ISM political committee reply to the factional document and platform


Before dealing in detail with the issues raised by the launch of a faction within the Scottish section we first have to pose the question - why has a faction been established?

Most of the issues raised by the comrades are not new. The leadership in Scotland have made every attempt to reach agreement with the comrades who have signed the statement SSP Conference Review and Conclusions. Our aim has not been to sweep differences under the carpet, but to find common ground in order that we can get on with the job of building and developing the ISM and the SSP, while continuing to discuss in a calm and constructive way our remaining political differences, many of which will be clarified on the basis of time and events rather than on the basis of polemics and votes.

Before the conference on February 6, a lengthy discussion took place on what was then the SML executive between Philip and the other FT’s, around the organisational proposals which were put to that conference. The majority bent over backwards to accommodate Philip, even though he had been defeated by an overwhelming vote in the all-members meeting of November 1999.

We agreed, for example, that Philip should continue to play the key role of editing the International Socialist, even though Phil himself had repeatedly insisted that there were “fundamental political disagreements” between him and the majority. We also agreed to Philip’s amendment which deleted a statement in the organisational resolution calling on the CWI leadership to withdraw it’s opposition to the launch and building of the SSP. Incidentally, some comrades on the EC were strongly opposed to removing this perfectly reasonable demand. However, the majority were prepared to go to great lengths to arrive at a working agreement which would satisfy Philip, the other minority comrades and the CWI/Socialist Party leadership who have clearly been involved in discussing the issues with Philip from the outset of the debate last summer.

We also did not oppose the IEC recommendation that Philip be brought on to the IEC as one of just three comrades from Scotland, even though he represents only a tiny minority of ISM members.

The organisational resolution was agreed unanimously by the SML EC and then by the conference. We hoped that would allow us to get on with the task of putting behind us the divisions of the past and begin building and developing the ISM. Indeed, that was the spirit of the entire meeting. As one of the minority speakers, Harvey Duke, stated at the conference: “We have no intention of building a faction because there is no need for a faction.”

Most members of the ISM were therefore bitterly disappointed that barely a month later when Philip, in collaboration with other comrades (and in our opinion, in collaboration also with the CWI/SP leadership who opposed tooth and nail the launch of the SSP and have since systematically denigrated the ISM and the SSP the length and breadth of the International) produced a statement, SSP Conference Review and Conclusions which was clearly the prelude to the establishment of a faction.

No-one bar the seven signatories to the document and the leadership of the CWI/SP had been given any prior hint, either before, during or after the SSP conference that such a statement was being considered. There was not a single telephone call, email message, informal conversation – nothing.

Yet the statement was immediately circulated the length and breadth of the International before it had been discussed in the ISM Political Committee and before it had been seen by 95 per cent of the membership of the ISM. It was also subsequently leaked (by whom, exactly, we do not know) to the Weekly Worker the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain which is bitterly hostile to the CWI and the ISM.

This haste to distribute information on the part of the CWI/SP leadership stands in stark contrast to their dismal refusal to report on the outstanding achievements and successes of the SSP. Furthermore, the statement itself contained factual inaccuracies - as even the comrades who drew up the statement subsequently conceded - although by that time it had already been distributed internationally and reprinted in the Weekly Worker.

One key question we have to pose is - what changed between the ISM conference on February 6 and March 12, when the statement was drawn up to justify this U-turn by Philip and the other minority comrades?

Has there been a weakening of the structures of ISM? No – there has been a strengthening of these structures. The ISM political committee was established – a wider body replacing the old SML EC. It has met monthly; branches have elected their representatives to the political committee; all the existing branches continued to meet and have drawn up attractive programmes of political discussion; two new branches have been formed; a number of new recruits have joined; and a national political education programme has been launched.

This is despite the fact that, in the same short period we also fought the Ayr parliamentary by election in which the SSP defeated the Lib Dems, one of Scotland’s two governing parties. We also organised, prepared for and intervened in the SSP first policy-making conference, which resoundingly confirmed the dominant political influence of the ideas of the ISM within the SSP. The conference adopted 22 policy statements, many of which were drawn up by ISM members, and all of which reflected our programme and analysis. All of these political statements were agreed overwhelmingly, with the sole opposition coming from the Republican Communist Network, a mish-mash of small mainly ultra- left grouplets who by no stretch of the imagination could be described as “reformist currents”.

Why then did the comrades rapidly abandon the spirit of unity expressed by both sides at the ISM conference and rush so hastily into taking the unprecedented step of forming a faction? Why were there no attempts to raise or discuss these issues verbally before going into print and circulating a one-sided and largely inaccurate diatribe against the majority of the ISM - which was then distributed across the world and printed in publications that are hostile to the CWI?

And why, in any case, is there a need for a faction when there has been no suggestion from any quarter that there has been any stifling of debate, or suppression in any shape or form of minority views?
Nor has there been any attempt to prevent the comrades from meeting privately as they have been doing. Every document or statement produced by the faction comrades has been distributed and discussed. To some of us, it feels like we have discussed nothing else since last June. So why form a faction?

A clue to this hasty rush to form a faction can be found in Tony Saunois’ intervention at the February 6 ISM conference. Tony, as the Secretary of the CWI, registered the opposition of the International Secretariat to the proposal that Frances Curran resume her duties as convenor after being off on maternity leave.

Most comrades regarded this as an utterly incredible intervention and a deliberate attempt to shatter the mood of unity of the conference. Indeed there was no other candidate nominated. This was a clear statement by the IS that they were not prepared to work with Frances and that they would instead start to seek out an alternative leadership more pliable to the IS. But you cannot impose a leadership from outside.

We believe that the driving force for the setting up of a faction has been external pressure. We believe that, since the day the decision was taken to launch the SSP, the CWI/SP leadership have been determined, come hell or high water, to split the organisation in Scotland and establish a rival organisation within the SSP under their direct control. Repeated visits have been made to Scotland, not in order to collaborate with the recognised leadership, but to undermine the elected leadership and to find points of support within the ISM.

We do not believe that most of the Scottish comrades involved in the faction have the same agenda. These comrades have raised some legitimate disagreements, which given the ground-breaking strategy being pursued by the ISM are an inevitable and necessary part of mapping out a way forward.

Up until now we have deliberately refrained in any written material from attacking or condemning these comrades. Instead, we have concentrated in presenting our own strategy in a positive fashion. However we believe the comrades are allowing themselves to be exploited by an international leadership whose role has been to magnify differences, polarise the debate, and whip up hysteria against the Scottish leadership.

The truth is that the CWI/SP leadership – in contrast to most of those who have signed the factional statement - have opposed our strategy from the outset and are still in complete opposition. This is why there has been a blanket of silence within the International regarding the success of the SSP. The sad truth is that the success of the SSP, rather than being a source of pride, has been a huge embarrassment to our international leadership

We even have the ludicrous situation that in the April issue of Socialism Today there is a four and a half page article on the need for a new workers’ party which fails to mention the SSP. While every other left publication in Britain – including even the Socialist Worker – praised the success of the SSP in the recent Ayr parliamentary by election in defeating one of the governing parties in Scotland, the publications - internal and external - of the SP and the CWI have ignored it. Material which has been sent for inclusion in the CWI newsletter has been suppressed.

The political characterisations of the Scottish section and leadership that are now doing the rounds in the meetings of the international are totally unacceptable.

We have accusations, for example, that Alan McCombes is a ‘National Trotskyist’ and believes in socialism in one country; that the SSP has a programme of ‘limited nationalisation’; that the SSP opposes nationalisation of the North Sea oil companies; that the ISM leadership have “illusions in multinational capitalism”; that the SSP is simply based on a few charismatic leaders and its membership is largely a paper membership; that the ISM is “pandering to reformism”.

This is a tissue of falsifications and distortions which we would now request the right to answer in all the main sections of the CWI. There has been no attempt to constructively engage in a serious discussion on any of these issues. Instead there is a constant attempt to undermine and denigrate the work of the Scottish section.

The launch of a faction, we believe, is the culmination of a campaign by the international leadership which has the ultimate aim of splitting the ISM and establishing a puppet organisation in Scotland

Before we even begin to answer the points raised by the comrades who have set up a faction within the Scottish organisation, it is important to look at the method they have used in this debate. The method of Marxism is critical thought. It looks at all of the evidence i

n a situation and then attempts to draw up an analysis based on the whole picture, taking into account all the factors involved.
The approach by the faction comrades is to begin the process the other way around. They have put forward a conclusion and are then searching around trying to find evidence to back it up. They are attempting to prove that “one trend seeks to abandon the building of an independent revolutionary organisation within the SSP” and “the other trend stands for the continuation of the building of our revolutionary organisation”. (SSP Conference Review and Conclusions)

As they cannot develop a coherent argument to prove their case they apply a scatter gun approach in their statement, SSP Conference Review and Conclusion, which jumps from one issue to another, dragging in all sorts of red herrings to try to back up their assertion.

Character of the SSP

In this discussion there are two primary and many secondary issues. The primary questions under dispute are firstly, the development of the SSP, its programme, its character and its likely future evolution. The other key question is the relationship of our organisation, the ISM, to the SSP.

Let’s remember, against a background of ferocious opposition of the CWI leadership both at international level and in the national sections, the Scottish organisation with a belief in the correctness of our analysis courageously decided (with other groups and individuals) to launch the SSP. This decision has been completely vindicated in the objective situation in Scotland today. If we had accepted the position of the CWI World Conference, the active forces of socialism would be much weaker today.
We would not have made the electoral impact we have achieved. The influence of socialist and Marxist ideas within Scottish society would be much weaker. Concrete gains for the working class such as the abolition of poindings and warrant sales would not have been achieved.

Moreover, the active membership of the ISM would be much smaller. In contrast to the steep decline of the active Socialist Party membership in England and Wales over the past 18 months, there are more ISM/CWI members actively involved in politics in one form or another, fighting for the ideas of Marxism within the SSP, the trade unions, the communities and the workplaces.
Let’s also clear up a myth that seems to have taken flight around the International and is repeated in the statements of the faction: at no stage has the ISM leadership ever defined the Scottish Socialist Party as a “revolutionary party.” Our contention is - and has been all along - that the SSP is a hybrid party, a party in transition, a party whose final character has not yet been settled and may not yet be settled for some time.

Whether it will develop into a revolutionary party in the future (i.e. a vehicle capable of leading the Scottish working class to power) will be determined in the course of events. Equally, whether the Socialist Party in England and Wales, or any other section of the CWI will be capable of leading the working class to power will also be determined in the course of future events.

A year after the launch of the SSP we gave more detailed content to our definition of the SSP on the basis of real experience. As Philip acknowledges in his August 1999 statement – (The SSP One Year On): “Prior to the launching of the SSP there was a lot of discussion as to the character of the party and its programme. At the time we described the party as having a hybrid character, i.e. part revolutionary and part broad. This reflected the fact that the party was still to be launched and it was not certain how it would develop or what forces it would attract. Clearly now almost one year on we are in a better position to make any adjustments to that formulation in the light of the concrete experience of our involvement in the SSP”.

We agree with this statement. And last year everyone - including Philip - agreed with the characterisation of the SSP stated in the same document: “The SSP is a class struggle based broad socialist party with a strong revolutionary core in its leadership.”
Why then do the comrades muddy the waters by stating in the conference review statement that “the SSP is not a revolutionary party” – with the clear inference that the rest of us claim that the SSP is “a revolutionary party?”

Where have we said this? Please provide evidence. And why do the comrades retreat completely to the position put forward by the SP EC during the debate in 1998 and repeatedly describe the SSP as “a broad party” – a definition which is so vague that it is open to almost any interpretation. The Labour Party, for example could equally be described as “a broad party”. Such a description is totally inadequate because it tells us precisely nothing about the political make-up of the party, the balance of forces within it, the direction in which it is travelling.

For that reason we would ask the faction comrades to clarify their position further. Do they accept our definition of the SSP as a class-struggle based broad socialist party with an overwhelmingly working class composition and a strong revolutionary core in its leadership and membership? And if the comrades no longer accept this definition, what has changed?

Revolutionary party

There is utter confusion amongst the comrades within the faction on the question of the revolutionary party. There seems to be little conception of where the ISM and for that matter the CWI is now, and where it has to go in order to achieve the building of a mass revolutionary party.

The comrades repeatedly insist that the ISM is a revolutionary party. They state “we are building our own revolutionary party within the SSP” and castigate the majority for describing the ISM not as a party, but as a platform or tendency. This, the comrades assert, is “liquidationism”.

But we need a serious debate on the distinction between a party and a tendency or platform. The description of the ISM as a party within a party is a recipe for confusion. Most people would understand a party to be an organisation which directly campaigns among the working class and the wider population in its own name, leads campaigns under its own name, fights elections and exists as a separate force.

A tendency or platform, on the other hand, is part of a wider party which seeks to shape and influence that party. Under certain conditions, a tendency can become a party, and vice versa.

The question at this stage is: What is the role of the ISM now and in the immediate future? Is our primary role to lead campaigns under the name of the ISM, intervene among the broad working class in the name of the ISM, stand in elections under the name of the ISM– or is our main aim to intervene, politicise and organisationally develop the SSP, while expanding the membership of the ISM itself through recruiting principally from the SSP?

When the comrades lapse into hysteria over terminology, they forget the history of their own organisation. When we launched SML there was some discussion around whether we should call ourselves a party. The comrades on the SP EC (then Militant EC) were vehement in their opposition to describing SML as a party. Even in internal material, they insisted that SML was not a party.

For example, in EC Reply to the ‘Open Letter’ from the ex-minority the British Militant EC in 1993 stated: “Nowhere have we proposed ‘an open revolutionary party’. The ex-minority try to build the case on the basis of one or two isolated off-the-cuff comments. Such enthusiastic statements made at the moment of sensational victories take nothing away from what we have constantly stressed and re-stressed both in our written material and in other statements to the press which the Open Letter dishonestly ignores. We have repeatedly and specifically explained why we are NOT establishing a ‘Party’.” (Our emphasis)

The references to ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘off-the-cuff’ refer to statements in the press and elsewhere by SML members describing SML as a party. In fact, there was disagreement on this issue. The Scottish comrades were repeatedly taken to task for calling SML a party - even in election material where the British leadership insisted that we did not use the term.

The argument of the comrades then was that SML was a ‘detour’ and our long term orientation would be back towards the Labour Party as the party itself moved back to the left. This perspective was treated extremely sceptically in Scotland some years before the British and International leadership finally drew the conclusions that the Labour Party tactic was untenable.

When SML was fighting elections, campaigning among the working class, recruiting directly from the working class – in other words acting as a party – the comrades denied that we were a party. Now that we are acting as an organised tendency in a much bigger party that we lead, the comrades insist that we call our organisation “a party”. The old proverb springs to mind about someone singing a wedding song at a funeral, and a funeral dirge at a wedding.

Until relatively recently, no section of the CWI described itself as “the revolutionary party”. The reason was because the creation of a revolutionary party was seen as a long term goal rather than an accomplished fact. The sections of the CWI were – and in our opinion still are – nuclei which may eventually, providing the tactics, strategy and orientation are correct, may eventually succeed in bringing into existence genuine revolutionary parties with roots in the working class.

The accumulation of the forces which will make up the ranks of the revolutionary party will require many different orientations. In each situation the aim will be to either to win over individuals, or organisations and parties to the political analysis and programme that we advance for the taking of power.

Sometimes this will be as open independent organisations; at other times we will find ourselves working in other parties or formations. We may also find that when we are successful in reaching political agreement with other organisations this can lead to the formation of new revolutionary organisations through fusion and merger. We cannot map out the road to a mass revolutionary party at this stage with all the junctions clearly signposted.

Our orientation within the SSP does not merely consist of trying to win over ones and twos, it actually consists of attempting, over a period of time, to win over the whole party to our political position. Instead of leading campaigns or standing in elections under the banner of SML we approach the class with the more effective banner of the SSP. The role of the ISM is different to the role of SML.

The ISM is not a party in the sense of SML, which provided the entire campaigning structure for our intervention amongst the class. The ISM plays a more ideological role within the SSP, trying to develop the party in a revolutionary direction.

The recruits which we have and will attract have a much higher political level that those we attracted under SML, or those who currently are attracted to the SP in England and Wales or the SP in Ireland. Like the SP in England and Ireland, the SSP - albeit on a much larger scale - attracts workers who want to fight for socialism. Those who take a further step towards joining the ISM are, as a general rule, more politically developed.

The role of ISM is to develop a cadre and to promote political ideas and discussion inside the party on the philosophical, economic and the political analysis which we stand on. We also have the task of assisting the SSP to become a combative party which is involved centre stage in the class struggle using the best methods of SML.

Of course a majority of our comrades are also leading the SSP in terms of campaigns, elections, building the branches selling the Voice etc. So we also influence all the leading bodies of the SSP on day to day propaganda, campaigning and tactical issues. Our leadership gives the SSP a combative cutting edge and a far more developed Marxist political analysis than is the case with other “broad socialist parties”.

In 1934 the perspective of Trotsky was that the ILP in Britain, on the basis of events, could be won over to a revolutionary position. The ILP had come out of the Labour Party with around 15,000 members and had a sizeable apparatus and influence, including 5 MPs in Glasgow.

Nevertheless the international organisation around Trotsky advised the 40 inexperienced members in Britain to enter the ILP. The objective was not to recruit ones and twos to a separate organisation but to win over the whole party. The British group refused, but a minority split and agreed to enter, Trotsky’s advice to the organisation was this: “I am entirely in agreement with the proposal of the IS which you subject to criticism in your letter of January 5. We all agreed that after its entry into the ILP, the British section should cease its independent organisational existence”.

Was Trotsky a liquidationist? The first question most comrades will ask was: in what political context did Trotsky give this advice? And here we have the nub of the question. Organisational forms flow from political orientation - not the other way around. How you organise depends on the size of your organisation who you are orientating to, whether you are reaching the class as an independent organisation or through working in other parties and formations, and the character of these broader parties and formations.

The faction comrades and the International leadership promote the position that one size fits all. The sections of the CWI must have identikit organisational structures regardless of the conditions in which they are working. Anything less, anything different is “liquidationism.”

This has absolutely nothing in common with the experience of Marxism/Trotskyism. The whole experience of the Left Opposition illustrates the consistent ability of Trotskyists in the inter war years to have the utmost flexibility in both orientation and in organisational forms as they attempted to accumulate the forces for a mass revolutionary party.

The organisational structures which we have put in place in Scotland of monthly political committees, monthly branch meetings, a public journal, a website, a newsletter/bulletin, a political committee, quarterly all-members meetings - all backed up with political education programmes - are more than sufficient to attract new recruits and attend to their political education as well.
This coupled with an open profile within the SSP has and will attract new members. But there are also many workers in the SSP who will observe over a period of time our activity, political clarity and ability to lead the party. In the future we can expect to win over whole branches and regions to the ISM. We could be doing with a more regular journal, but this is a question which we can address.

Will the ISM at some stage in the future become a party like SML, standing in elections, intervening in the class struggle etc? That depends upon the development of the SSP.

If the SSP were to disintegrate at some stage, then in the absence of any serious socialist party in Scotland, the ISM would have the responsibility of picking up the pieces, embarking on an Option One strategy and launching a new socialist party.

No-one can foretell exactly how events will unfold. Fortunately, however, the perspective that the SSP will collapse or disintegrate is not the most likely scenario that we face, to put it mildly.

We also have to state that such a scenario would be a serious defeat for our organisation and for the Scottish working class, because the SSP itself represents a historic conquest. After 18 months it now commands the support of around one in twenty of the Scottish electorate and a higher proportion still among the working class and the youth.

But what if we face exactly the opposite problem: that the SSP were to be swamped with an influx of new members on an even bigger scale than we have seen up to now? What if entire trade unions moved in and effectively took over the SSP? What if a number of Labour and SNP MSPs defected to the SSP?

In the first place, we would welcome the development of the SSP into a real mass workers party. Undoubtedly, our tasks would become more complicated. We may find ourselves in a minority, at least on certain issues.

However, the SSP is not the Labour Party whose constitution even in its best days was effectively rigged in favour of the parliamentary leadership. Unless the democratic constitution was replaced by a bureaucratised regime, we would still orientate towards the SSP and work through it rather than pronounce the ISM a rival party.

We would probably adjust the organisational structures of the ISM, for example to produce more public material presenting our ideas, if these were no longer being promoted by the SSP. But while there remained a democratic structure in place, we would fight to re-establish our ideas and position. Our orientation would still be towards the SSP. In other words, we would still be a tendency/platform rather than a party.

In the long term, whether our ideas prevail in the SSP will be determined not by organisational forms, nor by whether we define the ISM as a party, but by our political intervention and by events themselves.

The development of the SSP into a mass workers party is not immediately posed. Nor is it likely to be posed in the next two to three years. Our structures and orientation have to reflect the tasks of the next period, not of the distant future.
In the meantime, the structures that have been agreed and implemented are more than adequate to intervene effectively in the SSP and to build the forces of Marxism within the party.

The ISM and the SSP

We have today a double task of spreading socialist ideas and developing a Marxist cadre. In a sense we have to go back a hundred years to the period of the First or Second International, to the time of the establishment of the first mass workers' parties. But we have to do so bearing in mind that the 20th century happened.

That means first of all that in building new workers’ parties, mass socialist traditions have to be revived, not invented from scratch, and that we can base ourselves on the best traditions of the workers’ movement in each country. Secondly, we have to take into the new parties the programmatic lessons of the last hundred years: that is the specific role of Marxism.

What we are faced with is a double task, not two separate tasks. Theoretically the two aspects can be separated. But in practice there is no Chinese wall between them. As we work to build new parties on a socialist basis we seek simultaneously to spread the influence of Marxism within these parties and not simply to build a Marxist faction.

Rather than starting from a battle over definitions(party/organisation/tendency/current/platform), we have to start by posing the question: what is the role of the ISM within the SSP?

We are not building an organisation to intervene independently in the class struggle; our role is to intervene in the "class struggle based broad socialist party with a strong revolutionary core in its leadership" that is the SSP.

Of course we recruit to the ISM, but recruitment is not and never has been an end in itself. We aim to recruit and train the best activists of the SSP in order to assist the SSP itself to evolve in a Marxist direction.

We do not content ourselves with building a broad party in which we are the revolutionary wing. We are not trying to resurrect the Labour Party pre-Kinnock and Blair. We should not, by the way, underestimate the challenge that faces us. Unlike most of the other major European countries, Marxism has never been a mass force in Britain, even if in certain areas of Scotland it had stronger roots than elsewhere.

We want the ideas of Marxism to become the ideas of the SSP, but that is a process not an act. It is a question of helping the present and future members of the SSP to arrive at Marxist conclusions through their own experience and through discussion.

A mass party, even a small mass party, based on Marxism would bear very little resemblance to the relatively small revolutionary groups who have represented Marxism over the last several decades.

In the first place it would be pluralist. One of the most telling passages in the material produced by the comrades of the faction is: "The SSP is not a revolutionary party. The interviews in the SSV with some of the international visitors brought out their impressions that this was a party that involved people from different traditions." (Review of the SSP conference).

Yes, we agree the SSP is not a revolutionary party. But that’s not because it involves people from different traditions. Indeed, it is unlikely that we will ever build revolutionary parties anywhere on any serious scale which do NOT involve people from different traditions.

Moreover, even a party dominated by the ideas of Marxism will at any point in time contain many people who are not Marxists. That should not pose us a serious problem. We have demonstrated in the past an ability to recruit, especially to SML, on the basis of campaigns and activity and to educate comrades in Marxism afterwards.

Democratic Centralism

The question has been put to us by the comrades in the faction: Do you support democratic centralism, yes or no? Our reply to this is - that depends on what the comrades mean.

In this debate comrades have asked us to define democratic centralism in a kind of ten easy-to-remember points. The question however is not that simple. The character of democratic centralism within an organisation is determined by the living struggle of the working class and the dynamic and development of the revolutionary organisation.

The same questions regarding a simple definition were put to Trotsky. He said: “Neither do I think that I can give such a formula on democratic centralism that once and for all would eliminate misunderstandings and false interpretations.” He continues. “The regime of a party does not fall ready made from the sky but is formed gradually in the struggle. First of all it is necessary to define strategic problems and tactical methods correctly in order to solve them. The organisational forms should correspond to the strategy and the tactic. Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime. This it is understood does not mean that the development of the party does not raise organisational problems as such. But it means that the formula for democratic centralism must inevitably find a different expression in the parties of different countries and at different stages of development of one and the same party.”

The relationship of democracy and centralism is determined by concrete circumstances. When an organisation is working in illegal conditions either underground by force of the state or is working in political illegality within another organisation - which was the case with entrism within the Labour Party - then there will be a tendency to centralism.

In illegality under the capitalist state it would risk security to hold a public conference, or unnecessarily circulate organisational information. Not all members of the party would be told of what was happening with other comrades in other areas because of security reasons, severely limiting internal democracy.

When we were working within the Labour Party, in illegal political conditions where we denied the existence of an organisation, it was difficult to publicly display the open structures of the organisation, or to freely circulate written political material. Even the language used was coded.

In these conditions we were working against a hostile bureaucracy who wished to expel us. There was an agreed strategy and comrades were not free to stand up at Labour Party meetings if they disagreed with the strategy and declare that we were an organisation as this would have led to reprisals. This is not the situation within the SSP where we are the leadership.

Again back to Trotsky,
“Democracy and centralism do not find themselves in an invariable ratio to one another. Everything depends on the concrete circumstances or the political situation in the country, on the strength of the party and it’s experience, on the general level of it’s members on the authority its leadership has succeeded in winning.”

In this period, especially within a working class socialist party like the SSP, the emphasis has to be on openness, transparency and democracy. The comrades in the faction appear to believe that we should go to the branches and structures of the SSP having previously worked out a position which we would then vote for en masse.

Ironically, the comrades from Dundee who make up the majority of the faction have not acted in this way themselves. At the founding conference of the SSP, the comrades from Dundee voted against the general position of SML (as it was then) on various constitutional amendments moved by our opponents. And at least one comrade who is associated with the faction recently broke ranks at a Dundee branch meeting to support a resolution from the RCN on republicanism.

On another occasion, Philip voted against the majority of ISM comrades and along with the RCN in favour of inviting John McNulty of the sectarian-republican Socialist Democracy organisation in Belfast to speak at the Socialism 2000 event.

We have no problem with Philip and other comrades voting in different ways. When we are intervening in the SSP, we are not confronting an open class enemy in the shape of the bosses, or a disguised class enemy in the shape of the trade union bureaucracy. Therefore it is unnecessary to operate as a tightly-knit caucus.

Moreover, if we did operate in this way our influence would not be enhanced within the SSP: it would be diminished. Any suggestion that meetings of the SSP are rubber stamps for decisions taken elsewhere will arouse hostility even among those workers in the SSP who are most sympathetic to the ISM.

We obviously expect all ISM comrades to defend the basic ideas and principles of Marxism. We are in favour of discussing and where possible reaching agreement within the ISM on key issues that will be of major importance to the party. However if we cannot convince comrades on a particular issue we are not in favour of coercing them to support that position.

The discussion on drugs policy is a concrete example of this approach. Not surprisingly, some comrades were uneasy with the policy being proposed. The fact that those comrades were free to put their point of view at the SSP day school on an issue which is now of critical importance in Scotland added to the discussion and helped clarify some issues.

Genuine political unity cannot be achieved by mind control. We are totally opposed to any suggestion that any ISM comrades expressing different positions within the SSP would be subjected to disciplinary action - and we would ask the comrades in the faction to clarify their position on this question.

Neither are we in favour of caucusing before every SSP branch meeting or National Council. Comrades should have the opportunity to discuss with other SSP members tactical and strategic and programmatic issues without having to phone up a member of the Political Committee to “get the line”.

Also, the ISM does not need to have a cut and dried position on every issue that arises. At the recent conference policy papers were passed on issues as diverse as animal rights, prison reform and children’s rights which we have never really discussed before within SML or the ISM.

This boils down to a question of confidence in our own membership. If you have a membership who are politically, developed, can think independently, and can apply the method of Marxism to contemporary, political, strategic and tactical issues then you can have the confidence that they are distilling these ideas and approach in the SSP branches and meetings.

In a recent Socialism Today article on the case for a new workers party Peter Taaffe, the general secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, criticises the SWP for using strength of numbers to railroad through their position at a meeting of the Lewisham London Socialist Alliance. We can only conclude that Peter thinks that this is an inappropriate form of democratic centralism for the SWP to adhere to under the concrete circumstances of leading and intervening in the London Socialist Alliance.

If the SWP joined the SSP and were coming to every branch meeting or National Council with pre-prepared resolutions then we may have to modify our approach. As Trotsky says: “Everything depends on concrete circumstances.”

A key aspect of democratic centralism is control over the leadership by the rank and file. It is particularly relevant when it comes to action, especially of public leaders. If the ISM conference agrees a policy then the members of the political committee would be expected to fully implement it.

However given that the SSP does and will have public leaders, many elements of democratic centralism are more relevant at this stage to the development of the SSP than the ISM.

Indeed, the constitution of the SSP itself upholds this key ingredient of democratic centralism. For example, the constitution states that “all elected SSP members must be prepared to represent local/area/national policy and be accountable to the appropriate body; accept personal pay no more than the average skilled workers wage; participate in non-violent direct action campaigns and activities in pursuit of the aims and objectives of the SSP.”

Part Two

Part Three


Documents Index