Oct 29 2013

SOCIALIST UNITY – THE RCN ASKS 12 QUESTIONS

The RCN has been involved in preliminary discussions with Frontline, the International Socialist Group (Scotland), individual members of the International Socialist Network and Defense of Our Party faction in the SWP, as well as other individuals mainly from an SSP background. Frontline  published the views a number of socialist organisations, which we reposted at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/06/10/socialist-unity/. Stemming from these initial discussions, the RCN has framed 12 questions, which it has sent out to those organisations participating in socialist unity discussions. We will post each response as receive it. We would like to thank Alister Black of Frontline (http://www.redflag.org.uk) and James Foley of the International Socialist Group for the first responses to our questions.

 

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 1. ALISTER BLACK OF FRONTLINE  REPLIES TO THE RCN’S 12 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROSPECTS FOR SOCIALIST UNITY

 

1.     After the demise or major setbacks for Left unity and Socialist unity projects in these islands (SSP, Socialist Alliance, Respect, Forward Wales, United Left Alliance-Ireland), there have been a number of new initiatives recently – the Peoples Assemblies, the proposed Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Socialist Unity Platform (SUP) and International Socialist Network/Socialist Resistance/Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ISN/SR/ACI) unity proposals. However, these have mainly been confined to England and Wales. Why do you think things are less advanced in Scotland at the moment?

The Scottish political environment is now very different to that in the rest of the UK state. The left has faced the problems of its own fractures but also of the ascendance of the Scottish National Party. The left lacks credibility but also has been slow to recover from the self-inflicted wounds of the last few years. At the same time the SNP has presented themselves as social-democrats through reforms such as free prescription charges and abolition of tuition fees (whilst being very friendly to union-busting big business outfits like Amazon).

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Aug 02 2013

RIDING THE UNICORN

Recently there has been a nostalgic turn amongst the Left in the UK. In England (and Wales) it has looked wistfully back on the ‘Spirit of 45’. In Scotland, it has taken the form of the ‘Common Weal’ proposals, emanating from the Jimmy Reid Foundation.These look to the Nordic social democratic model. The RCN has argued that there is no social democratic way out of the current multi-faceted capitalist crisis. Here, Rory Scothorne who writes for Mair Nor a Roch Wind and the National Collective , has written a critique of the ‘Common Weal’ approach.

The 'Common Weal' proposals for Scotland

The ‘Common Weal’ proposals for Scotland

The mainstream left in Scotland stands petrified by the ghost of social democracy and its companion, the zombie-demon of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s symbolic role in the transformation of 20th century capitalism is essential to what we can call the ‘containment’ argument, which features prominently in both nationalist and ‘devolutionist’ ideology. According to this position, independence or some degree of autonomy is necessary to protect Scotland from the unholy trinity of free markets, ‘Victorian values’ and xenophobic jingoism that characterised Thatcherism. Thatcher’s main political legacy – New Labour – is a part of this narrative, and the Thatcher-Blair consensus is taken as proof that ‘Scottish values’ have no hope at Westminster.
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May 06 2013

RADICAL LALLANS POET: RAB WILSON

Working class voices are often underrepresented in poetry. James Foley of the International Socialist Group interviews Rab Wilson, a pioneering voice in contemporary Scottish poetry, who writes in the Lallans Scots dialect to narrate the working life of miners and rural labourers. 

Rab Wilson

Rab Wilson

Rab Wilson has established himself as one of Scottish poetry’s unique voices.  Writing – and speaking – in Lallans Scots, his rhymes reflect on the social effects of deindustrialisation through memories of the harsh conditions – and the banter – of rural Ayrshire’s pit life.  His poetry, he says, is a form of social revolt: although he has gained respectability as the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association’s “Robert Burns Reading Fellow in Reading Scots”, he urges poets to “bite the hand that feeds them”.

I caught up with Rab at his home in New Cumnock after viewing his documentary, Finding the Seam, which he describes as a personal poetic journey into the decline of the mining industry.  “Kirkconnel, New Cumnock, Auchinleck…all these villages are only here because of coal,” he says.  “Socially and economically, it made these local communities.”

Rab took an apprenticeship with the National Coal Board, and lived through the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.  He started writing verses in chalk on the shaft walls, “just ripping the piss…folk in the pits were always writing daft rhymes to wind each other up”.  He has subsequently worked as a psychiatric nurse, and today lives in a very respectable bungalow on the outskirts of town overlooking a new windfarm development.  But if this sounds like embourgeoisement and adaptation to post-Thatcherite Britain, you’d be dead wrong.

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Mar 30 2013

RIDING TWO HORSES AT ONCE – The SWP and Scottish independence

Scan copyThe following extended review of Keir McKechnie’s pamphlet, Scotland – Yes to Independence: No to Nationalism, was started before the most recent crisis in the SWP became public. Until the SWP resolves this crisis, its political interventions are likely to have more limited impact on the Left than in the past. Socialists should support those SWP members who are rebelling against their party’s bureaucratic and sectarian regime. The whole of the Left will benefit when the shared need for a democratic, non-sectarian and anti-sexist culture is accepted.

But, whichever way the party crisis is eventually resolved (or not), it is still useful to address the specific arguments raised by Keir in his pamphlet, because many have a wider resonance on the Left.  As the SWP moves away from its recent Left Unionist approach to the ‘National Question’ in Scotland, it appears to be following others in adopting elements of a Left Nationalist approach.

However, with the SWP being at an early stage in this transition, Keir’s pamphlet shows elements of both Left Unionism and Left Nationalism. The fact that these two political approaches can live in a symbiotic, and not always conflicting relationship with each other, makes it worth devoting the space to showing some of these connections.

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Mar 25 2013

THE CRISIS IN THE SWP:- The failure of the Central Committee’s ‘recruit, recruit, recruit’ tactics

This article  examines one aspect of the current crisis enveloping the SWP. The SWP has not had a  programme, so it has no real strategy for achieving the socialism it claims to support. Instead, the SWP leadership concentrates on the tactics it thinks will bring it new members. In the SWP leadership’s thinking, socialism will come about through an arithmetical increase in SWP members. Allan Armstrong, himself a former member of the SWP and its predecessor organisation, the International Socialists between 1972-82, looks into the history of the SWP’s lack of programme and strategy, and some of the results of its concentration on recruitment tactics.

thThe SWP is currently undergoing a severe, and possibly a terminal crisis. The immediate causes of this crisis lie in the expulsion of four members for planning to meet to form a faction before the 2013 Party Conference; and the allegations of sexual assault directed against Central Committee (CC) member, ‘Comrade Delta’. As elsewhere in Britain, Scottish SWP members are divided between CC loyalists and dissidents.

Just before this crisis exploded into the public arena, the SWP published a contribution to the Scottish independence referendum debate – Scotland – Yes to independence, No to nationalism. This pamphlet has been written the SWP’s Scottish organiser, Keir McKechnie. SWP organisers are appointed by the CC. So, there can be little doubt, where Keir’s allegiances lie in the current dispute in the SWP.

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Mar 18 2013

SINGLE ENDS AND HOBBIT HOUSES

Murdo Ritchie places  the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’ into the  wider economic and political context of housing provision today.

Inside a  Glasgow single end

Inside a Glasgow single end

When debating supporters of capitalism and capitalist markets I am told about the system’s greater efficiency in the use of natural resources. At this point, I ask my opponent if they have an indoor toilet. They smile at the bizarreness of the question. The answer is always yes. I then ask the obvious question, “Why are you not sitting on it?” Usually they consider me flippant or simply scoring a trivial debating point. But I always add that for decades houses in Scotland were built on the efficient use of natural resources with many houses sharing one toilet usually on the tenement landing. Economic efficiency was socially disgusting.

The single end was term for a one-room house that has largely ceased to exist. It is no longer as common as it once was. As a term, it described more than a kind of accommodation. It was a highly descriptive term of housing despair. The so-called bedroom tax is enthusiastically bringing its return. Some 94,000 Scots will overnight be plunged into rent arrears and forced to move. The single end is a sentence of punishment.

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Mar 05 2013

A TRIBUTE TO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

Our Emancipation & Liberation blog is posting our annual tribute to International Women’s Day. There are three articles. The first is by  Susan Dorazio, a committed socialist feminist and member of  the IWW, writes about the struggles of women care workers in the USA and Scotland. The second and third written by J. M. Thorn, come from the new March 2012 Socialist Democracy (Ireland) bulletin, dealing with the reactionary threats to the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, and the Irish Dail ‘public ‘apology’ for the horrors of the Catholic Church run Magdalene laundries.

 1. WHEN CHILD CARE WORKERS FOUGHT BACK: A HISTORY TO BE PROUD OF, LESSONS TO BE LEARNED, AND A TRIBUTE TO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin

In the first decade of the 20th Century, agitation by women in the industrial parts of the world for their civil rights and for their rights as workers was gaining momentum. Inspired by this increased militancy – and by the organizing in 1909 of National Woman’s Day by the Woman’s National Committee of the Socialist Party of America – the Women’s Congress of the Second International, meeting in Copenhagen in 1910, approved the call by German Socialist Clara Zetkin and other delegates to create a Women’s Day to foster international solidarity among socialist women.

In contrast to the liberal movements for woman’s suffrage and workers’ rights, and in opposition to war and social injustice, International Women’s Day would be firmly placed in the context of the global capitalist system, one that basically refuses to recognize, let alone heed, the needs and rights of women.

In the last decade of the 20th Century, another reawakening, also focusing on workers’ rights in the context of the range of women’s roles in society, was occurring in the United States. For the better part of the 1990’s, hundreds of child care workers, including myself, took part in a grassroots project called the Worthy Wage Campaign. Through fact-finding, consciousness raising, marches, rallies, street festivals, letter-writing, and media contact – and under the banner of ‘Rights, Raises, and Respect’ – we confronted what was called the staffing crisis, and were determined to reverse it. Of immediate concern was the revolving door of miserably-paid child care workers and the effect this had on children and families.

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Jan 23 2013

David Jamieson of the ISG replies to Allan Armstrong

David Jamieson of the International Socialist Group (ISG) replies to a series of articles written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) on the Radical Independence Conference and the ISG (see links at the end of this article). The current crisis engulfing the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) highlights the necessity for openness, democracy and equality on the Left. One hallmark of the SWP has been  its unwillingness to conduct proper debates with others on the Left. The ISG split from the SWP in 2011 in response to some of its negative practices. Therefore the RCN very much welcomes David Jamieson’s (and James Foley’s) willingness to enter into debates with others and to make contributions like this. 

in Socialism and the movement in Scotland

I should begin by re-stating what James Foley of the ISG has already stated, that I am a Marxist, a socialist and an internationalist. There is absolutely no ambiguity about this political identity – which is in full evidence in the content of the ISG’s website, in the organisation’s public statements and indeed in the organisation’s name. Rest assured my long view of class struggle in Scotland involves – amongst a great many other things – mass, grassroots, direct workers democracy, the armed seizure of power and even (horror) ‘The Party’.

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Jan 10 2013

THE BELFAST FLAG RIOTS AND THE SCOTTISH DIMENSION

James Slaven of the James Connolly Society updates us on the situation arising from the Loyalist flag riots in Belfast and their attempts to link up with Scottish Loyalists and other neo-fascists.

Loyalists show their allegiances- Union Jack, Red Hand of Ulster and the Saltire

Loyalists show their allegiances – Union Jack, Red Hand of Ulster and the Saltire

The unionist protests across the Six Counties over the decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the number of days the union flag is flown over City Hall are now in their second month. The most serious trouble has centred on parts of Belfast where the UVF have been orchestrating a campaign of riots and sectarian terror directed at areas such as the Short Strand. While much of the media has ignored or downplayed the seriousness of the rioting (the BBC has insisted on calling them protests not riots) it is worth exploring the significance of recent events.

The catalyst for the latest unionist violence was the democratic decision of Belfast City Council to stop flying the union flag over City Hall every day. Instead councillors voted to fly the union flag only on designated days such as Betty Battenburg’s birthday. This decision merely brought the Council into line with other cities and indeed with Stormont. One fact that seems to have been overlooked in the furore is that Sinn Fein voted in favour of flying the British union flag over Belfast City Hall on the designated days.

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Jan 01 2013

FROM SYRIZA TO SCOTLAND

Greece has become the flashpoint for Europe. The Greek economy has collapsed, but Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even Italy are also spiralling downward. Nevertheless, only in Greece does there seem to be an organized political response that can directly challenge for power.

Syriza

Syriza

SYRIZA began as a loose coalition of parties and organization that sought to present a non-dogmatic left-wing alternative to the mainstream social democratic politics of PASOK. As the crisis has deepened, SYRIZA has snowballed in strength to the point that current opinion polls show it with more popular support than any other party. At the same time, SYRIZA has been evolving into a unitary organization with a recognized leader Alex Tsipras.

From the start, SYRIZA has been dominated by those coming from the Eurocommunist tradition. It has always pursued a reformist path to socialism, but, as it has grown to become a significant player in Greek politics, it has modified its program to demonstrate that it could govern Greece in a “responsible” manner. SYRIZA insists that further austerity cuts are not possible, and that the memorandum of understanding imposed on Greece by the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission) should be rejected. Still, SYRIZA is also adamant that Greece must remain within the European Union, and, if possible, in the Eurozone. This contradictory perspective is tenuously held together by the fervent belief that the European Union, and specifically the German government, will accept a significant renegotiation of Greece’s debt leading to a substantial reduction in payments, accompanied by a further round of loans at a low interest rate.

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