Sep 13 2015

CLASS AND NATION IN CONTEMPORARY SCOTLAND

CLASS AND NATION IN CONTEMPORARY SCOTLAND CONFERENCE

September 17th-18th

The Renfield Centre, 260, Bath Street, Glasgow,  G2 4HZ

Last September the Sociology Department at Glasgow University held a successful conference on ‘Racism: from the Labour Movement to the Far Right’. We are pleased to announce that we are holding a second conference next month, with a slightly broader remit this time. The aim of our event is to provide a platform for academics, different kinds of activists (political, community, trade union), and for people simply in their capacity as citizens to debate and discuss the meaning of ‘Class and Nation in Contemporary Scotland’ following last year’s independence referendum. We are hosting a key note lecture on Thursday 17 September, followed by a one-day conference on Friday 18 September. We have attached a programme for the conference which details the panels and speakers confirmed.
Continue reading “CLASS AND NATION IN CONTEMPORARY SCOTLAND”

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Mar 23 2015

THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT

Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC activist) provides the following initial assessment of the proposed Scottish Left Project. This is the final part of three articles, the first of which examines the role of the UK state and SNP in attempting to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/) and the second which looks at the inadequate response of the Left across these islands (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/).

 

The Scottish Left Project (SLP) has been mooted in the context of the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, and the success of RIC as a movement within this. There is now a concerted effort by the unionist and nationalist parties to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ [1]. Therefore, the success of the SLP will depend upon whether it takes up the baton bequeathed by these momentous events, or lets itself become a bit-player in others’ political projects.

 

a) the role of the International Socialist Group (ISG)

th

As with RIC, the ISG has been the SLP’s prime mover. It is therefore useful to examine the way the ISG operated within RIC, to come to some better understanding of how it could see its role in the SLP.

Continue reading “THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT”

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Dec 20 2012

RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?

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

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

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Jul 29 2012

A SUMMER OF RADICAL CULTURE

EDINBURGH PEOPLES  FESTIVAL

August 6th-12th

1. People’s History of Edinburgh

August 6th, 6.30 pm,

Outside The Last Drop Public House, Grassmarket

 

Local historian Allan Armstrong leads us on this walk through the Edinburgh that never makes it into the official guide books.  This is the people’s history of ‘Auld Reekie’ shaped by those who lived here and built it.

 

 2. Hamish Henderson Memorial Lecture

Wednesday, August 8th,

Word Power Book Shop, West Nicholson Street

 

Hamish Henderson the famous Scots polymath-poet, author, folk singer, song writer, musician, political activist, linguist, intellectual and founder of the Edinburgh People’s Festival – died in 2002.  He was an inspirational and outspoken advocate of Independence favouring a modern, democratic, socialist republic for Scotland.  Delivering this year’s memorial lecture will be Colin Fox.

For all other events see:-

http://www.edinburghpeoplesfestival.org/whats-on/

(also see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/category/publications/emancipation-liberation/issue-17/ )

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EDINBURGH BOOK FRINGE

 10th to 24th August

Word Power Books, 43-5, West Nicholson Street

Friday, 10th August, 7. 00 pm

 James Kelman launches his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky

Saturday 18th August, 1. 00 pm

 Neil Davidson, winner of Deutscher Memorial Prize, discusses his latest book, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?

 

For all other events see:-

 http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewEventList.php?category_id=12

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DOUNE THE RABBIT HOLE FESTIVAL

Duncarron Fort, Carron Valley Forest, Kilsyth

August 24th – 26th

August 25th, 1. 45 pm

The Longhouse Spoken Word Stage

Dave Douglass, leading NUM militant, member of IWW, author of autobiographical trilogy, Geordies Wa Mental, The Wheels Still In Spin and Ghost Dancers

For all other events see:-

http://dounetherabbithole.co.uk/

 

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Apr 26 2010

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism (edited version in Weekly Worker, no. 211)

Independent Action Required to Achieve Genuine Workers’ Unity

First, I would like to thank Nick for the tenor of his contribution to the debate about communist strategy in the states of the UK and the 26 county Irish republic. After our initial sparring in earlier issues of Weekly Worker and on the RCN website Nick’s contribution develops further his own case for a British approach and a British party. (I am still not sure to what extent the alternative and logically more consistent one state/one party stance of having an all-UK party is supported in the CPGB.) Nick also usefully clears up some points himself (e.g. over his attitude to Luxemburgism) and asks a question which is designed to advance the debate. Before going on to the other issues Nick raises, I will therefore answer this question on whether I support breakaway unions in Scotland.

How to win effective union solidarity

I have consistently argued that the struggle to attain effective union organisation can not be reduced to which national flag flies over a union HQ. Most of the Left, in practice, uphold the sovereignty of the union officials located in their existing union HQs, hoping to replace these some day. This is why many of their union campaigns amount to electoral attempts to replace existing union leaderships with Broad Left leaderships. In more and more cases, the latest Broad Left challenges are being mounted against old Broad Left leaderships, suggesting a serious flaw in this strategy!

Of course, many on the Left would say – ‘No’, we champion the sovereignty of the union conference. However, the relationship between most union conferences and their union bureaucracies is very similar to that between Westminster and the government of the day. In both cases, executives only implement what they wish to, whilst systematically undermining any conference/election policies they, or the employers/ruling class, oppose. In the case of unions, this division is accentuated by elected-for-life and appointed officials, who enjoy pay and perks way beyond those of their members – a bit like Cabinet ministers.

Therefore, I uphold the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces – a republican rank and file industrial strategy, if you like. From this viewpoint ‘unofficial’ action, the term used by bureaucrats to undermine members and to reassert their control, is rejected in favour of the term independent action. Action undertaken by branches can be extended by picketing, and by wider delegate or mass meetings. Certainly, this places a considerable responsibility upon the membership in the branches concerned, necessitating their active involvement in strategic and tactical discussion over the possibilities for extending effective action. Furthermore, instead of politics being largely confined to the select few – union bureaucrats and conference attenders – as when unions are affiliated to the Labour Party – politics becomes a vital necessity in workplace branches.

Nick asks, how can the SSP effectively support action by, for example, civil servants who are organised on an all-British union basis, when we are organised on a Scottish political basis? Actually, it is quite easy. The SSP has members on the executives of all-Britain trade unions, and we seek wider unity for effective action with officers and delegates from England and Wales. Indeed, we can go further and state that we would seek cooperation with union members in Northern Ireland, when action involves all-UK unions, such as the FBU. Yet, in the latter case, support for joint action over economic issues should not prevent socialists raising the political issue of Ireland’s breakaway from the UK state. There is an obvious analogy here for the SSP.

Indeed, there are three other territorial union forms in these islands, – Northern Irish unions (e.g. Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance), Irish unions which organise in the North (e.g. Irish National Teachers Union and the Independent Workers Union) and all-islands unions (e.g. UCATT). Nick’s attempt to equate more effective action with all-Britain unions would in no way help socialists to bring about unity in such varied circumstances. Championing the sovereignty of the union branch, and the forging of unity from below in expanding action, offer the best way of achieving this.

Nick mentions the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the major teaching union in Scotland, and one of the last unions organised on a Scottish basis. The EIS is affiliated, not only to the STUC, but to the TUC and, although not affiliated to the Labour Party, its leadership has, since the mid 1970’s, been as loyal to Labour as any. The EIS is one of the strongest adherents of ‘social partnership’, with large chunks of its official journal indistinguishable from government/management spin – especially its articles on governmental education initiatives.

Until I retired, I was a member of the EIS, a union rep (shop steward) for 34 years, and served on the union’s Edinburgh Local Executive and National Council. I was also a member of Scottish Rank & File Teachers (until they were sabotaged by the SWP) and later the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers. I always upheld the sovereignty of the membership in their branches. Furthermore, I was also centrally involved in the largest campaign that rocked the Scottish educational world and the EIS, in 1974. Here, for the first time, I came up against the sort of arguments Nick raises.

The 1974 strike action was organised unofficially/independently. It took place over more than three months, with huge weekly, school delegate-based meetings. We also argued within the official structures of the EIS (whilst even drawing in some members of the two other small unions). It was here that the old CPGB, Labour Party and Militant supporters told us we should end our independent action and confine ourselves to getting motions passed calling on the union leadership to take a national lead.

If we had done this, it is likely there would have been no industrial action at all. As it was, the massive independent action forced the official leadership to move. And it was the independent rank and file movement which sent delegates to schools in England to try and widen the challenge to the Tory government over pay. Labour Party and CPGB union officers, all stalwart Left British unionists, confined official union activity to Scotland!

There is a definite parallel between Nick’s advocacy that the SSP should abandon its own independent organisation and join with the British Left, planning for the ‘big bang’ British/UK revolution they hope for in the future, and those old CPGB, Left Labour and Militant arguments I first faced back in 1974.

The anti-poll tax campaign – ‘internationalism from below’ in action

Some years later, in 1988, I became chair of the first Anti-Poll Tax Federation (Lothians) and co-chair of the conference of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation. The campaign against the poll tax started a year earlier in Scotland, due to Thatcher’s propensity to impose her own form of devolution here – testing out reactionary legislation in Scotland first.

Militant emerged as the largest political organisation in the Federations. Militant became torn between those who wanted to maintain an all-Britain Labour Party orientation, continuing to prioritise activities inside the party’s official structures, and those who saw the necessity to become involved in independent action through the anti-poll tax unions. Fortunately, it was the latter view that won out.

The negative effect of pursuing a tacitly British unionist strategy was demonstrated by the SWP. Their slogan was – Kinnock and Willis {then TUC General Secretary}- get off your knees and fight (i.e. pushing for others to lead). They argued that only a Britain-wide campaign backed by the official trade union movement could win. When a special Labour Party conference in Glasgow voted against non-payment, the SWP declared the game was over, and some Scottish members went on to pay their poll tax.

The majority in the Federations stuck to their guns and built the independent action first in Scotland, e.g. through non-payment, confronting sheriff officers (bailiffs), etc, and by sending delegations to England and Wales, to prepare people for widened action the following year. Spreading such action from below contributed to the Trafalgar Square riots of March 31st 1990, which put finally paid to the poll tax and to Thatcher.

‘Internationalism from below’, which the SSP International Committee has advocated at the two Republican Socialist Conventions, represents a wider and more politicised development of such actions by our class. Any reading of our documents will show that our ‘internationalism from below’ stance flows from an analysis the concrete political situation, and unlike Nick’s and the CPGB’s stance, does not stem from some abstract attempt to extend a ‘one state/one party’ (or trade union) organisational form over all British/UK socialists; or from a belief in the efficacy of the top-down bureaucratic ‘internationalism’, which is intrinsic to such attempts.

Although rather belated in its formation, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, set up in 1996, directly stemmed from the lessons learned in the anti-poll tax campaign. (Socialist republicans in the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation had argued for the setting up of such organisations from 1990.) Furthermore, contrary to what Nick maintains, far from having a purely Scottish orientation, SSA/SSP members took an active part, providing speakers, to help set up the Socialist Alliances in England, Wales and the Irish Socialist Network. The main obstacles we faced in helping to form new democratic united front organisations came from the British Left!

Perhaps it is also significant that, after addressing large meetings in Scotland, some of the striking Liverpool dockers (1995-8) and their partners said that support here was often wider than in England. Even the response received from the SNP trade union group in Dundee was compared very favourably with the coolness of many Labour Party members closer to home! The SSA was particularly prominent in trying to win solidarity for the dockers in Scotland.

Comparing records in trying to build socialist/communist unity

Now, Nick goes on to make some valid criticisms of the SSA’s successor organisation, the SSP, particularly over its handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair. However, here it is necessary to compare like with like. The CPGB is only a small political organisation with very few connections to the wider working class. In reality it is a socialist/communist propaganda organisation. The SSP, at its height in 2003, united the vast majority of the Left in Scotland, had over a thousand members, won 128,026 votes in the Holyrood election, gained six MSPs and had 2 councillors. It was a party of socialist unity, unlike today when it is an organisation for socialist unity.

When you attempt to organise amongst the wider working class you come under all the immediate political pressures, as well as having to face up to the legacies of past Left traditions. We live in a UK state with a deep-seated imperialist legacy, and where our class has been in retreat in the face of a Capitalist Offensive since 1975.

So, if we are to engage meaningfully amongst the wider class, we have to acknowledge this, and develop a strategy to prevent socialists/communists being dragged back, and to find new openings that enable us to advance both the case and the struggle for a genuine socialist/communist alternative. This means forming definite political platforms. The RCN is a platform in the SSP; the CPGB was part of a platform (Workers Unity) in the SSP. So let’s compare our roles in trying to build wider principled socialist unity.

Now, just as Nick points out that the CPGB has already made many of the criticisms of the SWP and Socialist Party that I raised in my critique, so I will point out that the RCN publicly raised criticisms of the SSP Executive’s handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair, which he also quite rightly criticises. The RCN was the only political organisation to oppose, in principle, socialists’ resort to the bourgeois courts to get legal rulings on how they conduct themselves.

The split, which eventually emerged on the SSP Executive, was about the tactical advisability of a resort to the courts, not against the principle. The Executive, having unanimously warned against such a course of action in this particular case, came to an agreement with Sheridan, who insisted on ignoring this advice. In this agreement, he was allowed to stand down as SSP Convenor in order to pursue his court case as an individual. The Executive hoped this would remove the pressure upon the SSP itself.

This was extremely naïve, showing little understanding of how the state operates. In the case of the CWI/SP, they still haven’t learned this lesson, as their misguided resort to the courts to defend four victimised activists in UNISON has recently highlighted. Back in 2006, the Scottish courts made it quite clear that they made no distinction between the SSP and the activities of its most prominent member. It jailed Alan McCombes for refusing to hand over party minutes covering the Executive decisions on the handling of the Sheridan affair.

This led to a public split on the SSP’s Executive Committee, between those who wanted to continue with Sheridan’s case in the bourgeois courts, and those who could now see that the state held the whip hand. Sheridan was asked to abandon this particularly flawed and potentially disastrous course of action. Unfortunately, with the encouragement of the SWP and the CWI/IS – Sheridan went on regardless, resulting in a split in the SSP. They refused to attend the post-trial Conference organised to address the deep-seated differences, which had emerged in the SSP. Solidarity has been little more than a political ‘marriage of convenience’. You only have to look at the SWP and SP’s continued organisational separation in England, Wales (and Ireland/Northern Ireland) to understand this.

Certainly, mistakes had also been be made by the SSP Executive majority, but these could have been rectified. Indeed, the RCN initiated motion to condemn the resort to bourgeois courts and newspapers to deal with differences amongst socialists was passed at the post-split SSP Conference in 2006.

Ironically, the one issue, which played no part in the split, was the territorial organisational basis of the SSP. The left nationalist Sheridanistas (now the Democratic Green Socialist platform) joined with the Left unionist SWP and with CWI/IS in Solidarity. The Left nationalist influenced (now former) ISM, along with the Left unionist and carelessly named Solidarity platform (!) (AWL), and the republican socialist RCN stayed with the SSP. The left nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement left the SSP to urge support for the SNP, whilst the Left unionist CPGB ended up telling people to vote New Labour in the recent Euro-elections. Yes, a sorry mess!

Now, if ever there was an opportunity for the British Left to make some headway in Scotland, the SSP split this should have been it. However, the CWI/SP had already sabotaged the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, whilst the final coup-de-grace was administered by the SWP, when it decided to move over to pastures green in Respect. Losing support there to Galloway and his allies (the SWP seemed to have learned nothing about cultivating celebrity politics in Solidarity) they then sabotaged Respect. Perhaps, the one thing Nick and I could agree on, is that a particular organisational form – Scottish or British – provides no guarantee of principled socialist unity! That has to be fought out on the basis of principled politics and democratic methods.

Now, some time after the CPGB’s advocacy of giving no support to either the SSP or Solidarity (to my knowledge it no longer had any members involved at this stage), it came up with its own Campaign for a Marxist Party (CMP). Here surely, given the balance of political forces (much more favourable to the CPGB, than say to the SP or SWP in the old Socialist Alliance, the SWP in Respect, or the SP in No2EU) it should have been able to make some real headway in advancing its own brand of socialist/communist unity politics – the organisational unity of self-declared Marxists in an all-Britain (UK?) party.

However, as every non-CPGB report on the CMP has shown (see New Interventions), the CPGB played an analogous role to the SWP in its front organisations. And, just as in the case of the SWP, there has been no honest attempt to account politically for the demise of the CPGB project in this respect. Instead, we have been given personalised attacks – once again shades of the SWP. From the outside, it looks as if the CPGB was just attempting a new recruiting manoeuvre – much like the SWP.

Now the CMP certainly organised on an all-Britain basis, including the Critique/Marxist Forum group in Glasgow. Yet, far from bringing about greater unity, the CMP experience has only resulted in greater disunity! Nick I’m sure witnessed much of this, and I would think it unlikely that he was entirely happy with the way the CPGB conducted itself. However, this wasn’t an accidental one-off.

Before Nick became involved in the CPGB, there had been an all-Britain RCN, which included the Red Republicans (including myself), the Campaign for a Federal Republic, the CPGB and the RDG. The CPGB, in alliance with the RDG, decided to marginalise those who disagreed with their own ‘federal British republican’ position. In Scotland, federal British republicans were a minority in the RCN, but were still well represented on our Scottish Committee. In England, federal republicans were in a majority, but the CPGB and RDG acted to ensure there were no non-federal republicans on the ‘organising committee’ there (in reality very little organising had gone on).

Their idea was to refashion the RCN into an organisation, which would intervene with the ‘federal British republican’ line in the SSP. The CPGB and RDG had no wider role for the RCN in England. They saw their job as conducting Left British unionist ‘missionary work’ in Scotland only.

A rather unpleasant all-Britain RCN meeting was held in London, and through the votes of CPGB and RDG members, the majority of whom had never lifted a finger for the RCN, they won the day. The RCN in Scotland decided it had had enough of the bureaucratic manoeuvring and withdrew. Even the Scottish members of the Campaign for a Federal Republic members joined with the RCN majority in Scotland, and together we constituted ourselves as the RCN (Scotland).

It is not even necessary to accept my interpretation of these particular events to make a political assessment of the consequences of the split. The RCN now only existed in Scotland. The CPGB and RDG were attempting to link up with the very Left unionist (and social imperialist) AWL, and the Glasgow Critique group which still had members in Scotland, to build a new Left unionist platform within the SSP. An additional advantage was the support they had in England (and Wales).

So, which of the two platforms was able to advance in the SSP? Using Nick’s argument about the obvious superiority of all-Britain political organisations it should have been the CPGB and its allies. Yet this wasn’t the case, despite the CPGB’s hope of also winning the support of other Left unionist organisations in the SSP, such as the SWP (Weekly Worker assiduously tried to court Neil Davidson, the SWP’s leading theoretician in Scotland, then advancing a strong Left unionist politics.)

Now, it could possibly be argued, from a CPGB viewpoint, that the task of winning over the SSP to ‘principled’ British Left organisational unity was just too big a task in the face of the opposition. However, then the fight conducted by the CPGB and its allies should have at least solidified a more united pro-British tendency in Scotland. However, the CPGB soon fell out with the AWL and, after the CMP debacle, with the RDG, also leaving members of the Glasgow Critique/Marxist Forum split! And Nick wonders why I think supporters of British Left unity tend to mirror the bureaucratic methods utilised by the British state!

The historical basis for ‘internationalism from below’

The UK is not just any old state. It was once at the centre of the world’s largest empire upon which the sun never set. Today, it forms the principle ally of US imperialism, the dominant power in the world. Today, the UK is ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the USA’s ‘Tsarist Russia’.

For the greater part of their political lives, Marx and Engels argued that socialists should make opposition to the Romanov/Hapsburg counter-revolutionary alliance fundamental to their revolutionary project. Support for the Polish struggle to gain political independence, particularly from the Russian and Austrian Empires, was central to Marx and Engels’ strategy. Engels held on to this perspective until the end of his life, opposing the young Rosa Luxemburg on Polish independence, in the process. Socialists need to adopt a similar strategy today towards the US/UK imperial alliance.

It took some time before Marx and Engels came to an understanding of the best method needed to unite socialists organisationally to promote revolution and struggle against reaction and counter-revolution. However, they outlined their most developed position within the First International, when, significantly, they had to confront the British Left of their day. This tendency tried to uphold a ‘one-state/one-party’ stance, when they denied the Irish the right to form their own national organisation within the International. In arguing against a prominent British First International member, Engels argued that:-

The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal, but that of Poland with regard to Russia… What would be said if the Council called upon Polish sections to acknowledge the supremacy of a Council sitting in Petersburg, or upon Prussian Polish, North Schleswig {Danish} and Alsatian sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin… that was not Internationalism, but simply preaching to them submission to the yoke… and attempting to justify and perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism. It was sanctioning the belief, only too common amongst English {British} working men, that they were superior beings compared to the Irish, and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave States considered themselves to be with regard to the Negroes.

The Second International was formed as the High Imperialism of European dominant-nationality states (German, French and Russian) and top-down imperial national identity sates (British and Belgian) were in the ascendancy. The Second International abandoned Marx and Engels’ ‘internationalism from below’ principle. They adopted a ‘one state/one party’ organisational principle instead, which soon became the conduit for social chauvinist and social imperialist thinking within the social democratic movement.

Luxemburg and Lenin both accepted this new organisational principle. Luxemburg thought, though, that dominant nation chauvinism, which she still recognised, could be combatted by pushing for all-round democratic reforms, without regard to the specific nationalities in any particular state (albeit, as Lenin noticed, with the inconsistent qualification that, after the revolution, Poles should enjoy political autonomy).

Lenin also recognised the dominant nation social chauvinism and social imperialism found in the Second International, but thought this could best be combated through the 1896, Second International Congress decision to uphold ‘the right of nations to self determination’. Lenin thought, though, that any need to actually fight to implement this right was constantly being undermined by ongoing capitalist development, which he thought led to greater working class unity. Furthermore, after any future revolution, national self-determination would not be required, since workers would then want to unite together, initially within the existing state territorial frameworks, after these had been suitably transformed.

However, mainstream Second International figures, as well as Lenin, went on to consider various exceptions to both these organisational and political principles. In the case of some of the major constituent Second International parties, support was sometimes given to non-state parties in other states (often ones in competition with their own imperial bourgeoisies!). In this way the PPS (Poland) and IRSP (Ireland) were able to gain official recognition as Second International Congress delegates.

Lenin, in contrast, tended to support the exercise of self-determination retrospectively, only after he had recognised its political significance, e.g. Norway in 1905, Ireland in 1916. Lenin’s refusal to recognise the real political significance of Left-led national movements within the Russian Empire from 1917 (e.g. Finland and Ukraine), contributed to the isolation of the Revolution, and also to the burgeoning Great Russian bureaucratic character of the new USSR.

Luxemburg’s refusal to get socialists to fight for the leadership of national democratic movements contributed even more to the particular political marginalisation of socialists in Poland, compared say to those ostensibly less revolutionary Finnish socialists. They had been much more brutally crushed in the 1918 White counter-revolution in Finland, than the Polish socialists had been in the imperial backed nationalist revolution there. One reason why Finnish socialists and communists were able to rise from the ashes, is that were still remembered as leaders in the national struggle against Tsarist Russian and German occupation.

The role of an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy in combating the current US/UK imperial alliance

Fast forward to today, and we can see the leading role of US/UK imperialism in the world, promoting the interests of the global corporations. The UK state has been awarded the North Atlantic franchise by the US. Here it operates as spoiler within the EU to prevent it emerging as an imperial competitor to the US. It can even designate Iceland a terrorist state! Through the Peace (or more accurately pacification) Process, UK governments, in alliance with their own junior partners, successive Irish governments, have rolled back the challenge represented by the revolutionary nationalist challenge of the Republican Movement.

Sinn Fein is now a major partner in upholding British rule in ‘the Six Counties’ through their coalition with the reactionary unionist DUP. The ‘Peace Process’ was designed to create the best political environment to ensure that the global corporations can maximise their profits in Ireland. This political strategy has been extended throughout these islands, by the policy of ‘Devolution-all-round’ – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

This strategy has easily tamed such constitutional nationalist parties as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. The SNP, for example, is pursuing a Devolution-Max policy to uphold Scottish business interests in an accepted global corporate dominated world. The UK state strategy has the full support of the USA, the EU, and trade union leaderships locked in ‘social partnerships’ with their governments and the employers.

The constitutionally unionist form of the UK state places the National Question at the heart of the democratic struggle. Middle class nationalism is continually forced into compromises with unionism and imperialism. (At the height of British imperial world domination, the overwhelming majority of the Scottish and Welsh, and a significant section of the Irish middle classes, could be won over to acceptance of various hyphenated British identities – Scottish-British, Welsh-British and Irish-British – in their shared pursuit of imperial spoils). However, today’s SNP support for the monarchy, and for Scottish regiments in the British imperial army, show that unionist/imperialist pressure can still have an impact. Even the ‘independent’ Irish state has given Shannon Airport over to US imperial forces, particularly for ‘rendition’ flights.

Unfortunately, the CPGB has only the most abstract understanding of the British unionist state. As yet, it doesn’t even fully comprehend the difference between a nation and a nationality. During the 1997 Devolution Referendum campaign, Weekly Worker denied there was such a thing as a Scottish nation, claiming there was only a British nation, in which there lives a Scottish nationality. The existence of a wider Scottish nation, and not just a narrower ethnic Scots nationality, can easily be demonstrated in the well-known Scottish names of Sean Connery, Tom Conti, Shireen Nanjiani and Omar Saeed.

The logic of the CPGB’s position, if it had upheld its own particular version of national self-determination, should have been to argue for the 1997 referendum ballot to be confined to (ethnic) Scots. This would of course brought it into line with the far right nationalist, Siol nan Gaidheal! The CPGB also got itself into so many knots through promoting its own particular sect-front, ‘The Campaign for Genuine Self Determination’, that it buried any report of its end-of-campaign public meeting and rally in Glasgow. This meeting was certainly entertaining, but hardly a triumph for CPGB politics!

Indeed the beginnings of the CPGB’s political decline in Scotland can be identified with this particular meeting, which it was so reluctant to report on. I made an extended political assessment, which was sent to Weekly Worker to review. It declined to do so.

However, the confusion between nation and nationality has been taken to greater lengths in ‘the Six Counties’. Here Jack Conrad has identified a 75% Irish-British nation (!), scoring somewhat higher in the nation stakes than Scotland. The fact that Irish-British nationality identification went into rapid retreat after the Irish War of Independence is just ignored.

What undoubtedly exists in the ‘Six Counties’ today is an ‘Ulster’-British identity, buttressed by official Unionism and unofficial Loyalism alike. However, this relatively new nationality identification isn’t fixed either. There are a minority of ‘Ulster’-British who would happily become fully integrated into the British unionist and imperial state. The majority in the UUP, DUP and TUV, still want to maintain Stormont and other Northern Irish statelet institutions to hopefully ensure continued Protestant Unionist ascendancy. An ultra-reactionary minority has contemplated declaring UDI (Rhodesia style) to form an independent Ulster state, through ethnic cleansing (or, as the relevant UDA document puts it – ‘nullification’). They all, of course, proudly champion the British imperial legacy.

Ironically, there has been a limited rise of British-Irishness in ‘the 26 counties’, particularly in ‘Dublin 4’, amongst former Official Republicans and a new wave if ‘revisionist historians’. Significantly, this usually goes along with support for the UK and the USA in its current ‘anti-terrorist’ (i.e. imperial) adventures. These people represent a similar phenomenon to the Euston Manifesto group, formed in 2006 along with others, by former AWL member, Alan Johnson. The AWL, of course, has gone further even than the CWI in its apologetics for working class Loyalist organisations (anticipating its similar attitude to Zionist Labour organisations), so it is not surprising that it has given birth to strong social unionist and imperialist tendencies. Therefore, as long as the CPGB champions the ‘nation’ rights of this particularly reactionary nationality, it is in danger of following the path of the AWL and the CWI.

Now, the majority of the real Irish-British in ‘the 26 counties’ did eventually become Irish themselves, despite the undoubted barriers posed by the Catholic confessional nature of the state there. This development shows the possibilities of creating Irish national unity, especially if full nationality and religious equality is promoted.

The RCN appreciates the real nature of the UK state, and the strategy being pursued by its ruling class to contain potentially threatening national democratic movements. These can take on a republican form in their opposition to the anti-democratic Crown Powers soon wielded against any effective opposition. The RCN also recognises the need to supplement this by engagement with major social issues. This social republicanism (which needs to be developed by communists into conscious socialist republicanism) isn’t just an added-on extra. The fight against jobs and housing discrimination in the Civil Right Movement, and against the poll tax in Scotland, soon became linked with the national and (latent) republican movements in their respective countries.

When the RCN argues for a challenge to the UK state and to its anti-democratic Crown Powers in Scotland, this stems from a recognition that republican political consciousness is currently higher here (itself a reflection of the importance of the National Question). By way of analogy, in the 1980’s, the wider working class appreciated the more advanced class consciousness of the NUM and recognised they were in the vanguard of the fight, not just to save pits, but against the Thatcher government. The Great Miners’ Strike was itself triggered off by independent action. The job of socialists soon became to organise effective wider solidarity, and generalise this into a wider political struggle against Thatcher.

If socialist republicans in Scotland can take the lead in the political struggle against the UK state, the task of socialists in these islands becomes something similar – to build solidarity and to extend the challenge by breaking each link in the unionist chain. Whether we end up with independent democratic republics (and only weaken imperialism – nevertheless a better basis for future progress than the UK imperial state which exists at present), or are able to move forward to a federation of European socialist republics, depends on the ability of socialists/communists to build ever widening independent class organisation, culminating in workers’ councils.

Abstention from the democratic struggle on the grounds it isn’t specifically ‘socialist’ would be equivalent to abstention in supporting workers fighting for increased wages, on the grounds that they weren’t fighting against the wages system. Socialists/communists can only gain a wider audience by participating in all the economic, social, cultural and political (democratic) struggles facing our class. To do this effectively, socialists throughout these islands need to build on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’.

 __________

Nick Rogers replies to Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee

(Weekly Worker, no. 809)

The very first point I made at the February 13 Republican Socialist Convention in London was that the most pressing task for communists was to build an international working class movement that could challenge the capitalist class globally.

In the letters column of last week’s Weekly Worker I argued that it was necessary to build pan-European workers’ organisations (Blind alley, March 4). The masthead of the Weekly Worker carries the slogan, Towards a Communist Party of the European Union. Yet Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee characterises my position as Brit left (Left mirror of the UK state Weekly Worker March 4). In this reply I want to explore Allan’s revealing conclusion.

In my original report I criticised the SSP, represented at the February 13 meeting by co-convenor Colin Fox, for refusing to unite in an all-British party to combat the actually existing British state (‘Debating with left nationalists’ Weekly Worker February 18). Granted, Allan advocates united action across the British Isles, but, as he puts it, on the basis of the same kind of relations that Hands Off the People of Iran has established between British and Iranian workers. He asks, Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work cannot be effective because British and Iranian socialist do not live in the same state?

I applaud the work of Hopi, but everyone in that organisation – Iranian, British or whatever – recognises that workers in the two countries face quite different political environments that, for the time being, make unity in one centralised party both undesirable and unrealistic.

The difference between the kind of internationalism that Hopi encourages the British and Iranian workers to engage in and the level of unity workers in Scotland and England require can be illustrated quite simply by considering the nature of their respective struggles.

When Iranian bus, car or oil workers take industrial action, their grievances will generally be very specific to conditions in Iran – albeit sharing common characteristics with workers anywhere, given the drive by capitalist regimes all round the world to step up the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights. Generous financial support, logistical support where practical, solidarity messages, pickets of the Iranian embassy, etc – actions such as these are what it is feasible for British workers to do. Of course, we also place direct pressure on the British state by opposing sanctions against Iran and any preparations for war. These are the tasks that Hopi has set itself.

If Iranian workers in struggle were facing a western transnational, other types of action become possible, from workers’ sanctions to solidarity industrial action. Since the mullahs and revolutionary guards dominate profit-making activities in Iran, these opportunities are relatively rare.

British workers, by contrast, face capitalist companies that do not respect national boundaries within Britain (and increasingly the boundaries separating European countries). Effective industrial action also has to take place across these boundaries and requires close British and pan-European organisation by workers. In Britain workers confront laws made by the capitalist state – and also laws laid down by the European Union. For many workers the capitalist state is their employer. Defensive actions such as last week’s two-day strike by the Public and Commercial Services union inevitably assume an all-Britain character.

Allan affects to believe that the nature of the joint action by workers in Britain and the solidarity British and Iranian workers can achieve is essentially no different. In that case, what about British-wide unions? Does Allan believe that the struggles of civil servants (or any other group of workers) would be more or less effective if they were split into separate English and Scottish bodies? I honestly do not know Allan’s position on this. Some left nationalists, such as the Scottish Socialist Republican Movement, do advocate forming separate Scottish unions. I have observed that quite often it is the teachers in the SSP – organised, as it happens, in a Scottish union, the Educational Institute of Scotland – who least grasp the merits of Britain-wide industrial organisation. The majority in the SSP has, though, always cautioned against industrial separatism and argued that even Scottish independence would not undermine the rationale for all-Britain unions.

We are some way off a situation where we can contemplate signing up workers in Britain and Iran to the same unions. So it seems we agree that the existence of a British state – and the shared political, social and economic environment that goes along with it – makes the closest possible cooperation between workers in some types of organisation essential.

That leaves us with the rather extraordinary conundrum of explaining why communists – supposedly the most advanced militants of the working class – should unite on a less ambitious scale than workers seeking to defend their immediate economic interests.

For most it is self-evident that civil servants defending their redundancy terms need to organise in the same union against the British state in its role as an employer. How far would civil servants get if the PCS were to be split into separate Scottish, Welsh and English unions and leave the coordination of joint industrial actions to their respective ‘international departments’? I suggest that we would not be expecting anything very dynamic or effective to come of it.

But for the left nationalists in the SSP the proposal that revolutionary socialists need to achieve the same degree of unity in seeking to overthrow that capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ democracy draws forth accusations of ‘unionism’. For them, building joint activities with communists in England and Wales must be left to the SSP’s international committee in case we were to inadvertently imply that a closer form of unity just might be appropriate.

An observation. Allan points to the SSP’s participation in European Anti-Capitalist Alliance in last year’s European elections and the speaker tour they organised for a member of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party. I would say that was a principled stance as far as it went. But when has the SSP ever stood as part of a Britain-wide electoral front in a British general election? What principle allows the SSP to collaborate with European socialists to the extent of forming a common platform, but prohibits a similar step with socialists across Britain?

Allan takes me to task for using the word ‘foreign’ to describe the SSP’s attitude to English communists. He thinks the word carries inherent connotations of xenophobia. What nonsense. The capitalist international system of states is a reality communists are obliged to acknowledge, even while they strive to overcome it. Allan, however, in his refusal to accept that the existence of a British state requires a united struggle by workers against it, departs from reality.

‘Brit left’

So what is the ‘Brit left’? According to Allan the epithet is aimed at those socialists who seek to build party organisations throughout Britain – who try to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. Allan admits that this is to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy: ie, one party for each state. Within the SSP it struck me as an insult hurled most fiercely at fellow Scots – a jibe implying deficient Scottish patriotism.

Allan sketches out a litany of the failings of ‘Brit left’ organisations: the Socialist Workers Party’s opposition to Hopi, the British nationalism of last year’s ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’ electoral front, the cowardice of Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party over migrant workers.

What is he driving at? Is he saying that the sectarian failings of the left in Britain are intrinsic to all Britain-wide ventures? The political project of the CPGB could be summed up as advocacy of left unity on the basis of principled politics. The examples of unprincipled left politics that Allan cites could very well be drawn from exposés in the Weekly Worker.

Certainly, the sectarian fragmentation of the left makes a nonsense of attempts to present an effective challenge to capitalism in Britain. Not much of an excuse, though, for the SSP to add a nationalist twist to that fragmentation.

Does the fact that the SSP operates only north of the border really make it immune to much the same failings as ‘London-based’ organisations? What about the whole Tommy Sheridan debacle? It was the leadership of the SSP that built up Tommy as a political superstar. That carried his picture on the masthead of most issues of Scottish Socialist Voice. That incorporated a message from Tommy and his portrait on every election leaflet. That added his name to that of the party on ballot papers. That ran a prominent story about his wedding.

Most in the SSP now accept that the hero-worship of Sheridan was a mistake – a re-evaluation that is rather a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Today the whole organisation pretty much reviles him. I can understand the anger at Tommy Sheridan, but that in its turn does not excuse what is effectively collaboration with state authorities (a British state, moreover) and News International to put the man in prison. A perjury trial, whatever the outcome, is not going to place the SSP back in the big time. It is not even going to remove a martyred Tommy Sheridan from the Scottish political scene.

The fact of the matter is that such get-rich-quick schemes distort the priorities of most of the left in Britain – and internationally for that matter. You could argue that it is Trotsky’s transitional demands – a concept built into the DNA of most so-called revolutionary groups – that provides the excuse to describe any campaign for however modest a reform as a coherent aspect of a revolutionary strategy. I think the tendency towards political opportunism is more deep-rooted than that, but a lack of seriousness about programme is certainly a feature of virtually the whole left, including the revolutionaries in the SSP.

Republicanism

An understanding of the importance of demands around democracy and the part these should play in the strategy for achieving working class power should be at the heart of the programme of a communist party. That programme must take seriously the national question. I think that is a position I have always taken – and certainly before I joined the CPGB. I do not remember ever saying I was a ‘Luxemburgist’ – not that association with Rosa Luxemburg counts as a very severe insult in my book.

Like the rest of the CPGB, I have always maintained as a fundamental principle the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to choose independence. A right which a federal republic would enshrine with Scottish and Welsh parliaments having full powers to decide their future. What Allan has difficulty with is the dialectical subtlety of an approach that defends the right to self-determination, while advocating that the option for separation should not be exercised. Allan describes that as “condescending”.

In fact, paradoxical though it may appear to some, upholding the rights of nations is the only practical strategy for superseding the existing system of states. This is the task that will confront the working class as it seeks to build a world socialist order. What does Allan think this will entail? Would Allan either force nationalities against their will into broader federations or accept indefinitely as a fact of ‘human nature’ the national fragmentation bequeathed by capitalism?

The principle that any nation can choose to withdraw from a larger entity must hold, even after the working class has taken power. It is the only way of assuring all nations that their national and democratic rights will be respected and that they have nothing to fear from the construction of a socialist world.

Of course, there are national situations that pose particular problems. The CPGB supports the right of the Irish people to choose the unity of their island. This is the position we set out in our current Draft programme, as well as in the redrafted version proposed by the Provisional Central Committee. In addition, the majority within our organisation argues that the best way of assuaging the fears of the ‘British-Irish’ is to establish a federal Ireland with the right of self-determination for a British-Irish province covering a smaller geographical area than the current six counties.

I acknowledge the majority’s attempt to apply political principle consistently. However, I think there are problems with a formulation the leaves open the possibility of a repartitioned Ireland in which the rights of an Irish minority in a new Protestant statelet might not be guaranteed. As always, we will continue to debate our differences with the objective of achieving greater clarity.

The national rights of Scotland and Wales pose no problems of this kind. Their national boundaries are not in question. People in Scotland or Wales who regard themselves as English are unlikely to suffer any oppression – although grievances around the division of state resources might well exacerbate national tensions in the short term.

But what is the prospect for independence in Scotland? We were told at the convention that the most recent polls report support at levels of 37%. This is where support for independence has plateaued for the last decade or two. Occasionally, polls show support for independence spiking higher, but usually it oscillates around the mid-30s.

Clearly, there is a national question, but as things stand the Scottish people do not want separation. Yet left nationalists such as Allan argue that the key task for socialists north of the border – a task which justifies splitting the organisations of revolutionary socialists in the face of a very united British state – must be to win a majority of Scots to see the benefits of breaking with England.

This strategy is dressed up as an assault on British imperialism. Allan at least has the honesty to acknowledge that independence under the Scottish National Party would not involve a break with the circuits of international capitalism. But that is precisely the form in which independence is most likely to be delivered. According to Colin Fox, even an independent capitalist Scotland would be more progressive than the current British state.

Even if that were true (it is not), a communist programme must be more ambitious than that. Allan talks in terms of taking “the leadership of the national movement here from the SNP”. How about taking the leadership of the working class movement throughout Britain and Europe?

Allan criticises the tactics of the CPGB during last year’s European elections. However, contrary to his assertion, the CPGB did raise the question of migration. It is simply that the sticking point with the Socialist Party candidates in No2EU was around the right to bear arms. I was critical of making that the key issue in those elections, when it was the nationalism of No2EU that should have retained the focus of our tactics (‘Against sectarianism’ Weekly Worker June 18 2009).

But raising the demand that the British state’s monopoly of armed force should be broken is key to a republican agenda. It exposes the undemocratic nature of the rule of the capitalist class and, therefore, has far more radical potential than the separatism to which Allan aspires. It is the kind of republican politics that can lead the working class to challenge for state power. That is the prize for which all communists should strive.

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Mar 02 2004

The debate continues: The Jacobites strike back

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:44 pm

Below we publish two contributions to the debate on the Scottish revolution: Dave Douglass (NUM, South Yorks.) and Donald Anderson (SRSM platform in the SSP) defend Jacobitism. In our next issue Neil Davidson (Socialist Worker Platform) will be making a further contribution to the debate.

Provocative and insulting

In this response to Neil Davidson, Dave Douglass argues there was nothing remotely progressive in the defeat of Jacobitism.

I hope you will allow me a belated response to Neil Davidson’s ‘taking apart’ of what commonly passes for Scottish history (Weekly Worker, October 16). I hear what you say: that we are being addressed by a Marxist expert on Scottish (so-called, I presume) history. Why does this make me feel no easier about ‘inevitable’ genocide and the most brutal anti-human activity being passed off as “progressive”? Perhaps this extreme historic determinism is what passes for a communist vision of the past and what it all means?

Davidson’s, to my mind, absurd designation of King George Hanover as progressive, while Charles Edward Stuart (would-be king) and his Jacobites represented the reactionaries – indeed counter-revolutionaries” – takes some understanding. George, it seems, represented the progress of capitalism, while the bonny lad represented feudalism and even aspects of tribalism. This is the logic that tells us the massacre of the North American ‘Indians’ was inevitable, even progressive. By the same terms Custer would be the bold progressive, dying in the cause of mankind’s progress (in an attempted massacre of a whole Indian village), while Sitting Bull was fighting for a social system even more reactionary than the Highlanders.

The future is on our own hands

Following this hoary road would lead us to defend the massacre and social rape of native peoples across the world in the inevitable cause of ‘progress’ and sadly the iron school of Stalin determinism has led some to do so, justifying en route the most atrocious periods of human history. That this comes from a member of the Socialist Workers Party just shows how deep that mental deformation runs in the Marxist-Leninist breed. Allow me to object. Uneven and combined development seems to have escaped our expert. Sitting Bull’s fighters were using the most modern repeating rifles, without having to have forged an industrial revolution from their tepees. History should teach us, communists in particular, that the future is in our own hands. Certainly the mode of production will limit initially how far social aspirations can evolve, but not the basic mode of social relations and humanity. Are we seriously being told that, had Charlie handled things differently and actually succeeded in toppling George from the throne, that capitalism in Britain would have been uninvented? That the extensive mining, engineering, shipping, manufacturing revolution already well in spin would have halted and reversed?

Sorry, mate – expert or no, that is nonsense. The tapestry of capitalism evolving in Britain would have continued to have been woven, simply with a few more Celtic and ‘northernocentric’ hues perhaps, but the frame and weave would have been much the same. Social history and social relations are at base not so much about iron laws, but human aspiration. Davidson’s analysis of what the Jacobites were (in his modern Marxist – I dare bet ‘southernocentric’ – middle class view) misses the very real point of how they were perceived at the time. What did folk think they were fighting for? I can’t see anywhere in Neil’s text where he addresses the question of what the people, the masses, the folk, thought about it all. Isn’t that odd for a socialist? Certainly he cannot take the size of the force actually mustered south of the border, guns in hands, as being an indication of the widespread support they enjoyed, in the north especially. The Manchester Regiment were the only ones raised, but there is strong evidence that at least an equally strong force could have been raised from the pitmen and keelmen and sailors of Tyneside and Northumbria in general (you well know the fate of the Northumbrian Earls of Derwentwater in both major rebellions). I have strong suspicions that Liverpool too, if given half a chance, would have marched to the pipes. The truth is, nobody bothered to sign them on.

So why did people join this rebellion and what did they think this Jacobite cause was about? Like the Irish rebellion of 1916 and its subsequent wilful repression, the defeat of ’74 and the genocide which followed coloured the sympathies of Scots and northern England folk afterwards, to the point where the Jacobites might have become a popular cause a little later, even if few would put their money where their mouths were at the time in either rebellion.Robert Burns, a man many have described as a communist of sorts, a popular poet of the people and no lover of folk in crowns, left few in doubt as to his sympathy for the Jacobite cause. For some it was about securing a more sympathetic acceptance of catholicism, for non-catholic tolerant protestant Jacobites a more sympathetic non-proscription on how they worshipped. For others it was about nationality: Charles, for all his French-Italian manners, was seen as a Scottish king, not a German, and this made more sense to the highlanders. Certainly some saw this as a battle against the Act of Union, a deal which deeply rankled many of the clan chiefs and had been seen as an utterly humiliating betrayal joining England and Scotland under one parliament.

Relief from poverty

While John Prebble says of the clansmen:

They came out through no particular attachment to the Stuart cause, and their approval for the prince, when he put himself ahead of them in trews and plaid, was personal rather than political (Culloden),

Davidson himself quotes from a captured clansman in his prison cell prior to being beheaded:

My lord, for the two kings [that is, James and George] and their right, I care not a farthing. But I was starving. And, by god, if Mohammed had set up a standard in the highlands I would have been a good muslim for bread and stuck close to the Jacobite party, for I must eat.

The condemned highlander is surely not saying here that he joined the Jacobite army because they were offering some lavish fare en route to the battle, because we know the poor sods didn’t get fed at all, but rather that they were seen to promise a better state of affairs and relief from poverty should they succeed, and that seems to have been a common belief. The indentured servants and convicted criminals destined for the plantations who rose to seize the ship, Gordon, in an effort to join the rebellion (too late as it turned out) were Scots and Irish who clearly saw the promise of a better life, perhaps even a better system. What of the troops of the British army who deserted to join the rebellion? Some were Scottish and clearly felt this was a Scottish rebellion, in which they should take a stand. Some were Irish and felt the cause of Ireland and the cause of Scotland conjoined, but what of the English mutineers from the British army? What did they think they were joining? They could have just run away, absconded, melted into the mass of the great unwashed. Instead they joined a side which they deemed was worth fighting for, to the point of knowing their gruesome fate should they lose. They did not don kilt or trews, but fought on incongruously in their red coats and white gaiters. Did they simply hate everything the British army stood for and see in this as good a chance for pay-back time as any? Or did they see in the Jacobite forces, if not its leaders, a chance to have a go, to change something, to challenge something?

I think understanding the nature of the Jacobites requires the kind of empathy only working class fighters can fathom and, pardon me, but Neil Davidson whom I have never met, strikes me, in this article anyway, as a cynical, middle class academic, with the kind of allegiance to ‘Britishness’ and all that I have always found to be a red rag to a bull.

A Scottish king in battle with a German, London-based king also struck a chord with folk in northern England and, together with the Celtic and catholic connection, probably explains the presence of the Manchester men. There was perceived to be a north v south battle here, a continuation perhaps of numerous earlier battles going back before the Norman invasion, when Scotland and Northumbria challenged the south for control and sovereignty. Later, when well armed colliers and sailors marched around Newcastle with small pipes blaring, declaring Newcastle and Northumberland for Charles and Scotland in 1748, it might have been in disgust and outrage at the stories filtering down from the glens of unspeakable outrage and murder. But why should such men join this cause? These are the same men described by the home office at the time as the forces of atheism and anarchism – they were to be the backbone of the physical-force wing of the Chartists a few years later. We would not expect that they would be easily won to the side of the lisping, foreign accented, posh kid in a lang wig, so they obviously perceived something more.

Of those won to the Jacobites of course we must add those who simply believed Charles was morally and legally right, while George, they concluded, was a fake and in the wrong. They came to this conclusion without any vested interest on taking that side, perhaps even in spite of the odds stacked against them. Neil has that horrible News of the World tendency to see everything in terms of social interest, and of basically scratching the best back to scratch yours. People, even rich bastards, don’t always think like that: sometimes people will fight a corner despite their best financial interests.

Neil has chosen to describe the rebellion as a civil war, suggesting that Scotland was split, that it wasn’t a Scotland v England (or vaguely ‘the sooth’). I cannot agree: a few scab loyalist forces, ferocious though they were, did not characterise Scotland and especially not the highlands. (Neil says that the rebellion wasn’t a highland affair anyway. My point is there was more to it than that, but let’s not understate the highland connection. Reading the list of the men who stood at Culloden couldn’t leave you in much doubt as to who represented the bulk of the highlands in that field, and where the biggest force came from).

Collaboration

The native American tribes who joined with the United States in their Indian wars to kill their fellow ‘Indians’ and the cause they aspired to, the values they tried to defend, does not stop that being an anti-‘Indian’ war of conquest, plunder and genocide. The collaboration of the majority of Nottingham miners with the state during the miners’ strike of 1984- 85 doesn’t mean that the state wasn’t intending to wage war on the miners per se and wipe them out socially and economically. A small percentage of scabs was never a ‘split’. The collaboration of those loyalist Indians, Scots and miners didn’t prevent the cultures of those peoples being virtually wiped out, including the ‘scab’ forces themselves.

How did the other side view the conflict? Did they see the Scottish collaborators as demonstrating this was not a war against Scotland and Scottish interests? The victory of George was hailed by the protestant English churches, ‘peaceful’ Quakers too:

As none of all thy protestant subjects exceed us, in aversion to the tyranny, idolatry and superstition of the church of Rome, so none is under more just apprehension of immediate danger from their destructive consequences, or have greater cause to be thankful to the almighty for the interposition of his providence and our preservation” (quoted in Prebble).

To the forces of George – raping, looting, burning and killing every man, women, child and animal they encountered – was there some moderation shown to the non-combatants? To the non-Jacobites? To the anti-Jacobites? There was none. If it was Scottish, it was slaughtered and often cruelly tortured beforehand. The occupying forces were openly aiming at the extermination of the clans, and the genocide of all the highlands peoples. Systematic rounding up of all livestock, destruction of all shelter, confiscation of all food stores, deportations, etc. Rebellion was to be rooted out of the land of Scotland.

Davidson comments of the ongoing genocide: I think the clearances are a red herring because they took place much later. John Prebble sees it this way:

The clearances, the removal of man in favour of sheep, were the most tragic consequence of the changes begun at Culloden. The battle had demonstrated that a people held in contempt may be treated contemptibly. Even the landowners who still clung to the mystic nature of their role as ceann-cinnidh eventually accepted the arguable truth that their land and their way of life could be maintained only by rent from Northumbrian graziers, after the eviction and scattering of their one-time warrior rent roll.

Surely it is obvious that the clearances could not have happened without Culloden and the removal of the means of life which preceded them. This was the selfsame plan of the United States in driving the Indians from the plains, the wiping out of the buffalo, the infection of a defenceless people with disease from which they had no immunity – the first biological warfare actually. The actions in Scotland prior to the clearance were a necessary physical precursor to them. You can’t sensibly separate them.

This is not to say protestant loyalist mobs in Edinburgh didn’t do the same as their counterparts in London – rounding up catholics, Jacobites, non-jurant protestants for the gallows or a good public burning in the aftermath of the defeat. They did. In London, however, they rounded up anyone who was Scottish – Scottish meant Jacobite – and then non-Scottish catholics for a lynching and burning of houses. Loyalist clans went on the rampage in the heartlands of the Jacobites, although perhaps less bloodcurdlingly than the English troops.

The difference being in a few years those clans too would be swept aside by the aftermath of the defeat of the rebellion: they had simply been too short-sighted to see it. So, to conclude, the Jacobites were seen as progressive. To call them a counter-revolutionary movement is shameful. They attracted forces from many dissident quarters, who, if they weren’t sure what they were fighting for, sure as hell knew what they were fighting against. That this struggle strongly took on the character of a Scottish – and maybe to a smaller extent northern rebellion is clear, to me anyway.

Insulting & ill-observed

Support for the rebellion – odd though it might seem, standing where we are now – didn’t necessarily mean you were a royalist as such and to some extent Charles was as good a reason for a row as any. There were features in this struggle which go back to much earlier fights – about nationality, ethnicity, religion and culture, and who as well as whereabouts will the people be ruled by and from. Those questions, believe it or not, are still being asked – and largely in the same places of the same people. I do not think in any way this was a struggle characterising reactionary, feudalistic tribalism against progressive, thrusting capitalism and a new age. I certainly do not think any of this demonstrates that there is no Scotland, that there is no Scottish identity and that a different Scottish revolutionary road might not emerge. I can, however, see how this article is highly provocative – and not in a constructive sense. It is insulting and ill-observed, to say the least. The Jacobite rebellion, and Scottish history, deserve a deeper understanding and analysis than the one given by Neil Davidson – expert or no. A cynic, as Wilde said, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Dave Douglass

(This article was first printed in the Weekly Worker No. 507.)

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Jul 26 2002

Linking republicanism and socialism in Scotland

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:30 pm

Allan Armstrong looks at recent debates in the Scottish Socialist Party over republicanism and the jubilee

Scotland is the part of the United Kingdom with the widest anti monarchist feelings, yet it is somewhat ironic that the Scottish Socialist Party, despite being the most influential socialist grouping in these islands, showed its usual reluctance to deal with the issue of the monarchy at our February Conference.

The reason for this is not hard to seek. Traditionally, Militant was notoriously unionist and anti-republican; so much so, that their partners in the Six Counties would rather be associated with the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (linked to the pro-British Ulster Volunteer Force death squads) than with Republicans. The CWI, by and large, still adhere to this position, despite their more recent support for a break-up of Britain road through an independent socialist Scotland! Obviously there are major problems in trying to remain British unionist in Northern Ireland and Scottish nationalist up here. In the process of breaking from the CWI, the ISM however, has become aware of this political inconsistency and has recently tolerated Republicans on socialist platforms, provided they were balanced with loyalists!

However, this warring tribes approach also remains politically inconsistent. Yet it still marked the ISM contribution to the anti-Jubilee debate at Conference. The fact that Tommy Sheridan mentioned the previously dreaded R-word three times in his Conference introduction, still didn’t prevent other ISM comrades stating it couldn’t be used in Scotland, because it was too associated with Ireland. Although not openly stated, underlying such contributions was the fear that the use of the R-word could cost us votes, particularly in the west of Scotland.

The fact that republicanism has historically been an inclusive brand of politics, uniting protestant (anglican), catholic and dissenter, whilst loyalism has been sectarian and exclusive – protestant and Orange, is completely lost on those who uphold a warring tribes approach. Of course Irish republicanism has had its own struggles with sectarian Irish catholic nationalism and has not always been successful in these. However, this battle between non-sectarian and sectarian forces has been continuous. Needless to say there has been no such history within the forces of loyalism. Loyalism has been marked by a crude anti-catholic sectarianism and the worship of the monarchy and empire. The struggle between republicanism and loyalism has represented the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor and between national liberation and imperialism. Refusing to take sides in such a struggle leaves the SSP disarmed when sectarianism does rear its ugly face in Scotland. It puts us in a similar position to those old socialists who used to say that you shouldn’t challenge a man who beat up his wife, if he was a good trade unionist at work!

The Edinburgh-led James Connolly Society has been at the forefront of the struggle against loyalism and its apologists in the old Edinburgh District Council and also against reactionary and sectarian catholic nationalism. Every year socialist speakers are invited from a wide variety of backgrounds – Labour, SNP, Turkish hunger strikers, black American women, as well as from Sinn Fein, to address the James Connolly Commemoration held in Edinburgh. Despite this CWI/ISM speakers have over the years tried to demonise the JCS as an anti-socialist and sectarian. It came as no surprise when, once again, they resorted to the same stale old arguments to remove any reference to joint work with the James Connolly Society from the anti-jubilee motion to Conference. Yet in 1992, before the Scottish Socialist Alliance had even been founded, the James Connolly Society stood a candidate in the St. Giles/Holyrood ward of Edinburgh on the following platform:-

  • for free speech, against censorship
  • for a £250 minimum weekly wage
  • for pensions and benefits at the level of the weekly wage
  • for a united Ireland
  • for a Scottish republic
  • against racism and fascism
  • abolish the monarchy
  • for socialism

Quite clearly this is a fairly sound republican and socialist platform. Yet, although the CWI and ISM were against any major republican protest, this could still have been won at the SSP Conference, if the SWP had placed its weight behind the motion. Unfortunately, the SWP were split. This partly reflects a quasi-unionist political training which draws on Neil Davidson’s theory that the Scottish nation merely developed as a component of a greater British nation state. In his book, The Origins of Scottish Nationhood, Neil has provided a leftist supplement to Linda Colley’s influential book about the development of Britain – the well named, Britons, The Forging of A Nation. Whilst Colley outlines the British ruling class’s success in promoting a top-down British identity through a wider loyalist mobilisation; Neil highlights the role of Scottish/British constitutional reformists in the construction of a British nation state. What is completely missing from Neil’s book is the role of Scottish republican internationalists, such as Thomas Muir and the later leaders of the United Scotsmen, who quite clearly drew upon a distinct Scottish revolutionary tradition to promote a new internationalism from below, in alliance with Irish, English, French and Dutch republicans, against Britain. Today we need a new republican socialist alliance from below uniting our class in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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