Jun 06 2014

JUST SAY YES? – A Review of ‘YES – The radical case for Independence’ by James Foley & Pete Ramand

Murdo Ritche (RCN)  reviews Yes- The Radical Case for Scottish Independence
 by James Foley & Pete Ramand (Pluto Press, 2014). This was first posted on Murdo’s blog (http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk) and has been slightly changed. 

JUST SAY YES?

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The cover and the title of this book summarize the contradictory tensions that flow all through the text. The word Yes takes up nine-tenths of the cover referring to the authors desire to give positive affirmation to September’s independence referendum. Much smaller, is the claim that it will present the radical reasons for national independence. However, rallying a vote and constructing a case are two entirely separate tasks. By attempting both, the authors fail to satisfactorily achieve either. The book is entirely constructed out of these kind of incomplete, unresolved tensions.

The lines of praise that promote it as well as the numerous names cited in the acknowledgement are more than a marketing tactic. It is an expression of the “group-think” and mind-set of a people mainly outside the conventional nationalist movements who have recently accepted the need for national independence rushing to make up for lost time by re-shaping its policies. Locating their place in history is understandable, but it also lacks any groundedness producing a superficiality blowing them in many different directions

Unfortunately, like many originating from the British Socialist Workers Party, they write like they heckle; lots of small, unconnected, one-line barbs lacking any deeper or related logic. This superficiality is not only found in the unfocussed thinking of the authors but appears in the language they use. There is an unhealthy use of media buzz-words and jargon which often confuse the points the authors intend to make. The first two chapters are the worst but it does get better later on. A word such as “Anglobalisation” is left undefined and is so rarely used later that its worthlessness is revealed by its absence. Yet the authors declare it a central concept. The idea originates from right-wing historian Niall Ferguson continuing the theme that a specific national or ethic grouping really laid the foundations of today’s world. Similar views about the unique centrality of their national and ethnic group can be found from Scots, Irish, French, Italian, Spanish, Jewish even Lebanese writers.

In a hurry

Their book was written in September-October last year, before the Scottish Government’s White Paper was issued. Nevertheless, they attempt to give it a mention in the afterword, although they have clearly not read it. However, when the imprecision and unresolved tensions of Foley’s and Ramand’s text are set against the detailed and structured argument of the Scottish Government a remarkable similarity in outlook emerges. Clearly written in a hurry, it makes no case that is identifiably distinct from most previous understandings of Scottish national independence. In many ways, it is less “radical” than the Scottish Government’s proposals because it omits any mention of the importance of constitutional and institutional modernisation by the establishment of a written constitution or economic control of oil and gas revenues through the creation of a sovereign wealth fund.

Although the White Paper has many evasions as well as uncompleted aspects, its fundamental goals as well as many assumptions are almost identical to the “radical” case. Both adore the so-called Nordic model of economy and society. The White Paper’s panglossian assumptions evade difficult dilemmas that need be confronted such as currency, while Foley and Ramand do acknowledge their existence and, in some instances, offer an alternative. They are right in their criticisms of the Yes campaign’s evasive optimism for opening the vista of infinite possibilities while failing to see, let alone present any ideas on how to overcome, the difficulties ahead.

The so-called Nordic model

For some decades, the SNP has trumpeted the desire to become a nation in the Scandinavian mould. So too, Foley and Ramand. “A progressive case for Scottish independence would aim to mirror the best approaches to national citizenship under today’s capitalism, creating a ‘Nordic utopia’” (1) Supporters of conventional and radical independence seem to agree on the same goal. Like the SNP, they fail to define the so-called Nordic model. Occasionally the Netherlands gets thrown in too.
Throughout the text constant appreciative references are made about its advantages. “[M]any small countries in Northern Europe manage to be far more equal than Scotland, and to sustain a higher standard of economic development in general. But how can Scotland take the first steps towards this Nordic model?” (p.63) Is this the goal the authors desire?

Early on in the text, they claim they want to go beyond this model. In three confusing paragraphs they attempt to “define what we call a radical vision of independence.” (p.4) It is impossible to summarize in one line the essence contained in each of the three paragraphs because of their rambling character. The first appears to appreciate that the effect of legal rights needs to be measured to assess who benefits. The second that its vision goes further than the mixed economies of Northern Europe requiring most economic decisions “be transferred out of private hands and placed under public control.” The third claims that “radicals refuse to let Westminster set the agenda about independence.” This important final point never appears again anywhere in the text. The rest of the paragraph then rambles on about economic inefficiencies and British militarism.

The seeming difference between conventional and radical supporters of independence appears to be one of emphasis. In January, Foley and Ramand wrote, “The most widespread critique of the yes campaign, in all its varieties, condemns its false promises and its illusions in financing a Scandinavian future. The SNP’s confused messages have added to this, since its programme appears to mix American-style corporation tax cuts with Nordic-style welfare.” (2) Neither the desirability or the realisability of this objective are questioned by either.

The Nordic model can on various occasions include Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. It usually excludes Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Yet, even if the included five are the reference point, they have all had drastically different histories not just in the pre-war era, but in the manner in which they responded to the cold war. All found niches within a world of post-war global conflict living close beside the enormous neighbour of the Soviet Union. This means the so-called Nordic model probably could not be emulated by many countries even if it was a single strategy.

This is not the place to engage with the so-called Nordic model. It has been partially examined in a critique of the Common Weal project by Rory Scothorne who wrote, “The Common Weal’s idea of the Nordic model confronts us as the end (or containment) of history, an indefinite time-out from historical struggle and transformation, precisely because it exists in their rhetoric as if history has ended. It offers no significant analysis of the historical conditions for the emergence of their chosen utopia, nor does it place Nordic success within any kind of historical trajectory.” (3) Although Foley and Ramand claim to wish to transcend this goal throughout the rest of the text they cannot detach themselves from a fixation with it. A feature of this book is how on almost every issue it has tensions between different competing objectives, e.g. Are they for or seeking to transcend the so-called Nordic model.

More than one nationalism

How can a country be nationally independent in a world dominated by imperialism? This is the central question that needs resolved. Every nation will have to resolve this in its own way, but some important features remain constant. Capitalism is a class based society where the bourgeoisie rule, making redundant rule by older classes such as the aristocracy, peasantry, etc., leaving only one other class that can rule on its own, the proletariat. Peasants’ interests prevent them from governing independently of any of the two dominant classes. The few peasants in Scotland are mainly assisted by organisations such as the Crofting Commission and exert a numerically small political influence though one that has sufficient wider appeal for it not to be ignored.

Nationalism, like the nation itself, is a non-materialist ideology. “Consequently, all national independence is an illusion, especially in an imperialist structure with a global capitalist market, major international institutions, supranational laws, and treaty obligations. Nationalism iswhat the writer Benedict Anderson called ‘imagined communities.’ (4) Communities-of-the-mind that are created to define legal-territorial boundaries, expected behaviours of the citizenry, and carriers of many myths to establish social cohesiveness. But one of the most important features of all nations/ nationalism is that ‘it is imagined as a community regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as deep, horizontal comradeship.’” (5) Class expresses itself through communities-of-the-imagination so that the national aspirations of one class may not always be the national aspirations of another.

Consequently, more than one kind of nationalism can exist competing over the same constituency. As Marx observed of the French Revolution, the word liberté meant to the bourgeoisie the freedom to exploit while for workers it meant freedom from exploitation. The same features exist in the vocabulary of Scottish nationalism. This means creating a nationalism in the interests of workers and their allies while rejecting one that can damage their interests even if both the bourgeoisie and the want to draw the same borderline and establish a government over the same territory.

Communities-of-the-imagination have many tributaries such as language, ethnicity, religion, culture, even economic difference. But its highest point is when it achieves a political significance. As Lenin observed, ”For the question of the political self-determination of nations and their independence as states in bourgeois society, Rosa Luxemburg has substituted economic independence. … [S]elf-determination of nations in the Marxist Programme cannot from an historico-economic point-of-view have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence and the formation of the national state.” (6) In this way the politics of the issue must always get priority over the economic.

British nationalism versus Scottish nationalism

As well as general features found across capitalism, there are some specific ones that history, geography, political and economic practices have gifted to the British and the Scottish a developmental path unique from all other societies. The peculiarities that arise out of the legacy of the United Kingdom’s unfinished bourgeois revolution often defy simple categorisation. Foley and Ramand have not even scratched the surface in assessing these, instead constructing their arguments on far too many shallow assumptions. They are not to be singled out for this failure because, even now, only the rarest of analysts has challenged many of the assumptions on which our understanding of British capitalism rests.

Marx and Engels were aware that features of the UK created anomalies that could not be found elsewhere in Europe or the Americas. As Engels wryly commented to Marx, “the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat.” (7) The UK’s peculiar historical development leaves a legacy that even now has enormous political consequences. Many conservative and radical myths have been constructed that after examination reveal an entirely different type of state and society from these easily repeated caricatures.

Foley’s and Ramand’s starting point in analysing [national] independence is “the ideology of Britain today.” (p.15) This assumes such an entity exists. After using spurious differences between nationalism and patriotism they believe come from George Orwell –actually they are far older- they then morph this into what they call British nationalism. Sociologist Michael Billig is then cited to explain the apparent similarities between British and Scottish nationalism. “Nationalism is not confined to social movements, which aim to create new nation-states, but it is also the ideology of established nations.” (p.40) The authors identify the seemingly odd habit of referring to peripheral nationalism within the UK as nationalism while ignoring the “ideological” mind-set that is projected in Britain. By this logic, surely it must be nationalism too? And we are witnessing a competition between two different nationalisms? Or, perhaps, not all ideologies can be called nationalism?

British Nationalism or an Archaic UK?

Orwell is correct is when he states that the nationalist seeks “power not for himself, but for the national unit.” (p.41) But the operation of and identification with the UK state has often been expressed through structures of monarchy and dynasty, religious allegiance, business interests, popular organisation, even regionalism. The apparent similarity of Westminster to a bourgeois national assembly ignores its obvious features such as the division between elected Commons and unelected Lords all under the Crown but, more importantly how seemingly pre-capitalist institutions and practices are still its operational foundations.

Parliamentary sovereignty or more accurately the location of sovereignty by the Crown-in-Parliament sets the political rules, shapes the popular culture, and also alters economic performance. These seemingly archaic practices have much more significance than a division between efficient and decorative features as Bagehot alleges. Their continuance has also meant that the UK could never develop a popular “blood and soil” nationalism because it would challenge the class based structures that rested on a fiction of a dynastic continuity. This would simply open a far greater space for popular “rights” or social obligations that would impinge on the exclusive rights given to Parliament.

British capitalism did not come into existence as the result of a bourgeois democratic revolution. Instead, it arose out of apparent dynastic and religious conflicts in an era preceding any widespread understanding of nations and national identity. Economic activity grew initially out of agricultural improvement with the greater use of industrial activities spreading into transport, new sources of energy, military equipment and finance. These laid the basis for some major institutional innovations to organically grow into existence such as the constitutionally limited monarchy, the mercantile companies and the stock exchange. The East India Company, a private business with its own army, at times possessing an asset base as large as the UK state was the initial main instrument for building the Empire.

But this growth occurred without any “democratic” or “modern” political, institutional, or constitutional developments, consequently a bourgeois-democratic consciousness never developed in any class. When the parliamentary union between England and Scotland occurred it was predominantly for the purpose of creating Europe’s largest free trade zone with a shared ambition for colonies. It was simply a territorial expansion with no alteration to political institutions or working.

Even the Empire was not built on nationalism but dynastic loyalty and private enterprise. The so-called British army internally was based on locally recruited regiments owing loyalty to the local aristocracy and bourgeoisie, while externally it never had a majority of UK subjects as soldiers until 1914. There was never any attempt to project any aspect of so-called “national identity” abroad. Language, religion, education, culture were exported by France, Spain, Portugal and Holland, but the UK only exported some law to protect the property gained. The brutality of conquering other peoples often masked the diffidence of its rule and administration. When commentators in the UK seem unable to see their own views as “nationalist” they are not being disingenuous, but reflecting an important feature of the UK’s unusual development.

The UK’s so-called national anthem is not a hymn to the wonders of the British Isles, its military conquests, history, or its “constitutional” achievement. It does not even mention which country it is assigned to, so that a number of nations use it. Instead it is a song of praise to the reigning monarch and the Hanoverian dynasty they represent. It is an explicit rejection of the claims of the rival House of Stewart. Although it has a long history, it never really became a “national anthem” until the 1780s or 1790s. MPs, MSPs, soldiers, sailors and other service-people, police officers and a large number of elected and unelected public officials do not swear an oath to uphold the constitution, serve the people honestly and to the best of their ability, or respect the country’s national integrity from any threats. Instead they swear an oath of loyalty to the reigning monarch and “all heirs and successors according to law”. (8) Oaths are a very serious matter in UK political discourse being currently governed by number of pieces of legislation that clearly set the terms and words required. Almost all, require loyalty to the monarch and, by implication, the class system it rests upon. This dynastic loyalty declaration substitutes for anything resembling national obligation or nationalism.

The Myths of the Established Church

Dynasty is not the only substitute for nationalism in the UK. Religious structures and histories drastically affected the early political life of the UK. It has also stopped the development of a bourgeois-democratic and nationalist culture from arising. Yet although England has an established church with the reigning monarch at it head as “defender-of-the-faith”, it is a “nationalised” institution that is constantly torn between a high church Anglo-Catholicism and a low church protestant evangelicalism. Moreover, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland all had entirely different responses to the reformation and counter-reformation. In the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Roman Catholicism was more than a religion; it was a political power used to obstruct challenges to dynastic legitimacy across Europe.

Variations of what became known as Protestantism, Lutherism, Zwinglism, Calvinism became vehicles on which an increasingly more strident bourgeoisie, peasantry and plebeians challenged the Catholicism of Europe’s ruling aristocratic class. In Scotland, the reformation followed the European model producing a Presbyterianism initially based on Calvinist principles that resisted later attempts to impose the episcopacy of the established church. In Ireland, the brutal attempts of occupying forces to impose the established Church of Ireland alienated the mainly Catholic population as well as the dissenting protestant bourgeoisie. In England, the unfinished bourgeois revolution left a church that called itself protestant whose structures mimicked Catholicism and in some areas whose adherents used rituals similar to Catholicism.

Marx and Engels observed this phenomena. “In England Catholicism has its few supporters in the two extremes of society, the aristocracy and the lumpenproletariat. The lumpenproletariat, the mob, which is either Irish or of Irish ancestry, is Catholic by descent. The aristocracy conducted its fashionable flirtation with Puseyism until conversion to Catholicism finally began to become the fashion. At a time when the English aristocracy was being forced in the course of its struggle with the advancing bourgeoisie to flaunt evermore brazenly the religious ideologues of the aristocracy, the orthodox theologians of the High Church were also being forced in their struggle with the theologians of the bourgeois dissenters to recognize more and more the logical consequences of their semi-Catholic dogma and ritual. Indeed the conversion of individual reactionary Anglicans to the original Church, with its monopoly on grace, inevitably also increased in frequency.” (9)

When Foley and Ramand talk of “Protestant privilege” they see only the superficial appearance. While the Acts of Succession 1689 and 1701 prohibited monarchs being Catholics or marrying Catholics, this ignores the inability to differentiate Catholics from Protestants within the established church. A number of positions in elite government office were barred to Catholics, most notably Members of Parliament under the Test Acts and the Act of Uniformity. However with death of the “Young Pretender” in 1766, the Vatican quickly recognised the Hanoverian succession, and the “disabilities” affecting Catholics were gradually dismantled. By 1778, Catholics could own land and join the army subject to an oath renouncing the Stewart dynasty and the civic authority of the Pope. In the UK by 1782, Roman Catholic bishops and schools were being established. The Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 finally removed most of the remaining substantial restrictions. The established church very quickly found it had no real monopoly. Instead it stood at the head of a league table of religions with various competing forms of Protestantism and Catholicism. Without its enormous state subsidies, it lacked the will to promote the identity it knew it lacked.

The Church of England was not the only force unable to project Protestantism. The Church of Scotland was an insular, exclusive institution that was restricted in its influence by its Calvinism. This doctrine believed that there were only a limited number places in heaven and God had decided who was getting admitted before they were born. It was a perfect doctrine for national superiority but entirely useless for proselytising in a rapidly growing Empire. To compete for influence against Catholics, CofE Evangelicals, Methodists, Baptists and others, it had to gradually abandon its proclaimed beliefs. Although the House of Lords intermittently remained an obstacle to “Catholic Emancipation,” the rapid removal of entrenched hostility was a necessary requirement so the UK could create the political and military alliances to build the Empire.

Religious pragmatism

Religious pragmatism is the most important feature of the UK and certainly not strident Protestantism. Under oaths of loyalty to the reigning monarch, the incorporation of ruling elites regardless of their religious views, an army mainly made up of foreigners initially mercenaries, later colonial subjects, the British Empire was cobbled together. Often using divide-and-rule tactics internal tensions were exploited with each new defeated group quickly finding a place inside the ruling structure after capitulation. It was not the projection of Britishness, nationalism or Protestantism that pushed the UK forward, but the skilful use of pre-capitalist seeming political structures and practices that built its growth. Yet the economy and mode-of-production were capitalist and the goals and purpose were for capitalist results. The Empire was a conflict between an advanced capitalist mode-of-production with other less developed systems. By 1759, the UK dominated the globe, but by 1776 the first features of its backwardness began to appear. It was still enough for the empire to advance for another hundred or so years yet. “Britishness” was an identity imposed from without as a feature of colonialism and the growth of Empire (This seems to contradict your statement above, where you say “it was not the projection of Britishness, nationalism or Protestantism that pushed the UK forward).

This is why Foley and Ramand are wrong to counter-pose British nationalism with Scottish nationalism. The UK’s archaic political structures have become an ever greater impediment on its political and economic development. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty now inhibits economic development in a number of ways of which the most obvious is the inability to establish a sovereign wealth fund to re-invest oil and gas revenues. (A sovereign wealth fund could also be used for other sources of revenues such as the Crown Estates.) But this would require that it is not subject to arbitrary expropriation by Parliament. It cannot do this because this would infringe on Parliament’s sole privileges.The challenge that Scottish nationalism presents is one of capitalist modernisation versus a failing, archaic status quo.

What kind of independence?

Scottish national independence is now inevitable, even if it fails to be attained in the coming referendum. However, the same flexibility of the UK’s structures that was able to combine allegedly competing hostile forces into one empire and state are still operating. They not only affect countries in the parliamentary union but outside it also. Nominal national independence with clearly drawn border lines and separate governments will not be enough. The effect of various Crown powers still has influence over governments in Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

But it was in the Irish Republic these caused the greatest damage after national independence was achieved. These were written into the Independence settlement. Not only were six of Ulster’s nine counties left under British sovereignty, but oaths of allegiance to a foreign monarch were made essential features of political life, seaports were to be open for all ships of the Royal Navy and much else. The immediate effect of these conditions was a civil war and almost a hundred years of intermittent conflicts usually over the status of the North-East corner of the island. Economic life was stunted by absentee owners who left the branch office unattended compelling many Irishmen and women to migrate to the UK for work. The UK almost dragged the country into more imperialist wars throughout its pre-Second World War existence.

The Independence Settlement

A truly radical case for national independence would begin by identifying the kind of independence settlement it believed was preferable. That would be its starting point. By now socialists should be worried when they hear the point-of-view that one task must be achieved before another can be begun. First achieve the democratic revolution then the socialist revolution can be started. First defeat the fascists before land reform can commence. First win the war then progress at home can be initiated. The one-step-at-a-time approach has been the excuse used to limit, confine and, eventually, stifle one struggle after another throughout the twentieth century. Now it is first achieve national independence then a socialist struggle will be possible. But the independence settlement is being ignored except by the global forces of reaction who are already working to shape its outcome. Even now saying “Yes” is of less importance than developing the case for national independence that can move history forward in the class struggle.

An independent Scotland’s membership of NATO the EU and accepting the continuation of the current royal dynasty, will put structures and practices in place that have enormous impacts on areas of current political life. The acceptance of the monarchy sets in place not just a ruling family but restrictions on popular and national sovereignty, land ownership and use and glorifies the existence of a class system based on rank and privilege. NATO membership gives a ready-made list of friends and enemies, links in pressures to raise military spending and keeps the economy geared towards others military needs. Membership of the EU brings a massive tsunami of economic and social regulations that make much public ownership almost impossible and restricts the ability of countries to pursue advantageous trading relationships on a bilateral basis. The danger of simply saying Yes in the forthcoming referendum, is that it will be used to give assent to other policies that have not even been discussed. For socialists, it will be the national independence that is rejected that defines it more than the national independence that is offered.

The official “Yes” Campaign strategy of Project optimism is targeted by Foley and Ramand, but it is very hard identify any strategy from them other than tailing the forces of Scottish nationalism, currently the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and Scottish National Party. They have produced what they call a Radical Needs Agenda with a number of policies resembling a wish list without any order of priority. Some of this may be beneficial but it often appears poorly thought out. The Green New Deal’ aim they propose would “be to absorb as much of Scotland’s economy as possible under this umbrella” under a fully nationalised green economic planning council. They claim this will cut carbon (carbon dioxide?) emissions by fifty per cent by 2050. Even if one single body should have this amount of economic power it clearly does not fit easily with the claim for Empowered Participatory Governance of decentralised decision making. There is a demand to nationalise North Sea Oil. However, the authors make no mention of the importance of refining oil and gas. This is especially important because last year’s confrontation at Grangemouth revealed the vulnerability of the Scottish economy within a global context. Like many on the left, they advocate an independent national currency on nationalist grounds rather than as one to increase international trade. They do not explain how they intend to reduce the increased transaction costs that will occur. Moreover, they fail to outline how a currency in an oil based economy will counter the tendency to appreciate making local production more costly and relatively cheapening imports. There is a demand that tenants and communities have the right to buy land against the wishes of landlords, but none to simply nationalise the land.

Coming late to the party has costs in other areas. There is a complete absence in their text on the importance of constitutional and institutional reform. The White Paper is clear in its call for a Scottish Constitutional Convention to establish a written constitution. It is the content of this proposed constitution that should be the focus of the left now. There will be considerable pressures for the blandest possible outcome; this must be resisted now. Another glaring omission is the need to bring income from oil and gas resources under a sovereign wealth fund that is more than a price stabilisation fund. This also requires the establishment of priorities on how such revenues would be spent as well as on how it should be publically accountable. These have been SNP policies for several decades but the economic reductionism of Foley and Ramand blinds them to their importance.

Republicanism, Modernisation, Secularism and Class Struggle

There is one mention of republicanism in the entire text (p.81), yet it is no more than a description of anti-monarchism. It is the UK’s archaic structure and “constitutional” settlement that are still the operating procedures of the British state. This is why republicanism has to be the central feature of any campaign for change in the UK. Modernising the constitutional and institutional framework may easily lapse into becoming a claimed goal of bourgeois modernisation, but the UK’s bourgeois aristocracy and ennobled bourgeoisie would have enormous difficulties adjusting to a constitutionally empowered proletariat. It has to be made into a demand of class struggle.

With republicanism also comes church disestablishment. The privileged position of one church has created comfortable niches for others. The separation of church and state that secularism demands will also end the position of faith schools. (Another essential demand that is curiously missing from the text.) However, it would encounter immediate opposition from well organised minorities that the bourgeois parties don’t want to alienate. Even if the UK displayed “protestant privilege” as the authors believe then a demand for an end to religious control of chunks of the educational system would end that abuse.

The authors correctly attack the stupidity of the so-called “Scottish cringe.” A piece of psychological posturing that reveals the petty-bourgeois contempt of some Scots for other Scots. But they fail to recognise this logic when applied to Labour voters. To describe them as having “tribal links” drastically understates the achievements that the Labour Party made. It is an offensive way of demeaning the rational calculus that many voters make. Foley and Ramand believe that jailing bankers would solve problems without wondering why the systemic choices of willing sellers and buyers cause economic crashes. Why stop at bankers, why not jail estate agents, mortgage telesales people and others at the centre of the economic process? At times, they make mention of economic systems, at others that the economic actors such as Fred Goodwin were psychopaths. Also the idea that reflation is a voluntary choice that can reverse economic crashes is naïve.

The Cuban example manages to get a mention albeit with only limited understanding of the difficulties the revolution has encountered and still experiences. “A Cuban model of society and democracy is not desirable for Scotland, and we do not consider it socialism in any sense we understand the term.” (p.107) Instead it is a thought experiment if the worst happened.

The Cuban experience is far from the worst that has ever been experienced; the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea and China certainly experienced even greater imperialist brutality. But the tactical acumen of the Cuban revolutionary leadership has defeated, neutralised or minimised the many ongoing imperialist assaults against the country. A small Caribbean island cannot create socialism on its own but it has undoubtedly combatted imperialism more strenuously than any so-called Nordic country.

This tiny island’s legacy in building resistance to imperialism in Central and South America, Asia and Africa is unique in world history. When Cuban troops not just stopped South Africa’s troops invading Southern Angola but defeated them at Cuito Cuanavale they brought down the entire apartheid state. This fact was acknowledged by Nelson Mandela who made Cuba his first port-of-call on release from prison. As a model, it should not be dismissed so easily. Indeed, if any socialist or nationalist reform was ever seriously adopted, the worst case will quickly become the one to be expected.

The pursuit of genuine national independence will never be tolerated by global imperialism. Yet despite an economic embargo lasting over fifty years, Cuba’s significant achievements continue to be made and not just in health, education, bio-technology but the National Assembly has the third highest representation of women in the world. It has also been significant in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries attempting to build better political, economic and social linkages between the colonial and former colonial countries that still suffer from imperialist obstructions. It is surprising that none of the nationalist left even consider building links with this body and similar institutions, but feel affinity with the EU and NATO.

There are many faults with this text, and much of the praise it has gathered is truly undeserved. But it satisfies most nationalist prejudices so its faults will be overlooked. It does not promote a vision that is different from the mainstream nationalism even if the authors believe that it does. To Alex Salmond, the Scottish Government and the SNP these views remain within the same framework of shared goals, values and assumptions. The authors are arguing for a “Yes” vote; they are not presenting a vision of “radical independence”. However, as the vote approaches, many others will have to address what comprises a national independence that is distinct from the independence on offer. That will require an entirely different approach.

References

1. p.3, Foley & Ramand. Page numbers in the text refer to the reviewed work.

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/23/scotland-labour-traditions-yes-vote-independence

3. http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/08/02/riding-the-unicorn/

4. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 1983.

5. http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/11/13/the-myth-of-real-independence/

6. pp. 49-50, “The Rights of Nations to Self-Determination,” in Questions of National policy and Proletarian Internationalism, Progress Publishers, 1970. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/ch01.htm

7. p.103, Engels to Marx, October 7th, 1858, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, 1982.

8. Promissory Oaths Act 1868.

9. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung Revue, May-October 1850 http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/11/01. Puseyism or the Oxford Movement pushed for re-catholicisation has been a recurring feature of the tensions with the Church of England. One such wave occurred after the First World War with Evelyn Waugh the best known supporter and the recent move to Rome in opposition to women clergy only the latest.

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also see:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/04/01/yes-the-radical-case-for-independence-glasgow-book-launch/

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7 Responses to “JUST SAY YES? – A Review of ‘YES – The radical case for Independence’ by James Foley & Pete Ramand”

  1. David says:

    A petty and limp-minded review. There are so many distortions and misapprehensions that it isn’t worth tackling them – I’d suggest people read the book for themselves.

  2. CrisisMaven says:

    Well, wouldn’t the Soviet model be what would be argued for by (Leninist) Marxists? And isn’t more independence for Scotland a development along those lines as the autonomous republics etc. that were set up in the early 1920s in the Soviet Union?

  3. RCN says:

    David says: “A petty and limp-minded review. There are so many distortions and misapprehensions that it isn’t worth tackling them – I’d suggest people read the book for themselves.”

    Let me begin where I am in agreement with David, “I’d suggest people read the book.” I have now done this myself and hope that sometime soon I can make my own more extended comments.

    However, you say that Murdo’s review is “petty and limp-minded”. Murdo has taken some considerable time over his review, and outlined fairly clearly where his criticisms lie. You then go on to say that ”there are so many distortions and misapprehensions”. This is followed by an abrupt attempt to close down debate – therefore, “it isn’t worth tackling them”. With so many “distortions and misapprehensions’, It should have been fairly easy to give a couple of examples to buttress your case.

    It would need more time to make a full assessment of both the book and the review. However, I would differ with Murdo some of of his criticisms. I think James and Pete make a very good case for saying that the ‘No’ campaign represents a pretty virulent example of British nationalism. Furthermore, I heard Pete elaborating on this eloquently at a book launch in Edinburgh on 4th June. Pete also speaks very much from family experience as someone from a Guyanese-Asian background.

    Murdo also argues that the UK is somehow unique because of its antiquated constitutional nature. In effect, Murdo is saying that there is still an unfinished bourgeois revolution. Although not dealt with in James’ and Pete’s new book, they both addressed the weakness of this largely Trotskyist and Tom Nairn derived view in the pamphlet, which preceded their new book (see my review at:-
    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/09/16/britain-must-break-to-defend-real-labour-or-the-break-up-of-the-uk-to-advance-republican-socialism/).In my review I agreed with them over this.

    My own initial criticism of the book would be its failure to fully understand the unionist nature of the UK state, or the British ruling class strategy of ‘Devolution-all-round’ and the ‘Peace Process’ to maintain its domination of these islands. Nor, is there a class appreciation of the SNP, and the political significance of its development into the ‘New SNP’.

    However, there is material in both the James’ and Pete’s book (and previous pamphlet) and Murdo’s review that could contribute to a new higher level synthesis.

    Your own response to my review of James’ and Pete’s earlier pamphlet produced what I think has been a constructive debate:-

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/23/david-jamieson-of-the-the-isg-replies-to-allan-armstrong/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/03/26/allan-armstrong-rcn-replies-to-david-jamieson-isg/

    http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/06/02/allan-armstrong-rcn-replies-to-david-jamieson-isg-part-2/

    I think it would be good if the debate could now be taken on to a new level, with you outlining where your political disagreements lie.

    Allan Armstrong

  4. David says:

    This is the second review I’ve read (first one by Tom Coles here http://glasgowreviewofbooks.com/2014/04/09/making-our-dreams-come-true-james-foley-and-pete-ramands-yes-the-radical-case-for-scottish-independence/)where the thrust of the critique has been ‘this book didn’t do what I wanted this book to do’.

    In Coles’ case he wanted a complete re-imagining of the world movement for Communism, replete with new strategies and philosophies for dealing with a changed contemporary world: This is what he wanted from a 50,000 word text putting forward the left case for Scottish Independence. Its an illegitimate review.

    Murdo has a different approach – he sprays the the text with a gigantic melange of piecemeal and petty criticisms. I’m not surprised, had the book made none of the grave errors he cites he would still have rejected it – as you know very well Allan. Whats the point of reprinting a review like this?

    ‘Yes’ is a 50,000 word, plain language, mass market orientated, polemic against its various competitor political currents in contemporary Scottish society, arguing for independence as part of an ongoing project of social change. It is not a detailed analysis of UK history or UK capitalism, still less a detailed game plan for dismantling the UK state and bringing about socialism – why on earth should it be? Please review the book for WHAT IT IS. That’s fundamental for reviewing a book. What Murdo has written here isn’t serious and can’t be taken seriously.

  5. David says:

    On another note, as Murdo concedes the book has been universally well received by any reviewer not involved in what remains of the socialist left. Tells you something.

    I’m going to review the book over the next couple of days, I’ll pass it on. And I will actually review the book, THIS book.

  6. Murdo Ritchie says:

    I do believe the UK is still grappling with the legacy of an “unfinished bourgeois revolution.” I also believe the socialist/ communist left will repeatedly fail if it won’t address the peculiarities of the UK’s historical development. I don’t know if it’s correct to characterise this as “largely Trotskyist and Tom Nairn derived,” because many others Marx and Engels included found it impossible to understand the UK without examining beneath visible and often misleading surface.

    Undoubtedly, one component that has attempted to tackle this was later known as the (Perry) Anderson-Nairn thesis. However, its early beginnings seem to have failed to produce a political understanding instead it became entangled in the maze of cultural issues and perspectives. As for Nairn his nationalism got the better of him, and it becomes very difficult to identify in him any attempt at creating an independent working class perspective. Nairn’s book on the monarchy aside, there has been very little attempt to develop a republican outlook that can encapsulate the impact that pre-capitalist structures still have on political practice. (This would also include the relationship with capitalist business.)

    The fundamental assumption in Foley’s and Ramand’s book of a competition between two nationalisms causes a number of serious errors to be made. In this, they are not alone. The promotion of these surface impressions masks the greater tensions between the Salmond project of capitalist modernisation and the desperate desires of UK/ Westminster to cling to tradition, custom, practice and antiquity. Sectarians see only UK capitalist and Scottish nationalists finding a way of progressing capitalism; while the nationalist’s hostility to the UK’s glaringly reactionary nature fools them into imagining that all resistance will create a republican even proletarian advance. A more conditional approach to nationalism is required; and that requires a better understanding of the UK, its state, history and politics.

    The obsession with the so-called Nordic Model which the SNP and the RIC (despite claims to the opposite) place at the centre of their thinking is only a “mind forged manacle” that locks them in a bourgeois outlook. The same is true for much else in the nationalist vocabulary. This is why republicanism must become a central outlook or perspective in all analysis rather than a phrase of wishful thinking to be tacked on at the end. Foley and Ramand mention it only once in passing in their text.

    Republicanism posits the necessary advances in bourgeois modernisation (written constitution, representative government, secular separation of church and state etc,.) but does not limit itself to them either and can also be used to promote workers’ government, workers’ control over the means of production, and the building of a socialist society. Its development and promotion requires a real radical break with the worship of UK institutions and practices as well as the fantasies of bourgeois nationalists.

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

    […] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/06/06/just-say-yes-a-review-of-yes-the-radical-case-for-ind… Murdo Ritchie – Just Say Yes? – A Review of Yes – The radical case for Independence by James Foley & Pete Ramand (ISG) , 6.6.14 (plus comments by David Jamieson and Allan Armstrong) 6.6.14 and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/04/01/yes-the-radical-case-for-independence-glasgow-book-launch/ John Lanigan – Yes, the Radical Case for Independence – Glasgow Book Launch, 1.4.14 […]

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