Marxists and the British Labour Party
The 'Open Turn' debate
Scotland, Perspectives and Tasks
[Note to the Internet edition: The initials "EB" stands for "Editorial Board", which was the national body elected by annual conference of the Militant Tendency, and EC stands for the Executive Committee, which was elected by the EB to run the Militant Tendency on a day to day basis.
The following editor's note prefaced "Scotland, Perspectives and Tasks." ]
This document has been prepared by leading comrades in Scotland and amended by the EC as the basis of the discussion of our work. The national EB will discuss this at its next meeting in September. Further documents are in preparation and will be circulated soon.
We are also enclosing the two main resolutions that were discussed at the national EB 14-16 July. The EB felt it was important that these resolutions around which positions were taken should also be circulated to all comrades. The Majority resolution was agreed by 46 votes to 3, whilst the Minority one was defeated 3 to 43 (vote discrepancy due to absence at time of vote). The three comrades have decided to form a Minority faction around this question and they are preparing a document which will be circulated with a reply from the Majority as soon as possible. Many comrades may be shocked that such a development has taken place in advance of the discussion. However, we have a responsibility to ensure that a full discussion continues to take place.
We are now in a pre-congress discussion period. The guidelines for the discussion have been sent out separately, but every local has the duty to discuss thoroughly these matters in a democratic and a disciplined manner with no disruption to our work. The fundamental question is to arrive at the right conclusion and in the process raise the level of understanding of every comrade.
Every area will organise special meetings at every level, with speakers from both sides. Regional events where both sides are represented will be organised so that the national meeting in October can arrive at conclusions based on a thorough national discussion.
The Scottish Organisation first raised these proposals in April. Most areas will have had some discussion around them. Originally it was intended that there be a national meeting in June. This was postponed due to developments around the International which required the urgent attention of all the leading comrades. The decision to postpone the June meeting was not taken lightly. A new date has been set and every effort must be made to discuss and re-discuss these issues. There can be no suggestion that the matter is being rushed through; there is sufficient time to have a complete discussion at all meetings. Special meetings can of course be arranged.
There is great demand for this discussion and we are duty bound to arrive at conclusions so that we can make a timely intervention for the development of the work.
Scotland: Perspectives and tasks
Discussion document prepared by leading Scottish comrades, adopted by EB majority.
2. For decades the tendency has pursued the strategy of building a base within the political and industrial wings of the mass labour movement. As a result we have emerged in recent years as the main left opposition force in British politics. While our rivals on the left, particularly the pseudo-Leninist and Stalinist sects, have floundered and frequently perished, we have succeeded, even in this relatively difficult historical period, in building a solid network of thousands of working-class activists in Britain and thousands more internationally.
3. This has not been an accidental fact of history. The achievement of the tendency can be directly attributed to our long-term political strategy of orientating towards, and working within, the official labour movement. Without the painstaking work of decades within the mass labour movement, we would never have been capable of playing the leading role in the victorious anti-poll tax movement, or in the struggle waged by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, nor would we have been in a position to challenge official Labour candidates in the Liverpool local elections or in the Walton by-election.
4. In the recent period conditions have forced us to shift emphasis away from work in and through the Labour Party, while defending the methods that have established the organisation over the years. But those methods have never precluded new initiatives, tactical turns or new organisational forms when demanded by the objective situation and the needs of the tendency. In the long term, especially in Britain, where there exists an unbreakable link between the Labour Party and the trade unions, entrism will remain a central plank in our strategy to build a powerful revolutionary party.
5. Nevertheless, as well as having a clear strategic line, a serious revolutionary organisation standing in the traditions of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks must also be capable of tactical improvisation. Although the successes of the tendency in Liverpool and in the poll tax campaign were prepared as a result of arduous activity stretching back decades in the Labour Party and Labour Party Young Socialists, without tactical initiative and flexibility, we would never have been capable of leading these movements.
6. If we are to drive the tendency forward in the next period, it will require a stubborn orientation towards the labour movement, combined with an ability to recognise insurmountable obstacles when they appear in our path and to make any detours necessary in order to circumvent these obstacles.
7. Of course, it is necessary to avoid the quagmire of ultra-leftism. As a tendency, we have always resisted the temptation to run too far ahead of events, to overestimate our own forces, to rush into rash and reckless decisions which we would later regret. History is littered with the corpses of would-be revolutionary groups who have run aground on the rock of ultra-leftism
8. On the other hand, we must beware of adopting an over-cautious approach. Refusing to take decisive action unless we are 100 per cent certain that there are no risks involved, failing to grasp opportunities to go forward until it is too late — these mistakes can paralyse the tendency and leave us trailing behind events.
9. Hence the discussion on the 'open turn' is perhaps the most important debate that has ever taken place inside the tendency in Scotland. The outcome of this discussion will also have far-reaching implications for the tendency elsewhere in Britain and even internationally.
10. Nonetheless, the current proposal for an open organisation specifically relates to the position in Scotland. Although many of the political features described in this document are not unique to Scotland, it would be senseless to pretend that there is a uniform political situation throughout Britain. While maintaining a cohesive and disciplined tendency on an all-Britain basis, it would be artificial to apply the same tactics and organisational methods in every part of the country, irrespective of local variations. Thus, because of the strength of Marxism and the recent history of the labour movement in the city of Liverpool, we have employed tactics which in other areas of the country would be ultra-left.
11. Similarly, there exist in Scotland specific conditions which have forced us to consider a major tactical shift, which may or may not be followed in other areas of Britain, depending upon how events develop.
Demise of left reformism
12. For Marxists, organisational and tactical problems cannot be separated from political perspectives.
13. The proposed tactical shift attempts to answer the question of how most effectively to build the forces of Marxism in Scotland. However, it also flows from our appraisal of the general political situation opening up in Scotland.
14 The last five years have seen remarkable developments in world politics and economics which have had an important effect in reshaping the face of the European labour movement, not least in Britain. The prolonged economic upswing of the 1980s, which has only now come to an end, and the disintegration of Stalinism, have combined to help shift the balance of forces within the labour movement decisively in favour of the openly pro-capitalist right wing. Left reformism, which for decades commanded considerable support within the labour movement, has for now been routed.
15. In Scotland, although vestiges of left reformism remain at the top of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, on the ground, their forces comprise mere remnants. The Communist Party has been broken. The former Tribune wing of the Labour Party, now organised within the Labour Co-ordinating Committee (LCC), has abandoned any pretence of standing for socialism. Even Scottish Labour Action, founded as a rebellious breakaway from the LCC in the wake of the 1987 general election, is now virtually indistinguishable from the radical wing of the Liberal Democrats, obsessed with issues such as Proportional Representation (PR) while ignoring class issues like the poll tax.
16. In Scotland, as in most of the rest of Britain, the Labour left has been reduced to a handful of isolated individuals for the present. '
Labour Party — the triumph of reaction
17. This collapse of the left has enabled Kinnock and his cohorts to move the Labour Party closer to the model of PSOE in Spain and even the American Democratic Party. Indeed, since the removal of Thatcher and the slight toning down of the Tory Party's extreme right-wing image, there appears, at least on the surface, little to choose between Britain's two main political parties.
18. Meanwhile, Kinnock's Stalinist-style regime seeks to ruthlessly root out heretics who refuse to conform to the new image. The removal of Labour's Scottish Organiser, who was seen as an embarrassing reminder of the party's working-class and socialist traditions, is merely the latest episode in the degeneration of the party into a bureaucratically run election-machine. In Liverpool, where 600 members have been either expelled or suspended, the right wing has shown it is prepared to smash the labour movement rather than tolerate the influence of Marxist ideas. The youth section has been effectively liquidated. Even the annual conference is now under threat as the leadership prepares to replace it with a policy making group which would involve only four CLP delegates from the whole of Scotland.
19. Clearly, there has not taken place merely a shift to the right. There has been a fundamental change in the situation which cannot be ignored or underestimated.
20. However, the darker the night, the brighter the stars. The demise of left reformism and Stalinism has opened up, for the present, a gaping vacuum, enabling the forces of Marxism to play a leading role in events as they unfold in Britain.
21. A decade ago, the Communist Party and the left-reformist wing of the labour movement possessed forces at least twenty times stronger than the Marxist movement in Scotland. At that stage, if a movement on the scale of the anti-poll tax campaign had taken place, we could at best have played only an auxiliary role due to the other left forces.
Repercussions of the poll tax victory
22.Precisely because the struggle was led by Marxists, it developed into the greatest campaign of defiance seen in Britain this century.
23. In fact, since the end of 1990 the tendency has been responsible for a series of dazzling victories which have electrified British politics.
24. The removal of Thatcher, one of the most hated symbols of reaction on the entire planet; the humiliating poll tax U-turn forced upon the Tories; and finally the defeat of Kinnockite candidates in the Liverpool council elections — in all these momentous events the Marxist tendency has played a key role.
25. These victories will be seen by future historians as a turning point in British history. They rank among the greatest achievements in the history of the Trotskyist movement internationally.
26. Even though the broad mass of the working class is not fully conscious of the decisive contribution of Marxism in these events, among the most politically aware sections there is a recognition of the role of individual Marxists. This in itself can be utilised in order to build our strength and influence, just as the Communist Party received an important boost as a result of the leading role played by CP members in the UCS work-in of 1971 and the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974. Of course its roots were deeply implanted historically in Scotland from the early days of its foundation when it still enjoyed the aura of the Russian Revolution. Now those roots have almost completely shrivelled.
27. Today it is our tendency which is poised to make a great leap forward. But while we are seen as little more than an internal faction within the Labour Party — moreover one which has been marginalised by suppression and expulsions — we will continue to face an uphill struggle.
28. If we are to extract maximum advantage from the new situation, an open turn is now imperative.
29. With the removal of both Thatcher and the poll tax, the dam has now been burst. The fear and awe which Thatcher instilled into the trade union leaders and which permeated deep down into the ranks of the working class, has been replaced with a growing sense of confidence and preparedness to fight among sections of the rank and file.
30. Because of the aura of invincibility which surrounded Thatcher and the Tories until very recently, the boom in the economy which enabled employers to make concessions and the timidity of the trade union leaders, the past five years has been one of the most placid periods in history.
31. In the five years following the end of the miners' strike in 1985, there were less strike days lost in Britain than in the single year of 1979. Last year — 1990 — saw the lowest level of strike activity for 54 years.
32. Still, in Scotland, teachers, postal workers, shipyard workers, local authority workers and railworkers have all engaged in skirmishes since the beginning of 1991. Now potential struggles are being restrained by the union leaders with the old refrain: "Wait for a Labour government." But this will just ensure an acceleration of class battles at a later stage.
Perspectives for the Labour Party
33. If Labour wins the next general election, inevitably the position of Kinnock and the right wing will be strengthened for a temporary period. After an initial honeymoon, however, disaffection will start to set in. In contrast to the early 1980s, when the leftward move of the Labour Party took place largely under the impetus of the radicalisation of the petit-bourgeois, in the future the trade unions are likely to provide the motor force for the swing back to the left inside the labour movement.
34. Sections of the so-called soft left - in reality the new middle-class right — will be affected by the leftward movement of the working class. For these petit-bourgeois dilettantes, principles are commodities to be bartered for careers and positions. It will be precisely in order to save their own skins that these elements, particularly in Scotland, will zigzag back towards the left in the future.
35. But it would be naive to expect that this would immediately lead to an easing of repression against the Marxists. Not only the right wing, but above all the soft left, hate and fear the ideas of Marxism. They too have learned lessons from the successes we have achieved within the labour movement. In the long term, notwithstanding the machinations of the reformists, the internal counter-revolution of the last five years will be reversed. The restoration of an open, democratic youth organisation, opportunities for gaining council and parliamentary positions, open paper sales at Labour Party meetings and activities — all of these avenues which are being closed by the right wing - will eventually be reopened.
36. But we should be under no illusions. It will require not merely a shift back to the left, but a tidal wave to restore the comparatively open and democratic conditions which prevailed in the party up until the mid-1980s.
37. Moreover, when such a tidal wave takes place, it would become almost impossible for the forces of Marxism to be excluded from the party. Particularly at local level, amidst huge social convulsions, those Marxists who are expelled would be welcomed back in to the party. In 1934, because of the revolutionary upheavals which gripped France and Spain, the left wing of the socialist parties in both of these countries pleaded with the Trotskyists to join with them in their fight against the right-wing social democrats.
38. More recently, the experience of Greece has shown that expulsion from the mass workers' party does not constitute a life sentence. Despite the wholesale expulsion of the Marxist tendency from Pasok, they were later readmitted en masse as a result of the radicalisation that developed within the ranks of Pasok. Three factors were critical in Greece: the Marxists sustaining their political orientation to Pasok, the experience of the workers of their leaders — particularly in government — and the respect the Marxists established by their day to day intervention into the class struggle.
39. Experiences in Britain will be similar, although not necessarily in exact detail. It is implausible to suggest that the forces of Marxism can be permanently excommunicated from the British Labour Party. In 1938 the Labour Party leadership approached the leadership of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and invited Maxton and his associates to re-affiliate to Labour, despite the fact that the ILP had stormed out of the Labour Party only six years before, amidst bitter recriminations and denunciations on both sides. Only the outbreak of the second world war prevented the ILP from re-entering the Labour Party in the late 1930s.
40. Incidentally, before the ILP broke with Labour, it was able to organise as a party within a party, organise its own separate conferences, elect its own leadership and produce its own newspaper. If Marxism could operate under these conditions within the Labour Party today, the question of open work would be looked at in a different light.
41. In the early 1980s, Tony Benn, then the de-facto leader of the NEC, even appealed to the sects to join the Labour Party. Some of these sects accepted his invitation, joined the Labour Party, and eventually disappeared without trace. Other tiny sects remain in existence as part of the Labour Party, mainly in the London area. Thus, a sect can exist inside as well as outside the workers' mass organisations.
42. What differentiates a healthy Marxist organisation from a sect is more than merely formal membership of the Labour Party. The principal hallmark of sectarianism is an inability to orientate effectively towards the working class. Thus it would be ludicrous to suggest that if the Marxist tendency was expelled from the Labour Party, it would then be reduced to the status of a sect. Unlike the sects, we recognise that millions of workers will continue to look towards the Labour Party, even if they do so with a critical eye. Consequently, we will maintain a strategical orientation towards Labour, and especially towards the trade unions which provide the key to the long-term regeneration of the labour movement.
43. Inevitably the trade union bureaucracy will seek to portray a Marxist organisation as a fringe group with no connection with the labour movement. However, this will not prevent the development of Marxism within the organised working class. In fact, up until the early 1980s, the Communist Party were traditionally the strongest left grouping within the Scottish trade union movement, with hundreds of shop stewards and control over a number of key trade unions and even over the STUC itself. Thus, even an organisation which stands outside the Labour Party is potentially capable of sinking deep roots in the trade unions.
44. By stubbornly refusing to be drawn into the trap of sterile sectarianism we can effectively counter the attempted sabotage of the trade union bureaucracy, as we have done in the course of the poll tax campaign itself. In contrast to the sects, we will continue to demand our right to be part of the official labour movement, even if we are totally expelled. We will emphasise our long-term objective of transforming the mass workers' organisations and we will insist that it is the Marxist tendency which is the legitimate heir to the fighting socialist traditions of the labour movement.
45. With this approach we will not cut ourselves off from the millions of loyal working class Labour supporters, who in the future will be crucial to the task of overthrowing capitalism.
46. In the long term, the right-wing counterrevolution within the Labour Party will be reversed. At a certain stage, as the seething class divisions in society erupt into open confrontation, there will be a mass influx of ordinary workers into the Labour Party. As we have always anticipated this will push the party in the direction of left reformism, even centrism, and nothing will be able to prevent us taking our place as a sizeable Marxist force within that mass left-wing Labour Party. This in turn could pave the way for the rise of the Marxist tendency into a mass revolutionary force capable of building a new society.
47. However, our role in these events is not preordained. Our influence in the future will depend upon the forces that we are capable of amassing in the meantime. If we passively sit back and wait for events to flow in our direction, particularly if we make the mistake of keeping our heads down in order to make life easier within the Labour Party, there is a serious danger that we will be bypassed by history.
48. Moreover, these events are not around the corner. It could take some time before the Labour Party begins to be turned around. In the meantime, perspectives will not proceed according to a mathematically exact blueprint. There will inevitably be deviations and aberrations, especially in Scotland.
49. Already, before a Labour government has taken power, there is hostility towards Labour amongst an advanced minority, not only in Scotland but in many big cities throughout Britain, not least Liverpool. But in Scotland there are additional factors which have served to heighten the antagonism towards Labour.
50. In the first place, the poll tax campaign extended over a longer period in Scotland and, as a consequence, penetrated deeper into working-class communities. In many of the big working-class cities of England, including Liverpool, the bailiffs have not yet been used on any serious scale against poll tax non-payers. In Scotland, where attempted poindings, benefit deductions, etc are an everyday occurrence, the struggle has left a legacy of bitter resentment towards the Labour leaders at national and local level.
51. At no stage did we harbour any illusions that Labour councils would offer anything more than token resistance to the poll tax. However, even the Marxists were taken by surprise by the zeal and fanaticism with which Labour council leaders sought to enforce the poll tax, vociferously backed by their parliamentary counterparts.
Ruling class fears constitutional crisis
52. In the second place, there is in Scotland a tradition of nationalism and a major political party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which seeks to outflank Labour on the left.
53. Most of the present SNP leadership, including party leader Alex Salmond, was expelled from the SNP in 1982 for membership of the left-wing 79 Group. At the next general election, the SNP manifesto will be well to the left of Labour's. Their programme for an independent Scotland includes the writing-off of the capital housing debt of £3.5 billion, full employment, the re-nationalisation of steel and other privatised industries, a massive expansion of health, education and social services, an end to nuclear dumping, and the cancellation of the Trident nuclear submarine programme.
54. In the improbable event of an SNP government these grand promises would come to nothing. Bourgeois nationalism, like left reformism, is incapable of translating words into deeds. But the SNP can no longer be dismissed as 'tartan Tories'.
55. It would be dangerous to assume that because the SNP has failed to maintain the momentum of the Govan by-election, it is therefore a spent force.
56. Even at the height of the nationalist euphoria of late 1988 and early 1989, the Marxist tendency explained that as the economic boom began to fizzle out and the poll tax began to hit home in England and Wales, there would be a move back to Labour in the south which in turn would undermine the SNP in Scotland. At the time of the Govan by-election, with Labour trailing 10 to 15 points in the national opinion polls, a dark cloud of despair hung over working-class communities throughout Britain. The simple message of the SNP, that the electorate had a straight choice between waiting, perhaps for an eternity, for a Labour government or fighting back now with the SNP, held an irresistible attraction for working-class voters. With Labour now running the Tories neck and neck, the general mood of the working class, reflected in the Paisley by-election and Walton by-election, has lifted to one of hope and as a result workers have tended to rally around the Labour Party, devoid of enthusiasm but determined to finish off the Tories.
57. However, Marxists can never have a static view of politics. Just as conditions have changed since 1988, they will change again in the future.
58. If the Tories were to scrape home at the next election, nationalism would rise up with a vengeance. Sections of the ruling class have already looked forward with some foreboding to the danger of a monumental constitutional crisis. The Times, The Sunday Times and The Economist have all demanded that the Tories must concede a Scottish Assembly, albeit with watered-down powers, in order to prevent the break up of the United Kingdom.
59. But belated concessions would be unlikely to spare the Tories from the wrath of the Scottish people. As Gorbachev has discovered in the Soviet republics, concessions can have the opposite effect to that intended.
60. Already there is speculation in Scotland, partially exaggerated, but containing truth, of a crisis of Lithuanian proportions if the Tories win a fourth election. Charles Gray, Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council, has predicted "civil disobedience in Scotland much more serious even than the poll tax non payment, complete with street marches and demonstrations, and I don't think it can be controlled".
61. He goes on to warn that "opposition MPs would be forced to act decisively or face the wrath of the electorate. They must be prepared to withdraw from Westminster and form a breakaway parliament". (Scot/and on Sunday, 14 April, 1991)
62. Charles Gray, as leader of the largest local authority, has been in the thick of the poll tax battlefield and as a result is more closely tuned in to the political atmosphere in Scotland, particularly as compared to Labour's Scottish parliamentary politicians who spend much of their time in the ivory towers of Westminster.
63. These words illustrate the quandary which would face the labour movement in Scotland if the Tories are re-elected. Already there is evidence of tension between the Scottish Labour Party and the National Executive which could develop into a more serious rupture in the future.
64. With the government now under siege on all fronts, it is still unlikely that the Tories would be capable of winning the next election, although with Kinnock in Labour's driving seat, it is possible.
65. Although the election of a Labour government would have the immediate effect of checking the rise of nationalism over a longer period there could then emerge an even more serious threat to the unity of Britain.
Scottish economy in recession
66. An incoming Labour government would inherit an economy in Scotland whose manufacturing base is in terminal decline.
67. The Scottish economy emerged from the previous recession later than in the rest of the country. Due to collapsing oil prices in the mid-1980s with its knock-on effect in other industries, unemployment in Scotland continued to rise until the end of 1986. Since then there has been a partial recovery. Between 1987 and 1990 unemployment in Strathclyde fell from 18 per cent to 11 per cent, in Lothians from 12 per cent to seven per cent and in Grampian from eight per cent to under four per cent. Other regions experienced similar decreases.
68. Significantly, this improvement in the Scottish economy was not accompanied by any softening in hostility towards the Tory government. In the opinion polls the Tories remain at the dismal depths to which they plummeted in the 1987 general election.
69. Slightly later than in the rest of the country, the Scottish economy is now sliding back into recession. Even now, before it has really begun to bite in Scotland, there are 220,000 people unemployed. Because of the fraudulent methods by which the government now calculate unemployment, the real figure is nearer 350,000 according to independent estimates.
70. In the 1970s the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland threatened to resign if unemployment ever climbed above 100,000!
71. If it were not for the twin safety valves of North Sea oil and mass migration to the south and overseas, Scotland would now be suffering mass unemployment on a scale comparable to Northern and Southern Ireland or Southern Spain.
72. North Sea oil, which employs either directly or indirectly 100,000 workers, has created in Scotland a geographical divide which mirrors the north-south divide that exists in Britain as a whole. In Glasgow, the unemployment rate is five times higher than that of Aberdeen.
73. It is from the deprived wastelands of the west that a population exodus has taken place in the last twenty years. Since the census of 1971, the total population of Scotland has fallen by up to 200,000, while the combined population of England and Wales has grown by almost one million. In fact, Scotland is the only country in the EC which is expected to see a further fall in population during the next ten to fifteen years.
74. In the last recession unemployment in Scotland virtually doubled from 168,000 in 1979 to 318,000 in 1982 and continued to rise for a further four years. With a new recession underway the last remnants of Scotland's heavy industrial base — coal, steel and shipbuilding — are likely to face extermination. As the end of the century approaches Scotland faces a bleak future under capitalism.
Scotland under a Labour government
75. Like a tone-deaf choir attempting to sing Handel's Messiah, an incoming Labour government will attempt to run capitalism more efficiently than the Tories. Although they may manage to muddle through for a period, sustained by the patience and tolerance of the working class after 12 years of Toryism, ultimately the consequences will be a bitter pill for the labour movement.
76. In England the Tories are likely to stage a temporary recovery. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are also likely to make progress. But in Scotland, it is the SNP which will be the main beneficiary of the inevitable disillusionment with the labour government.
77. Even under the last Labour government, which came to power in 1974 promising a "fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families", the SNP made formidable advances in the first three years, before shooting themselves down in flames in alliances with the Tories at local and national level.
78. In 1977, from failing to win a single seat in the Glasgow council elections three years previously, the SNP swept to power in 15 seats, mainly in the city's most deprived areas. In Glasgow as a whole, the SNP won 32.5 per cent of the vote, only three points behind Labour. They also won outright control of a number of smaller councils including Clydebank, Dumbarton, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.
79. In the 1990 local elections the SNP won 21.5 per cent of all votes cast in Scotland. Of the four big Scottish cities, the SNP vote was higher in the working-class strongholds of Glasgow and Dundee, where they polled 21 per cent, as compared with Edinburgh and Aberdeen, where they fell below 15 per cent.
80. Although the SNP has failed to make major inroads into the Labour vote in the past period, they nevertheless have the support of 33 per cent of 18 to 35 year-olds, according to opinion polls.
81. Opinion polls also suggest that support for outright independence, at 37 per cent, now outstrips support for either devolution or no change. Moreover, among Labour supporters, 38 per cent back complete independence, as do 51 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds.
82. Even at the height of the SNP successes of the 1970s support for the idea of an independent Scotland at no stage rose above 15 per cent.
83. This increase in political nationalism has been accompanied by a marked upsurge in interest in national culture and music, reflected for instance in the phenomenal success of the Gaelic rock group Runrig, the biggest selling group in Scotland. Other famous Scottish pop artists, including Deacon Blue, Hue and Cry and the Proclaimers, describe themselves as socialist-nationalists, reflecting the political outlook of a big layer of youth in Scotland.
84. In the universities, nationalist candidates have swept the board in virtually every rectorship [e.g. chair of the university’s governing body - ed] election. In the colleges there is a strong anti-Labour mood. Among youth in the housing schemes there is disaffection. Although we have successfully politicised sections of youth in the schemes through the poll tax campaign, among other layers of youth, drug abuse, gang warfare and to some extent racism have become widespread in recent years.
85. But it is nationalism which will pose the greatest danger to the labour movement in the future.
86. The Labour leaders delude themselves that the creation of a Scottish Assembly will permanently defuse the threat of nationalism. In fact, with a Labour government in Westminster presiding over merciless cuts in living standards, reduced public services and rising unemployment, while a Labour government in Edinburgh tamely administers this medicine, the SNP could itself scarcely write a more perfect script.
87. It is also a plausible script. If the Scottish Labour leaders are incapable of defying the Tory government in its attempt to introduce the most hated tax ever devised, it would require a flight of the imagination to envisage them standing up to a Labour government. It is no accident that sections of the Labour Party in Scotland are anxious to introduce some form of proportional representation for a Scottish assembly — they are quite simply terrified of the consequences of an outright Labour majority in an Edinburgh parliament.
88. In the Basque country of Spain, after an assembly was set up in 1977, the nationalist parties escalated from 30 per cent to 67 per cent within three years. Today, in the Basque country, the most industrialised region in the Iberian Peninsula, PSOE has been reduced to only the second party electorally, which is of course different to the present situation in Scotland with the Labour Party.
89. The nationalists control not only the Basque parliament but 85 per cent of all local authorities, including the three big cities. A section of the youth even look towards the paramilitary group Eta and its political wing, Herri Batasuna.
90. There are, of course, important political differences between Scotland and the Basque country. Scotland has never suffered the scale of repression visited upon the Basque country by the dictatorship of General Franco. Nevertheless, there does exist in Scotland a smouldering sense of injustice which could, under certain circumstances, explode into flames.
91. In the book ‘Britain's secret war’, the authors reveal that in the 1970s and 1980s, at least 80 bombing incidents and 40 bank raids were carried out by nationalist-republican organisations. 52 'tartan terrorists' were imprisoned for a total of 286 years in retribution for these incidents.
92. Compared to Northern Ireland, or the Basque country, tartan terrorism has been a children's game. Nevertheless, the potential does exist for an outbreak of terrorist violence in the future, arising out of desperation and frustration at the inability of Labour and the SNP to offer any way forward.
93. In this complex period, perspectives are of necessity conditional. For instance, nationalism could be held in check if a huge wave of industrial conflict were to engulf Britain. In the miners' strike of 1984-85 nationalist sentiment was completely eclipsed by class loyalty and the SNP was driven into the political wilderness.
94. However, even in the event of the organised working class moving into action, the SNP would not necessarily be marginalised. There has been a radical change in the leadership of the party since the miners' strike. In the past period, SNP leaders have gone to great lengths to be seen to be supporting workers in struggle. Teachers, local authority workers, NHS workers, shipyard workers and North Sea oil workers have all received vocal backing from the SNP leadership.
95. Meanwhile, Labour politicians in Scotland have responded with embarrassed silence, if not outright condemnation.
96. Especially under a Labour government the SNP will seek to exploit every strike and factory occupation in order to undermine Labour and extend its own support. They will attempt to intervene and lead certain struggles, especially those that arise in defence of jobs. As they have done in Ravenscraig, they will even attack shop stewards for failing to put up a militant fight.
97. With the Scottish economy on its knees and a virtual death sentence hanging over the heads of Ravenscraig, Rosyth, Govan Kvaerner and Yarrows, the nationalists will have no shortage of ammunition to fire at a future Labour government.
98. But the SNP itself will not escape unscathed from the class battles that lie ahead. The party remains an uneasy coalition of rival class interests. In the past, it has encompassed within its ranks almost the entire political spectrum, ranging from left-wing socialist republicans to the semi-fascist Siol Nan Gaid-heal (Seed of the Gael) group.
99. Even in the recent period the SNP has suffered a schism with the formation of the right-wing breakaway Scottish Sovereignty Movement. On the opposite wing of the party there has been ferment within the youth section and among working-class party members over the decision to desert the poll tax battlefield.
100. These tensions could in the long term harden into clear class divisions and erupt into an internal civil war, possibly even leading eventually to the formation of a 'left' nationalist party based in the towns and cities, and a rural-based 'right' nationalist party.
101. Even in the short term the formation of an open organisation of Marxism could act as a powerful pole of attraction to SNP supporters, and even members, who are not dyed-in-the-wool nationalists, but who see in the SNP the only real, organised alternative to Labour. This would be particularly the case with the youth.
102. Already, the capitalist media consciously build up the SNP, as a safety valve that they hope will prevent workers and youth from turning to the militant, socialist left in the future.
103. It is no accident that Sillars is provided with a weekly column in Murdoch's Sun newspaper, or that the editor of The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald openly sympathise with the SNP, or that the BBC and STV have repeatedly sought to portray the SNP as the leadership of the anti-poll tax mass non-payment campaign.
104. In contrast, the Marxist wing of the labour movement is treated with undisguised hostility by all sections of the media.
Building the forces of Marxism
105. In the long term it is the development of a powerful Marxist movement in Scotland, with a fighting revolutionary programme and a sensitive policy on the national question, which will act as a counter-weight to the appeal of nationalism.
106. However, a political programme alone is insufficient. Flexible tactics and bold organisational methods will be required if we are to maximise the impact of Marxism in Scotland.
107. While the image of the tendency among some of the most advanced layers could be that of only a loose pressure group inside the Labour Party we are forced to fight with one hand tied behind our back. Only with an open, public organisation can we attract towards us the best fighting elements of the working class and youth in Scotland who are already looking for an alternative to Kinnock's Labour Party. On an all-British scale too it is to these sections that we must look to prepare the forces to conquer the ranks of the organised working class and to build on the scale necessary to conquer the leadership of the labour movement in the next decade or so.
108. Even if this means mass expulsions from the Labour Party, with our friendly approach facing towards the party it will make little difference to our position within the broad labour movement. Today we are in a state of limbo, halfway in and halfway out of the Labour Party. In a period which has seen our influence grow tenfold, our position in the party has been seriously eroded. In a few remaining areas we continue to be tolerated, precisely because we pose no serious threat to the rule of the bureaucracy.
109. It would be criminal to pass over immediate opportunities for expansion in order that we can cling to our few remaining points of support within the Labour Party.
110. In any case, with changes now taking place at the top of the internal party bureaucracy in Scotland, a full-scale purge is on the cards irrespective of whatever action we take, probably in the immediate aftermath of the general election.
111. Of course this open turn will not provide a panacea for the solution of all of the problems we face. Neither would it automatically lead to a strengthening of the forces of Marxism in Scotland. This will require great political and physical effort.
112. But by removing at least some of the obstacles which stand in our path, the open turn can assist us in this task. Concretely, an open organisation would enable us to publicly appeal to workers and youth to join the fight for socialism. Even in the course of the poll tax struggle this seemingly elementary task was frequently neglected, not out of incompetence but because the tendency has not yet adapted to the changed political situation.
113. Ten years ago, even five years ago, Marxists wasted no opportunity to appeal to workers and youth to join the Labour Party and transform it from within. But as the poll tax campaign progressed this demand was gradually abandoned.
114. As Lenin pointed out on a number of occasions, truth is concrete. At this stage an appeal for Scottish workers and youth to join the Labour Party would be to seriously misjudge the mood of the militant sections of the working class.
115. In Scotland alone in the past three years we have organised upwards of 1,000 local anti-poll tax public meetings, many thousands of committee meetings and hundreds of larger rallies, demonstrations, aggregates and conferences. If the SNP or SWP had led this mass movement they would have pressed home at every opportunity to urge non-payers to join their party. Indeed, the SNP has issued a number of leaflets falsely claiming credit for the non-payment campaign and appealing for new recruits from the ranks of the non-payers.
116. In the absence of a recognised Marxist organisation we have been left in an invidious position. Although we have made important gains in the last three years, at least in certain areas some of these gains have been cancelled out, partly as a result of the complicated national and international political situation. Moreover, the gains we have made are as nothing compared to the potential gains to be achieved on the basis of an open banner.
117. Inevitably this discussion has thrown up organisational and tactical problems which will arise out of the new turn. Before definitive answers can be provided to these questions further discussion will be required at every level of the tendency.
118. One issue in particular has been thrust to the fore as a result of developments in Liverpool. This, of course, is the question of electoral strategy.
119. From the outset it must be recognised that there are unique circumstances in Liverpool which set it apart from other areas of the country, including Scotland. In no other area of the country have the ideas of Marxism achieved such a powerful influence within the official labour movement. Yet, even in Liverpool, as the Walton by-election demonstrated, generations of loyalty to the Labour Party amongst the mass will not easily be broken.
120. It would be naive to expect that a Marxist party or organisation in Scotland would be capable of breaking the electoral grip of Labour, either now or in the foreseeable future. It would be dangerous to raise exaggerated expectations which could only lead to disillusionment in the future.
121. This is not to rule out the possibility of standing candidates in specific areas where we have a strong basis of support. If a Scottish Assembly is established, as is likely within the next three years, we will have to seriously consider running candidates in our strongest areas with the aim of achieving a foothold in that assembly. Ironically, if PR is introduced it could make it easier for smaller parties to gain seats.
122. Even sooner, with the district council elections approaching in 1992, it will be necessary to weigh up the situation with a view to standing candidates in certain areas, particularly where there is already a sitting Marxist councillor.
123. Even in the forthcoming general election, provided it is delayed until next year, we will have to assess the pros and cons of standing our best known candidate in the constituency where we are strongest. Of course, it would be foolhardy to suggest that we would easily topple a sitting Labour MP, especially in a general election where the dominant mood will be to get the Tories out.
124. For Marxists, the main significance of electoral struggle is that it provides us with an opportunity to spread the ideas of socialism to a wider layer of the population. We could create an incredible impact, not only in the local area, but throughout Scotland.
125. On the other hand it is far from a foregone conclusion that we would stand a candidate in a general election. There are many imponderable questions at this stage and before any decision can be reached a wide-ranging discussion will need to take place, in which the advantages and disadvantages can be rigorously weighed up.
126. Similarly other organisational problems associated with the open turn will now have to be addressed as part of the overall debate now underway.
127. From the outset it must be made clear there is no question of announcing the public formation of a new 'party'. That would suggest some permanent breach with Labour. We will be recognised as an independent force but our appreciation of the long-term importance of the traditional organisation and our need to reorient back to it remains unchanged. We will stand for a majority, socialist Labour government and the transformation of the party. We can say that we are organising openly in Scotland around this programme because the Labour Party right wing have made it impossible to work in any other way for the foreseeable future.
128. While it is not ruled out that prominent individuals could be permanently excluded from the Labour Party as a result of such a step, it would be impossible for the bureaucracy to prevent the thousands who will be drawn to the banner of Marxism in the next period.
129. The decisive question, however, remains to be answered. Has the situation changed fundamentally in the past five years? If so, are we prepared to draw all of the necessary tactical and organisational conclusions?
130. Of course there are certain risks involved if these proposals are accepted. We will guard against the dangers of ultra-leftism by a systematic campaign of education on the questions of entrism and the role of the traditional organisations, especially amongst the new layer of comrades.
We should, however, remember that if the tendency had not been prepared to take risks in the past — not light-minded risks, but calculated risks — we would never have succeeded in building the strength and influence which we have today.