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Scotland: ISM leaders desert CWI
AT A conference on Sunday 14 January, a majority of our sister organisation in Scotland (International Socialist Movement - ISM) decided to leave our international organisation, the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party Executive and CWI international executive committee
A quarter of those present (it was not a delegate conference) voted to remain in the CWI. This minority has the support of many more CWI members in Scotland.
We regret the decision by the ISM leadership to desert the ranks of the CWI. For three years there has been a debate between the ISM majority and the CWI over serious political differences.
The ISM majority has not had the support of any other section from among the 34 sections of the CWI. Despite this we wanted to continue the discussion within the CWI. To this end the CWI sent two representatives to Sunday's conference, Peter Taaffe and Per Olsson, and the Socialist Party sent one representative, Hannah Sell. Additionally, Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MP in Ireland, and all five Socialist Party councillors in England, including Dave Nellist, have made clear they disagree with them on all the political issues but, nevertheless, urged them to stay.
This debate began when the ISM (then called Scottish Militant Labour) leadership took the decision to hand over all of the painstakingly accumulated resources of our Scottish section to a new party that they proposed to form; the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
We believed that it was possible to successfully relaunch our own party, whilst continuing to build the precursor of the SSP, the Scottish Socialist Alliance. This proposal was not accepted by members in Scotland. However, we were also willing to support launching the SSP as a politically broad party.
We understood that such a party would not be a rounded-out Marxist party; but would involve socialists and anti-capitalists of many different kinds.
To put it another way, there might be agreement in the party on the need for socialism, but no agreement on what socialism is or how it will be achieved. We argued that such a party must also be organised on a democratic, federal basis. Crucially, we considered it vital that the Trotskyists organised within such a broad party to win support for a rounded-out Marxist programme.
The ISM leadership went ahead and created a politically broad SSP whilst refusing to accept this definition of the party they have formed.
AT SUNDAY'S conference, Alan McCombes, leader of the ISM, said that the SSP is, "potentially the vehicle through which the working class could take power". This is ruled out unless the SSP is won to a rounded-out Marxist programme, in today's terms that means a programme based on the ideas of Leon Trotsky.
This requires a Marxist organisation consciously setting out to win the SSP to such a programme.
Unfortunately, the ISM leadership has abandoned this task. This was clearly demonstrated in a "statement regarding international links" that was discussed at Sunday's conference, which declared that, "the [Trotskyist] model they (the CWI) have tried to apply is obsolete, if indeed it was ever a credible project".
This is a complete rejection of the ISM's entire history in the CWI. The policies and methods of the CWI made a crucial contribution to the successes of our organisation in Scotland, including defeating the poll tax. The SSP's current successes are only possible because of these past gains. Yet, the ISM have totally written off their history in the CWI. Typically, in Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes' book, Imagine, there is not one mention of their membership of the CWI, Militant or Scottish Militant Labour.
Since the SSP's launch it has had some successes, particularly the election of Tommy Sheridan as an MSP. We wholeheartedly welcome these successes.
However, we cannot accept the ISM leadership's huge exaggeration on this issue. At Sunday's conference, Alan McCombes, declared the SSP's success meant that, "if there are revolutionary movements there is one country in the world where the working class stands a chance [of changing society], and that is Scotland."
The SSP has a left-reformist programme that's completely inadequate for a party aiming to change society.
This programme was largely written by the ISM leadership. It does not argue for the decisive sectors of the economy to be brought into public ownership under workers' control and argues against public ownership of foreign-owned assembly plants.
Yet foreign-owned companies employ 29% of manufacturing workers in Scotland. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion would mean arguing against bringing threatened car plants, such as Vauxhall Luton, into public ownership.
The ISM majority has also made serious mistakes about SSP democracy. They are proposing "guidelines" saying organisations within the SSP cannot sell their own publications, other than to members of the party. These methods bear more resemblance to those used by the Labour Party right wing against us in the past than to the methods of Marxism.
The SSP Executive has shamefully agreed, under Alan McCombes' prompting, that the SSP conference should not have the power to change the founding core values of the SSP. He argues this should only be done by SSP membership referendums. This is also the right wing's method.
It is common practise by right-wing trade union leaders, such as Doug McAvoy of the NUT, to ignore decisions taken by democratically elected conference delegates, and instead, through referendums, rely on the passive members at home, who have had not heard the arguments of the activists, to overturn conference decisions.
The justification for these highly undemocratic methods is they are deemed necessary in order to cope with the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) when they join the SSP. This is no justification.
The only way to cope with the SWP is to confidently counter their political ideas with the ideas of the CWI.
Many of the ISM leaders played an important role in the past. Tommy Sheridan, for example, along with other members in Scotland and 34 members of our party in England and Wales including Terry Fields MP, went to prison during the anti-poll tax battle.
He has recently been jailed again, over the siting of nuclear weapons. Tommy Sheridan, and others in ISM, are undoubtedly prepared to make sacrifices in the struggle for socialism. However, this is not, in itself, enough. It is also necessary to have a correct programme.
REGRETTABLY THE ISM leaders have made a whole number of important mistakes on programme.
We were extremely concerned by a Tommy Sheridan quote in the Sunday Observer. His statement was ambiguous but seemed to imply that the SSP would take part in a coalition government with the SNP, or would support such a government from the outside.
The SNP is not a party of the Scottish working class; it is a nationalist, predominantly middle class party, whose programme does not go beyond the confines of capitalism. History shows that coalitions between capitalist parties and working class parties have always been used to derail the movement of the working class for socialism.
Yet, Tommy is quoted as saying: "You might have the SNP then looking to form an administration with some of the smaller parties. If that happened then our demand would be that our redistributive policies are on the agenda. That's a price the SNP would have to pay. Whether they'd be willing to pay it I don't know but we wouldn't be easy negotiators. We're not after power for power's sake. Our whole history shows that."
Despite requests to clarify his position, Tommy has never publicly repudiated this statement.
The ISM leaders have also made major errors on the nature of Cuba. Tommy has described Cuba as "socialist" without any qualifications in the Daily Record. At the SSP conference last year ISM members moved a motion which again talked of "socialist Cuba".
We defend Cuba's planned economy and oppose the US blockade. However, we cannot describe Cuba as socialist.
Cuba is essentially a one-party totalitarian regime. Genuine socialism can only be based on workers' democracy. Unfortunately, Tommy Sheridan and others, have taken a neo-Stalinist position on Cuba.
Despite these fundamental differences with the ISM majority we regret their decision to leave the CWI. We would have preferred a continuation of democratic debate on these issues and were confident that, had this taken place, we would have won the majority to our position. Unfortunately, the ISM majority defected because they were not willing to continue the discussion.
HOWEVER, SOME of the pioneers of our party in Scotland, including Ronnie Stevenson, Philip Stott and many others, are determined to build a powerful section of the CWI in Scotland. A large majority of trade union activists in ISM have also decided to stay with the CWI.
The SSP general election candidates for Dundee East (Harvey Duke), Dundee West (Jim McFarlane), Kirkaldy (Kenny McLeod), and others will remain CWI members.
We regret what has taken place, but are confident that the CWI's ideas will gain a powerful echo amongst the Scottish working class in the future.
In The Socialist 19 January 2001: