Aug 11 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2

This is the second part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. the first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/

 

2. EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION AND INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

IN RESPONSE TO NATIONAL SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, AND OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNIST

INTERNATIONALISM FROM ABOVE

 

Contents of Part 2

 a.     Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

 b.     The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour

 c.     To party or not to party, that is the question

 d.     Autonomous organisations

e.      International organisation

f.       Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice 

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 a.      Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

i.      One thing that needs explained is how did Corbynism and Left social democracy make a revival which nobody predicted? If we look to Greece, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, we can see well-supported independent Left organisations, which have developed outside the traditional social democratic parties. One answer to this question is the sheer resilience of conservative organisational forms in a state like the UK with such a long and deep-rooted unionist and imperial history. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2”

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Sep 01 2015

JEREMY CORBYN AND THE RE-EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance, who stood as a socialist republican and anti-Unionist candidate in Bermondsey in the General Election, makes his political assessment of the Corbyn campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party.

 

JEREMY CORBYN AND THE RE-EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

th-5

 

The fall and rise of Social Democracy and the re-division of the left

The incredible and unbelievable arrival of the movement to elect Jeremy Corbyn MP to be leader of the Labour Party has taken all the left by surprise. It is a happy shock and one to welcome. Its impact is yet to become clear but no doubt it will have a significant impact on socialist movement. The Corbyn movement should not be seen as an isolated event but as part of a chain of events which reflect the course of the class struggle.
Continue reading “JEREMY CORBYN AND THE RE-EMERGENCE OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY”

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Jan 17 2014

REPUBLICAN SOCIALISM AND LEFT UNITY

Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance in England spoke, along with Bernadette McAliskey and Mary MacGregor (RCN) at the ‘break-up of the UK’ session at the Radical Independence Conference on 23rd November in Glasgow. The following week on November 30th in London Steve spoke at the Left Unity Party founding conference putting the case for a socialist republican strategy which recognised the significance of the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. In this article Steve analyses the various political forces to be found at this conference.

Continue reading “REPUBLICAN SOCIALISM AND LEFT UNITY”

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Aug 12 2013

THE SOCIALIST PLATFORM

The RCN has been chronicling attempts to achieve Left unity in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These attempts have included the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, then the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance and Respect in England and Wales, Forward Wales, the all-Britain Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and No2EU, and the United Left Alliance in Ireland.

All of these initiatives have faltered. One common element has been the sectarian practices of the SWP and the Socialist Party. Another has been dependence on celebrity politicians such as Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway. However, the political problems go deeper than that. The multifaceted crisis capitalism now faces, highlighted by the Credit Crunch, means that capitalism can offer the majority of humanity no way forward. Trying to revivify capitalism by social democratic style neo-Keynesian reforms, particularly on a national basis, represents  a political dead end. It means arguing like those late nineteenth century radicals,  who, when confronted by the New Imperialism, still believed an earlier Victorian ‘free trade’ world could be restored .
Continue reading “THE SOCIALIST PLATFORM”

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Dec 20 2012

RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?

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

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

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Nov 28 2012

TERRY LIDDLE, 1948 – 2012, COMRADE

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

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

 

Terry Liddle – socialist republican

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “TERRY LIDDLE, 1948 – 2012, COMRADE”

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Oct 10 2011

2nd REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST CONVENTION, LONDON, FEBRUARY 13th, 2010


Due to an oversight this report was not placed earlier on the Emancipation & Liberation blog

 

The second Republican Socialist Convention was organised by the Socialist Alliance [1] in London on February 13th.  In its initial conception it was ambitious. With a General Election looming in the UK, the organisers attempted to bring together figures from the Left who might be offering an election challenge this year.  Those invited included Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT and someone from the Socialist Party, both involved in the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition [2], Robert Griffiths from the Communist Party of Britain (and formerly of No2EU), Peter Tatchell of the Green Left, and Colin Fox, co-Spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party (as well as Tony Benn, now seen as somewhat of a ‘national treasure’ by the British Left). They were all to be asked how they saw the relevance of campaigning on political or democratic issues, especially the demand for a republic. The series of apologies given, some undoubtedly genuine, whilst others more probably sectarian in motivation, highlighted the over-ambitious aims held by the organisers.

The Convention Chair, Steve Freeman, introduced Peter Tatchell as a ‘republican in spirit’. He made a useful contribution to start the debate. Peter outlined his proposed ten points for the republican reform of the British constitution. As with most of the British Left, the ‘Six Counties’ was missing from Peter’s contribution. He did think, though, that a federal Britain could solve the National Question in England, Scotland and Wales.

There was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic. In particular, he did not really consider the role of republican challenges to the UK state, emanating from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Unfortunately, Peter had to leave for another meeting, whilst time for further discussion was curtailed, so Colin Fox was then left to put the SSP’s socialist republican case in somewhat of a vacuum.

Colin pointed out how the MP’s expenses scandal has shown how unrepresentative they have become. James Connolly reminded those who aspire to represent working people ‘Rise with your class not out of it’. Some 650 MP’s or ‘representatives’ are elected to Parliament. So why are they so unrepresentative? It has been subverted by the neo-liberal consensus. Being an MP has become a career not a cause. Parliament is full of lawyers, businessmen, bankers, accountants and lecturers and that’s just the Labour side!

In 2005, the Queen opened her new £440m Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh. The SSP MSP’s decided not just to boycott the event, but to organise an alternative. The SSP gave its support to the Declaration of Calton Hill. Socialist republicanism is at the heart of the SSP’s politics.

The Convention then moved quickly on to the last morning session, introduced by Mehdi Kia (co-editor of the Middle East Bulletin). Medhi provided an overview of the events in Iran over the last 8 months. Initially he addressed some of the myths surrounding the recent presidential election and provided reasons for rejecting them. These included suggestions that the election was not fraudulent, that the protestors are mainly middle class, that this is another “velvet” revolution orchestrated by the US, that it is led by the reformists, and that the Iranian regime is in some way anti-imperialistic.

He went on to point out that the protestors come from a variety of backgrounds, the slogans are continuously changing and becoming more radicalised, the movement is in its very essence democratic and anti-imperialist, and within it is a growing secular republican movement (rejecting the Islamic republic) with increasingly radical slogans. He concluded that under the immense repression of the regime the tactic of street demonstrations has only limited potential and unless the various movements (women, youth, nationalities and workers) co-ordinate more effectively and adopt different tactics the movement will not succeed in its more radical aims.

The afternoon session was meant to introduce the perspective of ‘Internationalism from Below’ – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – which had united the contributors to the first Republican Socialist Convention held in Edinburgh on the 29th November, 2008. The SSP International Committee had to apply some pressure for this issue to be taken seriously by the London organisers. They accepted, given the prevalence of Left British Unionism in England, that a debate was indeed needed between representatives of this tradition and speakers from both Left Nationalist and ‘Internationalism from Below’ viewpoints.  A mixture of the shortness of time, the lack of non-English contacts held by the Left in London, and various apologies limited the scope for this debate on the day.

Instead, Steve Freeman spoke about whether there was a National Question in England, beginning by considering the flags and anthems at the 1966 world cup, the Scotland-England rugby match in 1990 and the Euro football in 1996 when the flag of St George became prominent. The National Question involves issues of political institutions (parliaments etc) and identity. Whilst the National Question was recognised for Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the Left had not examined the related situation in England.

Steve considered that a British nation had been created after 1707 through the wars with France in the 18th century. He saw the UK as one nation and four tribes – the British-English, British-Irish, British-Scots and British-Welsh. Now the political institutions and the identity of the British English were being questioned. There was no British-English National Question in the past but now there were signs of an emerging crisis of politics and identity. From this a new English politics and identity could emerge. How should the Left relate to this?

Allan Armstrong, from the SSP’s International Committee (and a member of the party’s Republican Communist Network platform), then outlined some of the lessons socialist republicans could learn from the decades long republican struggle against the UK state in Ireland. He pointed out that there was now a National Movement in Scotland that is wider than the SNP. Indeed the SNP, like its equivalent parties in Quebec, Catalunya and Euskadi, is increasingly settling for Devolution-Max, and pushing the interests of local business within the existing corporate imperialist order.

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

This session prompted the most debate, which has now continued on the RCN [3] and The Commune [4] websites, and in the pages of the very Left Unionist, Weekly Worker. It was a pity that enough time wasn’t given to air this debate more thoroughly on the day.

The last session was a bit of a damp squib, since the SA had obviously seen it as an opportunity to get the same sort of unity around demands over democratic issues in the forthcoming General Election, that the Left can sometimes achieve (on paper anyhow!) over economic issues. Instead it was left to Colin Fox for the SSP and Joseph Healey, for the Green Left, to outline the nature of their parties’ proposed electoral campaigns. The absence of the other Left forces contesting the election meant the SA’s aims could not be achieved in this respect.

It was good to have a Republican Socialist Convention organised in England. It was traditional Left in its mode of organisation (platform and audience), even when there were only about 20 present, but everybody who contributed did so in a constructive manner  – yes, including those from the ‘Brit Left’! I feel that more could have been gained though if the Convention had concentrated on the debate between Left Unionism, Left Nationalism and ‘Internationalism from Below’.  Maybe the next time!

 Allan Armstrong (member of SSP International Committee)

 


[1]             The Socialist Alliance is the small organisation still left in England after the  defection first of the Socialist Party and then the Socialist Workers Party.

 

[2]             TUSC is the latest Left electoral grouping formed after last year’s short-lived No2EU/Yes2Democracy electoral alliance.

 

 

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Feb 26 2010

Republican Socialist Convention Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reply from Allan Armstrong (24 02 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jun 21 2009

Left Unity

Category: SSP and SWP,The crisis on the LeftRCN @ 3:38 pm

The SWP have published an open letter on Left Unity in the past few weeks. There is a reply from the Commune which the RCN is in broad agreement with. We reprint it below.

Reply to socialist workers party’s open letter to the left

Comrades,

We write in reply to your Open Letter to the Left of 9 June, on behalf of The Commune, a small, relatively new group, which stands for communism from below and workers’ self-management. We publish a monthly paper of the same name and are mostly active in London, though we have comrades across England and Wales.

We welcome the spirit of the Open Letter, and would be interested to participate in discussions concerning left unity in general, or a conference in particular. Of course, you will understand, we have concerns – we are sure you do too.

We want to be sure that the lessons of the Socialist Alliance and Respect have been learnt. In particular, we want to know what has changed – and it cannot be simply this or that personality – since packing meetings with raw recruits to block vote against independents and other groups was considered an acceptable tactic during the days of the Socialist Alliance. And we want to know what has changed since the Socialist Alliance was wound down at your behest, in favour of the Respect project. You cannot, after all, expect those of us who were involved last time to go through such disappointment again; to be shut out, or to have a project we have built tossed aside when the leading faction finds something more interesting to do. If your perspectives have changed, we can accept that: but we need to be convinced of it.

We also want to be clear that when we talk about left unity, we do not mean simply left unity at elections, or anti-fascist mobilisations. What we are talking about, what we all need to talk about, is deep, thoroughgoing political work in communities, in which socialists join together locally, with trade unionists, community campaigners and across the political boundaries of the existing groups.

The political content of the project will also be a matter for discussion. This is not the place to set down ultimatums. But, clearly, there is a relation between the real breadth of a formation and the extent to which we are willing to make sacrifices in the content of its programme. If a formation begins with a real base in the labour movement, is organised on a thoroughly democratic and militant basis, there is a case for certain sorts of compromise. And if it does not have such a base, so be it, we cannot always wait for such things. But what there is not, and has never been, any point in, is socialists voting to establish policy different from their own beliefs on the hope that, at some point in the future, more moderate forces will be drawn in (using accessible language is necessary, diluting principles is not). We must start by being honest about what we are, and build from there: whether in a distinct organisation, or as a radical platform in a broader one.

Practically, we do not understand why, if you are serious about left unity, you sent no delegate to the meeting of the Left Unity Liaison Committee on 13 June to which you were invited. We were unable to attend ourselves, but as a group numbering fewer than 20, rather than in the thousands. We do want to believe your call is sincere, but we need to see evidence.

The proposal of a conference is not a bad one. But in our view, a conference will not solve the real problem we face: that on the streets, and in the estates, in the suburbs and small towns, socialists are divided in action by the groups of which they happen to be a member. A project founded by conference resolution will not be able to draw in a wider layer, constitute itself democratically, begin real political debate, and fight an election within eleven months. So another, complementary, proposal is this: that all the main socialist groups, as well as any unions that can be persuaded to participate, organise a programme of discussion at a local level. Let delegations from branches meet each other; draw lessons from the past, and make proposals for the future. Let those proposals focus not merely on the next election – which is too soon for us to have anything but a very insufficient impact given our current disorganisation – but on the sort of work that can be done to build community and workers’ resistance at a local level, not only in the next year, but in the next decade. Let these discussions draw in campaigners and independents, and give each an equal voice.

This is how the Socialist Alliance came together; steady local work in a number of areas. It is also the process which constituted the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. We need to make that possible here again; and it is the groups with the largest numbers who have the greatest responsibility to do that, by freeing up their members to work with those of other groups, to find the forms of unity appropriate to local circumstances. To make gestures which erode the walls of mistrust built across the landscape of the left. Is a unified national perspective necessary? It is. But it must be based on something real; and to create that real something is the most immediate challenge.

What about the unions? The RMT has conference policy to:

  • Convene a national conference on the crisis in working class political representation similar to those organised previously
  • Encourage our regional councils to organise similar conferences on a regional basis
  • Initiate and support the setting-up of local Workers’ Representation Committees which can identify and promote candidates in elections who deserve workers’ support.

This reflects a similar spirit to our proposal above. This work is the work of years, not of months. It is the work of the grass roots, not the central committees. Will you commit to this? Whether you do or do not, one thing is clear: the fascists have already committed to it, and will continue to commit to it, and that is why their support, if the recent elections are a barometer, was nearly three times that of the hard left.

For communism,
The Commune

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Jul 26 2002

The Socialist Alliance in England

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:44 pm

Dave Spencer has been a committee member of Coventry Socialist Alliance since 1992. Before its abolition in 1986, he was a Labour Councillor on West Midlands County Council. Here he assesses the way forward for the SAs in England.

The SA in England is a hybrid organisation – neither a party nor a federation. On the one hand it consists of several Left Groups who seem intent on maintaining their own identities. On the other hand it attracts individual members who would probably prefer the SA to be more like the Scottish Socialist Party. It is an organisation in transition.

United organisation is needed

In my view it should be in transition towards a party. This means the Left Groups should have some strategy of withering away within the SA in the not too distant future. As I see it there are no major political differences between these groups that could not be contained in an open and democratic socialist party. The most important differences used to relate to the nature of the old Soviet Union – was it a deformed workers’ state, state capitalist or bureaucratic collectivist? Some believe it still is a workers’ state apparently – good luck to them – but is it a dividing issue here and now? I think not. So why do they still maintain their separate existences when the crying need is for a united organisation to fill the vacuum left by the implosion of Stalinism and the commitment to global capitalism of Social Democracy?

Events in the recent French presidential elections show that this is not just a British disease; the French Left is split into several Left Groups for no obvious political reason. The separateness is historic, stemming back into faction fights in the 1950s. These Groups find it difficult to move on politically, to think strategically or to work with other people without running the show. They seem stuck in the world of several decades ago yet with an incredible air of smugness and self congratulation – in spite of what is quite clear to everybody else – that they have failed to attract a large working class base. Frankly would you like to live in a society run by Peter Taaffe or Chris Harman and his cohorts or by Lutte Ouvriere, the Lambertistes or the Sparts for that matter. I rest my case. The working class may be somewhat backward in consciousness at the moment but they are not entirely stupid – they are not going to vote en masse for these people. These Groups appear to outsiders more like the revolutionary groups in The Life of Brian than anything that is seriously going to change society.

The two characteristics of Left Groups almost as an iron law are sectarianism and bureaucratic centralism. I take sectarianism to mean putting their own organisation first above the interests of the working class as a whole. I take bureaucratic centralism to be a top down approach from the central committee – no real democracy, no accountability, no involvement of the creativity of the membership or of the working class. To me these two features of Left Groups need to be exposed and fought against; they are obstacles on the road to building a mass working class party.

Sectarianism

Examples of sectarianism abound but just to take a few examples. The December 1st Conference of the SA in England saw the sectarian departure of the Socialist Party who had to some extent dominated the SA since 1996. At that time they had seen the SA as a tactical means of heading off the possible appeal of Scargill’s SLP. They really did not have any strategic idea of what to do with the SA. They could pick it up and use it for their own party building or drop it as the case may be. They could have developed it along the lines of Scottish Militant and the SSP. They chose not to do so. In the run up to the December Conference the SP comrades in Coventry argued for a federalist structure for the SA on the grounds that why should they give up the hard won contacts and bases that they had built up through consistent work day in and day out so that the SWP could walk into their patch and make members — why should their members be told what to do by people with less commitment and experience. To me the role of the SP in the SA has been sectarian from day one. They put the building of their own party before developing a broad alliance. Their view now is that the SA is a rival to be fought against.

Since December 1st the SWP have become the dominant force in the SA. At the SA public meeting in Coventry during the local elections, on every chair was placed a leaflet advertising the next SWP Marxist Forum meeting, not the next SA meeting. The SWP do not seem to be clear what to do with the SA either! They seem to see SA activities as a vehicle for SWP party building in the same way as the SP did.

Old habits die hard of course but they have to die and be given a kicking on the way. Some comrades argue that it is a really good sign that the Left Groups have come together. Others argue that this is more a sign of huddling together for warmth rather than a desire to build something new. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. At the first meeting of the SA Independents in Birmingham in January there were two main points of view. One welcomed the new SA structure and the involvement of the SWP. Their idea was to swamp the SA with more independent socialists so that the members of the Left Groups become less dominant, less sectarian and the political differences less obvious. The other view was more critical of the SWP and gave examples of SWP sectarianism in their SA branches which make it very difficult or well nigh impossible to work with them. Their view was that the Left Groups are actually a barrier rather than a help in recruiting independent socialists to the SA.

In my view sectarian behaviour should be exposed on every available opportunity, even at the risk of being called sectarian because you are being critical! As Trotsky put it in the Manifesto of the Fourth Internationalnot for one single day should we tolerate sectarians in our organisation.

No to Machiavelian manoeuvrings

The question of bureaucratic methods should also be exposed. The internal regimes of most Left Groups make the bourgeois courts seem enlightened. Members are encouraged to behave like sheep rather than being trained like self sufficient Bolsheviks. In some cases Left Groups from the Stalinist tradition like Scargill’s SLP do not believe in democracy and at least that is clear. To me that is a splitting issue; we should have nothing to do with people who are against democracy. No say in the running of the organisation – no membership. Marxism and socialism must be heard and must be debated openly. No diktats from above, no Machiavelian manoeuvrings and spindoctoring. Full accountability of the Central Committee with instant recall. At the moment it is as though some Left Group leaders are frightened of their membership and certainly frightened of them talking to heretics from other groups or independents in case they get contaminated.

Open political and theoretical discussion is absolutely vital in the SA branches. There are a number of reasons for this. It is no longer clear what socialism means any more. The Stalinist and Social Democratic versions have gone but their message still lingers on. The idea of nationalising all industries as in Clause 4 of the LP constitution was a simple slogan. But in the age of globalisation we need more international ideas for running a socialist economy. And nationalisation itself is not the end of the matter. We can demand the re-nationalisation of the railways but what we want is a socialist integrated transport policy. What would that be like? We can demand more money for the NHS and an end to privatisation but what would a socialist health system be like? Green ideas of sustainability must be addressed; the ideas of changing the course of rivers and moving mountains about like Trotsky promised during the Russian Revolution seem to us like a nightmare today. We need to draw together programmes for a socialist future – not just react in a defensive way to the attacks of the ruling class. In planning our programmes we should draw on the experience of the workers in the industries and services concerned.

Prioritise long term aims

Political discussion at a time when the answers are not obvious must be open. That means comrades must be prepared to say what they think and sometimes get it wrong and change their mind. It must be a process where comrades develop politically not an arm wrestling contest between various Groups or factions or a fight for who can win the vote.

To transform the SA into a mass party, creative ways have to be found of involving the working class – the youth, the women, ethnic groups as well as Trade Unionists. This means organising in working class estates in a consistent manner not just arriving at election times. This is not easy but it is very rewarding and examples of good practice need to be shared and copied. This sort of work tends to break down sectarianism and bureaucratic methods because the long term aim of building a working class party is put before the short term aim of winning a few recruits or a vote for a particular sect.

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