority is a recipe for stagnation, or rather paralysis. The position of the Majority offers the possibility of reaching new layers of workers and youth, of winning sections who are disillusioned with Labour and who are not looking towards the Labour Party for solutions to their problems. The tactics which we propose will enable us to win a new generation of workers, to educate them in the ideas and methods of Marxism, and to turn them back at a later stage to participate in the transformation of the Labour Party.

199. But, say the Minority (The New Turn - a threat 172), "if it were so easy to win workers and youth in Scotland... why can't we get them to join us right now? What can we do with an open organisation that we cannot do at present?" The only difference, according to the Minority, would be "a signboard with 'independent organisation'... written on it." Again, the Minority adopt the role of sceptics, raising doubts and difficulties, without seriously addressing the problems involved.

Overheads of entry work

200. We would put the question to them: what has been the price of entry work in the last period? They say we have not "got off unscathed" from more independent work. (The New Turn - a threat 104) Yet most of the progress we have made recently has been through our independent work. What position would we be in now had we not been leading the anti-poll tax struggle? However, we have paid a far higher price for entry under the unfavourable conditions of the last few years.

201. Writing on the work of the Trotskyists in the Belgium Labour Party (Writings, 1935-36), Trotsky commented that entry

"not only opened up possibilities but also imposed restrictions. In propagandising Marxist ideas it is necessary to take into account not only the legalities of the bourgeois state, but also the legalities of a reformist party (both these legalities, it may be added, coincide in large measure). Generally speaking, adaptation to an alien 'legality' carries an indubitable danger." (p156)

The value of the entrist tactic has to be assessed on the basis of the practical gains: what we put into the work, and what we get out.

202. Under conditions of the witch-hunt which have steadily intensified, especially since 1987, we have not been able to present ourselves to the workers as a clear revolutionary alternative with our own organisation. A number of comrades have not been able to openly identify themselves with the tendency or to sell the paper. Our internal political life has been restricted by entrist security considerations (with severe limits on the internal bulletins, restriction of information, etc).

203. Moreover, the pressures of work within the party have resulted in some comrades, in practice, subordinating the tasks of the tendency to the work of the traditional organisations. Trotsky warned of the dangers of adapting to the legalities of the reformist leadership or of the capitalist state. He pointed out, for instance, that under conditions of Czarist legality in Russia,

"the Bolsheviks were compelled to call themselves, at trade union meetings and in the legal press, not Social Democrats, but 'Consistent Democrats'. True, this did not pass scot free; a considerable number of elements adhered to Bolshevism who more or less were consistent democrats, but not at all international socialists; however, by supplementing legal with illegal activity, Bolshevism overcame the difficulties." (Writings, 1935-36, p156)

No one is proposing that comrades should abandon their positions in the Labour Party or give up their Labour Party membership. Where we have positions, we will continue to defend them in order, as far as possible, to preserve a basis for future developments within the Labour Party.

204. But it would be entirely wrong to try to hold on to our positions at any cost: avoiding public platforms and keeping our heads down politically. We cannot accept the position, that when it comes to the crunch, comrades should pay their poll tax to avoid the danger of expulsion. This would be political capitulation which would undermine the political authority of the tendency and throw away our past gains.

205. But the importance of our presence in the Labour Party, say the Minority, "lies not in present gains, but in the future." (The New Turn - a threat 64) But no one disagrees that we have to maintain a strategic orientation towards the Labour Party. The question is: How do we win the most radical layers of workers and youth under current conditions? The Minority do not believe that there are significant opportunities. They scornfully refer to the imaginary "constituency of workers and youth (whether in Scotland or anywhere else) just waiting to join us." (The New Turn - a threat 72) We are convinced, however, that there are opportunities which must be seized. And as AW himself wrote earlier this year in relation to Spain: "You cannot feed yourself today with the bread of tomorrow. I believe that in Spain - and perhaps not only in Spain - a bold turn is necessary if we are not to lose a series of opportunities." (We deal with this point more fully later.)

206. What tactics do the Minority advocate for Scotland? It is simply 'business as usual'! They give no answer to the questions: how can we build on our success in the anti-poll tax struggle? How can we build under the conditions which concretely exist in Scotland?

207. It is impossible to turn the activists of the anti-poll tax movement into the Labour Party. Many of our leading comrades have been expelled, as the experience in Pollok and Cathcart shows. Scores of activists who could have been recruited to the party have been excluded by the right wing. In any case, policies of right-wing Labour councils have repelled a layer of workers and youth. Despite the overwhelming anti-Tory mood, there is widespread cynicism about the Labour Party nationally, and outright hatred for the right-wing Labour leaders amongst some layers.

Combating nationalism

208. There has, at the same time, been a massive growth in nationalist sentiments. This was reflected in the SNP victory in Govan in November 1989, and the recent gains of the SNP in the polls and by-elections. A System Three poll in September, 1991, showed that three out of four people in Scotland are in favour of either devolution or independence. Forty per cent supported a devolved Scottish assembly, while 35 per cent support independence. Only 21 per cent support the status quo. A much higher percentage of young people support independence.

209. In opinion polls, support for the SNP has fluctuated between 15-25 per cent. However, support for the SNP could grow massively under certain conditions. The experience of 1972-74 showed this. The SNP already has strong support and sympathy amongst young people, and is beginning to get the support of a number of shop-stewards in the steel industry and other sectors.

210. While the Labour leaders are moving more and more to the right, moreover, the SNP leaders are adopting a more and more radical face. They can no longer be dismissed as 'tartan Tories'. The leadership of the SNP has come out in favour of "the nationalisation of private monopolies, such as electricity and public transport." The convenor of Mid-Lothian SNP stated: "We intend to achieve a situation where dynamic public sector-controlled key industries will run in tandem with the private sector." The SNP is calling for the renationalisation of the steel industry. They argue that the Tories want four Trident nuclear submarines, Kinnock wants three, and they want to scrap them all and spend the money on housing and education. They are hammering the argument that the reforms of a Labour government will be limited to "what the economy can afford", which in reality will mean virtually nothing for the people of Scotland.

211. In a period leading up. to a general election, the SNP will undoubtedly outflank the Labour leaders with radical policies with a socialist tinge. This was anticipated in Sillar's campaign in Govan. Under a right-wing Labour government, with mass disillusionment in Labour and a deepening social crisis in Scotland, big layers of workers and youth could swing towards the nationalists. A Labour government is very likely to establish a Scottish assembly. Far from satisfying the SNP or national sentiment, this is likely to stimulate demands for independence and strengthen the swing to nationalism.

212. A revolutionary Marxist tendency has a duty to prepare for such a development. Our position is clear. We support the call for a Scottish assembly with full economic powers, and support the right to self-determination, ultimately separation, if the overwhelming majority are in favour of it. However, we do not advocate separation. We are in favour of a socialist Britain or a Socialist Federation of the British Isles. We are implacably opposed to nationalism and are against the splitting of the labour movement on nationalist lines. To claim that we are in favour of "concessions to nationalist sentiments" (The New Turn - a threat 173) is a scandal. The question for Marxists is: What is the best way to cut across the development towards nationalism as a reaction to the social crisis and the bankruptcy of the Labour leadership?

213. If the SNP developed a significant working class membership, obviously (The New Turn - a threat 171) we would send people in. But why should we wait for the SNP to gain a strong base amongst the youth and workers? In the course of the magnificent anti-poll tax battle in Scotland, the SNP undoubtedly gained members and support, particularly amongst young people. The SNP leaders demagogically cashed in on the battle, despite their total absence from the day-to-day organisational work of the movement. But how much more would the SNP have grown without our intervention on a class basis, which cut across the SNP's idea of a 'Scottish movement' against the poll tax? If we act boldly in the coming period, particularly with a more open, independent organisation in Scotland, we could win the best of those who might otherwise swing towards the nationalists.

214. The Minority believes that this can be done in "a flexible and audacious way" (The New Turn - a threat 171) while we continue entryist work. But under a Labour government, the existing widespread hostility towards the Labour Party could reach extreme forms. It certainly cannot be ruled out that there would be a split in the Labour Party in Scotland, with a new version of a 'Scottish Labour Party' breaking away. It is possible, moreover, that a section of the Scottish trade union leadership would support such a move under certain conditions. A section of the youth, driven by despair and desperation, could take to the road of terrorism. It is unreal to imagine that we could cut across this reaction to right-wing Labour unless we are able to make a more open appeal. Only by having an independent organisation, with an open face, would we be able to attract the best of the workers and youth.

215. We would approach the layers potentially attracted by the SNP with clear Marxist ideas and programme. We would explain the reasons for the special crisis in Scotland, linking it to our socialist programme and perspectives for the transformation of the labour movement. It is a grotesque travesty to claim that:

"the only way in which an open organisation would attract layers of youth with illusions in the SNP, would be to make concessions to their anti-Labour and nationalist sentiments. In this case we would not be recruiting to our organisation. They would be winning us to their prejudices." (The New Turn - a threat 173)

They have to resort to a smear to cover up the fact that they have no arguments on this issue. They do not deal with the problem of nationalism.

A decisive influence

216. The Minority argue for "a sense of proportion". (The New Turn - a threat 170) But their sense of proportions amounts to a gross underestimation, or even outright denigration, of the successes of the tendency. In the same breath (The New Turn - a threat 110) they first accept we have been responsible for "a series of dazzling victories" and then allude to Stalin's notorious phrase "dizzy with success". In reality, the call for "a realistic and sober-minded" approach, means: We are too small to have a decisive effect on the way things will unfold in the next period. Therefore, we should sit tight, cling to our position in the Labour Party, and await further developments.

217. "In the whole of Scotland," say the Minority, "we have at most 300 active comrades." (The New Turn - a threat170) So how did we manage to lead the anti- poll tax movement? If we are so small and ineffective, how were we able to organise such a mass movement? Even if we accept this figure, has not our organisation been able to act as a lever on millions of workers? Do we not have an enormous periphery with tremendous authority amongst wide layers of workers?

218. We have to work out ways of drawing on this influence and authority to build in the next few years. What is the "flexible and audacious way of reaching nationalist youth" advocated by the Minority? We should wait for "clear evidence that significant layers of young people" are active in the SNP. Then we should send people in. Before that, we could perhaps "spare a group of ten or a dozen comrades to have a look around." (The New Turn - a threat 171) These comments demonstrate that the Minority are completely and utterly out of touch with the situation in Scotland.

219. In considering the effect that even a small tendency can have, we should recall the situation in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1970. At that time, before there was a turn to the republicans and the terrorist methods of the IRA, there was a swing towards the Labour Party both in Northern Ireland and the South. In l970, the Northern Ireland Labour Party got over 100,000 votes, drawing on support from both-Protestant and Catholic workers. Because of the bankruptcy of the right-wing Labour leaders, however, the Northern Ireland Labour Party vote soon collapsed. By 1973, the Northern Ireland Labour Party was a shell and rapidly disintegrated. However, in the north-west of Ireland, in 1969-70, there were 300-400 activists in the Labour Party and Young Socialists - a significant layer of them searching for a revolutionary way out of the crisis. Because the Labour leaders offered nothing, many of them turned towards the republicans. We had only two or three comrades there at the time. If we had had 100 cadres, or even 50 cadres, we could have had a decisive effect on that layer of young workers. Who can doubt, that with the correct policies, we would have won a significant layer of the radical activists within the party. Through them, we could have won even wider layers of workers. It cannot be ruled out that we would have had a decisive effect on the subsequent course of events in Ireland.

Advantages of open work

220. The Minority claim they favour a "flexible" approach. (The New Turn - a threat 29 and following) They "have always favoured a more independent approach to our work..." (The New Turn - a threat 31) But nowhere do they explain concretely how it is possible to combine effective Labour Party work with effective independent work - in the period before the development of a left wing within the Labour Party, which may be some time in the future.

221. They say:

"over the years, we have developed sufficiently flexible tactics to provide the necessary organisational forms and platforms of work for expelled comrades, without ever raising the ideas of an independent organisation. There are a hundred and one variations:~ work in the trade unions, interventions in disputes and local struggles. In areas where other Labour Party members are expelled as well as comrades, expelled committees, clubs (as Trotsky advocated the establishment of 'Lenin clubs' in the 1930s), and so on, could be formed to campaign for readmission and for socialist policies. These would be 'front organisations', aimed at holding the expelled comrades together, while campaigning for readmission." (The New Turn - a threat 163)

222. But this is based on the idea that the main field of work is in the Labour Party, which at this stage is not an area of fruitful work (as even the Minority accept). Under current conditions, the Labour leaders would exclude anyone associated with such fronts from the Labour Party. It is not a policy on which it is possible to recruit support from the advanced workers and youth, particularly those moving towards the nationalists. Whatever the relevance of 'Lenin clubs' in the past, the idea that these can be effective in today's conditions show that the supporters of the Minority are living on a different planet.

223. The new turn we are proposing is vital in order for the tendency to grow in the situation which now faces us. To build a revolutionary tendency, Trotsky repeatedly emphasised:

"It is necessary to apply the method which corresponds to the given social and political conditions and not to suprahistorical formulas." (Writings, 1935-36, p67) "If our programme obliges to manoeuvre energetically in a constantly-changing environment, among unparalleled difficulties, that is not our fault. We do not choose the conditions under which we must function any more than we choose our own parents." (Writings: supplement 1934-40, p502)

224. The advantages of an open organisation in Scotland under the present conditions are clear:

(1) it would sharply pose the aims and tasks of the tendency before our own members. This in itself would be an important advance, when many comrades have lost their sense of direction within the Labour Party and when comrades involved in independent work are not clear on where it is leading;

(2) it would present a bold, clearly defined alternative to the advanced workers and youth. In our public meetings and in the course of our campaigning activity, we would boldly appeal for people to join our organisation. An open face would give us far greater opportunities of using the media to put our ideas across. We would make maximum use of the leading figures in the anti-poll tax movement, nationally and locally. At the same time, we would spell out the criteria for joining the tendency. We would have open meetings for recruiting, but we would bring people in on the basis of agreement with our ideas and a commitment to carry out the tasks of the tendency. Undoubtedly, our approach and methods would have to be elaborated and concretised on the basis of experience of implementing the tactic.

An open organisation - not a "party"

225. The Scottish turn would mean giving our tendency in Scotland an open form. It does not mean creating a "front organisation". A front would still not give the organisation a clear profile. It would involve all the overheads of maintaining a separate structure, which would have no advantages. In any case, as with YTURC, PELS, YRC, etc, any such front organisation would immediately be proscribed by the Labour leadership, and any association with its activity would become an expellable offence.

226. Giving the tendency an open face, however, does not mean proclaiming a new party. We would not abandon our positions in the Labour Party, but attempt to hold on, where possible. But the main emphasis of our work, while the current conditions prevail in the Labour Party, would be on independent, open work. This is not an abandonment of entrism as a long-term tactic, but a detour under current conditions.

227. The Scottish document clearly states (Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks 127):

"From the outset it must be made clear there is no question of announcing the public formation of a new 'party'. That would suggest some permanent breach with Labour. We will be recognised as an independent force but our appreciation of the long-term importance of the traditional organisation and our need to reorient back to it remains unchanged. We will stand for a majority, socialist Labour government and the transformation of the party. We can say that we are organising openly in Scotland around this programme because the Labour Party right wing have made it impossible to work in any other way for the foreseeable future."

228. The Minority's tortuous reference to the Independent Labour Party (The New Turn - a threat 129 and following) is a red herring. The Scottish document (Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks 40) simply makes the point that if we were able to operate within the Labour Party as the Independent Labour Party did before 1932, there would be no need whatsoever to raise the question of open work. There is not the slightest suggestion that we should in any way base ourselves on the model of the Independent Labour Party. Moreover, the Minority document gives a misleading impression: the Independent Labour Party received about 100,000 votes, but had 16,733 members after it broke from the Labour Party in 1932. However, the organisation was already in terminal decline. The leadership followed a vacillating left-reformist policy, and attempted to find an accommodation with Stalinism. The Independent Labour Party lost its Scottish youth section to the Stalinist YCL in 1928, and the Independent Labour Party membership as a whole declined rapidly after 1931. This was primarily a question of the false perspective, programme, and tactics followed by the Independent Labour Party leadership.

229. The Minority attempts to represent the Scottish turn as a move towards "an independent party" (The New Turn - a threat 80); "a policy of an independent party by instalments" (The New Turn - a threat 81); "the setting up of an independent organisation which would be a party in all but name" (The New Turn - a threat 164); and "a general national turn in the direction of an open party/organisation." (The New Turn - a threat 166). Once again the minority rely on the repetition of distortion rather than arguments.

230. Declaring an open organisation for a period is not the same as declaring an independent party. It is not just a question of a name, but of the perspectives. The Minority are obviously muddled on this issue, or else they are deliberately confusing the issue.

231. To proclaim an independent party would be to base ourselves on the perspective of the Communist Parties in the 1920s, in the period after the Russian revolution and the formation of the Communist International. Then the perspective was one of a struggle to break the influence of reformism and build new mass parties on the revolutionary programme of the Communist International. This is not our perspective at the present time. We base ourselves on the perspective that there will, at a later stage, be a turn towards the Labour Party. Its role is far from exhausted. We are obliged to conduct a tactical detour because of the current conditions in the Labour Party, not abandon our long-term strategy of an orientation towards the party.

232. We will never adopt the ultra-left approach of the sects. The position of the SWP is that the Labour Party is finished as a mass party. They appeal to workers to join the SWP as an alternative mass revolutionary party of the working class.

233. Our approach, with an open organisation in Scotland, would be to appeal to the workers on the basis of our own ideas, programme, tactics, etc. But part and parcel of our policy would be the transformation of the Labour Party: the fight for socialist policies for Labour, the democratisation of the party, and a call for trade unionists to move into the party and transform it. We would in no way counter-pose ourselves to the Labour Party in a sectarian manner. We would have a completely friendly approach to rank-and-file Labour Party members.

Electoral campaigning

234. If we decide to stand independent candidates, including possibly an independent parliamentary candidate on the basis of an assessment of the concrete situation, it would not in any way contradict the perspective of a long-term orientation towards the Labour Party.

235. If we fight a parliamentary election, or elections, counting our vote will not be the decisive question. Our aim will be to take our ideas to the widest possible layers of workers, and to recruit new members. There is no question of proposing a purely electoral tactic, though the electoral plane is very important, particularly in Britain. A parliamentary campaign would provide a platform for our programme. It would allow us to utilise the tremendous political authority of our leading figure in the anti-poll tax struggle.

236. The electoral battle would be linked to our campaigning activity - in the workplaces, in the trade unions, and amongst the youth. As in Walton, a parliamentary campaign would allow us to reach much wider layers than in our day-to-day activities, precisely "to conduct a dialogue with the masses."

237. We would boldly present our programme in a sharp, rounded-out way. We would appeal audaciously to the radicalised youth attracted towards nationalism. While raising our own banner, we would call for the return of a Labour government on socialist policies. There is no contradiction at all in this.

238. In the past, the Communist Party, when it still had a basis amongst a layer of workers, stood parliamentary candidates against the Labour Party. They gained very low votes, but even on the basis of their left reformist policies and apologies for the Stalinist bureaucracy in Eastern Europe, they gained the sympathy of a layer of the Labour lefts who saw them as defending left policies which had been abandoned by the right-wing Labour Party leaders.

239. A Labour government is likely to concede the establishment of a Scottish assembly. There would then be a strong case for our contesting seats with our own candidates. Assembly elections would be a vital area of political struggle in Scotland. If proportional representation were introduced, it is not ruled out that we could win seats. Assembly positions would provide us with a valuable platform. Nevertheless, the main emphasis of our campaign would be to take our programme to the widest layers, cut across support for the nationalists among the youth, and draw new supporters into the tendency.

240. In the future, when there is the development of a mass left within the Labour Party, far from being criticised for standing candidates, we would be applauded for keeping the banner of socialism flying during a difficult period. We will gain credit from having warned in advance of the course to be taken by a right-wing Labour government and the consequences of its policies under conditions of crisis.






The 'Open Turn' | Home | News | Donate | Join | Print