frontline 16.

From Anti-Capitalism to Socialism

Jack Ferguson is a member of the Tay Coast branch of the SSP and has never been aligned with any of the party's platforms. Here he gives his views on the role platforms can play in the SSP.

The Scottish Socialist Party is a unique achievement in the struggle for a new kind of left unity. In stark contrast to the left in other parts of the UK, the unity of virtually all Scottish organisations to the left of New Labour has produced some excellent results for Scottish Socialists-including inspiring solidarity with workers in struggle, fighting for real improvements in the lives of the working class through the Scottish Parliament, and playing a key role in mobilising anti-imperialist protest in Scotland.

This level of unity has been achieved by creating a structure that specifically accommodates the former organisations and their desire to remain active within a wider structure. Those organisations now organise within the SSP as platforms. Ever since our foundation the party has written to those organisations that are outside the party inviting them to join us on the basis of retaining platform rights. This has met with some success, notably the decision of the Socialist Worker’s Party to join the SSP.

I joined this party when I was 16, and it took me quite a while to get my head around the idea of platforms and the function they served. It took me even longer to get a handle on the politics of the different platforms. I have never been, nor have I ever been tempted to become, a member of any of our existing platforms. I have in the intervening five years come up against certain platforms, and had profound disagreements over policy and tactics. Now I think it is time for the case to be made for a new platform to develop within the SSP, one that has the aim of taking left unity to a higher stage.

New Challenges

The SSP is now facing new challenges, and potentially the most important phase in our history so far. We have six MSPs, and we are about to face a UK general election that is the first electoral test since the crisis surrounding Tommy Sheridan’s resignation was resolved. It is entirely possible that a proportional system’s introduction to local government elections will result in us significantly increasing our number of councillors. If we continue to succeed, we will have to face the prospect of becoming a party that has some measure of power to exercise, rather than one that is merely protesting against the establishment.

The rationale behind our party’s existence is based on our analysis that it is impossible to “Reclaim” the Labour Party. The working class needs a new party to represent its interests. We are aiming to build that party. Our new convenor, Colin Fox, has set as a target transforming the numbers that vote for us in elections into members. But we are also seeking to build a qualitatively different party than old Labour: a party with no illusions in the transformative power of the British state, a party resolutely committed to transcending capitalism. Are we really prepared for such a monumental task? I would argue that we are not yet ready, but within our ranks we have the potential to build a party that can attract others, and together begin the process of transforming Scotland.

Building alternatives to capitalism requires genuine discussion and debate, as well as serious thinking. The SSP has a very strong tradition of internal debate and dissidence, which is wholly healthy. But do we have the necessary structures to mobilise intellectual depth of our members? I would argue that we don’t. All to often at conference or national council debate can be dominated by platform members, not because of a conspiracy, but because they have a pre-arranged view and come to meetings to put the platform’s line. Meanwhile, those of our members who are not intervening in debate as part of an organised group, or who would like the time to listen to a debate before making a considered contribution, often do not get the chance to take part.

The individual membership of our party, outside of any platform, is where the future lies. The unity of left groups can only go so far. If we are to become truly a mass party of the working class the platform membership will pale into insignificance. To achieve that we need to have a detailed and thought out strategy on how we can bring transformations to the lives of ordinary people. That is why the SSP needs a new platform to develop-an organisation that can act as a forum for people to freely exchange ideas and ideologies without dogmatism, and without artificial domination of the debate by a narrow spectrum of view. There is no 'one true way' that is always correct in analysis, and no platform has a monopoly of wisdom.

The development of the SSP as a mass party of the working class is a means to an end-the self-liberation of the working class. To contribute to that process we have a duty to discuss and learn from one another, and build generations of comrades able to take the struggle for change forward, as John MacLean’s educational classes once did in another era. I hesitate to use the term “political education”, because I believe that the party needs to learn on all sides. The party should be disseminating ideas, and encouraging members and supporters to think for themselves. That is why the Marxist education that platforms offer now is far from sufficient. I am in favour of us passing on the ideas of Marxism, and would welcome initiatives taken recently in this direction. But this must be on the basis of empowering people, not indoctrinating them. To revive an old motto-“Ruthless criticism of all that exists.” As well as being informed by Marxism, the party must take on the insights of theory from the ecological, feminist and other movements. In the 21st century there is no future for a socialist party unless it is eco-socialism, recognising and disseminating the reality of humanity’s position as a part of nature. This is but one example of how our thinking can be enriched beyond the literature and ideas on offer from the currently existing platforms.

Democracy in the SSP

The crucial task of any new platform internally should be the consistent upholding of internal democracy and equality. There is a need for a platform that speaks for the party’s grassroots, and defends the influence of ordinary lay members. There is a constant danger as our party gains more elected positions and a staffing apparatus to support it that we become more dominated by people who work full time as part of the party. There needs to be a centre of focus for those of us who are not in such positions, or supported by an existing organised platform structure. Democracy is not served by platform members being placed under edicts as part of a political line. To its’ credit, the International Socialist Movement platform does not issue lines to its members, and that is to be applauded and emulated. The aim of the political development of all comrades should be to encourage us to think for ourselves.

In terms of a common political programme, I would argue that a new platform should keep it simple-developing political unity towards achieving the core goal of the SSP, an independent socialist Scotland. Our party is unique in Scottish politics, because it recognises the key anti-imperialist task of breaking the British state, but also recognises that this is not enough. We are the only party that truly stands for the liberation of the Scottish working class from an imperialist state and from capitalism. A new platform should recognise this, and staunchly defend the achievement that is a healthy, democratic Scottish republican socialist party that draws strength from the diversity of its membership - a party that recognises the kind of diverse socialist society we want to live in.

Building a Mass Party

To create a mass party that is capable of bringing about real transformative change we have to build a new type of party, and a new kind of left unity. Our existing platforms are not sufficient for the task. We need a platform that speaks consistently for democracy and debate. We need to be constantly vigilant against dogmatism and thinking on autopilot. A new platform would hold day schools and discussions where a real breadth of debate took place, and there was friendly and welcoming atmosphere that encouraged real discussion that all participants learn from. It would publish pamphlets and keep up a constant stream of communication via electronic media to bring new thinking and old insights to the attention of the widest possible readership. Only then can we begin to move beyond an anti-capitalism based on slogans and formulae, and build an organisation that can create a living, breathing humanistic socialism. To steal a slogan from the BBC: “Everybody needs a place to think.”