In Defence of the Revolutionary Party
III. THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL
The other essential feature of a revolutionary tendency is the need to be an integral part of a revolutionary International, a party of world revolution. This requires an organisational structure, with its own democratic procedures, which will enable comrades to participate in the political life and activity of the International
As we have already commented (EC letter, 2 April) none of the options suggested at the end of the Initial Proposals document, in our view, give proposals which would concretely ensure the continued participation of the Scottish comrades in Committee for a Workers’ International.
While the second document, For a Bold Step Forward, puts forward a series of arguments as to why it would be impossible for a new Scottish Socialist Party to affiliate to the Committee for a Workers’ International in the short term, it does not clearly or concretely deal with the question of how the comrades will participate in Committee for a Workers’ International (119).
If the new Scottish Socialist Party is conceived as a revolutionary party (a transformation of Scottish Militant Labour, drawing in Scottish Socialist Alliance and other forces), then part of the process should be comrades campaigning for immediate affiliation to the Committee for a Workers’ International. If a decision on affiliation had to be left for a short period after the founding conference, for say six months or a year, to allow time to convince the whole membership, nothing would be wrong with that, provided the aim was affiliation in a short period of time.
If, however, the strategy adopted is to transform the Scottish Socialist Alliance into a new Scottish Socialist Party, which, in our view, would unavoidably be a broader party, then we would have to maintain a Committee for a Workers’ International organisation within the new formation. In the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s second document, the comrades say more definitely that one option would be
This goes a bit further than the formulations in the Initial Proposals document, but, in our view, are still totally inadequate. Nevertheless, we would emphasise the need for a Committee for a Workers’ International group to have its own democratic structure, regular branch meetings, its own resources, full-timers, a members’ bulletin and a public journal. It should actively recruit to the Committee for a Workers’ International group and campaign within the Scottish Socialist Party for Scottish Socialist Party affiliation to Committee for a Workers’ International.
The document refers again to
But the suggestion was so "roundabout" that it was not at all clear what was being proposed. Another "possible variant", wrote the comrades,
The document had already stated that the proposition "of affiliation to the Committee for a Workers’ International as a precondition for any merger" would be "unacceptable to our organisation" and "others in the Alliance would at this stage resist the idea of becoming the Scottish section of Scottish Militant Labour’s international organisation." (Initial Proposals, para 24)
The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades accuse us of "bare-faced scaremongering" (120), but the whole emphasis of the Initial Proposals document was on the problems of raising the question of Scottish Socialist Party affiliation to the Committee for a Workers’ International, without any clear proposals for overcoming the problems.
The second document (para 145) suggests we misquoted the Initial Proposals document. But it is difficult to understand how it can be claimed that our quote was out of context. The statement said: "In addition, the idea of the new party itself having an open relationship with several or more international organisations has been posed. In the long term, a broader regroupment on the left in England and Wales and on an international scale could begin to resolve this dilemma." (Initial Proposals, para 24) Surely the comrades can recognise, on reflection, the alarm that this raised amongst our comrades throughout our International?
Our international organisation is the Committee for a Workers’ International. In the recent period, through both the International Secretariat and a number of sections, we have had friendly discussions, exchange of documents and visits, etc, with a number of other international organisations. We continue to have friendly discussions with USFI (United Secretariat of the Fourth International), but there is no question in the foreseeable future of moves towards fusion.
We maintain friendly contact with the DSP (Democratic Socialist Party) in Australia, which works through a loose network of organisations in Asia. We continue to have discussions with the LIT (Liga Internacional de Trabajadores), which is based mainly in Latin America. We have opened discussions to explore the possibility of fusion with the UIT (Unidad Internacional de Trabajadores) group, whose forces are also based mainly in Latin America, with some forces in Europe.
Any possibility of fusion with the UIT internationally, however, is at best some way in the future. While exploring the possibility of international regroupment, including in the shorter term some kind of federation of international groups, our commitment is to building the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Unfortunately, it is a matter of fact that many comrades internationally read the formulations in the Initial Proposals document as meaning that the question of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international affiliation would be postponed to some time in the future.
Meanwhile, the new Scottish Socialist Party would maintain links (an "open relationship") with a number of international organisations, postponing the question of affiliation until such a time as there was an international regroupment. That may not be what the Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades intended, but it was certainly an understandable interpretation of what was written.
The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades complain that we do not understand the difficulties surrounding the issue of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international affiliations, and are not assisting them to address them. However, on the basis of the statements made in the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s two documents we consider that they are making a serious mistake on this issue. Of course we want to assist in resolving the problems, but it is a question of clarifying the issues and the arguments, not of formalism or of scaremongering.
The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades reject as "formalistic" our point that the problem of securing agreement for Committee for a Workers’ International affiliation "precisely points to the underlying political differences that still exist." (121) But the Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades’ arguments are somewhat contradictory on this point.
They say there is "a serious possibility" of a sizeable Scottish Socialist Party having "a clear revolutionary programme" (108). Again, "the existing programme and policies of the Alliance will almost certainly be accepted as the political basis of a new Scottish Socialist Party" (112); and "the programmatic documents of the Scottish Socialist Alliance constitute nothing less than a detailed transitional programme for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of workers’ power..." (60)
On the other hand, the document says, "others in the Alliance... do not clearly understand the political difference that exists on the left internationally." (146) Given the importance of the questions of perspectives, programme and strategy which have been discussed in the Committee for a Workers’ International in the recent period, this raises important questions. Some of the others in the Scottish Socialist Alliance and forces outside could surely be won to our position on the basis of discussion.
With others, however, there are almost certainly underlying political differences, which will emerge later. It is important that these are put on the agenda for discussion in an attempt to resolve the differences. While they may appear remote at the present time, differences at an international level on perspectives, programme, strategy and tactics, will sooner or later have repercussions for work in Scotland.
We do not agree with the point made in the document in connection with this issue. "Peter himself has informally and tentatively pointed out that most ordinary workers would require a magnifying glass to discern the political differences between ourselves and the SWP." (147)
But (even if this is an accurate quote) the fact that most ordinary workers do not, at the moment, understand the differences does not mean to say that the differences do not exist, or are merely trivial. Differences over programme, strategy, methods of involvement in workers’ struggles, which distinguish our tendency from trends like the SWP, obviously have practical repercussions - for example, over tactics in the anti-poll tax struggle or tactics for building a left within the trade unions. When they begin to have an effect on day-to-day struggles, then the apparently obscure political differences have practical consequences which are of concern to ordinary workers.
Rejecting the idea that it is political differences that are a serious obstacle with regard to Committee for a Workers’ International affiliation, the comrades rely on a number of other arguments against the possibility of early affiliation to Committee for a Workers’ International: The Committee for a Workers’ International does not have sufficient authority at this stage. There is "a residue of suspicion of London-based political leaders" amongst "a layer of activists who work closely with Scottish Militant Labour". In any case, affiliation to the Committee for a Workers’ International is not critical at this stage.
The authority of the Committee for a Workers’ International
It goes without saying that the Committee for a Workers’ International does not have the same authority as the Third or Communist International, the Comintern, which was founded on the basis of the Russian revolution. (123) It is also true that, at this stage, the Committee for a Workers’ International does not have the same authority as Trotsky’s International Left Opposition in the 1930s or the Fourth International in the first few years after it was founded in 1938. (135) But isn’t this equally a problem for every section of the Committee for a Workers’ International?
We have to build up the authority of the Committee for a Workers’ International, both on the work of the different sections and also through developing the Committee for a Workers’ International’s political authority and capacity for international campaigns. Without in any way exaggerating our influence, we can say the Committee for a Workers’ International has already achieved a lot.
The fact that a number of international groupings and organisations in various countries are actively seeking discussions with us, including discussions on collaboration and the possibility of fusion, is testimony to the Committee for a Workers’ International’s ability to work out clear perspectives in the period since the collapse of Stalinism. This is the collective work of our sections, coming together through the International Executive Committee, World Congresses, and also International Schools.
We have also built up enormous authority with militant workers in various countries, through our solidarity campaigns. In the last year or so alone, the Committee for a Workers’ International has played an important role in providing international support for the Merseyside dockers, Danish bus workers, and for Bangalore transport workers, in addition to campaigns against the imprisonment and repression of socialists in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.
Proletarian internationalism means that we strive to build revolutionary parties in every country as integral sections of a world party of revolution. This is vital, not merely for international solidarity, but to ensure a consistent internationalist approach and to clarify ideas, policies, strategy, etc, through collective international discussion and decision making.
We do not agree with the Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades’ comments about the formation of the British Communist Party or the position of the US Trotskyists in the 1930s on the question of international affiliation. The CPGB’s acceptance of the programme and statutes of the Communist International, including the 21 conditions of membership, cannot be dismissed as a mere formality. It was the political and ideological basis on which the new Communist Party was formed from various parties and groupings.
The fact that the party did not live up to its commitment (or the fact that it later degenerated under the influence of Stalinism, for that matter) does not mean that the principles on which the party was founded were irrelevant. In the case of the Communist League of America’s merger with the American Workers Party, the position of Cannon and the CLA leadership was that it should be on the basis of affiliation to the Fourth International.
The document’s point about the SWP’s lack of formal affiliation with the Fourth International (FI) (136) is not at all valid. The US Socialist Workers Party played a vital role in the International Left Opposition and in the Fourth International when it was formed. In fact, in that period the SWP was the most politically influential component of the FI. The Voorhis Act, of course, made formal affiliation politically impossible. But the reality was that the SWP functioned to all intents and purposes as a fully-participating section of the FI.
The most disturbing argument put forward against calling for immediate Committee for a Workers’ International affiliation, however, is the following:
The first question to ask is: Why does the Committee for a Workers’ International not possess the authority in Scotland that Scottish Militant Labour possesses, when Scottish Militant Labour is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International and should, as part of its work, be building the influence of Committee for a Workers’ International?
In paragraphs 124-132, the document argues that, in effect, the position of Scottish Militant Labour in relation to Committee for a Workers’ International is "exactly the opposite" of the relationship of the British Socialist Party to the Communist International in 1920. The British Socialist Party, the comrades argue, did not have the authority to unite the left into a single party.
The merger which produced the Communist Party of Great Britain was only possible on the basis of the success of the Russian revolution and the appeal of Lenin and the Communist International. The position today is "exactly the opposite". (124) Scottish Militant Labour has "significant authority" among wide layers of workers, trade unionists, single-issue campaigners, and even activists within the LP, SNP and SLP, while the Committee for a Workers’ International, it is strongly implied, has little or no authority.
But the question which immediately arises is: Why is that "the Committee for a Workers’ International does not possess the authority in Scotland that Scottish Militant Labour possesses", when Scottish Militant Labour is part of Committee for a Workers’ International, and part of its work should be to build the influence of Committee for a Workers’ International? The position of the British Socialist Party, the biggest of the organisations which merged to form the CPGB, was different. Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, the British Socialist Party (BSP), was of course not a section of the Communist International, which was only launched in 1919.
The document (126-131) reviews the "track record" of struggles on which the authority of Scottish Militant Labour is based. We do not need to be convinced: Scottish Militant Labour has an impressive record of campaigning activity and support for workers’ struggles. The question is, why has Scottish Militant Labour not used its authority over a period to build up the authority of our International, the Committee for a Workers’ International?
Is it because of "a residue of suspicion of London-based political leaders" among "a layer of activists who work closely with Scottish Militant Labour"? (132) Given the context in which this comment is made, we can only assume that it applies to the Committee for a Workers’ International as well as to the Socialist Party.
This suspicion, the document says, "partly reflects attitudes and, in some cases perhaps, even prejudices - linked to the national question - which extend into all sections of society in Scotland." (132) But surely it is precisely the dangers of "attitudes" and "even prejudices" linked to the national question - in other words the dangerous pressure of nationalist attitudes - which underline the need for an internationalist approach and integration in the Committee for a Workers’ International.
We believe that the Socialist Party (and previously Militant and Militant Labour), along with the International Executive of Committee for a Workers’ International, which frequently discussed Scotland, has consistently adopted a sensitive attitude to the national question in Scotland.
In the 1970s we supported the call for devolution, demanding a Scottish Assembly with real economic and social powers, against many on the left (including some within our own ranks) who opposed this as a concession to nationalism - which did not prevent some of them later switching to a nationalist position. In 1991-92 we argued strongly in favour of the Scottish Turn against opposition within our own ranks.
This was a strategic reorientation towards an independent organisation, Scottish Militant Labour. The tactical turn recognised the special position in Scotland, especially the militant mood of the Scottish working class, reflecting both the intensified social crisis and the growing demand for autonomy or independence for Scotland. The leadership of Militant Labour took the initiative of proposing that Scottish Militant Labour should be an autonomous unit within the all-British organisation.
We have continually discussed the national question with the Executive of Scottish Militant Labour. In recent months there has been a discussion within Scottish Militant Labour and the Socialist Party, and we both agree that developments now pose the need for us to raise the demand for an Independent Socialist Scotland.
The EC of the Socialist Party, however, has raised several points which we consider are insufficiently developed in Scottish Militant Labour’s material. Briefly they are as follows: Despite the currently growing support for independence, the mood of workers and other strata can fluctuate as events develop and perspectives have to take account of this.
Under the Blair government, British capitalism has conceded a Scottish Parliament but the British ruling class will ruthlessly resist steps towards independence and it would be a mistake to assume that independence will be achieved in the next few years. While we have to fight for independence, linking it to a policy for the socialist transformation of society, we have to warn workers of the severe limitations of independence under capitalism and combat inevitable illusions. We will be at the forefront of the struggle for self-determination, while at the same time combating nationalism and any national prejudices within the workers’ movement.
It is imperative, because of the national question, for the leadership of both Committee for a Workers’ International and the Socialist Party to show great sensitivity to national sensitivities in Scotland. On the other hand, we believe it is vital for comrades in Scotland, while fighting for an appropriate programme for self-determination, to fight against nationalism and national prejudices.
The Scottish Militant Labour EC document acknowledges:
In our view, the approach described here reflects the general approach not just of the British EC but of the International Secretariat and the International Executive Committee of Committee for a Workers’ International.
However, the document also says:
To intervene in what fashion? Described by who?
Unfortunately, the document misrepresents comments that were made by Tony Saunois at the recent National Committee and by Lynn Walsh in an informal discussion. The crucial point being made by Tony was that we regard our sections as component parts of a world party of revolution, and key questions of programme, tactics, strategy, and organisation arising in the sections, especially at crucial conjunctures, are the collective concern of the International.
Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that either the International Secretariat or the International Executive Committee should be involved in every discussion and every decision. But on key issues, when a new policy or strategy is proposed, then it is a matter for discussion by the International Secretariat, the International Executive Committee, and if necessary the World Congress.
The ability of the International Secretariat to intervene and discuss issues depends entirely on the political authority of the leadership, which can only act with the support of the International Executive Committee. Of course, if some of our allies in Scotland do not accept the political authority of the Committee for a Workers’ International then they will not accept our internationalist tradition of collective international discussion of key issues.
Lynn Walsh did not "effectively accuse the leadership of Scottish Militant Labour of dishonest political behaviour..." or suggest an independent Scottish section of Committee for a Workers’ International "under the close supervision of the international leadership." (141-142)
The comment made by Lynn in an informal meeting with Alan and Frances, in which he expressed surprise at the proposals put forward in the Initial Proposals document, was that the International Secretariat has far more information about developments and discussions in most sections of the International than the British EC has about developments and discussions in Scotland. Unfortunately, we consider this to be a factual statement.
Lynn did suggest that the Scottish organisation should become an independent section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, a proposal which he first raised for discussion with Alan and Frances on a visit to Glasgow in June 1997. Such a step, in the view of Lynn and other members of the British EC and the International Secretariat, would be a logical extension of the present autonomous status of Scottish Militant Labour within the all-British organisation, and a recognition of the extent to which the national question has developed in Scotland.
Such a step, which should be discussed in the International Executive Committee, would be an unusual, if not unprecedented step, in the history of the International, given that Scotland is not yet a separate state. The fact that we raised the proposal some time ago shows the importance we attach to recognising the national sensibilities in Scotland. When we raised the proposal for a separate Scottish section in 1997, Alan said that he welcomed the proposal. Unfortunately the comrades made no concrete response until the production of the Initial Proposals document.
At no time did anyone say or imply that a Scottish section of Committee for a Workers’ International should be "under the close supervision of the international leadership". (142) As part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, a Scottish section would have the same democratic rights and duties as every other section.
The International Secretariat does not intervene in an arbitrary or heavy-handed manner. Neither the International Executive Committee nor the sections would accept that. However, we are committed to building a world party of socialist revolution. We recognise that we are still in the preliminary stages of this task.
Nevertheless, we do not accept the policy of some other international groupings, like USFI, which now adopts a stance of "non-intervention in the sections". Their International adopts general statements on the world situation, but takes (at least in theory) no position on developments within its different sections.
This, in our view, is an abandonment of the method of Trotskyism, and is a recipe for disorientation, fragmentation, and disintegration of their organisation. Nor do we accept the approach of the DSP leadership in Australia, which is to build up a "network" of socialist and radical organisations, which meet for discussions and collaborate in solidarity campaigns, but do not take collective, internationalist responsibility for developments in the various organisations within their network.
Is international affiliation crucial at this stage? The last-resort argument of the document is that it will not make a big difference if the question of the new Scottish Socialist Party’s international affiliation is postponed for a period. It throws in the fact, which we have already mentioned (para 136), that after 1940 the SWP was not formally affiliated to the Fourth International because of the Voorhis Act of 1940. This point is without substance.
The document also states: "Even the Bolsheviks’ international links were with the discredited and reformist Second International." (137) But that was the Marxist International until 1914. It was not merely discredited in 1914, it collapsed with the outbreak of the first world war, when the right-wing reformists in the different sections patriotically supported their own rulers in the imperialist war.
In the period before 1914, however, Lenin and his collaborators engaged in a struggle between revolution and centrism/reformism within the International, collaborating with the revolutionary left in the German, Polish, and other parties (Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, etc) against the centrist and reformist wing (Bernstein, Kautsky, Adler, etc). The weakness of the revolutionary wing of the Second International, despite the formation of mass Communist Parties after 1918, played a significant part in the defeat of the revolutions that broke out throughout Europe after 1917.
In 1915 Lenin, working with a group known as the Internationalists, played a leading role in the Zimmerwald Conference (held in Switzerland), attended by 38 delegates from eleven countries, which was an attempt to rally the anti-chauvinist, internationalist left. The Zimmerwald Left also participated in the Second International Socialist Conference held in Kiental in April 1916. This refutes any suggestion that Lenin placed little emphasis on the need to build an International in the period immediately preceding the October 1917 revolution. Point 10 of Lenin’s April Theses in 1917 was as follows: "We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the ‘Centre’."
The Scottish Militant Labour EC document also states: "Here in Britain our organisation evolved independently of any international organisation, particularly in the period 1964 to 1974, the year that the Committee for a Workers’ International was formed." (137) This is true, but it is not the whole truth.
Our organisation was outside any International because we were expelled from the USFI in 1965, for conducting a principled political struggle against the false policies and methods of the USFI leadership. But we immediately began the task of building a new International, devoting considerable time and resources to searching for and winning co-thinkers in other countries - the essential preparatory work which allowed for the formation of the Committee for a Workers’ International in 1974.
We worked on the fundamental assumption that it is not possible to build a viable Marxist organisation in any country without an internationalist approach, and that an internationalist approach requires an international organisation.
The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades, in our view, have not addressed the vital political issues that we are raising. It is not good enough to allege that we are proposing "arid schemas" (159-163), that we are demanding "rigorous adherence to a standardised procedure" (139), that we have succumbed to an illusion that there can be "organisational guarantees against disintegration" (163), or that we are attempting to lock away the Scottish comrades in "an organisationally pure prison cell". (182) This is really name-calling, not political argument.