Socialism, Feminism and the Future of the SSP

volume 2, issue 1, 2006

There are a few changes in this issue of Frontline. We have a broader editorial board and you may notice that we now describe ourselves as an ‘independent Marxist journal’. These changes stem from the decision of the International Socialist Movement platform to dissolve. Frontline was the journal of the ISM.

The ISM was created from Scottish Militant Labour, the group who played the central role in organising the anti-poll tax struggle and who led the way in the formation of the SSP. SML achieved a lot, swimming against the tide of the 90’s, which for most of us were not as ‘red’ as we had hoped. The seeming victory of the neo-liberal Thatcherite nightmare had contaminated and consumed the Labour Party. Stalinism had collapsed. It seemed that history was not on our side.

Yet SML was able to build a modest base in the Scottish working class, fighting in the grassroots in communities, stopping warrant sales, supporting workers in struggle and building new alliances such as the Scottish Defiance Alliance which used direct action methods to fight the plan to force a motorway through a working class community and to oppose the authoritarian Criminal Justice Act. The lessons learned went into creating the Scottish Socialist Alliance and ultimately the Scottish Socialist Party.

Those who formed the SSP took the view that the period was one in which socialists had to stand out as the ones who were opposing the neo-liberal hegemony. All of the anti-capitalist forces had to unite in one combat party of the working class which would campaign both on the streets and in the parliament.

SML became the ISM, a platform within the SSP. The energies and enthusiasm of ISM cadres was thrown into building the SSP. The correctness of this strategy has been proved time and again. We have built a socialist party that is represented in every corner of Scotland. We have united the vast majority of the left into one party. We have been able to provide a voice in all the crucial struggles. We have gained the affiliation of the rail workers union the RMT and had six comrades elected to the Scottish Parliament.

As we go to press the SSP is in crisis. It would be fair to say that the future of the party is in the balance. The SSP emergency national council that voted to overturn the Executive’s position and to back Tommy Sheridan in his court case against the News of the World has divided the party.

What became clear in the course of that bitter and indisciplined meeting was that a power struggle was taking place. A struggle for the leadership of the party. On one side Tommy and his allies, on the other the current leadership of the party who saw their actions as preserving the integrity of the party.

The days following the NC saw an almost daily ratching up of the tension from Tommy’s camp with Tommy using various proxies to outline his position. Tommy’s actor friend Peter Mullan was wheeled out to attack SSP leader Colin Fox. There was an intervention by Respect MP George Galloway, who said that if Tommy was not reinstated as leader then the party would be split and Respect would stand in Scotland (with Tommy top of their list no doubt.) An intemperate letter from comrade Sheridan was sent to the SSP newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Voice bitterly attacking the publication.

The NC had seen unfortunate and calls for ‘purges’ of the ‘cancer’ in the party. The attack on the Voice has underlined that a witch-hunt is being prepared, a witch-hunt of the type that socialists quite correctly opposed when they were the victims of expulsions in the Labour Party.

The term ‘witch-hunt’ is apt. Just like in Arthur Millers brilliant play ‘The Crucible’ the finger is being pointed at a ‘cabal’ of women meeting secretly in shadowy places. They are supposedly obsessed with gender issues rather than ‘class issues’.

And it is here that we begin to get to the politics of the situation. We argue that the struggle to end the oppression of women and the struggle for socialism are the same struggle. Women make up the bulk of the world’s poor. They still face gross inequalities of pay in the workplace. We live in a society that promotes an idea of the ‘family’ which places the burden of childcare primarily on women and which is beginning to claw back women’s reproductive rights. It is therefore necessary to fight to change this in the here and now, beginning with the cultures of our own organisations.

Those who say that women’s issues need to wait until we achieve socialism, or need to take a back seat to ‘class’ issues (as if they were not class issues) really mean that we should do nothing to combat women’s oppression beyond meaningless platitudes.

These debates were a key reason for the dissolution of the ISM. ISM members had different views on issues such as feminism. These developed since the debate on 50-50 gender balance in the party. A minority of ISM members opposed the move and many female comrades left the platform. The majority still supported a feminist and socialist perspective, but tensions did exist.

Ex-ISM members are now examining options for new networks and alliances to develop a democratic, socialist and feminist perspective and safeguard the future of the party.

Where does this leave Frontline? Although the fluid situation in the SSP currently makes it difficult to draw up concrete plans we plan to draw up new plans for the democratic structure and accountability of the journal. The editorial board has broadened out. We welcome new contributors and those who wish to join the editorial board. We also welcome anyone who is interested in selling Frontline.

The SSP is facing challenging times. More than ever we need a space for open debate and strategic thinking. We hope that Frontline will continue to fill that role.

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