Scotland: Defending a socialist programme

Kevin reveals his position when he says in his article: "Those who see politics purely in terms of capitalism or socialism have yet to make any serious attempt to explain how a controlling class can be prevented from arising to a position of power in a post-capitalist society."

A regular columnist and Drugs spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party, Kevin Williamson, recently penned an article in the SSP’s newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Voice (see article below). He used his column to launch a concerted attack on some of the basic ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism, and in fact the idea of socialism itself. In this response Philip Stott a member of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) platform of the SSP replies to Kevin Williamson with the aim of defending a Socialist programme

Defending a socialist programme

Kevin Williamson heavily implies in these lines that he is looking towards a mythical "third way" – neither capitalism or socialism but something else instead. Without spelling out what he is putting forward, his article is a re-hash of the ideas defended by some on the left in the past that it was possible to reform capitalism into something better or fight for something less than socialist revolutionary change in society.

People putting forward such ideas in the past have used as a justification that socialist revolution would inevitably lead to a dictatorship. But the ideas of Marxism and genuine socialism are even more relevant today than ever before.

As Marx explained capitalism is the ever increasing concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Today for example the assets of the richest 200 people in the world have more than the combined income of the poorest 2.4 billion people. Half the world’s population live on less than $2 a day.

In the 21st century capitalist governments internationally have embarked on brutal attacks on the past gains of the working class. From pensions to wages, free education to the destruction of public services, the reforms won in the past are being clawed back by the capitalist class.

They have taken to this road because of a crisis in profits. It has led to a whole series of governments internationally, like Blair in Britain and Schroeder in Germany, embarking on a programme of cuts and privatisation.

Of course Marxists support and actively fight to prevent the rolling back of the previous gains of the working class. We also support the struggle for every reform, however temporary, that can be squeezed out of capitalism.

But at the same time the responsibility of Marxists and socialists is to explain that there is no long-term solution to the problems facing working people internationally unless a decisive break is made with capitalism. That’s why we support the demand for the public ownership of the multinationals that dominate the economy to be under the democratic control and management of the working class.

We have therefore opposed reformist ideas when they have been put forward by leading SSP members: for example when Tommy Sheridan came out in support of a "mixed economy" i.e. big business existing alongside elements of public ownership it was the CWI who challenged this in the SSP.

The SSP leadership opposed amendments, proposed by members of the SSP and the CWI, for the public ownership of the economy under working class control to be part of the European manifesto of the party, and for the party to support a socialist Europe. Instead the manifesto argued for a "social" Europe.

Yet, despite Kevin Williamson’s appeal to the contrary, as the last 150 years, since the writing of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, has proved repeatedly, it is precisely a question of either capitalism or socialism. Or in the situation we face today socialism or barbarism, war and environmental destruction.

Militant and the CWI

By clear inference, Kevin’s article also represented a criticism of Militant and the CWI who have defended and updated Marxism and Trotsky’s method over many years.

Kevin Williamson, like a number of leading members of the Scottish Socialist Party is a former member of the Militant and the Committee for a Workers’ International. They left over fundamental disagreements over the need to continue to defend Marxist ideas and the need to build support for the programme of the CWI. Since then, many of our former members in Scotland have become opponents of Marxism.

Militant was built into the biggest and most powerful Trotskyist organisation in British history with 8,000 members by the late 1980’s. We played a central role in the mass battles that erupted between Liverpool City Council and the Thatcher government between 1983 and 1987. We also played a leading role in the anti-poll tax movement that eventually removed Thatcher from power in 1991. Despite the difficult period that has existed for socialists during the 1990’s we have maintained a powerful organisation with deep roots among the working class and the trade unions.

Internationally the CWI has made important strides forward in a whole series of countries. We continue to defend the basic principles of Marxism and have refused to succumb to the pressure from capitalist society during the decade of the 1990’s to abandon, water down or accommodate our ideas to the propaganda onslaught by the ruling class.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Kevin Williamson who has broken decisively from Marxism and Trotskyism and is now attacking and denigrating ideas he would have previously defended.

In doing so he is unfortunately resorting to many of the lies and distortions that the opponents of Marxism and socialism have used for decades to undermine support for these ideas amongst the working class.

Kevin begins his article by referring two ex-members of Militant who abandoned Marxism and as a consequence then moved to the right politically, eventually accommodating themselves with the Labour leadership. By giving these examples the author hopes to show that fundamentally all these "Trotsykists" are really interested in is power.

Kevin deliberately ignores the vastly greater number of members of the Militant and the CWI who are or have fought and sacrificed for the cause of socialism and the working class.

Many of our members who were councillors in Liverpool were surcharged and banned from office by the Thatcher government following the city council battle. People like Tony Mulhearn, Harry Smith and Paul Astbury are still active in the Socialist Party in Liverpool to this day.

During the anti-poll tax campaign not only was Tommy Sheridan jailed but more than 20 other members of Militant were also imprisoned including our MP Terry Fields in Liverpool. In Ireland our MP (TD) Joe Higgins and councillor Clare Daly were jailed for a month last year for defying the courts when they refused to comply with a court ruling that instructed them to play no further role in the bin tax campaign of last Autumn and Winter.

There is also the example of the eight SP/CWI members of the PCS civil service union who have recently been elected as part of a broad left leadership by low paid civil service workers, sick of a right wing leadership unprepared to fight the attacks on union members.

All of our members stand, whether in the trade unions or for parliament, on the basis of a workers representative standing on a workers wage. The CWI has been extremely successful in being able to build real roots among the working class in a number of countries including leading mass struggles. Not that you would know that from Kevin’s article.


The capitalist class internationally used the example of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to scare workers away genuine socialism by arguing that it leads to dictatorship.

Kevin Williamson unfortunately accuses Marxists and Trotskyists who defend the idea of workers control and management of the economy of: "regurgitating a few glib phrases about accountability and rotation of delegates, this will somehow not end up as the totalitarian nightmare of centralist control that we witnessed in the former Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe"

As Kevin well knows there is literally a "river of blood" that separates the struggle of Leon Trotsky and the Russian left opposition against Stalin and the Russian bureaucratic elite that he represented.

Trotsky himself, as well as many of his own family were murdered, along with thousands of other Trotskyists who opposed Stalin’s policies. They stood for an overthrew of the Stalinist bureaucratic elite and it’s replacement with genuine workers democracy under a planned socialist economy.

Stalin saw in Trotsky and his supporters, a mortal enemy, a force that stood on the side of the working class and against the caste of officials and functionaries that had usurped control of the running of the state from the working class.

This was only possible because the Russian Revolution was isolated in an economically underdeveloped, agrarian and war-devastated country.

Both Lenin and Trotsky, the leaders of the Russian revolution, understood that the struggle for socialism had to be an international struggle. Particularly given Russia’s economic backwardness, it was urgent that the revolution spread to the more economically advanced nations like Germany, France and Britain, which could provide resources to assist Russia. When the revolutions in those countries were defeated, due to the lack of a mass party with a clear Marxist leadership, it left Russia isolated.

The Russian working class had achieved miracles, successfully defeating the twenty one capitalist armies that had invaded Russia in an attempt to crush the first workers’ state. However, many of the most active Bolsheviks and thousands of workers were killed and starvation was widespread. Only in these conditions could the Stalinist elite consolidate their grip on the running of the state.

Workers democracy

Perhaps even without realising it, Kevin Williamson is using the arguments of the capitalists and their mouthpieces who have used similar methods in an attempt to show that the working class are incapable of running society and that any attempt to organise to overthrow capitalism will inevitably lead to a new elite taking control.

The idea that the working class can, through elected and representative bodies, take control of the economy and society and organise a democratic plan of production is simply not conceivable to someone like Kevin Williamson.

However, every revolutionary movement has demonstrated the potential of the working class to organise society. In Russia, in the period of both the 1905 and then 1917 revolutions the Soviets or workers councils in Russia were made up of elected representatives from the factories, the army, navy and poor peasantry.

These delegates were accountable, took no extra privileges and were subject to the immediate right of recall and replacement by the workers they represented.

They were established by the working class in the white heat of revolutionary struggle as a conscious expression of their desire to build a new society under their control. It was for this reason that Trotsky described the Soviets as the most democratic form of organisation in human history.

It was the existence of the Bolshevik party, a Marxist party which won the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class in Russia, which was the essential ingredient in the first ever overturn of capitalism.

However, the Bolshevik party campaigned for ‘all power to the Soviets’. The Soviets had massive authority among the working masses and the Russian revolution could not have taken place without the existence of such organisations.

It is not an accident that every revolution since has seen workers committees or councils formed including in the Spanish revolution in the 1930’s, the great general strike in France in 1968, Chile in the 1970’s, and even in the recent mass revolts against neo-liberalism in Latin America.

Strike action by workers, including the occupations of workplaces for example the UCS work in the 1970’s, Timex in Dundee in 1983, Caterpillar in the late 1980’s and the Glacier’s occupation in Glasgow in the mid 1990’s all involved the setting up of strike or occupation committees with delegates and regular mass meetings which organised the struggle.

They were a microcosm of the potential that exists among the working class to run industry and the economy.

At a local, regional, national and international level genuine participation through representative bodies would be essential to draw up a plan of what needs to be produced. In conjunction with the organised working class as a whole and a socialist government, such organisations would form the basis of a truly democratic socialist alternative to the capitalist market.

Given the advances in industry and technique in the relatively modern economies, unlike Russia in 1917 the working class would have ability to play a full role in the building of a socialist society both here in Scotland, throughout Britain and internationally.

Nevertheless the conditions spelt out by Lenin in 1917 in an effort to prevent the rise of a bureaucracy: of all representatives to be accountable, living on the wages of the people they represent, subject to the immediate right of recall and positions to be rotated would still carry their validity today.

The future

Despite the difficulties that characterised the decade of the 1990’s, today we are faced with growing opportunities to reach a new generation who are looking for an alternative to war, poverty and environmental destruction.

What is needed is a determined struggle to build clear socialist ideas into a mass force. That means striving to build a mass party and international based on the working class armed with a programme that calls for a decisive break with capitalism.

It is the ideas, programme, methods and tactics of Marx, Engels. Lenin and Trotsky, based as they are on the historical, and updated for the contemporary, experience of the working class that thousands of the new generation will look to, and not it has to be said, the tired and failed ideas now being reheated and served up by Kevin Williamson.

article from Scottish Socialist Voice

From left to right

On one of the SSP debate lists recently someone asked if it was true that a former Trotskyist ’rose’ to become an advisor to an American President.

Kevin Williamson

I’ve tried to determine the individual concerned but to no avail. It may have been an apocryphal story but the path unfortunately is a well trodden one.

The move from a belief in Marxist-Leninism (or Trotskyism) to administering the capitalist system on behalf of the bosses isn’t that far a political journey to travel.

Just ask our Deputy Justice Minister, Hugh Henry (a former Trotskyist and Militant Councillor).

Or ask New Labour’s leader of Brighton Council, Jeremy Birch (former editor of Militant newspaper).

Other former Trotskyists such as Scotsman economic guru, George Kerevan (IMG, 1972-77) have gone much further and bought into the free market system lock, stock and two smoking barrels of oil.

Russian-style Stalinism too is unsurprisingly littered with the names of those who have effortlessly jumped ship from administering the interests of working people to administering the system of the ruling class.

It could be argued that these particular individuals are not representative, or that they are exceptions to the rule.

Or worse, that this is an outrageous slur on good socialists who certainly don’t have any aspirations to lord it over the workers: either as part of a new socialist elite or on behalf of the capitalist class.

This is a fair point since few socialists start out with such Machiavellian ambitions. But when power comes calling, it tests the resolve and mettle of all who have its gilded carrot dangled in front of their vision.

And more importantly, it isn’t just individual weaknesses that it seeks to exploit. The transfer of political power will search for any chinks in the democratic armour of the structures of working people’s self-organisation.

The more layers of steering committees and executive committees and such-like that we allow to be set up in order to administer the apparatus of our party/movement, then the more vulnerable we are to an incipient controlling class becoming a future Trojan horse in our midst.

There is a theory (of sorts) that future socialism will mean committees, or councils of actions, elected in workplaces and local communities and these will then elect representatives to bigger councils and these will then elect representatives to regional and then to national councils and these will then elect representatives to an all-European Council and then from each continent to a future World Socialist Government.

And somehow by regurgitating a few glib phrases about accountability and rotation of delegates this will somehow not inevitably end up as the totalitarian nightmare of centralist control that we witnessed in the former Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe.

Such fanatical, narrow-minded concepts of what socialism might look like don’t stand up to even the most gentle of examinations.

Even in our own movement of parties, organisations and platforms, we see that those in elected positions rarely put job rotation into practice and regularly step down to make way for someone else, but instead continually put themselves up for re-election.

Would it be any different in a post-capitalist society? (Answers on an email to

At the ESF in Paris last year, a leading light of the Trotskyist left, in debate with George Monbiot and Michel Albert, invoked the most hairbrained idea I’d heard in ages.

He reckoned that in a future socialist democracy, huge city-wide councils would have to take place in football stadiums to fit everyone in.

You’ve gotta laugh; 60,000 at Parkhead for a three hour meeting would mean that everyone would get less than a fifth of a second each.

I think the bloke envisaged that a few other great orators and social planners would dominate proceedings from the top table (or directors box).

They would make profound and inspiring speeches to the dumb cheering masses who would then go home happy, marching into the glorious socialist future, happy just to be there, playing a supporting role to the new controlling class.

The capitalist class, like the former Soviet-style system, rely heavily on a controlling class of administers drawn from various social strata. These are people who feel comfortable with administering other people.

Some of these people never get much further than becoming a policeman. Others, more at home with paper-shuffling and speechifying than baton charges, find their niche as part of a controlling class.

Global corporations, big business, the public sector, or a future socialist republic – it’s all the same to them – the controlling class will attempt to entrench themselves into the corridors of power.

In reality, these individuals don’t have much allegiance to any form of political economy – as long as they can get themselves into a position where they can administer such a system.

Positions of political or economic power, particularly for competitive males (most folk know exactly how men in positions of power are likely to act) is like an addictive drug that opens the door to privileges, wealth, sex, control and domination of others, and a self-perpetuating ego trip.

Those who see politics purely in terms of either capitalism or socialism have yet to make any serious attempt to explain how a controlling class can be prevented from arising to a position of power in a post-capitalist society. The rest of us need to put forward practical alternatives. 

Past experience suggests that leaving such things to take care of themselves is exactly how such a nightmare scenario could be allowed to unfold in the future.

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June 2004