Jan 21 2015

THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

THE REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST NETWORK, THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN,

AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

Photo of RCN banner – Patricia Kirk & John Lannigan

Contents

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

B) The politics of the Scottish independence referendum campaign

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

D) Carrying over lessons learned from the SSP experience

           i)   the need for political platforms

           ii)  the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction

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

E) Promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’

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

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

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

           iv) the debate over secularism

           v) the debate over Ireland

F) Debates and differences within the RCN

          i) in the lead up and during the referendum campaign

          ii) since the September 18th referendum

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

Appendix

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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

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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.

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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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