Jul 02 2020

In memory of Neil Davidson: The West – No Better Than All the Rest

Allan Armstrong was reading  How the West Came to Rule – The geopolitical origins of capitalism, by Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglum, as he learned of the tragic death of Neil Davidson. This book was influenced by Neil’s work on Uneven and Combined Development at a world scale.

Allan has engaged in several debates with Neil about how Socialists can address Scottish history. He decided to write a review of Anievas and Nisancioglum’s book, and look at  aspects of British and Scottish history, through the lens they provide.

Allan  sent this review to Conter. He thought that the second  issue of the magazine would be well served if it had a number of articles  in Neil’s memory. However, the Covid-19 crisis has delayed this issue.

 

THE WEST – NO BETTER THAN ALL THE REST

 

 

Challenging Eurocentric views of the world

I was reading How the West Came to Rule (HtWctR) when I learned of the death of Neil Davidson. Neil is acknowledged by the book’s authors,  Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu, as one of their inspirers.[1]  HtWctR places the Uneven and Combined Development Theory (UCDT) at the centre of its analysis, referencing Neil in doing so.[2]  Neil had been making a major contribution to reviving and applying this theory to global history.  This led to the conference entitled ‘Uneven and Combined Development for the 21st Century’ held in Glasgow between the 5-7th September 2019.  Anievas addressed this conference, albeit on another topic than HtWctR.[3]  Although this conference placed historical development in Scotland under the UCDT spotlight, its contributors also examined historical developments over a far wider arena.  HtWctR addresses these developments at the global level and represents the most ambitious attempt I have read to utilise UCDT both historically and geographically, whilst also drawing upon other theories.

The title How the West Came to Rule  hough, is misleading. I t could initially be mistaken for one of those many triumphalist books written since the nineteenth century heyday of European imperialism to the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, which have celebrated ‘western civilisation’.[4]  However, the book is making a very different argument – “one in which non-European agency relentlessly impinged upon and (re)directed the trajectory of European development”.[5]  The authors point out that  The Intersocietal Origins of Capitalism[6] would be a better, but less ‘sexy’ title.

 

Making the case for the intersocietal origins of capitalism

In making the case for the intersocietal origins of capitalism, a key aim of HtWctR is to challenge not only liberal histories of the world, but by extension much Marxist historical writing and practice too.  From both of these perspectives, capitalism, the first social system or mode of production to encompass the whole world, is seen to have its origins solely in Europe.  This capitalist core was later extended to a ‘greater Europe’ in North America.  HtWctR looks again at such thinking. This helps us to understand the role it has played in sustaining either liberal democratic ‘end-of-history’ thinking or much Marxist ‘capitalist-road-to-socialism’ thinking. Both schools of thought have looked to the global victory of European-led capitalism before their ideal societies could be created. This is why they are unable to escape from a Eurocentric view of the world.

HtWctR recognises the contributions of World Systems Theory (WST) (associated particularly with Immanuel Wallerstein).[7]  But it argues that WST is based on the projection and intensification of European imposed market relations and division of labour throughout the world, whilst placing a negative sign where bourgeois political economy places a positive sign.  WST opposes Adam Smith’s belief in the beneficial effect of the ‘invisible hand’ behind the ‘free market’, and David Ricardo’s belief that each national economy would find its optimum niche in the world market due to his theory of ‘comparative advantage’.  WST though still mirrors their Eurocentric view of the word.  WST has been good in identifying the exploitative ‘core/periphery’ relationship established under European initiated capitalist imperialism, but it also downplays the wide range of social relationships and labour regimes which the global capitalist system encompasses.  These produce their own contradictions and forms of struggle.

HtWctR also recognises important points made by the Political Marxists (associated particularly with Robert Brenner).[8]  The Brenner Thesis attaches much significance to the capital/wage labour relationship, seeing it as the distinguishing characteristic of capitalism.  However, HtWctR shows that neither the earlier nor contemporary ‘real subsumption of labour’,[9] with its domination by waged labour, can account for the nature of the global capitalist system.  It also persuasively argues this system  cannot be adequately understood as flowing from purely internal developments in England; nor as the product of other developments in Europe or their projection into North America, e.g. in the Italian and Flemish city-states, and the Dutch Netherlands, or through the extension of wage labour following the classic bourgeois revolutions in the USA and France.

 

Providing the history to back the case

To help us understand the intersocietal impact of socio-economic developments and their consequent struggles HtWctR begins its historical study with Europe’s engagement with the Mongol Empire.  This led to “an increased exposure to the technical developments in the more scientifically advanced Asia”.  This was followed not only by new social relationships and labour regimes but by the transmission of the Black Death “and the subsequent demographic reordering which brought feudalism in Europe into crisis.”[10] (At this point, Covid19 could not yet be on the authors’ minds!)

After this, there is an analysis of the “‘superpower’ rivalry between the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires…. {which} undermined existing centres of feudal ruling class power – the papacy, Hapsburg Empire and Italian city-states – and supported or encouraged new counter-hegemonic forces – the Protestants, French and Dutch.”   When the Hapsburgs concentrated their military efforts on the Mediterranean and Central East Europe, this afforded the Northwestern European states “the geopolitical space that proved crucial to their development along capitalist lines… {whilst} the Ottomans unintentionally created for the English a condition of geopolitical ‘isolation’, which directly contributed to the homogeneity of the English ruling class… At the same time, Ottoman territorial dominance of the Mediterranean and land routes to Asia serve to push Northwestern European states onto an altogether novel global sphere of activity – the Atlantic.”[11]

Once HtWctR brings this Atlantic sphere into the wider picture, it examines “the manifold impact of the ‘New World discoveries’… and the intersocietal interactions, conflicts and struggles critical to the emergence of the modern conceptions of territorial sovereignty, and the development of Eurocentrism, scientific racism and the modern institution of patriarchy.”[12]  This section of HtWctR addresses many more issues.[13]  However, it also shows how “the development of capitalism in England was itself dependent on the widened sphere of activity offered by the Atlantic and that it was through the combination of American land, African slave labour and English capital {that} the limits of English agrarian capitalism were overcome.”[14]

Although not stated explicitly, there is an implication that without the Native American genocides and African slavery, the agrarian-based English capitalism would have come up against its own developmental limits, just as the Italian city-states had.  Such an approach undermines not only British imperial apologists but also the thinking of those on the Left seeing an almost inevitable self-generated capitalism with its origins in England and by extension to Europe and North America.

HtWctR looks at the ‘proto’-development’ of capitalism in the Low Countries, where further economic development would also have been curtailed without the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) ability to create “a commercial network that combined uneven labour processes spanning the spice-producing islands of Indonesia, precious metal production in Japan and India, and textile workers in India into a single integrated network of ‘global’ production…The development of Dutch capitalism – the Bourse, Amsterdam entrepot and VOC  – were all based on this subjugated and exploited mass of unfree Asian labour-power.”[15]  And the relatively limited extension of waged labour in Dutch manufacturing at this time was tied to control over overseas unfree labour; just as the much greater extension of waged labour in England in the eighteenth century, came about through a more extensive command over American land and African slave labour.

 

Capitalism depends on a variety of forms of oppression and labour regimes

However, HtWctR also highlights the particularly capitalist nature of various institutions developed overseas by the Dutch, despite these using unfree labour. The plantation is a key example. This also formed the basis “from which ‘super profits’ based on cheap production costs could readily be exploited.”[16] And HtWctR also notes what the black Marxist C.L.R. James had already pointed to in the British West Indian slave plantations. They had “gangs of hundreds in the huge sugar factories {which} were closer to a modern proletariat than any other group of workers at the time”.[17]

So, as well as showing that unfree and ‘free’ waged labour grew alongside and not necessarily in conflict with each other, within the different territories ruled by single states, e.g. the Dutch Netherlands and the UK, this chapter reinforces HtWctR’s argument that capitalism is a broader social system, quite capable of resorting to a wide range of labour regimes to extract profits. Non-European historians have long pointed this out this link.[18]  Socialist feminists have shown that the reproduction of capitalism requires massive amounts of unpaid domestic labour, overwhelmingly provided by women,[19] with the additional effect of lowering wages in the non-domestic care sector.

And today, it should be clear that some of the most up-to-date and voracious capitalist businesses are prepared to resort to non-waged labour to maximise their profits. ‘Uberisation’ is the modern use of a version of the pre-Industrial Revolution ‘putting out’ system.  Uber’s computing platforms enable it to extract big profits from self-employed taxi drivers, just as merchants providing cloth and markets did from self-employed weavers.

 

History 1, History 2 and old and new identity politics

Flowing from its recognition of a wider system of exploitative labour regimes, various forms of oppression, leading to different types of alienation, HtWctR uses Dipesh Chakrabarty’s distinction between History 1 and History 2. History 1, which supports the rule of capital, tries to make “all places (histories) exchangeable (comparable) with one another”.[20]  This is a reflection of the “individual concrete labour of each worker {as} the precondition for their exchangeability on the market.[21]  By contrast, History 2 refers to those histories that are encountered by capital ‘not as antecedents’ established by itself, nor as ‘forms of its own life process.’” [22]  “While capital may indeed seek to rewrite social life to further the cause of ‘endless accumulation’, it does not do so – to twist a famous maxim – in conditions of its own choosing.”[23]

In looking to other sources of resistance to capitalism HtWctR argues for “an understanding of the historical constitution of racism and patriarchy as tied to, but not reducible to, the emergence of capitalism… It would avoid treating struggles that seek to destroy racism as somehow external from or mere supplements to – the cardinal aim of destroying capitalism”[24] (however that is envisaged – the abolition of the ‘free’ market, private property or the wages system).

For many Socialists such an approach conjures up the dangers of ‘identity politics’, underpinned by the theory of ‘intersectionality’.   They argue that the pursuit of individual or sectional aims undermines working class unity. In the UK, they often look back to a 1945-75 ‘golden age’ when there was apparent working-class unity.  However, this ‘unity’ was often based around the notion and perceived immediate interests of the white, male, trade unionist. At best, black, women or gay workers were tolerated, provided they ‘knew their place’. Furthermore, trade unions were often active agents in these workers’ discrimination (as well as some unions promoting a sectionalism which divided workers on their recognised skill levels).

There is indeed a problem with much of today’s identity politics.  However, in many ways its approach to capitalism as an update of that of the ‘old identitarians’ found amongst many trade unionists and Social Democrats, seeking their place within the existing capitalist order.  Social Democracy accepts wage slavery. But it wants ‘house slave’ status (better pay and conditions) for labour.  It fears workers being reduced to the ‘field slave’ status of precarious super-exploited labour, often seeing those in this situation as a threat.  These ‘old identitarians’ have long turned against those who seem to challenge any gains they have made.  ‘British jobs for British workers’ has strong roots going back to the TUC’s support for the 1905 Aliens Act, Gordon Brown’s specific use of this slogan in 2009, and to UNITE leader, Len McCluskey’s support for Brexit.

And as Satnam Virdee has shown, even at the highpoint of Red Clydeside in 1919, celebrated by many Left Social Democrats and official and dissident Communists (Trotskyist and Maoist), Manny Shinwell of the ILP and Willie Gallacher (later of the CPGB) were trying to “import into the broad strike campaign the ‘old demand’ that black and Chinese crews should be expelled from British ships.”[25]  It was as if Shinwell from his Jewish background and Gallacher from his Irish background wanted to be seen as British working class ‘old identarians’ or ‘insiders’ by turning on ‘racialised outsiders’.

Today, ‘new identitarians’, whether organised on an ethnic, gender or other basis, counter the ‘old identitarians’, who have already made it, preventing the newcomers from getting their own place under the capitalist ‘sun’.  There are those who have made more recent gains within the existing capitalist order, including some feminists.  They in their turn have become defensive ‘identitarians’ opposing such newcomers as the transgendered.  They use the same sort of arguments once used against reforms to benefit women and gays.

The only way to challenge such divisions is from an overall international Socialist perspective.  This sees the linked nature of various forms of exploitation, oppression and alienation[26] under the global capitalist order we live under.  These three ‘plagues’ need to be challenged with a vision and practice based on emancipation, liberation and self-determination in its widest sense. Socialists should uphold a working class united in its diversity.  This also enables us to provide a vision of a future new global order, which encompasses the many peoples of this world., and not see Socialism as the projection of the more limited world of an essentially European/US  working class.   HtWctR goes some way to providing the theories which could assist Socialists in this. It can also help us to avoid other pitfalls.

 

English exceptionalism and Scottish conceits

For those of us brought up in the UK, HtWctR highlights a particular political danger in locating the origins of capitalism exclusively in the agrarian conditions of post-Black Death England.  This can lead to a Left version of English exceptionalism (a frequently unrecognised feature of British Left unionist thinking).  This sets up England as the ideal capitalist model against which all later capitalist developments, in the rest of Europe and beyond, should be judged.  But similar thinking can also be used to establish another Eurocentric view of the world, where English economic development is replaced by the role given to ancient Greek philosophy in other versions of European supremacy.  Both of these approached promote tunnel-vision views, either exaggerating England’s contribution to ‘progressive’ capitalist development or classical Greece’s contribution to ‘western civilisation’.

However, HtWctR  hould also make us more aware of a particular Scottish conceit, which has been associated with both classical political economy and much Left Social Democracy, and official and dissident Communism. The experience of initial capitalist development in Scotland took place later and much more rapidly than in England.  This made the process much more visible.  Several major Scottish thinkers took the lead in Europe in outlining the development of commercial society.  They included Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations with its ‘free markets’; and Lord Kames in his Historical Law Tracts, with its identification of four stages of social development, – hunter gatherer, herder, agricultural and commercial.

Marx’s work on classical political economy and his refinement of the stages of human development to include primitive communist, slave, feudal, capitalist and communist modes of production (sometimes with addition of the ‘dead end’ Asiatic mode), placed many Scottish-born thinkers at the centre of his critiques.  Both the Right’s celebration and the Left’s critique of ‘free trade’ and ‘free’ labour, place capitalist society at the pinnacle of so-far achieved social development. In doing this, they have therefore contributed to another Eurocentric approach, in which Scotland is seen to have played a significant role.

Nearly all those earlier Scottish thinkers saw the 1707 Union as a key step on the road to a commercial/capitalist society.  Scotland’s central place amongst the philosophers and theorists, as well as within the British imperial economy, contributed to the Victorian notion of the primacy of a ‘British road to progress’ in the world.  From such thinking, various ‘British roads to socialism’ were to develop, beginning with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation – later to be renamed the British Socialist Party.

We are still living with their descendants today, whether schooled in the old official Communist Party of Great Britain, its Communist Party (of the no longer so Great) Britain, or by some dissident Communists.  Precisely because of Scotland’s leading role in capitalist development, Scottish unionists, whether from the Right or Left, could place themselves in the vanguard of progress.  They have celebrated their own distinctive Scottish-British part in all this – whether symbolised by the kilt recognised as court dress or by Red Clydeside’s leading role in a British Labour and Socialist movement.  These British unionists have seen any concerns with a distinctive post-1707 Scottish history as being motivated by petty nationalism.  Their own ‘internationalism’ stems from either their British unionist or Comintern links.   It was only with decline of the British Empire, that Britishness, in its hybrid unionist forms, could be more clearly seen as another form of nationalism, albeit one with continued linked imperial or unionist pretensions.  Similarly, the collapse of the USSR undermined the Left unionist appeal of this model.

But the truly global nature of today’s capitalist society outlined in HtWctR, should warn us of the dangers of another Scottish conceit.  Growing numbers of Socialists in Scotland are breaking with their Left British unionist past.  But in the process, many are mainly confining their practice to Scotland.  Although most Left British unionists have not recognised their dependence on the wider ‘intersocietal origins of capitalism’, Socialists who downplay Scotland’s own links with past and current global capitalist developments, tend to become Left Scottish nationalists.  To counter this, it could be argued that many of the arguments used in HtWct provide an argument for Scottish internationalism, which should form the basis for Socialist thinking in Scotland.

 

Scotland, the UK and Europe no longer at the capitalist epicentre

Today Europe, and particularly the Northwestern European archipelago we live in, may appear increasingly peripheral to the centres of world socio-economic developments.  And for those of us in Scotland, either increased provincialisation under Brexit, or the break-up of the UK, could both accentuate this.  Therefore, Socialist thinkers in Scotland would appear to be more in the position of some seventeenth and eighteenth-century Italian city-state philosophers championing Venice’s fading glorious commercial and Renaissance past.  These thinkers were still able to challenge the reactionary Papal States and Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; but they lived in a Mediterranean world, which was no longer at the centre of a wider socio-economic system.  Their city-states were to give way to ‘nation’-states.  They had been marginalised by developments in North Western Europe and the Atlantic.

Today Scotland may seem to be as peripheral in the world scheme of things as the eighteenth-century Italian city-states, but there is an important difference.  As with most other states within the current global corporate order, many migrants or their immediate descendants live and work here.  These include people from Asia, East Africa and Oceania, who hail from those areas in the rising capitalist heartlands of the Pacific and Indian Ocean seaboards.  Here the Chinese promoted ‘Belt and Road Initiative’[27] competes with Indian, Japanese and US based economic initiatives.  Scotland also has migrants from that cockpit of global conflict – the Middle East.

Thinkers from the Italian city-states, inspired by the European Enlightenment, would have to travel to Paris, London or Edinburgh to be heard or have much influence.  Today there is a global flow of scientists, economists, social scientists and cultural figures to universities and colleges throughout the global corporate world, including Scotland.  It’s not so much that Scotland is marginal in today’s world system.  It forms just one of many areas, located throughout the world, where corporate capital has promoted particular activities.  These include the most up-to-date financial institutions, IT and higher education in the quaternary sector and oil and natural gas, the latest in Scotland’s ‘boom and bust’ primary sector, following timber, kelp, coal and iron ore.

 

Migrants and the making of a new ‘internationalism from below’ 

Migrants and their immediate descendants include a growing number of Left scholars.  The two authors of HtWctR, and many of those they draw their theories upon, are amongst their number. They are able to provide a wider perspective, drawing on their own intersocietal experiences.  Corporate capital’s drive to maintain global hegemony is producing its own ‘internationalism from below’ opposition.  And this extends far further than Academia.  This has been highlighted in these islands by significant struggles, e.g. of Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland[28] and the Latin American Workers Association led London cleaners’ strikes.[29]  Such developments enable those of us with longer-standing domestic Scottish connections to develop a shared political practice, which can overcome Brexit provincialisation or national subordination within a corporate capital dominated global order.  We are potentially far more connected than those who confronted the rise of seventeenth and eighteenth-century mercantile capitalism.

Neil Davidson is a very good example of the potential for such links.  He came from the opposite social direction to those in Academia with a recent migrant background.   He had longstanding Scottish roots in Buchan and Aberdeen.  But Neil went out from his job in Glasgow University to address academic and political meetings across the world.  Although a major figure in global Left Academia, Neil always saw the need to push beyond this to ensure that any conferences he was involved in organising were open to political, trade union, community and social campaign activists.

It is a tragedy that Neil took ill on the first evening of the September 2019 conference.  Since his fatal illness overtook him over the next few months, Neil was unable to contribute more fully to the further development and application of the thinking aired at this conference, nor to respond to the thinking of HtWctR.  Neil was non-sectarian in his political approach.[30]  I have always found reading and engaging with Neil’s books an enjoyable experience, because even where there is disagreement, I have learned so much from his scholarly work.  I would very much have appreciated the sort of discussions I had with Neil in various watering holes after political and other events,[31] had he lived to address the arguments put forward in HtWctR.  Socialists currently living in in Scotland have a responsibility to ensure that Neil’s legacy in this regard is carried on.

 

30.5.20 (updated 20.9.20)

 

 

 

References and Footnotes

[1]           Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu, How the West Came to Rule – The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism (HtWctR), (Pluto Books, 2015, London) p. xii.

[2]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 24, 49, 77, 197 and 300.

[3]           Alexander Anievas, Reassessing the Cold War and the Far-Right: Fascist Legacies and the Making of the Liberal International Order after 1945.

[4]           A recent example would be Rodney Stark’s How the West Won.

[5]           HtWctR, op. cit., p. 4.

[6]           HtWctR, op. cit., p. 12.

[7]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 14-22.

[8]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 14-22.

[9]           The theory of ‘subsumption of labour’ is briefly but well explained on p. 17. This is a particular Marxist theory, and hence one that may not be familiar to many in today’s proclaimed ‘post-marxist’ world. However, the distinction between the ‘formal’ and ‘real subsumption of labour’ reflects important differences in the labour regimes workers and others are subjected to, with immediate and practical political consequences.

[10]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 274 and for the full argument, Chapter 3, The Long Thirteenth Century, Structural Crisis, Conjunctural Catastrophe, pp. 64-90.

[11]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 274 and for the full argument, Chapter 3, The Long Thirteenth Century, Structural Crisis, Conjunctural Catastrophe, pp. 64-90.

[12]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 275 and for the full argument, Chapter 5, The Atlantic Sources of European Capitalism, Territorial Sovereignty and the Modern Self, pp. 121-73.

[13]         Chapter 6 addresses The ‘Classical’ Bourgeois Revolutions in the History of Combined and Uneven Development. It has clearly taken some of its inspiration from Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Haymarket Books, 2012, Chicago)

[14]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 275.

[15]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 276 and for the full argument, Chapter 7, Combined Encounter; Dutch Colonisation in Southeast Asia and the Contradictions of ‘Free Labour’, pp. 215-44.

[16]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 276 and for the full argument, Chapter 7, Combined Encounter; Dutch Colonisation in Southeast Asia and the Contradictions of ‘Free Labour’, pp. 215-44.

[17]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 333, footnote 249.

[18]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 333, footnote 249.

[19]         HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 324-6, reference 101, Silvia Federci, Caliban and the Witch.

[20]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[21]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[22]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[23]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 38, Marcus Taylor, footnote 191.

[24]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 282.

[25]         Satnam Virdee, Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, Basingstoke) p. 82. Satnam was also at the conference in Glasgow in September 2019.

[26]         http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/05/07/exploitation-oppression-and-alienation-emancipation-liberation-and-self-determination/

[27]         https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer

[28]         https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer

[29]         http://www.indymedia.ie/article/77562?userlanguage=ga&save_ prefs=true

[30]         Despite our different views on aspects of global and Scottish history, Neil asked me to contribute to No Problem Here – Understanding Racism in Scotland (Luath Press, 2018, Edinburgh) another title, like HtWctR designed to provoke questioning) and to speak at the conference of scholars and activists invited to its launch in Glasgow in 2018. My contribution is entitled ‘Britishness’, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’. A fuller  version of this can be seen at: http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and- the-national-outsider/

[31]         These included the meeting organised by the SSP in 2003, which debated Neil’s Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692-1746 (Pluto Books, 2003, London) and my Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2003/08/03/beyond-broadswords-and-bayonets-2/) and  the meeting organised by the Radical Independence Campaign where we debated ‘For and Against Brexit’. (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/03/01/a-socialist-case-for-leaving-the-eu/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/ 2016/04/12/a-political-comparison-between-the-2012-14-scottish-independence-referendum-and-the-2016-eu-referendum-campaign/)

______________

also see:-

FROM GREY TO RED GRANITE 

VIEWING THE LEFT, THE SCOTTISH QUESTION AND THE NATURE OF THE UK STATE THROUGH THE LENS OF NEIL DAVIDSON’S WRITINGS AND POLITICAL WORK

https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/from-grey-to-red-granite.pdf

 

NEIL DAVIDSON MEMORIAL MEETING, 11.7.20

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Jan 24 2020

THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12TH GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK

Allan Armstrong follows up his article, The Continued Rise of Right National Populism and Reactionary Unionism in the Run-up to the December 12th General Election (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/12/09/the-continued-rise-of-right-populism-and-reactionary-unionism/). He examines the impact of the general election results across the constituent parts of the UK and the prospects for the immediate future. 

 

THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12th GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK

 

 

a)    The three possible outcomes of the December 12th Westminster general election

b)    How Corbyn’s Left social democracy, its complicity in British chauvinism and racism and its support for the UK state helped to pave the way for Johnson

c)    Other factors undermining the Corbynista challenge to Johnson

d)    The election results in England

e)    The election results in Wales

f)     The election results in Scotland

g)    The election results in Northern Ireland

h)    Conclusion

_________________

  Continue reading “THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12TH GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Mar 20 2009

Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:52 pm

The SWP gained some notoriety on the Left when it came out against Opposition to all immigration controls in the pre-split Respect. Now, no longer bound by Galloway’s Left British Unionism, Socialist Worker published the following useful contribution to the debate.

Millions of working people across Britain are fearful and angry at the mounting economic crisis. Manufacturing industry is now shedding jobs at a rate of 30,000 a month.

This week 6,000 workers at drugs giant Glaxo Smith Kline will become the latest victims of the jobs massacre. In the car industry, Honda workers face a shut-down until June.

Now this fear and anger has exploded into unofficial strike action with thousands of workers in oil refineries and power plants walking out.

They are right to want to fight this recession. But the central slogan of the current wave of strike action, British jobs for British workers, targets the wrong people and points in a dangerous direction.

Any demand framed in terms of putting British workers first inevitably paints another set of workers – foreign workers – as the problem.

It pits British workers against Italian, Portuguese and Polish workers. It seeks gains for one group at the expense of the other.

But foreign workers are not to blame for mounting unemployment, rampant subcontracting or worsening pay and conditions on construction sites.

The blame for these things lies squarely with the bosses – of whatever nationality – aided and abetted by neoliberal politicians such as trade secretary Lord Mandelson, the high priest of the free market.

Bad track record

The slogan British jobs for British workers was used by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to New Labour’s conference. As many pointed out at the time, it has a bad track record.

It was used in the 1930s by Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts to justify attacks on Jewish workers in east London and elsewhere. It was used by the National Front in the 1970s to try and force black and Asian workers out of their jobs.

These attempts to play the race card to divide workers have always been cheered on by the right, by successive governments and by the bosses. But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.

The working class of this country is multiracial and most people are proud of that fact. It is made up of people descended from migrants who came here seeking work – whether from Ireland, India, the West Indies or eastern Europe.

In recent years trade union activists in supermarket warehouses, on the buses and, indeed, in the power industry have fought hard to unionise migrant workers and ensure that everyone is paid the same and works under the same conditions – regardless of nationality.

The chorus of British jobs for British workers pulls the rug from under the feet of those who’ve fought to create such unity.

And it can only encourage those elements who want to echo filthy tabloid attacks on migrant workers. It’s no surprise that the Daily Star and Daily Express – papers that never miss a chance to attack workers or migrants – initially welcomed the walkouts.

The real issue is not the nationality of workers, but the imposition of neoliberal regulations across the European Union (EU) that reduced workers’ rights and aided employers in every member state.

Britain’s New Labour government has championed every such piece of neoliberal legislation. Yet it has also insisted on exempting Britain from the few pieces of EU legislation that could have benefited workers – such as caps on the number of hours we work.

Lord Mandelson is now advising British workers to go and get jobs in Europe – echoing Tory minister Norman Tebbit’s advice from the 1980s that the unemployed should get on your bike.

Of course British construction workers should be free to work in Germany or Saudi Arabia, just as workers from abroad should be free to work here. But when Mandelson talks of a “free market” in labour, what he wants is a race to the bottom. He wants Latvian workers to be employed here on Latvian wage rates, subject to Latvian health and safety laws.

That is why tens of thousands of trade unionists across Europe have held sustained and militant protests against the EU’s neoliberal attacks on workplace rights.

Workers from Italy and Portugal want decent jobs and a decent future, just like workers here. They are our brothers and sisters.

We should join their fight to ensure that all workers across Europe get the highest pay rates, the best conditions and the strongest health and safety laws. Focusing on “foreign workers” also lets Gordon Brown and New Labour off the hook. For the past 12 years they have continued Margaret Thatcher’s work.

They told us it did not matter that manufacturing jobs were disappearing, because Britain was becoming a global financial centre instead. That was before the banks went bust, of course.

They have kept Thatcher’s anti trade union laws intact and continued to privatise our public services. New Labour gave bosses the key to 10 Downing Street, but treated trade unions with contempt. And far too many in the trade union leadership have gone meekly along with this treatment – or even, shamefully, encouraged the British jobs for British workers slogan.

Mounting anger

Anger over how working people have been treated has been mounting and is now threatening to explode. The current walkouts are a symptom of that. And they have shown that unofficial strike action is an effective way to fight.

But think how effective it would have been if trade unions had led such walkouts over job cuts, subcontracting and factory closures, rather than over foreign workers. Such militant action could force Brown to act quickly.

On Friday of last week 400 members of the Unite trade union in Ireland occupied the Waterford Crystal factory to stop its closure. In the same week 2.5 million French workers struck over jobs, wages and pensions, refusing to pay the cost of the bosses’ crisis.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of a global recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided by racism or nationalist sentiment.

We need a united fight that targets the real culprits – the bankers, the multinationals, the politicians. Let’s turn the anger on those truly responsible for this dreadful recession.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Mar 20 2009

Brown’s Appeal To British Chauvinism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:44 pm

Mary McGregor highlights the dangers to the working class movement of Brown’s speech to the TUC.

I remember hearing the report of Gordon Brown’s speech to the TUC in 2007 and the phrase British jobs for British workers. As someone who has tried to fight the rise of nationalism, chauvinism and fascism all my adult life, I recall a lurching in my stomach and a fearful yet undefined premonition of things to come.

I should not, of course, have been surprised. On the brink of recession and the worst crisis of capitalism seen by my generation, the phenomenon of Labour Nationalism was an inevitable reaction by an unprincipled party out to opportunistically save as much face as possible. A party with clearly no economic or political solutions to crisis, which is as inevitable as the rise of capitalism itself. You would think all these once-upon-a-time firebrands would remember some basic Marxist analysis?

I also remember being astounded by the irresponsibility of using such a phrase – at that time I was unaware that it had been used by Mosley but it was near enough BNP speak to make even the most wishy-washy, liberal, official, anti racist recoil in disgust. Brown was well aware that in the coming months, if he was to stay in power, he would have to keep the unions and organised workers on his side and he was prepared to appeal to latent chauvinism and racism in order to do so.

The fact that the phrase has come back to bite Brown on the bum is small consolation when we look at the wider ramifications of what has happened in the first weeks of 2009.

The background is now familiar to most people. Workers at the Lindsey refinery, when faced with a sub-contracted workforce, made up entirely of Italian labour threatening wages and conditions, was too much to thole. The walkout was followed by a series of militant wildcat strikes which spread across the country and which felt like the first real fight back to the so called credit crunch by organised workers. Normally the left would have been organising buses of supporters to join the picket lines and been urging the strikes and the focus of the strikes to spread beyond that of a dispute in a single industry on a single issue. But this was not ordinary because the uniting slogan – British Jobs for British Workers – Brown’s wee mantra from the past – had a real, practical and potentially malevolent connotation.

The strikers deserved our support. It was a dispute about conditions and wages. No one believes the lies that it was possible to bring in the workforce and put them up in a virtual prison ship, so they did not mix with their British counterparts, and at the same time stick to established wage agreements. It was embarrassing seeing the bosses try to dissemble and use ham fisted sophistry to try to convince the public otherwise.

But when you believe in no borders, the freedom of movement for all workers, an end to immigration controls, and the acceptance of all people as brothers and sisters in struggle, then the gap between the rhetoric of the left, and the slogan used so often by the right, represented a chasm for many on the left to bridge.

Impact on consciousness

The dispute showed once more just how weak the left in Britain is; and how we need to deepen our theoretical understanding of not just the nature of capitalism but the nature of people too. We constantly expect people to react as if they too had been reading Marx for years and are inherently socialist at heart. We delude ourselves about ‘the nature of the working class’ as if it is a homogeneous and consistently progressive force. We constantly fail to understand that if people are continually living in a state constructed climate of fear then it will have a material effect on their consciousness, whether the fear is about so called terror threats, or about the fact that their jobs, savings and pensions may go down the Swanney, at any moment. And although many strikers used the slogan ironically to get at Brown, we must realise that the impact on consciousness of campaigning under such a slogan is negative indeed.

The dispute was resolved, not on the basis of good wages and conditions for all workers, but on the basis of Half of the British Jobs for British Workers! and we will put up with poorer wages and conditions for the Italian workforce. Not the positive outcome anyone wanted and not the starting point for the fight against flailing capitalism that we hoped it would be.

The ramifications of this dispute go even further. As well as showing the weakness of the Left, the impotence of trade union officials and the opportunism of New Labour, who all but labelled the workers racist and told them to get back to work, it has given the BNP something extra to bite on.

The BNP are on a bit of a roll at the moment. Election victory in Swanley, Kent, and a close call in Thringstone, Leicestershire has the official anti fascist establishment reeling. Much wringing of hands and calls for broad fronts to stop the BNP getting a predicted 2 seats in the European elections. I can hear the unprincipled calling for an unprincipled lash up under the banner Anyone bar the BNP. Now I want to stop the BNP in its tracks but I know that this can only be done by offering political alternatives to chauvinism and racism, which divides the working class. It will not be done by the same people who coined the slogan “British Jobs For British Workers” now claiming when the going gets really tough they didn’t really mean it!

As Labour scrambles to revive capitalism by bailing out banks and financial institutions while workers face austerity and despair, why would anyone trust them when they say that the BNP is not the way?

It is much harder to defeat the BNP ideologically now than it was in the 70s and 80s, because the BNP is more sophisticated, populist and plausible. No more crude cartoons of black men who were allegedly out to rob and rape at any opportunity. No attacks on the Irish under the guise of being tough on terror and no more crude, up front demands to repatriate anyone who is not white.

Dangerous flirtations

Labour was never averse to resorting to cheap racism in the past, as their attacks on Kenyan and Ugandan Asians in the 1960’s showed. However, today’s New Labour, involved in five imperialist wars, and constantly attacking asylum seekers and ‘illegal’ migrant workers, has created a climate in which ‘polite’ racism is becoming more acceptable, and vulgar racism can thrive once more. When London dockers marched behind the racist anti-immigrantTory, Enoch Powell, in 1967, it took several years work by committed socialists to turn this legacy round; so that the ‘Pentonville Five’ dockers, jailed for their defiance of the Industrial Relations Act, rightly took their place in the forefront of the struggle against Heath’s Tory government in 1972.

When trade union leaders, like UNITE’s Derek Simpson, also flirt with dangerous slogans like “British jobs for British workers”, socialists have a much greater job on their hands. Simpson ‘earns’ £126, 939 annually, as well as having a virtually free house at union expense in London. It is not only the BNP and New Labour, we need to oppose, but all those hypocrites in our movement. This means winning the battle for democracy in our unions, alongside the development of real internationalism.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,