ISM political committee reply to the factional document and platform

Part Three


The comrades of the faction raise a number of points in relation to Cuba. If we look at the resolution passed by the SSP conference it takes a correct position of support for the Cuban Revolution and defence of Cuba against imperialism. It does not give uncritical support to the Cuban regime but states explicitly that we reserve the right to criticise Cuba.

What do the comrades say? First, they criticise the resolution for describing Cuba as a "socialist republic". The comrades then say: “Socialism as we know would require an international overturn of capitalism in at least a significant number of countries in the advanced capitalist world for socialism to begin to take root…this applies as much to Scotland as to Cuba in 1956.” (sic).

But we do call for an independent socialist Scotland as a step towards a wider socialist alliance. Are the comrades proposing that we change the wording of that part of our programme on the grounds that you can’t have socialism in one country?

Of course, socialism as we know cannot be built in a single country. Lenin knew that too, he explained it many times. The constitution of 1918 nevertheless defined Russia as a soviet federative socialist republic" and the constitution of the Soviet Union four years later spoke of a union of socialist republics.

The comrades also say : “This is not the position of the CWI who describe the Cuban regime as a deformed workers state.” That is true – although there has been no discussion within the CWI involving the individual sections on the class nature of Cuba in the light of the experience of the past ten years.

In the late 1970s we understand that Peter Taaffe described Cuba as a ‘workers state with bureaucratic deformations’ – a formula that was opposed by Ted Grant then withdrawn. Instead Cuba was lumped together in the same bag and under the same label as Stalin’s Russia. Ceaussescu’s Romania, Honecker’s East Germany, Jaruzelski’s Poland etc.

We believe that there is a genuine discussion to be had on the character of Cuba, given that it has stood against the tide of capitalist restoration over the past ten years, despite losing the mammoth subsidies from the Soviet Union.

There are clearly deformations as was acknowledged in the speeches and in the content of the resolution carried at the SSP conference which explicitly stated that we reserve the right to raise our criticisms of Cuba.

Incidentally, the faction comrades say that “it was not acceptable that the comrade who moved the resolution said it was unimportant how we characterise Cuba and that it should be supported uncritically.” However, as the comrades know, the mover of the resolution, Alice Sheridan, stepped in to move the resolution at the last moment because Tommy was called away. Alice is well known as a very passionate and long standing comrade who has always expressed her views strongly, even where they have not corresponded with the views of SML.

When the comrades say this is “unacceptable” what do they mean? Are they implying that disciplinary action should be taken, and if not, what are they saying?

Moreover, Alice was taken up strongly, not by members of the faction all of whom who remained silent, but by Mairtin Gardner and Nicky McKerrell, ISM members who support the majority position. When the statement then criticises these comrades for failing “to deal with the character of the Cuban state or call for workers democracy or socialism” they are simply trying to score cheap points. In a two minute contribution in the course of an extremely short debate it is not possible to deal with all of the issues. However some of the key points concerning repression and lack of democratic rights were brought out.

But there are other issues at stake here. In this period of capitalist triumphalism, the “end of socialism and communism”, the march of globalisation, surely the main emphasis of a socialist conference has to be to come out clearly on the side of the tiny, isolated and impoverished Cuban state?

Whatever its deformations, it continues to command mass support within the country even after 40 years, and has valiantly protected the gains of the revolution in contrast to those former Stalinists who have switched sides to become capitalists.
The comrades fleetingly refer to “the conference correctly calling for the defence of Cuba from the embargo by US imperialism” then go on to make lengthy criticisms of the Cuban state. We believe that the emphasis should be the other way round. Especially in the present international climate, this is a basic class question, like supporting the NUM during the miners’ strike - despite the bureaucratic authoritarianism of the NUM leadership under Arthur Scargill.

Moreover it is a mistake to baldly state that “a new revolution is essential in Cuba” as the comrades present it. Our central demand should not be for ‘a new revolution in Cuba’, but for revolution based on socialist democracy in the capitalist states of Latin America, which would then have repercussions in Cuba itself. To pose the tasks the other way around is - to turn once again to the analogy of workers in struggle - like calling for the removal of Arthur Scargill from the leadership of the NUM during the miners strike.

We have no definitive position on the nature of the Cuban state, our exact demands etc. These are issues that have not been discussed in the recent period, but should be discussed in a calm fashion rather than in a fashion designed purely to discredit the ISM majority in the eyes of the International.


The discussion on adopting a position on Ireland within first the SSA and then the SSP has been an ongoing and evolving one. When we first launched the SSA we were surprised at the degree of programmatic agreement, especially as most of it originated with the programme of SML.

The exception to this was the question of Ireland. When we launched the SSA in 1996, we could have railroaded our position through the SSA conference by force of numbers. We chose not to.

Instead we proposed that the SSA should not adopt any position on Ireland at its founding conference and that we should take the chance to hold a full discussion.
This meant that SSA had no policy from the February 1996 founding conference until the special one-day conference on Ireland eventually took place in November 1997. We fought the 1997 general election without a policy on Ireland, so contentious is this issue within the Left in Scotland.

At the one day conference, there were a number of motions submitted including a motion from SML. We then negotiated a statement with some other groups who were closer to our analysis, and while putting up and moving our own analysis we remitted our resolution in favour of the statement. At the time this was discussed with Peter Hadden in Northern Ireland.

Since then Alan McCombes and Allan Green visited Belfast and discussed with different groups including the Socialist Party. A full page article with Peter Hadden was carried in the SSP paper the Socialist Voice. This was followed by a debate at the Socialism 2000 event attended by 500, where Peter Hadden was invited to speak on behalf of the Socialist Party in Ireland. Incidentally Joe Higgins was also invited to speak at the International Rally.

In the three years since the launch of the SSA we have come a long way in terms of the understanding within the SSP of the position in Ireland. Sections of what is now the SSP have moved much closer to our position through patient discussion and argument.

This current position is an advance on the position initially adopted at the one day conference on Ireland two years ago.
The statement incorporates all of our main analysis. The statement is a class analysis and a socialist programme on the very complex national question in Ireland, the Peace Process, repression, policing the development of class politics and a united socialist alternative.

That programme can of course evolve and develop over time, as we continue the ongoing discussion within the SSP. These issues form part of an ongoing discussion within the SSP. We do not accept that the statement makes unprincipled concessions to left republicanism/reformism.

It stands up as a far better and clearer statement of a working class socialist position on Ireland than the manifesto drawn up by the Labour Coalition in which we formed a majority and fought elections in 1996. This manifesto did not deal at all with the national question, for example. Nor did it even mention the word socialism anywhere in the text.

One headline calls for “a return to traditional Labour values” . Its list of demands a call for “the European Convention of Human Rights to be enacted into law in Northern Ireland” . Another demand calls for “adequate resources for the Fair Employment and Equal Opportunity Commissions.” That is not to criticise the compromise programme of the Labour Coalition,
which of course was a politically much broader formation than the SSP.

However it is blatantly inconsistent to support and campaign around such a weak manifesto which puts mild demands on the state, then attack the SSP’s much more far-reaching programme as “making concessions to reformism”. The comparisons from the faction between our recent handling of SSP policy on Ireland and that of the Scottish Socialist Alliance over two years ago are limp, belated and entirely false.

After almost two years without a policy on Ireland because of the difficulties of achieving we did finally agree on a policy position which was much weaker and more vague than the new policy of the SSP. Yet it was praised by Peter Hadden and the leadership of the Irish section. The fact we could negotiate and win a much more advanced policy through the SSP (see attachment) without the same delays in itself demonstrates the success of the approach adopted by the ISM majority on this vexed issue over several years.

Two approaches (at least) are always available: the easier road of remaining 'pure' on every formulation but isolated from any real audience; or the rockier road to a far-reaching socialist, class-based programme that brings bigger forces along with us. The SSP policy on the national question guarantees the rights of all minorities in Ireland; promotes class and socialist politics; calls for a socialist Ireland.

The comrades seem to want to have their cake and eat it. They insist that the SSP is a broad, heterogeneous party with diverse currents (which is a gross exaggeration as we have explained. Yet simultaneously they insist that we railroad through a policy on Ireland with every nuance straightened out to the satisfaction of the Irish leadership.

It is disappointing that the comrades in Ireland refuse to acknowledge the level of achievement in conquering such a policy on Ireland through the SSP. Neither the SSA, nor especially the Labour Coalition developed a policy which remotely matches the policy now agreed by the SSP.

The comrades fail or refuse to grasp that the discussion at SSP conference - including the case put by speakers from the ISM majority that swung the conference behind the statement 'For a Socialist Ireland' - was a milestone event in an ongoing, unfinished process of clarification on this issue in the ranks of the SSP. Of course the SSP policy on Ireland may be open to slightly different nuances of interpretation by different people on some issues. But those who round on us are blinded to the dialectic of winning a powerful statement of class-based socialist analysis and programme - skilfully worded and negotiated to bring people from different traditions with us - whilst sharpening up the clarity of thought in the SSP with the help of the verbal explanations behind the policy document .

It is frankly childish and churlish of the faction and their international supporters to repeatedly condemn the policy document on the basis of the bullet points at the end of it.

Firstly these points are lifted directly from the 1997 SSA policy, which was praised not condemned by the Irish leadership. Secondly they focus on demands on the British government on repression, surely a legitimate part of any programme for socialists operating in the imperialist country?

Thirdly, they form a minor part of the overall policy statement. It is ludicrous and dishonest to pretend that these seven demands against repression are all the SSP will campaign around.

What about the rest of the policy document? What about, for example, its pledge to "develop solidarity links with all those in Ireland campaigning in the interests of working-class people in all communities, North and South"?

Or the SSP offer of "solidarity to any moves towards communities, trade unionists, women's and youth organisations coming together at ground level to seek cooperation on a way forward". Surely that skilfully advocates the class unity in action that has been the touchstone of CWI policy for 30 years?

And do the comrades not recognise the essence of the call from the SSP to "actively encourage the development of cross-community class politics and any steps towards new working class initiatives helping to mount a united socialist challenge."?
This is a far more concrete expression of the age-old CWI call for 'workers' unity and socialism', but posed in a fashion that does not appear to dictate action from across the Irish Sea, and also takes account of the polarisation between the communities in recent years.

The demand for 'a united socialist challenge' may not fit the identikit slogans that the International leadership seem to insist upon, but surely it is an invaluable campaigning weapon for the CWI in N Ireland, who could exploit the growing authority of the SSP to be at the heart of such initiatives?

It is not a question of surrendering on principles, but of the presentation of ideas in a fashion that chimes with the consciousness of the best of the working class that we seek to influence and lead. The opposite choice is to remain a permanent sect, albeit 'pure'.
We would appreciate a genuine discussion in that context on how we present our analysis of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) - not just in Scotland/Britain but in Ireland itself.

We could have adopted an entirely one-sided critique of this capitalist agreement - with justification. That after all is the position of the most militarist republicans, and the thinly disguised approach of the RCN, many of whom in reality are opposed to the ceasefires, as Richie Venton brought out during the SSP conference debate.

But to merely restrict our position on the Good Friday Agreement to a negative expose of its aims would fly in the face of the profound desires - and yes illusions - for it to succeed that exists in both working class communities in N Ireland. And such yearnings and illusions are even more prevalent in Scotland, where distance lends enchantment to the Peace Process.
Why did the Irish Socialist Party call for a YES vote in the referendum if not to 'adapt' to the real consciousness of workers whilst seeking to dispel their illusions?.Certainly what is of no use to the situation for the forces of Marxism and socialism is for the SSP's position on the Good Friday Agreement to be distorted.

In fact the SSP statement says: "We do not believe the Good Friday Agreement provides any lasting resolution of the conflicting, contradictory demands on the national question, policing, parades and other issues" and goes on to "recognise serious shortcomings and dangers in the agreement", including how it was reached without any direct input by working class organisations; its institutionalised sectarianism and its failure to resolve the contradictory demands on the national question.It is sophistry and distortion to say the document refers to "the positive features of the GFA", when in fact it refers to the positive features "arising from the GFA". (our emphasis) .In other words it does not seek to reinforce illusions in an Agreement cobbled together by bourgeois politicians, but seeks to exploit the openings at least temporarily emerging from it, in particular to put politicians on the spot and create openings for class and socialist politics.The ISM faction, in Review of SSP Conference, state that "Our position on the North is one of the most attractive for people looking for answers to the sectarian nightmare of politics in Ireland" and condemns the ISM majority for "adapting our Marxist programme to the broad SSP i.e. a non-revolutionary party".This is a crass over-simplification. If life was so simple why do the faction not win a clear political majority in Dundee SSP on Ireland? It is true that the consistent thread of our analysis has stood up to the test of time over 30 years. It is also true that a very advanced minority find it overpoweringly convincing. But for other layers, including many who joined Militant and SML since the early 1970s, Ireland has often been the most difficult stumbling block.

A potent cocktail of romantic republicanism and downright sectarianism especially in the West of Scotland has meant that Ireland has always been a complex and difficult issue for us - even when we were recruiting to Militant/SML. Surely the experience of the Northern Ireland CWI comrades themselves testify to the fact that we can be a thousand times correct in our general explanations, but still be forced to remain a small, relatively isolated group, swimming against the stream of bigger political currents?
The whole purpose of Marxism is to weld correct generalisations to living movements and real consciousness in a way that helps to alter the balance of forces in society.

Hence the 'adaptation' of slogans like 'a socialist united Ireland' to 'a socialist Ireland' (which remains a real source of debate in the SSP). Hence the Labour Coalition phase in Northern Ireland, surely an attempt to inch forward consciousness by agreeing a programme that looks like that of the most primitive early social democracy by comparison with the far-reaching socialist demands of the SSP document on Ireland.ISM intervention at SSP conference

In the document SSP Conference and Conclusions, the faction comrades claim that we have had the atomisation of our forces within a broad party.

But yet again they cannot come up with any evidence. There was much greater political preparation for this conference than for any previous SSP or SSA conference or event. In fact, the political intervention of the ISM comrades on a whole range issues was outstanding. The political positions we argued for were all carried overwhelmingly – by much greater margins incidentally than was the case in the old SSA.

The comrades claimed that only the Dundee comrades sold the International Socialist. This is untrue. Ally Black has explained that the new members from Edinburgh as well as other comrades were selling the journal. Ally also explained the work that was done by the Edinburgh comrades in advertising and building the fringe meeting. The CWI had a bookstall where the material from the comrades in Northern Ireland was also sold.

The statement complains about the lack of attendance at the fringe meeting of a number of leading comrades. But as Frances Curran explained in a letter to Niall Mulholland and Peter Hadden which raised exactly the same points, our leading comrades are also leading members of the SSP.

In the lunch hour the FT’s were all tied up with organising the conference, dealing with the press, being interviewed for TV, getting interviews for the Socialist Voice, or using the lunch hour to discuss with SSP members about campaigning in the imminent by-election campaign in Ayr.

As Frances also explained, all of these comrades are involved in political discussions within the ISM and in building the ISM. Incidentally Ally reported that when he was trawling the coffee bars to get comrades to attend the fringe meeting some of those he had problems persuading were the comrades from the Dundee branch of ISM, most of whom have signed the faction statement.

Comrades did vote different ways on the constitutional amendments. This was a debate which unfolded on the conference floor and it was clear that some of the points put forward required further consideration. Any leadership worth its salt would take these points on board rather than ramming through an organisational measure that SSP members - including some of our comrades - were unhappy about.

These points only came to light in the discussion. As the debate developed it was obvious that real issues had arisen. How do the comrades suggest we should have responded? Should we have run round our comrades on the conference floor demanding that they support the constitutional amendments?

Such an approach would be sterile and would not increase our influence in the SSP; it would lead to a backlash, particularly among the non-aligned members who will not take kindly to decisions being railroaded through by force of numbers rather than convincing people through argument and debate.

In any case, the issues raised on the constitution are not political issues, they are organisational issues. The ISM majority are completely relaxed about these decisions. We believe that it is healthy that the leadership of any party are kept on their toes by the rank and file.

But we are concerned about the hypocrisy and double standards of some of the faction comrades. For example, at last year’s SSP conference, the comrades from Dundee voted with the Red Republicans (i.e. the RCN) on various constitutional amendments against the majority of the SML comrades.

We had no problems with that. But neither do we have any problem with comrades voting in different ways on constitutional detail at this conference either. In general the ISM acted in unison at the SSP conference, not because discipline was imposed but because of political clarity.

After much huffing and puffing about atomisation and disintegration of our forces all that the faction comrades are left with to back up their argument is that; “No one identified themselves as members of the ISM/CWI.”

In the first place, that is not true. Frances Curran and Murray Smith both said they were members of the CWI when they stood for election as international organisers. And both were subsequently elected overwhelmingly in the ballot.

Other comrades wove it naturally into their contribution. But we are opposed to the method which is being proposed here: that comrades every time they reach the rostrum give their name, branch and ISM membership.

The Dundee comrades themselves did not approach the conference in that manner. Nor have they approached other SSP or SSA conferences in that way – and they are right not to adopt that approach. That is not the way we intervened in the anti-Poll Tax campaign, the Hands Off Our Water campaign, the Save Our Services campaigns or the various workers' solidarity campaigns we have been involved in.

We have all had experience of this approach with the SWP in the anti-poll tax campaign, at union conferences and in many other situations. It completely grates on workers and we do not believe that it is the correct way to intervene.


The Conference Review Statement from the faction comrades claims that for Frances Curran and Murray Smith (who were elected as the two International Officers of the SSP) “as with other comrades, there is only one tactic; that of developing broad formations in which we act as a loose ideological current.”

Again we have to ask: where is the evidence to back up this assertion? And again, the comrades have no evidence because there is no evidence. It is, in fact, a gross falsification of our position.

Let us quote from the draft statement that we submitted to the IEC as a basis for further discussion. The statement argues that the key strategic task of the CWI in Europe should be to attempt “to regroup all those who refuse who refuse to accept that there is no alternative to capitalism and are prepared to fight for socialism”. But where in the statement does it argue that our only tactic is “developing broad formations in which we act as a loose ideological current”?

In fact, the forms of organisation that will be necessary for sections of the CWI within broad formations would vary, depending on the character of these formations, our influence within them, which other forces were involved and other concrete conditions. Let us quote what the document actually says, rather than what the comrades would like it to say: “There is not one tactic… In some countries, the regroupment of existing Trotskyist organisations will be the core of any new party. Elsewhere the forces for new parties will include those who have emerged from the wreckage of Stalinism. The majority of forces for new parties will come from a new younger generation…

“The exact political character of these new parties will depend on the dominant forces within them. In Scotland the situation has been extremely favourable for us because of the dominance of Scottish Militant Labour –a Marxist organisation – in the creation of the SSP. We therefore have a clearly socialist party with quite an advanced programme. …

“We will have to intervene in parties or pre-parties whose programmes are weak or are confused…Our ability to intervene will depend on many factors but particularly the strength and clarity of our own sections…

“To say that the creation of new workers parties is the key task therefore we should dissolve themselves into them would be a huge error…The question is how to get these parties to absorb the lessons of the past 150 years of Marxism. We should promote our basic programmatic demands while seeking patiently … to advance our full programme. Until such time as this is accepted we need to organise openly within these parties to promote and defend the ideas of Marxism. Exactly what forms that organisation will take will depend on the concrete circumstances. We are in the process of solving this question at the present stage in Scotland. The question will be posed differently in different countries.”(New emphasis added)

If that is not sufficient to lay to rest the crude distortion of our position which states that we want to apply one strategy right across the world let’s quote from the second last paragraph: “We are not suggesting that the Scottish experience should be mechanically applied across Europe. Each section has to intervene in the working class movement relevant to the specific form of the movement in each country.”

We would ask the comrades in this as in all other questions to deal with our real position and not a parody of our position. Indeed it is ironic that these criticisms should be levelled at the ISM majority who have argued for the past two years precisely against the attempt by the International to regiment the sections without reference to the concrete conditions in each country.

Two years ago an international delegation from sections of the CWI arrived in Scotland to convince us where we were going wrong (fortunately we convinced one of these comrades that we were not going wrong; and at least one other comrade from that delegation now accepts, in the light of experience that our assessment of the forces that could be generated through transforming the SSA into a new party has been proven correct).

However the main speaker on behalf of the delegation at a debate at the SML National Committee spent most of his contribution explaining that it was impossible to work in the same formation as non-members of the CWI because that had been the experience of the Swedish section. The same points were repeated to us over and over again, notably at the European School in Leuven, that the Swedish model was the model to follow.

At the same SML National Committee, CWI Secretary, Tony Saunois argued that the forces of socialism and Marxism internationally were facing a period of retreat and disintegration and therefore the SSP project was doomed to fail. At a British National Committee we were repeatedly told that because Socialist Alliances had been unsuccessful in various regions in England, that our strategy in Scotland was therefore wrong.

One of our main arguments was that the comrades outside Scotland were indulging in abstract generalisations rather than examining the specific conditions on the ground. Indeed, one of the problems in our opinion with the methodology of the CWI leadership is that it is over-centralised and seeks to impose strategy and tactics upon individual sections when these decisions have to be worked out concretely at national level. In the case of Scotland, the assessment of the CWI leadership - which was unfortunately was accepted by the 1998 World Congress - has proven disastrously mistaken.

We would not dream of attempting to impose exactly the same strategy we have developed in Scotland within other European countries where conditions are clearly different. However we are internationalists, we have experience in the mass movement, we have conducted a strategy which is acknowledged as a resounding success by the vast mass of CWI members in Scotland and by the vast mass of non-CWI socialist activists outside Scotland. Consequently we have a right to express our views about the general strategy of the international without the sneering misrepresentation of our position sketched out in the faction’s conference review statement.

Unfortunately, the CWI/SP leadership seem to be so blinded by hostility to the SSP and to the ISM majority that they have refused to draw any positive lessons from the experience of the SSP. Sadly, it has been other rival organisations that have at least drawn some of the lessons of SML, the SSA and the SSP.

In particular, the SWP, following the attendance by national SWP leaders at the SSP Socialism 2000 event made an abrupt turn to the London Socialist Alliance, part of a movement initiated by the Socialist Party (then Militant Labour) in England and Wales following on from the successful launch of the Scottish Socialist Alliance.

From all accounts, this turn by the SWP has breathed new life into the LSA and allowed it to attract new fresh forces to the fight for socialism. The LSA was able to achieve an impressive vote in the London Assembly elections, including 7 per cent of first-past-the-post votes cast in the Euro constituency covering North East London and over 6 per cent in the Euro constituency covering South West London.

Yet the SP, with the exception of individuals such as Ian Page and Dave Nellist, has played little or no part in this development. As a result, the SP has been left marginalized in London, with the SWP allowed to grab the leadership of a movement which is now attracting the support of a significant minority of the working class and the youth.

We recognise that London is not Scotland. Nor does the SP in London have anything approaching the strength and influence that SML accumulated in ten years of high profile campaigning.

Nor would we suggest that the SP should have “put all its eggs in one basket” as Philip recently claimed we were suggesting. You can put all your eggs in one basket; or you can put in none. Or you can put in some.

It is not a question of ‘all or nothing’ but of recognising the mood for left unity that extends far beyond the existing members of left organisations, the dynamic of unity which can attract fresh forces and fresh support. We would contend that if the SP had put even some limited resources into the LSA over a period of time we would be today be in a much stronger position in London.

Recently, there has been a welcome change in attitude towards the LSA by the SP leadership, although there is a danger even here that it could be too little too late. Unfortunately, it looks to us as though the SP has already ceded a lot of ground to the SWP as a result of mistaken strategy and some tactical blunders.

We believe that there is an important regroupment process taking place now on an all-European scale as witnessed by developments such as the Left Bloc in Portugal, developments in some Scandinavian countries, the electoral alliance between the LCR and LO in France and other shifts. We hope that whatever other differences we may have, that CWI will add its weight to this development, and participate positively in this process.

The faction comrades repeat some false accusations regarding the treatment of representatives of the CWI at the SSP conference. The first is that Peter and Niall were deliberately excluded from international discussions. That is not the case: they were explicitly invited to have a meal and discussion with the international representatives on Saturday evening and unfortunately declined. There was no question that these comrades were deliberately excluded.

It is true that, initially, no-one from the CWI was called to speak at the conference until a Dundee comrade intervened. However, there was no “list of speakers”. There had been no provision for any international speakers apart from the Cuban ambassador. This was agreed unanimously, without dissent, at an SSP EC attended by Philip.

However there was a gap in the agenda caused by movers of resolutions failing to appear on Sunday morning; the chair of that session (not a member of the ISM), in order to fill that gap, took it on himself to invite some international speakers. He accidentally overlooked the CWI representative, an oversight that was immediately rectified when it was pointed out. To suggest that this was a deliberate manoeuvre is to invent a conspiracy.

The truth is that, contrary to mythology that is circulating around the international, the CWI has been a given a platform within the SSP over a number of events. At the Socialism 2000 event, as well as various Scottish CWI speakers, Joe Higgins and Peter Hadden both addressed full plenary sessions, while the founding conference of the SSP last year was addressed by a Chilean comrade.

However, the comrades pose the question: do we consider the CWI “not worth a candle…sectarian… undemocratic… a burden on our work in Scotland.” They ask us to make clear our attitude to the CWI.

We have to be honest and state that while we would not necessarily use the same terminology, yes - we have serious criticisms. Not, we would add of the CWI - but of the central leadership of the CWI who have undermined their own authority within the ISM and within the wider SSP as a result of their hostility towards the whole SSP project. We have already cited examples. We could cite many more. The opposition of the SP/CWI leadership is public knowledge, not just in Scotland but right across the world. Some people have point blank refused to join the ISM because they do not understand why they should join an International which they know is implacably opposed to everything they are doing.

That is a problem not of our making. Until recently, we have concentrated almost entirely on developing our work in Scotland. But we have had no support whatsoever, not one iota of assistance from the CWI leadership.

The CWI leadership in effect refuse to recognise the acknowledged, elected leadership of the Scottish section. Their role has from the outset been to seek points of support within Scotland and to whip up hysteria the length and breadth of the International against the leadership in Scotland by providing a selective, one-sided and sometimes falsified account of what is taking place within the SSP and ISM. We believe that we are regarded as an ‘enemy within’ rather than as a section of the International which has legitimate political differences with the leadership.

The comrades have a right to their opinion and to their criticisms. But we would have expected critical support, rather than outright, unbridled opposition from the CWI leadership. Even at this stage we ask the comrades in the CWI/SP leadership to retrace their steps and withdraw their opposition to the SSP project. On that basis, we believe that it is possible for constructive discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of Scotland, the strengths and weaknesses of England, the strengths and weaknesses of the International to take place.

We hope this clarifies our attitude to the CWI. But we would also ask these questions to the CWI leadership: What is your attitude towards the ISM majority? We have no problem accommodating differences of opinion within our ranks. We have no problem collaborating with the comrades of the minority faction while debating out our differences. But does the CWI leadership have a problem accommodating the Scottish section?

Finally we ask the comrades who have joined the faction to ponder this statement made by Leon Trotsky written in October 1934: “Psychology, ideas and customs usually lag behind the developments of objective relations in society and in the class; even in the revolutionary organisations, the dead lay their hands upon the living. The preparatory period of propaganda has given us the cadres without which we could not make one step forward, but the same period, has, as a heritage, permitted the expression within the organisation of extremely abstract concepts of the construction of a new party and a new International.

In their chemically pure form these conceptions are expressed in the most complete manner by the dead sect of Bordigists, who hope that the proletarian vanguard will convince itself, by means of a hardly readable literature, of the correctness of their position and sooner or later will correctly gather around their sect.

Often these sectarians add that revolutionary events inevitably push the working class towards us. This passive expectancy, under a cover of idealistic messianism, has nothing in common with Marxism. Revolutionary events always and inevitably pass over the heads of every sect. By means of propagandistic literature, if it is good, one can educate the first cadres, but one cannot rally the proletarian vanguard which lives neither in a circle nor in a schoolroom, but in a class society, in a factory, in the organisations of the masses, a vanguard to whom one must know how to speak in the language of its experiences.

The best-prepared propagandist cadres must inevitably disintegrate if they do not find contact with the daily struggle of the masses. The expectation of the Bordigists that revolutionary events will of themselves push the masses to them as a reward for their ‘correct’ ideas represents the crudest of illusions. During revolutionary events, the masses do not inquire for the address of this or that sect, but leap over it.

To grow more rapidly during the period of flux, during the preparatory period, one must know how to find points of contact in the consciousness of wide circles of workers. It is necessary to establish proper relations with the mass organisations. It is necessary to find the correct point of departure corresponding to the concrete conditions of the proletarian vanguard in the person of its various groupings.

And for this it is necessary to see oneself not as a makeshift for the new party, but only as an instrument for its creation. In other words, while preserving in its totality an intransigence on principle, it is necessary to free oneself radically from sectarian hangovers which subsist as a heritage from a purely propagandist period.”

Trotsky, October 1934

Part One

Part Two


Index of debate documents