Jul 10 2009

The Need for Socialist Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplement

The 2009 European Elections – a political assessment.

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

A) Europe

1) The Mainstream

a) Mainstream Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b) Social Democratic/Labour Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c) Liberal Centre

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

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

2) Beyond the Mainstream Centre

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

a) Nationalist parties

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

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

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

b) Populism

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

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

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

c) Right populism

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

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

d) Fascist/Right populist alliances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e) Left populism and Socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 20 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

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

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

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

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

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broad Left versus Rank and File

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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