Monday, 31 March 2008

Shop Stewards Network

Scottish Conference
12 April, 11am - 3pm, UNISON Offices, Albion St., Trongate, Glasgow
Speakers include: Phil McGarry (RMT Scottish organiser), Sam McCartney (UNISON convenor),Dave Chapple (CWU branch chair), Pauline Bradley (UNISON steward), a Glasgow Day Care striker
Download and print the leaflet advertising the conference

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Independence Convention

The Scottish Independence Convention is an umbrella organisation working to unite and encourage all who want independence for Scotland to meet on common ground and have their say in the growing debate on Scotland’s constitutional future.

Our platform draws together all the disparate groups, parties, organisations, politicians and individuals, in Scotland and beyond, who share this one basic, democratic objective.

Sign the petition here:

Friday, 28 March 2008

Industrial Workers of the World, Scottish Assembly, March 2008

Report by Thomas Swann

Held on the 23rd of March, the Industrial Workers of the World's (IWW) summer assembly highlighted the role the organisation has played and continues to play throughout the world. Described as one big union for all workers, the IWW remains one of the most militant unions in the world. While the union has shrunk since being able to boast 100,000 members in the US in the 1920s, recent growth in Britain suggests that it is not a thing of the past, and while its place in the history books has been guaranteed, it will be on the front line of social struggle for some time to come. In the last year alone, the IWW's membership in the UK has grown by over 400%. It was noted of the recent meeting that it constituted the largest gathering of members and interested individuals in a long time.

The Scottish Assembly focused on a number of issues that comrades have been involved in as well as ongoing battles such as the National Blood Service Campaign, aimed at challenging the extreme centralisation of blood storage centres, reducing emergency access to such services for many in outlying rural areas. This particular campaign has succeeded in securing the existence of a centre in Newcastle, as well as many functions at one in Sheffield. In addition to this, workshops looked at ways of getting the message out about what the IWW stands for and how to encourage participation in workplace organising, and strategies for dealing with specific problems encountered on the shop floor.

One particular example brought up by a member underlined the effects of partial privatisation in public services. In the recent strike action carried out at the Department of Work and Pensions by the PCS union, the office mail delivery service, run by a private company, continued to operate, resulting in around 75% of mail being delivered as normal. This lessened the effectiveness of striking as the workplaces were not brought to the standstill that such action sought. Furthermore, it was demanded of employees of this service that they cross the PCS picket lines.

The success of the Scottish Assembly was attested to by one delegate. Andy Bowden, an IWW and SSP member, said that 'it was good to be with a fighting union that punches well above its weight and is more interested in struggle than excuses.' It was clear from the meeting that the IWW is an oranisation on the move, and it will no doubt play crucial roles in current struggles the same way it has done in the past, and will continue to do in the future.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Next Meeting

Our next branch meeting will be held in Milton of Campsie Village Hall and is on Wednesday 26th March at 7.30pm. There will be a discussion, led by Ritchie Venton. This will encompass Ritchie's work in Liverpool in the eighties and '90's and he will also be talking about the Militant Tendency and Entryism.Further reading:

Thursday, 20 March 2008

New Scottish Parliamentary Boundaries

The Commission looking in to Scottish Parliamentary Boundaries have published their findings. Let the Scottish Socialist PArty know your thoughts.

Click here to read the reports and see maps:

Email us :

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Stop the War!

Join the global protests - demonstrate 15 March

Assemble 12 noon, Trafalgar Square, London

Assemble 11.30, Blythswood Square, Glasgow.

Join the Global protests

Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan
Don’t attack Iran
End the siege of Gaza

wear your SSP teeshirt on the World Against War demo tommorrow - from 11.30am Blythswood Square.

More details here


Our next branch meeting will be held in Milton of Campsie Village Hall and is on Wednesday 26th March at 7.30pm. There will be a discussion, led by Ritchie Venton. This will encompass Ritchie's work in Liverpool in the eighties and '90's and he will also be talking about the Militant Tendency and Entryism.Further reading:

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Corntonvale Prison Demo

by SSP member James Nesbitt

(for some photos see here)

Last Sunday (11/03/2008), to mark International Women's Day 2008, members of the Scottish Socialist Party joined with fellow social justice activists to form a demonstration of solidarity at Cornton Vale women's prison, near Stirling. Supporters of the SSP and Socialist Women's Network have gathered annually for the last few years to express their opposition to conditions at the prison and show support for the women inside. This year we were joined by activists from the newly-formed Edinburgh and Glasgow Feminists Networks.

It was the first time I've been along to Cornton Vale and the experience will stay with me for a long time. I've been to other prisons visiting people in the past but this one has a particular sense of grimness hanging over it. We were able to make some contact with a number of the inmates but I personally could not find the words to converse with them - what do you say to someone locked up in a place like that? Other people seemed to feel the same. It got easier when we sang. Prisoners' anthem 'Please Release Me' demonstrates the humour and defiance of the convicts.

What was clear is that the women are trying to survive in desperate conditions. Overcrowding means that few of them are able to speak confidentially with their solicitors. One of the people inside told us "we need to meet them in the visiting area". Of course, these areas are supervised by prison officers. How are you supposed to complain about the staff or the conditions when there's a screw standing over you?

Politicians and right-wingers love the idea that prisoners have no rights, but I don't see how they can justify the work and pay situation in Cornton Vale. One of the women told us that they have to work full-time hours for the weekly wage of... wait for it... £10! This is a form of modern-day slavery (and obviously a boon to the companies who get their products manufactured on the cheap). A tenner on the inside goes about as far as it does outside, i.e. not very. Toiletries, tobacco, phone cards, sanitary products and extra food all need to be paid for out of this measly sum. And do not underestimate how important the chocolate bars and pot noodles are: the food situation is desperate as well.

"The meals are the absolute basic. We're starving all the time" - it really got me in the guts to hear this. None of us expect prison canteens to get a Michelin star, but it is unacceptable that cost-cutting and draconian policies are causing people to be in a state of permanent hunger. Surely one of the most basic human rights is to have food in your belly.

Inadequate food forces many inmates to consumer more fatty, sugary snacks. Obviously, this isn't great for your health, or your teeth. One of our new friends was able to tell us that they have to wait 2 weeks for a doctor, 2 months for a dentist. What if someone is in pain and needs a tooth out? Or needs medicine for a serious ailment? Despite their strength and determination, some of them are obviously struggling to cope.

It doesn't get any easier when you're looking after a wean. My heart goes out to the mothers and children incarcerated in such a miserable place. Nor is it any easier for the large numbers of prisoners who have been victims of abuse, who are trapped in drug addiction or whose crime is poverty - no other prison in Scotland has such a high proportion of people convicted for unpaid fines, shoplifting and similar offences.

Throughout the day I kept finding myself turning away. I just didn't want to look at it. Scotland is shamed by Cornton Vale and being there, seeing it, I felt very ashamed too. You can judge the level of civilisation in a society by how they treat those who need help. This society locks them up.

At the end of the day, we belted out a rendition of the old workers' anthem, the Internationale. A big thank you must go out to the accompanying saxophonist, who brightened our mood and helped disguise some of the comrades' hoarseness. Never before has the line 'arise, ye prisoners of want' seemed so profound.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Democracy in Cuba - Thomas Swann

Democracy Cuban Style

At a conference on democracy in Cuba, the former Presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, wrote in a joint statement that 'freedom, democracy, and prosperity in Cuba depend on the support for Cuban dissidents, the better the chances for a future peaceful transition of the Cuban society to democracy.' In response to Václav Havel, Arpád Goncz and Lech Walesa's comments, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that 'what you have in Cuba is a very specific model of revolution. In the grassroots in Cuba, there are constant elections that take place.' Similarly, political scientists have taken sides on the issue with opinions of the democratic system ranging from descriptions of a dictatorship in which elections are a sham, to a proper democracy characterised by its reliance on popular participation. What is clear in the midst of this debate is that in Cuba there exists a political system which is so radically different to those which dominate most of the world, that many find it hard to understand and articulate.

The democratic process in Cuba takes place in three stages over a period of several months. The culmination of the latest round is due to take place on Sunday the 24th of February with the election of the Council of State. This is the highest governing body in the country and is headed by the president and is composed of ministers elected by the National Assembly of People's Power. While it is probably unfair to compare the Cuban system with the British form of liberal democracy, the Council of State could be seen as somewhat similar to the cabinet, with the difference that its members are elected as opposed to appointed. The National Assembly occupies a similar position as the parliament does in Britain. There are, however, significant differences between the Cuban system and the one we may be more familiar with. The best place to begin in attempting to get a grasp of the distinctions and the workings of Cuban democracy is at the bottom.

On the 1st of September last year, the first stage of the process began, Asamblea de Rendicion de cuantas para elegin al delegado, the nominations of candidates for the Municipal Assembly. This activity is organised on a local community level, with districts of no more than a few streets putting forward individuals who will stand in an election for the local administrative bodies. Meetings of between 30 and 100 citizens vote openly on who among them they consider best able to represent their interests in the Municipal Assemblies. As Maria Esther Reus, Minister of Justice and President of the National Electoral Commission, explained in Granma International, the weekly foreign language paper, 'Those nomination meetings are a key moment in the island's electoral process. Because, it is just in this period when active participations in general elections is made material, in addition to ensuring a broad scenario for the political exercise of the population.'

When I visited Cuba in September, I attended one of the nomination meetings in the town of Guayabal, around thirty kilometers West of the capital Havana. The town was split into three areas, each comprising no more than a few streets. At 8:00 in the evening, people started to congregate around the one house in the street which had working lights; there had been a power cut since the early afternoon. After an introductory speech was heard and the national anthem played the nominations began. By this point the power even to this one house had failed and the street was lit with a car's headlamps. About fifty people were assembled. The process was brief but effective with two citizens being nominated. Members of the assembled community simply shouted out the names of those they wanted to nominate. The named individuals then stepped forward before the small crowd. A vote of hands ratified the selection and the paperwork was completed, finalising the process. One of the nominated candidates, Raul Estevez Garcia, was interviewed by two Italian journalists. He thought he had been nominated because of the effort he had put into channeling the local community's needs and complaints during the most recent hurricane strike on the island. He seemed almost embarrassed to have been selected as a candidate for election, an honour individuals cannot refuse.

'More than 50,600 assemblies will take place.' Reus added. 'After the last is held, the aspirants' biographies will be made public, the sole electoral propaganda allowed by law.' A general election by secret ballot then decides who from among those nominated by the local assemblies take seats in the 315 Municipal Assemblies. There are around 15000 delegates elected into these positions. These assemblies then select from amongst their ranks candidates for both the Provincial Assemblies and the National Assembly of People's Power. In the second of these, the National Assembly, there are 614 seats to be taken up by members selected through the process described above as well as from other blocs which include representatives of the Federation of University Students, the Women's organisation, and the Cuban Trade Union Congress.

A slate of candidates for the National Assembly is drawn up which registers the nominations made by the Municipal Assemblies and the various other groups involved. This slate contains one nomination for every seat and so it is not the case that voters are asked to choose between competing candidates as they are at the municipal level. Rather, they are asked to ratify the recommendations of elected representatives. In this sense, it would be better to describe this stage of the process as a referendum given that the electorate votes to either accept or reject the slate presented. Voters can either decide on candidates individually or opt for a 'united vote' where the whole slate is judged as a whole. This stage of the democratic process took place on the 20th of January.

Granma International reported that '8,231,365 Cubans cast their ballots, the equivalent of 96.89% of registered eligible voters. 7,839,358 ballots cast (95.24%) were valid, and 7,125,752 of these (91%) responded to the appeal for a "united vote" for all candidates nominated for the National Assembly. Blank ballots cast totaled 3.73% (306,791) and spoiled ballots, 1.04% (85,216).'

The final stage, where the National Assembly elects the Council of State is due to take place in a number of days. This will determine Cuba's President, Vice-President, and heads of government ministries. Despite this process, which begins at the local level and culminates at the national, and is characterised throughout by participation and independence from state authority, critics will no doubt continue to denounce Cuba as a one-party state. However, as the above should have made clear, this is a claim that makes little sense in the democratic system that exists there. The Communist Party of Cuba plays no role in selecting candidates, and given that members of the various institutions of People's Power advertise no party affiliations, talk of political parties does not appear to be coherent in the Cuban context.

Brian Pollitt has commented that during the 1990s and beyond, 'despite great hardships and considerable social tensions, the regime was evidently still sustained by a sufficient body of popular support.' This was and is because of the direct participation that is offered to Cubans in the decision making process of their country.

Voices from Cuba

In the current electoral process in Cuba, the government has placed a greater emphasis than ever on involving young people in the democratic system at all levels. The elections in January resulted in an average age of elected deputies falling to 49 and more than 56% of the National Assembly being born after the beginning of the Revolution in 1959. During my recent visit, I took the opportunity to speak to a number of young people about their political involvement and their opinions of the system in Cuba.

At a formal level, the Cuban youth is represented through both the relevant wing of the Communist Party, the Young Communist League (YCL), and the Federation of University Students (FEU). FEU representatives are selected from classroom or 'brigade' level and councils exists at university level and higher, all the way up to the National Assembly. The president of the FEU at the Universidad Hermanos Saiz, described the role the group plays in the university. 'The FEU is part of the directorate of the university. To be able to enjoy our studies, we must be able to follow the administration of the university. There can't be arguments between the staff and the students. To avoid this, the representative of each brigade is a member of the directorate and so has a say in the structure of the university.'

The FEU celebrates its 85th anniversary this December after being founded in the 1920s by Julio Antonio Mella, also a founder of the Communist Party of Cuba. A representative of the FEU from the Universidad de la Habana (University of Havana), Yankiet Echeuarria, outlined the federations motivations. 'The youth should be able to think for themselves without the interference of external systems. Our only commitments are to Julio Antonio Mella, to the Revolution, and to Cuba. We have to reflect the voices of university students in criticising and providing solutions to problems.' Rafael Gómez Castillo, a 3rd year computing sciences student at the University of Havana, spoke of how he 'participates in every activity – political, educational, and social.' Despite this being true of many students, and the existence of the FEU and many organisations like it, the general feeling amongst those of university age in Cuba is one of apathy.

Another student in Havana, a 1st year studying philosophy, painted a far more bleak picture of political engagement among Cuba's youth. It is a picture that isn't a million miles away from the state of democratic participation in contemporary Britain. 'Young people believe in the Revolution but there are some things that are not right. The transport and the prices in the supermarket. Cubans' minds have changed in the last fifteen years. We have seen so many things. Young people, not all, but most, what they want is to go out with their friends and to have fun. They don't want to get involved because it means more responsibility.' Opinions on the causes of this apathy seem to be divided however. The student quoted above blamed it on the poor performance of the bureaucratic civil service, plagued by corruption in recent years. 'There are liars. Not in the government but between the people and the government.' Another student, from the town of Pinar del Rio, where the Univarsidad Hermanos Saiz is situated, talked differently. 'A lot of people blame Fidel for our problems but I don't. I blame the American blockade. Cuba has no choice but to buy things like rice at high prices.'

Whatever the features of Cuban society that have led to such disengagement from politics are, it is clear from Cuba's democratic structure, which permeates the lives of young people in their school, university, and social surroundings, that their direct involvement is by no means barred. The avenues for participation remain open to young people as they do for all sectors of society. Indeed, the change that may result from the democratic system has been a topic of discussion throughout the country. On the 19th of February, Fidel (always referred to by his first name in Cuba), the current President, declared that he would not accept another term as commander in chief. His age and recent illness have caused many to point towards someone younger being elected to the position he has held since the mid 1970s. In a letter printed in the Cuban edition of Granma, Fidel wrote, 'it would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer.'

'Fidel is a good man and has good intentions. He's very, very intelligent. I think nothing will happen when he dies. He's not been President for thirteen months.' said the philosophy student from Havana. As for Fidel's brother, currently acting President (a role prescribed for the Vice-President by the Cuban constitution in the event of the President being unable to fulfill his duties), 'we don't know much about Raul. He was head of the army. That is all we know.' Some commentators have suggested Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque as a likely candidate for the presidency, with others tipping current acting Vice-President Carlos Large. It would be inappropriate, however, for outsiders to make such predictions. Ultimately, we will have to wait until Sunday to discover who the National Assembly has selected to lead the country for the next session.

Echeuarria, the FEU representative from Havana, clarified the ideological underpinnings of the Cuban Revolution and the decentralised democratic system of People's Power that rests finally on personal responsibility. 'Action is in man's hand, not in the hand of the divine. The divine is in man's ability to do good.'

Thursday, 6 March 2008


Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
By George Orwell
Centenary Edition, Penguin Books, 2003
120 pages, £7.99


George Orwell’s Animal Farm is published here in a “Centenary Edition” that contains a preface written by Orwell for the first edition (Secker and Warburg 1945) but never published, together with a preface that he wrote specially for a translation for displaced Ukrainians living under British and US administration after World War II.

If we are to take Orwell at his word in the first of these prefaces, Animal Farm is intended as a critique of the Stalinist Soviet regime “from the left”. He explicitly dissociates himself from conservative critiques, which he describes as “manifestly dishonest, out of date, and actuated by sordid motives”.

This is laudable: a left-wing critique of Stalinism was desperately needed in Britain at a time when the prestige of Stalin’s regime was at its apogee, and almost all of the left was turning a blind eye to the regime’s crimes.

No doubt the attempt manifests a degree of intellectual courage on Orwell’s part. But his work has largely been hijacked by the very conservatives he distanced himself from. This edition, for example, displays ringing endorsements from The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator.

It is perhaps unfair to blame an author for the (mis)use of his work after his death, so let’s ask: how successful was Orwell’s attempt to provide a critique of Stalinism “from the left”? Orwell believed that the Bolshevik revolution had degenerated into something at least as bad as Tsarism, and much abuse has been heaped on Orwell by those on the left who refused to believe that the revolution had indeed degenerated under Stalin. However, we can surely now leave that sort of criticism of Orwell safely behind.

A prerequisite of a left-wing critique of the degeneration of the revolution is the provision of an accurate account of its causes. Two prominent causes were the scarcity of material resources and the low level of industrial and technological development in Russia in 1917, together with the severe weakening — indeed, near annihilation — of the already numerically small working class, mainly as a result of the civil war that followed the invasion of Bolshevik Russia by a coalition of several imperialist countries, including Britain and the US.

Thus, although it survived the catastrophic destruction of the civil war, Bolshevik Russia lacked two of the key characteristics identified by Karl Marx as necessary for a successful transition from capitalism to socialism: a very high level of capitalist development (making possible an abundance of material resources), plus a numerically strong working class with a high level of cultural, political and technical development. Without these, the field was open for the formation of bureaucratic strata whose dominance of the USSR was crystallised in Stalin’s dictatorship and the defeat of the left-opposition within the Bolshevik Party.

Animal Farm completely fails to reflect these key causes of the revolution’s degeneration. In the story, the rebellion of the animals leaves them with a material abundance of food: there is milk galore and a generous harvest of windfall apples, both of which are simply purloined by the cunning and selfish pigs, led by Napoleon (Joseph Stalin) and the soon-to-be-ousted Snowball (Leon Trotsky). In addition, only one animal — a sheep — dies as a result of the “civil war”, an attempt by the deposed farmer Mr Jones and his human friends to retake the farm.

Thus, in Orwell’s story the Rebellion degenerates despite conditions of material abundance and an “animal class” left largely intact by human aggression. Orwell seems to be saying that unless ruled by humans, the mass of animals will inevitably succumb to the tyrannical rule of the cunning and selfish among themselves. Transposed to the human domain, the moral of Orwell’s story is clear: without the capitalist class to govern them, the mass of workers will inevitably find themselves subject to the tyranny of the “brainworkers” among them.

Of course, the animals in the tale are far from the high level of political, cultural and technical development required for the success of a socialist revolution. But there’s the rub: Orwell’s animals, with the exception of the pigs, are, though hard working, loyal and trustworthy, devoid of all intelligence and completely unable to learn anything from experience. This extremely low estimate of the potentialities of the working class is part of Orwell’s conception of the possibilities open to socialists. The options are exhausted by Stalinist totalitarianism and the “social democratic” struggle for reforms within the confines of “western parliamentary democracy”.

The flipside of Orwell’s elitist and patronising attitude towards working people is his highly distorted picture of the nature of British capitalism. In the first preface, he writes of “the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation” and states that “tolerance and decency are deeply rooted in England (sic)". That would be the “intellectual liberty” afforded — not so long before Orwell’s time — to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and other ordinary workers, imprisoned, banished or simply murdered by the British state for daring to organise trade unions, or the “tolerance and decency” that callously sent millions of young people to the slaughterhouse of World War I — not to mention the horrors of imperial rule within the British Isles and overseas.

The intellectual liberty, tolerance and decency of British imperialism are the real Orwellian fantasy: insofar as those qualities have roots in Britain, they are the product of generations of struggle by the working people that Orwell snobbishly portrays as bovine dunces. It's not hard to see why Orwell is the darling of the ruling-class newspapers mentioned above. He may genuinely have attempted to provide a critique of Stalin’s USSR “from the left”, but all that he actually produced — in Animal Farm at least — was a banal piece of ruling-class propaganda.

Monday, 3 March 2008

This month...


Sunday, 2 March 2008


Our next meeting is on Saturday 8th March in Kirkintilloch Leisure Centre and will follow the East Dunbartonshire Women's Radical Film Society presentation and discussion of Lilja 4-ever, the film about a girl in the former Soviet Union. The story is based on the life of Danguole Rasalaite and examines the issue of trafficking in human beings and sexual slavery. See below for times/venue etc.

The following branch meeting will be held in Milton of Campsie Village Hall and is on Wednesday 26th March. There will be a discussion, led by Ritchie Venton. This will encompass Ritchie's work in Liverpool in the eighties and '90's and he will also be talking about the Militant Tendency and Entryism.

Further reading:

Reading on Lilja 4-ever-,,942882,00.html,,944261,00.html,,-94084,00.html