Apr 09 2019

BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM

The following article, written by Allan Armstrong, is the second last chapter of his new book, From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit – The Forging and the Break-up of the UK  and Britishnessness.  Anybody who would like a pdf copy of the book send an e-mail to intfrobel@yahoo.com

 

BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM

 

From the ‘Peoples Vote’ demonstration in London on 23.3.19

The 2016 Euro-referendum highlighted the divisions that had emerged amongst the British ruling class over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU). But it was the 2007/8 Financial Crisis which bought about the preconditions for this split. This crisis showed that the UK economy wasn’t bearing up too well, and British politicians could see that their influence amongst the Council of Ministers on the top table of the EU was shrinking. Continue reading “BREXIT AND THE RISE OF RIGHT NATIONAL POPULISM FOLLOWING THE 2016 EURO-REFERENDUM”

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Jan 25 2019

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE CONFERENCE, 10.12.18, LONDON

 

Allan Armstrong, who attended the ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ conference in London, as a representative from the Campaign for European Republican Socialist Party, makes his political assessment of the event.

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE CONFERENCE, 10.12.18, LONDON

 

The Left in the UK has not only been hopelessly divided over Brexit, but marginal to Leave/Remain politics. When Brexit is the all-dominant political issue of the day, that is an indication of the Left’s failure. Leave politics have been left in the hands of the Tory Right, the national populist UKIP, DUP, other Loyalists, and the far right BNP, EDL, SDL and WDL on the Brexit side; and Remain in the hands of the neo-liberal Conservatives, Labour Right and Lib-Dems and the constitutional nationalist, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and SDLP on the other.

For the most part, Left Leavers and Left Remainers have preferred to slag each other off online, or in their respective journals. Until recently, neither Left Leavers/Lexiters  [1] nor Left Remainers made any real attempt to take their argument on to the streets. This despite the fact that the Lexiters in the UK outside the Labour Party (with the ageing Left Brexiter CPB still retaining some influence upon the trade union bureaucracy), with  the SWP having a record of being able to mobilise large numbers in the earlier anti-war and anti-G8 protests.

The Lexiters got the Leave vote they wanted, but not in the areas they had mainly raised the issue – London and some university cities. These delivered a Remain vote! The Socialist Workers Party  and the Socialist Party both claim to be part of internationals, but the very British nature of their Lexit ‘campaign’ was underlined by their failure to bring over any comrades from elsewhere in Europe to tour the country to put an ‘internationalist’ case for Lexit.  Perhaps they did realise that  this would be rather difficult, However, that former darling of the Left, the ever self-promoting, Left British populist George Galloway, was never burdened by any such international pretensions, and characteristically threw himself into he arms of Nigel Farage’s and ‘Grassroots Leave’  along with  Labour Right populist, Kate Hoey. This was a step too far for many Lexiters, but it got Galloway the publicity he craved, whereas few people outside the Left came into contact with the Lexiters.

But there was a brief period following the Brexit vote, when UKIP imploded and the Tories were caught up in internal battles. This was supposed to be the situation, Lexiters had anticipated, which would represent a major victory for the working class and a decisive defeat for the British ruling class. To the Left Brexiters  and the Lexiters, the further Right in UKIP was seen to be of little wider political significance, but acted as a conduit for working class protest votes. So once Cameron was defeated and UKIP rendered irrelevant, the Left could breakthrough into the political space left by a shattered Tory party.

Theoretically, the Lexiters should have celebrated ‘their victory’ on June 23rd 2016 and organised demonstrations on the streets, in a move to take the political lead of the Brexit campaign. But they had never really attempted to relate politically to Brexit voters in areas that were to vote to Leave. And, they had made little attempt to relate to those migrant workers also living in these areas, who were always going to be amongst the first victims of any Brexit vote. That would have sent a mixed message to the majority of potential Brexit voters.

So any non-racist Brexit voters living in the Leave voting areas remained passive, leaving the Right Brexiters  the Tory Right’s official ‘Vote Leave’ and Farage’s unofficial ‘Grassroots Out’ unchallenged. Despite their differences, these two campaigns worked in a symbiotic relationship, driving the political agenda further to the Right. This was quite inevitable given the political origins of the Brexit campaign on the Right, and the rampant British chauvinism it always promoted. Given the balance of forces, Left Brexiters and Lexiters could only ever have contributed to the Right’s victory. This was the experience of  not only the  Left unionist  Red Paper Collective, the Left populist, ‘Just Say Naw’, George Galloway but also  the liberal unionist, Gordon Brown, after they joined the wider British unionist alliance to oppose Scottish independence between 2012-14.

Brexit, with its powerful Right wing backers, was associated in most people’s minds – Leavers and Remainers – with ‘Take back control’ – strengthening the UK state and cutting back on immigration. And these were the two key issues pushed by the very well-financed Brexit campaigns. And the Leave vote certainly boosted those political forces throughout the UK that are openly British chauvinist and/or racist. The deaths of Jo Cox MP, Arek Jozwik and Dagmara Przybysz highlighted this, as anti-migrant sentiment soared.

But so thrown were the Lexiters that they had not considered that David Cameron’s ‘defeated’ Tories, would be able to reconstitute themselves as Theresa May’s ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ Tories.  All the political initiative with regard to Brexit came from even further Right. But the Lexiters did realise, at least subconsciously, following the Leave vote, that if they had organised any demos, the sort of people who would most likely turn up were not likely to be attracted to the Left’s politics! Therefore, once more, they kept their Lexit ‘campaign’ off the streets, and confined their activities over this issue to a continuous litany of ‘EU-bad’ articles in their journals or at Left events.

After the Lexiters’  abandonment of their  cheer-leading for Leave, they turned instead to campaigning against austerity and standing up to racism (just ignoring the Brexiteers’ role in contributing to the well-documented spike in racism). And once official politics were reconfigured, under the revamped Conservative Party, the non-Labour Brexit Left – the Lexiters – became even more marginal. Therefore, it was Farage’s national populist supporters and the various elements of the Far Right, including Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson), which took to the streets again. Lexiters made themselves scarce as Lexiters, reappearing instead as anti-racists, but now forced to confront significantly larger street mobilisations of the Far Right, strengthened by the Brexit vote.

However, the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and the surge in Labour Party membership,  provided a new lifeline for the Lexiters. Corbyn declared his intention to honour the Brexit vote, and gathered around him an inner clique of long time Left Europhobes, e,g. Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray from an old CBGB/CPB background,  Len McCluskey, UNITE general secretary and Karie Murphy, his close ally. But Corbyn and Corbyn supporting MPs also joined the Right of the Labour Party, in dropping any commitment to retaining the free movement of workers within the EU. Thus they provided cover for one of the central aims of the Right Brexiters, which was to ditch such free movement, and replace it with a version of the former  German gastarbeiter system, underpinned by the draconian 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. The Lexiters downplayed the British chauvinism and more shame-faced racism of the Labour Left Brexiters, with their “non-racist immigration” controls. “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” was taken up by many on the British Left beyond the recent Labour Left intake.

Corbyn’s now pro-Brexit call to respect the ‘democracy’ of the referendum also accepted the anti-democratic exclusion of EU residents and 16-18 year olds, despite such an electoral precedent having been established by the same Cameron Tory government, over the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. And the first suspicions were soon raised that the Brexit campaign had broken the official electoral finance rules, and resorted to ‘dark money’ channelled from the hard Right in the USA  through the UK’s offshore tax havens.[2] However, for Corbyn and his immediate pro-Brexit Left Labour coterie, a cheap appeal to the populist faux-democracy of the Right overrode any championing of genuine democracy.

In the old years of New Labour supremacy, when the Blairite machine controlled the official party, a few Labour Left MPs, like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, sometimes had to defy the party leadership’s voting instructions at Westminster, in order to oppose the Tories. However, following the Brexit vote, it has been Jeremy Corbyn and his political machine that has been locked into wheeling and dealing with May’s Tories, over a possible Brexit deal.  All the Corbyn supporting MPs joined with Centre and many Right Labour MPs, and the DUP MPs, to vote with May’s Tories in initiating Section 50 withdrawal from the EU on January  31st 2017. But in a turning of the tables, 49 Right and some Centre Labour MPs joined the last Europhile Conservative, Ken Clarke, the Lib-Dems, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to vote against the Tories’ dash for Brexit.

Furthermore, May had offered no coherent negotiating stance, just a series of ‘red lines’ to placate the further Right. So, in the absence of any Labour alternative, the effect of 498/114 Westminster Section 50 vote was to move politics towards a considerably harder Brexit. From this point on, Labour’s lack of any effective opposition strengthened May’s position (also buttressed by the state’s bureaucratic Crown Powers), with the main opposition coming from the even further Right, centred round Boris Johnson, William Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group (ERG) and the DUP.

Yet, despite this ominous turn, May’s apparent setback, when she called a general election in June 2017, caused much celebration on the British Left.  But Corbyn’s unexpectedly good-showing (he started from a very low base of expectation after the drubbing Labour received in the May 2017 local elections in England) disguised the nature of Labour’s electoral gains. Most Westminster seats were won in strong Remain areas, whilst Labour lost seven long-held seats in Leave voting areas to the Tories.

Since then, the overriding priority of Corbyn and his closest allies has been for Labour to win the next general election. For them this means bending over backwards to accommodate the Right in the Labour Party in the name of party unity. On abandoning the free movement of labour within the EU, they were already united.  Now, though to further placate the Right, Corbyn and his allies have bowed before the bogus ‘anti-semitism’ (in reality pro-apartheid Israel) campaign and have opposed mandatory reselection of Westminster candidates. The Tory Right is likely to be far less accommodating to the shrinking band of Remainers in their ranks. The Tories are seeking greater ideological coherence around a considerably more Right wing platform, and any Tory Remainers can either fall into line or just get lost. The Tory Right understand that having only paper party unity undermines their longer term political aims, and whatever unseemly blood-letting is required to achieve unity around a new further Right politics is a cost worth paying.

The Tories weren’t even fazed by the apparent set-back in the 2017 Westminster election. Far from back-pedalling and falling back on some softer Brexit (but still one which would have allowed them to introduce a new gastarbeiter system of migrant control), they lined up with the even more Right wing, national populist and reactionary unionist, Ulster-British, DUP. For, one of the first jobs to be done under ‘taking back control’ was to strengthen the Union. May brought back the old Conservative and Unionist Party label, in a further Right attempt to roll back the democratic challenge to the UK state signalled by the unexpectedly large Scottish independence vote on September 14th, 2014. Back then, within hours of the ‘No’ vote, Cameron had ditched his liberal unionist Scottish Labour cover in ‘Better Together’, provided by Labour, in particular, Gordon Brown, and begun the Tories’ own reactionary unionist counter-offensive. This was signalled by his announcement of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ designed to woo the Tory Right and UKIP.

This was done to prepare the grounds for an in-house Tory debate between the increasingly Eurosceptic Remainer and Europhobe Leaver wings of the party. Unfortunately for Cameron, in June 2016, it was the further Right who won out this time. His latest version of ‘Project Fear, first directed at those seeking Scottish independence, made so many concessions to the Right Brexiters , particularly with regard to immigration, that it was the their  ‘Project Hate’ which won out the second time. And, if Corbyn hoped that by accepting the ‘democratic will’ of the 2016 vote, he would undercut the Tories, he was soon to be disillusioned. Theresa May and Sajid Javid, amongst many other Tories, also flipped from Remain to Brexit, and , in the process, helped the hard Brexiteers push politics considerably further to the Right than a hapless Corbyn had ever envisaged, Now it was  ‘No Deal is Better than  a Bad Deal”.  Brexiters had never mentioned  ‘No Deal’ in the referendum campaign. Corbyn, by giving the anti-democratic 2016 referendum legitimacy, found that the the content of what that ‘democratic’ referendum vote meant became more and more defined by the hard Right – ‘Leave Means Leave’, and that also meant whatever they said it meant. Thus since 2016, Corbyn has been used and duped by the Tories, just as Brown was in 2o14.

Whilst  the Tory Party was reuniting around a further Right platform, Corbyn and his closest advisors fell back on the one thing they had learned from New Labour spin doctors – the ‘black arts’ of political triangulation. These were particularly appealing to Corbyn’s close coterie of Brexiters. They calculated that sitting on the fence over Leave/Remain was the best way of holding on to the new Labour intake, mainly young Remainers. Yet many of these new members began to see that such fence sitting just permitted May, now in alliance with the DUP, to preside over a continuous Rightwards shift in the government’s Brexit stance. This has pushed some Left Remainers in the Labour Party towards the sharper Remain  stance of the Green Party, whilst other new less politically aware Labour voters, following  the more established neo-Blairites, have turned to the Lib-Dem Remainers. This is a consequence of Corbyn leaving  May, Johnston and Rees-Mogg largely unchallenged over Brexit, and the once unheard of prospect of ‘No Deal’ became a  possibility.

Eventually, the disparity between the minority of Left Brexit supporters in the Labour party, no matter how well entrenched within Corbyn’s ‘inner cabal,’ and the new largely Left Remain supporters, was bound to make its weight felt within the party. And so it proved at the September 2018 Labour conference. An even messier position was adopted to hold together all the factions of the Labour Party for the next general election they sought above all else. This stitch-up had to accommodate UKIP-‘Lite’ (e.g. Tom Harris), ‘Left’ Brexiter (e.g. Milne and McCluskey) and Brexit voter-accommodating Leavers (e.g. Corbyn and McDonnell) on one side, and the neo-liberal Right (Chuka Umanna and Sir Keith Starmer) and the new Left Remainers (still without a prominent advocate) on the other.

Left Remainers were not satisfied. Many knew full well that the Labour Right ‘s Eurosceptic Remainers are as opposed to full free movement of workers from the EU as any Labour Brexiter. They also appreciated that the Labour Right, neo-liberal Remainers want a return to the full Blairite control of the party, where policy-making is for ‘neutral’ experts tested out first on non-party focus groups, whilst members take their orders, pay their dues and knock on doors at election time. So some Left Remainers began to organise. They revived a campaign, which had originally been launched in The Guardian, in the run-up to the 2016 Euro-referendum – ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ (AEiP). Consciously, or unconsciously, AEiP had adopted a key slogan of the Radical Independence Campaign from the 2014 Scottish IndyRef – ‘Another Scotland is Possible’, ‘Another Europe is Possible’, ‘Another World is Possible’.

However, as in the February 2017 vote to initiate Section 50, it was the Labour Right who first turned to the tactic of the old much diminished Labour Left in the years of Blair and Browns’ New Labour supremacy – defy the party leadership. And they planned to take to the streets! They backed a ‘Peoples Vote’ march on London on October 6th 2018.  This united  those wanting to rerun the 2016 EU referendum, and those wanting a ratification referendum on any May deal. As well as Labour Right and Centre, Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan, the ‘Peoples Vote’ platform included the Lib-Dem’s, Vince Cable, supplemented to right by the Conservative’s Anna Soubry and to the left by the Greens’ Caroline Lucas and by the constitutional nationalist SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (via videolink).

The carnival-like atmosphere and the composition of the 700,000 marchers, who attended the October 6th demo, were in many ways like the earlier anti-Trump demos. However, the ‘Peoples Vote’ platform was more like that of the 2005 ‘Make Poverty History’ demo in Edinburgh, coinciding with the Gleneagles G8 conference – it was politically liberal. It was appealing to ‘our’ British ruling class to show some moral purpose and see sense. The anti-Brexit platform party wants the British ruling class to abandon the path chosen by the increasingly Right Brexiteers, and return to the ‘good old days’ of  ‘peace and prosperity’ within the EU. Their nostalgic vision shared the myopia of the Brexiteers, who instead invoked Empire2 on the Right and the long-gone ‘Spirit of 45’  (thank you, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown!) on the Left.

The huge ‘People’s Vote’ march coincided with Nigel Farage’s ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally in Harrogate. 1200 people attended this march, a number that should surely not have daunted any Lexiters who wanted to put across their ‘alternative’ to the public. But they continued to refuse any public demonstration of their Brexit ‘vision’, which it has to be admitted is decidedly murky anyhow! Instead they now mainly confine themselves to urging Corbyn and Labour to stick firm on Brexit. They are reassured by Corbyn’s inner coterie of Brexiters. They certainly do not oppose this group’s bureaucratic methods of stifling genuine debate, many of which they also share, in their own much smaller political organisations.

However, on the October 6th demo, just as there had been a significant independent, red-shirted, Left contingent on the 2005 ‘Make Poverty History’, so there was organised Left contingent on the ‘Peoples Vote’ demo in London. In Edinburgh they had mobilised around ‘Make Capitalism History’ banner. In London they mobilised around the ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ banner.

The success of the October 6th demo, spurred the AEiP organisers of to prepare for a conference in London on December 10th. However, both in the lead up to, and on the day of the conference, it became obvious that they were really more interested in organising a ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ campaign, confined to the Labour Party in England. Yet key AEiP organisers were already aware of the distinctive political situation in Scotland following their visit to Glasgow in August.[3] The Campaign for a European Socialist Republican Party (CfaESRP) suggested that the December 10th event should address the distinctive anti-Brexit situations in Scotland, Wales, and especially Ireland the better to unite the Left opposition to Brexit on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis and counter the reactionary unionist wing of the British ruling class’s own all-UK and indeed all-islands strategy. After an initial promise to do so, the AEiP organisers dropped the CfaESR proposal without an adequate explanation.

The Labour Party is not at the centre of anti-neo-liberal, anti-Brexit politics in Scotland or Wales, and doesn’t even officially exist in Northern Ireland. However, the AEiP organisers thought that Scotland and Wales could now be addressed by a mere rewording – using the word ‘Britain’ to disguise the lack of any political perspective beyond England. And they seemed to be oblivious to the existence of the UK state, which also incorporates Northern Ireland. The fact that the Borders Communities Against Brexit is the most broadly based anti-Brexit campaign in the UK and these islands, and the ‘Irish backstop’ has proved to be the most controversial issue around Brexit, seemed to be of even less concern to the British Left AEiP organisers than it is to the Jacob Rees Mogg’s, Brit Right European Research Group, although even they recognise the issue but pretend to see the ‘backstop’ as only a technical problem.

The sad thing is that the Right has a more coherent vision of their future, and how to organise in the constituent parts of the UK, than the British Left. The national populist UKIP, when it was still a significant political force, was united around a reactionary British unionist vision, and organised and was politically represented in all four constituent parts of the UK. Whilst the Tory Right supplement their UK-wide Westminster Brexit strategy, with the activities of their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Secretaries, the Tory leaders in Scotland and Wales, and the DUP at Westminster and from the suspended Stormont.

Another opportunity was presented when the AEiP organisers sent out their draft Strategy Paper for the conference. The CfaESRP submitted three sets of proposals (see the Strategy paper and suggested Amendments in the Appendix). The first situated Brexit in the context of the global drift to Right national populist politics, highlighted by Donald Trump’s ‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’ US presidential victory. This oversight by the Strategy Paper drafters was recognised and the CfaESRP amendments covering this were accepted without debate.

But when it came to the series of AEiP amendments addressing the different situations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland/Ireland, and the dangers of a strengthened UK state and the rise in British chauvinism, these were all rejected in favour of maintaining a conscious British Left orientation. This, in practice, accepts the existing UK state (or at least the Great British part of it) as a viable  political framework, and is also largely confined to England and the Labour Party (albeit with a brief nod to the Green Party of England and Wales). For the conference organisers, appeals to  ‘Love Jeremy/Hate Brexit’ sentiment seemed to override meaningful strategic thinking.

No attempt was made to justify this politically. The chair just rushed through the proceedings, seeing to  view the CFaESRP amendments as a distraction, which were holding things up. The amendment movers were given so little time, that very few in the conference with their British Left background, could appreciate the issues being raised. If the issues had been properly considered, with a prior educational session as requested, and more time for debate been allotted, many might have voted differently  Some more questioning and more curious people  came up to the CfaESRP speakers after the conference. After discussion, they began to see what the issues really were.

However there was also a number of intransigent Brit Left ultra-unionists at the conference. But they  soon realised  that they could depend on the rushed nature of the Strategy Paper debate, so they refrained from opening up the brief discussion allotted over the nature of the UK state, British chauvinism and the different political situations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Andrew Coates left it to third CfESRP set of amendments, which addressed the still semi-Francoist, Spanish unionist state suppression of the right of Catalans to national self-determination, following the Catalan Republic referendum on October 1st 2017. He made  a contribution, which sounded much like that of a Vox supporter, in his diatribes against Catalan politicians. No chance being given for a reply and  he persuaded the conference not to accept the amendment. Coates just accepts the idea of the EU as a treaty alliance of existing states, which includes imperialist and unionist states, just as he accepts the UK state as forming an adequate basis for advancing his Left social democratic politics. You got the distinct impression that his speech in support of the Spanish monarchist union was a surrogate for the speech he night have preferred to have made earlier to support a strengthened UK and the British union.

Although the CfaESRP proposal for a prior workshop on ‘Britain’/UK had been rejected, three other simultaneous workshops had been agreed to, prior to the Strategy Paper debates. One of these was entitled ‘Understanding Lexit: what is happening to the British Left?’ Here the shortcomings of the anti-Brexit, Brit Left were highlighted. A significant contribution was made by an Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) speaker. How was Corbyn’s pro-Brexit stance to be explained to so many admirers, dressed up in their ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ T-shirts? He put it all down to the influence of Corbyn’s inner clique of “stalinist” supporters – e.g. Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, formerly of the CPB – who had long subscribed to the ‘British road to socialism’.

However, the AWL  also adhere to their own British social unionist politics over Ireland and Scotland (and social imperialist politics elsewhere – Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq). The ‘British road to socialism’ is not just some Stalinist import, but has been hardwired into the British Labour Party from the days of Keir Hardie, and amongst British Marxists from the days of Henry Hyndman  – as has support for British imperialism. And the AWL’s own Momentum blog cheerfully adopts the name Clarion. This was the name of the very English/British socialist paper produced by Robert Blatchford in the early twentieth century. He wrote England for the English, later republished as Britain for the British, and supported the Boer and First World wars. So the AWL is even more firmly esconsed on the ‘British road to socialism’ than the old CPGB/CPB!

Worse still, in the AWL’s current apologetics for the Israeli state and the Zionist-backed, Right onslaught on Corbyn supporters (to which ironically some of their own members and ex-members have fallen prey to), has contributed, in their own small way, to an opening for the Far Right. Yaxley-Lennon and Katie Hopkins see Israel’s new Jewish supremacist Nationality Law (June 2018) as the precedent they want for a British supremacist nationality law for the UK. If the CPB’s politics open the door to some decidedly unsavoury Red/Brown alliances (with Putin’s Russia Today operating as a significant media coordinator), the same can be said for the AWL. Only they look to different Left/Right alliances.

But the social unionist (and imperialist), Brit Left politics of the AWL and some on the Labour Left did not dominate the conference. Socialist Resistance (SR) and the now much depleted Left Unity Party (LUP) were also there in some numbers. However, they only reacted strongly to a social unionist amendment from Liam McNulty (ex-AWL) in the Strategy Paper to provide defence for the non-existent British-Irish (these are the unionists who call themselves either ‘Ulster’- British or Northern Ireland British). This provoked Joe Healy (LUP) to oppose and he was successful in this.  But, when it came to the other debates, in which SR and some LUP members probably personally agreed with many of the CfaERSP amendments, they remained silent. The key thing was to keep the ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ roadshow going. Unfortunately, SR and the LUP have a record of prevaricating when clear political decisions are required. This was shown during the Scottish Independence referendum campaign. Such thinking contributes towards British Left’s inability to see the continuity between the British ruling class’s reactionary unionist offensive after September 18th, 2014 and the Right Brexit offensive straight afterwards, and the key role Northern Ireland/Ireland and Scotland has played in this.

There were some positive aspects to the conference, including a speaker from the European Left  – Marina Prentoulis from Greece, and Emiliano Mellino, a migrant worker involved in the IWGB. He emphasised the importance of the still remaining EU laws underpinning workers’ rights. The IWGB had been able to fall back on these successfully when defending migrant worker’s cases dismissed in the UK courts.

Therefore it was a great pity that AEiP could not constitute itself as an all-islands, Left anti-Brexit organisation on December 10th. It remains to be seen if AEiP’s attempt to organise from a mainly England and Labour Party base can mobilise significant numbers.  It is likely that the contradictions and illusions conjured up by the ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ mantra are not going to be resolved. However politically misplaced the SWP and its splinter organisations, their  ‘Love Corbyn/Love Brexit’ is more consistent with his politics. But the Left should long have gotten over its creation of ‘socialist icons’ – Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan and now ‘Oh Jeremy’ – and have started to organise around its own clear politics – socialist republican and internationalist. If another Europe is to be truly possible, then the Left not only needs to provide its own vision, but recognise the reactionary nature of the UK state [4].

Allan Armstrong, 20.1.19

 

 

References

[1]          The term ‘Left Brexiters’ to cover two distinct groups. The first, the Left populists, comes from the CPGB/CP tradition of Left British nationalist hostility to the EEC/EU. This is underpinned by the old CPGB vision of a ‘British Road to Socialism’ and fond memories of USSR/UK collaboration against the German Nazis during the Second World War.

The second group, the Lexiters, come mainly from the SWP tradition. They hold some reservations about the Left populists’ belief in ‘non-racial’ immigration controls, but rather than clearly campaigning against all migration controls, they prefer just to brush the issue under the carpet (as during the formation of Respect, where Left populist, ‘non-racial’ immigration laws supporter George Galloway had to be accommodated). Like the CPGB though, they see the British imperialist, unionist and Crown Powers based UK state to be some defence against the EU’s neo-liberalism!

[2]          Later open democracy and Carole Cadwalladr were to expose the very strong likelihood official Brexit campaign had broken the electoral finance rules, and resorted to dark money from the DUP and from the hard Right in the USA channelled  through the UK’s offshore tax havens (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts/and https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/24/brexit-whistleblower-shahmir-sanni-interview-vote-leave-cambridge-analytica)

[3]          Allan Armstrong (CfaERSP and Radical ~Independence Campaign – Edinburgh) had first come across AEiP, when two of its leading organisers, Kirsty Haigh (Global Justice Now) and Michael Chessum (Labour Party and Momentum) spoke at a meeting in Glasgow on August 30th 2018 organised by the Left Against Brexit. AEiP posted Allan’s report of the meeting on their blog:- https://www.anothereurope.org/holyrood-must-take-the-lead/

[4]          The Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party distributed a leaflet which argued this case.

 

Allan Armstrong, 20.1.19

 

_____________

APPENDIX

 

The Campaign for a European Socialist Republican Party (CfaERSP) made the proposed amendments shown in bold. However, those underlined were defeated, whilst the words deleted in the CfaERSP amendments were retained.

 

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE 

OUR  STRATEGY

Another Europe’s strategy and activities are guided by our aims and principles, which are a part of our constitution. This document is designed as a broad overview of our strategy, and does not include every planned activity. However, if members wish to put forward proposals for specific activities they are free to do so.

  1. Our immediate strategy 

Brexit is a project whose aim is to deregulate the economy, undermine rights and protections, and end free movement and to strengthen the UK state.It is an attack on public services, the NHS, working class people and the communities which the left is supposed to represent. It is build on a narrative of racist scapegoating, and it legitimises right wing narratives on migration and nationalism. Brexit would also reinforce UK dependence on the US corporate business interests, the US state and NATO, leading to increased spending.

In contrast to the franchise agreed by the Conservative government in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum excluded EU residents and 16 and 17 year olds. By these racist and anti-youth concessions to the Right, their illegal overspend and unaccounted sources of finance, a narrow majority for Leave was obtained in England and Wales, whilst Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by larger majorities to Remain.

We do not write off all those who voted Leave, or believe that they are all racists, though we must not fall into the trap of denying the role played by racist attitudes and anti-immigration rhetoric and the appeal to British chauvinism of ‘take back control’. But we disagree with this decision, and we challenge both the final legitimacy of the vote and the idea that there is any mandate for any particular form of Brexit. In a democratic society, we have the collective right to change our minds and persuade others. We assert that right, and demand a referendum on the terms of the negotiated deal – or no deal, if that is what we are left with – with an option to remain in the EU.

The vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will be put to a vote of MPs on Tuesday December 11th. It is likely that it will fall, and that the political crisis will intensify. The voting down of the government’s deal marks an important point in our strategy. The defeat of the deal will open up a space in which either a general election or a fresh referendum are very likely. It may be necessary to extend Article 50 in order to do either of these.

While we are a proudly cross-party campaign, we understand that the position of the Labour Party particularly in England and Waleswill remain pivotal. We have already had a great deal of success in this. While we did not get everything we wanted, our unprecedented campaign in the run up to Labour conference established a sequential logic in Labour policy which is now playing out: to vote against the deal, to demand an election, and to then keep all options on the table including a public vote. Shifting Labour is not just the work of Labour members. The work done by other parties, for instance the Green Party, has been important in pushing Labour forwards.

Our aim now is to ensure that, whatever happens next, the people get the final say. In the event that a general election happens, we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that there is a majority in the new parliament in favour of calling a referendum. Practically speaking, this means campaigning for Labour to have a manifesto commitment to one, and campaigning against the Tories (in the same way that we did in 2017).

If there is a general election, it will be necessary to mobilise a massive campaign inside the Labour Party to demand that the party takes a position against Brexit, in favour of a fresh referendum, and in favour of transforming Europe. It will also be necessary for Labour members who hold this perspective to organise a strong anti-Brexit voice within the Labour campaign. We have been effective at mobilising significant numbers of Labour Party members for our campaigns. However, we are a cross-party organisation, and we must guard against Another Europe’s output being completely dominated by campaigns focused on Labour.

In the dynamic of an election campaign, any campaign aimed at changing Labour’s policy must be free to unequivocally support Labour, which Another Europe cannot do. We will therefore support the creation of a freestanding, independent campaign, open to all Labour members and supporters, with the aim of ensuring that Labour takes the right position, and which allows Labour members who are against Brexit to have a platform in the campaign and a programme of activities.

Assuming that the deal falls and there is no election, a likelihood given the Fixed Term Parliament Act we will continue and escalate our public campaign for a fresh referendum. We need to convince MPs, but our strategy is not just about lobbying. We need bottom-up pressure from constituents, from within the labour movement, those democratic campaigns for self-determination in Scotland, Ireland and Wales,and from public opinion. As well as conventional and digital campaigns and a press strategy, we need to continue the campaign of protests, marches and stunts, and push the anti-Brexit movement to escalate towards direct action and civil disobedience. Another Europe is in a unique position to deliver this.

If any Brexit deal passes, Brexit becomes extremely likely. Our only hope for success in these circumstances would be to create a crisis from the outside of the political bubble. We would have to be part of a movement that brought down the government, or which made the country so ungovernable that the government went back to the people. For now, it is unlikely that the deal will pass – but we will remain alert to one being proposed again.

Throughout this process, we will also work on an understanding and using procedural levers in Westminster and in the EU. We recognise that we are not the campaign with the most knowledge of parliamentary process, and it makes little sense for us to lead on all of this work. But we will make sure that everyone – at every level of our campaign and in the wider movement – understands what we are doing and why. We will attempt to demystify the process.

We support the self-determination of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish peoples, and their right to a referendum on independence and the unification of Ireland. We condemn the actions of the Spanish government and state in violently suppressing the Catalan people exercising their right to hold a republican independence referendum, and call for the immediate release of political prisoners. We support the right of the Catalan people to self-determination.

2. Our relationship with the anti-Brexit movement

Another Europe is part of the wider progressive left. It is also part of a growing and distinct anti-Brexit movement which has grown substantially in recent months. The 700,000-strong demonstration on October 20th was the biggest in the UK since the Iraq War period. While the leadership of the much of the anti-Brexit movement might be dominated by the political establishment, its mass base is hugely diverse both politically and demographically, and it is essential that have a strategy to interact with it.

We do not aim to set out a fully developed perspective on the anti-Brexit movement – which is diverse, complex and contradictory – here. We will aim to improve on our understanding of it in due course. We will continue to relate to the wider movement, including at its marches and meetings, and by building alliances at a local level.

  1. If our strategy succeeds – our approach to the new referendum

It is increasingly likely that we will end up fighting a new referendum on Brexit. In this scenario, we would work flat out to win the vote, and to do so with our own progressive vision for BritainEngland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and Europe front and centre. This means foregrounding our support for workers’ rights, environmental protections, human rights, free movement and a broader internationalist politics – not focussing abstract economic arguments. We will make the case that keepingBritainEngland, Scotland, Wales and Irelandin the EU, or defeating the government’s deal, is part of a strategy for transforming society, not the status quo.

We want to use the referendum campaign to win a public argument on a deeper level, and the profile of our arguments in the general campaign will boost the anti-Brexit vote across the board. Strategically, we will focus on voters and demographics where our messages resonate most, and where they will make the most difference. This means campaigning among working class voters, especially Labour-voting Leave voters. It also means a drive for turnout from anti-Brexit strongholds in the previous referendum, both demographically and geographically.

To give our campaign most chance of success, we do not rule out attempting to form part of the official designated campaign, so long as this does not compromise our ability to campaign clearly and honestly. After the failure of the official Remain campaign in 2016, we believe it is important that the same people and ideas do not take the leadership in the next referendum. Therefore we would hope, alongside a broad coalition, to be part of putting forward an alternative designated campaign in a new referendum

Regardless of any attempt to form the designated campaign, we will reach out to form formal and informal alliances with the Green Party, Labour, Momentum, the Left within the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Republican Movement in Ireland,trade unions, NGOs and grassroots campaigns.

In 2016, a large proportion of the legitimate electorate was disenfranchised. We support the right of all residents of the UK to vote in any referendum, as well as all UK residents living abroad and anyone over the age of 16.

  1. If Brexit happens

The going ahead of Brexit would represent a defeat for the progressive left and for ordinary people in Britain England, Scotland, Wales and Irelandand across Europe. It will almost certainly mean a loss of rights and prosperity, especially for the poorest in society and for migrants. It will strengthen the narratives and mobilisations of the far right. And it will have an international effect in the fragmentation of Europe and the emboldening of a global resurgence of aggressive nationalist and racist politics.

Brexit would also represent a major victory for Donald Trump. His national populist politics do not represent a challenge to neo-liberalism but a turbo-charged reconfiguration, the better to assert the supremacy of US state and corporate interests in a post-2008 crisis-ridden world.

Under these circumstances – which we believe are more than avoidable but for which we must nonetheless prepare – Another Europe would seek to play a critical role in bringing together the progressive left for what happens next. This would include a deliberate attempt to coalesce those parts of the grassroots of the anti-Brexit movement who agree with our aims.

Our political aims in post-Brexit Britain would be:

  • To campaign for Britain’sre-admission into the EU before the end of the transition period
  • To unapologetically make the case for free movement and migrants’ rights
  • Not only to resist any further deterioration in workers’ rights, environmental standards and human rights, but also to campaign for the UK to match further improvement EU measures and exceed them.
  • To campaign for a serious internationalist perspective, and to provide spaces to build this. We will continue to work with socialist, green, social democratic, democratic campaigns for self-determination in Scotland, Ireland and Wales,and other progressive political forces across the EU to seek fundamental democratic change in the EU’s constitution and decision making process.
  • To support the self-determination of the Scottish and Irish peoples, by supporting their right to a referendum on independence and unification respectively
  1. If we win and stay in the EU

We have always known that our mission does not end with stopping Brexit. In the event that we are successful in the short term, the real work will begin. This means:

  • We will continue our fight for a new, different better Europe, working closely with European Alternatives with whom we reaffirm our affiliation. We will work for the renewal and transformation of the European institutions. Key priorities for reform efforts in the period ahead are: reigning in the power of multinational corporations through tougher regulation, higher (and coordinated) corporation tax at the EU level, and clamping down on systemic tax evasion; creating a humanitarian system for refugee and migrant settlement, ending the policy of fortress Europe; strengthening digital rights for workers and consumers; leveling up standards for labour and the environment across Europe, including clamping down on the precarious ‘zero hour contract’ economy; pioneering a new economy, transforming the Eurozone, ending austerity, introducing a ‘new deal for Europe’, and also creating new forms of economic ownership, which allow for democratic control by workers, service users and the public.
  • Campaigning for the British left the Left in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to have a serious internationalist perspective, and to provide it with spaces to build this.

*  Participating in and improving on a debate within the broad European left about if an how we can transform the EU, developing a realistic strategy. We must attempt to learn from  the     left’s previous successes and defeats. Syriza came to power in Greece in 2015 promising to confront the Troika and overturn austerity, but soon found itself implementing what it had once     opposed. A strategy for transformation cannot rely simply on   representatives manoeuvring and negotiating within the bounds of institutions at the national or European level. What we possess and our opponents lack, is a power lying outside those institutions – in the streets and in the collective power of organised workers. We will need to build a pan-European left and workers’ movement rooted in that power; that connects us in cross-border, transnational bonds of discussion, coordination, and practical solidarity; that does not hesitate to put extra-parliamentary pressure on parliamentary power; and that keeps the representatives we send into the corridors of government accountable to the democratic grassroots – not the other way around.

  • Alongside internal reforms to the current EU migration system, to campaign for a new coordinated strategy designed to tackle the root causes of migration in which western states have some significant historic responsibility.

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A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

 

GRASSROOTS UNITE LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE ATTACKS COYNE’S AND McCLUSKEY’s CAPITULATION TO ANTI-MIGRANT POLITICS

 

WHICH WAY NOW – ‘BREXIT’ OR ‘EX-BRIT’?

 

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?

 

REPORT OF MEETING TO SET UP THE CAMPAIGN FOR A EUROPEAN REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST PARTY

JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

AN OPEN LETTER TO LEXITERS

 

A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

 

 

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Aug 09 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

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

Contents of Part 1

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

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

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

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

             A.  Brexit

             B. The National Question

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

               b.  Corbyn and the National Question in Ireland

               c.  Corbyn and the National Question in Scotland

               d.  Corbyn and the National Question in Wales

 

 

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

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

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Jul 04 2016

JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

Allan Armstrong, who first became politically active in 1968, gives his political assessment of the political situation in the aftermath of the June 23d EU referendum.  Allan is on the Editorial Board of Emancipation & Liberation,  a supporter of the Republican Socialist Alliance, the Radical Independence Campaign and, in the ‘Spirit of 68’, a dissident member of the SSP and RISE.

The International Revolutionary Wave from 1968-75, encompassing the world from Vietnam to Paris, was contained. However, a group of socialists helped to put some new life into the possibility of a social order beyond the discredited models of Social Democracy and official Communism. Sadly today, we have one of 1968’s leading proponents, Tariq Ali, in his role as a prominent Lexiter, reacting to the situation created by the EU referendum more in the manner of the French CP in 1968, diverting a potential European Democratic Revolution on to the path of national reformism. Today this can only reinforce the Right across Europe. However, others of Allan’s generation, including Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, have seen a very different potential in the current situation.

It is to be hoped that the short-lived International Revolutionary Wave of 2011, encompassing the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Indignados of Greece and Spain, will prove to be a 1905 International Revolutionary Wave-style prelude to a new revolutionary wave. For the moment the 2011 wave has ebbed back to the communities of resistance in Palestine and Kobane, and to the electoralism of Syriza and Podemos.  

Allan’s contribution is based on a talk he gave at the Edinburgh RISE circle on June 28th and has been extended, updated and written in the form of an appeal from a member of the 1968 generation to those of the new young 2011 generation. 

(* FUKers are supporters of a ‘Free UK’. They stretch from the Fascist and Loyalist Far Right, through the Right populist UKIP to the reactionary Right Tories.)

AFTER JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’* BLACK FRIDAY or RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPE’S DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

Migrant Solidarity Network march in Edinburgh oransised after Brexit vote on June 24th

The 500 strong Migrant Solidarity Network march in Edinburgh on June 24th  the same day as the Brexit vote  24th

 

i)     The significance of Friday June 24th
Continue reading “JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?”

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Apr 12 2016

A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

 

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written a second piece on the forthcoming EU referendum. This is a contribution to the debate in the RCN and the wider Left. Allan has spoken on this issue at the RIC national conference (Feb. 20th), SSP National Council (28th Feb) and the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy (2nd April).

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A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE  AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

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a) The politics of TINA – There is no alternative

A common accusation made by ‘No’ advocates during the Scottish Independence referendum was that support for Scottish independence or the SNP, and for withdrawal from the EU or UKIP, are but mirror images of each other. They have argued that both are based on atavistic nationalism.
Continue reading “A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS”

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Mar 16 2015

THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’

After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/), Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.

 

 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign

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The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

Continue reading “THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’”

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Dec 20 2012

RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?

This blog has already commented on the earlier organising behind the Radical Independence Conference. It has also provided a fraternal critique of Britain Must Break, written by James Foley for the International Socialist Group (ISG), the organisation which initiated the RIC. Many others have commented on the conference itself (see end of articles below for links to these)

Below are posted two related articles. The first  examines the politics of the ISG and how these could  influence the future of the RIC. The second makes a comparison between the ISG (which has come out of the SWP tradition) and seeks to reunite the Left in Scotland, and the International Socialist Movement (which came from the CWI/Militant tradition) and sought to unite the Left through setting up the Scottish Socialist Party. Continue reading “RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?”

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Feb 26 2010

Republican Socialist Convention Debate

The contribution by Allan Armstrong (SSP International Committee) at the Republican Socialist Convention in London on 13 02 2010

Allan Armstrong (SSP) welcomed the participation of the veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, a ‘republican in spirit’, to the Republican Socialist Convention. However, there was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic.

Back in the late 1960s, socialists (e.g. Desmond Greaves of the CP and those involved in Peoples Democracy) had been to the forefront of the campaign for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland – equal access to housing and jobs, and a reformed Stormont. The particular Unionist/Loyalist nature of this local statelet, and its relationship with the UK state, was largely ignored or downplayed, in an otherwise militant and vibrant campaign. Every repressive institution used by the UK state is prefixed by ‘royal’, e.g. the RUC, ‘her majesty’s, e.g. the prisons, whilst ‘loyalists’ is the name given to those prepared to undertake the more unsavoury tasks the UK state doesn’t want to own up to in public.

Socialists paid a high price for this negligence, when 14 people were gunned down in Derry by British paratroopers on January 30th, 1972. The socialist republicanism, which should have informed the struggle had been absent, and the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the combined physical force and later political republicanism of the Provisionals. When Irish socialist republicanism did emerge, the leadership of the struggle had already largely passed to others.

Some of those earlier socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, recognised the need for a new socialist republican approach. However, the Provisionals were adroitly able to widen their political base, and keep genuine socialist republicanism marginalised by a resort to populism, through addressing some social and economic issues. Now that the Provisional leadership has made its deal with the UK state, under the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, these populist social and economic policies are being jettisoned.

There is a strong lesson in this for socialists in Scotland and the UK today. Scotland, with its valuable oil resources, and key British military bases, is far more central to British ruling class interests, than Northern Ireland was in the 1960s. There is a growing National Movement in Scotland. Many supporters link the idea of an independent Scotland to an anti-imperialist vision (opposition to participation in British wars and to NATO) and to defence of social provision in the face of ongoing privatisation. This National Movement is wider than the SNP. Meanwhile, the SNP is taking the road of parties like Catalan Convergence, PNV (Euskadi) and Parti Quebecois. Its leadership is seeking a privileged role for the Scottish business within the existing corporate imperialist order. The SNP is tied both to the ‘Scottish’ banks and to cowboy capitalists like Donald Trump.

The SNP’s election manifesto pledged support for an ‘independence referendum’ to address the issue of Scottish self-determination. Although, the SNP leadership has been in full retreat over this issue, it will not go away, since there is a wider National Movement, and the probable election of the Tories at Westminster will once more raise the political stakes.

The SNP has no way of achieving Scottish independence. It is too tied to Scottish business interests, which want no more than increased powers for themselves – Devolution-Max. Recently, Salmond has come out in favour of the British monarchy. What this means is that the SNP accepts that any future referendum will be played by Westminster rules.

In the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, when the British ruling class was split over the best strategy to maintain their Union, the non-political Queen was wheeled out to make an anti-nationalist Christmas speech, civil servants were told to bury inconvenient documents, mock military exercises were launched against putative nationalist forces, whilst the intelligence services conducted agent provocateur work on the nationalist fringe. Compared to the role of the British state against Irish republicans, this was small beer. However, given the timid constitutionalism of the SNP, a further resort to Crown Powers was not needed at this time.
Furthermore, the taming of the once much more militant Provisional Republican Movement, so that it now acts as key partner in British rule in Ireland, shows that the British ruling class has little to fear in the ever-so constitutionalist SNP.

Today, the British, American and EU ruling classes are united against any move towards Scottish independence, so will be even more determined in their opposition than in 1979. This is why any movement to win Scottish self-determination must be republican from the start. It must be prepared, in advance, to confront the Crown Powers that will be inevitably utilised against us. Because genuine and democratic Scottish independence represents such a challenge to British imperialism and the UK state, we need allies in England, Ireland and Wales too. We need to be committed to a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. We are socialist republicans and link our political demands with social and economic campaigns. This was the course advocated by two great Scottish socialist republicans – James Connolly and John Maclean. This is why the SSP is in London today seeking wider support.

A reply to Allan Armstrong’s arguments from Nick Rogers, CPGB (Weekly Worker 805, 18 02 2010)

Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network and the SSP turned to the national question in Scotland. He thought Peter Tatchell’s rather abstract republicanism was exactly what was not needed.
The Scottish National Party had shown that it was prepared to play the parliamentary game to prove that it did not pose a disruptive challenge to the corporate status quo. It was now in favour of retaining the monarchy – not even offering a referendum to the Scottish people on the issue.

A Scottish republic, on the other hand, would ditch the monarchy, throw out USA and British military bases, and reverse the cuts and privatisation. The British state would use all the resources at its disposal to resist the loss of North Sea oil and the Trident bases. Scottish republicanism was a strategy to strike a blow against the imperialist UK state, break the link with the US and build internationalism from below.

Toby Abse declared he took a Luxemburgist position on the national question. Far from believing the break-up of existing national states to be progressive, he thought the creation of a European state would provide better opportunities for socialists.

I said… we should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally.

However, in Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. The demand for a federal republic was the way to relate to the question, both in England and in Scotland and Wales.

The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation within a broader state against the will of their people, but neither would they force them to separate. As for socialists in Scotland, comrade Armstrong’s argument hardly provided a ringing endorsement of the case for independence, since it would be precisely the conciliatory SNP that would lead moves to split Scotland from Britain, making every attempt in the process to avoid rocking the establishment boat.

The strongest possible challenge to the British state was to be made by the working class across Britain – and preferably across Europe, raising the demand for a European republic.

David Broder and Chris Ford of Commune spoke after me and expressed support for the RCN’s internationalism from below and the perspective of breaking up the UK. Comrade Broder did not see why unity with Europeans was more important than, say, with Bolivia, where British multinationals were just as involved as in many European countries.

Comrade Ford spoke about the opportunities the national question created for socialists. The break-up of the UK would strike a blow against a major imperialist state. For his part, comrade Healey thought that the break-up of the UK was as inevitable as the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Time was now fast running out and in a short reply comrade Armstrong commended the arguments of the Commune comrades, while telling comrade Abse and me that our arguments were typical of the “Brit left”, without actually replying to them…

Comrades Colin Fox (SSP Co-convenor) and Allan Armstrong attended as representatives of the SSP’s international committee. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

A reply from Allan Armstrong (24 02 2010)

As Nick points out in his reply, I believe his comments are indeed typical of the ‘Brit Left’. The reason I didn’t reply to him at the second Republican Socialist Convention, but stated that Chris Ford and David Broder of the commune had made some of the points I would have used, was that I wasn’t given the time.

The preference of the SSP International Committee would have been for the second Republican Socialist Convention to have devoted far more time to the discussion of the relationship between the National Question and Republican Socialism.

The non-attendance of many from the British Left, invited by Steve Freeman of the Socialist Alliance (Convention organiser), still did not create anything like enough time for this debate. The first session contributions by Peter Tatchell and Colin Fox usefully highlighted the debate between bourgeois and socialist republicanism, whilst Mehdi Kia (Middle East Left Forum and HOPI) was most informative about the current situation in Iran.

However, personally, I thought the last session could have been sacrificed in order to enable the broader discussion on the National Question to be aired. The ignorance and lack of comprehension of much of the British Left over this issue needs to be addressed.

If, as I had hoped, there were also to be speakers from Ireland and Wales, then time for discussion would have been even more curtailed. Neither Dan Finn of the Irish Socialist Network, nor Marc Jones of Plaid Cymru/Celyn were able to make it. I thought that any republican socialists in England would have made contacts amongst the quite extensive Irish republican and socialist republican community in London, but this turned out not to be the case. I then suggested to Steve that Ann McShane (Ireland) and Bob Davies (Wales), both of the CPGB, be invited instead to fill the gap and enable the debate between Left Unionism and Internationalism from Below to be more fully aired.

So, let’s examine Nick’s points. I’ll start at the end of his contribution. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

The first point I would make is that Nick must hardly have been listening. The whole thrust of my contribution (see above), taking on Peter Tatchell’s abstract republicanism, was exactly to highlight the imperial and unionist nature of the British state, and the formidable anti-democratic powers the British ruling class has under the UK’s Crown Powers.

Nick, somewhat revealingly, talks of me treating England as a foreign country. Now England certainly is another country. This is even recognised under the terms of the Union – which recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland (officially Northern Ireland, but colloquially and wrongly, Ulster) as separate entities. However, I have never used the word foreign to describe England. Is that how Nick describes Ireland, France, or any other country in the world? There are some words and phrases, such as social dumping and foreign which I think form part of the language of hostile nationalist forces and should be rejected in socialist discourse.

Now, the CPGB takes some pride in the solidarity work of HOPI, a united front organisation it initiated. Do CPGB members consider Iranian socialists to be foreign? Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work can not be effective because British and Iranian socialists don’t live in the same state? Nick invokes a mythical international unity provided by the British Left. However, a great deal of the CPGB’s work has been trying to combat the opposition of the largest ‘Brit Left’ organisation, the SWP, to HOPI. The largest socialist organisation in Scotland, the SSP, voted to support HOPI at its 2008 Conference.

The SSP is more than willing to go to meetings in England, Wales and Ireland, organised by others, to argue the case for united action across these islands. Internationalism from below is a hallmark of how the SSP tries to organise. Our International Committee organised the first Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh, with socialists from all four nations. The SSP has subsequently sent speakers to both England and Ireland.
Whatever reservations we may have had about the limited time for discussion of the National Question, Socialist Republicanism and Internationalism from Below, provided by Steve at this Convention, we engaged fully, providing two platform speakers and another three members in the audience.

So let’s now look at the second largest ‘Brit Left’ organization, which was invited to participate, the Socialist Party. I will quote Nick’s explanation for their failure to turn up at a meeting with representatives of the largest socialist organisation in Scotland. Quite possibly SPEW deliberately avoided a potentially embarrassing meeting. Embarrassing for who? Certainly not the SSP.

Nick also says, We should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally. So how does the British Left, which Nick champions, match up to this? Last year we saw the EU electoral challenge by the Left British chauvinist ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ campaign (with its notorious opposition to ‘social dumping’), bureaucratically cobbled together by trade union officials, the SPEW and CPB. It also had the somewhat incongruous Left Scottish nationalist bolt-on provided by Solidarity (although to their credit, many of its members refused to engage, and one prominent member advised people to vote SSP).

In contrast the SSP stood as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance EU-wide electoral challenge, bringing Joaquim Roland, a car worker member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party to address meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

So, given the choice of ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ and the EACA, where did the CPGB stand? Quite frankly it made itself look foolish. It never raised the idea that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ should form part of the EACA’s international campaign. It placed nearly all emphasis on demanding that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ put support for citizen militias in its manifesto (support for migrant workers facing combined state, employer and union official attacks would have been far more appropriate). Then, failing to get support for citizen militias, told people to vote instead for the Labour Party and hence the very non-citizen militia, British imperial troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere! Even the SWP and SPEW didn’t stoop this low.

When Nick mentions his support for a class-based identity that encompassed migrants, he also fails to mention the woeful record of the ‘Brit Left’, in Respect or the Campaign for a New Workers Party over this issue. The SSP voted at its 2008 Conference to give its support to ‘No One Is Illegal’.

Chris Ford made the valuable point that the UK state, far from uniting the working class on these islands, divides it. The ongoing partition of Ireland is only the most striking case. The bureaucratic institutions of the British Labour Party, and the trade unions (TUC, STUC, WTUC, and the Northern Committee of the ICTU) frequently divide workers and play one national group against another.

Nick takes up the argument made by Toby Abse, to elaborate his own position. Toby had argued that the successive acts of Union {1535-42, 1707 and 1801} had had the effect of creating a united British nation, and that the British working class and its institutions were now organized on an all-British basis. Therefore, following Luxemburg, he believed that attempts to address the National Question in Scotland or Wales were either irrelevant or divisive. To be consistent, Toby should have argued that all UK state institutions, currently devolved on a ‘national’ basis, should be abolished, since they must, from his viewpoint, promote disunity.

However, Nick, who has certainly also called himself a Luxemburgist in the past, is now a member of the CPGB, so in opposing Toby, he has to make some contorted arguments. The CPGB believes there is a British nation and a British-Irish nation (the Protestants of the ‘Six Counties’) but only Scottish and Welsh nationalities. So Nick goes on to say that. In Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. First, you would wonder, if the historical thrust of the creation of the UK has been to bring about a united British nation (for most of the ‘Brit Left’, Ireland quickly drops from view!) and a united British working class, why you should consider it at all worthwhile to make any concessions to what could only then be reactionary national identities.

The reality, however, is that the UK state was formed as part of a wider British imperial project, which tried to subsume Welsh, Scots and Irish as subordinate identities. Whilst the British Empire ruled the roost, there was a definite thrust towards a British nation, but this was partly thwarted by the unionist form of the UK state. Once, the British Empire went into decline, those still remaining hybrid imperial identities, Irish-British, Scottish-British and Welsh-British have gone into decline too, as more people have asserted their Irish, Scottish and Welsh identities. This decline in British identification has been most rapid amongst workers and small farmers, whilst support has been clung to most fiercely by the ruling class and sections of the upper middle class.

Only amongst in the Unionist and Loyalist section of the people living in the Six Counties has a more widespread British identity been retained (although this has moved from Irish-British to Ulster-British). Indeed, it is in the Six Counties that the true nature of British ‘national’ identity is shown most starkly. It is here, amongst the Loyalists, that fascist death squads and other forms of coercion have created the worst repression, way beyond anything achieved by their ‘mainland’ British admirers, in the National Front or British National Party. The British Conservatives have just linked up with those more ‘genteel’ Ulster Unionists, but still sectarian and reactionary.

The moves to break-up the UK have their origins in wider ‘lower orders’ movements, such as the Land League in Michael Davitt’s days, the independent Irish trade union movement of James Connolly (founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party) and Jim Larkin’s days. It was John Maclean (founder of the Scottish Workers Republican Party), with his support, particularly amongst Clydeside workers, who offered the most consistent challenge, from 1919 onwards, based upon active campaigning for the ‘Russian Revolution’ and the ongoing Irish republican struggle. He adopted a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy.This was sharply marginalized as the post-war international revolutionary wave came to an end between 1921-3, allowing a Left British and reformist perspective to strongly reassert itself.

In other words it has been the National Question, which has been to the forefront of the democratic and republican struggle in these islands. Without seeing this, you are left, like Peter Tatchell, supporting a rather formal republic, with no real idea where the support is coming from. Nick conjures up The demand for a federal republic… both in England and in Scotland and Wales. This is but a left cover for the last-ditch mechanism used by the British ruling class, from the American to the Irish War of Independence, to hold their Empire and Union together. The Lib-Dems keep the Federal option in their locker, to be dragged out whenever other mechanisms such as Home Rule or Devolution fail to hold the line.

Colin Fox also made clear in his contribution that the British ruling class could even accommodate a formal republic, if it felt it was necessary. So Nick’s republican suffix to his proposed federalism provides another paper cover. We saw the nature of such republicanism in the Rupert Murdoch-backed campaign for a republic in Australia. What it amounted to was a repatriation of the current Crown Powers, and their investiture in the Presidency. Not surprisingly, this proved not to be a winning formula!

Middle class nationalist attempts to renegotiate the Union have also emerged as the British Empire went into decline. The Irish Home Rule Party, Cumann na nGaedhael, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and (I would argue) the post-Good Friday Sinn Fein have all fitted this mould. Whatever, their formal political position (e.g. an independent Scotland, or a united Ireland), as these parties have become the vehicles for local business and middle class interests, this has been matched by a retreat from their original stated goals, and new compromises with the UK state.

Just as I would argue that the CPGB’s blanket support for the British unionist and imperialist Labour Party candidates, at the last Euro-election, provides a classic example of left British nationalism in action, I would also argue that any socialists pursuing a strategy which tail ends their local nationalist party, e.g, the SNP, act as Left nationalists.

The strategy behind the SSP’s republican socialism, exemplified in the Calton Hill Declaration, is to take the leadership of the National Movement here from the SNP. To counter the SNP’s own ‘international’ strategy – support for the global corporate order, for the use of Scottish troops in imperial ventures, for the British queen, and acceptance of a Privy Councillorship (Alex Salmond), the SSP’s International Committee counters with a genuinely international strategy based on anti-imperialism, anti-unionism, and internationalism from below.

The British Left tries to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. This attempt to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy was always contradictory. Applied to the UK it just seems to confuse the ‘Brit Left’. Occasionally debates emerge within the CPGB about, whether to be a consistent Leninist, it should not reconstitute itself as the CPUK, and in the process, add its own twist to Irish partition. Both the SWP and SPEW operate essentially partitionist organisations in Ireland, highlighted by their failure to raise the issue of continued British rule (with its southern Irish government support) in elections there.

The UK currently acts as a junior partner to USA imperialism. It has been awarded the USA license to police the corporate imperial order in the North East Atlantic, and to ensure that the EU fails to emerge as an imperial challenger. Apart from its membership of NATO, the provision of military bases, and such ‘police’ actions as bringing the ‘terrorist state’(!) of Iceland into line to bail-out the banks, the UK performs this wider role, with the 26 county Irish state acting as its own junior partner.

Politically, the ‘Peace Process’ (with the Good Friday, St. Andrews and now the latest Hillsborough agreements) and Devolution-all-round (Scotland, Wales and ‘the Six Counties’) represents the British and Irish ruling class strategy to provide the political framework to most effectively maintain profitability for corporate capital in these islands. In this, these two states can draw upon the support of the EU and the USA, as well of course, their ‘social partnerships’ with the official trade union leaders.

The SSP has realized that the British and Irish ruling classes have a political strategy, which covers the whole of these islands. You could be forgiven for thinking that much of the ‘Brit Left’ finds it difficult to see beyond Potters Bar, or where its members do live further afield, thinking their politics just depends on the latest dispatches sent out from their London office.

Nick somewhat condescendingly says that, The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation {Scotland, or Wales} within a broader state against the will of their people (that’s very good of you Nick!), but then bizarrely adds neither would they force them to separate. Well Nick, we all know the ‘Brit Left’ have no intention of forcing us out of the British unionist and imperial state and its alliance with USA imperialism. That is the problem.

The SSP, though, is quite prepared to take the lead in making this decision ourselves. However, we will continue to insist that the break-up of the UK and ending of British imperialism are something that workers throughout these islands have an immediate interest in achieving, and will continue to argue our case to socialists in England, Wales and Ireland. We do want unity, but not the ‘Brit Left’ imposed bureaucratic unity from above, rather a democratic ‘internationalism from below’.

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Jul 10 2009

The Need for Socialist Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplement

The 2009 European Elections – a political assessment.

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

A) Europe

1) The Mainstream

a) Mainstream Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b) Social Democratic/Labour Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c) Liberal Centre

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

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

2) Beyond the Mainstream Centre

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

a) Nationalist parties

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

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

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

b) Populism

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

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

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

c) Right populism

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

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

d) Fascist/Right populist alliances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e) Left populism and Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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