Aug 09 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

Socialists are now confronted with the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the re-emergence of British Left social democracy. This first part of this article by Allan Armstrong will examine the significance of this and make a critical appraisal of their future prospects in the face of the current global multi-faceted political, economic, social, cultural and environmental crisis.

Contents of Part 1

   1.      From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in  Scotland.

   2.     The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left social democracy

   3.    The prospects for Corbyn and British Left social democracy when handling economic and social issues

   4.    The limitations of Corbyn and British Left social democracy when dealing with matters of state

             A.  Brexit

             B. The National Question

a. Conservative, liberal and unionist attempts to maintain the unity of the UK state since the nineteenth  century

               b. Corbyn and the National Question in Ireland

               c.  Corbyn and the National Question in Scotland

               d.  Corbyn and the National Question in Wales

 

 

1. From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in Scotland

i.     Following the demise of New Labour and its successor, ‘One Nation’ Labour, the SNP has been the most effective upholder of social democracy in the UK. In 2007, the SNP won 363 council seats; 425 in 2012, and 431 in 2017. In 2007, the SNP won 47 MSPs; 69 in 2011; and 63 in 2016, (still easily the largest party at Holyrood). In 2010, the SNP won 6 MPs; 56 out of 59 in 2015, but fell back to 35 in 2017 (still having the largest number of MPs from Scotland by some way). Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY”

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Dec 23 2011

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

INTRODUCTION

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. THE STRENGTHS OF THE SSP

a)          Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

b)          Organisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 2)      THE WEAKNESSES OF THE SSP

 a)         Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

b)          Organisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 3. THE CURRENT SITUATION – FACING UP TO REALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 4) WHAT WE NEED TO DO –

LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON

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

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

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

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

 

a)           Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

b)          Organisation

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

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

–            The role of leadership

–            Reject the lure of ‘celebrity politics’.

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

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

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

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

Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Iain Robertson, 20.12.11

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8            Tommy resigned as SSP Convenor a month later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

also see:-

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

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

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

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

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Apr 17 2011

Opposing the imperialist suppression of the revolution in North Africa and the Middle East

Here are 4 items relating to the current situation in Bahrain and Libya

1. SSP Conference motion, 3 April 2011

2. Article by Moshe Machover – The long road of the Arab revolution

3. Article by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy – Ireland) the test of Libya

4. Article by Pepe Escobar – Exposed the US-Saudi Libya deal

Motion proposed by the SSP Executive Committee (before the UK intervention in Libya)

The Scottish Socialist Party stands fully behind the struggles taking place. We fully support the demands to create a new Arab world on the principles of democracy, secularism, civil rights and in particular the rights of women.

We support the demands for social and economic policies which promote equality and social justice and for the elections of governments which challenge imperialist ambitions in the region and which demonstrate active solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Amendment initiated by RCN members and proposed by Glasgow North East SSP branch

1 – Conference notes its enthusiastic support for the wave of mass protests sweeping through the Arab world, as people fill the streets demanding the end to entrenched dictatorships and the defence of democratic rights. So far, these protests have led to the toppling of Mubarek in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. We look forward to more victories for the democratic insurgents throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Toppling dictators can only provide the first step in the creation of a genuinely democratic and just society. The SSP stands in solidarity with the progressive democratic forces in the Arab World as they organise to secularise these societies, advance the rights of the working class as it endeavours to form viable trades unions and narrow the vast differentials in income and wealth, and press demands that undermine the autocratic patriarchy that oppresses women and distorts gender relations for all.

2 – The occupation of Bahrain by troops from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is an ominous development. Unable to suppress popular demands for greater democracy, the Bahraini elite, totally corrupt and discredited, has turned to the theocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia, with its sizeable military forces equipped by the US and UK. The SSP calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Bahrain. We demand that the British government stop selling arms to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and any other government which has contributed troops to the occupation. We join with the people on the streets of Bahrain demanding the overthrow of the monarchy and its replacement by a democratic government responsible to all of the people.

3 – The SSP opposes the military intervention in Libya of the US, Britain and France in Libya, and will actively participate in wider coalitions that demand an immediate halt to the air strikes, while opposing the extension of military operations to the use of ground troops. Western imperialist powers have no interest in promoting democracy in Libya, or anywhere in the Arab world. Their sole goal is to obtain greater control over Libya’s oil resources.

At the same time, the SSP supports he struggle of the Libyan people to topple the Gadaffi regime. The Libyan government was an entrenched, brutal dictatorship and a corrupt one also. In these essential characteristics, it differed little from many other autocratic regimes in the region, which have become the target of popular insurgencies. Our opposition to military intervention in any form by the Western powers in no way implies support for the Tripoli regime.

Passed overwhelmingly by the SSP Annual Conference in Dunfermline on 3.4.11

The Long Road Of The Arab Revolution

by Moshé Machover, a long-standing international socialist now exiled from Israel

Libya: Saving the revolution killed the revolution

It is very difficult to talk in a coherent way about a process which is unfolding and where things are changing all the time. What I would like to do is to initiate a discussion and explore some ideas about where the revolution is going, and what we should expect in both the short term and longer term.

But, given the contention on the left, I think we should start with Libya. There is a lot of confusion, and I think that this is partly for understandable reasons. I am not referring here to the ‘confusion’ of those who effectively cheer the imperialist intervention. Groups like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are in my opinion simply social-imperialists.

I am actually talking about socialists – people I regard as comrades, such as Gilbert Achcar, who is not a social-imperialist and is very critical of western intervention and of this ‘coalition of the willing’ (and partly unwilling!) that is being sent to ‘protect’ the Libyan revolution.

There is a genuine problem, and it would be unfortunate to appear callous and uncaring about the fate of those in Benghazi who were penned in and faced the terrible prospect of being massacred. Given the despair they are in, I would not actually be too critical of them for calling on the so-called ‘international community’ for help.

We have to be clear that the ‘international community’ is itself an ideological construct, a term used in order to conflate the US-led global hierarchy of states on the one hand and global public opinion on the other. There is world public opinion – civil society – which has real humanitarian concerns, and then there is the so-called ‘international community’, which is the nom de guerre of the US and its followers.

Why Libya?

Why did they go for Libya and not other places? For me there are three main reasons. Firstly, there is the question of oil. Do not underestimate this factor. Of course, the quantity of oil Libya offers is next to nothing in comparison to Saudi Arabia, but it is its quality which makes them interested in it. It is just about the best oil you can find, particularly for aircraft fuel.

Secondly, they have been asked to intervene this time around, which is crucial in providing them with an ideological and political cover: nobody asked them in Egypt or in Yemen; nobody even asked them in Bahrain.

Thirdly, although Gaddafi’s Libya ceased to be a ‘rogue state’ from around 2003, there is some truth in the claim that, from the standpoint of the imperialists, Gaddafi is still a rogue. Why? Well he is obviously a little bit crazy and very unreliable for them. So, although he is ‘our friend’ now (or was until very recently!), he was never somebody who could be fully trusted, as he is unstable in every possible manner – including mentally. How anybody can take him seriously after hearing him speak is simply beyond me.

The Saudis are also cautiously in favour of intervention in Libya because they do not like Gaddafi either. They remember all his leanings towards Islamic Maoism, the Little green book and his own conception of jamahiriya (people’s power). The Saudi regime is very traditionalist and as such they find all of this stuff very unsettling. Gaddafi has created his own ideology – even his own version of Islam! This has also been a factor in ensuring that he has very few allies in the Arab world more generally.

Anyway, I would like to comment on Achcar’s remarks about Libya. Whilst he is wrong to lend support to the intervention, he has a few sensible things to say on the situation and I would recommend reading him.[1]

But he omits some important things. It is my view that the Libyan revolution is already defeated. From the moment the Interim Transitional National Council felt it had to invite this intervention it became clear that it was unable to overthrow the regime. As Marx observed a long time ago, revolution is needed not only to overthrow the powers that be, but also to transform the people who are making it – the process of revolution is a transformative one which gives the masses confidence in their ability to change things and to be masters of their own fate. Once you call on other forces to intervene, all this is lost, and in this sense it is a defeat.

The second remark which I think I would add to Achcar’s analysis is this. It may well be that inviting these forces into Libya is the lesser evil, compared to being slaughtered. But it is still an evil. Sometimes one must accept and put up with the lesser evil, but one must never demand it. The people who are not only demanding, but cheering the intervention are renegades to the revolutionary idea. If it is a lesser evil but it comes to pass anyway, then you have to protest against it, you have to denounce it.

I have made the analogy before, but imagine that there is a group of people surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan and are about to be slaughtered. They then invite protection from the Mafia. The Mafia will, of course, give you protection – but will then install a protection racket if it can. The Mafia that is the so-called ‘international community’ is not even sure if it can institute this protection racket anyway; but it will do its damnedest.

Moreover, the no-fly (now no-drive?) zone is dangerous not only in its immediate effect on the outcome in Libya. It also sets a worrying precedent. Once you give these forces the legitimation to act as the global policeman, then next time they will use it as they please – not for the lesser evil, but the greater one. Giving such forces legitimacy is in the worst interests of revolution both in the Arab world and beyond – it is in the best interests of counter-revolution, because that is how they are going to use it. It is not simply this situation on its own, in isolation, but what it implies for the future as well.

Also, when our rulers make war it is very bad for us – this is a point made by Marx. Think back to Thatcher and the Falklands war – her government was set to lose the general election.

I think the reason why there was less opposition to Libya than Iraq was because the latter was obviously going to be a land invasion. A ‘no-fly zone’ appears to be a much safer, less risky version of war, which is more like a computer game than anything else, so it is more popular – especially if you can justify it on ‘humanitarian’ grounds – without the risk of getting bogged down in a long and drawn-out war.

Not only is the left divided in its reaction, but so too are the imperialists. In each of the countries where people are free to express divergent opinions you see some maintaining that this move is not a good idea and that one can never know how it will end. It is certainly going to be a messy situation.

Whilst I have claimed that this moment marks the defeat of the Libyan revolution, I have not said that it is the defeat of the Arab revolution. I certainly hope it is not! This is just one sector of it, but it is not accidental that this defeat happened in a country like Libya. The reasons are quite clear.

Libya is one of the largest countries in Africa, most of which is desert. But it has a very small population of around six or seven million people, most of whom are divided along tribal lines. This is important. Compare it, for example, to Iran. Both are oil-producing countries that receive a large revenue from oil. This has led some to characterise Iran as a kind of ‘rentier state’ that does not depend too much on tax revenues from its own people. This allows it to provide handouts and sweeteners. Yet its population is around 11 times that of Libya, so even with the inflow of royalties from oil it cannot bribe that many people. As we know, the economic situation in Iran is dire.

This is different in Libya, where the revenue (or some of it) is spread out amongst far fewer people and thus leads to phenomena like low unemployment, etc. Indeed, the fact that Gaddafi made peace with the imperialist order back in 2003-04 (who will forget that handshake with our very own Tony Blair?) actually increased his ability to use this enormous wealth, even after siphoning off much of it for himself and his family. After all, he is a kleptocrat – just like his colleagues, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, etc. We should also mention the Saudi royal family, who do not even have to steal to get their wealth because there formally the oil is actually theirs – there is no distinction between the public purse and the private purse of the king. (In Britain this identity was abolished in medieval times.)

But even after deducting all of this kleptocratic rent, there is enough left over for Gaddafi to bribe enough of the population, to hire mercenaries and so on and thus try to prevent what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Libya’s social structure is also less developed, less advanced than in those neighbouring countries. I think you can also notice this in the composition of the opposition – it is much more dominated by people who were tribally opposed to Gaddafi’s regime, and there is a much higher proportion of Islamists than in both Tunisia and Egypt.

It would be foolish to predict how exactly things will pan in out in Libya. There might be a situation where it is divided between east and west and there is a civil war of attrition lasting for some time. Or it could end one way or the other. But, to the extent that there was a popular uprising, I think the people have lost ownership of this process and thus the revolution is defeated.

Other hot spots

This is not so in other parts of the Arab world. There are still very positive dynamics in Syria, for example. Syria is the second most important Arab country after Egypt. If Egypt had, by virtue of its large population, been the leader of the Arab people up to the time when it made peace with the US and Israel, then Syria is now the claimant to this role.

In fact, I recently looked back at theses I had co-written in the mid-1970s, and what we said back then was that the Syrian Ba’ath was making a bid for the leadership of the Arab world. Iraq, the other large Arab country, has never managed to stake a claim on this role. Saddam Hussein had a project to do so, but for various reasons he did not achieve this.

Events in Japan and Britain have squeezed the reporting of Yemen, but things are going forward there too. And very few people mention Bahrain, which is in a catastrophic situation. What some feared would happen in Libya is happening right now. There the regime – aided by forces it invited from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – has actually invaded the hospitals. So if you are wounded on a demonstration and taken to hospital you are likely to be killed. We are seeing a massacre of unimaginable cruelty.

Bahrain is the source of the pearls of Arabia. Now these forces have demolished the symbolic pearl in Pearl Square, where enormous demonstrations took place. This is a huge insult to the people who occupied the square – some still risk their lives demonstrating there. Here there are signs of the revolutionary process receding, whilst Yemen and Syria are still going forward. This is no coincidence: it can be traced back to social structure.

Yemen is the product of a forced union of the north and south – two areas with a vastly different social composition. North Yemen is tribal and very backward in its economic and social development. South Yemen is mostly made up of the former British colony of Aden. Politically it was also very developed. For a time there was a self-styled socialist republic here, which was then overthrown by an internal coup and external forces from other countries and from North Yemen. This localised would-be socialism had some very democratic ideas. In the heyday of socialist revolution in South Yemen it said and did a lot of things which went beyond Stalinism. There was a real struggle which took place there between Stalin-style communists and real communists. Of course, they were very limited as to what they could achieve and in the end they were defeated. But in terms of its political development, South Yemen was probably the most advanced country in the Arab world.[2]

Whilst it is now merged with the very different North Yemen, we can still see this influence of working class struggle and organisation today: we see a radical intelligentsia and the heritage of a well-organised workers’ movement making its mark on the events unfolding there.

There were only a few countries in which there was a sizeable working class movement in the Arab world beyond South Yemen. The largest Communist Party, which was highly Stalinised, was in Iraq. But when the monarchy was overthrown in 1958 it was the only party to emerge intact from the underground. The coup to remove the monarchy was a military one, but on the civilian political scene the Communist Party almost had a monopoly. Of course, this was wasted because of its policies and so on. I am old enough to remember when Anastas Mikoyan came to ‘advise’ the Iraqi Communist Party following the fall of the monarchy in 1958-59. He actually told them not to rock the boat and to maintain the Soviet policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the west – a revolutionary policy in Iraq would have undermined this and was thus to be avoided. This marked the beginning of the decline of the CP, and what remains now is really shameful. It is not even an anti-imperialist force, let alone a force for socialism.

The third country where there was a strong movement, albeit a Stalinist one, was Syria. Syria had a fairly sizeable Communist Party led by the Kurd, Khalid Bakdash. It is a very mixed country with quite a lot of Christians, Jews, Armenians and all sorts. Again because of its Stalinist policies the CP declined. But, once again, traditions have been retained which survive to this day.

Those like me who had been in a Stalinist Communist Party will perhaps understand what I am trying to describe. These parties were tools of Stalinist foreign policy. Nevertheless, they organised the working class and a lot of their members were true, genuine working class militants who learned a little bit of Marxism (of course, in a rather doctored version). But they were called on to read some of the classical writings and this did leave something behind, in spite of all the betrayals and so on. Wherever there were powerful CPs there is a tradition which lives on today. This is not true of Iraq, but that is partly because of other factors, such as the complete destruction of the country following the invasion. So there is a sense in which these organisations have left behind them a heritage which is still worthwhile.

Qatar is a genuine exception in all of this. It is a very rich place and its ruling family is playing a very clever game. There have been calls for demonstrations there too, but very few people have turned up. There is opposition, of course, as there is everywhere. But for the time being business is business – and part of the business of the Qatari ruling family is Al-Jazeera! They are actually profiting from the Arab revolution and – for the moment at least – they do not feel threatened by it. Whether they will succumb to it or not remains to be seen.

As for Al-Jazeera itself, it is interesting to look at how in many ways it presages Arab unity. It is not a coincidence that what symbolises Arab unity is one of the most modern forms of communication. It is Arab unity in the form suited to the 21st century. It has Arab workers from all over the region.

It originally started as an offshoot of the BBC World Service, but the BBC turned out to be too conservative and restrictive, too bound up with American and British interests in the region. Al-Jazeera actually broadcasts much of what the Arab masses want. Let us not overstate this: the station is hardly the voice of Arab communism! Nonetheless, it is run by secular democrats whose coverage is not based on sound bites like the BBC World Service. On Al-Jazeera they actually have discussions, where people are allowed to develop their positions – not just those who support the Arab revolution, but also Israeli politicians and American conservatives, for example. This is very educational, making it in my opinion the most informative news service in the world (especially now that the BBC World Service is being cut).

Expectations

It would be foolish to prophesy. Things are still unfolding and numerous options are presenting themselves. But it would also be foolish to expect too much. I think it is unlikely that we will see even a progressive kind of bourgeois democratic regime emerge, or some kind of social democratic arrangement. These things do not come about with just one push. This revolutionary movement is only the first of a whole historical process, which is only in its infancy.

History is important. In 1848 there were revolutions throughout most of Europe, which on the face of things did not succeed: they did not actually overthrow all the reactionary regimes. Nevertheless, it did not come to nothing. It left a certain tradition and a certain heritage which was then taken forward in the next step.

Look at what happened in Portugal in 1974-75. The revolution took on a very left-wing and radical direction, but a lot of it was reversed. What we have in Portugal now is not that much different to what exists in many other European states. However, if you speak to people who took part in this revolution then you will notice that it lives on in their consciousness – it matters when you have experienced the overthrow of a dictatorial regime and lived through a period of people’s power, etc. It forms the basis of the next step.

So even the most realistically optimistic scenario is not for all the old regimes to be overthrown and replaced by liberal, social democratic administrations. It will probably be far short of this. But the longer-term effects will be more profound. The world has changed already in many ways. First of all, from the point of view of the US-led imperialist order the Middle East is no longer something you can regard as a safe zone. The whole policy of the US in the region – the most strategically important in the world due to oil and the Suez Canal – was based on the fact that, whilst US policy-makers were very clearly aware of the discontent of the masses, they believed in the ability of the rulers to keep it under control and repress it.

There was actually a non-conservative project to introduce the imperialist version of democracy to the Middle East. The neocons (not George Bush, by the way, who simply provided patronage for the whole project) realised that the Saudi Arabian situation was no longer sustainable and were thinking very far ahead. They knew that there would eventually be some sort of revolt or uprising there, and thus came to the conclusion that it would be better for them to instigate and control the impending transformation. This is certainly true. The whole project foundered because the first stage failed so miserably – Iraq proved not to be the beginning of a smooth transition to western democracy but a very bloody mess. The whole thing became discredited.

Conspiracy theory fans like the remnants of the Workers Revolutionary Party, who tend to uphold Gaddafi as some sort of ‘anti-imperialist’, actually infer from this that what is going on must be the product of neocon plans. But this is completely wrong. They were hatched precisely in order to pre-empt what is actually taking place – ie, instead of something driven by the initiative of the people, something they could instigate and manipulate themselves.

Indeed, this revolutionary wave was not without previous tremors – even in Libya. In 1995, for example, there was a local uprising in Benghazi – no coincidence, of course. It was drowned in blood. But there have been uprisings in every one of these countries – protests that the regimes were able to suppress. But that period is now over. Nothing is the same. This is also reflected in US lack of confidence in relation to the unfolding events. They are no longer sure if they can keep this region under control. With the exception of Syria, all of the countries gripped by revolution are allies of the United States and, at least implicitly, of Israel.

Although in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests you did not see many slogans such as ‘Down with the United States’ or ‘Down with Israel’, this was because the protests were dealing with the immediate task at hand – ie, overthrowing the regime. If you actually watch journalists talking to ordinary people, as Al-Jazeera did, then it becomes clear that they were not simply protesting about unemployment or the corruption of the various regimes, but about the fact that those like Mubarak are lackeys of imperialism, and the shameful conditions of the peace treaty with Israel imposed on them.

When you hear interviews with Syrians though, they assert that one thing they do not mind about the regime is the fact that it is opposed to the US and does not toe the Israeli line. It is hated because of repression and the state of the economy, but not for foreign policy. It is important to observe what people are saying, rather than just what is on their placards.

All-Arab

I would like also to point out that we are witnessing an all-Arab revolution. The Weekly Worker has been quite correct on this. Whilst I would rather call it an all-Arab revolution than a pan-Arab revolution, as the Weekly Worker does, this is simply a matter of terminology.

I am slightly puzzled by the fact that many from the Trotskyist tradition refuse to accept the idea of an Arab revolution. One good example of this is Stuart King of Permanent Revolution. Whenever I have spoken on Arab unity and he has been present he has raised a number of rather odd objections. On the one hand, he says, the Arab world is far too disparate and there are many national minorities (the Kurds, the Israelis and so on) and further nationalities which he invents, such as the Maronites (a religious denomination).

On the other hand, he then questions why we should be opting for Arab unity: why not opt for regional unity, which would include Turkey and Iran? Of course, in the long run we will have a united socialist world. But the affinity between England and Scotland, for example, is not the same as the affinity between England and Japan. You would not expect unification to proceed at the same rate everywhere. In the long run – and this will take many generations – the world will, of course, be one and there will be no national frontiers. But this cannot happen all at once. To bring in Iran, with a different history, language and some record of estrangement from and conflict with the Arab world, strikes me as rather strange. Further, it is ridiculous to bring in Turkey, which was the imperial master of the Arab world, as a partner on the same level as – let us say – Hadhramaut and Oman.

Given that the Arab revolution is an idea associated with Michel Raptis (Pablo), perhaps this hostility to Arab unity can be traced back to an old Trotskyist sectarian quarrel which has outlived its meaningfulness. To me it makes no difference whether the idea came from Pablo. He may have got one hundred and one other things wrong, but he was right on this question. He knew the Arab world very well and this idea was enthusiastically picked up. I got it from a comrade of mine, who was my main mentor on Middle Eastern matters. I am referring to the Palestinian Arab Marxist, Jabra Nicola, who died in London in 1974. He was a Trotskyist. I was and am not. But I learnt a lot from him.

Anyway, quite clearly the revolutionary contagion in the Arab world is far more direct and immediate than, for example, the spreading of revolutionary sentiment across eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Arab world is more like a single nation divided into sub-nationalities. If you want a rough analogy, then I would say it is like Italy, where there is the Italian nation, but within it there are the Sicilians, Tuscans, etc, who are akin to sub-nationalities. In fact, in the period of World War I, when there was the promise of uniting the Arab world, explicit comparisons were made with Italy. Many were arguing that the Arab world should be treated like Italy under Garibaldi and so on. The British actually mobilised support against Turkey using this very promise of Arab unity. Of course, this was later betrayed.

Even if you compare the Arab region with the Spanish-speaking part of Latin America, the historical and linguistic ties are much closer in the former. Indeed, many of the Latin American countries are historically not mainly Spanish – they have their own indigenous histories and cultures. Not so in the Arab world.

Today, one of the modern attributes of a nation is that it is a people who get their news from the same television station! In this respect, all the Arab world is one nation. Do not underestimate this! The rulers know this very well. Indeed, some of them have even blamed Al-Jazeera for the revolution, which is, of course, exaggerated. But it reveals a truth.

It matters a lot when people watch the same programmes and can communicate with each other in the same language – something which is increasingly done online, of course. And again, whilst we may not have seen placards addressing the question of Arab unity (beyond, for example, ‘Solidarity with Tunisia’ in Egypt and so on), when you actually talk to activists and hear them being interviewed then you notice a big change. The desire for and drive towards Arab unity was very much alive from the 1950s onwards, especially around the time of the Suez war. It lasted right through to the 1970s, but then it declined. And if you spoke to Arab comrades in the 1980s and 1990s then they would say that Arab unity was a lost cause, it was not going to happen, there was too much divergence, etc. But now if you speak to them it is clear that the idea is back on the agenda.

It is not simply the same language, culture and history which is important. It is also an economic need. This should be a very important consideration, especially for Marxists. Currently divided up into one big state, a few medium-sized states and then a lot of mini-states, the Arab world as it actually is does not make sense economically. The distribution of the population and natural resources is very skewed and uneven. The riches of Libya and Saudi Arabia, for example, could finance the extensive development which is needed in a country like Egypt. A country like Syria has a lot of fertile land which is underused. The dispersal of all these human and natural resources means that it makes no sense to keep them apart. The first step could be something along the lines of the European Union – first and foremost an economic union – but without the reactionary agenda.

Unfortunately it would seem that the Arab bourgeoisie is incapable of actually leading this transformation. Achieving such a union requires the mobilisation of the working class, and indeed the leadership of the working class. The bourgeoisie has tried to do this – and not just the Egyptian and Syrian bourgeoisie. Even Gaddafi had a Mickey Mouse project for Arab unification.

I think that a ‘Bismarck scenario’ is unlikely in the Arab revolution. Uniting Germany in ‘blood and iron’ was made possible by the particular role which Prussia played in relation to the other German states. It was a highly militarised state – one of the biggest military powers in Europe. On the other hand, the other German states were smaller and much weaker militarily. In terms of the Arab world today, it is not simply that a Bismarck does not exist, but that there is no Arab Prussia. Egypt is by far the largest country in the Arab world. But I think that the scenario of Egypt invading Syria and so on is a remote one. Saladin, for example, did invade and unify a large part of the Arab world, but that was in the 12th century, not the 21st. I do not think it is realistic now.

The bourgeoisie, of course, could achieve Arab unity by its own means, but I think this is unlikely. Recent historical experience suggests why. The United Arab Republic, for example, was initiated by the Syrian bourgeoisie, not Nasser and the Egyptian bourgeoisie. They thought it would protect their interests and that it would be better to work together with others of their class interest in the Arab world. But, when it actually came about, the Syrian bourgeoisie was not so keen because it found it was being competitively undermined by the much larger and more powerful Egyptian bourgeoisie. They found it was too bad for business.

This is a dilemma for the various national capitals, which base themselves on snatching a bigger part of the market and so on. It looks very unlikely that the bourgeoisie will transcend its immediate interests in order to unite the Arab nation. To do this you need a class which is not held back by competitive, immediate material interests, but can think in a more international sense: ie, the working class.

Of course, that would require the working class to organise, and for this a whole historical period will be required. That is why I am saying that in the short term we should not expect too much. We need a period in which the working class can actually organise and create its own political leadership, which can then start a new revolution aimed at uniting the Arab world.

Notes

For the interview, see www.zcommunications.org/libyan-developments-by-gilbert-achcar

See F Halliday Arabia without Sultans London 1974.

originally published in Weekly Worker, no. 859

The Test Of Libya

by John McAnulty – Socialist Democracy (Ireland), 3 April 2011

The revolutionary upsurges in North Africa and the Middle East should be serving as a revitalising jolt for revolutionary socialists elsewhere. After decades of isolation, finally they are able to contribute fully: to offer the tools of Marxist analysis, to offer the examples and lessons from earlier historical upsurges, to build solidarity from a working class perspective.In many cases this is what has happened. However, as in the case of circulatory diseases, the return of blood flow may simply confirm that the affected area is dead and allow the processes of gangrene and decay to set in. Such has been the case with Gilbert Achcar, a well-known academic with a long history of involvement with the Fourth International. Achcar, under the pressure of revolutionary upsurge, has completed a journey from revolutionary socialism to liberal commentator with a declaration of support for imperialist war in Lybia.

Achcar says:

The resolution is amazingly confused. But given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it….. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can’t in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.

Achcar denounces dogmatism, a growing habit in the socialist movement by those who, after years of endorsing an amorphous anti-capitalism, find themselves uncomfortable when Marxist theory is applied to real events.

Yet his whole position is one of bombastic and pompous dogmatism. He asserts a scenario about Libya that, unless we bow down to his supreme authority as academic commentator, he cannot possibly know. Not only that, he asserts as gospel that future developments can only take one path without imperialist intervention and that there is no alternative to supporting this intervention.

However it would be a mistake to debate Achcar on these grounds. He does not know fully what is happening in Libya and neither do I. What we have to stamp upon is a deeper arrogance – an arrogance that sees the language of Marxism as something posed within exaggerated quotation marks – proof of the writer’s erudition and knowledge of the mystic texts, to be discarded immediately once we encounter the real world. When we examine Achcar’s text we find that Marxism is absent. What we are dealing with is a humanitarian argument, full of all the illusions of the bog-standard liberal shaking their head over the Sunday newspapers.

What is the alternative to humanitarian concern? For Marxists all struggles are the struggles of contesting classes. The imperialist powers, representing the highest stage of capitalism, have interests that are antithetical to those of the working class. The working class may not appear as an organized force, but that does not mean that it has no interests that will not be advanced or suppressed by the outcome of specific struggles. Finally Marxism tells us that struggles have a broader context. The interests of the workers are not restricted to a national stage, but have a regional and global dimension. So solidarity is not a way of applauding each other’s struggle at a distance, but a way of recognising that the workers in Europe, the US and around the world are involved in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism and the task of solidarity is to bring our common interests to the fore. The significance of the cruise missile socialists is not that they are standing back from the struggle in Libya, but in rejecting the common struggle, they are standing back from struggle full stop. They then become subject to moralism produced by the whims and pressures of bourgeois public opinion which is often formed by the imperialists themselves. This is the significance of Achcar’s failure.  We are involved in a common struggle and he has moved to the other side, not in some far away country but in fighting the capitalist state in which he lives.

So what is the context of the struggle in Libya? The context is the wave of revolution sweeping across the region. This revolution is the spontaneous uprising of young people demanding democracy and also seeking social change that will deliver jobs and a decent life. Immediately these revolts are objectively anti-imperialist. The structures they are struggling against: The monarchies, the dictatorships, the Israeli state, the countries directly occupied – all these are sponsored by Imperialism and together constitute a mechanism of imperialist rule.

What is the response of the various regimes? They seek to directly suppress the revolts. Where necessary they offer minimal concessions also with the aim of demobilising the resistance. This strategy is also the strategy of imperialism. Where possible, force is used to crush the resistance, as it was in Bahrain with the direct involvement of the US in planning the counteroffensive and in Iraq where US occupation troops are still present. Where concessions have to be made elements of the regime are sacrificed rather than the regime itself. Attempts are made to shape the emerging opposition so that minimal changes are required.

The imperialists are struggling because for years they have argued that the only alternative to their client regimes is Islamic fundamentalism, yet the opposition that emerges is secular and democratic. The regimes have one overarching advantage. After decades of repression there are few democratic and working class movements in existence. The revolutionary forces urgently need time to develop programme and organization. That is the starting point for solidarity. Not to weep salt tears or to shout encouragement, but to pass on what we have learnt – that the class interests of capitalism within their movements will lead to their betrayal and defeat, that objective anti-imperialism must move on to become a conscious struggle, that that conscious struggle can only be based on the working class and that the only political basis for such a movement is socialism.

So, starting from the standpoint of class struggle we are able to take a general perspective on imperialist strategy in relation to the revolutionary upsurges. It is general, it lacks detail but it does give a framework for analysis and action.

So why the military intervention in Libya? Well there are a number of factors we can be sure of. One is that Libya produces oil and that the battles have ebbed and flowed around a massive oil production centre. Secondly the calls to arms have been led by France and the British, the countries who have in the recent past had the strongest ties with the Libyan regime. One analysis that has been offered was that these powers doubted Gaddafi’s ability to restore order and believed that either the overthrow of Gaddafi or partition was the best way to protect their investment.

It has been argued that the US is a reluctant participant in the Libyan adventure. The evidence does not support this. Obama deliberated, but he authorized covert operations in Libya at an early stage and when he did act, used overwhelming force and constructed a UN resolution that offered carte blanche to the imperialist powers.

The reason given for intervention by US defence chief Robert Gates was that continued unrest would destabilise Morocco and Tunisia. Having been caught on the back foot by the upsurge, the US was constructing a regional strategy. Being able to add military intervention to the mix greatly strengthens their hand.

There is one other element of importance. That is that French agents, alongside British and US covert forces, were in Benghazi from an early stage, that they were in contact with members of the Transitional Interim National Council, including people who had recently been members of the Gaddafi regime and that they very quickly recognized that elements of the council would be willing collaborators with imperialism. The military intervention against Gaddafi followed on the heels of this. It does suggest very strongly that imperialist powers received an offer they couldn’t refuse in terms of guarantees of imperialist interests in Libya.

When you put this alongside a constant drive to pull defectors from the regime, imperialist strategy in Libya looks remarkably like everywhere else in the region. Where you have to, sacrifice the dictator, then fight like hell to preserve the regime or install a close copy. What are the effects of imperialist intervention? Right away a mass uprising becomes a civil war. Gaddafi gains renewed legitimacy as the defender of the nation against imperialist invasion. Doubters in his own ranks are now traitors. Those in the uprising correspondingly loose political authority and the pace of events moves away from politics and mass action to the military decisions of the imperialist powers.

Within the opposition camp power moves away from the masses and becomes concentrated with those who hold the ear of the imperialists. The European powers meet in London to decide the future of Libya, for all the world like a colonial conference from past times lording it over Africa.

Marxists have a special role to play within the revolutions and in solidarity with them. We stand unconditionally for the democratic rights of the Arab and North African masses. We stand firmly against imperialist intervention, without making the mistake of endorsing Gaddafi or states such as Syria as in some way anti-imperialist.   We argue specifically for the self-organization of the working class and for a socialist solution in the understanding that a democratic capitalist society is not a possible outcome to the present struggles in a period when capitalism no longer supports even the limited democratic structures and freedoms of the past.

The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa will constitute a defining moment in the revolutionary history of this century. The struggles they have initiated will continue for many years and will help define the politics and organization of the working class movement across the world.

For all these reasons it is essential that revolutionaries repudiate Achcar, the cruise missile socialists who stand with him, and organizations such as those in Denmark, Germany and Portugal who have voted to support imperialist intervention.

We must unite, both politically and organizationally, in defence of revolution, in opposition to imperialist intervention and in solidarity with the workers. A valuable start has been made by commentators such as Alex Callinicos and Pham Binh.In his defence Achcar argues that he would be the first to demonstrate for UN intervention and a no-fly zone if there was a further attack on Gaza. He will stand alone. Our task as Marxists is to explain that UN intervention is imperialist military adventure and that no-fly zones are simply a passport to war without boundaries or restraint. Our task is to overthrow imperialism, to defend the Arab workers by attacking it in its heartland, not to weave stupefying fairy tales about its ability to civilize or pacify.

originally published on:- Socialist Democracy

Exposed: The US-Saudi Libya Deal

by Pepe Escobar,
 Asia Times, April 2, 2011

You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in
 Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck 
between the Barack Obama administration and the House
 of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations 
independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary
 of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi
 Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy
 movement in their neighbor in exchange for a yes vote
 by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the
 main rationale that led to United Nations Security
 Council resolution 1973.

The revelation came from two different diplomats, a 
European and a member of the BRIC group, and was made
 separately to a US scholar and Asia Times Online. 
According to diplomatic protocol, their names cannot be 
disclosed. One of the diplomats said, This is the
 reason why we could not support resolution 1973. We
 were arguing that Libya, Bahrain and Yemen were similar
 cases, and calling for a fact-finding mission. We 
maintain our official position that the resolution is
 not clear, and may be interpreted in a belligerent
 manner.

As Asia Times Online has reported, a full Arab League 
endorsement of a no-fly zone is a myth. Of the 22 full members, only 11 were present at the voting. Six of
 them were Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, the 
US-supported club of Gulf kingdoms/sheikhdoms, of which 
Saudi Arabia is the top dog. Syria and Algeria were 
against it. Saudi Arabia only had to seduce three
 other members to get the vote.

Translation: only nine out of 22 members of the Arab 
League voted for the no-fly zone. The vote was
 essentially a House of Saud-led operation, with Arab
 League secretary general Amr Moussa keen to polish his 
CV with Washington with an eye to become the next
 Egyptian President.

Thus, in the beginning, there was the great 2011 Arab
 revolt. Then, inexorably, came the US-Saudi counter-
revolution.Profiteers rejoice Humanitarian imperialists will spin
 en masse this is a “conspiracy”, as they have been
 spinning the bombing of Libya prevented a hypothetical 
massacre in Benghazi. They will be defending the House
 of Saud – saying it acted to squash Iranian subversion 
in the Gulf; obviously R2P – “responsibility to 
protect” does not apply to people in Bahrain. They will
 be heavily promoting post-Gaddafi Libya as a new – oily
- human rights Mecca, complete with US intelligence
 assets, black ops, special forces and dodgy
 contractors.

Whatever they say won’t alter the facts on the ground -
the graphic results of the US-Saudi dirty dancing. Asia
 Times Online has already reported on who profits from 
the foreign intervention in Libya (see There’s no 
business like war business, March 30). Players include 
the Pentagon (via Africom), the North Atlantic Treaty
 Organization (NATO), Saudi Arabia, the Arab League’s
 Moussa, and Qatar. Add to the list the al-Khalifa
 dynasty in Bahrain, assorted weapons contractors, and 
the usual neo-liberal suspects eager to privatize 
everything in sight in the new Libya – even the water. 
And we’re not even talking about the Western vultures 
hovering over the Libyan oil and gas industry.

Exposed, above all, is the astonishing hypocrisy of the
 Obama administration, selling a crass geopolitical coup 
involving northern Africa and the Persian Gulf as a 
humanitarian operation. As for the fact of another US 
war on a Muslim nation, that’s just a kinetic military
 action.

There’s been wide speculation in both the US and across 
the Middle East that considering the military stalemate
- and short of the coalition of the willing bombing 
the Gaddafi family to oblivion – Washington, London and
 Paris might settle for the control of eastern Libya; a
 northern African version of an oil-rich Gulf Emirate. 
Gaddafi would be left with a starving North Korea-style 
Tripolitania. But considering the latest high-value defections from
 the regime, plus the desired endgame (Gaddafi must 
go, in President Obama’s own words), Washington,
 London, Paris and Riyadh won’t settle for nothing but
 the whole kebab. Including a strategic base for both 
Africom and NATO.

Round up the unusual suspects One of the side effects 
of the dirty US-Saudi deal is that the White House is 
doing all it can to make sure the Bahrain drama is 
buried by US media. BBC America news anchor Katty Kay
at least had the decency to stress, they would like 
that one [Bahrain] to go away because there’s no real 
upside for them in supporting the rebellion by the
 Shi’ites.

For his part the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin 
Khalifa al Thani, showed up on al-Jazeera and said that
 action was needed because the Libyan people were
attacked by Gaddafi. The otherwise excellent al-Jazeera journalists could have politely asked the emir whether 
he would send his Mirages to protect the people of
 Palestine from Israel, or his neighbors in Bahrain from
 Saudi Arabia.

The al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain is essentially a 
bunch of Sunni settlers who took over 230 years ago. 
For a great deal of the 20th century they were obliging 
slaves of the British empire. Modern Bahrain does not
 live under the specter of a push from Iran; that’s an 
al-Khalifa (and House of Saud) myth. Bahrainis, historically, have always rejected being 
part of a sort of Shi’ite nation led by Iran. The
 protests come a long way, and are part of a true 
national movement – way beyond sectarianism. No wonder 
the slogan in the iconic Pearl roundabout – smashed by
the fearful al-Khalifa police state – was neither
 Sunni nor Shi’ite; Bahraini.

What the protesters wanted was essentially a
 constitutional monarchy; a legitimate parliament; free 
and fair elections; and no more corruption. What they 
got instead was bullet-friendly Bahrain replacing
 business-friendly Bahrain, and an invasion sponsored 
by the House of Saud. 

And the repression goes on – invisible to US corporate
 media. Tweeters scream that everybody and his neighbor
 are being arrested. According to Nabeel Rajab,
 president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, over 
400 people are either missing or in custody, some of 
them arrested at checkpoints controlled by thugs 
brought in from other Arab and Asian countries – they 
wear black masks in the streets. Even blogger Mahmood
Al Yousif was arrested at 3 am, leading to fears that 
the same will happen to any Bahraini who has blogged,
 tweeted, or posted Facebook messages in favor of
 reform.

Globocop is on a roll Odyssey Dawn is now over. Enter
 Unified Protector – led by Canadian Charles Bouchard. 
Translation: the Pentagon (as in Africom) transfers the kinetic military action to itself (as in NATO, which
 is nothing but the Pentagon ruling over Europe). 
Africom and NATO are now one.

The NATO show will include air and cruise missile
 strikes; a naval blockade of Libya; and shady,
 unspecified ground operations to help the rebels. 
Hardcore helicopter gunship raids a la AfPak – with
 attached collateral damage – should be expected. 

A curious development is already visible. NATO is 
deliberately allowing Gaddafi forces to advance along 
the Mediterranean coast and repel the “rebels”. There 
have been no surgical air strikes for quite a while.

The objective is possibly to extract political and
 economic concessions from the defector and Libyan
exile-infested Interim National Council (INC) – a dodgy 
cast of characters including former Justice minister
 Mustafa Abdel Jalil, US-educated former secretary of 
planning Mahmoud Jibril, and former Virginia resident,
 new military commander and CIA asset Khalifa Hifter. 
The laudable, indigenous February 17 Youth movement -
which was in the forefront of the Benghazi uprising -
has been completely sidelined.

This is NATO‘s first African war, as Afghanistan is NATO‘s first Central/South Asian war. Now firmly
 configured as the UN‘s weaponized arm, Globocop NATO is 
on a roll implementing its strategic concept approved
 at the Lisbon summit last November (see Welcome to 
NATOstan, Asia Times Online, November 20, 2010).

Gaddafi’s Libya must be taken out so the Mediterranean
- the mare nostrum of ancient Rome – becomes a NATO 
lake. Libya is the only nation in northern Africa not
 subordinated to Africom or Centcom or any one of the 
myriad NATO “partnerships”. The other non-NATO-related
 African nations are Eritrea, Sawahiri Arab Democratic 
Republic, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Moreover, two members of NATO‘s Istanbul Cooperation 
Initiative – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are 
now fighting alongside Africom/NATO for the first time. 
Translation: NATO and Persian Gulf partners are
 fighting a war in Africa. Europe? That’s too 
provincial. Globocop is the way to go.

According to the Obama administration’s own official
 doublespeak, dictators who are eligible for “US 
outreach” – such as in Bahrain and Yemen – may relax ,
and get away with virtually anything. As for those 
eligible for “regime alteration”, from Africa to the 
Middle East and Asia, watch out. Globocop NATO is 
coming to get you. With or without dirty deals.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the
 Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble
Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad
during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does
Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at:-
pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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Apr 26 2010

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism (edited version in Weekly Worker, no. 211)

Independent Action Required to Achieve Genuine Workers’ Unity

First, I would like to thank Nick for the tenor of his contribution to the debate about communist strategy in the states of the UK and the 26 county Irish republic. After our initial sparring in earlier issues of Weekly Worker and on the RCN website Nick’s contribution develops further his own case for a British approach and a British party. (I am still not sure to what extent the alternative and logically more consistent one state/one party stance of having an all-UK party is supported in the CPGB.) Nick also usefully clears up some points himself (e.g. over his attitude to Luxemburgism) and asks a question which is designed to advance the debate. Before going on to the other issues Nick raises, I will therefore answer this question on whether I support breakaway unions in Scotland.

How to win effective union solidarity

I have consistently argued that the struggle to attain effective union organisation can not be reduced to which national flag flies over a union HQ. Most of the Left, in practice, uphold the sovereignty of the union officials located in their existing union HQs, hoping to replace these some day. This is why many of their union campaigns amount to electoral attempts to replace existing union leaderships with Broad Left leaderships. In more and more cases, the latest Broad Left challenges are being mounted against old Broad Left leaderships, suggesting a serious flaw in this strategy!

Of course, many on the Left would say – ‘No’, we champion the sovereignty of the union conference. However, the relationship between most union conferences and their union bureaucracies is very similar to that between Westminster and the government of the day. In both cases, executives only implement what they wish to, whilst systematically undermining any conference/election policies they, or the employers/ruling class, oppose. In the case of unions, this division is accentuated by elected-for-life and appointed officials, who enjoy pay and perks way beyond those of their members – a bit like Cabinet ministers.

Therefore, I uphold the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces – a republican rank and file industrial strategy, if you like. From this viewpoint ‘unofficial’ action, the term used by bureaucrats to undermine members and to reassert their control, is rejected in favour of the term independent action. Action undertaken by branches can be extended by picketing, and by wider delegate or mass meetings. Certainly, this places a considerable responsibility upon the membership in the branches concerned, necessitating their active involvement in strategic and tactical discussion over the possibilities for extending effective action. Furthermore, instead of politics being largely confined to the select few – union bureaucrats and conference attenders – as when unions are affiliated to the Labour Party – politics becomes a vital necessity in workplace branches.

Nick asks, how can the SSP effectively support action by, for example, civil servants who are organised on an all-British union basis, when we are organised on a Scottish political basis? Actually, it is quite easy. The SSP has members on the executives of all-Britain trade unions, and we seek wider unity for effective action with officers and delegates from England and Wales. Indeed, we can go further and state that we would seek cooperation with union members in Northern Ireland, when action involves all-UK unions, such as the FBU. Yet, in the latter case, support for joint action over economic issues should not prevent socialists raising the political issue of Ireland’s breakaway from the UK state. There is an obvious analogy here for the SSP.

Indeed, there are three other territorial union forms in these islands, – Northern Irish unions (e.g. Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance), Irish unions which organise in the North (e.g. Irish National Teachers Union and the Independent Workers Union) and all-islands unions (e.g. UCATT). Nick’s attempt to equate more effective action with all-Britain unions would in no way help socialists to bring about unity in such varied circumstances. Championing the sovereignty of the union branch, and the forging of unity from below in expanding action, offer the best way of achieving this.

Nick mentions the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the major teaching union in Scotland, and one of the last unions organised on a Scottish basis. The EIS is affiliated, not only to the STUC, but to the TUC and, although not affiliated to the Labour Party, its leadership has, since the mid 1970’s, been as loyal to Labour as any. The EIS is one of the strongest adherents of ‘social partnership’, with large chunks of its official journal indistinguishable from government/management spin – especially its articles on governmental education initiatives.

Until I retired, I was a member of the EIS, a union rep (shop steward) for 34 years, and served on the union’s Edinburgh Local Executive and National Council. I was also a member of Scottish Rank & File Teachers (until they were sabotaged by the SWP) and later the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers. I always upheld the sovereignty of the membership in their branches. Furthermore, I was also centrally involved in the largest campaign that rocked the Scottish educational world and the EIS, in 1974. Here, for the first time, I came up against the sort of arguments Nick raises.

The 1974 strike action was organised unofficially/independently. It took place over more than three months, with huge weekly, school delegate-based meetings. We also argued within the official structures of the EIS (whilst even drawing in some members of the two other small unions). It was here that the old CPGB, Labour Party and Militant supporters told us we should end our independent action and confine ourselves to getting motions passed calling on the union leadership to take a national lead.

If we had done this, it is likely there would have been no industrial action at all. As it was, the massive independent action forced the official leadership to move. And it was the independent rank and file movement which sent delegates to schools in England to try and widen the challenge to the Tory government over pay. Labour Party and CPGB union officers, all stalwart Left British unionists, confined official union activity to Scotland!

There is a definite parallel between Nick’s advocacy that the SSP should abandon its own independent organisation and join with the British Left, planning for the ‘big bang’ British/UK revolution they hope for in the future, and those old CPGB, Left Labour and Militant arguments I first faced back in 1974.

The anti-poll tax campaign – ‘internationalism from below’ in action

Some years later, in 1988, I became chair of the first Anti-Poll Tax Federation (Lothians) and co-chair of the conference of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation. The campaign against the poll tax started a year earlier in Scotland, due to Thatcher’s propensity to impose her own form of devolution here – testing out reactionary legislation in Scotland first.

Militant emerged as the largest political organisation in the Federations. Militant became torn between those who wanted to maintain an all-Britain Labour Party orientation, continuing to prioritise activities inside the party’s official structures, and those who saw the necessity to become involved in independent action through the anti-poll tax unions. Fortunately, it was the latter view that won out.

The negative effect of pursuing a tacitly British unionist strategy was demonstrated by the SWP. Their slogan was – Kinnock and Willis {then TUC General Secretary}- get off your knees and fight (i.e. pushing for others to lead). They argued that only a Britain-wide campaign backed by the official trade union movement could win. When a special Labour Party conference in Glasgow voted against non-payment, the SWP declared the game was over, and some Scottish members went on to pay their poll tax.

The majority in the Federations stuck to their guns and built the independent action first in Scotland, e.g. through non-payment, confronting sheriff officers (bailiffs), etc, and by sending delegations to England and Wales, to prepare people for widened action the following year. Spreading such action from below contributed to the Trafalgar Square riots of March 31st 1990, which put finally paid to the poll tax and to Thatcher.

‘Internationalism from below’, which the SSP International Committee has advocated at the two Republican Socialist Conventions, represents a wider and more politicised development of such actions by our class. Any reading of our documents will show that our ‘internationalism from below’ stance flows from an analysis the concrete political situation, and unlike Nick’s and the CPGB’s stance, does not stem from some abstract attempt to extend a ‘one state/one party’ (or trade union) organisational form over all British/UK socialists; or from a belief in the efficacy of the top-down bureaucratic ‘internationalism’, which is intrinsic to such attempts.

Although rather belated in its formation, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, set up in 1996, directly stemmed from the lessons learned in the anti-poll tax campaign. (Socialist republicans in the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation had argued for the setting up of such organisations from 1990.) Furthermore, contrary to what Nick maintains, far from having a purely Scottish orientation, SSA/SSP members took an active part, providing speakers, to help set up the Socialist Alliances in England, Wales and the Irish Socialist Network. The main obstacles we faced in helping to form new democratic united front organisations came from the British Left!

Perhaps it is also significant that, after addressing large meetings in Scotland, some of the striking Liverpool dockers (1995-8) and their partners said that support here was often wider than in England. Even the response received from the SNP trade union group in Dundee was compared very favourably with the coolness of many Labour Party members closer to home! The SSA was particularly prominent in trying to win solidarity for the dockers in Scotland.

Comparing records in trying to build socialist/communist unity

Now, Nick goes on to make some valid criticisms of the SSA’s successor organisation, the SSP, particularly over its handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair. However, here it is necessary to compare like with like. The CPGB is only a small political organisation with very few connections to the wider working class. In reality it is a socialist/communist propaganda organisation. The SSP, at its height in 2003, united the vast majority of the Left in Scotland, had over a thousand members, won 128,026 votes in the Holyrood election, gained six MSPs and had 2 councillors. It was a party of socialist unity, unlike today when it is an organisation for socialist unity.

When you attempt to organise amongst the wider working class you come under all the immediate political pressures, as well as having to face up to the legacies of past Left traditions. We live in a UK state with a deep-seated imperialist legacy, and where our class has been in retreat in the face of a Capitalist Offensive since 1975.

So, if we are to engage meaningfully amongst the wider class, we have to acknowledge this, and develop a strategy to prevent socialists/communists being dragged back, and to find new openings that enable us to advance both the case and the struggle for a genuine socialist/communist alternative. This means forming definite political platforms. The RCN is a platform in the SSP; the CPGB was part of a platform (Workers Unity) in the SSP. So let’s compare our roles in trying to build wider principled socialist unity.

Now, just as Nick points out that the CPGB has already made many of the criticisms of the SWP and Socialist Party that I raised in my critique, so I will point out that the RCN publicly raised criticisms of the SSP Executive’s handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair, which he also quite rightly criticises. The RCN was the only political organisation to oppose, in principle, socialists’ resort to the bourgeois courts to get legal rulings on how they conduct themselves.

The split, which eventually emerged on the SSP Executive, was about the tactical advisability of a resort to the courts, not against the principle. The Executive, having unanimously warned against such a course of action in this particular case, came to an agreement with Sheridan, who insisted on ignoring this advice. In this agreement, he was allowed to stand down as SSP Convenor in order to pursue his court case as an individual. The Executive hoped this would remove the pressure upon the SSP itself.

This was extremely naïve, showing little understanding of how the state operates. In the case of the CWI/SP, they still haven’t learned this lesson, as their misguided resort to the courts to defend four victimised activists in UNISON has recently highlighted. Back in 2006, the Scottish courts made it quite clear that they made no distinction between the SSP and the activities of its most prominent member. It jailed Alan McCombes for refusing to hand over party minutes covering the Executive decisions on the handling of the Sheridan affair.

This led to a public split on the SSP’s Executive Committee, between those who wanted to continue with Sheridan’s case in the bourgeois courts, and those who could now see that the state held the whip hand. Sheridan was asked to abandon this particularly flawed and potentially disastrous course of action. Unfortunately, with the encouragement of the SWP and the CWI/IS – Sheridan went on regardless, resulting in a split in the SSP. They refused to attend the post-trial Conference organised to address the deep-seated differences, which had emerged in the SSP. Solidarity has been little more than a political ‘marriage of convenience’. You only have to look at the SWP and SP’s continued organisational separation in England, Wales (and Ireland/Northern Ireland) to understand this.

Certainly, mistakes had also been be made by the SSP Executive majority, but these could have been rectified. Indeed, the RCN initiated motion to condemn the resort to bourgeois courts and newspapers to deal with differences amongst socialists was passed at the post-split SSP Conference in 2006.

Ironically, the one issue, which played no part in the split, was the territorial organisational basis of the SSP. The left nationalist Sheridanistas (now the Democratic Green Socialist platform) joined with the Left unionist SWP and with CWI/IS in Solidarity. The Left nationalist influenced (now former) ISM, along with the Left unionist and carelessly named Solidarity platform (!) (AWL), and the republican socialist RCN stayed with the SSP. The left nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement left the SSP to urge support for the SNP, whilst the Left unionist CPGB ended up telling people to vote New Labour in the recent Euro-elections. Yes, a sorry mess!

Now, if ever there was an opportunity for the British Left to make some headway in Scotland, the SSP split this should have been it. However, the CWI/SP had already sabotaged the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, whilst the final coup-de-grace was administered by the SWP, when it decided to move over to pastures green in Respect. Losing support there to Galloway and his allies (the SWP seemed to have learned nothing about cultivating celebrity politics in Solidarity) they then sabotaged Respect. Perhaps, the one thing Nick and I could agree on, is that a particular organisational form – Scottish or British – provides no guarantee of principled socialist unity! That has to be fought out on the basis of principled politics and democratic methods.

Now, some time after the CPGB’s advocacy of giving no support to either the SSP or Solidarity (to my knowledge it no longer had any members involved at this stage), it came up with its own Campaign for a Marxist Party (CMP). Here surely, given the balance of political forces (much more favourable to the CPGB, than say to the SP or SWP in the old Socialist Alliance, the SWP in Respect, or the SP in No2EU) it should have been able to make some real headway in advancing its own brand of socialist/communist unity politics – the organisational unity of self-declared Marxists in an all-Britain (UK?) party.

However, as every non-CPGB report on the CMP has shown (see New Interventions), the CPGB played an analogous role to the SWP in its front organisations. And, just as in the case of the SWP, there has been no honest attempt to account politically for the demise of the CPGB project in this respect. Instead, we have been given personalised attacks – once again shades of the SWP. From the outside, it looks as if the CPGB was just attempting a new recruiting manoeuvre – much like the SWP.

Now the CMP certainly organised on an all-Britain basis, including the Critique/Marxist Forum group in Glasgow. Yet, far from bringing about greater unity, the CMP experience has only resulted in greater disunity! Nick I’m sure witnessed much of this, and I would think it unlikely that he was entirely happy with the way the CPGB conducted itself. However, this wasn’t an accidental one-off.

Before Nick became involved in the CPGB, there had been an all-Britain RCN, which included the Red Republicans (including myself), the Campaign for a Federal Republic, the CPGB and the RDG. The CPGB, in alliance with the RDG, decided to marginalise those who disagreed with their own ‘federal British republican’ position. In Scotland, federal British republicans were a minority in the RCN, but were still well represented on our Scottish Committee. In England, federal republicans were in a majority, but the CPGB and RDG acted to ensure there were no non-federal republicans on the ‘organising committee’ there (in reality very little organising had gone on).

Their idea was to refashion the RCN into an organisation, which would intervene with the ‘federal British republican’ line in the SSP. The CPGB and RDG had no wider role for the RCN in England. They saw their job as conducting Left British unionist ‘missionary work’ in Scotland only.

A rather unpleasant all-Britain RCN meeting was held in London, and through the votes of CPGB and RDG members, the majority of whom had never lifted a finger for the RCN, they won the day. The RCN in Scotland decided it had had enough of the bureaucratic manoeuvring and withdrew. Even the Scottish members of the Campaign for a Federal Republic members joined with the RCN majority in Scotland, and together we constituted ourselves as the RCN (Scotland).

It is not even necessary to accept my interpretation of these particular events to make a political assessment of the consequences of the split. The RCN now only existed in Scotland. The CPGB and RDG were attempting to link up with the very Left unionist (and social imperialist) AWL, and the Glasgow Critique group which still had members in Scotland, to build a new Left unionist platform within the SSP. An additional advantage was the support they had in England (and Wales).

So, which of the two platforms was able to advance in the SSP? Using Nick’s argument about the obvious superiority of all-Britain political organisations it should have been the CPGB and its allies. Yet this wasn’t the case, despite the CPGB’s hope of also winning the support of other Left unionist organisations in the SSP, such as the SWP (Weekly Worker assiduously tried to court Neil Davidson, the SWP’s leading theoretician in Scotland, then advancing a strong Left unionist politics.)

Now, it could possibly be argued, from a CPGB viewpoint, that the task of winning over the SSP to ‘principled’ British Left organisational unity was just too big a task in the face of the opposition. However, then the fight conducted by the CPGB and its allies should have at least solidified a more united pro-British tendency in Scotland. However, the CPGB soon fell out with the AWL and, after the CMP debacle, with the RDG, also leaving members of the Glasgow Critique/Marxist Forum split! And Nick wonders why I think supporters of British Left unity tend to mirror the bureaucratic methods utilised by the British state!

The historical basis for ‘internationalism from below’

The UK is not just any old state. It was once at the centre of the world’s largest empire upon which the sun never set. Today, it forms the principle ally of US imperialism, the dominant power in the world. Today, the UK is ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the USA’s ‘Tsarist Russia’.

For the greater part of their political lives, Marx and Engels argued that socialists should make opposition to the Romanov/Hapsburg counter-revolutionary alliance fundamental to their revolutionary project. Support for the Polish struggle to gain political independence, particularly from the Russian and Austrian Empires, was central to Marx and Engels’ strategy. Engels held on to this perspective until the end of his life, opposing the young Rosa Luxemburg on Polish independence, in the process. Socialists need to adopt a similar strategy today towards the US/UK imperial alliance.

It took some time before Marx and Engels came to an understanding of the best method needed to unite socialists organisationally to promote revolution and struggle against reaction and counter-revolution. However, they outlined their most developed position within the First International, when, significantly, they had to confront the British Left of their day. This tendency tried to uphold a ‘one-state/one-party’ stance, when they denied the Irish the right to form their own national organisation within the International. In arguing against a prominent British First International member, Engels argued that:-

The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal, but that of Poland with regard to Russia… What would be said if the Council called upon Polish sections to acknowledge the supremacy of a Council sitting in Petersburg, or upon Prussian Polish, North Schleswig {Danish} and Alsatian sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin… that was not Internationalism, but simply preaching to them submission to the yoke… and attempting to justify and perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism. It was sanctioning the belief, only too common amongst English {British} working men, that they were superior beings compared to the Irish, and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave States considered themselves to be with regard to the Negroes.

The Second International was formed as the High Imperialism of European dominant-nationality states (German, French and Russian) and top-down imperial national identity sates (British and Belgian) were in the ascendancy. The Second International abandoned Marx and Engels’ ‘internationalism from below’ principle. They adopted a ‘one state/one party’ organisational principle instead, which soon became the conduit for social chauvinist and social imperialist thinking within the social democratic movement.

Luxemburg and Lenin both accepted this new organisational principle. Luxemburg thought, though, that dominant nation chauvinism, which she still recognised, could be combatted by pushing for all-round democratic reforms, without regard to the specific nationalities in any particular state (albeit, as Lenin noticed, with the inconsistent qualification that, after the revolution, Poles should enjoy political autonomy).

Lenin also recognised the dominant nation social chauvinism and social imperialism found in the Second International, but thought this could best be combated through the 1896, Second International Congress decision to uphold ‘the right of nations to self determination’. Lenin thought, though, that any need to actually fight to implement this right was constantly being undermined by ongoing capitalist development, which he thought led to greater working class unity. Furthermore, after any future revolution, national self-determination would not be required, since workers would then want to unite together, initially within the existing state territorial frameworks, after these had been suitably transformed.

However, mainstream Second International figures, as well as Lenin, went on to consider various exceptions to both these organisational and political principles. In the case of some of the major constituent Second International parties, support was sometimes given to non-state parties in other states (often ones in competition with their own imperial bourgeoisies!). In this way the PPS (Poland) and IRSP (Ireland) were able to gain official recognition as Second International Congress delegates.

Lenin, in contrast, tended to support the exercise of self-determination retrospectively, only after he had recognised its political significance, e.g. Norway in 1905, Ireland in 1916. Lenin’s refusal to recognise the real political significance of Left-led national movements within the Russian Empire from 1917 (e.g. Finland and Ukraine), contributed to the isolation of the Revolution, and also to the burgeoning Great Russian bureaucratic character of the new USSR.

Luxemburg’s refusal to get socialists to fight for the leadership of national democratic movements contributed even more to the particular political marginalisation of socialists in Poland, compared say to those ostensibly less revolutionary Finnish socialists. They had been much more brutally crushed in the 1918 White counter-revolution in Finland, than the Polish socialists had been in the imperial backed nationalist revolution there. One reason why Finnish socialists and communists were able to rise from the ashes, is that were still remembered as leaders in the national struggle against Tsarist Russian and German occupation.

The role of an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy in combating the current US/UK imperial alliance

Fast forward to today, and we can see the leading role of US/UK imperialism in the world, promoting the interests of the global corporations. The UK state has been awarded the North Atlantic franchise by the US. Here it operates as spoiler within the EU to prevent it emerging as an imperial competitor to the US. It can even designate Iceland a terrorist state! Through the Peace (or more accurately pacification) Process, UK governments, in alliance with their own junior partners, successive Irish governments, have rolled back the challenge represented by the revolutionary nationalist challenge of the Republican Movement.

Sinn Fein is now a major partner in upholding British rule in ‘the Six Counties’ through their coalition with the reactionary unionist DUP. The ‘Peace Process’ was designed to create the best political environment to ensure that the global corporations can maximise their profits in Ireland. This political strategy has been extended throughout these islands, by the policy of ‘Devolution-all-round’ – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

This strategy has easily tamed such constitutional nationalist parties as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. The SNP, for example, is pursuing a Devolution-Max policy to uphold Scottish business interests in an accepted global corporate dominated world. The UK state strategy has the full support of the USA, the EU, and trade union leaderships locked in ‘social partnerships’ with their governments and the employers.

The constitutionally unionist form of the UK state places the National Question at the heart of the democratic struggle. Middle class nationalism is continually forced into compromises with unionism and imperialism. (At the height of British imperial world domination, the overwhelming majority of the Scottish and Welsh, and a significant section of the Irish middle classes, could be won over to acceptance of various hyphenated British identities – Scottish-British, Welsh-British and Irish-British – in their shared pursuit of imperial spoils). However, today’s SNP support for the monarchy, and for Scottish regiments in the British imperial army, show that unionist/imperialist pressure can still have an impact. Even the ‘independent’ Irish state has given Shannon Airport over to US imperial forces, particularly for ‘rendition’ flights.

Unfortunately, the CPGB has only the most abstract understanding of the British unionist state. As yet, it doesn’t even fully comprehend the difference between a nation and a nationality. During the 1997 Devolution Referendum campaign, Weekly Worker denied there was such a thing as a Scottish nation, claiming there was only a British nation, in which there lives a Scottish nationality. The existence of a wider Scottish nation, and not just a narrower ethnic Scots nationality, can easily be demonstrated in the well-known Scottish names of Sean Connery, Tom Conti, Shireen Nanjiani and Omar Saeed.

The logic of the CPGB’s position, if it had upheld its own particular version of national self-determination, should have been to argue for the 1997 referendum ballot to be confined to (ethnic) Scots. This would of course brought it into line with the far right nationalist, Siol nan Gaidheal! The CPGB also got itself into so many knots through promoting its own particular sect-front, ‘The Campaign for Genuine Self Determination’, that it buried any report of its end-of-campaign public meeting and rally in Glasgow. This meeting was certainly entertaining, but hardly a triumph for CPGB politics!

Indeed the beginnings of the CPGB’s political decline in Scotland can be identified with this particular meeting, which it was so reluctant to report on. I made an extended political assessment, which was sent to Weekly Worker to review. It declined to do so.

However, the confusion between nation and nationality has been taken to greater lengths in ‘the Six Counties’. Here Jack Conrad has identified a 75% Irish-British nation (!), scoring somewhat higher in the nation stakes than Scotland. The fact that Irish-British nationality identification went into rapid retreat after the Irish War of Independence is just ignored.

What undoubtedly exists in the ‘Six Counties’ today is an ‘Ulster’-British identity, buttressed by official Unionism and unofficial Loyalism alike. However, this relatively new nationality identification isn’t fixed either. There are a minority of ‘Ulster’-British who would happily become fully integrated into the British unionist and imperial state. The majority in the UUP, DUP and TUV, still want to maintain Stormont and other Northern Irish statelet institutions to hopefully ensure continued Protestant Unionist ascendancy. An ultra-reactionary minority has contemplated declaring UDI (Rhodesia style) to form an independent Ulster state, through ethnic cleansing (or, as the relevant UDA document puts it – ‘nullification’). They all, of course, proudly champion the British imperial legacy.

Ironically, there has been a limited rise of British-Irishness in ‘the 26 counties’, particularly in ‘Dublin 4’, amongst former Official Republicans and a new wave if ‘revisionist historians’. Significantly, this usually goes along with support for the UK and the USA in its current ‘anti-terrorist’ (i.e. imperial) adventures. These people represent a similar phenomenon to the Euston Manifesto group, formed in 2006 along with others, by former AWL member, Alan Johnson. The AWL, of course, has gone further even than the CWI in its apologetics for working class Loyalist organisations (anticipating its similar attitude to Zionist Labour organisations), so it is not surprising that it has given birth to strong social unionist and imperialist tendencies. Therefore, as long as the CPGB champions the ‘nation’ rights of this particularly reactionary nationality, it is in danger of following the path of the AWL and the CWI.

Now, the majority of the real Irish-British in ‘the 26 counties’ did eventually become Irish themselves, despite the undoubted barriers posed by the Catholic confessional nature of the state there. This development shows the possibilities of creating Irish national unity, especially if full nationality and religious equality is promoted.

The RCN appreciates the real nature of the UK state, and the strategy being pursued by its ruling class to contain potentially threatening national democratic movements. These can take on a republican form in their opposition to the anti-democratic Crown Powers soon wielded against any effective opposition. The RCN also recognises the need to supplement this by engagement with major social issues. This social republicanism (which needs to be developed by communists into conscious socialist republicanism) isn’t just an added-on extra. The fight against jobs and housing discrimination in the Civil Right Movement, and against the poll tax in Scotland, soon became linked with the national and (latent) republican movements in their respective countries.

When the RCN argues for a challenge to the UK state and to its anti-democratic Crown Powers in Scotland, this stems from a recognition that republican political consciousness is currently higher here (itself a reflection of the importance of the National Question). By way of analogy, in the 1980’s, the wider working class appreciated the more advanced class consciousness of the NUM and recognised they were in the vanguard of the fight, not just to save pits, but against the Thatcher government. The Great Miners’ Strike was itself triggered off by independent action. The job of socialists soon became to organise effective wider solidarity, and generalise this into a wider political struggle against Thatcher.

If socialist republicans in Scotland can take the lead in the political struggle against the UK state, the task of socialists in these islands becomes something similar – to build solidarity and to extend the challenge by breaking each link in the unionist chain. Whether we end up with independent democratic republics (and only weaken imperialism – nevertheless a better basis for future progress than the UK imperial state which exists at present), or are able to move forward to a federation of European socialist republics, depends on the ability of socialists/communists to build ever widening independent class organisation, culminating in workers’ councils.

Abstention from the democratic struggle on the grounds it isn’t specifically ‘socialist’ would be equivalent to abstention in supporting workers fighting for increased wages, on the grounds that they weren’t fighting against the wages system. Socialists/communists can only gain a wider audience by participating in all the economic, social, cultural and political (democratic) struggles facing our class. To do this effectively, socialists throughout these islands need to build on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’.

 __________

Nick Rogers replies to Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee

(Weekly Worker, no. 809)

The very first point I made at the February 13 Republican Socialist Convention in London was that the most pressing task for communists was to build an international working class movement that could challenge the capitalist class globally.

In the letters column of last week’s Weekly Worker I argued that it was necessary to build pan-European workers’ organisations (Blind alley, March 4). The masthead of the Weekly Worker carries the slogan, Towards a Communist Party of the European Union. Yet Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee characterises my position as Brit left (Left mirror of the UK state Weekly Worker March 4). In this reply I want to explore Allan’s revealing conclusion.

In my original report I criticised the SSP, represented at the February 13 meeting by co-convenor Colin Fox, for refusing to unite in an all-British party to combat the actually existing British state (‘Debating with left nationalists’ Weekly Worker February 18). Granted, Allan advocates united action across the British Isles, but, as he puts it, on the basis of the same kind of relations that Hands Off the People of Iran has established between British and Iranian workers. He asks, Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work cannot be effective because British and Iranian socialist do not live in the same state?

I applaud the work of Hopi, but everyone in that organisation – Iranian, British or whatever – recognises that workers in the two countries face quite different political environments that, for the time being, make unity in one centralised party both undesirable and unrealistic.

The difference between the kind of internationalism that Hopi encourages the British and Iranian workers to engage in and the level of unity workers in Scotland and England require can be illustrated quite simply by considering the nature of their respective struggles.

When Iranian bus, car or oil workers take industrial action, their grievances will generally be very specific to conditions in Iran – albeit sharing common characteristics with workers anywhere, given the drive by capitalist regimes all round the world to step up the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights. Generous financial support, logistical support where practical, solidarity messages, pickets of the Iranian embassy, etc – actions such as these are what it is feasible for British workers to do. Of course, we also place direct pressure on the British state by opposing sanctions against Iran and any preparations for war. These are the tasks that Hopi has set itself.

If Iranian workers in struggle were facing a western transnational, other types of action become possible, from workers’ sanctions to solidarity industrial action. Since the mullahs and revolutionary guards dominate profit-making activities in Iran, these opportunities are relatively rare.

British workers, by contrast, face capitalist companies that do not respect national boundaries within Britain (and increasingly the boundaries separating European countries). Effective industrial action also has to take place across these boundaries and requires close British and pan-European organisation by workers. In Britain workers confront laws made by the capitalist state – and also laws laid down by the European Union. For many workers the capitalist state is their employer. Defensive actions such as last week’s two-day strike by the Public and Commercial Services union inevitably assume an all-Britain character.

Allan affects to believe that the nature of the joint action by workers in Britain and the solidarity British and Iranian workers can achieve is essentially no different. In that case, what about British-wide unions? Does Allan believe that the struggles of civil servants (or any other group of workers) would be more or less effective if they were split into separate English and Scottish bodies? I honestly do not know Allan’s position on this. Some left nationalists, such as the Scottish Socialist Republican Movement, do advocate forming separate Scottish unions. I have observed that quite often it is the teachers in the SSP – organised, as it happens, in a Scottish union, the Educational Institute of Scotland – who least grasp the merits of Britain-wide industrial organisation. The majority in the SSP has, though, always cautioned against industrial separatism and argued that even Scottish independence would not undermine the rationale for all-Britain unions.

We are some way off a situation where we can contemplate signing up workers in Britain and Iran to the same unions. So it seems we agree that the existence of a British state – and the shared political, social and economic environment that goes along with it – makes the closest possible cooperation between workers in some types of organisation essential.

That leaves us with the rather extraordinary conundrum of explaining why communists – supposedly the most advanced militants of the working class – should unite on a less ambitious scale than workers seeking to defend their immediate economic interests.

For most it is self-evident that civil servants defending their redundancy terms need to organise in the same union against the British state in its role as an employer. How far would civil servants get if the PCS were to be split into separate Scottish, Welsh and English unions and leave the coordination of joint industrial actions to their respective ‘international departments’? I suggest that we would not be expecting anything very dynamic or effective to come of it.

But for the left nationalists in the SSP the proposal that revolutionary socialists need to achieve the same degree of unity in seeking to overthrow that capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ democracy draws forth accusations of ‘unionism’. For them, building joint activities with communists in England and Wales must be left to the SSP’s international committee in case we were to inadvertently imply that a closer form of unity just might be appropriate.

An observation. Allan points to the SSP’s participation in European Anti-Capitalist Alliance in last year’s European elections and the speaker tour they organised for a member of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party. I would say that was a principled stance as far as it went. But when has the SSP ever stood as part of a Britain-wide electoral front in a British general election? What principle allows the SSP to collaborate with European socialists to the extent of forming a common platform, but prohibits a similar step with socialists across Britain?

Allan takes me to task for using the word ‘foreign’ to describe the SSP’s attitude to English communists. He thinks the word carries inherent connotations of xenophobia. What nonsense. The capitalist international system of states is a reality communists are obliged to acknowledge, even while they strive to overcome it. Allan, however, in his refusal to accept that the existence of a British state requires a united struggle by workers against it, departs from reality.

‘Brit left’

So what is the ‘Brit left’? According to Allan the epithet is aimed at those socialists who seek to build party organisations throughout Britain – who try to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. Allan admits that this is to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy: ie, one party for each state. Within the SSP it struck me as an insult hurled most fiercely at fellow Scots – a jibe implying deficient Scottish patriotism.

Allan sketches out a litany of the failings of ‘Brit left’ organisations: the Socialist Workers Party’s opposition to Hopi, the British nationalism of last year’s ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’ electoral front, the cowardice of Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party over migrant workers.

What is he driving at? Is he saying that the sectarian failings of the left in Britain are intrinsic to all Britain-wide ventures? The political project of the CPGB could be summed up as advocacy of left unity on the basis of principled politics. The examples of unprincipled left politics that Allan cites could very well be drawn from exposés in the Weekly Worker.

Certainly, the sectarian fragmentation of the left makes a nonsense of attempts to present an effective challenge to capitalism in Britain. Not much of an excuse, though, for the SSP to add a nationalist twist to that fragmentation.

Does the fact that the SSP operates only north of the border really make it immune to much the same failings as ‘London-based’ organisations? What about the whole Tommy Sheridan debacle? It was the leadership of the SSP that built up Tommy as a political superstar. That carried his picture on the masthead of most issues of Scottish Socialist Voice. That incorporated a message from Tommy and his portrait on every election leaflet. That added his name to that of the party on ballot papers. That ran a prominent story about his wedding.

Most in the SSP now accept that the hero-worship of Sheridan was a mistake – a re-evaluation that is rather a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Today the whole organisation pretty much reviles him. I can understand the anger at Tommy Sheridan, but that in its turn does not excuse what is effectively collaboration with state authorities (a British state, moreover) and News International to put the man in prison. A perjury trial, whatever the outcome, is not going to place the SSP back in the big time. It is not even going to remove a martyred Tommy Sheridan from the Scottish political scene.

The fact of the matter is that such get-rich-quick schemes distort the priorities of most of the left in Britain – and internationally for that matter. You could argue that it is Trotsky’s transitional demands – a concept built into the DNA of most so-called revolutionary groups – that provides the excuse to describe any campaign for however modest a reform as a coherent aspect of a revolutionary strategy. I think the tendency towards political opportunism is more deep-rooted than that, but a lack of seriousness about programme is certainly a feature of virtually the whole left, including the revolutionaries in the SSP.

Republicanism

An understanding of the importance of demands around democracy and the part these should play in the strategy for achieving working class power should be at the heart of the programme of a communist party. That programme must take seriously the national question. I think that is a position I have always taken – and certainly before I joined the CPGB. I do not remember ever saying I was a ‘Luxemburgist’ – not that association with Rosa Luxemburg counts as a very severe insult in my book.

Like the rest of the CPGB, I have always maintained as a fundamental principle the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to choose independence. A right which a federal republic would enshrine with Scottish and Welsh parliaments having full powers to decide their future. What Allan has difficulty with is the dialectical subtlety of an approach that defends the right to self-determination, while advocating that the option for separation should not be exercised. Allan describes that as “condescending”.

In fact, paradoxical though it may appear to some, upholding the rights of nations is the only practical strategy for superseding the existing system of states. This is the task that will confront the working class as it seeks to build a world socialist order. What does Allan think this will entail? Would Allan either force nationalities against their will into broader federations or accept indefinitely as a fact of ‘human nature’ the national fragmentation bequeathed by capitalism?

The principle that any nation can choose to withdraw from a larger entity must hold, even after the working class has taken power. It is the only way of assuring all nations that their national and democratic rights will be respected and that they have nothing to fear from the construction of a socialist world.

Of course, there are national situations that pose particular problems. The CPGB supports the right of the Irish people to choose the unity of their island. This is the position we set out in our current Draft programme, as well as in the redrafted version proposed by the Provisional Central Committee. In addition, the majority within our organisation argues that the best way of assuaging the fears of the ‘British-Irish’ is to establish a federal Ireland with the right of self-determination for a British-Irish province covering a smaller geographical area than the current six counties.

I acknowledge the majority’s attempt to apply political principle consistently. However, I think there are problems with a formulation the leaves open the possibility of a repartitioned Ireland in which the rights of an Irish minority in a new Protestant statelet might not be guaranteed. As always, we will continue to debate our differences with the objective of achieving greater clarity.

The national rights of Scotland and Wales pose no problems of this kind. Their national boundaries are not in question. People in Scotland or Wales who regard themselves as English are unlikely to suffer any oppression – although grievances around the division of state resources might well exacerbate national tensions in the short term.

But what is the prospect for independence in Scotland? We were told at the convention that the most recent polls report support at levels of 37%. This is where support for independence has plateaued for the last decade or two. Occasionally, polls show support for independence spiking higher, but usually it oscillates around the mid-30s.

Clearly, there is a national question, but as things stand the Scottish people do not want separation. Yet left nationalists such as Allan argue that the key task for socialists north of the border – a task which justifies splitting the organisations of revolutionary socialists in the face of a very united British state – must be to win a majority of Scots to see the benefits of breaking with England.

This strategy is dressed up as an assault on British imperialism. Allan at least has the honesty to acknowledge that independence under the Scottish National Party would not involve a break with the circuits of international capitalism. But that is precisely the form in which independence is most likely to be delivered. According to Colin Fox, even an independent capitalist Scotland would be more progressive than the current British state.

Even if that were true (it is not), a communist programme must be more ambitious than that. Allan talks in terms of taking “the leadership of the national movement here from the SNP”. How about taking the leadership of the working class movement throughout Britain and Europe?

Allan criticises the tactics of the CPGB during last year’s European elections. However, contrary to his assertion, the CPGB did raise the question of migration. It is simply that the sticking point with the Socialist Party candidates in No2EU was around the right to bear arms. I was critical of making that the key issue in those elections, when it was the nationalism of No2EU that should have retained the focus of our tactics (‘Against sectarianism’ Weekly Worker June 18 2009).

But raising the demand that the British state’s monopoly of armed force should be broken is key to a republican agenda. It exposes the undemocratic nature of the rule of the capitalist class and, therefore, has far more radical potential than the separatism to which Allan aspires. It is the kind of republican politics that can lead the working class to challenge for state power. That is the prize for which all communists should strive.

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Jul 10 2009

The Need for Socialist Unity

A contribution from Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network. This is immediately followed by a supplement analysing the European election results, which assesses the current balance of political forces in the EU.

In Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales the main lesson of the 2009 European elections is clear – we need Socialist unity. In Ireland, this is needed to take some of the impressive gains just made to an altogether higher level – especially those of the Socialist Party (SP), but also by People before Profit (SWP) and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG).

This will not be easy, given past political sectarian divisions, the continued pull towards Left populism, and the usually unacknowledged political significance of the partition of Ireland, which both the SP and the SWP downplay. Thus, for example, despite the electoral successes in ‘The 26 Counties’, Socialists vacated the electoral terrain altogether in ‘The Six Counties’.

There are independent Socialist groups beyond the SP and SWP in Ireland, such as the Irish Socialist Network, as well as journals to promote debate between Socialists and with Republicans – Red Banner and Fourthwrite. They may find some difficulty being heard in the face of the likely triumphalist clamour coming from the SP and SWP after their recent electoral successes. Nevertheless, the job of promoting principled unity needs to be undertaken now, even if it does not bear fruit until sometime later.

Very soon, the Irish ruling class is likely to want to organise a rerun of the Lisbon Treaty referendum. Given that Eurosceptic Libertas leader, Declan Ganley, seems to have thrown in the towel, after failing to win a Euro-seat in North West Ireland, the responsibility for opposing this neo-liberal treaty falls much more squarely upon Socialists. The reactions of Sinn Fein (previously opposed to the Treaty) and Labour (previously supportive) will be interesting. This could provide Socialists with real opportunities to make their mark on Irish national politics.

However, this will mean striving for real Socialist unity, if the whole of Ireland, not just Dublin, is to be covered properly. The ability of the WUAG to organise effectively in small town Ireland (in County Tipperary) shows the possibilities. Furthermore, it is to be hoped that Irish Socialists can take a leaf out of the French NPA, and organise an internationalist campaign against the neo-liberal Lisbon Treaty.

In England, Respect, which provided the main Socialist Euro-election challenge in England in 2004, albeit in Left populist colours, had already split and then dropped out , before the 2009 Euro-election. There is also a warning here for the SWP’s ‘People before Profit’ in Ireland, which is still following the Left populist strategy now abandoned by their comrades in Britain, at least for elections, after the fiasco involving Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets, and the tail-ending of George Galloway.

Furthermore, in the context of more direct action by workers and communities facing draconian service cuts (e.g. the Glasgow Save Our Schools campaign), there is an increasing possibility that the Mainstream parties, holding council office, will victimise Socialist councillors, who identify strongly with such actions. The SSP has already had this experience with Jim Bollan, suspended for nine months by SNP-controlled West Dumbarton Council. So the pressures on Socialist councillors (and trade union activists) will be considerable.

The demise of a once more united Respect allowed their now vacated 2004 electoral space to be contested by others in the recent Euro-election. Scargill’s SLP made a pitch for the Left celebrity vote, whilst the openly Europhobic, Left nationalist and populist No2EU, tried to appeal to some of the same chauvinist sentiments as the Right populists.

Wales Forward provided the main Socialist challenge in Wales in 2004; the Left unionist, Respect came a poor second. Both presented themselves in Left populist colours. There was debate in Wales Forward over how Socialists should address the national issue. After Wales Forward’s demise, members split between its Left nationalist component, most going into Plaid Cymru, and its Left unionist, mainly former Labour component. The two Socialist slates in the 2009 Euro-election in Wales, the SLP and No2EU, had nothing to say on the Welsh national issue, and confined their appeals to largely English-speaking South Wales.

The resurgence of British Right nationalism, represented by the Conservatives becoming the first party in Wales, UKIP taking their first seat, and the BNP taking their largest % increase in the vote, highlights the need for Welsh Socialists to unite to more effectively to counter British chauvinism. The recent production of a Celyn, a magazine emulating Scottish Left Review, and involving debate between Welsh Socialists from different backgrounds and in different political organisations, represents a tentative first step.

Unfortunately, the current dire political situation, throughout the UK, could well lead to a further retreat into Left populism amongst the existing divided Socialists here. The SWP looks as if it wants to draw others into another Left unity campaign against the BNP, shifting the focus away from the Mainstream parties. However, it is these parties, especially New Labour, which have largely been responsible for creating the economic and social crisis that has allowed the Fascists to emerge into the limelight in the first place.

In the late 1970’s, the old Anti-Nazi League (ANL) adopted this same Left populist approach, invoking Second World War, British opposition to the German Nazi menace. Whilst making some contribution to the demise of the National Front (NF), the ANL completely failed to mobilise to defend those Irish victims of the very British, Union Jack-waving Fascism of the loyalist paramilitaries and their ‘mainland’ supporters. Furthermore, this very British Fascism had the behind-the-scenes support of the British state. Irish Republicanism then represented a real threat to the British ruling class.

The ANL also failed to offer any political challenge to the sitting Callaghan Labour government, which had inflicted pay restraints and cuts under the Social Contract, thus creating the situation in which the Fascist NF could thrive. It was the Thatcher’s incoming Conservative government that finally halted the rise of the NF, after she resorted to Right populist, racist rhetoric about being “swamped by people of a different culture”. The prospect of rolling back the current BNP electoral advance, by means of another Conservative, or a returned New Labour (unlikely it is true) government, is hardly a very reassuring prospect.

The Socialist Party (SP) in England and Wales, and its International Socialist (IS) outrider inside Solidarity in Scotland, offer another road to Left unity, which also needs to be questioned. They do want to build a political alternative to New Labour, but by further developing the bureaucratic, Left British nationalist, European electoral front, No2EU. They want to merge it with the SP’s own Campaign for a New Workers Party to form a new party based on the existing undemocratic, bureaucrat-dominated trade unions – in other words, an Old Labour Party mark 2. They also hope to win over whatever sections of the Labour Left still show any life. This is the current French Left Front and the German Die Linke approach. Rifondazione Comunista and Left Unity in Spain have already made similar attempts, with predictable results.

There may be critical analyses going on amongst members inside the bureaucratically centralised SWP and SP. How has the SWP become so marginalised and how did the Socialist Party end up inside the politically suspect No2EU project? These parties’ internal regimes do not encourage much independent thinking. Nevertheless, there is also a good number of Socialists outside the two largest British Socialist organisations, some of whom gathered last September as the Convention of the Left. So, it is to be hoped that together with any critical voices there may be inside the SWP and SP, independent voices advocating principled Socialist Unity can yet emerge. Any ‘red’ shoots need to be encouraged.

The need for Socialist unity is most starkly demonstrated in Scotland, where the Socialist vote fell from 5.2% in 2004 to 3.8% (on the most optimistic interpretation, which includes the SLP vote) or 1.8% (if the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity votes alone are considered).

Furthermore, despite the SSP’s considerable achievement in winning Socialist unity in Scotland in 2003, attempts to recreate this unity today may prove very hard, given the impact of the past, and likely future court case (involving Tommy Sheridan, and both SSP and Solidarity members) and the acrimonious split.

The political decline of Solidarity was demonstrated, by a section of its members’ involvement in the Left British nationalist bureaucratic, Europhobic, No2EU campaign (with its ill-fitting, Left Scottish nationalist, Sheridan bolt-on). However, it is a good sign that sections of the Solidarity membership refused to go along with this. Socialist unity was discussed at Solidarity’s first post Euro-election Scottish Council meeting. It remains to be seen how much this mirrors the political manoeuvrings of the SWP and SP HQs in England, and how much this represents genuine new thinking.

The SSP still remains divided between a more outward looking wing, which wants to get involved at all levels of politics, and understands the need for wider Socialist unity, involving other political groups; and those, mainly, but not exclusively from Glasgow, who are still suffering from the traumas of the previous court case and the split. They believe that the SSP can ignore other political groups, particularly Solidarity, and build itself as the dominant force in Scotland, mainly by working in local campaigns. Some appear to see the SSP as little more than a political and social network for Socialists in Scotland, with most of their contributions made on the electronic media – a sort of virtual party.

Therefore, when the decision was finally, if belatedly, taken, to stand in the 2009 Euro-election, in the face of this internal opposition, this represented a real advance for the SSP. Even better was the fact that, despite the differences between those for and against standing, this debate was conducted in a comradely manner in all public party arenas (let’s leave aside website discussions dominated by the virtual Socialists!).

Furthermore, the biggest gain, agreed by Conference, after the decision to stand was won, was the unanimous vote to campaign as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. This motion was presented by the RCN and backed by Frontline, who also invited a French NPA speaker, Virginia de la Siega, to address Conference. During the Euro-election campaign itself, the SSP then brought over another NPA speaker, Joaquin Reymond, to address public meetings in Dundee and Edinburgh and Glasgow.

However, Left populism also surfaced during the SSP’s election campaign. This came about due to the decision, taken after the Conference, to launch a ‘Make Greed History’ campaign. Originally conceived as a way to attack the bankers and others responsible for the economic crisis, this perhaps had greater purchase when the Westminster MPs’ expenses scandal broke out. However, the essentially populist nature of this slogan was highlighted when even Gordon Brown and David Cameron (hypocritically) promised to deal with their own greedy MPs.

The overall focus of the SSP election campaign, should have been the ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’, put forward by our alliance partners, the French NPA. It could then have been supplemented by the much more specific, ‘A Workers’ MEP on a Workers Wage’, once the expenses scandal broke. Given that our former SSP MSPs actually implemented this policy, when they were in the devolved Holyrood parliament between 1999 and 2007, this could have made a lot more impact.

The SSP’s back up materials and meetings should have drawn potential supporters to our full politics, summed up by, ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism the Future’. However, one problem here is that there is no unified understanding within the SSP of what constitutes socialism, or even capitalism for that matter! Developing our theory and furthering this debate is a no. 1 priority. The RCN, for example, is beginning this very necessary work, hoping to work with others, such as The Commune group, which has members in England and Wales.

Now, although 10,404 people do not represent many votes, they do represent a lot of Socialists whom the SSP needs to actively draw to the party. Unlike the SLP or Solidarity, the SSP still has meaningful regularly meeting organisation on the ground, a vibrant website, and a paper to build for the future. The main task is to create a new generation of committed, knowledgeable and engaged Socialists, who can show the way through this serious and developing, economic, social and political crisis. This means an ability to highlight, not only the dead end represented by neo-liberalism, but that other weapon in capitalism’s armoury – neo-Keynesianism. The current crisis is likely to deepen, even when governments are reluctantly forced to make further interventions in the economy. We should be preparing now for this eventuality, so that Socialists can make real advances in the future.

The ‘Make Greed History’ campaign might only have been a temporary feature of the Euro-election, but it appears to have taken on new legs. It seems to have provided a definite Left populist focus inside the party. This would appear to go along with a totally dismissive attitude towards everyone in Solidarity. This is not helpful when key sections of the wider working class appreciate the need for Socialist unity.

The SSP needs to welcome moves made by others to promote greater Socialist unity, even if some of these people have sometimes previously promoted disunity. People can learn from their mistakes. Each unity initiative needs to properly discussed and assessed. We need to show patience and diplomacy, whilst also ensuring that any Socialist unity is established on a principled basis. This unity does not mean an unprincipled stitch-up, pretending that nothing has happened in the past.

Dire though the consequences of the split have been, there have been important lessons we have learned. First, Socialists can only make permanent gains by abandoning celebrity politics. The evidence for this comes, not only from the attempted promotion of Solidarity as the Tommy Sheridan Party, but of Respect as the George Galloway Party and the SLP as the Arthur Scargill Party. Any united socialist organisation needs to be thoroughly democratic and treat all members as equals.

Future Socialist unity must be thoroughly internationalist, offering support to all workers (or would-be workers) living here – not just those deemed to be ‘subjects of the Crown’. International working class unity is central to principled Socialist unity at this time. This means opposing both Left British and Left Scottish nationalism. The SSPhas become increasingly Scottish internationalist and republican socialist in its politics. These gains also need to be defended in a wider political context.

When it comes to proposals for joint action, we should avoid being panicked by the SWP into pretended threats of a Fascist takeover. There will be no BNP ‘March on London’, far less Edinburgh or Glasgow. Those at the sharp end of BNP/loyalist attacks will mainly be individual migrant workers. This is why it was so important to oppose No2EU, with its thinly disguised racist opposition to ‘social dumping’. Support for ‘No One Is Illegal’ allows us to come to the help of all those migrant workers, legal or illegal, who face either BNP attacks or state persecution.

Furthermore, there could be a rise in loyalist sectarian/racist attacks in Scotland, in the future, following recent attacks in Northern Ireland, and the new Mainstream political alliance on the Conservative and Unionist Right. The SWP’s equation of Fascism with German Nazism, and the SP/IS ‘a plague on both your camps’ stances, are not the ways to confront this particular prospect. The loyalist paramilitaries are very British Fascists. They are the active upholders of the British state and promoters of racism and sectarianism. Their victims need defended and any non-sectarian Republican opposition supported.

Socialists do need to make more active links with trade unions, but unlike the SP/IS, this does not mean making concessions to union bureaucrats, no matter how Left-talking. Alongside a ‘Workers’ MP on a Workers’ Wage’, we also need to see ‘Trade Union Representatives on a Workers’ Wage’, and subject to regular election. Just as important is the building of a new rank and file movement in the unions that sees sovereignty lying amongst the members in their workplaces, not in the bureaucrat-controlled head offices, or Broad Left-dominated Executives. Workers need to be able to take independent action whenever needed, with the aim of building enough support to defy the anti-democratic anti-trade union laws.

Given the difficulties of uniting Socialists within each of their respective nations – Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland – we face considerable difficulties uniting Socialists from all these countries. Yet, the British and Irish ruling classes are united in promoting the interests of corporate capital in these islands. Their agreed political strategy involves the continued promotion of the ‘Peace Process’ in ‘The Six Counties’, closer cooperation between the UK and Irish governments, and developing ‘Devolution-all-round’, all to create the optimum conditions for capitalist profitability. It also involves them giving open (British government) and tacit (Irish government) support for continued US imperialist war drives.

Nor, is it surprising that much of this strategy has the open or tacit support of the British, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh trade union bureaucrats, through ‘social partnerships’. These have rendered trade unions almost completely ineffective as a means to defend their members. Trade union leaders now ask, as a way to counter the current economic crisis, that bosses accept their share of the pain too, in return for workers being prepared to accept massive job losses, pay cuts and reduced social spending. No wonder the bosses are ‘laughing all the way to the banks’ (now, of course, protected at our expense, by their political friends in government).

The British and Irish ruling class strategy can not be opposed successfully by means of the organisational model – one state/one party – supported by the parties of the British Left (and their Irish satellites) – the SP, SWP, CPB, CPGB and AWL, etc.. Although in Britain this usually means forgetting that the UK state does not consist solely of Britain, but also includes ‘The Six Counties’ of Ireland.

Clearly this model is useless, when the nation itself is divided, as in the case of Ireland. This tends to lead to the acceptance of partitionist politics, which plays into the hands of both the British and Irish ruling classes. Furthermore, even in its attenuated ‘one British state’ version, one-state/one party advocates have been unable to consistently counter British chauvinism, or to appreciate the democratic aspect of the emergence of national movements in Scotland and Wales.

Both the CWI affiliated SP, and the SWP, formally exist as a single party in Ireland but, in practice, follow partitionist politics, especially in their accommodation to continued British rule in ‘The Six Counties’. The CWI in Britain has provided different degrees of autonomy for their members in Scotland (Scottish Militant Labour, the International Socialist Movement – which then left the CWI – then the International Socialists-Scotland), but nothing equivalent in Wales. The SWP appears to have no autonomous organisation in Scotland, merely expecting its resident members to implement the British line. The CPGB has flirted with the notion of constituting itself as the CPUK to cover Northern Ireland. It is also prepared to contemplate repartition of ‘The Six Counties’. The AWL share similar pro-British ideas, but as yet have not suggested reorganising themselves on an all-UK basis.

This organisational problem is merely an aspect of a wider political problem. This can be seen by the British and Irish SPs’ inability to offer a coordinated strategy to confront both the shared British and Irish ruling class political strategy for these islands. These two SPs have a record of adapting to local circumstances in a way that produces glaring contradictions. Thus in Britain, they support an ‘independent socialist Scotland’, but merely a Welsh Assembly with more powers. In Ireland, they virtually ignore partition in their everyday politics and election material in ‘The 26 Counties’, whilst in ‘The Six Counties’ they have flirted with working class loyalists. The SWP also have no overall strategy to confront the British and Irish ruling class alliance.

Neither, though, is the largely ‘go-it-alone’ Left nationalism, which emerged in sections of both the SSP and Solidarity, the answer. Any democratic and republican advance in Scotland can only be secured by similar advances in Ireland, Wales and England; just as a future socialism needs to spread internationally, if it is to survive.

The SSP made the first small steps towards an alternative ‘internationalism from below’ approach, when it organised the Republican Socialist Convention last November. This involved socialists from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. The SSP will need to vigorously defend this ‘internationalism from below’ principle in any future, wider, Socialist unity discussions, both against any Left Scottish nationalist isolationists in our own (and Solidarity’s) ranks and, against the Left British nationalists who also figure prominently in Solidarity, especially the SWP and SP. These two organisations have already brought about so much disunity with their top down bureaucratic attempts at imposing ‘unity’, which just mirror the methods of the British state. The UK remains an imperial state, albeit a junior partner with the USA. There can be no ‘British road to socialism’, only a ‘break-up of the UK state and British Empire road to communism’.

However, genuine communism, following from an international socialist transition, means not total state control, but the end of wage slavery, in a society based on the principle of from each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs and where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Supplement

The 2009 European Elections – a political assessment.

The European elections provide us with a snapshot view of the current state of politics. The following analysis looks at the election results in Europe, the UK & Ireland and, in a bit more detail, in Scotland, in order to identify some significant political trends.

A) Europe

1) The Mainstream

a) Mainstream Right

Despite the ongoing unresolved economic crisis, following the ‘Credit Crunch’, the main beneficiaries in the Euro-election have been those Mainstream Right parties belonging to the wider European Peoples Party (EPP).

Right Centrists have traditionally been pro-business, drawing their support from the middle class, and upholding conservative values. At times, in the past, these parties have accepted pragmatic state intervention in the economy and social welfare measures. This phase of Right Centre politics was most associated with overlapping Butskellite Conservative/Labour and Christian Democratic/Social Democratic support for social market or mixed economy policies, from the late 1940’s to the mid 1970’s in the UK, and later in mainland Europe.

In response to capitalism’s crisis of profitability in the mid-1970’s, Mainstream Right parties, beginning with the British Conservatives, have moved to the neo-liberal economic policies aggressively pushed by corporate capital, sometimes supplemented by Right populist appeals to social conservatism, defending ‘family values’ and ‘national traditions’.

The parties of the EPP, which made the biggest electoral gains in the Euro-election, currently hold office, either with other Mainstream Right parties or, in Merkel’s case, in a coalition with the Social Democrats. They gained 20 seats overall (1). Today, the dominant politics of this grouping stretches from the Right Centrism of parties like Merkel’s CDU/CSU to the Right populism of Berlusconi’s PdL. In between lies Sarkozy’s (2) UDM.

Until the ‘Credit Crunch’, these Mainstream Right governments were avidly pushing neo-liberal measures to further deregulate their economies and to roll back their own state’s social-market welfare provisions.

Nevertheless, despite a strongly shared commitment to the European Union and further political integration, coupled to neo-liberal economic measures, these Mainstream Right-led governments quickly took action in breach of EU rules and neo-liberal orthodoxy. As Sarkozy shamelessly argued, The idea that markets were always right was mad… Laissez-faire is finished. The all-powerful market that always knows best is finished (EU Observer, 26.9.08). It is difficult to imagine Brown, Darling or Mandelson being able to come out with such words.

Thus, faced with the possibility that the unfolding ‘Credit Crunch’ could undermine capitalism itself, Mainstream Right governing parties moved quickly to protect their countries’ perceived immediate national interests. They reassured domestic voters that they were prepared to intervene in the economy to ward off the economic chaos brought about by the previous deregulated ‘free market’ they had recently advocated.

Government intervention by such Mainstream Right parties is largely seen as a pragmatic response to the current economic crisis. It does not raise any unwanted spectres of creeping state control in business circles. So most Mainstream Right-led governments have been able to make their economic policy adjustments in response to the economic crisis relatively easily, without having to look over their shoulders. Thus, for all those voters, especially the majority of the middle class still in reasonably secure jobs (for the present), but with some nagging doubts (for the future), a vote for this pragmatic Mainstream Right appeared to be a safe option.

Berlusconi’s PdL and Sarkozy’s UDM made substantial gains in this Euro-election – 16 and 11 seats respectively. Merkel’s CDU/CSU did lose 7 seats (its Social Democratic government coalition partners managed to hold on to theirs), but 5 of these were picked up by the pro-business FDP. Whilst currently benefiting from being in opposition, the FDP has often formed a coalition partner with the other Mainstream parties in the past.

However, a further deepening of the economic crisis could undermine the current complacency of the middle class, which, at present, leads them to look to minimal changes and for a ‘safe pair of hands on the tiller’. Italy provides us with an example of the likely trajectory of the Right, if the Right Centrist policies, currently being pursued by Merkel and others, are unable to hold the line.

Despite, the poor economic situation in Italy, Berlusconi’s Right populist PdL-led government has extended its hold, both in the 2008 Italian general election and the 2009 Euro-election. It has done this by increasing the big business hold on the state (most obviously by Berlusconi’s media companies), and by a barrage of public attacks on migrants. Berlusconi’s Right populist allies, the anti-migrant (and anti-Southern Italian) Northern League also made big gains in the election (+5 seats). Together, these parties have created a political climate that allows physical attacks (including murders), particularly upon Roma and African immigrants to occur, without much official challenge.

In this particular election, Italy has gone further Right than any other western European country, eliminating not only any official Communist/Socialist Left (3) opposition but also any independent Social Democratic and Green electoral presence in the European Parliament. The corporate capitalist ‘Americanisation’ of politics, (where the Republicans and Democrats form two wings of the ‘Business Party’) is now quite far advanced in Italy.

b) Social Democratic/Labour Centre

Many commentators thought that Social Democrat/Labour parties should do well in this first post-‘Credit Crunch’ election, now that neo-liberalism is discredited. A return to the pre-1980’s mixed economy, based on the Keynesian economics, very much associated with earlier Social Democratic/Labour parties, and maybe even a recommitment to social welfare, was briefly touted. The neo-Keynesian (i.e. capitalist) case for government intervention in the economy is so widely acknowledged (4), that it has even been adopted in the USA – first, very shame-facedly by Bush’s Republican government, now with more enthusiasm by Obama’s new Democrat government.

However, both the new US Democrat government, and the long standing British Labour government, have been quick to claim that those nationalisations, which they have reluctantly been forced to adopt, are merely temporary expedients. Those new nationalised companies have been left under their previous bosses’ control, with promises to reprivatise later, no doubt on very favourable terms. Most bosses can hardly believe their luck, and are rapidly returning to awarding themselves big bonus payments and other perks.

The fact that the traditionally pro-business Mainstream Right was the main beneficiary in the European election will probably reinforce most sitting Social Democrat/Labour governments in seeing neo-Keynesian measures as being short lived. The enforced nationalisations are very definitely not being used to provide greater economic security for their workforce in the ongoing economic crisis. Their workforces are being subjected to redundancies, short-time working, pay, conditions and pension cuts for their workers, so these companies can be returned to private hands in a more profitable state (e.g. Chrysler in the USA and the Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK). Nor have these governments given any thought to using these nationalised companies’ existing production facilities and workforces to helping meet social needs in environmentally sustainable ways.

If, as is very likely, the current economic recession further deepens, governments may be forced to resort to much more comprehensive neo-Keynesian measures. However, any final abandonment of neo-liberalism, and more general acceptance of neo-Keynesianism, does not represent creeping socialism, as some Socialists still seem to believe. In today’s competitive global economy, such a strategy can only mean the state taking on even greater responsibility for implementing austerity measures, increased beggar-thy-neighbour protectionist policies and preparations for war – in other words not socialism – but state capitalism.

Ironically, Social Democratic/Labour governments have found it more difficult than the continental Mainstream Right to respond to the current economic crisis. Social Democratic/Labour leaders are now more cautious about moving away from neo-liberal non-interventionism. They fear the ending of their recently won big business and media backing, if seen to pursue neo-Keynesian interventionist policies too keenly. These leaders have also gained much better access to the spoils of office, as well as to very lucrative business patronage.

Furthermore, Social Democratic/Labour politicians not only call upon the working class to pay for ‘our share’ of the costs of the crisis, but actively pursue measures to ensure this happens. They use their links with the compliant trade unions to help them, e.g. through social partnerships in the UK and Ireland. In contrast, any pleas these same politicians make, which suggest that bosses should shoulder some share of the costs of the crisis, remain pious calls not backed by any effective measures of enforcement. Therefore, it is not surprising that many previous Social Democratic/Labour working class voters now think these parties have little to offer in the current crisis. So they either abstain or look elsewhere to register their protest.

Meanwhile, sensing the unpopularity of existing Social Democratic/Labour governments, and realising their decreased ability to deliver a ‘bound and gagged’ working class, big business backers are turning back to the Mainstream Right parties, which appear to hold more immediate electoral promise.

However, even when existing Social Democratic/Labour parties are ousted from office, big business will still continue to exert pressure on them to defend their interests, when called upon later. The neo-liberal Right wing of Social Democracy will regroup and not just disappear, as many on the Labour Left hope. The advantages to business of achieving an ‘Americanisation’ of politics are too great (5). Thus, despite the biggest crisis seen in the British Labour Party for 80 years, it is still the Right that calls the shots, with Lord Mandelson firmly in control. His programme for fighting the next general election is stepped-up ‘reform of the public sector’, i.e. further attacks on workers’ pay, pensions and conditions, further widening in the quality of provision in education, health, etc, and more privatisations (6). The parliamentary Left has been virtually silent over the current crisis in the party.

Thus, a striking trend in this Euro-election has been the very poor performance of Social Democratic and Labour Parties. Overall, the European Socialist Party (ESP) lost 35 members. Compared with the successes of incumbent Right governments in Italy and France, sitting Social Democratic/Labour governments (whether alone, or in coalition) fared particularly badly, losing seats in Austria (-3 seats), Belgium (-2 seats), Estonia (-2 seats), Hungary (-5 seats), Netherlands (-4 seats), Portugal (-5 seats), Slovenia (-1 seat), Spain (-3 seats) and the UK (-6 seats).

Social Democratic parties also did badly in Denmark (-1 seat) Finland (-1 seat), Poland (-1 seat), where they don’t hold office, but are also committed to neo-liberal policies. Two examples of Social Democratic parties doing spectacularly badly, despite not being in office, are to be found in France (-9 seats) and in Italy (7) (-12 seats). Again, these particular parties remain committed to the neo-liberalism, which has hit their own working class voters hardest. In Italy, the majority Social Democrats no longer even stand independently, but form part of the liberal Democratic Party (DP).

c) Liberal Centre

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) (which includes the British Liberal Democrats) also fell back 5 seats in the European Parliament (despite 5 gains by the affiliated oppositional FDP in Germany). Such parties often form parts of wider coalitions, and hence, with little different to offer, they have suffered electorally from a combined incumbency/irrelevancy factor during the current economic crisis. Most Liberal parties have largely abandoned their earlier social liberalism for neo-liberalism.

In Ireland, Fianna Fail also now forms part of ALDE. It leads the West European government responsible for the biggest attacks so far on workers in response to the current crisis. Although, it only lost 1 seat, this is significant, for it no longer has a Euro-seat in Dublin (Fine Gael 1, Labour Party, 1, Socialist Party 1).

2) Beyond the Mainstream Centre

For those most badly affected by the current economic crisis, the Euro-election provided an opportunity to show their disapproval. Many of the most disillusioned just abstained. This European election had the lowest overall turnout ever, down from 45.5% in 2004 to 43.1% in 2009 (8). The overall participation rate continued to decline in the majority of EU member countries. However, the striking feature of this election was the relatively limited political scope of the shifts in electoral choices made by most of those who did vote for non-Mainstream parties.

a) Nationalist parties

Indeed, in the case of Catalunya, Euskadi, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it could be argued that votes given to the following nationalist parties – CiU, PNV, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein – are now, in effect, being awarded to alternative but specific local Mainstream parties. All these parties are now well established in the machinery of their particular states, forming the leaderships of, or joining coalitions in devolved administrations (9). These parties all accept, either enthusiastically or pragmatically, the existing corporate capitalist order, whatever limited constitutional and social reforms they might put forward, which continue to upset the Mainstream unionist governments and parties in their particular states – Spain and the UK.

A resurgent Right British nationalism has been a strong feature of this election in Wales and Northern Ireland (see later UK and Ireland section). Something similar can be seen in Spain, where the ultra-unionist Union for Progress and Democracy (10), drawing support from both the Right and Left, has gained a seat. They want to abolish all the devolved national and regional administrations in Spain.

Whilst the long standing up-and-down political battles between unionism and nationalism in Wales and Euskadi may explain these particular resurgences of unionism, there is also perhaps a fear amongst many voters that solutions to deal with the ongoing economic crisis can not be met at a small nation level.

b) Populism

Populism is a politics that appeals to the more economically and politically marginalised, without situating itself firmly on the grounds of class. At one time this meant populism drew its main support from the petit-bourgeoisie – small farmers, small business owners (e.g. shopkeepers) and artisans, etc. However, where effective working class organisation has fallen apart, leaving many workers atomised and feeling unable to alter the course of events by their own actions, populism has been able to make inroads here too.

Thus, populism has both Right and Left variants. To its Right, populism merges with Fascism based on the petty bourgeoisie, the economically threatened sections of the middle class, and the atomised sections of the working class. To its Left it merges with Socialist (or Labour Left) politics based on the organised (or would-be organised) working class.

Populism has been the main overall winner of the votes of those wishing to express their political discontent with the Mainstream Centre in the current economic crisis. Many disenchanted people were prepared to vote for the populists’ eye-catching political, economic and social proposals, despite these being essentially minimalist or dangerously diversionary.

c) Right populism

In most cases, it has been Right populism that has benefited in these elections. It has already been pointed out that, despite being an Italian Mainstream party, and a constituent of the largely Centre Right EPP, Berlusconi’s PdL and its Northern League ally, have successfully made Right populist, anti-migrant appeals to the Italian electorate.

Another big electoral winner was the Right populist and national chauvinist UKIP in Britain (11) (+2 seats). UKIP emerged in this election with the second biggest number of votes after the Tories. UKIP’s electoral advance was all the more remarkable given the early defection of its most well known spokesperson, Kilroy-Silk, and the jailing of one of its first MEPs for corruption, after the 2004 Euro-election. In Austria (+2 seats), Finland (+1 seat), Greece (+1 seat), and particularly in the Netherlands (+4 seats), anti-migrant Right populists have all made considerable gains.

d) Fascist/Right populist alliances

However, to these constitutional Right populist parties, it is also necessary to add the votes and seats won by those former Fascist and those still Fascist parties, which have now either fully adopted Right populist politics (e.g. Fini’s National Alliance component of the PdL), or which use such politics to mask their own continuing support for a full-blown fascist project (e.g. the BNP). This is because where these parties have been electorally successful, it has been by making Right populist, and not openly Fascist appeals.

Ironically, the political compromises, which have led some Fascist organisations to adopt Right populist clothing (and an acceptance of constitutionalism), have produced parallel tensions amongst the Fascists, to those found amongst Socialists, where the pull of Left populism is just as strong.

One hallmark of a fully developed Socialist organisation is its readiness to use mass democratic action in defiance of the existing anti-democratic constitutional order to advance its aims. In today’s non-revolutionary situation, still largely marked by a continuing Capitalist Offensive, the Socialists can only to aspire to such levels of opposition and organisation. Instead, we try to build for such future action by promoting, for example, independent (‘unofficial’) strikes or occupations.

In the meantime, though, many on the Left get drawn into the central running of bodies, which by their very nature are involved in the day-to-day running of capitalism, e.g. trade unions, quangos, etc. This can lead many to accept gradualist Reformism and/or a resort to Left populism.

In comparison, the hallmark of fully developed Fascist organisations is the use of goon squads and/or paramilitary forces to win control of the streets, and to deny any political (or public) space for Socialists and others (e.g. ethnic minorities, gays, etc.). However, present day Fascists do not currently enjoy the support of their ruling classes, so such activities, when exposed, can lead to spells in jail. Therefore recently, such parties have tried to downplay this particular characteristic and appear ‘respectable’.

In the absence of concerted working class resistance, European ruling classes can still bring about the counter-reforms they need, by resort to legal attacks on workers’ livelihoods, rights and organisations (e.g, anti-trade union laws), with the help of the existing Mainstream parties. These all try to meet the needs of the existing corporate capitalist order, whatever other policy differences may divide them. Therefore, the extra-legal services of the Fascists are not yet required.In the meantime, Fascists get drawn into working on community and local councils, and parliaments. Some mellow in the process, becoming subordinate partners in wider Broad Right alliances, and pushing constitutional Right populist politics.

This means that those Fascists not just satisfied with just moving Mainstream politics further to the Right (which could lead to their co-option or marginalisation in the future), want to maintain their hardcore cadre through attacks on migrants, gays and others (these attacks can still be publicly disowned by the official leadership).

For these Fascists, new anti-migrant laws are not ends in themselves, but a means to create a wider climate of racism and chauvinism in which the Fascists can move ‘like fish in water’. Today, attacks on individuals, or upon small marginalised groups, particularly in areas where Fascists have some electoral support, are the main type of activity giving the initial training they require, for a time in the future, when they may yet be called upon by sections of the ruling class and the employers to physically crush workers’ organisations.

In the current political situation, Italy shows us the most likely political impact of the rise of Fascist and other xenophobic Far Right forces on the politics of other western European countries. There is not going to be any immediate ‘March on Rome’. Fascists have been able to move the Mainstream parties to the Right, by promoting anti-migrant and anti-sexual liberation policies. These help to keep the working class divided.

In the past, Thatcher contributed to the demise of the National Front by adopting some of their racist rhetoric, and Sarkozy has tried the same in France. Berlusconi’s Italy is also instructive. The Right populist PdL has absorbed two former fascist organisations, Fini’s National Alliance and Alessandra Mussolini’s Social Action.

Germany, like Italy, has its own fascist past. However, in marked contrast to the Italian Fascists, most present day German Fascists remain full-blooded Fascists, i.e. anti-Semitic Nazis, when most others have switched their hatred to Moslems or Roma (tacitly encouraged by many official state policies and the tabloid press). Consequently German Nazis have been unable to make any breakthrough into national politics (whilst still remaining a grave physical threat to migrant workers, particularly in the many of the depressed parts of former East Germany).

Parties spanning the Fascist/Right populist spectrum did well in Eastern Europe, where nearly all the Mainstream parties are to the right of their western equivalents, reflecting their continuing reaction to the legacy of Russian ‘Communist’ domination (12). In Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, seats have been won by the violently chauvinist, anti-Roma, anti-gay, Jobbik (+ 3 seats), Greater Romania (+ 3 seats) and Attak (+2 seats) parties. The current economic crisis has hit Eastern Europe particularly hard, and Socialism (at least in its genuine internationalist form) is still associated in many minds with old-style Stalinism, so the political situation here is looking increasingly grim.

e) Left populism and Socialism

The Greens are the best example of a populist politics that makes most (but not all of) of its appeal to left of centre voters. The Greens made small, but nevertheless significant advances in Belgium (+1 seat), Denmark (+1 seat), Finland (+1 seat), Germany (+1 seat) (where they have been out of coalition governments for long enough that many people have forgotten their past record in office). Overall, they gained 13 seats in the European Parliament, only losing seats in Italy and the Netherlands, where Right populism made significant advances. Elsewhere, the Greens increased their vote, except in Portugal (where they are in the same party – the CDU – as the official Communists) – and in Ireland, where they have paid the cost of being in an unpopular governmental coalition with Fianna Fail.

Furthermore, Greens have made serious inroads into the voting base of certain Socialist groups (whether ex-official Communist or Left Social Democrat/Labour), which also adopt Left populist politics. These inroads are apparent in the election results, for example, of France, Britain (including Scotland), but perhaps most spectacularly in Denmark, where the 2 MEPs of the Socialist Peoples Party (SPP) (+1 seat) now sit as observers in the Green Euro-group.

France has seen some of the biggest class struggles in Europe in recent years, with massive strikes and resistance by migrant workers. This has resulted in a willingness to vote left of the Mainstream Centre in the Euro-election. The Fascist/Right populist National Front lost 3 seats showing how class struggle can shift the terms of political debate.

However, despite some favourable opinion polls, the Trotskyist, LCR-initiated, New Anti-Capitalist Party, a very recent Socialist formation, just failed to get MEPs elected. This was partly because a major push was made by the French establishment to marginalise this latest challenge (just as it did, when the National Front’s Le Pen emerged as the main alternative when the Right Centrist Chirac in the 2007 French Presidential election).

Thus the Greens (13) in France were seen to be a relatively safe alternative, and they managed to corral the majority of the left of Centre protest votes. They won another 8 seats bringing them up to 14 (3 more than the British Labour Party!)

Furthermore, the Left Front, consisting of the French Communist Party (PCF), the Left Party (a breakaway from the French Socialist Party, which hopes to emulate Germany’s Die Linke) and the Unitarian Left (a rightist breakaway from the Trotskyist LCR, which did not join the NPA) formed another Left populist electoral alliance, united around Left nationalist politics (14).

The Left Front managed to gain 2 more seats (albeit on less than a 1% increase in the vote for the 2004 PCF-led Euro-slate). Therefore, although they contributed to just stopping the NPA from winning any seats, the overall 6.5% vote gained for this Left Front populist slate merely disguised the continued downward spiral of its main component, the PCF. It also highlighted the lack of support for those Left Social Democratic forces that joined them, whom the PCF and others have long sought to woo.

In Germany, as in France, most of the protest vote went not to the right but to the left, albeit more weakly, with one new seat won by the Greens and one by Die Linke (15) (which was expected to do better). Die Linke is an alliance of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) (successor to the Socialist Unity Party, the former official Communist Party in East Germany) and the Labour and Social Justice Electoral Campaign (WASG), Lafontaine’s Left breakaway from the German Social Democratic Party.

Where it holds offices in the local administrations (in the former East Germany), the SED behaves like other Social Democratic Parties, implementing cuts. The western-based WASG has opposed this course so far. However, the new Die Linke leadership supported the bail-out of German banks in the Reichstag, and tacitly supported Israel in its Gaza invasion, so, in the longer term, Die Linke looks fated to follow a similar path to Rifondazione Comunista in Italy and the United Left in Spain, where working class support slumped after these parties gave their support to cuts-implementing Social Democratic governments.

f) The long term decline of official Communism and the EUL/NGL

Any examination of the official Communist-led EUL/NGL Euro-group shows that, despite the current economic crisis, it is a largely declining force, mainly due to the Communist parties’ one-time links with the failed USSR, but also to their member parties’ willingness to join, or prop up Social Democratic Centre governments administering cuts or promoting imperial wars. Overall the EUL/NGL lost 5 of the Euro-seats that it held in 2004. In Italy, Rifondazione Comunista representation in the European Parliament was wiped out (following a similar setback in the Italian general election in 2008).

In Spain, the CP-led United Left also lost a seat. Even in Greece, despite the recent massive upheavals, the local Communist Party, the KKE, still lost a seat. The SYRIZA alliance, its newly formed rival, also fell back on the % vote won by its largest constituent organisation, Synaspismos, in the 2004 Euro-election (as well as that it gained in the 2007 Greek general election). In Greece, against the grain, the Social Democratic PASOK vote held up and emerged as the main winner in the Euro-election. This is probably due to a combination of being in opposition, and a longstanding ability to adopt Left populist (and Left nationalist) rhetoric when necessary.

Only in Cyprus has the local Communist Party, AKEL, really held its own, retaining its 2 seats. Uniquely for the EU, a Communist Party forms the elected government in Cyprus. However, this is more due to it being seen as the best bet for reuniting a country, still partly occupied by Turkish armed forces. Much of AKEL’s appeal is Cypriot nationalist.

In both Sweden and Denmark, Left nationalism is the declared principle of the two the Left populist EUL/NGL affiliates in these particular countries – the anti-EU Left Party and the Peoples Movement Against the EU, respectively. Both of these parties include former official Communists, now that their parties have dissolved.

The Left Party lost a seat in Sweden, where the party leading the current government, the Centre Right Moderate Party, and the libertarian populist Pirate Party, made the biggest advances. In Denmark, the parties forming the sitting Liberal/Right Centre/Right populist government all advanced, whilst the Social Democrats fell back sharply. The EUL/NGL affiliated Peoples Movement against the EU (principally backed by the Red Green Alliance in Denmark) was able to substantially increase its vote in these propitious circumstances, but without gaining an extra seat (16). A much bigger proportion of the Left vote in Denmark went to the non-EUL/NGL Socialist Peoples Party, which did gain an extra seat.

In the Czech Republic, the local Communist Party, KSCM, lost 2 seats. Here however, in one of the few exceptions to the trouncing of Social Democrats, the Czech SD party gained 5 seats. This was partly due to the continued decline of the KSCM, once of course, the ruling party in the whole of Czechslovakia. The KSCM is the last official Communist Party from Eastern Europe with European Parliament representation to remain in the EUL/NGL (17).

So, although in France and Denmark, official CP backed, Left populist alliances – the Left Front and the Peoples Movement against the EU – both increased their votes, as part of a general Left populist swing in these countries, in these countries other Left populist parties did better – the Greens and the SPP respectively.

g) An emerging Socialist alternative to official CP Left populism?

The two countries where local EUL/NGL affiliates did best are the Netherlands and Portugal. In the Netherlands, the Socialist Party’s vote largely held up, and it retained its 2 Euro-seats, despite the unnerving slide by most protesting voters to anti-migrant, anti-Islamic Right populists. However, the Socialist Party does not come from the official Communist tradition. It comes from a Maoist background, although now long abandoned, and stands on an openly Socialist platform, based on working class politics.

The Left Bloc’s results in results in Portugal were remarkable. The Left Bloc, like the Socialist Party in the Netherlands, has Maoist roots, which it has abandoned. However, it has opened itself to other Socialist forces, and unlike the Socialist Party in the Netherlands, it also forms part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance (EACL). Nor is the Left Bloc the only EUL/NGL affiliate in Portugal. There is also the Democratic Unity Coalition (CDU), the permanent Left populist alliance between the official Communists and the Greens, which stand together under this name in European, national and local elections.

In a situation where the incumbent Portuguese Socialist Party (Social Democratic) government lost spectacularly in the Euro-elections, most of the non-Mainstream vote went left. However, it was not the initially better placed CDU, which gained. Its vote fell back slightly, whilst retaining its 2 Euro-seats. It was the Left Bloc that hugely increased its vote and won 2 more seats. Thus, the Portuguese Left Bloc has picked up the lead baton for Socialists in Europe.

The failure of the NPA in France to win any Euro-seats is hopefully a temporary setback in the formation of an alternative, more clearly working class-based, Socialist alliance in Europe. Relating to the rising level of class struggle, the NPA stood on the basis of clear class politics – ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’. That is the way to give a political lead to workers involved in current class struggles, where the official trade union leaders and Social Democratic parties try to limit the purpose of any action to ‘sharing’ the costs around – i.e. workers should accept some cuts as an example for the bosses to follow!

It will be interesting to see the political direction taken another Socialist – Joe Higgins of the CWI-affiliated Socialist Party. He won the Dublin seat previously held by the Irish EUL/NGL affiliate, Sinn Fein (18). Will Higgins take an active part in the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL), and help contribute to the formation of a distinct international Socialist Left group within the EUL/NGL? Or, will he behave like another Trotskyist group, Lutte Ouvriere from France, which won 3 seats in the 1999 Euro-election (with another 2 going to its then electoral allies, the LCR), but then proceeded to try and advance its own group’s interests above those of the wider international socialist movement? It lost all of its seats in the 2004 Euro-election.

Many Socialists may be critical of the politically ambiguous names of the NPA or the Left Bloc. Nevertheless, so long as they remain democratic organisations, positively engaged in the class struggles in their countries, with an unwavering commitment to internationalism, those Socialists in these countries, who really want to influence events, should be participating, whilst Socialists elsewhere in Europe should be helping to build the EACL.

Footnotes

1. Until recently the EPP grouping also included Cameron’s British Conservatives, so the defection of their 26 MEPs, underestimates the real gains made by the Centre Right, since the 2004 Euro-election.

2. Sarkozy has a Right populist anti-migrant past, but more recently, after major social revolts, has been forced to adopt a more Right Centrist public position

3. Italy is a country where the CP was once a considerable force in politics. Furthermore, as in Spain, most of the Socialist Left worked inside the CP.

4. Unlike those on the Left who equate capitalism with anti-state economic interventionist neo-liberalism, genuine Socialists/Communists have long understood that capitalism is always prepared to resort to a more statist model, when in difficulty, without changing its essential nature. The essence of capitalism is not the promotion of unfettered market relations – neo-liberalism – but the promotion and defence of wage slavery by both economic and political means.

5. One indication that this pattern has been firmly established, will be when we hear of companies which fund both Conservatives and New Labour, just as some US businesses fund both Republicans and Democrats.

6. The next stage of Royal Mail privatisation has only been temporarily shelved.

7. Wikipedia lists 12 of the 25 MEPs in the Christian Democrat/Liberal/Social Democrat (including former Communists)/Green 2004 Olive Tree alliance as sitting with the Social Democratic ESP. After the 2009 election, it lists all 21 MEPs from its Democratic Party successor, as forming an independent Euro-group.

8. This can not just be put down by the accession of Bulgaria (39% turnout) and Romania (28% turnout), two new member states from eastern Europe, where there has been traditionally been a low turn-out rate.

9. The PNV recently lost control of the devolved Euskadi administration, after being in control for more than 2 decades.

10. An equivalent party in Scotland/UK might unite Tam Dayell and Michael Forsyth.

11. Despite its name, UKIP does not stand for elections in Northern Ireland, although the UUP would share quite a few of this party’s characteristics. However, in a not widely understood move by Cameron, the Conservatives have already linked up with the more genteely sectarian UUP (as opposed to the more openly sectarian DUP), as well as with Right populists from Poland and the Czech Republic to form a new Eurosceptic alliance in the European Parliament.

12. One example of this is the Social Democratic Party in Slovakia, which has even been thrown out of the ‘Socialist International’, because it formed a government coalition with an anti-Roma, hard Right party!

13. The Greens Left populist (and Left nationalist) credentials were helped by the participation of Jose Bove, a popular figure from the Anti-Globalisation Movement.

14. In many ways the Left Front is like the wider British electoral alliance, No2EU, hoped to create, being based on populist politics.Although in the case of the No2EU, it accommodated further right, ditching not only the word ‘Socialist’ but even the word ‘Left’ to dish the BNP.

15. Unlike the NPA, Die Linke is not opposed to joining coalitions with Social Democrats. Nevertheless, most of the political forces supporting the European Anti-Capitalist Left in Germany have joined Die Linke as distinct tendencies, just as many previously joined Rifondazione Comunista, in its earlier left-posing days.

16. However, in this case the actual MEP elected belongs to the Trotskyist. USFI. The Red Green Alliance was formed by members of the former official Communists, the USFI affiliated Trotskyists, former Maoists, and a section of the Left Social Democrats (most of whom went to the Socialist Peoples Party, however). Danish USFI supporters appear to be on the USFI’s more Left populist wing, compared with say those in the NPA in France. The Red Green Alliance has faced similar controversy in Denmark over alliances with Muslim politicians to that caused by Respect in the UK.

17. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the traditional Communist parties have reformed themselves into Social Democratic parties, joining the ‘Socialist International’. They are all very much on the ‘modernising’, ‘market reform’ accepting wing of European Social Democracy.

18. Sinn Fein, currently the only EUL/NGL affiliate in Ireland, is rather the odd party out in this Euro-group. It has no other past or present official or dissident Communist affiliations. Its connection dates from the time Sinn Fein was more keen to be seen as part of the international anti-imperialist movement, where association with official Communists brought about valuable links, e.g. with South Africa. Sinn Fein’s has maintained its seat in Northern Ireland, where politics is dominated by constitutionally enforced sectarian allegiances. Here, Sinn Fein has cornered the Catholic nationalist market.

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Mar 20 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

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

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

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

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

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Left versus Rank and File

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 24 2002

For A Republican Socialist Party

Category: Issue 01RCN @ 8:05 pm

The Revolutionary Democratic Group give their analysis of the Socialist Alliance of England’s conference in December 2001

The Socialist Alliance conference on December 1st 2001 was an important moment to gauge the development of the new left emerging in England and throughout Britain. The SA movement has provided the greatest advance for left unity for many years. In Scotland it led to the SSP. In England and Wales it has not gone as far but much has been achieved.

This rapprochement on the left was reflected at the SA (England) conference in the six stem constitutions put forward by the SWP, Socialist Party, CPGB, Workers Power, the RDG and Pete McLaren. In addition to these options, the AWL and the ISG and many Indies (independent socialists) were also fully involved in the process.

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