Aug 05 2002

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 3, Autumn 2002

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 1:01 pm

Issue 3 of Emancipation & Liberation is out now.

Issue 3 Cover

Issue 3 Cover

If you would like to buy this issue or subscribe, contact us.

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Aug 05 2002


Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:57 pm

Bob Goupillot’s article on progress in E&L 2 was illuminating. The nature of the communist society of the future is not a matter of crystal ball gazing but, for materialists, should be a matter of some urgency. It will not develop organically if we just let it grow but is there to be determined and shaped by our human, revolutionary or reactionary actions. Bob’s views open up for communists, a debate on both the shape of a communist world and a vision of how we get there. What if capitalism had been halted in its tracks at one of the points of resistance in our past? That would, to some, have been a non-progressive act. Yet surely the revolutionary resistance to the dehumanising horrors of capitalist expansion must have been causes that we would fight for?

Take the Highland Clearances. I have heard comrades declare that these murderous acts of ethnic cleansing were ultimately progressive, in a sense inevitable, in the making of the proletariat and the industrialisation of the country. Of course these comrades would condemn the brutality involved, the senseless replacement of working crofts with sheep, which ultimately destroyed the land and the enforced emigration of a people. But, they accept that as part of the process from feudalism to capitalism to communism, these sacrifices while regrettable were essential.

So today, non historic peoples, peasants and farmers have the capitalist stage to look forward to – and all the misery that that implies – before they can throw off their proletarian slavery and join us in the socialist revolution towards communism. I think I would find this orthodox version of Marxist development a wee bit difficult to sell to tribal people and indigenous people across the planet. Come and join us as communists! We promise you the alienation only found under capitalism, which will destroy much of your culture, land and population. But do not worry; liberation will come which will make it all worthwhile. There are no short cuts for these orthodox Marxists only their essential stageist approach to human history which was discredited by the Russian revolution itself which failed to follow the model. Bob’s article looks at a different way forward and one, which certainly makes the orthodox view seem not only ridiculous but in essence, anti communist. Bob looks to take the socialist revolution from where people are without the necessity of first becoming an industrialised proletariat.

I strike a cautionary note however. I always get wary when people speak of a golden age of communism in the distant primitive past. The vision of being part of an undeveloped tribe struggling to survive does not fill me with any great desire to return to the land. No matter how egalitarian the distribution of labour it was still a bloody, hard and short existence. And it still is for millions of people on this planet. I know I see the world from a Euro centric western standpoint but the communist future cannot be the denial of the scientific, medical and technological advances we have achieved. Rather we must cherry pick without of course the all-consuming profit motive as our slave master. Let us by all means question what is progress and let us look with fresh eyes at what is good, valuable, and progressive in so called “primitive” lifestyles. Our communist world will require us to have the ability to constantly think in a revolutionary way. Even if that means critical re-evaluation of Marxist orthodoxy. Only thus will it be rich, diverse and fully human.

The simple life is not for me nor I suspect for the industrialised masses. The abandoning of commodity driven lifestyles will lead to greater expression of ideas and in a sense more individuality in a positive sense. Not driven by the dictates of fashion, people will display a diversity, colour and imagination denied by the mass conformism of the fashion moguls.

I have no time for comrades who fantasise about the good life technology free existence. We want decent housing, food, clothes but with all the mod cons too. I watched my mother and grandmother bend under domestic drudgery. We surely do not want this for our sons and daughters. I am keeping my central heating no matter how ethnic the log-burning stove may look! We can all see the advantages of the Iroquois Indian over the alienated wage slave but workers have from wage slavery created many advances for human kind and these intellectual, technological and scientific achievements should not be thrown away.

But as Bob points out, communists need to be open-minded as Marx himself was. The ologies must not be dismissed as bourgeois deviations or we will ignore so many truths about ourselves as human beings. What so many of these studies show is that human beings are not innately greedy or self seeking or driven by ambition. So-called human nature is determined by our society. It is the nature of capitalism to be greedy self centred not the nature of people.

It’s the old bread and roses thing. We need to stop thinking of art music poetry etc as luxuries. They are expressions of our humanity and as that grows under communism so will our culture. In a state of abundance, people will have time and energy to be creative as technology is used to enhance the quality of life for everyone not just the privileged few.

Mary Ward

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Aug 05 2002

No nationalist road to socialism in Scotland

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:56 pm

Phil Sharpe (Movement for a Socialist Future) reviews Imagine by Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes (Rebel Inc. Edinburgh, £7.99) This article first appeared in Socialist Future magazine

This book, by Scottish Socialist Party leaders Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, argues for a nationalist road to socialism. As thousands of Scottish workers face the sack as a result of global forces, this reformist perspective looks more like a pipe dream than ever.

While Sheridan and McCombes are able to present a good description of the economic inequality generated by modern capitalism, they do so in moralistic terms of the differences between rich and poor. The capitalist class is presented as the undeserving rich who have no beneficial economic role.

This is a popular misconception which replaces the Marxist standpoint on capital-labour relations and the class antagonisms they generate. It describes the effects of the economic system without explaining the actual structural role of the capitalist class. This is, of course, to facilitate the accumulation of capital on the basis of the extraction of surplus value from the working class, which is the basis for the development of the vast wealth of the capitalist class. The authors explain class differences and antagonism by the differences in levels of consumption. So it is not surprising that they maintain that under-consumption is the basis of capitalist crisis: On a global scale, more goods are made than the population of the world can afford. Every so often, vast surpluses pile up which cannot be sold for profit. As a result, the stock market plummets, profits turn into losses, businesses fail, factories close, workers are sacked, unemployment grows, and, for a period of time, there is a general contraction of industry and trade. But this fails to explain why there is not a permanent crisis of capitalism, because effective demand generally lags behind the level of production. Actually, it is the over-production of capital that is materially represented in overproduction and a glut of unsaleable products. This prevents capital from continually realising high levels of capital accumulation.

The authors cannot differentiate between appearance and its actual content. Consequently, they leave open the prospect that the process of capital accumulation can be modified and reformed. If the problem of under-consumption is tackled then the needs of consumers can be more generally realised within the economic system.

They argue that the development of new technology is preparing the possibility for a new and viable democratic socialism. They point out that capitalism tries to limit the advances of technology to the requirements of capital accumulation and that the general motivation for development is the co-operative aspiration to help other human beings.

But they have an evolutionist approach, or virtual reality socialism, which abstracts technology from the existing relations of production. Technology becomes an almost automatic and mechanical means to realise socialism. But the reality is that technology is located within the existing capitalist relations of production and so serves the process of capital accumulation. The only way to emancipate technology and liberate the productive forces is through revolutionary class struggle. By emphasising technological determinism as the road to socialism Sheridan and McCombes effectively minimise the importance of class struggle for liberating the productive forces from the fetters of the relations of production.

They correctly maintain that technology will be crucial in bringing about democratic forms of socialism. But what is not included in their analysis is the need for revolutionary political structures, such as workers’ councils, or soviets, for realising participatory democracy and overcoming bureaucratic elitism. Thus they indicate the economic basis for mass democracy – modern technology – but they do not suggest the necessity of transforming political change, which is realised through class struggle. Thus they justify a reformist approach on the basis of economic determinism.

The authors outline the way in which ecological problems undermine historical and human progress, and say that the only answer is public ownership of the main means of production. But they believe ecological needs can be realised within an independent socialist Scotland.

A surplus of £310 billion to £315 billion would allow for the greatest expansion of public services that this country has ever seen. And it would also generate the resources to allow an independent socialist Scotland to face up to one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, the building of a brand-new energy industry based on alternative, renewable sources of power. The resources of North Sea oil would provide the material basis for what effectively is a return to the perspective of socialism in one country. This was the doomed theory put into practice by the Stalinists in the Soviet Union, with disastrous historical consequences.

The modern process of globalisation has intensified the interconnected character of the world economy, and this means that the possibility building of socialism in one country is even more utopian today than during the 1920s in isolated and backward Russia.

An independent Socialist Scotland would generally have a lower level of productivity than the most advanced transnational corporations, and would still be subject to the dictates of the IMF and World Bank. Consequently, if it were to defy the requirements of global capital it would have to construct a command economy that manufactured products at a higher level of socially necessary labour time than the commodities produced by the transnationals. Labour would have little leisure time and would remain alienated and without economic control of the process of production.

Formally, the starting point for Sheridan and McCombes is that globalisation is the material basis for world socialism. They say that the age of the Internet, high speed air travel, instantaneous global communications, satellite TV, and global capitalism, the idea of global socialism can no longer be dismissed as a flight of poetic fantasy.

But the possibility of global socialism is not established in terms of outlining the potential to overthrow world capitalism. Instead what is made most important is the prospect of democratic forms of socialism in one country.

The authors argue for the implementation of a national plan to overthrow the power of capital. They contend that it will be possible to regulate and control capital in order to stop any flight of capital from Scotland. A central bank can be established in order to facilitate the planning of production, and information technology will also facilitate planning in a co-operative manner. This approach is another indication of formalism and technological determinism.

It is true that the continued development of the productive forces has enhanced the possibility of realising democratic socialism. But the objective context for successful planning has to be international if the anarchic power of capital is to challenged and transcended.

Furthermore, capital is an international relation and so is not limited to the national sphere. Hence the introduction of measures to stop the outflow of capital investment may have limited administrative success, but the power of capital is still internationally dominant as an expression of an economic system that subsumes the part into its whole.

Sheridan and McCombes argue that the perspective of an independent socialist Scotland is an expression of the political heritage of John Maclean. But Maclean’s perspective of a Scottish Workers Republic was not based upon an approach of isolationism and accommodation to reformism. Instead Maclean maintained that a Scottish Workers Republic could be the starting point for rejuvenating international class struggle after the defeats of the 1918-1919 period.

But Maclean tried to conceive of revolution in the internationalist terms of the requirements of the development of world revolution. Sheridan and McCombes have a starting point that conceives of the inherently unique and socialist identity of the people of Scotland: Many people rightly support independence because they believe that an independent Scotland would be more egalitarian, more left-wing, more socialist in outlook than ‘Cruel Britannia’.

The idealism of this approach means that it can only effectively conceive of Scotland in separate terms, and so cannot connect the specificity of class antagonisms in Scotland to a perspective of world revolution. They believe an independent bourgeois democratic Scotland, that is based upon political equality with England will facilitate the development of a mass movement for socialism. This shows that Sheridan and McCombes are not defending Maclean’s perspective. Maclean knew that the bourgeois democratic revolution had already taken place in the formation of the United Kingdom and that what was now necessary was a revolutionary class struggle for the formation of a Scottish Workers’ Republic as a prelude to world revolution.

The authors are essentially calling for an opportunist adaptation to the Scottish National Party and support for national independence on the basis of the formation of a new bourgeois state. Hence they actually reject the approach of Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and John Maclean, about the need to put the requirements of the working class first in the struggle to resolve any outstanding national and democratic questions. In this context the call for the Scottish Workers’ Republic challenges spontaneous adherence to bourgeois nationalism.

But the very national definition of a socialist Scotland is an idealist conception of the global transition to socialism. For what is being defended is the atomistic conception that socialist transition is based upon the aggregate collection of the sum total of separate revolutions and nationally located socialist societies.

The global domination of capital means that a nationally-located socialism is an illusion, and so the only way to overcome this problem of the national negation of socialism is for the working class to express the objective necessity (not the vague aspiration of the authors) for international expansion through world revolution.

In the last analysis their talk of revolutionary class struggle is reduced and limited to the struggle to win parliamentary elections within Scotland.

This shows that the basic idealism of their socialism in one country standpoint is connected to adherence to reformism and the conscious rejection of a revolutionary perspective.


Aug 05 2002

Bookshop Libel Fund

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:54 pm

A two-day High Court case was the culmination of an action brought nearly two years ago against Housmans Bookshop in London by a right wing anti-gay litigant who had been referred to as a plagiarist in one sentence in a 136-page pamphlet stocked in the shop. He chose to only sue the shop, not the author or the publisher of the pamphlet, because of his distaste of material made available in radical bookshops. Although the jury only awarded him £14 damages he was also ordered to pay most of the shop’s legal costs: however there is no expectation that he has the resources to do so.

This was the first time a bookshop had tried to use the innocent dissemination defence, introduced in the 1996 Defamation Act. Following this test case it seems that if anyone suggests to a newsagent, shop or library that a publication they stock is defamatory and they fail to remove it then they open themselves up to libel writs.

This case against Housmans is one of the first of several, dating back to 1996 and also involves the SWP’s bookshop, Bookmarks. Legally defending these attacks on radical bookshops is an expensive business. The Bookshop Libel Fund is calling for urgent financial support for the shops to cover their legal costs, and to campaign for a change in the law to stop bookshops being targeted in this way.

Donations should be made payable to Bookshop Libel Fund and sent to

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX or to Bookmarks Bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE.


Aug 05 2002

You are the weakest link! SSP Special Conference, the Left and No to the Euro Campaign

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:50 pm

Allan Armstrong (RCN), mover of the active boycott motion assesses the SSP Special Conference

How the debate was handled

The SSP SC on June 22nd, voted by a 4-1 margin to campaign for a no vote when Tony Blair finally decides to set the date for the Euro referendum. An extended morning session was given over to the debate. After some worrying moments, when it looked as if the Chair was going to rig the order of speakers; it became clear that she had made a genuine mistake and the debate was then handled very fairly. Equal time was given to those advocating a ‘no’ position and those wanting an active boycott campaign.

Active boycott motions came from independent Nick Rodgers of the Maryhill branch and from ourselves, the Republican Communist Network, through the Edinburgh South branch. Both were minority motions. The wider support for these motions came from independents. The only other organisations which gave support were the marginal CPGB and AWL, neither of which are directly affiliated SSP Platforms. They primarily intervene through the Workers Unity Platform, which appears to have a semi-detached relationship towards the SSP without regular meetings.

How the no camp presented their case

How was such an obviously sound proposal as an active boycott campaign well defeated at the Conference? The delegate numbers were both smaller and the composition was much more weighted to Platform members compared to the earlier SSP conference in Dundee. By far the greatest number of delegates came from the combined ISM, SWP and CWI Platforms, who all supported a no position. They could also count on the prominent support of Gordon Morgan of the ISG (which hasn’t registered as a Platform) and probably any delegates from an old orthodox CPGB or left Labourist trade union background.

The case coming from the no camp was very routine, and with the exception of the attempt to misrepresent and rubbish the very notion of an active boycott, hardly made any reference to the arguments advanced by ourselves. It was rather as if the no speakers from their various Platforms were repeating the particular arguments advanced in their own prior meetings. Here they wouldn’t have heard or had to deal with opposing positions.

As the debate progressed, Alan McCombes, SSV editor, shrewdly observed the growing problem for the leadership, the ISM and the no coalition. The no speakers had failed to deal with the arguments proposed by active boycott side. Independents were drifting our way. Therefore Alan joined the debate with his own clever manoeuvre. He pointed to a division in the active boycott camp, highlighted by former Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr’s intervention on our side.

Now certainly, until then, we had thought that Hugh, along with Allan Green, were supporters of a yes to the euro position. And it is indeed a rare occasion when Hugh is found voting for RCN proposals! We don’t know whether Hugh, who spoke to, or Allan, who voted for the active boycott, made a purely tactical decision, due to the almost complete absence of support for a yes vote within the SSP ranks. Maybe they were genuinely convinced by our arguments on this issue. Hugh didn’t use his intervention on our side to inveigle a yes position into the debate, so we genuinely welcomed his support. However, Alan McCombes hinted that Hugh was being more Machiavellian. Therefore the active boycott position was really a stalking horse for a yes campaign. And of course, Hugh, who is such a useful left Labour icon to the ISM, when it comes to presenting the SSP as the new old Labour Party to the wider public; is also a useful Aunt Sally for the ISM and others, when they need to brush up their re-re-revolutionary credentials for internal debates!

Divisions in the no camp

It was actually the no camp which was publicly split on the day. The motion from the Dumfries branch wanted to confine the no campaign to the shortest possible period. Now, John Dennis, leading Dumfries activist, has always preferred fighting on economic issues and is suspicious of politicking. Yet, you could sense John’s political fear that the SSP‘s no campaign wouldn’t be the only no show in town. If we campaigned too publicly or too long, we would be associated with some very nasty people. So, quickly in with a special issue of the SSV, a press statement, a few public meetings for sympathisers and then, quickly out before the Tories (or worse) showed up!

Yet it was another motion which got passed on the day which is likely to open up further divisions in the no camp. This was the motion which pledged the SSP to join with others in the fight against the euro. Gordon Morgan, the proposer of the main no motion was obviously worried about the charge the RCN had made in the pre-conference debate against the no camp. This was that any Left no campaign would get subsumed in a much larger Right no campaign and have the effect, as in Denmark, of increasing their – not our political strength.

Gordon emphasised that his proposed anti-euro alliance would only include anti-racist and internationalist groups. At this stage it wasn’t clear which particular no campaign was being proposed. However, in the pre-SC SSV, John Foster advocated a no vote on behalf of the Scottish Democracy Against the Euro campaign. Interestingly, this campaign didn’t officially come into existence until after our SC! It was launched at a press conference held in Glasgow’s City Halls on June 26th. Speakers here included Labour MP, Ian Davidson, Labour MSP, John McAllion, Labour former MEP, Alex Smith, Jane Carolan from the UNISON Executive and Arthur West from Kilmarnock Trades Council. The only political organisation which had affiliated was the Scottish Green Party. However, the SSP National Council, held in Glasgow on August 25th, voted to join.

Now this new affiliation wasn’t reported in the next issue of the SSV, so we have no public statement of the distinctive political position which the SSP leadership wants to put across, nor even of the proposed united front platform which will keep the campaign untarnished by the Right. But to give Gordon (and the SSP leadership) the benefit of the doubt, we can look to the Scottish Green Party news release which declared its own affiliation to Scottish Democracy Against the Euro.

It is important to stress that we Greens are pro-European, but anti- Euro. You don’t have to be a little englander to oppose the single currency – indeed its important for those campaigning for world-wide social justice to stand up to the Euro. We oppose this single currency, not because we want to save the pound, but because we believe the economic logic of the monetary union rides roughshod over our key social and economic concerns.

I don’t it think it would be misrepresenting Gordon to state that he could endorse this statement. Indeed the statement is principled. However, it is also politically naive. If the Scottish Democracy Against the Euro campaign also involves the political forces represented by John Foster, then such internationalism can not be taken for granted. John Foster is a member of the CPB. Along with its sister party, the Communist Party of Scotland, which operates out of the same Glasgow office block, the CPB has long been a supporter of the Scottish Campaign Against Euro-Federalism and its predecessors.

Linking up with the Right

These latter-day, stalinist-initiated campaigns have a long history of working with the Tory Right and other Right populists. When it became clear that the incoming New Labour government of 1997 was likely to push for greater integration with the EU, and for the euro in particular, a Congress for Democracy was organised on the 18th December in 1998. As well as long-standing Labour anti-EU Rightists, Austin Mitchell  MP and Lord Peter Shore, such staunch advocates of democracy as the Tories Michael Portillo, Bill Cash and David Heathcote-Amory, Business for Sterling, the Campaign for an Independent Britain, Sovereign Britain, the UK Independence Party and the Campaign for an Independent Guernsey (!) joined in opposition to the euro with representatives from the Morning Star, the Socialist Campaign Group (Labour Party), Scottish Democracy and the Green Party (it appears that the Scottish Greens’ southern partners aren’t quite so careful in the company they keep!)

That many of these organisations are openly hostile to workers’ aspirations is a mild understatement. That many of these organisations are union jackwaving, pro-imperialist, pro-monarchist, chauvinist nationalists is also well known. The only far right organisations specifically excluded were the fascist BNP and National Front. However, the links between the Tory Right, the populist Right and the fascists are well documented. These were recently highlighted by the BNP leader, Nick Griffin’s Tory father affair! So, although the Tory and populist Right diplomatically went along with the fascist Right’s exclusion from the Congress for Democracy, they are very unlikely to feel so constrained, when the much larger Right-initiated no umbrella organisations start up – particularly now that the BNP can offer significant votes in certain parts of England. The BNP is consciously trying to distance itself from German Nazism, preferring to emphasise its union jackwaving, British nationalism to make rapprochement with the Tory hard Right still more likely.

The flawed record of official and orthodox Communism

When the Labour Government held a referendum in 1975 over membership of the EEC, the then official Communists (still united in the Moscow-franchised CPGB) took a leading part in Britain in trying to organise the Left and trade unionists to vote no. Originally Gordon claimed that, since this political stance coincided with a period of great working class militancy across Europe, then clearly such a campaign didn’t undermine or split the working class. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is rather surprising that Gordon resorted to such an argument. If he were to look at the arguments then used by his own orthodox Trotskyist tradition, he would see the emphasis quite rightly placed on official Communism’s role in massively demobilising the major working class offensive of the time.

Furthermore, the promotion of chauvinist division within the working class and of nationalist unity with the Right was very much part of this. Many of the no to the EEC public meetings were held in CP-controlled Trades Councils. They were often adorned with union jacks and included Tories as platform speakers. This coincided with the period when the new Labour government was trying to promote wage restraint under a Social Contract with the trade union bureaucracy. The complicity of such prominent anti-EEC trade union leaders as the AEU‘s Hugh Scanlon in the demobilisation of workers’ action was justified by the need to defend a Labour government in the national interest. This was also the period when the Labour government, aided and abetted by anti-EEC Labour Party figures, was brutally suppressing resistance in Northern Ireland and upholding the Union, once more under the union jack. When Gordon downplays these dangers is he telling us that he will turn a diplomatic blind eye to our new Scottish Democracy Against the Euro allies’ anti-European, pro- British and sometimes pro-Scottish nationalist politics?

Right and Left linked

Therefore, despite Gordon’s undoubtedly sincere plea for an independent workers’ campaign, the reality is that there will be a linked continuum right across the political spectrum. The SSP joins Scottish Democracy Against the Euro, which includes members of the Scottish Campaign Against a Federal Europe, which promotes links to the Congress for Democracy, which has representatives from the most likely contender for the official No campaign – Business for Sterling’s Europe Yes, Euro No, which the Euro-sceptic right-wing Freedom Association wishes to join and which is not averse to working with the BNP. Which of the interconnected cogs will determine the direction of this political movement? Quite clearly you need to know the balance of forces involved.

In Scotland the lack of an immediate political threat from far Right populists and fascists can lead to a wrong assessment of the balance of class and political power within the UK state – and it is worth emphasising any euro referendum will be conducted throughout the UK. However, if you look to England, it is quite obvious that the Left there (which includes the anti-Euro ISM, Socialist Party and the ISG) is weaker than both the populist and fascist Right (the Tory hard Right, the UK Independence Party, the BNP and NF). Even if the political battle for the leadership of any proposed no campaign was to be confined to these Left and Right forces, the most likely victor would be the Right. This is exactly what happened to the Danish Green-Red Alliance when it lost out heavily to the Right populist Peoples Party, when it campaigned against the euro.

However, the situation is much more dangerous in the UK because significant sections of pro-imperialist, US-orientated big business, represented by the Tory mainstream, are also opposed to the euro being extended to the UK. Unlike the Tory hard Right they aren’t necessarily anti-EU (even Thatcher approved the Maastricht Treaty), or even anti the euro for the rest of the EU, since The City currently makes massive profits acting as an offshore bank handling the euro currency, just as the Isle of Man (and Guernsey?!) does for the UK sterling. This will be the principal force behind Business for Sterling’s Europe yes. Euro no campaign.

And all the indications are that the business-led Business for Sterling is the central cog which will determine the direction of the others. The Eurosceptic, left initiated, Congress for Democracy and the Eurosceptic right wing Freedom Alliance, have both declared they will water down their anti-EU stance to concentrate on the euro. This doesn’t mean there wont be a well-financed, ultra-chauvinist, openly anti-EU campaign. Multi-millionaire Paul Sykes intends to spend £5M on this. Whilst some no campaigners will no doubt be happy to see clear blue water between the two main campaigns, there will still be blue land on either shore – with Tories on both no sides.

The notion that the SSP‘s distinctive politics will stand out clearly against the media barrage from all these Right forces is very unlikely. If the media bother to report us at all, they will add us as the last line in reports of the large Right controlled campaigns. To make any impact we need to be saying something distinctive. Even in Scotland, mainstream Tories still represent a larger political force than the SSP. Although they don’t make much impression in Scottish or Westminster parliamentary politics, precisely because of this weakness, many ordinary members now resort to independent populist campaigns – such as the homophobic Keep The Clause (Section 28/Clause 2A) and the Countryside Alliance. At the UK level the Tories remain her majesty’s loyal opposition, still a significant, if ailing, political force. They will also be able to call on major sections of the press, particularly Rupert Murdoch, to support them.

Those SSP SC delegates who argued for a no position made no attempt to deal with the political nature of the wider opposition to the euro. Nor did they even consider the likely balance of forces involved. Yet, reality tends to assert itself even if unconsciously. It is quite clear that nobody in the no camp believes that Scottish Democracy Against the Euro can win control of the wider no movement. For neither in the motion, nor in the arguments put forward, was the only logical political aim advanced if such a winning scenario is envisaged. If the SSP and wider Left are to take the political spoils on the morning after a majority no vote in the referendum, then they must be ready to form a workers’ government and nationalise the banks! Otherwise, the morning after, it will still be Sir Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, appointed by Chancellor Gordon Brown, in full charge. He is no more accountable to the people of these islands than the head of the European Central Bank. He answers to The City (and Wall Street). George and his full-time officials have already declared their neutrality in any referendum debate, a considerable weakness for Blair’s Britain in Europe yes campaign.

The situation elsewhere in these islands

Furthermore, despite Gordon’s advocacy of an internationalist campaign, he doesn’t appear to have considered the even stronger position of the Right in England and Northern Ireland. If Gordon’s ISG comrades in England also have their heads in the sand, how about their comrades in Socialist Democracy in Ireland? The overwhelming political support for anti-euro politics in Northern Ireland comes from the forces of reaction – both wings of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the loyalist PUP (and if they give it a political thought between their ongoing pogroms, the paramilitaries in the UVF, UDA and LVF too). Now of course, the nationalist Sinn Fein is also opposed to the EU – on paper. In practice, Sinn Fein knows that the EU is popular amongst the wider nationalist constituency and therefore confines its opposition to particular issues – such as the Nice Treaty (this threatens Irish neutrality – and also the large EU subsidies to Irish farmers!) Sinn Fein, however, was remarkably quiet when the euro replaced the Irish punt last January. Indeed, during the first few days of the euro’s introduction to Ireland, the nationalist response on the ground in Belfast seemed to be to get the Irish-faced euro coins circulating as quickly as possible as an alternative to British coins!

Socialist Democracy’s response to the result of the Irish Nice Treaty referendum was much cooler than the politics of their mainland ISG colleagues would suggest. This was despite an embarrassing political defeat for Fianna Fail government and a considerable increase in Sinn Fein’s electoral credibility. This is because Socialist Democracy comrades have been through a major internal debate to overcome their one-time overly uncritical attitude to the politics of the Republican Movement. They inherited this initial attitude from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, which has always tended to tailend left nationalist forces – a tendency known as Pabloism to aficionados of internal Trotskyist politics. Pabloism like its Stalinist competitors dresses up left nationalism in socialist colours. Now, if Gordon thinks through the logic of his politics he should be calling for Socialist Democracy to approach Sinn Fein for a united no campaign against the euro. Remember the need to maximise the no vote across the UK! Yet what happens if the CWI‘s Socialist Party (6 Counties) invites the PUP to any proposed no campaign? Maybe the joint no campaign could hold meetings under the union jack and the tricolour – but don’t ask for any delegates from east Belfast’s Short Strand!

The changed political situation in Scotland

Despite Gordon’s still tentative support for Scottish nationalism, he doesn’t appear to have considered the important political shifts on the issue of Europe since 1975. Then the SNP joined with the largely Labour Left in supporting withdrawal from the EEC in 1975. This helped to contribute to the significantly larger no vote in Scotland, 42% compared with 33% in the UK as a whole. Nowadays the SNP is almost as pro-EU as the Liberal Democrats. One consequence of the SNP‘s pro-EU stance today, is that there may now be greater support for the euro here than in the wider UK. Now, if Gordon thinks that Scotland showed its lefter credentials in 1975 by voting no to the EEC in greater proportion, then what would a proportionally smaller no to the euro vote in Scotland next year represent politically?!

This political change in Scotland is one reason why Allan Green and Hugh Kerr would prefer to link up with Alex Neill on the SNP left in a more pro-European campaign. Alex Neill has also been an ally of Tommy Sheridan in the Scottish parliament. Interestingly, Tommy has remained very quiet over the Euro!

The problem the nationalist Left has, is highlighted by the SSP‘s SRSM. Do they support the no campaign advocated by the Independent Socialist Scotland ISM leadership, despite their justified fear of union jacks being given a new lease of life; or do they follow the SNP into the yes camp, where blue saltires are likely to be found in greater number, but still overshadowed by Britain in Europe’s union jacks! The SRSM have not been able to solve this great conundrum, since their delegates abstained at the Glasgow special conference. Yet Gordon could still find an anti-EU Scottish nationalist wing, although not a very reassuring one. It is ideologically dominated by the self-declared, ultra-nationalist, ethnicist, militarist Siol nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael), with its black saltires.

An internationalism without substance

Yet there was a further weakness at the Special Conference. Gordon’s pre-SC paper advocated a campaign that could call local meetings and regional and national rallies with labour movement speakers from Scotland, England, Wales, from other European countries and from Africa, Asia and South America. This seems to highlight the internationalist connections needed by any genuine socialist campaign. Yet, on the day of the SC (in contrast to the earlier conference) there were no official representatives from any of these places – not our European socialist allies, nor even the Socialist Alliance in England.

There was no shortage of internationalist rhetoric from the SWM at the SC . Speakers punctuated their contributions with regular references to the brilliant anti-capitalist movement, the brilliant demonstrations in Genoa and Barcelona, and of course, the brilliant Globalise Resistance. Yet, they too failed to use their national influence in the SSP to push for international speakers on the day. One possible reason for the failure to invite international speakers, is that many other European socialists don’t support the Brit Left’s anti-euro stance – seeing it as an accommodation to reactionary British nationalism. Whilst SSP,  ISM and SWP delegates now regularly attend various European socialist forums it just doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to seek political support for their anti-euro stance. Is this because they know they may face a political challenge from bigger political forces? – better leave the no campaign as a purely British or Scottish affair!

Blair’s real political game

Speaker after speaker for the no position argued that Blair was pushing the euro so that he could impose the Maastricht Treaty convergence criteria in the UK in order to cut public spending and open up the way for further privatisation. This reveals a completely wrong understanding of the reason behind Blair’s pro-euro stance. The UK, under Thatcher, Major and Blair, has gone further with and met the convergence criteria earlier than any other EU member country. Blair wants to join the euro, to put himself at the centre of a political alliance with Berlusconi and Aznar, the better to roll back the more advanced social provision existing in the EU. This provision is codified in the Social Chapter, but in reality only implemented where workers are well organised – particularly in Italy and France. The idea that there still remain better working conditions to defend over here is a bad joke.

Therefore the starting point of any genuine internationalist campaign is solidarity support for those millions of Italian workers who struck earlier this year to protect workers’ rights in smaller workplaces; and those workers in Spain who struck against pension cuts. The European Socialist left needs to draw up its own wider Workers’ and Social Charter and organise a series of massive international demonstrations against Blair/Berlusconi/Aznar and the Eurobosses in each of their capital cities. If the SSP throws its weight behind a no to the euro campaign this not only isolates us from our class’s main fighting forces in Europe. It also makes it harder to distinguish us from all the Right populist and fascist forces in Europe who oppose the euro.

The political preconditions for a successful campaign, which will emphasise the rights of workers and the oppressed, is a refusal to take sides with either wing of capitalism represented in the yes and no camps. This means an active boycott campaign. This was the one idea which many nos tried to pour scorn on. There were two main responses. The first was to deliberately misrepresent an active boycott campaign as passive abstention. The second was to pretend there could be no such political animal as an active boycott campaign.

The reality of active boycott campaigns

However, just the month before, 1,738,000 voters in France had spoiled their ballot papers, rather than vote for Chirac or Le Pen. This represented 4.4% of the electorate, despite the LCR advocating a vote for Chirac, and despite LO being slow to promote such an approach, and refusing to conduct a political campaign directed at the LCR‘s youth base, which was prepared to defy the LCR leadership over the issue.

Perhaps Gordon wanted to direct attention away from ISG‘s sister organisation, the LCR. By recommending a vote for Chirac in the French presidential election they have caused controversy inside the ISG. Fellow ISG and SSP member, Campbell MacGregor, was given space in Socialist Outlook no 56 to oppose the LCR‘s support for Chirac. Gordon is in alliance with the ISM leadership over the no to the euro position. The USFI is making overtures towards the ISM and he will be aware of the LCR apologetic article in their Frontline 7 – Political earthquake in France. However, it was Nick Clarke of the RCN who punctured some SSP delegates’ mocking non recognition of an active boycott campaign. He reminded the delegates that the SSP had organised its own active boycott in the face of Brian Souter’s ‘Keep the Clause’ referendum in 2002 and that this campaign had involved direct action and not a mere binning of the ballot paper.

So, where do we go from here? The debate was conducted fairly, even if we didn’t like the result, so the RCN will not be attempting to organise an independent campaign outside the SSP. Instead, as the contradictions of the no position become more apparent, we will highlight these, hoping to make other comrades see the folly of providing voting fodder for The City and the Right. In the meantime we must take the argument into England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where socialists still haven’t decided on the issue.

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Aug 05 2002

A Healthy Constitution?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:49 pm

Duncan Rowan, the SSP’s North East Organiser, raises concerns at the outcome of the SSP’s Special Conference on the party’s constitution

Conferences, special or otherwise, have always struck me as slightly pointless affairs. All that passion, preparation and rhetoric spent upon an audience, 90% of whom arrived that morning knowing exactly how they were going to vote. To me a conference is the last stage of a debate, the formal counting of hands to get a yea or nay, the actual arguments are won or lost in the weeks or months leading up to the actual vote. After checking out who’s turned up on the day, any reasonably informed comrade can tell you with a high degree of accuracy exactly how every conference votes going to go. To be honest most of conference business could be carried out by post, with no noticeable effect upon the result. But every so often, just often enough to make the whole shebang worthwhile, a issue comes along where the balance of forces within the party is close enough that the 10% undecided on the day are pivotal, where debate does effect the outcome, when the result of a vote is anybody’s guess.

At the special conference in June both of these experiences of SSP conferences were on full display, the crushingly predicable and the genuinely exciting and uncertain. Apart from the relief of finally, after almost three years of on/off discussion, deciding that our logo would remain the same – the conference was devoted to two matters, our position in the looming Euro referendum and a revised constitution for the party. Neither issue seemed to grip the party’s wide membership, a fact reflected in the turnout on the day – around 140 delegates. This was less than half who attended the February annual conference in Dundee, and based on a membership of 2,500 just a fifth of a theoretical full delegate conference.

Whilst the timing and location of the conference may partly explain the low attendance, the nature and issues up for debate were never going to be a crowd puller. The Euro debate was widely seen, correctly as was the case, as a done deal – the no vote inevitable.

More worryingly the revised constitution failed to stir any mass debate. It is inevitable that in a party committed to class action that there is a tendency to regard constitutional matters as mildly irrelevant, boring but necessary and best left to the hacks. But this is a tendency, which must be fought; democracy is the oxygen of socialism. Without a healthy and robust internal democracy the SSP will prove to be incapable of tasks we’ve set ourselves, doomed to join the ever-growing list of socialist parties who have degenerated into sects or fallen into opportunism and reformism. What a constitution says and how it is applied are amongst the first indicators of the health of any party. A lack of interest in what may seem like constitutional niceties, whilst not a terminal sign is still cause for concern.

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Aug 05 2002

Oceans Apart

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:46 pm

by Jim Aitken

Do not call me Ishmael
or anything quite as grand
but call me instead a radge
or a schemie or a scaff
a bam, a ned, yob or chav

extend the vocabulary
and label me as other
poke fun at my accent and clothes
blame me for all that goes missing
for how standards are falling

criminalise my entire class
and judge me by my home address
raise your eyebrows at my manners
and at my failure to impress
turn indifference to contempt

and smugly feel good with yourself
since you seem to have done so well
and cringe at how I go around
sneering at my lack of taste
my words all wrong and out of place

and search my face for coming rage
confirming your deep prejudice
and fail to comprehend how this
responds to your great ignorance
of the class divide between us

Jim Aitken is a secondary teacher in Edinburgh. This poem was inspired by an incident in his first year class, with one pupil commenting on another – He’s such a chav, isn’t he? The opening line is adapted from the start of Moby Dick and this, together with the title, illustrates the monstrous, oceanic class divide in today’s Britain.

Some of Jim’s writings are in From the Front Line of Terror, published by the Stop the War Coalition & the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. £3 from SPSC, Peace & Justice Centre, Princes St., Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ.

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Aug 05 2002

Equal partners in the struggle

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:44 pm

Catriona Grant explains why the fight for liberation must include the struggle against our emotional internalisation of constraints and beliefs

Linda Gibson’s article in the first Emancipation and Liberation enthralled me. She was able to eloquently express many of my thoughts and feelings. It has often perplexed and confused me why Marxists are meant to be without emotion.

The 70’s gave us the slogan from the Feminist movement The Personal is Political which is, I believe, correct. It is our own personal consciousness that brings us to political consciousness and hopefully to a collective consciousness. It is our feelings, thoughts and processes that bring us to the political act, to ignore this means an unbalanced approach to our politics.

Linda expresses a concern of mine. In the quest for women’s equality, why do we aspire to be equal to what men are? Overwork, stress, alienation from themselves, family and friends, violence, going to war, being the management class. I have no aspiration to be equal to the paltry gains men have made, however, I do fight for women to have the right to equal pay, equal representation, equal position in the work place. The material inequalities between men and women are not perceived inequalities but very real ones. Women still earn only 80% of men’s wages, 68% when overtime is taken into consideration and only 50% of women’s wealth when investments, savings and pensions are taken into consideration.

I empathise with Linda, to be equal to men as men currently are – for me would be frightening. As Marxists we fight for liberation not equality, equality however is on the journey to full emancipation. Being equal wage slaves makes us only equal wage slaves. Those with less have the right to want as much as those who have more.

Class society depends on the oppression of women, the creation of the family that places the woman as the wife, mother or daughter but also the alienation and oppression of men too. Class society has manipulated our life styles, our family structures, our beliefs and even our emotions. Our emotions are what drive us, some emotions are very basic and some very complex – many years in a psychotherapist’s chair would still not explain the feelings we have and why we react the way we do.

There has been much debate and discussion about the nature of men and women whether, we learn our behaviour or whether it is innate within us. There are many traits that may be biologically male or female traits and/or behaviours and there are, without doubt, behaviours that men and women have developed through the world around us. It seems a maze to work out what happens because of our sex or gender. But can we perceive a time in human history where gender would not exist and sex would be a biological state only?

Our emotional development starts at the time of birth; we are brought up to be strong, brave boys or nice, pretty girls. If it was only done so starkly we could fight against it much more easily. However, the messages are so strong and relentless that sometimes, even when we know some of our reactions to some things are wrong, we still have the feelings anyway. Class society brings the majority of us up to believe that we are not bright, articulate, good looking, worthy and we internalise our disappointments, our knocks and blows to believe that we are stupid, unworthy, daft, ugly, not worth listening too etc. As Linda says we internalise our own oppression so we believe that it is part of us not that it is external forces around us.

Being emotional usually means becoming upset, sometimes crying; it is often seen as a negative thing to be – seen as behaving unpolitically. Yet being strong, sometimes blunt and not taking care of how we speak is seen as being strong, leading by example. We have bought into the bourgeois way of thinking and feeling when we express our politics through an emotional void.

Weeping can be healing and an expression of how we feel but it is also a learned response from the world we live in. Like Linda, I argue for neither one set of emotions over another. Our struggle for equality is not for women to share in the spoils of capitalism and to be alienated alongside men nor for men to feel and be like women. Neither men nor women can express themselves fully because the world around us does not give us permission to do so; our alienation makes us feel less than we are.

Without women struggling alongside men as equal partners in the struggle then the struggle will always be unbalanced. In a socialist sense, we do not ask men to compensate women for past wrongs but ask that women can be equal to men in order that they can fight together. Perhaps we may never be truly liberated. However, we can fight for our liberation not just from wage slavery and class society but also from our emotional internalisation of constraints and beliefs that make us less than free.

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Aug 05 2002

Juvenilization, the family, and the capitalist state

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:42 pm

Kathy Perlo argues that young people must be genuinely valued by society, and should neither be used as scapegoats, nor defined as non-citizens.

To accustom children (those below puberty) to subordination beyond the natural needs of care and protection, they must be defined as non-citizens; to prepare young people (those above puberty but still requiring long years of education) for exploitation, they must be defined as children; and to ensure that the family does not undermine capitalist aims, it must be defined as an agent of the state. The upbringing and education of young people has of course always served the social structure in various ways; this is how it is currently working in our society.


Education was made compulsory originally to prevent children of poor families from having to go out to work. But while education is good in itself, its purposes under capitalism, besides giving the skills required by an industrial economy, are to select children for the ‘meritocratic’ stratification of work (with the corresponding message that low pay and poverty are deserved, indeed inscribed by genetic differences in intelligence), and to acclimatize children to authoritarian structures. Individual teachers may be well-meaning, but the very figure of the teacher with her combined qualifications and authority is a symbol of class inequality, reinforcing the low expectations of working-class pupils. And many teachers are patronizing and snobbish towards parents.

Yet however miserable a child is at school, parents are criminalized for not forcing him or her to attend. The school is never at fault: children and parents must conform. Jailed mother Patricia Amos and her children were dragged through the media, announcing that they had learned their lesson, like the defendants in a Stalinist show trial. On the other hand, many children are excluded for disruptive or antisocial behaviour – and then what awaits them is more state-run machinery for handling deviants. The policies of Gaoler Morris have nothing to do with education.

At present the only way out for disaffected children and their parents is through home education, but this right is being curtailed:

Parents are not obliged by law to tell a local authority at the start of a child’s schooling that they have decided on home education. Children in private schooling can also be withdrawn at any time to be taught at home without the authorities being informed. The row in Scotland is about children who have started their education in the state system. Parents say local authorities make it difficult to withdraw them from school to be taught at home.

The draft consultation document, published in March, appears to have made matters worse.

Alison Preuss, secretary of Schoolhouse, a Dundee-based home-education support group, said: In many cases, local authorities are withholding consent …. They are putting parents with distressed children in a position where they have to jump through 20,000 hoops before they get thatconsent and then referring them to the Children’s Panel for nonattendance at school. Daily Mail, Tuesday, June 25, 2002. In any case, home education is only possible for households where one parent is free from long hours of work. With many couples having to double-work to make ends meet, and with single parents being increasingly pressured or forced into work, home education becomes a luxury.

Young people and work

Older children constitute a handy class of people who are old enough to work but too young to have any legal status as citizens: in other words young enough to be ‘treated like children’. In 1998, it was reported that:

One in four children under the age of 16 are working in low-wage jobs paying as little as 33 pence an hour …, according to two recent surveys. ….

Child labour has become a vital part of the low-wage economy in Britain. … a survey commissioned by the Trades Union Congress … found that nearly one-quarter of all 11 and 12 year olds were working illegally.

More than a quarter of the children who work during the school year said they were often too tired to do homework. Teachers report many children falling asleep in class.

Vicky Short, World Socialist Web Site/Child labour in Britain

Among older young people, as Eddie Truman points out (Give the kids a break,
Scottish Socialist Voice, 10 May 2002, p. 11, 16 and 17 year olds pay tax if they work but cannot vote; they pay national insurance if they work but receive no benefits if they are unemployed.

However, the question of young people working is complicated. Not all child labour is the result of poverty. Young people want economic independence, or at least some money they can call their own. When I was 13, I bitterly resented America’s child labour laws which prevented me from getting a summer job. When my son at a similar age wanted to do a paper round, we tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him; fortunately he found it burdensome and soon gave it up. We were not on the breadline, but young people under peer pressure in a consumer society never have enough money; your son or daughter is always the poorest one in the class. This is especially the case when they lack the dignity that comes with self support, and can only gain status from possessions.

Marx, who devoted a large part of Capital to passionate denunciations of the oppression of children, still recognized the liberatory potential of work for young people and for women, under suitable conditions:

However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes. … the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its … brutal, capitalistic form, … that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery

Capital, vol. 1, pp. 489-90 (trs Moore & Aveling, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1970

It is true that Marx was here comparing factory work with domestic cottage industries, and the passage is coloured by his admiration for industrialism; but it also expresses recognition of the need for women and children to be free from dependency and domination. He also suggested that work should be combined with education:

Though the Factory Act … is limited to combining elementary education with work in the factory, … when the working class comes into power …, technical instruction, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place in the working class schools

ibid., p. 488;

and in a footnote cites with approval the views of John Bellers who

saw … at the end of the 17th century, the necessity for abolishing the present system of education and division of labour, which beget hypertrophy and atrophy at the two opposite extremities of society. … Labour adds oil to the lamp of life, when thinking inflames it.


But this does not mean he wanted children to do a paper round at 7 in the morning and then fall asleep in class, eventually failing in school and spending their lives doing crap jobs. Nor would he have approved Labour’s idea of releasing some young people from school at 14 into vocational programmes, and other forms of educational/vocational streaming which rigidify the existing class system. No, in a developed economy prolonged education is necessary, but because it is necessary the young people undertaking it should be recognized as contributors and paid a living wage for their efforts, as university students formerly received maintenance grants. The compulsory and unpaid education of young people is an indirect way of extracting surplus value, since through it they are being prepared for direct exploitation later on. Moreover, any part-time work done by young people should be paid at the going adult rates, on the principle that if they are old enough to work, they are old enough to be paid.

Young people and reproduction

The economic submergence of young people, combined with ancient prejudices against out-of-wedlock births, has led to a fearsome demonization of teenage mothers. A policy which has rightly led to

accusations that the government is seeking a return to 19th century houses for ‘fallen women’

BBC Online Network, 31 January, 1999

is to be implemented in 2003, as part of a war on teenage pregnancy. The government will provide

[s]emi-supervised accommodation for the small number of teenage mothers who choose not to live with their families. This will begin with pilot schemes and will be national policy by 2003 with teen mothers no longer qualifying for a council house. It will include help and advice to encourage mothers to stay on in education and get a job

BBC Online Network, June 14, 1999.

Trying to give a feminist slant to these vicious policies, Blair aimed his remarks at teenage fathers, who he said should be forced to pay maintenance (out of their preschool paper rounds?).

The harm done by classifying teenagers as children is shown by Blair’s remark: Put simply, you are still a child when you are 14 and, in a civilised society, children should not be having children ibid.. It is asserted as dogma that Teenage pregnancy is not right Blair, ibid.. But a person who can produce children is a biological adult, not a child. Mrs Grundy will say But they’re not mature enough to have children! What does mature mean? It is merely a term of approval.

These measures, and these denunciations, are accompanied by hypocritical talk about helping teenage mothers. The programme openly stigmatizes them and is openly aimed at eradicating teenage motherhood, and yet Tessa Jowell, the minister introducing the programme, added that teenage parents should not be punished, but supported so that they did not become marginalised ibid.. The semi-supervised prisons for young mothers and their childrens are, according to the Independent on Sunday, being looked at as a way to reduce teenage mothers’ feelings of isolation and encourage them to move from the benefit system back to work at a faster rate BBC Online Network, January 31, 1999.

Motherhood is hard work, and the young women doing it are to be treated like criminals, told that the child whom they love has no right to exist, that their love itself is worthless, and that however good a job they do, it can be seen at best as compensation for the offence of having the child in the first place. This is mental cruelty of a high order, and typical of the Blair government’s endorsement of toughness as the primary political value. But when has capitalism ever cared about love?

The juvenilization of young people as workers intersects with their juvenilization as parents. Because they are children, teenagers are not entitled to economic independence (either as students or as workers). And because, as children, they do not earn enough to support children of their own, they are not entitled to reproduce; the latter argument, of course, being reinforced by the patriarchal hatred of all single parenthood.

Young people and behaviour

Young people need personal as well as economic independence. Until recently they have had a certain amount of the former, but with curfews being introduced and parents being held criminally responsible for their sons’ and daughters’ offences, reinforced by a moral panic about ‘youth crime’, it is fast disappearing

Young people’s independence is not, despite well-meaning suggestions to that effect, going to be achieved through more adult-supervised activities. On the contrary, their independence is identical with the absence of adults. But under New Labour we are moving towards a world without Huck Finn, Christopher Robin (playing in the woods with his toys, on his own! a paedophile might get him!), Dennis the Menace or Beryl the Peril: a world where children never have adventures or do what they have been told not to. At last, under New Labour, we are seeing the restoration of that golden age whose passing has been lamented since the beginning of written records – when ‘children obeyed their parents’. Is the world really so much more dangerous than it was? Where are the facts? No, the purpose of curfews and the like is not the protection of children or of their prospective victims, but the institutionalization of all life.

Young people and softeningup

The measures so far discussed are aimed at young people, but are useful in softening-up the rest of society for the disappearance of workers’ rights, liberty, tolerance and compassion. Low wages for young workers lead to low expectations in older workers; incarceration of teenage mothers could be a precursor for similar treatment of all single parents; curfews could be extended to any disapproved-of group.

The family: parents or police agents?

The government’s criminalization of parents for their children’s truancy and other offences is designed to destroy the only refugeand source of support that working-class people have under capitalism. If benefits (including housing benefit) are to be cut or parents jailed, children will constitute a threat to their parents and parents will be encouraged to become harsh and unforgiving; while siblings of a problem child will be encouraged to resent and reject him or her. Love has no place in the capitalist view of the family, and is likely to be denounced as overindulgence.

Note that while it is thought appropriate for the state to force parents to act as police, whenever anyone suggests that they be barred from hitting their children, the right wing screams about the ‘nanny state’ and interference with privacy. In my view, hitting children is a violation of human rights and should be banned – not only for the good of the children, but for the good of many parents who, in an authoritarian climate, are actually placed under pressure to hit their children and would be relieved at having that pressure removed.

At the same time as parents are appointed agents of the state who are assumed to have infallible control of children, they are not considered to have a right to custody of them for their own reasons of love and attachment. Such a right has been denied under the slogan of the welfare of the child. Expressing the hope that the situation may change under the Human Rights Act 1989, Bainham writes:

Since 1970 … all family lawyers have been used to the notion in children disputes that the welfare of the individual child is paramount, meaning that it is the court’s sole consideration … the independent claims of parents and others are deemed relevant only in so far as they are fed into the process of determining what are the best interests of the child. This view of the subordination of adult claims was given a further boost with the reconceptualisation of the parental position as one of responsibility rather than rights in the Children Act 1989. … we have spent the last decade or so denying the very existence of parental rights as such. This approach will no longer be acceptable

p. 125,Children law at the millennium, pp. 113-26 in Family Law: Essays for the new Millennium, ed. S. Cretney (Bristol: Family Law, 2000; author’s emphasis).

The welfare of children has been constructed in opposition to the parent’s love for them. All that counts is the objective judgement of various professionals. When my friend Adele (not her real name, at her request), whose children were taken from her by Glasgow Social Services for the crime of being depressed and allegedly neglecting the children, admitted in a hearing that she wanted them back, she was told she was being selfish. She and her husband are only allowed to visit them once a week on social work premises with a social worker present. The children have repeatedly asked to go home and do not understand why they cannot. When the parents told them that the social workers would not allow them home, the social worker got angry and insisted that the required reply was, You cannot come home because we[the parents] are ill. When one of the children clung to his father at the end of the visit and the father expressed anger towards the social worker, the latter denounced him for upsetting the children.

For a while the children were allowed home, after the parents made strenuous efforts to redecorate the house, gain weight (in Adele’s case), and meet other requirements; but the family were not left in peace. The social worker called once a week, finding fault with the housekeeping, prescribing the details of the household’s daily routine, and making it clear that they would never be a family again but would always be prisoners of the social work department, under the constant threat of renewed separation. Not surprisingly, Adele became depressed again and the children were back in foster care the last time I managed to reach her.

This behaviour has nothing to do with the welfare of children: it is the war of the capitalist state, with professionals as its agents, against the poor. Social workers hate to take children into care, someone at Barnardo’s told me when I asked for advice about my friend’s situation. As professionals, they can do no wrong. What hope has a chronically unemployed person, living on an estate, of ever winning out against them?

There is much pseudo-radical thinking invoked to support such actions – smash the nuclear family, children are not your property, etc. Indeed, Marx, in the course of the passage earlier quoted, wrote It is … as absurd to hold the Teutonic-Christian form of the family to be absolute and final as it would be to apply that character to the ancient Roman, the ancient Greek, or the Eastern forms
Capital, vol. 1, p. 490. But libertarian critics of the family did not mean that children and parents should become the property of the state. The present government is destroying everything good about families – love, trust, privacy, mutual support – while promoting the very things that libertarians oppose: authoritarianism, repression, and (through its attacks on single parents) enforced marriage.

And while it is true that parental love is partly possessive and egoistic, it is a great improvement on no love at all. If you doubt it, ask an unloved child.

Policies we should support

  • Parents allowed to make alternate education arrangements, without state interference, for children disaffected with school.
  • Maintenance grants, at minimum wage levels or above, for all secondary school and university students.
  • Minimum wage or above to be paid to all workers regardless of age.
  • Creche facilities for mothers who are still in school.
  • No discrimination against parents on grounds of age or marital status, as regards housing, benefits, jobs, or anything else.
  • No curfews to be imposed on any group.
  • Parents to have a recognized prima facie right of custody of their children. Parents who are threatened with child removal to have full rights of due process of law, including legal aid.
  • And as a bare minimum – votes at 16. It’s little enough, compared to all that is needed!

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Aug 05 2002

British Nationalism and the rise of Fascism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:40 pm

While the Anti Nazi League concentrates its effort on fighting German Nazis, fascism has very British roots. In a shortened version of an article he wrote while in the Republican Workers’ Tendency, Chris Ford shows the link between loyalism and fascism. Chris is currently on the Editorial Board of Hobgoblin.

The British roots of fascism

In an exercise in deception British Left and Right historians have placed an Italian label on this movement. It better deserves a British one. The first movement of 20th century fascism emerged in 1910 to enforce the unity of the United Kingdom. It was a time of militant workers’ struggles and resurgent Irish nationalism. The crisis over the national question split the British ruling class. The liberal wing advocated devolution within the Union, then called Home Rule. The most reactionary wing, without a parliamentary majority, set its frontline on the Irish question. The Tory Unionist, Sir Edward Carson, raised the 80,000 strong UVF in defence of empire and against unpatriotic socialists and papist nationalists. Two decades before German generals moved behind National Socialism, British generals were backing the British nationalist UVF as a rallying force for counter-revolution in the UK. Orange reaction set about the sectarian division of the working class. It was the shape of things to come in Europe as a whole.

International revolution and counter-revolution

The Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, followed a year later by the Bolshevik led October Uprising, heralded the International Revolutionary Wave, which lasted until 1921. Amidst the slaughter of the First World War, millions of workers and peasants rose up to challenge social and national oppression. The uprooting of capitalism and construction of a communist society was no longer a distant utopia but a living possibility. It was no coincidence that at this moment in history a movement as barbaric as fascism should emerge. World capitalism unleashed everything from its arsenal to prevent communism and to maintain its own rule. The ‘democratic’ League of Nations launched an Anti-Bolshevik Crusade. Communists at the time saw fascism as inseparable from the overall offensive of capital. Through the state, the capitalist class sponsored the fascists in a variety of ways in different countries to meet its own ends. In Italy the parliamentary Right placed Mussolini at the helm of the state; in Hungary they were the only force available to crush the Hungarian Soviet Republic. However it was in Germany that fascism played such a key role in the decisive battles of the revolution in Europe.

The UK did not escape the revolutionary wave and the working class did not escape from this fascist backlash. Whilst fascism is an independent movement, the decisive factor determining the extent of its power and influence stems from the state. In the UK the myriad fascist forces which emerged in this period were almost in their entirety initiated by the state security forces. Organisations like the BEU were engaged in activities against the workers’ movement from organising strike breaking, goon squads and intelligence work. In 1918 the far Right stood under the populist cloak of the National Democratic Labour Party, backed by the BEU. They gained 10 MPs. When the Duke of Northumberland founded the British Fascists in 1923 they received MI5 assistance. Through direct state support the early fascists formed a rightist prop to the Anti-Bolshevik Crusade.

The director of the Economic League, James White, admired the British Fascists for having achieved an end for which it has never been credited. It forced the Communist Party to abandon much of its militant activity.

The Six Counties – fascism in action

It was the Irish revolution, however, which provided the main focus for British Fascism. The same directors of the state security services which had coordinated activities in England, Scotland and Wales throughout the International Revolutionary Wave, saw their actions as closely linked to the continuation of the counter-revolution in Ireland. In 1921, having forced a Partition Agreement upon the now split forces of Irish Republicanism, they set about the task of imposing it in the Six Counties. The traditional British Left view completely fails to see any connection between fascism and this tragic episode. Field Marshall Wilson set up the Specials, a force of 48,000. drawn from the old UVF and Cromwell Clubs. Lloyd George described them as analogous to the fascisti in Italy. In the years 1920 to 1922 these British fascists forced 23,000 people from their homes and killed 400 in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Having imposed partition, Wilson and Co looked beyond Irish horizons to the rest of the UK and the possibility of forming a real conservative party. The implementation of the reaction plotted by the Real Conservatives (a name which could well be applied to the far Right of today’s conservatives, with their allies in the security services, amongst the Ulster Unionists and the British National Party!) never spread beyond the Six Counties.

Although Wilson was finished off by an IRA bullet, there are wider reasons for the failure of the first wave of British fascism and important lessons for today. Ireland was the only place in the UK that the British ruling class was challenged by insurgent masses demanding social and national liberation. The Easter Rising had demolished the liberal agenda of Home Rule under the Crown and proclaimed a Republic.

In the rest of the UK the post-war upheaval took another direction opening the way to a different solution for the British ruling class. Of the Communists, only John MacLean posed the question of a serious revolutionary challenge to the state. With the developing break up of the British Empire and the UK state he united the demand for a Scottish Workers’ Republic with slogans of Up Ireland!, Up India! and began drawing up plans for an insurrection.

However, the majority of the workers’ movement remained tied to Labourism and the majority of communists to a syndicalist struggle. The capitalist state was not challenged for political power. The class collaboration of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy provided the British ruling class with a solution within the framework of parliamentary democracy. The Crown Powers still provided the state security forces with the means to sponsor fascism, varying from military force to strike-breaking depending on what was required. The history of pre-war fascism shows that bourgeois liberal democracy and fascism are not absolute opposites. His Majesty’s government instituted fascist terror in Ireland to preserve the UK state and the façade of parliamentary democracy was allowed to remain intact.

British nationalism – reinforcing the UK state

In the past the super profits of the British Empire held together the constituent nations of the United Kingdom and united a ruling class in their British nation. With the loss of empire and facing increasingly stiff competition, the UK may appear a great power but it is in a state of terminal decline. The twentieth century saw the break up of the multinational states – most importantly the USSR and Yugoslavia. Here the once united ruling classes have retreated into Great Russian and Greater Serbian nationalism. Such nationalism, although often ignored by the Brit Left, has been ever present in the UK. British nationalism is changing and in many ways to a more dangerous beast, for the only possibility of a Britain great again is retrogression into the worst chauvinism, racism and authoritarian control. It is not the nationalism of empire building and the great white mission but of a social system in decay and for the preservation of the UK state itself. This national chauvinism has justified the attacks on Irish republicans and black communities, laying the groundwork for attacks on the working class as a whole.

Loyalism and Fascism

In the 1990’s the BNP manifesto declared that, We are dedicated to maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We oppose any devolution schemes which threaten to loosen ties between the component parts of the United Kingdom. They are standing in the tradition of British fascism which has always reflected the Britishness of the ruling classes setting its frontline on the unity of the Union.

Just as at the birth of fascism, the most reactionary forces of British nationalism focus on the Irish question. The republican communities of resistance, which formed in the 1970’s established political, social and military institutions within the territory of the UK state but in defiance of this state. In doing so they have faced the ferocity of the British ruling class and, as in the past, British fascism.

This Loyalist wing of British Fascism is not restricted to the Six Counties. Loyalism has been active for years in Scotland and England also. The Independent Orange Order in Scotland is currently the largest fascist group in Scotland openly in alliance with the UDA. It has worked closely with the largely English based BNP, most notably against republicans. In England the Loyalist activity has ranged from mobilising against the Manchester Martyrs March, the London Bloody Sunday March to engaging in covert strike breaking, eg Laings Lockout.

Whilst the traditional Left has been looking for a fascism of swastikas it has failed to see that these were Nazi symbols built out of a German nationalism. Groups like the SWP’s Anti-Nazi League like to emphasise the essentially foreign nature of fascism, painting a picture of 1930’s German Nazis. They miss the reality of British fascism feeding off British nationalism. So nationalism itself remains compatible with antifascism, the heritage of the Guns of Navarone, D-Day and We won the war. What then are symbols of British nationalism? The Union Jack, the Orange sash and the Lambeg drum. These are also the symbols which indigenous British fascism is attempting to utilise. We ignore this at our peril.

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