Jan 03 2017

THE STRUGGLE FOR ABORTION RIGHTS IN IRELAND

There is a major campaign going on in Ireland to overturn the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution which bans abortion.We are posting an article from John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) which exams this campaign. It was first posted at: http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentTheStruggleForAbortionRightsInIreland.html

 

THE STRUGGLE FOR ABORTION RIGHTS IN IRELAND

Justified and burning anger hobbled by reformism

 On 25th November thousands of activists demonstrated in Dublin calling for the abolition of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution – a section that asserts equal rights to life between the mother and foetus (the wording refers to the “unborn” which assumes that that life begins at conception). The demonstration was in part was a celebration of the decision by ICTU, the Irish trade union congress, to support the call to repeal the 8th.    In tribute to recent mobilisations by Polish women, many wore black – the main symbol for the Polish demonstrations.
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Jun 29 2015

THOUSANDS MARCH IN BELFAST FOR GAY MARRIAGE

The impact last month’s successful gay marriage referendum in the 26 Counties has spilled over into the 6 Counties, with 10,000 attending a demonstration in Belfast. The fact that the ‘South’ can act as a beacon for the ‘North’ highlights the reactionary nature of the local UK state set-up, which is a barrier to progress in these islands. This article was first posted on the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) blog.

 

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Gay marriage march in Belfast on June 12th

 

On Saturday, 13th June, over ten thousand people gathered in Belfast city to show their support for marriage equality.  This demonstration, which was organised by Amnesty International, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the Rainbow Project, saw people marching from the Arts College to the City Hall where they were addressed by a number of speakers.
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Sep 03 2014

UP TO AND BEYOND THE SEPTEMBER 18th INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM – A socialist republican perspective

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written an account of the Scottish independence campaign since the SNP launched its official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign in 2012 up until the last two weeks before the September 18th referendum. This is based on several contributions Allan has already made on this blog. It is also a contemporary update of his historical piece, The Making and the Breaking of the UK State (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/). This article also looks at the possibilities beyond September 18th.

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UP TO AND BEYOND THE SEPTEMBER 18th INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM – A socialist republican response

 

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a)                   The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination

b)                   The SNP leadership’s strategy

c)                   Cameron’s strategy pushes Labour into the frontline of the defence of the Union in Scotland, whilst he controls things at a UK level

d)                   Attempts to widen the political base of support for the Union

e)                   The new challenge to social liberalism and the ‘New Unionist’ settlement from UKIP, the Tory Right, the Ulster Unionists and Loyalists

f)                    Enter the unexpected – a new movement from below

g)                   The lack of class confidence underpins both official campaigns and the inherited weaknesses of the Left affect RIC too

h)                  After September 18th

 

a)         The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination

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Feb 07 2014

IRISH BUDGET 2014 – A BUDGET OF SMOKE AND MIRRORS, ADVANCING AN AGENDA OF BARBARISM

The mainstream Irish press claims the economic crisis has bottomed out in Ireland, and the economy is on the road to recovery. This article from from the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) outline the reality, particularly for the Irish working class.

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Protesting Enda Kennedy’s Fine Gael/Labour coalition budget

 

The extent to which the ideology of austerity has been engrained in Irish society is reflected in the expression of relief that has greeted the latest budget. Despite another negative adjustment of €2.5 billion the general consensus is that it could have been worse. There is also a belief, encouraged by the government and the media, that austerity is easing and that the Irish economy is on the road torecovery. This is exemplified in the declaration by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Ireland’s exit from the bailout programme by the end of the year would mark the end of the period of crisis and a restoration of “economic sovereignty”.

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May 31 2012

A NEW TYRANNY OVER EUROPE


A crisis of capitalism, a threat to democracy

The leaders of Europe spent much time and ingenuity in designing the Financial Stability Pact so that it would not require a vote. The fact that Britain and the Czech Republic did not sign meant that it could not be formally part of European structures. The major powers went ahead anyway. The Irish government signed without a murmur. This ad-hoc arrangement was to become law over European citizens behind their backs, outside the formal (and already undemocratic) European structures, with a recommendation that it be written into individual constitutions. The Fine Gail coalition, having explored every legal avenue to try to amend the constitution without a vote, now tell us that there is no alternative to voting yes to the Pact.

The arguments of the European Leadership, of the troika and of Irish capitalism rarely refer to the contents of the pact. This is hardly surprising, as the ideology on which it is based is the debased neoliberal ideology that was used to justify the credit boom in the first place. It is roughly the fifth in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to resolve the credit crunch, which became the sovereign debt crisis and then the Euro crisis. Stability is to be achieved by imposing increasingly harsh austerity and savagely cutting wages, pensions and public services.  As none of these were in any way responsible for a crisis based on the financialisation of capital and a frenzied bubble of reckless lending by the banks, it is hardly surprising that repeated doses of the same medicine don’t resolve the issue, especially when the banks and the bondholders continue to absorb a greater and greater share of the world’s wealth.

Protesters often cry that austerity isn’t working. At a number of levels this misses the point.  It causes terrible privation to the working class – but this is the scheme working – this is what it is supposed to do.  It has certainly worked for the bondholders, banks and stock markets, restoring share values in the stock market to pre-crash levels. Where it hasn’t worked is in restoring stability and this is where the emphasis has shifted from the workers picking up the tab to a process of restructuring – wage rates and social benefits must be driven down to a point where competiveness is assured by pushing wage rates to the bottom and keeping them there. The stability pact is aimed at outlawing opposition and moving the levers of the economy outside any form of democratic control, so that  the workers feel powerless and so that any kind of reform seems impossible.

The demands of the fiscal pact are:

*            General government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus. The annual structural deficit must not exceed 0.5% of nominal GDP.

*            Budgets will be submitted to the commission in advance – so Ireland’s budget is discussed in Germany, not in the Dail.

*            The balanced budget rule will be introduced in Member States’ national legal systems at constitutional level. It will be out of the reach of any new government that opposes austerity.

*            Member States whose government debt exceeds 60% of GDP will sharply cut public spending.  In Ireland’s case this would mean a 5% cut year on year.

*            The governments in this situation shall submit a structural reform plan to the European commission and council and they will oversee the economy – a permanent troika arrangement.

*            The plan will be a partnership arrangement – social partnership in Ireland has delivered so well for capitalism that it is to be exported across Europe.

*            Countries that don’t meet their targets can be fined by the European court.

The central idea is that countries must balance their books. The sheer gall of this demand is breathtaking. The US economy floats on trillions of debt. The British print billions of extra pounds to manage their economy. The banks don’t balance their books, the bondholders don’t balance their books, the speculators don’t balance their books but Sean and Sinead Public – they must practice the most severe forms of financial stringency!

It is difficult to see just how extreme an idea this is when we are bombarded with propaganda that claims that the crisis is one of unbridled public spending and that assures us that national economies are just like private households.

All of the above is nonsense. Public spending had nothing to do with the credit crunch and Irish public spending  – and the level of public services – are at the bottom end of European tables.

In any case a national economy is nothing like a household. What it needs to function is liquid capital – the ability to move quickly between surplus and deficit as the occasion demands. The imposition of the pact would confirm the dependent nature of the Irish economy.

But much of capitalism no longer operates by the old rules. Despite all the blather about risk-taking entrepreneurs the new rule is that senior bondholders must never suffer a loss.

Under this rule the debt built up by banks and bondholders in the credit crunch became public debt. The public debt became sovereign debt. The accumulated sovereign debt became a crisis of the Eurozone. The Financial Stability Pact aims to stabilize the Eurozone by assuring bondholders that there is no limit to the amount that will be extracted from the working class to guarantee the euro.

There are two further elements to the pact worthy of notice. One is its permanent nature. It is not meant to overcome a temporary difficulty of one or two years. Rather it is meant to forever change the balance of forces between capital and labour and leave the majority of the working class in abject poverty. The other element is that, under the regime of late capitalism, democracy is becoming increasingly obsolete. In Greece and Italy capitalism has stepped in with an imposed regime. In Ireland the troika supervises the government. Now the FSP will enshrine  austerity in law and in the constitution and votes will have no power to alter economic policy.

The Irish establishment argue that the barbarism of the stability pact represents safety, stability and the road to prosperity. With these sorts of arguments they should be on a hiding to nothing – yet at the time of writing they have a majority of those expressing an opinion.

Beyond the formal argument there is an unstated argument, expressed in arguments that Europe will simply ignore a no vote or, alternatively, that we are so deeply committed to austerity that a new pact will make no difference. The basic argument is that Ireland is incapable of having any autonomy or level of self-determination. We should simply do as we are told and the imperialist powers will recover, dragging dependent countries like Ireland in their wake.

If we are to fight for a no vote we must both expose the dishonesty and brutality of our capitalist overlords and make the case for an alternative society able to meet human needs and that allows us to control our own destiny.

 

A better, fairer way

It is now generally forgotten that the bank bail-out was followed by mass demonstrations and by a public sector strike. The initial protests were not all unsuccessful – pensioners and students forced retreats on the first austerity plan. It was notable that the further one got from the trade union leadership the more successful the protests were.

There was a pretty simple reason for that. The trade union leaderships had been locked in social partnership with government and bosses since the 1980’s. Wage freezes were punctuated by cost of living rises and compensation in the form of tax cuts. Even while economic growth took place wages as a proportion of the economy fell sharply and profits rose equally sharply. Strikes were largely unknown but the union bureaucracy gained new status, ensconced in partnership committees at every level of society, sympathising with their members at changes to working conditions they had agreed in solemn conclave.

As this model of business unionism gained ground the salaries of union bosses, appointed for life, swelled – John Carr of INTO, with an enormous salary and pension package, become the highest paid union executive in the British isles, his pay dwarfing that of union officials in British unions with ten times the membership. He was closely followed by Jack O’Connor of SIPTU.

So when the credit crunch broke the concerns of the bureaucracy were not identical to those of their members. Ordinary trade unionists worried about jobs, wages and pensions. The bureaucracy worried about maintaining their place in partnership, including the acceptance of austerity. They had, however, to sell a policy of collaboration to their members.

The outcome was their policy of a “Better, Fairer Way”.  The policy was misnamed. In reality it was a better, fairer way to pay the bondholders. Essentially there were two proposals. One was to take longer to pay the debt. In essence the Irish government has been forced down this path. The outcome is even higher interest payments and austerity stretching beyond 2025.

The second proposal was that, in addition to paying the bondholders, the government should have adopted a “countercyclical” Keynesian programme of investment to stimulate the economy. Again this would have involved a bigger debt and more interest payments, but that didn’t matter. The fact that government and employers rejected their programme did not affect its usefulness in providing cover for a policy of support for austerity.

It is important to remember that, even if sincere, the “better, fairer way” would not have amounted to an alternative. It is firmly rooted in a Keynesian past and is essentially an appeal for an alternative, gentler capitalism. None of the major powers say that such an alternative exists. When the Greek people vote against austerity the capitalist powers tighten the financial necktie around their throats, when Hollande proposes investment for growth he does so on top of the continuation of austerity.  Socialists should not find themselves putting forward a left version of the bureaucracy’s programme.  The question is not what capitalism will do to help the workers. It is what the workers will do to fight back.

The union leaders called for a better and fairer way, but caved into savage wage and pension cuts. This collapse was followed by a new partnership, summarised in the Croke Park agreement , where the unions not only accepted cuts, but worked to agreed targets to impose them. The arrival of the troika saw trade union collaboration written into the memorandum of understanding.

There are a number of key elements in the discussion about the Croke Park agreement that remain important. One is the claim that the pay of public sector workers would be protected. Almost immediately that narrowed to cover existing members. New teachers, for example, work at a lower rate with very poor pension provision. That makes the agreement not a temporary shelter, but a mechanism for restructuring pay and conditions. Even in the case of existing workers pay rates are maintained via extra unpaid work and mass redundancies. Allowances, we are now told, are not part of our wage and can now be slashed.

A second point is the role of “left” trade union leaders. Although a sizable section of the trade union leadership opposed Croke Park, that opposition was purely formal and never involved putting forward an alternative or mobilising workers in struggle. Following the vote Jimmy Kelly of UNITE called on members to reverse their no vote, effectively turning a 60% victory for the right into a 100% victory.

Throughout the discussions about partnership, austerity and Croke Park one thing stands out. If the union bureaucracy stood by a single word of their “better, fairer” alternative then we would be facing into an indefinite general strike. At the very core of the Financial Stability Pact is the outlawing of any Keynesian “invest for jobs” alternative. So when ICTU shrugs their shoulders, when Jack O’Connor mumbles weasel words, they are simply confirming the policy of David Begg and the majority of the Trade union leaderships – there is no alternative to sacrificing the workers to save capitalism.

 

Building Resistance

Resistance has to begin by recognizing the depth of the hole we are in. We are the victims of a failed economic system, handicapped by the political collapse of working class institutions. As we write, the majority of workers in France and Greece have voted against the austerity. Growing opposition will cause disquiet and instability among the European elite, but will not lead them to abandon austerity.

In France Francois Hollande has won mass support, but has not put forward a programme of opposition to austerity. Rather he promises what our politicians routinely promise – renegotiation – with investment proposals that will remain marginal when tied to an agreement of permanent austerity.

Hollande is echoing many socialists when he proclaims that austerity isn’t working, but this is to misstate the case. At one level austerity has worked very well. All the bondholders have been paid, the stock exchanges have recovered to pre-crash levels and the total assets of the rich have significantly increased.

Of course austerity does not work for the working class. Young people flee Ireland. In the North charities distribute 1/3 million in food parcels. In Spain 50% of youth are unemployed.   In Greece parents, unable to feed their children, abandon them in food kitchens. This does not represent a problem to capital. Its normal operation involves a significant proportion of the world’s population living with permanent hunger. Part of the current recovery involves global speculation in food reserves, pushing the poor closer to starvation.

Where austerity isn’t working is in providing a return to stability. The level of debt weighs down economies. They slip in and out of recession and the danger of all-out revolt by workers becomes greater. The current strategy is to press ahead with austerity, to create a new reality where the price of labour is driven downwards so that if capitalism does recover, a new boom will be driven by low wage economies, with public services stripped away and privatised.  This will not feel very different from austerity to the working class. The capitalists hope to convince workers that it is impossible to fight back by removing democratic controls on the economy through the Financial Stability Pact.

The alternative strategy offered by Hollande is to manoeuvre to retain the support of workers by adding a small element of investment. One example of this kind of strategy was Obama saving the US car market while slashing jobs and wages far car workers. Even the minor proposals by Hollande have led to panic in the markets. They fear that rising hopes in workers that cannot be realized will simply increase the threat of revolt.

That revolt has to be changed from potentiality to actuality. We need to build new workers movements across Europe with policies that resolve the crisis in the interests of the workers, not those of capital.

 

A genuine alternative

A genuine alternative must include:

*            A full repudiation of the debt. Any form of bailout can only bleed the workers dry.

*            Seizure of assets where capitalism is no longer able to productively develop them. We either own them as public services or we have involuntarily bought them through NAMA.

*            A bank controlled by the workers – after all, we own all the capitalist ones.

Workers Control of national resources in the process of being given away to transnationals.

*            An international confederation of workers resistance across Europe.

All of the above presupposes an independent workers movement which can only be built from the existing resistance and from a political opposition to ICTU’s policy of collaboration.

A no vote will give new life to resistance. Alongside the votes in Greece and France it will establish that austerity is not something that workers accept but something imposed upon them, and thus justify further resistance.

And further resistance will be necessary. There is no possibility that a series of votes will persuade the bondholders, the IMF and ECB to set fire to hundreds of billions of debt. We may not be asked to vote again on this one, as it does not block the European strategy, but our enemies will be striving to apply the crushing blows of the Austerity Pact and bring a more brutal form of capitalism to life in an Ireland of perpetual austerity.

It is important that we build a movement that will continue after the vote and that sees itself as an action movement rather than an electoral one. The simplest process would be for the household charge movement to become a more general anti-austerity movement.

The movement must orient towards the working class. It should challenge ICTU now that it is effectively out of the shadows and in support of austerity. It should call on unions that say they are for a no vote to break with ICTU and to campaign actively as part of the resistance. Nor should it wait for any section of the bureaucracy: rank and file movements should be formed across the unions to assert the rights of the ordinary members.

The tide is turning. We have had four years of austerity and endless promises that capitalism would recover. Instead we have continued chaos and a merciless attempt to drive the living conditions of the working class back into the 18th century.

Now workers across Europe are saying no. We must join with them to reject capitalist austerity and begin the journey to a socialist society, based on human need.

 

Socialist Democracy (Ireland), May 2012

 

 

 

 

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Feb 26 2010

Republican Socialist Convention Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reply from Allan Armstrong (24 02 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 20 2009

Dublin mobilisation – Lions led by donkeys

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:48 pm

On Sunday, February 21st, 120,000 workers answered the call of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and took to the streets of Dublin. John McAnulty, of Socialist Democracy (Ireland), makes his assessment of both the potential and the political limitations of this massive demonstration.

It has become unfashionable to speak of working class power. Asserting the power and potential of the working class provokes laughter or leads to the speaker being derided as a mindless doctrinaire.

Yet on Sunday 21st, on the streets of Dublin, we saw working class power – 120,000 working people marching in their own defence. Nor were these people a mindless mob. Working class power stood alongside working class organisation. The marchers stood together in occupations, in union branch and factory groups, as town and country groups. Given that they represent the sentiment of the majority of organised workers in the country, it would have been the work of an afternoon to displace the current government of capitalist crooks and take control of the state.

All that was needed was the will. That will was absent. It is that task – the task of convincing workers of the need to take state power – that is at the centre of socialist politics. It is that task that is so difficult.

It was clear from the demonstration that the majority were firmly behind the policy of the bureaucracy – accepting the need for cuts but looking for a fairer settlement. This was reflected in banners, placards and even T-shirts: ‘Can do our bit – can’t take the whole hit’, ‘Fair deal, not raw deal’, ‘Levy too heavy’ and ‘A better, fairer way’ (to cut wages and services). There was also a conviction that lobbying the government would lead to them changing direction – many marchers did not wait for speeches, but turned and walked away. Many were disinterested in the left publications

For their part, the bureaucracy were absolutely open about their aims. Their spokesperson announced that the purpose of the march was to get back around the table with government. ICTU had published its ten-point plan – a fairer way for the workers to support the bankers. At the rally, ICTU General Secretary, David Begg, announced that the bureaucracy’s plan was the best way to achieve the government aims. ‘It’s the best offer you’ll get,’ he said. There seems little doubt about that.

Yet things are not well, and the bureaucracy’s fear of self-organisation of the working class probably exceeds that of the government. What we saw in Dublin was the last gasp of the Irish Ferries strategy – mass demonstrations as bargaining chips to gain a place at the bosses’ table, followed by a sell-out.

The workers support a fair outcome, but what they mean by this is very different from the bureaucracy’s perspective. They expect that the cutting edge of the crisis will be blunted – that their jobs and pensions will be protected and public services protected. They believe that the capitalists can be forced into paying a large proportion of the bank bail out.

These expectations must fall. The workers are the source of wealth and across the world the strategy is to make them pay. The only way that capitalists can be made to pay is through a process of sequestration and expropriation – the first steps towards a socialist society.

In the coming period union leaders will either strike a deal and lead the offensive against the workers or they will be refused a place at the table and gradually defuse mass opposition. In any case it is the duty of socialists and class-conscious workers to build an independent movement around an alternative working class program.

Far too many of the current left organisations are simply acting as left supporters of the bureaucracy.

www.SocialistDemocracy.org

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