Oct 29 2013

SOCIALIST UNITY – THE RCN ASKS 12 QUESTIONS

The RCN has been involved in preliminary discussions with Frontline, the International Socialist Group (Scotland), individual members of the International Socialist Network and Defense of Our Party faction in the SWP, as well as other individuals mainly from an SSP background. Frontline  published the views a number of socialist organisations, which we reposted at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/06/10/socialist-unity/. Stemming from these initial discussions, the RCN has framed 12 questions, which it has sent out to those organisations participating in socialist unity discussions. We will post each response as receive it. We would like to thank Alister Black of Frontline (http://www.redflag.org.uk) and James Foley of the International Socialist Group for the first responses to our questions.

 

th

 1. ALISTER BLACK OF FRONTLINE  REPLIES TO THE RCN’S 12 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROSPECTS FOR SOCIALIST UNITY

 

1.     After the demise or major setbacks for Left unity and Socialist unity projects in these islands (SSP, Socialist Alliance, Respect, Forward Wales, United Left Alliance-Ireland), there have been a number of new initiatives recently – the Peoples Assemblies, the proposed Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Socialist Unity Platform (SUP) and International Socialist Network/Socialist Resistance/Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ISN/SR/ACI) unity proposals. However, these have mainly been confined to England and Wales. Why do you think things are less advanced in Scotland at the moment?

The Scottish political environment is now very different to that in the rest of the UK state. The left has faced the problems of its own fractures but also of the ascendance of the Scottish National Party. The left lacks credibility but also has been slow to recover from the self-inflicted wounds of the last few years. At the same time the SNP has presented themselves as social-democrats through reforms such as free prescription charges and abolition of tuition fees (whilst being very friendly to union-busting big business outfits like Amazon).

2.     At last year’s Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow, Chris Bambery of the International Socialist Group tentatively raised the prospect of the RIC being the arena in which the Left in Scotland could reunite after the ‘Tommygate’ debacle. Do you agree with this view, or how do you see the possibility of Left or Socialist unity coming about in Scotland?

I think that RIC is an arena where the left can work together and collaborate in a constructive manner around the campaign for independence and also discuss and debate our vision of what independence could be. Working together and building trust is a necessary precursor to organisational changes. But RIC is not an exclusively socialist campaign and whilst it may be an arena it can’t be the final vehicle.

 

3.     Ken Loach’s film, Spirit of 45 appears to have created a wave of social democratic nostalgia on the Left. From the organisers of the proposed LUP to Colin Fox’s SSP pamphlet, The Case for an Independent Socialist Scotland, there appears to be a revival of the notion that there is a social democratic road to socialism, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. What is your view on the relationship between social democracy and socialism?

 I think the basis for that nostalgia is the fact that, on a UK basis at least, social democracy has been extinguished almost as completely as revolutionary socialism. There are no reformists any more except in the odd nook and cranny of the labour and trade union movement. I think a revival of social democracy would be positive and would provide an audience for the socialist left to argue that yes, we need every reform and will fight tooth and nail for those reforms. But that we also need to go beyond just reforms.

 

4.     The RCN has argued that when fighting to maintain or extend reforms alongside those still influenced by social democratic thinking, it is vital for socialists to argue for independent class organisation, i.e. democratic organisations fully under participants’ control. This difference with many others on the Left was highlighted in our support for rank and filer, Jerry Hicks over incumbent Broad Left bureaucrat, Len McCluskey, in the UNITE general secretary election. What is your view on this issue?

Democratic and rank and file organisation should be the norm in all our organisations whether that is within the trade unions or campaigning groups or indeed in our own parties.

 

5.     Much of what McCluskey and other trade union leaders are doing just now appears to be centred on building support for a future Miliband-led Labour government. What are you views on McCluskey’s political approach and what do you think about this prospect?

I can’t remember a time when the trade union leaders were not focused on building support for a future (or current) Labour government. In return they have got less and less. What are the chances of Miliband reversing the anti-trade union laws for example? Zero. The union ‘left’ need to ask what they are getting for their money and if they are truly acting in their members best interests.

 

6.     The RCN has argued that today’s multi-faceted crisis of capitalism means that it is necessary for socialists to openly proclaim and argue for their socialist vision, whilst fighting alongside others. Some socialists argue that such an approach will only ‘frighten the horses; and that socialists should accommodate themselves to existing levels of consciousness. They claim that eventually workers will ‘see the light’ if a ‘transitional method’ is used. In effect this seems to mean attempts to mobilise around social democratic and neo-Keynesian policies, which strengthen the existing state, Leftist politicians and trade union bureaucrats. How do you view such a strategy?

Of course it is necessary to start from where people’s consciousness is. That does not mean that socialists hide what they stand for. It does mean that we put forward transitional demands such as ‘scrap the bedroom tax’ or even ‘end poverty’. What we can then do is illustrate that a better society can only be achieved under socialism. What the left should not do is revert to being a ‘pure’ propaganda outfit. In a world where consciousness has been battered by the right and people are told every day to be passive consumers and blame their fellows for the economic crisis we need to seize every opportunity to raise consciousness and restore ideas of social solidarity.

 

7.     In contrast to Respect and the main proposers of the LUP, both the SUP and the ISG/SR/ACI unity proposals are arguing for the need for a specifically Socialist organisation.  One objection to this is that many people no longer understand what is meant by socialism. Do you agree that the consequence of this is dropping or downgrading specifically Socialist politics and organisation, or how would you make the case for socialism in today’s political conditions?

I would argue to retain references to socialism as I think that the negative association with Stalinism is no longer as strong. At the same time there is room for new approaches to propaganda. Look at the success of the Occupy movement in raising the slogan ‘we are the 99%” or examples from the Arab Spring. That does not mean that the actual content of policy needs to be watered down but at the same time we need to be conscious about renewing our political ideas and ensuring that environmentalism and feminism for example are central rather than just being played lip service to.

In a left organisation we want to be able to include all of those who are on our side and who want a better society. The SSP had a lot of success in doing that whilst still being clear about its socialism. But much of that was based on what we did as well as just what we said.

 

8.     It has been claimed that the current crisis in the SWP, and the long-term decline of Militant (today the Socialist Party and Socialist Party of Scotland), highlights the end of the road for Marxist-Leninist parties or sects. What is your view of this and how do you see revolutionary socialists organising today?

The old model of sectarian organisation has achieved nothing other than producing undemocratic regimes whose members are abused and ignored by their leadership in the name of ‘bolshevism’. There is nothing wrong with being well organised but we need democratic organisations where the membership has the power and leaders are accountable.

 

9.     One marked feature of the current Left (LUP) and Socialist Unity (SUP and ISG/SR/ACI) proposals is they have nothing to say about the situation in Scotland, particularly with the prospect of the forthcoming referendum. Why do you think this is the case?

I would like to think that the left in the rest of the UK state recognise that Scottish politics has diverged significantly from the rest of Britain. Some groups have a good position on paper but have had little to say publically. A fear of ‘nationalism’ in some cases may be the reason, in which case they have to familiarise themselves a bit more with the processes taking place in Scotland.

 

10.  The Red Paper Collective in Scotland is trying to provide a Left rationale for the Scottish Labour Party and STUC opposition to the SNP and the ‘Yes’ campaign. What do you think of their politics and prospects?

There are certainly left arguments against the SNP and even the Yes campaign to be made and they are quite entitled to do so. The SNP remains a neo-liberal party. Despite this they are to the left of Labour, so maybe they should be asking questions a bit closer to home. The Labour Party in Scotland is offering nothing in the way of progressive measures and is entirely beholden to their Westminster leadership. I recently read the leaflet of their candidate in the Dunfermline by-election for the Scottish Parliament whose ‘pledge’ was that “she wouldn’t make promises she couldn’t keep”, not exactly inspiring stuff.

 

11. At the moment the campaign for greater Scottish self-determination is firmly in the hands of the SNP leadership. What do you see as the likely consequences, whilst this remains the case?

I think this is something of a leading question! The SNP are very keen to broaden involvement to other parties but it is somewhat inevitable, given their strength. Nonetheless they are most likely to ‘play it safe’. It will be up to the left, through RIC and their own organisations, to make the radical case for independence.

 

12.  What would you like to see happening next in Scotland to bring about Socialist unity?

Socialists need to work together on a day to day basis. But we also need to consider what we are trying to achieve. Building an organisation? Building a broad left pro-independence party or coalition? Putting forward left slates for the Scottish Parliament elections? There needs to be more discussion around what our aims and perspectives are.

____________

 1. JAMES FOLEY  REPLIES TO THE RCN’S 12 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROSPECTS FOR SOCIALIST UNITY.

James Foley is a member of the International Socialist Group and author of  a forthcoming book, Yes – the Radical Case for Independence, to be published by Pluto Press. Here he is writing in a personal capacity.

 

1. After the demise or major setbacks for Left unity and Socialist unity projects in these islands (SSP, Socialist Alliance, Respect, Forward Wales, United Left Alliance-Ireland), there have been a number of new initiatives recently – the Peoples Assemblies, the proposed Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Socialist Unity Platform (SUP) and International Socialist Network/Socialist Resistance/Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ISN/SR/ACI) unity proposals.  However, these have mainly been confined to England and Wales.  Why do you think things are less advanced in Scotland at the moment?

Ally (above) highlights the SNP as a hindrance to socialist electoral strategy, and I have sympathy with him.  For left-wing English constituencies, you vote Labour or get Tory; the political space for a more radical alternative is empty, barring the odd wildcard like Galloway or Lucas.  In a paradoxical way, this vacuum opens possibilities for isolated English socialists to regroup, which will increase if Labour gets elected and imposes austerity.  By contrast, Scotland has an electable alternative to Labour, promising left-wing reforms and offering a last hope for social democratic values.  Indeed, polls show that the SNP gains the bulk of new support from working class disaffection with Labour.

But is the SNP the true barrier to a united left-wing strategy in Scotland?  What Ally says of the Left in Scotland – major fractures, lacks credibility – also applies to England, and in Scotland, we have the advantage of a voting system that allows a voice for small parties in parliament.  In objective terms, the potential for a left-wing challenge is far more developed in Scotland.  So why have English socialists advanced further than us?

I think the real issue is the stage of the Left’s internal crisis, what you might call the subjective factor, how the Left sees itself in England compared to Scotland.  In England, the extra-parliamentary left has, perhaps with an element of Schadenfreude, gained momentum from the SWP’s collapse.  Earlier unity initiatives, of course, were ruled out by the SWP’s organising muscle, particularly in London.  With the knowledge and the faith that SWP-like groups are dying, the English Left has sensed new opportunities, although they still have to face the real barriers of “real” society and “real” elections.  With a Tory government and Labour now promising a few populist policies, Left Unity has a huge task to present a viable alternative for voters.  The People’s Assemblies are great, although, like RIC, they have to show they can lead to effective action.

By contrast, in Scotland, the SWP has never been significant.  The old Militant have recent experience of parliamentary power, and their fall-outs and bad-blood, exacerbated by Trotskyist gamesmanship from the sects, still dominates campaigns and parliamentary alliances.  Scotland’s divisions are very personal, among the old leadership at least, who are unwilling to set aside their grievances or let new leaders emerge.  They still cling to the hope that one great campaign, the new Poll Tax, etc, will drive them back into command.  These subjective problems are the biggest impediments in Scotland; whereas England’s Left has a new sense of unity and purpose, but massive hurdles in objective terms.

 

2.  At last year’s Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow, Chris Bambery of the International Socialist Group tentatively raised the prospect of the RIC being the arena in which the Left in Scotland could reunite after the ‘Tommygate’ debacle. Do you agree with this view, or how do you see the possibility of Left or Socialist unity coming about in Scotland?

I agree with Chris’s views, but he was talking about potential, not guarantees.  RIC alone cannot legitimise the Scottish Left, unless it changes the mentalities of the post-SSP factions.  What surprised me, and many others, was seeing socialists with so many pointless, personal, entrenched hatreds talking again.  Now, I couldn’t care less if they attend each other’s children’s parties or go frolicking together in the Campsies.  The point is that the broader public saw a left that could cooperate; moreover, it saw that, when the Left joins forces, it can shift mainstream debate in its favour.  Hundreds of thousands of people out there in the public are waiting for a credible left.  RIC highlights our potential; but, as the old cliché has it, you can lead a Trot to power, but you can’t make him think.

Post-RIC, three groups emerged in the Sheridan-era left.  One group was frightened by RIC, and chose to return to their comfort zone of sectarianism and conspiracy theories, dehumanising everyone else as scabs, traitors, charlatans, and so forth.  A second was equally terrified, but decided to take a respectful stance, for tactical reasons, while planning to reassert the old boundaries at the first opportunity.  A third group was inspired and re-energised, and saw the potential for a new Left, even if they had particular disagreements with RIC organisers.  If this last group remains open to new ideas and alliances, they have an opportunity to reshape things for the better.

 

3.  Ken Loach’s film, Spirit of 45 appears to have created a wave of social democratic nostalgia on the Left. From the organisers of the proposed LUP to Colin Fox’s SSP pamphlet, The Case for an Independent Socialist Scotland, there appears to be a revival of the notion that there is a social democratic road to socialism, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. What is your view on the relationship between social democracy and socialism?

 Ally makes a very telling point, with reference to the collapse of social democracy.  We can observe this at two levels: collapsing faith in parliaments as levers of social change, and the even deeper collapse of independent working class initiative.  On both fronts, Britain experienced a harsher decline than other countries.

Today, the societal left (including trade unions and so on) have no illusions in Labour governments, but many retain hope that a truer Labour could administer the best global capitalism has to offer.  This sentiment is often divorced from Labour as a party, while remaining Labourist, by which I mean, focused on parliamentary alliances led by trade union officials, journalists, and think-tank wonks.  Various “Nordic model” plans reflect this: for example, the Common Weal, the Green New Deal, CLASS, and the New Economics Foundation.  Unlike many on the revolutionary Left, I see these as positive developments.  They are breaking the spell of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism” by imagining alternative ways to manage resources; while they remain Labourist in core respects, their development is a positive symptom of the collapse of Labour hegemony, under anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist pressure.  Ideas evolve in peculiar fashion, as the best Marxists, like Gramsci, acknowledge: what else is contradictory consciousness?

However, this post-Labour Labourism does have odd quirks.  Some Labour Left figures, including Galloway and Len McLuskey, have spoken of Alex Salmond as an Old Labour hero.  Others predict the return of social democracy in even the most minor populist pronouncement from Ed Miliband: when he breaks wind, some hear the potential of a new methane-based green energy policy.

Social democratic consciousness, in these respects, has not collapsed, even if its organisational expression is woeful.  People only know overwhelming capitalism today; they have no experience of working class organisation as a progressive factor in history, or of “socialist” experiments that provide a practical basis for debating the alternative to markets.  So they reach for the nearest models available, reflecting the contradictory evolution of ideas in British politics.

I find reformist ideas implausible.  I cannot understand how they plan to confront the capitalist nature of nation states without the threat of revolutionary upheaval.  I believe that pursuing a reformist strategy, by which I mean focusing only on reforms, will never reverse the drift into rising inequality, resource wars, and minimal market democracy.  But I am not “raging” at reformists every hour of every day; I do not fill my hours calling them sell-outs and traitors to the working class and frauds and snake-oil salesmen.  There are better enemies out there, and reformists are often allies.  If we hardcore principled revolutionaries had achieved concrete victories, perhaps we would be in a better position to moralise.  But we haven’t, for decades, and blaming that on betrayals is a recipe for permanent irrelevance.

 

4. The RCN has argued that when fighting to maintain or extend reforms alongside those still influenced by social democratic thinking, it is vital for socialists to argue for independent class organisation, i.e. democratic organisations fully under participants’ control. This difference with many others on the Left was highlighted in our support for rank and filer, Jerry Hicks over incumbent Broad Left bureaucrat, Len McCluskey, in the UNITE general secretary election. What is your view on this issue?

5. Much of what McCluskey and other trade union leaders are doing just now appears to be centred on building support for a future Miliband-led Labour government. What are you views on McCluskey’s political approach and what do you think about this prospect?

 (James has chosen to answer questions 4 and 5 together)

 Contradictory consciousness also applies to public attitudes to Len McCluskey.  I appreciate the arguments against him: his obese salary, his defence of Milibandism, his sentimental brand of leftism, suggestions of corruption, and so on.  He is not my can of Irn Bru.  Jerry Hicks’s vote was a promising sign of rank-and-file disaffection to the left, and a wake-up call to bureaucratic elements.  But the vast majority of the public sees McCluskey, and similar figures like Owen Jones, as the people who make left-wing arguments in the public sphere.  Unless we appreciate that almost everyone with “good sense” in Britain instinctively takes his side over Falkirk, etc, we will get nowhere.

My critique of McLuskey is not personal: I am not one of these people who assumes he gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and asks, “How can I do some bad shit today?”  I am not even moralistic about his salary.  But I do think he is pursuing a doomed strategy, trying to “retake Labour”, and the longer he does so, the more opportunities we will miss, and the harder it will be.  Unless we understand why he habitually inclines to an unworkable model, and why his attitude remains convincing to millions despite 13 years of Blair, we are doomed to the ghetto.  The revolutionary Left needs to learn to listen.

I understand why people prefer the rank-and-file versus bureaucracy conception of unions to the left-versus-right model.  But we must appreciate its strategic drawbacks.  Rank-and-file strength can be overwhelming, but unless a broader, ideological and political consensus exists for socialist hegemony, it provides no base for social change.  Britain in 1919 or in the 1960s and 1970s is a perfect example of these pitfalls: if the battle came down to business management, who controls the factories, the workers could win; but the moral, intellectual, and political alliances for social change were too weak.  I do not subscribe to the “betrayal” model: if workers are sufficiently organised, if conditions are developed on all fronts, they will remove bad leaders.

At present, we live in very different times.  Rank and file organisation is pitiful by historical standards: much as I appreciate the strength of Hicks’s vote, it was a protest, not a statement of purpose.  Look at Grangemouth, the strongest workers in the country, pushed over by a feather-touch.  Nobody was betrayed: even the most radical workers thought Unite was too firebrand, and were relieved to have their jobs back.  Unite had no options, beyond breaking the law and calling for solidarity strike action, for which there was neither grassroots appetite nor a conducive political climate.  Let me be clear: I favour breaking the anti-union laws, illegal action, and so on.  Trade unionism will never recover, Britain-wide, until this happens; but the pitfalls are obvious.

Having destroyed rank-and-file strength, Britain’s rulers are intent on hunting out leftism among trade unions.  McCluskey, at present, is their key target.  Like it or not, he was one of very few public figures to support rioting students, while many others dithered.  In the public sphere of debate, on society’s moral climate, he is a leading figure of leftist opinion, unpalatable as that might be.  We might disagree with him on union organisation, and certainly on Labour, but we must appreciate his political function, as a pole of attraction (apologies for that horrid phrase) for British voters inclined to the left.

 

6.  The RCN has argued that today’s multi-faceted crisis of capitalism means that it is necessary for socialists to openly proclaim and argue for their socialist vision, whilst fighting alongside others. Some socialists argue that such an approach will only ‘frighten the horses; and that socialists should accommodate themselves to existing levels of consciousness. They claim that eventually workers will ‘see the light’ if a ‘transitional method’ is used. In effect this seems to mean attempts to mobilise around social democratic and neo-Keynesian policies, which strengthen the existing state, Leftist politicians and trade union bureaucrats. How do you view such a strategy?

7.  In contrast to Respect and the main proposers of the LUP, both the SUP and the ISG/SR/ACI unity proposals are arguing for the need for a specifically Socialist organisation.  One objection to this is that many people no longer understand what is meant by socialism. Do you agree that the consequence of this is dropping or downgrading specifically Socialist politics and organisation, or how would you make the case for socialism in today’s political conditions?

(James has chosen to answer questions 6 and 7 together)

Vision is an interesting word.  In the past, your reference to “fighting for a vision” would have struck many Trotskyists as a utopian flight of fancy.  Workers, after all, fight for bread and butter, do they not?  But I am inclined to agree with the need for a socialist vision, the question is how this might be achieved.  We have, therefore, two problems: one of capitalism’s command over society, and one of agency.

Capitalism’s strength today is overwhelming.  We know how pervasive neoliberal ideology has become: any social problem is now framed around market solutions.  Look at the output of think tanks, academic departments, newspapers, government departments…The whole “technostructure”, as J.K. Galbraith called it, is allied to capital, and this presents an overwhelming impediment to a transformative strategy, at a national or global level.  With such opposition, we should take any opportunity we can to subvert, meddle and throw a spanner in the machine.

That includes making “common sense” arguments about how we could make better use of our resources under capitalist conditions, including Keynesian proposals, where they are empirically valid.  Take an issue like Denmark’s free nationalised childcare – what would the capitalist class prefer?  That we highlight this positive example, which shows that these things are affordable without the whole social fabric collapsing?  Or would the capitalist class prefer that we talk to ourselves about how Denmark’s system is unworkable and presents no real alternative, only a true socialist revolution will achieve worthwhile objectives?  If I was a big fat business bureaucrat (I’m sure many will say I am!), I would obviously prefer the Left stuck to the latter, and engaged in long-winded discussions of Andrew Kliman’s falling rate of profit.  Call me a loony…

As for agency, having been weakened on every front, two proposals emerge.  One is the position of Chris Harman et al of the SWP, which says that political alliances are damaging, the real task is to educate a minority of workers, no matter how tiny, about the coming apocalypse.  This strategy presents two elements: spontaneity, the assumption that the masses will have a sudden bolt of recognition, panicking as they realise that capitalism no longer works; and hardened cadre, who, having disciplined themselves through years in the wilderness, will explain these circumstances to the panicked herd, and present the socialist alternative as the only remaining valid option.

As you might suspect, these are not my views.  I think this misses key opportunities to expose the system’s frailties, and build confidence in alternatives.  The only appropriate approach to socialist strategy, in my view, is counter-hegemonic and subversive.  In a period of social democratic consensus, we must build a revolutionary party; in a period of overwhelming defeat, we need to rebuild and reawaken socialist consciousness, not await the apocalypse in isolation.  I reject Unabomber leftism.

I personally cannot downgrade socialist organisation.  I belong to one, I plan to belong to one, I will argue with others to join and I will try to grow it.  But social change has downgraded socialist organisation, independently of our will power, independently of “betrayals” (betrayals have a socio-historical context).  Young people who join often have little idea of its purpose, and frustration sets in: once they realise how difficult and protracted it is to influence “real society”, they turn on each other.  Socialist sects are cannibalistic in nature.  Power corrupts, but powerless corrupts absolutely.  The task is to understand this process, and to debate how we can reverse it.

 

8.  It has been claimed that the current crisis in the SWP, and the long-term decline of Militant (today the Socialist Party and Socialist Party of Scotland), highlights the end of the road for Marxist-Leninist parties or sects. What is your view of this and how do you see revolutionary socialists organising today?

Let me start with what many will consider a controversial view: the SWP are not enemies of mine.  Their leaders have behaved stupidly and inappropriately, and their members became complicit in a self-destructive downward spiral of bullying and conspiracies.  Of course, there are victims in all of this, and I do not defend abuse for a second.  But many have been trapped in a tragic case of herd thinking and mob mentality, and I hope they will come to regret their actions and reform their ways.  We need capable SWP members to rebuild the Left.

The SWP was always a throwback, a curious survival.  It was a sizeable group on the fringe of societies with little prospects of any successful breakthrough, and yet people committed their lives to it.  They built an organisation bringing in hundreds of thousands of pounds and employing dozens of people, despite having no hope of influencing political debate.  In a weird way, this is an impressive feat.  But the purge against John Rees and Lindsay German, combined with the current crisis, exposed the limits of this model.  Nothing resembling the old SWP will rise from the ashes.  Isolationism does not work, does not purify the souls of the Left; impurity is the only option, as Lenin himself tirelessly reiterated.  The SWP’s most radical opponents must remember this as well, because in a sense, the SWP achieved the best they could ever hope for.

 

9.  One marked feature of the current Left (LUP) and Socialist Unity (SUP and ISG/SR/ACI) proposals is they have nothing to say about the situation in Scotland, particularly with the prospect of the forthcoming referendum. Why do you think this is the case?

I think many English socialists are terrified of making a wrong move and offending people on the subject.  They are also influenced by myths about nationalism, as Ally said.  One member of the SWP central committee once expressed his shock to me that the Nationalist had power north of the border: didn’t we need to build United Against Fascism to counter these zealots?  Others believe, falsely, that Labour could never have power without Scottish votes, even though Scottish votes have only changed one election since WWII.  The London Left, with some honourable exceptions, revolves around London.  That’s understandable, since they are dealing with an area with twice Scotland’s population.

 

10. The Red Paper Collective in Scotland is trying to provide a Left rationale for the Scottish Labour Party and STUC opposition to the SNP and the ‘Yes’ campaign. What do you think of their politics and prospects?

Labour’s emergence as the right-wing opposition in Scotland is a peculiarity of world history.  It poses some interesting sociological questions: why would a party funded by workers become the conservative bloc against a party funded by big business?  “Follow the money”, as this shows, is sometimes a misleading principle.  As I said earlier, the Labour Left can concede too much to Salmond, painting him as a classical social democrat.  Demolishing that myth is fine.  But the Red Paper Collective has simply no analysis of British capitalism and the British state.  As Gerry Hassan observes, supporters of independence have to answer for many and varied doom scenarios if we vote Yes.  But what if we vote No, and a reinvigorated Britain leads the world case for invading Iran?  What if a revived Britishness leads to an EU exit, on a right-wing, anti-immigrant basis?  These scenarios are far more plausible than the doomsday ideas presented by Red Paper and Better Together.

Let us be clear: anyone who thinks a No vote is an expression of solidarity with English workers has a jaundiced view of reality.  A strong rejection of independence will empower the reactionary side of every part of British society.  With due respect, the likes of Neil Findlay MSP will be cast aside after 2014, having served their purpose.  Labour will take a No vote as a signal to re-focus on middle England, preparing for the apocalyptic scenario of social divisions over EU membership.  We know what this will mean: British jobs for British workers, white Protestant supremacy, “blue Labour”, tough on shirkers and criminals…Remember, these policies were Miliband’s initial focus anyway, until he discovered energy companies and Wonga, although, in all likelihood, Labour will ditch Ed at the first opportunity, and bring in a right-wing replacement.

The STUC are terrified by independence, hence their failure to make a single important intervention in Scottish politics.  Grangemouth and Govan, two massive defeats, passed without comment, because they did not want to unsettle Labour and Better Together, and we have not had a united anti-cuts demonstration this year.  This has been a miscalculation on their part.  Even as a British Unionist, showing openness to independence is a good way to put pressure on Labour to move Better Together to the Left.  STUC have bunkered down and missed this opportunity, for fear of controversy, allowing the general mood to drift right.

 

11. At the moment the campaign for greater Scottish self-determination is firmly in the hands of the SNP leadership. What do you see as the likely consequences, whilst this remains the case?

Your initial premise must be qualified, since Salmond’s overall aim is not control over the Yes campaign.  His true purpose is shoring up SNP hegemony in Holyrood, whether under independence or not, and we must understand Yes Scotland in these terms.  Salmond is not coming into Yes offices to interfere with the photocopying and dictate the website design.  Their aim is that Yes Scotland should be allowed to operate, in semi-autonomy, so that SNP leaders are arms length from any failures; at the same time, they retain veto power over Yes policy, to shield them from anything damaging and unbecoming of legitimate government.  Hence, the campaign is firmly in the hands of terrified office workers and minor Salmond loyalists, who have blown up a lot of balloons, organised tombolas, and given out free stickers.  SNP leaders have taken little responsibility.

Amid this chaotic vacuum, the Left has exercised some influence.  Radical Independence and the Common Weal, together with National Collective, have moved policy forward more than the confused likes of Robertson, Russell, Swinney, and Noon.  The latter achieved a massive coup over NATO, but have also been blown out of the water on the corporation tax debate, which even Scottish business has rejected.  As a result, they were forced to replace Robertson with Nicola Sturgeon, from the SNP left, and the more “entrepreneurial” figures in Yes Scotland have made no public appearances.

But you are correct.  The likes of Stephen Noon have made an absolute meal of strategy, and Sturgeon has yet to jettison some of the more absurd ideas.  No matter how I try, I cannot grasp the meaning of this “positivity” they are obsessed with; it is the most absurd pseudo-science I have ever encountered.  In empirical terms, it has been a massive failure, it is a losing strategy.  Noon et al might think they have made the best of a bad situation; but the fact is, they have retained control over communications for years, and the public is no better informed about the benefits of independence.  They know that Better Together is “campaign fear”, but who cares?  Fear works for them.  Noon’s pals want optimism without hope; a bloodless, pointless one nation message, designed to meet the aspirations of a public that simply does not exist.  It’s a losing message.  But we already know this, and we also know people want to hear the alternative, not platitudes.  If we worry about how useless Noon and pals are, we will waste valuable time.

 

12. What would you like to see happening next in Scotland to bring about Socialist unity?

Putting aside independence, we need to build a countervailing power to Holyrood neoliberalism and British imperialism, our proximate enemies.  I sometimes roll my eyes at the UKIP comparison, but there is a point there.  UKIP built a parliamentary vote strong enough to pull the Tory right towards them, and create a broader rightist sentiment, that pulled everyone, including Labour, along with them.  Combining a parliamentary challenge for sweeping social change, opposing austerity and reasserting welfare, with non-sectarian alliance building in campaigns, must be our priority.

Mindsets do matter.  The Left is not doomed to irrelevancy, but if they continue to dehumanise each other, to assert moral superiority and purism, they will betray those they claim to speak for.  If anyone says, “I’ll never be in the same room as that prick again!”, with due respect, they have no place in politics; they should consider an alternative, more therapeutic hobby.   The rights and wrongs of who did what to whom on the Left, I am sorry to say, don’t matter to 99.9 percent of people.  I hope this does not come across as patronising.  But we must remind ourselves of these obvious points: left-wing organisation is not about making us feel better about ourselves.  I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.  Young or old, if your participation in socialist politics is motivated by grudges and a sense of betrayal by other activists, it is time to find a more productive use for your talents.

For everyone else, RIC has reminded us that we can matter to a much wider constituency, if we set grievances aside.  The one thing that can achieve true socialist unity is mattering to the public.  When what we say and do is irrelevant, we get frustrated and blame each other; some people will remain prisoners to that mindset until the end of time.  If our statements matter, if we are a factor, if the ruling class fears us, we can remain united.  But we have to unite first before any of that, and therein lies the tough bit.

 

 

For other articles on socialist unity see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/08/12/5722/ 

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/07/15/the-perils-of-unity/

_________

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,