Nov 24 2013

Scottish Self-Determination: For A Wannabe Ruling Class or for Scotland’s People?

Category: Issue 22RCN @ 8:38 pm

The SNP is conducting its campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote around a series of proposals that fall considerably short of genuine self-determination and amount to ‘Independence-Lite’ for a wannabe Scottish ruling class. Here, the RCN is putting forward some alternative proposals, which would open the way to meaningful self-determination for the people and working class of Scotland. These proposals are not designed to be exhaustive. We welcome other suggestions from RIC supporters.

Democracy

While the SNP currently only supports the ending of Westminster control over law making in Scotland, and continues to support the wider UK and the British monarchy, we call for:

  • The break-up of the UK and opposition to the Crown Powers

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Nov 24 2013

Editorial

Category: Issue 22RCN @ 8:26 pm

RIC – a year of campaigning and growth

It is a full year since the launch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) last November in Glasgow. This was the largest gathering of the Left seen in Scotland for many a year. Since then the campaign has taken off, with local branches established throughout Scotland. RIC members have been involved in a wide range of campaigns.

These have included protests again the ‘bedroom tax’; the weekend of action against Faslane nuclear submarine base; directly challenging Nigel Farage on his ‘visit’ to Edinburgh pushing UKIP’s uberreactionary agenda; opposition to former Greek premier Papandreou’s invitation to the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh; and supporting campaigns of solidarity with Palestine. There was also a sizeable RIC contingent on the Scottish independence march in Edinburgh on September 11th.

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Nov 11 2012

The Republican Communist Network (Scotland) What We Stand For – From Theory to Practice

1) Another world is possible – a joyful, creative, new world communism which emancipates us all from oppression and frees us all from exploitation, and which forms a new sustainable relationship between humanity and the environment. Socialism is not the ultimate aim. It can either be a phase on the way to communism or a temporary high point reached before a descent back into capitalism. The new society will have no resemblance to the statist autocracy of the Soviet Union, and will go well beyond the welfare state of social democracy.

2) We champion ‘being’ over ‘having’. The ruling classes attempt to maintain control over us by stifling both individuality and cooperation through the creation and marketing of false needs. This culture of consumerism represses our collective attempts to assert ourselves and gain control of our lives. Nevertheless, alternatives to this are constantly being explored, for example in the sphere of the creative arts. As a source of pleasure and power, they are a vital part of our struggle to help build a new society.
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Nov 11 2012

Editorial

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 21RCN @ 8:06 pm

The Radical Independence Conference represents the biggest gathering organised by the Left, so far, around the issue of Scottish independence. For Socialists the political issue we confront is that of self-determination. This is a broad democratic concept. It involves our collective and individual attempts to overcome the exploitation, oppression and the alienation we feel under capitalism. Genuine self-determination is part of the broader struggle for emancipation and liberation. It is about gaining control and creating a society where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The very idea of self-determination sits uneasily with ‘Rule Britannia’ and our subject status within the UK. The Labour/Tory/Lib-Dems’ Better Together campaign shows us that upholding the UK and ‘Britishness’ can not be separated from support for Empire, Union and the Crown Powers; or from jingoistic triumphalism and forelock-tugging subservience in a class-divided society.
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Aug 05 2012

FOR AN INDEPENDENT SCOTTISH SOCIALIST REPUBLIC

The Republican Communist Network supports the creation of an independent Scottish Socialist Republic as a significant step towards communism. We look to and would support a Federation of European Socialist States.

Our support is for a genuinely independent Republic, not a sham façade that presents a Scottish nationalism that settles for symbols, not substance. A politically independent Scotland cannot be won primarily through a vote, but rather by building a mass movement that takes its demands to the streets, and creates genuinely democratic institutions by the people and for the people.

A fully independent Scotland is one that is not subject to the UK’s Crown Powers and does not recognise the monarchy; a fully independent Scotland would have a banking system controlled by the people and not the Bank of England or the European Central Bank. A fully independent Scotland is one free of all foreign military bases, including the Faslane Naval Base; one that is outside of NATO, because this is an imperialist alliance dominated by the United States of America and supported by British imperialism. A fully independent Scotland would reject the bankers’ top-down internationalism, because this drives the EU’s current austerity agenda in Europe.

We need a new European unity based on internationalism from below.

Our vision of an independent Scotland is very different from the ‘independence” advocated by the SNP. In the two years until the referendum, we hope to work with others who share our vision of an independent Scottish Republic and are not willing to hand the SNP a blank cheque. We know that Alex Salmond is already bargaining behind closed doors, reassuring the ruling class, here and abroad, that the SNP can deliver an ‘independent’ Scotland subservient to business interests.

When the time comes, we will determine how we will vote, given the options presented, but for now our role is to organize around a Socialist vision of independence. Help to achieve this!

Republican Communist Network, 4.8.12

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May 18 2012

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM DEBATE, Part 3


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

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

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

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

These three articles are posted below.

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

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THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

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

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

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

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

 

Independence-Lite or Devo-Max?

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

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

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

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

 

The role of Communists, Socialists and Republican Democrats

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

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

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

 Allan Armstrong & Bob Goupillot (Republican Communist Network)

 

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THE PARADOX OF NATIONALISM AS INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Biddulph, May 6th 2012

 

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THE PARADOX OF ‘NON-NATIONALIST’ LEFT BRITISH UNIONISM

 

i)            Introduction

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

iii)            Capitalist crisis – just economic or political too?

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

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

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

We then went on to explain:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

iv) What do we mean by imperialism today?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

viii)            Relating to all struggles against exploitation and oppression

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

xi)            John Maclean in revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

xii)            The relevance of analogies drawn from Marx and Engels

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, 17.5.12


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11]             ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

________________________________________

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 4) A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

________________________________________

 

1. Defend Scottish Democratic Rights, Arthur Bough 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

12.1.12

 

2. Scotland: Independence or autonomy, Stuart King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter, 2012

 

3. Climax of tartan nationalism, James Turley

 

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

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

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

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

19.1.12

____________________________________

 

4. A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.5.12

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

_________________________________

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

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

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

 

 

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Nov 14 2009

Can the SNP deliver independence?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 7:15 pm

We assess the politics behind the SNP government’s proposed independence referendum and its likelihood of success.

Megrahi, behind-the-scenes deals and the ‘liberal’ US onslaught

Political developments in Scotland are hotting-up in the aftermath of the decision by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s Justice Minister, to release Abdelbaset Ali-Mohamed al-Megrahi, the so-called Libyan bomber, on compassionate grounds.

Whatever the undisclosed background negotiations behind this move, involving New Labour at Westminster and SNP at Holyrood, the political fallout has been considerable. Earlier negotiations between the British and Libyan government, involving Tony Blair and Jack Straw, had strongly implied a prisoner transfer agreement. Megrahi would finish his sentence in Libya, in return for BP oil concessions. The Scottish government thwarted this. It denied any right to the British government to interfere with the decision taken by the Scottish judiciary, which had been given original responsibility for Megrahi’s trial, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, in 2000-1.

What has become abundantly clear is that Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson wanted Megrahi released before his death, to ensure that British corporate interests in Libya weren’t jeopardised if he died in a British jail. MacAskill’s willingness to take responsibility for Megrahi’s release was an added bonus for the New Labour-led British government. It meant that the SNP-led Scottish government could take all the blame, when the right wing press, both in Britain and the US, orchestrated the howls of outrage about ‘weakness’ in the face of terrorism.

It is possible that the SNP leadership thought that, with Barack Obama as President, the new US Democrat government would welcome MacAskill’s compassionate approach. After all Obama had personally given an undertaking to the Moslem world in Cairo on June 4th that he represented a new type of American leader. However, as the continuing war in Afghanistan (and now Pakistan), the continued build up of pressure on Iran, and the US’s failure to discipline Netanyahu in the face of continued Israeli settlements on the West Bank demonstrate, Obama is only trying to re-brand US imperialism, not challenge it.

So ‘liberal’ Obama, Hilary Clinton, and the late Ted Kennedy, led the attack on the Scottish government. Meanwhile, the rabid American Right soon ended any delusions about the longstanding affectionate ties between Scotland and the US. In their eyes, Scotland replaced France as the country all ‘good American’s love to hate. Only now it is the Scots who are ‘haggis-eating surrender monkeys’. Back in Scotland, the British unionist parties, New Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem, characteristically decided to echo the sentiments emanating from the US. They launched an attack on the Scottish government and the nationalist SNP.

The SNP recovers from the attacks and announces its independence referendum

The SNP has been trying for years to win the approval of corporate America, with the prospect of low business taxation and the attempted cultivation of Scottish-American business figures and politicians. Donald Trump, the dodgy property speculator, has been assiduously wooed. Therefore, defending MacAskill’s decision in the face of blatant US imperial pressure did not come easily to the SNP leadership, particularly after the display of Scottish saltires being waved at Tripoli’s airport, welcoming Megrahi upon his return. After all, MacAskill still insisted that he acted solely on compassionate grounds, and that he upheld the Scottish court’s extremely dubious decision that Megrahi was guilty. MacAskill didn’t want to tread on the toes of the Scottish legal establishment.

Early opinion polls seemed to indicate that MacAskill was indeed isolated. However, the Church of Scotland, followed by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, gave their public backing to MacAskill. Whilst this was undoubtedly embarrassing to sections of the unionist alliance, it was the decision of Nelson Mandela to support MacAskill that turned the tables. Within days, support for MacAskill’s decision had risen to 45% in Scotland.

Sensing a possible drubbing in any Scottish General Election their actions might precipitate, the unionist opposition retreated from a vote of ‘No confidence’ in MacAskill at Holyrood. They settled for a motion condemning the Scottish government’s handling of the affair. Although the unionist parties have an overall majority in Holyrood, their alliance began to break up. Former Scottish Labour Ministers, Henry McLeish and Malcolm Chisholm, backed MacAskill, and the Conservatives decided to switch the focus of attention to Gordon Brown and Westminster Government involvement in Megrahi’s release.

It was in this context that the SNP Government announced next year’s legislative programme on September 3rd, with its proposal for a referendum on Scottish independence given flagship status. Now the unionist parties can kill this off at the first hurdle, by using their majority to vote down any such bill in Holyrood. Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, Alex Salmond well knows this, but has likely calculated on there being a British Conservative Government under David Cameron next year. This could place the SNP in a good position before the next Holyrood General Election in 2011, especially with an impotent New Labour in ‘opposition’ at Westminster.

The November 12th Glasgow North East by-election

However, a more immediate by-election battle is taking place in Glasgow North East on November 12th, after the resignation of the disgraced Westminster Speaker, Michael Martin. With the SNP not wanting to be portrayed as the ‘Orange’ party (Labour’s main accusation against it, when it stood against Scottish party leader, Helen Liddell, in the notorious Monklands East by-election in 1994) their leadership is taking no chances. It has adopted David Kerr as candidate. He is a member of Opus Dei!

Glasgow City Council is one of the few Scottish councils still under Labour control, so the SNP cannot so easily be held responsible for the type of unpopular local policies, which contributed to their surprise defeat in the Glenrothes by-election last November. So, Labour has now switched its focus to an alleged SNP bias against Glasgow city, highlighted by the Scottish Government’s decision to cancel the planned Glasgow airport rail link.

The SNP strategy of trying to appeal to all Scots, regardless of class, has also come unstuck. The introduction of new local service charges for pensioners in Fife was just one indicator of where the SNP’s real loyalties lie. In Edinburgh they share responsibility with the Lib-Dems for the council’s attempt to impose draconian pay cuts on refuse disposal workers, with the threat of privatisation looming. In West Dunbartonshire, they have suspended SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, for nine months, for his tireless commitment to working class communities.

The long honeymoon, enjoyed by the current SNP government, is now under strain. The SNP is wedded to a neo-liberal economic model, which once placed failed corporations such as the Royal Bank of Scotland in the driving seat of their proposed new Scottish economy, and lauded the successes of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’. Today, the SNP meekly accepts its role in administering the Westminster government’s measures to deal with the current crisis – massive public spending cuts to bail out the bankers.

The Scottish government has also frozen council taxes now for three years. This further contributes to the squeeze on social spending. Added to all this, the full consequences of the SNP’s fawning before Trump means that the Scottish government looks prepared to back a compulsory purchase order to evict residents from their homes in Aberdeenshire to make way for Trump’s new golf course and leisure complex –the new Clearances.

The build-up of reactionary forces and the divided Left

Although the prime press interest in Glasgow North East will be the battle between New Labour and the SNP, there will be other significant political struggles going on. In the last election here, the Conservatives did not field a candidate, following the mainstream parties’ convention of not standing against the Speaker. This left the way open for the Scottish Unionists to stand. They represent that traditional Orange wing, abandoned by the Conservatives, when the party broke their link with the Ulster Unionist Party in the 1970’s. David Cameron has recently reforged that alliance. Official British Conservative backing for a Protestant unionist party in ‘the Six Counties’ will have knock on effects in Glasgow, where sectarian divisions still exist.

However, the Orange Order in Scotland is still not prepared to throw its weight fully behind the Tories. Grand Master, Ian Wilson, has said the Order will be backing the Labour Party, wherever they are best placed to defeat the SNP in elections. Labour remains Scotland’s premier Unionist party.

Both the previous New Labour/Lib-Dem and current SNP Scottish governments at Holyrood have promoted a bureaucratic and moralistic campaign against sectarianism in Scotland, based on the false notion that there is a ‘war between two tribes’, Protestant and Catholic or, sometimes more simply, between Rangers and Celtic. The real underlying issue is support for, or opposition to, the British occupation of part of Ireland. One of the aims of this official ‘anti-sectarian’ campaign is to cutback on the many Orange Order and the handful of Irish Republican marches held in Scotland’s Central Belt. This will become a focus of opposition for hard line loyalists. There is also the planned provocation in Glasgow, organised by the fascist Islamophobic English Defence League’s satellite organisation, the ‘Scottish Defence League’ (SDL), on November 14th.

The BNP are standing in the Glasgow North East by-election. They would love to have the sort of clout that loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrated, when the PSNI meekly bowed before their intimidation of Roma families in Belfast. Furthermore, despite BNP denials, there is obviously an overlap between BNP and EDL/SDL. Like the loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’, they have shown a growing admiration for the apartheid state of Israel and its brutal methods. So, it is only an inner hard core of Nazi ‘Sieg Heiling’, swastika worshippers that cling on to the old anti-semitism. The majority of Union Jack waving fascists find plenty to celebrate in the history of British unionism and imperialism.

Furthermore, there are other nasty links being forged. The mainstream, usually socially liberal, Church of Scotland is under growing attack by the reactionary Fellowship of Confessing Churches (FCC), with 45 parishes threatening to break away, unless the Church publicly condemns homosexuality. The FCC is backed by Sam Cole, DUP councillor and Orange Lodge chaplain, along with Maurice Bradley, former mayor of Coleraine, Danny Kennedy, Ulster Unionist depute leader, Sir David McNee, former Chief Constable of Strathclyde, and a hundred members of the ultra-conservative Presbyterian Church of America, which also opposes the ordination of women ministers.

Tragically, the Left today is divided in Scotland. In the last Glasgow North East election, the SSP easily defeated both the Scottish Unionists and the BNP, although Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was able to do better still and get 14% of the vote, in the confusion caused by the absence of an official Labour candidate, with Michael Martin standing solely as the Speaker. The SLP has left no organisation on the ground and is, in effect, now only one man’s vanity party.

The concern now is that, with a Left split between the SSP, Solidarity/Tommy Sheridan party and the SLP, the BNP’s vote could overtake the Socialist vote. Whilst Sheridan will cultivate the celebrity vote, he faces competition from John Smeaton, the ‘people’s hero’. Meanwhile, John Swinburne, the ex-MSP, from the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, and Mikey Hughes, former Big Brother runner-up, campaigning for the disabled, are also standing. More worrying than any likely BNP vote in itself, would be the opportunity this could provide them to become the ‘shock troops’ of hard right unionism in Scotland, at a time when the issue of Scottish independence is coming to the fore.

When Nick Griffin visited Scotland on October 28th, he said he supported a referendum for Scottish independence. However, he made it quite clear that the BNP would strongly oppose those campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. He is lining himself up with ultra unionists like the Tory, Michael Forsyth, and New Labour’s Wendy Alexander, who also want a referendum campaign to see off any threat of Scottish independence for the foreseeable future. You can rest assured, whatever differences they still have, that these ultra-unionists don’t intend to confine their opposition to polite democratic debate – and the BNP are signalling that their services can be called upon to defend the Union.

The SNP unprepared for the British state counter-attack – a socialist republican and ‘internationalism from below’ approach needed

The SNP remains a thoroughly constitutionalist party, and has indicated, by its recently declared support for the British monarchy, its complete willingness to play politics by Westminster rules. The problem is, that the British ruling class only play be these rules when it suits them. When their state is under threat, both Conservative and Labour governments have shown their preparedness to utilise the antidemocratic Crown Powers to thwart any challenges, as any Republican living in Ireland can testify. If necessary, they would not be averse to covertly encouraging British loyalists, as the British state’s continued financial support for their organisations in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrates.

Furthermore, the SNP’s complete lack of appreciation of the continued imperial role of British troops in the world is highlighted by its continued support for the British Army’s Scottish regiments. SNP Westminster defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, has announced that ‘English’ troops would be welcome to remain in Scotland after ‘independence’. It probably won’t be long before the SNP retreats further to accommodate US imperialism. They could settle for Scotland being removed from the NATO frontline to become a ‘supporting’ state within NATO’s Orwellian renamed second tier, ‘The Partnership for Peace’. NATO bases in Scotland would still remain available for imperial use.

Scotland, with its North Sea Oil, and its numerous British and NATO military bases, is far more central to ruling class interests, than ‘the Six Counties’. It is unlikely that the British state will just wait until the Scottish independence referendum bill comes to Holyrood. US and British security services are probably preparing a strategy, using both official and unofficial forces, to marginalise the threat of the break-up of the UK and the potential loss of NATO bases.

Although there is no deep-seated tradition of independent republican organisations in Scotland, there is nevertheless widespread popular support for a Scottish Republic. Furthermore, this is strongly linked to support for public services provided on the basis of need, and opposition to British and American imperial wars. A vote for the SNP has sometimes expressed this feeling in a sentimental way. As the SNP moves further to the Right such support is becoming as undeserved as a vote for Labour from those hoping to improve their lives.

It is the job of socialist republicans to organise such sentiments in an effective way, by linking everyday struggles, such as the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign in Glasgow today, with the demand for a Scottish Republic tomorrow, when the SNP independence referendum comes up against British unionist intransigence. Only the SSP links its support for independence with opposition to all imperialist wars, whether or not they are sanctioned by the UN – a thoroughly undemocratic body, which is nothing other than a plaything of the imperial powers. In contrast, the SNP stance on the ongoing US/British war in Afghanistan has been profoundly ambiguous.

Since the British state and its Irish government allies coordinate their actions through the ‘Peace Process’ and Devolution-all-round; and both the British and Scottish TUCs and the Irish CTU promote ‘social partnerships’, which subordinate workers’ interests to those of the bosses; whilst the BNP and loyalists are trying to cement links ‘across the border’ and ‘across the water’, it becomes all the more imperative that Socialists in these islands organise ourselves on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ to more effectively promote working class interests throughout these islands. We need to build on the success of last year’s Republican Socialist Convention.

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Mar 20 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

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

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

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

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

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Left versus Rank and File

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 04 2008

The Role Of Platforms In The SSP

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 4:04 pm

Platforms, tendencies, factions – call them what you will – exist in all organisations, not just in political parties. Sometimes they are suppressed (by the controlling and usually undeclared, leadership faction, of course), sometimes they are tolerated and occasionally they are welcomed.

This article argues that not only are platforms inevitable, but that they are necessary for the healthy development of an open, democratic party. To illustrate the points, we will use our own platform, the Republican Communist Network (RCN), as a case study.

Differences of opinion are inevitable

In our opinion a genuine socialist party would welcome all shades of socialist opinion into its ranks (otherwise it remains a sect rather than a party). This openness and the uneven political consciousness within the working class means that differences of opinion within a socialist party are inevitable.

Platforms can be thought of as seeking to express these differences in a coherent and organised manner in much the same way as a socialist party seeks to organise socialists in a coherent manner within capitalist society (as opposed to remaining as isolated individual community and work place activists, or voters).

It goes without saying that if platforms are a necessary feature of any open democratic party then those platforms themselves must operate in an open and democratic manner. For example, platform members should declare themselves as such when operating within the SSP, in debates and in seeking election to any position. This is standard practice among RCN platform members.

Testing ideas in open debate

There is no need for anonymity within the SSP with its relatively democratic culture: on the contrary, the RCN advocates open debate among and between platforms and individual party members as being the strategy most likely to develop effective policies for the party. Each platform naturally hopes (and, perhaps, believes) that its ideas and theories are the ones best suited to the challenges the party faces. Testing each other’s ideas out in open debate is an excellent way for us all to learn and develop.

One reason that platforms are suppressed is that they may present a threat to the controlling faction, ie, they are seen as a ‘leadership in waiting’. This is not a role the RCN has any desire to pursue. There is a further role which platforms fulfil – a role the RCN is deeply involved in – the generation of ideas, theory and tactics. A party whose ideas ossify is doomed. A party which loses the capacity to be self critical has no business asking our class to entrust its fate to that party. Mistakes will be made and these must be learned from – quickly if events are moving rapidly. Herein lies the strength of having several platforms with variations in theory and recommendations for practice.

All species contain within their gene pools various subsets of genes which do not appear to have any current use but which come into play during changes in the environment and allow the species to evolve. Just as the competing genes are tested out in the real world of upheavals in terrain and climate, so our party should have a number of ideas that are constantly being tested against real world events. Not only do we need to have a variety of ideas but we need to know what these ideas are and we need a mechanism for evaluating these ideas as events unfold. This is why the RCN concerns itself with constitutional matters relating to platforms and democratic rights and with building links internationally at a rank and file level. A party of thinkers, with a democratic culture, is a party best placed to negotiate the ebbs and flows of the class struggle, to learn and grow.

How to think, not what to think

Another role the RCN seeks to fulfil is an educational role. A hallmark of some organisations/groups, not only of the Left, is the tendency to train new members in What to Think. Educationals are presented as, ‘Here is the script – go and learn it’. We believe it is much more important to train members How to Think. This means exposing members to controversy and debate; encouraging rather than discouraging debate; and seeking out alternative styles of discourse.

Of course, to get the best out of such exercises it helps to know as much as possible about what participants mean by certain words and phrases and this relates back to an earlier point about the need to be upfront in relation to membership of platforms.

Some platforms measure their success in terms of recruitment. It is perfectly natural to want to recruit but aggressive recruitment as a tactic tends to go hand in hand with the What to Think educationals closely related to the What Way to Vote performances at Conference. There are obvious long term dangers for the party where any platform, especially the dominant platform, adopts the Winning the Vote rather than the Winning the Argument philosophy.

So many factions see debate as a continuous bludgeoning exercise to assert the superiority of their particular line. Yes, sometimes there are real differences that need to be aired and real principles that need to be upheld. However there is also the possibility of a new higher level of understanding arising from debates which involve a number of different points of view or experiences. This is what the RCN wants to achieve in the SSP.

The RCN starts from the position that all SSP members are comrades, brothers and sisters. There may be particular actions, or lack of actions, which we will criticise individuals for quite strongly, but we do not enter into the debate on ideas with a disparaging dismissal of other party members, just because we disagree with some of their politics.

 

Iain Robertson for the Republican Communist Network

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Oct 04 2008

SSP – Learning The Lessons

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 3:57 pm

As the SSP’s 2008 conference approaches, our party is still feeling the effects of the long running perjury investigations and charges linked to the libel trial brought by Tommy Sheridan against the News of the World.

The reality is whatever the outcome of any future court case, the fight for socialism has not been made any easier. However, whatever those conditions, it is imperative for socialists to stay organised and to continue to raise the red banner and to champion working class causes in Scotland, across these islands and internationally.

Stick to the task

The SSP has stuck to this task despite those unfavourable conditions. In recent months we have been on picket lines with striking civil servants, campaigned against Post Office closures, commemorated the 5th anniversary since the invasion of Iraq, stood in council by-elections and continued to discuss and debate the key political issues of the day.

Another vital task is to learn the organisational lessons of the previous two years. In the wake of the split by Sheridan and his supporters, the SSP set up a commission to precisely address these issues. The commission has conducted an exhaustive and extensive consultation with the SSP membership.

The main business of the March conference will be for the democratic structures of the party to decide what changes should be made to the Party’s constitution to ensure history does not repeat itself. This process, whilst time consuming and laborious, is necessary for us to lay the foundations, to re-build our party into a mass socialist party of the working class in Scotland.

However, we will be trying to do this in a situation where the SSP can no longer claim to be the party of socialist unity, uniting all the major forces of the socialist Left in Scotland; but is now having to campaign for socialist unity. This means we have to behave in a manner, which recognises that we are not, at present, the only force on the Left, and have to consider, how we can remain open to others, whilst maintaining our democratic structures and socialist principles.

Therefore, a key debate at conference will be whether the SSP upholds the principle of trade union affiliations. At heart this is a debate over whether the SSP builds as a labourist or a socialist party. Trade union affiliations allow many passive, indeed sometimes unknowing, workers to be seen as party members. In reality, trade union bureaucrats usually use these members’ passive support to wield ‘sledge hammer’ block votes at conferences to get their way.

Instead, we want the SSP to be a socialist party which is active within the trade unions, either by supporting Left (usually) opposition groupings, or when the political climate permits, branches of active party members within workplaces. This, of course, does not prevent any trade union supporting particular SSP campaigns. Indeed, we should be encouraging trade union members’ active participation in the use of their unions’ political funds, as an alternative to automatic support for Labour.

The main focus of this conference and the purpose of any changes to the constitution of the party must be to enhance party democracy from the bottom upwards and to extend accountability, building, in the process, a mass democratic party of action. If conference is to have a theme or a slogan then it must be politics over personality. This is reflected in the various proposals around the post of Convenor.

Accountability and democracy

Accountability and democracy must be central to the debates around the role of the Executive, party committees and the elected leadership. A crucial part to achieving this is through a network of healthy, active branches which should be the foundations on which the party is built. Among other things, there has to be assurances that any motion passed at conference is not quietly kicked into the long grass, but is instead acted upon. There needs to be a tightening up of how party committees operate: timetabled meetings, available minutes and bound by conference decisions.

Finally, the issue of platforms. There has been a call for the abolition of platforms. This right of members to organise in open platforms has been in the party constitution from day one. That, in and of itself, does not make it correct. However, without this right it is unlikely that the SSP would have been created in the first place. As a pluralist socialist party, we should recognise that a range of political viewpoints is a source of healthy debate and new ideas. Banning platforms would also further isolate us from the wider European Left. All the major organisations, such as the Portuguese Left Bloc and the French LCR have this provision, and consider it an essential component of socialist unity. Platforms or tendencies should be welcomed by the party as a way of promoting political discussion.

We do recognise that a couple of the platforms that have recently left the SSP did have a negative side to their involvement in our party. Often, they put their narrow, sectarian interests above the interests of the SSP and the working class as a whole. In our view, platforms should not just have rights but also have responsibilities. They must put the interests of the party first and not try to promote their own front organisations over the democratic decisions of the party as a whole. Below we re-print an extract from our editorial in Emancipation & Liberation No. 8 (Autumn 2004) explaining in more detail why we fight for the right ‘to platform’ in our party.

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