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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Jul 08 2017

DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

The 133rd Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday 8th July will see some 150,000 march through the ancient city. Dave Douglass, ex-miner and author of Stardust and Coaldust autobiographical trilogy looks at its  history and the ongoing significance.

 

BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

 

 

A day of looking back and looking forward

Crowds are now back to the size they were in the immediate post-war years following nationalisation, when they celebrated the defeat of the hated private coal-owners. This mother of all miners’ galas, featuring both picnics and demonstrations, was the labour movement’s most prestigious public platform. The miners formed the bedrock among the proletarian, trade union and socialist ranks; they made up an army of labour that was strategically placed in terms of their bargaining power and influence – the politics of coal dictated much of politics per se. The position of the miners in the class war sent waves across the broad labour movement. Continue reading “DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER”

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Apr 20 2016

FIRST HAND REPORT OF THE 1916 DUBLIN RISING

The first reports sympathetic to the 1916 Rising appeared in the Women’s Dreadnought on Saturday 13 May 1916. Thoughts on Easter Week was written by the editor, Sylvia Pankhurst. This was followed by Scenes from the Rebellion by Patricia Lynch sent to Dublin to report on the Easter Rising. Patricia Lynch (1898 – 1972) was an Irish author of children’s literature and a journalist .

THOUGHTS ON EASTER WEEK

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Sylvia Pankhurst addressing an outdoor meeting

Justice can make but one reply to the Irish rebellion, and that is to demand that Ireland shall be allowed to, govern herself.
Continue reading “FIRST HAND REPORT OF THE 1916 DUBLIN RISING”

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Mar 02 2016

THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

 

This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 

 

A. THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

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Introduction

The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.

 

1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.
Continue reading “THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS”

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Nov 12 2013

100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DUBLIN LOCKOUT

Jim Slaven of the James Connolly Society has written the following article on the 100th anniversary of The Dublin Lock-Out. The leadership of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union provided by Jim Larkin and James Connolly in the face of Dublin boss, William Murphy Murphy, stands in marked contrast to that of Len McCluskey of UNITE in the face of the threats at Grangemouth by INEOS boss, Jim Ratcliffe, one century later. 

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Continue reading “100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DUBLIN LOCKOUT”

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Feb 11 2011

TRADE UNIONS IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY

Below are two articles. The first is a report of the Third Global Commune event entitled ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?’. The second is Allan Armstrong’s talk given to the Independent Workers Union conference in Dublin on 4.4.09. on behalf of the  SSP’s International Committee.

 

1. THE THIRD GLOBAL COMMUNE EVENT, 29.1.11  

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

 

It was generally agreed by participants that the third Global Commune event, jointly hosted by the Republican Communist Network (RCN) and the commune, on Saturday, January 29th, was a very worthwhile day. Once again, the event was held in the ‘Out of the Blue’ Centre in Leith (Edinburgh) and involved, as well as the organising groups, members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Permanent Revolution, the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh (ACE), current and ex-members of the SSP, and the Anarchist Federation.

The theme for the day was, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ There was a shared agreement that the traditional Broad Left strategy for working in trade unions had been shown to be wanting. By and large, Broad Lefts accept the existing union structures and concentrate on replacing Right wing leaderships. However, we now have the situation where new Broad Lefts have to contest old Broad Lefts, which have become as conservative as the leaderships they replaced. This highlights the flawed thinking behind their ‘capture the machinery’ approach.

Mary Macgregor of the RCN chaired the initial and plenary sessions.  The opening platform of speakers consisted of Allan Armstrong of the RCN and the commune, Stuart King of Permanent Revolution, Tommy McKearney of the IWU, Alberto Durango of the Latin American Workers Association (LAWA) and the IWW, and Mike Vallance of ACE. They each put forward different approaches, including organising within or outside existing trade unions, in TUC/ITUC-recognised or independent unions, and the possibility of a strategy involving a mixture of these methods.

Apologies for being unable to attend were given by Brian Higgins of the rank and file Building Workers Group, who is currently involved in the anti-blacklist campaign; and by Jerry Hicks, who has just campaigned on a rank and file platform for the post of General Secretary in UNITE. Therefore, Allan Armstrong, the former Scottish Teachers’ Rank & File convenor provided a rank and file perspective.

Allan used his experience in the Lothian and the Scottish Rank & File Teacher groups. He drew a distinction between a rank and file movement and a rank and file caucus. In 1974/5, the Rank & File Teacher group had been to the forefront of a three month long independent (unofficial or wildcat) rank and file movement of Scottish teachers organised through Action Committees. The central demand was for a £15 a week flat rate pay increase. The Action Committees organised weekly three-day strike action, street activities, large demonstrations, and an occupation of the EIS (the main Scottish teachers’ union) HQ. Negotiations were conducted directly between delegates from the Action Committees and representatives from the Scottish Office at New St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The teacher delegates were backed by a demonstration outside of striking teachers, whilst the Scottish Office had the backing of the Special Branch (or some other state agency) cameramen on the roof!

The Action Committees held weekly open meetings of striking teachers, and sent flying pickets to other schools to draw them into action. They also worked within the EIS. Many activists were EIS school reps. Eventually there was a palace coup at EIS HQ. This enabled a rejigged union leadership to sanction its own official action. Negotiations were confined once more to union officials and the Scottish Office, much to their mutual relief. Nevertheless, the strength of the independent strike action was enough to force the government to concede the financial equivalent of nearly the whole rank and file movement’s £15 pay demand. However, with negotiations now conducted by EIS officials, the distribution of the money gained was massively skewed in favour of school managements.

The self-confidence gained by teachers meant that further action over the next two years, mostly official, but sometimes involving independent action, was able to win substantial improvements in teachers’ conditions. A new contract clearly defined maximum working hours and class sizes. In the process of these struggles, Scottish education and teacher trade unionism was turned upside down. The employers and union officials were unable to fully reassert their control until the McCrone Deal was implemented in 2001.

After the ending of the initial rank and file movement, around the action over pay in 1975, Scottish Rank & File Teachers continued as a caucus. They campaigned around a very wide range of issues, e.g. pay (for a single salary scale, for flat rate increases), improved conditions (smaller class sizes), for women’s and gay rights, against the use of the belt (the form of corporal punishment in Scottish schools), for the right of school students to organise, for egalitarian educational provision, secular education and support for Gaelic language teaching. They also campaigned to democratise the union – demanding head teachers out and directly elected and accountable union office bearers on the average pay of the members. Most importantly though, they championed the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces, and defended, and when possible initiated, independent action.

The Scottish Teachers Rank & File caucus was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982, leaving only the Lothian Rank & File group. Later, a Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers (SFST) brought together the Left once more. However, the SFST became a hybrid Broad Left/Rank & File caucus. Furthermore, the employers had encouraged division amongst teachers by creating a plethora of promoted posts. They also curtailed a vibrant culture of alternative educational thinking amongst classroom teachers, through the top-down promotion of tightly policed ‘educational’ counter-reforms. The Tories’ anti-trade union laws undermined independent strike action, massively aided by trade union officials. However, there was still limited independent action until as recently as the 2003, in protest against the war in Iraq.

Allan summed up by saying that he thought the rank and file approach was still valid in various unions. However, there had been a rapid decline of union membership in many sectors of employment, as well as new areas of work without any union organisation. Union leaderships were often more interested in suppressing any attempts to resist the employers, acting in effect as a free personnel management service for the bosses. Such leaders wanted little more than sweetheart agreements with the employers to ensure a tick-off system of subs collections, primarily for their own benefit. Therefore, socialists should think tactically, and consider when an independent union, or possibly dual official/independent union approach, may be more appropriate than a rank and file caucus approach.

Stuart King of Permanent Revolution then drew on the experience of the early Minority Movement in the trade unions in the early 1920’s. The CPGB’s work in the Minority Movement formed part of the wider work of the Third International, which had organised the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in 1920 to conduct united front work within the international trade union movement. Although mostly associated with the official Communist Parties, RILU drew together wider forces within the unions, especially those from a Syndicalist tradition.

Stuart argued that there were some similarities in the early 1920’s to the situation we face today. In April 1921, the two leaderships of the NTWU (later the TGWU) and the NUR, failed to support the miners of the MFGB (later the NUM), in the face of employer imposed wage cuts, despite being part of the Triple Alliance. This ‘Black Friday’ climb-down led to a growing feeling of demoralisation amongst workers. Many left their unions. The Minority Movement launched a ‘Back to the Unions’ campaign, with the intention of getting workers organised to resist the growing employers’ offensive, and to bring the union leaders under the effective control of the rank and file.

Stuart said that we also face a period of retreat today, as existing union leaderships had joined social partnerships with the state and employers. There was also declining union membership. The ‘Awkward Squad’ had also turned out to be not that awkward when it came to effectively challenging the employers and the state. Nevertheless, workers still look to their official unions when it comes to taking defensive action – as recent strikes of civil servants, airline cabin staff and others have demonstrated. This means communists must be active within the existing unions and struggle to bring them under effective rank and file control.

Stuart’s contribution provided a counterpoint to others who emphasised the fundamental differences in the situation we face today, compared to the past. In particular, Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland highlighted the major challenges workers now face.

Tommy argued that thirty years of neo-liberal economics have finally done fundamental damage to the system it was meant to promote. Facilitated by globalisation, the enormous transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists has created a situation where consumers in the west no longer have the purchasing power to buy the produce of their own industry and the developing countries have not yet reached a level where they can take up the slack. The contradiction is explicable only by Marxist economists.

What has also happened, almost unnoticed by many commentators, is the collapse of social democracy in the face of the neo-liberal assault and the most recent crisis in capitalism. For a few years the social democratic movements of Europe disguised their collapse by stealing the clothes of the neo-liberals. Tony Blair, Schroder, Mitterand were in reality as far to the right as any Tory or Christian Democrat. In the face of economic collapse post 2008, they could only offer right-wing solutions.

Moreover, the trade union movement that had give birth to and thereafter sustained these parties for almost a century was as ideologically and organisationally bankrupt. There is no longer a viable middle way between socialism and capitalism.

The IWU recognises this fact and has decided to seek out new and more appropriate methods of organisation in order to meet the new challenge. Among other strategic options, the IWU is actively developing a policy of building community and/or social justice unionism. This concept is not new or devised by the IWU but it recognises the need to emphasise the struggle between classes and the need to promote the unity and solidarity of the working people.

Tommy summed up by saying that we are in a new era. There has been a fundamental change in social relationships in the west, and we must recognise this in our ideological analysis, in our policy decisions and in our organisations structures. The IWU may be small but we are confident in our analysis and in our strategy.

Then Alberto Durango gave a thorough and humorous account of his experience as a migrant worker from Colombia now living in London. Migrant workers often had more than one job to make ends meet. This sometimes meant that they could be in more than one union.

Alberto had started as a cleaner in a non-unionised office. First of all, his boss had resorted to Alberto for help, asking him to inform workers who did not speak English that they would have their hours cut and changed. Alberto brought the workers together and told them in Spanish  – “This fucking manager wants to… !” They began to organise, turning first to the T&G. The T&G (now UNITE) organised an official Justice for Cleaners campaign. There were some initial successes against large City of London and Canary Wharf companies. LAWA, which Alberto was very much involved in, was to the forefront of campaigning, and was provided with office space and money by UNITE.

However, there was a limit to how far the UNITE leadership was prepared to push. After organising some demonstrations, it contented itself with signing ‘no further action’ deals in return for minimum pay awards. The employers then started changing workers’ hours and conditions and pressured them over their immigration status. Alberto was sacked, arrested and had his home raided by the police.

UNITE’s leadership wasn’t prepared to challenge this. Therefore, workers had to organise their own independent Cleaners Defence Committee. This had led to an international campaign {including solidarity action in Edinburgh, following Alberto addressing the first Global Commune event}. The UNITE leadership, supported by the local Broad Left, then turned on the workers involved, smearing activists, refusing to back those without papers, and taking away LAWA’s facilities.

In order to organise, LAWA then turned to the IWW. A wider organisation was required to unite migrant workers from many countries. They needed an independent forum for organising, without being directly sabotaged by UNITE officials and the Broad Left. The new IWW cleaners’ branch provided this. However, some cleaners still worked within UNITE too, and had participated in the rank and file campaign to elect Jerry Hicks.

The last of the morning speakers was Mike Vallance. He explained how ACE, with its own premises, had been set up in the aftermath of the successful Anti-Poll Tax campaign. ACE became very much involved in claimants’ campaigns, providing a venue for meeting and socialising, organising support demonstrations and providing advocates to support people in their dealings with various state agencies. ACE also operated as a venue for a wider range of campaigns and various organisations, including the Anarchist Federation. It was also involved in the production and distribution of a number of bulletins and other publications, including the commune.

Currently ACE was involved in the Edinburgh refuse workers’ campaign which was challenging the City Council’s massive cut in pay and worsening of conditions. The Council’s attack was being made under the guise of bringing about ‘parity’ across their workforce. It had begun under the last administration led by the Labour Party, and was continuing under the present Lib Dem/SNP administration. The refuse cleaners’ union, UNITE, was in cahoots with the Council, and they had organised no effective backing, despite the campaign being official. Their main concern was to bring the current official work-to-rule to an end.

ACE had been involved in providing bulletins, posting support stickers, but most of all, in attempts through sit-down actions to blockade scab drivers employed by the Council to break the refuse workers’ work-to-rule. Workers fear that it is the Council’s intention to privatise the refuse collection service, and replace them with non-union workers on lower pay and worsened conditions. Yet, despite the almost total lack of official support, the workers had so far rejected any of the union-backed ‘offers’. In the light of this determination, ACE was hoping to draw others into its solidarity campaign.

This was followed by a short plenary session. Contributions ranged from one participant who said that social democracy had revealed its bankruptcy as far back as the First World War. Matthew Jones of the commune particularly welcomed Tommy’s appreciation that a new political trade unionism was needed after the now evident failure of social democracy and stalinism. In order to maximise participation, the meeting soon broke up into two workshops, with RCN and commune members acting as facilitators and recorders.

After lunch, Paul Stewart and Patricia Campbell of the IWU presented the case for a community or social justice unionism approach. Paul showed a DVD drawing on the experiences of the Kanagawa City Union in Japan. This union organised migrant workers, especially from Latin America. It addresses not only workplace issues, but the wider problems workers face in the community such as racially motivated and domestic violence, sexual harassment, health, welfare and visa problems. It also calls on members to participate regularly in protests outside offending companies. Paul was going to make this DVD more widely available.

Patricia followed this up with a power point presentation (until the technology failed!) of the current work of the IWU in attempting to broaden out union organisation into the communities. The IWU had conducted a participatory survey into the issues that local communities wanted to address. It also sought to address the problems faced by migrant workers. The IWU had already challenged the strong-arm tactics of the PSNI (the revamped RUC) in Armagh City. It had also campaigned on the streets, with red banners, against the DUP/Sinn Fein government’s proposals to limit marches. These would prevent workers from organising their own demonstrations. The IWU had helped to force the authorities to retreat.

The two follow up workshops discussed the possibilities of wider community organising. They also returned to the issue addressed in the morning of whether unions were fit for purpose.

There was a final report-back plenary session with further discussion. The initial platform speakers were provided with an opportunity to say what they thought had been learned and gained from the day. The majority of those in attendance over the day were activists. However, the need for wider forums for strategic debate and discussion, which did not necessarily lead to immediate calls for activity, was nonetheless appreciated.

There was a wide consensus that there was no single approach to organising workers in the complex and changing situation we faced. The long period of working class retreat probably disguised some of the new methods of resistance that were emerging in the face of the current capitalist offensive. It was also acknowledged that learning from wider international experience, especially that of the IWU, had been very useful. There had been differences over whether the situation we now face is altogether different from earlier experiences, and over the longstanding issue of whether ‘to party or not to party’. However, these differences were all aired in a very comradely manner.

A good day was followed by the now traditional Global Commune social session in Wetherspoon’s  ‘Foot of the Walk’, where members from all the organisations present through the day continued their discussions till much later!

Allan Armstrong. 10.2.11

 

2. TALK GIVEN TO THE INDEPENDENT WORKERS UNION CONFERENCE IN DUBLIN ON 4.4.09

Allan Armstrong was invited to speak for the SSP International Committee 

I would like to thank the IWU organisers very much for giving me the opportunity to speak for the Scottish Socialist Party’s International Committee.

The origins of the SSP lie in the Anti-Poll Tax Movement, which   rocked British politics between 1989 and 1991. However, it was to take a number of years before the various political groups involved had broken sufficiently with earlier practices and gained the confidence to create a new political organisation. In 1996 the Scottish Socialist Alliance was formed. And right from the start, political organisation was linked with working class struggles. SSA members threw themselves into the campaigns against water privatisation, the Glacier works occupation and Save Our Schools. By 1998, the SSA had become the Scottish Socialist Party, and Tommy Sheridan was elected to Holyrood the Scottish parliament. Keith Baldassara and Jim Bollan were elected SSP councillors in Glasgow Pollock and West Dunbartonshire. In 2006, the SSP gained 6 MSPs at the expense of both the SNP and Labour Party and formed part of a wider rainbow opposition,

And then of course came the Tommygate ‘car crash’. Tommy McKearney has pointed the finger at the underlying problem, in Fourthwrite. The attempt to build a party around a celebrity figure has a bad record in Britain, whether it be Derek Hatton in Liverpool in the 1980s, Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party in the 1990s  and George Galloway’s Respect most recently. In the 2007 Holyrood election, the SSP experienced wipe out, although all the Left faced setbacks internationally after the failure to stop the Iraq War in 2003. The only SSP figure still in a publicly elected position is councillor Jim Bollan.

However, the SSP is pulling itself up again.  We remain profoundly Scottish internationalist. At our 2007 conference, we gave support to ‘No One Is Illegal’ so we can campaign to defend migrant rights. We reject ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. The struggle of the Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland, the Latin American Workers’ Association leading the London cleaners and Asian workers at Heathrow provide an inspiring example for us all. Showing our commitment to internationalism, the SSP is putting forward a candidate to the forthcoming 2009 Euro-election as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left. We hope to bring over a French worker to speak to meetings as part of that campaign.

With regard to trade unions, there is spectrum of opinion within the SSP. On one hand there are those who advocate a Broad Left approach which seeks to replace existing Right-wing leaders with Left wing leaders. I, however, belong to those advocating a Rank & File approach, which is, in effect, industrial republicanism. This sees sovereignty lying not with general secretaries in union AGMs, hiding behind AGMs, which they circumvent just as the inner cabinet ignores House of Commons in the UK. And if the union officials don’t actually swear an oath of loyalty to the general secretary, their appointment and privileges ensures where their loyalty lies.

An industrial republican approach sees sovereignty lying with members in their workplaces. Any action we decide to take is not unofficial but independent action. Members can spread this action through both picketing and organising area, regional and national meetings. All union officers should be elected, recallable and on the average pay of the members they represent.

To some of us in the SSP, the IWU’s commitment to developing community unionism represents a twenty-first century update of the industrial unionism, which produced the great Wobbles in the USA and had such a profound effect on Larkin and Connolly’s and Irish Transport & General Worker Union. The wave of the future could well be community unionism which links workplaces with communities.

At a deeper political level, the SSP seeks the break-up of the UK state and its alliance with US imperialism. We want an end to the anti-democratic Crown Powers, which have seen death squads, juryless Diplock courts and detention in her majesty’s prisons in recent Irish history. They have also been used to prevent the people of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean returning to their homes, despite a high court ruling in their favour.  And back in 1975, The Australian Labour prime minister, Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the UK appointed governor general. And these Crown Powers have also been used to bring troops into industrial disputes.

The UK state is organised across the three-and-a-bit nations on these islands, and still exerts a great deal of economic and political pressure on the 26 counties too. This is not something that is being countered by the British TUC, Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, or its Northern Ireland Committee. Indeed, the post-1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ and Good Friday Agreement, which together cover all these islands, have not only reinforced social partnerships between union leaders, employers and the state, but have turned these leaders into significant backers of this political set-up, particularly in Northern Ireland. This represents a further political projection of union officials’ role in supporting social partnerships. These already reduce union officials to a cheap personnel service for the employers and government.

Socialists need to be able to challenge this on an all-islands ‘internationalism from below’ basis. Tommy (McKearney) came across and spoke to the SSP’s Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh on. The SSP also took its message to the well-attended Convention of the Left in Manchester in September 2008. I would like to thank the IWU again for inviting me to your conference today. I have learned a lot from the other speakers both form Ireland and further afield here today. The great Scottish internationalist, Hamish Henderson had a saying which I would like to finish on – ‘Freedom Come All Ye!’

 

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also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2002/12/03/rank-and-file-or-broad-left/

 

 

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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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