The RCN, which participated in the setting up of the Radical Independence Campaign in June 2012, has been discussing the possible futures for RIC after September 18th. Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong have further developed the idea of Movement and Party, first outlined in the RCN’s special bulletin for the September 25th RIC National Forum.
After the battle – the healing has begun
As members of RIC we are trying to deal with the aftermath of a great battle in which we lost our main objective, Scottish self determination, but gained a great deal. We are licking our wounds, healing, reflecting and planning for the struggles of the future. This document is offered as a comradely contribution to that process.
Our key gain was a blossoming, diverse, progressive and creative movement that is developing an understanding of the UK state and how it acts in the interests of the ruling class and against the interests of the majority.
A key question is what are we to do with this knowledge and our new movement? What are we to become?
Sustaining ourselves and developing as a Movement – Let’s work together.
First of all we must not lose what we have gained. We need to find a way of staying together whilst we democratically develop the organisational structures that will sustain our struggles. This will take time and we need to commit to having the patience and persistence to listen to each other. As in all important relationships losing our cool and storming out is rarely helpful.
We think an important next step for RIC is to develop its new founding principles into an Immediate Programme with campaigning policies. To do this we need to draw on the experience of the many other campaigns we have been involved in. If we are to develop a Movement, which can extend support for Scottish self-determination beyond the ‘45%’, then this means continuing to organise in the communities, defending social provision in the face of imposed austerity, whether it comes from Westminster, Holyrood or the Local Councils. It means organising amongst rank and file trade unionists concerned with jobs, pay and conditions. It means relating to all those who face a particularly precarious position in the face of austerity, sexism, racism and chauvinism. It means a preparedness to address the constitutionally entrenched sectarian nature of the UK state, which gives succour to loyalists and fascists, as we saw in the immediate run-up to and aftermath of the referendum.
RIC – a Party or a Movement?
One challenging area of debate has been whether or not RIC should form the basis of a new Left Party. We think that calling for RIC to become a political party at this time would be premature and probably unnecessarily divisive. We think that RIC should cohere itself as a conscious Movement. We have members from several different political parties and many people who are members of none. We need a form of organisation that can accommodate all of this richness and diversity.
What we mean by Movement can be summed up as the organisation that links all those arenas in which the exploited and oppressed conduct their resistance – economic, social, cultural, political/democratic.
Historical examples would include the South African organisation, the United Democratic Front, which was an umbrella organisation holding together all the organisations opposed to the apartheid state. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation performed a similar role in Palestine. At one point the Republican Movement achieved this in Ireland and internationally. This is not to accept these examples uncritically but to give examples of very diverse movements, containing inner conflicts that were none the less able to work together in a united front for a common goal or goals. We suspect that we could learn a lot from the Basques in this area.
A different kind of example in Britain (and to a lesser extent extending to Northern Ireland) is the Labour Movement, which joined together Party, Trade Unions and Cooperative Societies as well as some other organisations, e.g. labour colleges, social clubs, newspapers etc. However this Labour Movement is in a process of deterioration, corruption and decline with its leadership passing to a neo-liberal Labour Party committed to austerity and backed by pro-capitalist Trade Union bosses. ‘The Co-op’ is a shadow of a once mighty organisation which had been a mainstay of working class culture.
A new relationship between Party and Movement
As part of our contribution to this debate we would argue that it is best to consider the idea of a Movement in relationship to the idea of a Party.
Whilst recognising that the term ‘Party’ is problematical in some quarters and indeed that many of us have had difficult experiences within and with parties we still think that it is currently the best term we have to describe the overall political organisation that the dynamic of a Movement points towards.
We accept that this term comes loaded with much negative baggage. Still originally the term ‘Party’ referred to an organisation of those who were partisan towards a particular political stance or class. So a future Party would be an organisation that is pro working class and seeks to be autonomous from the ruling or capitalist class and their state. In our case the UK state.
Importantly this organisation must have an egalitarian culture (no big egos) be democratically controlled by its members, with transparency around decision making and accountability on the part of delegates and representatives.
Those who come from anti-party traditions such as Anarchism often make valid criticisms of our historical and current experiences of left wing and socialist parties, many of which we would share. They also express a more general disappointment and frustration that such organisations have failed to deliver the promises of socialism, of a better world. They claim that the spontaneous actions of workers and the oppressed constitute anarchism in practice that we just need to spread this and do more of the same.
However our experience is that such groups nevertheless end up creating party type organisations without a conscious democratic framework, which then makes them vulnerable to all the anti-democratic vices they criticise in those who favour the building of parties. This critique is further developed in Jo Freeman’s classic, The Tyranny of Structurelessness.
At present we have neither Party nor Movement, state-wide, nationally or internationally. We nevertheless continue to believe that a better world is possible but to get there we need to learn the lessons of the past.
The alternative to counter-posing Party and Movement is to see a complex, sometimes contradictory but unfolding and open-ended relationship between the two. This means going beyond the sect/party and sect/front relationship, which has bedevilled so much of the Left. A Party should be an organisation that has an overall vision of the new society we need, and understand how this is connected with the emerging economic, social, cultural, political/democratic resistance in the wider Movement. Democracy and meaningful autonomy would be at the centre of such an organised relationship between Party and Movement.
A Party should strive to be internationalist. We think there is a real opportunity to create an immediate ‘internationalism from below’ alliance covering these islands, i.e. Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, in the context of the struggle for self-determination in the face of a declining UK state.
We can also see the possibilities of a creating a wider European ‘internationalism from below’ alliance, linking the exploited and oppressed who are resisting the EU’s austerity offensive and its extremely undemocratic basis.
Socialists in RIC
RIC includes members of a number of political organisations. This is healthy provided each political organisation or individual member sees their role as providing arguments and experiences that contribute to a better and wider shared understanding. There will be occasions when there are disagreements which have to be taken to a vote. However, provided this is done in an open and democratic manner then the minority should accept this, knowing their ideas could be supported by a majority on other occasions.
RCN has witnessed a number of political organisations trying to break from the old politics of sect/parties and sect/fronts but often getting diverted or stranded, particularly when they make no attempt to develop a balance sheet of their earlier experience, or think in longer term strategic terms, rather than just jump on the latest issue or campaign. As we have argued, RIC could form the basis for a real Movement. However, the move from campaign/s to Movement is also linked to the move beyond sects and anti-partyism to Party, firmly rooted in the working class and its struggles.
Thus, RIC should welcome working with those trying to break from old sect and front traditions. So whilst we do not support calls for RIC to become a new Left party, we would encourage socialists within RIC to begin a process of cohering into a socialist grouping which might form the basis of a new socialist organisation supportive of the wider RIC Movement.
A Party cannot just be declared after a certain number of recruits have been gained. A Party must have a real relationship with our wider class, expressed in a Movement. The key thing about both Party and Movement is that they must be genuine expressions of independent class organisation.
A new Party needs to promote a real social alternative to capitalism and a different organisational model
The continued decline of the Labour Movement and associated Socialist/Communist organisations has been so comprehensive that many, particularly younger people, reject the term ‘communist ‘or ‘socialist’ altogether. Unlike those of us from an earlier generation, who benefitted from post-war welfare measures, young people have seen very little of benefit to themselves in the now much diminished legacy left by these two Movements e.g. their experience is often now of massive debts following higher education, then of insecure jobs with low pay and declining benefits and pensions prospects.
Thus, when young people do resist, they often abandon the terms ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’, and associate them with the “pale, male and stale” Left. They adopt vague terms like ‘radical’, or its anarchist version, ‘libertarian’.
The word ‘anti’- often figures large, e.g. anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, anti-neoliberal. No real alternative is provided, other than an eclectic and often unthought out mix of various forms of social democracy or local reforms.
We think any new Party needs to develop an attractive vision of an alternative form of society, of a good life, superior to capitalism, whilst connecting this to the different activities in which we engage in the here and now.
There are several immediate political pressures facing us in the aftermath of the referendum vote. One of these pressures is to create a new Left Party, without learning from our recent experiences.
Yet, there has been the experience of the Scottish Socialist Party before it went into self-destruct mode in 2004. Amongst other things, this highlighted the continued failure of trying to build up political organisations around Left populist celebrities beyond any effective accountability. Furthermore, there have been a number of instances of sexual assault and blatant sexism, within socialist organisations, e.g. the SWP, which they have not satisfactorily addressed. If we are not to repeat the same mistakes all over again, we must get beyond ‘forgive and forget’ and begin to ‘listen and learn’ and modify our practice to reflect this.
Developing a strategy for winning Scottish self-determination and breaking-up the UK state
Another pressure is the pull towards Scottish nationalism and tail-ending the SNP. Some see the 2015 Westminster election as an opportunity to replace Labour (the ‘Red Tories’) by SNP and/or other independence candidates. There has been nothing Red about Labour for sometime, so invoking the term ‘Red’ could easily become diverted into a populist anti-socialist campaign.
The last Blue Tory was ditched in Scotland in the 1997 election, in a Scottish landslide for New Labour. Yet we found New Labour still continued with the much the same policies – only with more wars! The ‘New SNP’, which accepts so much of the UK state set-up, including the monarchy and Crown Powers, economic control by the City of London, and military subordination to the British High Command and NATO, will not be able to break from the grip of the British ruling class, global corporate business imposed austerity, or from the continued US/UK imperial war drive.
Some nationalists, encouraged by the current SNP leadership, believe that a renewed ‘Yes’ movement can force the UK government to deliver significant political reform – either Federalism or ‘Devo-Max’. This fails to understand the inherently conservative nature of the UK state’s Crown-in-Parliament set-up and the sovereignty of Westminster. Under this combination, any demands for meaningful change in Scotland, England, Wales and elsewhere in the UK will only be answered by small-scale concessions that do not address genuine popular concerns.
To challenge this, we need an overtly republican Movement that bases its thinking and campaigning on the sovereignty of the people and popular democracy. This would draw its sustenance by building a movement outside the state’s structures and which only enters that arena, when it has its own strong independent base of support.
Other nationalists understand that the Gordon Brown/‘Better Together’ proposals are indeed a trap, but still show naivety in thinking that the UK state will grant another independence referendum. The only reason a referendum was granted in 2012, was because the British ruling class, the Con-Dem government and their Labour unionist allies, thought they could win easily and so would knock back any notions of Scottish independence and opposition to austerity and wars for the forseeable future. They won’t make that mistake again soon! This is why we will have to look to other democratic ways to bring about Scottish self-determination.
Furthermore, the campaign for Scottish self-determination barely reached into England, Wales and Ireland (and what little was done was thanks to RIC). It was the ‘No’ camp that mounted a combined reactionary and sentimental campaign in England against ‘Yes’. If we limit the campaign for meaningful democracy to Scotland, then the UK state and all the unionist parties will be able to play off England, Wales and Northern Ireland state against Scotland, with the choice being between the top-down bureaucratic constitutional tinkering of the mainstream parties and UKIP’s Little Englander reactionary nationalism. We need to develop links in England, Wales and Ireland that reach our beyond the sterile politics trapped within the Westminster set-up and those unionist parties which duplicate its anti-democratic nature. The mass popular democratic movement in Scotland provided an example of what can be done.
Developing an electoral strategy
Having some clear idea of the purpose and nature of a Party could inform an electoral strategy. With a UK General Election due in May 2015 it is important that we decide on our electoral stance sooner rather than later. Just knocking out the ‘Red Tories’ by providing a free run for pro-monarchy, pro-City of London, pro-NATO SNP candidates can only lead to the sort of demoralisation which followed the election of Tony Blair’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ New Labour in 1997.
We propose a strategy of supporting only those candidates, from whatever party who support RIC’s revised 5 principles. This provides us with a coherent and defensible position as an organisation and allows us to be even handed in our dealings with all the parties which claim to support Scottish self determination.