The Future of the ISM

This statement was voted on and agreed at the national meeting of the ISM held in Glasgow, 25th March 2006.

January 2006 saw the fifth anniversary of the formation of the International Socialist Movement (ISM) platform. The decision was made then to leave the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) which had taken an overwhelmingly negative approach to the launch of the SSP in 1998.

In recent memory, 2001-6 has been an unprecedented roller coaster for the Scottish left. The ISM played a central role in the major advance made in this period – by throwing all our time and resources into the SSP concrete results were witnessed. Within those five years the SSP has been built and consolidated into a genuine Scottish party with campaigning branches spread across the entire country. Electing 6 MSPs in 2003 all accepting the average wage of a skilled worker and on a socialist programme was a brilliant achievement.

Yet this correct orientation had a price namely the neglect of the structures and identity of the ISM as a discrete platform within the Scottish Socialist Party. In one sense with the advance of the SSP this was a price worth paying. The diminution of the ISM’s coherence though meant that no clear political direction was given on a number of issues. This absence became much more evident during difficult times.

For alongside the success there have been disappointments – the falling in electoral support since 2003, the turbulence following the resignation of Tommy Sheridan as convenor in November 2004, the absence of a successful campaign to unite the parliamentary work and grassroots campaigning like the abolition of warrant sales achieved between 1999 and 2001.

Class struggle has also remained at a relatively low ebb in Britain and Scotland in the period of the ISM’s existence. There are obvious exceptions to this: bitter industrial disputes involving fire-fighters (2002/3) and nursery nurses (2004) in which SSP members played key roles have ended in partial or complete defeat. Yet both these events were also vital in establishing the SSP as a class struggle party.

This could perhaps alter even in the relatively short term with the prospect of a mighty battle on pensions led by the trade unions particularly in the public sector. Ballots on industrial action are currently being undertaken.

The struggle over the national question a central part of the SSP’s programme has also not been to the fore in this period. Yet it is an ever-present in Scottish society and could burst into centre stage very quickly. The launch of the Independence Convention and the SSP’s role in this will be of critical importance when the national question re-ignites.

This is not to say that the absence of traditional mechanisms of class struggle has meant that there have been no campaigns in broader society in which to intervene far from it. There has been an unprecedented international anti-war movement which in Scotland was at its height in early 2003. Consequently this movement fed into an already existing anti-globalisation/world poverty movement. In Scotland this reached its peak with the Make Poverty History/G8 protests in Edinburgh and Gleneagles in the summer of 2005.

This contradictory combination of processes is a clear reason for some of the disorientation in the ranks of the SSP – the absence of a focussed campaign where socialists have a clear leading position coupled with the growth of amorphous “anti” movements: anti-war, anti-poverty. This contrasts with the earlier period of the SSP in the run-up to the electoral success of 2003 where a positive pro-active vision of socialism was combined with full involvement in a multitude of campaigns.

But the ISM’s paralysis and absence from the SSP has also exacerbated the “log-jam” within the structures. One thing that has not been created is a grassroots leadership across the entire country despite this being one of the stated aims of the ISM in its formative documents of 2001.

All of these factors have meant that Marxist forces in Scotland are less organised than they have been for a decade. Other left platforms notably the CWI and SWP who are part of external internationals with their own uniform “line” and support mechanisms have to some extent been inured from the fluctuations within the party and even to some extent broader society.

Significantly in response to this current period of society the SW platform have actually moved quite considerably to the right since joining the party in 2001 – in line with the development of the SWP in England. Whereas the CWI have become very static with their programme which means they have not really engaged with the problems facing Marxists today.

So the ISM has suffered more than most platforms at the current situation facing the party. Indeed, the ISM has really ceased to function as a platform within the party. Is this reversible? Is it solely down to the current period the party is going through or is it a permanent position?

We are of the view that the ISM has fulfilled its historical role within the Scottish Socialist Party and now is no longer of any utility with its current structure, in truth this conclusion is probably about a year overdue.

The role of Marxists within the SSP will best be served by exploring new options. These will need to take stock of developments within the party over the last two years. Other progressive members of the SSP not currently members of the ISM should be worked with and other ideas positively engaged with particularly feminism and environmentalism. The method of organisation need to have a central feature new modes of education and transmission of ideas.

To this end I think the ISM needs to wind up and dissolve as an organisation to allow people to take these processes forward with other comrades.

This critical egalitarian method which has been the lifeblood of the party will help to regenerate and reinvigorate the SSP in the next few years.

Nick McKerrell 25/2/06