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The SSP and the anti-war movement

Jim Jepps

Have you heard the one about the socialist party that didn't oppose the war? Well, this is the allegation currently flying around some circles about the Scottish Socialist Party. The substantive claims, such as they are (rather than dark hints) are that elements in the SSP are opposed to the Rose Gentle campaign for troops out of Iraq (a campaign that the SSP helped make possible incidentally).

But do these claims stack up? After recent difficulties the left has displayed its usual lack of fraternity and solidarity and a kind of feeding frenzy has descended upon them - it's unfortunate that these criticisms are surfacing right this minute, but lets break down the party's activities and look to see whether this really stacks up.

What are the SSP's elected representatives doing on this? Well, not only do the MSPs regularly speak at meetings and make public statements on the issue they have been vigorous in the Scottish Parliament and have led the call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The MSPs have worked with others inside and outside of the Parliament building (for example the Green MSPs) never reducing the movement against the war to its simple socialist constituents but always being real tribunes, as they should be, of that movement.

So is the paper, Scottish Socialist Voice, somehow luke-warm on the issue? This is clearly not the case, you only need to take a cursory look. Regular front pages and centre page double spreads are devoted to the war. The Scottish Socialist Voice is clearly seen as an anti-war paper, and although some may disagree with the emphasis (talking about withdrawing Scottish troops for example) none of these criticisms detract from the fact that the Voice does not bend the knee to any of the pro-war arguments.

So what about the party itself? The members have organised significant mobilisations, and on the famous international day of action the SSP was a key component in the Glasgow mobilisation against the war. It regularly organises meetings, stalls and events and, like the MSPs does not boil the anti-war movement down to its socialist component. It works with all those who would oppose the war in the peace groups that scatter across Scotland and has, it seems, a good reputation among those activists.

They have been important parts of radical mobilisations, like those outside of Faslane nuclear base, where leading progressives have been willing to be arrested including among others Caroline Lucas the Green MEP, Tommy Sheridan the SSP MSP and George Galloway, RESPECT's MP.

So if the party's alright, the paper's alright and the MSP's are alright, what else is there? In fact leading members of the SSP say there are few campaigns that have united the SSP so coherently.

Unless you think that evidence for being opposed to the movement can include going to Glasgow rather than London for major mobilisations (something that would be unthinkable in reverse) or that the direct action outside Faslane is some sort of distraction from the real issues it does not make sense to say that any significant element of the SSP are opposed to this campaign. It's even worse than saying the Socialist Alliance was sectarian towards the anti-war movement when the Alliance membership were some of (not the only) key people in the Stop the War branches up and down the country.

All that seems to be left that there may be the occasional member that does not take the anti-war movement seriously. But even if that is the case all organisations have a diversity of opinions, or at least they should have. There is no organisation that can claim they were unanimous in their attitude towards the anti-war movement. Take the SWP, undoubtedly the organisation that has played the most significant role over the last few years in the movement against the war. How many of its members has had the war as their priority and can claim to have gone flat out over this time? Half perhaps? But anyone who claimed that the SWP did not play an extremely significant role in the anti-war movement up and down the country would be kidding themselves.  Nor is it possible to claim that any significant portion of the SSP has been half hearted in its anti war work.

But if you still think that the SSP (or elements of it) are opposed to the anti-war movement ask yourself this - does my information come from but a single source? Does this single source have a history of antagonism and party sniping at the SSP? Are you sure you can simply take on trust that socialists north of the English border are as backward as your single source says?


January 2004


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