EL&SD is posting  a new conclusion to Allan Armstrong’s book From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit

FROM AN EX-BRIT END TO THE BRITISH UNIION AND EMPIRE IN AN ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ CAMPAIGN FOR A EUROPEAN REPUBLIC TO A ‘UNIVERSALISM FROM BELOW’ GLOBAL COMMUNE

Despite the claims of liberal EU supporters, the EEC did not bring peace to its member states.  Although armed conflicts were ended between these states, both the UK and Spain were able to conduct ‘dirty wars’ in Northern Ireland and Euskadi, without any challenge from an EEC/EU, based upon the sovereignty of existing states.  The current activities of the semi-Francoist Spanish Castilian state in Catalunya highlight the continuing democratic deficit underpinning the EU today.  Those liberal laws, provided under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, are dispensable whenever member states face internal national democratic challenges or the effects of major global economic crises.  Ever since the 2008 Crisis, EU’s neo-Liberal leaders have abandoned any pretence that they want to maintain European unity for the benefit of anybody but themselves.  And the Right Populists want either to redefine or break-up the EU on an ethnic national state basis.

The EU’s Schengen walls, erected by neo-Liberals (without much opposition from Social Democrats), were designed to ensure that only those workers required by the Euro-bosses, and a limited number of asylum seekers, gain entrance.  And this is completely without regard to the EU-based corporations’ own role in plundering resources, promoting wars, dumping waste and imposing environmental degradation across the globe.  This has contributed to much of the movement of people towards the EU and UK.

Today the ruling classes of the EU and UK (and also the USA) often claim to support the freest movement of capital and profits.  Protectionist measures are sometimes put in place, even by neo-Liberals, to limit imported commodities which threaten their profits.  But when it comes to people though, the response of both the EU and UK reveals a sharp divide.  There is free movement for the rich and powerful; but for the exploited and oppressed – migrant labour and asylum seekers – there are only ‘walls’ and ‘moats’.  These have led to countless deaths – drownings at sea, asphyxiations in containers, or killings at ‘illegal’ border crossing points.

The Authoritarian Populist, Hard Right, currently in control of the UK, and the Far Right want even higher ‘walls’ or deeper ‘moats’.  They see the EU as being responsible for unwanted immigration and the social liberalisation of society.  Yet the big majority of EU migrants and their families have formed part of the working class in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.  Along with Irish and UK workers and students, these migrants have enjoyed freedom of movement and the existing rights of citizens throughout the EU.  Brexit represents a major attack on the freedom of movement and civil rights, highlighted by Johnson’s latest Immigration Bill.  And British bosses want to access cheaper labour, with even fewer rights, from outside the EU.  And the Far Right wants a White Christian Europe.  The Populist Right and neo-Liberals have both been prepared to humour the Far Right to further their own agendas.

But today’s migrants and ayslum seekers remind us that Europe has always had connections – sometimes dependent, sometimes dominating – with the wider world.  Southern Europe was part of several cross-Mediterranean empires (Greek, Roman, Byzantine); and following this the Iberian peninsula and Sicily became parts of consecutive Arab Moslem empires; large parts of Eastern Europe were peopled by Magyars, Bulgars and others from Central Asia; later large parts of Eastern Europe became part of the multi-ethic Ottoman Empire created by Turkic invaders; whilst Mongols and Tatars had a big impact on Russia.  And ever since later Europeans colonised the globe, their imperial metropolitan heartlands have attracted wealthy immigrants (e.g. nabobs and oil sheikhs), traders, sailors, those serving in the armed forces, servants, and workers – often t labouring in the worst jobs.  These new and not-so-new migrants are now Europeans descended from Africans, Asians and Latin American and Oceanians,

Global movements of people have changed not only economic and political set-ups, but also genetic, linguistic and cultural patterns.  They have led to a great deal of intermixing, both imposed from above and entered into voluntarily from below. Recent research has shown that even in the lands of those Scandinavian Vikings, long celebrated by white racists as the homeland of ‘pure blooded Teutons’, these were more genetically and ethnically mixed, as non-Scandinavian adventurers, traders, missionaries and slaves took up residence.[1]  Early globalisation, with its movements of people and transference of cultures, formed the background to this.[2]

The global Black Lives Matter resistance and solidarity protests have reminded us of how deeply embedded British imperialism has been in the chattel slave trade.  Indeed, it was only in 2015 that the debts arising from compensating British slave owners in 1837 were finally paid off.[3]  In 2020, the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by protestors. However, when it was suggested that a critical plaque be placed alongside the statue of slavery-promoting Henry Dundas (Viscount, later Lord Melville) in St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, Sir Tom Devine OBE, Scotland’s premier historian and others objected.

In 1792, Dundas had added his support to the wording of a parliamentary bill to delay the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade.   Devine looks little further than what was acceptable to the British ruling class of the day, and to the fears they held about slave revolt.  For them, slaves were not justified in trying to free themselves from everyday violence and repression but had to wait for their masters’ say-so.  It has also been argued that because Dundas acted as an advocate for Afro-Jamaican slave, James Knight, in a Scottish court case in 1778, he should not be judged a racist upholder of slavery.  This is bit like saying that because Priti Patel must have approved a handful of asylum seeker applications, she upholds asylum seeker rights.

Dundas’ record is very clear, “As Minister for War and Colonies (1794-1801), Dundas prioritised seizing France’s Caribbean slaveholding empire, especially the profitable colony of Saint Domingue {Haiti}, ‘with the view of enlarging our national wealth and security.’  Between 1793 and 1798, across the Caribbean, 40,000 British troops, most of them sent there by Dundas, died or were incapacitated in a bloody struggle to expand British slavery.  What stopped Pitt and his government were not their own misgivings, parliamentary abolitionists, the French, or the British public, but enslaved rebels in Saint Domingue – the British empire’s Vietnam.”[4]

And this was the same Dundas who ensured that Thomas Muir was transported to Botany Bay in 1793 for his part in the British Convention convened to champion democracy.  This convention was hosted by the Edinburgh Friends of the People. [5]  Dundas also urged that troops be sent to Scotland from England to put down the anti-conscription riots following the 1797 Scottish Militia Act.[6]  Twelve people were killed at Tranent, East Lothian, in August that year. Defence of the British Empire and Union have always been ‘joined at the hip’.

Devine is not a reactionary, though, unlike Dundas and some of his present day apologists.  He has written about slavery’s key role in financing Scotland’s commercial and industrial development.[7]  But this was only possible once Scotland had become part of the British Union and Empire.  Before that, Scots’ slave trading and ownership was much more limited in scale, more like that of Courland,[8] and Brandenburg.[9]  And like these states, Scotland could well have found its own slave-owning interests squeezed out by larger imperial powers had it not joined the Union.  Devine’s anti-slavery sentiments appear to be in the William Wilberforce mould, something to be granted by the ruling class at a time that serves them best, and provided they are well compensated.

This is something that has very contemporary relevance.  Since 2008, it has been the banksters responsible for the Global Crash, who have been compensated, not their millions of victims.  And today, corporate capital-induced environmental degradation is wreaking havoc upon the biosphere, and especially upon the lives of the most marginalised people on this Earth.  Yet just as the slave owners and banksters demanded compensation or bail-outs, so will today’s fossil fuel and agribusiness corporations demand massive subsidies, if, following the Cop26 protests, they decide to adopt some greener policies, to be implemented according to their own inadequate timescales.

Devine, long a liberal historian, has recently switched from being a supporter of Labour unionism to a supporter of Scottish constitutional nationalism.  Devine’s historical apologetics for Dundas in the past, indicate that, like Scottish Labour and the SNP, he will not support any whole-hearted change from below today.  Instead, he looks to the leaders of the existing corporate capital dominated world to implement from above the changes he would like to see.

But Socialists also need to go back to that period of history when Dundas was to the forefront of defending his class and the British Empire and Union.  These two linked entities were then being challenged by an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance. In the UK this was led by the United Irishmen.  They included many active women.  They also drew in the United Scotsmen and the London Corresponding Society amongst others.  And the most advanced leaders of the United Irish, also knew where they stood.  They supported Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the world’s first ever successful slave revolt.[10]

At the beginning of the 1789-1815 International Revolutionary Wave, nation-states only formed a small part of the global socio-economic and political order.  Many of the exploited and oppressed, drawn into action, did not want to create new nation-states but championed a ‘universalism from below’ world order.  Today, states claiming to be nation-states (as recognised by the United Nations – UN) cover the whole globe.  However, any close examination shows that few of these states are based upon the UN’s principles found in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenants of Human and Civil Rights, and of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; or the 2006 Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

So, whereas the power in the EU lies with the leaders of the main member states (particularly Germany, France and until recently the UK), the real power in the UN lies in its Security Council.  This is dominated by its 5 permanent members – the imperial and nuclear armed USA, China, Russia, France and the UK.  And just as the EU Parliament, meeting in Brussels and Strasbourg, has proved powerless to deal with violent repression within its member states’ borders, so the UN General Assembly is powerless to take any action in defence of stateless nations, nationalities and indigenous peoples, unless they are unanimously approved by its 5 competing imperial Security Council member states.  The UN’s failure is highlighted by the current plights of the Palestinian nation; the Kurdish nationality in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, and the Uighur nationality in Chinese occupied Xinjiang; and the ‘uncontacted tribes’ of Brazil and of West Papua (under Indonesian state control).[11]

Unlike those Black Jacobins and United Irish struggling for ‘universalism from below’ during the 1789-1815 International Revolutionary Wave, today we live in a world of ‘nation-states’.  Therefore, a Socialist response to this involves building ‘internationalism from below’ alliances, prepared to promote solidarity across state boundaries, to stateless nations, oppressed nationalities and indigenous peoples.

This means that Socialist Republicans living within the UK and these wider islands need to challenge the longstanding US/UK imperial ‘Special Relationship’ or its most recent manifestation, ‘America First/Britain Second’.  A few amongst the reactionary Right may still believe in a global Empire 2, but given the current balance of imperialist forces, this is truly delusional.  And beyond the declining US hegemon, there are its disgruntled, but now less coherent EU member states; the economically declining (but still nuclear armed) Russian empire; and the rising turbo-charged, state-capitalist, Chinese empire.  One thing most US and UK neo-Liberals and Right Populists agree upon is the need to maintain ‘American’/British state links. The UK may now be a very junior partner, but the British ruling class is quite aware they still need US life-support (with only Israel being more dependent).

The pressures undermining the UK state arise from the continued decline of British imperialism.  To counter this, constitutional nationalist parties have only developed a shallow, and sometimes sentimentalist (pan-Celtic) ‘internationalism’.  This is because they defend and promote the interests of existing or would-be national ruling classes.  So, their diplomatic ‘internationalism’ can only reflect these interests.  They concentrate their attentions upon limited, self-serving ‘internationalism from above’ alliances.  Currently these are focussed upon the EU bureaucracy and appeals to the increasingly jaded, Joe Biden-led Democrats in the USA.  But the constitutional nationalists’ international links do not match, never mind challenge the British ‘internationalism form above’ links of the reactionary unionist Right.

The SNP leadership is only hoping to find the political space for a wannabe Scottish ruling class, to make a junior managerial buy-out bid of UK assets in Scotland.  Their ‘Indy-Lite ‘Scotland would then rejoin the leaders of the remainder-of-the-UK under the Crown and City of London, and maintain their links to the USA through NATO.  Together they want to defend the current global corporate order.  But the methods used will be determined by its main upholders, the US/UK imperial alliance.  And reflecting the true relationship between the US and UK, now that Johnson’s favoured Right Populist Trump has been replaced (for the time being) by neo-Liberal Biden, Johnson wants to jump even higher to please and to gain the attention of the US ruling class, its corporate CEOs and the State Department.  In trying to develop a new Scottish ruling class, within these imposed limits, the SNP leadership hopes to benefit by attracting external investment through reducing corporate tax and through creating special economic zones, with reduced workers’ and environmental safeguards.  This has already been shown in the SNP’s national and city council leaders’ backing for a freeport in Dundee.

The SNP’s two main demands are unobtainable under current political conditions.  Johnson’s Tories are unlikely to accept any Indy-Ref 2.  But if massive extra-constitutional pressure from below was to force the Tory government’s hands, then any subsequent referendum would be rigged with new UK state imposed rules.  These would be backed by Sir Keir Starmer’s unionist Labour Party too.  Nor will the US State Department, CIA or NATO meekly accept the SNP’s proposed closure of Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMND) at Faslane and Coulport.  And over this, Johnson and Starmer are again in agreement.  And there are some in the SNP who would quite happily accept a new Guantanomac Bay status for the HMND, but unlike Cuba, would take the money.  Jim Sillars once advocated this course of action.  This is why Socialists need to build support for a much wider break-up of the UK, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy.

This means adopting a Socialist Republican approach which unites those who think and are already prepared to fight in outward looking European-wide terms.  This would involve those mounting national democratic challenges within non-state nations, e.g. Scotland and Catalunya, denied the right of self-determination by their existing states, or by the EU bureaucracy based upon these states.

The problem with the bosses’ EU is not its supra-national basis, but that it is too politically, economically and socially restricted to meet the needs of the majority of those living within or immediately beyond its borders.  The EU’s official bureaucratic ‘multiculturalism’ has been legally imposed from above.  It accepts a limited diversity in some cultural fields and niche markets.  But the overriding imperative of this is assimilation, subordinated to the needs for enhancing profitability.  So, their attempts at assimilation are policed by all those ‘walls’ and ‘moats’.  These lead to the continual questioning of the ‘Europeanness’, and increasingly the ‘Britishness’. of those ‘non-Whites’ who live here.  This provides succour to the Far Right.

But the EU did provide a framework for a ‘multi-culturalism from below’ alternative based on the integration (or the unity in diversity) of the exploited and oppressed.  Migrants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds in all EU member states have taken up jobs, studentships and formed personal relationships, across the existing EU state boundaries.  Socialist Republicans must, as an absolute minimum, extend solidarity to all those migrant workers across the states and nations making up the EU and UK, and to asylum seekers, trying to cross their land and sea borders.

And there are still approximately 2.3 million EU migrants living in the UK,[12] and 439,500[13] (including those from the UK) living in Ireland.  And, when it comes to taking industrial action, some of these migrants have often been to the forefront of militant action, e.g. Latin American cleaners in London and Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland.

Migrants have contributed to an even wider range of new hybrid European identities.  These also include Scottish-European, Welsh-European and Irish-European.  This growing Europeanisation has developed into a national form of resistance to Brexit in Scotland, Northern Ireland/Ireland and Welsh-speaking Wales.  This is coupled to opposition to the re-provincialisation of these nations under the UK’s reactionary unionism.  But the greatest number of hybrid Europeans living in these islands, although currently a minority, are to be found in England – the English-Europeans – especially amongst the young.  And England includes a world city, London, as well as substantial multi-ethnic, largely working class communities in other cities.  The material and practical base already exists for an immediate Ex-Brit, reunited Ireland and a Scotland, Wales and England within a federal, democratic, secular, environmentally sustainable, social, European Republic

We are not yet living in the days of an International Revolutionary Wave.  Nevertheless, there is a pre-revolutionary situation latent within the present crisis.  The ruling class understands this and is acting accordingly.  Black Jacobins and United Irish campaigned and fought in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century on a ‘universalism from below’, then  on an  ‘internationalism from below’ basis in the 1789-1815 Revolutionary Wave. Connolly, Maclean, Larkin, Pankhurst and others, worked together on an ‘internationalism from below’ and ‘break up the UK and British Empire’ basis in the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave.  Their thinking remains relevant today.

Yet already, as environmental degradation and its related and possibly more virulent future pandemics threaten humanity, many can see that only a global response can avoid the Right Populists’ and neo-Liberals’ dystopian futures.  Acting as ‘citizens of the world’ now, and with even less regard for state borders, opens up the possibility of a new ‘universalism from below’ and a bridge to the creation of a global commune.  But time is running short.

References

      [1] Cat Jarman, River Kings: Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads, pp. 125-6  (William Collins, 2021, London)

     [2]  op. cit. pp. 284-5 and 288-9

     [3]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Compensation_Act_1837

     [4]  https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/henry-dundas-naming-empire-and-genocide/

     [5]   Hector MacMillan, A Handful of Rogues: Thomas Muir’s Enemies of the People, p. 118 (Argyll Publishing, 2005, Glendaruel)

[6]   Sandy Mullay, The Tranent Massacre, pp.10-11 (East Lothian Library Services, 1997, Haddington)

     [7]   T.M. Devine, Rediscovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: the Caribbean Connection (Edinburgh University Publishers, 2015, Edinburgh)

     [8]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couronian_colonization

     [9]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_colonial_projects_before_1871#Brandenburg Prussian_colonies

     [10] See Part 2, Chapter 1d

     [11] https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/uncontacted-brazil and https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/papuan

     [12] https://fullfact.org/immigration/eu-migration-and-uk/

[13] https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/pme/populationandmigrationestimatesapril2018/

 

________

 

also see:-

The West, no better than all the rest – Allan Armstrong

Internationalism from Below, Book 1 – Allan Armstrong

Internationalism from Below, Book 2 – Allan Armstrong

Internationalism from Below, Book 3 – Allan Armstrong

Internationalism from Below, Book 4 – Allan Armstrong