John Lanigan (RCN) attended the book launch of YES: The Radical Case for Independence, written by James Foley and Pete Ramand of the International Socialist Group and the Radical Independence Campaign. The book was launched at the Centre for Contemporary Arts on Sunday March 30th. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, James Foley and Pete Ramand spoke. Below is John’s report of this event.
In the midst of the debate on the Scottish Referendum, nothing could be more important, and timely, in terms of literary contribution and academic thinking, than this work by James Foley and Pete Ramand.
The Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow welcomed an audience of around 150 people who were treated to a wonderful speech from none other than Bernadette Devlin McAliskey who had been invited over from the North of Ireland to speak about the book.
Bernadette who is no stranger to Glasgow or Scottish politics outlined the purpose of the book and the political thinking behind it.
The launch was chaired by Cat Boyd of the International Socialist Group and Radical Independence Campaign.
In her now famous quote Bernadette told the audience that “Another Scotland is possible, but not only is another Scotland possible, another Scotland is probable” Bernadette went on to draw conclusions between the Republican case in Ireland and that of Scotland and warned of the pitfalls and the need to work hard, to make sure that the alternative vision for a radical, independent, Scottish Republic can become a reality.
It looked like everyone in the hall understood that message, that either way, whatever the vote, the work would continue for a radical alternative to the City of London politics and also that of the SNP. The message from Bernadette was firmly one of a socialist alternative that would make Scotland a country that others could look to for leadership.
James Foley of the International Socialist Group and an economist at Edinburgh University spoke on the politics of the book and the arguments raised within. He also spoke at length about the No camp’s efforts to smear pro-independence supporters by equating them with far right nationalists, while at the same time saying patriotism is all right. When it was suggested to them that they were British nationalists they got offended (as they didn’t want to be equated with the likes of the BNP) but who were happy to make the same kind of insinuation about independence supporters.
James outlined very well the reasons why we should be voting YES, and with reference to the risks of Independence, stated that it’s much more risky for Scotland to stay within the UK. James has also written another book on the socialist case for independence Britain Must Break (see the review by Allan Armstrong at:- ‘Britain Must Break’ To Defend ‘Real Labour’ or ‘The Break-Up Of The UK’ To Advance Republican Socialism?)
Pete Ramand the co-author of YES: The Radical Case for Scottish Independence and a founding member of the Radical Independence Campaign looked closely at the benefits to be had from a Scottish Socialist Republic that was able to shape it’s own future, with the people of Scotland at the forefront of the decision making. Pete was very persuasive in showing just how Scotland could afford independence and of the need to get rid of Trident.
YES: The Radical case for Scottish Independence has had many recommendations from writers and political figures alike, and will no doubt be referred to over the coming months as we approach the Scottish Referendum vote.
For those who are still to be convinced of the case for Scottish Independence this book is undoubtedly essential reading.
(Published by Pluto Press and available to buy online)
Bernadette McAliskey also spoke at the second Radical Independence Campaign Conference in Glasgow on November 23rd, 2013. Her talk can be seen on:- 2nd Radical Independence Conference – ‘After The UK: The Future Of 4 Nations’
You have no doubt been waiting anxiously and on tenterhooks for the official SPGB position on the referendum
The Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the 2nd August adopted the following as a statement on the Scottish Breakaway Referendum on 18 September:-
“Most of us don’t own a single square inch of Scotland.
It doesn’t belong to us: we just live here and work for the people who do own it. In or out of the Union, that won’t change.
In Scotland, society is run in the interests of those who own the wealth. They argue among each other over billions of barrels of oil, GDP rates, profits and exports, because where the borders lie matters to them. Every border is an opportunity to wring cash out of other property owners. Scotland will remain dependent upon their whims and interests whatever the outcome of the referendum.
They’ll try to sway us one way or another with crumbs (or the promises of crumbs) but we’ll only get what they feel they can spare to protect their privilege and wealth. We will remain dependent upon their investments making a profit for them before we can get our needs and interests seen to.
The only way to stop this dependency would be for us to take ownership and control of the wealth of the world into our own hands. We could, together, use the wealth of the world to meet our mutual needs and grant the true independence of being able to control our work and our lives in free and voluntary association of equals.
Though the outcome of this referendum is irrelevant, it is an opportunity for us to tell our fellow workers that this is what we want. We don’t have to suffer in silence, we can go to the ballot stations and write “NEITHER YES NOR NO BUT WORLD SOCIALISM” across the voting paper. Then, join The Socialist Party to fight for an independent world.”
SPGB Glasgow/Edinburgh branch blog
SPGB Official Blog
Raise the Red Flag Not the Saltire !
Sing the Internationale Not Flower of Scotland !
Let me start with where I agree with the SPGB Glasgow and Edinburgh branch statement.
I support the SPGB’s propositions that we “Raise the red flag, Not the Saltire!” (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/11/12/beyond-the-saltire-and-st-andrew-flying-the-red-flag-on-john-maclean-day/) and “Sing the Internationale, Not Flower of Scotland.”
However, I would also see Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ as an excellent anthem for socialists in Scotland, and indeed elsewhere, to sing.
And, in stating this, perhaps I am getting to the hub of a big difference I have with the SPGB. Every existing nation-state and national movement is class divided. Therefore, there are always (at least) two national traditions and histories – that of the ruling class or the exploiters and oppressors, and that of the popular classes. The popular classes change through history. At present the working class is the main popular class, both at a global level and within the UK and Scotland. This is why it is possible to have particular national popular traditions, producing their own histories and culture.
If it stopped at that level, however, there would indeed be constant pull back towards the state and nationalism of the ruling class. However, just as the various ruling classes pursue their own ‘internationalism-from above’ links – diplomatically or forcibly if necessarily, so the popular classes, and the working class in particular, has pursued its own ‘internationalism from below’ links, in defiance of the ruling classes and the states they live.
The SPGB only sees one pole of the capitalist relationship – exploitation. Thus, it quite correctly places its emphasis on the need to abolish wage slavery. This puts it ahead of many other socialist organisations. However, the SPGB does not understand the other pole of the capitalist relationship – oppression by the state.
Indeed, going to the Edinburgh an Glasgow SPGB branch blog, we can see the following statement. “We have all the constitutional laws available for our use to change our necessary social institutions to work for us, so we can live in a peaceful and prosperous society.”
I have to say this is almost breathtakingly naïve. There are many states in the world without even the formal trappings of bourgeois or parliamentary democracy. Furthermore, the constitutions of those that do have these trappings, have many mechanisms to exclude meaningful working class participation. At a US, EU and UK level representative institutions are being increasingly gutted of those limited powers they once had. Under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the rights of global corporations will be hardwired into the constitutions of these states.
However, even without TTIP, the UK state itself does not provide us with “all the constitutional laws… to change our necessary social institutions”. The UK’s Crown Powers alone ensure that this can not be the case.
Furthermore, the SPGB seems to be completely unaware that that the UK extends beyond Great Britain to Northern Ireland (and once, to the whole of Ireland). The relationship between the UK state and Ireland/Northern Ireland has always been fraught. However, the Crown Powers have ensured that the curtailment of even the limited existing democratic rights and the resort to state promoted violence has been very much a feature of its rule.
And slightly adapting Marx’s maxim, “A nation that oppresses another can not itself be free”, we can see , what the UK state does over the Irish Sea, will have a knock-on effect over here. The Yorkshire miners found out this out in 1984-5. Today, the draconian policing powers once confined to the RUC/PSNI, have become more deeply embedded not only within London’s Met, but elsewhere in the UK – Scotland included (with the backing of the SNP government too).
In the case of the UK, even invoking the word ‘nation’ is ambiguous. What do we mean by ‘nation’ – ‘Ukania’, Great Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland/Northern Ireland? Clearly the body doing the oppressing here is the UK state. The resort to ‘Britishness’ as a ‘nation’ acts merely to disguise the interests of the British ruling class and its various hyphenated subordinate components – Scottish-British, Welsh-British and ‘Ulster’-British.
The SPGB correctly criticises much of the rest of the Left, for not appreciating the real nature of exploitation under capitalism. However, when it come to oppression within the UK, the SPGB lies at the furthest pole of gullibility. It accepts that the ‘British state’ (blind to its Northern Irish component) provides us with “all the constitutional laws” we need – a very paragon of democracy! Here, the SPGB agrees not only with the Labour Party and other social democrats, but with liberals too!
And, how is the working class to make use of British constitutional laws? The SPGB’s programme of education and propaganda will eventually lead us to a situation where 50%+1 of the electorate will vote for its candidates to Westminster. SPGB MP’s will enact ‘Our Object and Declaration of Principles’ – whilst the British ruling class and the UK’s hard state just stands back and lets it happen!
The SPGB has been in existence since 1904. It is part of the World Socialist Movement (WSM). After all this time, the WSM only has national sections in Great Britain (not the UK, note), the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Therefore, the WSM is entirely confined to English speaking countries where illusions in the reality of democracy under their existing constitutions are greatest.
The SPGB’s ‘Our Object and Declaration of Principles and Aims’ correctly states that “the world is a ‘global village” and that “Socialism is not a cooperative island in the middle of capitalism, but a global system of society that will replace capitalism.” However, when it goes on to how to remedy this, nowhere in this statement is the need for international organisation, either in general, or in particular, i.e. the WSM, ever mentioned. From then on everything focusses on the SPGB itself.
The SPGB is proud to be at the most revolutionary wing of those who see their socialism as essentially a question of economics. But despite the SPGB’s more advanced declaration of opposition to wage slavery, it remains, like so many others on the British Left, deeply economistic. And when it comes to any appreciation of the oppressive role of the UK/British state, the SPGB is at the most reformist pole of the British Left, sharing a position with the mildest social democrats and liberals. The SPGB holds massive illusions in the existing UK state and its “constitutional laws available for our use”.
The Republican Communist Network (Scotland) supports neither the British nationalism of the British ruling class and UK state nor the Scottish nationalism of the wannabe Scottish ruling class and the SNP. We are Scottish internationalists advocating ‘internationalism from below’.
Allan Armstrong (RCN).
Your reply is appreciated, Allan. i think you have once again accepted the widespread misunderstandings of the SPGB positions, and no wonder we are often misrepresented and we ourselves plead guilty of over-emphasising only parts of our case to counter the opposition of the times and neglecting to highlight the various nuances of our views.
Firstly, it would indeed be utterly naive to believe that every country in the world has even our limited access to bourgeois democracy. Our advice on the constitution was for those places that do but those many places around the globe unable to use the vote will determine their own means of exercising democracy which as we always say may mean force if required to carry out the will or to defend the will of the people. We are not a pacifist or legalistic organisation.
The SPGB position is that we would change our tactics if the law on elections is changed to the workers detriment, but until that day, we will show our commitment to democracy and let the capitalist class prove themselves to be un-democratic. We won’t stand idly by if the constitution is changed. It wouldn’t stop socialism being eventually established, one way or another. the SPGB is that faced with an impending socialist election victory the capitalist ruling class would abolish political democracy and, even if they let things go so far as an actual socialist election victory, would not respect it and would carry on ruling regardless yet like those previously in the Eastern European overthrow of the CP dictatorships even if a pro-capitalist minority were to try to prevent a change of political control via the ballot box, the socialist majority will still be able to impose its will by other means, such as street demonstrations and strikes.
The 2002 coup against Chavez failed because people were prepared to take to the streets to back up their vote and because the bulk of the armed forces remained loyal to the constitution and the constitutionally-elected president. The theory that power obtained by the ballot box to effect radical changes can’t be retained was disproved by actual experience. It confirmed our view that a socialist majority can both win and retain power via the ballot box if that majority is sufficiently organised and determined and if there is no question as to their democratic legitimacy.
Your caveat about UK democracy and Northern Ireland is somewhat puzzling and i would like elaboration on it since with the participation of Sinn Fein in the assembly government, (and not simply just the assembly), having given up the armed struggle for solely the political process i would think it supports the SPGB case. Sinn Fein engaged in the electoral process quite successfully and were never banned, and even the Bobby Sands seat was held, with an increased vote, by Sinn Fein, who were never legally excluded from participation in elections. Successes convinced republicans that they should contest elections and led to the armalite and ballot box phase of their politics and that led to a resurrection of the old Sinn Fein boycott of the London parliament strategy for elected MPs and eventually lead to their integration fully with parliamentary democracy in Northern Ireland.
RCN’s anti-parliamentarianism seems at odds with the move to support strengthening and reinforcement of the local state and support participation in a part of the bourgeois democratic process of the referendum adding to peoples illusions. Seems a bit more opportunistic than principled but that may be a bit to ungenerous to say but no doubt has its roots in the Bolshevik roots of many of your supporters.
Our position on majorities as expressed by yourself if it was held by ourselves would also be naive – but it isn’t our position. We actually demand that there is an *effective political majority* and that may well be a minority of the electorate. The Socialist Party is too much of historical materialists to be sooth-sayers.
The problem is that it is rather useless for us today to declare what tomorrow exactly is going to happen when socialism in imminent. Will the working class (even a socialist one that is highly politically educated) wait for the declaration of its elected representatives or delegates in Parliament and legislatures? What happens when say 55 per cent of the working class says “Let’s do it now!” What happens if the majority of workers in the UK and Europe start to elect Socialist majorities, but not in the U.S., Japan, etc.? And what if the State (the
state capitalist State and private capitalist State) do begin to exert their powers to stifle the movement (and they will)? Do we then sit and wait again for our chance? What constitutes a working class majority wanting Socialism. Is it 51%? 60%? 75%? I feel this is a futile exercise to make. We simply cannot foresee the events that take place even when say 30% of the working class becomes socialist. or example, that we reached the stage where 20% of the adult working population was indeed socialist. That would be an incredible achievement and there would be a sudden rise in working class militancy in immediate issues, there would be a new “socialist culture” being built, changes within the entire labour movement, in daily life and how people thought politically. At 40% we would still not be the “overwhelming majority” but this would be such a sizably significant and politically powerful base. And here quantitative changes would mean qualitative changes. The “movement” we have now would not be the same movement under those circumstances. It might move in directions we have never even considered. And it has profound implications. It is too difficult for us to simply say that when the overwhelming majority of people around the world want socialism they will create it because there will indeed rise these very revolutionary situations or critical revolutionary crisis or juncture that have not followed the formal logic of the propositions we put forward. The “movement” will take on a life of its own.
The World Socialist Movement cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What we can provide, and what we have continuously provided, is a theory of revolution which, if had been taken up by workers, would have prevented incalculable misery to millions. Over the years, the Party’s theory has led to the formation of a body of knowledge which has been consistently capable of accurate political and economic predictions. For example, in 1917, the Bolsheviks were convinced that they were setting society in Russia on a course of change towards socialism. The Party argued that socialism was not being established in Russia. What followed was the horrendous misery of the Stalinist years. The Party put forward the same view of events in China in 1949. What is happening in Russia and China now? The rulers of these state capitalist regimes introduced free market capitalism. We warned against situations where groups or sections of workers try to stage the revolution or implement socialism when the rest of the working class is not prepared.
That is why call ourselves majoritarians – not because we support a numerical majority nor commit ourselves unconditionally to Parliament and elections.
On a minor point we do have an Indian companion party but your point is taken that our influence has been limited to these countries you listed. The World Socialist Movement is indeed an aspiration that we seek to achieve and sadly not a reality at the present time.
Of course, this internationalism failure exists for all the ex- members off the defunct 3rd International, and the members of the much splintered 4th International. Even the anarchists fail to achieve any worldwide unity in their international organisation.It is regrettable that progress to world socialism has not been accomplished…but the SPGB dares to say that the responsibility for that does not lie with our own political principles but with those who have claimed to be socialist yet adopted non-socialist strategies.
This 1925 SPGB article is relevant to this debate:
Here’s an extract:
“The object of the Party, founded by the late John Maclean, is a Workers’ Republic for Scotland.
The Manifesto sets out the slave position of the working class, and urges that the workers must carry through the Social Revolution.
The chief fallacy of their position is their insistence upon a Scottish Workers’ Republic. This demand is both reactionary and Utopian. The struggle of the workers of the United Kingdom must be a united one. The workers are under the domination of a class who rule by the use of a political machine which is the chief governing instrument for England, Scotland, Wales, etc. To appeal to the workers of Scotland for a Scottish Workers’ Republic is to arouse and foster the narrow spirit of Nationalism, so well used by our masters. Economically the demand is Utopian, as the development of capitalism has made countries more and more dependent on each other, both through the specialisation of industry or agriculture, and also by the force controlled by the Great Powers to suppress or control the smaller nations.”
Just a quick correction of a typo to my contribution
. “…the SPGB is that faced with an impending socialist election victory” should read “One criticism against the SPGB…” which makes the meaning clearer.
Another swift point… i overlooked the ban on the Republican Clubs of the early 60s when the republican movement disavowed armed struggle and tried the constitutional route but this was partly what sparked off the civil rights movement…mea culpa.