Circular firing squad

Judean People's Front

Author Ken MacLeod (see above post) on the recent elections in Scotland

But enough squabbling amongst ourselves! Let’s turn and face the real enemy, the Judean People’s Front! Thanks to its divisions the far left has been wiped off the electoral map, going from six MSPs to nil. The Scottish Socialist Party was not only beaten handily by Solidarity – in five of the seven regions it won fewer votes than the Socialist Labour Party.

The what? Precisely. The Socialist Labour Party has next to no presence on the ground in Scotland. Socialist Labour got one election broadcast, fronted by the popular English actor Ricky Tomlinson, who emphasised that the party stood firmly against Scottish nationalism. Around a third of Scotland’s far-left voters must have agreed.

They no doubt opposed nationalism on the grounds that any nationalism plan backed by centrists is, by definition, flawed and a sell-out, or worse, backed by the Judean Popular People’s Front.

To be fair, the far right has their fratricidal infighting too, as witness the recent lawsuits, counter-lawsuits, and forming of a splinter group among California Minutemen. But sectarianism does seem epidemic on the far left at times. Why is this?


  1. What’s your take on it? From the outside, the reasons seem fairly clear to me, but I’d be more interested in your view from the inside.

  2. I’m no insider here, but my guess is too many tiny Left parties combined with serious possibility of the Scottish National Party winning (and they did) is what cratered the hard Left electorally. Voters saw a chance to take down the Labour Party, and did.

    In related news, the Scottish Green Party and SNP have reached a deal to govern Scotland.

    The SNP has a one vote majority without the GP.

    There’s probably some ‘more-left-than-thou” here too, with some not supporting independence because it would still exist under capitalism and thus wouldn’t be ideologically pure enough for the Trots. Others of course will use it as an organizing opportunity to push things even further to the left.

  3. My take, FWIW, is that leftist parties are driven by theory rather than praxis. Theory leads to theological disputes over politics, which are particularly nasty, even if the differences are virtually impercetible to outsiders.

    The right, in my observation, tends to be more motivated by emotion: largely fear, but also hate. If all you’re doing is whipping up fear, the details on what you do don’t need to be theoretically justifiable. This of course leads to folks on the right taking contradictory stances: one such example would be the conservatives in Germany who funded Hitler, even though Hitler opposed the conservatives about as much as he did the Stalinist left (one can argue that he had far more in common with the Stalinist left than with the conservatives). Another example is the alliance in the US of conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians. If you really wanted to crack the movement, permit prayer in public schools, and watch the Catholics and Protestants start fighting over what prayers would be appropriate.

    Oddly, I find the far left to be almost theological in its disputes, and the theoreticians have more in common with Benedict XVI than they might like to admit. As a result, you’re always going to see more splintering and fractionalization on the far left than on the right, which is far less theoretical. One can legitimately argue that the right has less of a sound ideological or intellectual basis, but that basis can be a weakness as well as a strength.

  4. The Minutemen squabble seems to have been mostly about where did the money go.

    To be fair, some splits on the left aren’t doctrinal but about one faction not allowing others to be in the leadership or because one faction won’t support a cause (like Palestine) that others deem important.

  5. Just to fill in the context: the divisions on the Scottish far left weren’t due to doctrinal hairsplitting but to a very messy split in the Scottish Socialist Party – a party which, because it did unite several sects and had some popular resonance as a left-of-Labour party, had six Members of the Scottish Parliament. Anyone who wants more information can Google on “Tommy Sheridan” + “News of the World” + SSP and find more than they want to know. Further deponent sayeth not.

  6. The split in Scotland is tragic but there were issues in play as they relate first of all to Tommy Sheridan and secondly to the two party formations across the UK who backed him unconditionally : The Socialist Party(CWI) and the SWP.

    So in one sense this is a very real example of divide but not so much on sectarian lines –as the problem rests in the foolish course in the first place, I believe, followed by T.Sheridan in pursuing the News of the World at any cost. I repeat: at any cost — both to himself and, especially, the SSP whose counsel he refused to accept. Other facts may be in dispute but I think thats’ the substance that led Sheridan to unilaterally exit the SSP. He demanded support and when it was refused he went ahead on his own volition then split the party.

    But that’s all history until Sheridan next arrives in court to face perjury charges… So the tragedy has yet to reach its final act. And if it goes that way — it will be much worse than this electoral collpase.

    That the Scottish Greens also lost seats(from 5 seats to now 2) indicates that what pundits are saying — that it was a squeeze effect between the Labour Party and SNP support. So it wasn’t just the socialists that suffered nor did they suffer only because they turned on each other.

    As for the penchant for sectarianism — thats’ a problem of isolation and the way that impacts on the culture constructed by far left groupuscules. Its’ a constant feature of political existence that stalks all left parties.and it is hard to banish because at some stage it becomes a sort of comfortable existence. Thats what we are finding in Australis in the context of the Socialist Alliance. Outfits PREFER to circle the wagons because it’s safer and more predictable and you don’t have to test out your politics so much in the real world.

    As for Scotland, the SSP will survive. The worst isn’t so much now but the massive demoralisation that accompanied the split about a year ago. The SSP has built itself up a bit since then and rec structured — but has nonetheless lost its electoral weight. What people forget is that it has an activist core…which is the main thing, even though a segment of its activist base seems to have become passive over the past five years as the SSP wallowed in its parliamentary presence.

  7. As a matter of interest, Bob, the SSP events were played out along similar lines as that of “that cheque” which was one of your reasons, I gather, to part company from the Calif Greens. In this instance it was Sheridan who sought to live the lie and rather than be accountable to the party punished it by trying to destroy it. So if that’s “sectarianism” then the Greens do it too. But of course it isn’t that simple.

  8. The results though, whether by sectarianism, factionalism, or endless internal trench warfare, has been a circular firing squad for GP-CA and apparently SSP too.

    Yes, it’s more complicated than just sectarianism, although that can be maddening too. The title of my post may have been a bit flip.

    PS Sheridan to be charged with perjury.

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