Scottish Debate | Home | News | Donate | Join 

The Scottish debate

Reply to ‘New Tactics for a New Period’

 Socialist Party Executive Committee, 5 May 1998


[Next]

Introduction

The latest document of the Scottish Militant Labour EC, New Tactics for a New Period, brings out the character of the comrades’ proposals much more clearly than before. 

In our view, the document does not address the issues we raised for discussion in relation to two possible options for a new Scottish Socialist Party (EC letter of 2 April, Clarification of Proposals for a Scottish Socialist Party). 

In brief, Option 1 would be for the transformation of Scottish Militant Labour into a Marxist Scottish Socialist Party, drawing in Scottish Socialist Alliance and new forces. Option 2 would be for the transformation of Scottish Socialist Alliance into a broad Scottish Socialist Party, with Scottish Militant Labour (under a new name and constituting the Scottish section of the Committee for a Workers' International) working as a key component within the new formation.

Instead, the Scottish Militant Labour EC are proposing that they should take the initiative in launching a broad socialist party into which, we still consider, our existing Marxist organisation would be merged without the conditions necessary to assure its continuation as a viable revolutionary Marxist tendency. 

We believe that the Scottish Militant Labour EC is putting forward an entirely false political characterisation of their proposed Scottish Socialist Party. They claim that it will be a "hybrid", "transitional" party which will develop towards a future mass revolutionary party. This false conception will, in our view, fatally confuse the programmatic and strategic tasks which would face Scottish Militant Labour comrades working within the new party, which would in reality be a broad party.

The Scottish Militant Labour EC have also produced two proposal statements: for a New Socialist Party and for a Scottish Committee for a Workers’ International. These go further than previous statements in outlining a structure for Scottish Militant Labour comrades within the Scottish Socialist Party. However, as we explain in a separate reply, we still consider that the proposed structure is completely inadequate. It will not ensure the continued development and growth of our Marxist tendency nor will it secure a viable section of the Committee for a Workers' International in Scotland.

New Tactics for a New Period, however, makes it clear to us that the limitations of these proposals unfortunately go much deeper than their inadequacy from an organisational point of view. This document is arguing that, in this new period, it is no longer necessary or even desirable for Marxists to build independent revolutionary organisations (whether within broad formations or as separate entities). The task now, it is claimed, is to build broad socialist parties with other sections of the left, with no need for an organisation of Marxist cadres. We believe that this is a mistaken attempt to find a short cut to mass support.

With regard to this new line, we feel we have to comment on the method used in the New Tactics document. Unfortunately, some of the key components of the argument are being put forward by means of inference and suggestion rather than being spelt out. We feel that it is necessary to bring out clearly all the ideas implicit in this document. We do not believe that we are misrepresenting or distorting the document’s ideas. Our aim is to clarify the crucial issues concerned. If Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades subsequently show us that we are mistaken, we will gladly revise our view. Our reply follows New Tactics for a New Period section by section, so comrades can judge for themselves.

We would not say that our conception of the revolutionary party and its vital role in the process of socialist revolution, although one of the fundamental ideas of Trotskyism, can never be open to question. We are not defending religious orthodoxy. But a drastic revision of the kind now being proposed by the Scottish Executive could only be justified on the basis of fundamental changes in the nature of class society. 

There have, of course, been big changes in the world situation since the collapse of Stalinism after 1989, which we have analysed, drawing the necessary programmatic and strategic conclusions. But we consider that the new line of ‘New Tactics’ is based on a totally false analysis of "the new period" and of the political tasks now facing us. Many of the issues are dealt with in our previous document, In Defence of the Revolutionary Party, which was written in reply to For a Bold Step Forward. We will not repeat all the arguments, and ask the comrades to read this reply in conjunction with our earlier reply.

We fully recognise the problems arising from the great weight of documents produced in this debate, which make enormous demands on comrades’ precious time. But we feel it is essential for there to be a thorough debate on these issues, which can have a decisive effect on the success or failure of the forces of Marxism in Scotland. This concerns the whole Committee for a Workers' International. While we appreciate that there is not unlimited time, we appeal to the Scottish comrades to allow sufficient time for these important issues of perspectives and strategy to be properly debated throughout our ranks.

"What is a Revolutionary Party?"

This section does not answer the question it poses. There is no logical line of argument. But the document sets up an association between the idea of a "revolutionary party" and "sectarian grouplets", "deluded sectarians", etc. It claims that the terms "revolutionary party" and "broad party" have been bandied about in an abstract way. In the view of the Scottish Militant Labour EC, both can coexist in the same "hybrid" party.

We will try to clarify our view further.

By "revolutionary party" we mean an independent revolutionary organisation, a proletarian organisation (whether in the form of an organised tendency within another formation or a separate, detached, party) based on the programme of Marxism (in the sense of a body of ideas), organised on the basis of democratic centralism (reformulated as democratic unity), which works to build a force of Marxist cadres and to develop support amongst wide layers of the working class. 

The revolutionary party is "independent" because its aims and organisational methods are based on the principle of a commitment to a distinct ideology and programme (it is not a question of whether or not the organisation is a separate party, detached from other parties).

Cadres are party members who understand our ideas; who can independently involve themselves in struggle on the basis of our programme, strategy and tactics; and who are capable of recruiting and of building our organisation. Cadres are required at every level of a revolutionary organisation, in the branches, in trade union and other party caucuses, in public campaigning work, etc, as well as in the leadership. The role of cadres is to provide the ‘framework’ (the term comes from the French word meaning ‘frame’), the revolutionary core, around which much broader, mass forces can be won in the future. Cadres not only carry the party’s ideas to wider layers of workers, but they also play a vital role in testing ideas in practice, and in formulating new policies, strategy and tactics.

The character of the party is not determined by its size, but by its ideology and methods. Where parties (sections of the Committee for a Workers' International) are small we, of course, recognise that they are at the stage of embryonic parties which are developing forces of politically-conscious Marxist activists in preparation for the future development of mass revolutionary parties.

We have never proclaimed ourselves "the revolutionary party" or adopted the sectarian approach of the SWP, WRP, and other groups. We have never put the interests of our organisation above the interests of the working class. We participate alongside workers in struggle, while working to win support for a clear programme, perspectives, etc. 

Nevertheless, we consider (following the theoretical tradition of Lenin, Trotsky, and our own organisation) that a Marxist revolutionary party with mass support among the working class is essential for the successful carrying through of the socialist transformation of society. Clearly, to carry out this role a revolutionary party requires overwhelming mass support, which has to be built on the basis of objective events and the intervention of the "subjective factor", the revolutionary party itself. Mass support, however, does not make a revolutionary party a "broad" party in the political sense.

We recognise the necessity of Committee for a Workers' International sections participating, under certain conditions, in broad, transitional formations. In the past, many sections were active within the traditional social democratic organisations, when they still embraced a fairly broad spectrum of workers and political trends, which is generally not the case now. In the recent period, given the trend towards bourgeoisification of the traditional organisations and the vacuum on the left, the majority of sections have worked as separate parties. 

Nevertheless, within the Committee for a Workers' International we have concretely discussed the need to work within broad formations such as the PRC (Partito Rifondazione Comunista) in Italy, the IU (Izquierda Unida) in Spain, and the possibility of work within the PT (Partido Trabalhadores) in Brazil. But we regard the strengthening of our own independent revolutionary organisations as the essential prerequisite of successful work in broader formations.

We have also recognised the need, if there are favourable conditions and sufficient forces, to participate in the launching of new broad formations. This question was posed when Scargill announced the formation of the SLP, when we welcomed the possibility of a new, broad socialist party which could draw together different left and trade union forces as well as new layers. The SLP did not reach the end of the runway, for reasons which we have explained. 

An opportunity was lost, and at the present time there are not sufficient materials, for instance in the Socialist Alliances, for a new initiative to launch a new broad socialist party. In the case of Scotland, we do not in principle oppose a move to form a new broad Scottish Socialist Party. What we are raising is the question of the political basis on which it will be formed, and especially the need to continue to build our own revolutionary organisation within the framework of the broader party.

It is, in our view, nonsense to claim that "there can exist transitional or hybrid formations which are part ‘revolutionary’ and part ‘broad’." Of course, there can be broad formations which include within them revolutionary elements, centrists (who waver between revolution and reform), left reformists, militant trade union activists, radical campaigning activists, etc, etc. But such formations are broad parties, not revolutionary parties. 

It is also true that such broad formations can, under certain conditions, be "transitional" in the sense that, under the impact of events and mass radicalisation of the working class, they are being pushed towards revolution. The POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification) in the Spanish revolution in 1936 was a classic example of a "transitional" centrist party. A more recent example is the MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement) in Chile under the 1970-73 Popular Front government of Allende. 

A transition, however, can only be decisively carried through with the intervention of a Marxist revolutionary organisation fighting to transform the broad party on the basis of the adoption of a Marxist programme and methods of work. A broad formation, particularly a mass party, cannot hover indefinitely between reform and revolution. Without a decisive transformation into a revolutionary party, any such formation will be unstable and inevitably enter a crisis, with sections sliding back towards centrism or reformism.

At least it is now absolutely clear from New Tactics that what the Scottish Militant Labour EC are proposing is not a revolutionary party but "a hybrid, a party with a revolutionary programme, methods and organisation but embracing into its ranks socialists who would not necessarily regard themselves as revolutionaries, Trotskyists or even Marxists at this stage", plus a broader strata of workers in trade unions. 

Even with the members of Scottish Militant Labour forming a significant proportion of its ranks, this would not be a revolutionary party. It might well embrace other socialists who could potentially be won to a revolutionary position. But on the basis of the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s proposals, we cannot accept that it would in fact be a party "with a revolutionary programme, methods and organisation," for reasons that we explain in this and other documents. The cadres of Scottish Militant Labour could only be preserved and strengthened and the new forces won to a Marxist position on the basis of our own revolutionary Marxist tendency working to transform the broad party into a revolutionary organisation.

"Programme and Ideology"

This section of the Scottish Militant Labour EC document rejects the concept of a Marxist revolutionary programme as a body of ideas generalising the experience of Trotskyism on which we have always based ourselves. The constitution of the Committee for a Workers' International and constitutions of the British and other sections all open by stating that we stand on the policies of the first four congresses of the Communist International, the founding documents of the Fourth International, and the documents of the Committee for a Workers' International.

Our programme is by no means "intangible". In response to new developments and struggles, we have continually updated our programme, through perspectives documents, policy statements, and resolutions adopting new demands, slogans, etc. We have never debated new policy proposals as one-off issues merely for the immediate conjuncture. We always debate them and take decisions in the light of theoretical experience, our perspectives, and our programmatic aims. One of the essential features of democratic unity is that it allows this kind of discussion amongst the rank and file before decisions are taken.

A programme in the sense of "a list of policies and objectives" is what Marxists have always termed an "action programme". This may be the public, campaigning programme of a revolutionary party for the immediate conjuncture, putting forward key aspects of our full programme but not containing all our programmatic aims. Or it may be a more limited programme, containing immediate anti-capitalist, working-class demands, which can serve as the immediate programme of a broader formation, a united front, an election platform or a broad campaign.

It is completely mistaken to refer to a programme as a revolutionary programme in the Marxist sense merely because it contains demands which could not be implemented under capitalism. In certain periods of crisis, when the ruling class is in disarray and the working class is moving into action, very simple demands (for example, for universal franchise) can become objectively revolutionary - they could not be conceded without threatening the rule of the capitalist class. 

This was the situation with the Chartist movement in Britain in the 1830s and also, at one stage, with the ANC in South Africa. But it would be absurd to claim that the call for universal suffrage is in itself a revolutionary demand. It would only become a revolutionary demand in the programmatic sense if it was linked to a programme for the socialist transformation of society.

Another example: In the period of transition in South Africa the ANC leadership adopted a so-called Reconstruction and Development Programme, which included demands for a massive reduction in unemployment, a massive house building programme, etc - measures which could not be implemented within the framework of capitalism. Did this make the RDP revolutionary? Of course not. Given the pro-capitalist, class-collaborationist policy of the ANC leadership, the programme was a utopian reformist programme designed to deceive and divert the workers’ movement. 

The Scottish Militant Labour comrades are confusing two entirely different things. One is the idea (which we have certainly used in the past) that, in certain conjunctures when the balance of class forces is moving against the ruling class, certain quite limited demands can have objectively revolutionary implications. The other is the idea of a revolutionary programme which is a consciously formulated political instrument summing up the aims, immediate demands, and to some extent strategic objectives of the working class.

It is false to argue that the current Scottish Socialist Alliance programme "is also a revolutionary programme, in that it would require the revolutionary overturn of capitalism before the programme itself could be implemented". It is not a Marxist revolutionary programme. While it contains many good transitional demands, it is not (as we have explained in more detail elsewhere) adequate as the kind of transitional programme that we should be proposing for a new formation in which we have, as the comrades say, the predominant political influence.

"Theory and Practice"

This section starts from the assertion that a new Scottish Socialist Party could not be based on a body of Marxist ideas. The document weighs the relative importance of theory and practice for a revolutionary organisation, and implicitly comes down on the side of practice. One requirement, it says, is "theoretical understanding - but many other qualities are also necessary", mass membership, an army of mass leaders, a leadership which can evaluate situations and present complicated ideas in popular form, etc.

In reality, the document counterposes theory and practice, playing down the role of theory. The EC is said to have a "dry definition" of revolutionary Marxism. The document also refers to the fact that Ted Grant and Alan Woods left our International despite being "steeped in knowledge" of the Comintern, the Fourth International, and the Committee for a Workers' International. What is this supposed to prove? The fact that the rigid, outdated approach adopted by Grant and Woods during the late 1980s was challenged, debated and ultimately rejected by the ranks of our organisation surely showed that our ability to apply our ideas to new developments and struggles prevailed over "dry" theory.

In "any sizeable political party", the document says, tradition and ideology will only be expressed through a minority of experienced cadres rather than through written statutes. But the point is that in a genuine revolutionary party, based on democratic unity, the leading cadres will carry theory and tradition to the ranks, including the ranks of a mass party, through political education and also through discussion of perspectives, programme, strategy and tactics. In a broader, looser party, on the other hand, it is the task of a revolutionary tendency to attempt to win the wider layers of the party to a revolutionary position.

"No party exists", the document says, which fulfils "all the requirements" necessary to lead a successful socialist revolution - all the sections of the Committee for a Workers' International fall short of the standards of a future revolutionary party. But what conclusion follows from this? According to the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s documents, the conclusion is that we should abandon the task of building embryonic revolutionary parties, whether working separately or within broader formations, which are necessary to prepare the way for mass revolutionary parties in the future.

They say that "our organisation [will be] at the core of that party [Scottish Socialist Party]". But we do not accept that the proposals being put forward will secure the continuation of Scottish Militant Labour in the form of a revolutionary organisation within the new Scottish Socialist Party. Without such a revolutionary tendency, it is entirely mistaken to believe that "these inadequacies [of existing political parties] will... be overcome in the course of time and struggle".

"Marxism and the Workers’ Movement"

This section attempts to rewrite the history of Bolshevism in an effort to provide justification for Scottish Militant Labour EC’s current proposal for a broad Scottish Socialist Party. This revision attempts to elevate the role of the RSDLP - a broad party containing many factions and tendencies - in Russia in the period before 1917. At the same time, it is stated that prior to 1912, "Bolshevism existed as a loosely organised faction or tendency within the broader RSDLP."

We cannot go into the history of Bolshevism in detail here, but we will make two general points. First, after the defeat of the revolution in 1905-06, the RSDLP did not, in reality, exist as a viable, unified party, though many factions and tendencies operated under its name. 

Second, while Bolshevism went through "frequent tactical, strategical and organisational changes" (and, we may add, some programmatic changes), as well as going through a number of splits, Lenin consistently strove to build an ideologically coherent, democratic centralist organisation (whether termed a faction or a party). This is not to say, of course, that it was an "iron monolith" (and we are certainly not advocating that a revolutionary party should be politically monolithic).

The comrades use a quote from Trotsky’s autobiography, My Life (chapter 17: Preparing for a New Revolution), without explaining its context. In fact, the real meaning of the quote is exactly the opposite of what is claimed in the comrades’ document. 

Trotsky refers to the fact that Stalin’s hack historians used the episode of the 1912 ‘August bloc’ as a pretext for presenting Trotsky as a "splitter" and to falsely paint the picture that "the history of the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks is also a history of ceaseless efforts towards unity". 

In a later book, In Defence of Marxism (‘From a Scratch to Gangrene’), Trotsky made his position quite clear. Explaining why he had formed an "episodic bloc consisting of heterogeneous elements" in 1912, he wrote: 

"In the general tendency of politics I stood far more closely to the Bolsheviks [than to the Mensheviks]. But I was against the Leninist ‘regime’ because I had not yet learned to understand that in order to realise the revolutionary goal a firmly welded centralised party is indispensable."

Trotsky, writing in 1940, also makes the point that the pre-1917 period was a different era. 

"The very phenomenon of Bolshevism as a genuine revolutionary party was then developing for the first time - in the practice of the Second International there were no precedents." (‘From a Scratch...’)

 In their documents, however, the Scottish Militant Labour EC are trying to find precedents for their proposal for a "hybrid" party in the practices of the Second International.

 

"Isolation"

The real line of argument of this section, though it is not fully spelt out, is in our view as follows: The Trotskyist project of building Marxist (Trotskyist) revolutionary parties was the product of the extreme isolation facing genuine Marxist forces in the 1930s after the rise of Stalinism. Their task was "to defend and extend their own small forces" and to work in and orientate towards the mass reformist and Stalinist parties. 

There was no question ("it would have been both absurd and futile") to attempt to create mass parties or broader formations. This situation continued in the period after the second world war, when the mass reformist and mass Stalinist parties extended their influence. The collapse of Stalinism after 1989, however, has led to the severe weakening of both the Communist Parties and the traditional reformist parties. The obvious inference that we are invited to draw from this is that the task of building Marxist revolutionary parties based on "small forces" is now outdated and, with the decline of the Stalinist and reformist parties, the field is clear for Marxists to build new mass organisations.

This is a variant of the argument which has recently been stated more crudely by one or two comrades who now evidently reject the idea of building a Marxist revolutionary party: Trotskyism was a reaction to Stalinism; Stalinism is finished; therefore Trotskyism is (wholly or largely) redundant.

We entirely reject this line of argument. In the first place, it misrepresents the perspectives of the Trotskyists in the 1930s and after. One of their tasks, of course, was to preserve and strengthen the genuine forces of Marxism. But the forces of Trotskyism continually sought ways of developing new, mass revolutionary formations. 

When the Spanish revolution began to unfold, Trotsky continually urged the Left Opposition in Spain (which had around 1,000 members in 1932) to work out a strategic route to key sections of workers moving towards revolution, for instance, the militant workers in the anarchist trade union, the CNT, and the revolutionary youth in the Young Socialists. 

Unfortunately, Andrés Nin, the leader of the International Left Opposition in Spain, ignored Trotsky’s advice and repeatedly adapted to the policies of non-revolutionary organisations in search of immediate, secondary tactical advantages. In 1935 Nin merged his organisation with the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc of Joaquín Maurín to form the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification). Although the POUM contained many of the best revolutionary workers, its leadership’s opportunist policy of joining the Popular Front government contributed to the tragic defeat of the Spanish revolution.

In the US, the US Trotskyists merged with the Musteite American Workers’ Party (which was moving towards a revolutionary position) and later went into the Socialist Party in order to break out of isolation and gather the forces necessary for an independent organisation, forming the SWP in 1938. In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) the Trotskyists won a majority in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LScottish Socialist Party), a mass party which was far stronger than the Stalinists who were expelled from the LScottish Socialist Party and formed the Communist Party of Ceylon.

The situation we face has certainly changed since the collapse of Stalinism. We have fully taken account of the new developments (as explained elsewhere: see In Defence of the Revolutionary Party, I. Ideological Differences), adjusting our perspectives, programme, strategy and tactics to new developments. 

In many countries there are now layers of politically-conscious and radicalised workers who are much more open to our ideas than in the past, including in new formations such as the PRC in Italy, the IU in Spain, the PT in Brazil, etc. We have also recognised that there are potentially much more favourable conditions for united-front type alliances of left forces, including the possibility of new, broad socialist formations.

But we do not accept that the new situation invalidates the task of building Marxist revolutionary parties. They are not the outdated product of the 1930s or of the post-war period. They remain indispensable for the building of future mass revolutionary parties, through whatever route they will be built.

 

"Europe in the 1990s"

Despite the continued decline in the influence of the Stalinist and reformist parties, and the accelerated bourgeoisification of social democratic parties, we do not agree with the Scottish comrades that the point they refer to in the 1993 Committee for a Workers' International World Congress document has been invalidated. Although the document refers to The Traditional Workers’ Parties, the quotation cited itself makes it clear that even if mass movements of workers are "not... directed at this stage through the already established political parties" they will still generally "pass through the school of left reformism/centrism before being drawn behind the banner of Marxism."

The traditional reformist and Stalinist parties have been severely weakened, but the forces of the socialist left in general have also become fragmented and disorientated. In general, the consciousness of even the advanced layers of workers has been pushed back, as we have analysed on many occasions. The weakness of the forces of revolutionary Marxism means that the mass layers of workers, when they move into action, will mainly look firstly towards left reformist and centrist solutions. 

Reformist illusions will undoubtedly be reflected in new mass formations, as they are currently among sections of the PT, PRC, etc. The Scottish comrades themselves say in another section of the document that reformist and left reformist trends will be expressed through the Scottish National Party in the next period. The undermining of left-reformist ideas can only come about through a process of objective events and the intervention of the subjective factor, that is the forces of revolutionary Marxism.

It would be a serious mistake to overestimate our present forces and have the illusion that we can easily take the leadership of new mass formations. However, we are not crude determinists. We will not intervene in new formations, especially if we are able to take a major part in launching them, fatalistically accepting that it is predetermined that they will be led by left reformists. We would fight for a bold anti-capitalist programme and radical socialist demands, attempting to win a majority to revolutionary ideas. But we have to start with a realistic assessment of our own forces and of the other forces coming into such a formation.

A minority of Marxists with wide support amongst active workers can take the lead in struggles, as with the Liverpool Council struggle, the anti-poll tax struggle, and recent Scottish Socialist Alliance campaigns in Scotland. However, in the case of a mass workers’ party "embracing other currents of opinion, including left reformism, centrism and syndicalism," a core of Marxist revolutionaries could only maintain the leadership on the basis of a sustained, organised struggle to win the majority to a revolutionary position.

Another point: If there is now the perspective of the emergence in Scotland of a new Scottish Socialist Party led by Marxist revolutionaries as a future mass workers’ party, why is it necessary to propose a broad party based on the limited programme of the Scottish Socialist Alliance? If reformism, centrism and Stalinism are now so weak, why is it not possible to relaunch Scottish Militant Labour on the basis of a rounded-out socialist programme and drawing in the present Scottish Socialist Alliance forces and new forces?

"Scotland: New Balance of Forces"

We agree that the decline of the forces of Stalinism in Scotland and the continued undermining of the Labour Party left reformists creates potentially very favourable conditions for Trotskyism in Scotland. While the traditional reformists have been considerably weakened, however, it would be a mistake (as we note elsewhere) to rule out the revival of reformist and centrist currents in new forms as events unfold.

We feel that perspectives for Scotland (touched on in this and the following section) in the period leading up to elections for the Scottish Parliament and in the long term need to be developed more fully.

"Role of the SNP"

Clearly, providing a class alternative to the SNP is a key strategic task in the next period. Fighting on a bold programme linking the call for independence to a policy of socialist transformation could enable us to win wide sections of workers, youth and also sections of the middle strata. Of course, working out the most effective organisational forms through which we should work will be an important factor, which is what we are debating. Still, the success of any strategy depends on the development of a Marxist tendency capable of responding to rapid developments and volatile shifts in consciousness with the necessary policies, strategy and tactics.

Incidentally, we would characterise the SNP as a bourgeois-nationalist party, with support among the Scottish bourgeoisie, middle class and working class.

"Political Inferiority Complex?"

This section poses the question of whether "priority [should] be given to the gradual accumulation of cadres in preparation for long-term developments" - which the Scottish comrades say would mean "effectively ceding big sections of the working class to the SNP" - or whether we "should... begin the task now of building a broader Marxist formation"? 

As we have made clear, we are not opposed, if there are sufficient forces, to building a broader socialist formation (though it would not be a Marxist formation: ‘broader’ and ‘Marxist’ are contradictions). But it should be combined with the development of cadres, not counterposed to the task of developing cadres.

It is false, moreover, to present the development of cadres as inevitably being a gradual, long-term process. It is true that in a period like the 1960s and early 1970s the accumulation of cadres was painstakingly slow. However, in periods of mass struggle cadres can be developed rapidly - provided there is a Marxist party which consciously combines mass work with the task of cadre-building.

The document suggests that, because of our origins in a "small current", we may be suffering from "a kind of political inferiority complex" which makes us incapable of seizing or reluctant to seize new opportunities which are opening up. The only ‘evidence’ to support this claim is the comment, made "with the benefit of historical hindsight", that perhaps we should have taken an ‘Open Turn’, standing our own candidates against the Labour Party, at the height of the poll tax campaign in 1989-90. 

However, members of the British EC long ago acknowledged that we should have been considering an Open Turn around 1987, when the Labour leadership took a decisive turn to the right and began wholesale expulsions of the left. In fact, even at that time some of us advocated more open youth work which was undertaken through effectively independent youth campaigns such as YTURC (Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign), FELS (Further Education Labour Students), etc.

It is completely mistaken, however, to imply that we were held back by a political inferiority complex. The period 1987-90 marked the transition between two historical periods. We faced the task of bringing about a major reorientation of our organisation, with the need to adopt new perspectives, policies, strategy and tactics. Some members of the British EC were raising these issues, including the question of standing independently against the Labour Party on a socialist platform. 

But we met with intransigent opposition from Ted Grant. It was impossible to bring about a major reorientation without a thorough political debate throughout our organisation, particularly as the Grant group at that time still retained considerable authority within the ranks. To have pushed for the Open Turn without the necessary political preparation would have undoubtedly provoked a very deep and extremely damaging split in our organisation - at the height of the mass anti-poll tax struggle which we were leading. 

Through a thorough debate during 1991-92, the overwhelming majority of our ranks were convinced of the need for new policies and strategy, and only a very small group (about 7%) left our organisation. Since then we have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to respond to new developments and take bold initiatives.

The document says that if we had launched an open organisation in 1989-90 "we would almost certainly be in a much stronger position today". This is by no means certain. In their earlier document, For a Bold Step Forward, the Scottish Militant Labour EC accepts that "the organisation in Scotland is weaker numerically than it was five or ten years ago".

 They accept that Scottish Militant Labour’s internal structures have been affected by the enormous demands of campaigning activity, and "in addition, they have been affected - probably to an even greater extent - by the difficult objective situation of the past few years." We would also say that the Scottish Militant Labour EC has in the recent period paid insufficient attention to developing Scottish Militant Labour’s internal political life, cadre-building, political education, finances, etc. It is not justified, in our view, to claim that Scottish Militant Labour would now be much stronger if we had taken the Open Turn earlier (blaming the delay, in effect, on our alleged conservatism).

By analogy with the Scottish EC’s version of the history of the Open Turn, the Scottish comrades argue that "if we do not take the decision now" to adopt a new strategy, "we will end up bitterly regretting the loss of valuable time". But the urgency of the need to replace an outdated strategy is not an argument in favour of the specific new strategy being put forward. Timing in politics - "when you do it" - is certainly important: but surely the question of "what you do" is far more important? Far-reaching strategic proposals have to be tested through a thorough debate. For a revolutionary organisation, whatever its size, to adopt a wrong strategy can squander past gains and allow new opportunities to slip through our fingers.

This section ends with the conclusion: "Consequently, we are convinced that our primary task in Scotland... is to... move forward and begin the building, steeling and ideological influencing of a broader revolutionary socialist party." But this political conclusion simply does not follow from the points about "a political inferiority complex" and the urgent need to adopt a new strategy.

"Building New Forces"

We accept that the Scottish comrades aim to build support for socialism among fresh layers. However, it remains true (as the letter from the Swedish EC points out) that most of the elements within the Scottish Socialist Alliance are not fresh forces.

We consider that the document’s comments on our strategy in the 1970s to the mid-1980s are based on a misunderstanding. We conducted entry work, as the comrades say, in the Labour Party, and through the LPYS we were able to reach fresh layers of youth. Obviously, we did not have an "open" or "public" revolutionary organisation. Most campaigns were conducted under the LPYS banner and we could not contest elections on our own platform. Nevertheless, through our activity we were building our own tendency, which although subject to entryist limitations was, in reality, "an independent revolutionary organisation".

Building a Marxist revolutionary organisation is the fundamental premise of all our activity. It is not a strategy. Of course we have to have a "clear short term, medium term and long term strategy". Strategy relates to the question of whether we operate as an entryist tendency, as a separate party, whether we participate in the building of a broader formation, etc, etc.

When the debate opened, we believed that we were debating issues of strategy. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that we are debating whether or not it is still necessary and desirable to "build and develop a core of revolutionary Marxists", in other words, to continue the task of building an independent revolutionary party.

"Politics of the Dead End"

We agree that the growing politicisation of workers and youth in the period leading up to elections for the Scottish Parliament and the following period will present exceptional opportunities for a socialist formation with an audacious socialist programme for winning support amongst wide layers of workers and young people. We also agree with criticisms the documents make of the French organisation Lutte Ouvričre, which (as the comrades note) is an extremely sectarian organisation. These criticisms, however, do not support the proposal being put forward by the Scottish Militant Labour EC.

At meetings of the Committee for a Workers' International International Executive Committee, IEC comrades have made a critical appraisal of the role of Lutte Ouvričre, particularly their failure to seize the opportunities for the left opened up by the gains made by the left in the 1995 presidential elections.

When the presidential election results were announced, Lutte Ouvričre’s presidential candidate, Arlette Laguiller, who received 1.6 million votes (5.3%), spoke publicly of the need for a new unified party of the left. (The CP candidate, Hue, received 2.6 million votes - 8.6%.) But the leadership of Lutte Ouvričre completely failed to follow through with any initiative.

If we had been in a similar position to Lutte Ouvričre, we would immediately have issued a rallying call for the formation of a new socialist party uniting the forces of the left. We would have opened up negotiations with the leaders of the Communist Party, the left of the Socialist Party, the various Trotskyist and other revolutionary organisations, and militant groups within the trade unions. 

It would be a massive step forward to unite the main left organisations around a fighting socialist programme. However, given the different political traditions and organisational structures of the various organisations it would, of course, be a mistake to believe that they could rapidly be merged into a unified party. We would have proposed a formation on similar lines to the United Left (IU) in Spain, providing for the recruitment of individual members but also allowing parties, groups, trade union organisations, etc, to participate within a federal structure. Recognising that different political trends are inevitable, we would advocate the democratic right of tendencies, groups, etc, within the new formation (whether a party, front, federation, etc).

But the crucial point as far as this debate is concerned is that we would reaffirm our commitment to build our own revolutionary Marxist organisation within the framework of the new formation. This would not be a sectarian position, as the Scottish comrades imply. We would participate fully in building the new, broad party around a fighting socialist programme. But we would not abandon our conviction that we have a distinctive role to play and that our political contribution will be a decisive factor in the building of a future mass revolutionary Marxist party.

"Danger of a Sectarian Turn"

We cannot follow the logic of this section. Why is the sectarianism of the SWP dragged in?

Without answering the detailed points that we raised in our letter of 2 April (Clarifications, etc), the Scottish Militant Labour EC rejects as completely impossible one of the alternative strategies which we raised (Option 1). This is for relaunching Scottish Militant Labour as a new Scottish Socialist Party and, on the basis of negotiations and discussion, drawing other Scottish Socialist Alliance and wider forces into the new party. But the arguments of the Scottish Militant Labour EC seem to us to be completely contradictory.

Scottish Militant Labour has for the last two-and-a-half years been "working closely and constructively with other socialists in a closely-knit alliance, in effect a semi-party". They also say that "there has been a growing political convergence since the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance at the beginning of 1996". The Scottish comrades also say in other documents that all the elements within Scottish Socialist Alliance accept the Scottish Socialist Alliance programme, which will be the programme of the new Scottish Socialist Party. Moreover, the comrades consider that this is a "full-blooded socialist programme", a "revolutionary programme for the socialist transformation of society".

If this is so, why would it not be possible to relaunch Scottish Militant Labour as a new Marxist revolutionary Scottish Socialist Party (on the basis, of course, of negotiations and discussions with the various groups and individuals involved)? The comrades also repeatedly emphasise the dominant influence of Scottish Militant Labour and the Scottish Socialist Alliance on the Scottish left, "Our colossal authority over a section of the working class", etc.

If all of these points are valid, why would Option 1 be interpreted as a sectarian turn by Scottish Militant Labour, a Scottish Militant Labour hi-jack of the Scottish Socialist Party project? Why would it "almost guarantee a rupture with the other forces", "almost certainly precipitate the break-up of the Alliance"? Why would it damage our organisation’s credibility? Why would all these dire consequences flow from a skilfully presented proposal for a revolutionary Scottish Socialist Party? If the comrades are saying that, despite "a growing political convergence", the relaunch of Scottish Militant Labour as a new Scottish Socialist Party would be perceived as a narrow, exclusive strategy, then the political differences within the Scottish Socialist Alliance must be much more significant than the comrades claim.

Even if other individuals and groups would not accept our proposal, there is no justification whatsoever for the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s claim that our proposed Option 1, if skilfully presented, would inevitably be perceived as "a SWP-type strategy", as "a sectarian turn". This is not a reasoned attempt to answer one of our suggested options: it is an attempt to arouse prejudice by quite unjustifiably associating it with the sectarianism of the SWP.

We may from time to time make strategic and tactical mistakes. But we have never emulated, whether consciously or unconsciously, the SWP’s sectarianism. Their sectarianism flows from their false policies and above all from their false method of intervention in struggles. In their whole history, they have never led a mass workers’ struggle.

The Scottish comrades ask what, in any case, would be the advantages of Option 1, a Marxist Scottish Socialist Party? First, it would have the enormous advantage of the new party (rather than just our section of it) being affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International. Second, it would have the advantage of being a politically unified party based on a rounded-out Marxist programme, which would place it in a powerful position to participate in mass struggles and bring other left forces together, for instance, on a common election platform, in a workers’ campaign for an independent socialist Scotland, and other campaigns.

While listing the dire consequences, the Scottish Militant Labour EC do not put forward any really convincing arguments against Option 1. The arguments in this and other documents lead us to conclude that, in reality, they have decided on principle against the option of building an independent revolutionary organisation (whether as a separate open party or within a broader organisation) and opted instead for the idea of a broad, "hybrid", "transitional" formation.

"Which Forces Would Be Involved?"

We would welcome the formation of a new Scottish Socialist Party with 1,000 to 2,000 members (see "A Political Inferiority Complex) which could build on the political influence already built up by Scottish Militant Labour and the Scottish Socialist Alliance. The Scottish organisation has built up important points of support amongst industrial workers, such as Glacier, Glasgow Hospital workers, etc.

It is necessary to keep a sense of proportion, however. The forces which would initially be involved in a new Scottish Socialist Party are still relatively modest. The comrades say there are between 400-500 Scottish Socialist Alliance members, including 150-200 in various groupings, with 250-300 individual, unaligned members.

However, the comrades say that "the biggest potential reservoir of new members for an Scottish Socialist Party will... be found... among the broad mass of the working class and youth who are at this stage politically unorganised." Given the relative weakness of the other forces involved in the Scottish Socialist Alliance at this stage, couldn’t such fresh layers equally be won by an Scottish Socialist Party on the lines of our suggested Option 1?

We have answered the points about the fusion of the US Trotskyists with the Musteite AWP elsewhere.

"A Party Within a Party"

This section gives the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s arguments for rejecting our proposed Option 2. This is for the transformation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance into a broad Scottish Socialist Party with Scottish Militant Labour continuing as an organised Marxist tendency within it. In our view, their arguments (taken in conjunction with other Scottish Militant Labour EC statements) are based on a rejection of the key principle of building an independent revolutionary Marxist organisation. Once again, some of the arguments are implied rather than being clearly spelled out.

The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades object to our characterisation of their proposed Committee for a Workers' International group as a "club". But the Committee for a Workers' International grouping being proposed in Proposals for a Scottish Committee for a Workers International (SCWI) within the Scottish Socialist Party would be precisely that: a club, a caucus, a Marxist circle, not a revolutionary Marxist tendency.

The document rejects our insistence on a Committee for a Workers' International organisation with a democratic structure, branches, an elected leadership, publications, its own finances and apparatus - in other words, an independent Marxist organisation (whether it is called a tendency, an organisation, a party, or whatever). This is rejected as "a party within a party". We find this an extraordinary comment. The comrades are using the terminology used against us by the right-wing leadership in the Labour Party during the 1980s. They tried to present us as a secretive organisation with no right to be in the party - when the overwhelming majority of Labour Party activists, including many who did not agree with all our policies, accepted us as a legitimate political tendency.

On the basis of their latest Proposals for a SCWI (Scottish Committee for a Workers International), the Scottish Militant Labour EC are claiming that Scottish Militant Labour will continue as an organisation and as part of the Committee for a Workers' International. Unfortunately, we have to say that these proposals are little more than a token. It is quite clear that they are rejecting the principle, which is for us fundamental, that whatever the field of work, our comrades should always work as members of our revolutionary Marxist tendency and carry out collective work under the political direction of our organisation.

The document objects to our earlier reference to comments by Scottish Militant Labour comrades to the effect that "we can’t continue to run two organisations". In fact, this view has been expressed by Scottish Militant Labour comrades on quite a few occasions. However, we accept that a much more important point has now emerged from this debate much more clearly. The Scottish Militant Labour Executive are arguing that it is impossible to build a broad Scottish Socialist Party and conduct mass work while at the same time developing a revolutionary core of Marxist cadres.

The Scottish Militant Labour document says that there is no clear demarcation or political differentiation between Scottish Militant Labour and the Scottish Socialist Alliance. They now see it as a problem of the wasteful duplication of simultaneously trying to build two organisations "with similar programmes, aims and objectives". Later the document refers to the Scottish Socialist Alliance as "our public political party" and to Scottish Militant Labour as "our internal political party".

If this is so, it means that the leadership of Scottish Militant Labour has already brought about a major change in perspectives and strategy without any real debate on the issues involved. Scottish Militant Labour was launched as part of the ‘Scottish Turn’, which meant that Scottish Militant Labour would in effect become a separate party, fighting elections and leading or participating in other broad campaigns. When did Scottish Militant Labour become an "internal political party"?

Of course, it was taken for granted (at least by us) that, as a revolutionary Marxist organisation, Scottish Militant Labour would have an internal political life and continue to develop cadres. This was never questioned in the debate on the Open Turn.

Over the recent period, however, it has become increasingly clear to us that with the development of work under the banner of Scottish Socialist Alliance (broad work in collaboration with other, relatively weak left forces) the tasks of building Scottish Militant Labour, especially in the Strathclyde region, have been increasingly neglected, particularly its internal political life and cadre-building.

We fully recognise the difficulties of party building in this period. The difficult objective situation and especially the complicated, confused consciousness in this post-Stalinist period, present problems for most sections of the Committee for a Workers' International. It is easier to win wider support for our ideas and policies through campaigns than it is to recruit and integrate new members and develop cadres. Nevertheless, the development of new cadres remains the key to our influence in the future.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Militant Labour EC documents nowhere show any recognition of the vital role cadres play for a revolutionary organisation. On the contrary, as we have already commented, the idea of cadre-building is negatively associated with small forces, isolation from mass struggles, and even sectarianism. But successfully building an army of cadres is the prerequisite for developing mass influence and for building the future mass revolutionary party.

Instead of trying to come to grips with the problems of cadre-building in this period, the Scottish comrades are proposing a short cut in the form of a broader Scottish Socialist Party with a looser Marxist current within it. This may appear attractive to some comrades at first sight. It conjures up the prospect of a much bigger socialist party, with a much wider influence - and without the currently burdensome tasks of Marxist party-building and cadre-development. But it is an illusory solution to the problems facing us in this period. If adopted it would lead to the frittering away of the invaluable Marxist forces we have built up so far.

Recognising the difficulties of cadre-building in this period is one thing. But the arguments now being put forward by the Scottish Militant Labour EC, especially in New Tactics, represent an attempt to rationalise the difficulties of party-building into a new theory. In this "new period", it is being claimed, it is no longer possible or even politically desirable to build a Marxist revolutionary party based on Marxist cadres. 

The key task facing us now, it is claimed, is that of building "a broader socialist formation", "a bigger broader socialist party", "a broader revolutionary socialist party" (to cite the various formulations). The Marxists joining the new Scottish Socialist Party from Scottish Militant Labour will "begin the building, steeling and ideological influencing of a broader revolutionary socialist party". But they will no longer be a distinctive revolutionary Marxist organisation. Nowhere is it explained how, in the absence of a Marxist tendency working in an organised way to transform the party, it will be possible to carry through to completion "the process of moving eventually towards the creation of a fully fledged mass revolutionary party in Scotland".

"Towards Mass Parties"

We are in favour of radical initiatives and of creating new organisational forms when necessary. (Incidentally, "the broad campaigning activity" referred to in our letter of 2 April is political shorthand for public activity generally, and as far as we are concerned, includes working through broad socialist formations.) But new strategy and tactics have to correspond to objective developments and the strategic tasks facing us. 

Radical strategic turns have to be debated thoroughly before we commit our forces to new tasks. We are confident that in the future we will be able to create mass revolutionary parties leading millions towards the conquest of power. But we will have to pass through many stages, with a sequence of tactical orientations, organisational forms, etc, and the possibility of creating mass parties embracing millions will depend decisively on objective events. 

This does not mean that Marxists simply follow events. Through our intervention we can accelerate some processes, especially through raising the political consciousness of the most combative layers of workers and youth. But as we have repeatedly stated, this requires a revolutionary Marxist organisation with a force of cadres capable of exerting a decisive influence over key sections of the working class.

We are opposed to the Scottish Militant Labour EC’s proposal because it would effectively mean the dissolution of our organisation in Scotland. There would not be a viable section of the Committee for a Workers' International in Scotland. The Scottish Militant Labour EC comrades, in our view, are proposing a false strategy based on false perspectives, and we appeal to them to think again.

[Continue...]

 

 

Scottish Debate | Home | News | Donate | Join