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The Scottish debate

Clarification of Proposals for a Scottish Socialist Party

To: Scottish Executive Committee

From: EC Socialist Party

2 April 1998


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Dear Comrades,

Following the discussion at the Scottish Militant Labour Conference on 28/29 March, we would like to try to clarify what we consider to be the key issues at stake in this discussion and, at the same time, to ask you to clarify what exactly you are proposing.

Since the collapse of Stalinism after 1989, we have emphasised the need to analyse the new features of this period, and to elaborate in a fresh way programme, policies, political names, slogans, and so on, which will enable us to re-establish socialist consciousness among broad layers of the working class. 

At the same time, we have never played down the need to strive for political clarity and cohesion, not for the sake of preserving "ideological purity" but as an essential means of working out perspectives and intervening in the class struggle. We have also emphasised the necessity of flexible tactics, innovation in forms of organisation, methods of work, etc. 

We are in favour of taking a calculated risk with a new tactic if it opens up a route to fresh layers of workers and youth. At the same time, we must continue to defend the need to build an independent revolutionary organisation as the essential basis for all our other work.

We accept that it is time to draw up a balance sheet of Scottish Militant Labour and the Scottish Socialist Alliance, and to develop a new strategy to take us forward. We are not calling for preservation of the status quo, and we do not start by ruling out in advance any of the tactical options which have been raised for discussion. 

The only condition is that we do not dissolve the revolutionary tendency which we have built up over a long period and that our tendency in Scotland remains an integral part of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). Any new proposals which are put forward must include the concrete organisational forms which will enable us to maintain our activists as a coherent political force and to build our revolutionary forces.

The Scottish Executive Committee have put forward one particular proposal for a new Scottish Socialist Party. In our view, however, there are two main options in the present situation:

Option 1

Relaunch Scottish Militant Labour as the Scottish Socialist Party, drawing in Scottish Socialist Alliance members and new forces.

This would not mean simply renaming Scottish Militant Labour. A new party name is indeed long overdue in Scotland, because ‘Militant’ and ‘Labour’ are no longer effective and have serious disadvantages in this period. 

A relaunch, however, would mean Scottish Militant Labour publicly raising the call for a new socialist party in Scotland, opening up a period of three or six months of open discussion, appealing to members of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, to other groupings and to sympathetic members of various groups, and to fresh layers, to join a discussion on the programme and democratic structure of a new Scottish Socialist Party. 

There would be negotiations on programme and structures with Scottish Socialist Alliance members and other groupings, but our comrades, who would be bringing the major political and organisational resources to the new party, would argue for our revolutionary programme and campaign for immediate affiliation to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). Our comrades would campaign to recruit Scottish Socialist Alliance members to the new party. 

After a period of discussion, there would be a founding conference to adopt a programme, a constitution, and elect a leadership. Even then, some decisions might be provisional, allowing time for further discussion within the party. Comrades may object that all our recent activity has been under the banner of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, and that Scottish Militant Labour is now not so well known. We believe this could be overcome relatively easily. 

Scottish Militant Labour, and especially the active comrades and public figures identified with Scottish Militant Labour/Scottish Socialist Alliance, have the authority to campaign for a new party, which in any case would seek to win over Scottish Socialist Alliance members and other forces.

But what would be the relationship of Scottish Socialist Party in this form with other groupings which were not prepared to participate in Scottish Socialist Party? 

This question would arise primarily on an electoral level (there would be no problem in continuing to work with other groups in campaigns like SOS). It would, of course, once again pose the question of working to form an electoral alliance or common platform with other individuals and groupings. 

But even if Option 2 (the relaunching of Scottish Socialist Alliance as the Scottish Socialist Party) were adopted, it is extremely unlikely that the new formation would embrace all the left parties or groupings who would want to contest elections for the Scottish Parliament. In the volatile period ahead of us in Scotland, it is inevitable that new splinter-groups and trends will keep emerging, repeatedly posing the need for us to attempt to form new temporary electoral blocs. 

Over the course of the next two or three years, the key factor will not be the broadness of any electoral bloc which we are involved in, but the political and organisational strength of our forces and the strength of our political influence.

Our impression is that the Scottish Executive Committee summarily ruled out this option in advance. This is in spite of the fact that this tactic has been adopted very successfully by our organisation in Ireland. 

It is also in spite of the fact that Scottish Executive Committee comrades argue that most Scottish Socialist Alliance members accept our programme, would mostly be sympathetic to the idea of Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) affiliation, and could be won to a revolutionary position in a relatively short period of time.

We would like to hear your comments on this option.

Option 2

Relaunch the Scottish Socialist Alliance as a Scottish Socialist Party, with Scottish Militant Labour merging into the new formation.

This, in our view, is the essence of what is proposed in the Scottish Executive Committee document, Initial Proposals for a New Scottish Socialist Party (6 March). For there to be a realistic discussion of this option, it is necessary to recognise that the proposal is for a broad party (a new form for the Scottish Socialist Alliance) and not a revolutionary party (a new form of Scottish Militant Labour). We would not rule out such an option on principle. For it to be a viable tactic for a revolutionary organisation, however, a number of conditions would have to be satisfied.

First, the new formation would have to bring in significant new forces - active left forces moving towards a revolutionary position, or at least moving into active opposition to capitalism on the basis of class struggle. Second, our revolutionary forces would have to retain a politically coherent, organised identity within the new party and continue to function as a component section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

In our view, neither the two Scottish Executive Committee documents (Initial Proposals/For a Bold Step Forward) nor the contributions of advocates of the Scottish Executive Committee’s proposal in the Scottish Militant Labour Conference (28-29 March) satisfy these criteria. Scottish Executive Committee comrades argue that we do not understand the situation in Scotland and that we have misunderstood their proposals. If this is shown to be the case, we will revise our views. But in order to do so we need much greater clarification of what concretely is being proposed.

What forces do the Scottish Executive Committee comrades believe would join a new Scottish Socialist Party, or could be won to a new formation? How many (non-Scottish Militant Labour) Scottish Socialist Alliance members are there? How many attend meetings, pay contributions? 

Which groupings or trends do the comrades believe could be attracted to a new Scottish Socialist Party? What groupings or individuals have been in discussion with Scottish Militant Labour/Scottish Socialist Alliance comrades on the possibility of forming a new party? 

So far in the discussion references to the new forces which could be drawn into an Scottish Socialist Party have been very vague and general. Before taking such a radical tactical turn, however, it is vital to have a clear assessment of the potential forces involved.

If significant new forces were involved in a new Scottish Socialist Party it would, in reality, be a broad party. It is false, in our opinion, to claim that it would be a revolutionary party from the outset. Notwithstanding the political weight of our comrades in the new party, its character would, in reality, be significantly determined precisely by the new forces and the need to accommodate them politically. 

Scottish Executive Committee comrades argue that the new Scottish Socialist Party would be based on the programme of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which is our transitional programme. However, a transitional programme drawn up for a particular political conjuncture is not the same as the programme of revolutionary Marxism, which is a body of ideas based on the first four Congresses of the Communist International, the founding documents of the Fourth International, and the accumulated experience of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). 

The fact that, in the comrades’ view, it would take a period of time to win support for the affiliation of Scottish Socialist Party to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) underlines this. Moreover, it would surely most likely be necessary in a newly formed Scottish Socialist Party to ensure representation of the various groups coming into it, probably in excess of their real forces and political weight. 

It would be a serious mistake to believe that non-Scottish Militant Labour forces would not exert a diluting political influence on a new party, especially when electoral campaigns will be high on the agenda in the next period. This can be overcome, provided the problem is recognised and we take the necessary political steps to counter centrist and left reformist influences.

It has alternatively been argued that a new Scottish Socialist Party would be transformed into a revolutionary party in two or three years. This is entirely different from claiming that the Scottish Socialist Party would be a revolutionary party from the beginning. The prospect of winning significant new forces to a revolutionary position within a new formation would be an argument for the tactic. But the numerical predominance of former Scottish Militant Labour members in the Scottish Socialist Party would, in itself, not be enough to ensure success. The precondition would be the continued existence of our tendency as a coherent, organised force within the new formation.

The first Scottish Executive Committee document (6 March) clearly - absolutely unmistakably - advocates the handing over of Scottish Militant Labour’s entire apparatus to the new Scottish Socialist Party and the merging of existing Scottish Militant Labour branches into Scottish Socialist Party branches. 

On the other hand, its proposals for the continuation of our tendency and links with the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) are quite tenuous and ambiguous. In the Scottish Conference debate, a number of comrades supporting the Scottish Executive Committee proposals assured us that our tendency would continue as an organised grouping and the link with Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) would be maintained. 

We have no doubt that Scottish comrades are committed to the idea of continuing revolutionary work and remaining within Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). Unfortunately, however, we are not convinced that the proposals put forward so far will guarantee this. If we are misinterpreting the comrades’ proposals, we would welcome clarification. But the Scottish Executive Committee comrades have to be concrete.

In order to work effectively to transform a new party into a revolutionary organisation it is not enough for our comrades to form a club. They must be able to work openly as a faction or an organised tendency, whatever name is chosen for it. This requires a democratic structure, with branches, a national body, its own congress, an elected leadership, its own publications (whether a paper or journal, a members’ bulletin, etc), its own finances, and its own apparatus. We would ask quite concretely: What financial resources and how many full-timers it is proposed will be allocated to the work of our own tendency within the proposed Scottish Socialist Party?

Similarly, our comrades cannot continue in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) merely by retaining membership cards and paying dues. They have to be part of an organised, democratic Scottish structure which can function as a section of Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), participating in its international discussions, upholding its programme and policies, and campaigning for Scottish Socialist Party affiliation to Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

In the Scottish Militant Labour Conference discussion a number of comrades raised the argument, "We can’t continue to run two organisations!" But this is not an answer to the vital political question in front of us, although it is perhaps an argument for seriously considering Option 1. 

In this period, when we have to continuously combine the task of building a revolutionary organisation with work in united-front type organisations or broader parties, it is virtually impossible to avoid running two organisations in one form or another. We consider that it would be an illusion to believe that the transformation of Scottish Socialist Alliance into a new Scottish Socialist Party will provide an easy way of winning new forces or that it will resolve all the problems arising from the twin tasks of party-building and broad campaigning activity.

We would like your comments on the points we have raised as soon as possible. We intend to reply to your second document, For a Bold Step Forward. However, you have said on a number of occasions that you believe we have misunderstood your proposals, and we would therefore appreciate clarification from you before we make a further contribution to the discussion.

 

Yours fraternally,

EC Socialist Party.

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