Sep 11 2019

SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME

The issue of ‘sectarianism’ in Scotland has raised its head again following loyalists attacks on republican marches in Govan on August 30th and Glasgow city centre on 7th September. Whilst the attacks  made by the loyalists were on  legal marches, politicians and the media have  predictably fallen back on the ‘sectarian’ two tribes approach. This attempt to cover-up the central issue, the nature of Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s relationship with the UK state, has a long history, as shown by the response of   Jack McConnell 

Emancipation & Liberation is publishing an abridged version of an article written in 2006 by the late Brian Higgins, which addresses the issue of ‘sectarianism’. The full version of this article can be seen on the Intfrobel.com website, where it was published for the first time this August.

(https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/scotlans-secret-shame-1.pdf)

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SCOTLAND’S ‘SECRET’ SHAME

 

 INTRODUCTION

The issue of religious sectarianism in Scotland has been raised by Jack McConnell’s 2005 Valentines Day Summit, and by the BBC’s Panorama programme, Scotland’s Secret Shame, on Celtic and Rangers, broadcast soon afterwards.  Tam Cowan has even (if unintentionally!) added impetus to this debate, illustrating the significance of the subject.  He invited Jack McConnell on to his Offside programme (BBC Scotland, 6.3.06,  a satirical rant at Scottish football and the SFA. He questioned McConnell about ‘Scotland’s Secret Shame’ by famously asking him, “What’s secret about it?”  Cowan 1 – McConnell 0.  More seriously, we have UEFA making a bizarre ruling over Rangers supporters’ sectarian behaviour, at the Championship League matches against Villareal.  They initially washed their hands by declaring such behaviour to be “related to a social problem in Scotland”!

 

PART ONE

THE KICK-OFF

1. SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME – BRITAIN’S POLITICAL BLAME!

Scotland’s secret shame – No, we’re not talking about the nominal Scotsman, Fettes-educated liar and mass murderer, Tony Blair; nor his right hand man, Scotbrit Brown, who together stole last May’s General Election with only 36% of the vote.  This is about a burning political and social issue, which has too often been neglected in the past and needs to be addressed by socialist republicans in Scotland and further afield today and tomorrow.

Sectarianism and bigotry are very controversial issues in Scotland.  They were given a very high political profile with Jack McConnell’s Valentines Day Summit in 2005.  He mainly laid the blame for these problems at the door of Celtic and Rangers football clubs and their supporters.  Sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland were also given a Britain-wide media prominence in the BBC’s Panorama programme, Scotland’s Secret Shame, shown soon after, on February 27th.

 

‘JACK OF HEARTS’ VALENTINES DAY ‘LOVE-IN’

McConnell chose a good day to massacre the truth!  There were some very strange bedfellows around the table at the Valentines Day Summit.  Yet this only shows that a British-wide consensus and political popular front exists around some very false notions of sectarianism and bigotry.

This is highlighted by the most the recent and prominent campaign in the field – ‘Nil by Mouth’.  They make the same mistake in attributing these evils to Rangers and Celtic football clubs and their supporters.

The press also takes this line, particularly tabloids like the Daily Record.  One moment they are piously pronouncing against sectarianism.  Then the next, they use Celtic and Rangers to fan the flames of bigotry, often through the use of lurid and screaming headlines.  They rarely let the truth get in the way of a ‘good’ sectarian story, particularly before and after matches at Parkhead and Ibrox. The result of this is to make the problem appear to be a ‘sporting’ rather than a serious socio-political issue. This lets the politicians off the hook and this is no accident.

 

THE BBC’S SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME AND BLAME GAME!

BBC’s Panorama programme went Britain-wide.  It made Scotland look like a sectarian hellhole, little different from Northern Ireland.  Therefore, how lucky Scotland is to be part of the Great British Union!  The Scottish Parliament can take heart from the less sectarian atmosphere in England and get the support of a sympathetic and understanding Westminster government, under the paternalistic leadership of Tony Blair and New Labour!

Once again, this programme saw the main problem as lying in the working class and Celtic and Rangers supporters, in particular.  However, it did also mention certain links with Ireland!  But it didn’t follow this through.  Instead, the journalist, Graham Spiers, showed a middle class prejudice (which is quite common) by branding Rangers and Celtic supporters as “uneducated`”.  What he really means is there are not many university-educated chaps like him among the ‘lower orders’.  He forgets that the working class is ‘educated’ by middle class, press, television and radio hacks like him steeped in class bigotry and prejudice.  They resort to finger-pointing to disguise their own role in all this.

One unintentional moment of light (blue) relief in the programme was provided by a Rangers Director.  He gave us the new football phenomenon – “the ninety minute bigot”!  Just as ridiculously, we ask, “What if the game goes into extra time!”  The programme’s title also begs the question, “What is secret about the problem?”  – only its true causes.  But on the real causes of bigotry the programme did little to enlighten us.

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2. FOOTBALL IS A POLITICAL DIVERSION – ‘RELIGIOUS’ SECTARIANISM AND BIGOTRY ARE NOT THE REAL PROBLEM

The British establishment and its media use football as a smokescreen to hide the real causes of sectarian strife and bigotry in Scotland.  The existence of Celtic and Rangers football clubs and their supporters may appear to be the most visible embodiment of sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland.  However, they are but the expression of a deeper and more widespread problem.

Scotland has indeed had a past marred by religious sectarianism and bigotry. As recently as the 1920’s the Church of Scotland took a bigoted and racist stance against Irish Catholic immigrants.  There were mass Protestant anti-Catholic parties in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1930s.  The Orange Order then had a solid base of support within the Church of Scotland and the Tory Party was linked to the Ulster Unionist Party.  There has been job discrimination against Catholics in quite a number of areas, particularly shipbuilding. Some of these attitudes still (ma)linger on in Scottish society.

Nevertheless, loyalist unionism never came to dominate Scottish politics as it did in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party in Scotland was always open to Catholics. The Labour Party won control of many Scottish councils, including the largest, Glasgow.  It has also formed seven British governments since 1945. This meant that Catholics had avenues of economic, social and political advance, which certainly didn’t exist in Northern Ireland.

Scotland has no gerrymandered Protestant and Catholic ghettoes.  The Orange Order has no significant representation in the Scottish Parliament or base of support in the Church of Scotland. The Tory Party has long broken its direct links with the Ulster Unionist Party and has fielded Catholic candidates, aiming to get the Catholic middle class vote.  Scotland has had a Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, from a Catholic background; so indeed is the current First Minister’s wife, Bridget McConnell. Even Rangers now field Catholic players.

It is a misrepresentation of reality, to lump together the following as examples of an ongoing religious sectarianism with its roots in Scotland’s Presbyterian past:- the undoubted and sometimes shocking violence that occurs around ‘Old Firm’ matches; the demand for official permission for Irish republican marches; the intimidation associated with the Orange marching season; and the unsavoury Scotland/Northern Ireland loyalist links, highlighted by Johnny Adair’s current residency here.  The songs celebrated at either end of an ‘Old Firm’ game are neither psalms nor hymns. The flags being waved are ‘national’ not denominational.

 

 THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM – THE BRITISH STATE’S ATTEMPT TO MAINTAIN CONTROL OVER IRELAND

There has been a huge decline in religious influence on the state in Scotland. The numbers identifying with the major Christian denominations and attending their churches, especially the Church of Scotland, has continued to decline.  You have to look elsewhere to see why so-called ‘sectarian’ strife is still to be found in Scotland.  The root cause lies in continued British rule over Northern Ireland. Scotland and (Northern) Ireland have long had close economic and social links. Irish tenant farmers and later, workers (both Catholic and Protestant), came to Scotland from Ireland looking for jobs.  Some of the divisions and conflicts over national identity have been imported over here. The Orange Order is one organisation which was imported from the north of Ireland to Scotland.  It has been a central and continuous influence in promoting sectarianism and trying to maintain Protestant privilege.  It still wants the UK to be an officially Protestant state with a Protestant monarch.

The British state has actively promoted sectarian division in Northern Ireland, in order to maintain its control.   Sectarianism is designed to pit Protestant against Catholic, and worker against worker.  In the past it split the Irish-Irish from the Irish-British; today it tries to sustain a division between the Irish and the Ulster-British.  What we are seeing in Northern Ireland is a national struggle, not a religious struggle.

The most advanced element in the struggle to create a united Irish nation, has always upheld the original republican demand for the unity of ‘Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter’.  This is anti-sectarian by definition.  The most reactionary element today defines itself as Ulster-British, an identity which only includes Protestants, and is therefore sectarian by definition.  This Ulster-Britishness can only be maintained by the continued partition of Ireland; the continued occupation of the north by the British army; a loyalist statelet, police force and militia; a loyalist paramilitary reserve; and the continuous celebration of Orange triumphalism.

Yet, despite loyalism’s somewhat embarrassing public image, it still provides part of the forces necessary to maintain British rule.  British Direct Rule and military occupation were not enough to suppress the Irish republican opposition.  And, despite some woolly-minded and sentimental thinking, the British state has no intention of giving up control of ‘The Six Counties’.  To do so, would be to signal to the world, the weakness of British imperialism and the likely end of the UK itself.

 

OFFICIAL ANTI-SECTARIAN CAMPAIGN PART OF BRITISH STATE’S STRATEGY TO MAINTAIN UNIONIST CONTROL THROUGHOUT THE UK

The timing of the Establishment’s newfound concern with the problem of “religious sectarianism and bigotry” in Scotland is also significant.  For most of the period of Ireland’s struggle against the British state, Scotland could hardly be described as Ireland’s ally. Scottish regiments could be relied upon to uphold the Union when asked to serve in Ireland.  As late as 1955, the Scottish Unionist Party (then still linked to the Ulster Unionists) could win over 50% of the vote.

Many Catholics, in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, saw the wider British state as a possible ally.  This state might be able to contain the official loyalist unionism found in Northern Ireland and the unofficial, but nevertheless, still menacing loyalist unionism found in the Central Belt of Scotland.  The Labour Party enjoyed massive support amongst Catholics in Scotland because it was seen to be both anti-sectarian and liberal unionist.  The British state also had greater resources to address the economic and social problems, which affected the Catholic working class particularly badly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

However, with the decline of the British Empire, the UK’s continued slide in the world’s economic league, and the cutbacks in the British welfare state, support for the Union and a British national identity have declined sharply in Scotland.  Republican sentiment has grown, particularly since the 1980s.  The British state has had to undergo extensive constitutional change to try to hold the UK together.  New Labour took office in 1997 committed to a New Unionist policy of ‘devolution-all-round’, for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Each devolved assembly is meant to take responsibility for maintaining the Union in its own territory, in return for some local legislative or administrative autonomy.  By far the biggest problem facing the UK state has been the setting-up of a stable regime in Northern Ireland.  The very purpose of that statelet’s continued existence has been to buttress Ulster Unionist/Protestant supremacy, as a guarantor for the continued Union.

Ever since the Civil Rights Struggle, events in Northern Ireland have found an echo in Scotland, amongst both Irish republican and nationalist supporters and amongst loyalist and Orange Order supporters.  Now, however, there is a British-backed ‘pacification process’ in place, highlighted by the Good Friday Agreement.  But the UK government has failed to get its central building block in place – a power-sharing Executive leading a reformed Stormont.  Therefore, the Scottish Executive has been given the task of quarantining Scotland from any political repercussions over here. This is why, McConnell is portraying the continued ‘troubles’ over here, as an issue of sectarianism and bigotry rooted in Scotland’s religious history, in general, and Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs, in particular.

 

 NEW LAWS AGAINST SECTARIANISM TARGET THE REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Since the Valentines Day Summit, the Scottish Executive has passed new laws. These allow the police to target clubs and pubs displaying ‘sectarian’ material.  This has led to a number of traditional Irish pubs having posters showing the Hunger Strikers removed. None of the removed material attacks Protestants. This shows the hollowness of the official claims to be combating religious sectarianism and bigotry.  The targets of the official clampdown are Irish republican symbols of resistance to British occupation and rule.

Revolutionary republicans and communists reject the ‘plague on both your houses’, it’s a ‘tribal war’, or ‘it’s all due to football’ approach to the issue of sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland.  This is the approach adopted by the British Unionist politicians and the liberal media which bows to their agenda.  It is an approach which disguises the political reality, both in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The pretence of dealing equally with ‘two warring tribes’ is highlighted by the orchestrated media hounding of Republicans in Northern Ireland.  They have not been responsible for a single attack on British state forces, loyalists or Protestants in Northern Ireland since the second 1997 Ceasefire.  In the meantime, loyalists have killed innocent Catholics and Protestants, mounted viciously sectarian campaigns around the annual Drumcree march, at Harryville Church, Holy Cross Primary School and are currently pursuing their campaign of ethnic cleansing, directed at Catholics in Ahoghill and at Asians and others in South Belfast.  Even a full scale armed loyalist riot, directed at ‘their own’ police force, the PSNI/RUC, in a fit of pique at being denied the right to intimidate and harass nationalists in North Belfast, was handled as if it were a minor breach of the peace offence!

 

SILENCE FOR THE POPE – WHY?

 Organisations like Nil by Mouth, no matter how well-intentioned, ignore the wider context, when they seek official support for their opposition to ‘religious’ sectarianism and bigotry. Treating the problem as if it is religious in origin can also be totally counterproductive.  A good example of this was the official decision to have a minute’s silence at some S.P.L. matches after the death of Pope John Paul. The same press which promoted the minute’s silence then turned on the fans who broke it, accusing them of religious intolerance and lack of respect!  It is absolutely intolerable that a minutes silence was demanded for an extremely reactionary old man who lived in Rome and had no connection whatsoever with Scottish football or any team within it.

Given this official high-level equation of Celtic with Catholicism, Rangers fans could be forgiven for thinking that Celtic’s board, team and supporters are all lined up behind the Pope!  We doubt that any of the Parkhead players would subscribe to being one of the ‘Pope’s Eleven’ – they’d rather be one of Gordon Strachan’s!  Neither Celtic, nor any other Scottish team is a Catholic club.  So why the minute’s silence – other than an excuse to stoke up resentment and bigotry.

 

PLAYING UP RELIGIOUS SECTARIANISM – IGNORING ANTI-IRISH RACISM

Funnily enough, on the occasion when real bigotry and anti-Irish racism are blatantly on display, the same media ignores its significance.  The hounding of Celtic’s Portadown born Irish Catholic player, Neil Lennon, on and off the pitch, by loyalist bigots, is a disgrace. He is also subjected to vile anti-Irish racist abuse at most grounds he plays at.  None of this is ever officially reported or campaigned against in Scotland.  However, following the cause to its roots, would not take you to Scotland’s old Presbyterian religious sectarianism.  It would take you to Portadown, that ‘Little Rock’ in Ulster and the festering sore which is the product of continued British rule in Northern Ireland.  This is not something the Scottish establishment and mainstream media want to highlight!

Anti-Irish racism is not even recognised as a problem in Scotland. Indeed, it is tolerated.Tam Cowan, who is about as funny as a boil on the arse, sometimes uses his Wednesday column in the Daily Record to crack anti-Irish jokes.  Therefore, the official (and hypocritical and limited) anti-racist campaigns show their own blind spot.  Whereas British imperial power has retreated from Asia, Africa and the West Indies, it has no intention of finally abandoning its first colony, so anti-Irish racism still has its uses over here.

The real divide is not a religious one between Protestant and Catholic, but a political one between British unionist and Irish republican.  Many loyalist bigots find it difficult to understand the difference between Irish republicanism and Catholicism, infamously hating ‘Fenian bastards’.  Yet the nineteenth century Irish Fenian Brotherhood included both Catholics and Protestants and was strongly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy.  Of course, it is very much in the interests of the British establishment to portray a national democratic struggle as a religious sectarian squabble.

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3. THE BRITISH STATE IS OPPRESSIVE AND DIVISIVE

There are those on the revolutionary Left who maintain that the formation of the British state was a liberating and progressive development.  It led to the Industrial Revolution and a united British working class.  We profoundly disagree with this.  There has never been anything progressive or remotely liberating (except for the ruling class and capitalists) for the vast majority who lived in the British state and its empire.  Just think of those slaughtered for opposing British rule and wanting independence. Remember those millions who died in the 1914-8 “war to end all wars” to maintain the British Empire and its class rule and extreme privilege.

Today, British trade unions are in chains, shackled by the most draconian anti-union laws in Europe.  Migrant workers and asylum seekers are harassed by British officials and locked up in British detention centres.  Travelling people are hounded around Britain and working class youths are subjected to vilification, curfews and ASBOs.  Ask any of these people how ‘progressive‘ the British state is.

 

RELIGIOUS STRIFE AND VIOLENCE NOTHING NEW

Religious strife, and sometimes, extreme violence between Catholics and Protestants, is nothing new in these islands, nor indeed Europe and elsewhere. Such strife was a fact of life long before Celtic and Rangers were founded.  Catholics and Protestants found themselves on different sides in political battles in the past.  The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 led to another attempt to achieve centralized political control of these islands.  One area where resistance was particularly strong, was in the clan-based Gaelic (and Catholic) social order in Ulster.  King James, acting on behalf of both the English and Scottish ruling classes, transplanted largely Lowland Scots Protestant settlers in this area to counter the rebellious natives.

In the 1639-50 Civil War of the Three Kingdoms, Irish Catholic Royalists faced both Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritan Republicans.  Yet, even then, the most advanced class elements were able to overcome some of the false divisions encouraged by the ruling class of the day.  The revolutionary democratic Levellers in England refused to go to Ireland to put down ‘Catholic’ rebellion.  They preferred class solidarity to religious loyalty.  We could do with similar ‘levelling’ today!

The 1707 Act of Union was used by the ruling classes of England and Scotland to cement a Protestant British identity, making it easier to unite the lower orders behind the British Union and to provide cannon-fodder for a rapidly expanding British Empire.  This Empire was based on expanding capitalist trade, agriculture and manufacture. Those pre-capitalist societies, which got in the way, were mercilessly suppressed and subjugated.  This led to the outlawing of much Gaelic culture.  This followed the earlier suppression of Catholic worship in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands alike.

 

THE ORANGE ORDER – DEFENDING PROTESTANT PRIVILEGE AND THE BRITISH STATE

By the end of the eighteenth century, these divisions were being overcome, when many Presbyterians and Catholics, and even some Anglicans, in Ireland joined to form a united front to oppose British rule.  The United Irishmen had the Protestant, Wolfe Tone, as one of its leaders. This new-found, anti-sectarian class unity led the British ruling class to give its backing to the newly formed Orange Order in order to uphold God and the Crown, Britain and the Empire.

In the past, the British ruling class found it convenient to blame all opposition to its rule on ‘Papist plots’.  The Orange Order has continued with this line, long after the British ruling class turned to other scapegoats – Jacobins, Bolsheviks, or Islamic extremists today. Even when founded in 1795, the Orange Order’s knowledge of real history was slender.  The Dutch Orange, King William fought the Battle of the Boyne (the site is now in the Irish Republic), in 1690, with the blessing of the Pope of the day, in a European power game; certainly not to defend some distant Protestant ‘colony’ in Ulster.

The Orange Order, and the closely associated loyalist paramilitaries, have a history of instigating pogroms, or ethnic cleansing, directed against Catholics, republicans and nationalists, and those living in mixed partnerships and families.  In return for privileges in job and housing allocation, the Orange Order loyally enforced the rule of the British Crown and state in ‘the Six Counties’.  It was the British Establishment figure and Orangeman, Lord Carson, who created the armed Ulster Volunteer Force, in 1912, to prevent even a liberal unionist measure, Irish Home Rule, from being implemented. British senior military officers in the Curragh Mutiny backed him.

The loyalist forces were mobilised once more, when a large majority of the Irish people voted for Sinn Fein independence candidates in the 1918 General Election.  Over the next few years, loyalists managed to carve out that Six County political slum, which was ruled through Stormont, as a one-party sectarian statelet for the next fifty years – fully subsidised by the UK Exchequer.

Whenever there was a possibility that Catholics and Protestants might unite to fight against exploitation, the Orange Order and loyalist forces moved in, to line-up the Protestant workers behind the Unionist bosses once more.  This happened when Catholics and Protestants united and fought over unemployment benefits in the 1930s.

In 1972, loyalists once more showed their opposition to any liberal reform of the Union, when they mobilised the Ulster Workers’ Council (Catholic workers not invited) against the power-sharing (middle class Protestant and Catholic) Sunningdale Agreement.  The British government backed down surprisingly quickly in the face of this particular ‘strike’, showing no inclination to uphold the rights of the ordinary person ‘to go about their normal everyday business’!  Obviously, this particular strike didn’t represent a move to the Left.

 

LOYALIST REACTION TODAY – THE BRITISH FACE OF FASCISM

Today there are few jobs and houses on offer, so loyalist privilege consists more of the ‘historical right’ to triumphantly parade and march all over the political hopes and aspirations of Catholics, nationalists and republicans and trample these into the ground.

The Orange Order has many of the hallmarks of fascism in its organisation, politics and practices.  Father Alex Reid got it quite wrong in his recent attack in Belfast on ‘Nazi’ loyalism. Ulster Loyalism is not a nasty German import, but a very British homegrown product that preceded Nazism by over a decade.  Loyalism doesn’t need goose-steps and swastikas.  It has the lambeg drum and the Union Jack.  Loyalism has and will use all means it considers necessary to maintain its ‘religious’ and ‘racial’ purity, i.e. its Britishness.  The only ‘democracy’ it is interested in, is that which gives it an inbuilt veto to protect its privileged position within Northern Ireland.  It point-blank refuses to recognise anything which does not go along with this.

There is no ‘British road’ to real democracy and freedom for the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England.  The example of Ireland shows the sort of allies and measures the British ruling class is prepared to adopt if we ever make serious moves to break free from their UK. state.  Real democracy (i.e. rule by the majority and not an elite class) can only be achieved by revolutionary working class struggle and unity.

 

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                                                                                      PART TWO

THE SECOND HALF!

1. FOOTBALL – THE NEW OPIATE OF THE MASSES

Marx was absolutely correct when he said that “religion is the opiate of the masses”.  It was one way countless millions of workers and their families escaped from the hell on earth of their daily existence at that time.  They were led to look to a life after death, which would be heaven, compared to the one on earth!

Religion is still being used as a socio-political opiate in some countries. However, it no longer has the same influence or following in the West, particularly Europe, as it had in Marx’s time. But today football is truly global and supported by billions worldwide.  The majority of these are working class and football now serves a role similar to that which religion used to.  It enables billions to escape the drudgery, and in many cases misery, of their daily lives by going to football matches, or by watching it on TV at home, in pubs or cafes, or by reading about it.

Big business is well aware of this and has moved in big-time.  They economically control, exploit and market football on a massive global scale.  They also exploit the competitive nature of the game politically and use their media to pit country against country in a very nationalistic and racist way.  Just look at the press and TV when England plays Germany, France, Italy or Turkey.  Some British papers, such as the Sun, even have separate editions so they can play off England against Scotland in England and Scotland against England in Scotland, whenever matches between these two countries occur!  Of course, they then blame the fans if they resort to violence in response to all the media’s nationalist and racist hype.

Football has become a microcosm of the worldwide class system. Far from things getting better in their ‘free market’ economy, the rich clubs and players just get richer; whilst the poorer clubs just get poorer!  Even Gordon Taylor, Secretary of the English players’ union, gets £650,000 a year salary – so he too is big business!

Now things are so bad that Russian billionaire, Abramovich, who got his money by the ruthless exploitation of Russian workers, is the most powerful figure in English football (don’t tell us the FA run the game!).  He effectively bought Chelsea the Premiership title last season and is doing the same again this season.  Oh, how the Russian poor could use Abramovich’s millions.  Cue Mr. Murray and Mr. Desmond, the filthy rich, biggest shareholders of Rangers and Celtic respectively.

Multinational business has taken hold in Scottish football too, as can be seen with Romanov’s takeover of Hearts.  No doubt Lithuanian workers would appreciate getting their hands on some of Romanov’s millions.  (Where are the Bolsheviks when you need them!)  Romanov now wants to take over the Bosnian team, Celik, too – no relation to the Glasgow club!

 

CAPITALIST ECONOMICS – A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR CORPORATE HOUSES

Celtic and Rangers are both corporate businesses, the same as most other professional football clubs.  Like all big clubs they mercilessly exploit their fans.  The firms they employ to make merchandise, use cheap, sometimes even child slave labour.  The big clubs make obscene amounts of money from this. Some of the money goes towards players’ wages, but we never hear of big-earning players complaining about this. Isn’t it strange how football players seem to be exempt from being taken to task, or questioned about their social attitudes, or their political opinions.  Stars and superstars, in particular, are not judged by ‘normal’ standards.

 Celtic and Rangers football clubs are not the causes of religious sectarianism and bigotry.  However, both clubs well know that the existence of these evils raises passions which heighten the tensions and increase the competition upon which their profits thrive.  Of course, the club owners are not too concerned about this reality.  They aren’t to be found on the terraces and streets, or in the pubs and housing schemes, where working class people bear the brunt and pay the price of ‘religious sectarianism’ and anti-Irish racism.

Outside political pressure may have forced the clubs to sponsor official anti-sectarian campaigns, but these don’t address the central problem already outlined. They also know this is a political problem which it is not their business to address – and they won’t. After all, it will take a political and social revolution to change the situation and their businesses would go with it!

Even if a total clampdown on all the authorities’ perceived ‘sectarian’ displays, singing and behaviour was successfully imposed in the football grounds, this would not eliminate it, but displace it elsewhere, since football itself is not the cause of the problem.

 

POLITICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CELTIC AND RANGERS SUPPORTERS

Supporters of both Celtic and Rangers come mainly from the same working class base. Yet, there is a political difference between the supporters of the two clubs.  The British establishment is well aware of this too.  Its current anti-sectarian campaigns make sure they don’t tread on any sensitive toes.

The political parties in Scotland have largely abandoned one-sided religious sectarianism.  This makes it easier to stand above the fray and manipulate both sides for divide-and-rule purposes.  Labour draws its support from both mainly working class Catholics and Protestants, and the Tories from mainly middle class Protestants and Catholics.

Rangers supporters sing “God save the Queen”, “Rule Britannia”, of guarding Protestant “Derry’s walls” and being up to their knees in “Fenian blood”, and other such touching ditties.  Celtic supporters mainly sing ballads associated with Ireland’s struggles for freedom from British rule, including the more recent Republican struggles. They sing about those fighters murdered, imprisoned or deported for defying the British state.  Some of this is sentimental republicanism.  There is also a reactionary anti-Protestant Ancient Order of Hibernian contingent among the Celtic supporters.  The AOH tried to mimic the organisation and style of the Orange Order, but for Catholics.  Fortunately the AOH is very small and is opposed by all sincere republicans.

However, by and large, the potential for support for Scottish republicanism and for freedom from the British Crown and state is much greater amongst Celtic fans. Socialists know the difference between selling papers outside Parkhead and Ibrox!  And, if your paper has the title ‘republican’, you would only try selling it outside Ibrox if accompanied by a Citizen Army!

 

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2. THE NEED FOR A REPUBLICAN UNITED FRONT TO COUNTER

THE BRITISH UNIONIST POPULAR FRONT

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, its anti-democratic Crown powers, its continued imperialist role in the world, and its state-promoted reactionary British identity, all need to be opposed consistently. From the extremes of Ulster loyalism, through the Tories and New Labour, to the Lib-Dems, there is a British unionist consensus over the need to defend the UK state. The SNP only seeks to give some of these imperialist institutions a thick coat of tartan paint.  That is why they defend her majesty’s Scottish regiments so vehemently.

Others, on the Left, such as the SWP, believe the British state can be pressured in a progressive direction, effectively making them part of the British popular front.  You are either for the break-up of the British state or you are not. The SWP’s sister organisation in the North of Ireland omitted to mention the presence of British troops in their General Election manifesto!  There is a very broad Right, Left and Centre, British unionist popular front.

This can only be countered by a Socialist Republican United Front of political organisations in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England committed to the defeat of the British unionist state and its Crown Powers, and to the establishment of democratic secular republics in each of these nations. Communists would be able to show that the only final guarantee of all our freedoms – national, religious and sexual – is the creation of an international socialist society which finally ends the capitalist exploitation which underwrites all oppression. Forward to real political, economic and social freedom.

 

A NOTE OF HOPE IN THE POLLS

People all over the world are fighting back – from Venezuela and Bolivia to Iraq and Palestine.  In ‘sectarian’ Scotland two recent polls reflected some of this.  49% voted for a republican president against 37% for a prime minister (appointed by the Queen).  In the second poll in the Scottish Socialist Voice, a staggering 17.5% of people in Scotland already support the SSP’s core aim of supporting an independent socialist republic of Scotland. You could start a revolution with that.

So let’s get out there and start beating the big Scottish socialist republican drum and drown out the noise of those drumming and marching to a different tune.

 

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also see:-

Allan Armstrong – The Making and the Breaking of the UK  State, chapter xiii)  The contrasting political nature of the effects of ‘New Unionism’ in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales at:-

THE MAKING AND THE BREAKING OF THE UK STATE

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For more articles by Brain Higgins see the links provided at:-

BRIAN HIGGINS – A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL TRIBUTE

 

 

 

 

 

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Jun 24 2014

LABOUR AND SOCIALIST LEFT UNIONISM IN THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE DEBATE

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Allan Armstrong (RCN) prepared a talk for the Conference of Socialist Economists Day School held in the Out of the Blue Centre in Edinburgh on June 21st. The article below  incorporates some of the discussion points that were raised. It provides a socialist republican analysis of the British Left and the case for an ‘internationalism from below’ alternative in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.  This talk is also a chapter in the extended article, Making Plans For Nigel, which can be viewed at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/06/26/making-plans-for-nigel/ A shortened version of this talk was also given as a contribution to the debate in the Left Unity Party – Glasgow South branch,  on December 13th.

 

On the British Left, continued support for maintaining the UK state and for upholding the internationalist nature of all-British party and trade union organisation stems from their understanding of the British ruling class and the United Kingdom. They view these as having played a key historical role in replacing the older feudal order in these islands, and other pre-capitalist societies in many parts of the world.

Continue reading “LABOUR AND SOCIALIST LEFT UNIONISM IN THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE DEBATE”

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Jun 16 2012

SOCIALIST REPUBLICANISM AND THE DIAMOND JUBILEE

 

The RCN is posting four pieces as a contribution to the debate on a socialist republican the Diamond Jubilee.

1. Socialist Republicans and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

2. Republicanism Socialism and Democracy

3. The Crown Rules Britannia

4. The Queen: Floating in the Stink

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1. SOCIALIST REPUBLICANS AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S DIAMOND JUBILEE

“Maud Gonne joined with James Connolly in preparing the anti-Jubilee demonstrations. To counter the loyal displays, she secured a window in Dublin’s Parnell Square from which lanternslides could be shown on a large screen…. Daniel O’Brien made a large black coffin on which were inscribed the words ‘British Empire’, and to lead the procession which was to accompany it through the streets Connolly procured the services of a workers’ band… Maud Gonne then set to work tuning out black flags which were embroidered wit the facts of the famines and evictions which had marked Victoria’s reign.

On Jubilee Day… a rickety handcart… draped in the semblance of a hearse… was pushed by a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. Maud Gomme and W. B. Yeats joined the procession and quickly distributed black flags. They all moved down Dame Street to the sound of the Dead March.

As soon as the police realised what was happening reinforcements were rushed from the Castle. Baton charges began to disperse the dense throng of spectators. Connolly, at the head, had reached O’Connell Bridge when the fighting became exceptionally fierce. With a flash of inspiration, he ordered the coffin to thrown into the River Liffey and the whole crowd took up in chorus his valedictory words, “Here goes the coffin of the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire!”

The Life and Times of James Connolly, C. Desmond Greaves, pp. 89-90

 

Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

James Connolly in Workers Republic

“The great appear great to us, only because we are on our knees:
LET US RISE.”

Fellow Workers,

The loyal subjects of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, etc., celebrate this year the longest reign on record. Already the air is laden with rumours of preparations for a wholesale manufacture of sham ‘popular rejoicings’ at this glorious (?) commemoration.

Home Rule orators and Nationalist Lord Mayors, Whig politicians and Parnellite pressmen, have ere now lent their prestige and influence to the attempt to arouse public interest in the sickening details of this Feast of Flunkeyism. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland – other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends – should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party – which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol – takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland today than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England.

During this glorious reign Ireland has seen 1,225,000 of her children die of famine, starved to death whilst the produce of her soil and their labour was eaten up by a vulture aristocracy, enforcing their rents by the bayonets of a hired assassin army in the pay of the –best of the English Queens’; the eviction of 3,668,000, a multitude greater than the entire population of Switzerland; and the reluctant emigration of 4,186,000 of our kindred, a greater host than the entire people of Greece. At the present moment 78 percent of our wage-earners receive less than £1 per week, our streets are thronged by starving crowds of the unemployed, cattle graze on our tenantless farms and around the ruins of our battered homesteads, our ports are crowded with departing emigrants, and our poorhouses are full of paupers. Such are the constituent elements out of which we are bade to construct a National Festival of rejoicing!

Working-class of Ireland: We appeal to you not to allow your opinions to be misrepresented on this occasion. Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe to this Empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions. Let this year be indeed a memorable one as marking the date when the Irish workers at last flung off that slavish dependence on the lead of ‘the gentry,’ which has paralysed the arm of every soldier of freedom in the past.

The Irish landlords, now as ever the enemy’s garrison, instinctively support every institution which, like monarchy, degrades the manhood of the people and weakens the moral fibre of the oppressed; the middle-class, absorbed in the pursuit of gold, have pawned their souls for the prostitute glories of commercialism and remain openly or secretly hostile to every movement which would imperil the sanctity of their dividends. The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.

To you, workers of Ireland, we address ourselves. AGITATE in the workshop, in the field, in the factory, until you arouse your brothers to hatred of the slavery of which we are all the victims. EDUCATE, that the people may no longer be deluded by illusory hopes of prosperity under any system of society of which monarchs or noblemen, capitalists or landlords form an integral part. ORGANISE, that a solid, compact and intelligent force, conscious of your historic mission as a class, you may seize the reins of political power whenever possible and, by intelligent application of the working-class ballot, clear the field of action for the revolutionary forces of the future. Let the ‘canting, fed classes’ bow the knee as they may, be you true to your own manhood, and to the cause of freedom, whose hope is in you, and, pressing unweariedly onward in pursuit of the high destiny to which the Socialist Republic invites you, let the words which the poet puts into the mouth of Mazeppa console you amid the orgies of the tyrants of today:

But time at last makes all things even,

And if we do but watch the hour,

There never yet was human power

That could evade, if unforgiven,

The patient hate and vigil long,

Of those who treasure up a wrong.

__________________________

2. REPUBLICANISM, SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY

The following two articles come from the RCN’s pamphlet of the same name, published in 2008, and now out-of-print.

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE DEMOCRATIC ROAD TO SOCIALISM

 

The role of communists is to develop an awareness of the utility and necessity of democracy – Victor Serge

As long as democracy has not been achieved, thus long do communists and democrats fight side by side – Frederick Engels

 

Republicanism in the United Kingdom describes the movement from below for a radical and militant democracy.  For socialists, republicanism addresses those immediate democratic issues faced by the working class in the here and now.  It seeks to develop a programme for expanding democracy under capitalism as far as it will go.  It concerns itself with progressive and in some senses transitional demands. To the extent that we achieve our democratic demands these strengthen our class and weaken the ruling class and its allies.  It is a necessary and unavoidable part of the struggle for socialism.

This democratic struggle is called republicanism in the UK because it highlights that we live in an undemocratic, constitutional monarchy.  The term republicanism also connects us to our own radical history.

Republican struggles in these islands provide a red thread going back to the Levellers in the English revolution, the Cameronians (radical Covenanters) here in Scotland, the struggle of the United Irishmen, the Chartists, and the prospects of Workers Republics raised by James Connolly and John Maclean.  The rise of capitalism and the struggle of the emerging bourgeoisie against the feudal state and church led to a false association between capitalism and the spreading of democracy.  In reality wherever they have achieved power, the bourgeoisie have sought to narrow, limit and impoverish democracy, for the majority of the population.  Consciously or unconsciously they have recognised in the proletariat their future gravediggers.  Hence they have sought to block any democratic path to a genuine republic because, in a truly democratic republic, the bourgeois and their system, capitalism, could not flourish.

Socialists see republicanism today as directly linked to the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow. However, Republicanism is not a sentimental attachment to yesterday’s struggles.  It helps us develop a strategy and tactics to directly oppose today’s oppressors and exploiters.  To declare for the democratic republic is to declare war against the existing bourgeois state.

 

Republicanism in Action

Republicanism in the workplace or trade union means spreading action outwards and upwards from the origin of the conflict or from its most militant site.  It is not about waiting until your faction has won the position of the General secretary-ship of the union or a majority on the party executive.  Industrial republicanism recognizes the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces and branches and not the sovereignty of the Union head office or full-time officials.  Neither is its main purpose to reform the capitalist state and its laws, although it may produce useful reforms such as the legal right to strike or to take secondary action.

Republicanism endorses direct action in the community.  It is not about waiting to ‘win power’ in local or national elections where power is in the hands of the elected few.  Republicanism is about the maximum level of participation in any action with democratic control at the grass roots level. For republicans, contesting local and national elections is not an end in itself. We stand in elections to offer an ideological alternative to capitalism and to challenge the state under which we live.  When the Tories tried to impose their hated Poll Tax in Scotland, tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) took action to resist.  This resistance was spread further, by activists, to England and Wales.  A struggle initiated  in the housing schemes of Muirhouse and Pollok was fought to a famous victory. Tens of thousands of protestors defied the state in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990

When socialists put up candidates for the local elections it was to legitimize actions being taken or considered e.g., campaigning in Council elections on a ‘Don’t Pay the Poll Tax’ slogan. During that titanic struggle millions moved from protesting against an unjust tax to breaking the law and organizing to prevent the rule of the state operating as it wished.  The most militant areas became no go areas for Sherriff’s Officers and representatives of the Labour Party (who’s councils were imposing the tax). This is republicanism in action.

Sometimes latent republican struggles in the community become conscious republican struggles.  In 1969, tens of thousands demonstrated for Civil Rights in (e.g. equal voting and access to jobs and housing) in Northern Ireland.  Their resistance was met by British paratroopers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30th 1972, when 14 peaceful demonstrators were shot down. This was followed by internment without trial.   The republican struggle against the UK state took off.

 

Seeing Struggles Through a Republican Lens

A republican perspective politicises issues and illuminates a democratic path that leads us beyond capitalism.  It is an energising principle, which brings with it a personal responsibility to think and act like an active citizen rather than a submissive subject.  It allows us to come to grips with the enemy state and thus provides an antidote to passivity in socialist organisations and society at large

Thus campaigns against homelessness and for the building of more council houses are not just about the demand for more homes.  It is an argument about collective rather than private provision of services and about democratic accountability, councillors are elected, Housing Association executives are not.  This then becomes a political not just an economic demand. Similarly the struggle around the defence of asylum seekers challenges the state’s ability to create and control borders and restrict the free movement of people (in contrast to capital, commodities and profits).  Another example is foxhunting.  This can be opposed on the grounds of cruelty to foxes or on the basis of who should control the land.  These examples indicate the militant ways in which revolutionary republicans fight for reforms.

Republicanism is about releasing the latent power of the people, and it means recognising the legitimacy of democratically agreed, direct action taken by ourselves at whatever level.  In short, republicanism is putting the ‘sovereignty of the people’ into action in the here and now.  Republicanism challenges not just the ruling class but also their knowing collaborators in and out of parliament (e.g., trade union bureaucracies)  and their unknowing collaborators (those left organisations that want to restrict class action until it – ‘the chosen party’ – considers the time and tactic is right).  Connolly, for example, acted in true republican fashion when he threw the weight of the Irish Citizen Army behind the Easter uprising despite personally judging the wider organization to be ill prepared.

 

Making our own organizations democratic

Republicanism is fundamentally about the highest form of democracy.  That is democratic control held by the basic units of the society – workplaces and effective networks within communities.  Elected representatives must always be accountable and subject to recall and dismissal.  If elected representatives are paid, then they should receive no more than the average skilled workers’ wage. This is a vital weapon against careerism and will help eliminate those powerful forces that drive a wedge between the elected and the electorate, the union member and the full timer.

It is imperative that socialists lead the struggle within society to extend absolute democracy to all areas of our lives. To achieve this it is absolutely essential that our own organisations are democratic. This must include trade unions and socialist parties.

The Republican Communist Network’s insist on the importance of republicanism and a democratic constitution within the SSP because we recognise this as the most effective method of decision making i.e. it maximises our ability to produce correct answers to problems we face.  It leads to collective decision making through mutual education and debate.  An active, living democracy allows us to harness the creativity of the membership and honestly reflect on the results of our practice and to quickly amend it in the light of this learning.

A democratic party allows the working class to express itself through its structures.  It is essential to foster a democratic structure that recognises the value of minority views being expressed.  Socialists support elections being conducted on the basis of proportional representation (PR). This is an indispensable demand, both within and beyond our own organisations.  It ensures that minority opinions are always heard and are not silenced, and allows debate between differing points of view; the lifeblood of democracy.

This expresses the essence of the Marxist dialectic whereby our practice develops through the open clash of differing ideas on what constitutes the best way forward..This is an important corrective method for any socialist grouping.  Failure to allow this results in mistakes like the SWP dismissing the 1984-5 miners strike and the Poll Tax as unimportant struggles.  An error of a different nature was  CWI’s prediction of the Red Nineties i.e. that, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, there would be a massive upturn in working class struggles and through these a politicisation of the class.  In reality the opposite happened.

In each of these cases the lack of an effective internal democratic structure reduced the ability of these organisations to adapt their strategies to deal with reality as it actually unfolded and disproved their earlier predictions.  This inflexibility made them less effective as vehicles to express the needs of the working class.

Ultimately democracy is a living thing.  It cannot be completely captured by constitutions etc.  It can however be enhanced or hindered by such things.  Republicanism embodies such characteristics as openness, egalitarianism and a long term perspective.  Further it recognises that adhering to principle may involve short-term losses.  Republicans within any political organisation will always contest the drift toward bureaucratic control of that organisation by dominant faction(s) whether that control is exerted through the power of their block vote, or via rigging the rules and constitution to stifle dissent.  Republicanism will always challenge those holding office who put their personal interests above those they are elected to represent.

Although republicanism is not communism or socialism it is difficult to imagine how either of these will be achieved without a strongly republican movement and thoroughgoing democracy to guard against the many temptations of managerialism, bureaucracy and totalitarianism.  The struggle for democracy has the potential to unite our class and points the way to revolutionary change and a new form of society.  Indeed socialism can only develop and be maintained under conditions of active, mass, democratic participation in the running of society.  In its absence we have by definition another, non socialist, form of society e.g. as in the former USSR.

Republican consciousness and practice brings the possibility of revolutionary change into the sphere of everyday life.  Revolutionary social change is understood as the culmination of an ongoing and developing revolutionary process rather than a one off event.

The Paris Commune and the workers councils (soviets) in the Russian Empire did not spring out of nowhere. They were the culmination of long struggles to assert popular and workers’ control over people’s lives. Today’s workers’ and popular struggles to retain control of our own organisations and to win and try to establish control over reforms which will improve our lives, are the bridge to this socialist or communist future.  The republican desire to assert our self-determination is but a step on the way to creating a society based on the principle, ‘From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.

 

Bob Goupillot

 

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE UK STATE

 

When people are asked what is meant by the word ‘republic’ they usually answer, “A country without a monarch”.  In today’s world this covers a great variety of states, including the USA, France, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, South Africa and Cuba.  At first glance, then, ‘republic’ would not appear to be a very helpful term for socialists, who want to distinguish between more or less progressive social and political systems.

Therefore, despite the fact that we, in the UK, live in one of the few remaining monarchies in the world, what significant difference could the ending of the monarchy bring about?  Certainly, the existence of the Royal Family helps to buttress a more rigid class system here, where class is understood in its older sense of hierarchical privilege, with upper, middle and lower classes.  The desperation with which some Labour politicians and trade union leaders pursue ‘honours’ is one indication of the hold of this old-style class privilege within the UK.

Nevertheless, a quick examination of the world’s most powerful republic, the USA, shows us that the lack of a monarchy is not necessarily a barrier to the promotion of huge income differentials between an obscenely wealthy elite and the downtrodden poor.  So, why should socialists consider themselves republicans at all, rather than just ignoring the monarchy until we have achieved our real aim, the creation of a socialist republic?  Answering this question means taking a closer look at the political nature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy, which means, in effect, that the Queen exerts little power in her own right.  Yes, the Royal Family enjoys massive privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.  The fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’.  Diana was seen by the public to be much more in tune with the modern day, neo-liberal requirements of a celebrity monarchy.  Tony Blair perceived a ruling class need for a ‘New Monarchy’, and quickly labelled the late Diana, the ‘People’s Princess’.  The Windsors, however, were still seen by most to be, out of touch with the present-day world.  Since then, they have had to put a lot of effort into trying to repackage the monarchy.

So, does this mean that the longstanding infatuation of the British public with the Royal Family, which long prevented even the old Labour Party from challenging royal privilege, is at last waning?  It probably does, but that does not get to the root of the problem.  Far more important than the Royal Family itself, is the political system it fronts.  Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its new devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, it still has very real limitations.  These lie in the state’s Crown Powers, which are wielded, not by the Queen, but by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has a wider circle of advisers, from the world of finance, industry and the media.  They help him to adopt strategies and form policies to promote their needs, without too much democratic scrutiny.  We can see some of those pressures in Gordon Brown’s handling of the Northern Rock collapse, where defence of City interests has been paramount.  If anyone thinks that defence of small investors is Brown’s first interest, just ask the victims of the collapse of the Farepack Fund, run by Halifax/Bank of Scotland.  Business leaders have also ensured that the bidding and contract details for the government’s many lucrative PFI contracts, amounting to billions of pounds of public money, are conducted in secret under the guise of commercial confidentiality.  This means that whole swathes of the UK economy, ostensibly under the control or supervision of Parliament, in reality lie way beyond any effective public accountability.  The results of this can now clearly be seen, with Brown and Darling’s paralysis in the face of the present economic crisis.  New Labour is in the pockets of big business, and no amount of Union Jack waving around our Olympic heroes and heroines can disguise this.

This unaccountable economic influence has to be supplemented by other anti-democratic political means.  This is why senior civil servants, judges, and officers and ranks in the armed forces, all swear their allegiance to the Queen, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people.  The ruling class may require their services, acting, when necessary, against the interests of the people, or even Parliament.  Of course, it is not the Queen herself, who wields this power, but the Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the ruling class.  This is all done under the Crown Powers.

The UK’s constitution even has provision for the suspension of Parliament in ‘extreme situations’, with resort instead to direct rule by the Privy Council.  This very select band of former and existing senior government ministers is chosen for its reliability in upholding ruling class interests.  Its members all enjoy close contact with the world of business, whilst some have had direct dealings with military officers, MI5 and MI6.

The fact that SNP leader Alex Salmond is now a Privy Councillor shows that, beyond the exaggerated public disagreements, through which party political competition normally takes place in the UK, the British ruling class inner circle still consider him reliable enough.  Indeed, Salmond enjoys his own close links with the Scottish finance sector, which has wider British interests to defend.  More importantly, Salmond’s acceptance of a Privy Councillorship indicates that he will play the political game by Westminster rules, when he finally puts forward the Scottish Executive’s ‘Independence Referendum’.

Way back in the late 1970’s, before the British ruling class came to the conclusion that ‘Devolution-all-round’ (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was the best strategy to defend its interests in these islands and the wider world, key sections were still bitterly opposed even to the very mild devolutionary proposals put forward by the then Labour government. In the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, the ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to make a Christmas broadcast attacking Scottish nationalism.  Senior civil servants were told to ‘bury’ any documents, which could help the Scottish nationalists.  Military training exercises were conducted, targeting putative armed Scottish guerrilla forces.  The security forces became involved on the nationalist fringe, encouraging anti-English diatribes and actions, to discredit any notion of real Scottish self-determination.

However, unlike Ireland or Australia, Scottish nationalists did not then have to face the full panoply of Crown Powers.  It was not necessary, since the SNP opposition was so mild and constitutionalist in nature.  In the ‘Six Counties’ of Northern Ireland, the Republicans, and the wider nationalist community, felt the force of her majesty’s regiments, including the SAS, the UDR (with its royal patronage) and the RUC, and the Loyalist death squads, all backed up by juryless Diplock Courts, manned by Unionist judges, and by detention as required, in ‘her majesty’s’ special prisons.  Those sections of the state, which provide the ruling class with legal sanction to pursue its own ends, are prefixed ‘her majesty’s’ or ‘royal’.  Self-styled Loyalists include those who are prepared to undertake certain illegal tasks when called upon by the security services.

Back in 1975, Gough Whitlam fronted a mildly reforming Labour government, which wanted to keep US nuclear warships out of Australian ports.  He felt the long arm of the Crown Powers when the British Governor-General removed him from his elected office.  More recently the Crown Powers have been used to deny the right of the Diego Garcia islanders to return to their Indian Ocean home, when they won their case in the British High Court.  Unfortunately for them, Diego Garcia is now the site of a major US military base.  Current British governments are even more subservient to US imperial interests than they were in the 1970’s.  We should take seriously the warning from Lisa Vickers, the new US consul in Edinburgh, when she attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy.  “I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’.  It doesn’t work like that” – a not so veiled threat!

Alex Salmond has finally come out and declared that the SNP is a pro-monarchy party.  As Colin Fox (SSP National Co-spokesperson) has said, Salmond wants the ending of the outdated 1707 Union of the Parliaments, only to return to the even more antiquated, 1603 Union of the Crowns.  Of course, there are still Scottish republicans to be found in the SNP. However, they are a bit like those ‘Clause 4 socialists’, once found in the old Labour Party.  For them socialism was a sentimental ideal for the future but, in the meantime, a Labour government had to be elected to run capitalism efficiently, in order to provide enough crumbs to finance some reforms for the working class.

Today’s SNP ‘independista’ wing passionately believes in a future independent Scotland, but believe the road is opened up, in the here and now, by an SNP government managing the local U.K. state in the interests of big business.  They are going to be disappointed as the old SNP turns into an ‘independence-lite’ ‘New SNP’, just like its counterparts in Quebec, Euskadi and Catalunya.  The SNP leadership is not going to challenge US or British imperial power, so it will not be able to deliver genuine independence.  This political measure will be strongly opposed by resort to whatever Crown Powers are seen to be necessary.  Being prepared to counter those Crown Powers has to be central to any socialist strategy, which opens up a prospect of real democratic advance, in the struggle for Scottish self-determination.

The Crown Powers have also been used by Prime Ministers to declare wars without parliamentary sanction, and to mobilise troops to break strikes when necessary.  Therefore, it should be clear why socialists have an interest in promoting republicanism – it increases people’s democratic rights, whilst undermining the anti-democratic powers in the hands of the ruling class. Socialists living under fascist dictatorships, or in countries with major restrictions on trade union rights, don’t say life would be no better under parliamentary rule, or with legally independent trade unions, because the ruling class would still run things.  Socialists place themselves at the head of the struggle for greater democratic rights, but don’t stop at the more limited forms compatible with capitalist rule.  Socialists see republicanism today as a part of the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow.

 

Allan Armstrong

 ____________________

 THE CROWN RULES BRITANNIA

 

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of London Occupy live in the ‘heart of the best’. Here they highlight the difference between the Monarchy and the Crown Powers.

 

Behind the monarch lies the real power

 

Monarchy is only the string that ties the robber’s bundle – Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

The jubilee is an obvious time to reflect on the distinction between queen and crown. Many people think these terms mean the same thing. It is much better to see them as opposites, albeit interconnected – the monarch and the state. Louis XIV famously said, “I am the state”, which is a definition of absolute monarchy. In contrast we see a hint of separation when Queen Victoria used the royal ‘we’: “We are not amused.” This means two of them are not happy – the person and the institution – me and my shadow.

This distinction has its origins in the doctrine in the middles ages that the king has two bodies. One is the ‘body natural’ – the living human being. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” said Shylock in The merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s reference to Jews also reminds us that monarchs are not deities). But the second body is the ‘body politic’ – the institution of monarchy, which never dies. The king is dead – long live the king. The English revolution of 1649 made that distinction sharper.

Today we live in a capitalist world when everything is business. So our distinction is between two enterprises – the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. The latter is called “the firm” by the Duke of Edinburgh and has its HQ at Buckingham Palace. These are separate businesses which go together like a horse and carriage. The relationship between them is more like ‘state capitalism’ than the much vaunted ‘free enterprise’.

The Crown Corporation – hereafter simply called ‘the crown’ – is, like any capitalist firm, a separate legal entity. It is the largest and most powerful multinational ‘corporation’ in the country. It has offices, or embassies, in nearly every country in the world. It has power not only in the UK, but the various tax havens or secret banking jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, etc. It also has a very extensive information-gathering network, which enables it to keep ahead of most of its rivals.

First the crown is the state, together with its various organisations: departments of state such as the treasury and home office, revenue and customs, armed forces, security or secret services, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and her majesty’s prisons, etc. But it is much more than this. It is the people in charge who direct these millions employed by the crown across its territories.

The power of the crown is concentrated in its board of directors, which can be called the core executive or the political class. The phrase, ‘The crown rules Britannia’, means that it is the political class that runs the place – certainly not parliament and much less the people. The crown is not a democracy. The political class includes senior civil servants, the prime minister and his key ministers and advisors, heads of the security services and the joint chiefs of staff. The prime minister is the chief executive reporting weekly to the royal chair of the board.

The political class is mainly made up of bureaucrats who have clawed their way up from their Oxbridge education or through the military, with which “the firm” has a special affinity. The chair of the board is an hereditary position. Then there are professional politicians who are chosen by the prime minister to serve as the key ministers of the crown. They do not have to be elected because of the back-door route through the Lords. But they all have to swear allegiance to the crown.

The crown is no more a democratic institution than Ford, McDonalds or News International. This is not to say that there is no democratic influence. This is not absolutism, but constitutional monarchy. But gone is the pretence that we elect the people who actually govern us. They are all chosen, although it helps if you have a seat in parliament (general elections do impact on the composition of the political class). However, a minister who is not trusted by the political class will always be an outsider and ‘not one of us’.

The crown, therefore, has a kind of permanence at its core. Its strategic role in governing the country transcends the vagaries of elections. We often hear of one government defending its reactionary policies by pointing out that it all began under the previous lot. So it did. The crown and its policies in reality hardly change from one election to the next. They are merely given a face-lift and painted blue or red and pushed more quickly or slowly. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron follow the same line of policy and serve the same financial markets.

If we look inside the robber’s bundle we do not find the landed interests associated with aristocracy. We discover the City of London, its banks and financial markets with a long history of robbing people on a global scale. The crown has been their political instrument and the Bank of England their lever. The prime minister is the first minister of the City, whose priority is to protect and support them – for example, against a Greek default, the Tobin tax or European regulation. Today we are living through the ‘great bankster robbery’ carried on by the crown and the Bank of England, and fronted by the Tory-led coalition.

Crown and health

Since the defeat of the miners and the rise of Thatcherism, the crown has adopted the free-market philosophy. Governments come and go, but the same free-market strategy rolls on. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it makes little difference to the policies of the crown. Naturally, this sameness and consistency is echoed in the mass media, which generally promote the crown’s settled consensus of what are or are not the acceptable parameters for debate on any given subject.

Take the recent example of the NHS. The crown, in the guise of the department of health, has had a long-term plan to privatise healthcare and open it up as a market for competition. Private provision is now mainly responsible for the long-term care of the elderly. Privately run treatment centres set up by New Labour now control 5% of the profitable elective surgery ‘market’. The private finance initiative financed, at huge cost to the taxpayer, Blair’s hospital building plans. Now the private sector has taken over Hichingbrooke, the first NHS hospital run for profit, by Circle.

Whenever this has proved highly unpopular, ministers and civil servants have been prepared to retreat – and later return to the long-term game plan. Every government has taken it further. Now the coalition has taken a giant step forward with the Health and Social Care Bill. Tactical retreat may be necessary on some issues, as we have seen, but clearly ever more radical advances are in the pipeline.

Keep our NHS Public explained that “the health bill is the final stage in a 25-year privatisation project”. Ministers of the crown are “using existing powers to abolish PCTs [primary care trusts] and set up ‘pathfinder’, so-called ‘GP consortia’ and making arrangements with foreign private companies to take over NHS hospitals, while the government has pre-empted such debate as MPs are inclined to have” (No8, autumn 2011).

Whilst parliament was debating the bill, the crown was busily implementing its policies like some invisible coup. Crucial entities underpinning the privatising agenda were put in place before even the second reading of the bill. Through various crown regulations etc, ministers were able to ‘decree into existence’ Pathfinder GP consortia for over half the country. Funds were used to make staff redundant from the strategic health authorities and primary trusts. The old system was virtually demolished before the bill was on the statute book and 151 PCTs were put to the sword. Moreover, the new National Commissioning Board was empowered to appoint a chief executive, finance director and seven board members on salaries of up to £170,000. McKinsey and KPMG, who were consultants on the framing of the legislation, had been awarded big contracts to run GP commissioning.

Most of the left associate the crown with the queen and think that the latter is irrelevant to our increasingly difficult daily life. The opposite is the case. Whether the crown is taking us to war in Iraq or planning how to support the US-Israeli plans for Iran, or designing a privatised NHS or school system, it is a process largely impermeable to the needs of the people. Naturally, none of this is immutable or inevitable and the economic fragility of the economy is becoming ever more evident. Our political response to the crisis of the crown should not be another government of the crown, but another system of government altogether – one built on those truly democratic principles of popular sovereignty and accountability.

Queen rules the waves

Her majesty has a significant political role in this nation’s drama as the Great Distraction. The modern monarchy is a camouflage for the crown. We are so mesmerised by the continuous royal cavalcade and its pretensions of powerlessness and irrelevance to real life that we do not look in the opposite direction and notice the unaccountable power of the crown being wielded daily by the political class.

Monarchy is the UK’s national secular religion. Monarchy is the nation represented as a perfect world with a grateful people on their knees. Of course, the queen is not a god, but a living, breathing human being, dressed up for the job. Yet this ritual of worship, exemplified by the jubilee, idealises monarchy as a kind of living god which has come to walk among us mere mortals – or, most tellingly, ‘subjects’.

The jubilee will promote the queen as the nation’s grandmother. In her March 20 speech to parliament she spoke of “national qualities of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance”. It is surely inspiring to be praised by our national icon. She thinks we are great! We should surely reciprocate by welling up with pride.

The queen went on to say: “It is my sincere hope that the diamond jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a sort of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities.” We could all echo this sentiment as republicans, without hostility or any hint of cynicism. There is no reason to see her speech as anything other than sincere, for its contents explain why the motivation for the genuine affection which many of her subjects have for her is not simply rabid royalism.

However, shouldn’t we all wake up and smell the Darjeeling? Coming together for a crown-organised jubilee can never offer more than an illusion of unity in our class-divided society, in which rich and poor and those stuck in the middle are fighting for, or fighting to diminish, democracy and social justice. The monarchy is not neutral in this struggle, but the embodiment of a conservative, class-ridden society. With the queen, or her male offspring, safely enthroned in Buckingham Palace there will never be even the chance of substantive change. The subliminal message is: ‘Britain’s hereditary (ruling) class system has existed since time immemorial and will continue ever more – alongside its hereditary monarchs.’

In reality, the chief function of monarchy is not simply the nation’s enslavement to an ideology of a royalist-based patriotism. It is, rather, the Great Distraction – away from where the true levers of power are located within the structure of the crown. The crown not only governs the county and determines so much of our lives, but, moreover, in an epoch of its growing economic crisis, increasingly threatens our hard-won rights and liberties. The monarch ties the robber’s bundle precisely because the inherent danger to democracy of the unelected and unaccountable crown is concealed by the nation’s grandmother smiling sweetly.

Shelley’s was an acute observation. However, an enduring misconception concerning the crown and monarch goes some way to explain why republicanism is so weak. The left fails to distinguish between the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. This error produces a weak version of republicanism, one focused almost entirely on the queen and whether she ‘costs too much’ or arguing about how much of ‘our national income’ she generates through tourism.

The crown and the class it represents know they cannot put a price on the undoubted lift to the nation’s morale, brought low by an ever deepening recession, which the jubilee will bring. For, when the queen dispenses honours, waves, shakes hands, visits foreign countries or meets adoring crowds, she will distract both from the crisis that the crown is now presiding over, and, more importantly, our principal role in paying for it (and her!). Thus, as the crown’s leading player in this elaborate jubilee spectacle, the queen will once again execute her main role, which is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, and the current fall in our living standards, by momentarily banishing the storm clouds of recession somewhere over the horizon.

No wonder Cameron, the crown’s current CEO, is smiling.

(This article appeared in Weekly Worker:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004855)

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THE QUEEN: FLOATING IN THE STINK

 Barry Biddulph of the commune 

The cult of the Queen as a symbol of British unity is the illusion that she is somehow above and beyond corrupt and dishonest parliamentary politicians, and profit obsessed capitalists (1) To make Britain proud, she is jolly good at her job and has devoted her self to sixty years of selflessness in the stultifying boredom of public service.(2) Royal pageantry is not historical, but in the history of pageants the diamond jubilee, in the words of the Guardian, is important if not remarkable, but its only important because its rare.(3) As panic spreads throughout the world’s stock markets she is a useful symbol, keeping up the appearances of continuity and stability to stave off growing lack of confidence in the government’s austerity programme.

  1. There is no real or rational meaning in the state orchestrated worship of the Queen,(4) but that’s not the point. It’s a state religion bringing magic and glamour to transform the harsh reality of job cuts, benefit cuts, pension cuts and wage cuts into an emotional communal feeling of togetherness. However, there is a negativity or fearfulness in all this spirituality. What is the alternative to the carefully crafted tradition of the Windsor Family? It could be something worse.(5) Although the worship of state leaders was historically similar in Russia, China and in the present, North Korea; that is seen as state propaganda, whereas in Britain it’s the Queen’s assumed decency and general niceness which is venerated. It’s for a person not the state. This is mystical, she is obviously at the apex of the state.

    Appearances notwithstanding, the crown estates are not above shameless profiteering, far from it. Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of the crown estates, has put the spectacular rise in property revenues from the estate down to entrepreneurial flair in the neo liberal market place. Rents have soared in Regent Street and other lucrative property. This has substantially boosted the Queens private Fortune.(6) She personally owns Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Balmoral estate. The unemployed from Bristol who were bussed into London to work for nothing, to steward the Royal Pageant, some of whom were left to sleep under London Bridge, own nothing but their ability to work.(7)

    Andrew Marr claims he was a republican, but from observing the hard work of the Queen, he is no longer a republican.(8) But what work is this? She has an army of servants and the nature of the work is never specified. How would she know she was on holiday? The royal yacht Britannia was an ocean going liner, which took the queen all over the world, especially in winter. Well, she had to get away from all that hard boring work, don’t we all? She could be one of us if you don’t think about it. But do think about it, having to wine and dine with all those important dignitaries in all those grand places? Nice work if you can get it. The most those unpaid Bristol stewards can hope for is some paid temporary employment at the Olympics. Another state event to help make us feel great as the great economic depression deepens. But why spoil the jubilee party? Why be a communist kill joy? Let’s celebrate. But it is not simply a party or a celebration. It’s celebrating the Queen: Sixty years personifying the state as the head of the British imperialist army and their barbaric wars. It was difficult to escape from the Royal pantomime, even when I went into my local pub where there is no TV. The pump clips on the real ale carried the union flag, the crown or an image of the queen. Except one obviously brewed by a republican, which had what looked like a toad in royal gowns getting soaked in the rain, with the words “A long reign”. And a good beer it was-but then again, I was celebrating being off work.

    Notes
    1 David Hare, The Guardian 2/06/12
    2 Max Hastings, Financial Times 2/06/12
    3 The Guardian Editorial 02/06/12
    4 Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr show 3/06/12
    5 Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, 1988, Picador London.
    6 The Financial Times 02/06/12
    7 The Guardian 04/06/12
    8 Andrew Marr, The Andrew Marr Show 03/06/12

    (This article first appeared in the commune at:- http://thecommune.co.uk/2012/06/05/the-queen-floating-in-the-stink/#more-8001)

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    also see GREAT FROCK ‘N’ ROBE SWINDLE on:-

    frocknrobe.com 

 

 

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