Scottish Debate | Home | News | Donate | Join 

The Scottish debate

New Tactics for a New Period

Scottish Militant Labour EC 

Friday 17 April


To: Socialist Party EC

From Scottish Militant Labour 

Dear comrades,

We are writing in response to your request for clarification of our proposals and in reply to the two options which you have proposed [see MB 28, p31]. We welcome this attempt by the British EC to intervene in a more constructive fashion than has been the case in previous written and verbal exchanges. However, we believe that our proposals, as amplified in the two enclosed statements, remain the best framework upon which to build the forces of Marxism and socialism in Scotland.

We also believe that this debate will play a valuable role in forcing our organisation in Scotland, Britain and internationally to seriously examine the role of revolutionary Marxism in this historical period, and to develop a more clearly worked out strategy for building mass revolutionary parties in the future.

That of course is not to suggest that our proposals for Scotland constitute an international blueprint. Each country has its own peculiar national conditions and traditions which will shape our tactics and strategy locally. Moreover, in terms of influence and roots in the working class, Scottish Militant Labour is in a much stronger position than that of most other sections of the CWI. That means we are better placed to take radical initiatives which we believe will enrich the experience of the entire International.

At the same time, we believe that this debate has already thrown up a series of tactical, strategical and theoretical issues which require further discussion and clarification throughout the CWI. These include the following questions:

  • What constitutes a 'revolutionary party' and in what way is it distinguished from a 'broad party'?

  • What processes will lead to the construction of broader socialist formations and mass workers parties in the next period?

  • Will these processes unfold independently of our organisation, or do we have a vital role to play - at least in those countries where we have significant political weight - in helping to accelerate events and to shape the political character of emerging broad parties of the working class?

  • Is it the case that operating as an independent revolutionary organisation is always the most effective way to build and consolidate the forces of Marxism?

  • What is a revolutionary party?

Before attempting to answer the specific questions you have posed, we would like to take the opportunity to make some preliminary comments on each of these issues.

On point 1, we believe that terms such as 'revolutionary party' and 'broad party' have been bandied around in an abstract way without any attempt made to concretely analyse their real content as applied to Scotland at the present stage. The term 'revolutionary party' could refer to a party hundreds of thousands strong, fighting for state power. Yet sectarian grouplets with handfuls of members frequently describe their organisations as 'revolutionary parties'. And of course in between these opposite points in the spectrum are the sections of the CWI which have the potential to eventually develop into revolutionary parties, but which are at this stage no more than embryonic parties.

However, only deluded sectarians, such as the Socialist Workers Party, which proclaimed itself 'the revolutionary party' in 1977, or the former Workers Revolutionary Party, which proclaimed itself 'the revolutionary party' a few years earlier, can possibly imagine that the road ahead is straight and uncomplicated. Before emerging as mass revolutionary parties, our sections in every part of the world will at certain stages be forced to participate in and, from time to time, initiate hybrid, transitional and broader formations.

Similarly, the term 'broad party' - as continually used in this debate by the British EC - lacks precise content and has only served to spread confusion. Thus, we read a letter written by a Socialist Party National Committee member to a rank and file comrade in Wales which contains the bizarre accusation that the Scottish EC wants to "dissolve SML and form a mass reformist party."

The British EC have never made such a crude accusation. However, we believe that in trying to come to terms with our proposals, the comrades have a tendency to resort to mechanical formal logic in place of dialectical materialism. As a result, some formulations of the British EC suggest an inability or an unwillingness to accept that there can exist transitional or hybrid formations which are part 'revolutionary' and part 'broad'.

You say: "If significant new forces were involved in a new SSP, it would, in reality, be a broad party. It is false to claim that it would be a revolutionary party from the outset." In fact we do not make that claim. As we have attempted to explain, the type of party that we envisage launching could best be described as a hybrid: a party with a revolutionary programme, methods and organisation but embracing into its ranks socialists who would not necessarily regard themselves as revolutionaries, Trotskyists or even Marxists at this stage. It would also seek to embrace into its ranks a broader strata of workers by means of local and possibly at a later stage, national, trade union affiliations.

Programme and ideology

We believe that this inflexibility is expressed especially clearly in your dismissal of the significance of the programme of the Scottish Socialist Alliance. The most recent British EC letter states "a transitional programme for a particular political conjuncture is not the same as the programme of revolutionary Marxism, which is a body of ideas based on the first four Congresses of the Communist International, the founding documents of the Fourth International and the accumulated experience of the CWI."

We believe that here that you are mixing up the question of programme - which we would understand to be a list of policies and objectives, which could be expressed in written form and democratically voted upon at a conference - with something wider and less tangible.

It is true that a political programme is conjunctural in character. In 1912-1913, the Bolshevik fought on a simple three-point programme: for a democratic republic; an eight hour working day; and the redistribution of the big landed estates to the peasantry. This was nonetheless a revolutionary programme, because it struck at the heart of Tsarism and capitalism and could not have been implemented without full scale revolution.

We believe that the programme of the SSA today is also a revolutionary programme, in that it would require the revolutionary overturn of capitalism before the programme itself could be implemented. This programme therefore inevitably poses the need for the party itself to begin to come to grips with wider questions of revolutionary methods, tactics and strategy, and to undertake a thoroughgoing study of the history of the workers movement internationally.

Theory and practice

However, a Scottish Socialist Party could not formally adopt an entire body of ideas, including the principles of the early Communist International, the Fourth International and "accumulated experience of the CWI". These are wider matters of tradition and ideology which in any sizeable political party will inevitably be expressed through a minority of experienced cadres rather than through written statutes.

When the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, 95 per cent of its membership had joined the party in the previous ten months. Bolshevism as a tradition was in effect preserved in a 'thin red line' of Marxists outnumbered by almost twenty to one within the party itself. Moreover, in 1917, neither the Communist International, the Fourth International nor the CWI had ever existed. Yet Lenin, Trotsky and other Russian Marxists led a victorious workers revolution, inspired by the ideas of scientific socialism.

On the other hand, individuals like Ted Grant and Alan Woods left our International to found Socialist Appeal at the start of the 1990s. They would claim, with some justification to be steeped in knowledge of the Communist International, the Fourth International and the 'accumulated historical experience of the CWI'. Yet as we know, despite their general theoretical experience, these comrades were unable to adapt to the changing political climate of the early 1990s and consequently sank almost without trace.

We raise these points, not in order to display a lightminded attitude towards theory, but to challenge the dry definition of 'revolutionary Marxism' implied in the EC statement. Whether an organisation is capable of leading the working class in a successful struggle against capitalism is dependent on many things, one of which is its degree of theoretical understanding.

But many other qualities are also necessary, including a mass membership, an army of mass leaders, a preparedness to engage in action, a leadership at national and local level which can quickly evaluate a situation and know how to respond, an ability to present complicated ideas in a popular form, etc etc.

No party exists on this planet at this stage which fulfils all the requirements which will be necessary to lead a successful socialist revolution. Therefore any existing political party, including every single section of the CWI can be shown to fall far short of the standards that will be required of future revolutionary parties. These inadequacies will be required to be overcome in the course of time and struggle before genuine revolutionary parties are able to take their place in history.

We believe that the formation of a Scottish Socialist Party with our organisation at the core of that party would at least be an important step forward in the process of moving eventually towards the creation of a fully fledged mass revolutionary party in Scotland.

Marxism and the workers movement

Points 2 and 3 on the development of mass workers parties and the role of Marxism in the creation of these formations are interconnected. For Marx and Engels in the nineteenth century and for Lenin and Trotsky in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was axiomatic that the task of revolutionaries was twofold: first, to create mass parties of the working class; and secondly to suffuse these parties with revolutionary doctrine and ideology.

Marx and Engels as well as originating and developing the basic theory of scientific socialism and forming a core of revolutionaries also became the key organisers and inspirers of the mass heterogeneous First International.

Lenin later succeeded in building a mass party on much more clear revolutionary principles - although it should also be stated that prior to 1912, Bolshevism existed as a loosely organised faction or tendency within the broader RSDLP. As Trotsky points out in My Life, "The history of the struggle of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks is also a history of ceaseless efforts towards unity".

The Bolshevik faction was held together largely by the political authority of Lenin and other individual leaders. It did not even organise congresses separate from the broader structures of the RSDLP; instead 'conferences' - in reality caucuses - of delegates to the RSDLP Congresses were convened to try and work out a common line on the main policy issues. Even then there were frequent public divisions among Bolsheviks within the broader party, with for example Lenin and sixteen other Bolsheviks siding the Mensheviks against the majority of the Bolshevik faction on the question of electoral tactics at the 1907 RSDLP Congress.

Even the Bolshevik press in this period was published under the auspices of official RSDLP committees. Thus Proletari, Rabocheye Znamye (Workers Banner), and Vperyod (Forward) were published as official organs of the RSDLP Moscow and Petrograd Committees which were controlled by the Bolsheviks.

Even when the Bolsheviks formally broke with the Mensheviks in 1912, they did so under the official banner of the RSDLP. And as Trotsky pointed out in his History of the Russian Revolution, five years later, 351 RSDLP organisations remained joint Bolshevik-Menshevik organisations, in many cases even up until September 1917.

We refer to this period, not to suggest that the experience of Bolshevism in Russia could or should be exactly replicated in Scotland, Britain or Europe in the late 1990s; but to illustrate that Bolshevism took shape, not as the iron monolith of Stalinist and capitalist mythology, but as a vibrant ever-changing movement which made rapid and frequent tactical, strategical and organisational changes as events moved on.


After the Russian Revolution, the revolutionary Marxist movement co-ordinated by the Communist International set out to construct broad mass parties. It set itself the task of "attracting all those proletarian groups and organisations which, although they have not openly adhered to the revolutionary left tendency, appear nonetheless to be moving in this direction."

It sought to unite a range of revolutionary and semi-revolutionary or centrist organisations including the Socialist Youth International, the IWW (Wobblies); the 'revolutionary elements of the British shop stewards'; and various socialist and labour parties. However, after the victory of Stalinism the forces of genuine Marxism were decimated and remained isolated throughout the 1930s. This isolation was massively reinforced by the huge strengthening of Stalinism and reformism, ideologically and organisationally, in the decades following the Second World War.

Under these conditions, it would have been both absurd and futile for revolutionary Marxists to set out to create mass parties or even to seek to create broader formations of revolutionaries and other left wing socialists. Instead, Marxists sought to defend and extend their own small forces and to participate in - or where that was not possible to orientate towards - the mass reformist and Stalinist parties.

However, since the beginning of the 1990s, the balance of forces on the left has been spectacularly altered. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Stalinism as a powerful international ideological current has been seriously weakened particularly in Europe. In Britain, where there once stood a united Communist Party with tens of thousands of members, there remains just a few shattered fragments. Elsewhere in Europe, where the Communist Parties were once genuine mass parties, they are now a shadow of their former selves. Moreover, in order to survive they have been forced to radically reinvent themselves in countries like Italy, Spain and the eastern part of Germany.

On top of this, the onward march of globalisation, deregulation and so-called 'flexible labour markets', combined with the disastrous track records of social democratic parties in power in the 1980s, has led to a severe weakening of reformism.

Europe in the 1990s

At the time of the last World Congress of the CWI, this process was still at an early stage. In the document adopted at that Congress, The Traditional Workers Parties: Their Future and Our Tactics the position was put: "Despite recent developments it is still the case that the mass of workers will have to pass through the school of left reformism/centrism before being drawn behind the banner of Marxism. The fact that it may not be directed at his stage through the already established traditional parties does not mean that it will not get an important basis amongst the proletariat. In some countries it will find a concrete expression through the establishment of new formations."

Since these words were first written, the decay of the traditional workers parties has deepened, with the British Labour Party in the vanguard of an international stampede towards openly bourgeois ideology.

The French Communist Party, the Spanish United Left and the Italian Communist Refoundation and the German Party of Democratic Socialism continue to exist as smaller semi-mass reformist formations. But elsewhere in Europe, reformism and Stalinism have almost ceased to exist as significant organised movements. That is not to rule out that left reformism in particular can be resurrected as a force in the future. But it is impossible at this stage to gauge the timescale for such a revival.

In the meantime, it seems to us that Marxism now has the possibility of competing in some countries at least (for example Southern Ireland, Sweden, Pakistan and Scotland) on more of a level playing field than perhaps we would have previously been able to anticipate.

This in turn must throw into question the assumption that new mass formations will in the future necessarily take on everywhere a left reformist character. We accept that among the general mass of the working class, left reformist and centrist illusions will grow in certain periods. These ideas will inevitably be reflected within any future mass parties of the working class. However, we would have to challenge the assumption that these parties will necessarily be led by left reformists.

As in the Liverpool Labour Party in the early to mid 1980s, future mass workers parties could emerge at least locally and regionally (and in the case of Scotland, nationally), which are led by Marxist revolutionaries while embracing other currents of opinion, including left reformism, centrism and syndicalism.

Scotland: new balance of forces

The concrete case of Scotland provides a striking example of how general international processes combined with local peculiarities have been translated into a phenomenal turnaround in the balance of forces between Trotskyism, on the one side, and Stalinism and reformism on the other.

At the end of the 1970s the Communist Party had 7,000 members in Scotland. Major Scottish trade unions, including the NUM, the TGWU and the Engineering Union were firmly controlled by the CP. STUC Conferences were literally run from behind the scenes by the CP's Scottish industrial organiser. Thousands more adhered to the organisations such as Tribune and the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, led at that time by George Galloway who was also elected Chair of the Labour Party in Scotland.

In contrast, our organisation consisted of about 50 or 60 members, most in their teens and early twenties, with no public profile and no influence among the wider working class.

Today, the position is vastly different. On the same recent weekend that 120 attended the SML conference, barely 20 people turned up to a high profile Morning Star rally addressed by prominent trade union leaders and Labour MPs. The total forces of Stalinism in Scotland have been reduced to bare handfuls. Meanwhile, left reformism has also been marginalised, with only a few MPs and small bands of Labour activists continuing to uphold ideas which in the past dominated the labour movement in Scotland.

Role of the SNP

The emergence of the SNP with a contradictory part bourgeois and part reformist programme adds a further complication. Already a layer of socialists in Scotland - including a significant grouping of left trade unionists - have gravitated to the SNP, partly motivated by a stages theory of socialism which sees independence as a necessary first step on the road to socialism.

Even if there is a left breakaway from the Labour Party and the trade unions at some stage, it is not ruled out that such a formation could go over directly to the SNP which is now running neck and neck with Labour in the opinion polls for the first Scottish parliamentary elections (with 40 per cent support for both parties, according to several System 3 polls published in the Herald).

The idea of joining a ready made mass party - which in contrast to New Labour is prepared at this stage to accommodate socialist and left reformist ideas within its ranks - will undoubtedly appear a much easier option than that of building a new party from scratch. In the short term, it is likely that opposition to New Labour will be channelled in the first instance mainly towards the SNP - at least until the SNP has been tested and exposed in power.

As with the Peronists in Argentina, the ANC in South Africa, and the Pakistan People's Party, the SNP has a diffuse, multi-class character which means that it can become a vehicle through which right wing free market currents and left reformist trends can simultaneously find expression.

Further down the road, the SNP is likely to split at a certain stage with a left reformist wing breaking away from the mainstream party. However, this would probably not occur until after the establishment of an independent Scotland and a period of SNP government.

If in the meantime a Scottish Socialist Party under our leadership has developed a powerful position in Scottish politics ,with extensive trade union affiliations and strong electoral support, a left breakaway from the SNP would then probably gravitate directly to our broad party.

Political inferiority complex?

Given the dominant influence on the left of Scottish politics of SML and the SSA, our colossal authority over a section of the working class, our links with trade unions and community groups, what should be the primary role of our organisation in the next period?

Should priority be given to the gradual accumulation of cadres in preparation for long term developments - while in the meantime effectively ceding big sections of the working class to the SNP? Or should we begin the task now of building a broader socialist formation, a small party of 1000 to 2000 members, which in turn could form the core of a future mass workers party with a revolutionary Marxist programme?

We believe that there is a danger that we fail to adjust to the new political conditions that have emerged over the past few years. Because our organisation was historically forged as a small current competing against vastly larger reformist and Stalinist forces, we can be struck down by a kind of political inferiority complex, rooted in an earlier stage in our development, which refuses to grasp the potential historical role that our organisation in Scotland can play.

In our opinion, a 'window of opportunity' is opening up in Scotland which forces us to make ruthless decisions about priorities. James Cannon, the US Marxist leader, once made the point that in politics "it's not what you do, its when you do it."

At the beginning of the 1990s, we arguably waited too long before adapting to new conditions. In late 1989-early 1990, when the Poll Tax campaign had reached its height, in Scotland, the Scottish organisation was persuaded by the intervention of the British EC not to stand candidates against Labour in selected seats.

We accept that at that stage it was not exactly clear how the Labour Party itself would evolve. Nonetheless, with the benefit of historical hindsight, we can see clearly that we did err on the side of caution. If we had stood candidates, and particularly if we had gone on to launch an open organisation at that stage, we would almost certainly be in a much stronger position today.

We believe that if we do not take the decision now to direct our attention to the building of a bigger broader socialist party, we will be forced in any case to come back to this discussion in the future - and that we will end up bitterly regretting the loss of valuable time. Consequently, we are convinced that our primary task in Scotland at this point is to grasp the opportunity to move forward and begin the building, steeling and ideologically influencing of a broader revolutionary socialist party.

Building new forces

This is not a question of turning our backs on the task of building and developing a core of revolutionary Marxists. However, we do believe that even this task is more complex than some of the letters and comments that we have received from outside Scotland would suggest. For example, the letter we received from the Swedish EC suggests that our proposal for a Scottish Socialist Party implies turning to the "old left" and away from the fresh forces of the low paid, the youth, the single parents, the pensioners etc.

In fact, the idea of a new Scottish Socialist Party flows precisely from the need to broaden the forces of socialism in Scotland and to build among fresh layers. We believe that our proposals represent a serious attempt to grapple with the problem of how to build a revolutionary cadre in the new conditions of the late 1990s and early millennium. And we would suggest that it simplistic to imagine that the road to the broad mass of the working class is always the straight, direct route.

From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, Militant in Britain succeeded in building strong roots among fresh layers of youth primarily through the Labour Party Young Socialists. During that period we could not have achieved the same level of influence or membership through an independent revolutionary organisation, no matter how energetically we intervened. Superficially such a tactic may have appeared more obvious, but it would not have corresponded with the outlook and psychology of the working class.

The reason why Militant was able to build a powerful base in this period, in contrast to the SWP and other independent revolutionary organisations, was because our strategy of building within the mass party of the working class at that stage appeared to offer a more viable route towards socialism.

As a general rule, workers will not automatically join a Marxist organisation simply because they agree with its programme. Nor will they automatically join a Marxist organisation out of admiration for its ability to lead campaigns or industrial struggles. These elements are essential; but on their own they are not necessarily sufficient to convince people to sacrifice their time, money and energy.

The truth is that unless we can at the same time demonstrate that we have a viable strategy, it will be extremely difficult to build among the broad mass of the working class. Individuals can be convinced by patient explanation of long term perspectives. Larger groups can be attracted from time to time by spectacular successes, such as the Poll Tax victory or the stunning electoral breakthroughs of SML in Glasgow in 1992, both of which were closely interlinked. But even these gains can be difficult to consolidate if we have no clear short term, medium term and long term strategy other than building the revolutionary organisation.

Politics of the dead end

Even where an independent revolutionary organisation is able to make a spectacular breakthrough, as Lutte Ouvriere did in the recent French Regional elections, if that organisation is then unable to offer a strategy to carry forward the momentum of their success, they will reach a dead end.

It seems to us that if Lutte Ouvriere (which we understand is an extremely sectarian organisation) were to take the initiative in opening up discussions with the other revolutionary and left groupings including elements of the French CP, a new party would immediately attract into its ranks a vast new layer of youth over and above the existing activists who would form the core of the new party.

Whether that would be a 'revolutionary party', a 'broad party' or something in between the two, would depend upon which forces participated, the character of the leadership, the political programme that the party adopted etc.

Although conditions in Scotland are not the same as in France, similar principles apply. Especially in this period leading up to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, when there will be a growing politicisation especially of young people, the very act of launching a new unified Scottish Socialist Party with an audacious programme for transforming Scotland along socialist lines, will in itself attract a new layer of fresh forces.

When you add to that the role that our members, our full time staff, and our paper could play in building, shaping and galvanising such a party, it is clear that far from leading to the dissolution of the revolutionary forces in Scotland, such an initiative would undoubtedly lead to a substantial strengthening of these forces in the short, medium and long term.

We would also go further and say that the creation of a Scottish Socialist Party - a small mass party with a revolutionary programme - would not be the end of the matter. If this party succeeded next year, or in four years time, in making anything like the electoral impact that Lutte Ouvriere has made, we would then seek to broaden the base of the party further.

It is likely that we would then call a conference after approaching every trade union branch, shop stewards committee, community group, Labour Party branch, and SNP branch in Scotland with a view to launching a genuine mass workers party with a revolutionary programme, expressed in popular language.

If such an initiative succeeded, that in turn would pose the necessity of a further reappraisal of the structures of our own CWI organisation. This reappraisal would be forced to take into account the new conditions that had emerged and would seek to work out the most effective format through which to further extend and deepen the size and influence of the forces of Marxism.

Danger of a sectarian turn

The British EC has posed specific questions about this proposed new party. Firstly you ask why we do not simply relaunch SML as the Scottish Socialist Party as we did in Ireland, and appeal to other sections to join us. However, we believe that conditions in Ireland are entirely different. In Ireland we had not spent the previous two and a half years working closely and constructively with other socialists in a closely knit alliance, in effect a semi-party.

Through this activity, we believe that we have positioned SML at the forefront of left politics in Scotland and ensured that our organisation will play a central role in any future developments on the wider socialist left. We believe that the proposals contained in Option 1 would undermine the authority that SML has built not just among SSA activists, but among a wider layer of socialists and trade unionists.

Option 1, no matter how it is dressed up, would be interpreted as a sectarian turn by SML, an attempt to hijack the project of creating a new socialist party. Over two and a half years we have established a high degree of political unity and mutual trust. Option 1 would almost guarantee a rupture with the other forces with which we have worked closely.

Such a step would be politically illogical. If the experience of the past two and a half years had been to demonstrate the impossibility of left unity, if a serious and growing political gulf had begun to open up between SML and all the other forces involved in the Alliance, then Option 1 would be a logical step to take. But, if anything, there has been a growing political convergence since the formation of the SSA at the beginning of 1996.

We also have to ask: what substantial advantages would be gained from Option 1 as opposed to our own proposals? As far as we can see, the only serious advantage would be to guarantee immediate formal affiliation of the SSP to the CWI. Other things being equal, that would be an important consideration.

But other things would not be equal. In the first place, Option 1 would inevitably narrow the base of the new party from the start. Like the relaunch of Militant Labour in England and Wales as the Socialist Party, a straightforward relaunch of SML as the Scottish Socialist Party, no matter how skilfully or sensitively it was presented, would be unlikely to attract forces other than those already organised within SML.

At the same time it would almost certainly precipitate the break up of the Alliance, which would be seen as a defeat for socialism in Scotland, or at least a big step backwards, especially among that layer of class conscious workers who are watching the SSA and waiting to see how things will develop in the next period. We believe that Option 1 would damage the credibility of the organisation in the short term and could return again and again to haunt us in the long term.

When the SWP first participated in the broad Scottish Alliance Against the Criminal Justice Bill which we initiated, then attempted to use the National Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Bill to seize control of the movement of youth, they ended up badly damaged as a result. If today, four years on, the SWP attempted to initiate or even participate in a broad political or campaigning formation, they would be treated from the outset with the utmost suspicion because of the role that they played in the past.

Although we do not believe that the British EC is consciously advocating a sectarian SWP-type strategy, we believe that is how Option 1 would be perceived and therefore should be rejected.

Which forces would be involved?

Under Option 2, the comrades pose further questions and outline a number of conditions that would require to be satisfied before such a step could be taken. The comrades state that "the new formation would have to bring in significant new forces - active left forces moving towards a revolutionary position, or at least moving into active opposition to capitalism on the basis of class struggle".

It is of course impossible at this stage, before serious negotiations have begun, to quantify the potential that exists. At this stage the SSA has between 400 and 500 members, of which 250 to 300 are individual members belonging to no organised grouping within the SSA. Of that figure, perhaps 150-200 are also members of SML. There are in addition a further layer of SML members who have never joined the SSA.

There are also several shop stewards committees affiliated to the SSA, including the Glacier Metal workers who are an important symbol of struggle because of their historic sit-in victory in 1996 and a Glasgow hospital with one of the largest workforces in the city.

We are also discussing with a number of leading trade unionists, including several national (i.e. Scottish) trade union leaders who may become involved in a new party. We have also opened up discussions with a key SNP activist, who stood as a parliamentary candidate for the party in an important target seat in the 1997 general election; he attended our recent SML conference and is confident of bringing a group of SNP activists into a new socialist party.

We are involved in discussions with the Communist Party of Scotland, some of whose members are already involved in the SSA; with elements of the Communist Party of Britain. In addition, we would hope to bring over either the entire Socialist Labour Party in Scotland, or at least a section of its membership. Although the SLP is numerically small in Scotland, it includes in its ranks some respected rank and file workers' leaders.

However the biggest potential reservoir of new members for a Scottish Socialist Party will not be found in any of the existing parties or formations but among the broad mass of the working class and youth who are at this stage politically unorganised. The launch of a new unified Scottish Socialist Party at this stage would be seen as a big step forward for socialism in Scotland and would immediately inspire a whole layer of fresh activists to become involved.

Both the British EC and ourselves have referred to the historical experience of the US Trotskyist movement, in particular the fusion with the so-called Musteites which brought about, in the words of the first British EC letter, "a new revolutionary party". We have already challenged this one-sided characterisation of what was in reality a transitional formation, the Workers Party of the United States.

What we can say is that both numerically, pro rata to the population (Scotland has just over two per cent of the population of the USA); and in terms of the specific weight and influence it would wield, any new Scottish Socialist Party created under the impetus of our organisation would be far bigger and more significant

A party within a party

As we indicate in the enclosed statements, we believe that flexibility is essential. At the same time, we do not believe that we should accept the type of restrictions or stipulations implied in your letter (Option 2).

You state that "it is not enough for our comrades to form a club". By using the word 'club' we believe that you are deliberately attempting to create an impression of a kind of cosy informal gathering, which of course is not the type of formation that we are proposing (see separate enclosed statement).

You then counterpose the idea of a 'club' to an organisation with a "democratic structure, with branches, a national body, its own congress, an elected leadership, its own publications, its own finances and its own apparatus." Some of these criteria we have already incorporated into our own proposals. However, in total, your stipulations would mean in effect a party within a party. It would imply a much higher degree of organisation than existed within the Bolshevik grouping within the RSDLP.

We believe that there is a danger that we attempt to take a radical new turn, but that we then hesitate, prevaricate and compromise to such an extent that our proposal becomes diluted and ultimately ineffective.

That is not to suggest that we cannot run two organisations. We believe that the comrades are misrepresenting our argument when they say, "In the SML Conference discussion a number of comrades raised the argument 'We can't continue to run two organisations'." But by extracting an isolated phrase and repeating it out of context, the comrades are failing to do justice to our arguments.

Of course we accept that in this period "it is virtually impossible to avoid running two organisations in one form or another." At the SML conference, the British EC comrades cited the example of the Anti-Poll Tax Federation to illustrate this point. The comrades could also have cited our current and recent involvement in running organisations such as Dockers Support Groups, Save Our Services Campaigns, and general community organisations.

But this is to miss the point completely. The role of a single issue campaign is clearly defined and distinct from the role of our organisation. But there are no such clear lines of demarcation differentiating the tasks of SML from the tasks of the SSA. When we are involved in simultaneously building two parties or organisations with similar programmes, aims and objectives, there is inevitably confusion, duplication and inefficiency. Indeed, if we had implemented our original proposal to relaunch SML as the Scottish Socialist Party within the SSA, it is likely that these problems would have been aggravated.

We believe that, notwithstanding the difficulties that we have had to confront, the formation and evolution of the SSA was a necessary stage. Our involvement in the SSA and has projected us onto the centre stage of left politics in Scotland at a critical time. But we also believe that we now have to move forward towards the creation of a more cohesive, unified and effective political party by attempting to merge what is in effect our public political party, the SSA, with our internal political party, SML.

Towards mass parties

We believe that the conditions which the comrades are seeking to impose flow from our different political appraisal of the situation in Scotland and the tasks that we face. The phrase in the latest British EC letter which refers to "the twin tasks of party-building and broad campaigning activity" goes to the heart of our differences.

We believe that the tasks we face now are more extensive than 'party building and broad campaigning activity'. We believe that we have moved beyond that stage in Scotland. We believe that we face triple and quadruple tasks which also include mass agitation and propaganda for socialism and creating new organisational forms which can enable Marxism to emerge as a genuine mass force in Scotland.

We accept that our proposals are radical and will mean a venture into territory which until now has been uncharted by our International. But we fear that if we are too timid to venture into that territory in Scotland, where we are able to proceed from a position of strength, we will never be capable anywhere of making the transition from small revolutionary nuclei to mass parties leading millions towards the conquest of power.

We welcome the more open approach that the British EC has adopted towards our proposals and again appeal to you to support this initiative which could become a historic milestone in the struggle for socialism.




Scottish Debate | Home | News | Donate | Join