frontline issue 4
'Support the Approach of the SSP'
I would like to respond to the views expressed by comrades from the Socialist Worker platform in Frontline. As a London-based Black socialist active within the Socialist Alliance, I have previous experience of living in Scotland and have strongly argued amongst London comrades to support the approach of the SSP, to defend the policy of socialist independence, and to be aware of the impact that Scottish workers' advances have upon the class struggle generally in England and Wales.
Neil Davidson and Donny Gluckstein's piece spends the first page explaining the gains made by Scotland's working class since the Holyrood parliament and how the political situation is more favourable for socialism north of the border. Yet they say 'it would be wrong to think, on left nationalist lines, that up here we are comparatively more democratic and socialist than people in England and Wales. This is mistaken on three counts. Firstly there is no evidence for it. Secondly , the left nationalist view implies that English and Welsh voters must be happy with unadulterated Blairism, teacher shortages, tuition fees and pensioner poverty. Finally, it suggests that the Scottish political system gives the electorate what it wants and what it deserves.' Of course this is a straw man argument, since nobody argues this. Despite the evidence they themselves provide as to the difference between our political situations, the SW platform comrades seem not to realise that their own article proves the exact opposite of their analysis. They even admit that the form of proportional representation used in elections makes it easier for minority parties like the SSP to get candidates elected than it is for the Socialist Alliance' and that 'Holyrood offers us a number of opportunities. Its existence provides a target for demonstrations and lobbying which is considerably easier to get to than Westminister'. These opportunities would not exist if folks had voted No in 1997 in the referendum as most English socialists argued.
Devolution in London of course allowed for the tubeworkers' struggle against PPP to play a leading role in the election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor and the institutions that came with Ken - the elected Greater London Assembly, the Black Londoners' forum, London Development Agency, Transport for London (which runs buses and tubes), the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Fire authority, while of course inadequately democratic for socialists - are important places of democratic scrutiny to mobilise and lobby workers against the government on many fronts.
The fact that the Poll Tax was beaten on an all-Britain basis does not negate the fact that the initial Scottish rebellion against it lit the fire. And that is the point! Every gain that Scots have made, by pressure on their own parliament - on pensions, tuition fees, elderly care, and Section 28 abolition - has been a spur to the struggle in England and Wales to achieve the same things. The difference is that now Scotland has institutions - not democratic by socialist standards - but relative to England far more democratic, accountable and more to the point - influenceable by the actions of workers. Far from having a dynamic of separatist nationalism, the divergent political situation in Scotland that Alan McCombes referred to in Frontline No 2, will pose greater crisis for Blair and New Labour as Scottish workers move against their own Executive and in in the process give an impetus to struggles in England and Wales.
It is a very positive development that since May 1st comrades from the SW platform have integrated within the SSP and strengthened it immensely - as I know from my own experience working with them during the cannabis legalisation struggle during April and at the SWP's Marxism 2001 event in July in London. By dropping their blanket opposition to the possibility of the break-up of the UK state the SWP (even Neil Davidson with his non-explanative explanation of the origins of Scottish nationhood) has had to recognise that UK unionist nationalism is the main diversion - the real enemy of the Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh workers. It is the British nation that is a mythical creation that is fragmenting along national lines.
The Socialist Worker platform will have to drop their fetish against the 'dangers of left nationalism' - for which there really is little or no evidence in recent history - and learn the lessons from the Scottish experience on how to build a real party of the working class. They must then use that perspective gained from Scottish working-class politics and apply the methods and tactics of that experience to the less developed, though promising situation of the working class in England and Wales. The obvious logic is that only if the Alliances are genuinely based in the communities, organised amongst tenants, anti-racists, anti-capitalists and environmentalists as well as trade unions and Marxist left groups (as the SSP is) will they succeed in becoming the kind of party we need in England and Wales. The SWP should be playing a leadership role in the transformation of the Socialist Alliance into a class struggle, workers' party - are they up to the task?
Graham Cee (Editorial Board Labour Left Briefing, in a personal capacity)