Mar 20 2009

Deirdre McCartin, 1944 – 2009

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:15 pm

The RCN only got to know of Deidre during  one of her several  phases of political and cultural activity. We met Deidre and her partner, Charlie Rees in the early days of the SSA and  SSP, when they moved from Allihies in County Kerry to Dunure in Ayrshire. Here they joined the Ayrshire SSP branch. They were immediately attracted to the socialist republican politics of the RCN. We benefitted from Deidre’s involvement in Peoples Democracy and the contacts she maintained there. Deidre was a larger than life figure who, along with Charlie, the RCN comrades found very good company. We are posting this commemoration by her fellow Fourth International and one-time Peoples Democracy member, D. R. O’Connor Lysaght.  She always referred to him as Rayner, seeing him in  as a political mentor, when she first moved to Ireland. She continued to rate Rayner’s  political advice very highly.

Deidre McCartan – by D. R. O’Connor Lysaght

A small dark woman in her early thirties, dressed in a black three-quarter length coat: this was how Deirdre McCartin appeared first to the writer thirty years ago. That he noticed her was not because she was outstanding in physical appearance or dress, nor because she made any intervention in the meeting they were attending. However, though she was anonymous, still and silent, her immense vitality could be sensed very clearly.

Vitality was what Deirdre displayed throughout her career as painter, feminist, film-maker, revolutionary socialist, university lecturer, community activist, social worker and at the last, carer, as well as good friend. In whatever she did she applied herself 100 percent. Her approach could embarrass and enrage but usually it got things done.

The writer learnt from Deirdre’s own account of her life before he met her. Born in Glasgow, of Irishborn parents, she had attended art school where she met a fellow student whom she married. They emigrated to New Zealand where her husband’s inability to take her own career seriously led to their divorce. Without his encumbrance, she directed several feminist videos, which stood her in good stead when she decided to try to move to the land of her Irish ancestors and got a director’s post in the features department of Radio Telefis Eireann.

In New Zealand, she had acted as a feminist independently of political affiliations. She had made contact with that country’s section of the Fourth International, but had been unwilling to commit herself to it. Now, in the enclosed environment of Telefis Eireann, she found herself plunged in the middle of an internecine political struggle between the bourgeois establishmentarians and the economistic ‘socialism’ of Official (Sticky) Sinn Fein.

Wisely she rejected both. As a socialist, she opposed the conventional politics of the bourgeoisie, as well as the simplistic, essentially pro-imperialist and cultist approach of the Stickies (an approach that would lead many of their members in Telefis Eireann into the bourgeois politics they had denounced). The militarism of Provisional Sinn Fein did not attract her either. She found herself attracted to the politics of the Irish section of the Fourth International, People’s Democracy, which she joined in 1979.

In this organisation, she took a characteristically active role, concentrated particularly on the women’s struggle. Immediately, her work centred on Women Against H Block, a fight which climaxed with the hunger strikes of 1980-1. Subsequently, she helped organise a major conference of feminist activists and campaigned against the insertion of the anti-abortion clause into the Irish Constitution. The writer remembers how she drove to distribute leaflets on an unusually cold, wet, windy day in the wintry summer of 1983, clad only in a light summer dress, until his wife, Aine, insisted that she covered it with one of her own coats.

For all this activity, her membership of People’s Democracy coincided with a period of setbacks for the workers’ side of the anti-imperialist movement. The hunger strikes ended, though the prisoners’ demands were met clandestinely, with most of the prestige from them going to Sinn Fein. The Anti Abortion Amendment was carried. Economic crisis provoked the Government to operate deflationary policies leading to increased unemployment.

This created problems within People’s Democracy. There were bitter internal disputes as to its way forward. Deirdre participated in these, but her enthusiasm handicapped her in putting her case. She edited one particular document in terms more suitable to tabloid journalism than debate between a few dozen activists. This made her a particular butt for some among her opponents. It is worth stating that, by now some of the most hostile of these have been out of the revolutionary movement for years. She might have stayed to fight them, but she had developed a relationship with a comrade of the International’s Portuguese section and decided her future was in his country, where she moved in 1984.

Within a year, the relationship had collapsed in a bitter row in which her partner’s politically and socially unprincipled behaviour was condoned by the national leadership. She returned to Ireland to lecture on Media Studies in Dublin City University. She resumed membership of the Irish section, but its problems climaxed with a stampede of its less developedcomrades into Sinn Fein. Eventually increasing pressure ofwork caused by university cutbacks forced her to break finally with People’s Democracy in 1989.

She left Dublin for west Co. Cork where she played a leading role in the local community organisation. There, too, she met her ultimate life’s partner, and eventual husband, Charlie Rees. In the mid-nineties, they moved to Scotland. Eventually, she got a teaching job there. They became active members of the Scottish Socialist Party.

The writer had lost contact with Deirdre when she left Dublin. Then, in 1996, she wrote him from Ayr enclosing a contribution that she could ill afford towards a memorial to a dead comrade. A correspondence began and continued until her death. In 1997, when Aine was getting a university degree, Deirdre appeared unexpectedly and disheveled to present her with an enormous bouquet and a painting which she had executed to represent Aine’s soul.

In her usual fashion, she gave unstintingly to the Scottish Socialist Party but there were problems with accommodation and employment. In 2001, they forced Charlie and her to move out of Scotland to Scarborough, where they founded an active independent Socialist Group, selling literature and organising anti-war agitation.

New pressures of unemployment, Charlie’s illness and Deirdre’s sister’s death curtailed all this. In her last year, Deirdre had to concentrate on her work as domestic carer before the cancer that had killed her sister claimed her as well. In her communications, she put a brave face on her fate, organising her death and funeral and Charlie’s future without her. She died having begun a set of twelve new paintings.

After Christmas, 2008, the writer and his wife received from Deirdre a last picture postcard that she had prepared herself, containing a report of her current situation. It ended with the words ‘Pure Joy’. In sending his heartfelt condolences to Charlie, the writer and his wife hope that the spirit of the last words that they received from her remained with the fighter for Socialism in her very last days.

March 18th 2001

Comrades, friends, mates, pals
None of these words describe the way I feel
A bond between us all

They are my left hand

Pure chance we met, just taking any seat
A trick of fate
A show of hands and there we were

I bled today
I cut off my left hand

Charlie Rees

Deidre’s partner, Charlie, was inspired to write this poem in 2001 when, due to factors beyond their control, they had to move away from their home in Dunure, Scotland to northern England. This poem was originally printed in Republican Communist Issue 6 – the forerunner to Emancipation & Liberation.

Other obituaries for Deidre were printed in the Scottish Socialist Voice, The Herald, Scarborough Evening News and on the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) website.

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Mar 20 2009

Inside Ulster Loyalism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 2:24 pm

by Ed Walsh – Irish Socialist Network (first published in Resistance no. 8)

UVF: The Endgame (Poolbeg, 2008) by Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald

Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald are well placed to tell the story of the UVF, having spent decades building up contacts inside the loyalist scene. If you want to know what happened over the last forty years in the North, this is a very useful book. If you want to know why it happened you may need to take the authors’ political analysis with a pinch of salt.

The two writers are keen to downplay evidence of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries. While they acknowledge that members of the RUC and UDR gave assistance to the loyalist groups, the authors deny that collusion was systematic. Cusack and McDonald give us a stark choice – either the loyalist paramilitaries were sock-puppets of the British state, or else they must have been completely autonomous. But there’s another way of looking at things which is far more convincing: the UVF and the UDA may have a life of their own, but their effectiveness during the Troubles would have been limited if the state forces had dealt with them as they dealt with the Provos. The spectrum of collusion could range from active support (of which there was plenty) to helpful neglect.

The authors also stress their view that loyalist opposition to a united Ireland would have been strong enough to block its realisation, even if the London authorities had been keen to withdraw. There is no way of proving this claim right or wrong, since London never had any intention of withdrawing and was prepared to commit vast resources to contain and defeat the IRA. Again, Cusack and McDonald are trying to lead us back to the false notion that Britain was a neutral player in the conflict. That said there can be no question that the strength of unionist belief in the North (often intensified by IRA attacks on Protestant civilians) is the most important prop for what remains of British rule in Ireland.

At one point the authors accuse Sinn Fein of taking a Jesuitical approach to the consent principle. But you need a bit of mental gymnastics to pick your way around the issue of partition. In principle, it’s wrong to suggest that partition of Ireland has a democratic basis (it was imposed by the crudest form of military aggression and based on sectarian gerrymandering – the Northern state has a unionist majority because it was designed that way, just like the Serb Republic in Bosnia or the Turkish enclave in northern Cyprus). In practice, however, its hard to imagine an end to partition before a large number of Ulster Protestants are convinced they have nothing to fear if British rule ends.

Some left-wingers would rather kick the national question into touch and concentrate on other matters. The experience of the UVF itself suggests why this approach is likely to founder. Cusack and McDonald describe the post-ceasefire attempt to build a working-class unionist force with a progressive line on social and economic issues that was spearheaded by David Ervine and Gusty Spence. They don’t spend much time, however, asking why that attempt failed. The majority of working-class Protestants have continued to vote for the DUP, despite its right-wing economic policies, while the Progressive Unionist Party {linked to the UVF} has failed.

The authors note that Ervine, Spence and Billy Hutchison never convinced the UVF rank-and-file to adopt their left-of-centre agenda. But talk of socialism and class politics was hardly going to blend with loyalty to a capitalist, imperialist state and its institutions. The British Labour Party has always been crippled by its submission to a political order shaped by ruling class interests. The PUP’s support for British nationalism is an even greater hindrance to any progressive ideas its leaders may have wanted to advance. You can cheer the troops returning home from the colonial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as so many Protestant workers did before Christmas – but ultimately you are cheering a system that inflicts 40% unemployment on the people of West Belfast, regardless of their communal identity

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Mar 20 2009

Sinn Fein’s ‘Michael Collins Moment’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:59 pm

John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) assesses the political impact of the return of physical force republicanism, after the killings in Antrim and Craigavon’.

There has been a united response by all the Irish and British political parties to the killing of British soldiers in Antrim and the later killing of a policeman in Craigavon. They all say that:

  1. Republican militarists have nothing to offer.
  2. The militarists have no support
  3. The political process in the North of Ireland is secure.
  4. Only one of these assertions is true.

It is true that the militarists offer absolutely no way forward for Irish workers. It is not true to assert that they have no support, nor that the political process is secure. In fact, it is precisely because the political settlement is failing that the militarists are gaining in support.

It is highly unlikely that any outside the most frantic of Sinn Fein supporters believed that that the end result of the peace process would be a united Ireland. What they all believed was that that the Northern statelet could be reformed to become a more equal society. Right from the beginning that proved too much. Democratic rights were mutated by the Good Friday Agreement into supposedly equal sectarian and communal rights. It was a settlement that didn’t give enough to Britain’s Unionist base and it was tweaked towards Unionist majority rule in the St. Andrews Agreement.

During St. Andrews the DUP agreed to devolve policing and justice and Sinn Fein were promised sops around a centre recording the hunger strike, a unified sports stadium and an Irish language act. It proved impossible to get the DUP administration to honour these promises and a Sinn Fein work-to-rule blocking the functioning of the Executive failed. The British gave substantial backhanders to compensate them. More recently, alongside the decision to block any full investigation of state terror came an offer of £12,000 to the relatives of those killed. Unionist outcry led to the withdrawal of the offer. Even the backhanders have dried up. On the economic front the shootings led the Sinn Fein and DUP leaders to cancel an investment tour of the USA – one of many such trips, all failures, serving to underline the absence of any real economic strategy for the North of Ireland.

This has not led to a mass nationalist rejection of the Northern settlement. The Irish capitalists will support any imperialist plan. The power of the Catholic Church has greatly increased under the sectarian setup. The middle class wallow in sectarian privilege marked by ‘equality’ positions in public service, earmarked for one confessional group or the other. Sinn Fein itself has a backbone of ‘community workers’ paid by the state.

A minority of republicans have rejected Sinn Fein and the partitionist settlement, aiming to revive a military campaign against British rule. They have been completely ineffective because of the demoralisation caused by decades of militarism and state repression,because of their fragmented and divided movement, and because of the absence of support. Above all, the total absence of any political program has fatally handicapped them.

Aroma of corruption

They are still not large, but they have now seen the exodus of the last of the militarists holding on in the Provos. More generally there is a growing revulsion at the aroma of corruption around Sinn Fein. A growing number of working class youth are unable to see the new world that the Shinners promised. The result of that growth is that state intelligence has degraded. They still know the old hands, but have only partial penetration of the new cells. There is also the growth of a new infrastructure of supporters willing to provide money, intelligence, safe houses and weapons dumps.

For all that, their opponents are right when they say that republican militarism offers no way forward. In the tradition of pure physical force republicanism, the Real IRA boast that they have no political organisation. Without a thought they include pizza delivery men as targets, apparently unaware of the extent to which the policy of the ‘soft target’ demoralised their own supporters and besmirched the name of republicanism in the past. They have no explanation, other than betrayal, for the abysmal failure of decades of military struggle and the relatively easy absorption of their compatriots into the structure of colonial rule. Above all they seemcompletely unaware that the southern capitalists are the most frantic supporters of the settlement and the chief mechanism through which the political dissolution of the Provos was obtained.

Yet within the narrow grounds of the physical force tradition, the republicans have a clear strategy. Their military capacity represents nothing in relation to British military might, but they believe that even a low level of activity will be enough to bring down the new Stormont regime. A major target is Sinn Fein. The dissident republicans calculate that the pressures of their campaign will collapse the organisation and win supporters to the RIRA. They also calculate that it will act as a recruiting sergeant, bringing disaffected nationalist youth into their ranks.

Speeding up a drive to the right

Politically their belief that armed action can bring down the northern statelet makes little sense. It is true that the Good Friday Agreement has been decaying since its inception, but it has been decaying to the right, into a more naked and reactionary expression of imperialist interest, driven by increasing unionist reaction and republican capitulation. Militarism can only play the traditional role of accelerating the political process – in this case speeding up a drive to the right.

A sign of that drive came quickly, with what one reporter called ‘Martin McGuinness’s ‘Michael Collins moment’. (Collins was a leading figure in the Irish War of Independence, who then led the Free State repression of the republicans). McGuinness called the dissident republicans “traitors to the island of Ireland”. He called on his supporters to inform on them and to support state repression. He claimed that the new dispensation guaranteed political progress, despite being unable to show any such progress other than the presence of themselves and their supporters within the state apparatus. Such was the determination of Sinn Fein to prove their worth that they did not stop with assurances to the British and DUP. A special meeting with representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries brought them in on the act. Apparently the fact that the loyalists retain a full arsenal of weapons aimed at Catholic workers is no longer a cause for censure.

Sinn Fein have little choice. They themselves are targets of the dissident republicans. Any suggestion that the Good Friday process failed would lead to the collapse of their organisation. They must support instant state repression in the hope that it quickly defeats the militarists. In any case, any hesitation on their part might well lead to their expulsion fromthe administration. British Tory leader, David Cameron, has already indicated that he wants to replace the current forced coalition of Sinn Fein and DUP with a ‘voluntary coalition’ – in other words, unionist majority rule. So already we have a step-change to the right. The Irish peace process has left behind any pretence that jaw-jaw will be enough to sustain it. There is to be war-war in the form of state repression. This new dispensation will be spearheaded by Sinn Fein and will enjoy widespread public support.

In the short term the militarists have strengthened the imperialist settlement. In the long run there are still many contradictions. Sinn Fein will be isolated from significant sections of the nationalist working class and will continue to decay. The state will want to target the repression so that the dissident republicans are isolated, but this will be difficult to do given the intelligence deficit. The DUP leadership has welcomed the Provos role in spearheading the reaction, but that does not mean they will reward them by supporting any reform. At the grass-roots the reaction of many members of the DUP to the attacks will be to look for Sinn Fein’s expulsion from the administration.

The Irish peace process will continue its march to the right. A military campaign offers no solution, but then neither does the position of their opponents, which offers frantic support to the British and denounces any political criticism of the settlement as a form of terrorism.

Trade union demonstrations on the days following the deaths illustrated this perfectly. They went well beyond protests about the shooting of the two workers, or more general protests about militarism, to hysterical calls by TU leader, Peter Bunting, for unconditional support for the sectarian status quo. In an even more extreme development, Patricia McKeown of UNISON claimed that the trade unions would act as ‘civic society’ in coordination with the state to make the repression successful.

The widespread hysteria from all sides is not aimed at the relative handful of militarists. The disquiet about the corrupt society that has been brought into existence is much wider. A consistent theme of the supporters of the current settlement has been to demonise the opposition and attempt toconvince workers that the only alternative to supporting the status quo is a sectarian bloodbath. It is this unconditional support for an imperialist settlement, rather than a criticism of militarism that makes this Sinn Fein’s ‘Michael Collins moment’ and makes the organisation an obstacle to the resolution of the Irish question.

The settlement in the North of Ireland is not a democratic settlement. It hardly pretends any longer to be one, depending on popular rejection of a failed militarism and on unconditional support for the state from the formerly anti-imperialist opposition. That’s not enough to prevent its eventual collapse. The former radicals bay their hatred of the militarists, but by blocking any political critique they are telling the disaffected and marginalised that only physical force remains as a response. It is for socialists and democrats to prove the former radicals wrong and build a political opposition.

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Mar 20 2009

Normality? By Whose Standards?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:59 pm

The second, from the eirigi website (eirigi) (19.12.08), contrasts the current role of the armed forces in the Six Counties and in Scotland. However, if there is ever to be a serious move towards the exercise of Scottish self-determination, we too could experience such British ‘normality’.

As of January 2009, the British army in the Six Counties will no longer operate under its own control structures. From January, the occupation forces will take their orders directly from what is called High Headquarters in Edinburgh.

The move will leave around 30 British military personnel, including a brigadier general, surplus to Irish requirements.

For Irish republicans, the development is hardly of major significance – the removal of a brigadier general won’t leave Ireland much closer to liberation.

But in the terminology of normalisation – the tweaking of the British occupation for maximum optical effect – this was another major step on the road to harmony.

The standard bearers for normalisation, however, ignore one major problem when they claim that Ireland and Scotland are now two peas in a British pod.

The British government garrisons 5,000 armed troops in several locations across the Six Counties and introduced the Justice and Security Act in 2007 to give these troops specific permanent powers. The powers, which were previously only available under emergency legislation, include the right to stop, search, question and arrest, as well as the power to enter, search and seize property.

If the British government and its cheerleaders seriously viewed the role and presence of British troops in the Six Counties as being no different to those in Scotland, surely the question arises as to why it refuses to extend the same powers to its troops based there.

After all, by Britain’s own yardstick of what passes for normality in society, Scottish citizens should enjoy the same ‘protection’ given by British troops as Irish citizens in the Six Counties.

What could be more normal than British squaddies, under the control of High Headquarters in Edinburgh, being given powers to arrest and detain Scottish citizens without a warrant; to enter and search the homes of Scottish citizens; to have the power to search and stop the cars and other vehicles of Scottish citizens; to examine and record documents belonging to Scottish citizens; to take possession of lands, buildings and other property belonging to Scottish citizens or to destroy that property or take any action which interferes with a public right or a private right to that property; and to have the power to close Scottish roads and other rights of way?

Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen, if faced with armed troops with the legislative ability to exercise such powers at the behest of a government in London, might question the need for those powers?

Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen might well feel affronted if stopped by armed troops exercising such powers? Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen might consider how he or she could resist? Could that Scottish citizen’s thoughts, along with the thoughts of many others, rest on ways and means to re-assert and re-claim their national independence?

Such thoughts would be considered normal, unless, of course, your views were those of the British government towards Ireland.

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Mar 20 2009

Challenging Normalisation On The Streets Of Belfast

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:56 pm

A month has now passed since the controversial British military ‘homecoming parade’ in Belfast. While there was considerable media hype in the run-up to the November 2nd military display, there was a noticeable lack of any in-depth analysis as to why the parade was organised in the first place.

Instead, the corporate media ran endless stories on the potential for trouble and clashes between those who supported the parade and those who did not. In focusing on this angle, journalists were only regurgitating the spin of the PSNI and the larger political parties. In the days running up to the parade, talk of “troublemakers” and “dissidents” planning every manner of mayhem filled the column inches. When that mayhem failed to materialise, the media quickly moved on, without ever questioning what the true purpose of the military parade actually was.

So what was the real agenda behind the military display of November 2nd?

The answer is simple. Those who invited the British military into Belfast city centre used the cover of a ‘homecoming parade’ to further the long-standing strategy of Normalisation in Ireland. What, after all, could be more normal than the British army marching the streets of a ‘British’ city? It should be remembered that the original plan for this parade would have seen hundreds of armed troops marching, while military aircraft performed a fly-over across the city. What more powerful image of ‘normality’ could there have been?

This is the context in which éirígí announced its intention to oppose the parade when the idea was first mooted in August of this year. Had it taken place without opposition it would have represented much more than the illusion of normality; it would in fact have demonstrated a high degree of actual normality.

Thankfully, this did not happen. The parade was opposed, and not only by éirígí. By the time the RIR and other British military units marched onto the streets of Belfast a number of political parties, anti-state violence groups and other progressives had come out in opposition to it. At four separate locations across the city, hundreds of republicans and socialists attended protests opposing the triumphalist display.

While the parade went ahead despite these protests, it only did so by mobilising the entire spectrum of unionism and, in doing so, demonstrated the fundamentally abnormal nature of the Six County state. In the weeks running up to the parade, mainstream unionism in the form of the DUP and UUP, ex-British soldiers’ associations and the unionist death squads all worked tirelessly to mobilise their respective supporters.

In many unionist areas, the literal writing on the wall encouraged people to demonstrate their support for the British army and its exploits in Afghanistan and Iraq. In cyber space, a virtual call to arms was issued across social networking websites.

On the morning of November 2nd, thousands of supporters of the RIR lined the route of the parade. Among the crowds, the city councillors who extended the invite to the British army stood shoulder to shoulder with members of Britain’s death squads.

Notorious sectarian killers from Britain’s unofficial militias were lauded as heroes as they sauntered down the street just minutes ahead of their comrades in the official militia passed by. Members of the PSNI stood nonchalantly by as hundreds of thugs chanted sectarian slogans and hurled the vilest of abuse, as well as actual missiles, at the victims of British state violence.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of PSNI members manned a security ring around Belfast city centre to ensure that no protester could get close to the parade. Surveillance helicopters buzzed overhead, providing up to the minute information for the riot-gear clad paramilitary police on the ground.

While this show of combined strength was nominally in support of British soldiers returning from Afghanistan, it was actually intended to send a message to nationalist and republican Ireland. And the message was clear. Forty years after the civil rights movement was attacked by Stormont, the RUC, the B-Specials and the Paisleyite mobs, it was still business as usual.

Despite all of the superficial changes of the last forty years, it was clear on November 2nd that nothing has really changed. When faced with the prospect of peaceful protests against imperialism, Britain responded with the mobilisation of both its official and unofficial forces. The images of heavily armed PSNI members facing unarmed protesters while sectarian mobs howl in the background was reminiscent of the black and white footage of four decades ago.

In an ironic twist, those who hoped to further the Normalisation agenda have only succeeded in highlighting just how abnormal life in the Six Counties actually is. Those who planned a propaganda coup of ‘Ireland at peace’ instead got a propaganda disaster. The hoped for fly-by of the RAF was replaced by hovering surveillance helicopters. The hoped for television footage of crowds cheering the British army was replaced by footage of yobs jeering the relatives of that army’s Irish victims.

While the damage to Normalisation caused by November 2nd should not be overestimated, it would be equally wrong to underplay it. The events of that day clearly demonstrated how relatively small numbers of people can challenge the Normalisation strategy and, in the process, expose the continuing abnormality of the British occupation.

The challenge now facing republicanism is to follow November 2 with other initiatives to re-build popular opposition to British rule.

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Mar 20 2009

Dublin mobilisation – Lions led by donkeys

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:48 pm

On Sunday, February 21st, 120,000 workers answered the call of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and took to the streets of Dublin. John McAnulty, of Socialist Democracy (Ireland), makes his assessment of both the potential and the political limitations of this massive demonstration.

It has become unfashionable to speak of working class power. Asserting the power and potential of the working class provokes laughter or leads to the speaker being derided as a mindless doctrinaire.

Yet on Sunday 21st, on the streets of Dublin, we saw working class power – 120,000 working people marching in their own defence. Nor were these people a mindless mob. Working class power stood alongside working class organisation. The marchers stood together in occupations, in union branch and factory groups, as town and country groups. Given that they represent the sentiment of the majority of organised workers in the country, it would have been the work of an afternoon to displace the current government of capitalist crooks and take control of the state.

All that was needed was the will. That will was absent. It is that task – the task of convincing workers of the need to take state power – that is at the centre of socialist politics. It is that task that is so difficult.

It was clear from the demonstration that the majority were firmly behind the policy of the bureaucracy – accepting the need for cuts but looking for a fairer settlement. This was reflected in banners, placards and even T-shirts: ‘Can do our bit – can’t take the whole hit’, ‘Fair deal, not raw deal’, ‘Levy too heavy’ and ‘A better, fairer way’ (to cut wages and services). There was also a conviction that lobbying the government would lead to them changing direction – many marchers did not wait for speeches, but turned and walked away. Many were disinterested in the left publications

For their part, the bureaucracy were absolutely open about their aims. Their spokesperson announced that the purpose of the march was to get back around the table with government. ICTU had published its ten-point plan – a fairer way for the workers to support the bankers. At the rally, ICTU General Secretary, David Begg, announced that the bureaucracy’s plan was the best way to achieve the government aims. ‘It’s the best offer you’ll get,’ he said. There seems little doubt about that.

Yet things are not well, and the bureaucracy’s fear of self-organisation of the working class probably exceeds that of the government. What we saw in Dublin was the last gasp of the Irish Ferries strategy – mass demonstrations as bargaining chips to gain a place at the bosses’ table, followed by a sell-out.

The workers support a fair outcome, but what they mean by this is very different from the bureaucracy’s perspective. They expect that the cutting edge of the crisis will be blunted – that their jobs and pensions will be protected and public services protected. They believe that the capitalists can be forced into paying a large proportion of the bank bail out.

These expectations must fall. The workers are the source of wealth and across the world the strategy is to make them pay. The only way that capitalists can be made to pay is through a process of sequestration and expropriation – the first steps towards a socialist society.

In the coming period union leaders will either strike a deal and lead the offensive against the workers or they will be refused a place at the table and gradually defuse mass opposition. In any case it is the duty of socialists and class-conscious workers to build an independent movement around an alternative working class program.

Far too many of the current left organisations are simply acting as left supporters of the bureaucracy.

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Mar 20 2009

Well, the Crisis of Capitalism has arrived – So, what do we do now?!

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:39 pm

Not just a ‘Credit Crunch’ – but a ‘Crisis of Capitalism’

This year’s SSP Conference takes place against the background of an unprecedented crisis for capitalism. Every day it becomes clearer that the problems in the economy are not just confined to the over-inflated world of finance, but are having a major impact on the productive sector, as factories face closure or short-time working. Furthermore, the large drop in government revenues, due to the big decline in economic activity, threatens huge cuts in social expenditure and provision too. Brown and Darling officially concede that we are living in an economic recession. Other analysts and commentators openly talk of a new depression, perhaps even deeper than that of the 1930’s.

Marxists have long talked of the crisis of capitalism, albeit often only amongst themselves. What is new today is that so many economic commentators agree.The difference now lies in their proposed solutions to deal with the current economic situation. For the mainstream economists, in the various corporate funded think-tanks and university economics departments, the debate is confined to what is the best way to get the capitalist system fully up and running again. In other words how can capitalist accumulation and profitability be restored?

What has changed, in the thinking of business executives and politicians, is the sharp decline in their earlier belief that everything could be left to the market. When the global economy was ‘booming’, millions of workers could have their real wages and social benefits cut, whilst being offered seemingly ‘limitless’ credit as an alternative. Many more millions of peasants, throughout the world, could be uprooted and forced to seek a ‘better life’ as transient migrant labourers. However, whenever workers and peasants made any calls for government funding to address their immediate problems, they were brusquely told by neo-liberals that this would only stall the engines of economic growth. Now, in the face of the economic crisis, which threatens the rich and powerful too, recent advocates of neo-liberalism are on the defensive, as they shamefacedly look to governments to bail out their system.

Neo-liberalism and neo-Keynesianism – the two faces of capitalism

This helps to explain the rapid rise of neo-Keynesianism, with its calls for greater government spending and state regulation of the economy. Keynesianism originally developed in the 1930’s as the ideology of the capitalist system in crisis. It became economic orthodoxy after the experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War. In 1971, the then Republican US President, Richard Nixon, could say We are all Keynesians now.

By then, the majority of capitalists were in agreement over the economic mechanisms needed to keep any economic crisis at bay. However, just as an earlier Gold Standard, free market, economic orthodoxy was dealt a fatal blow by the Stock Market Crash of 1929; and just as the recent global corporate, neo-liberalism has faced its nemesis in the 2008 Credit Crunch; so too, capitalist confidence in Keynesian panaceas came to an end in the mid-1970’s.

It had then become obvious that the maintenance of profit rates was incompatible with steadily rising wages and an expanding welfare state. Furthermore, after 1968, workers’ rising expectations led to large numbers taking strike action, and even to some workers occupying their factories, to defend and advance their interests. Squeezed between declining profits and rising class struggle, capitalism was once more under threat.

This is why big business turned to the previously marginalised, ‘free market’ economists, such as von Hayek and Friedman, to help them overcome their latest problems. These neo-liberals opposed government intervention in the economy and believed that it could be left to ‘the invisible hand’ of the market. However, it was only with the backing of the very visible hand of the state, that the ‘full freedoms’ of the market were restored. Thousands of Chilean socialists and workers were killed after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, whilst in 1980’s UK and USA, the Thatcher and Reagan led governments promoted mass unemployment and union-busting offensives to discipline the working class.

The Libertarian Right’s dream of a stateless society under the free market proved to be a utopian illusion built on the false notion that capitalism can thrive best without government interference. The application of neo-liberal policies certainly led to the cutting of government spending in the field of direct social expenditure. However, indirect taxes were increased and spending was diverted to the coercive arms of the state – the armed forces, police and judiciary – to undermine the power of the working class; or given directly to the corporations through military spending and other government contracts.

Imperialist interventions were stepped up once more, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East. Some of these had direct economic intent – to ensure corporate control over such vital assets as oil; others were demonstrations of raw ruling class power, to remind people just who was boss, and to promote favoured clients in the ‘Third World’. Even the elimination of the USSR-led ‘state socialist’ competition, after 1989, failed to reverse the rise in state expenditure in the West. ‘Free markets’ now depend on massive and continually increased government intervention and spending.

Thus, throughout the prolonged period of neo-liberal ascendancy, from 1979 to 2008, global corporations were benefiting from government promoted wars, and by military, police and security operations designed to break-up ‘communities of resistance’, thus creating pools of cheap flexible labour. Private capital also gained from the huge rip-offs of the tax-payer associated with PFI/PPP schemes; and from the state’s resort to the use of costly private agencies and overpaid consultants.

Far from renewing a ‘free market’ economy, with a much-reduced ‘night-watchman state’, the big corporations and their neo-liberal supporting politicians presided over the continued expansion of, and their dependency upon state power. ‘State capitalism’ was not confined to, nor did it end with the demise of the Soviet Union between 1989-91. It morphed into a new single global order with the definitive victory of the corporate executives over theparty bureaucrats. On a world scale, the global corporations were now the prime beneficiaries of state power.

Furthermore, the demise of the Soviet Union meant that, for a certain period, the US state, which fronted the largest collection of global corporations and had the most powerful armed forces in the world, could either pressure the ‘international’ UN to sanction wars in its interests (retrospectively, if necessary, as in Iraq), or just go it alone. After ‘9/11’, the US state also took upon itself the role of handing out ‘anti-terror licenses’ to supportive governments so they could crush their own troublesome oppositions, e.g. Israel and the Palestinians, Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Meanwhile the arms corporations in the USA, UK, Europe and Israel made billions.

Despite all their support from the state, super-confident and arrogant corporate executives opposed any public scrutiny of their activities. They pushed for the ending of all government regulation of the economy. They demanded the protection of private companies’ ‘commercial confidentiality’, even when undertaking publicly funded projects.

The net result of all this direct and indirect state assistance, combined with the lack of any meaningful public scrutiny and accountability, has been a massive switch of wealth to the ‘masters of the universe’. It also led to greatly increased incomes and perks for their supporters in the media, those they fund in various ‘educational’ institutions, and of course, for their apologists in government. So, by the 1990’s, Clinton’s Democrats and Blair’s New Labour Party could easily have said, We are all neo-liberals now.

However, the current economic crisis has shown that, even in the private, privatised and deregulated sectors of the economy, over which the corporate executives declared their complete competency, they have failed spectacularly. So now they openly demand, on top of all their earlier massive, if largely publicly unacknowledged, state support, mind-boggling financial government subventions – at our expense. This is not to be done for the wider benefit of the public, who have never figured in corporate executive concerns, but to ensure that their current staggering losses are socialised, and to restore their private profits in the future.

(Neo)-Keynesianism, national protectionism and the drive to inter-imperialist wars

As the current economic crisis deepens, even those publicly unaccountable transnational institutions, which corporate capital and its political backers have created or moulded to further their global interests – e.g. G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO, GATT, NATO and the EU – are being subjected to increased internal strains. An overstretched and badly bruised USA can no longer command automatic support for its imperial ventures – especially when they are unsuccessful. China and Russia, and possibly even the EU, or its bigger constituent states in the future, are pulling in different directions, opening up the even more dangerous prospect of inter-imperialist wars.

Faced with falling profits and the devaluation of their assets, competing national ruling classes are beginning to move away from their recent international capitalist cooperation and opt instead for ‘me first and devil take the hindmost’ policies. National neo-Keynesianism is linked to new protectionist drives, designed to uphold particular national capitalist interests, to set worker against worker, and to make future shooting wars between major imperialist powers more likely.

Furthermore, there is the chilling reality that, although several national governments pursued Keynesian policies in the 1930’s, these failed to end the Great Depression. Just prior to the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg had anticipated the choice facing humanity – Socialism or Barbarism. However, it took two world wars, with millions dead and the massive destruction of accumulated capital, to eventually give capitalism a new lease of life after 1945. Any future world war, however, brings the very real prospect of human annihilation, whilst the increased capitalist degradation of the environment adds another twist to Luxemburg’s warning. As the marxist philosopher, Istvan Mezsaros has said, the choice now lies between Socialism or Barbarism if we are lucky!

One worrying early example of the future likelihood of inter-imperialist wars has occurred since the last SSP Conference. The nasty little conflict, which emerged in South Ossetia, last August, highlighted the growing US/Russian antagonism. In this particular case, the US client government in Georgia, led by President Saakashvili, was unable to provoke the direct US intervention it sought on its behalf, despite the rapid Russian reaction to his bloody invasion of South Ossetia. The USA was too bogged down elsewhere to open up a new military front against such a dangerous adversary as Russia.

Saakashvili had to eat humble pie, as the Russian military took control of and guaranteed the ‘independence’ of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The notion that Medvedev and Putin did this for the benefit of two of the many oppressed peoples of the Caucasus would not impress many Chechenyans. Successive US governments, though, have had more success in promoting their imperial aims in the one-time Warsaw Pact countries, and even in the former Soviet Baltic states. These have been drawn into NATO.

US and Russian inter-imperial competition continues, and is now focused upon Ukraine. Its shaky coalition government has recently faced threats to Russian-supplied oil and gas deliveries. This represents a warning from the Russian state not to get any closer to the West. Yet, the lengthy Russian borderlands represent just one potential shatter zone, which could become the focus of a rapid escalation of inter-imperialist wars in the future.

Israel represents another US client state, only too eager to provoke wider wars, to provide cover for its leaders’ desire to ethnically cleanse the remaining Palestinians. During the dog days of the outgoing Bush administration, Barak Obama was keen to be seen to take initiatives to deal with the crisis-ridden American economy, but he remained silent over the Israeli invasion of Gaza. The likely formation of an even further Right Zionist government in Israel, under Netanyahu, seems only to have prompted the US government to attempt to further cripple the elected Hamas government in Gaza, under the guise of foreign aid, channelled through the US/EU/Israeli Palestinian Authority stooges.

President Obama’s new administration includes nobody even remotely connected to those misguided radicals so important to the success of his election campaign. This is because they were not so crucial to his future project – the re-branding of US imperialism – as those big business backers, who now determine the real direction of US state policy. Obama’s Cabinet now includes Republicans, Clintonites and avowed supporters of any Israel – no matter how belligerent and oppressive the government in power. He has, in effect, formed a national coalition. Obama wants to get wider international imperial assistance, after the disastrous gung-ho, go-it-alone record of Bush and his neo-liberal advisors.

After facing unforeseen resistance, Iraq is largely being given-up as bad job. Nevertheless, it has been left in a much weakened and balkanised state, unable any longer to play a role as a regional power. Where outright victory can not be achieved, then a legacy of massive destruction and dislocation has become the preferred US policy option. Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza follow the same pattern. This may still provide openings for non-state terrorist organisations to operate; but if they become troublesome, then massive all-out bombing offensives can be launched, with total disregard for the wider human consequences. Increased numbers of US troops are now being sent to a disunited Afghanistan to cause even more havoc and misery. Meanwhile preparations are being made for more draconian sanctions against Iran.

Thus, just as neo-liberalism was not merely an economic strategy, but was accompanied by massive US imperial interventions throughout the world; neither is neo-Keynesianism confined to purely economic measures. It can only lead to further imperialist wars and to increased inter-imperialist competition, with dire consequences for humanity.

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

Our annual Conference is the time to take a close look at these latest developments, and to debate the policies needed to address the situation we face. The SSP is a broad-based socialist party, which includes different organised platforms as well as less clearly formed tendencies. Conference resolutions are a reflection of these different approaches. The fact that self-declared revolutionary socialists may often find themselves in a minority can easily be understood in today’s non-revolutionary conditions. However, as long as there is genuine democracy in the SSP, the possibility of winning members (and others) to consistent republican and communist politics remains open, in the changed circumstances of the future.

So, what are the political tendencies to be found in the SSP? After the split, overt Left nationalists have become a weaker force, with the departure of the SRSM and several former SNP members. Similarly, Left unionists are a diminished presence, with the departure of the CWI/IS, SWP, and the apparent demise of the Left Unity Platform (although one of their constituents, the Left unionist and social imperialist AWL, still has members in the SSP).

The once dominant International Socialist Movement (ISM) has fragmented, leading to the rise of a variety of Left nationalist, Old Labourist, Green Left, radical/socialist feminist, and pro-social movement, spontaneist ideas. Former ISM platform members still form the majority of the SSP leadership, but are less politically cohesive than they once were. This has allowed other politics, including republican socialist, to make headway in our party.

Although Frontline no longer considers itself to be organised platform of the SSP, in some respects this journal represents a kind of ‘Continuity ISM’, where debates between and beyond former ISM members continue. The former ISM’s international contacts were less extensive than those of the CWI, which they originally broke from, but are still valued by Frontline contributors. Perhaps the closest of these are to be found in the Australian Democratic Socialist Party/Green Left and those Fourth International members, some in the French LCR, and others grouped around the magazine Socialist Resistance in England and Wales. Socialist Resistance has replaced the SWP as the main organised grouping in the post-split Respect Renewal. Unfortunately, Respect’s leader, George Galloway, is a Left unionist. He used his Daily Record column to give support to New Labour in the Glasgow East and Glenrothes byelections. Worryingly, neither Frontline nor Socialist Resistance has publicly commented on this.

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

Since the old ISM came out of the Trotskyist and CWI,/Militant traditions, it will be interesting to see how their view of the economic crisis develops. ‘Nationalisation of the top 200 companies’ was always a particular Militant shibboleth. There has been much loose talk in the media, following the effective nationalisation of several major banks by the US and UK governments. Some have even declared that, We are all socialists now.

This equation of ‘nationalisation’ with ‘socialism’ has been the hallmark, not only of neo-liberal economists, but also of official and dissident communists (or socialists as Trotskyists prefer to call themselves in the British Isles). The last vestiges of effective workers’ control of the Soviet economy had been eliminated in 1921, after the crushing of the Kronstadt Rising. After that, official and dissident communist claims that the USSR was still moving towards ‘socialism’, rested either upon the continuation of Communist Party rule, or the extension of nationalised property relations. The idea of socialism became separated from that of genuine democracy or effective workers’ control.

In the USSR, the reality was that the working class had no effective control over the economy, only the ability to passively resist top-down directives – They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. Indeed, in the West, during the highpoint of class struggle between 1968-75, workers exerted more effective influence over the private companies they worked for, than did those workers in the East over ‘their own’ so-called ‘Workers’ States’. This was because of the relative strength of workers’ organisations in the West, at that time, compared to the situation workers faced in the East, where they had no independent class organisations of their own.

We have to be on guard against any notion of ‘socialism’ that separates state control from effective workers’ and popular democratic control. Any nationalisation or large-scale government funding measures under New Labour can only be aimed at meeting the needs of Brown, Darling and Mandelson’s real class backers – the global corporations.

Therefore, all those parties, which just voted for the government bail out of the banks, behaved in the same manner as those First World War Social Democrats who voted to provide war credits for their governments. For the decision to give trillions of dollars, pounds and euros to corporate capital amounts to a declaration of war upon the working class. We are going to be called on to pay for this through a massive austerity drive and further wars.

What is socialism and communism? – The need for a widened debate in the SSP

Nick McKerrall (Frontline) has been arguing for some time, that the SSP has not yet really developed a programme, which can address the situation we face. The RCN disagrees with Nick’s advocacy of a temporary retreat from public politics, in favour of a period of internal education. We believe, not only that you can do both, but that theoretical and programmatic development stems from political practice as well as from internal party education. However, we do agree with Nick that a new SSP programme is required. To do this though, the SSP needs to undertake a serious analysis of exactly what we mean by socialism (and/or communism) and, in particular, what role we see for the state, both today and in any revolutionary transition to a new society.

This is why, following on from our well-received pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy, we intend to produce another later this year, which addresses the issue of Communism and Socialism. Istvan Mezsaros’ challenging new book, with its essay, Socialism in the Twenty First Century, makes a major contribution to the wider ongoing international debate on this largely abandoned area of theory. The RCN has also been following the interesting ideas put forward in The Commune, a new website magazine, which is also beginning to re-examine earlier ideas about what constitutes socialism/communism.

There have always been some in the SSP who hanker after the days of ‘Old Labour’ (albeit within a Scottish national framework). This is not surprising, given the historical strength of Labourism in Scotland, and the spectacular betrayals of New Labour. The sudden revival of officially sponsored Keynesianism could give some sustenance to those who claim that state ownership is inherently better than private ownership, regardless of who controls the state.

However, the renewed debate between neo-liberals and (neo)-Keynesians should be used as an opportunity to put forward a distinctive socialist challenge to both these variants of capitalist thought. If all we do is become Left Keynesians, championing the role of the capitalist state over the capitalist corporation, then this can only contribute to the rebuilding of the discredited Labour Left, and to the possible demise of the SSP. Over a decade’s hard work to create an independent socialist organisation will have gone to waste.

The political dangers of national protectionism – ‘British jobs for British workers’

If the war in South Ossetia heralded possible new inter-imperialist wars, then the politically ambiguous legacy left by the recent strike at the Lindsey oil refinery, highlights the dangers of the shift to the politics of national protectionism. The defence of hard-won national contracts for all workers, whatever their nationality, is vitally important, especially since Lord Mandelson is the main promoter of ‘drive to the bottom’ in the EU. However, the reactionary demand of ‘British jobs for British workers’ can not be glibly dismissed. The BNP may have been seen off the picket lines, but you can bet it will be their support that grows in the forthcoming EU elections, and not those of some socialist parties hailing a great victory. Furthermore, the claim that such specifically ‘British’ appeals have little purchase in Scotland, are also worrying, given the undercurrent of unionism and loyalism, which can still be found here. Union Jack caps were to be seen amongst the Grangemouth strikers.

At present, the main danger to workers in Scotland is not the BNP, but the revived credibility of such Labour Party trade union leaders as UNITE’s Derek Simpson. He jumped on to the ‘British jobs for British workers’ bandwagon to cover up his opposition to any rank and file control in the union, and to smother the recent exposes of his privileged fat-cat lifestyle, paid for by union members. It was the Broad Left leaders of UNITE who undermined earlier militant strike action by Heathrow cleaners – but they were largely Asian women workers.

There has also been the attempt by Bob Crow of the Broad Left led RMT to play the ‘British workers’ card. He is trying to form a ‘No2EU’ electoral challenge in the forthcoming Euro-elections, with a platform defending ‘British democracy’ and opposing ‘social dumping’, i.e. migrant workers. Much of this could be accepted by the anti-EU UKIP.

The only significant strike in the last year in Scotland was that conducted by Grangemouth refinery workers to defend their pensions. Their success was linked to their key role in the economy, and has not been repeated by other workers whose pensions are under attack. Although there have been other strikes, involving civil servants and post office workers, these have been the token one day strikes used by trade union bureaucrats to let off steam. This perhaps explains the lack of motions this year to Conference addressing industrial struggle.

Broad Left versus Rank and File

Broad Leftism, however, remains the dominant industrial strategy pushed by the SSP leadership. In this there has been little movement from the old Militant tradition. Broad Leftism sees the main job of socialists in the unions as being to try and replace Rightwing leaders with Left wing leaders, through winning leading posts within the union bureaucracy. The underlying problem with this strategy is highlighted by the appearance of new Broad Left campaigns to replace old Broad Left leaders who have themselves become the new Right.

The alternative Rank and File approach, advocated by the RCN, represents an industrial republican approach. We see union sovereignty lying not in the union HQs, but in the collective memberships in their workplaces. Socialists should not accept the union bureaucrats’ right to dismiss workers’ own actions as ‘unofficial’. When such activity occurs, this amounts to independent workers’ action. When action is extended by means of mass picketing, it should still remain under the effective control of the workers involved. Elected officials, on the average pay of the members they represent, should service not control rank and file union members.

Furthermore, there are now large swathes of non-unionised workers in the country. A debate needs to be opened up in the SSP about the possibility of building additional, new, independent rank and file controlled unions. Too often, socialists can become mere recruiting sergeants for the existing cynical dues-pocketing bureaucrats, who offer no real support to their new members. Here, the experience of the Independent Workers Union in Ireland could be valuable. Ireland is a country where trade unionists have been hamstrung, since 1987, by the bureaucrats’ support for social partnerships with the government and employers.

As with Derek Simpson’s posturing, we should also be on the look-out for other moves to hoodwink workers, who are increasingly questioning union leaders’ near total commitment to New Labour and ‘social partnership’. We could well be told that, We are all in this crisis together, and that ‘our’ union leaders intend to push for more widely-based ‘worker participation schemes’, so that our concerns can be aired. Remember, the irregular conjugation of the verb ‘to participate’ in government/corporate speak – I participate; you participate; he and she participates; we participate; you participate, but – They decide.

The real importance of trade unions is that they are a key part of working class self-organisation – well, when they are not the playthings of privileged officials, or instruments in the hands of the governments and employers, that is. We can exert no meaningful control over the wider economy and society if we have no effective control over our own organisations. So the strengthening of independent working class organisations is the most pressing task of all in the current crisis. It will be necessary to return to the Broad Left versus Rank and File debate in the SSP.

Socialist unity can not be divorced from ‘internationalism from below’ in these islands

If motions addressing industrial struggle are absent from the Conference agenda, a call for socialist unity has come from Renfrewshire branch. This, however, is largely confined to Scotland, with a nod and a wink to certain developments in England and Wales – such as the Convention of the Left and the RMT initiative. However, the geographical scope of this motion doesn’t cover the full extent of the UK state, which also includes the ‘Six Counties’. Nor does it address the problem of the shared British and Irish governments’ promotion of the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’. Together these policies are designed to maintain the best political framework for the corporations’ profitable operations in these islands. This common ruling class strategy has the backing of the British, Scottish and Welsh TUCs, and the Irish CTU. They are all locked into the ‘social partnerships’, which have turned union leaders into a free personnel management service for the employers.

Since 1992, the ‘Peace Process’, originally pioneered under Major’s government, has enjoyed shared Tory/Labour support. This reflects the widespread British (and Irish) ruling class agreement, in the face of their pressing need to pacify and reassert control over the republican ‘communities of resistance’ in the ‘Six Counties’. The disillusionment with the lack of any real ‘peace dividend’ has contributed to the re-emergence of physical force republicanism, with the killing of two British soldiers and a local PSNI officer by dissident republicans. In the absence of a wider political and social movement, such actions can only lead to further demoralisation and increased state repression.

It had already become clear that ‘British normality’had not been established in the ‘Six Counties’. Nevertheless, the UK government is now sufficiently in control that current Labour/Tory bipartisan support is fraying, as both parties develop their own strategies to preserve the Union in the face of the wider challenges.

Significantly, the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists have decided to form their own alliance to contest the next UK General Election. This represents the emergence of a new distinct and potentially dangerous Rightist strategy. The UUP is still heavily coloured by Protestant sectarianism, with many members active in the Orange Order. As yet, even after 87 years of the ‘Six County’ statelet and the UUP’s existence, it has not fielded even a single ‘Castle Catholic’ parliamentary candidate. This should be a wake-up call to the SSP, when Conservatives look for support in Scotland for their alliance with the UUP.

In the past, sections of the SSP, still influenced by the Militant’s old Left unionist traditions, were unable to make the distinction between the Irish republican struggle to end political and religious sectarianism, breaking the link with the UK, and the Ulster loyalists’ defence of Protestant privilege and the British Union. This was all dismissed as a ‘war between two tribes’. Gordon Brown’s call for ‘British jobs for British workers’ has been widely condemned for playing into the BNP’s hands. Now that the Conservatives want to give new life to Right Unionism in Scotland, it won’t only be the BNP who are given succour, but those supporters of the even more dangerous loyalist death squads, currently lying low over here.

Real headway has been made in the SSP over adopting a republican socialist strategy to break-up the UK and to end Irish partition, as opposed to a Left nationalist strategy for Scotland only. Nevertheless, the latter notion still enjoys some influential support in our party. The SSP initiated Calton Hill Declaration of October 9th, 2004, and the Republican Socialist Convention held last November 29th, were significant landmarks in the development of socialist republicanism. However, in the face of new reactionary pressures, we will need to stand firm in our commitment to democratic republicanism and to an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance with socialists in Ireland, Wales and England.

Such a strategy will be needed, not only to confront Unionism in all its forms, but to make any meaningful moves towards socialism in these islands. The failure of the ‘Peace Process’ to create ‘British normality’ in the ‘Six Counties’, along with the spectacular demise of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic model, now offer socialists a real opportunity to put forward our alternative to both the unionists and the nationalists, if we can clearly see what is at stake.

The SNP retreats – the Republican Socialist Convention shows the way forward

The Republican Socialist Convention also drew the attention of visiting socialist republicans in England, Ireland and Wales to the political significance of the centrepiece policy of the SNP-led Scottish Executive – a referendum on Scotland’s independence. Although the various unionist parties have been quick to see the possible dangers this represents to the future of the UK, there has hardly been any discussion about this amongst the British Left. Their supporters in Scotland have probably put the issue to the very back of their minds, now that the economic crisis has taken the wind out of the SNP’s sails.

The SNP’s ‘independence’ project was based on the backing of key sectors of the Scottish business community, and tied to continued capitalist economic growth, led by a lightly-regulated Scottish-based finance sector. Indeed the Royal Bank of Scotland’s document, Wealth Creation in Scotland, provided the economic underpinning for the SNP’s proposed mild social democratic measures.

Alex Salmond, once keen to be seen in the company of the likes of Sir George Mathewson, now keeps his distance – at least in public. Whether Donald Trump’s proposed new business venture in Aberdeenshire survives the crisis remains to be seen. However, other SNP big business backers such as Brian Souter, Sir Tom Farmer and Donald Macdonald recently demanded to meet Salmond. Soon afterwards, the SNP’s other flagship policy, the abolition of the council tax, was dropped. It probably won’t be long before the independence referendum is abandoned too, in favour of the more ‘realistic’ ‘Devolution-max’ proposals emanating from the British unionists’ Calman Commission, which the SNP once scorned.

The RCN has long predicted that the SNP would fall fully into line with other constitutional nationalist parties, such as the Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence, the Basque National Party (PNV) and now ‘New’ Sinn Fein too (after taking ministerial office in her majesty’s Stormont government and voting in the Dail for government bailout of the Irish banks). An SNP, now holding office, will follow these constitutional nationalist parties in opting for gradual political reforms acceptable to the major imperial powers, the global corporations, and in particular, to their respective national business communities. The SNP’s recent, openly declared support for the British monarchy is a clear indicator of the very cautious road they have adopted. It also shows us exactly whose support they are courting.

If the SSP is to make its policy of the break-up of the imperial and unionist UK a reality, this means an end to tail-ending the SNP in such organisations as Independence First and the Scottish Constitutional Convention. These organisations are completely tied to the SNP leadership’s rate of movement – which could very soon be in a reverse direction. The precedent of the successful Calton Hill Declaration, and the new links to Ireland, Wales and England, made through the Republican Socialist Convention, offer the best basis for a campaign of radical constitutional and social change.

There has been general agreement within the SSP that any intervention in an ‘independence referendum’ campaign would be accompanied by clearly articulated economic and social measures, which would point to the type of society that we would want to help create. The fact that a Scottish Executive launched referendum is looking more unlikely does not lessen our need to develop a programme with such policies. Indeed the current crisis of capitalism makes it even more imperative, since it will increase the strains upon the Union.

Two things should be clear though – any calls the SSP makes for government intervention should be coupled with the demand for increased democratic control. Indeed, it is the republican demand for greater democracy, and not the nationalist desire to paint more British unionist institutions tartan, that should inform our campaign for political independence. Secondly, we can’t afford to confine such a campaign to Scotland. The various unionist parties are quite capable of whipping up British chauvinist feeling within the various countries constituting the UK, whilst warning an Irish government, which will be only too keen to comply, to keep its nose out.

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

The ongoing economic crisis has created divisions amongst the leaders of the EU. We can take some cheer from the massive students and workers’ struggles, which emerged in Greece, and the mass strike action in France. The ‘unofficial’/independentworkers’ occupation at Waterford Glass has also given the trade union bureaucrats such a nasty jolt, that it has even prodded the Irish CTU into action. They called the massive 120,000 strong, Dublin demonstration on February 21st. Significantly, the wildcat actions of those fighting for ‘British jobs for British workers’, has not been seen by the TUC to represent a similar threat. The TUC and STUC remain bogged down in complacent inertia, pleased to hear a few sympathetic remarks from such government ministers as Alan Johnson and Peter Hain.

However, mounting resistance elsewhere will not stop European capitalists from trying to offload the cost of the current crisis on to workers’ shoulders. They are still trying to revive the neo-liberal Lisbon Treaty. Their attempt to browbeat the Irish into overturning their clear ‘No’ vote last year, should be met by an international campaign to back rejection once again. We hope that our Irish comrades in the Irish Socialist Network and Fourthwrite will consider seeking such support.

Unfortunately, the still divided European (and worldwide) Left is a long way from creating the new International we need to properly meet current challenges. This is one reason why the SSP must participate more fully in those wider international initiatives that do exist. To this end, the RCN has brought the formation of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, along with the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance (EACA), to the attention of Conference. We also offer a suggestion on how to improve their election platform for the forthcoming Euro-election.

Hopefully, the South Edinburgh SSP motion, which also advocates being part of the joint EACA campaign in the forthcoming Euro-elections, will also be adopted by Conference. Support for such policies would highlight the SSP’s active participation, alongside other European socialists, in promoting international solutions to counter the austerity and war-mongering drives being promoted by European capitalists, and by the Union Jack chauvinists of the BNP, UKIP, the Tories and sections of the Labour Party, as well as showing those SNP supporters committed to genuine independence that this can not be achieved on the coat-tails of the likes of Matthewson, Souter, et al. The purpose of the SSP is not to represent the interests solely of Scottish workers, but to act as an organisation representing all workers living and working in Scotland, whatever their nationality. This can only be achieved successfully in an active international alliance with others.

Despite the depth of the current crisis, capitalism could still yet be given new life, in a more barbaric form, and at the expense of the vast majority of working people. However, we shouldn’t underestimate its capacity, though, to bring about our complete extinction through nuclear war or man-made environmental catastrophe. Only socialists can offer an alternative future for humanity and the Earth. This is the bold challenge the SSP has to face up to at its 2009 Annual Conference.

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Mar 19 2009

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 17, Spring 2009

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 9:16 pm

Issue 17 of Emancipation & Liberation will be coming out for the SSP conference next weekend.

Issue 17 Cover

Issue 17 Cover

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