Jul 26 2002

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 2, Summer 2002

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 9:05 pm
Issue 2 Cover

Issue 2 Cover

Comments are open, so feel free to discuss the articles.

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Jul 26 2002

Correspondence Red

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 9:02 pm

Allegiance

In this year of Jubilee and celebration of monarchy, a lot will be said about allegiance – allegiance to Queen and country. It slips off the tongue quite readily but carries a heavy message. Allegiance is a powerful emotional attachment to a cause or person or place and experiencing and expressing this deeply felt emotional bond seems to be a very human need. It feels good at the level of the individual and even better when with others who share the same allegiance. For socialists and communists simply to mock and berate people for having those feelings is a misguided approach which alienates our own class from left politics. We need to have a more sophisticated approach based on an understanding and acknowledgement of human emotional development and needs. We need to start from where people are. This isn’t to advocate reformism or liberalism or to support nationalism. It’s to stand alongside folk, acknowledge the powerful feelings that they have and then debate with them as to how best to use this allegiance.

We’re up against state, corporate and right wing political machinery that does appeal to folk’s emotional make-up. They study and use the emotional and psychological against us: to ensure a steady supply of cannon-fodder for the armed forces; to persuade us to buy the latest whatever; to whip up support for the BNP. Our feelings are constantly subverted and manipulated by the elite and the powerful to meet their own ends, to maintain their own power. Thus, we on the left need to look at the emotional and our emotional development as a legitimate site of class struggle – without diluting our revolutionary socialist convictions. As socialists we need to highlight and to emphasise that capitalists take the emotional seriously. In fact it’s necessary for them to manipulate us emotionally so that we will accept our economic exploitation. Allegiance is a powerful emotional weapon that’s used against us. Within our class our aim as socialists is to bring about a realignment of that allegiance so that it becomes a positive force. We need to feel it and use it consciously for our own good, for our own class.

Linda Gibson

Midlothian

Liberate Humanity

I was very pleased to be able to obtain your latest publication at Word Power. However, I was surprised that you decided to change the title. Communism is the only system that can hope to liberate humanity and republics are a vital stage on the road to emancipation. I preferred the previous title.

I can sympathise with your attitude regarding past difficulties involving Stalin, Pol Pot etc, but I still consider it necessary to promote greater objectivity. It must be remembered that right opportunism, ultra-left utopianism and Trotskyist syndicalism could not have been established in the circumstances. This paved the way for the Stalin line, which dominated revolutionary ideology, even beyond Hungry ’56. International revolution failed all over Europe between 1918 – 1938 and no one could have foreseen a Maoist victory even as late as 1945!

Stalin’s state controlled apparatus, establishing as it did a party bureaucracy, was bound to succeed despite Trotsky’s correct view that it would inevitably become counter-revolutionary. As for Pol Pot, he cannot be understood without reference to the fascist puppet Lon Nol and the saturation bombing of the whole region.

I am also concerned to promote organically viable production, which sees an end to capitalist methods in farming and transport. If the car is to survive it must be collectivised after massive reduction. It must be a state controlled vehicle serving isolated workers, nurses, doctors, etc. It must never, ever again fall into private hands.

As regards, farming we have to save Polish (etc.) methods from annihilation by the EEC and learn how to farm organically all over again. We must develop holistic medicine to a level now seen in China as regards acupuncture and herbs. This will mean applying homoeopathy on a scale never seen before. Their patentised vaccines, minerals and plants can replace the toxic poisons pedalled for profit by capitalist controlled phoney science.

An Avid Reader

Edinburgh

Little Scotlanders?

Do I detect a Little Scotland trend in the Scottish Socialist Voice’s coverage? I submitted this short article on an important victory in the struggle against casualisation. It wasn’t printed. Although won in England, this victory is important for all UK workers, particularly in the building industry. More recently, despite the good coverage given to the Glasgow Housing Anti-Privatisation campaign, there was nothing about the campaign in Birmingham. Certainly the Glasgow vote against was very impressive considering the odds we were up against. However, the Birmingham tenants won! Surely our internationalism can extend to England, especially when we can take heart from their successes.

Allan Armstrong

Edinburgh

A Victory Against Casualisation

At a time when increasing numbers have been forced into temporary contract work over the last decade, it is a real boost to hear of a significant victory against casual labour. Even better this victory has been won in the building industry, which has long suffered under this iniquitous system. The construction employers’ neglect of pensions, sickness and holiday pay is more than matched by callous acceptance of the industrial slaughter on their unsafe sites. Between April 2000 and March 2001 alone there were 128 building worker deaths.

On January 15th, four carpenters from Northampton finally won holiday pay they were entitled to under the European Working Time Directive. They had fought for 22 months in the face of employer intimidation and the threat of the blacklist.

Byrnes Brothers, a shuttering contractor, went to great lengths to resist the men’s claims. Behind such small sub-contractors lie many large construction companies who resort to cowboy and also gangster operators, the better to avoid any real responsibility on the sites. Therefore it was not surprising that when Byrnes Brothers lost at the Industrial Tribunal last January, they should put in an appeal. They only backed down from this last September, but held up payment until further negotiations last week.

However, almost as many obstacles were put in place by the UCATT full time officials. They managed to whittle down the original 24 claimants to four. Significantly, these four Irish and Scottish carpenters were from the Northampton UCATT branch, where the rank and file Building Workers Group have been campaigning for years. The branch was not going to be fobbed off easily. The men also had the backing of the lay London and South Eastern Regional UCATT Council.

This is a significant victory. It means that European Employment Law is now enshrined in British law. Hundreds of thousands of self employed building workers are now legally entitled to holiday pay. However, this won’t be given automatically, but will have to be fought for. The key message of the victory already gained is for members not to depend on full-timer officials but rely on their own self organisation.

The way is now open for a campaign to end the massive casualisation in the building industry. The Building Worker Group also intend to move on to direct action to stop the killings on the sites.

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Jul 26 2002

Roads to Freedom or did Marx change his mind?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 8:50 pm

Karl Marx
Favourite maxim – Nihil humanum a me alienum puto (Nothing human is alien to me)
Favourite motto – De omnibus dubitandum (Doubt everything)

Bob Goupillot examines Marx’s search for new paths to social transformation

Who will mend the hole in the ozone layer? Who will reverse global warming? It is quite clear that it will not be the capitalist class whose world view is dominated by short-termism and the profit motive. Thus to save the world we have to change the form of society in which we live and as part of this process remove the current dominant class and replace it with a democratic, inclusive way of organising ourselves.

How are we to achieve this awesome task of transformation? Where can we look for guidelines and inspiration? Many socialists would point immediately to Karl Marx and his theoretical legacy. However, even if we have managed to grasp the often subtle profundities of Marx’s thought, it seems that on the crucial issue of how capitalist society could be transformed, via socialism into communism, he may have changed his mind during his last 10 years.

Intellectual slow death?

After Capital Vol 1, which was published in 1867, no more major works of Marx were published in his lifetime. The last decade of his life, 1873-1883, was described by an early biographer, Franz Mehring, as an intellectual slow death. Most subsequent biographers have accepted this viewpoint. A recent biographer, Francis Wheen, following in this tradition, wrote,

It was as if he had tacitly accepted defeat and settled down to benign anecdotage, content to observe and reminisce. The years of passionate engagement – pamphlets and petitions, meetings and manoeuvres – were over.
Karl Marx, F. Wheen, 2000 p359

In fact, he was dealing with and trying to intellectually digest a number of important recent events.

First, the Paris Commune had arisen and fallen in 1871. This was the only example of living workers in power that Marx had experienced.

The Commune was therefore to serve as a lever for uprooting the economical foundations upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule
Civil war in France, Karl Marx

Petr Lavrov, the First Internationalist, prominent Russian Populist and long-term friend of Marx, in his book on the Commune wrote,

At the moment when the historical conjuncture permits the workers of any country, albeit temporarily, to overcome their enemies and control the course of events, the workers must carry through the economic overturn with whatever means may be expedient, and do everything that they can to ensure that it is consolidated.

Secondly, Marx had wound up the First International in 1872 as the revolutionary tide ebbed.

Thirdly, there had been paradigm – shifting theoretical and practical gains in the field of palaeontology. New finds had extended the prehistory of humanity by tens of thousands of years. Archaeology, anthropology and ethnography had brought ancient human societies into the range of historical study. There was much to chew over. Karl Marx spent his last decade or so in intense study. The fruits of this led him to revise and even totally contradict his earlier writings, including some aspects of Das Kapital. In this period Marx delved deeply into anthropology and ethnography, particularly the anthropologist Henry Morgan’s scholarly work Ancient Society

It was only after reading Morgan that anthropology, previously peripheral to Marx’s thought, became its vital centre. His entire conception of historical development, and particularly of pre-capitalist societies, now gained immeasurably in depth and precision. Above all, his introduction to the Iroquois and other tribal societies sharpened his sense of the living presence of indigenous peoples in the world, and their possible role in future revolutions….it added a whole new dimension (italics in the original)
Karl Marx & the Iroquois, F. Rosemont, p. 210.

Marx copied out long passages of Morgan and others with his own substantial commentaries alongside. These were notes for a substantial work left unwritten and although their existence was known at his death in 1883, they were not published as one volume until 1972, 89 years later, and then only in a high priced specialist edition. These Ethnological Notebooks, as they became known were much less than a rough draft, Rather it is a raw substance of a work, a private jumble of jottings intended for no other eyes than Marx’s own Rosemont, p.201, italics in original

Engels summarised these in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, but missed out many of Marx’s most important insights. It was simply a popular digest of the work of Morgan and others. Sadly, Engels’ work has been taken for orthodoxy particularly in the traditional Stalinized version of Marxism. This is not to blame Engels, who himself describes it as but a meagre substitute, for the much larger work that Marx left unwritten.

Marx saw aspects of these ancient societies as progressive and worthy of preservation during the socialist transition to Communism. He felt that they were in some ways superior to societies based on alienated labour and commodity production. Iroquois society, in particular, impressed him. Marx admired not just their democratic culture but also their whole way of life: egalitarianism, independence, reverence for life and personal dignity.

Marx praised Iroquois participatory democracy as expressed in their councils as a democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it.

He quotes a letter from a missionary sent to Morgan,

The women were the great power among the clans as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required, to knock off the horns, as it was technically called from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors. The original nomination of the chiefs also always rested with them…………. women were free to to express their opinions, through an orator of their own choosing
Rosemont, p.205, italics in original

However, an all male council made decisions. Nevertheless, Iroquois women experienced freedom and social power beyond that experienced by women and men in so called advanced civilizations.

The Iroquois red skin hunter was, in some ways, more essentially human and liberated than a clerk in the City and in that sense closer to the man of the socialist future.
Late Marx and the Russian Road, T. Shanin, p.15

From Marx’s perspective to be in Iroquois society was a higher level of humanity than to exist in capitalist society no matter how awash with commodities. This does not mean that Marx was, or that we should be, backward looking. Rather comparison with the Iroquois illustrates how our humanity is degraded by capitalism. It also points towards the higher social relations that humanity might achieve in a socialist society, resting on the technological achievements inherited from capitalism, rather than bows and arrows. Through Morgan, Marx became vividly aware of the reality of an actually existing non-capitalist human society. This wasn’t just interesting anthropology, but part of Marx’s search for new paths to social transformation. Reading about the Iroquois,

….gave him a vivid awareness of the actuality of indigenous peoples and perhaps even a glimpse of the then – undreamed – of possibility that such peoples could make their own contributions to the global struggle for human emancipation.
Rosemont, p.207

Whither Russia?

Around this time, the Russian revolutionaries were much vexed by the question as to whether their country must pass through the stages that Marx had outlined for Western Europe i.e.

Primitive Communism, Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism

or whether it was possible to skip stages in certain circumstances. A group of Russian Marxists the Emancipation of Labour Group, which included Plekhanov and Vera Zasulich (later on the editorial board of Iskra) believed that the success of socialism in Russia necessitated a capitalist stage before it could move towards communism. They looked forward to the destruction of the peasant commune and the proletarianisation of the peasantry. This had been the orthodoxy. In 1868, in a letter to Engels, Marx had celebrated all that trash (i.e. the peasant commune) coming now to its end.

Vera Zasulich wrote to Marx asking for his opinion. In her letter of 16th February 1881, she stresses the importance of the agrarian question in Russia,

For there are only two possibilities. Either the rural commune, freed of exorbitant tax demands, payment to the nobility and arbitrary administration, is capable of developing in a socialist direction, that is gradually organising its production and distribution on a collective basis. In that case, the revolutionary socialist must devote all his strength to the liberation and development of the commune.

If, however, the commune is destined to perish, all that remains for the socialist, as such, is more or less ill-founded calculations as to how many decades it will take for the Russian peasants land to pass into the hands of the bourgeoisie, and how many centuries it will take for capitalism in Russia to reach something like the level of development already attained in western Europe. Their task will then be to conduct propaganda solely among the urban workers, while these workers will be continually drowned in the peasant mass which, following the dissolution of the commune, will be thrown on to the streets of the large towns in search of a wage.

She goes on to say,

So you will understand, Citizen, how interested we are in Your opinion. You would be doing us a very great favour if you were to set forth Your ideas on the possible fate of our rural commune, and on the theory that it is historically necessary for every country in the world to pass through all the phases of capitalist production.

Underlying this debate was the serious question of a revolutionary political strategy, what constituted progress from a socialist perspective, who were the allies and who were the enemies of the revolutionary movement. It was a debate about different roads to freedom and more importantly if there existed more than one way forward – a multi linear perspective.

Marx’s answer

Marx produced four drafts of his reply, totalling 25 book pages in all. In his final version, Marx stressed that the analysis contained in Capital applied only to the countries of Western Europe who had already undergone or were in the process of undergoing the transformation to capitalism. He added that he was now convinced,

that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia. But in order that it might function as such, the harmful influences assailing it on all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be assured the normal conditions for spontaneous development.

Around the same time, Marx wrote to the editorial board of Otechestvennye Zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland) a journal of the Emancipation of Labour Group. In his letter he mentions a great Russian scholar and critic (the Populist theorist, Nikolai Chernyshevskii) who,

In an outstanding series of articles, he discussed whether Russia, as its liberal economists would have it, must begin by destroying the rural commune in order to pass on to the capitalist regime, or whether on the contrary, it may develop its own historical foundations and thus, without experiencing all the of this regime, nevertheless appropriate all its fruits. He, himself, pronounces for the second solution. And my respected critic would have had at least as much reason to infer from my regard for this great Russian scholar and critic that I shared his views on this matter.

Marx goes on to say,

Finally, as I do not like to leave anything to guesswork, I shall be direct and to the point…I have come to the conclusion that if Russia continues along the path it has followed since 1861, it will lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a people and undergo all the fateful vicissitudes of the capitalist regime.

This is not the response that Zasulich and co expected. The letter to Otechestvennye Zapiski remained unpublished until 1887 and the letter to Zasulich until 1924.

Marx (and Engels) confirmed their revised views in the preface to the second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto (1882), where they wrote,

If the Russian revolution becomes the signal for proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other, then Russia’s peasant communal landownership may serve as the point of departure for a communist development.

Marx’s suggestion that revolution in backward underdeveloped Russia with its peasant based economy might provide the spark for revolution in industrialised Western Europe was an anti- Marxist heresy. It was recognised as such by the Russian Marxists around Zasulich and Plekhanov. They thought themselves better Marxists than Marx himself.

Russian Populism

It was clear from his correspondence and the new preface to the Communist Manifesto that Marx had changed his mind. Marx who had been hostile to Russian populism in the 1860’s was by 1880 a supporter of the revolutionary Populist Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will). During 1870-71, Marx taught himself Russian by reading their revolutionary literature. He even defended the tactic of revolutionary terror and the assassination of representatives of the Russian state (they assassinated the czar in 1881). He particularly admired Nikolai Chernyshevskii, their main theorist.

There was a growing interdependence between Marx’s analysis, the realities of Russia, and the Russian revolutionary movement – an uncanny forerunner of what was to come in 1917
Shanin, p.4

Lenin’s use of the term populist can mislead. When using it he meant a small group on the extreme right wing of the populists. It is the equivalent to using the term Marxist to refer to the legal Marxists of Russia whilst ignoring more revolutionary trends. This has damaged the reputation of the Populists in the eyes of Lenin’s readers for over a century.

Populism was Russia’s main indigenous revolutionary tradition. The peak of its activity was during the period 1879-83. It was broken by arrests executions and exile, finally being smashed by 1887. The Populists did not accept that capitalism offered a rosy future for Russia. They theorised that because capitalism already existed in Western Europe, along with potential allies in the European proletariat, that Russia could avoid the capitalist stage and proceed straight to socialism based upon an emancipated peasant commune. This was similar to Trotsky’s concept of combined and uneven development.

The populists of the People’s Will further saw the Russian state as an oppressive and parasitic growth on the people. The state itself promoted capitalist development and was therefore the main enemy. Their conclusion was that the state must be overthrown by armed force. The revolutionary subject was the labouring classes of Russia, peasants, part-time workers and wage workers. Marx agreed. A revolution was necessary and there was in fact no economic answer to Zasulich’s question. In addition, he had become more aware of the negative aspects of capitalist development and its relationship with the role of the state in Russia. He criticised the orthodox Russian Marxists as defenders of capitalism.

Revolutionary Transition and Marx’s conclusions

In opposition to his earlier view, that in the capitalist development of England lay the inevitable future of all nations, Marx concluded that there were different roads to the socialist transition of particular societies, depending on their starting points. He seemed to be saying that capitalism is progressive only to the extent that it:

  • develops the productive forces especially human labour.
  • brings the proletariat together, increases our ability to organise and unifies the class.
  • engenders progressive revolts against itself.

Thus once capitalism has become the dominant form of society its further spread is not necessarily progressive but resistance to it usually has progressive aspects. He was also clear that peasants were not inherently reactionary, but could, in the right circumstances, as in Russia, prove vital allies of the proletariat.

Late Marx emphasized as never before the subjective factor as the decisive force in revolution. The socialist transition can only come through the organised, conscious intervention of a revolutionary subject (workers, peasants).

Our Theory and Practice Today

The insights of Marx’s final years and his acceptance that there was more than one road to socialism can help guide us in our struggles today. Looking at those, still existing, societies that have a large peasant section and/or native peoples not fully integrated into capitalism allows us, quite excitingly, to see them as potential allies rather than enemies or remnants of a bygone age that should be done away with through capitalist progress.

Indeed, history shows that resistance to capitalism is often fiercest in the transition from feudalism to capitalist society, peasant to proletariat eg. Russia 1917, Spain 1936, Vietnam, and the Zapatistas today. Following Marx I would argue that struggles against the imposition of capitalism, by non-proletarian forces linked to socialist struggles in the capitalist ‘West’ can create a path to socialism.

Incidentally this does not require romanticising pre-capitalist or peasant life, but what I am urging is that we do not dismiss all such societies as lost to rural idiocy and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Socialism will grow out of the best of native traditions. All societies have positive elements that revolutionary forces can use as a basis for forward movement and might wish to preserve in a future socialist/communist form of society. Not all socialisms emerging from capitalism will look the same.

Finding our way

A multiplicity of roads means that we have no need to assume that all societies must follow the 1917 Russian road to revolution. The Bolsheviks made this error when they interpreted events through the lens of the French revolution and so tended to underplay the uniqueness of their own situation and experience. However, that does not mean that we can’t learn from the Bolsheviks’ struggle.

We need to work out our own way forward. This requires a concrete analysis of the society and culture in which we live, looking at its strengths and weaknesses from a socialist perspective. We need the confidence and clarity to go beyond dogmatic formulations. Each one of us has a responsibility to participate to the best of our ability in the democratic decision making of our working class parties, trade unions and other organisations. This means overcoming the narrow anti – intellectualism which has been a constant feature of the British Left. We all have the potential to become organic intellectuals, that is thinking activists.

What is progress?

An important part of this process will be redefining, as Marx did, what constitutes progress. What is progressive is determined by our vision of a post – capitalist, Communist society. Such a society will certainly be one of abundance. However it should be as much about an abundance of free time to spend in unalienated activity as much as an abundance of life’s material necessities. We need bread – and time to smell the roses too. What should we seek to preserve as progressive of our contemporary world? The guidelines are few but we could start with that which is ecologically sustainable, collective and democratically controlled by those it affects.

Marx’s Marxism was an open philosophy in two senses. Open to the impact of new political developments like the Paris Commune, open to theoretical advances outside the political sphere in the social and natural sciences. His philosophical method excluded dogmatic political recipes that had to be rigidly applied to every situation. He was a subtle thinker and materialist recognising that each new situation required a new analysis of its specific features. Along with Lenin he recognised that the truth is concrete. Like Marx, we too aspire to an open socialist philosophy that can take on board and integrate new insights from other fields such psychoanalysis, feminism, ecology and even rival philosophies such as Anarchism.

For Marx studying and engaging with other viewpoints was not about defending his own sacred texts but was about clarifying, deepening and correcting his world view, to the point of abandoning or reversing, if necessary, long held opinions. As the man said, doubt everything!

Bob Goupillot

Bibliography

Rosemont F. Karl Marx and the Iroquois in Arsenal – Surrealist Subversion, page 201, Black Swan Press.

Shanin, T. Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and The Peripheries of Capitalism London:Routledge and Kegan Paul (1984)

Wheen, F. Karl Marx, Fourth Estate, London, paperback (2000)

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Jul 26 2002

Women’s Liberation and Socialism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:48 pm

Mary Ward reviews Women’s Liberation and Socialism by Gill Hubbard and Angela McCormick published by the Socialist Workers’ Platform, part of the Scottish Socialist Party. £1.50

I started reading the above pamphlet with some trepidation. It was produced in the midst of a heated, divisive and misleading debate on whether or not to adopt a mechanism for the party list section of the Scottish parliament elections, which would ensure that women and men were equally represented on the lists. It was therefore, I suppose, inevitable, that a pamphlet written at this time by two women in favour of the proposal should seek to find theoretical, historical and Marxist backing for their position. My concern was that in order to substantiate their position, these comrades would set out to bend the stick. Unfortunately, this pamphlet lived up to my fears.

It starts out with a dishonest description of the nature of the debate itself:

Debate is taking place within the Scottish Socialist Party about whether to have equal numbers of men and women on parliamentary candidate lists

This was not the debate. The SSP has always supported the position of complete gender equality. How this is achieved was the issue. The disagreement was over whether or not the SSP puts in place a mechanism, which determines the gender of the comrade most likely to be elected to the Scottish parliament, at the top of the list in each region.

(The RCN opposed the tokenistic proposal for a mechanism and fully backed the amendment from Dundee West and Kilmarnock branches that looked at ways of involving women in all levels of party work. The amendment rooted the cause of women’s double oppression under capitalism and sought to change the male dominance of the
SSP.)

The pamphlet goes on to claim that it, seeks to address these arguments, and explain why fighting sexism and ending women’s oppression are central to the struggle for socialism. It succeeds in achieving none of these aims.

As an opponent of the proposed change, I did expect the pamphlet to deal with the main arguments being aired up and down the country over the question of how gender equality can be achieved under capitalism. I had the right to expect that the many genuine questions raised by comrades in opposition would be answered: How do we attract more women to the ideas of socialism? How do we bring them into the structures of the SSP? How do we change the SSP to allow this to happen? How do we relieve women of their double oppression so they can fully participate? Does such a mechanism leave democracy in tatters? Does it not simply benefit a few ambitious women while doing nothing to change women’s position in society? And how will this mechanism help in fighting sexism, and ending women’s oppression?

Gesture politics

Instead of serious polemic, these questions are swept aside in the best tradition of gesture politics,

But these arguments do not take into consideration the long standing oppression of women which means that many women do not always put themselves forward to play a leading role. Many working class women lack confidence in their own abilities and don’t see themselves as political leaders in the workplace, community or within socialist organisations.

Tell us something we didn’t know like how this mechanism will change any of the above! Furthermore, reassure us that this imposed schema can be justified in terms of the questions posed by the opposition. There is little further direct reference to the debate but there is a strong suggestion that the proposal is the direct political manifestation of Marxism as applied by every great thinker of our Marxist tradition. Sylvia Pankhurst, Rosa Luxemberg and John MacLean are used in manner that suggests they would have had no possible quibble with this proposal!

As a history of the struggle for women’s liberation, it is a complete mish mash. It fails to develop any particular strand of the struggle to any depth nor does it make the reader feel identification with the women cited. It falls into the traditionally male trap of presenting political argument devoid of emotion. Consequently, the struggles of the suffragettes and the fight for legal safe abortions are depicted in a clinical matter of fact way that fails to move or inspire. And for any women who live outwith Glasgow, their struggles are completely invisible. Glasgow-centric-ism (I know that is not the right word but you know what I mean) debilitates the SSP in many spheres of its work but you always hope that new writers would recognise and try to deal with it. A mention of the women who have fought and sacrificed in factories, mills, fishing villages and on the land all throughout Scotland would at least have acknowledged that heroic battles have taken place outside the auspices of the Red Clydeside.

More than just a mechanism

No socialist could fail to agree with the main premise of each chapter:

  • Fighting sexism and women’s oppression is central to the struggle for socialism
  • Women are doubly oppressed under capitalism
  • Women have led tremendous struggles for the liberation of themselves and others
  • The Women’s Liberation Movement failed because of a lack of class politics
  • Capitalism is the enemy not men
  • Marxists fight for the liberation of all of humanity
  • The struggle for women’s liberation goes on today

But we need more than such bald statements in order to take us forward. We need the combination of Marxist theory and practice. We need to develop fresh ways of thinking and acting towards each other. All of this means more than just passing a motion to put in place a mechanism.

The proposal for 50-50, had the backing of the SSP executive, SSP Women’s Nework and the Socialist Worker Platform. Given such prestigious backing, winning this mechanism should have been a walkover for the party leadership. Instead, it resulted in a massive split within the party, a split within the leadership ISM platform and a group of comrades walking out of the conference when their amendments were not voted on. The Executive/Women’s Network won, but the victory was pyrrhic. The conference debate was marred by the destructive nature of the arguments used by the movers. Telling comrades they should find another party if they disagreed with the motion, that their arguments were cretinous, and the attempts to bully a woman into not speaking against the motion left a very nasty taste in the mouth, and swayed votes, not to the proposers but, against them.

A couple of weeks after the conference I walked up to join my comrades setting up a Saturday stall, the only woman amongst a fairly macho looking bunch. I could not help wondering when the 50-50 proposal would make a difference to me as a woman in the SSP, or to the hundreds of working class women walking past us.

This pamphlet was, I think, quite a brave attempt to add some theory into a debate, which at times verged on the farcical. Sadly, the haste with which it was produced, and its failure to address the central elements of the argument mean that it reflects the state of gender politics in the SSP. Like the conference resolution itself, this pamphlet lacks the vision to provide real solutions.

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Jul 26 2002

The Socialist Alliance in England

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:44 pm

Dave Spencer has been a committee member of Coventry Socialist Alliance since 1992. Before its abolition in 1986, he was a Labour Councillor on West Midlands County Council. Here he assesses the way forward for the SAs in England.

The SA in England is a hybrid organisation – neither a party nor a federation. On the one hand it consists of several Left Groups who seem intent on maintaining their own identities. On the other hand it attracts individual members who would probably prefer the SA to be more like the Scottish Socialist Party. It is an organisation in transition.

United organisation is needed

In my view it should be in transition towards a party. This means the Left Groups should have some strategy of withering away within the SA in the not too distant future. As I see it there are no major political differences between these groups that could not be contained in an open and democratic socialist party. The most important differences used to relate to the nature of the old Soviet Union – was it a deformed workers’ state, state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivist? Some believe it still is a workers’ state apparently – good luck to them – but is it a dividing issue here and now? I think not. So why do they still maintain their separate existences when the crying need is for a united organisation to fill the vacuum left by the implosion of Stalinism and the commitment to global capitalism of Social Democracy?

Events in the recent French presidential elections show that this is not just a British disease; the French Left is split into several Left Groups for no obvious political reason. The separateness is historic, stemming back into faction fights in the 1950s. These Groups find it difficult to move on politically, to think strategically or to work with other people without running the show. They seem stuck in the world of several decades ago yet with an incredible air of smugness and self congratulation – in spite of what is quite clear to everybody else – that they have failed to attract a large working class base. Frankly would you like to live in a society run by Peter Taaffe or Chris Harman and his cohorts or by Lutte Ouvriere, the Lambertistes or the Sparts for that matter. I rest my case. The working class may be somewhat backward in consciousness at the moment but they are not entirely stupid – they are not going to vote en masse for these people. These Groups appear to outsiders more like the revolutionary groups in The Life of Brian than anything that is seriously going to change society.

The two characteristics of Left Groups almost as an iron law are sectarianism and bureaucratic centralism. I take sectarianism to mean putting their own organisation first above the interests of the working class as a whole. I take bureaucratic centralism to be a top down approach from the central committee – no real democracy, no accountability, no involvement of the creativity of the membership or of the working class. To me these two features of Left Groups need to be exposed and fought against; they are obstacles on the road to building a mass working class party.

Sectarianism

Examples of sectarianism abound but just to take a few examples. The December 1st Conference of the SA in England saw the sectarian departure of the Socialist Party who had to some extent dominated the SA since 1996. At that time they had seen the SA as a tactical means of heading off the possible appeal of Scargill’s SLP. They really did not have any strategic idea of what to do with the SA. They could pick it up and use it for their own party building or drop it as the case may be. They could have developed it along the lines of Scottish Militant and the SSP. They chose not to do so. In the run up to the December Conference the SP comrades in Coventry argued for a federalist structure for the SA on the grounds that why should they give up the hard won contacts and bases that they had built up through consistent work day in and day out so that the SWP could walk into their patch and make members — why should their members be told what to do by people with less commitment and experience. To me the role of the SP in the SA has been sectarian from day one. They put the building of their own party before developing a broad alliance. Their view now is that the SA is a rival to be fought against.

Since December 1st the SWP have become the dominant force in the SA. At the SA public meeting in Coventry during the local elections, on every chair was placed a leaflet advertising the next SWP Marxist Forum meeting, not the next SA meeting. The SWP do not seem to be clear what to do with the SA either! They seem to see SA activities as a vehicle for SWP party building in the same way as the SP did.

Old habits die hard of course but they have to die and be given a kicking on the way. Some comrades argue that it is a really good sign that the Left Groups have come together. Others argue that this is more a sign of huddling together for warmth rather than a desire to build something new. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. At the first meeting of the SA Independents in Birmingham in January there were two main points of view. One welcomed the new SA structure and the involvement of the SWP. Their idea was to swamp the SA with more independent socialists so that the members of the Left Groups become less dominant, less sectarian and the political differences less obvious. The other view was more critical of the SWP and gave examples of SWP sectarianism in their SA branches which make it very difficult or well nigh impossible to work with them. Their view was that the Left Groups are actually a barrier rather than a help in recruiting independent socialists to the SA.

In my view sectarian behaviour should be exposed on every available opportunity, even at the risk of being called sectarian because you are being critical! As Trotsky put it in the Manifesto of the Fourth Internationalnot for one single day should we tolerate sectarians in our organisation.

No to Machiavelian manoeuvrings

The question of bureaucratic methods should also be exposed. The internal regimes of most Left Groups make the bourgeois courts seem enlightened. Members are encouraged to behave like sheep rather than being trained like self sufficient Bolsheviks. In some cases Left Groups from the Stalinist tradition like Scargill’s SLP do not believe in democracy and at least that is clear. To me that is a splitting issue; we should have nothing to do with people who are against democracy. No say in the running of the organisation – no membership. Marxism and socialism must be heard and must be debated openly. No diktats from above, no Machiavelian manoeuvrings and spindoctoring. Full accountability of the Central Committee with instant recall. At the moment it is as though some Left Group leaders are frightened of their membership and certainly frightened of them talking to heretics from other groups or independents in case they get contaminated.

Open political and theoretical discussion is absolutely vital in the SA branches. There are a number of reasons for this. It is no longer clear what socialism means any more. The Stalinist and Social Democratic versions have gone but their message still lingers on. The idea of nationalising all industries as in Clause 4 of the LP constitution was a simple slogan. But in the age of globalisation we need more international ideas for running a socialist economy. And nationalisation itself is not the end of the matter. We can demand the re-nationalisation of the railways but what we want is a socialist integrated transport policy. What would that be like? We can demand more money for the NHS and an end to privatisation but what would a socialist health system be like? Green ideas of sustainability must be addressed; the ideas of changing the course of rivers and moving mountains about like Trotsky promised during the Russian Revolution seem to us like a nightmare today. We need to draw together programmes for a socialist future – not just react in a defensive way to the attacks of the ruling class. In planning our programmes we should draw on the experience of the workers in the industries and services concerned.

Prioritise long term aims

Political discussion at a time when the answers are not obvious must be open. That means comrades must be prepared to say what they think and sometimes get it wrong and change their mind. It must be a process where comrades develop politically not an arm wrestling contest between various Groups or factions or a fight for who can win the vote.

To transform the SA into a mass party, creative ways have to be found of involving the working class – the youth, the women, ethnic groups as well as Trade Unionists. This means organising in working class estates in a consistent manner not just arriving at election times. This is not easy but it is very rewarding and examples of good practice need to be shared and copied. This sort of work tends to break down sectarianism and bureaucratic methods because the long term aim of building a working class party is put before the short term aim of winning a few recruits or a vote for a particular sect.

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Jul 26 2002

Republican Forum: A way forward for republicanism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:40 pm

This article appeared in The Starry Plough (Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002) the paper of the Irish Republican Socialist Party

It was a momentous day for Republicanism in Ireland. Tuesday the 23rd of September 2001- the day the Provisional IRA decommissioned weapons in order to save not only the Good Friday Agreement but also the Stormont Assembly. The shock waves are rumbling through the Republican heartlands ever since.

A number of phrases are heard – At least ‘the stickies’ didn’t decommission, an act of unparalleled treachery, we told you so and so on.

When the issue was first raised in the early days of the peace process the IRSP was sceptical about the whole process but did not believe that decommissioning was an issue or that any republican group would voluntarily decommission its weapons.

Representatives of the Republican Socialist Movement met with representatives of the Provisional Movement on a number of occasions over the last five years and were assured that decommissioning of weapons would not happen. We had no reason to disbelieve the sincerity of those we spoke with. It was a matter for them; it is still a matter for them.

But for all that there is no doubt that shock, disillusionment, feelings of betrayal, and a shaken trust in the leadership, and a reluctant but necessary step all summon up what strong supporters of the Provisional Movement feel.

Betrayal & disillusionment

Emotions run high and talk of what about Bombay Street? etc echoes through the streets of Belfast. The image of the burning streets of Ardoyne in 1969 runs through the mind as the northern nationalist working class tries to come to terms with this event.

It is always a good thing to become disillusioned. That is the throwing away of false illusions and the start of seeing things as they really are. The IRSP feel for those whose have feelings of betrayal and disillusionment. Within our own history we have suffered our own disillusionments. So we understand why many out there are feeling bruised and sensitive to criticism.

But now is the time to see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be. When the Civil Rights Movement started not only republicans of all shades but socialists of all shades didn’t know how to react.

Those who later went on to form the Provisionals were reluctant to become involved in what was a reformist movement. Those who later went on to take the Official IRA down a dead end street of arrogant political self seeking saw the Civil Rights Movement as the only way forward and tried to suppress both the emergence of a more militant brand of republicanism and any manifestation of class struggle.

Those of us who consistently and persistently raised social and economic issues within the mass struggle that the Civil Rights Movement became, were derided as ultra left-ists, wreckers, trots and looney lefties. Socialists veered between a full acceptance of the nationalist agenda or swallowing whole a form of British Imperialist socialism under the guise of an exotic form of communism.

Out of all this confusion the Provisionals emerged from the ashes of 69 and the failure of the Official leadership to re-arm the North in a time of increasing political tension. The Provos rejected a reformist agenda and launched an armed campaign on the single issue of Brits Out. Later in 1973/74 the Official Republican Movement split again and eventually the IRSP/INLA emerged to re-establish the Republican Socialist tradition that they felt had been betrayed by the Officials. The programme the IRSP then set out has still not yet been met. We have not yet attained a Broad Front, removed the Brits, or established the Socialist Republic.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the seventies and there have been many changes. The Provisionals have accepted, albeit 30 years later, the reformist strategy first put forward by the Officials. The reason for armed struggle has gone and their goals can be achieved by political means and the growth of the catholic population. The Good Friday Agreement saw the Provisionals ditch one of the pillars of Republicanism, non-sectarianism when they accepted the sectarian headcount that gave them seats in the Stormont Cabinet.

This can all be very confusing for those who trust in leaderships and go for the personalities in politics. A trust in a Gerry, a Martin or even a Ruaridh will eventually lead to disillusionment. All of us as individuals are influenced not only by our parents and neighbourhood but also by the interaction between our core beliefs and our actions. We are formed in specific historical and economic conditions. We all are, in a sense, prisoners of history and also of the organisations we are members of.

The Provisionals were an all-class alliance merging militarists, disaffected urban nationalist youths and traditional nationalists from rural areas. During the seventies this alliance while capable of launching ferocious military attacks made no political progress. Sinn Fein in the 70‘s was a right wing pro catholic and anticommunist mouth piece for the IRA with the occasional radical articles to appeal to more left wing elements.

When the Hunger Strikes occurred the urban based northern seized the leadership, swung the movement towards the left to soak up the militant radicalised working class youth, the growing republican minded women’s groups and the radical intellectuals politicised by the mass actions around the hunger strikes.

During all this time regular contact was kept up with the British Intelligence services through various contacts. This was because the Provo leadership recognised that eventually they would have to do a deal with their enemy. They knew from the mid eighties that the continuation of the armed struggle was a road to nowhere.

Armalite & Ballot Box

The Armalite and Ballot Box strategy saw the Provisionals make many political gains. They were able to exercise a strangle-hold over most nationalist working class areas in the north and through the exercise of social and economic control, which they had wrestled from the SDLP/Catholic Church, were able to create a middle bureaucracy of supporters who formed the intellectual backbone for their control in the ghettoes. All opposition whether militarily or politically was ruthlessly crushed within their areas of control.

Throughout all this they were able to retain the loyal support of their base because of their militancy and also their astute political leadership. This leadership was trusted. The development of their peace strategy was an advance from the Armalite etc strategy. It was strongly driven by their support base in the USA. The swing to the left of the early eighties was slowed, a distancing began with anti-imperialist movements worldwide, the suits came in and the advisers multiplied. Now they were appealing to the emergent nationalist middle classes within the north and they began to occupy the ground that the SDLP had once walked on.

That is because they represent bourgeois Ireland. That is why they can occupy seats in a capitalist Government and introduce privatisation schemes into the educational system. Of course they will oppose corrupt practices and use radical phrases but their whole function now as a political organisation is to make Ireland a more effective and efficient place for international capital to invest in. That is the importance of the USA connections.

Obviously the creation of one Republican Governmental system on the isle of Ireland will reduce bureaucracy make easier access for multinationals to Government and speed the integration of Ireland into the whole NATO defence scheme. This will be in spite of the desire of individual Republicans to keep Ireland neutral. Their subjective wishes will come up against the brutal logic of Imperialism and objective reality will always over-come subjective wishes.

He who pays the piper…

Witness the response to the Colombian Three, the Turkish Hunger Strike and the September 11th massacres. There is no way that their principal leaderships will be identified with any radical movements from now on. No matter how much that leadership may support the cause of the Turkish Hunger strikers they can not be seen to do so. Some of the middle tier leaderships will be allowed to associate and participate with safe leftist tinged causes but not the leadership. He who pays the piper calls the tune and be under no illusions the tune is now called from Washington.

That is not to say that the IRSP have all the answers. We don’t. It is always easier to criticise than to put forward solutions. Since the return of the Republican Socialist Movement to its political roots following a bitter political and military struggle in the mid nineties we have been measured in our criticisms of other Republicans. While critical of the Good Friday Agreement and the political basis of the peace process we accepted the verdict of the people of Ireland as expressed in referenda and persuaded the leadership of the INLA to call an unconditional ceasefire. We are for peace. We are for politics. We are for the democratic road. We are against militarism.

But we are not for republicans, or socialists for that matter, taking their seats in a capitalist Government. We are not for decommissioning and we are for the defence of working class areas from sectarian attacks.

I owe my allegiance to the working class

Does that lead to political impotence? We don’t believe so. Our politics have always been based on a class analysis and can be best summed up in the words of Seamus Costello, I owe my allegiance to the working class. The working class of all countries are our friends and allies. The capitalists of all countries are our enemies. Capitalism is ruthless in its logic as it breaks down national barriers and creates a global economy. There can be no Socialist Republic built in Ireland in isolation. The idea of a socialist paradise isle surrounded by capitalist states is a fantasy. That is why republicans have always been internationalists from Tone to Connolly from O’Donnell to Costello. Republicanism itself was an import to Ireland from France. What is going on today in Afghanistan, in Columbia, in Sierra Leone and Iraq, impinges on the day to day life of people in Ireland. In its relentless pursuit of profit modern day capitalism is no respecter of states or governments. Hence the creation of super states like the European Union.

It is in this context that we in the IRSP are internationalist. The international capital market profoundly affects the Irish working class. Many of the 1200 workers who have only recently been told that they are facing redundancies are instinctively aware of the internationalist nature of capitalism. It is the task of socialists and republicans to bring together the best elements of both republicanism and socialism and create an alliance of the dispossessed within this isle that can successfully challenge the cosy capitalist consensus that accepts the permanency of the capitalist system. The provisional movement has clearly shown by the actions of its leadership that it accepts that consensus. We do not.

An all class alliance of nationalist Ireland while it may weaken the unionist case also weakens the working class. It is a case of labour must wait as De Valera said during the war of Independence. But now it is the current leaders of Sinn Fein who are saying labour must wait.

We disagree. Labour, that is the needs and aspirations of the Irish working class, can not wait, must not wait. They are the only class capable of building a just and equitable society on this isle. That is why we repeat the call we made a number of years ago for the creation of a Republican Forum with which to rally the disorganised and demoralized forces of the left. There is a way forward for the republican and socialist left and we intend to play our full part in rallying the Irish working class. If you are radical, republican and working class play your part. Join us in the struggle.

On to the Republic.

Belfast Socialist Forum

A non-sectarian socialist discussion group has been set up in Belfast. Initiated by Socialist Democracy and supported by left activists and the International Socialists (former members of the Socialist Workers Movement who have resigned in protest at the SWM’s lack of democracy), it is open to all socialists interested in debate and education in socialist ideas.

Decisions on discussions, activities and speakers are taken by open meetings of Belfast Socialist Forum, which is open to all socialist activists.

For further details contact Socialist Democracy PO Box 40, Belfast or ring 028 9060 1555)

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Jul 26 2002

Empress Brown’s Jingo Jubilee

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:36 pm

Terry Liddle (South London Republican Forum) describes the opposition to Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations

The year 1887 opened with rioting by the unemployed in Norwich. Two members of the Socialist League were arrested and later imprisoned. The Socialist League was a split by members including Eleanor Marx, from the Social Democratic Federation, Britain’s first Marxist organisation, William Morris and Belfort Bax, who could no longer stomach the dictatorship of H.M. Hyndman. By 1887 the Republican agitation of the 1870’s was but a memory but the tradition of staunch opposition from below to the monarchy was kept alive by the new-born groups of socialists, particularly the Socialist League. Some Socialist League members, such as Joseph Lane had cut their political teeth in Charles Dilke’s earlier Radical republican campaign. The Socialist League aimed at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism.

On January 12th, 1887, at a Liberal Party meeting, the national anthem was hissed and members of the audience cried out for the Marseillaise. This was a period of labour unrest. In April 1887, William Morris, who edited the Socialist League’s paper Commonweal, travelled to Northumberland to address a crowd of 10,000 striking miners. A demonstration for the miners, organised by the Glasgow Socialist League, attracted 20,000 people. This was also the period of the grab for Africa, when the imperialist powers of Europe were annexing every acre of land they could occupy. War was raging in the Sudan, a war the socialists of the time bitterly opposed. At an anti-war meeting Morris caused a stir when he attempted to move an amendment stating that the Sudan had been invaded in the interests of capitalists who wished to exploit it.

Policy of coercion

In Ireland the government continued its long-term policy of coercion against nationalists. When William O’Brien and John Manderville organised a meeting to oppose this policy they were summoned. At a preliminary hearing in Mitchelstown, County Tipperary, scuffles broke out and the police opened fire, killing two men and wounding several others. O’Brien was later imprisoned.

In March of the same year, socialists organised the anniversary celebration of the Paris Commune. The English translation of the first volume of Marx’s Capital had appeared. On April 11th there was a mass demonstration, over a 100,000 strong in Hyde Park, against the Irish Coercion Bill. Under its terms the Irish Land League was outlawed. Any manifestation of Irish nationalism was treated as an outrage. Gladstone spoke for the Liberals, George Bernard Shaw for the Fabians and Tom Burns for the Social Democratic Federation. Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling spoke from the Socialist League platform.

The agitators of the Socialist League had been hard at it, speaking at numerous meetings, particularly those of the Radical Clubs. Aveling held a series of classes at Plumstead Radical Club. The Radicals constituted a working class left wing of Liberalism and socialists were trying to win them over. The Plumstead Radical Club, for example, would eventually affiliate to the Labour Party.

The Radicals felt a great affinity for the Irish. The Patriotic Club, nowadays, Marx House, held a meeting on Clerkenwell Green to protest the landlords’ rack-renting and evictions. A delegation of Radicals had visited Ireland to express their solidarity with the small farmers’ struggles there.

On May 14th, Victoria went to the East End to open the so-called People’s Palace. This was a bourgeois philanthropic scheme to bring art and culture to the deprived masses of the area, without, of course, improving their wages, working or housing conditions. All along the route she was jeered. To the socialists she was Empress Brown, a title given by William de Morgan, after she had been crowned Empress of India. It was rumoured that after the death of her husband, Victoria not only sought spiritual consolation from her Scottish servant, John Brown, a powerful medium, but also shared his bed, even having his illegitimate child.

William Morris first came into conflict with the monarchy in the 1870’s when he opposed the efforts of the ruling class to drag Britain into another war with Russia, something Victoria greatly favoured.

At last on June 21st there dawned the great day of Victoria’s golden jubilee. Some 26,000 children were entertained in Hyde Park and a twelve year old girl was presented with an award by Victoria in person. Crowned heads from Europe and beyond came to attend the celebrations as well as Presidents from several republics. An envoy from the Pope was also present.

Hypocrisy & corruption

At the bottom of the social pyramid, the jubilee was far from popular. The Metropolitan Radical Federation issued an appeal for an anti-jubilee service on June 19th. The Socialist League issued a leaflet subtitled A word on the class war, outlining the technological advances of the previous fifty years and saying that Victoria, a mean old woman, had not had a hand in any of them. At a meeting in Llanelli, Victoria’s name was greeted with hissing. Neath Town Council refused to pay for any celebrations and Cardiff Trades Council refused to participate. A meeting in Bristol, addressed by socialists, carried two militant republican resolutions.

Writing in the Commonweal, William Morris stated, The powers that be are determined to show what a nuisance the monarchy and court can be as a centre of hypocrisy and corruption, and the densest form of stupidity.

He returned to the attack in the issue for June 25th. Whilst stating that it would benefit socialists little if the abolition of the monarchy gave place to a middle class republic, he felt it necessary to vent his anger at what he called tomfoolery and monstrous stupidity.

At least some people benefited from the Jubilee – in India, 23,000 prisoners were set free.

The pioneer socialists had to fight hard to carry out their activities. Open air meetings were often broken up by the police and speakers fined. In November a demonstration to protest at O’Brien’s imprisonment was savagely suppressed and William Cutner, a member of the Deptford Radical Society, which had a staunch Republican tradition, was killed, along with two others. Cutner’s funeral was closed with a song penned by William Morris. Socialists continued to attack the monarchy. In 1893 two members of the Commonweal Group were heavily fined for flyposting an attack on a royal wedding. Kier Hardie lambasted the monarchy in parliament and in his paper, the Labour Leader. The socialists who controlled Battersea Council, refused to celebrate Edward VII’s coronation and Edward was attacked in the pages of The Socialist, which became the paper of the new SDF breakaway, the Socialist Labour Party. The Social Democratic Federation included the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords in its 1903 edition of its programme.

In the 1930’s the Daily Worker regularly published brilliant anti monarchy cartoons. These were the work of Desmond Rowney, who was killed in action defending Republican Spain.

By 1977, at the time of Mrs Windsor’s silver jubilee, republicanism outside of Ireland was at a low ebb. However, republicans gathered in the rain on Blackheath, to celebrate the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the Chartist demonstrations held there in the 1840’s. An anti-jubilee event in East London was attacked by fascists. The SWP did a good trade in Stuff the Jubilee badges. These haven’t yet reappeared.

This time round the monarchist ardour is on the wane. A celebration of the life and work of the Red Republican, George Julian Harney, has already taken place. On May 30th, the Socialist Alliance will be holding an anti-Jubilee rock concert in Brixton. And there will be Thomas Paine and Charles Bradlaugh celebrations in June and a meeting on Bradlaugh in Bromley in April. On May 25th there will be a march and meeting to remember the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands. There will be a strong anti monarchist element in the Socialist Alliance local election campaign in May. The war in Afghanistan is far from popular and the prospect of war in Iraq even less so. Mrs Windsor’s jubilee could well be the last!

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Jul 26 2002

Linking republicanism and socialism in Scotland

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:30 pm

Allan Armstrong looks at recent debates in the Scottish Socialist Party over republicanism and the jubilee

Scotland is the part of the United Kingdom with the widest anti monarchist feelings, yet it is somewhat ironic that the Scottish Socialist Party, despite being the most influential socialist grouping in these islands, showed its usual reluctance to deal with the issue of the monarchy at our February Conference.

The reason for this is not hard to seek. Traditionally, Militant was notoriously unionist and anti-republican; so much so, that their partners in the Six Counties would rather be associated with the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (linked to the pro-British Ulster Volunteer Force death squads) than with Republicans. The CWI, by and large, still adhere to this position, despite their more recent support for a break-up of Britain road through an independent socialist Scotland! Obviously there are major problems in trying to remain British unionist in Northern Ireland and Scottish nationalist up here. In the process of breaking from the CWI, the ISM however, has become aware of this political inconsistency and has recently tolerated Republicans on socialist platforms, provided they were balanced with loyalists!

However, this warring tribes approach also remains politically inconsistent. Yet it still marked the ISM contribution to the anti-Jubilee debate at Conference. The fact that Tommy Sheridan mentioned the previously dreaded R-word three times in his Conference introduction, still didn’t prevent other ISM comrades stating it couldn’t be used in Scotland, because it was too associated with Ireland. Although not openly stated, underlying such contributions was the fear that the use of the R-word could cost us votes, particularly in the west of Scotland.

The fact that republicanism has historically been an inclusive brand of politics, uniting protestant (anglican), catholic and dissenter, whilst loyalism has been sectarian and exclusive – protestant and Orange, is completely lost on those who uphold a warring tribes approach. Of course Irish republicanism has had its own struggles with sectarian Irish catholic nationalism and has not always been successful in these. However, this battle between non-sectarian and sectarian forces has been continuous. Needless to say there has been no such history within the forces of loyalism. Loyalism has been marked by a crude anti-catholic sectarianism and the worship of the monarchy and empire. The struggle between republicanism and loyalism has represented the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor and between national liberation and imperialism. Refusing to take sides in such a struggle leaves the SSP disarmed when sectarianism does rear its ugly face in Scotland. It puts us in a similar position to those old socialists who used to say that you shouldn’t challenge a man who beat up his wife, if he was a good trade unionist at work!

The Edinburgh-led James Connolly Society has been at the forefront of the struggle against loyalism and its apologists in the old Edinburgh District Council and also against reactionary and sectarian catholic nationalism. Every year socialist speakers are invited from a wide variety of backgrounds – Labour, SNP, Turkish hunger strikers, black American women, as well as from Sinn Fein, to address the James Connolly Commemoration held in Edinburgh. Despite this CWI/ISM speakers have over the years tried to demonise the JCS as an anti-socialist and sectarian. It came as no surprise when, once again, they resorted to the same stale old arguments to remove any reference to joint work with the James Connolly Society from the anti-jubilee motion to Conference. Yet in 1992, before the Scottish Socialist Alliance had even been founded, the James Connolly Society stood a candidate in the St. Giles/Holyrood ward of Edinburgh on the following platform:-

  • for free speech, against censorship
  • for a £250 minimum weekly wage
  • for pensions and benefits at the level of the weekly wage
  • for a united Ireland
  • for a Scottish republic
  • against racism and fascism
  • abolish the monarchy
  • for socialism

Quite clearly this is a fairly sound republican and socialist platform. Yet, although the CWI and ISM were against any major republican protest, this could still have been won at the SSP Conference, if the SWP had placed its weight behind the motion. Unfortunately, the SWP were split. This partly reflects a quasi-unionist political training which draws on Neil Davidson’s theory that the Scottish nation merely developed as a component of a greater British nation state. In his book, The Origins of Scottish Nationhood, Neil has provided a leftist supplement to Linda Colley’s influential book about the development of Britain – the well named, Britons, The Forging of A Nation. Whilst Colley outlines the British ruling class’s success in promoting a top-down British identity through a wider loyalist mobilisation; Neil highlights the role of Scottish/British constitutional reformists in the construction of a British nation state. What is completely missing from Neil’s book is the role of Scottish republican internationalists, such as Thomas Muir and the later leaders of the United Scotsmen, who quite clearly drew upon a distinct Scottish revolutionary tradition to promote a new internationalism from below, in alliance with Irish, English, French and Dutch republicans, against Britain. Today we need a new republican socialist alliance from below uniting our class in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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Jul 26 2002

Jubilee: Wales

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:27 pm

Mike Davies reports on Welsh Republicans’ preparations for the Royal Visit: Jiwbili ych a fi!

Welsh Socialist Republicans have been at the forefront in building a coalition against the Queen’s Jubilee Jamboree in June. Cymru Goch, Earth First! activists, leading trade unionists and socialists have come together to form an ad hoc group called Stuff the Monarchy to oppose the event.

The weekend of the official celebrations will see a Republican Festival in a Welsh social club called Clwb y Bont, Pontypridd, which has been declared a people’s republic for the duration of the weekend. It’s going to be a vibrant exchange of ideas, debate, music, poetry and videos from struggles around Wales and the world. Speakers include socialist republicans from Scotland and Ireland as well as anti-globalisation campaigners, community activists, trade union militants and direct actionist greens.

The weekend will also be the final chance for campaigners opposing the Queen’s visit to Wales on June 11-13 to get organised. The Festival will also be an informal meeting place for like minded socialists committed to national liberation. We see this as a chance to break with the stale electoralism of the Welsh Socialist Alliance and build a real alliance of socialists, direct action campaigners, trade union militants and community activists who have not been enthused by the lukewarm reformism of the current WSA.

The traditions of republican resistance to the monarchy are well established in Wales. The traditional method for the monarchy to win over the rebellious Welsh was a subtle thing called the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. This imposition first happened soon after military conquest and was repeated whenever the natives got restless. In 1911 and most recently in 1969, there were protests from radicals opposed to British rule in Wales. This very crude symbol of Wales’ annexation by England (no-one seems to remember needing a referendum for that one) remains a live possibility for when Queenie pops off and Charles finally gets a day job. It’s possible that William will be made Prince of Wales, but much will depend on the kind of reception the royals get on their tour of Wales.

Our Stuff the Monarchy campaign isn’t just about the Jubilee – it’s about ensuring that Charles is the last Prince of Wales and urging his Divestiture. It will continue beyond the Jubilee frenzy being whipped up by the Palace media machine and loyal newspapers. They have a steep climb to convince an apathetic population – and a hostile youth – that Royalty means anything to Wales.

There are interesting developments beyond the orthodox (i.e. Brit) left – a new radical language movement called Cymuned (Community) has sprung up in Y Fro Gymraeg (the Welsh-speaking heartlands) with 1100 members in just 10 months. Its recent conference placed it firmly in the camp of non-violent civil disobedience with a commitment to oppose colonialism and racism. It stands up for the rights of a community – the Welsh language community of 500,000 people and specifically the 300,000 or so who live in majority Welsh speaking areas in the West – to exist. It pits that right against the right of an individual and freemarket forces to destroy a fragile community and culture. In these areas at least, it is becoming a mass movement against speculative housing developments that are far beyond the reach of low-paid young local people.

Similarly, campaigners against waste incinerators and further opencast mining in some our most deprived communities are taking new and novel forms of direct action and lobbying to get their message across. All are being ignored by the mainstream political parties.

These new movements are part of a trend against capitalist party politics, against globalisation and for an imaginative rethink on who controls our communities and world. The trend towards direct action rather than electoral success underlines the common consensus that if you vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledum, you end up with Tweedledummer.

Welsh Socialist Republicans who are casting off the tired old orthodoxies of the British left are well placed to take their part in this new alliance of rebel forces.

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Jul 26 2002

Hamish Henderson (OBE declined) 1919-2002

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:23 pm

Hamish Henderson, folklorist, poet, Scottish internationalist and socialist died on March 3rd this year. In the year of the golden jubilee, it is worth remembering that Hamish turned down an OBE in 1983. Whilst Scotland’s semi-official nationalist anthem, Flower of Scotland, is sung by Princess Anne at Scottish rugby matches, Hamish’s internationalist anthem, Freedom Come All Ye ranks with Burns’ A Man’s a Man as one of the great anthems written for all humankind.

Freedom Come Aa Ye (Scots)

Roch the win i the clear day’s dawin
Blaws the clouds heilster-gowdie owre the bay
But there’s mair nor a roch win blawin
Thro the Great Glen o the warl the day
It’s a thocht that wad gar our rottans
Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay
Tak the road an seek ither loanins
Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play

Nae mair will our bonnie callants
Merch tae war whan our braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan
Murn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimilies in launs we’ve hairriet
Will curse ‘Scotlan the Brave’ nae mair, nae mair
Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet
Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare

Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom
Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom
In yer hous aa the bairns o Adam
Will fin breid, barley-bree an paintit room
Whan MacLean meets wi’s friens in Springburn
Aa thae roses an geeans will turn tae blume
An a black laud frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.

Freedom Come All Ye (English)

It’s a rough wind in the clear day’s dawning
Blows the clouds head-over-heels across the bay
But there’s more than a rough wind blowing
Through the Great Glen of the world today
It’s a thought that would make our rodents
All those rogues who strut and swagger,
Take the road and seek other pastures
To carry out their wicked schemes

No more will our fine young men
March to war at the behest of jingoists and imperialists
Nor will young children from mining communities and rural hamlets
Mourn the ships sailing off down the River Clyde
Broken families in lands we’ve helped to oppress
will never again have reason to curse the sound of advancing Scots
Black and white, united in friendship and marriage
Will result in the military garrisons being abandoned and empty

So come all ye who love freedom
Pay no attention to the prophets of doom
In your house all the children of Adam
Will be welcomed with food, drink and hospitality
When the spirit of John Maclean returns to his people
All the flowers will blossom
And black Africa will bring crashing down
All Imperialism’s dreadful apparatus of oppression

Translated by Dick Gaughan

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