Aug 11 2017

A BRIEF HISTORY AND THE CONTEXT FOR RECOVERY IN MENTAL HEALTH

Bob Goupillot writes about organising against discrimination, oppression and exploitation, and how this affected the Movement for Recovery in Mental Health.

 

A BRIEF HISTORY AND THE CONTEXT FOR RECOVERY IN MENTAL HEALTH

 

 

The Recovery movement has several roots these include

  • The various historical movements for greater Civil rights.
  • The evidence from experts by experience those who have survived mental illness.
  • Evidence from non-western cultures.

1)      Movements for increased Civil Rights

One of the lessons from history appears to be that it is only when people who are discriminated against, oppressed or exploited organise themselves and raise their own demands that real material improvements in their situation are brought about. Continue reading “A BRIEF HISTORY AND THE CONTEXT FOR RECOVERY IN MENTAL HEALTH”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Jan 21 2015

THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

THE REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST NETWORK, THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN,

AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

Photo of RCN banner – Patricia Kirk & John Lannigan

Contents

A) The emergence and clash of Left British unionism and Left Scottish nationalism

B) The politics of the Scottish independence referendum campaign

C) How the Left responded to the demand for greater national self-determination in Scotland

D) Carrying over lessons learned from the SSP experience

           i)   the need for political platforms

           ii)  the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction

           iii) the need for political balance sheets to avoid repeating earlier mistakes

E) Promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’

           i) The political legacy of the Republican Socialist Conventions and the Global Commune events

           ii) Debating with other socialists during the Scottish independence referendum campaign

           iii) promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’ in RIC

           iv) the debate over secularism

           v) the debate over Ireland

F) Debates and differences within the RCN

          i) in the lead up and during the referendum campaign

          ii) since the September 18th referendum

          iii) the future for RIC, the all-islands Republican Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Left Project

Appendix

 

___________________

 

Continue reading “THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Mar 16 2014

TONY BENN: A MAN OF PRINCIPLE AND RADICAL DEMOCRAT

Category: Commemorations,Our HistoryRCN @ 8:39 pm

Bob Goupillot (RCN) provides this tribute to Tony Benn, who died on 14th March.

 

th-2

At 7.30 this morning I heard that Tony Benn had died.  I first heard him speak in Darlington in the late 1970’s. I was in my early twenties.  That speech and subsequent ones plus two of his books; Arguments for Socialism and Arguments for Democracy made a large and lasting impact on my political and social beliefs.  I had considered myself a socialist ever since I could give my politics a name.  I can even remember taking part in some anti-Tory direct action in the street when I was still in short trousers.

Continue reading “TONY BENN: A MAN OF PRINCIPLE AND RADICAL DEMOCRAT”

Tags: , , , ,


Mar 06 2014

SECULARISM, SOCIALISM AND RELIGION

The issue of secularism was discussed at the RCN weekend away in Fife on 22nd February. Allan Armstrong introduced the session using the presentation he had made to Edinburgh RIC. The following discussion extended beyond the scope of the introductory talk, and brought up issues which Bob Goupillot had written about when the RCN was a platform in the SSP. Below, is an updated version of this, first published in Emancipation & Liberation, no 14, Spring 2007.

th-4 

A Marxist understanding of religion

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

 Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Marx understood the religious impulse to be a human response to a world that is sometimes scary, terrifying and out of our control.  Thus the religions of hunter-gatherer people focus on asserting control over their prey animals, the religious festivals of farming peoples focus on marking the passing seasons and placating the gods and goddesses of the earth and sky.  Religion is a human, spiritual response to an uncertain world.

Continue reading “SECULARISM, SOCIALISM AND RELIGION”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Nov 20 2013

THE PARTY WE NEED

Bob Goupillot (RCN) makes a positive response to the article, The party we need, by Moshe Machover, founder member of the Israeli Socialist organisation, now living in England.

Moshe Machover

Moshe Machover

 

I was really heartened to read Moshe Machover’s article The party we need (WW November 7th 2013) as it succinctly summarises important aspects of our classes experience around political organisation.

Continue reading “THE PARTY WE NEED”

Tags: , , , , ,


Jun 16 2012

SOCIALIST REPUBLICANISM AND THE DIAMOND JUBILEE

 

The RCN is posting four pieces as a contribution to the debate on a socialist republican the Diamond Jubilee.

1. Socialist Republicans and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

2. Republicanism Socialism and Democracy

3. The Crown Rules Britannia

4. The Queen: Floating in the Stink

_____________________________

1. SOCIALIST REPUBLICANS AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S DIAMOND JUBILEE

“Maud Gonne joined with James Connolly in preparing the anti-Jubilee demonstrations. To counter the loyal displays, she secured a window in Dublin’s Parnell Square from which lanternslides could be shown on a large screen…. Daniel O’Brien made a large black coffin on which were inscribed the words ‘British Empire’, and to lead the procession which was to accompany it through the streets Connolly procured the services of a workers’ band… Maud Gonne then set to work tuning out black flags which were embroidered wit the facts of the famines and evictions which had marked Victoria’s reign.

On Jubilee Day… a rickety handcart… draped in the semblance of a hearse… was pushed by a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. Maud Gomme and W. B. Yeats joined the procession and quickly distributed black flags. They all moved down Dame Street to the sound of the Dead March.

As soon as the police realised what was happening reinforcements were rushed from the Castle. Baton charges began to disperse the dense throng of spectators. Connolly, at the head, had reached O’Connell Bridge when the fighting became exceptionally fierce. With a flash of inspiration, he ordered the coffin to thrown into the River Liffey and the whole crowd took up in chorus his valedictory words, “Here goes the coffin of the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire!”

The Life and Times of James Connolly, C. Desmond Greaves, pp. 89-90

 

Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

James Connolly in Workers Republic

“The great appear great to us, only because we are on our knees:
LET US RISE.”

Fellow Workers,

The loyal subjects of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, etc., celebrate this year the longest reign on record. Already the air is laden with rumours of preparations for a wholesale manufacture of sham ‘popular rejoicings’ at this glorious (?) commemoration.

Home Rule orators and Nationalist Lord Mayors, Whig politicians and Parnellite pressmen, have ere now lent their prestige and influence to the attempt to arouse public interest in the sickening details of this Feast of Flunkeyism. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland – other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends – should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party – which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol – takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland today than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England.

During this glorious reign Ireland has seen 1,225,000 of her children die of famine, starved to death whilst the produce of her soil and their labour was eaten up by a vulture aristocracy, enforcing their rents by the bayonets of a hired assassin army in the pay of the –best of the English Queens’; the eviction of 3,668,000, a multitude greater than the entire population of Switzerland; and the reluctant emigration of 4,186,000 of our kindred, a greater host than the entire people of Greece. At the present moment 78 percent of our wage-earners receive less than £1 per week, our streets are thronged by starving crowds of the unemployed, cattle graze on our tenantless farms and around the ruins of our battered homesteads, our ports are crowded with departing emigrants, and our poorhouses are full of paupers. Such are the constituent elements out of which we are bade to construct a National Festival of rejoicing!

Working-class of Ireland: We appeal to you not to allow your opinions to be misrepresented on this occasion. Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe to this Empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions. Let this year be indeed a memorable one as marking the date when the Irish workers at last flung off that slavish dependence on the lead of ‘the gentry,’ which has paralysed the arm of every soldier of freedom in the past.

The Irish landlords, now as ever the enemy’s garrison, instinctively support every institution which, like monarchy, degrades the manhood of the people and weakens the moral fibre of the oppressed; the middle-class, absorbed in the pursuit of gold, have pawned their souls for the prostitute glories of commercialism and remain openly or secretly hostile to every movement which would imperil the sanctity of their dividends. The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.

To you, workers of Ireland, we address ourselves. AGITATE in the workshop, in the field, in the factory, until you arouse your brothers to hatred of the slavery of which we are all the victims. EDUCATE, that the people may no longer be deluded by illusory hopes of prosperity under any system of society of which monarchs or noblemen, capitalists or landlords form an integral part. ORGANISE, that a solid, compact and intelligent force, conscious of your historic mission as a class, you may seize the reins of political power whenever possible and, by intelligent application of the working-class ballot, clear the field of action for the revolutionary forces of the future. Let the ‘canting, fed classes’ bow the knee as they may, be you true to your own manhood, and to the cause of freedom, whose hope is in you, and, pressing unweariedly onward in pursuit of the high destiny to which the Socialist Republic invites you, let the words which the poet puts into the mouth of Mazeppa console you amid the orgies of the tyrants of today:

But time at last makes all things even,

And if we do but watch the hour,

There never yet was human power

That could evade, if unforgiven,

The patient hate and vigil long,

Of those who treasure up a wrong.

__________________________

2. REPUBLICANISM, SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY

The following two articles come from the RCN’s pamphlet of the same name, published in 2008, and now out-of-print.

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE DEMOCRATIC ROAD TO SOCIALISM

 

The role of communists is to develop an awareness of the utility and necessity of democracy – Victor Serge

As long as democracy has not been achieved, thus long do communists and democrats fight side by side – Frederick Engels

 

Republicanism in the United Kingdom describes the movement from below for a radical and militant democracy.  For socialists, republicanism addresses those immediate democratic issues faced by the working class in the here and now.  It seeks to develop a programme for expanding democracy under capitalism as far as it will go.  It concerns itself with progressive and in some senses transitional demands. To the extent that we achieve our democratic demands these strengthen our class and weaken the ruling class and its allies.  It is a necessary and unavoidable part of the struggle for socialism.

This democratic struggle is called republicanism in the UK because it highlights that we live in an undemocratic, constitutional monarchy.  The term republicanism also connects us to our own radical history.

Republican struggles in these islands provide a red thread going back to the Levellers in the English revolution, the Cameronians (radical Covenanters) here in Scotland, the struggle of the United Irishmen, the Chartists, and the prospects of Workers Republics raised by James Connolly and John Maclean.  The rise of capitalism and the struggle of the emerging bourgeoisie against the feudal state and church led to a false association between capitalism and the spreading of democracy.  In reality wherever they have achieved power, the bourgeoisie have sought to narrow, limit and impoverish democracy, for the majority of the population.  Consciously or unconsciously they have recognised in the proletariat their future gravediggers.  Hence they have sought to block any democratic path to a genuine republic because, in a truly democratic republic, the bourgeois and their system, capitalism, could not flourish.

Socialists see republicanism today as directly linked to the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow. However, Republicanism is not a sentimental attachment to yesterday’s struggles.  It helps us develop a strategy and tactics to directly oppose today’s oppressors and exploiters.  To declare for the democratic republic is to declare war against the existing bourgeois state.

 

Republicanism in Action

Republicanism in the workplace or trade union means spreading action outwards and upwards from the origin of the conflict or from its most militant site.  It is not about waiting until your faction has won the position of the General secretary-ship of the union or a majority on the party executive.  Industrial republicanism recognizes the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces and branches and not the sovereignty of the Union head office or full-time officials.  Neither is its main purpose to reform the capitalist state and its laws, although it may produce useful reforms such as the legal right to strike or to take secondary action.

Republicanism endorses direct action in the community.  It is not about waiting to ‘win power’ in local or national elections where power is in the hands of the elected few.  Republicanism is about the maximum level of participation in any action with democratic control at the grass roots level. For republicans, contesting local and national elections is not an end in itself. We stand in elections to offer an ideological alternative to capitalism and to challenge the state under which we live.  When the Tories tried to impose their hated Poll Tax in Scotland, tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) took action to resist.  This resistance was spread further, by activists, to England and Wales.  A struggle initiated  in the housing schemes of Muirhouse and Pollok was fought to a famous victory. Tens of thousands of protestors defied the state in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990

When socialists put up candidates for the local elections it was to legitimize actions being taken or considered e.g., campaigning in Council elections on a ‘Don’t Pay the Poll Tax’ slogan. During that titanic struggle millions moved from protesting against an unjust tax to breaking the law and organizing to prevent the rule of the state operating as it wished.  The most militant areas became no go areas for Sherriff’s Officers and representatives of the Labour Party (who’s councils were imposing the tax). This is republicanism in action.

Sometimes latent republican struggles in the community become conscious republican struggles.  In 1969, tens of thousands demonstrated for Civil Rights in (e.g. equal voting and access to jobs and housing) in Northern Ireland.  Their resistance was met by British paratroopers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30th 1972, when 14 peaceful demonstrators were shot down. This was followed by internment without trial.   The republican struggle against the UK state took off.

 

Seeing Struggles Through a Republican Lens

A republican perspective politicises issues and illuminates a democratic path that leads us beyond capitalism.  It is an energising principle, which brings with it a personal responsibility to think and act like an active citizen rather than a submissive subject.  It allows us to come to grips with the enemy state and thus provides an antidote to passivity in socialist organisations and society at large

Thus campaigns against homelessness and for the building of more council houses are not just about the demand for more homes.  It is an argument about collective rather than private provision of services and about democratic accountability, councillors are elected, Housing Association executives are not.  This then becomes a political not just an economic demand. Similarly the struggle around the defence of asylum seekers challenges the state’s ability to create and control borders and restrict the free movement of people (in contrast to capital, commodities and profits).  Another example is foxhunting.  This can be opposed on the grounds of cruelty to foxes or on the basis of who should control the land.  These examples indicate the militant ways in which revolutionary republicans fight for reforms.

Republicanism is about releasing the latent power of the people, and it means recognising the legitimacy of democratically agreed, direct action taken by ourselves at whatever level.  In short, republicanism is putting the ‘sovereignty of the people’ into action in the here and now.  Republicanism challenges not just the ruling class but also their knowing collaborators in and out of parliament (e.g., trade union bureaucracies)  and their unknowing collaborators (those left organisations that want to restrict class action until it – ‘the chosen party’ – considers the time and tactic is right).  Connolly, for example, acted in true republican fashion when he threw the weight of the Irish Citizen Army behind the Easter uprising despite personally judging the wider organization to be ill prepared.

 

Making our own organizations democratic

Republicanism is fundamentally about the highest form of democracy.  That is democratic control held by the basic units of the society – workplaces and effective networks within communities.  Elected representatives must always be accountable and subject to recall and dismissal.  If elected representatives are paid, then they should receive no more than the average skilled workers’ wage. This is a vital weapon against careerism and will help eliminate those powerful forces that drive a wedge between the elected and the electorate, the union member and the full timer.

It is imperative that socialists lead the struggle within society to extend absolute democracy to all areas of our lives. To achieve this it is absolutely essential that our own organisations are democratic. This must include trade unions and socialist parties.

The Republican Communist Network’s insist on the importance of republicanism and a democratic constitution within the SSP because we recognise this as the most effective method of decision making i.e. it maximises our ability to produce correct answers to problems we face.  It leads to collective decision making through mutual education and debate.  An active, living democracy allows us to harness the creativity of the membership and honestly reflect on the results of our practice and to quickly amend it in the light of this learning.

A democratic party allows the working class to express itself through its structures.  It is essential to foster a democratic structure that recognises the value of minority views being expressed.  Socialists support elections being conducted on the basis of proportional representation (PR). This is an indispensable demand, both within and beyond our own organisations.  It ensures that minority opinions are always heard and are not silenced, and allows debate between differing points of view; the lifeblood of democracy.

This expresses the essence of the Marxist dialectic whereby our practice develops through the open clash of differing ideas on what constitutes the best way forward..This is an important corrective method for any socialist grouping.  Failure to allow this results in mistakes like the SWP dismissing the 1984-5 miners strike and the Poll Tax as unimportant struggles.  An error of a different nature was  CWI’s prediction of the Red Nineties i.e. that, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, there would be a massive upturn in working class struggles and through these a politicisation of the class.  In reality the opposite happened.

In each of these cases the lack of an effective internal democratic structure reduced the ability of these organisations to adapt their strategies to deal with reality as it actually unfolded and disproved their earlier predictions.  This inflexibility made them less effective as vehicles to express the needs of the working class.

Ultimately democracy is a living thing.  It cannot be completely captured by constitutions etc.  It can however be enhanced or hindered by such things.  Republicanism embodies such characteristics as openness, egalitarianism and a long term perspective.  Further it recognises that adhering to principle may involve short-term losses.  Republicans within any political organisation will always contest the drift toward bureaucratic control of that organisation by dominant faction(s) whether that control is exerted through the power of their block vote, or via rigging the rules and constitution to stifle dissent.  Republicanism will always challenge those holding office who put their personal interests above those they are elected to represent.

Although republicanism is not communism or socialism it is difficult to imagine how either of these will be achieved without a strongly republican movement and thoroughgoing democracy to guard against the many temptations of managerialism, bureaucracy and totalitarianism.  The struggle for democracy has the potential to unite our class and points the way to revolutionary change and a new form of society.  Indeed socialism can only develop and be maintained under conditions of active, mass, democratic participation in the running of society.  In its absence we have by definition another, non socialist, form of society e.g. as in the former USSR.

Republican consciousness and practice brings the possibility of revolutionary change into the sphere of everyday life.  Revolutionary social change is understood as the culmination of an ongoing and developing revolutionary process rather than a one off event.

The Paris Commune and the workers councils (soviets) in the Russian Empire did not spring out of nowhere. They were the culmination of long struggles to assert popular and workers’ control over people’s lives. Today’s workers’ and popular struggles to retain control of our own organisations and to win and try to establish control over reforms which will improve our lives, are the bridge to this socialist or communist future.  The republican desire to assert our self-determination is but a step on the way to creating a society based on the principle, ‘From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.

 

Bob Goupillot

 

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE UK STATE

 

When people are asked what is meant by the word ‘republic’ they usually answer, “A country without a monarch”.  In today’s world this covers a great variety of states, including the USA, France, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, South Africa and Cuba.  At first glance, then, ‘republic’ would not appear to be a very helpful term for socialists, who want to distinguish between more or less progressive social and political systems.

Therefore, despite the fact that we, in the UK, live in one of the few remaining monarchies in the world, what significant difference could the ending of the monarchy bring about?  Certainly, the existence of the Royal Family helps to buttress a more rigid class system here, where class is understood in its older sense of hierarchical privilege, with upper, middle and lower classes.  The desperation with which some Labour politicians and trade union leaders pursue ‘honours’ is one indication of the hold of this old-style class privilege within the UK.

Nevertheless, a quick examination of the world’s most powerful republic, the USA, shows us that the lack of a monarchy is not necessarily a barrier to the promotion of huge income differentials between an obscenely wealthy elite and the downtrodden poor.  So, why should socialists consider themselves republicans at all, rather than just ignoring the monarchy until we have achieved our real aim, the creation of a socialist republic?  Answering this question means taking a closer look at the political nature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy, which means, in effect, that the Queen exerts little power in her own right.  Yes, the Royal Family enjoys massive privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.  The fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’.  Diana was seen by the public to be much more in tune with the modern day, neo-liberal requirements of a celebrity monarchy.  Tony Blair perceived a ruling class need for a ‘New Monarchy’, and quickly labelled the late Diana, the ‘People’s Princess’.  The Windsors, however, were still seen by most to be, out of touch with the present-day world.  Since then, they have had to put a lot of effort into trying to repackage the monarchy.

So, does this mean that the longstanding infatuation of the British public with the Royal Family, which long prevented even the old Labour Party from challenging royal privilege, is at last waning?  It probably does, but that does not get to the root of the problem.  Far more important than the Royal Family itself, is the political system it fronts.  Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its new devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, it still has very real limitations.  These lie in the state’s Crown Powers, which are wielded, not by the Queen, but by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has a wider circle of advisers, from the world of finance, industry and the media.  They help him to adopt strategies and form policies to promote their needs, without too much democratic scrutiny.  We can see some of those pressures in Gordon Brown’s handling of the Northern Rock collapse, where defence of City interests has been paramount.  If anyone thinks that defence of small investors is Brown’s first interest, just ask the victims of the collapse of the Farepack Fund, run by Halifax/Bank of Scotland.  Business leaders have also ensured that the bidding and contract details for the government’s many lucrative PFI contracts, amounting to billions of pounds of public money, are conducted in secret under the guise of commercial confidentiality.  This means that whole swathes of the UK economy, ostensibly under the control or supervision of Parliament, in reality lie way beyond any effective public accountability.  The results of this can now clearly be seen, with Brown and Darling’s paralysis in the face of the present economic crisis.  New Labour is in the pockets of big business, and no amount of Union Jack waving around our Olympic heroes and heroines can disguise this.

This unaccountable economic influence has to be supplemented by other anti-democratic political means.  This is why senior civil servants, judges, and officers and ranks in the armed forces, all swear their allegiance to the Queen, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people.  The ruling class may require their services, acting, when necessary, against the interests of the people, or even Parliament.  Of course, it is not the Queen herself, who wields this power, but the Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the ruling class.  This is all done under the Crown Powers.

The UK’s constitution even has provision for the suspension of Parliament in ‘extreme situations’, with resort instead to direct rule by the Privy Council.  This very select band of former and existing senior government ministers is chosen for its reliability in upholding ruling class interests.  Its members all enjoy close contact with the world of business, whilst some have had direct dealings with military officers, MI5 and MI6.

The fact that SNP leader Alex Salmond is now a Privy Councillor shows that, beyond the exaggerated public disagreements, through which party political competition normally takes place in the UK, the British ruling class inner circle still consider him reliable enough.  Indeed, Salmond enjoys his own close links with the Scottish finance sector, which has wider British interests to defend.  More importantly, Salmond’s acceptance of a Privy Councillorship indicates that he will play the political game by Westminster rules, when he finally puts forward the Scottish Executive’s ‘Independence Referendum’.

Way back in the late 1970’s, before the British ruling class came to the conclusion that ‘Devolution-all-round’ (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was the best strategy to defend its interests in these islands and the wider world, key sections were still bitterly opposed even to the very mild devolutionary proposals put forward by the then Labour government. In the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, the ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to make a Christmas broadcast attacking Scottish nationalism.  Senior civil servants were told to ‘bury’ any documents, which could help the Scottish nationalists.  Military training exercises were conducted, targeting putative armed Scottish guerrilla forces.  The security forces became involved on the nationalist fringe, encouraging anti-English diatribes and actions, to discredit any notion of real Scottish self-determination.

However, unlike Ireland or Australia, Scottish nationalists did not then have to face the full panoply of Crown Powers.  It was not necessary, since the SNP opposition was so mild and constitutionalist in nature.  In the ‘Six Counties’ of Northern Ireland, the Republicans, and the wider nationalist community, felt the force of her majesty’s regiments, including the SAS, the UDR (with its royal patronage) and the RUC, and the Loyalist death squads, all backed up by juryless Diplock Courts, manned by Unionist judges, and by detention as required, in ‘her majesty’s’ special prisons.  Those sections of the state, which provide the ruling class with legal sanction to pursue its own ends, are prefixed ‘her majesty’s’ or ‘royal’.  Self-styled Loyalists include those who are prepared to undertake certain illegal tasks when called upon by the security services.

Back in 1975, Gough Whitlam fronted a mildly reforming Labour government, which wanted to keep US nuclear warships out of Australian ports.  He felt the long arm of the Crown Powers when the British Governor-General removed him from his elected office.  More recently the Crown Powers have been used to deny the right of the Diego Garcia islanders to return to their Indian Ocean home, when they won their case in the British High Court.  Unfortunately for them, Diego Garcia is now the site of a major US military base.  Current British governments are even more subservient to US imperial interests than they were in the 1970’s.  We should take seriously the warning from Lisa Vickers, the new US consul in Edinburgh, when she attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy.  “I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’.  It doesn’t work like that” – a not so veiled threat!

Alex Salmond has finally come out and declared that the SNP is a pro-monarchy party.  As Colin Fox (SSP National Co-spokesperson) has said, Salmond wants the ending of the outdated 1707 Union of the Parliaments, only to return to the even more antiquated, 1603 Union of the Crowns.  Of course, there are still Scottish republicans to be found in the SNP. However, they are a bit like those ‘Clause 4 socialists’, once found in the old Labour Party.  For them socialism was a sentimental ideal for the future but, in the meantime, a Labour government had to be elected to run capitalism efficiently, in order to provide enough crumbs to finance some reforms for the working class.

Today’s SNP ‘independista’ wing passionately believes in a future independent Scotland, but believe the road is opened up, in the here and now, by an SNP government managing the local U.K. state in the interests of big business.  They are going to be disappointed as the old SNP turns into an ‘independence-lite’ ‘New SNP’, just like its counterparts in Quebec, Euskadi and Catalunya.  The SNP leadership is not going to challenge US or British imperial power, so it will not be able to deliver genuine independence.  This political measure will be strongly opposed by resort to whatever Crown Powers are seen to be necessary.  Being prepared to counter those Crown Powers has to be central to any socialist strategy, which opens up a prospect of real democratic advance, in the struggle for Scottish self-determination.

The Crown Powers have also been used by Prime Ministers to declare wars without parliamentary sanction, and to mobilise troops to break strikes when necessary.  Therefore, it should be clear why socialists have an interest in promoting republicanism – it increases people’s democratic rights, whilst undermining the anti-democratic powers in the hands of the ruling class. Socialists living under fascist dictatorships, or in countries with major restrictions on trade union rights, don’t say life would be no better under parliamentary rule, or with legally independent trade unions, because the ruling class would still run things.  Socialists place themselves at the head of the struggle for greater democratic rights, but don’t stop at the more limited forms compatible with capitalist rule.  Socialists see republicanism today as a part of the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow.

 

Allan Armstrong

 ____________________

 THE CROWN RULES BRITANNIA

 

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of London Occupy live in the ‘heart of the best’. Here they highlight the difference between the Monarchy and the Crown Powers.

 

Behind the monarch lies the real power

 

Monarchy is only the string that ties the robber’s bundle – Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

The jubilee is an obvious time to reflect on the distinction between queen and crown. Many people think these terms mean the same thing. It is much better to see them as opposites, albeit interconnected – the monarch and the state. Louis XIV famously said, “I am the state”, which is a definition of absolute monarchy. In contrast we see a hint of separation when Queen Victoria used the royal ‘we’: “We are not amused.” This means two of them are not happy – the person and the institution – me and my shadow.

This distinction has its origins in the doctrine in the middles ages that the king has two bodies. One is the ‘body natural’ – the living human being. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” said Shylock in The merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s reference to Jews also reminds us that monarchs are not deities). But the second body is the ‘body politic’ – the institution of monarchy, which never dies. The king is dead – long live the king. The English revolution of 1649 made that distinction sharper.

Today we live in a capitalist world when everything is business. So our distinction is between two enterprises – the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. The latter is called “the firm” by the Duke of Edinburgh and has its HQ at Buckingham Palace. These are separate businesses which go together like a horse and carriage. The relationship between them is more like ‘state capitalism’ than the much vaunted ‘free enterprise’.

The Crown Corporation – hereafter simply called ‘the crown’ – is, like any capitalist firm, a separate legal entity. It is the largest and most powerful multinational ‘corporation’ in the country. It has offices, or embassies, in nearly every country in the world. It has power not only in the UK, but the various tax havens or secret banking jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, etc. It also has a very extensive information-gathering network, which enables it to keep ahead of most of its rivals.

First the crown is the state, together with its various organisations: departments of state such as the treasury and home office, revenue and customs, armed forces, security or secret services, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and her majesty’s prisons, etc. But it is much more than this. It is the people in charge who direct these millions employed by the crown across its territories.

The power of the crown is concentrated in its board of directors, which can be called the core executive or the political class. The phrase, ‘The crown rules Britannia’, means that it is the political class that runs the place – certainly not parliament and much less the people. The crown is not a democracy. The political class includes senior civil servants, the prime minister and his key ministers and advisors, heads of the security services and the joint chiefs of staff. The prime minister is the chief executive reporting weekly to the royal chair of the board.

The political class is mainly made up of bureaucrats who have clawed their way up from their Oxbridge education or through the military, with which “the firm” has a special affinity. The chair of the board is an hereditary position. Then there are professional politicians who are chosen by the prime minister to serve as the key ministers of the crown. They do not have to be elected because of the back-door route through the Lords. But they all have to swear allegiance to the crown.

The crown is no more a democratic institution than Ford, McDonalds or News International. This is not to say that there is no democratic influence. This is not absolutism, but constitutional monarchy. But gone is the pretence that we elect the people who actually govern us. They are all chosen, although it helps if you have a seat in parliament (general elections do impact on the composition of the political class). However, a minister who is not trusted by the political class will always be an outsider and ‘not one of us’.

The crown, therefore, has a kind of permanence at its core. Its strategic role in governing the country transcends the vagaries of elections. We often hear of one government defending its reactionary policies by pointing out that it all began under the previous lot. So it did. The crown and its policies in reality hardly change from one election to the next. They are merely given a face-lift and painted blue or red and pushed more quickly or slowly. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron follow the same line of policy and serve the same financial markets.

If we look inside the robber’s bundle we do not find the landed interests associated with aristocracy. We discover the City of London, its banks and financial markets with a long history of robbing people on a global scale. The crown has been their political instrument and the Bank of England their lever. The prime minister is the first minister of the City, whose priority is to protect and support them – for example, against a Greek default, the Tobin tax or European regulation. Today we are living through the ‘great bankster robbery’ carried on by the crown and the Bank of England, and fronted by the Tory-led coalition.

Crown and health

Since the defeat of the miners and the rise of Thatcherism, the crown has adopted the free-market philosophy. Governments come and go, but the same free-market strategy rolls on. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it makes little difference to the policies of the crown. Naturally, this sameness and consistency is echoed in the mass media, which generally promote the crown’s settled consensus of what are or are not the acceptable parameters for debate on any given subject.

Take the recent example of the NHS. The crown, in the guise of the department of health, has had a long-term plan to privatise healthcare and open it up as a market for competition. Private provision is now mainly responsible for the long-term care of the elderly. Privately run treatment centres set up by New Labour now control 5% of the profitable elective surgery ‘market’. The private finance initiative financed, at huge cost to the taxpayer, Blair’s hospital building plans. Now the private sector has taken over Hichingbrooke, the first NHS hospital run for profit, by Circle.

Whenever this has proved highly unpopular, ministers and civil servants have been prepared to retreat – and later return to the long-term game plan. Every government has taken it further. Now the coalition has taken a giant step forward with the Health and Social Care Bill. Tactical retreat may be necessary on some issues, as we have seen, but clearly ever more radical advances are in the pipeline.

Keep our NHS Public explained that “the health bill is the final stage in a 25-year privatisation project”. Ministers of the crown are “using existing powers to abolish PCTs [primary care trusts] and set up ‘pathfinder’, so-called ‘GP consortia’ and making arrangements with foreign private companies to take over NHS hospitals, while the government has pre-empted such debate as MPs are inclined to have” (No8, autumn 2011).

Whilst parliament was debating the bill, the crown was busily implementing its policies like some invisible coup. Crucial entities underpinning the privatising agenda were put in place before even the second reading of the bill. Through various crown regulations etc, ministers were able to ‘decree into existence’ Pathfinder GP consortia for over half the country. Funds were used to make staff redundant from the strategic health authorities and primary trusts. The old system was virtually demolished before the bill was on the statute book and 151 PCTs were put to the sword. Moreover, the new National Commissioning Board was empowered to appoint a chief executive, finance director and seven board members on salaries of up to £170,000. McKinsey and KPMG, who were consultants on the framing of the legislation, had been awarded big contracts to run GP commissioning.

Most of the left associate the crown with the queen and think that the latter is irrelevant to our increasingly difficult daily life. The opposite is the case. Whether the crown is taking us to war in Iraq or planning how to support the US-Israeli plans for Iran, or designing a privatised NHS or school system, it is a process largely impermeable to the needs of the people. Naturally, none of this is immutable or inevitable and the economic fragility of the economy is becoming ever more evident. Our political response to the crisis of the crown should not be another government of the crown, but another system of government altogether – one built on those truly democratic principles of popular sovereignty and accountability.

Queen rules the waves

Her majesty has a significant political role in this nation’s drama as the Great Distraction. The modern monarchy is a camouflage for the crown. We are so mesmerised by the continuous royal cavalcade and its pretensions of powerlessness and irrelevance to real life that we do not look in the opposite direction and notice the unaccountable power of the crown being wielded daily by the political class.

Monarchy is the UK’s national secular religion. Monarchy is the nation represented as a perfect world with a grateful people on their knees. Of course, the queen is not a god, but a living, breathing human being, dressed up for the job. Yet this ritual of worship, exemplified by the jubilee, idealises monarchy as a kind of living god which has come to walk among us mere mortals – or, most tellingly, ‘subjects’.

The jubilee will promote the queen as the nation’s grandmother. In her March 20 speech to parliament she spoke of “national qualities of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance”. It is surely inspiring to be praised by our national icon. She thinks we are great! We should surely reciprocate by welling up with pride.

The queen went on to say: “It is my sincere hope that the diamond jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a sort of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities.” We could all echo this sentiment as republicans, without hostility or any hint of cynicism. There is no reason to see her speech as anything other than sincere, for its contents explain why the motivation for the genuine affection which many of her subjects have for her is not simply rabid royalism.

However, shouldn’t we all wake up and smell the Darjeeling? Coming together for a crown-organised jubilee can never offer more than an illusion of unity in our class-divided society, in which rich and poor and those stuck in the middle are fighting for, or fighting to diminish, democracy and social justice. The monarchy is not neutral in this struggle, but the embodiment of a conservative, class-ridden society. With the queen, or her male offspring, safely enthroned in Buckingham Palace there will never be even the chance of substantive change. The subliminal message is: ‘Britain’s hereditary (ruling) class system has existed since time immemorial and will continue ever more – alongside its hereditary monarchs.’

In reality, the chief function of monarchy is not simply the nation’s enslavement to an ideology of a royalist-based patriotism. It is, rather, the Great Distraction – away from where the true levers of power are located within the structure of the crown. The crown not only governs the county and determines so much of our lives, but, moreover, in an epoch of its growing economic crisis, increasingly threatens our hard-won rights and liberties. The monarch ties the robber’s bundle precisely because the inherent danger to democracy of the unelected and unaccountable crown is concealed by the nation’s grandmother smiling sweetly.

Shelley’s was an acute observation. However, an enduring misconception concerning the crown and monarch goes some way to explain why republicanism is so weak. The left fails to distinguish between the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. This error produces a weak version of republicanism, one focused almost entirely on the queen and whether she ‘costs too much’ or arguing about how much of ‘our national income’ she generates through tourism.

The crown and the class it represents know they cannot put a price on the undoubted lift to the nation’s morale, brought low by an ever deepening recession, which the jubilee will bring. For, when the queen dispenses honours, waves, shakes hands, visits foreign countries or meets adoring crowds, she will distract both from the crisis that the crown is now presiding over, and, more importantly, our principal role in paying for it (and her!). Thus, as the crown’s leading player in this elaborate jubilee spectacle, the queen will once again execute her main role, which is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, and the current fall in our living standards, by momentarily banishing the storm clouds of recession somewhere over the horizon.

No wonder Cameron, the crown’s current CEO, is smiling.

(This article appeared in Weekly Worker:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004855)

__________________________

THE QUEEN: FLOATING IN THE STINK

 Barry Biddulph of the commune 

The cult of the Queen as a symbol of British unity is the illusion that she is somehow above and beyond corrupt and dishonest parliamentary politicians, and profit obsessed capitalists (1) To make Britain proud, she is jolly good at her job and has devoted her self to sixty years of selflessness in the stultifying boredom of public service.(2) Royal pageantry is not historical, but in the history of pageants the diamond jubilee, in the words of the Guardian, is important if not remarkable, but its only important because its rare.(3) As panic spreads throughout the world’s stock markets she is a useful symbol, keeping up the appearances of continuity and stability to stave off growing lack of confidence in the government’s austerity programme.

  1. There is no real or rational meaning in the state orchestrated worship of the Queen,(4) but that’s not the point. It’s a state religion bringing magic and glamour to transform the harsh reality of job cuts, benefit cuts, pension cuts and wage cuts into an emotional communal feeling of togetherness. However, there is a negativity or fearfulness in all this spirituality. What is the alternative to the carefully crafted tradition of the Windsor Family? It could be something worse.(5) Although the worship of state leaders was historically similar in Russia, China and in the present, North Korea; that is seen as state propaganda, whereas in Britain it’s the Queen’s assumed decency and general niceness which is venerated. It’s for a person not the state. This is mystical, she is obviously at the apex of the state.

    Appearances notwithstanding, the crown estates are not above shameless profiteering, far from it. Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of the crown estates, has put the spectacular rise in property revenues from the estate down to entrepreneurial flair in the neo liberal market place. Rents have soared in Regent Street and other lucrative property. This has substantially boosted the Queens private Fortune.(6) She personally owns Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Balmoral estate. The unemployed from Bristol who were bussed into London to work for nothing, to steward the Royal Pageant, some of whom were left to sleep under London Bridge, own nothing but their ability to work.(7)

    Andrew Marr claims he was a republican, but from observing the hard work of the Queen, he is no longer a republican.(8) But what work is this? She has an army of servants and the nature of the work is never specified. How would she know she was on holiday? The royal yacht Britannia was an ocean going liner, which took the queen all over the world, especially in winter. Well, she had to get away from all that hard boring work, don’t we all? She could be one of us if you don’t think about it. But do think about it, having to wine and dine with all those important dignitaries in all those grand places? Nice work if you can get it. The most those unpaid Bristol stewards can hope for is some paid temporary employment at the Olympics. Another state event to help make us feel great as the great economic depression deepens. But why spoil the jubilee party? Why be a communist kill joy? Let’s celebrate. But it is not simply a party or a celebration. It’s celebrating the Queen: Sixty years personifying the state as the head of the British imperialist army and their barbaric wars. It was difficult to escape from the Royal pantomime, even when I went into my local pub where there is no TV. The pump clips on the real ale carried the union flag, the crown or an image of the queen. Except one obviously brewed by a republican, which had what looked like a toad in royal gowns getting soaked in the rain, with the words “A long reign”. And a good beer it was-but then again, I was celebrating being off work.

    Notes
    1 David Hare, The Guardian 2/06/12
    2 Max Hastings, Financial Times 2/06/12
    3 The Guardian Editorial 02/06/12
    4 Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr show 3/06/12
    5 Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, 1988, Picador London.
    6 The Financial Times 02/06/12
    7 The Guardian 04/06/12
    8 Andrew Marr, The Andrew Marr Show 03/06/12

    (This article first appeared in the commune at:- http://thecommune.co.uk/2012/06/05/the-queen-floating-in-the-stink/#more-8001)

    _____________________

    also see GREAT FROCK ‘N’ ROBE SWINDLE on:-

    frocknrobe.com 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


May 18 2012

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM DEBATE, Part 3


This section of our continuing debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum addresses the British Left.

The commune asked Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot to submit an article on the issue. This article, The Scottish Independence Referendum, appeared in the April, 2012 issue of the commune.

Barry Biddulph replied to this in the June issue with The Paradox of Nationalism as Internationalism from Below.

Allan and Bob provide a detailed critique, The Paradox of ‘Non-nationalist’ British Left Unionism.

These three articles are posted below.

They are followed by three articles from other representatives of the British Left – Arthur Bough (Boffy’s Blog), Stuart King (Permanent Revolution) and James Turley (CPGB-Weekly Worker) outlining their own distinct positions on the referendum debate. This is followed by a short critique by Allan Armstrong.

_____________________________________

 

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

To better understand our approach to this issue it is useful, by way of a preamble, to provide a thumbnail sketch of our understanding of the international context.

The modern form of capitalism is a developed imperialism dominated by the United States. US imperialism relies on a series of local allies at strategic locations around the world.  In western Europe the USA’s main ally is the UK state, which thereby provides a linchpin for the whole system.

In this context we see our role as communists to work towards the transformation of the existing states on these islands into becoming part of a federation of European socialist republics in a transition to a stateless world – a global commune.

At present we perceive a series of fault lines that run through the multinational, but unionist, UK state, especially the issue of a united Ireland and self-determination for Scotland.  We have developed a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’ to link the situation we face in Scotland, the UK and Ireland with the global struggle for emancipation and liberation. We promote the ‘break up of the UK state’ as a key tactic in pursuing this.  It is from this perspective, as communists, republicans and internationalists that we support the struggle for an independent Scotland.  We are not Scottish nationalists but Scottish internationalists seeking new forms of unity, which are not a mere reflection of how the ruling class or the British Left organises itself. We need to be able to take our own initiatives, not just react to those of others.

 

Independence-Lite or Devo-Max?

So how does the Republican Communist Network view the SNP and the forthcoming referendum?  Well, we summarise their relationship to the struggle for independence as analogous to that between the old Labour party and Socialism, i.e. opportunist.  The SNP reflects a small business, petty bourgeoisie outlook that seeks greater influence for its class backers within the existing corporate imperial order, i.e. ‘Independence-Lite’. Such a state, very unlikely to come about in the current political climate, would be a ‘Scottish Free State’, with a similar character to the Irish Free State, formed after the defeat of Irish Republicans in the British-promoted Irish Civil War of 1922-3. At present, however, many of the SNP’s business backers, naturally cautious about any radical political change and understanding of their lowly position in the current imperial pecking order, would settle for a restructured UK state, i.e. Devo-Max.

The SNP’s left wing consists of advanced nationalists, republicans and some who would call themselves socialists, although the majority of their left wing decamped into the SSP in its early days (though many have since returned). The SNP’s electoral base is politically broad ranging from social democrats seeking a home to the left of Labour to far right nationalists advocating some kind of Celtic purity.

Given this character the SNP leadership is keen to placate and charm corporate business leaders, the Scottish Establishment, the  British and US ruling classes – hence the retention of the UK monarchy (and more importantly the Crown Powers), the pound sterling and cooperation with the UK state over defence, foreign policy etc. They are particularly proud of the role played by Scottish regiments in serving British imperial needs for centuries.

In contrast the SNP leadership is fearful of rousing the people of Scotland and in particular the working class, in which they have shallow roots, in any active independence campaign. With the Labour Party having moved so far to the right, they have found an electoral niche. To appeal to Scottish workers, they make election ‘promises’ of traditional social democratic-type reforms. But these promises quickly evaporate whenever the capitalist class, including its Scottish SNP supporters, e.g. Sir Tom Farmer, call for greater austerity. The SNP’s role in Scottish government, and in many local councils, shows that they are quite prepared to administer Westminster cuts. They are also willing to privatise services and enforce major pay cuts, as the case of the Edinburgh street cleaners has shown.

 

The role of Communists, Socialists and Republican Democrats

Our role then is to initiate or participate in campaigns that raise the issue of the social and political character of such an independent Scotland, specifically raising the issues listed in the Declaration of Calton Hill and developing these as part of a specifically republican socialist campaign to reshape Scotland and hence the UK, along with partitioned Ireland.

In order to do this we will need allies beyond the borders of Scotland, in the rest of the UK and Ireland in particular, but also in the EU and across the world. We have already started this process by initiating the Republican Socialist Convention, drawing together socialist republicans, and communists from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (North and South).  We hope to organise another later this year.

Should an independent Scottish republic be torn out of the UK state we believe that this will weaken it, and the current US dominated imperial order, inspiring others to join us in delivering the fatal blow.  Such an event would be celebrated by all those consciously active in the cause of suffering humanity across the world.

 Allan Armstrong & Bob Goupillot (Republican Communist Network)

 

__________________________________

THE PARADOX OF NATIONALISM AS INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

In their own words, Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network (RCN)  “are not in the business of trying to create an economically independent Scottish state, either under capitalism or socialism” (see part 3 of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View” at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/ They want to create a new global order. Yet their starting point for a communist transition is a national territorial framework in general, as they acknowledge, and Scotland in particular. But they argue that they are not nationalists, but internationalists with a strategy of internationalism from below, in which small nation nationalism can be transformed into internationalism. This is a rhetorical paradox. What is their tactical and strategic standpoint?

Bob and Allan locate themselves, not directly on capitalist crisis and class antagonism, but indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of anti imperialism. To prepare for revolution directly would be simply propaganda for the Comrades, so the RCN look for political weaknesses to undermine the British State. Scottish independence would break up the British state and weaken the USA, the major imperialist power;  since Britain, is its main political ally. This tactical stance is based on an analogy with the political support of Marx and Engels for various national movements against reactionary Russia in the mid Nineteenth century. Another influence is John Maclean’s politics of breaking up Britain and its Empire shortly after the First World War.  This shows the RCN that nationalism can be progressive, even proletarian, without having any illusions that it can overthrow capitalism, just like trade unions can be progressive and undermine capitalism, short of revolution. But in any case, they have a conviction in the right of Scotland as a nation to self determination.

Firstly, for the RCN to tactically stand on the ground of anti imperialism begs the question of what do they really stand for? Anti imperialism is not sufficient in itself for communists. What do the RCN support? In Allan’s view, oulined recently in a response to Eric Chester at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/, to restrict oneself to communist principles would be abstract propagandism. That is Allan’s maximum programme. But in the here and now the RCN seek real leverage in high politics. Any kind of Scottish State would be a step forward, even Independence-Lite with the Scottish state sharing the Monarchy, Sterling, a banking sector, and the British army. Why would it be a real step forward? It would be anti unionist and weaken the Labour Party, Lib Dems and the BNP. This is a lesser evil argument. But there is a conviction that independence for Scotland would be a gain for the working class, in its own right, and begin to democratise the capitalist state in Scotland. While Scottish independence is considered strong the working class is considered to be weak, so Allan considers the only realistic battle can be on the terrain of SNP constitutionalism. This does reveal the narrow focus on democratising the state in the RCN’s practical politics .

But in the context of the great recession or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crisis why would class struggle be refracted through constitutionalism? Most of the RCN theorising appears to have elaborated prior to the crisis or do not make the crisis central to their politics. But an independent Scottish state would  not be independent of global capitalism. Its independence would be nominal especially if there is a shared currency and banking sector. If Scotland applied for membership of the EU, again the state would have to toe the neo-liberal line. Scottish Nationalists can no longer point to an arc of prosperous small nations such as Iceland and Ireland. The powerlessness of the Greek government for its finances shows the hollowness of national independence. What will be the effects on the working class in Scotland of a small capitalist state fighting for economic survival. It will be a race to the bottom for working class living standards as corporation tax is cut. In any case there is no abstract right to self determination and Scotland has not been an oppressed nation as any comparison with the history of Ireland demonstrates.

Analogy is a weak form of theorising; but the analogy comparing American and British Imperialism with the empires of the Habsburgs and the Romanovs and the tactics of Marx and Engels, does not stand up. The lesson of the 1848 springtime of peoples was that the bourgeois were not revolutionary and the future was not national democratic revolution led by Bourgeois modernisers. Marx was in favour of German unity, but that unity was imposed by counter revolution from above by Bismark under the hegmony of Prussia. Marx tactically focused on the threat of semi feudal Russia to capitalist development and the embryo of a workers movement in Europe, not states that embody the most advanced forms of capitalism. This focus missed the growing antagonism between German and British capitalist imperialism which resulted in world war. Marx’s tactics on national movements are debatable. They rapidly became dated and were used out of a specific context – something Allan is also guilty of –  by the leaders of German Social Democracy to justify Germany’s so called civilising mission in the First World War. There was no argument by Marx for a genaral right to self determination, even for Poland. And Marx and Engels generally supported large units not small breakaways. Again, some of the arguments of Engels paticularly on non historic nations were, to say the least, dubious.

The analogy with John Maclean’s break up of Britain is no better. John Maclean stood for a Scottish Workers Republic and nothing less. Any strategy of phases or a constitutional road to a classless society would have been anathema to him.  While the future leaders of the CPBG focused on the practical politics of trade unionism or calling for peace, John Maclean was the only significant workers leader preparing for international revolution during the First World War. This cannot be dismissed as abstract propagandism. Rather than look for changes in the state, or focus on a narrow view of what might be possible, John Maclean looked to street meetings and economic classes to prepare for a Petrograd in Scotland. But Maclean was marginalised by Theodore Rothstein during the formation of the CPGB. But in any case, even though Willie Gallagher, Harry Pollitt and Rothstein proclaimed themselves revolutionary, Maclean knew from personal experience their tactics and strategy were far from revolutionary. Even if he joined he would have been expelled for independence of mind, like Sylvia Pankhurst.  So Scotland must lead itself in the context of what he expected to be a war between Britain and the USA over economic competition. With Scottish workers considered to be in advance of their English comrades, Scotland could follow the example of Ireland and fight to break away from Britain and help bring down the Empire.

Lenin also thought that the break down of Empires by Nationalism and Nationalists would clear the way to Socialism and Communism. Historically his critics have been proved correct. Attempting to link the national struggle with the workers cause resulted in historical defeats for workers movements. But Maclean did not theoretically link nationalism with the workers cause, unlike James Connolly, who did conflate Labour’s cause with nationalism. He considered the origins and rise of private property in Ireland was caused by an English invasion of Ireland; contrary to Marx and more importantly modern research.  But Maclean did seem to uncritically absorb aspects of Scottish identity. There were scattered comments such as: “don’t let Scottish lads fight for john Bull”; “We are justified in utilising our Scottish sentiments”; “the primitive communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis”. And so on. But the clans were more primitive feudalism. Although national sentiments in Scotland were growing in Maclean’s time, Scottish workers joined their English and Welsh comrades in the British Trade Union Movement and the  Labour Party, which CPGB helped to establish at a local level. Maclean tried, but failed to break this reformist mold.

Today, Scottish nationalism is on the rise again, with the decline of British Imperialism and Capitalism and the dismantling of the “welfare state”. Although polls suggest that support for Scottish independence is still minority politics. And the failure to win Glasgow in the recent local elections shows the high tide of nationalism might be ebbing. To criticise the SNP for not arousing the workers for Scottish independence, as the RCN do, or vote for Scottish independence even on a capitalist basis, seems to be more than engaging with nationalism. Voting for independence or critical support for a SNP referendum can only serve to help tie the working class to nationalism and the future of a capitalist state. Alex Salmond in alliance with Rupert Murdoch. It would weaken the working class not capitalism. Scottish identity was formed at the same time as Britishness. Scottish upper class people were at the heart of the British Empire as troops and politicians and at the top of the British Parliament in London. To say Scotland is oppressed because there is not a constitutional right to secede from the British state, as Allan does, is a utopian or constitutional view of revolution. To echo a critic of Karl Kautsky: a high politics road will not be a different route to the same destination – communism, but a track to a different destination.

Barry Biddulph, May 6th 2012

 

__________________________

THE PARADOX OF ‘NON-NATIONALIST’ LEFT BRITISH UNIONISM

 

i)            Introduction

Barry’s reply, The Paradox of Nationalism as Internationalism from Below, to our article, The Scottish Independence Referendum [1], is a further contribution to the debate over the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, which the editor of the commune asked us to start off [2]. We are pleased that Barry has responded so quickly. There has been an undoubted frustration shown by some members of the commune about the organisation’s inability to intervene effectively in the growing class struggles precipitated by the ongoing capitalist crisis. However, we think a significant role that the commune can play is to encourage clarity of thinking amongst communists, as these struggles develop and manifest themselves in different forms.

The issue of national self-determination was first debated by the RCN and members of the commune at the second Global Commune event [3]. With the election of an SNP majority government to Holyrood, in May 5th 2011, this has become a more pressing issue in the UK. The SNP government is proposing to organise a Scottish independence referendum in 2014. This opens up the possibility of a constitutional crisis. We will argue that this just one aspect of the deepening crisis facing the corporate capitalist imperial order [4].

Barry, however, argues that struggles for national self-determination can not lead anywhere but to further defeats for the working class and to victories for capitalism [5]. He does not support the right of self-determination for Scotland, or for any other nation for that matter. The RCN has already written a critique of the type of arguments used in the first of these propositions [6]; whilst Allan has dealt with Barry’s attitude towards the ‘right to self-determination’, and calling for rights under capitalism in an earlier debate [7].

 

 ii)             No oppression in Scotland and no Scottish self-determination?

Yet, despite repeating some arguments that RCN members have been already answered, Barry does add some new material, which means the debate can be further advanced.  Thus, as a back-up to his dismissal of the right of self-determination, Barry states that “Scottish identity was formed at the same time as Britishness [8]. Scottish upper class people were at the heart of the British Empire as troops and politicians and at the top of the British Parliament in London.”

We think that what Barry is suggesting here is that Scotland can not be seen as a potentially independent nation anyhow, since a Scottish national identity only emerged within the British state. One problem with his argument is that the first part of it could be said, with even more reason, of both Ireland and India.  Whilst the second part is also true of Ireland. The majority of ‘nations’, in the world, which went on to become independent states, have probably been formed in the context of empire or union [9]. Indeed, it is precisely this experience that has led so many national movements to fight for self-determination.

Barry supplements this argument with another frequently used on the British Left. “Scotland has not been an oppressed nation as any comparison with the history of Ireland shows.” Using the same argument about relative oppression, you could say that, for the last eighty years Ireland has not been an oppressed nation either as any comparison with Palestine shows. The RCN has already dealt with this type of argument over degrees of oppression, and the common Left conflation of oppression and repression, in our debates within the commune [10].

The RCN has defined oppression as the denial of democratic rights. In the case of Scotland this takes the form of the lack of a constitutional right to secede from UK state. Barry somewhat mysteriously dismisses this “as a utopian or constitutional view of the revolution.” This particular instance of the denial of democratic rights is a fact stemming from the existence of the UK state, not from any “utopian or constitutional view of revolution.” It ranks alongside other facts such as the UK state’s constitutional ability, under the Crown Powers, to depose elected governments (e.g. that of Gough Whitlam’s Australian Labour Party in 1975), or to evict the Diego Garcia islanders (1968-73). Whether a particular example of UK state behaviour, under the Crown Powers, produces serious opposition, a constitutional crisis, or even contributes to a revolutionary situation can not be pre-determined. However to dismiss any communist support for opposition on the grounds of this being “utopian”, seems to be a sure fire way of letting the British ruling class and its UK state ignore challenges to their rule.

Now, looking around the world today, the RCN would be amongst the first to agree that on the scale of oppression (and particularly repression) found internationally, Scotland does not figure very high on any list. What gives the seemingly modest demand for the exercise of Scottish self-determination a much greater significance is the likely reaction of a British ruling class, desperate to maintain its imperial profile in the world. For a declining imperial power like the UK, any perceived threat to its rule provokes a way-over-the-top response. It was not the demand for the withdrawal of British troops and a united Ireland that led to Bloody Sunday in 1972, but the demand for civil rights in a Northern Ireland within the UK.

It can not be determined, in advance, whether the UK state’s response to the demand for Scottish independence will create a deep constitutional crisis, or give rise to a revolutionary situation. However, already the public reaction of British politicians and other figures, to even the prospect of a referendum on the issue, has often been near hysterical. Given the fact that the British ruling class is almost unanimously opposed to Scottish independence, you can be sure that resort to those hidden measures constitutionally sanctioned under the Crown Powers, are already being quietly prepared.

Furthermore, the situation will not be determined solely by events in the UK, but by the widening class antagonisms emerging from the current international crisis of capitalism. However, we would like to think that the Left throughout these islands is better prepared than it turned out to be in Northern Ireland in 1969 [11].

 

iii)            Capitalist crisis – just economic or political too?

Barry then goes on to introduce some other arguments. He claims that, “Bob and Allan locate themselves, not directly on capitalist crisis and class antagonism, but indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of imperialism”. For Barry there seems to be no direct connection between these. Therefore, he raises the important question of what is meant by capitalist crisis and class antagonism and how, or if, these can be related to these “fault lines of imperialism”. If we wish to advance this debate further still, then we need to account for the differences between Barry’s own thinking and our theory. To comprehend our understanding of the significance of national democratic struggle, you first need to examine our theory of capitalism and imperialism.

Our own view of capitalism begins by seeing it as system of both exploitation (the extraction of surplus value through the imposition of wage slavery) and oppression [12] (utilising a distinctive form of state to maintain a system of generalised wage slavery). We have argued this before in the commune [13], using an article by another non-RCN member, to illustrate our theory [14].

“Only the development of capital as a social relationship… brings about the separation of the political sphere from the economic… This makes the capitalist form of class exploitation different from the previous ones… A feudal lord… disposed of both… ‘economic’ and ‘legal’ power.”

We then went on to explain:-

“It is this understanding of capitalism, with its distinct ‘economic’ and ‘political’ spheres, through which exploitation and oppression are enforced, which also informs the RCN’s thinking.  The contradictions, which arise from capitalist exploitation and oppression, produce class struggles in both the economic and the political spheres of capitalism… Workers experience exploitation in the workplace, and oppression both in our workplaces and outside in our communities. Furthermore, others face oppression too – women, gay men and lesbians, certain nations, ethnic groups and religious minorities. All of these groups are class-divided, with a considerable proportion belonging to the working class.

Exploitation and oppression are rarely meekly accepted. There is nearly always resistance, either passive or active. Sometimes resistance takes ineffective or counter-productive forms – escapism, sectionalism, or various forms of chauvinism directed against others. It is the job of communists to push for resistance, which takes effective forms through class struggle, practical solidarity – including internationally, and most importantly, through the creation of independent class organisations.

When resistance to exploitation is targeted at capitalists, it usually takes the form of industrial struggles around immediate economic demands – e.g. better wages, improved conditions, defence of jobs, etc. When resistance to oppression is targeted at the state, it takes the form of political struggles around immediate democratic demands – e.g. the ending of anti-union laws, for abortion on demand, equal rights for women, gay men and lesbians, removal of occupying troops, etc.

Once you acknowledge that the division of capitalism into economic and political spheres produces both exploitation and oppression, which each give rise to resistance, then it is much easier to appreciate the significance of political struggles around immediate democratic, including national democratic, demands.”

Thus, the RCN sees a whole number of class antagonisms extending across that economic and political divide specific to capitalism. We have provided examples of resistance arising from these class antagonisms in the economic (e.g. industrial struggles) and political (e.g. democratic struggles) spheres [15]. Our comparisons between such struggles are something Barry might dismiss as making “analogies”. Barry does not like “analogies”. However, Barry’s own reply ignores the prior theory we had already outlined, which is summarised above. Thus, whilst we should always be aware of the limits of analogies, the examples given were not a substitute for providing a theory. They were given as illustrations of our theory of capitalism and its class antagonisms, which had been provided beforehand.

Nor does Barry really explain what he means by “Allan and Bob directly locat{ing} themselves not on capitalist crisis…” Perhaps what Barry is suggesting that today’s capitalist crisis has come about through a combination of the unfolding Credit Crunch, which has revealed the capitalist class’s inability to restore profitability; and the struggles that workers have been undertaking in response to this. We agree that these two features have contributed very significantly to the current phase of the capitalist crisis [16]. Yet the RCN still sees the ongoing capitalist crisis taking wider and deeper forms than the undoubtedly significant economic problems the system undoubtedly faces at present.

To move this particular part of the debate forward in a more positive way, Barry needs to outline his own understanding of what constitutes capitalism, its recent dynamic [17], and the resulting class antagonisms leading to the ongoing capitalist crisis (or point us to sources where it can be found).

 

iv) What do we mean by imperialism today?

In the second part of Barry’s sentence, concerning our alleged neglect of capitalist crisis (in reality, as we have just shown, a different understanding of all the forms of the present crisis), he criticises the RCN for concentrating “indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of imperialism.”  The RCN has already characterised the present stage of capitalism as corporate capitalist imperialism. We do not see the contradiction between capitalist crisis and imperialist crisis that Barry seems to imply above.

Now, there are two well-known Marxist theoreticians, who do make a strong distinction between the current global capitalist order (which they confusingly term ‘Empire’) and imperialism. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have argued in their book, Empire, that there is no longer any imperialism. Instead, the global multitude (in effect, the international working class) now directly confronts global capital (which has no national base). This view, whatever its failings [18], at least provides a theoretical underpinning to oppose struggles for national self-determination.

So, let us further develop our understanding of the development of the current imperialist phase of capitalism. Sam Gindis and Leo Panitch have provided a convincing theory of this in The Making of Global Capital. They do not see global capital rolling itself out uniformly over the world, following a compelling inner logic imposed by the alienated categories of capital [19]. They see the current world order as having come about through specific class struggles conducted within a hierarchically structured (i.e. imperialist) world of states, in which US corporate capital and the US imperial state work together and are dominant.

Somewhat confusingly, Barry does argue, a little later on, that, “Anti-imperialism is not sufficient in itself for communists.” We agree. However, does this not suggest that perhaps imperialism is still an important phenomenon facing us today? This means looking to those “fault lines of imperialism” and understanding the nature of the class antagonisms and resulting class struggles that have arisen from global corporate capitalist exploitation and oppression. These have led to the different forms of resistance we have outlined. Therefore, it is not immediately clear why Barry opposes communists who relate to “the fault lines of imperialism”. We think, though, this is because Barry’s thinking is trapped within certain fixed categories.

 

v)            Fixed categories prevent you from understanding the multi-facetted nature of the current crisis

We have already argued that class antagonisms are not confined to the direct wage/capital relationship at the point of production, or to the problems of capitalist profitability, vital though these are to our understanding. To use an analogy  (sorry Barry!) –  a car (capitalism) certainly does require an engine (surplus value) powered by petrol (our labour power); but there are also many other features that can cause breakdown (crisis)  – including a seriously damaged chassis (the state). This is why class antagonisms and any consequent class struggles appear in both the economic and political realms of the capitalist system. The ongoing capitalist crisis is taking place in a global corporate imperialist order, so these antagonisms and struggles have emerged on many fronts – economic, social, political, cultural and ideological.

Barry’s thinking does not allow him to see this though. He states, “In the context of the great recession or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crises why would class struggle be refracted through constitutionalism?” Our answer to this is – in the context of the great recession, or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crises, how on earth could the class struggle not manifest itself in all the arenas of capitalist control, leading, amongst other things, to a constitutional crisis within the state?

But we can see how Barry avoids this conclusion. He does not use the term ‘constitutional crisis’. This would opens up the possibility of an extra-constitutional challenge, but instead he falls back on his dismissive term ‘constitutionalism’. This attempt, to collapse a particular characteristic, its underlying contradictions and the oppositional challenge into one category, is a recurring feature of Barry’s arguments.

Barry follows this up by criticising the RCN for “more than engaging with nationalism”, in our support of democratic struggles for Scottish self-determination. Here, Barry’s term ‘nationalism’ [20] is another example of his use of fixed categories. ‘Nationalism’ is also used very widely on the British Left, without a hint of self-irony, to stigmatise any democratic demand for Scottish independence.

Others on the Left have dismissed the struggle for women’s emancipation (which could also be characterised as women’s self-determination) as ‘bourgeois feminism’. Now certainly, nationalists (both bourgeois and petty bourgeois) and bourgeois feminists will try to place themselves at the head of these respective struggles against oppression and emancipation [21].  Trade union bureaucrats also try to place themselves at the head of workers’ struggles on the economic front. We could even designate those current advocates of ‘social partnership’ as ‘bourgeois syndicalists’ (although the old IWW term ‘labour fakirs’ is undoubtedly better). However, communists should not throw out the baby with the bath water, but relate to all partial struggles against exploitation and oppression. We need to show how these are linked, and how human emancipation and liberation can only come about in a generalised struggle for a global commune.

Furthermore, when Barry dismisses any democratic struggle as mere ‘constitutionalism’, it is a bit like having to argue with those academic managerial theorists who dismiss workers’ strike actions as nothing more than a problem of ‘industrial relations’. Yet, when it comes to workplace and immediate economic struggles, Barry is able to comprehend their wider political significance, and to see their potential to bring about independent class organisation.

The RCN, however, does not just view our class as being created, maintained and becoming aware of itself in the workplace and through economic or socio-economic struggles. This seems a rather restricted and economistic view to us. We live, for example, within specific communities and states. We also have a desire to lead more fulfilled lives, not only materially but culturally.  This is why there are so many partial struggles, in so many arenas, involving workers and other oppressed groups. These can also act as ‘schools of struggle’ for a more generalised challenge to capitalist rule.

 

vi)            ‘Revolutionary passivity’ and the Jeremiahs of the Left

Barry also tries to get to grips with what he thinks could happen if Scottish political independence came about. “An independent Scottish state would not be independent of global capitalism. Its independence would be nominal especially if there is a shared currency and banking sector.” And later, ” If Scotland applied for membership of the EU, again the state would have to toe the neo-liberal line. Scottish Nationalists can no longer point to an arc of prosperous small nations such as Iceland and Ireland… What will be the effects on the working class in Scotland of a small capitalist state fighting for economic survival. It will be a race to the bottom for working class living standards as corporation tax is cut.”

Now these are all points that the RCN has already made. Whilst being prepared to participate in partial struggles, including national democratic struggles, we do not argue for a subsequent ‘freezing’ of existing class relations within any new national state; just as we do not argue for the suspension of other forms of class struggle in the preceding struggle for national self determination. Indeed, we see such struggles as supporting and mutually reinforcing each other. We advocate ‘internationalism from below’ to extend independent working class organisation internationally, the better to prepare ourselves for when a revolutionary situation develops, in order to spread the communist challenge to the existing order across the globe.

To illustrate his own position, Barry draws an analogy for Scotland. Yes, even Barry thinks “analogies” can be useful at times! He states that, “The powerlessness of the Greek government for its finances shows the hollowness of national independence” [22]. Now, that would certainly be true for any future SNP or pro-capitalist government in an independent capitalist Scotland. But the formation of any new Scottish state would not be the endpoint for workers in Scotland. There is a strong possibility that we would be confronting a considerably weaker and, as yet, not fully consolidated Scottish ruling class. This would open up new prospects. However, this possibility would depend largely upon the working class mounting its own independent campaign beforehand.

Now, of course, you could join the many Jeremiahs on the Left, who pinpoint the ‘inevitable consequences’, if the SNP achieves its ‘Independence-Lite’ through the Scottish independence referendum. And, if communists stand back and fail to contribute to an independent class campaign, this is certainly a possibility. However, given the current balance of political forces, a more likely result is a victory for British Unionism and its allies – but then the British Left does prefer to deal with what is familiar to it. The many years of Left retreat have led to growing pessimism and ‘revolutionary passivity’. Instead, some reassurance is often sought in making self-fulfilling prophecies.

Furthermore, what is not clear from Barry’s analogy is whether or not the Greek working class should ever take power on a national basis. A failure to do so would be a sure recipe to encourage passivity and allow others to impose their own ‘solutions’ on Greece. If though, you support an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy, then you would hope to see Greek workers taking power [23], and to use this as a base to spread the revolution internationally.

 

vii)            The class contested nature of the demand for Scottish self-determination

The RCN has argued that a major aspect of the current constitutional crisis in the UK is the British ruling class’s inability to satisfy the demand for national self-determination. Furthermore, we have also emphasised that the SNP government will face considerable problems satisfying this demand too. To do this effectively would take far more fundamental changes than the SNP’s leaders could ever contemplate. This is why the wider demand for national self-determination can not just be written off as simply an SNP ‘con’, or be viewed as mere ‘nationalism’. The RCN rejects the argument [24] that only sees struggles for national self-determination as conflicts between existing and wannabe ruling classes, or their political representatives – the British Unionist parties and the SNP, in the UK case.

The RCN has certainly long  highlighted how the SNP, in its attempt to place itself at the head of the struggle for Scottish self-determination, continues to accept the continued role of global corporate capital, the US/UK imperial alliance, the UK state’s Crown Powers, and the need to discipline the working class, including acceptance of the need to impose austerity measures in the face of the present economic crisis [25]. This is because the SNP leadership is desperate to create a wannabe Scottish ruling class, which needs constant reassuring that their interests that will remain paramount. Yet, the demand for more effective Scottish self-determination goes wider than the SNP. Even amongst many of its supporters, this is coupled to a very different vision of the future, compared to that of the SNP leadership and any wannabe Scottish ruling class backers.

However, Barry has decided to interpret the RCN’s thinking over this as amounting to “criticism {of} the SNP for not arousing the workers for Scottish independence… or {to} vote for Scottish independence even on a capitalist basis”. Now, the first part of this is another one of Barry’s straw men arguments [26], without any supporting quotes. The RCN has instead argued against those on the Left, who want a campaign to pressure the SNP into mounting a more effective campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. Such a campaign could prompt the SNP to make some more social democratic promises. However, these would have as little substance as all those other promises they have already ditched in government, at the behest of their big business backers. More likely, though, the SNP leadership could cynically use Left Nationalists to try to persuade enough workers that “things can only get better” after ‘independence’ [27]. In the meantime we should just ignore our own immediate needs, and confine our activity to placing an ‘X’ on the referendum ballot paper!

Therefore, our criticisms of the SNP (and their Left nationalist apologists) are addressed to the working class and to the Left, in order that we can act independently of the nationalists and develop the struggle for Scottish self-determination along a socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ path.

The second part of Barry’s argument, ruling out such democratic struggles, because they do not replace capitalism, flows from what appears to be a kind of economistic split in his thinking. This has been already hinted at by his limited notion of the extent of the class antagonisms resulting from the current crisis.

Thus, Barry’s stance allows him to promote or defend certain economic reforms or gains under capitalism (e.g. over wages and conditions), whilst he stubbornly resists any political reforms whilst capitalism remains. The immediate practical demand for the abolition of ‘wage slavery’ can be delayed, whilst we conduct our economic struggles, because we are not in the revolutionary situation, which could allow this (and here we would agree with Barry); but political struggles, with aims short of the overthrow of the capitalist state have to be vehemently opposed (which is where we disagree). At least the SPGB, which opposes all “palliatives” short of the abolition of money, is consistent on this.

 

viii)            Relating to all struggles against exploitation and oppression

The underlying question we have to address, when a particular struggle emerges, is whether it is really against exploitation and/or oppression. Then, we have to determine how the struggle can be advanced on a communist basis, i.e. developing independent class organisation and increasing unity across our class [28].

The struggle for greater Scottish self-determination has the ability to undermine the top-down imposed bureaucratic ‘internationalism’ of the British unionist state, with its formidable anti-democratic Crown Powers, at the same time as developing our own independent class organisations on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. For RCN members living in Scotland, this can only be done effectively by also opposing the SNP’s continued attempt to build its own ‘internationalism from above’ alliance of big Scottish business leaders and the global corporations. For they are determined to maintain as much of the machinery of the British state as possible, including the Crown Powers –  albeit draped in tartan.

Achieving meaningful gains can not be guaranteed in advance of any struggle. During revolutionary situations, partial struggles can become more generalised, leading to the possibility of a more fundamental revolutionary challenge. However, even in these  situations,  it is still possible to have ‘counter-revolutions within the revolution’. Those in the lead of a revolution may have intended to bring about wider emancipation and liberation, but either through an inadequate understanding of what they have to deal with, or through being forced back on to the defensive, they end up placing further constraints on the revolution, before finally emerging as a new ruling class themselves. Barry has promised members of the commune his take on the ‘Russian Revolution’ [29]. Hopefully, in the process, he will highlight the ‘counter-revolution in the revolution’.

Barry argues that the “attempts to link the national struggle with the workers cause resulted in historical defeats for workers movements”. As Allan has argued elsewhere, with regard to the followers of Rosa Luxemburg in Poland, and of the Bolsheviks in Finland and Ukraine, so also has the failure to link specific national struggles with the workers’ cause resulted in historical defeats for workers’ movements. Indeed this was one of the contributory causes of ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’ during the ‘Russian Revolution’. Allan has suggested that one of the reasons for this is that the majority of pre-First World War revolutionary Social Democrats and post-war official Communists failed to adopt an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy, which could adequately address the ‘National Question’.

Barry does not seem to appreciate that the criticisms he makes of those trying to link specific national struggles with the workers’ cause, because they failed to sustain any gains or encouraged new forms of inter-state competition, including wars, can also be made of many attempts to link struggles against exploitation with the workers’ cause. Capitalism still rules, and most gains are being snatched away from us. But, once again, the RCN has already addressed this type of argument [30].

 

ix)            Falling back on ‘abstract propaganda’ or fully engaging in the struggles of our class?

And this brings us to another argument used by Barry. “In Allan’s view… to restrict oneself to communist principles would be “abstract propaganda” [31]. Barry provides no direct quote, so let us see what Allan actually said. “What socialist propagandism seeks to do is to win over individuals to small organisations (e.g. SPGB), but is extremely wary of becoming involved in wider campaigns with others who might not agree with all their politics. One thing that socialist propagandists want to be able to say is that they have never betrayed their principles; but that is because they don’t engage in the actual struggles of our class”.

First, the RCN is very much in favour of communist propaganda. We are currently undertaking an organised discussion on how to put across the idea of communism more effectively [32]. Indeed, this is the reason why we co-sponsored the first Global Commune event – ‘What do we mean by Communism?’ [33] – along with the commune, held in Edinburgh on January 16th, 2010. This certainly enthused Barry.

We would go further still. Since one of the main jobs facing communists today is to develop independent organisations for our class, it would be a considerable step forward if, rather than communists just confining ourselves to episodic propaganda, more permanent schools of communist education could be set up – furthering the tradition established by John Maclean.

What Allan meant, though, by “abstract propagandism” is the failure to engage in the actual struggles of our class, around aspects of an Immediate Programme. We can be fairly sure, though, that Barry threw himself into the November 30th 2011 Pensions Strike, rather than dismissing this in advance, because of its obviously limited aims and its even more obviously treacherous leadership. Did Barry condemn the strike because it could not lead to revolution, or failed to place ‘abolish wage slavery’ on its banners? We doubt it. Nor do we think that Barry confined himself to cheering on the strike leaders, asking for more of the same, as the SWP and SP did. Therefore, it is quite possible to become involved in partial struggles in a non-revolutionary situation without going over to the other side. The real issue is what should communists try to achieve in such situations?

 

x)            What are the possibilities in non-revolutionary situations?

So what was possible in this non-revolutionary situation on November 30th? Well, communists could have tried to develop independent organisations for our class [34], and show how this could achieve the type of concerted action that might make some gains, albeit for a limited period unless class struggle developed on a much wider front.

But Barry appears to attack such an approach as believing “trade unions can be progressive and undermine capitalism, short of the revolution”. Once again, the wording is Barry’s, not ours. What we would say is that work within trade unions on a rank and file basis, coupled to militant action, can make limited gains for workers and undermine the position of the bosses. However, unless these struggles become more generalised, and that involves the creation of an ever-widening array of independent class bodies, leading to a revolutionary challenge to the whole capitalist class, then capitalism will recoup any such gains, and in the process break, neutralise or tame our own organisations.

Political polemics can have the effect of exaggerating differences. However, with regard to the socio-economic struggles of the working class, we suspect that Barry’s practical approach would not be very different from our own.

Quite clearly, though, the categories that Barry invokes to dismiss the democratic struggles of our class, do lead to a marked disagreement with us in this regard. Barry writes that for “the RCN nationalism can be progressive, even proletarian, without having any illusions that it can overthrow capitalism”. We know that Barry likes to avoid direct quotes, so it is not surprising that this is not our actual view.

What we would say is that certain national democratic struggles, especially those led by independent working class organisations, can help to remove sources of national oppression and division, and further widen independent working class organisation on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’. And, as in the case of militant action on the economic front, it may also be possible to make some limited democratic reforms, which are of benefit to workers and others. However, as with militant ‘industrial’ action, unless these struggles become more generalised, and are able to replace the capitalist social relations causing exploitation and oppression, then they too will be recouped.

Barry further adds that, “Most of the RCN theorising appears to have been elaborated prior to the crisis or does not make the crisis central to their politics”. The RCN was certainly elaborating a theory of ‘National Question’ for a considerable period before 2008.  However, the subsequent much deeper economic aspect of the crisis, heralded by the initial Credit Crunch, has badly damaged the USA and UK economies and their standing in the world. This deepening crisis has shown little sign of abating. It has helped to undermine the ideological credibility of neo-liberalism [35], which the political leaders of the US and UK (Republican or Democratic; Conservative or New Labour) have promoted for so long. However, the relative decline in these states’ economic positions has led them to resort to even more military force to compensate – hence the never-ending imperial wars. We have integrated the most recent aggravated phase of the capitalist crisis into our thinking.

Yet, as we have seen, Barry seems to hold a more limited view than us of what constitutes the current capitalist crisis. He does not seem to appreciate all the multifaceted class struggles we are confronting today, arising from the class antagonisms the capitalists face whilst trying to maintain their global corporate imperial order [36], including its increasingly stressed political framework.

 

xi)            John Maclean in revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations

It is good to see that Barry has some time for that very important Glasgow-born revolutionary – John Maclean. Barry does make some passing criticisms of Maclean, and more so, of that Edinburgh-born revolutionary James Connolly. It is not the RCN’s intention to create revolutionary idols, beyond challenge, although we would maintain that these two individuals still stand head and shoulders above their British Left contemporaries. Instead, we place ourselves in the tradition of ‘internationalism from below, which they developed to apply to the UK.

However, Barry creates some confusion, when he states that, “Maclean stood for a Scottish Workers Republic, nothing less”. Maclean only arrived at this position in the context of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. Indeed, it was not until the 1919 highpoint of this particular revolutionary wave, following Maclean’s visit to Dublin, where he witnessed the revolutionary potential of national democratic struggle, that he moved decisively to a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy.

During the non-revolutionary period, preceding 1916 [37], Maclean concentrated on providing Marxist education classes to Scottish workers. He was also involved in the everyday activities of the British Socialist Party (BSP) – participating in elections and supporting strikes. Of course, Maclean thought that this political work was still developing the independent working class party needed for the future revolution he passionately believed in. However, when a revolutionary situation did develop, he soon appreciated how wrong he had been about the BSP – and maybe that first initial ‘B’ had something to do with this! Thus, it was only the emergence of the international revolutionary situation that changed Maclean’s political thinking, and led him to promote “a Scottish Workers’ Republic, nothing less.”

The RCN does not make the particular analogy, Barry claims we do, between the non-revolutionary situation we face today and the revolutionary situation Maclean faced between 1919-23. What we would argue, is that the contradictions and tensions within the UK state (and British Empire), highlighted by the situation then, are very likely to reappear in a period of growing crisis. If this led to a new revolutionary situation, then you could attempt to create “a Scottish Workers Republic, nothing less”, coupled to an ‘internationalism from below’ perspective of having “a workers’ republic in every country and a World Council… to knit the various republics into one worldwide social organisation” [38].

Now, just as Barry does not appear to appreciate the political difference between Maclean’s approach before and after the emergence of a revolutionary situation, neither does he see the full significance of the defeat of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, for Maclean’s ‘internationalism from below’ strategy.  The British government was able to contain the developing revolution in Ireland through pogrom-induced Partition in the ‘Six Counties’, and by backing the anti-Republican Irish Free State forces during the Civil War in the ‘26 counties’. It was this, rather than the failure of Maclean (who died in 1923 as the result of his many privations at the hands of the UK state), that turned socialist and official Communist politics firmly down the old Hyndmanite ‘British road to socialism’.

‘The British road to socialism’ took the form of supporting a Labour Party seeking Westminster office, or of the newly founded CPGB, mesmerised by another unionist state – the USSR. The degree to which the most conscious workers abandoned Maclean’s internationalism from below’ break-up of the UK strategy, was the degree to which they accepted British reformism [39]. This political retreat followed the ending of the International Revolutionary Wave. As a result, a ‘British road to socialism’ strategy became hardwired into the British Left. It was not confined to the CPGB, who formally adopted a particular variation for the name of their programme in 1951. The SWP, Militant/SP, AWL and CPGB-Weekly Worker have all adhered to their own versions of a  ‘British road to socialism’ strategy.

 

xii)            The relevance of analogies drawn from Marx and Engels

Barry also highlights the fact that our own theory of the significance of the ‘National Question’ in the UK (which has addressed the situation in Ireland fairly comprehensively too) has focussed for some time on an assessment of the longer-term role of US imperialism and its UK ally in propping up the current global order. And Barry is quite correct in pointing out the historical precedent we make about Marx and Engels’ own understanding of the global order found in their day, and the central role of Tsarist Russia and Hapsburg Austria in upholding it. We do indeed argue that a similar role is currently played by US imperialism and its loyal UK state ally.

Barry is unhappy with this “analogy” and questions Marx and Engels’ understanding of the role of Tsarist Russia in particular. He makes some quite valid points about how the German Social Democratic Right later used Marx and Engels’ earlier reasoning to justify its participation in the imperial slaughter of the First World War. However, the Internationalist Left, which ranged from people like Pannekoek, Luxemburg, Trostky and Lenin to Yurkevich (a Ukrainian ‘internationalism from below’ advocate), was never taken in by such argumentation and strongly opposed it [40].

It is not widely appreciated though, that from the late 1860’s, Marx and Engels changed their previous understanding of the role of Tsarist Russia as the mainstay of reaction. They moved on from their earlier support for what Engels called ‘historic nations’ against those ‘historyless peoples’, whom they saw as allies of Tsarist Russia. In the process, Marx and Engels adopted a more ‘internationalism from below’ approach, and despite what Barry believes, they did begin to support the right of self-determination, or, as it was then styled in the First International, “the right of every people to dispose of itself” [41].

The “analogy” we invoke between the present role of US and British imperialism in upholding the world order, and that of Tsarist Russia and Hapsburg Austria, is confined to the period between 1815 and the late 1860’s. Barry claims that, “This focus missed the growing antagonism between German and British capitalist imperialism which resulted in world war.” However, this was hardly relevant in the period concerned [42].

Of course, our own assessment of the current role of US and British imperialism stands quite independently of this nineteenth century “analogy”. To undermine our stance, Barry would need to challenge our current political assessment of these two state’s roles in the world today, rather than our nineteenth century “analogy”. We invoked this comparison to demonstrate aspects of Marx and Engels’ approach, which we think could still be useful today, provided their context is fully appreciated.

 

xiii)            I’m British – so I can’t be a nationalist!

Lastly, bringing us up to date, Barry takes some heart from “polls {which} suggest that support for Scottish independence in recent events is still minority politics”. This is certainly the case at present, and is likely to remain so given the SNP government’s totally constitutional approach [43], and its desire to appease the Scottish and British establishments and US imperialism.

Barry began his reply by raising the paradox of ‘nationalism as internationalism.’ We have shown that the solution to Barry’s paradox lies in breaking out of his fixed category – ‘nationalism’ – which subsumes national oppression and the democratic struggle against it under the one term. It is certainly very important that we combat nationalism (both as an ideology and practice). Nationalism does either lead to working class disunity, or can see no possible future beyond the continued existence of nation-states. However, once you also examine the class antagonisms which national oppression (and repression) bring about, and the opposition and resistance this leads to, then you begin to appreciate the need for ‘internationalism from below’. You can also see why this is not, as Barry thinks, some variation of nationalism. Instead ‘internationalism from below’ offers a communist strategy that challenges both British unionism and Scottish nationalism, including its Left variants.

Many Left British unionists equate internationalism with the existence of a British Labour Party and British trade unions, or their preferred British Left political organisations. Barry does not take this particular British Left stance, although his comments, without further qualification, concerning Scottish workers joining British political parties and trade unionists, are ambiguous in their political intent.

More worrying, though, is Barry’s next comment that, “the failure {of the SNP} to win Glasgow in the recent local elections shows the high tide of nationalism might be ebbing”. If Scottish independence is indeed only supported by a minority in Scotland, as shown by the vote for the SNP on the May 3rd local elections, then the combined vote of the Labour, Lib-Dem, Tories and UKIP, shows support for British unionism and the UK [44]. Yet here, as with the rest of the British Left, Barry appears not to see British unionism as also being nationalist. This is probably why he thinks that  the ability of British unionism to outvote and contain the SNP’s advance represents the ebbing of nationalism. This is the as yet unresolved paradox in Barry’s own thinking!

But some of us in the RCN were once Left British unionists (we have members who used to be in the Labour Party, CPGB and IS/SWP) – so we are very familiar with the kind of arguments Barry and others use. The fact that we have changed our minds, and have been able to reconnect with the communist tradition of ‘internationalism from below’, which rejects both British and Scottish nationalism, means we are still confident that others can change too.

In the meantime, we thank Barry for giving us this opportunity to further develop our communist case for applying the strategy of ‘internationalism from below’.

Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, 17.5.12


[1]             Barry’s reply also deals with parts of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s  ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View” on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/ and Allan Armstrong replies to Eric Chester on             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

[2]             See Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, communists and scotland’s referendum in the commune, no 29

[3]             This day school was jointly hosted by the RCN and the commune, and held in Edinburgh on May 22nd, 2010 – see Allan Armstrong, The Communist Case for ‘Internationalism from Below’ and David Broder, The Earth is not Flat, and the ensuing discussions involving Allan Armstrong, Clifford Biddulph and Joe Thorne on             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[4]              For our use of this term see 1. Confronting the Jeremiahs of the Left in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View.

[5]             There are others, particularly from an Anarchist background, who would also oppose the right of national self-determination, because it would mean setting up a new state. Anarchists oppose all states on principle. Barry appears to draw some support from such thinking. He has also used arguments found in some Marxist theories on the ‘National Question’. Rosa Luxemburg’s argued that ‘the right of nations’ (or any other ‘rights’, such as the ‘right to work’) is meaningless under capitalism. Bolsheviks such as Georgi Pyatakov and Nicolai Bukharin, and later many Left Communists, went on to develop a neo-Luxemburgist theory, which opposed any struggle for national self-determination, on the grounds that imperialism was now a totally integrated socio-economic and political system, which could not be challenged from a national base.

[6]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section  A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[7]             See Abstract Propaganda or Active Involvement in all Struggles of our Class:- Allan Armstrong replies to Clifford Biddulph’s ‘no nationalist solutions’ on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[8]              True, this argument is good for winding up a certain type of nationalist, who champions the historical continuity of their ‘nation’ back into the mists of time – Calgacus, Kenneth MacAlpine, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, matched of course by Boudicea, Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. For a detailed explanation of the development of the UK state, its constituent nations and national identities see Allan Armstrong, Why we need a Socialist Republican ‘Internationalism from Below’ strategy to address the crisis of the UK State on  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[9]             Other examples of ‘nations’ forming within unions can be found in France where, for example, Algeria was once a department of the French state, whilst a whole host of nations, e.g. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, developed within the Tsarist Empire and Soviet Union.

[10]              See section 4. Orthodox Marxists and the confusion between national oppression and national repression in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[11]             ibid.

[12]             Our exploitation and oppression are mediated through our alienation under capitalism, which takes various forms, with commodity fetishism being prominent. However, this important  aspect of capitalism is not central to the arguments developed here.

[13]              See A5, The significance of the separation of economic and political spheres under capitalism in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[14]              See Oleg Resin, no escape from theory: cuts and the state debate, in the commune, issue 17, also at http://thecommune.co.uk/2010/08/02/no-escape-from-theory-remarks-on-the-movement-against-cuts/#more-5603

[15]               See A.6. The fight against the cuts is important, but leaves us firing only on one (economic) cylinder in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[16]             This theory of the economic aspect of the crisis seems to us a better explanation of what we are currently facing than say the theories provided by Stuart King, a theoretician for Permanent Revolution, and Arthur Bough of Boffy’s Blog, who both deny the existence of  any global capitalist crisis. They see the current troubles as either marking the awkward transition to a reinvigorated global capitalist order, buttressed by the emergence of countries like China, ushering in a new period of growth (King); or reflecting certain Right wing capitalist parties’ incompetence in handling the economic changes needed by large scale capital, despite capitalism entering a new (Kondratieff) wave of unprecedented growth (Bough). Nevertheless, their writings often provide much to think about, and are worth reading.

[17]              Our theory does not see the crisis coming about as the inevitable working out of the alienated categories of capital, but as the result of particular class struggles, conducted on several fronts. David Harvey has outlined such a historical, class struggle-based approach in his History of Neo-liberalism.

[18]             See, for example, John Bellamy Foster, Imperialism and “Empire” in Monthly Review, volume 53, no 7, on http://monthlyreview.org/2001/12/01/imperialism-and-empire

[19]             This is the type of approach that David Harvey also criticises in his History of Neo-liberalism.

[20]             Of course, there is a quite legitimate use of the term – ‘nationalism’. However, it needs to be defined more exactly, and not just used as a catch-all bogeyman word. Nationalism can only  conceive of a world constituted by nation-states (however defined, whether on an ethnic or  multi-ethnic basis). It can not conceive of a future world without nation-states, and often has problems understanding the dynamic of societies before the emergence of nation-states.

Today’s Nationalists seek what they see to be their nation’s rightful place (whatever they think that to be) in an already existing and permanent world order of nation-states. Communist internationalism, or ‘internationalism from below’  accepts that nation-states are a  reality under capitalism, and not merely a bourgeois ideological mystification, that can be dispelled by propaganda. However, to attain a future global commune without nation-states or borders, involves moving beyond capitalism and uprooting the material basis of nation-states, and hence of nationalism. There is also another non-communist tradition of  ‘internationalism from above’, i.e. between national elites.

[21]             And one way to aid them in this is for communists to abstain from participating in struggles for national self-determination.

[22]             The current Troika (EC, ECB and IMF) running of Ireland provides an even closer example of this.

[23]             Their failure to do so at present can hardly be blamed on Greek workers though. They have struggled heroically against the Troika and Greek ruling class’s attempted austerity measures.  But as yet, they can not see much evidence of effective wider international support. There is no Workers’ International, another indication of the current more general absence of  independent workers’ organisation.

[24]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[25]             Here are some examples – sections xv) The wannabe Scottish ruling class and the SNP will cooperate with the British ruling class and big business to prevent any radical break-up of the UK and xvi) The SNP will play their part in upholding the hegemony of US/UK imperial alliance in the global corporate order in Allan Armstrong, Why We Need a Socialist Republican ‘Internationalism from Below’ Strategy to Address the Crisis of the UK State on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[26]            See the section, The difference between nationalism and national struggle, and between  bourgeois ‘internationalism’ and working class internationalism in Abstract propaganda or Active Involvement in All Class struggles – Allan Armstrong replies to Clifford Biddulph’s no nationalist solutions, at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[27]             We seem to remember Left Labour supporters, and their ‘revolutionary’ outriders creating similar illusions in New Labour, back in 1997, in Tony Blair’s ‘Cool Britannia’.

[28]            Even in cases, where workers’ struggles emerge directly from their workplace situation, it does not follow automatically that these increase worker unity, as the ambiguous stance of the Lindsey oil refinery workers’ strikes showed in 2009:- see Mary MacGregor, Brown’s Appeal to Chauvinism on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2009/03/20/browns-appeal-to-british-chauvinism/

[29]             Allan has pointed to the wider national dimension to the struggle in the Tsarist Empire, which the use of the term ‘Russian Revolution’ often disguises. We would also locate this revolutionary process context of the International Revolutionary Wave, triggered off by the Dublin Rising in 1916 and brought to a close by the crushing of the Kronstadt Revolt in 1921.

[30]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the  Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[31]             Barry is referring to Allan Armstrong replies to Eric Chester, in The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 2, at             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

[34]             The RCN had already organised the third Global Commune event in Edinburgh on January  29th, 2011, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?’ – which discussed the possibilities of  creating such independent class organisation on the economic front:- see  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/

[35]             Although, as we have argued within the commune, this has also led to a neo-Keynesian revival, including amongst the Left –  see Allan Armstrong, Beyond Props for capital on http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/08/30/beyond-props-for-capital/#more-3305

[36]              Indeed, we have just skimmed the surface of these contradictions. There is also the question of continued environmental degradation, leading to the possible collapse of vital life-sustaining resources and organic circuits. This aspect of the crisis of global corporate capitalism has been well covered by John Bellamy Foster’s The Ecological Rift – Capitalism’s War on the Earth.

[37]             Maclean, however, was jailed in 1916, and only freed as a result of the demonstrations held in Glasgow in support of the February 1917 Russian Revolution.

[38]             See SWRP Election Manifesto, November 6, 1923 on http://marxists.org/archive/maclean/works/1923-munic.htm

[39]             We have already addressed the issue of the appropriate territorial framework for trade union organisation in Allan Armstrong, Independent Action Requited to Achieve Genuine Workers  Unity in A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers’ Unity not Separatism on  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/04/26/a-reply-to-nick-roger’s-workers-unity-not-separatism/ and in Getting Over the Hee Bee GBs:- An ‘Internationalism from Below’ Critique of the British Left.

[40]            We have also had apologists for Imperialism, such as the late Bill Warren, resorting to selected writings by Marx, whilst a whole swathe of capitalist ideologues and  journalists have more recently invoked Marx’s early writings to justify their support for corporate globalisation.

 [41]             See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/04/26/a-reply-to-alan-johnstone-of-the-spgb-from-allan-armstrong/ now published in the RCN pamphlet, Getting Over the Hee Bee GBs:- An ‘Internationalism from Below’ Critique of the British Left. A fuller account can be found here of Marx and Engels’ changing ideas on the ‘National Question’. The second volume of  Allan Armstrong, Internationalism from Below, subtitled, The World of Nation States and Nationalism between the Communist League and the early Second International (1845-1895),  also addresses these issues in a lot more detail, and an electronic copy is available free on request.

[42]             It would have been very difficult for Marx and Engels to forecast this particular imperial clash in their lifetimes. The British ruling class did not anticipate this either at the time. For a considerable period, UK state diplomatic strategy promoted Prussia/Germany to counter-balance the more immediate perceived imperial threats from Tsarist Russia and France.

[43]              And of course, the UK constitution’s Crown Powers, which the SNP does not challenge, gives the British ruling class access to a whole host of coercive forces, without any public accountability,

[44]             It would need another article (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/31/what-do-the-may-5th-local-election-results-mean-in-scotland/) to assess to what extent the vote for the SNP represented current support for Scottish independence. Furthermore, our cursory comments about the council election results do not mention the Socialist vote (they are split over the issue of  Scottish independence). But, in any case this formed such a small proportion of the total vote  – so all the more credit to Jim Bollan, SSP, who did hold his council seat in West Dunbartonshire.

 

________________________________________

 

Below are three different viewpoints from the British Left on the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.

1) Defend Scottish Rights, Arthur Bough (Boffy’s Blog). This can also be found at:-

http://boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/defend-scottish-democratic-rights.html

2) Scotland: Independence or autonomy, Stuart King, Permanent Revolution, no. 22. This can also be found at:-

 http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/3395

 3) Climax of tartan nationalism, James Turley, CPGB-Weekly WorkerThis can also be found at:-

 http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004691

They all support the right of Scottish self-determination. However, none of these articles supports a ‘Yes’ vote, although they divided over what to recommend.

 

This is followed by a critique of these British Left arguments:-

 4) A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

________________________________________

 

1. Defend Scottish Democratic Rights, Arthur Bough 

 

The Liberal-Tory Government are trying to limit the right of Scots to determine their own future. Like previous British Governments, they are very good at advocating bourgeois democratic freedoms for people in far flung parts of the globe – so long, of course that they were not part of the British Empire, whose subjects were kept in abject slavery – including as recently sending British troops to fight and die for them, but very poor when it comes to allowing those rights to its own citizens. The Scottish people like every other nation has a right to self-determination, including separation from the rest of the UK if they so choose. That is no less a right than many in the Tory Party, or in UKIP or the BNP advocate in relation to Britain leaving the EU. The Scottish people have the right to choose the time, place and manner by which they decide if and when to leave the UK. Cameron and all other British Governments and Parties should keep their nose out of that.

The Scottish people have their own Parliament, and they have a right, to determine the timing and nature of the referendum on leaving the UK, through that Parliament. All British socialists and consistent democrats should insist upon that basic democratic right of the Scottish people, and should insist that the British Government, does not interfere with it in any way. When, Norway and Sweden separated, as Lenin says, the Norwegian Parliament simply passed a resolution saying that it was no longer a part of Sweden. All that should be discussed, after a decision to leave, are the terms of relations between the two sovereign states, and the settlement of outstanding affairs.

But, of course, a Marxist does not desire that Scotland should separate from the rest of Britain, any more than a Marxist desires that the UK separate from the EU, and for the reasons that Lenin sets out. The reality is that, more now than when Lenin was writing, small states are reactionary, and increasingly unviable, just as is the case with small Capitals against large Capitals. In the same way that Marxists are opposed to the break up of Monopolies and Trusts, and see in the latter a progressive development, so too we are against the break up of larger states into smaller states.

Larger Capitals, Monopolies and Trusts, represent a more mature stage of Capital, a step closer to its ultimate demise and replacement with Socialism. They also facilitate within them the collective organisation of the workers, their Co-operative production, the greater planning of output. In other words they begin to presage socialistic production. We do not want workers brought together in such ways to be broken apart, only for the Capitalists once again to be able more easily to divide them against each other. The same is true of the bringing together of workers within larger state structures.

Marxists defend the democratic rights of the Scots in determining their own future. Marxists, however, should argue that the Scottish workers should determine their future within a single British State, within a single European State alongside their British and European comrades, rather than by lining up alongside their own bosses.

 

12.1.12

 

2. Scotland: Independence or autonomy, Stuart King

The globalisation of capital exerts its power across not only nations but continents, and the ability to unite tens of millions of workers in the struggle for socialism across large states is not something to give up lightly. A workers’ movement fragmented and disunited across small states will be no match for international capital.

We are already seeing the whipping up of such disunity by the nationalists on both sides of the border. The SNP declares that the English are “stealing” its oil while the Tories declare the Scots a bunch of subsidised layabouts. Neither English nor Scottish nationalisms are a pretty sight and will be used in this campaign to poison relations between workers.

While we are opposed to independence we are, however, absolutely in favour of the Scottish people having a vote on whether to separate via a referendum if they so wish. Indeed, a question on full independence should have been included alongside the devolution question in 1997.

And if the Scottish people decide in the next few years that they wish to separate from the UK, it will be the duty of all socialists in England and Scotland to support that decision in everyway they can.

As socialists we also favour a high degree of autonomy, for the nations, regions and municipalities throughout the British state. Fighting for genuinely democratic and autonomous local structures, under the direct control of working people, is the best way to weaken the control of a ruling class directing matters from Westminster.

For that reason we are absolutely in favour of “devolution-max”, where the Scottish people are able take control of the ability to tax the rich, introduce social and economic programmes and public works to give unemployed jobs, to direct their economic development themselves and decide whether or not they want military and nuclear bases in their country.

The struggle for socialism and revolution in Britain could only be strengthened by such an outcome for Scotland.

Winter, 2012

 

3. Climax of tartan nationalism, James Turley

 

It is paramount for communists to support the right of Scotland to self-determination, and also to protect the hard-won unity of our class.

Squaring that circle means taking democracy seriously as a political task for the working class; and that means first of all pointing out that this merry dance between the SNP and Westminster is a sick parody of self-determination from beginning to end.

It begins with a referendum, which is in itself a profoundly anti-democratic manoeuvre, the favoured method of rule among Bonapartists, fascists and every other species of crooked demagogue. Inordinate power is granted to he who sets the question, the possible answers and the time and manner of the plebiscite – hence the bun fight between Cameron and Salmond over exactly those matters. It ends either with a sham ‘independence’ which is, in reality, junior membership of the EU, or a sham mandate for the continuation of the blood-soaked union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as presently constituted.

The only appropriate response to such a referendum is a spoilt ballot – combined with serious propaganda for a democratic federal republic in Britain, in which the Scotland and Wales have full national rights, up to and including the right to secession. Our job is not to provide left cover for the break-up of existing states – no matter how far up the imperial food chain they are – but to build the unity of the workers’ movement across all borders, and fight to place the workers’ movement at the vanguard of the struggle for extreme, republican democracy.

19.1.12

____________________________________

 

4. A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

Many on the British Left claim to support the right of Scottish self-determination, but are opposed to any vote for Scottish independence.  However, they differ on what this means in practice.

Thus, Arthur Bough has used his blog [1] to argue that, “Marxists defend the democratic rights of the Scots in determining their own future. Marxists, however, should argue that the Scottish workers should determine their future within a single British State, within a single European State alongside their British and European comrades, rather than by lining up alongside their own bosses.”

To give Bough his due, he does begin his article by calling on “Cameron and all the other British Parliaments {presumably meaning Westminster, Cardiff Bay and Stormont} and Parties to keep their noses out…” (as if!), but his logic would appear to be, Scottish workers should still vote ‘No’.

James Turley for the CPGB – Weekly Worker also supports the right of Scottish self-determination, but argues instead for active abstention.  “The only appropriate response to such a referendum is a spoilt ballot – combined with serious propaganda for a democratic federal republic in Britain, in which the Scotland and Wales have full national rights, up to and including the right to secession” [2]. Given the CPGB’s inability to move beyond propaganda and to successfully implement practical activity over its desire to unite all British (or is that UK) Marxists into one party, highlighted by its dismal performance in the Campaign for a Marxist Party, it is doubtful that their “serious propaganda” will have much impact in Scotland.

Stuart King for Permanent Revolution (PR) also supports the right of Scottish self-determination, but takes a different tack. He argues that,  “While we are opposed to independence… as socialists we also favour a high degree of autonomy… For that reason we are absolutely in favour of “devolution-max” [3].

One problem with this, is that nobody but Stuart has yet argued that “devolution-max” (in effect – UK federalism) allows the “Scottish people to decide… whether or not they want military and nuclear bases in their country.” To achieve this you would need to have, as a minimum, the SNP’s proposed ‘Independence-Lite’. So maybe Stuart will have to change his mind about which option to vote for!

Furthermore, it is not clear whether Stuart would go beyond the CPGB’s “serious propaganda” approach to get his ‘devolution-max’, or whether he would be prepared to join in activity with those, such as former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry Macleish, in pushing for his “devolution-max” option on the ballot paper (something the current SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond, would also like to see).

The key thing uniting Bough, the CPGB and PR is that they see the existence of the UK state as historically progressive (Bough and the CPGB certainly); or at least responsible for creating a united British working class (Bough, CPGB and PR). Therefore, for them, the break-up of the UK could only represent either a historic economic step backwards, or lead to greater disunity amongst the British working class.

Ironically, elsewhere, Bough has argued that the anti-EU policies adopted by the Con-Dem Coalition, as current political representatives of the British ruling class, are more or less guaranteed to lead to further economic retrogression for Britain relative to other capitalist powers, and greater European disunity  [4]. He has also pointed out that significant sections of the British Left, who otherwise share his belief in the historically progressive, British working class unity-promoting role of the UK state and/or the ‘British nation’, have also adopted a profoundly anti-European attitude reflecting the currently dominant reactionary section of the British ruling class. This was highlighted by the CPB’s and SPs’ support for No2EU/Yes to {British} Democracy, with its thinly disguised racist call for ‘No to social dumping’. Not many signs of British progress or greater working class unity there!

When you examine more closely what form all three articles think British working class unity takes, then you soon see the problems of equating the continued existence of the UK state and the ‘British nation’ with greater working class unity. If working class unity is seen to be largely a reflection of, and reaction to, the British ruling class’s UK territorial state, and their creation of a ‘British nation’, then this comes at a very high cost.

British workers’ organisations adopting this framework have long accepted the legitimacy of capitalist social relations and the UK state. Thus, the British Labour Party and the TUC have never sought the abolition of wage slavery, but have accepted a social democratic desire to lift workers from a position of being capitalism’s ‘field slaves’ to being more privileged ‘house slaves’, through the promotion of better wages and conditions (including the state’s social wage). Today, under the conditions of capitalist crisis, this means begging for the UK state to create more wage slaves. This is also true of the British Far Left, with the SWP’s ‘Right to Work’ campaign and the SP’s ‘Youth Fight for Jobs’. They just can not see beyond capitalism, even when it is in severe crisis. They have no notion of building greater socialist unity in Europe beyond the current European Anti-Capitalist Alliance, an essentially electorally focussed body, which now amounts to little more than diplomatic stitch-up between the USFI’s and SWP’s European sections.

Furthermore, the British Labour Party and the TUC have never seriously contested the anti-democratic nature of the UK state with its Crown Powers, whilst they have frequently acquiesced in the maintenance of British imperialism. For, if your aim is to improve wages, then one way of achieving this is to try to maintain ‘your’ state’s position in the imperial pecking order.

In other words, far from the existing UK state and the ruling class’s ‘British nation’ forming a historically necessary building block in the construction of wider international working class unity, in reality they constitute a brick wall, which needs to be broken up.

10.5.12

Here the CPGB recognise “full national rights” for Scotland, which presumably means they have abandoned the position they held at the time of the 1997 Scottish Devolution referendum, when they denied that Scotland was a nation, but claimed that Scots were a particular nationality (ethnic group) living within the ‘British nation’. The CPGB have taken the reactionary implications of exercising self-determination on an ethnic basis, even further  with regard to Ulster Loyalists (termed British-Irish by the CPGB, which would hardly be welcomed by those ‘Ulster’-British Loyalists they hope to woo!). They have raised the possibility of further partition of Ireland, this time of ‘the Six Counties’ – an idea also advocated by sections of the (‘British-Irish’) UDA, only accompanied by ‘nullification’ or ethnic cleansing of Irish Nationalists.

_________________________________

To access the first two sections of the debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum go to:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Apr 16 2012

DEBATING THE POSSIBILITY OF COMMUNISM

11164047_811814648895510_6504832967089246919_n

The current crisis of capitalism has found the majority of the the Left offering neo-Keynesian ‘solutions’ which go no further than attempts to reinvigorate a system that is long past its sell-by date. However, those who try to promote a vision of a new social order to replace capitalism have to confront arguments that ‘There is No Alternative’ – arguments tacitly accepted by most of the Left, whose socialism remains as distant a prospect as the realisation of ‘Clause 4’ did for old Labour.

The RCN, in contrast, argues that the current crisis of capitalism means that the Left  has to provide  a real, viable alternative. Unless we do this, all those struggles, which inevitably occur in response to current ruling class attacks, will be self-limiting in their objectives. They will be either defeated or recuperated unless the exploited and oppressed believe that there is really an alternative way of organising society. The RCN thinks that it is time to retrieve that alternative – communism – and make it relevant once more to today’s world.

The RCN made its initial appeal for such a debate in  Beyond Neo-Keynesian Props for Capital to the Abolition of Wage Slavery, by Allan Armstrong. This article first appeared in the commune ( http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/08/30/beyond-props-for-capital/#more-3305). This  was written in 2009 in response to the developing capitalist crisis heralded by the Credit Crunch.  It contributed to the jointly sponsored first Global Commune event, held  in Edinburgh in January 2011 (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/02/05/report-of-the-first-global-commune-day/).

The RCN intends to publish a pamphlet on ‘What Do We Mean By Communism?. The three articles below represent work-in-progress. Others interested in this debate are welcome to contribute.

__________________________________________________________

IS COMMUNISM POSSIBLE? 

Communism and Human Nature

One of the more common arguments put up in relation to the question ‘Is communism possible?, goes like this: ‘Communism is great in theory but it won’t work in practice’.

The claim is made that ‘human nature’ is such that the altruism and cooperation required would not be forthcoming. In reality, altruism and cooperation are the underlying characteristics of human behaviour.  It appears not to be the case because, ironically, of the perverse and parasitic nature of the very capitalism which claims, for all its faults, to truly embody the essence human nature. It is capitalism that forces competition in place of cooperation. It is capitalism that maintains patriarchy in society, that imposes working practices that are damaging to the development of healthy relationships within families, gives us the ‘rat race’ and the worship of money.

In contrast, it is communistic/cooperative relationships that have always been there in human societies that make living worthwhile. Capitalism is a parasitic economic system that sucks the life force out of us. It is the degree to which we behave in a communistic/cooperative fashion that determines the degree to which we can be human beings.

Let us look at an example from the ‘heart of the capitalist beast’, the USA.  There is a huge gap (as in most countries) between the demand for organs for transplant and their supply. The capitalist ‘solution’ is to increase the price paid to donors until the supply matches demand. Two problems arise. First, those who cannot afford the price die and this is the majority of the population. Second, the majority of voters and, indeed, of capitalists themselves, are opposed on moral grounds to the sale of organs.

Yet hundreds of life-saving organ transplants are carried out every year in the USA. In 2011 an amazing chain [1] involving 60 people allowed 30 lives to be saved through the altruistic donating of kidneys from 30 healthy, living people. Even more amazingly, none of these kidneys were given to a direct relative! It started with a single decision of one man to donate one of his kidneys to an unknown recipient. The recipients’ niece then felt moved to donate one of hers’ in return. Subsequently, 28 more people, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, cousins, mothers-in-law, ex-boyfriends, friends, out of gratitude and altruism, donated a kidney to a complete stranger. The kidneys were given as a gift of life, not a commodity to be sold at a profit. This is communistic living in action in the here and now.  Communism is not a future utopia, it is what sustains us today and helps us survive the distorting, parasitic economic system called capitalism. There are many examples of these human and humanising chains in other spheres of activity where no money exchanges hands, and no exploitation occurs. People with skills and trades cooperate in building each other’s houses and carrying out repairs.

In many early European settlements in the USA the people cooperated in building a schoolhouse and feeding and clothing the teacher. We forget that before capitalism, before feudalism and slavery, and in those parts of the world where these perversions (exploitative forms of social organization) never occurred, communistic/cooperative life styles were the public lifestyles. In most parts of the world today these communistic/cooperative lifestyles have been made invisible. They go under the name of the blood transfusion service, lifeboat and mountain rescue teams, good neighbour schemes, some charity work, and a host of other names that deny their essence.

The reality is that communism as a way of life is very much in existence in the here and now – if it were not for this reality, unfettered capitalism would have surely destroyed us by now. The real question is for how much longer can the underlying and latent communistic strands in our society withstand the destructive force of the capitalist economy?

We are trapped in a mind set schooled into us since birth. The Incas ripped the hearts out of children in a mistaken belief that only this would guarantee the rising of the sun. The children, their parents, the wider family, and society, had no answer to what the priests said so submitted themselves to the sacrifice. Today, we allow the heart to be ripped out of our society in the false belief that we need to ensure that profits will rise again (i.e. there will be another economic revival) because the politicians tells us so and we don’t recognise any alternative.

 

Communism and Abundance

In arguing for communism, one question we often face is, ‘What would a communist society look like?’ One of the many aspects we may consider when answering this question is that of Abundance. We focus on Abundance because, ultimately, if the material basis is not secured there is no sustainable society.

The basis of all societies is their ability to meet the material needs for food and shelter. Through the division of labour the earliest societies were able to build up surpluses which, today under capitalism, along with most of the land are in the control of and are the property of, a ruling class. Under their direction this surplus takes the form of huge military stockpiles, luxury cars, boats, planes and clothing, an ‘entertainment industry’ and the concomitant commoditisation of everything. The utilisation and distribution of resources to meet basic human need does not happen. When we say that communism offers the opportunity to achieve abundance, the common perception will be much distorted for the term will be understood through the refracting prism of capitalist experience and ideology. It will be taken to mean ‘as much as you want of everything you want’.

One reaction to this is Green fascism where, in response to environmental degradation, ‘environmental protection’ legitimises the strict control of human activity and levels of consumption through legal and fiscal controls.  While under capitalist production these controls are necessary, perversely, under capitalism it will be those most in need who suffer the effects of any rationing.  As capitalism continues on with its destructive pursuit of profit, this will lead to further environmental degradation and pollution. Corporations pass on their pollution costs to others – the polluter doesn’t pay.

Furthermore many Greens focus on the issue of overpopulation with their solution resolving down to the control of women’s fertility and their wider lives.  Our view is, on the contrary, the issue of population can only be addressed when women have economic security and control of their fertility.  Greens will increasingly be forced to choose between the socialist road or the fascist road. Those who see humanity at the heart of our environment will choose the former.

Before continuing with the environment and abundance, we should reflect on another dimension to the issue of abundance. Abundance could be understood both as a negative and a positive.  It is the absence of poverty [having sufficient food, heating, housing, etc.] and this could define its material dimension. But abundance implies a more positive presence -‘quality of life’ and emotional security.  It is here that communism might begin to differentiate itself. For quality of life we might address those aspects of the human experience more usually monopolised by religion – an understanding of ourselves individually and socially, a knowledge of ourselves biologically, emotionally and psychologically – for us the ‘spiritual’ dimension to human experience is a very human quality rather than something bestowed upon us by a deity. For us it captures the material fact that we are part of nature.  It incorporates the feeling of connection to other humans and the natural world so very much denied and degraded in the atomised ‘society’ of capitalism.  Do we, as communists, feel embarrassed talking about ‘these human experiences’?

Anthropological studies suggest that under conditions of abundance much of human endeavour involves communicating with others and celebrating life.  Capitalism involves the whittling away of holidays and popular celebrations.

A hugely important dimension to this is human social relationships, how they are distorted under capitalism and how these relationships can be repaired and developed. Perhaps one of the more subversive activities we can advocate in the here and now is to consciously change the way we relate to each other as friends, as families and as work colleagues and for socialists to commit to actually acting in a genuinely comradely manner.

We can act like Communists now. Once everyone does this in a conscious, organised way we will be at or near a communist form of society.  However, there are non-material barriers to this and this is where the insights of psychology/psychotherapy have to be integrated into our understanding and practice despite this being anathema to many on the Left. Such a conscious change would also have to include the lessons to be learned from feminism e.g. that the personal is political and that we can learn to act in an emotionally intelligent manner.  We could travel even further leftfield here and talk about ‘Love’ meaning wanting to share in another’s growth, to promote their wellbeing alongside and as part of your own.  Importantly, Love can be thought of as action orientated i.e. it’s what we do more than what we feel, although ideally the two should be in harmony. This aspect of abundance – an abundance of quality in human relationships – should be one of our most powerful rallying cries.

Again, it is a demand we should make in the here and now and, in fact, is an ever present, communistic/cooperative approach to life that even David Cameron supports (if only he recognised it!).  We should celebrate the example of David Cameron’s attitude to his disabled son.  Mr Cameron, quite rightly wanted the best that society could provide so that his son could have the best quality of life possible.  In this he acted like a Communist.  If we all insisted on this in an organised militant fashion capitalism would crumble overnight.  If Mr Cameron had insisted that his son was not economically viable or belonged to some undesirable sub class of humanity then he would have been acting as a true representative of inhuman Capital.  This example also serves to illustrate the way that the capitalism/communism struggle is not only external but goes on within ourselves. Capitalism colonises our emotions and shapes our desires.  It runs right through us and so does the negation of this – as Cameron’s feelings about his son demonstrate.

Through being more in contact with who and what we actually are, the issues of ‘What is abundance and how can our environment support it?’  begin to resolve themselves. Abundance for a 12 old girl, brought up in a capitalist society, is usually about having the latest mobile phone and clothes, and all the TV, MTV, make-up and chicken burgers you want. Abundance is defined for her by the very TV shows and magazines she ‘wants’ more of and her ‘want’ is fuelled by the ads in them.

People who have attained a level of ‘at-one-ness’ or contentment seem to be free[er] from the compulsion to consume, to surround themselves with ‘things’.

This has nothing to do with vows of poverty. A real understanding of communism requires an emotional maturity toward material possessions.  Capitalism beguiles us with its ‘Mountains of Things’ (from the album ‘Tracy Chapman’).  Real communism is about providing a secure material base (enough) so that we can focus on individual and collective human development, self expression etc.  It’s not about having and possessing. Who really needs 3 houses, 10 TVs and 4 cars?  It’s about freedom from material scarcity, freedom from fear and the freedom to be and become.

Eric Fromm points to this distinction between “To Have or to Be” in his book of that name.  Abundance can be seen as freedom – freedom from cravings that can never be satisfied, freedom from spending enormous amounts of our time earning money to satisfy these cravings. Watch the Channel 4 documentary [2] about Ed Wardle who spent 50 days in the wilds of Alaska living off the land with no human contact. It was an experiment to see how long he could last. At 50 days, through lack of food and lack of human contact, he radioed to be rescued and cried at his ‘failure’. Next day, he looked around the hotel room, at the TV, electric kettle, telephone, the chair saying, ‘There is nothing I want here at all’. He began smiling. He had realised he hadn’t failed; he had learned something enormously important about himself and what his human ‘needs’ were.

Abundance is fundamentally an issue of ownership of time, literally, the time of our life. With time we can reconstruct ourselves, and our society. We have time to talk in social gatherings about what we need, about what we really want and whether the things we want are really worth the price in terms of time, in terms of the environment.

So, Communism involves rebalancing our relationship with the natural world.  We are part of nature, we have co-evolved with planet earth, it is our natural home.  One of the crimes of capitalism is to rip us out of this ‘natural’ relationship and alienate us from our ‘true’ selves (our ‘species being’ as Marx called it).

Because of our social intelligence and technical skills, nature provides for us humans an environment of superabundance but we need to (re) learn how to work with the grain of nature in order to allow this superabundance to be permanently sustainable.

For example this requires organic farming methods and the creation of good quality furnished homes made from renewable/sustainable materials wood, bricks, earth, straw and natural stone.  We can also use plastics/alloys but this needs to be done in an extremely thought out, measured way.

What Communism won’t solve

We also need to be clear that Communism is not a magic wand.  Some existential issues are not solvable e.g. mortality, relationship breakdown, damaging accidents, the ultimate meaning of existence.

We referred earlier to those aspects of the human experience more usually monopolised by religion – an understanding of ourselves individually and socially, a knowledge of ourselves biologically, emotionally and psychologically – for us the ‘spiritual’ dimension to human experience is a very human quality rather than something bestowed upon us by a deity.

Communism and ownership of time would allow us to address these issues and learn how to manage their effects.  It is likely that this would lead to the developments of new social practices, (forms of rituals and celebrations) that help us negotiate these areas of life.

When we look at human history what do we find?  Lo and behold we discover that such rituals were the central heart beat of pre-class societies even one step away from absolute poverty and insecurity, never mind material abundance.

It could be useful, then, to explore the content of the anti-capitalist uprisings led by indigenous peoples in Central and South America.  Surely we have much to learn from these struggles and their 500 years of resistance.

It seems clear from the above that touching on any one aspect of what we think communism has to offer by way of abundance for human kind quickly leads on to a consideration of many others. Abundance in terms of material comfort tempered by a greater self knowledge (i.e., knowing what we need rather than being driven by what we have been made to feel we want) and by greater knowledge of what the environment can support.   Abundance in terms of unstructured time to create the society we want. Abundance in terms of emotional/psychological well being.

So, in response to the question, ‘What would a communist society look like?’, we can say, ‘Imagine you had the time to spend bringing up your kids to be emotionally and psychologically saner and happier, the time to get in touch with yourself in order to find out what ‘things’ you really wanted, the time to think about agreeing and planning what and how much should be grown and manufactured to meet these needs, to think about the bigger questions in life and how our feelings can be given social expression.’

In presenting a vision of Communism through the prism of Abundance, perhaps we can rehabilitate the tarnished image of the hammer and sickle, the union of workers and peasants, by placing them in the hands of lovers strolling in the company of friends and family carrying musical instruments on their way to a gig.

 

Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Iain Robertson, 15.4.12

[1] Report in The Independent, 23 Feb 2012

[2] Alone in the Wild, Ch 4, 2009

 

 ________________________________________

Thoughts on the Transition from Capitalism to a Communist Society

 1.

In its essence, communist consciousness places the priority on the welfare of the entire society over that of any one segment. Furthermore, in making choices that shape society, communist consciousness takes a long-term perspective, not an immediate, short-term one. Of course, capitalist society is premised on the antithesis of this approach. Each individual seeks to get the most for her/himself, and to do so as rapidly as possible. In addition, capitalism encourages those in privileged segments of society seek to extract the most out those who are in less privileged segments. The result of this ethic of individualistic competition has been catastrophic.

Of course, we seek to build class consciousness, that is a working class that sees itself as distinct from and in opposition to the capitalist class, and that comes to see itself as an alternative ruling class replacing the current one. Still, for a working class revolution to lead to a future classless society, class consciousness must lead to a communist consciousness that encompasses a broader vision. Once in power, the working class will have to use the resources available at that time to optimize the long-run welfare of all, acting to benefit people across national boundaries and across generations.

This means ending patriarchy and gender inequalities, and providing for the full and equal participation of women. It means ending ethnic and religious discrimination, or that based on sexual orientation. It means funding the economic development of the entire world, since a socialist society can not move toward communism when huge income inequalities continue to exist around the world. It means diverting resources to creating sustainable sources of energy so that global warming can be reversed and nuclear power rapidly phased out. It means properly funding the income of those retired from the output of those who currently work. It means guaranteeing an adequate income to those who are unable to work. It means treating animals with respect, while ensuring that all species on the planet should be preserved.

We can see a spark of communist consciousness in the willingness of individuals to help other individuals in distress, but a much broader vision needs to be formed as we move toward communism. Even the current acts of sympathy are tainted by charity, that those who give are doing a favor to those who receive. A communist consciousness understands that the world is a seamless whole, and that all of us can only flourish in a new society that fully values everyone.

2

Communism should be viewed as a dynamic transformation, ever changing and ever evolving. Communism is not a fixed goal that once reached means that the social system has reached a static end. Instead, we should view the entire process, from the moment of a successful revolution to the creation of a communist society, as a developing process with distinct, and yet fluidly bounded, phases. Certain goals of a communist society can be fully reached, but others will be goals to be approached, probably to be supplemented by new ones beyond our current imagination.

Each phase has to be consistent with the ones that are to follow. There is nothing inevitable about this process. It is one that can be easily derailed. Thus it is critical that every decision be made in the context of its impact on the future. The earlier phases of the transformation have to be prefigurative, that is features of the earlier phases need to be not only consistent with the future communist society but foreshadow them.

Marx broke down the future society into two periods, socialism and communism. In a socialist society, the working class has become the ruling class. The state continues to exist, while withering away, and the scarcity of goods prevails, thus requiring some link between participation in the workforce and income levels. Socialism is to be followed by communism, a society in which social classes no longer exist, where goods are available to all who need them, and where the state has disappeared. Marx only presented an outline of the evolution of a future society. His two step perspective seems like a reasonable starting point, as long we keep in mind that these are guideposts, that there is no sharp break between the two phases, and that a communist society is constantly evolving, as is a socialist society.

History shows us there is a distinct third period. Initially, when the revolution first succeeds in displacing the capitalist class, there is a period of transition and consolidation. Perhaps we should call this first phase Socialism in Consolidation. This first phase, where a socialist society finds itself threatened by hostile outside powers, where the revolution is still being spread to other countries, and where capitalist forces are still entrenched within aspects of the old society, presents a series of distinct problems and challenges that differ from the two later phases. Again, the decisions made here need to be consistent with, and, indeed, prefigure, the salient features of later phases.

Andrew Kliman (http://thecommune.co.uk/2010/01/08/alternatives-to-capitalism-what-happens-after-the-revolution/) makes a good point in his article on communism in suggesting that this first phase raises the issue of what principles represent the minimum for any type of future society. He proposes that everyone in the workforce on a full-time basis should receive the same pay. This seems to me a valid point but it only begins to address this crucial set of issues.

In thinking of the RCN pamphlet on communism I think we need to focus on the first, consolidation phase of a future society, how we envision it functioning, and how it can sustain itself while moving forward to communism within a hostile global context. All too often, successful revolutions have been followed by a period in which a new elite consolidates power, limits the democratic process, and creates the groundwork for a new privileged class. Of course, we can only place our analysis of the consolidation phase in a prefigurative perspective if we have an idea of the final goal, so I am not suggesting that we ignore the basic guideposts to a fully consolidated socialist society and to a communist society.

This is a lot to cover in one brief pamphlet, but perhaps my comments will facilitate a productive discussion within the RCN.

 Eric Chester, 19.5.12

 

 

_____________________________________


WHY WE NEED A TRULY HUMAN AND DEMOCRATIC COMMUNISM

Introduction

How many people today, even on what remains of the Left, publicly and confidently declare their support for ‘Communism’?  Take just three British organisations, which claim to be key parts of the revolutionary Left – the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Nowhere in their What We Stand For columns is there any mention of communism. If these comrades are communists they are ‘closet communists’.  Looking tentatively out from their closets, with doors slightly ajar, they might whisper to those within hearing distance, that  ‘Communism’ is nothing to get het-up about really. ‘Communism’ can be safely relegated to a distant future. The real task is “to build socialism”. If they make any reference at all to communism, it is confined to in-house events or theoretical journals and has about as much purchase on their everyday politics as ‘Clause 4 Socialism’ had for the reformist Left who led the old British Labour Party.  If Marx hadn’t called himself a communist for most of his life and hadn’t entitled his best-known work, The Communist Manifesto, most of the British revolutionary Left would probably prefer to jettison the term altogether.

 

1. Communism – an outdated and nostalgic label

or a fully human, democratic society

Mention of the word ‘Communism’ conjures up visions of tyrants such as Stalin, Ceausescu, Kim Il Sung and Pol Pot, or grey bureaucrats like Brezhnev, Honecker and Husak. Indeed so discredited has the Communist label become, particularly amongst young people, that even when they clash violently with the representatives of global capitalism’s New World Order, whether in Athens or London, they call their protest ‘anti-capitalist’ not communist.

The experience or knowledge of ‘official’ Communism is now the biggest material factor preventing the recreation of a new human emancipatory alternative to imperialism’s New World Order today. Struggles, continue, like the Arab uprising, on an epic and heroic scale. However, in the absence of any popular vision of an alternative human emancipatory society, most current struggles set themselves self-limiting objectives, which make them easier to defeat, contain or marginalise.  Therefore, although new forms of struggle emerge, the lack of a clear political alternative still leaves them trapped within limits set by bureaucratised trade unions and political parties, clinging on to varying versions of social democracy and nationalism.  This is despite the fact that the material, economic, basis for communism is already with us.

Therefore, if we are to proudly proclaim ourselves as communists, it is vital that we outline a genuine new human emancipatory communism, which takes full stock of the failings of both ‘official’ and ‘dissident Communism’, and which can persuasively show that human liberation can still be achieved. This means a break with both reformist and ‘revolutionary’ social democracy, i.e. social democracy calling itself Communism. The main purpose of this article will be to show that a genuine new communism, based on real trends in capitalist society, can form an operational politics.

 

2. Marx and the abolition of wage slavery

versus

‘Revolutionary’ social democracy and the continuation of the wages system

Re-examining Marx’s understanding of a fully developed communist society, we can see that it is based on a human emancipatory vision:-

  1. “From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs.”

That is giving and sharing.

2.  “Where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

That the ends and the means involve the fullest personal development for each individual.

If we then look at the key political-economic transformation which Marx felt was necessary to bring about communism, we will find that it is the ending of wage slavery.  In Marx’s major critique of capitalist political economy, Capital, he railed against those on the Left who confined their demand to, “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”. He also opposed the slogan, “We demand the full product of our labour”. Marx wanted communists to inscribe on their banner, “The abolition of the wages system”. Yet very few of today’s socialists try to highlight the domination of wage slavery under capitalism. The battles for the emancipation of chattel slaves and women are seen as great past and present human struggles. But the continued extension of wage slavery throughout the world (often alongside other more brutal forms of bondage such as enforced child labour) hardly concerns the Left. Yet, even many on the Right instinctively rebel against the condition of wage slavery, hoping to be independent owners or at least join capitalism’s ‘house slaves’ as managers.

Yet, when we examine the society that ‘revolutionary’ social democrats want to build immediately after their Revolution, it is most peculiar. The wages system is to be retained under socialism. This is a bit like the black slaves of pre-Civil War USA rising up against their slave masters – but once they have expelled them, not proceeding to abolish slavery! Instead, slavery would remain, but the slaves would elect and emancipate a select few of their number to manage the affairs of the plantation. The job of this new management would be to organise the slaves with a view to increasing production, promising a much fairer distribution of the resulting produce afterwards!

We can see that Marx offers us a much more profound criticism of capitalism than the majority of today’s revolutionary Left.  Furthermore, with its emphasis on wage slavery, Marx’s view of communism  has the potential to unite the vast majority of humankind, whether  struggling under wage slavery’s yoke, still trying to resist its imposition or forming drop-out, non-waged ‘maroon’ enclaves, beyond its reach.  Marx gave various names to the new social order he was struggling to give voice to – ‘revolutionary democracy’ and ‘humanism’, but his settled label was ‘communism’. However, Marx had to warn against other ‘communisms’ – particularly ‘vulgar Communism’. ‘Vulgar Communism’ expressed the hatred many felt at the growing inequalities and injustices associated with the early days of industrial capitalism at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  However, it took the form of an angry levelling down of the new capitalist order, rather than creating a new emancipatory higher level of society.

Therefore ‘anti-capitalism’ is not enough. Revolutions can lead to an immediate feeling of intense liberation, but they are usually followed by much longer periods of defence, setbacks and painful reconstruction. The twentieth century was the ‘Century of Revolutions’, but it eventually produced so little for humanity at such a high cost, it is not surprising that many are very cautious, despite the growing barbarism of ‘The New World Order’. Therefore, it is vital that we outline a genuine democratic communism rooted in today’s realities and we show how this could be achieved.

 

 3. The decline of Marx’s genuine communism

and the rise of orthodox Marxism and ‘official Communism’

During Marx’s lifetime, communist politics had the support of a wider spectrum of opinion than was to be the case later. Marx himself never claimed to be the sole advocate of a patented ‘Communist’ model. Indeed this was the very opposite of his aim, which was to give voice to the aspirations of workers and others for an emancipatory alternative struggling both within and against capitalism. Furthermore there were other contemporaries of Marx, such as Dietzgen, who theoretically contributed to this wider communism. Communism wasn’t Marxism.

The Second International was formed at a time of worker militancy in 1889, but this did not lead to a new wave of communist revolution. Indeed it was the Second International, which helped to massively shift the terms of the debate. Instead of advocating the abolition of wage slavery, it helped promote the idea of the ‘noble’ wage worker, and the acceptance of the condition of wage slavery, but on better terms. Trade unions would improve wages. Social Democratic politicians would tax the capitalist owners, to ameliorate their employees’ conditions, and provide workers with a social wage too.  This is analogous to prisoners earning the right to decorate their own cells rather than destroy the jail and live in freedom.

The term ‘communism’ itself was relegated by the Second International as a new Social Democracy made increasing accommodation with a renewed capitalism – the monopoly imperialist capitalism identified by Lenin.

After the defeat of the International Revolutionary Wave of 1916-21, which gave birth to the Communist Third International, Marx’s genuine communist legacy became almost completely marginalised and lost.  Ironically though, this occurred at the same time that the Communist Party leaderships in a whole number of countries, beginning with the USSR, but later followed by Yugoslavia, Albania, North Korea, China and Cuba amongst others, promoted an almost complete identity of ‘Communism’ with Marx.  ‘Communism’ became an ideology associated with a ‘great individual’ (and of course the self-chosen successor/s); a notion that the ideologues of ‘western capitalism’ were equally keen to promote!

Marx, however, saw communist organisation as completely subordinate to a real revolutionary movement of wage slaves seeking to live an authentic life and to abolish their slavery. ‘Official Communism’ and its ‘dissident’ emulators elevated first ‘The Party’ and, then the Party-state, to the prime mover of further social development, through an increasing number of ‘necessary’ political and economic stages. ‘Orthodox Marxism’ trampled over the genuine communism originally promoted by Marx.

The abolition of wage slavery, which formed the core of the genuine communist project, was relegated to an increasingly distant utopian ‘Communist’ future. In the meantime a new middle class was to be in control. ‘The Party’ was to fuse with the state to provide this class with the political power the traditional capitalists enjoyed through private ownership and control of capital.

 

4. Wage slavery and the living creative pole of capital

Wage slavery is enshrined in the labour contract, under the cover of which the capitalists legally ‘steal’ the products of our labour power. However, the surplus value created by our labour power (over and above what we are paid for by the boss) is transferred to these products. So, the capitalist owners or controllers can then appropriate this surplus value, ‘contained’ in the products we make, when they sell them as commodities on the market. Because the eventual realisation of surplus value takes place at some distance from its creation in the workplace, appearing ‘magically’ in the accounts at company HQ, the value we create through our labour power doesn’t immediately appear to us – it is hidden.  Furthermore, our own labour power is bought and sold on the labour market, like any other commodity.  As long as our labour power ends up producing their capital, we remain wage slaves.

But Marx clearly understood that wage slaves aren’t merely victims. We also represent the creative pole of the capitalist relationship. Yet the essence of this relationship appears to be reversed, making the capitalist owners and controllers seem to be the initiators of all production and distribution. This has helped to imbue them with ‘legitimate’ political power too.  However we, as workers, create all new value and wealth.  We create both ourselves as living labour and capital as dead labour.  We produce not only all our means of subsistence and the luxuries of the capitalist class, but the capital – the factories, offices, machinery, technology, raw materials and commodities – through which they try to control us, but never completely succeed.  It is literally a constant life and death struggle between living and dead labour.

We perform a wide variety of very different concrete labouring activities such as mining or building, assembly or office work, nursing or cleaning, word processing or image creation, etc. However, these different concrete labour activities have to be reduced to a common abstract labour standard, which can be expressed in a common monetary form. This enables the capitalists to convert surplus value into profits in the sphere of capitalist circulation, with its banks, stock and commodity exchanges, etc, through the competition of the market. It also enables them to compare relative rates of profit, so that they can direct their investments to the most profitable sectors of business.  In order to maximise their profits they need to push our wages down to their socially necessary minimum.  They attempt to increase the hours we work or intensify the labour we do.  To help them achieve this they closely monitor and measure our work, and threaten us with disciplinary action or the sack. They take our real lives and offer us merely money in exchange.

Labour time is the measure of our labour transferred to products to create new value. However, since our own labour power is also a commodity, then its cost is also determined by the labour time necessary for its production through training, feeding, clothing, sheltering and providing the domestic and social life necessary to raise more workers for the future.

Marx identified simple and complex labour.  Simple labour is unskilled, involving relatively little labour time in its production, hence it usually receives low wages. Complex labour is skilled labour created through greater inputs of training and education, thus involving more labour time in its production.  Much of this is provided by family, friends, workmates, or by the wider public through taxation. Yet capitalism frequently allows individuals to privately appropriate the benefits of this wider social contribution in the form of higher pay.  This helps to explain pay differentials.

Although labour time determines value under capitalism, this is not achieved in a planned way, but through the market.  As a result there is an irrational core to all this. Goods and services are usually produced before the need for them has been socially determined.  It is only if these goods and services are sold that their need has been proved by capitalist criteria.  However, to achieve this state of affairs there may have been periods of massive overproduction, with goods unsold and factories on short-time working or closed down.  This leads to reduced wages or redundancies.  On other occasions there are chronic shortages, leading to overtime working, speed-ups and increased industrial accidents.  These are only the direct human consequences.  Yet all this is rational by capitalist criteria. Society does continue to reproduce itself, and material wealth has been greatly increased (even though access to this has been very unequal).  Yet this is a by-product of the central drive to create profits and many people and environments have been exploited, degraded and devastated in the process.

Furthermore, capitalists are continually trying to lower their costs, so skilled labour is under constant attack, through the application of new technology. Although new technology may lead to new more advanced skills for a few, for the majority it is a de-skilling process.  This is because capitalists only introduce technology in the first place to lower their costs and increase their direct control of the production process. During the nineteenth century, when workers first successfully struggled to shorten the working day, capitalists responded with the introduction of machinery to intensify labour.  They reduced their workers to ‘hands’, mere appendages to a machine.  Discipline was imposed by the regular working of the machine and by the supervision of the chargehand.  Today, call centres have become the modern sweatshops, with discipline imposed jointly by embedded computer programmes and by floor managers.  It is the capitalist owners and controllers who mainly gain from the benefits of technological ‘progress’, since it is they who appropriate our dead labour to invest and create further rounds of surplus labour.

Even though workers collectively produce all the new wealth in society (the sum total of goods and services), once we leave our workplaces, the only access we have to this is by spending the money we have earned.  Therefore, the only relationship we have with the other producers of wealth we mutually depend upon is a monetary connection through the market.  This wealth this only available to us in the form of  commodities. It is the capitalist owners and controllers who interpret our needs and promote particular commodities often with a built-in obsolescence or a ‘dependency hook’ e.g. cigarettes and coffee.  Under capitalism vast amounts of labour time are employed in the promotion and advertising of particular products and in the media cultivation of certain ‘fashionable’ lifestyles. Thus £millions were spent producing and promoting the blue ‘Smartie’, involving many undoubtedly skilled people on a project of zero social worth.

This all adds up to what Marx called commodity fetishism. Relationships between people take the form of relationships between commodities or things. This becomes particularly marked, when very immediate human needs – housing, health and education provision, or even intimate sexual relations – are handed over to ‘the market’.  But commodity fetishism is merely part of a much wider condition of alienation, which stems from the contradictions and conflicts in the capitalist production process, at the heart of which is the condition of wage slavery. And such a condition can only be maintained by an oppressive state. Therefore, fetishism involves the giving up of our real individual and collective power (as to gods and idols) to the modern deities of money, the market and the state.

Communism, though, is already latent within capitalism.  It is the product of the constant struggle between the capitalist and working class.  The core of this conflict is a ‘battle of needs’ focusing on socially necessary labour time. The need for the capitalists to make profits means they define this socially necessary labour time as the minimum necessary to produce and reproduce the workforce they require.  For us, socially necessary labour time is a much wider concept.  It means maximising our consumption of humanly valuable goods and services and living a more human life with greater time for social, cultural and recreational activity.  It also means trying to get beyond the alienation we feel under wage slavery.

 

 5. Communism, the end of wage slavery and the transformation of socially necessary labour time

Thus, Marx rooted the conditions for the achievement of communism in the ending of wage slavery, alongside changes in human consciousness, not in the building of an increasing number of ‘necessary’ political and economic stages.  In the orthodox Marxist schema the central emancipatory drive becomes lost and the emphasis is placed initially on achieving a separate political power before further building up the national and world economy using the most advanced capitalist technologies. In Marx’s emancipatory vision of communism, technology is a subordinate element.  The communist revolution is neither essentially economic nor technological, but political and social.  During the first phase of communism we would still have to make use of capitalism’s inherited technologies.  But part of the communist revolution will be ‘take these technologies apart’ and reassemble them so they are consistent with truly human productive activity and to create new technologies more adequate to the purposes of human liberation.  Technologies that will be sustainable, ecologically sound and alive with human creativity.

Marx saw the voluntary cooperative and consciously planned efforts of freely associated labour as communism’s primary basis for providing a qualitative step beyond capitalism.  He certainly understood this as leading to a quantitative increase in the material wealth necessary to lead a truly human life and this will still remain the case whilst poverty persists.  But an increasingly important contribution to developing communism, resulting from freely associated labour, is the ability to incorporate non-economic, social, cultural and human ‘spiritual’ elements into the production of human wealth, leading also to a transformed understanding of human needs, no longer based on a capitalist ‘shop-till-you-drop’ philosophy.

Under the first phase of communism, socially necessary labour time continues but is transformed.  Socially necessary labour time becomes defined on the basis of human needs, whilst the planning of production and distribution is done directly on the basis of labour hours.  We still need an effective form of accountancy, since the allocation of scarce skilled labour and resources needs to be taken into account. At the same time, other factors, such as enhancing human development and environmental sustainability need to become central features of the accounting process.

Each person would receive a certificate showing the hours of work they have completed. This enables them to withdraw goods and services from the ‘communal store’. To achieve this, each individual’s actual hours of work; the average social hours of labour time embodied in each product; the average social labour time used in each arena of production, and the total social labour time used by society, all have to be calculated.

There wouldn’t be a 1:1 relationship between individual labour time performed and individual consumption. There needs to be deductions for simple reproduction of the continued production process and for the general ‘costs’ of administration. These are intrinsic to the production process itself and can also be calculated in labour hours. The importance of meeting wider social needs would also be met through deductions prior to individual consumption. e.g. for education, healthcare, provision for children, the elderly, sick, etc, and for emergency contingencies. There would also be deductions for new production projects.  The proportion of goods and services which are provided for on the direct basis of human need (water, heating, transport, etc) increases as their abundance or ease of access develops, although they are still accounted for by labour hour calculations. One part of the effective transition to the upper phase of communism, is where distribution is solely on the basis of need and no longer on the basis of labour hours worked. However, the conditions for the upper phase of communism must directly develop from the lower phase.

Yet distribution in the lower phase of communism on the basis of hours worked is still radically egalitarian. Such distribution also undermines the inherited class-bound notions of superiority still embodied in the social democratic would-be administrators’ vision of a planned society, with its continuing large differentials inherited from capitalism.  The benefits arising from the application of particular forms of skilled labour would be socially distributed, rather than privately appropriated as at present.  Other forms of recognition, rather than monetary award, could be developed for the socially recognised contributions made by particular individuals.

Crucially, in the lower phase of communism, there is no necessity for the intervention of a centralised administration of  ‘socialist’ planners to allocate consumption items according to some ‘socialist’ wages, taxation and pricing policy. Therefore, the significance of planning production and distribution on the basis of the measurement of labour hours is also political for it underlines workers’ real, rather than the nominal control of production and distribution, which occurs when these functions are separated.

 

6. Communism and overcoming the division between political and economic

Marx outlined the necessary ‘economic’ condition for the first phase of communism. If workers are to retain real power, then wage slavery must be abolished. This means that, as already shown, production and distribution must be based on the calculation of labour hours.  However, this condition can only be met if it is married to a second ‘political’ condition – the replacement of the old capitalist state machinery and parliament by the commune model – with linked workers’ councils backed by the power of armed workers’ militias.  That is a thorough going, consistent and militant democracy.

In uniting the ‘economic’ and ‘political’ conditions in this manner, the first phase of communism also overcomes the political and economic division promoted by capitalism.  It strips away the mask disguising the real source of capitalist ‘political’ power – their continued ‘economic’ extraction of surplus labour.  Traditional capitalist owners don’t need to take direct ‘private’ control of the capitalist state, precisely because their real political power ultimately stems from their private ownership and control of capitalist property. This is guaranteed a continued legal contractual existence, whatever parliamentary, fascist or military government is in office.  This is why traditional social democrats e.g. the Labour Party, could take political office, but they could not take real political and economic control, whilst such a division remained in place.

Therefore, if workers fail to abolish wage slavery and plan production and distribution directly on the basis of meeting human needs, then even a new commune state can’t prevent the re-emergence of full capitalist control.  Marx already realised that, what later became the ‘official’ and ‘dissident Communist’ ‘Marxist orthodoxy’ – the wages system under workers’ control – could no more open up the road to human emancipation than capitalist parliamentary democracy under workers’ control, that earlier contribution of ‘orthodox Marxism’ by pre-1917 ‘revolutionary’ Social Democracy. Herein lies the connection between reformist and ‘revolutionary’ social democracy. Neither sees the immediate abolition of wage slavery as necessary to the first phase of any emancipatory transition.

Capitalism is pregnant with the communist alternative based on our collective struggle against the alienating condition of wage slavery. But both reformist and ‘revolutionary’ social democracy insert their new and ‘necessary’ political and economic stages – either a majority socialist government or a ‘workers’ state’.  So instead of moving to the first phase of communism, clearly outlined by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, we are offered instead a ‘transition to socialism’, where our social democrats want to continue with the wages system.  Reformist ‘social democrats’ see their transition taking place under the parliamentary direction of the commanding heights of the economy. ‘Revolutionary ‘social democrats’ see their transition through the Party-state direction of ‘The Plan’.  In this manner any genuine transition to communism is stillborn. Attempts to implement the ‘transition to socialism’, in the last ‘Century of Revolutions’, proved to be rather roundabout ways to introduce the transition to capitalism. As some Eastern European wags used to put it,  “Socialism is the longest road to capitalism!”  A failure to realise this can only lead to growing irrelevance as resistance to imperialism’s ‘New World Order’ grows, or to repeating the same old mistakes.  Hence the forms of struggle we adopt and the organisations we create need to be in harmony with our goals, distant and near and humanise, rather than dehumanise the participants.

Marx had anticipated the roots of the failure of ‘official’ and ‘dissident’ Communism. He saw that workers can not hold on to their political control under the first phase of communism if they still remain wage slaves.  For the maintenance of the wages system under workers’ control only elevates workers to politically favoured ‘house slave’ status, whilst the real control lies with the ‘socialist’ administrators implementing ‘The Plan’.  In the absence of the objective accounting system outlined by Marx and later developed by others (1), through calculations based on labour times, the ‘socialist’ administrators have to resort instead to arbitrary criteria or cost calculations based on the capitalist model.  Their ‘Plan’ usually however provides special rewards for selected people in ‘The Party’!

Such a ‘socialist’ administration would displace remaining workers’ control and extend its power over every aspect of the economy and society. It would increasingly see itself as the representative of the ‘general interest’, whilst seeing workers’ councils as merely representing local and special interests.  Therefore, these workers’ councils would need to be marginalised or suppressed whenever they came into conflict with ‘The Plan’ and ‘The Party’. Even, if workers were initially consulted over ‘The Plan’, through their workers’ councils, this would not give workers real control, which would remain elsewhere.  It is only if workers have direct collective control in each workplace over the labour hours they dispose of, that they have the equivalent power capitalists enjoy through direct private ownership.

 

  7. ‘Orthodox Marxism’ and the suppression of the full legacy of the Paris Commune

Marx learned from the experience of the Paris Commune of 1870 the necessity for communists not just to take over the capitalist state, but to smash it. However, Marx was not reverting to the older ‘vulgar Communism’ with its attempts to tear down and level (an anger which could be well understood after the brutality of the suppression of the Paris Commune).   He pointed instead to the Commune as the model for a new workers’ semi-state to offer a real alternative to replace the pre-existing capitalist state.  It was still a state because it needed to retain the power to repress the remaining capitalist opposition by means of armed workers’ militias.  To this extent it still had dictatorial aspects.  However, it was now the majority who were to rule through their communes not the minority, as in all previous class states.  In other words the majority democratic dictatorship of the proletariat was to replace the minority parliamentary/ one-party/ military dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

From 1917 this much became the ‘orthodox Marxism’ of a wide range of ‘official’ and ‘dissident Communist’ organisations.  This is largely due to Lenin’s most famous work, State and Revolution, written between the 1917 February and October Russian Revolutions.  This did much to revive this lost legacy of Marx.  Now, whilst it may be ‘orthodox Marxism’ today, with the admittedly much smaller band of ‘post-official Communists’, this certainly was not the case in 1917.  The year before, Lenin himself had accused fellow Bolshevik, Bukharin, of an anarchist deviation for suggesting the need to smash the capitalist state.  The reason for this was that Lenin was still trying to unlearn much of the previous ‘orthodox Marxism’ he had absorbed from such ‘revolutionary’ Social Democratic theoreticians as Kautsky of the SPD in Germany and Plekhanov of the RSDLP in Russia.

The pre-1917 ‘orthodox Marxism’, which prevailed in the Second International, claimed workers could exercise real political control by means of capitalist parliamentary democracy under workers’ control expressed through Social Democratic parties holding office. In countries where parliamentary democracies were absent or weak, then Social Democrats could seek to establish temporary revolutionary dictatorships, but the aim was that these should give way to parliamentary democracy whenever possible. But in 1917, after the February Revolution in the Russian Empire, Lenin witnessed the reappearance of the workers’ councils or soviets, which had first formed in the failed 1905 Russian Revolution. He suddenly saw the significance of Marx’s commune model and quoted extensively from Marx’s The Civil War in France in his State and Revolution.

But, as we have seen, Marx went further still in outlining the conditions for the implementation of a genuine communism in The Critique of the Gotha Programme.  Yet Marx’s second condition for the setting up of the first phase of communism  – the production and distribution of goods and services on the basis of labour time  – is as alien to today’s ‘official’ and ‘dissident’ Communists, as Marx’s first condition – the smashing of the capitalist state and its replacement by the Commune semi-state – was to Second International Social Democracy, even its self-declared revolutionary wing.

When the rising International Revolutionary Wave began in 1916 (Lenin dated it with the Easter Rising in Dublin) millions of workers, already thrown into the maelstrom of the First World War, felt the need to reject the whole Second International legacy, including its  ‘revolutionary’ leaders, such as Kautsky and Plekhanov. When a new Third International was formed in 1919, after the Russian Revolution, it once more returned to Marx’s name for his new social emancipatory order – communism.

However, even Lenin didn’t fully appreciate the significance of Marx’s second condition for the first phase of communism, although he referred to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme in his State and Revolution.  Lenin states, “Accounting and control – that is what is mainly needed for the ’smooth working’, for the proper functioning of the first phase of communist society”.  This is very close, but instead of firmly adopting Marx’s ground for “accounting and control” – the planning of production and distribution on the basis of labour time, Lenin retreats to the older ‘revolutionary’ Social Democratic view.  He still substantially shared the view that socialism (the first phase of communism) was the culmination of the ‘objective’ concentration and centralisation undertaken by monopoly capitalism.

This view looked to the state to continue the centralising process until production was fully nationalised and hence ripe for socialisation.  Lenin took the logic of Social Democratic, ‘orthodox Marxism’ one step further. He argued that “German imperialism, which has made the greatest advance… in big industrial organisations within the framework of capitalism, has independently given proof of its economic progressiveness by being the first to introduce labour conscription”!  Lenin extended this “progressive” capitalist legacy to his view of communism, where he declared, “All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of armed workers… The whole society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labour and pay.”  Thus we see that Lenin ends up advocating a kind of ‘vulgar Communism’ or ‘barracks socialism’. ‘Revolutionary’ social democracy views the economic organisation and technology bequeathed by capitalism as progressive. It does not see the need to abolish wage slavery or to question its technology but to make it fairer and more efficient – to put the wages system under what it terms workers’ control, which experience has shown us inevitably turns out to be control by the Party-state.

Thus, if we look at Lenin’s quotes, we can see how close they come to anticipating the society that eventually triumphed under Stalin. The supervision of armed workers soon gave way to the supervision of unarmed workers by ‘socialist’ administrators, backed by the army, the regular and secret police, as well as ‘The Party’ placemen at every level.  Needless to say equality of labour and pay were never implemented!  But certainly Stalinist USSR came close to being a society organised as one big “office” and “factory”.

Although the imperialist interventions from 1918 failed to overthrow the infant USSR, the military, diplomatic and economic pressures produced, in effect, ‘a counter-revolution from within the revolution’. With the crushing of Kronstadt in 1921, workers lost all remaining direct power over the state and workplace and the promotion, not the abolition, of waged labour became a central aim of the New Economic Policy, introduced after the victory of the Party-state.

 

8. ‘Dissident Communism’ fails to get to the roots of the degeneration of the Revolution

Trotsky and Trotskyism have tried to present themselves as a coherent alternative to the degeneration of ‘official’ Communism.  Yet Trotsky himself was a pace-setter of the earlier phase of ‘the counter-revolution within the revolution’. He openly supported the militarisation of labour in 1920, and he helped to suppress the Kronstadt Rising in 1921, at a time when the political role of Stalin was less central.  However, the political degeneration of the USSR became so rapid after this that Trotsky increasingly found himself in opposition to the emerging majority of the Party-state bureaucracy led by Stalin.  Trotsky moved from being an ‘official Communist’ to becoming a ‘dissident communist’.

Yet defence of the Party-state still remained the key for Trotsky.  Hence Trotsky called for ‘political revolution’ not ‘social revolution’ in the USSR after Stalin consolidated his power. Trotsky opposed Stalin’s attempt to build socialism as an autarky with minimal trade with the outside world.  He argued that the USSR needed to be able to draw on the resources of imperialism, either by revolutionary appropriation through the overthrow of capitalist powers or, where this could not be achieved, through state controlled international trade.

The Trotskyist dispute with ‘official’ Communism has no genuine communist grounding to it, since neither variant of  ‘revolutionary’ social democracy upheld the need to end the wages system as the central part of the revolutionary transition.  Trotsky paid little heed to the continuation and extension of waged labour, as such, under the New Economic Plan, nor under Stalin’s Five Year Plan after 1928 (with its massive growth in labour camp slavery too).

Trotskyists, appalled by the consequences of what they termed ‘Stalinism’, (overlooking Trotsky’s own earlier direct role in the degeneration of the Revolution) lay the blame on Stalin’s attempt to build socialism in one country. As a result some Trotskyists have, in effect, retreated to a neo-Kautskyist view.  Kautsky, the leading theoretician of pre-World War One ‘revolutionary’ Social Democracy, had argued that the major imperialist powers would increasingly be able to plan the division of the world between them, rendering imperialist wars more and more unlikely.  This was his theory of ultra-imperialism.  This led Kautsky to a position of passivity in the face of the First World War. Whilst the newly emerging communists organised amongst those workers and armed forces who felt the necessity to challenge the war mongers with increasingly revolutionary action, Kautsky looked to the logic of imperialist development itself to bring about the end of war, helped by Social Democrat-organised pacifist moral pressure upon the war-making governments!

Echoing Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism, some today now look to the long march of global capitalism to create a global working class, which can ultimately unite in a near simultaneous world-wide revolution. This ‘Big Bang Theory of Socialism’ overlooks the fact that it is precisely in resisting the policies of imperialism with its ‘New World Order’, that any real communist organisation can be built.  The neo-Kautskyite theory places its adherents in the camp of the apologists for the New World Order, undermining those workers, peasants and tribal peoples resisting such ‘progress’ in the here and now.  In essence, the neo-Kautskyist view is a lefter version of that held by today’s ‘social market’ democrats such as Tony Blair! They argue that, such is the power of ‘globalisation’ and the world market, there is very little a national government can do except meekly bow to the dictates of multinational capital, hoping its citizens will benefit from any ‘trickle-down’ benefits and that governments can make the workings of the ‘free’ market a little more humane. Meanwhile, today’s neo-Kautskyites say we have to wait for the international ‘big bang’ revolution. Therefore, scrape the surface of their much vaunted alternatives – Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’ and Trotsky’s ‘international socialism’ – and it can soon be seen that what is really immediately on offer is national capitalism. ‘Socialism in one country’ and ‘international socialism’ both mean capitalism in every country!

Now, whilst such a passive, and in effect, anti-revolutionary views carry some weight today, when the working class is still being politically atomised under the current Capitalist Offensive, a ‘revolutionary’ social democratic alternative still lingers on in the wings, sometimes drawing some sustenance from the post-1917 Revolution. These have included Die Linke in Germany, the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, and the United Left Alliance in Ireland. Since the ideological crisis of neo-liberalism, following the 2008 Credit Crunch, these organizations have promoted a mixture of neo-Keynesian and other, more comprehensive  national statist reforms, particularly  nationalisation.

Despite the historic divisions between Stalin and Trotsky, they both shared the view that it is nationalised property relations which form the basis of socialism and it is the Party-state which is the prime agent in building socialism.  This is why Trotskyists continually found themselves politically disarmed by Stalin’s actions.  In 1928, Stalin abandoned the New Economic Policy, with its strong dependence on peasant-based agricultural development, which Trotsky believed would eventually subordinate the USSR to imperialism.  In its place Stalin forced through his First Five Year Plan with extensive nationalisation. This ‘revolution-from above’, was supported by the majority of Trotsky’s followers, along with many other previous ‘dissidents’. However, Trotsky himself maintained that Stalin, now attempting only ‘to build socialism in one country’, could not spread this new revolution.  Indeed he went on to claim that the Stalinist regime would either succumb to full-blown imperialism or to political revolution in the forthcoming Second World War. Thus, when Stalin’s Red Army seized and held on to eastern Europe and Manchuria in 1945, once again many Trotskyists found themselves confused. The majority gave various degrees of political support for Stalin’s advances.

Stalin had never abandoned an intention to internationalise his ‘revolution-from-above’.  It was just that, as the victor in the intra-Party struggle after Lenin’s death, and hence the holder of state power, he was more conservative about any unnecessarily ‘adventurist’ international actions which could jeopardise his control. When, as after the Second World War, the balance of forces was overwhelmingly in his favour, he went on to internationalise his ‘revolution-from-above’.

Therefore the anti-Kautskyist wing of Trotskyism saw its ‘permanent revolution’ being implemented, albeit rather slowly and mainly under the hegemony of the USSR. Yet for them every hesitant new ‘workers’ state’ still marked a stage on the long march to ‘international socialism’. This wing of Trotskyism could also raise criticisms and try to distance itself from the ‘stalinist’ excesses, but when push came to shove, they remained ‘official Communism’s loyal opposition.   Trotskyists had long ceased to define workers’ states as states directly controlled by workers. Instead, these states got their essential character by virtue of having large-scale nationalised property. On this basis a huge Trotskyist in-house debate developed over the ‘degenerate’, ‘deformed’ or ‘deflected’ nature of such ‘workers’ states as those found in the USSR, Yugoslavia, eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Kampuchea, Afghanistan and even Burma! This debate has been about as politically productive as that of the medieval scholastics – ‘How many angels can dance on the end of a pin’.

Today’s remaining Trotskyists claim to follow in a more democratic tradition than that of the old ‘official Communism’. Given the profoundly undemocratic practices of most of the Trotskyist Left in the UK – the blatant thuggery of the old Socialist Labour League/WRP springs to mind – this is an extremely questionable point. To any genuine communist, ‘official’ and ‘dissident Communists’ seem to come from the same political stable, with their common emphasis on ‘The Party’ or Party-state.

Now, when in opposition, Trotsky did begin to raise the demand for more democratic freedoms. He called for the revival of the soviets he had helped to suppress, but these were to be promoted top-down by ‘The Party’.  But ‘official Communist’ states have shown their ability to involve the population in mass mobilisations in various forms of popular assemblies, in for example, China and Cuba, another factor that has disorientated many Trotskyists. Yet Trotsky, himself, still remained very cautious about promoting working class organisation, which might have asserted its political independence of the Party-state.  This, of course would also have been anathema to any ‘official Communists’ holding state power.

 

9. Challenging the arguments of ‘revolutionary’ social democracy

The essential point, shared by ‘official’ and ‘dissident Communists’ alike, has been their political/economic stageist view of Communism, and their invention of a new ‘transition to socialism’. This is why the hoary old story pedalled by today’s ‘revolutionary’ social democrats’ needs to be constantly challenged. They claim that any attempt to begin the abolition of the wages system, when workers have only seized power in one or a few countries, is doomed to fail. Yes, workers can have their workers’ councils, but they must confine their activities to helping to formulate The Plan for more efficient production and more equitable distribution, whilst they continue to earn their wages. Workers can’t be trusted to take full and direct responsibility for planning, production and distribution on the basis of labour hours until the World Workers’ Republic is achieved.  They need to have all of the planet’s resources to achieve this.

Yet, imperialism isn’t going to like it, whatever form the ‘workers revolution’ takes, if it involves any serious challenges to their New World Order. Imperialist powers weren’t even happy with mildly reforming governments such as Mossadeq’s challenge to Anglo-Dutch Oil in Iran in 1953, Arbenz’s challenge to the United Fruit Company in Guatemala in 1954, Allende’s challenge to ITT in Chile in 1973. They were bloodily suppressed.  Meanwhile, US imperialism is backing the repressive Colombian regime, and sponsoring coups in Honduras and Haiti, to provide military bases and encircle the new challenges to US corporate control of resources represented by the Chavez government in Venezuela, the Morales government in Bolivia, and that continued thorn in the flesh of US governments, Castro’s Cuba.

Whether any new post-revolutionary state maintains the wages system under workers’ control, as our ‘revolutionary social democrats’ want, or whether it moves directly to abolish wage slavery, as genuine communists want, it still faces the same difficulties, until the revolution spreads further.  Both would initially command the same material resources within the same borders. However, the imperialists can exert more direct pressure upon a state, which has already largely separated itself from real workers’ democratic control, whilst a genuine workers’ council state in the process of abolishing wage slavery would be a much greater inspiration to workers worldwide when it comes to spreading the international revolution.

No doubt after a successful workers’ revolution the debate will rage as to how much emphasis is placed on spreading the revolution internationally or on how to consolidate what has already been achieved. The ‘Russian’ Revolution (the most advanced part of the wider International Revolutionary Wave of 1916-21) certainly faced such debates.  One such debate occurred when German troops invaded the infant Soviet republic in 1918 – should the humiliating Brest Litovsk Treaty with Germany be signed, or should a revolutionary defencist war be continued.  Even if some argue that Lenin and the Bolsheviks made the correct tactical decision in every such case, it must still be conceded that there were increasingly high political, economic and social costs involved with each political retreat, which together built up a cumulative legacy. This means that such actions don’t necessarily provide ideal models.  Making a current virtue out of every past ‘necessity’ isn’t a good basis for developing a human emancipatory communism for a new millennium.

The Brest Litovsk Treaty, and the later introduction of the New Economic Policy, were both opposed from within the camp of the Third International by various Left communists (4). These communists came nearest to reclaiming Marx’s full communist legacy, during and soon after the International Revolutionary Wave of 1916-21. Some clearly understood that the development of world communism involved the deepening of the roots of working class power, through real workers’ democracy and the attempt to abolish wage slavery. They also understood the immediate need to spread the revolution internationally until, by triumphing over the whole globe, the second higher phase of communism could be achieved.

However, our aim should not be to try and elevate all their political positions to a new ‘orthodox Marxism’, since, just like everyone else struggling in difficult conditions, their politics were marked by contradictions too. However, we have the great benefit of hindsight and the dubious benefit of a further eighty years of capitalism to be able to draw conclusions for a more human communism.

At present, the need for a new genuine communism is only appreciated by a relatively small number and is under constant political attack from the ‘revolutionary realists’, who pitch their politics at the level imposed by ‘dead labour’ or capital, hoping vulture like to eventually inherit and feed off the carcass.  As communists we should always be part of living labour’s challenge, looking deeper and further, knowing that communism is an ever-present spectre within capitalism.  To Marx, communism was not an alternative religion to be preached by a new secular ministry in ‘The Party’.  Marx’s view of political organisation was not ‘The Party’ organised by an ambitious new middle class armed with ‘The Plan’. It was a real movement of workers in struggle, the living, creative pole of capital, constantly seeking ways to break the chains of wage slavery.

 

Allan Armstrong, amended and updated by Bob Goupillot, 20.5.12

 

1)            See The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution by Jan Appel

2)            See Left Communists and the Russian Revolution in Aufheben no 8

 

An earlier version of this article first appeared in two parts in issues nos. 4 (Autumn 2000) & 5 (Winter 2000-1) of Republican Communist, the predecessor to Emancipation & Liberation.

__________________________________

 

It is unusual in the UK to find Left organisations seriously addressing the issue of communism. It is usually thought that, if certain works of Marx are made available that is enough. The future realisation of a communist (a term more often ditched for socialist) society can safely be left to the unexplained ‘powers’ of transition. However, two Fourth Internationalist theorists, the late Ernest Mandel and Daniel Bensaid, did make a contribution to a wider debate on communism, so we are providing links to two of their articles.

Ernest Mandel, Communism at:-

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article152

Daniel Bensaid, The Powers of Communism at:-

 http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1799

 

In addition, Andrew Kliman, who comes from the Marxist-Humanist tradition, has written a difficult (to those unfamiliar with Hegelian language) but very interesting article.

Andrew Kliman – Alternatives to capitalism – What happens after the revolution? at:-

 http://thecommune.co.uk/2010/01/08/alternatives-to-capitalism-what-happens-after-the-revolution/

Tags: , , , , ,


Dec 23 2011

BEYOND THE SSP AND SOLIDARITY – ‘FORGIVE AND FORGET’ or ‘LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON’?

INTRODUCTION

 

The rise and initial success of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), between 1998-2004, was a significant historical event, not only for the history of the Left in Scotland (with knock-on effects in the UK and Europe), but also in the wider world of Scottish politics. It is therefore vital that we account for this success, despite the SSP’s subsequent fall from grace. This record can not just be left to cynical media and academic figures who have claimed that the SSP project was always doomed from the start, so we should all just accept the current world order and make the best of it.  Nor can we leave the accounting to those Jeremiahs in their ‘revolutionary’ sects, who cover their own inability to grow significantly, by issuing their anathemas and pouring scorn on those who try.

Before the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg said that the choice facing humanity then was ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. Istvan Meszaros has modified this for today’s crisis-ridden world of corporate imperialism, with its austerity drives, mounting environmental degradation, and the continued threat to humanity posed by weapons of mass destruction. He claims that the choice we face now is  – ‘Socialism or barbarism if we are lucky’!

Therefore, to provide new hope, we must account for the factors that contributed to the initial success of the SSP, and see what can still be useful in the future. However, any meaningful accounting also means identifying those weaknesses, which contributed to the SSP’s decline, so that these are not repeated.

Many, from either side of the ‘Tommygate’ divide, still hold fond enough memories of “the good old days” before the split, to hope that something like the SSP can be built again. Recently, some have even been tempted to say, “Let us forgive and forget”. This may sound attractive, in the face of the current unprecedented attacks on our class. However, such a stance would just lead to the repeat of earlier mistakes, perhaps in more desperate situations.

This contribution, which is also based on a strong desire to rebuild that lost unity, argues that to be successful in such an endeavour, we need instead to ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Then we can indeed recreate socialist unity, but on a higher basis. We must take account of those challenges, which the SSP failed to meet, to better prepare ourselves for those that we will certainly meet in the future.

 

1. THE STRENGTHS OF THE SSP

a)          Politics

The drive for greater socialist unity in Scotland originated in the experience of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. This drew together socialists and communists from diverse backgrounds in a successful struggle against the Tories and their official Labour Party helpers – one of the very few.  Later campaigns against water privatisation, the Criminal Justice Bill, and in support of the Liverpool Dockers, also brought socialists and communists in Scotland together in common campaigns.

Militant, a section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), led by Peter Taffe, had learned, through the bitter experience of the Liverpool Council Fightback and the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, that conducting a successful major struggle was incompatible with membership of the Labour Party (LP), and that Labour is an anti-working class party that acts as a block to socialism.

The CWI majority (1) formed Scottish Militant Labour (SML) to challenge Labour more effectively. However, SML went beyond this, and drew upon the experience of those earlier working class campaigns. With the help of others, they initiated the wider Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA), in 1996, to draw in these forces, as well as those members in the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) concerned about their parties’ rightwards drift. In the process, the CWI in Scotland changed from being the organisationally independent SML to becoming the International Socialist Movement (ISM), a platform in the new SSA. They called for the unity of socialists in Scotland.

The size of SML/ISM was important. Others had called for socialist unity before the SML had been able to ditch its Labour Party entrist past, and to seriously consider such an initiative.  However, it needed an organisation with a certain critical mass to make any such unity initiative gel.  In Ireland, for example, there have been a number of politically experienced people who were inspired by the example of the SSA/SSP. They formed the Irish Socialist Network to bring about such socialist unity there. However, they have not had the critical mass to create an Irish Socialist Alliance, then to build this up into an Irish Socialist Party.

The ISM wanted to build a wider organisation, which was not just a front for its own tendency – something that proved a stumbling block for the Socialist Alliance in England (and Wales), where ISM’s parent organisation, the CWI, prevented this. This problem was highlighted there by the competitive sectarianism of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the CWI/Socialist Party (SP) (as Militant later became in England and Wales).

The ISM also wanted the SSA to move quickly beyond being an alliance, which might end up as little more than an electoral non-aggression pact between different participating organisations. Today, in Ireland, this remains a strong danger with the recently formed United Left Alliance (ULA). The ULA is heavily constrained in any attempt to move forwards to a new united party by the desire of its two major components, the CWI/SP-Ireland and People before Profit (an Irish SWP front), to preserve their own control above all else. The SSA, however, was able to move on and become the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998.

When it was founded, the SSA drew in other political groups or some of their key activists. Allan Green had pushed from the start to get the Socialist Movement (socialists in the LP) signed up, whilst Bill Bonnar of the Communist Party of Scotland, and George Mackin, former member of the editorial board of Liberation (socialist Republicans in the SNP) joined up.  Members of the Trotskyist United Secretariat for the Fourth International (USFI) in Scotland joined, although they did not constitute themselves as a platform. The Red Republicans, who emerged from the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle in the Lothians, and the Dundee-based Campaign for a Federal Republic also joined. These two organisations later merged, on a new political basis, to form another SSA platform, the Republican Communist Network (RCN). The SSA soon threw itself into activity in support of the Glacier workers’ occupation in Glasgow, then in a variety of actions to save schools and other council facilities.

By 2002, all the major political groups in Scotland were in one political organisation (2) – the SSP. The SSP eventually included left Scottish nationalists, e.g. the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement (SRSM), many in the ISM, and some ex-SNP’ers; left British unionists, e.g. the CWI, SWP, Workers Unity (3) and some ex-Labourists; and socialist republicans, e.g. the RCN and others. Key figures from the Labour and SNP Lefts joined, e.g. John McAllion and Ron Brown (ex-Labour MPs), Hugh Kerr (ex-Labour MEP), Lloyd Quinan (ex-SNP MSP). The SSP included socialist and radical Feminists, and a small number of green Socialists (4).

Tommy Sheridan (former SML) was elected to Holyrood in 1999. He was re-elected, along with Frances Curran and Colin Fox (both former SML), Rosemary Byrne (former president of Irvine Trades Council), Carolyn Leckie (prominent Unison activist and strike leader) and Rosie Kane (environmental activist), in 2003. An impressive 117,709 votes were gained in this election. Keith Baldassara (former SML) and Jim Bollan (former CP member and Labour leader of Dunbartonshire Council) were also elected as local councillors. This was a considerable achievement. It showed that the SSP had become an important force amongst a significant section of class-conscious workers in Scotland.

SSP MSPs were seen to give public support to workers in struggle, including nursery nurses and working class communities occupying threatened public services. Tommy had been very publicly arrested in 2003, whilst Rosie was jailed for failing to pay a fine in 2005, as a result of the protests they made at the Faslane nuclear base. This highlighted the SSP’s policy of committing its elected representatives to taking direct action when it was deemed appropriate. The SSP policy of having a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage was actually implemented by the SSP MSPs between 1999 and 2007.

The SSP provided inspiration for the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, and for the Irish Socialist Network. It also formed a part of the new European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). The SSP inspired the USFI, including its largest European section, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) in France. They later went on to form the wider New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in 2009.

After the split in 2006, the SSP continued to form part of the EACL, standing candidates under its banner in the Euro-elections of 2009, whilst the breakaway Solidarity retreated into the left British chauvinism of the No2EU campaign (5).

The SSP played a prominent part in the build-up of the Anti-War Movement, beginning in October 2001 with its principled and active opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and culminating, on February 15th 2003, with the massive Anti-Iraq War demonstration in Glasgow, led by the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War. The many marches, held all over the world on that day, formed the largest international demonstration yet witnessed (6).

The SSP played the leading part in organising the wider European Left opposition to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July 2005. Four of its MSPs, Carolyn, Colin, Frances and Rosie organised a protest in Holyrood against its failure to stand up to US/UK security force attempts to severely curtail the right to protest at Gleneagles. The four MSPs were suspended and the party was heavily fined. This led to international solidarity, including support from the acclaimed black poet, Benjamin Zephaniah (7).

The SSA and SSP leaderships recognised that there is a National Question in Scotland and that socialists should consciously address it. Although left Scottish nationalism remained a strong pull on the leaderships of the SSA and later the SSP, republicanism made considerable inroads. The party backed the Calton Hill Declaration, and the successful protest at the royal opening of the new Scottish Parliament building on October 9th, 2004. This was the last SSP big event to gain favourable wider publicity (8).

The SSP contained a well-organised Feminist element with articulate women prominent in the party. The hotly debated and controversial 50:50 rule, addressing the issue of women’s representation at all levels of the party, was passed at the SSP’s 2002 Conference in Dundee. This contributed to the election of four women out of a total of six SSP MSPs in May 2003 – the highest percentage for any party in Europe.

The SSP was also able to draw support from influential cultural figures, e.g. the Proclaimers, Belle and Sebastian, Peter Mullen and Ken Loach.

At the height of its success between 1999 and 2004, the SSP enabled socialist politics to gain a public visibility. This meant that the ideas put forward by openly declared socialists became the topic of conversation, discussion and debate in workplaces and communities throughout Scotland.

 

b)          Organisation

With the founding of the SSA in 1996, the CWI/SML committed its resources and experienced organisers, at national and local level, to the new organisation. As ISM platform members, they took responsibility for developing the SSA, and later the SSP. However, in many areas, particularly where there was little or no ISM presence, other experienced socialist and communist activists played a key role in developing local branches, and exerting pressure to ensure that democratic practice became more embedded in the SSA and SSP, and to encourage the development of an open, non-sectarian culture.

A majority amongst the ISM, who constituted the SSA and SSP leaderships, appreciated the need to exercise a less tight political control over the SSA and SSP membership than the CWI leadership had desired. The ISM was more prepared to listen to suggestions from people who came from other political backgrounds, and with these comrades’ help, the SSA was able to develop open active branches and democratic structures.

Thus, the ISM majority (9) made a considerable contribution to building a wider more inclusive SSA (later SSP). This provided a striking contrast to the behaviour and unity initiatives undertaken by their original CWI mentors. The CWI/SP walked out of the Socialist Alliance in England, when they could not dominate it  (that role was left to the SWP!). Their Campaign for a New Workers Party has proved abortive, because of its inability to attract or hold on to wider socialist forces, whilst the Trade Union and Socialist (electoral) Coalition is turned on and off according to the needs of the CWI/SP. The CWI (and SWP) treats any unity initiative either as a ‘party’-front or as a recruiting ground. Therefore, the ISM’s support for developing an inclusive multi-platform party did represent a considerable achievement, and a big break from the Left’s past sectarian practice.

Platform rights were allowed and respected to a considerable degree. The SSA and SSP constituted a united front of self-declared revolutionaries and left reformists. Comrades could openly state their support for revolutionary politics. A real culture of debate and comradeliness developed in the SSA and SSP, which for a time was even able to rein in some of the sectarian practices of the CWI and SWP (10).

Despite some undoubted remaining problems, the SSA and SSP were more democratic than all previous left groups in Scotland and the wider UK. SSA and SSP conferences were organised where genuine debates took place in a largely comradely fashion. Attractive ‘Socialism’ events, with outside speakers, were also organised.

SSP branches were soon formed in every part of Scotland, including the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland. This represented the most extensive support for socialist politics in Scotland that had been achieved so far.

 

 2)      THE WEAKNESSES OF THE SSP

 a)         Politics

The development and handling of ‘Tommygate’ turned out to be the most public failing of the SSP. One effect of this was to disguise some other weaknesses, which would undoubtedly have emerged more clearly after the election of its six MSPs in 2003. The political conditions, which led to these other problems, were created by the international Left’s inability to prevent the Iraq War in 2003, and the decline of working class action in the UK, including Scotland.

The electoral setbacks of the European Left in subsequent (pre-2007 Crash) elections, including those in Italy, France and Ireland, demonstrated this. The Scottish Greens also lost five of their seven MSPs in 2007. If ‘Tommygate’ had not happened then the SSP would still probably have been reduced from six to one MSP in that election – i.e. Tommy. And he thought he was smart in helping to create Solidarity as his own special fan club to further advance his own celebrity politics!

Yet, there had been no prior public questioning in the SSP of the promotion of the Tommy ‘myth’. This failing was to have dire consequences. When ‘Tommygate’ erupted in 2004, the leadership was left floundering over how to deal with a ‘Tommy’ who had been their very own creation. This confused many members and supporters who began to look elsewhere – often either to the SNP, or even back to the Labour Party.

Remarkably, as Tommy had moved further and further into the world of celebrity politics (aided by his new wife, Gail, whom he married in 2000), the SSP leadership allowed him to build up an entirely new public image for himself as the Daniel O’Donnell of the Left. (He later utilised this in court to claim his leisure activities were largely confined to playing Scrabble with Gail!) This involved publicly turning his back on his pre-marriage image as the Errol Flynn of the Left (which he wistfully recalled in his chats with Coolio on Big Brother).

Key SSP leadership figures knew from early on that this new public image was false, but did not challenge Tommy’s hypocrisy. However, even if Tommy had been able to make a ‘Doris Day’ (11) like conversion, socialists should still not have been involved in allowing the public promotion of such a conservative, 1950’s, family man image.

When Solidarity was formed in 2006, it became, in effect, the Continuity Sheridan-SSP. Celebrity politics were enshrined at its founding conference, with the virtual anointment of Tommy by his mother, Alice Sheridan.  With Tommy in prison for the 2011 Holyrood election, Solidarity sought a new celebrity candidate in the form of George Galloway, accountable to nobody but himself.

The resort to celebrity politics was not, however, rejected in principle by the SSP leadership after the split. An attempt was made by the SSP International Committee to highlight this wider problem amongst the Left in Britain (e.g. Derek Hatton, Ken Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and George Galloway), in a leaflet for the 2008 Convention of the Left in Manchester. However, a section of the SSP leadership suppressed this because it might have upset Galloway and his then Socialist Resistance supporters (12).

Celebrity politics, however, are just one aspect of a wider populism, which avoids the open promotion of socialist politics. Promoting populism is a quite different matter to promoting popular politics in order to extend openly socialist ideas beyond their traditional narrow organisational confines. Populist politics, which downplay the centrality of the working class, have often revealed themselves in the SSP. Although the SSP stood as part of the EACL in the 2009 Euro-elections, it ditched the EACL’s own slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for their Crisis’, and retreated to the vacuous, non-class specific, ‘Make Greed History’ (13).

This resort to left populism, though, was not as bad as Solidarity’s support for No2EU’s, ‘No to social dumping’ – a right populist, thinly disguised racist attack on migrant workers, reminiscent of the NF/BNP/Gordon Brown call for ‘British jobs for British workers’.

One reason for resorting to populism is the fact that those coming from the CWI tradition never developed an adequate understanding of what constitutes socialism/communism. Up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CWI largely equated socialism with nationalisation. Although the weaknesses in this position have been recognised by those who have moved away from the CWI, there has been no real attempt to develop a new clearly articulated socialism/communism, which could effectively challenge a capitalism very much now in crisis since the 2008 Financial Crash.

Part of the problem lies with the CWI’s long sojourn within the Labour Party, where they began to adapt to the reformist milieu they were working with. Whereas Marx had viewed the state as a machine designed to perpetuate the rule of capital, backed by “a body of armed men”; those from a CWI background tended to see the existing state as being in the hands of the wrong people – the capitalist class – instead of the representatives of the working class. In particular, they had looked forward to a future elected Labour government, pledged to socialist policies, ‘capturing’ this state, passing an Enabling Act and nationalising the top 200 companies. But the capitalist state can not be equated with its ‘representative’ institutions – behind these lie the ruling class’s ‘deep state’ with its military, security, judicial and other bodies, all beyond our effective accountability, ready to bypass parliament, and to take ruthless action against any fundamental challenges from our class.

Therefore, the solutions offered by the leaderships of SSP and Solidarity (where the SWP also avoids offering any socialist strategy), to meet the current crisis of capitalism, tend to be national reformist. They stretch from a call for neo-Keynesian state economic intervention to demands for nationalisation  – i.e. from left Labourism to old style, orthodox Marxist-Leninism. The call for nationalisation is sometimes relabelled ‘public ownership’, or supplemented with an unspecified, ‘under democratic’ or ‘workers’ control’.

There has been little appreciation of the international economic integration of the corporate imperialist capitalist order. This places very real restraints on national ‘solutions’, and makes the development of an internationalist strategy and international organisation vital. The massive anti-(corporate) globalisation, anti-Iraq war, anti-G8 and Occupy protests have shown that millions of people already understand the need for an international response. Yet there has been little indication that the Left can build on this by creating a new International (14).

The EACL is very much constrained by the limitations of the ‘socialist diplomacy’ practised between its two dominant political groupings – the USFI and International Socialist Tendency (SWP). There is clearly a glaring need for concerted international action in the face of the EU leaders’ austerity drive, which has led to unprecedented attacks on Greek, Portuguese and Irish workers. These will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the European (including the UK) working class.

There has been no real debate in the SSA or SSP over socialists’ participation in parliamentary and council elections. Are parliament and local councils vehicles for bringing about socialism through accumulative reforms; or do socialists participate in elections to these bodies to support independent class activity, and to put forward the case for socialism/communism?

Again this confusion arises because a significant section of the Left tends to see the state machine as neutral, and just requiring a different hand at the helm, rather than a capitalist state, shaped to meet the capital’s needs. The existing state machine is  worse than useless as a means of socialist transformation. Indeed it is a trap for the working class.  What should be recognised is the need for the state’s destruction and its replacement with a commune-like semi-state, intended to wither away as the lower phase of communism (socialism) gives way to its higher phase.

We never got near this kind of debate about a Maximum Programme within the wider SSP.  This was perhaps understandable in the context of the long debt-financed consumer boom, which coincided with the first ten years of the SSP’s existence. Efforts were concentrated instead on developing and implementing elements of an Immediate Programme. Now capitalism is once more in deep crisis. Attempts to buttress each national economy through superficial reforms can only lead to intensified international competition, with a downward pressure on pay and conditions, and an even greater likelihood of wars, possibly between the imperial metropoles themselves. Therefore, it has become imperative that socialists/communists outline their alternative society and the means needed to achieve this.

The SSP became too election focussed, particularly after winning its six MSPs. This sucked prominent regional or trade union activists into the parliamentary centre. The decision to spend so much money on parliamentary support workers for the newly elected MSPs was an indication of this creeping electoralism. A three way split developed between the SSP’s MSPs – 1) Tommy and Rosemary, 2) Caroline, Frances and Rosie and 3) Colin – as to how to relate to Holyrood. There was little effective party control over these MSPs. The parliamentary ‘tail’ sometimes wagged the SSP ‘dog’.

If ‘Tommygate’ had not erupted, a strongly electoralist wing would probably have emerged in the SSP, offering the party’s MSPs as coalition fodder in the event of a hung Holyrood parliament (15). Former Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr, was already suggesting, before the 2003 Holyrood general election, that the SSP stand down in favour of the SNP in first-past-the-post seats, anticipating such coalitions and a more parliamentary focussed politics (16).

Those who learned their initial politics in the British Left have shown little understanding of the UK as an imperialist, unionist and constitutional monarchist state, and the role of the Crown Powers in maintaining British ruling class control. Nor do they appreciate the real nature of the current British and Irish ruling classes’ ‘New Unionist’ strategy of promoting the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’, aided and abetted by trade union leaders locked in ‘social partnerships’ with the bosses and politicians. This is done to ensure that the UK and the Twenty-Six Counties remain safely subordinated to corporate capitalism and US/British imperialism.

In reaction to their earlier left British unionist training, the majority amongst the SSA and SSP (and later the Solidarity) leaderships have shown a strong tendency to be pulled towards Scottish nationalism, and have become sentimental Scottish republicans rather than militant socialist republicans. Although the 2005 Declaration of Calton Hill represented a partial break from this, the SSP leadership has gone on to tailend the proposed constitutional reforms of the SNP in their proposed Scottish Independence Referendum (17).

After the split between the SSP and Solidarity, some members of the now defunct ISM became divided between the Frontline supporters found in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists (DGS), who played a similar role in Solidarity. It was these two organisations’ initially shared break from the CWI, which had led them to move on from much of the old left British unionist politics (although long retaining elements of such politics over the issue of Ireland), only to court left Scottish nationalist politics as an alternative.

As a result, the ISM/Frontline’s and the DGS’s politics, with regard to Scotland, have not been drawn from the major contributors to anti-imperial/anti-UK state politics prior to the Poll Tax, e.g. the Workers’ Republican tradition of James Connolly and John Maclean, but to a bowdlerised version of Labourism/Trotskyism inherited, but still not fully questioned, from the CWI. This is sometimes topped up with a little sentimental Scottish history and the use of the saltire in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

Those from a CWI tradition also have a poor understanding of the conflict in Ireland. They have been unwilling to address this issue in case any accusations of ‘sectarianism’ affected their electoral campaigns, particularly in the Central Belt. In the SSA’s preparatory stages, the one group, which CWI members went to considerable lengths to exclude, was the James Connolly Society (JCS). It also took years and years to get one-time CWI/ISM members of the SSP on to the JCS’s annual Connolly march in Edinburgh. The CWI’s left unionism was carried into the ISM. This led to their joint agreement to invite Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as a ‘socialist’ Loyalist, with a background in the UVF, from which the British state recruited its death squads (18), to ‘Socialism 2000’ (19).

Despite the 2002 SSP Conference’s 50:50 debate, there was insufficient follow-up discussion about the nature of women’s exploitation and oppression, and how women’s emancipation and liberation contribute to wider sexual liberation and to socialism/communism. In the aftermath of the split in the SSP, a marked division remained between those former ISM members in Frontline, who wanted to take on board a more Feminist agenda, and those in the DGS, who retained an opposition to “gender obsessed politics” (many of them had opposed the 50:50 arrangements back in 2002).

In the case of ISM/Frontline members this led to a blurring between socialist and radical Feminist politics. In the case of DGS members this led to a slippage away from any socialist understanding of the role of women’s oppression, and to a schizoid split between holding to libertarian views on sex (e.g. believing prostitution is just another form of wage labour, not recognising the women’s oppression involved), or to a toleration of very conservative sexual relationships (e.g. not questioning the promotion of the ‘perfect celebrity couple’ in the never-ending ‘Tommy and Gail Show’). The political division over the role of Feminism, between the two wings of one-time ISM members, very much added to the acrimony during ‘Tommygate’ (20).

The SSP and Solidarity leaderships, following on the old CWI tradition, have remained wedded to Broad Leftism in the trade unions. This involves a ‘parliamentary’ industrial strategy, which sees sovereignty as lying in the trade union conferences (‘parliament’), when effective control really lies in the union HQs (where the bureaucracy forms the ‘Cabinet’). Broad Leftism concentrates on getting left wing union leaderships elected to replace right wing ones. This is countered to a Rank and File ‘republican’ industrial strategy of democratising and transforming trade unions to make them combative class organisations with sovereignty residing amongst the union members in their workplaces, who are prepared to take independent (‘unofficial’) action when required (21). There has also been no debate on possible new methods of organising workers, e.g. social unions.

There have been illusions around existing Broad Left trade union leaderships, and a failure to extend the principle of a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage in parliament, to campaigning for all trade union officials being on the average wage of the members they represent.  The SSP’s relationship with the RMT was focussed on its General Secretary, Bob Crow, and its Broad Left leadership (22), rather than its rank and file members.

Cultural developments can anticipate wider social and political developments, even during periods when the working class is in retreat. Whilst an effective struggle against exploitation and oppression needs confident economic/industrial and political organisation, attempts to go beyond the alienation we experience under capitalism often takes on a more disparate cultural form, which the ruling classes find harder to discipline and police. Despite the wider vibrant cultural debate found in Scotland, and signs of support from several significant cultural figures, there was no organised attempt to intervene in this debate and to encourage its development in a Scottish internationalist rather than a Scottish nationalist direction.

 

b)          Organisation

From the beginning, despite wishing to create a wider organisation, which brought in others, the CWI/SML still wanted to remain the leadership group. This in itself is not a problem. The issue is how do you go about achieving this aim – by encouraging the maximum democracy or by political manoeuvring?

The CWI/SML sought to bring about wider unity, not primarily on the basis of an agreed Immediate Programme (23), but by courting specific groups and individuals, whilst playing down the revolutionary side of their own politics. This involved a resort to diplomacy, rather than holding an open debate between some of the more advanced positions held by the CWI/SML (and others) and the undisguised left reformism and electoralism of those coming, in particular, from Labour and SNP backgrounds.

Of course, any such open debate, may well have resulted in the SSA adopting openly left reformist positions anyhow, given the historical weight of reformism in Scotland and the wider UK. This is why it was so vital to create and maintain the SSA and SSP as open democratic organisations, where such ideas could be challenged and changed in the light of experience.

The SSA and SSP depended overmuch on the initial political training given to its members from other political organisations before they joined up. There was no comprehensive political education programme put in place for new members. There was an attempt to produce an SSA magazine, Red, but it was short-lived.

When the ISM split into majority and minority CWI/IS factions, the majority ISM kept to the old strategy of trying to remain the leadership by making openings to certain individuals. An ‘Inner Circle’ coalesced within the SSP leadership, which consisted of Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes and Alan Green (he represented those from a non-CWI tradition) with a close periphery of Keith Baldassara and Frances Curran (she provided a link with the leading influential Feminists, such as Carolyn Leckie). The ISM used its position as the largest platform to ensure that this emergent ‘Inner Circle’ was given wider support in the SSP (24). As long as the ISM continued to exist, there was still some platform accountability.

The ISM also used its numerical strength to get sympathisers into key positions, whether or not they were up to the job. Paid organisers, who were not transparent or accountable, sometimes built their own fiefdoms either in areas of particular activity or geographical areas.

The ‘Inner Circle’ kept things from the membership (either with tacit ISM acceptance or without their knowledge), e.g. how many real paying members there were, and the fact that the SWP did not pay their subs (although some of their members did join as individuals). Therefore, the activities of the ‘Inner Circle’ were neither transparent nor fully accountable.

Many members of the ISM began to doubt the need for a distinctive platform to advance their specific politics. Instead, they increasingly relied on giving support to those experienced former members of the CWI, and founder members of the ISM, who had steered them through the difficult transition from the CWI/SML to the independent ISM platform in the SSA and SSP.  ISM members began to drop out of their platform, whilst still giving their support as individuals to the ‘Inner Circle’.

In engaging with new political forces, ISM members found themselves questioning some of their previously held beliefs. This is, of course, a good general principle for all socialists. Individual ISM members formed friendships and alliances with other individuals and tendencies, e.g. amongst the left Scottish nationalists and the radical Feminists. This led to a process of adaptation that left individual ISM, or former ISM members, strung out at different points along various lines of thought over a number of key issues. That made it increasingly difficult for the ISM to maintain a unified public position on these political issues.

This was demonstrated most spectacularly over ‘Tommygate’. However, over the issues of 50:50, ‘internationalism from below’ republicanism versus left Scottish nationalism, Ireland (particularly the Connolly march), and secularism versus support for specific identity (especially faith) schools, different ISM members also found themselves on differing sides (25).  As the ISM platform began to fragment, this left the ‘Inner Circle’ as the real SSP leadership, since they were no longer restrained by any remaining ISM discipline.

After 2003, those newly elected MSPs, who had their own trusted personal contacts in the party, also had to be acknowledged by the ‘Inner Circle’. That opened up the prospect of personal, rather than platform differences arising, which could bring about a more dysfunctional leadership, in the absence of either any platform discipline, or of effective wider party accountability.

The ‘Inner Circle’ was unable to successfully address the crisis in the SSP, when ‘Tommygate’ split them, along with their close personal and parliamentary supporters. Both sides put more trust in the bourgeois courts and leaks to the bourgeois media than in the SSP membership. Neither side confined its appeals for support to bona fide working class and socialist organisations. Initially a cover-up ‘deal’ was made between the SSP Executive Committee and Tommy, under which the reasons for his mutually agreed resignation were hidden from the membership. The minutes were not circulated. This sowed further seeds of confusion, adding to those created by the leadership’s shared responsibility in constructing the Tommy ‘legend’ in the first place.

This legacy of personalised politics very much added to the ensuing acrimony, which contributed to the split between the SSP and Solidarity. The two respective leaderships centred on Alan McCombes and Frances Curran on the SSP side, and Tommy Sheridan and his family on the Solidarity side. Supporters were expected to show uncritical loyalty for their leaders’ respective stances in the virtual civil war that developed. Those trying to put forward a more critical viewpoint found themselves subjected, not to real debate, but more often to misrepresentation, and sometimes to vilification.

Prior to the split, the SSP leadership had tolerated the existence of sects, in particular the SWP and the CWI. These were able to take advantage of the SSP’s recognition of platforms (26). The CWI and SWP saw themselves as having all the answers in advance, with nothing to learn from others, when important questions were debated. They were organised as alternative leaderships-in-waiting, ready to take over.

However, instead of establishing firm platform guidelines, diplomatic deals were also made between the SSP leadership and these sects. The SSP leadership did not openly and politically challenge the sectarian practices of these organisations’ leaderships (27). Such an approach could have won over some of their rank and file (albeit not their leaderships, whose sectarianism is hard-wired), attracting them with more open and democratic politics.

 

 3. THE CURRENT SITUATION – FACING UP TO REALITY

There has been no real attempt by either of the two post-split leaderships (SSP and Solidarity) to draw up a balance sheet of the strengths and weaknesses of the original socialist unity project, or to make any honest assessment of where socialists and the wider working class now are in Scotland. The SSP leadership’s main remaining hope, after ‘Tommygate’, seems to be that, “Things can only get better”! And, is Solidarity now on hold until Tommy gets out of jail?!

Solidarity launched itself, in 2006, with the claim that it would soon overtake the number of pre-existing SSP MSPs. However, it failed even to retain its celebrity leader, Tommy, despite his loudly proclaimed court ‘victory’ that year. Solidarity’s leadership took refuge in its ability to garner more votes (31,066 to the SSP’s 12,731) in the 2007 Holyrood election. Yet Ruth Black, its sole elected councillor, soon defected to Labour after an acrimonious internal spat (28).

The SSP leadership believed that there would be an upturn in SSP fortunes, once they were legally vindicated in the Perjury Trial. However, the SSP’s vote fell from the lowly 12,731 gained in 2007, to the abysmal 8,272 in the 2011 Holyrood election, despite the December 2010 court judgement, which upheld the SSP leadership’s version of the ‘Tommygate’ events. This electoral result showed the leadership’s wishful thinking.

Although the Tommy/Solidarity-backed Respect/George Galloway celebrity candidate only received 6972 votes, in the May 2011 Holyrood election (compared with the still unsuccessful Tommy’s 8544 votes in 2007), whilst Solidarity’s own vote plummeted to 2,837, this could hardly provide the SSP leadership with much comfort, considering that both the phantom Socialist Labour Party, and more worryingly, the British National Party, gained far more votes than the SSP.

Indeed, the fact that the BNP’s vote exceeded the combined vote of the SSP and Solidarity was not publicly acknowledged by either leadership, despite the BNP’s and SDL’s ongoing attempts to gain a foothold in Scotland, particularly amongst British Loyalists in the Central Belt. There seemed to be more concern at leadership levels, to see that the SSP and Solidarity slug it out against each other in certain Glasgow seats, than to ensure that the BNP were opposed everywhere.

What remains of the SSP has become a much looser alliance than the old SSA. Work is left to individuals, the Scottish Socialist Voice has no Editorial Board, the SSP website (29) is Eddie Truman’s sole responsibility, Richie Venton is the SSP’s industrial organiser without any accountability to a committee of SSP trade unionists.

The Scottish Socialist Youth and the SSP International Committee have taken good initiatives, e.g. the Anti-Fascist Alliances (30) and the Republican Socialist Conventions. However, these have not had real united leadership backing (although individual leaders have sometimes given their support, particularly Colin in the latter case).

The SSP leadership does not necessarily follow through conference decisions (e.g. the principled support given to ‘No One Is Illegal’ at the post-split 2007 Conference, which would have meant working closely with the Glasgow Unity Centre). Part of this is due to exhaustion of leading members, but another factor is the continued SSP legacy of having the remnants of this unaccountable ‘Inner Circle’. Whilst no longer necessarily having the vigour to politically oppose initiatives, which they do not fully support at conferences, they can still ensure that any such agreed initiatives receive little effective national leadership promotion or coordination.

The current SSP leadership is divided over the way forward. Some from the old ‘Inner Circle’ are showing signs of abandoning the pretence of that the SSP is still a real party, and of retreating instead towards the formation of a socialist ‘think tank’, somewhat to the left of that recently formed to commemorate Jimmy Reid. This SSP initiative appears to be Glasgow based.

Colin Fox and Richie Venton, however, argue that the existing SSP can be revived if only the correct campaign can be found (e.g. Fighting Fuel Poverty, or Fighting the Cuts), or if members fully throw themselves into a continuous ‘hamster wheel’ of activity. Both work very hard and lead by example. They can always point towards a model branch out there to show that such activity is the way forward. The current example given is the new Ayrshire branch, built with the help of the party’s latest prominent recruit, Campbell Martin. He is a former SNP and Independent MSP. He remains a strong advocate of a left Scottish nationalist approach to the constitution, coupled with some support for populist politics (including the SNP’s minimum alcohol pricing and their misguided anti-‘sectarian’ bill (31).

Mounting campaigns is indeed an important activity for socialist organisations. However, without a proper assessment of the class forces involved, or of how a particular campaign links up with the organisation’s wider Immediate Programme and the struggle for socialism, then any such campaign will either run out of steam; or, it will be taken under the wing of the larger parties. Then, instead of contributing to the building of independent working class organisation, the campaign merely ends up buttressing these parties’ political position, by providing them with some cover for the cuts, or for the other counter-reforms they are imposing elsewhere. The Free Prescriptions Bill, initiated at Holyrood by the SSP parliamentary group, was only enacted by a subsequent SNP government, after the SSP ceased to have any MSPs.

In contrast to the SSP, Solidarity was formed as an alliance (calling itself a movement) and not a party. John Dennis of the SSP South Region made the original proposal for a breakaway, because he thought that internal relations had become too toxic to be contained in one party. However, Solidarity quickly constituted itself as a ‘marriage of convenience’, between Sheridan and the Sheridanistas of the DGS, and the CWI and SWP. It now has even less political cohesion than the currently loose SSP alliance.

The DSG website is showing signs of wishing to reunite the Left, but largely on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (32). The recently formed International Socialist Group (ISG), a Scottish breakaway from the SWP, also involved in Solidarity, seems to be adopting a similar path. Its co-thinkers in Counterfire, in England and Wales, have already drawn Socialist Resistance (33) into their Coalition of Resistance (CoR) against the cuts. Whilst CoR is all too willing to bow before Broad Left trade union bureaucrats and left-talking politicians, it constitutes the most punchy campaigning organisation fighting the cuts at present (as shown by its contingent on the STUC’s October 1st demonstration in Glasgow).

CoR and ISG have even attracted some SSP members, despite their strong antipathy to those from an SWP background. However, any such unity is also likely to be on the shaky ground of ‘forgive and forget’, rather than ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Ironically, this would just repeat the ‘diplomatic’ approach the ‘Inner Circle’ adopted taken towards the SWP (the tradition from whence the ISG came), back in 2002.

Both wings of the current SSP leadership remain reticent about becoming involved in other political organisations’ unity initiatives, or even in wider campaigns where they might meet up. An exception is made in the case of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), which does bring the SSP into contact with Solidarity and ex-Solidarity members. Furthermore, the various struggles impose their own similar joint work, particularly in trade unions. Just as a shared left Scottish nationalism has led to common work inside the SIC, so a shared Broad Leftism has led to joint electoral slates in some unions (e.g. the Public and Commercial Service [PCS] union).

Some SSP and Solidarity members and former members, who have become disillusioned with these organisations, have called for their virtual dissolution into the various campaigns, e.g. Anti-Cuts. They hope that the experience of working with new forces, or ‘knocking heads together’ (i.e. of mutually suspicious SSP and Solidarity members or ex-members) will eventually provide a new basis for unity in the future. Whilst this path can seem attractive, it means glossing over the real political differences that have arisen, and the challenges neither side addressed. Such a course is also likely to lead to more public ‘diplomatic manoeuvres’ (usually accompanied by personalised put-downs in private), in order to bring about a superficial unity, mainly for electoral purposes. This is never a solid basis upon which to build.

Meanwhile, the CWI and SWP continue to slug it out with their own front organisations – the (now defunct?) Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and the National Shop Stewards Network for the CWI, and the (about to be abandoned?) Right to Work Campaign and Unite the Resistance for the SWP. Neither of these sects is likely to commit itself to building a real united party. They prefer to go no further than forming electoral mutual non-aggression pacts like the United Left Alliance in Ireland (which is likely to flounder, if it fails to develop further, after its initial electoral success this year). The prime political purpose of the CWI and SWP is still to build their own sects.

In 2003, a united SSP showed it had gained a definite foothold of support amongst members of the working class in Scotland. The abysmal 2011 (combined SSP and Solidarity) electoral result is an indication that, not only that most politically conscious workers, but also many socialists in Scotland, have moved on from the SSP and Solidarity.

 

 4) WHAT WE NEED TO DO –

LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON

The inspiring legacy of those successful working class campaigns in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, along with the recognition of the need for the working class to organise outside the Labour Party, and to address the National Question in Scotland in a serious manner, provided a sufficient political basis for the successful launch of the initial SSA and SSP project. However, the major challenges the SSP has faced since then mean that new lessons have to be learned if any successful socialist unity project is to be developed in the near future.

We need to acknowledge that the current SSP project is over. We can see that the attempt just to hold things together, hoping things will get better, has not worked. There has been little recognition, at the leadership level, of the need to face up to the new challenges, which the working class has faced; or of the necessary self-criticism about the handling of ‘Tommygate’. The SSP leadership had put the addressing of ‘Tommygate’ on hold between 2006-10, ostensibly for legal reasons during the Perjury Trail.  The 2011 Conference in Dunfermline took a retrograde step by overturning those self-critical decisions, which had been made at the first post-split SSP Conference in Glasgow in 2006.

In pursuing this ‘head-in-the-sand’ course, the SSP will end up as little more than another sect. The leadership’s refusal (using the Perjury Trial as an excuse) to develop a strategy to win back the more critical elements of Solidarity, which would have involved some self-criticism, was the first step on this dead-end road. When the SSA was being set up, the SML/ISM understood the futility of trying to build a new organisation solely around an unquestioned and unquestioning CWI leadership. They actively sought wider support, and just as importantly, were prepared to be self-critical and to challenge some of their old shibboleths in the light of recent experiences. Those in the SSP today, who wish to re-establish socialist unity in Scotland, need to recognise that real answers have to be given to those challenges the SSP failed to meet.

Socialist unity, which has the capacity to address the many pressing issues the working class currently faces in a crisis-ridden world, can only be formed on a new and higher political basis. Such socialist unity will also involve those outside the SSP’s ranks. Such unity can not be built on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (which will just lead to a reoccurrence of previous bad practices), but must be done on the basis of ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

 

a)           Politics

To meet the new challenges the Left has faced in Scotland, we need to clarify our views over:-

–            What we mean by socialism/communism and how (and if) the immediate struggles we support promote this aim.

–            The promotion of internationalism, through building wider international organisation on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ and by participating in international actions.

–            The rejection of populism and the creation of an ‘Immediate Programme’ that both enhances the position of our class, and encourages the development of  independent working class organisation and struggle.

–            An understanding of the reasons why socialists participate in elections to state bodies.

–            An understanding of how socialists participate effectively in trade union (and other working class) struggles.

–            Moving on from a left Nationalist approach to the National Question in Scotland, by adopting a serious commitment to socialist Republicanism.

–            A deeper understanding of Feminism (how to achieve women’s liberation and emancipation), and how this links with the transformation of sexual and social relations between the sexes, which socialist men (who should also have a vision of a realisable better society) have a real interest in achieving.

–            A serious approach to Ecology which takes into account the meeting of the human need for water, food, fuel, shelter and transport, but in an environmentally sustainable way.

–            An imaginative approach on how we relate to other areas of struggle, e.g, culture.

 

b)          Organisation

To learn from the mistakes of the SSP (and of Solidarity), and become more effective we need to:

–            Emphasise the vital importance of democracy, transparency and accountability in all the organisations of the working class.

–            The role of leadership

–            Reject the lure of ‘celebrity politics’.

–            Acknowledge that neither the bourgeois courts, nor the bourgeois media, are appropriate places for socialists to get rulings on how they conduct themselves, or to conduct their internal disputes.  We must confine our appeals to democratic working class and socialist/communist organisations and media. How can we convince the working class of the case for socialism if we have to run to the ruling class’s courts over how we handle our own affairs?

On November 30th, two million public sector workers went on strike (including 300,000 in Scotland), thousands joined picket lines, and tens of thousands went on demonstrations throughout the UK.  However, there is no chance of defending our pensions, when the ruling class and its supporting parties are determined to roll back our class’s gains, and we remain divided between unions and a plethora of different pension schemes. Trade union leaders will all too soon be jockeying for sectional concessions. Only a class wide political offensive, which links up all struggles against the ruling class’s current austerity drive (and this must extend across the EU), has any chance of undertaking a successful defence and then moving on to make real gains.

Nor can the working class be left to the ‘tender mercies’ of a future Miliband (34) -led Labour government.  The Con-Dems may demand an immediate ‘arm and a leg’ from every worker in the UK; but New Labour also wants to saw off our ‘limbs’ – only more slowly. The SNP wants a Scotland that is a low tax haven for corporate business and a playground for the ultra-rich.

Socialists and communists must offer something better.  So let us ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Iain Robertson, 20.12.11

 

 


1             The Socialist Appeal minority, led by Ted Grant, has remained committed to deep entrism inside the Labour Party, without any visible effect.

2             The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was the last to join the SSP in 2002, forming the Socialist Workers Platform.

3             Workers Unity was an amalgam the Communist Party of Great Britain-Weekly Worker, Alliance for Workers Liberty and the Glasgow Marxists.

4            The Scottish Green Party still retained the majority of activists in this particular arena, despite there being no openly organised Green Left in the party, unlike in England and Wales.

5             The No2EU electoral alliance was forged between the ‘British roaders’ of the  Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the CWI.

6             The Stop the War Coalition organised the massive London demonstration. It was formed by the SWP in alliance with the Murray/Griffiths/Haylett group in the CPB, and has been organised around minimalist popular frontist politics. The SWP had also joined the SSP during the previous year.

7             Later in 2006, when Alan McCombes was jailed for his principled refusal to hand over the party’s minutes to the bourgeois courts, virtually the whole membership rallied once more to raise the money to pay the imposed fine. It only became clearer later, that the beneficial political effect of Alan’s brave action was being sabotaged by some of Tommy’s supporters with their secret submission to the authorities of a false set of minutes to provide himself and his new political allies with some cover, and to prepare a new attack on the SSP.

8            Tommy resigned as SSP Convenor a month later.

9             The CWI leadership under Taffe became increasingly hostile to the ISM majority. The CWI wanted the SSA to be a ‘party’ front organisation. Therefore, they attempted to curtail the autonomy of the ISM. The majority of ISM members in Scotland, led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, broke with the CWI.

The CWI minority formed the International Socialists platform in the SSP. In 2010, some time after they helped to set up Solidarity (in 2006), they changed their name to the Socialist Party of Scotland (SPS), to complement the CWI section in England and Wales, usually just styled the Socialist Party to avoid the unfortunate acronym – SPEW! However, the CWI’s declaration of the SPS was a strong indication that they had given up on Solidarity, which they had originally sponsored, as a longer-term vehicle for forming a new wider party in Scotland, hopefully when they formed the majority and could control it.

10             Of course, those who had originally been in the Militant/SML had already broken with many of that organisation’s sectarian practices, highlighted by split of the ISM from its ranks. SWP members, however, were not in the SSP for long enough (2003-6) to shed members for similar reasons. The SWP leadership also shielded itself by providing its members with an even more hard-wired sectarian training than the CWI. Gregor Gall was the only prominent former member, who stayed in the SSP.

However, the SWP’s sojourn within the SSP did have some longer-term effects on its politics, even after they left. Neil Davidson, who had been the main theoretician for the SWP’s left unionism, later managed to get the SWP to move to tentative support for a ‘Yes’ vote in a future Scottish Independence referendum.

11            Doris Day, the former US movie star, is remembered for having successfully made the transition from more sexually risqué, Film Noir movies in the immediate post-war period to becoming the personification of the squeaky clean all-American woman demanded of movie stars during the Cold War. As one of her long-term acquaintances recalled, “I can remember Doris Day before she became a virgin!”

12             Galloway was then strongly supported by the USFI, whose Scottish supporters remained in the SSP and in Frontline.  The USFI had experienced its own split in Scotland as result of ‘Tommygate’.  Its most prominent members, Gordon Morgan and the late Rowland Sherret joined Solidarity. However, with the backing of the USFI’s British section, Socialist Resistance (SR), the majority of USFI members in Scotland remained in the SSP. They began to up the previously virtually non-existent public profile of the USFI in the SSP, by selling Socialist Resistance and through openly putting forward motions to Conference, e.g. supporting the EACL Euro-election challenge.

Ironically SR was later to break with Galloway and his Respect organisation.

13            There was a time when the SSP leadership knew better. The NGOs’ churchy slogan ‘Make Poverty History’ was adopted in the lead up to the huge Edinburgh march preceding the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005. The white-clad ‘Make Poverty History’ organisers, attendant pop celebrities and demonstrators (and their SWP backers) begged the G8 leaders, in effect, for a nicer corporate imperialism. The red-clad SSP demonstrators countered this forelock-tugging call with ‘Make Capitalism History’.

14             The background to the formation of the First International was the need for trade unions to prevent employers using scab labour from other countries, as well as to extend international solidarity to the Republicans in the American Civil War, the Fenians in Ireland and the Paris Communards. The background to the formation of the Second International was the international campaign for the Eight Hour Working Day. Those recent international actions, already mentioned, would seem to indicate that there are even more grounds today for a new International.

15             This is what happened to the much more radical (on paper) Communist Refoundation Party in Italy.  As a consequence, it lost all the seats it had gained, in 2006, in the Italian parliament after the 2008 general election.

16             Traditionally Labour members, particularly those holding office, have been very hostile to the SNP (dismissing them as ‘Tartan Tories’). However, as Labour itself has increasingly taken on a ‘Pink Tory’ hue, in the guise of New Labour, there has been a growing trend amongst some of those from an old Labour background to see the SNP as sharers in Scotland’s Social Democratic tradition,  Hugh Kerr has warmed to the SNP, John McAllion now argues for a ‘Scottish road to socialism’, whilst even former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, has been prepared to work with the prominent SNP member, Kenny MacAskill.

17            At the ISM’s prompting, the SSA became involved in Labour’s ‘Yes, Yes’ campaign in 1997. Using similar arguments, the SSP later became involved in ‘Independence First’, formed in 2005 by fringe Scottish Nationalists, but not supported by the SNP leadership; and in the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), also formed in 2005, but this time ‘supported’, restrained and reined in by the SNP leadership.

 Just as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which initiated the second Scottish Devolution campaign, turned its back on the Anti-Poll Tax struggle (and hence ended up acting as mouthpieces for New Labour’s much weaker Devolution proposals); so there is little chance of the SIC coming out in support of the struggles against the public sector cuts, when the SNP leadership, which they tailend, implements Westminster’s austerity demands.

18             Hutchinson later played a part in the Loyalist campaign of physical intimidation of Catholic primary school girls at Holy Cross in North Belfast, highlighting his roots in the UK’s most virulent Fascist tradition.

19             Daithi Dooley of Sinn Fein was also given a platform to provide ‘balance’. It was agreed to invite the CWI’s Left unionist, Peter Hadden from Northern Ireland to counter the Loyalism of the PUP and the now constitutional Republicanism of  Sinn Fein. The call to give a platform to the socialist Republican, John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy – Ireland (and a former West Belfast councillor) was denied.

20             Despite claims to the contrary, though, this political divide did not form the main reason for the later split. The SWP, which joined Solidarity, was strongly committed to 50:50, whilst others, who remained in the SSP, including members of the RCN, were opposed or abstained.

21            Before developing their infamous ‘Downturn Theory’, just before the 1984-5 Miners Strike (!), the SWP supported a semi-syndicalist, semi-economist form of rank and file strategy in the trade unions. Since then they have oscillated between empty left posturing (their occupation of the negotiations between Unite union leaders  and British Airways in May 2010) and an acceptance of a Broad Left strategy, similar to that of the old CP, and the present CWI.

22             It was not surprising that RMT leadership ended the union’s affiliation after the split in the SSP. Although the SSP leadership’s poor handling of member (Tommy) confidentiality provided an excuse, once the party showed it was much less in awe of ‘great leaders’, it probably became a lot less attractive to Bob Crow. His own British Leftism, inherited from the old CPGB and CPB, was highlighted by his later sponsorship of the British chauvinist, No2EU campaign.

23             The term ‘Immediate Programme’ is used in preference to ‘Minimum Programme’, which, in Social Democratic and later orthodox Communist Party circles, became divorced from any real commitment to the ‘Maximum Programme’. The term ‘immediate demands’ is also used in preference to the use of the Trotskyist term ‘transitional demands’, especially by those from the CWI tradition to try and glorify their support for routine Social Democratic/trade  union reforms. In the UK, these have often buttressed Social Democratic politicians and trade union bureaucrats, rather than developing independent working class organisation. The appropriate time for a ‘Transitional Programme’ is when there is a situation of Dual Power, which actually raises the possibility of an immediate transition towards socialism, the lower phase of communism.

24             A noticeable feature of Alan McCombe’s Downfall is the relative absence of any explanation for the changes in the politics of the SML and ISM, or of  the shifts that took place in trying to hold the ISM together; along with the lack of any account of its two major offshoots – ‘Continuity ISM’ Frontline in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists in Solidarity. Instead this book concentrates on the thinking in the ‘Inner Circle’, reinforcing the view that this was the most significant group in the SSA and SSP leadership. Downfall has a particularly pained tone of anguish and betrayal, precisely because the initial split was not between organised tendencies, but between the previously very close individual members of SML/ISM who made up this ‘Inner Circle’.

25            In this process of moving away from old CWI shibboleths, some former  CWI/ISM members moved very far along these lines of thought. Onetime ISM socialist Feminists originally saw the Socialist Women’s Network (SWN) as an autonomous group within the SSP, which included both socialist and radical Feminists. Following on from the brutal impact of Sheridan’s misogynistic behaviour towards prominent women comrades and other women, in his two trials, key SWN members seemed to move over to a position of advocating radical Feminist organisational separatism. They showed increased hostility towards socialist Feminists in the SSP who differed from them.

26             It was acknowledged by most of the SSP, including its leadership, that not all the  SSP platforms behaved as sects. The RCN was able to provide an example of principled platform behaviour. This contributed to the 2009 post-split SSP Conference decision to unanimously reject the ending of platforms, despite many SSP members having bad experiences of the sectarian antics of the SWP and the CWI.

27             When the RCN brought a motion to conference calling for no support to be given to ‘party’-front organisations (such as the SWP constantly promote), but only to bona fide, democratically-organised, united front campaigns, the SSP leadership would not publicly identify with it because of the diplomatic deals they had made with the SWP. Fortunately, Jim McVicar (ISM/Frontline) broke ranks and gave it his support. The motion was carried by a substantial majority.

28             However, Jim Bollan, SSP, the sole remaining openly socialist councillor in Scotland today, has remained committed to principled class politics. He was suspended for six months from West Dunbartonshire Council, by the SNP leadership, for his tireless activity in support of his overwhelmingly working class constituents fighting cuts to their services. He had the backing of Clydebank Trades Council for his stance. He continues to defy the council’s imposed cuts budget.

29              see:- http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/

30             The SSY supported Anti-Fascist Alliance challenge to Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which is one of the SWP’s several front organisations. UAF attempted, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to divert anti-fascist protestors from directly confronting the SDL to attending tame rallies, addressed by then Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie (!), well away from the Fascist mobilisations. However, neither did the  SSP leadership give a clear call to other SSP members as to where they should be  (although to Frances’ credit, she  was there directly opposing the SDL in Edinburgh).

The SSY also formed a prominent part in the Hetherington Occupation, which was a very significant contribution to the Student Revolt, which first developed in 2011.

31            The lack of any leadership public response to the SNP’s proposed anti-‘sectarian’ bill highlights the SSP’s continued reluctance to get involved in taking a principled position against British Loyalist, anti-Irish racism, which it believes could negatively affect its electoral chances, particularly in Glasgow.  To his credit, Graeme McIver of the DGS, and a prominent member of what is left of Solidarity, has publicly posted a good contribution on this issue on their website.

see:-  http://www.democraticgreensocialist.org/wordpress/?page_id=1448

32             ‘Forgive and forget’, though, does represent a small advance on the ‘Don’t forgive, don’t forget’ tendencies found in both the SSP and Solidarity. In reacting to Sheridan’s anti-party and highly personalised attacks upon leading SSP members, some have become involved in actions which should have been publicly rejected by the party, e.g. George McNeilage’s selling of the ‘Tommy Tape’ to the News of the World, and Frances’s not surprisingly unsuccessful resort to the bourgeois court to clear her name over Tommy’s ridiculous “scab” accusation in the Daily Record.

However, these mistakes have been dwarfed by the conduct of certain Sheridanistas. Some Solidarity members and Galloway (during his Holyrood election campaign, whilst courting Solidarity support) have encouraged violent  attacks directed against SSP members.

also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/19/a-reply-to-james-turleys-whose-afraid-of-george-galloway/

33           This may cause some difficulties for USFI supporters in Scotland, since the ISG’s leader, Chris Bambery was very much involved in supporting the SWP’s anti-Galloway breakaway from Respect, which was opposed by USFI-SR at the time. The ISG also gave its support to the virulently anti-SSP, pro-Union Galloway (nominally Respect) candidate, in the May 2011 Holyrood election. Political consistency has never been a strong point for those from the old SWP tradition!

Perhaps, political differences may develop between the USFI/SR and the Scottish USFI group such as undoubtedly exist between the USFI/SR and USFI/Socialist Democracy (Ireland).

3            Labour-supporting trade union leaders in Scotland condemned the SNP MSPs who crossed the Holyrood picket line on November 30th, but remained absolutely silent about Miliband and all those New Labour MPs who turned up at Westminster. Here Cameron was quick to highlight Miliband’s earlier publicly declared opposition to the strike.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Mar 12 2007

Secularism, Socialism and Religion

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 14RCN @ 3:26 pm

Bob Goupillot outlines a Marxist approach to religion

A Marxist understanding of religion

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people

Karl Marx

Marx understood the religious impulse to be a human response to a world that sometimes presents as scary, terrifying and out of our control. Thus the religions of hunter-gatherer people focus on asserting control over their prey animals, the religious festivals of farming peoples focus on marking the passing seasons and placating the gods and goddesses of the earth and sky. Religion is a human, spiritual response to an uncertain world.

Under capitalism, Marx argued, religious faith and religion in general are a result of and a response to, capitalist oppression and exploitation. Thus the religious impulse today is a way of responding to the uncertainty of a world based on impersonal market relations rather than direct human relationships. A world in which we are not expected to love our neighbour or be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper but are encouraged to relate to others, as competitors for limited resources, or at best, fellow consumers. In the modern world Religion is a product of alienation-our atomisation and isolation from each other and our selves.

Thus religion is a response to, rather than a direct cause of, oppression. This explains the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arabic and Asian world. An important factor here was the failure of socialist and revolutionary nationalist movements e.g. Nasser in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya, to defeat encroaching capitalism in the form of western imperialism. In the absence of an effective socialist movement Radical Islam provides a channel for the rage of the oppressed. Hamas and Hizbollah offer solace in the next world whilst being vehicles to deal with issues in this one e.g. the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

(As an aside I would argue that the historical Jesus was part of the Jewish resistance to Roman occupation and an early anti imperialist)

A progressive socialist approach to religion – secularism.

Marx criticised religion but he was equally scathing about liberals or anarchists who made the criticism of religion a point of honour and insisted on everybody being atheists.

Such thinkers would often argue against supporting campaigns in support of religious tolerance and against religious oppression (in our time, Islamophobia, in Marx ‘s time, anti Judaism) on the grounds that this was tolerating or even supporting religion. This misses the point that the right to freely express ones spiritual or philosophical beliefs is a hard won, democratic right, that should be ‘religiously’ defended by all progressive people, socialists in particular.

Marx argued that religious beliefs will erode to the degree that the material conditions that promote them erode, that is the exploitation and oppression of capitalism. Thus rather than focussing on a fight against religion we should be uniting with all those, believer and non-believer, who genuinely oppose capitalism.

Secularism – a definition

The attitude that religion should have no place in civil affairs.

Collins English dictionary

Secularism denotes the separation of religion from the state and abolishing discrimination between religions. That is a person’s spiritual or philosophical beliefs are their own affair and should be free from outside pressure or interference. People should be free to practise their religion, agnosticism or atheism as they see fit (provided it does not harm others). It expresses the equality of believers and non-believers.

Thus it is possible, for example, to be a secular, Christian, Moslem or Jewish socialist.

A secular state means no public funds would be given to any religious schools nor would any specific religion be preferentially taught although there might be the study of religions as a branch of philosophy.

The religious instruction of children into one faith is indoctrination as they are being deprived of choice – some Baptists kind of believe this and they only baptise adults.

State has no place in personal spiritual development. Opposition to state religion.

There are virtually no truly secular states. Interestingly, the writers of the US constitution firmly rejected any idea of a state religion and the final document omits any reference to god. The US state officially derives its authority from the people not God whatever George Bush and other American Christian fundamentalists may say.

Misguided socialist approaches to religion

Since Marx’s time socialists have wrestled with the issue of how to relate to religion and religious believers. This history has produced a number of misguided approaches to this important question:

  • 1) State atheism, crackdowns on religions. This happened in Enver Hoxha’s ‘socialist’ Albania. It also happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He later ensured that the Russian Orthodox Church became an arm of the state.
  • 2) Separation of church and state but secularism used as stick to beat religious minorities e.g. the banning of the Muslim hijab in France was supported by some sections of left as a defence of ‘secularism’. The correct approach was to support the right of Muslim women to freedom of choice over what they wear (or don’t wear) in opposition to the capitalist state and the religious authorities.
  • 3) Sections of the left, including within the SSP, oppose a Secularist position. Thus at our last 3 national conferences motions favouring secularism in our education system have failed to be discussed or have been voted down. Arguments against us promoting secularism usually take the following forms:
    • i) Given that some religions have their own schools funded by the state e.g. Catholicism it is discriminatory or even racist to refuse funding to other religions e.g. Islam.
    • ii) State schools are in practice Protestant schools and parents who subscribe to other religions are perfectly entitled to support for schools that are based on their religion.
    • iii) A distorted anti-imperialism/cultural relativism – i.e. we mustn’t judge other cultures. Some of those who attack secularism defend “Islam” to try and be seen as defending Muslims.

      However Lenin argued that all societies have ‘two cultures’ a democratic progressive culture and a repressive, backward culture and socialists must distinguish between the two. Therefore defend Muslims from state oppression and Islamophobia but don’t sweep disagreements under carpet.
      What is often proposed instead is a variety of multiculturalism or religious equality whereby every religion has the right to state support for its own ‘faith’ school.

      Note: what is not proposed is the equality of believers and non-believers i.e. secularism.

      Multiculturalism is a means whereby the capitalist state divides the working class and manages social conflict. In place of class struggle, religious, cultural, or ethnic groups are supposed to compete with each other for the state’s favours.

    • iv) Some socialists inside and outside Iraq and Iran see Islamic regimes or even Islam itself as the main or as great an enemy as the UK/USA imperialism. This is a mistake.

Socialism and secularism in Scotland/UK today – what should we campaign for?

  • Separation of church and state
  • No state support for ‘faith’ schools
  • No religious teaching in schools but the study of religions
  • The abolition of the UK’s blasphemy laws.

All belief systems should be open to criticism. That doesn’t mean that all criticism is useful e.g. the Danish anti-Islamic cartoons which were merely insulting. The Blair government is seeking to extend the blasphemy laws from Christianity to cover other religions. This has been supported by the likes of George Galloway, the SWP and Respect in England on the grounds that it would give some legal protection against Islamophobia.

Socialists should oppose all attempts to divide the working class on the basis of religion. Class unity in this world is more important than agreement about the nature of the next world.

Socialists consistently demand the earthly equality of believers and non-believers. We campaign for a democratic, secular, republic.

Intelligent design?

Intelligent design?

Tags:


Next Page »