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

 

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

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May 01 2014

‘EMANCIPATION & LIBERATION’ RIC SPECIAL BULLETIN, March, 2014

The RCN produced its first Emancipation and Liberation RIC Special Bulletin for the National Forum in March. It included the following articles:

1. Let’s all end our abusive relationship with the UK state

2.The Republican Communist Network and the Radical Independence Campaign

3. A Republican perspective is important for Scotland’s future

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LET’S ALL END OUR ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UK STATE

Osborne, Alexander and Ball’s ‘Dambuster Strategy’ to roll back the ‘Yes’ vote has highlighted the reality of ‘Scottish self-determination’ under the UK state. In effect, this ‘partnership’ leaves the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland trapped in an abusive relationship. Cameron’s subsequent ‘love-bombing’ reveals the classic behaviour of an abuser – but still represents an ‘apology’ beyond the capabilities of Johann Lamont and Labour in Scotland. Unless, we accept our subordinate part in their ‘order of things’ and bow before with rule of the City of London, and, if necessary, are prepared to die for ‘Britain’, then our currently allotted ‘allowance’ under this relationship will be curtly terminated.

But the UK is not a marriage between just two partners, however unequal. The British ruling class’s Union is designed to maintain their abusive ‘ p o l y g a m o u s ’ relationship with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK, being an imperial, unionist and monarchist state, with an established religion, has a whole panoply of powers, both under the Crown and Westminster, with which to promote division between the peoples, and in particular, the working class, living on these islands.

To prevent one ‘partner’, Scotland, from breaking free from this abusive relationship, Tory, Lib-Dem and Labour politicians have fallen over themselves act as mouthpieces for the City and big business. This has highlighted just who is in control. The UK’s longstanding treatment of Ireland should already have provided one warning of the violence the British ruling class can resort to. But isolating one partner, by cynically currying favour with the others, has all been part of their manipulative method, as Scottish people are now finding out.

However, the power of the British ruling class is not unlimited. It depends on the degree of real working class unity that can be achieved – not just within Scotland, but together with our other abused partners in England, Wales and Ireland. More people can see that ‘Better Together’ is part of the shared Tory, Lib-Dem and Labour pro-austerity, pro-war alliance. This will continue whichever party wins the 2015 Westminster General Election.

People outwith Scotland, are beginning to understand that the September 18th referendum is not primarily a vote for a rather timid SNP government, but for constitutional change. This will have far-reaching effects for the continued existence of the UK, and hence for the state which allows the British ruling class to maintain its abusive domination over the working class throughout these islands. We can counter their top-down UK state and British unionist alliance, through our own ‘internationalism from below’ democratic alliance.

This is why the RCN has initiated the following motion passed by Edinburgh RIC, which will be debated at the National Forum on Match 29th in Perth:-

“RIC agrees to provide speakers for events organised by socialist and radical organisations in England, Wales and Ireland where the issue of support for Scottish independence is being discussed.

Therefore, RIC supports the proposal being made by the Republican Socialist Alliance platform to the Left Unity Party that it organises a conference in England around the issue of support for Scottish independence.”

Allan Armstrong (RCN)

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THE REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST NETWORK AND THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN 

The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) has mobilised a large number of Socialists, Left Greens, Left Nationalists and other Radical Democrats in Scotland. The opportunity to exercise Scottish self-determination is the issue that has brought us together, along with a concern that the SNP government is prepared to settle for something well short of genuine political self-determination.

The possibility of writing a new constitution, reflecting the social needs of the majority of people is a heady prospect. Meetings and street activities have been held all over Scotland. There has been an outpouring of writing, other cultural initiatives and contributions on the social media. Such thinking goes well beyond the usual narrow concerns. It has led to a wide-ranging discussion over exactly what sort of Scotland we want to see, and what sort of wider world we want to live in. Continue reading “‘EMANCIPATION & LIBERATION’ RIC SPECIAL BULLETIN, March, 2014”

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Nov 27 2013

THE GHOST OF JAMES CONNOLLY – Book Launch

THE GHOST OF JAMES CONNOLLY 

James Connolly and Edinburgh’s New Trade Union, Independent Labour and Socialist Movements (1890-96)

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James Connolly’s role in Irish history is well known and celebrated.  However, Connolly also played a prominent part in the ‘New Union’, independent Labour and Socialist movements in Edinburgh. Allan Armstrong, who conducts Radical Walks in the city, has written the first book looking at Connolly’s years in Edinburgh. It includes a Gazetteer of locations in the city linked with Connolly.

Continue reading “THE GHOST OF JAMES CONNOLLY – Book Launch”

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Mar 18 2013

COMMUNIST RELATIONS TODAY, CAPITALIST RELATIONS TOMORROW

Category: Capitalism and Communism,What is communism?RCN @ 10:46 am

The  article below is written by RCN member, Iain Robertson. Iain is a mountaineer and rock climber. This article represents a continuation of the work the RCN has been posting, not only  on what communism could look like in the future, but on how many elements of such cooperative practice  already exist  today. However, under  capitalist domination such beneficial social activity is constantly being undermined.

 

Sea and Mountain Rescue Services

Sea and Mountain Rescue Services

This article takes a look behind one of the many privatisations going on and argues that, even in the UK, capitalism is not total or absolute and does not go uncontested.

It could be off the Cornish coast, the flooded valleys of Cumbria, 3000 feet up on the Tower Ridge of Ben Nevis, or any other part of Britain and its coastline where life is at risk from accident, heart attack or natural disaster and a military SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter is required. Today, a cooperative, integrated set of social relationships, designed to serve a social need and profiting no one, will come into play to save life.

The network involves the police (publicly funded), as first point of contact coast guard (publicly funded), R.N.L.I. (a volunteer lifeboat service), the Cave Rescue teams and the Mountain Rescue teams around Britain (volunteer services) the Ambulance service (publicly funded) and finally, where required, the military SAR helicopters (publicly funded) stationed at 8 locations around the coasts of Scotland, England and Wales.

Continue reading “COMMUNIST RELATIONS TODAY, CAPITALIST RELATIONS TOMORROW”

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Apr 16 2012

DEBATING THE POSSIBILITY OF COMMUNISM

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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.

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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

 

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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

 

 

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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.

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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/

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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.

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Aug 24 2004

Emancipatory Science

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 08RCN @ 2:41 pm

Despite its misuse and abuse by capitalism, Iain Robertson illustrates how science and scientists have a progressive role to play.

As debates continue about GM crops, global warming and environmental degradation, scientists can easily become regarded as a faceless group in the pay of the industrial/military machine that increasingly blights our lives across the globe. As with any other community, political convictions within the scientific community range across the full spectrum. Fortunately, given the power of science and its misuse and abuse on the part of corporations, the military and governments, in every generation there have been those who chose to serve human kind by promoting enlightenment and truth, and by linking their search for scientific truth to social and political justice. We are all aware of the involvement of scientists in the development of the ‘real’ WMD programmes of the UK and the USA but we are not so aware of those scientists who speak out against abuses of science and against abuses of human rights.

There are many historical examples of the involvement of scientists in the politics of the day. You will not be surprised to learn that most of their names are virtually unknown and that even where the names are in the history books, the science text books or in the media, their political activities are not.

Lavoisier had his head chopped off in France and Joseph Priestley was hounded by the mob in Birmingham. They were contemporaries; rivals in the search to isolate and identify the ‘active’ ingredient in air – oxygen gas. Lavoisier funded his scientific research using the generous cut he took as a tax farmer for King Louis XIV. In France, the revolution won and Lavoisier paid the price for his supposed Royalist sympathies, while in England the revolution had failed and Priestley, as a public supporter of the French and American revolutionary ideals, narrowly escaped death at the hands of a mob whipped up by the Tories of the day. To be fair to Lavoisier, it is reported that he was one of the more liberal minded tax collectors who attempted to secure reforms to the system.

Kathleen Lonsdale – woman pioneer in a man’s world

But this article is about a 20th century mathematician, physicist, chemist and mother of three imprisoned by the British government during the WWII and later awarded the CBE. Her name is Kathleen Lonsdale (nee Yardley). Kathleen Yardley was the youngest of ten children, born to Harry and Jessie Yardley, in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Her father was postmaster at Newbridge Post Office, following a career in the British army. He married Jessie Cameron, a Scot, in 1889. He read widely and Kathleen later said, I think it was from him that I inherited my passion for facts. Unfortunately he had a drink problem and the home wasn’t happy, and in 1908 Kathleen’s mother left him and brought the children to Seven Kings in Essex. He only visited them occasionally and died when Kathleen was 20. Her mother was a Christian of the Strict Baptist persuasion and Kathleen’s earliest memories are of attending Church of Ireland services and the Methodist Sunday School in Newbridge, and learning to count with yellow balls in the local school. She was the youngest of ten children, four girls and six boys. Four of her brothers died in infancy and Kathleen commented in later life, Perhaps, for my sake, it was as well that there was no testimony against a high birth rate in those days.

She attended classes in Physics, Chemistry and Higher Mathematics at the High School for Boys (the only girl) as her school didn’t offer these subjects. Poverty forced her older siblings to quit school and go out to work to help support the family. [Her brother Fred Yardley became one of the earliest wireless operators and was the person who received the last signals from the Titanic in 1912.]

Being the only girl in a male world was the beginning of a lifetime’s struggle. She was encouraged to come into the developing field of X-ray crystallography by its leading exponent, William Bragg. Kathleen Lonsdale made the most of this opportunity and her abilities, despite an unfavourable family background, the heavy demands of family life and several moves. She said, in her characteristically humble way,

My own research life has been greatly enriched by having been broken into by periods of enforced change. I was not idle while I had my three children; far from it. But it gave me the opportunity of standing back, as it were, and looking at my work. And I came back with new ideas.

Blazing a trail

One of the fruits of these ‘new ideas’ was the breakthrough in techniques for mapping the exact structure, atom by atom in 3 dimensions, of molecules such as penicillin. It was this that allowed the laboratory synthesis of these important molecules previously only available naturally in small quantities. In short, she played a critical part in making modern medicines available to the masses. Of course, today her work would be the intellectual property of Monsanto or Glaxo and it is this, rather than ‘science’ or scientists, that is the problem.

She achieved many firsts in the arena of professional science and broke through several glass ceilings, particularly in the field of crystallography where women now have one of the highest representations compared to other physical sciences.

Kathleen Lonsdale was one of the women pioneers in a man’s world, the world of professional scientists. She opened the way for other women, and crystallography became an area of the physical sciences where women became prominent. Maureen Julian showed in a survey of crystallographers that around 14% were women in the early 1990s, compared to around 2% of physicists. Thus women are more numerous and more prominent in this area of science than in related sciences. This was due firstly to the influences of William and his son, Lawrence Bragg, in the 1920s and 1930s. They encouraged many women to take up crystallography, and then to the influence of Kathleen Lonsdale, who was one of the most prominent women in science from the late 1930s to her death in 1971.

Dorothy Hodgkin, although not a student of Kathleen Lonsdale, was influenced by reading one of her papers while an undergraduate. Dorothy Hodgkin went on to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her application of crystallography to solving the structures of important biological molecules, and she also encouraged many women to take up crystallography as a career. But Kathleen Lonsdale was the pioneer woman in this area and was recognized as follows:

  • One of the first two women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society (1945)
  • First woman professor at University College, London (1949)
  • First woman president of the International Union of Crystallography (1966)
  • First woman president of the British Association of Science (1968)

There is an irony about the date of her election to the Royal Society at the close of WWII. This is an ‘honour’ given by scientists to each other and it may have been the scientific community recognizing more than just her contribution to science. Kathleen Lonsdale was brought up as a Strict Baptist by her mother but as an adult she found its beliefs rather restrictive. She and her husband, having looked around for a suitable church to join, eventually joined the Quakers, or Society of Friends.

Their strongly pacifist yet activist position appealed to Kathleen, whose abhorrence of war had grown since WWI when she lived near London under the Zeppelin flight path. At the beginning of WWII everyone was expected to register for war service of some sort, but Kathleen refused registration since there was no exception on the grounds of being a conscientious objector. She was eventually summonsed and fined £2. When she refused to pay the fine she was sent to Holloway Prison for one month, wearing prison clothes, cleaning floors and doing other jobs. She took this course of action despite the fact that she would have been exempted as a mother of three young children. However, she was allowed books and papers and managed seven hours scientific work every day.

Prison reform

This marked the start of a life-long interest in prison reform and she became a Prison Visitor for several women’s prisons after the war. 1945 was also the year she joined the growing movement of scientists against the Atomic bomb. She visited many countries after the war including Russia and China, but she had trouble getting a visa to visit the USA. One embassy official told her: You’ve been to the three most difficult places’ Russia, China and gaol. While in prison she discovered a fallacy behind statistics used by the authorities. This surfaced again in 1998 when her daughter, Nancy, wrote to the Guardian as follows:

I was intrigued by the statistic in Peter Gorman’s letter (March 7th) that in 1996-7 ‘while 11 per cent of people in England and Wales are Roman Catholic, 17 per cent of those in prison are’. My mother, Kathleen Lonsdale, spent a month in Holloway prison in 1943. She was a Quaker and had refused to pay a fine for not registering for fire watching. On arrival a friendly inmate whispered that it was better to register as a Roman Catholic. They were issued with bibles with red covers, which, if wetted, could produce a passable substitute for lipstick. Protestants were given blue covered bibles. My mother used this anecdote to illustrate the pitfalls of interpreting statistics.

In many ways her work for peace and for prison reform, in the best traditions of Christian activism, were as significant as her scientific work. The title of one of her non-scientific books was Is Peace Possible? and another was The Christian Life Lived Experimentally. She was an activist in the best sense of the word, and she implemented this in her scientific as well as in her Christian and social activities. In one of her talks on religion she said: It is necessary to believe that in God’s world there is always a right course of immediate action. That was a philosophy that she put into action herself and persuaded others around her to do the same.

Coming as she did from a poor Irish/Scots working class background and being a successful woman in a male world she could so easily have ‘sold out’, accepted the honours and accolades and become part of the establishment. Instead she fought for women’s rights and prison reform, and was very active in anti-war work.

Emancipatory role

And while tens of thousands of senior science pupils and science undergraduates study her discoveries few, if any, will know her name, and while thousands of science teachers and lecturers teach her discoveries few, if any, will know anything about her life even if they do know the name. And this is because today’s scientists are largely cut off from their own history and heritage. They do not know of the emancipatory role that scientists have often played in freeing the human mind from myth and superstition and in challenging the philosophical basis upon which the ruling classes of the day have depended.

We need within the SSP to address the issue of education. We need to create systems that encourage our pupils and student how to think, not just what to think; we need to foster greater awareness of the history of ideas and we need to reinvigorate scientists with as sense of social responsibility.

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Dec 03 2002

The Great Land Grab

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:56 pm

In the light of the Scottish Parliament’s inadequate Land Reform legislation, Iain Robertson looks at who owns Scotland and what is needed to ensure access to all.

The day began like many others. It was too early, too cold, and too dark to be getting up and we were still tired from the previous evening’s socialising but the short daylight hours of winter meant that if we were going to complete the round of the Strathfarrar Munros then a seven-thirty departure from the bunkhouse was essential. Throughout our breakfast conversation turned to the overcast skies, the inevitability of rain, sleet and snow as we gained height and of the condition of the snow and ice underfoot. The depressingly familiar rain started soon after we left the cottage but we comforted ourselves that perhaps it might be clearer by the end of the seventy-five mile journey ahead of us up to Inverness then south-west to the glen of Strathfarrar in the heart of the Grampian mountains. As it turned out the rain was the least of our worries. The entrance to the 19 kilometer-long glen was barred by a padlocked gate. A notice advised that arrangements could be made to have the gate unlocked provided walkers and climbers phoned in advance between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm Monday to Friday. It was now 9.00 am on Saturday morning and we had just driven 75 miles to get here. This was not the first time that we had been barred from access by a landowner, or had obstacles put in the way of access.

Increasing numbers of people, especially from the cities, quite literally seek their recreation in the glens, hills and mountains of this land only to come hard up against the chilling reality that, collectively, we still own barely a handful of earth; that we have next to no say at all in the economic use of the land of Scotland; that we derive very little economic benefit from the land; and that the right of even access to the land hangs by the finest of legal threads. In reality, legally and historically, the land that was stolen from the common people by a process that began 900 years ago is still going on now. We are allowed to call it our land only in song and poetry, or when we are to be cynically manipulated by appeals to our patriotism in times of war.

Legacy of feudal land ownership

For ramblers, walker and climbers the land access problem is a long running sore. It reminds us of second class status in our own country and exposes the hypocrisy of Blair’s classless society. We are corralled into the central belt, and most of us into high density schemes within that, while vast acres of hill and glen, denuded, firstly, of their trees and, more recently in the last two centuries, of their original inhabitants (the fore-parents of many of us), are set aside for the occasional pleasure of a tiny but wealthy minority. This is the legacy of the feudal system of land ownership that has been consolidated with very little change during the last 900 years. During the last 200 hundred of these years, for much of the increasingly urban population in Scotland it has meant living in the high density, low amenity, high rent, low health record reservations we call cities. For much of the rural population it has meant clearances (which, of course, swelled numbers in the already overpopulated slums), high rents for those able to stay, diminishing economic activity and subservience to the local laird. For hundreds of thousands this subservience has meant armed service to the crown in the name of British imperialism. Even today rural populations are in decline. While in rural Ireland Irish Gaelic is widely spoken and welsh continues to thrive in North Wales, Scots Gaelic is on the verge of collapse. And this is attributable to the pattern of land ownership in Scotland which is unique to Scotland. In no other European country, perhaps the world, has this 900 year old feudal system persisted so unchanged as it has so in Scotland even into the 21st century.

And this is despite frequent tinkering by various governments over the last two centuries. It is a measure of the entrenched and backward nature of the system of land abuse and misuse in Scotland that British governments have felt compelled to modify it. Of course, we now are devolved and our ministers on the mound are working their way through another reform – to land access this time. If previous reforms are anything to go by we are in for a huge disappointment. The last great reform attempted was the right to buy reform.

Media disinformation

Media interest in crofter buy-outs in Knoydart and Eigg were masterly examples of disinformation concerning the land reforms of recent times. The images presented to the public are of bad landlords on the retreat, of caring government on the side of the people, of government on a quest for justice, and, worst of all, of a brave new world where the big issues of the right to own the land of Scotland have been addressed. The reality is quite different.

The media coverage to buy-outs was out of all proportion to the scale of the buy-outs. The areas of land involved in right to buy sales are a tiny fraction of one percent of the land area of Scotland under private ownership. The right to buy legislation protects the landowner’s financial interests – the crofters had to raise the market value price. The legislation protects the great landowners of Scotland – only a tiny proportion of the population of Scotland (registered crofters) have the right to buy and only the tiniest fraction of the great landowners estates are at risk. The estates in Scotland that were stolen from the common people nine centuries ago have been and continue to be protected by statute and law and every government from the 19th century Liberals to 20th century Labour has assiduously side stepped the central issue of Scotland’s feudal laws governing the control and use (and sadly, mostly misuse) of the greater portion of the land of Scotland.

So who exactly does own Scotland and what is the system of land ownership?

Who owns Scotland?

The answer to the first question is We don’t know. There is no centrally held, publicly available, completed register of land ownership for Scotland. Even where ownership is known, the boundaries and acreages are often either unknown or concealed. Several researchers have reported being blanked by representatives of estate owners upon enquiring about the accuracy of such information as they had obtained. However, what is known makes the picture clear enough. Take Lanarkshire, the most populated Authority in Scotland with Glasgow, East Kilbride, etc. as well as the Leadhills and Clyde valleyto the south. Out of a population of around 627 000 (in 2001), 150 landowners own one third of the land. The average land holding is well over 1000 acres with the Earl of Home on top walking his dogs around some 30 000 acres. (Actually he doesn’t as he lives on one of his other estates near Coldstream in the Scottish borders.) Everywhere the picture is similar. The common people are herded into the central belt and coastal strips while huge areas of Scotland are misused and mismanaged; rural economies continue their decline; and rural depopulation threatens one community after another with slow death.

The issue of Who Owns Scotland should be of huge importance to the
SSP. It is not an issue of envy. It is not even an issue of moral outrage or of righting past wrongs – well justified on their own though these are. It is an issue of our economic and social well-being as many have comprehensively argued.

The impact of the land tenure system goes far beyond land use. It influences the size and distribution of an area’s population; access to housing; access to land to build new houses; the social structure; and the distribution of power and influence. In many areas of Scotland, large land owners play a crucial role in local development: they are the rural planners.

Bryan Mcgregor, 1993, Aberdeen University, Professor of Land Economy

This is abundantly illustrated in Scotland’s largest county (as was), Invernessshire. This county stretched from the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic, through Skye and across to Inverness by the North Sea. Yet it occupied the smallest number of pages in the 1872 Return* such was the huge size of the estates held by a relatively fewer great landowners than was common in other counties even then. Now that Invernesshire, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross counties have been amalgamated into Highland region, an area close to one quarter of all Scotland has a single planning authority under the influence of a handful of very powerful families. The economic and demographic stranglehold that these largely anonymous families wield beggars belief. [*The 1872 Return was an attempt by the Victorians to account for land ownership in Britain. It was regarded as being about 90% accurate. Astonishingly, the best information on England and Wales 125 years later is only guessed at as being about 60% accurate, with figure for Scotland being marginally less scandalous. Those who own Scotland, England and Wales don’t want us to know.]

So why do these secretive few cause such economic decline? After all, it might be argued that they surely stand to benefit more than the common people of Scotland from a more vibrant rural economy. Ironically the opposite is often true. In the first place, an increasing number of estate owners do not derive their income from their estate. For example, the current Earl of Rosebery (Neil Primrose to his friends) is an entrepreneur with a company worth £65 million in 2001. Viscount Cowdray (estate in Aberdeen) made his fortune via the Pearson plc media conglomerate. Numerous newcomers bought into estates using fortunes made earlier or are actually not nationals. Much of Glen Etive and the Blackmount is owned by the Flemings (London Bankers); the largest known estate in Kirkcudbrightshire is owned by Fred Olsen, Norwegian shipping magnate. (His other claim to Scottish fame? He owns Timex. Remember Dundee?). Although many estate owners do manage their estates on a commercial basis, what is profitable for them causes economic devastation not only to those who live locally but even more so to those who aspire to live in rural areas. This is true both for those young people forced out through lack of jobs; of affordable housing (or just any housing); as well as for those who want to move from urban centres.

For most estate owners it is the absence of people that equates with economic viability for most are run as pleasure grounds for other wealthy people as well as for themselves. Like the feudal barons (from whom many are descended) they insist the common people must be kept off of their playground to allow the grouse, the deer, the salmon, the foxes, the pheasants and the trout to be plentiful in numbers and reserved for themselves. And like their robber baron ancestors, they are not fussy about the methods they use to keep things the same now as they have been during the last 900 years.

William the Slaughterer (1066) began the process of converting land held in common by the people into private estates held by the few at the point of a sword – initially, then by the fiction of bits of paper called titles. The legal system of land tenure in Scotland today would be completely recognisable by the Norman Bruces and Comyns of the 14th century and even earlier. There we have it. Alone in Europe, Scotland still has an archaic legal framework for its land tenure based on feudal absolutism where the feudal superior (the landowner) is the ultimate authority under god.

So why has so little changed?

Since the beginnings of parliamentary democracy all governments have been composed principally of the landowners themselves and/or their allies. Although Cromwell led an army against Absolutism of the monarchy, he soon turned his army against the Levellers. Reforming governments of the last 150 years have strained themselves to minimise land reforms in the face of agitation from Chartists, Land Leaguers, crofters, and, more recently ramblers, socialists and academics. Despite the grandiose language from the Scottish Executive on land reform the enduring power, secrecy and economic stranglehold of the landowning mafia was assiduously left untouched. A Land Reform Policy Group was set up by the new Scottish Executive to address the issues raised by the many groups pressing for fundamental change that would bring the land tenure system into the 21st century and into line with the rest of Western Europe and Scandinavia. It consisted primarily of civil servants who ignored the feudal legal framework, the secrecy and tax evasion scams of the landowners, and even the models of every neighbouring country. These civil servants glorified consensus and blocked criticisms of their fundamental assumptions. Hence, as so often in the past, the archaic and anti-democratic legal framework was never subject to examination, the enormous power without accountability of landowners was never questioned, and rural economic stagnation never allowed to be discussed.

One reason, perhaps, why the Scottish Executive has been able so far to escape major unrest is the low priority accorded to the land issue by much of the left. It is not seen as a major campaigning issue. The left itself has gone along with the propaganda that land is a crofting issue, peripheral to the interests of the central belt working class. Quite apart from preceding social and economic arguments to the contrary, the biggest single anti-democratic, anti working class power block in Scotland is the centuries old intermarried landowning class. End the corrupt and destructive land tenure system and their power as a class goes with it. Another reason for the Executive’s smooth path through the parliamentary processes and media scrutiny has been the disunity among the various groups and organisations that have been fighting their sustained but private campaigns against the draft land reform bill.

The need for a united opposition

There is great scope here for the SSP to provide a focus for united opposition to this woefully inadequate bill. Two actions are needed. First, the politics of land ownership and the economic and democratic deficits of the present system need to be put at the top of the agenda – the Scottish Executive has buried these. Second, a genuine countryside alliance of the common people needs to be established bringing together the rural jobless and homeless, the Ramblers Associations, the Mountaineering Council for Scotland, the beleaguered crofters and tenant hill farmers, and the thousands of workers in B&B’s, pubs, hotels, bunkhouses, petrol stations, village shops throughout the Highlands, the Islands and the Southern Uplands of Scotland who depend for their livelihoods on thousands of workers from the cities, like the Creag Dhu climbers from red Clydeside in the 20’s and 30’s, escaping their confines to breath clean air, walk, cycle, scramble and climb; or to rest, sightsee, picnic and camp among the hills and mountains. The land issue is our issue; the land is our land. We need control over it for our economic, social and recreational well-being.

Iain Robertson

Books consulted in the writing of this article included:

Scotland: land and power – the agenda for land reform, Andy Wightman, Luath Press Ltd.

The Rich at Play: Foxhunting, land ownership and the Countryside Alliance,
RPM No9

Land, People and Politics,1878- 1952, Roy Douglas, Allison & Busby

Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, Canongate

Our thanks to the anonymous local who unlocked the padlocked gate to Glen Strathfarrar that Saturday morning. As we struggled to the top of the third Munro (mountain over 3000 ft) the mist cleared briefly to reveal a setting sun illuminating the snow-capped mountains to the far North – an unforgettable sight.

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