Jul 03 2015


As the vote in Sunday’s crucial referendum draw’s close we are posting this article from World to Win (http://aworldtowin.net/blog/defend-Greek-people-against-the-Troikas-coup-detat.html#sthash.URODG5UP.dpuf)


Radical Independence Campaign organises a solidarity demonstration with the Greek people in Glasgow on 2nd July


The financial crisis sweeping impoverished Greece alongside the turmoil in global markets, is the outcome of the resistance by an elected anti-austerity government to a political coup plotted by a notorious Troika of undemocratic institutions.

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Jan 20 2009

Internationalism From Below

The challenge to the UK state and British Empire from 1879-95

Contents of forthcoming book

  1. Introduction
  2. The growing conflict between liberal and conservative unionism in the period of New Imperialism
  3. Michael Davitt and the launching of the Irish Revolution in 1879
  4. Davitt adopts an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy to spread the revolution
  5. The struggle against coercion and for land triggers off a new movement in England and Scotland
  6. Parnell’s ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’
  7. Shifting the main focus of the ‘internationalism from below’ alliance to Scotland
  8. The ending of the liberal consensus in the face of the rise of the New Imperialism
  9. Davitt widens his ‘internationalism from below’ alliance, and brings in Wales
  10. ‘Internationalism from below’ and the weaknesses of Irish nationalism and British Left radicalism
  11. From land and labour struggles to the beginning of independent labour political organisation in Scotland
  12. From land nationalisation to the eight hour day
  13. Broadening the ‘internationalism from below’ alliance around the political demand for Home Rule
  14. 1889-92 – the new industrial and political offensive
  15. The rise and wider effects of New Unionism in Ireland
  16. The limits of Davitt’s politics reached as the Irish Home Rule Movement splits
  17. The thwarted hopes of New Unionism and the Home Rule Movement after the 1892 General Election
  18. The employers’ offensive and the retreat of New Unionism
  19. The final break-up of the ‘internationalism from below’ alliance
  20. 1895 – High Imperialism triumphant and the emergence of Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party

1. Introduction

Why should we spend time examining a period of history from over a hundred years ago? Perhaps the best reason is that, between 1879 and 1895, there are striking parallels to the situation we find ourselves in today. This was also a period of increasing inter-imperialist competition, as the previously dominant world power began to lose its leading position. In the late nineteenth century it was the UK that found itself in this new position in the world; today it is the USA, with the UK continuing to fall well down the global pecking order.

Furthermore, when we compare the situation in the UK, over the two periods, we can see the continuing significance of national democratic challenges to the unionist state. The Irish Revolution(1), which began in 1879, led to a questioning of the very existence of the UK, and to profound divisions amongst the British ruling class over how best to maintain its rule over these islands and their wider empire. The demands for national self-determination in Ireland, Scotland and Wales were linked to major social and economic struggles. Clearly, there are significant echoes of this situation today.

From 1875, under the impact of the New Imperialism(2), Disraeli’s Conservative government had begun to pursue increasingly aggressive colonial policies. These reflected the concerns of a British ruling class, now facing global competition from a larger number of European states. From 1879, however, a challenge developed to this recharged British imperialism. The new opposition drew its politics largely from the social republican tradition found in Ireland, and the radical tradition found in England, Scotland and Wales. It formed largely as result of the failure of traditional Gladstonian Liberals to uphold their earlier support for civil rights and opposition to colonial expansion.

Michael Davitt, migrant, former textile worker, Fenian and Irish Land League organiser, was the central figure involved. He attempted to unite land and labour struggles, across the four nations constituting the United Kingdom, and beyond into the British colonies and the USA. Davitt developed an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance to win wider support for the Irish National Land League (INLL), one of the biggest ‘lower orders’ movements in the nineteenth century UK. However, he deepened this alliance in England, Scotland and Wales, by contributing to the development of independent land and labour organisations in each of these nations.

The leader of the INLL, Charles Parnell, though, had other ideas. In 1882, he closed down the INLL in order to form a purely constitutional nationalist party, the National League, with the aim of winning Irish Home Rule. However, the first Irish Home Rule Bill, adopted by Gladstone’s Liberal government, was defeated in 1886, and a new government, led by the Conservative Lord Salisbury, took office.

Davitt now had to confront the thoroughly jingoist, racist and sectarian Unionist alliance. It would countenance no concession over Irish Home Rule, and revelled enthusiastically over every latest imperial exploit. This was the conservative unionist approach to maintaining British ruling class domination at home and abroad. It vehemently opposed the liberal unionist approach(3) with its support for home rule (devolution) for the constituent nations of the UK.

As New Imperialism increased its stranglehold on British politics, the Liberal Party, including many on its Radical wing, were drawn into its slipstream. A section of advanced Radicals, however, reacted against this and made the first tentative steps towards Socialism. Robert Cunningham-Graham and Keir Hardie were just two examples. However, many former Radicals (and Liberal Party members), who became Socialists, retained much of their earlier politics.

Furthermore, the Conservative Party, hitherto seen as a major impediment to any democratic advance, began to develop a Tory Democrat wing. Its supporters made appeals to the newly enfranchised workers. They were offered limited economic reforms in return for giving their support to British ruling class attempts to expand the Empire. Disraeli was one of the first to see the possibilities of harnessing the link between reform and Empire; but it was Randolph Churchill, who attempted to develop this further, by appealing directly to the working class. He also strongly linked expansion of the British Empire with the defence of the existing British Union. He looked to the local dignitary-led, Orange Order in Ulster, for inspiration in forming his pro-imperial, cross class alliance.

Many workers were drawn into Conservative Unionist and further Right populist organisations. They did hope to gain economically from the Empire, or to draw some psychological comfort by celebrating their racial or religious ‘superiority’. The growing number of wars directed against the peoples of the colonies took only a small number of British lives. The real cost was to come later, when the inevitable consequence of growing inter-imperialist competition led to the mass slaughter of the First World War. The leaders of the Conservative Unionists though, were then able to look with smug satisfaction as their Liberal, Irish constitutional nationalist, and some Labour and Socialist ‘opponents’, threw themselves into the promotion of the carnage.

However, back in the 1880’s, a few Tory Democrats, such as Henry Hyndman and Henry Champion, broke with the Conservative Party and became leading figures in the new Socialist movement. Like the former Radical Liberals, these individuals also retained aspects of their old politics, especially their lingering support for English/Anglo-Saxon/British supremacy and racism. Some of the clashes, which took place in the early Socialist movement, reflected this earlier division between Radical Liberals and Tory Democrats.

The infant Social Democratic Federation (SDF), formed in 1885, showed many of the characteristics which have plagued later attempts at Socialist agitation – whether to concentrate on direct action and socialist propaganda or to seek political office; and whether to seek constitutional change or economic reform. Failure to develop a coherent programme and an integrated strategy contributed to many of the setbacks and consequent splits amongst Socialists at the time, just as they continue to do today.

One of these breakaway organisations was the small but quite influential Socialist League (SL). It soon became divided between those who wanted to make propaganda for Socialism, and those, mainly in its affiliated Scottish Land and Labour League (SLLL), who wanted to orientate upon trade union, crofter and cottar struggles.

However, it was the launching of the Irish Land War, in 1879, and the formation of the INLL, which had largely inspired the formation of the SDF, as former advanced Radicals turned to Socialism. They joined the wider struggle against those forces, both Conservative and Liberal, either aggressively advancing the Empire and defending the Union, or meekly bowing before this new onslaught.

The social struggle was closely linked to the political battle for greater Irish self-determination. Furthermore, as new Land Leagues were formed in Scotland and Wales, the demand for Home Rule was taken up in these nations too. The majority of the independent Crofter candidates of 1885, and the new Scottish Labour Party, formed in 1888, supported both Irish and Scottish Home Rule.

Many key individuals, from the land and labour struggles of the 1880’s, contributed to the massive wave of ‘New (Trade) Unionism’, which burst out in 1889. They faced a similar situation to that faced by socialists and trade unionists today. Only then, socialists were up against the politics of Lib-Labism. Trade union leaders were still tied to an earlier Radical Liberal vision of a Free Trade Empire and a ‘fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

Today we are up against the politics of New Labour, with trade union leaders locked into ‘Social Partnership’. Sometimes these misleaders may still hanker back to the disappearing vision of the post-war, Welfare State Empire, when workers in the UK were looked after ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

Furthermore, prior to 1889, the vast majority of unskilled and casual workers lay outside the Old Unions. Today, union membership has shrunk back to a minority, mostly concentrated in the public sector. This has left vast numbers of private sector workers, particularly women, migrant and part-time workers unorganised.

Today, the majority of the British Left is tied to a Broad Left strategy of recapturing the ‘old’ unions by replacing their existing leaders with new Left leaders (many of whom are earlier Broad Left leaders!) In contrast, any contemporary ‘New Unionism’ would aim to thoroughly democratise existing unions and bring them under rank and file workers’ control; or, where necessary, build completely new unions to organise those workers now completely unorganised.

Nor is the Left nationalist notion of breakaway unions much use against the global corporations, which workers confront today. Yes, national (and sectoral) union sections need more autonomy, but unions should be as extensive as possible. The key issue is not the existence of union HQ flying a national flag (e.g. the tricolour or saltire), but the necessity for union sovereignty to reside with workers at the workplace level, not in the union HQs. The independent Scottish teachers’ union, the EIS, is one of the most fervent upholders of the embrace of government and employers, not so much in social partnership, more a morganatic marriage(4).

Today, some may take comfort from the fact that the majority of the British ruling class has opted for the liberal, and not the conservative unionist option, in order to maintain its rule over the UK, and its continued, albeit now indirect, influence over Ireland. New Labour promotes ‘Devolution-all-round’ (i.e. for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) and the ‘Peace Process’ in Ireland, backed by the social partnerships of compliant trade union and demanding governments and employers.

Yet, the aims of today’s liberal unionists are the same as those of the conservative unionists of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They both want to create the best political environment for their principal class backers. Today this means allowing corporate capitalists to lower wages, attack working conditions and undermine pensions, through deregulation and privatisation. It means fawning before the requirements of finance capital.

The British ruling class may indeed have learned some political lessons from their one-time support for intransigent conservative unionism. When Conservative and Liberal Unionists tried to face down the rising demand for Irish Home Rule, in the 1880’s, ‘90s and first two decades of the twentieth century, this eventually proved to be a disastrous strategy for them. By 1922, direct rule over ‘the Twenty Six Counties’ had been ended, and the UK state had begun to break-up.

However, the post-1922 UK-Irish ‘settlement’, imposed after the threat of a renewed war on the Irish people, seemed so permanent, that this lesson appeared to be forgotten by the late 1960’s. This was when new national democratic movements confronted the British ruling class. Initially this ruling class did flirt with both liberal centralist(5) and devolution(6) measures to deal with these challenges, which coincided with major working class struggles. However, once the ruling class had reasserted its control, under the two post-1974 Labour governments, it returned to the old failed conservative unionist strategy of defence of the constitutional status quo, backed by threats and coercion. Meanwhile, anti-trade union laws soon tamed most union leaderships. The TUC and the Labour Party leaders left the miners isolated, when they defied these new laws. The NUM faced the full panoply of state power between 1984-5. The Labour/TUC’s acceptance of ‘New Realism’ was but the beginnings of the road back to the Lib-Lab ‘Old Unionism’ of the nineteenth century, and its complete acceptance of capitalist rule.

Thatcher’s British Unionist ‘No, No, No’ intransigence first began under Labour, in the late 70’s in Northern Ireland. The attempt by Labour Irish Secretary, Roy Mason, to criminalise any effective opposition had its parallels in Forster, Gladstone’s Liberal Irish Secretary, and his introduction of coercion to Ireland in 1881, long before Lord Salisbury’s Conservative Irish Secretary, ‘Bloody Balfour’ was given free rein in 1887.

The failure of the UK state to meet the constitutional and economic reform demands raised by the Civil Rights Movement in ‘the Six Counties’, produced another period of constitutional instability, lasting over a quarter of a century. An overt and determined republican challenge emerged within the UK’s frontiers. Thatcher’s later attempt to deny any political self-determination, for either Scotland or Wales, made the ‘National Question’ an even wider and more volatile political issue.

This is one reason why the majority of the British ruling class unceremoniously dumped Thatcher in 1990 and, under John Major’s government adopted The Downing Street Agreement. The Conservatives were now committed to a liberal unionist strategy to defend the Union. When this proved too limited to contain the wider challenge, the ruling class turned instead to New Labour’s policy of ‘Devolution-all-round’. This is, in effect, a return to the old nineteenth century Liberal Home Rule strategy.

However, as with the nineteenth century division between Conservatives and Liberals, there is little difference today in the real aims of the Tories and New Labour. Both are committed to maintaining a British imperial presence in the wider world. Both accept that the British ruling class can now only achieve this as a junior partner to US imperialism. This leads to continuous wars, attacks on civil rights, austerity welfare provision, and the scape-goating of migrant workers. There is now a tension between New Labour and the Tories’ liberal unionism and their increasingly conservative militaristic imperialism. And, under today’s prevailing political conditions it is the liberal unionism which is more likely to give.

New Labour soon falls back on the nastier traits, usually associated with conservative unionism and imperialism. Indeed, as international competition becomes more pronounced, in the wake of the current Credit Crunch and the deepening worldwide recession, New Labour is preparing the ground for even more jingoistic, racist and sectarian forces.

The Immigration Minister, Philip Woolas, has shown that it is not only conservatives, who will stoop to the gutter, when it comes to racist attacks to divert attention from the real causes of the economic crisis. Meanwhile, the rise of the BNP, and the continued presence of malevolent loyalist forces in ‘the Six Counties’, show that even more sinister forces are lurking not far below the surface in the UK. Events in Berlusconi’s Italy demonstrate that it is but a short step to government encouraged racist assaults and murders of migrants and ethnic minorities.

As we try to build a new socialist movement, an appreciation of the Left’s politics, between 1879 and 1895, provides us with useful insights. The Radicals were then the dominant force on the Left, from whom the infant socialist and labour movements inherited much of their politics. The Radicals wanted to return to the mid-century ‘glory days’ of free trade and international peace.

Today’s Left includes those ‘Marxist’ Radicals – the entrants and outriders of the British Labour Party – who hope to re-establish the welfare state and to prolong the long period since 1945 without a world war. This is often tied to their Broad Left strategy for reclaiming the trade unions for ‘real Labour’. However, just as the rise New Imperialism, at the end of the nineteenth century, spelled the end of the old international ‘free trade’ capitalist order, so the development of corporate capitalist imperialism today means that the post-1945 social democratic world has changed irrevocably. New answers and approaches are required.

‘Marxist’ Radicals in the SWP and Socialist Party(7), often defend the formation and continued existence of the UK as a ‘progressive’ achievement. They claim this historical gain needs to be defended against the attacks of the nationalists in Scotland and Wales, completely failing to see the wider democratic issues at stake. They take some consolation in the ‘Peace Process’ in ‘the Six Counties’, which appears, for the time being, to have reopened the road for ‘bread and butter’ issues, i.e. traditional labourist politics.

When ‘Marxist’ Radicals are forced to address the major democratic and constitutional issues, they tend to follow their nineteenth century Radical predecessors. They either see the ‘National Question’ as a diversion form the ‘real struggle’, or give support to liberal unionist options to defend the UK.

Some ‘Marxist’ Radicals go further, but still only end up tailing the more thoughtful sections of the British ruling class, when they call for more powers for the existing devolved assemblies. A few would go so far as to advocate a new federal arrangement between the constituent parts of the UK. This last ditch liberal option has a long pedigree, whenever the British union state is under threat from national democratic movements. Others, however, hide behind the formulation of support for the ‘right of national self-determination’. The political effect of this is to leave it to the various nationalist parties to take the lead formulating the politics of the national democratic movements.

By examining past history, we can see that the politics of those advocating various ‘British roads to socialism’ are but continuations of an older British Radical tradition, which dominated the Left in the UK, in the late nineteenth century. Radicals tended to leave the political initiative to the Liberal Party and their Irish nationalist allies. Today’s ‘Marxist’ Radicals also take their political lead over the UK constitution from the liberal wing of the British ruling class, or sometimes, if unwittingly, from the nationalist parties – Sinn Fein, SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Yet, between 1888 and 1894, an alternative tradition developed, which recognised some of the weaknesses of the ‘Marxist’ Radicals. The Scottish Socialist Federation (SSF) was formed, which brought together SDF and SL/SLLL members, as well as other socialists, to try and go beyond the politics of Radicalism and the subservience of Lib-Labism. In some respects the SSF anticipated the Scottish Socialist Alliance, (SSA) formed in 1996, in the aftermath of the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle, along with the continued failure of the Labour Party to meet workers’ needs.

In the end, just as Davitt’s social republicanism collapsed into populist nationalism in Ireland, so the SSF, along with the Scottish Labour Party, it had backed, collapsed into the hybrid Radical/Tory Democrat tradition of ‘the British road to socialism’ found in the Independent Labour Party or the SDF. Today, after a major internal crisis, the SSA’s successor organisation, the Scottish Socialist Party, faces powerful pulls, in the form of Left nationalism and Left unionism.

By 1895, the limitations of Davitt’s politics had become quite apparent, as the British ruling class regained the political initiative and derailed the Home Rule challenge. Furthermore, Socialists, at the time, were unable to take the vigorous post-1889 New (Trade) Unionism challenge forward. It also went into retreat, taking on some of the characteristics of ‘Old Unionism’ once more. A new politics was needed to unite the political and economic wings of a wider working class movement.

However, it was within the SSF milieu that a real alternative began to emerge, in the figure of James Connolly. Like Davitt, he was a member of an Irish migrant family. Connolly’s family had settled in Edinburgh. He received his initial political training within the Scottish Socialist Federation and the Scottish Labour Party. He was to make a quantum leap in his political approach, though, when he moved to Dublin and founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896.

Connolly developed the socialist republican politics needed to take Davitt’s social republican and radical ‘internationalism from below’ alliance on to a higher level, during the heyday of High Imperialism from 1895. Connolly’s consistent anti-unionism and anti-imperialism offered a clear strategy, which opposed both the Irish constitutional nationalism and the ‘British road to socialism’, which was supported by most of the British Left of his day. Instead, Connolly promoted a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire road to socialism’.

In today’s world, imperialism still calls the shots. The continued existence of the UK provides the British ruling class with a powerful bastion of support. This unionist and monarchist state is fundamentally undemocratic. It gives the British ruling class a whole host of draconian Crown Powers to maintain its rule. Even the formally independent Irish Republic has to bow to British ruling class needs. This was highlighted by Irish leaders’ recent reluctant acceptance of the liabilities of UK-owned banks in Ireland. Nor did the Irish government get many thanks for their pioneering bank rescue plan to save domestic capitalism, much of which Brown and Darling so quickly copied and took credit for.

However, the current financial crisis has also highlighted the close links between leading Scottish nationalists and the British banks. In panic, they have quietly rushed into the arms of the UK government to develop a common approach to address shared capitalist concerns. Meanwhile, in public, the SNP and New Labour continue their political squabbles, jockeying for position to gain relative advantages for their particular capitalist backers.

British politicians, whether they are Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, continue to argue with SNP politicians over the extent of power to be awarded to the devolved Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. However, they all agree that the monarchy and the ruling class’s Crown Powers have to remain in place, that the Bank of England will control the economy through the continued use of sterling, and that suitable arrangements have to be made to accommodate NATO and to protect US imperial interests. All these parties are wedded to neo-liberalism and are in hock to corporate capital.

The nationalist parties represented in the various devolved assemblies, in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont, make no attempt to mount a joint challenge to continued British rule, or to the all pervading corporate capitalist power over these islands. Whilst Plaid Cymru leaders may be envious of the powers already devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it is pretty clear that, if parity were to be achieved, this would merely signal their intention to compete more effectively for inward corporate investment. When Donald Trump threatened to abandon his golfing complex project in Aberdeenshire, in stepped the then DUP Minister, Ian Paisley Junior, to offer an alternative site on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland.

Just as Davitt and Connolly realised, in their day, that they faced the combined forces of British imperialism (whether it be Conservative or Liberal) and Irish nationalism (whether it be Parnell or his successors), so socialists face a similar combined opposition of Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem unionists and nationalists today. By studying our class’s history, we gain the advantages of hindsight. This is why we need to look once more to rebuild an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance of republican socialists in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.


  • (1) ‘The Irish Revolution’ is the term given by Theodore Moody to describe the major period of social and political upheaval between 1879-82, initiated by the Irish National Land League and the ‘Land War’.
  • (2) New Imperialism developed in Europe, the USA (and later Japan) in the 1870’s. This followed the defeats of the Paris Commune in 1871, and the overthrow of the Radical Reconstruction (the concerted state-backed attempt to bring about black emancipation in the USA, after the Civil War) by 1877.
  • (3) Here, liberal unionism refers to one of the two overall approaches taken by the British ruling class to defend the Union. It is not to be confused with the Liberal Unionists, who were adherents of a conservative unionist strategy.
  • (4) A morganatic marriage was an arrangement by which a king had a queen who was entitled to none of his property and whose children had no inheritance rights. In other words she only had the right to be screwed!
  • (5) It was one of the ironies of history that Northern Ireland, ended up, in 1922, with the sole devolved parliament in the UK, in the form of Stormont, despite the Ulster Unionists’ earlier vehement opposition to Home Rule. This ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People’, far from being liberal in inspiration, more resembled the old reactionary, pre-1801, Irish Parliament, in its attempt to exclude Catholics (or Irish nationalists) from any share of power. Thus, the Conservatives’ closure of Stormont in 1972 and resort to Direct Rule was initially a very weak liberal centralising political measure. However, responsibility for much of this ‘direct rule’ was undertaken by the British armed and security forces, negating any liberal intentions.
  • (6) The proposals for Scottish and Welsh devolution enjoyed wider support, both from liberal unionists and constitutional nationalists. However, political support for a liberalised and reformed Stormont was much more narrowly based, and found primarily amongst constitutionalist nationalists.
  • (7) Whilst the tradition of the Tory Democrats has virtually no remaining political purchase upon Socialists today in the UK today, it still perhaps enjoys a kind of afterlife in the Labour Unionism still found in the Socialist Party in ‘the Six Counties’. Here the SP has been known to flirt with plebian loyalism, particularly the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force.

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Jul 25 2002

The Euro Referendum: The case for an active boycott

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 9:06 pm

Allan Armstrong why workers should support an active boycott of the Euro referendum

The rise of the populist and fascist Right in Europe

The rise of the populist and fascist Right in the Netherlands, France and England has caused considerable debate amongst the Left throughout Europe. We cannot be complacent in Scotland, just because the far Right is a negligible force here at present. Racism, sectarianism and both British and Scottish nationalism have deep roots in Scottish society, providing combustible material for far Right parties if circumstances permit, or if the Left provides them with the opportunity.

One issue which unites all the Right populist and fascist parties in Europe is opposition to the euro currency. All moves towards greater European integration are anathema to parties whose prime purpose is to promote a single national culture backed by a strong national state. Much of the initial support for the far Right comes from traditional conservatives nostalgically looking back to the glories of their states’ imperialist past. However, whether it be in Rotterdam, Marseilles, the former Red Belt of Paris, or Burnley and Oldham, the far Right has managed to extend its support to working class areas which traditionally gave their vote to social democratic and Labour or even to Communist Parties.

One reason for this is that the far Right parties increasingly address the concerns of workers – the decline of traditional industries, the decay of public housing, the rundown of local schools and community facilities. These were once the concerns of social democratic and Labour parties too. However, both continental social democrats and, in particular New Labour, now openly declare that the only way that such issues can be dealt with is by bowing to the needs of the global corporations and handing public welfare over to private companies. Meeting genuine human needs is a very low priority for the fast-buck, profit seekers of turbo-capitalism. Therefore, not surprisingly, support for the Labour Party is evaporating in its former strongholds. This is where the far Right hopes to make its biggest gains.

The current worldwide anti-globalisation movement still remains most strongly associated in the public’s mind with anarchists, left populists and socialists. However, we are now seeing the spectacle of the far Right opposing globalisation by defending traditional national state welfare measures once associated with the social democratic and official Communist Left. Once this common ground with the traditional Left has gained the far Right a working class audience, they then promote their own distinct theories and policies.

To the far Right, those promoting globalisation are seen as an alien and evil conspiratorial elite. Global conspirators seek to undermine traditional national culture through the promotion of large scale immigration designed to swamp and dilute traditional national cultures, in the process weakening traditional community defences. Thus the far Right makes an emotional appeal, heightening the feeling of insecurity by pointing to the threat from above represented by the anti national globalisers; and to the threat from below represented by all those from different ethnic cultures now living in our state.

The Right against the euro

It is not surprising therefore that opposition to the euro represents a natural stamping ground for the far Right in the UK. Defence of the pound allows the fascists to pose as the opposition to the foreign globalisers and their anti national allies at home. The pound isn’t just seen as an economic symbol, but as a powerful political and cultural symbol too. It conjures up British imperialism’s mighty past, when the pound sterling was the international currency and when Britannia ruled the waves, (as well as waiving the rules lesser states had to abide by!). The monarch’s head also provides a symbol for all the authoritarian Crown powers the British state has at its disposal, putting the Great into Great Britain.

By making such links, the issue of the euro offers the fascists potential allies amongst the populist Right in the UK Independence Party and the Tory Eurosceptics. By joining together powerful City interests, middle-sized companies and many small businessmen, farm and fishing boat owners, the decidedly Right wing nature of the No to the euro campaign can be clearly seen.

Therefore the Left in the UK should take warning from Denmark. Here the SSP‘s fraternal organisation, the Red-Green Alliance, decided to oppose the Euro-bosses and bureaucrats by joining the anti-euro campaign in 2000. They celebrated a No referendum victory by waving their red flags amongst crowds rather ominously displaying many more Danish national flags. When the Danish general and local elections were held the next year, the Red-Green Alliance lost one of its parliamentary and two of its council seats, However, the far Right Danish People’s Party, which had also campaigned vigorously against the euro, increased its parliamentary representation from 13 to 22!

In this country, unlike Denmark, there are major capitalist interests, represented by the Tories, who are also in the No camp. This makes the situation even more dangerous for the Left in the UK. If the Left tries to join this much wider Right on the Nos playing field, they are only going to be small bit players. Any criticisms of the game being played by our team mates are going to be brushed aside.

The day after a referendum, any victory for the ‘No’ camp would reaffirm the independent power of the Bank of England, of powerful City interests, along with those Tories competing with Tony Blair to be even keener advocates of a US/UK imperialist alliance. It would do little good for the Socialist Alliances and the SSP to wave their red flags, claiming we fought the campaign for better wages and conditions. Our voice would be drowned in a sea of union jacks, whilst those few remaining worker’s rights would come under an immediate and increased attack by an alliance of Right wing politicians and bosses, who would feel their day had arrived. No, the only other winners would be the fascist BNP, who would have waved their union jacks even more furiously and shouted their loyalty even more loudly than the Tories. The BNP can also look to their No camp allies in the European populist and fascist far Right, who, in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain have all made opposition to the euro a central issue. Le Pen travelled to Brussels to make an anti-euro speech days after he came second in the first round of the French Presidential elections.

Left nostalgia gives succour to the Right

However, it isn’t the populist Right and the fascists’ intentions to confine their appeal to traditional conservative supporters. They want to construct a Right-led popular front, which reaches deep into the working class, splitting us on ethnic lines and dividing the Left. And there can be nothing more corrupting of and demoralising for the Left than to be drawn on to the rocks of defending the national state and culture.

This is why the BNP is openly challenging the Left on its own declared territory by claiming to be the defendants of the post-1945 Labour welfare state and working class communities. When fascists link their defence of welfare provision to defence of the state, it has indeed found the Achilles heel of much of the Left today. This is why it is most disturbing to find powerful supporters for a No to the euro campaign amongst the ISM, SW and CWI Platforms (as well as supporters of Socialist Outlook) in the SSP, and outside their ranks in the SLP and Morning Star camps.

All these Left forces like to wear the cloak of old Labour in public, proudly displaying their post-1945 Labour welfare state golden days colours. Yet, it was always the case that Labour leaders’ commitment to welfare reforms was part of a social imperialist deal with the British ruling class. For thirty years, the British ruling class was prepared to accept the welfare state on condition that Labour promoted British imperialist interests in the world. From Greece, India, Malaya and Palestine, to Rhodesia and Ireland and now in the Gulf, Kosova, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, Labour leaders have faithfully kept to their side of the deal, long after the British ruling class has reneged on its part.

Today global corporations, British included, have largely escaped the one-time constraints imposed by national state governments. They are in the process of creating new transnational institutions to advance and defend their interests – the WTO, IMF and NATO and new regional power blocs such as the EU and FTAA. Therefore the old deal has collapsed. Guaranteed pay rises and improved conditions have given way to labour flexibility. Welfare has given way to austerity and permanent war.

Even in the heyday of old Labour’s social imperialism, welfare was very much the junior dependant. However, with an organised British national Labour Movement it was possible to extract real concessions from a British national ruling class. But Old Labour, whether in office or as her majesty’s loyal opposition, was completely unprepared to fundamentally challenge a British ruling class which offered it some small slices of the imperialist cake. Today New Labour has accepted that its bargaining power is limited to squabbling with other states over the crumbs that fall from the global corporations’ tables.

Indeed, having an organised Labour Movement is counter productive for New Labour. The new global corporations, unlike the old British bosses, can up and off if they feel they are being put upon. Therefore the former, very British deal between the representatives of British Labour and the British ruling class has been abandoned. Now we have New Labour’s give-aways and knock-down offers to the US, Japanese, German and, of course, British global corporations. This is done in a desperate attempt not to be left out in the worldwide Dutch auction of pay and conditions.

Just as workers can not conjure up the days when (a limited number of) Victorian local employers showed paternalist and philanthropist concern for their workers, neither can we just conjure up the days of old Labour’s national welfare state (which were also decidedly limited, particularly if you were a woman or black).

To construct a national welfare state behind a protectionist wall in today’s global capitalist environment means promoting national austerity when the cost of necessary imported goods goes through the roof. It means promoting heightened ethnic conflict as migrant workers are locked out and targeted minority cultures are scapegoated. It means large-scale repression of all internal opposition. It means moves to war to control access to needed raw materials and to impose strict military discipline on society. Fascists of course are prepared to do all of these things, even if they are coy at present in spelling out the logic of their politics in public. Whatever temptations there may be for today’s Left to nostalgically invoke the golden days of old Labour, it should be clear that the terrain on which we fight the global corporations can not be defence of the national state or its institutions, including whatever currency it sponsors. Today the Tories may loudly defend the pound in your pocket, yet at all other times they try their damnest to ensure it is only pennies in our purses!

Of course, the welfare reforms, securer employment, better working conditions and rising living standards won after the Second World War and in particular, during the late 60s and early 70s, should be widely celebrated by the Left. Yet, despite the many false claims, they weren’t really the gift of Labour politicians, but were largely won through hard fought class struggle. Indeed, it was always at the points when our class left it to Labour politicians to deliver reforms, that they were either diluted or snatched away. The UK state exists firstly to defend British ruling class interests, so our class’s needs are always going to be a low priority. Yet, it is precisely to this state that social democrats and later the official Communists, with their British (state) road to socialism always looked for their reforms.

This is why those in the SSP and Socialist Alliances, who wish to create a new, Old Labour Party, could lead our class to serious defeats. The populist and fascist Right are competing on the same national state grounds as this traditional Left. The former want to use the state to impose their counter-reforms, the latter to introduce its proposed reforms. Despite all those loudly ringing warning bells, whether from Denmark, Austria, France or closer to home, in Lancashire, it is nostalgia for old Labour and the British welfare state, which is still pushing many socialists into the camp of the Right in defence of the pound.

Some on the Left, of course, will insist on separate campaigns, refusing to join Right wing platforms. But on referendum day the only issue being voted on is for or against the euro or the pound. There will be no box to mark an X for better wages and conditions!

The false arguments of the No and Yes groups

Now, if willingness to adopt old Labour clothing goes a long way to explain how some on the Left end up giving succour to the Right, what possible arguments can they use to justify this?

The starting point for their reasoning is correct. Those promoting the euro, including Blair’s New Labour government, are acting on behalf of existing and would-be European global corporations. They seek a strengthened European Union to pursue their global interests, seeing the existing European national states as too small for effective competition on the world market. They also see the significance of the EU‘s Maastricht Convergence Criteria which imposed a 3% of GDP limit on supporting governments’ deficit spending. This is meant to force governments to cutback on welfare spending. Labour costs are then lowered and new opportunities for further privatisation measures are provided.

However, despite the claims of some on the Left, Blair doesn’t want the UK to join the eurocurrency zone to enforce these measures over here. He doesn’t need to! This was achieved by the Tories and has been massively reaffirmed by Gordon Brown. Indeed Chancellor Brown went further, showing his commitment to meeting the City’s requirements for financial stability and spending discipline above all else, by ending government control of the Bank of England and handing it over to Eddie George.

Yet there is a division of opinion in the City over the pound versus the euro. The City has been able to make large profits out of growing European monetary integration by offering itself as an off-shore tax haven for euro-finance. From this point of view, the City benefits both from the growing strength of the euro-zone and by remaining outside it – a bit like the Isle of Man in relation to the UK! However, others in the City see that the Frankfurt, Paris and Milan finance centres are not going to accept this British offshore status for ever and may encourage EU bureaucrats to take retaliatory measures. Those in the City taking this view realise that their interests may be better advanced by joining the euro and using the City’s considerable expertise to capture a greater share of the increased business inside an expanded eurozone.

There is obviously a similar division amongst British industrial and service companies. Some would have preferred Blair not to have signed up to the EU‘s Social Chapter, so that British labour costs could have remained lower, the better to undercut German, French, Italian and other businesses on the mainland EU market. Others, also looking to the EU market, want to be on the inside, the better to deal with the challenge of US and Japanese corporations.

Blair’s appeal to British companies with sizeable European operations doesn’t lie in seeking their support to impose criteria which have already been met. He wants their support for a joint offensive, alongside his new Right wing allies, Italy’s Berlusconi and Spain’s Aznar, to undermine the Social Chapter and lower labour costs from within the eurozone.

Now there is a small group inside the SSP, including ex-Labour Lefts, Allan Green and Hugh Kerr, who appreciate that, in general, social provision in most EU member countries is considerably better than in the UK. A welfare gap has opened up between UK and French, Italian and German workers, after years of old and new Tory rule particularly since the crushing of the Miners’ Strike. Whilst Blair immediately signed up to the Social Chapter when New Labour gained office in 1997, this was a political ploy. Acceptance of the Social Chapter was mainly to gain access to the inner corridors of EU power. No inspectorate has been set up to ensure that superior European employment laws are implemented at work over here – they all still have to be fought for, workplace by workplace, industry by industry. Blair wants to work from inside the EU to dismantle these.

What would a ‘Yes’ and ‘No campaign look like – choose your poison

The logic of the SSP‘s pro-euro camp is to form an alliance with the small group of Left Europarliamentarians, to defend and extend the Social Chapter. The scope of such a campaign is likely to be fairly limited – a few public meetings with distinguished international parliamentarians and polite lobbies at Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. The SSP‘s pro-euro Left like to pretend the EU flag already has sixteen stars (one for Scotland) on a radical red background, rather than fifteen stars on a conservative blue background. Hugh Kerr goes along with this illusion, drawing some comfort from the Alex Neil’s shrinking social democratic wing of the SNP which entertains similar illusions. In the meantime, the free marketeers of the growing SNP Right, led by John Swinney, join with the European bosses’ pro euro advocates, dropping more and more old social market baggage as they go.

The logic of the SSP‘s anti-euro camp is to seek unity and make an agreement with the Right over a division of labour in the campaign. This would be the best way to maximise the No vote and therefore to defeat Tony Blair. Back in 1975 when a then Labour Left and CPGB alliance led the Left opposition to Common Market membership, we saw the walls of trades councils adorned with union jacks behind a platform of trade union officials, Labour and Tory politicians. This unholy popular front extended from Tony Benn and Michael Foot to Enoch Powell and Teddy Taylor! It was but a short step from this unity behind the national flag to that disastrous pact in the national interest between the Labour government and trade union leaders – the Social Contract (soon to be termed the Social Contrick).

Indeed we don’t have to go so far back to see a trade union and labour movement campaign following the full logic of such nationalist thinking. When British Leyland’s Rover plant at Longbridge was threatened with closure; instead of strike action, occupation and the seeking of wider solidarity, the campaign decked itself out in full red, white and blue colours, looking for a patriotic employer to save the day. Despite a few face-saving red flags, any No campaign would be similarly swamped with union jacks and ultimately provide as little real comfort for workers.

An argument used by both the SSP‘s pro and anti-euro groups is that we must take sides. However, the anti-euro camp claim that many more workers are instinctively against the euro, so that is why we should join the No camp. The weakness of these arguments should soon become apparent. It took a hard political battle to persuade many socialists that it wasn’t necessary to automatically side with Labour in general elections, even though many workers still instinctively voted for them. The SSP was built by standing against both Tory and New Labour (as well as the populist SNP). It is precisely these two parties which are leading the No and Yes campaigns and whoever wins, neither has the slightest intention of improving our pay and conditions.

Then our No and Yes camps fall back on their last ditch defence. So, you are arguing for an abstention campaign, they say. Who will be listening? Now, an abstention campaign would actually be better than a political campaign which helped to build the hard Right or Blair and the Eurocrats. However, what socialists should really be arguing is for an Active Boycott Campaign.

An Active Boycott Campaign – the recent European experience

Here, the recent developments in Europe are most instructive. When Le Pen won the first round of the recent French presidential election, the Left – not only the Socialist and Communist Parties, went into a panic. How was Le Pen to be stopped? The French ruling class, which currently does not want a Le Pen victory, pushed out all the stops to ensure a Chirac victory. The Socialist Party and CPF quickly obliged by offering their support against the fascist danger. Yet the slogan, Better a thief than a fascist proved to have considerable pulling power over the revolutionary Left too. As a result they gave out mixed messages in the run-up to the second round play-off.

The problem with recommending a Chirac vote is the reason Le Pen beat Jospin in the first round is that the revolutionary Left gained an unprecedented 11% of the vote, much of it from the Socialist Party. Yet the revolutionary Left were quite right to offer an alternative to all those voters disillusioned with the Jospin-led government. However, if you later accept that the main priority is to keep out the fascist, then the logic is that the revolutionary Left shouldn’t have stood in the first place – something that many French Socialist Party members are openly saying! Now the rise of the National Front vote in France is indeed disturbing, but there was no real threat of a fascist takeover – or even a Le Pen presidential victory. His National Front did not have control of the streets and was not ready to March on Paris. The only real political gain for Le Pen was to be seen as the only remaining opposition to the establishment when the second round election took place.

However, elections are just one form of political action, which actually demand relatively little from the voter. Street mobilisations are another more significant form, particularly when they put strict limits on the fascists’ room for manoeuvre.

And it was precisely this alternative which exploded with elemental force from the hour the Le Pen vote was announced on April 21st. It began with thousands in the streets on that night and culminated, on May Day, in a 400,000 demonstration in Paris (with hundreds of thousands elsewhere), which dwarfed the National Front march of 10,000. But there was clearly an alternative to voting for Chirac. What if the revolutionary Left had thrown its whole weight behind a refusal to vote for Chirac, increasing the abstentions significantly, and hence increasing Le Pen’s proportion of the vote, what would have been the real effect? First, hundreds of thousands of workers, students and others actively mobilised is a much more potent force than even millions of passive voters. Many of those most angry were young people with no vote. What was their opinion? The Sunday Herald reported that one 15 year old declared that, If Le Pen becomes president, it’ll be a civil war… and I think I’ll fight in that war (28.4.02). And given the relative strengths of the Left and the Rights’ mobilisations over this period, there can be little doubt that Le Pen would have been forced to retreat, particularly since the French ruling class don’t support his anti-EU policies.

However, the revolutionary Left could have gone further and suggested an alternative combination of direct action and voting tactics. Whilst continuing mass mobilisation on the second round election day itself, they could have encouraged people to spoil their ballot paper. They could have provided No to Le Pen, No to Chirac or No to Thieves and Fascists stickers for the ballot papers. Interestingly, even without such clear guidance, 1,738,609 voters (or 4.4%) spoiled their ballot papers. An organised Left campaign could have built on this, but more importantly it could have shown those people disillusioned with the establishment parties, that there was indeed a real alternative, helping to deprive Le Pen of being the sole claimant to this mantle.

This is what an Active Boycott Campaign would look like. But our SSP No and Yes campaigners may still object – the UK and even Scotland isn’t France. This only shows how little they have appreciated the significance of anti-globalisation/ anti-capitalist mobilisations, not least in Genoa and Barcelona.

Making the European Socialist Alliance a real force

Let us look to what we can all agree on in the SSP and Socialist Alliances – workers’ rights are under attack throughout Europe; the campaign for a 35 hour week first initiated in the late 70s has floundered, particularly in the UK; racist sentiment designed to divide and weaken workers’ organisations is being whipped up against asylum seekers everywhere in the EU. It shouldn’t be difficult to draw up a common platform with our European allies. Indeed, the framework for this already exists in the RCN-initiated, CWI supported and SSP Conference voted resolution on a European Socialist Alliance. We should write to all our fraternal European socialist organisations proposing a meeting to organise a campaign, including international mobilisations to advance an agreed platform.

At present, the front line of the defence of employment rights lies in Italy. Here the Berlusconi government is trying to end laws which protect workers in small workplaces. On 23rd March a million demonstrators marched through Rome in protest. Our fraternal organisation, Rifondazione Communista was central to this.

The Left in Italy appreciate that Berlusconi has firm allies in Aznar and in Blair (and probably soon in Chirac too!). It should not be difficult to persuade them of the virtue of a series of international demonstrations, as part of their ongoing campaign to defend workers’ rights. If we could make solidarity with the Italian working class part of the European Socialist Alliance platform, then demonstrations in say, Madrid, London and Paris, would seem to fit the bill. When it came to the London demonstration, we could march from the Bank of England to the EU Commission Offices to show our opposition to both sets of bosses, and their New Labour and Tory backers.

In the run-up to any referendum, it would also be good to be able distinguish ourselves from the blatant, red, white and blue trimmed British chauvinist posters of the No campaign; and the liberal pacifistic, No more wars in Europe – lets all be nice Europeans or Shop easier on your European holiday paid hoardings of the Yes campaign. Our street posters could have their main slogans in several languages, whilst our demonstration platform speakers would be drawn from different countries, but all united before a forest of red flags. Lastly on the day itself, we could produce suitable stickers to register our protest in their false choice ballot. Such a campaign would raise the Left’s profile much higher and would certainly avoid the pitfalls of the other alternatives on offer – tailing either the Tory or New Labour No and Yes campaigns. An Active Boycott Campaign would involve us in a far more serious campaign than merely abstaining but the potential gains would be so much greater. We would also be building on firm internationalist principles.

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