Split in the Scottish Socialist Party


Bob Gould

Green Left discussion list, September 5, 2006

Not to put too fine a point on it, readers of the Marxmail and Green Left Weekly discussion lists will know that I’m no great fan of Joaquin Bustelo. In fact, I regard him as a political opponent on the left and I’ll eventually get around to a careful critique, at some length, of his general political position.

Nevertheless, I am impressed by the service he has done for Marxmail readers by producing a rather lengthy, very careful, and politically and forensically astute, narrative of recent events in the Scottish Socialist Party.

Readers in Australia of the Green Left list have only heard one side of the story, put at length in terms very aggressive and abusive towards Tommy Sheridan, by the Boyleite faction that runs the DSP. The DSP leadership has even printed a full-scale account of the anti-Sheridan faction’s position in Green Left Weekly. Dave Riley, in particular, has been gung-ho in his attacks on Sheridan and the groups that support him, such as the Committee for a Workers International and the British SWP.

The first point I’d make is that it’s totally ersatz internationalism for people in Australia to take support such a flatfooted position in support of one faction in what is obviously a very ugly fight.

How can we in Australia know the truth of some of these matters? As I said to several members of the DSP opposition who I know, at a recent protest against the bombing of Lebanon, I tended at that stage to be agnostic about the split, and a bit saddened by it, because as we all know that main casualties of such a situation are those who drop out of politics.

I also said that it seemed quite bizarre that discussion of an essentially personal matter should be so elaborately minuted at a national committe meeting. On the basis of my experience in the socialist movement, that was only likely to happen if someone was grinding a very sharp axe for someone else’s removal. I’ve seen that sort of thing done a few times in organisations I’ve been associated with.

Moreover, the proposition that Sheridan should wait for a congress to put his views seems to be cynically naive, given that majorities in sub-Leninist sects are usually the ones counting the votes and they’ll often go to any lengths to achieve their objects in a dispute despite any consequent damage to the organisation. I’ve seen several organisations in Australia more or less destroyed by such methods.

Bustello has done all of us who are interested in such matters a great service with his careful documentation of the events, and on the basis of my experience I’m convinced by his conclusions.

Notwithstanding that, it still doesn’t seem to me incumbent on anyone in Australia, or the US for that matter, to come down strenuously on either side of the dispute, except insofar as lessons from the dispute are relevent to building socialist organisations in other countries.

I hope the two groups in Scotland, despite the bitterness, can co-operate in future campaigns, and I would argue for both groups to direct preferences (if a preferential system exists in Scotland) to the Greens, then Labour above the Scottish Nationalists, Tories and Liberal Democrats.


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