Jul 02 2020

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

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

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

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

 

THE WEST – NO BETTER THAN ALL THE REST

 

 

Challenging Eurocentric views of the world

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

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

 

Making the case for the intersocietal origins of capitalism

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

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

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

 

Providing the history to back the case

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

History 1, History 2 and old and new identity politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

English exceptionalism and Scottish conceits

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

30.5.20 (updated 20.9.20)

 

 

 

References and Footnotes

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

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

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

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

[5]           HtWctR, op. cit., p. 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[21]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[22]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________

also see:-

FROM GREY TO RED GRANITE 

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

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

 

NEIL DAVIDSON MEMORIAL MEETING, 11.7.20

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Jan 31 2019

CORBYN, LABOUR AND THE TORIES’ IMMIGRATION BILL – A dialogue

This is a new dialogue over the consequences of Brexit following the Corbyn-led Labour Party helping Theresa May get the second reading of the Tories’ Immigration Bill through on Wednesday 29th January

see an earlier dialogue at:-

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

This dialogue came about in response to a posting Allan Armstrong made on the Republican Socialist Alliance list. It was also taken up by Phil Vellender (Editorial Board of The Chartist) on his Facebook page.

Continue reading “CORBYN, LABOUR AND THE TORIES’ IMMIGRATION BILL – A dialogue”

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Jun 22 2018

ALLAN ARMSTRONG REVIEWS ‘THE RED AND THE GREEN’ BY GERARD CAIRNS

Review of The Red and the Green – Portrait of John Maclean by Gerard Cairns

Gerard Cairns has recently published his informative and challenging new book, The Red and the Green – A Portrait of John Maclean. I have known Gerry since the early 1990s and I would find it hard to call him Gerard, so I will use Gerry for the rest of this review.

The book’s title reveals the two main aspects of Gerry’s assessment of John Maclean. The Red and the Green highlights Gerry’s research into ‘Red’ John and his relationship with the ‘Green’ or Irish community on Clydeside .[1] A Portrait of John Maclean examines Maclean the political activist and family man. It raises questions about how Socialists organise and relate to others, especially their partners and families. When assessing  Maclean, Gerry brings his own personal experience to bear. “This has been a very personal portrait of a man I have researched, studied, lectured on, debated for a long time.” [2] Thus Gerry’s book is viewed through the prism of his own life of political activism. Continue reading “ALLAN ARMSTRONG REVIEWS ‘THE RED AND THE GREEN’ BY GERARD CAIRNS”

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Apr 07 2016

THE CENTENARY OF THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

As part of our celebration the 1916 Easter Rising, we are posting two new articles.  The first is by Allan Armstrong (RCN), and addresses Lenin’s response to in his Irish Rebellion of 1916 (which is also posted). The second comes from the latest issue of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) and looks at the situation in Ireland today, 100 years after the Rising.

 

1. LENIN AND THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

The Dublin GPO during the 1916 Rising, painted by Robert Ballagh

 

In the midst of the First World War, following the Dublin 1916 Easter Rising, Lenin returned to the issue of national self-determination. He had already addressed this at the beginning of the year in The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination. Immediately before the Rising, he had also gone on to write The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up.
Continue reading “THE CENTENARY OF THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916”

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Aug 20 2015

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

We are posting this  review by Colin Barker (RS21) of Satnam Virdee‘s book Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider. This book is an important contribution to the debates around race and class. It was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of rs21 magazine. It can also be seen at:– http://rs21.org.uk/2015/03/21/the-secret-of-its-weakness-racism-and-the-working-class-movement-in-britain/

 

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS:

RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

th-5 

Satnam Virdee has written an important book. It is a history of working-class struggles to win economic and social gains, and to gain access to democracy in Britain, viewed through the prism of ‘race’.

From the start, English and then British capitalism was founded on imperial expansion, drawing under its control large parts of the world, and ‘importing’ into its territory large numbers of people from the lands it conquered, colonised and robbed. Yet many accounts of British working class development are silent on the presence and the impact of migrants, their sufferings and resistance, and the vital ‘racial politics’ that shaped both the major waves of popular resistance and the troughs between them.
Continue reading “THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN”

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Nov 28 2012

TERRY LIDDLE, 1948 – 2012, COMRADE

We are reposting the following tribute to Terry Liddle by Andrew Coates.  A number of RCN members met Terry in a variety of political organisations, and we can agree with Andrew that “Terry’s contribution to the left was outstanding. He was a great bloke. He will be much missed.”  Andrew’s tribute was first posted on his own blog, which can be found at:-

http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/terry-liddle-1948-2012-comrade/

 

Terry Liddle – socialist republican

Terry Liddle died on November the 16/17 November 2012 aged 64 , after suffering ill health for a long time.

Many people on the left will have memories of Terry. There are those much more familiar with him than myself. A full obituary will be difficult to write. But this is one tribute to his memory.

I first became acquainted with Terry around 1979-1980, when he was involved in setting up an explicitly socialist atheist group. With my house-mate John, a cockney anarchist and shop steward at Warwick University, I joined. But living in Leamington Spa we had only written contact.

This group, according to the secularist anarchist Nicolas Walter, was bound to run into difficulties, as non-belief in religion takes many, often clashing, forms on the left. Indeed the organisation did not last. But Terry continued to place atheism, along with left democratic socialism and republicanism, at the centre of his politics.

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Jan 20 2009

From Davitt to Connolly – Internationalism From Below

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

Contents of forthcoming book

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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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