Aug 11 2013

REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST ALLIANCE

Below is a report of the meeting of the Republican Socialist Alliance held in London on 6th July,  written by Steve Freeman. This includes a summary of the address given by Allan Armstrong (RCN) on the political implications of the unionist nature of the UK state. It is followed by the unedited version of this talk.

1. REPORT OF THE REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST ALLIANCE MEETING IN LONDON, 6.7.13

On 6 July the RSA organised its first day school on the theme of the national question in the UK with the main emphasis on England and Scotland and how the left could take up constitutional issues. Steve Freeman spoke about reinventing English identity. Allan Armstrong spoke about current developments in Scotland with the referendum next year. Corrina Lotz introduced a session on the aims of the ‘Agreement of the People’ campaign.

The first session was called “Remaking the English working class” as a reference to EP Thompson’s history of English working class. The left must “grasp the nettle” of the national question in England. England and Scotland are bound together in a political and constitutional union. The Scottish question (will Scotland become an independent state?) will come to a head in the 2014 referendum. The English question is the opposite side of the coin.

The national question is a democratic question and involves invention of a new nation by means of a mass political and cultural struggle which may last many years or decades. Redefining a nation involves political and constitutional issues as well as the cultural aspects of national identity.

We have to re-invent England as a ‘Democracy’ or a ‘Peoples Republic’ or ‘Social Republic’ or ‘Commonwealth’. Before doing this we need to examine the kind of English identity we already have. This can be described as the British-English, an identity invented in the 18th century after the British revolution finally came to rest with the Acts of Union in 1707.

Reinventing England requires mass struggles and the mobilisation of social forces. It is not the product of a few ‘dreamers’. We have to think in class terms. Creating a new England requires the ‘Remaking the English working class’. Since 1832 first Chartism and then Labourism became two great mass movements with their associated mass parties which shaped the consciousness of the working class in England. In evolutionary logic we should predict that at some point Labourism will be negated by a new form of Chartism – a more advanced or higher form of Chartism.

Allan Armstrong, from the Republican Communist Network (Scotland), and member of Radical Independence Campaign spoke next. He welcomed the development of the Republican Socialist Alliance. Unlike so many on the Left, the RSA appreciates the importance of the constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state, and the formidable anti-democratic nature of the Crown Powers. These powers cloak the operations of the British ruling class’s ‘hidden state’ and the activities of the City of London. For republicans, opposition to these Crown Powers is of greater significance than opposition to the monarchy, which merely fronts them.

However, there are two other significant features of the UK state. First it retains an established church, the Church of England, with its 26 bishops in the House of Lords. A socialist response must be based on upholding a consistent secularism, which breaks the link between the state and religion.

Second the UK is a unionist state. The UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the whole of Ireland before 1922). The UK came about as a result of the English conquest of Wales, the joint English and Scottish conquest of Ireland, and an English and Scottish ruling class deal to create a British state in which they could benefit from imperial exploitation.

Thus, if republicanism and secularism are the socialist responses to the UK’s Crown Powers and state-backed Protestantism, then upholding the right of self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and yes, for England too, is the socialist response to the unionism of the UK state.

Today, the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals (or ‘Independence within the Union’), which accept the Union and the Crown Powers, the Bank of England and participation in the British High Command and NATO, represents the self-determination of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. ‘Independence-Lite’ represents a continuation of the old Home Rule tradition, but for a world dominated by the global corporations and US imperialism.

For socialists, self-determination in Scotland must reflect working class interests. This means a complete break with the Crown Powers, with the Bank of England and with NATO. During the nineteenth century Marx and Engels saw Tsarist Russia and its Hapsburg Austrian ally, as the two principal upholders of reaction against democracy in Europe. Today the UK plays the role of ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the US’s ‘Tsarist Russia’ in upholding the current global corporate order. The struggle for genuine self-determination is thus directed at the US/UK imperial alliance.

Both James Connolly in Ireland and later John Maclean in Scotland developed ‘a breakup of the UK state and British Empire’ strategy. This emerged as the most revolutionary challenge in these islands in the context of the 1916-21International Revolutionary Wave. This is the socialist republican tradition that the Republican Communist Network is raising in today’s struggle for Scottish self-determination.

The third session was introduced by Corrina Lotz from the Agreement of the People campaign and the World to Win. She spoke about a proposal for a Constitution for the 21st Century put forward by Occupy London’s Real Democracy Working Group and A World to Win. It is now supported by15 organisations. It is inspired by the Leveller movement of the 1640 English revolution.

The problem is that the system is broken – global capitalism is in a worsening crisis. All the main parties are facilitating the rule of the corporations and banks. Votes hardly count. This makes the state and political system democratic in name only.

The campaign aims to develop a grassroots constitution from below and the Agreement is a draft framework for this, open to development. It can be discussed and implemented through a network of permanent Peoples Assemblies. In this way, assemblies can become the basis for an alternative to the existing state.

 Steve Freeman, Republican Socialist Alliance (England)

____________________

2. THE CASE FOR A BREAK-UP OF THE UK AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ IN RESPONSE TO THE  BRITISH UNIONIST STATE

The development of the Republican Socialist Alliance is to be welcomed. Unlike so many on the Left, the RSA appreciates the importance of the constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state, and the formidable anti-democratic nature of the Crown Powers. These powers cloak the operations of the British ruling class’s ‘hidden state’ and the activities of the City of London. For republicans, opposition to these Crown Powers is of greater significance than opposition to the monarchy, which merely fronts them.

There are two other significant features of the UK state. It retains an established church, the Church of England, with its 26 bishops in the House of Lords. Although this is a specifically English ‘privilege’, along with the constitutional necessity for a Protestant monarch, it is still significant in maintaining British rule over Northern Ireland. A socialist response to this must be based on upholding a consistent secularism, which breaks the link between the state and religion.

However, republicans must also recognise the third feature of the UK, and that is its unionist nature. The UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the whole of Ireland before 1922). The UK came about as a result of the English conquest of Wales, the joint English and Scottish conquest of Ireland, and an English and Scottish ruling class deal to create a British state in which they could benefit from imperial exploitation.

Thus, if republicanism and secularism are the socialist responses to the UK’s Crown Powers and state-backed Protestantism, then upholding the right of self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and yes, for England too, is the socialist response to the unionism of the UK state.

Ironically, the Union actually recognises national self-determination, but on a limited class basis. For example, under the 1707 Act of Union, the Scottish section of the new British ruling class retained control of those aspects of the state that enabled it to maintain its rule in Scotland – the Church of Scotland (including then, its control over education) and the Scottish legal system.

In the nineteenth century, with the rise of industrial capitalism, a new rising wannabe ruling class force emerged in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Many of them demanded an extension of national self-determination to protect and advance their own interests on a national basis. Thus Home Rule (or Devolution as it is now called) would provide protected careers within the nation, whilst also maintaining openings at an all-UK and British Empire levels.

Today, the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals (or ‘Independence within the Union’), which accept the Union and the Crown Powers, the Bank of England and participation in the British High Command and NATO, represents the self-determination of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. ‘Independence-Lite’ is a continuation of the old Home Rule tradition, but for a world dominated by the global corporations and US imperialism.

For socialists, self-determination in Scotland must reflect working class interests. This means a complete break with the Crown Powers, with the Bank of England and with NATO. During the nineteenth century Marx and Engels saw Tsarist Russia and its Hapsburg Austrian ally, as the two principal upholders of reaction against democracy in Europe. Today the UK plays the role of ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the US’s ‘Tsarist Russia’ in upholding the current global corporate order. The struggle for genuine self-determination is thus directed at the US/UK imperial alliance.

However, this also raises the issue of what sort of republicanism we need to take-on this unionist and imperialist alliance. One tradition, which has some purchase on the British Left, needs to be questioned. This is the ‘Cromwellian republic’. It developed out of the ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’, after the Levellers were suppressed in 1649. Cromwell was no universalist and supported a Greater English republic and empire.

Although, the Cromwellian regime was ousted in 1660, this particularist form of republicanism was realised in the new American US republican constitution in 1787. In the White American Republic, the Crown Powers were, in effect, transferred to the imperial presidency. Cromwell may have failed in his attempt to drive all the native Irish beyond the Shannon, but President Jackson was able to remove the Five Civilised Tribes to ‘Indian territory’ beyond the Mississippi on his ‘Trail of Tears’.

In the UK, imperial republicanism fed into British Radicalism, and then the British Left. It could be seen in William Linton, the Radical Chartist, who first designed an English republican flag. He  believed that this was synonymous with an all-islands (Great Britain and Ireland) flag.  The Radical and republican MP, Joseph Cowen supported British imperial wars. The Radical Liberal and republican MP, Charles Dilke, was a rampant racist and promoter of British imperialism. What united these people was a strong belief in a ‘British road to progress’. They bought into the Whig version of history. Furthermore, from the days of Hyndman’s SDF to the ‘Brit Left’ of today, this Whig tradition has morphed into support for various ‘British roads to socialism’.

There is alternative socialist republican tradition to this. It is based on the recognition of national self-determination and ‘internationalism from below’. Its very first shoots can be seen in the refusal of those English republican Levellers to be sent by Cromwell to Ireland. They thought they shared more in common with the native Irish fighting to hold on to their lands. In the 1790s, an alliance of United Irishmen, United Scotsmen and the London Corresponding Society built up an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance to challenge the UK state, the principal backer of the counter-revolution in Europe and beyond.

The Radical wing of the Chartists supported Young Ireland in its desire to break the Union. From 1879-95, Michael Davitt and others attempted to build a land and labour alliance on ‘internationalism from below lines in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. Indeed many of its proponents played a leading part in the ‘New Unionism, which emerged after 1889.

Both James Connolly in Ireland and later John Maclean in Scotland developed ‘a breakup of the UK state and British Empire’ strategy. This emerged as the most revolutionary challenge in these islands in the context of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. This is the socialist republican tradition that the Republican Communist Network is raising in today’s struggle for Scottish self-determination.

 

A version of this article was published in Chartist no 265, Nov/Dec 2013

 

Allan Armstrong, RCN (Scotland)

Also see earlier postings at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/09/englands-democracy-st-pauls-to-st-marys/

 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/10/10/2nd-republican-socialist-convention-london-february-13th-2010/

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to “REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST ALLIANCE”

  1. Emancipation & Liberation » THE CASE FOR THE REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST PLATFORM IN THE LEFT UNITY PARTY IN ENGLAND says:

    […] (also see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/08/11/republican-socialist-alliance/)  […]

  2. Emancipation & Liberation » THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION says:

    […] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/08/11/republican-socialist-alliance/ Allan Armstrong – The Case for the Break-up of the UK and the Internationalism from Below Response to the Unionist State – talk given to the Republican Socialist Alliance in London on 6.7.13 […]

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