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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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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Jan 26 2010

SSP and Elections

Members of the SSP have been asked to contribute documents on electoral strategy, here is a contribution from the RCN.

A Contribution To The Discussions Arising From The Glasgow North East By-Election

1. How did the SSP publicly assess the by-election result?

The Republican Communist Network (RCN) welcomes the decision of the SSP Executive Committee (EC) to open up the discussion to members about the lessons we can draw for future electoral work from the Glasgow North East by-election.

All party members recognise that any assessment of this (and other) recent elections must take on board the serious damage done to the SSP as a result of the split caused by Tommy Sheridan, and the sectarian antics of the CWI and SWP. This means that not only does the SSP have far fewer members to get involved in campaigns, but also that a considerable section of the remaining membership still lacks confidence. Sometimes, they do not get involved in the SSP’s prioritised campaigns, or else they confine their activities to other spheres, where SSP leadership political support is slight or non-existent. This meant that, in the Glasgow North East by-election, a huge burden of work fell upon a few members’ shoulders, particularly those of Kevin McVey.

Kevin was a good candidate with considerable political experience. He has the ability to communicate and to deal with the ‘rough and tumble’ of what would almost certainly prove to be a difficult campaign. However, there is probably another quality of Kevin’s, which probably made him an ideal candidate. Given the low expectations that Glasgow SSP held about the final vote in the by-election, Kevin is resilient, can take any hard knocks, and is not easily disillusioned by poor results.

Nevertheless, many members outside Glasgow, who were only minimally involved in the by-election campaign, probably wonder if the very low vote (a drop from 1402 in 2005 to 152 in 2009) will not further deepen some Glasgow comrades’ sense of the SSP’s political marginalisation, leading them to further political retreats (see section 6).

A special issue of Scottish Socialist Voice was produced for the by-election, to be distributed throughout the constituency. Indeed, as far as the Voice went, Glasgow North East became the only national priority, with the suspension and non-distribution of national papers outside of Glasgow. So, SSP members and new contacts in Glasgow North East, as well as members outside Glasgow, would have looked to the post by-election national Voice, issue 350, for an account and analysis of the results and the party’s work in the by-election.

In this issue, we were able to read that, Labour triumph, SNP are rebuffed {and} BNP advance halted – but absolutely nothing about the SSP or the other socialist candidates. This suggests a feeling of embarrassment, instead of providing an honest explanation to our 152 voters, the other 841 ostensibly socialist voters in the constituency, those who came across the SSP in the campaign but are not registered to vote, and our regular readers elsewhere. It was left to Kevin to give his account to the party at the November 28th National Council (NC).

2. A New Labour victory for the politics of despair, and the marginalisation of the politics of misplaced hope in the SNP

If we look at the overall political picture of the Glasgow North East by-election, the results represent the triumph of despair over hope (see Appendix 1). Labour showed no concern over the historic low turnout (33.2%). The vast majority of those who abstained come from those people whose needs can not even be minimally met when capitalism is in deep crisis. The mainstream parties know this. They are quite happy for such people to remain voiceless and to quietly ‘disappear’ in elections.

Therefore, for Labour, battling only for the electoral support of those who do vote, in a constituency they had long held, the over-riding task was to uphold the status-quo. This was done through a campaign of utter negativity and fear-mongering, and saying that ‘things can only get worse’ if any other party won, but especially their greatest immediate threat in Scotland, the SNP.

In the 2007 Holyrood General Election, the SNP was successfully able to counter New Labour’s incessant ‘doom and gloom’-mongering by offering voters some prospect of hope. In effect, the SNP said to the electorate that they would implement some of the social democratic policies which people once expected from Labour, but which New Labour has now abandoned. Independence would be put on a back burner, until an SNP government had shown its competence in office. Then provision would be made for the people to make their choice for Scotland’s future constitutional arrangements in a referendum.

However, the SNP leaders also ensured that, despite their declared support for more radical constitutional reform than the British mainstream parties, this would not be linked to any very radical economic or social changes. Overtures to prominent Scottish and US business figures showed that the SNP accept the constraints of the existing economic order. Promises of low corporate taxes highlight the SNP’s subordination to big business.

The underlying flaw in the SNP’s economic strategy is that the money for their social democratic-type reforms was supposed to come from a Scottish economy buoyed by the successes of its financial sector. The Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland were meant to offer “neo-liberalism with a heart”. There is hope and there is misplaced hope!

The SNP’s response to US and British opposition to its proposed ‘independence’ referendum is to further accommodate to these forces, whilst lowering workers’ immediate economic and social expectations. Perhaps the most spectacular indication of this has been the suggestion by former Left, Jim Sillars, that SNP current opposition to NATO bases and nuclear weapons should be dropped. Sillars may be a fairly marginal figure within the SNP today, but his words will give some encouragement to more influential Right wing figures in the party, such as Michael Russell and Angus Robertson who want to make the SNP into the main representative of Scottish business interests within the existing global economic order, following in the footsteps of the Parti Quebecois (and its offshoot Action Democratique), Catalan Convergence and the PNV in Euskadi.

The SNP hints at some cosmetic changes that could be made to the current global imperial order, with a greater political role given to the UN. Yet the totally undemocratic UN remains a plaything of the major imperial powers, and only provides cover for decisions they have already agreed upon. The SNP’s opposition to NATO remains only a paper policy, with leading figures contemplating a new Scottish deal for British/English and US armed forces, possibly in return for Scotland being removed from NATO’s nuclear frontline to a secondary supporting role in NATO’s Orwellian-named, ‘Partnership for Peace’. This means making military bases in Scotland available for imperial use, when called upon, like the Irish government has done at Shannon Airport. Furthermore, the SNP has been quite prepared to support the use of Scottish regiments in imperial (and unionist) conflicts from Crossmaglen in the recent past, to Helmand Province today. Therefore, the SNP wants to the ‘rebrand’ imperialism, not join any anti-imperialist opposition.

The SNP has taken a similar accommodationist role with regard to the continuation of the UK state. This has been highlighted by the SNP’s new found open support for the British monarchy. They accept the Union of the Crowns and ask people to vote in 2010 for a constitutional ‘return’ to the years between 1603 and 1707! In effect, the SNP wants to renegotiate the Union not to overthrow it. Any possible future ‘independence’ referendum campaign will be conducted under ‘Westminster rules’. However, the UK state only plays by these rules when it suits them. The Crown Powers, which the SNP has no desire to challenge, provide the British ruling class with a whole host of additional anti-democratic powers to be utilised when they feel there is any threat to their continued rule.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the implementation of thoroughgoing Civil Rights within Northern Ireland (yet still within the UK and under the Crown) was seen to be too great a concession, not only by the local Ulster Unionists (no surprise there) but also by the leaders of the UK state. Today’s British ruling class, fixated with maintaining its imperial role in the world, and its control of NATO military bases and North Sea oil resources in Scotland, is not going to confine its opposition to the SNP’s constitutional reforms to ‘gentlemanly’ democratic procedures.

The SNP has also ended up tail-ending the other mainstream parties at Westminster in its support for banking bailouts at our expense. Then, following from this, they are imposing the devolved financial cuts through Holyrood. Meanwhile, SNP-run (or jointly-run) councils press on with school closures, massive attacks on workers’ conditions (Edinburgh street cleaners and home helps), because they meekly accept Holyrood’s transmitted expenditure cuts.

Furthermore, the SNP government has been kowtowing to overtly reactionary social pressure, such as the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to gay rights and abortion. And, just for good measure, the SNP government is contemplating the clearance of some Aberdeenshire residents to make way for US tycoon, Donald Trump’s golf course complex.

However, for the wider electorate, it has been the ‘Credit Crunch’ that has really blown the SNP strategy apart, first in Glenrothes and now in Glasgow North East. So, instead of maintaining their early confidence in office, the SNP government is now stumbling from one ‘cock-up’ after another (e.g. over school class sizes).

In other words, the SNP behave in office much like New Labour. The SNP’s poor vote in Glasgow North East (especially given the political background to Michael Martin’s resignation) represented a further abandonment of hope – only in this case the hope had been misplaced to begin with, given the SNP’s subordination to financial and corporate capital, or ‘neo-liberalism with a swag bag’.

With the prime battle in Glasgow North East being fought out between New Labour and the SNP, even the other mainstream parties – the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems – were marginalised. Why change to untried Tory or Lib-Dem cuts, when the more familiar Labour Party promised its cuts would hurt less?

Voters’ feelings of despair have been greatly increased by inability of the massive Anti-War Movement to stop the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Blair got away with acting as Bush’s tame poodle. Today, we have Brown taking on the same subordinate role with regard to Obama in Afghanistan. Only now he is buttressed by the support of the Right wing SNP Defence Spokesperson, Angus Robertson.

Some thought that the ‘Credit Crunch’ might push New Labour to the Left and force them to introduce some neo-Keynesian economic regulation, supplemented by social democratic policies to increase workers’ incomes. Instead, New Labour at Westminster government has intervened to restore the fortunes and profits of the City, with the costs being offloaded on to workers’ shoulders. This has been highlighted by the return of obscene bankers’ bonuses, and the judicial upholding of banks’ right to set arbitrary and punitive fines upon those who have fallen behind with their payments. And the SNP has meekly accepted this too.

Furthermore, when politicians were exposed at Westminster with ‘their fingers in the till’, some SNP MPs were found to be amongst their number. Meanwhile, Labour-supporting trade union leaders, locked in social partnership, have declared the ‘willingness’ of their members to shoulder ‘their’ share of the burden. They just beg the corporate bosses to do the same! No wonder the politics of despair dominated this by-election, highlighted by the massive abstention rate.

3. Despair and the retreat to populism

Now, of course, in the not so distant past, a united SSP could enter elections in Glasgow expecting to be to the forefront of the second tier of contestants (after the top tier of New Labour and the SNP). In Glasgow, this next tier also included the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Greens. The Holyrood election of 2003 was the highpoint (15.2% for the SSP in the additional member vote), coinciding not only with the massive anti-war movement but the widest socialist unity achieved by any European socialist party at the time.

However, the Left’s failure in the UK to stop the Iraq war, led to the denting of all non-mainstream party support (e.g. for the SSP and the Greens in the 2007 Holyrood elections in Scotland). Nevertheless, the ‘Credit Crunch’ should have provided socialists with new opportunities. The unfolding economic crisis demonstrated the failures of the neo-liberal economics long pushed by all the mainstream parties. A worried ruling class began to adopt some neo-Keynesian measures to save capitalism from itself. This opened up splits in their ranks.

A short-sighted and opportunist ‘opposition’ could act as cheerleaders for that section of the ruling class won over to neo-Keynesian state intervention. A genuinely socialist opposition, however, would take advantage of such ruling class divisions to demonstrate the need and viability of a socialist alternative, and build its own independent support for such a vision amongst those workers and others prepared to fight back against austerity cuts, attacks on ethnic minorities, curtailment of civil rights and never ending war.

The possibilities this offered can be seen on the continent with the formation and growth of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, and the successes of the Left Bloc in Portugal, both our fellow partners in the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. The recent impressive vote for Die Linke in Germany is also an indicator of greater public support for the Left. (However, the fact that a powerful section of their leadership would willingly enter a coalition with the Social Democrats means that Die Linke’s current electoral successes could be transformed into an Italian Rifondazioni Comunista-like meltdown, if they ever pursued this particular course of action nationally.)

Back in 2005, in Glasgow North East, socialist candidates received 5438 votes (19.1%) in Glasgow North East, in the Westminster General Election. Now, certainly a lot of the votes going to the SLP in 2005 were confused with the Labour Party (in the absence of an official Labour candidate, and with Michael Martin standing only as the Speaker). This made the full extent of genuine support for socialism more difficult to determine. However, by the 2009 by-election, the ostensibly socialist vote fell back to 993 votes (4.8%).

What makes this even worse is that any specifically socialist message virtually disappeared. Those parties competing to be in the political mainstream (New Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and the SNP) all want to promote their neo-neo-liberal credentials. The extra ‘neo’ prefix is because the ruling class now accept limited state regulation. However, this takes the form of banking bailouts and the imposition of the ‘necessary’ cuts to restore the old neo-liberal status quo. In contrast the parties outside this mainstream consensus, whether on the Right or the Left, want to project themselves as populist, and hide their underlying politics – fascism on the Right, socialism on the Left.

Populism is a form of politics, which stretches from the Right to the Left. It tries to appeal to the broadest swathe of people, by denying or downplaying the central contradictions of capitalism – the conflict between labour and capital – and looking instead for scapegoats, e.g. ethnic minorities (particularly by the Right), or by targeting the (replaceable) agents of our current woes (e.g. greedy bankers), rather than questioning the capitalist system itself, and highlighting the need for workers to take their own independent action. This latter approach is the only option, if there is to be any longer term hope for the working class living in a crisis-ridden capitalism, or even for humanity itself, given the additional threats from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and the possibility of growing environmental catastrophe, as the capitalist crisis widens and deepens.

4. The BNP and Right populism

The one party that feels at home wallowing in the politics of despair is, of course, the BNP. They offer scapegoats to divert people from the real source of their woes –capitalism. There is very little ruling class or public support for their underlying fascist aims. This is why Nick Griffin has pushed through a change of image for the BNP – “from boots to suits”. This means adopting, not swastika-waving, German Nazi, anti-Semitic colours, but Right populist, Union Jack-waving, Islamophobic, British nationalism. Churchill (and not without reason) rather than Hitler is their new idol. Glasgow, with a still quite extensive loyalist sub-culture, is obviously a good place to try and establish a foothold for militant British nationalism in a Scotland where British identity is otherwise on the decline.

However, there is no immediate prospect of a fascist march to take power, either on Edinburgh, or on London. The Left is too weak at present to make the ruling class seriously support such a course of action. Yet the BNP is pushing at an open door when it comes to influencing the mainstream parties’ policies and the state’s actions directed against migrants and particular ethnic or religious minorities. These parties are also looking for scapegoats, and are quite prepared to ‘mainstream’ anti-migrant or anti-Islamic policies, whilst publicly distancing themselves from some of their more unsavoury sources.

Furthermore, whilst still unable to offer any serious physical challenge to organised labour, or even to well-established immigrant communities, BNP electoral advances can provide cover for those fascists wanting to ‘keep their hand in’ by picking on more vulnerable targets, e.g. asylum seekers, individual migrant workers and Roma/Travellers. In order to maintain a ‘respectable image’, this may necessitate a certain division of labour, e.g. between the suit wearing BNP and the boot boys of the EDL/SDL.

The BNP, as well as attacking their expected scapegoats in the by-election – ‘feather-bedded asylum seekers’, and ‘Islamic terrorists’- also targeted the bankers, hedge fund traders, Tory and Labour “morons” (see Appendix 2). This shows populism in action, because it appears to address some of the same targets as the Left.

The reason for this should be quite clear when reading the following statement from the BNP’s Scottish Secretary about their objectives in the Glasgow North East by-election. Our first aim {is} to beat all the extreme left-wing parties …the combined vote of Solidarity, SSP and Socialist Labour, added together. (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/)

In the face of this challenge, the RCN believes that far more serious attention should have been paid by the SSP to putting up a united socialist unity candidate. Whilst the sectarianism of the SLP is hard-wired, failure to get their support would hardly have been crucial (as highlighted by the spectacular collapse of their vote from 4036 in 2005 to 47 in 2009). The possibilities, however, from sections of a splintering Solidarity should have been followed up assiduously. These growing divisions can be utilised to win over sections of Solidarity increasingly annoyed with the dead-end politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ and the Trotskyist sects, whilst seriously looking for new ways to re-establish socialist unity (see section 5).

So, in the absence of any effective united challenge, and with some in Glasgow SSP and in Solidarity (Tommy and the CWI in particular) seemingly more concerned about presiding over ‘a grudge match’ than seriously addressing the wider political issues – the Afghanistan occupation and the danger of the growth in fascist support – how did the BNP assess their result in light of opportunity provided to them by the Left? “Our first aim, to beat all the extreme left-wing parties was achieved, in spades”. Scottish Secretary, BNP (http://scotland.bnp.org.uk/category/scottish-secretary/). If that was the whole story, the Left should be hanging its head in shame.

Fortunately, though, there were SSP comrades in Glasgow, especially those involved in SSY, who played a major part in preventing fascists capitalising on the BNP’s electoral advance when they hoped to take over the streets on the Saturday, 14th November, following the by-election two days before. They helped to organise effective opposition to the SDL. This also meant providing a political challenge to the SWP’s accommodationist party front, ‘United Against Fascism’, initially more concerned with chasing after Labour/STUC’s ‘Scotland United’ and Annabel Goldie, than chasing the fascists. In the event, the SDL was seen off and humiliated. However, until the BNP and other fascists are marginalised at all levels by socialists, including the electoral, there is still no room for complacency.

5. Solidarity, the Left populism of ‘celebrity socialism’, and the widening divisions in its ranks

Solidarity’s adoption of celebrity politics in the person of Tommy Sheridan is an obvious manifestation of populism. ‘Celebrity socialism’ was never effectively challenged in the old SSP. This much everybody in the SSP now accepts. However, the politics of ‘celebrity socialism’ are far from being unique to the old SSP. In the 1980’s, Militant succumbed to the ‘charms’ of Derek Hatton in Liverpool. (The CWI still don’t seem to have learned any lessons from this in Scotland.) Since then, we have seen both Arthur Scargill’s SLP, now reduced to one man’s vanity party (and after their Glasgow North East by-election result, hopefully an early retirement), and George Galloway’s Respect, as divided by the antics of a ‘celebrity socialist’ and the SWP, as the SSP has ever been.

In the by-election, Tommy threw himself into the battle of the celebrities, against John Smeaton and Mikey Hughes. In this battle, he won hands down (794 to 258 and 54). However, celebrity populist politics may be able to create a fan base, but it leaves no effective campaigning organisation behind it. Despite Tommy’s ‘triumph’ in Glasgow, his campaign has not left a stronger Solidarity on the ground. Their recent all-members’ conference was much smaller than their earlier ones. Furthermore, dependence on a celebrity usually works against building up an organisation of independent-thinkers, since it is the chosen ‘saviour’ who is meant to ‘deliver’ the people from their woes.

The fact that Tommy Sheridan, the celebrity politician, easily beat the SSP in Glasgow North East has fuelled the sectarian antics of the CWI in particular. They claim a big ‘Solidarity’ victory and they wallow in the lowest vote an SSP candidate has achieved in a parliamentary by-election. This posturing is just a repeat of their empty triumphalism after Tommy/Solidarity beat the SSP in the 2007 Holyrood elections by a large margin.

In 2007, Solidarity’s celebration of Tommy’s ‘victory’ over the SSP was so much bravado to disguise the fact that he failed to retain his Holyrood seat; and the fact there was a wipe-out of socialist representation (a fall from 6 to 0 MSPs). Since then, Solidarity has been unable to build a united party – with the sectarian attitudes of the SWP and CWI massively contributing to this failure. Solidarity has lost its only councillor (defected to Labour) and several prominent members. In subsequent by-elections, where celebrity Tommy wasn’t standing, Solidarity has been unable to overtake the SSP (although, there is no room for any SSP triumphalism here, for, as Colin Fox has said, to any outsider, the electoral contest between the SSP and Solidarity looks like two bald men fighting over a comb). Tommy and his immediate acolytes, along with the CWI and the SWP, put strict limits on any honest appraisals of Solidarity’s work, or any real accountancy for their actions.

After the Glasgow North East by-election result was declared on October 12th, the CWI once more hailed Tommy’s ‘success’. Again, mired in their purely sectarian concerns, they completely failed to learn the real lessons for the Left. The 794 votes in 2009 for a well-known celebrity candidate today must be compared with the 1402 votes the SSP received in Glasgow North East in 2005, when we put forward a much less well-known black socialist candidate. Also, Sheridan’s 794 votes today do not compare well with the non-celebrity BNP candidate’s 1075 votes.

Back in 2005, a united SSP, with 1402 votes, was easily able to see off, not only the BNP’s 904 votes, but also the (Orange) Scottish Unionist Party’s 1206 votes. And, of course, the possibilities for a united Left should have been even greater today, in view of the ongoing capitalist crisis, as continental socialists’ experience shows.

If the CWI continues to be in denial about what is actually happening, the SWP, the other main Trotskyist sect in Solidarity, has experienced a number of setbacks recently, which may encourage some more critical thought amongst its members. The SWP has been badly burned after its attempts in Respect (England and Wales) to tail-end another celebrity socialist, George Galloway. This must be making many SWP members in Scotland doubt the value of building up a new socialist organisation around Sheridan. With the ‘Stop the War’ coalition strategy of endless demonstrations attracting decreasing numbers (despite growing opposition to the Afghanistan occupation) another central plank of the SWP’s own populist politics is being undermined, and recent internal party divisions may lead to a downgrading of such work. The SWP has been focussing on ‘Unite Against Fascism’ (UAF), another party front, which it hopes will bring in new party recruits.

In this context, it is interesting that leading SWP member, Neil Davidson, has recently come out in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in any future Scottish independence referendum. Since the 1990’s, the Left in Scotland has seen the SWP as the most prominent advocate of left unionism. Those former members of the CWI still in the SSP should recognise the significance of this. In the 1980’s, most socialists outside CWI/Militant ranks saw it as being the most British unionist organisation on the Left. However, their ‘Scottish Turn’ opened up a period of internal questioning that led Scottish Militant Labour to initiate the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Other political organisations were encouraged to participate.

Thus began the break with the CWI’s own sectarian methods. True, not all in the CWI/SML, nor later the ISM, accepted the ‘new enlightenment’, but such doubts are inevitable when members are forced to face up to their ‘old certainties’. They would also be a feature of any moves by SWP members towards an acceptance of fuller democracy on the Left.

Given the SWP’s own long tradition of sectarianism (particularly its addiction to party-front organisations), they undoubtedly still have a long way to go. However, those of us now in the RCN, coming from the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, had also been subjected to CWI/Militant sectarian methods in the past. Nevertheless, we recognised the importance of Militant’s ‘Scottish Turn’ and encouraged others to join the SSA. From our point of view, we still had to argue against some deep-seated ideas and methods still unconsciously retained by former CWI members. Yet, we very much welcomed SML’s, and then ISM’s key role in promoting wider socialist unity. We also learned new lessons from these comrades in the process of the unfolding discussions and debates.

So today, in relation to the latest developments within the SWP, we think that the SSP needs to be bold and take the opportunity to engage with those with whom we may have very much disagreed with in the past, but who are now questioning important aspects of their long held politics.

There are also independents in Solidarity, who have not been taken in by their leadership’s empty posturing. John Dennis, who has been challenging Solidarity’s sectarian trajectory for some time, published his resignation letter after the election. However, he has been unable to see any serious attempt to re-establish socialist unity by the SSP, so he has formed a local organisation in Dumfries and Galloway, called Socialist Resistance (see Appendix 3), not to be confused with the British USFI Trotskyist section of the same name. Socialist Resistance in Dumfries and Galloway involves both former Solidarity and other past and current SSP members. In some ways the model taken up is that of the Barrow People’s Alliance, with an emphasis on local unity in the face of the fascist challenge. John and other socialists have been working closely with socialists over the border in combating the rise of the BNP in the area.

We have to accept that the SSP is no longer ‘the party of socialist unity’, though this is overwhelmingly the responsibility of those now in Solidarity. The 2006 split in the SSP, and the consequent dismissive response of the working class demonstrated in subsequent elections, including Glasgow North East, means that the SSP can not just cling nostalgically to a vision of past triumphs, or hope that ‘things can only get better’ in the future. Things will not automatically improve once the current court case is over. The state hasn’t involved itself in the affairs of the SSP to clear our name, but to leave a political legacy, which will divide socialists for the foreseeable future.

The last thing we can afford to do, is sit and wait for the outcome of the ever-delayed trial. We need to be seen very publicly and actively promoting the socialist unity, which the state and the sectarians are doing their utmost to prevent. Therefore, the SSP must still be ‘the party for socialist unity’. This means publicly upholding the SSP policy agreed at the post-split Conference of 20th October, 2006 in Glasgow (see Appendix 3).

6. The SSP election campaign and the Left populism of ‘Make Greed History’

Left populism doesn’t just take the shape of ‘celebrity socialism’. It can also take the form of socialists dropping specifically socialist arguments and retreating behind populist slogans – such as ‘Make Greed History’. A slogan, which may be quite appropriate for a particular newspaper headline, is not at all suitable as the banner beneath which we subordinate nearly all our politics.

Before the politics of despair, caused by the split, began to affect own our members, the SSP was quite clear about the need to uphold socialism against populism. Whilst the (short-lived) Socialist Alliances in England and Wales campaigned behind the populist, ‘People before Profit’ (i.e. for a ‘nicer’, ‘friendlier’ capitalism), the SSP argued for the socialist, ‘People not Profit’.

However, today’s ‘Make Greed History’ SSP slogan quite clearly draws upon the same populist politics as the pious ‘Make Poverty History’. This was promoted by the liberal alliance of NGOs and churches for the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Like Father Gapon’s people’s march and its forelock-tugging appeal to the Tsar in 1905; the ‘Make Poverty History’ coalition pleaded, on its huge July 2005 Edinburgh demo, asking Gordon Brown to champion their cause. This fawning approach has also been adopted by those similar organisations, which hoped that Brown would seriously take up their concerns about climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December.

Back in 2005, though, the SSP countered the populist, ‘Make Poverty History’ with our own ‘Make Capitalism History – Make Socialism the Future’- an excellent slogan and rallying call. In the context of today’s ever-deepening economic crisis, this approach is even more important.

In contrast, there are many practical problems with ‘Make Greed History’. First, it in no way differentiates us, even from the mainstream parties. Initially, when panicked by the ‘Credit Crunch’, these parties also wanted to blame it all upon the greed of the bankers, and divert attention from the underlying crisis of capitalism itself.

Following this, when exposed as having their own noses in the trough, politicians initially claimed they would sort out their previous greedy behaviour and turn over a new leaf! Once again, instead of calls for a root and branch reform, with the abolition of the grossly expensive Crown, the pampered House of Lords, the overpayment of MPs and their funding by big business, the problem was all reduced to personal greed.

We can get a hint of these politicians’ ‘solution’ to such greed by looking at the way they dealt with the misdemeanour’s of the previous Glasgow North East incumbent MP, Michael Martin. He has been given a half salary pension (MP’s + Speaker’s) for life, supplemented by all the perks of a Lordship. This is a good indication of the type of ‘punishment’ politicians will accept for their earlier greed!

The populist nature of ‘Make Greed History’ is further highlighted by a comparison with the BNP’s own slogan used in the Glasgow by-election – ‘Punish the Pigs, Smash the Bankers’. Such a slogan is indistinguishable from one used by some on the populist Left. Once again it focuses on replacing capitalism’s nastier agents not the system.

Furthermore, all those trade union leaders, locked into ‘social partnerships’, have also used the notion of ‘greed’ to tell workers we shouldn’t behave like the ‘greedy bankers’, but should show our responsibility through accepting ‘our’ share of the cuts, and by showing restraint or making sacrifices, when advancing pay claims.

The one attempt by Glasgow SSP to conjure up a local campaign under the ‘Make Greed History’ slogan was the ‘Jobs for Youth’ campaign, launched to coincide with the by-election. If this was organised on a united front basis and supported by such bodies as the Glasgow Trades Council, local trade union branches and community organisations, then the following criticisms may be misplaced.

SSP members outside Glasgow were only made aware of the Springburn ‘Jobs for Youth’ march being held on November 7th by means of a late e-mail. This called for members to turn up on a march on the same day that East Coast SSP members had decided to go to a protest against the G20 Finance Ministers at St. Andrews. This latter event has been covered in the latest Voice. However, the same Voice makes no mention of the ‘Jobs for Youth’ march, or any follow-up work and activity. This suggests it was more an SSP election stunt and didn’t take root in the local community or the trade unions.

In the wake of the emerging superpower and corporate consensus over climate change we can also expect a lot more calls for an end to ordinary people’s ‘greed’, both at home and especially from all those ‘greedy’ Third World people, wanting to increase their living standards.

There are undoubted dangers posed by climate change. Corporate capital, responsible for promoting resource-wasteful and environmentally destructive methods of production, and for the arms companies that profit from murderous wars which bring their own environmental devastation, can make no positive contribution in the unfolding environmental crisis. ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism’ helps to show where the real responsibility for this lies – and it is not a question of individuals’ greed, but of the failings of a capitalist system fuelled by a thirst for profit.

We need to ‘make socialism’ so that everybody’s basic needs – clean water, nutritious food, decent shelter, education and health care – can be met in an environmentally sustainable socialist society. After addressing these particular needs, we can look once more to the old communist maxim, “from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs”. However, today this means placing a much greater emphasis on meeting people’s non-material needs. These can offer us a more environmentally sustainable human future than a society built upon capitalism’s ‘shop-until-you-drop’ philosophy (remembering, of course, that many in the world today ‘drop’ before they ever get to ‘shop’).

In the face of the current capitalist crisis, we do need to go beyond the propaganda for socialism that the slogan, ‘Make Capitalism History, Make Socialism the Future’, represents, and show how, through agitation, we can work together to protect and advance workers’ immediate interests. When the 2009 Conference voted for the SSP to become part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance, the RCN thought that the SSP leadership would take up the New Anti-Capitalist Party’s (NPA) excellent slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’.

In contrast to ‘Make Greed History’, the NPA’s slogan (which could have been modified to ‘Make the Bosses and their paid Politicians pay’, when the ‘Expenses Scandal’ broke out in the UK) points to a class solution to the current crisis. This also offers workers a vista, showing the way we can struggle with other exploited and oppressed people for socialism.

7. Alternative options for SSP participation in elections.

When examining some of the reasons why the SSP stands in elections, it might be useful to consider the following analogy. A comparison could be made between governments and their associated methods of election with a block of flats.

Thus, the mainstream parties live at the top of the block, with the penthouse occupied by the winning party. The other mainstream parties are usually found in the apartments immediately below. The penthouse provides its occupants with undoubted privileges, not least the opportunity to use patronage to fill strategic posts and the use of official facilities to ensure the current resident’s continued occupancy. Sometimes, long-term occupation of the penthouse suite can lead its residents to believe that they alone have the right to live there. They then use all their accumulated powers to deny others any access. However, other penthouse residents appreciate that occupancy is only meant to be on a limited lease. In electoral terms this means accepting the possibility of replacement by other mainstream parties, and ‘fair play’ in the arrangements to allow for new occupants.

Continuing with this analogy, the penthouse occupants are currently the New Labour MPs at Westminster (including its Glasgow North East seat), whilst the other residents of the upper floor consist of MPs from those mainstream parties who have a chance of moving into the penthouse. They have formed the ruling group in the past at Westminster, have been parts of coalitions at Holyrood, or at various council levels – the SNP, Tories and Lib-Dems. They can depend on certain rights of occupancy at this level, as well as some publicity stemming from their more elevated position.

Below this are the middle levels in the block of flats. These are occupied by down-at-heel mainstream parties, and by up-and-coming parties. The normal function of occupancy in this level is to console the down-at-heel and to tame any new aspiring upstarts. The established rules of residence are designed to ensure this.

Occasionally, however, an occupant appears who is not prepared to play by these rules. They don’t believe that the block of flats should be an exclusive residence, with privileged levels, but should form part of a wider democratic community. They believe many of the privileges enjoyed by some of the current occupants should be terminated, or become equitably distributed (i.e. democratised). Such thinking, though, usually brings the upstarts into major conflict with the other residents living on the same level, as well as those above. They might resort to special measures to try to evict the upstarts (e.g. SSP councillor, Jim Bollan’s suspension in West Dunbartonshire)

Below the middle level lie the block’s lower levels. Here live those hopeful that their fortunes may change. They are divided between those who have devised a viable strategy to get up to the next level, and those who repeat their continuous old pleading to be moved up, but without success (usually coupled with gratuitous mudslinging at others perceived to be blocking their advance). However, the lower levels also have a basement with cold baths. The occupants thrown down to this level either drown largely unnoticed; or are brought to their senses by their sudden immersion in freezing cold water.

In section 3 it was argued that the SSP in Glasgow had attained the second tier (or the middle level of the block of flats) between 2003 and the split in 2006. This position they shared with the locally down-at-heel Tories and Lib-Dems, and another aspiring, recent newcomer, the Greens.

However, by 2009, as a result of the split, Glasgow SSP members, in considering their approach to the Glasgow North East election, accurately judged that the party had fallen to the lower level. Whilst this fact was recognised in the low voting expectations, the RCN would argue that those responsible for the campaign in Glasgow did not come up with an electoral strategy appropriate to the level the party now found itself at.

Unless a socialist unity candidate could be found, there was never any possibility of re-entering the second level in this by-election. The choice therefore lay between two options. One, which in the circumstances might seriously have been considered, was not to stand at all. A section of the Glasgow membership has been arguing for such a course in elections for some time.

Sometimes, this suggested abandonment of the electoral terrain is coupled to other notions of retreat. The idea has been aired of the SSP downgrading itself to a network of activists involved in various campaigns, or joining the campaigns of others (e.g. those SNP activists still campaigning for independence in ‘Independence First’, or the ‘Scottish Independence Convention’ – although active campaigning is not a marked feature of the latter!) Nicky McKerral has argued for another version of tactical retreat. He has suggested that the SSP withdraws from election contests, for a period of reflection, theoretical development and an updating of our programme.

The RCN would see both these courses of action as over-reactions to some bad practices and experiences on the Left, which SSP members have undoubtedly had to endure. Certainly, given our small size at present, the SSP should not be trying to act as if we are the only Left party around, dreaming up front organisations to give this impression. We should be taking part in wider campaigns, insisting they are organised on a genuine united front basis; but where we can also put forward our own distinctive politics (through our members’ contributions, the Voice and leaflets). For example, in relation to the simmering question of the ‘independence referendum’, this would mean reviving the ‘Calton Hill Declaration’ on a united front basis.

We would agree with Nicky’s upholding of the necessity for theoretical and programmatic reflection. However, we would see this being integrated with continued wider public work, including involvement in selected electoral contests. But this would indeed necessitate another way of organising SSP electoral work, to match our requirements in the current situation (see section 8).

Given the fact that the SSP had occupied the second floor in the recent past, the RCN thinks Glasgow SSP comrades were right in taking the decision to stand in the by-election. However, that meant facing up to the fact that we are now indeed on the lower level, a position shared with some still hostile and other more rueful neighbours.

We could choose the “tired old pleading” through puffing ourselves up in populist campaigns under the rubric of ‘Make Greed History’, to disguise our weakness. Or, being honest, and fully acknowledging our lower level position, we could have adopted another course of action, designed not so much to attract the votes to get back to the middle level, but to try and gain new active members, so that together we could break through the lower level ceiling (we should never confine ourselves to purely official ‘stairway’!) the next time round.

8. Campaigning for socialism by educating and organising new socialists

Therefore, instead of chasing passive voters, we should have been trying to make new socialists. Adopting a ‘making socialists’ approach would have meant organising in a different way in the by-election. Stalls, leafleting, fly posting and other activities would have been mainly undertaken to make contacts and to get them to Glasgow North East branch meetings, say twice a month. Branch meetings could have had both outside and local speakers on such key issues as, ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, and ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’. In each of these cases the possibility of follow-up action suggests itself.

If enough people had attended a meeting on Afghanistan, then an anti-recruitment picket could have been organised later at an army recruiting office, involving new contacts, with an attempt to gain media attention. The Glasgow ‘Stop the War’ campaign could have been invited to participate. Now most SSP members hold a pretty jaundiced view of the SWP’s role in the ‘Stop the War’ campaign, but even some of their members have begun to realise that a change of direction is needed. The tired old calls for the next demonstration are no longer being answered.

The follow up activities for a meeting on ‘The New Fascist Challenge’ would certainly have involved organising to counter the SDL provocation on November 14th. Furthermore, the struggle against fascism can not be divorced from the struggle against racism, including the attacks made by fascists upon isolated individuals and those state-organised raids upon asylum seekers and economic migrants. An attempt could have been made to meet up with residents of the Red Road Flats, and with those local organisations, which have been campaigning to support migrants. This would have followed from 2007 SSP Conference support for the ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign.

In the case of any ‘Capitalism and the Climate Change’ meeting, the follow-up activity could have been preparing a specifically socialist contingent on the ‘Climate Change’ demo on December 5th (such as the SSP did on the Edinburgh G8 demo in Edinburgh on July 2nd, 2005).

Furthermore, SSP educational material could have been prepared on these three topics for use on the stalls and at the branch meetings. Socialist education is very much a weak spot in the SSP’s current work. We don’t have the resources at present to produce the attractive glossy pamphlet, Two Worlds Collide, which Alan McCombes wrote for the Gleneagles G8 summit. However, newer technology allows us to produce short runs of pamphlets (repeated as required) like that Raphie de Santos produced, Coming to a Neighbourhood Near You, about the ‘Credit Crunch’.

There may well be some differences held by new and current members over such issues, but then that is in the nature of the SSP. One of our party’s attractive features should be its ability to incorporate a variety of views, and to have mechanisms where proper debates can take place around these. For example, RCN members sold Alan’s G8 pamphlet, encouraging others to read it, as well as writing a fraternal critique in Emancipation & Liberation no. 11.

There were also other public meeting opportunities for the SSP during the by-election. There were over ten weeks available for campaigning, after Kevin’s adoption as candidate on August 31st. One opportunity was provided by the possibility of a national post office workers’ strike. Our Industrial Organiser, Richie Venton, produced some excellent material for this, and it is certainly no fault of Richie’s that a Labour-supporting, Broad Left, CWU leadership backed down. Quite clearly, Lord Mandelson wanted to do to the CWU (prior to plans for Post Office privatisation) what Thatcher did to the NUM.

For those who think that Labour will turn Left (other than in empty rhetoric) after an almost certain forthcoming drubbing in the Westminster General Election, the role of Mandelson, Johnston and others on the Labour Right is most instructive. They know Brown is ‘going down’, but they still are fighting ‘tooth and nail’ to remind the bosses that New Labour can be depended on, when the Tories trip up in office. Compared with what passes for the Left ‘fightback’ inside the Labour Party, the Right fights on even when their backs are against the wall. The very much shrunken Left seems to believe that after the General Election, “Things can only get better”! Now, where have we heard that before?

As well as arguing for wider support actions for the post office workers, an SSP public meeting could have drawn out the full political implications of New Labour’s actions, the failures of the Labour Left, and the dangers posed by trade union leaderships which continue to subordinate their actions (or lack of them) to the needs of the Labour Party.

The SNP’s proposed ‘independence’ referendum was another issue around which a branch/public meeting could have been organised, possibly under the title ‘Can the SNP bring Independence?’ This might also have drawn back some SNP members/supporters, who were once attracted to the SSP, but who had drifted away after the split. They can now see, though, that the SNP is not offering any sort of alternative to neo-liberalism or the Afghan occupation, and has no strategy to link up its campaign for an ‘independence’ referendum with popular economic and social reforms. Furthermore, the SNP is so wedded to Westminster constitutionalism, that the UK state may not even need to resort to its reserve anti-democratic Crown Powers to see it off any referendum challenge.

The RCN considers the Left nationalist course advocated by John McAllion, in the Voice, for the ‘independence’ referendum campaign, to be the wrong approach. Instead, the SNP’s recent wholesale retreat would allow the SSP to revive the republican approach first organised around the Calton Hill Declaration in October 2004. This could now be linked to the wider anti-imperialist, ‘break-up of the UK’, ‘internationalism from below’ strategy developed in the SSP-initiated Republican Socialist Convention held on November 29th 2008. Perhaps the political passivity underlying the Left nationalist approach of ‘waiting for the SNP’ explains why there was no clear SSP message presented to the electorate on the SNP’s ‘independence’ referendum during the by-election.

Does this mean that local issues should have been ignored in the by-election? No, but the RCN isn’t in a position to suggest the best local issues that could have been the subject of other meetings in Glasgow. However, a meeting involving local participants in the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign, linked with a teacher trade union speaker on the campaign to reduce class sizes (a long-standing campaign taken by Scottish Federation of Socialist Teacher members to successive EIS AGMs) would appear to have been a possibility.

Lastly, the RCN questions the postponement of events like ‘Socialism 2009’ to make time for street campaigning. ‘Socialism 2009’ could have provided an SSP showcase for those contacts already attracted to branch/public meetings around these suggested and other topics. New contacts could have been introduced to our national work and met members from Scotland, as well as our international contacts. Now, ‘Socialism 2009’ might have had to be postponed for other reasons, but making time for street campaigning, in a probably forlorn attempt to get more passive votes, is not the best one.

These criticisms and alternative suggestions are not being put forward as the ‘correct’ course of action, which should have been taken. Whilst, the RCN is suggesting a different orientation could have been taken – making socialists rather than winning votes – quite clearly, any campaign, informed by a wide range of SSP members’ contributions, would also take up their ideas and suggestions. Nevertheless, the RCN believes it has some valid points to make.

9. The need to uphold a confident a democratically unified SSP

Perhaps, the most worrying aspect of the by-election for the SSP nationally was the fact that it became a local Glasgow issue, which nevertheless commanded national resources to the detriment of our work elsewhere. The RCN would argue, that if the ‘make socialists’ approach had been adopted, with leaflets and fly posters targeted at getting people to branch meetings and follow-up activities, then there was no need for a Voice election special. The national Voice could have done the job, as well as provided other regions with a paper for their ongoing work.

The issues that we have suggested that the SSP could have campaigned on – ‘The Occupation of Afghanistan’, ‘The New Fascist Challenge’, ‘Capitalism and Climate Change’ and ‘Can the SNP deliver Independence’ were all national issues, that the whole party should have been united in campaigning for. However, a section of any national Voice could have been devoted specifically to the Glasgow North East by-election campaign and local issues, such as the suggested follow-up to the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign.

Furthermore, there undoubtedly would have had to be some tactical flexibility (this luckily emerged in practice) when a clash of events occurred, beyond the SSP’s ability to influence – the ‘Stop the Fascist SDL’ demo in Glasgow and the ‘Stop the War’ demo in Edinburgh, both held on November 14th. However, if there had been effective overall SSP national political guidance, a bigger presence on the G20 Demo in St. Andrews on November 7th could have been organised; whilst there should have been a major SSP national presence on ‘Climate Change’ demo in Glasgow on December 5th, backed by a stall with a specially produced SSP pamphlet.

What, we seem to have now, though, is almost a confederal SSP, where different areas and different sections are allowed to get on with their own thing, either competing for national resources, or paying for their own. Thus we had the official Glasgow SSP campaign in the Glasgow North East by-election, which managed to corner the Voice. The SSP on the East Coast has been campaigning around the Afghan occupation, with several public meetings, attracting new members and re-establishing a branch in Aberdeen. Meanwhile, other SSP members have been involved in their own work, e.g. the SSY’s work around confronting the SDL, and some, mainly Glasgow, comrades’ organising around the issue of climate change.

All of these issues should have been fully discussed by the EC (and by those NCs which met during the by-election period). EC members should be given particular responsibilities, for which they are accountable at the next EC/NC meeting. We have no effective way of monitoring and assessing the overall work of the SSP. Of the working committees, only the International Committee seems to meet regularly and provide minutes of its activities. There are no regular written reports at the ECs nor the NCs of SSP branch meetings, the political issues discussed there, and the numbers in attendance. Without such reports our local strengths and weaknesses can not be properly measured.

The SSP largely depends for political guidance upon the training of members who received their schooling long ago in other organisations. We have no proper education system in place. The Regions should provide regular monthly education sessions, perhaps, on the same day, straight after Regional Committee meetings, so as not to overstretch the leading comrades. These education sessions could be followed by social activity – food, drink and music.

There are members, who for various reasons (distance being one) can not attend twice monthly SSP branch meetings, but who could be actively encouraged to become involved at such monthly Regional educational/social events. The SSP’s annual ‘Socialism’ should be seen both as the culmination of this educational work, and another event to which we can attract non-members to showcase our politics and activities.

10. Conclusion

The Glasgow North East by-election has highlighted the need to re-establish socialist unity, but this time on a completely principled basis. We need a thoroughly democratic organisation, which has not only jettisoned ‘celebrity socialism’, but is able to meet all the challenges the state and the sectarian splitters throw up, with both confidence and tactical acumen.

Now that we are living in the worst economic crisis in living memory, probably with even worse to follow, the SSP needs to be much more assertive about the need to put forward a convincing socialist alternative. Populist politics wants ‘a nicer capitalism’, which has made ‘poverty’, ‘greed’, or ‘climate change’ history. This is a utopian delusion whilst living under the rule of corporate imperialism in crisis, with its threats of massive falls in living standards, continued environmental degradation, and continuing wars that could bring the major imperialist powers into direct conflict.

Whilst the useful agitational slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for Their Crisis’, directs workers’ anger both at those directly responsible and their capitalist system itself, we do need to go further still and develop a viable socialist alternative, and show the active steps needed to achieve this.

This means that the SSP will have to debate exactly what we mean by socialism/communism. We can not depend on stale old left social democratic, or orthodox and dissident communist ideas, which see Keynesian state intervention within, or Party-control over, the economy as the vehicles for socialist transformation. Neither does the semi-anarchist/semi-small scale capitalist notion of loosely networked local self-sufficient communities offer global humanity a viable future. The RCN does not claim to provide definitive answers on the vital issue of what constitutes socialism. We are only beginning to debate what is meant by socialism and communism ourselves. We would be more than happy to involve others in our discussions, whilst also being prepared to take part in initiatives organised by others.

Given the SSP’s current quite small size and support, the over-riding job we face today is creating active socialists, not winning passive votes. This RCN contribution has mainly shown how this could be done in the context of those elections the SSP may choose to stand in. This approach depends on the SSP having a fully functioning branch structure with political topics at every meeting, an organised system of more developed education probably provided at Regional level, culminating in ‘Socialism’ as an annual showcase of our national and international work. It also means producing regular (initially short-run) pamphlets on the key issues we face.

The SSP must be more than an alliance of single-issue campaigners, whether locally, nationally, or even internationally. We must avoid collapsing into a loose federal organisation, where different branches or regions are largely left to do their own thing, whilst competing for national SSP resources. This can only build up local resentments. The EC should take responsibility for the key national political priorities and initiatives between NCs and Conferences. This means upholding the SSP as a democratically unified organisation. It means having a much more task oriented EC, which monitors and reports to NCs and Conference on the progress of branches, regional committees, and national working committees, as well as any specific campaigns we are involved in.

Furthermore, we must continue to develop the SSP as a component of the international Left, including the Republican Socialist Convention and the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. Our participation in the latter was perhaps the highlight of the SSP’s work in 2009. We opposed the Brit Left chauvinism (and its Left Scottish nationalist Solidarity bolt on) of ‘No2EU’, when we stood in the Euro-elections alongside socialists throughout Europe. We were able to take the same pride in the gains made by others (particularly the Portuguese Left Bloc, but also the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France), which they took from the SSP’s great advances in 2003.

Appendix 1

Glasgow North East Election Results

2005 General Election votes 2009 By-election votes
Speaker (Labour) 15,153
Labour 12,231
SNP 5019 4,120
Conservatives Did not stand 1,013
SLP 4036 47
SSP 1402 152
Scottish Unionist Party 1266 Did not stand
BNP 920 1,075
T. Sheridan/Solidarity 794
Lib-Dems Did not stand 479
Scottish Greens Did not stand 332
Jury Team/J. Smeaton 218
M. Hughes 54
% turnout 45.8 33.2

Appendix 2

Note: this is here purely as a reference, we clearly do not endorse the content of material distributed by fascists

Welfare for the Bankers – cuts for the Poor

Is there anything more sickening than seeing both Tories and Labour each seeing how much they can cut from the poor whilst each of them support the giving of tens of billions of pounds of welfare payments to the banks and bankers.

These policies are designed to gain the support of the most selfish bastards in the country – the sanctimonious, selfish, hypocritical 0.5 % of middle class swing voters whose loyalty is not to this country or the British people but solely their own selfish interests.

The fact that the parties are both seeking to gain the support of these people shows how they dont run this country for the benefit of the British people but simply for their own shallow political interests.

The fact is that if the labour government, the tory supporting economists and banks, the bankers, hedge fund traders that fund the tory party and Labour party and the rest of the morons who caused the economic crash, then the money would not need to be stolen from the poor.

Instead the rich get billions in welfare payments when they fucked up our country and the poor get benefit cuts.

If we werent also in the idiotic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan then we would have billions spare and not need to cut public spending.

The fact is that cutting public spending for the poor whilst paying billions for two illegal and unneccasery wars and giving billions to the banks is a sign we live in a sick society.

The tories are scum.

Labour are scum.

Only political party speaks for the working class and the patriotic middle class – the BNP.

We will cut public spending by ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and save billions.

We will end the welfare for banks and bankers and save billions.

We will cut taxes that the patriotic middle class are paying to subsidise the bankers and wars.

Only the BNP will do these things.

The other sum will attack the poor, the disabled and the unemployed – all those who are the victims of the scum that caused the economic crisis.

BNP, 5.10.09

Appendix 3

Perspectives for Socialist Resistance in Dumfries

I’ve decided to leave Solidarity.

The news that Tommy Sheridan was to stand against an SSP candidate in the Glasgow North-East by-election finally convinced me. Both of these competing wee socialist parties are more concerned with opposing each other than fighting for socialism.

Irrespective of the eventual outcome of the perjury trial next year, I believe that the disastrous decisions by leading members of both parties will be mercilessly exposed in the media.

On the one hand you have Tommy’s senseless determination to pursue Murdoch’s sleazy News of the World through the courts. On the other there’s the SSP leadership deciding to keep a detailed secret minute of a meeting discussing an individual’s private life.

The split caused by the disastrous combination of both of these political failings has hamstrung the socialist movement in Scotland since 2006.

In the 2003 Holyrood election the (then united) SSP got 6 MSPs and inspired socialists elsewhere in Europe.

Then in 2006 the pro big business parties were gifted an own goal when Tommy Sheridan took Murdoch’s empire to court – and another when the SSP leaders attempted to conceal their indefensible minutes.

Since 2006 the legal establishment has played out time with their endlessly protracted investigations. Now they’ve scheduled Tommy’s perjury trial with dozens of witnesses just before the General Election (though the further postponement means it may yet impact on the Scottish Elections the following year). In the meantime the divided socialist parties have effectively been banished to the fringes of society.

This persistent pathetic squabble between the 2 factions has let down working people, pensioners, students and minority communities. They should be looking to a united socialist party to lead a fight against the cuts, the war in Afghanistan, the BNP racists and the corruption of the established political parties.

Socialists operating outwith the 2 wee feuding parties can still effectively put forward convincing arguments for resisting the cuts and making the rich pay for the crisis that
their greed has caused.

The effect of Tommy’s perjury trial will prevent socialists making any impact in the General Election (which being 1st past the post is difficult territory anyway as the poor results for the [united] SSP in 2005 in Dumfries as elsewhere showed).

The immediate focus in Dumfries has to be support for any groups of workers that are fighting back. We can support them through solidarity collections in workplaces called for by Dumfries TUC. We’ve shown already by mass leafleting of the town centre by 40 anti-racists and by target- leafleting the streets where the few local BNPers live that we can mobilise effectively against the BNP when they appear.

If any council by-elections occur in Dumfries, we should aim to stand as “Socialist Resistance” with anti-cuts & anti-big business policies. By producing appropriately targeted leaflets against the cuts which focus on the pro tartan capitalism ideas of Salmond’s SNP as well as the unholy Thatcherite Trinity of Brown,Cameron & Clegg, we can start to make an impact.

We should be greatly encouraged by the German Election results. The United Left (“die Linke”) beat the Greens overall getting 12% of the vote and having 76 seats in the Reichstag (out of 622) – and the neo-nazis were nowhere!

With the goal of the socialist transformation of society, we in Dumfries must aim to be part of a wider united socialist electoral alliance throughout the South of Scotland (and hopefully all of Scotland) well before May 2011.

John Dennis 9th November 2009

PS. Please get in touch with your thoughts about what I’ve written. I’m consulting you and other socialists in Dumfries before I consult anyone further afield. I’d appreciate your ideas and I’d be keen to chat with as many people as possible before the Glasgow North East by-election on 12th November (after which I intend resigning from Solidarity).

Appendix 4

Section of motion put forward by the Executive Committee and passed at October 20th, post-split SSP Conference in Glasgow

We resolve to build the SSP as a pluralist party that respects different shades of socialist opinion within its ranks, with open democratic debate but which then aims for public unity in action around democratically agreed policies and campaigns.

This conference notes with regret the formation of an alternative socialist organisation in Scotland, with a political platform indistinguishable from that of the SSP.

Conference further notes that this organisation appears to be founded not on the basis of political difference with the SSP, but rather as the culmination of recent attacks on the SSP.

Conference further notes that some of the comrades have left the SSP for this new formation for different reasons, such as personal loyalty to individuals or platforms.

Conference believes that the interests of the working class in Scotland and internationally are best served by a united movement,

Conference therefore affirms that, despite the misguided actions of some, any individual who has left the SSP will, at any time in the future, be welcomed back as full members of the party without recriminations.

Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it.

Allan Armstrong, 29.12.09

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Jan 20 2009

Internationalism From Below

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

Contents of forthcoming book

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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

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