By Elaine Jones, Dumfries SSP
The SSP is holding its conference on 7-8 October at Glasgow Caledonian University. This is the chance for the SSP to discuss the way forward after the split with Tommy Sheridan and the SWP. There are some important lessons to learn.
• Even after the split the same hero-worshipping language is being used to describe Sheridan’s role — the “greatest working class hero we have seen in decades”. They have given him a position that implies he is more important than other party members, more important than organisers and those who develop political theory. They have encouraged the working class to put faith in such leaders rather than look to their own activity to achieve socialism. The SSP’s predecessors in the Militant did the same with Derek Hatton in Liverpool.
• They have the same approach internationally as they have at home, with their attitude to Fidel Castro in Cuba and Chavez in Venezuela, giving them uncritical support.
It seems to me to represent their general attitude to politics, which is fundamentally about reform from above. That socialists can take over the current structures of capitalism and bring in reforms that will bring about socialism. This leads to a belief that winning and remaining in positions of power is more important than mobilising the working. And then justifying and covering for not very left-wing policies when such people are in government as they think it is reasonable to make compromises to remain in power.
• It’s a belief in reformism that underlies their Scottish nationalsim. They seem to seriously believe that a Scottish socialist republic is possible, that socialism just in Scotland is possible. They are ignoring some basic facts.
A trade union movement split along nationalist lines could weaken the working class not strengthen it. The trade unions need to be establishing greater links across Europe and the rest of the world not less. Capitalism is an international system and socialism can’t be won in one country,
• Fighting in the existing parliamentary structures for reforms that benefit the working class and putting forward socialist ideas is very important, but just as important is consistent work in the trade unions. The SSP needs to be fighting for demands that take the whole of the working class forward. Demands that unite the class and encourage action to defend and win workers rights.
The SSP needs an honest assessment of its role in the trade unions. For example, in the recent disputes over pensions, its role has not been a good one. The SSP allowed the left led PCS to dress up a defeat as a victory when they went along with calling off a campaign and industrial action to defend pensions at 60.
There also needs to be an honest discussion about why socialists are active in the unions — is it because we are just concerned with being slightly left-wing bureaucrats who save our speeches on socialism for demonstrations, or are we serious about uniting the working class so it can achieve socialism.
In the Voice (the weekly paper of the SSP) and in meetings the party fails to make clear political decisions. They give all the important facts and figures on how bad capitalism/ war/ racism etc are, but don’t give any clear direction.
In the Iraq war, although they quietly claim to support the Iraqi trade unions, they refused to clearly state where they stood and by doing so helped the SWP and the Respect coalition maintain their treacherous position of supporting the Islamist militias.
They don’t have any theoretical debate or discussion in the Voice and, although you do get debate at meetings, there seems to be a reluctance to make clear political choices. Which of course may help in trying to remain a bit more popular so as not to alienate any leftish person who might broadly agree with “socialism”. It doesn’t however help arm the working class with the political knowledge necessary to build a working-class movement which is clear about who its allies are, who it can trust and what it can learn from past battles. (They can even have articles on the General Strike and not draw the lessons about the role of the Communist International in derailing it!)
The SSP does have many good points — it is a socialist organisation which does look to improving the lives of working class people. It has built important bases in working class areas and is active in community campaigns. It is currently reassessing its attitude towards women’s liberation and to the education of its members.
Hopefully now it will begin to reassess its understanding of how you achieve socialism.