Scottish Socialist Party: Just what is sectarianism?

Submitted by AWL on 21 December, 2002 - 1:33

Debate: Peter Burton responds to Matthew Caygill on the SSP and Socialist Worker Platform.
There is a lack of specifity and clarity about what sectarianism actually means in Mathew Caygill's reply to my article on the Militant and SWP platforms (reply Solidarity 18, article Solidarity 16).

Caygill objects to a "myriad of different platforms wih their own agendas". It's a problem, but also an advance on the previous situation where a myriad of different groups were rigidly separate in their organisational structures and rarely co-operated. The mechanism of platforms has created greater left unity even though we have a long way to go.

There are real and important differences between the platforms, perhaps most significantly on how socialists should operate both wihin the Socialist Alliance/SSP and in the broader labour movement.

There is a big difference between a platform that continually argues for and practices democratic methods, or a left culture which is rooted in honest relations between people, and those who rationalise undemocratic methods such as censorship, no-platforming and covering up mistakes. I gave concrete examples of this. You do not address these.

The recent closure of the SSP discussion forum is another example.

When I e-mailed an enquiry about why it had been closed down to the offices of the SSP, they did not reply. If this is not the people around Tommy Sheridan calling up the old spirit of Militant censorship then what is it? No organisation remains exactly the same over a twenty year period, but patterns of thought and behaviour are clearly very hard to break down, and have stayed with a particular generation of people on the left.

The ISM have every position barring one wihin the SSP National Council. Majorities have responsibilites as well as rights. They should be fair and even-handed to all the members of the platform organisations, irrespective of their background. They are not.

In Scotland, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is organised by SWP comrades. They have organised some good intitiatives such as the recent talk given by an Israeli refusenik at Edinburgh University. But it took place within sight of a banner that clearly demonised the Israeli nation state. The campaign has SWP politics, terminology and tone. As a result those arguing for "two states" in Israel/Palestine do not feel very welcome. Consequently the field is left largely clear for the SWP to recruit from the campaign.

I said that the two main groups in the SSP have been contaminated by Stalinism, beyond repair. This is fair comment. Much of post-Trotsky Trotskyism has been influenced heavily by Stalinism.

It was the old Stalinist CPs that had self-appointed Central Committees who dictated an organisational line to a blindly loyal membership who followed every twist and turn in policy.
Has that been so different from the way in which the Militant and SWP have operated ?

In authentic Marxism sectarianism means that an organisation puts its own interests before the interests of the working class. In that sense the Big Two are sectarian. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty is not.
Peter Burton

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