The crisis in the
Scottish Socialist Party hit the news when judge Lady Smith jailed SSP policy
co-ordinator, Alan McCombes, for 12 days on May 26th, after he
continually refused to hand over the minutes of a meeting from November 2004.
This was the latest in a series of crises which has stretched the party almost
to breaking point.
The Court of Session
action was brought by lawyers acting for the News of the World who are demanding to see the minutes of an SSP
Executive Council meeting held on 9th November 2004 which culminated
in the Executive passing a unanimous 19-0 vote of no confidence in party
leader, Tommy Sheridan. This was the beginning of a process that has driven the
SSP to the verge of a split.
The party leadership
did not want Sheridan
to take his fight against the bourgeois press to the courts, seen by many as
"away ground" to use a football analogy. However, the party's founder and
leader (up until then) decided to pursue his legal case against the News of
the World without the backing of his fellow members. In so doing Sheridan opened a Pandora's
box, and now it cannot be closed.
It is not wrong in
principle to use the courts; indeed, sometimes it is absolutely necessary to do
so. However, it is also always necessary to campaign outside, in the
workers' movement, and one must always remember that the legal system is an
integral part of the capitalist state machine. Ultimately its task is not to
ensure "fair play" but to protect capitalism, and the rights, power and
privileges of the ruling class. What is unacceptable is to turn the idea of fighting
in the courts into a principle, as Sheridan
appears to have done.
possible socialists would be foolish to refuse an invitation to use the pages
of the bourgeois press to promote our ideas. However, even the most charismatic
socialist cannot use the rich man's press without knowing that at some point
these same papers will turn around and attack him.
Whether a struggle is
conducted on the parliamentary front, in the courts or in the press, the most
important question is not the strength of personality of individual leaders,
but the programme, the political ideas that are being defended. Marxist ideas
do not make it impossible to fight on any of these fronts. On the contrary,
they should enable us to understand the nature of such struggles, and therefore
the need to use each and every one of them as a rallying point in the workers'
movement and amongst the youth.
What is most vital
then is organise socialists in a Marxist organisation, based on the rock solid
foundations of Marxist theory, and a revolutionary programme. Unfortunately
this is something that some SSP leaders openly say is not necessary, Sheridan amongst them. He
was at the forefront of those party leaders advocating the old (failed) idea
that national freedom could be achieved first and then socialism would be
possible in some vague future. This outdated Stalinist idea is supposed to be
more "realistic" for the working class.
It was just such
political naivety, or at any rate error, that allowed Sheridan to rail against the bourgeois media
one week only to have a double page article about his family appear the week
after in the same papers. Of course, socialists can use the pages of the
bourgeois media on those rare occasions when they are open to us to argue for
our ideas. However, we can never fall into the trap of believing them to be
somehow "on our side". Once again this demonstrates the importance of Marxist
theory, to understand the nature of the media, its role and purpose in
Marx long ago explained
that social being determines the consciousness of an individual. Clearly
hanging out with the likes of George Galloway has had a certain impact on the
outlook of Sheridan.
He now claims that there is a clique within his party more obsessed with gender
issues than with the class struggle. It is interesting that only when his
political career is at risk, does he begin to recognise errors that rank and
file members have pointed to for some time.
many of the SSP leaders socialism now comes second to national independence.
This is only a variant of the old Stalinist theory of "stages" that has been
such a disaster all over the world. Now Sheridan
is complaining about the lack of socialism and how the SSP has ceased to be "an
organisation conducting class struggle". For as long as we can remember a
regular columnist in the SSP's weekly paper has been arguing against socialism
(astonishing as that might seem). Why has Sheridan
never complained about this in the past? Kevin Williamson, who is a successful publisher
and author, has openly attacked Marxism in his writings in the party paper.
That party paper is financed by the rank and file who were, and still are,
attracted to the SSP because they thought it was a socialist party. Yet when
the Queen came to open the Scottish Parliament, Williamson wrote an alternative
"Declaration of Calton Hill" which did not once contain the word socialist.
than a month ago, we read in a column recommending how to get introduced to
socialism: "There are first principles involved related to how power operates
and how it sustains its dominant position the world over. For instance, the
power structures in Soviet Russia, Maoist China and even Castro's Cuba were
constructed on the same organising principles as the hierarchical elitist power
structures in Bush's America or Hitler's Germany" (SSV, Friday, 19 May, 2006).
He goes on to advise his readers to study Chomsky in order to learn about
socialism! There was no letter from Sheridan
complaining the following week, but, to be fair to the rank and file, there was
one from another member criticising some of Williamson's errors.
Sheridan has produced an open letter, highly critical
of the SSP leaders, which has been widely circulated in the press. He appeals
to the natural instinct of socialists to support him in a struggle against the
Murdoch press machine and so on. However, there are vital questions here that
cannot be swept under the carpet in a show of unity for Sheridan against the bosses' press. These are
questions central to building a revolutionary socialist organisation in Scotland.
socialists must side with the SSP against an attack from the state.
has handed them their weapons on a silver plate. As a result, Lady Smith had
the legal right to raid the offices of the party.
Alan McCombes, policy
co-ordinator of the SSP, went to prison for a few days because he stuck to a
decision of the party not to release the minutes of the National Council that
the News of the World claims will prove their allegations about
Sheridan's private life. Whilst he has to be congratulated for his personal
stance, what a tangled mess they have got themselves into, not in a struggle
against capitalism, but in a petty squabble inside their own party.
Sheridan has effectively split the party with the idea
that they must unite behind him in his war against the bourgeois media. The
movement must always be above the personal pride and prestige of any of its
members. In fact the SSP leadership is partly responsible for the promotion of
the idea that only "Tommy" was jailed against the Poll Tax and so on!
Reading the pages of
the SSP press it would seem as if there are no political differences behind
this split in the biggest organisation of the "far-left" in the UK. Instead one
needs to buy The Herald, The Scotsman, the Daily Record
and the Scottish Sun to find out about the latest developments. This is
a media binge that is damaging the entire socialist movement.
In the old days of the
labour movement debates were carried through the pages of our papers and
bulletins, now some elements in the socialist movement seem to be more
interested in filling the pages of the bourgeois media.
Of course, the media
allow the SSP leaders to use their pages occasionally. They do so in order to
be better able to savage them immediately afterwards. The Herald is the
serious bourgeois paper in Scotland;
the Scottish Sun (the "tartanised" version of Murdoch's rag) is the pit
bull of the ruling class. Now the Herald happily ponders over how the
SSP's crisis will "ill serve the democratic process" (The Herald
Editorial, May 29). We must reject and denounce this hypocritical view; this
attack is not only an attack on the SSP but the whole socialist movement.
Hundreds of trade
unionists, young people and committed socialists have given their time, energy
and money to build the SSP. They must now be looking for a way forward, a way
out of this mess. That way is only to be found in theory. Ideas and programme
must come first. It is not enough to claim to be a socialist. The working class
deserves better leadership, a leadership based on the lessons of the history of
the movement. The task today is to build a leadership worthy of standing
shoulder to shoulder with the working class. To construct such a powerful force
a solid foundation is required. That foundation can only be found in the ideas
of Marxism, on this rockbed alone can a democratic, internationalist and
revolutionary organisation be built.