Jul 16 2016

BREXIT – VIEWS FROM IRELAND

We are posting two pieces from Ireland in the aftermath of the UK Brexit vote. The first is by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, a member of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) written soon after the result was announced. The second is a collective statement from Socialist Democracy (Ireland). 

1. BREXIT – THE HANGOVER

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The good news is that the British electorate has dealt a major blow to the liberal capitalist consensus that has guide the politics of western (and, from 1991, eastern) Europe since the Second World War. How bad the damage is uncertain, nonetheless Brexit has brought to the surface a crisis comparable to that which destroyed the Soviet Union. The citizens of the country with the second strongest economy in the European Union have voted to leave it. This is a serious vote of no confidence in the status quo.
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Feb 07 2015

STORMONT HOUSE DEAL

Below are two articles from the latest edition of Socialist Democracy (Ireland). They provide an account and analysis of the Stormont House Deal between the UK government and the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition in Stormont over the implementation of Westminster imposed cuts, against the background of threats to stand down Stormont.   (http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/Bulletins/SDBulletinJan2015StormontHouseDeal.html and www.socialistdemocracy.org/Bulletins/SDBulletinJan2015SectarianismAndAusterityTwinPillarsOfReaction.html)

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1. STORMONT HOUSE DEAL – Twin hammers to smash the workers

There is no disguising the calamity facing workers in the North. Benefits for the poor and sick are to be slashed. Thousands of public sector jobs are to go and the services themselves cut back. Public resources are to be auctioned off. The plan means terrible suffering – much greater than that in Britain because it will be applied in a shorter timescale in a situation where there is little local industry and levels of poverty are already very high.

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Aug 15 2014

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION

Kool34 sent us a comment on the articles in our recent bulletin on the First World War (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/08/09/emancipation-liberation-special-bulletin-the-centenary-of-the-world-war-i-imperialist-slaughter/#more-7342). This comment invited us to read the following article by Mark Kosman. We are pleased to draw this to the attention of our readers.

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In 1871, Karl Marx wrote that governments use war as a fraud, a “humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes” (1). In 1914, that fraud was so effective that not only most workers, but also most Marxists, supported their respective nation’s rush to war. Ever since then, governments have used war to defer class struggle and prevent revolution. But this strategy cannot last forever.

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Apr 14 2014

SCOTLAND: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM VENEZUELA

 Ewan Robertson, an RCN member and a Scots born journalist living in Venezuela, is touring Scotland.  He will be addressing the following meetings:-

  • Monday April 14, STUC: Joint Scottish Venezuela Solidarity Campaign & others lunchtime Latin America fringe meeting for delegates with speakers including Ewan Robertson, 12.30-1.45pm, Caird Hall, Dundee.
  • Tuesday April 15, Aberdeen: Public Meeting with Ewan Robertson, 6.00pm, Unite Offices, 44 King Street, Aberdeen, AB24 5TJ
  • Thursday April 17, Glasgow: Ewan Roberston to speak at 7pm showing of the film Revolutionary Doctors, organised by the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign  & supported by SVSC at the STUC, 333 Woodlands Road Glasgow G3 6NG.
  • Thursday April 24, Edinburgh: Open eyewitness meeting with Ewan Roberston, 7.30pm, Augustine Church, 42 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 1EL.

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In the article below Ewan contrasts the experience of the Bolivarian revolution with the aspirations of the people of Scotland in relation to the question of Self Determination.

 

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May 18 2012

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM DEBATE, Part 3

 

This section of our continuing debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum addresses the British Left.

The commune asked Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot to submit an article on the issue. This article, The Scottish Independence Referendum, appeared in the April, 2012 issue of the commune.

Barry Biddulph replied to this in the June issue with The Paradox of Nationalism as Internationalism from Below.

Allan and Bob provide a detailed critique, The Paradox of ‘Non-nationalist’ British Left Unionism.

These three articles are posted below.

They are followed by three articles from other representatives of the British Left – Arthur Bough (Boffy’s Blog), Stuart King (Permanent Revolution) and James Turley (CPGB-Weekly Worker) outlining their own distinct positions on the referendum debate. This is followed by a short critique by Allan Armstrong.

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THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

To better understand our approach to this issue it is useful, by way of a preamble, to provide a thumbnail sketch of our understanding of the international context.

The modern form of capitalism is a developed imperialism dominated by the United States. US imperialism relies on a series of local allies at strategic locations around the world.  In western Europe the USA’s main ally is the UK state, which thereby provides a linchpin for the whole system.

In this context we see our role as communists to work towards the transformation of the existing states on these islands into becoming part of a federation of European socialist republics in a transition to a stateless world – a global commune.

At present we perceive a series of fault lines that run through the multinational, but unionist, UK state, especially the issue of a united Ireland and self-determination for Scotland.  We have developed a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’ to link the situation we face in Scotland, the UK and Ireland with the global struggle for emancipation and liberation. We promote the ‘break up of the UK state’ as a key tactic in pursuing this.  It is from this perspective, as communists, republicans and internationalists that we support the struggle for an independent Scotland.  We are not Scottish nationalists but Scottish internationalists seeking new forms of unity, which are not a mere reflection of how the ruling class or the British Left organises itself. We need to be able to take our own initiatives, not just react to those of others.

 

Independence-Lite or Devo-Max?

So how does the Republican Communist Network view the SNP and the forthcoming referendum?  Well, we summarise their relationship to the struggle for independence as analogous to that between the old Labour party and Socialism, i.e. opportunist.  The SNP reflects a small business, petty bourgeoisie outlook that seeks greater influence for its class backers within the existing corporate imperial order, i.e. ‘Independence-Lite’. Such a state, very unlikely to come about in the current political climate, would be a ‘Scottish Free State’, with a similar character to the Irish Free State, formed after the defeat of Irish Republicans in the British-promoted Irish Civil War of 1922-3. At present, however, many of the SNP’s business backers, naturally cautious about any radical political change and understanding of their lowly position in the current imperial pecking order, would settle for a restructured UK state, i.e. Devo-Max.

The SNP’s left wing consists of advanced nationalists, republicans and some who would call themselves socialists, although the majority of their left wing decamped into the SSP in its early days (though many have since returned). The SNP’s electoral base is politically broad ranging from social democrats seeking a home to the left of Labour to far right nationalists advocating some kind of Celtic purity.

Given this character the SNP leadership is keen to placate and charm corporate business leaders, the Scottish Establishment, the  British and US ruling classes – hence the retention of the UK monarchy (and more importantly the Crown Powers), the pound sterling and cooperation with the UK state over defence, foreign policy etc. They are particularly proud of the role played by Scottish regiments in serving British imperial needs for centuries.

In contrast the SNP leadership is fearful of rousing the people of Scotland and in particular the working class, in which they have shallow roots, in any active independence campaign. With the Labour Party having moved so far to the right, they have found an electoral niche. To appeal to Scottish workers, they make election ‘promises’ of traditional social democratic-type reforms. But these promises quickly evaporate whenever the capitalist class, including its Scottish SNP supporters, e.g. Sir Tom Farmer, call for greater austerity. The SNP’s role in Scottish government, and in many local councils, shows that they are quite prepared to administer Westminster cuts. They are also willing to privatise services and enforce major pay cuts, as the case of the Edinburgh street cleaners has shown.

 

The role of Communists, Socialists and Republican Democrats

Our role then is to initiate or participate in campaigns that raise the issue of the social and political character of such an independent Scotland, specifically raising the issues listed in the Declaration of Calton Hill and developing these as part of a specifically republican socialist campaign to reshape Scotland and hence the UK, along with partitioned Ireland.

In order to do this we will need allies beyond the borders of Scotland, in the rest of the UK and Ireland in particular, but also in the EU and across the world. We have already started this process by initiating the Republican Socialist Convention, drawing together socialist republicans, and communists from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (North and South).  We hope to organise another later this year.

Should an independent Scottish republic be torn out of the UK state we believe that this will weaken it, and the current US dominated imperial order, inspiring others to join us in delivering the fatal blow.  Such an event would be celebrated by all those consciously active in the cause of suffering humanity across the world.

 Allan Armstrong & Bob Goupillot (Republican Communist Network)

 

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THE PARADOX OF NATIONALISM AS INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

In their own words, Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network (RCN)  “are not in the business of trying to create an economically independent Scottish state, either under capitalism or socialism” (see part 3 of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View” at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/ They want to create a new global order. Yet their starting point for a communist transition is a national territorial framework in general, as they acknowledge, and Scotland in particular. But they argue that they are not nationalists, but internationalists with a strategy of internationalism from below, in which small nation nationalism can be transformed into internationalism. This is a rhetorical paradox. What is their tactical and strategic standpoint?

Bob and Allan locate themselves, not directly on capitalist crisis and class antagonism, but indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of anti imperialism. To prepare for revolution directly would be simply propaganda for the Comrades, so the RCN look for political weaknesses to undermine the British State. Scottish independence would break up the British state and weaken the USA, the major imperialist power;  since Britain, is its main political ally. This tactical stance is based on an analogy with the political support of Marx and Engels for various national movements against reactionary Russia in the mid Nineteenth century. Another influence is John Maclean’s politics of breaking up Britain and its Empire shortly after the First World War.  This shows the RCN that nationalism can be progressive, even proletarian, without having any illusions that it can overthrow capitalism, just like trade unions can be progressive and undermine capitalism, short of revolution. But in any case, they have a conviction in the right of Scotland as a nation to self determination.

Firstly, for the RCN to tactically stand on the ground of anti imperialism begs the question of what do they really stand for? Anti imperialism is not sufficient in itself for communists. What do the RCN support? In Allan’s view, oulined recently in a response to Eric Chester at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/, to restrict oneself to communist principles would be abstract propagandism. That is Allan’s maximum programme. But in the here and now the RCN seek real leverage in high politics. Any kind of Scottish State would be a step forward, even Independence-Lite with the Scottish state sharing the Monarchy, Sterling, a banking sector, and the British army. Why would it be a real step forward? It would be anti unionist and weaken the Labour Party, Lib Dems and the BNP. This is a lesser evil argument. But there is a conviction that independence for Scotland would be a gain for the working class, in its own right, and begin to democratise the capitalist state in Scotland. While Scottish independence is considered strong the working class is considered to be weak, so Allan considers the only realistic battle can be on the terrain of SNP constitutionalism. This does reveal the narrow focus on democratising the state in the RCN’s practical politics .

But in the context of the great recession or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crisis why would class struggle be refracted through constitutionalism? Most of the RCN theorising appears to have elaborated prior to the crisis or do not make the crisis central to their politics. But an independent Scottish state would  not be independent of global capitalism. Its independence would be nominal especially if there is a shared currency and banking sector. If Scotland applied for membership of the EU, again the state would have to toe the neo-liberal line. Scottish Nationalists can no longer point to an arc of prosperous small nations such as Iceland and Ireland. The powerlessness of the Greek government for its finances shows the hollowness of national independence. What will be the effects on the working class in Scotland of a small capitalist state fighting for economic survival. It will be a race to the bottom for working class living standards as corporation tax is cut. In any case there is no abstract right to self determination and Scotland has not been an oppressed nation as any comparison with the history of Ireland demonstrates.

Analogy is a weak form of theorising; but the analogy comparing American and British Imperialism with the empires of the Habsburgs and the Romanovs and the tactics of Marx and Engels, does not stand up. The lesson of the 1848 springtime of peoples was that the bourgeois were not revolutionary and the future was not national democratic revolution led by Bourgeois modernisers. Marx was in favour of German unity, but that unity was imposed by counter revolution from above by Bismark under the hegmony of Prussia. Marx tactically focused on the threat of semi feudal Russia to capitalist development and the embryo of a workers movement in Europe, not states that embody the most advanced forms of capitalism. This focus missed the growing antagonism between German and British capitalist imperialism which resulted in world war. Marx’s tactics on national movements are debatable. They rapidly became dated and were used out of a specific context – something Allan is also guilty of –  by the leaders of German Social Democracy to justify Germany’s so called civilising mission in the First World War. There was no argument by Marx for a genaral right to self determination, even for Poland. And Marx and Engels generally supported large units not small breakaways. Again, some of the arguments of Engels paticularly on non historic nations were, to say the least, dubious.

The analogy with John Maclean’s break up of Britain is no better. John Maclean stood for a Scottish Workers Republic and nothing less. Any strategy of phases or a constitutional road to a classless society would have been anathema to him.  While the future leaders of the CPBG focused on the practical politics of trade unionism or calling for peace, John Maclean was the only significant workers leader preparing for international revolution during the First World War. This cannot be dismissed as abstract propagandism. Rather than look for changes in the state, or focus on a narrow view of what might be possible, John Maclean looked to street meetings and economic classes to prepare for a Petrograd in Scotland. But Maclean was marginalised by Theodore Rothstein during the formation of the CPGB. But in any case, even though Willie Gallagher, Harry Pollitt and Rothstein proclaimed themselves revolutionary, Maclean knew from personal experience their tactics and strategy were far from revolutionary. Even if he joined he would have been expelled for independence of mind, like Sylvia Pankhurst.  So Scotland must lead itself in the context of what he expected to be a war between Britain and the USA over economic competition. With Scottish workers considered to be in advance of their English comrades, Scotland could follow the example of Ireland and fight to break away from Britain and help bring down the Empire.

Lenin also thought that the break down of Empires by Nationalism and Nationalists would clear the way to Socialism and Communism. Historically his critics have been proved correct. Attempting to link the national struggle with the workers cause resulted in historical defeats for workers movements. But Maclean did not theoretically link nationalism with the workers cause, unlike James Connolly, who did conflate Labour’s cause with nationalism. He considered the origins and rise of private property in Ireland was caused by an English invasion of Ireland; contrary to Marx and more importantly modern research.  But Maclean did seem to uncritically absorb aspects of Scottish identity. There were scattered comments such as: “don’t let Scottish lads fight for john Bull”; “We are justified in utilising our Scottish sentiments”; “the primitive communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis”. And so on. But the clans were more primitive feudalism. Although national sentiments in Scotland were growing in Maclean’s time, Scottish workers joined their English and Welsh comrades in the British Trade Union Movement and the  Labour Party, which CPGB helped to establish at a local level. Maclean tried, but failed to break this reformist mold.

Today, Scottish nationalism is on the rise again, with the decline of British Imperialism and Capitalism and the dismantling of the “welfare state”. Although polls suggest that support for Scottish independence is still minority politics. And the failure to win Glasgow in the recent local elections shows the high tide of nationalism might be ebbing. To criticise the SNP for not arousing the workers for Scottish independence, as the RCN do, or vote for Scottish independence even on a capitalist basis, seems to be more than engaging with nationalism. Voting for independence or critical support for a SNP referendum can only serve to help tie the working class to nationalism and the future of a capitalist state. Alex Salmond in alliance with Rupert Murdoch. It would weaken the working class not capitalism. Scottish identity was formed at the same time as Britishness. Scottish upper class people were at the heart of the British Empire as troops and politicians and at the top of the British Parliament in London. To say Scotland is oppressed because there is not a constitutional right to secede from the British state, as Allan does, is a utopian or constitutional view of revolution. To echo a critic of Karl Kautsky: a high politics road will not be a different route to the same destination – communism, but a track to a different destination.

Barry Biddulph, May 6th 2012

 

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THE PARADOX OF ‘NON-NATIONALIST’ LEFT BRITISH UNIONISM

 

i)            Introduction

Barry’s reply, The Paradox of Nationalism as Internationalism from Below, to our article, The Scottish Independence Referendum [1], is a further contribution to the debate over the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, which the editor of the commune asked us to start off [2]. We are pleased that Barry has responded so quickly. There has been an undoubted frustration shown by some members of the commune about the organisation’s inability to intervene effectively in the growing class struggles precipitated by the ongoing capitalist crisis. However, we think a significant role that the commune can play is to encourage clarity of thinking amongst communists, as these struggles develop and manifest themselves in different forms.

The issue of national self-determination was first debated by the RCN and members of the commune at the second Global Commune event [3]. With the election of an SNP majority government to Holyrood, in May 5th 2011, this has become a more pressing issue in the UK. The SNP government is proposing to organise a Scottish independence referendum in 2014. This opens up the possibility of a constitutional crisis. We will argue that this just one aspect of the deepening crisis facing the corporate capitalist imperial order [4].

Barry, however, argues that struggles for national self-determination can not lead anywhere but to further defeats for the working class and to victories for capitalism [5]. He does not support the right of self-determination for Scotland, or for any other nation for that matter. The RCN has already written a critique of the type of arguments used in the first of these propositions [6]; whilst Allan has dealt with Barry’s attitude towards the ‘right to self-determination’, and calling for rights under capitalism in an earlier debate [7].

 

 ii)             No oppression in Scotland and no Scottish self-determination?

Yet, despite repeating some arguments that RCN members have been already answered, Barry does add some new material, which means the debate can be further advanced.  Thus, as a back-up to his dismissal of the right of self-determination, Barry states that “Scottish identity was formed at the same time as Britishness [8]. Scottish upper class people were at the heart of the British Empire as troops and politicians and at the top of the British Parliament in London.”

We think that what Barry is suggesting here is that Scotland can not be seen as a potentially independent nation anyhow, since a Scottish national identity only emerged within the British state. One problem with his argument is that the first part of it could be said, with even more reason, of both Ireland and India.  Whilst the second part is also true of Ireland. The majority of ‘nations’, in the world, which went on to become independent states, have probably been formed in the context of empire or union [9]. Indeed, it is precisely this experience that has led so many national movements to fight for self-determination.

Barry supplements this argument with another frequently used on the British Left. “Scotland has not been an oppressed nation as any comparison with the history of Ireland shows.” Using the same argument about relative oppression, you could say that, for the last eighty years Ireland has not been an oppressed nation either as any comparison with Palestine shows. The RCN has already dealt with this type of argument over degrees of oppression, and the common Left conflation of oppression and repression, in our debates within the commune [10].

The RCN has defined oppression as the denial of democratic rights. In the case of Scotland this takes the form of the lack of a constitutional right to secede from UK state. Barry somewhat mysteriously dismisses this “as a utopian or constitutional view of the revolution.” This particular instance of the denial of democratic rights is a fact stemming from the existence of the UK state, not from any “utopian or constitutional view of revolution.” It ranks alongside other facts such as the UK state’s constitutional ability, under the Crown Powers, to depose elected governments (e.g. that of Gough Whitlam’s Australian Labour Party in 1975), or to evict the Diego Garcia islanders (1968-73). Whether a particular example of UK state behaviour, under the Crown Powers, produces serious opposition, a constitutional crisis, or even contributes to a revolutionary situation can not be pre-determined. However to dismiss any communist support for opposition on the grounds of this being “utopian”, seems to be a sure fire way of letting the British ruling class and its UK state ignore challenges to their rule.

Now, looking around the world today, the RCN would be amongst the first to agree that on the scale of oppression (and particularly repression) found internationally, Scotland does not figure very high on any list. What gives the seemingly modest demand for the exercise of Scottish self-determination a much greater significance is the likely reaction of a British ruling class, desperate to maintain its imperial profile in the world. For a declining imperial power like the UK, any perceived threat to its rule provokes a way-over-the-top response. It was not the demand for the withdrawal of British troops and a united Ireland that led to Bloody Sunday in 1972, but the demand for civil rights in a Northern Ireland within the UK.

It can not be determined, in advance, whether the UK state’s response to the demand for Scottish independence will create a deep constitutional crisis, or give rise to a revolutionary situation. However, already the public reaction of British politicians and other figures, to even the prospect of a referendum on the issue, has often been near hysterical. Given the fact that the British ruling class is almost unanimously opposed to Scottish independence, you can be sure that resort to those hidden measures constitutionally sanctioned under the Crown Powers, are already being quietly prepared.

Furthermore, the situation will not be determined solely by events in the UK, but by the widening class antagonisms emerging from the current international crisis of capitalism. However, we would like to think that the Left throughout these islands is better prepared than it turned out to be in Northern Ireland in 1969 [11].

 

iii)            Capitalist crisis – just economic or political too?

Barry then goes on to introduce some other arguments. He claims that, “Bob and Allan locate themselves, not directly on capitalist crisis and class antagonism, but indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of imperialism”. For Barry there seems to be no direct connection between these. Therefore, he raises the important question of what is meant by capitalist crisis and class antagonism and how, or if, these can be related to these “fault lines of imperialism”. If we wish to advance this debate further still, then we need to account for the differences between Barry’s own thinking and our theory. To comprehend our understanding of the significance of national democratic struggle, you first need to examine our theory of capitalism and imperialism.

Our own view of capitalism begins by seeing it as system of both exploitation (the extraction of surplus value through the imposition of wage slavery) and oppression [12] (utilising a distinctive form of state to maintain a system of generalised wage slavery). We have argued this before in the commune [13], using an article by another non-RCN member, to illustrate our theory [14].

“Only the development of capital as a social relationship… brings about the separation of the political sphere from the economic… This makes the capitalist form of class exploitation different from the previous ones… A feudal lord… disposed of both… ‘economic’ and ‘legal’ power.”

We then went on to explain:-

“It is this understanding of capitalism, with its distinct ‘economic’ and ‘political’ spheres, through which exploitation and oppression are enforced, which also informs the RCN’s thinking.  The contradictions, which arise from capitalist exploitation and oppression, produce class struggles in both the economic and the political spheres of capitalism… Workers experience exploitation in the workplace, and oppression both in our workplaces and outside in our communities. Furthermore, others face oppression too – women, gay men and lesbians, certain nations, ethnic groups and religious minorities. All of these groups are class-divided, with a considerable proportion belonging to the working class.

Exploitation and oppression are rarely meekly accepted. There is nearly always resistance, either passive or active. Sometimes resistance takes ineffective or counter-productive forms – escapism, sectionalism, or various forms of chauvinism directed against others. It is the job of communists to push for resistance, which takes effective forms through class struggle, practical solidarity – including internationally, and most importantly, through the creation of independent class organisations.

When resistance to exploitation is targeted at capitalists, it usually takes the form of industrial struggles around immediate economic demands – e.g. better wages, improved conditions, defence of jobs, etc. When resistance to oppression is targeted at the state, it takes the form of political struggles around immediate democratic demands – e.g. the ending of anti-union laws, for abortion on demand, equal rights for women, gay men and lesbians, removal of occupying troops, etc.

Once you acknowledge that the division of capitalism into economic and political spheres produces both exploitation and oppression, which each give rise to resistance, then it is much easier to appreciate the significance of political struggles around immediate democratic, including national democratic, demands.”

Thus, the RCN sees a whole number of class antagonisms extending across that economic and political divide specific to capitalism. We have provided examples of resistance arising from these class antagonisms in the economic (e.g. industrial struggles) and political (e.g. democratic struggles) spheres [15]. Our comparisons between such struggles are something Barry might dismiss as making “analogies”. Barry does not like “analogies”. However, Barry’s own reply ignores the prior theory we had already outlined, which is summarised above. Thus, whilst we should always be aware of the limits of analogies, the examples given were not a substitute for providing a theory. They were given as illustrations of our theory of capitalism and its class antagonisms, which had been provided beforehand.

Nor does Barry really explain what he means by “Allan and Bob directly locat{ing} themselves not on capitalist crisis…” Perhaps what Barry is suggesting that today’s capitalist crisis has come about through a combination of the unfolding Credit Crunch, which has revealed the capitalist class’s inability to restore profitability; and the struggles that workers have been undertaking in response to this. We agree that these two features have contributed very significantly to the current phase of the capitalist crisis [16]. Yet the RCN still sees the ongoing capitalist crisis taking wider and deeper forms than the undoubtedly significant economic problems the system undoubtedly faces at present.

To move this particular part of the debate forward in a more positive way, Barry needs to outline his own understanding of what constitutes capitalism, its recent dynamic [17], and the resulting class antagonisms leading to the ongoing capitalist crisis (or point us to sources where it can be found).

 

iv) What do we mean by imperialism today?

In the second part of Barry’s sentence, concerning our alleged neglect of capitalist crisis (in reality, as we have just shown, a different understanding of all the forms of the present crisis), he criticises the RCN for concentrating “indirectly and strategically on the fault lines of imperialism.”  The RCN has already characterised the present stage of capitalism as corporate capitalist imperialism. We do not see the contradiction between capitalist crisis and imperialist crisis that Barry seems to imply above.

Now, there are two well-known Marxist theoreticians, who do make a strong distinction between the current global capitalist order (which they confusingly term ‘Empire’) and imperialism. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have argued in their book, Empire, that there is no longer any imperialism. Instead, the global multitude (in effect, the international working class) now directly confronts global capital (which has no national base). This view, whatever its failings [18], at least provides a theoretical underpinning to oppose struggles for national self-determination.

So, let us further develop our understanding of the development of the current imperialist phase of capitalism. Sam Gindis and Leo Panitch have provided a convincing theory of this in The Making of Global Capital. They do not see global capital rolling itself out uniformly over the world, following a compelling inner logic imposed by the alienated categories of capital [19]. They see the current world order as having come about through specific class struggles conducted within a hierarchically structured (i.e. imperialist) world of states, in which US corporate capital and the US imperial state work together and are dominant.

Somewhat confusingly, Barry does argue, a little later on, that, “Anti-imperialism is not sufficient in itself for communists.” We agree. However, does this not suggest that perhaps imperialism is still an important phenomenon facing us today? This means looking to those “fault lines of imperialism” and understanding the nature of the class antagonisms and resulting class struggles that have arisen from global corporate capitalist exploitation and oppression. These have led to the different forms of resistance we have outlined. Therefore, it is not immediately clear why Barry opposes communists who relate to “the fault lines of imperialism”. We think, though, this is because Barry’s thinking is trapped within certain fixed categories.

 

v)            Fixed categories prevent you from understanding the multi-facetted nature of the current crisis

We have already argued that class antagonisms are not confined to the direct wage/capital relationship at the point of production, or to the problems of capitalist profitability, vital though these are to our understanding. To use an analogy  (sorry Barry!) –  a car (capitalism) certainly does require an engine (surplus value) powered by petrol (our labour power); but there are also many other features that can cause breakdown (crisis)  – including a seriously damaged chassis (the state). This is why class antagonisms and any consequent class struggles appear in both the economic and political realms of the capitalist system. The ongoing capitalist crisis is taking place in a global corporate imperialist order, so these antagonisms and struggles have emerged on many fronts – economic, social, political, cultural and ideological.

Barry’s thinking does not allow him to see this though. He states, “In the context of the great recession or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crises why would class struggle be refracted through constitutionalism?” Our answer to this is – in the context of the great recession, or one of the longest and deepest capitalist crises, how on earth could the class struggle not manifest itself in all the arenas of capitalist control, leading, amongst other things, to a constitutional crisis within the state?

But we can see how Barry avoids this conclusion. He does not use the term ‘constitutional crisis’. This would opens up the possibility of an extra-constitutional challenge, but instead he falls back on his dismissive term ‘constitutionalism’. This attempt, to collapse a particular characteristic, its underlying contradictions and the oppositional challenge into one category, is a recurring feature of Barry’s arguments.

Barry follows this up by criticising the RCN for “more than engaging with nationalism”, in our support of democratic struggles for Scottish self-determination. Here, Barry’s term ‘nationalism’ [20] is another example of his use of fixed categories. ‘Nationalism’ is also used very widely on the British Left, without a hint of self-irony, to stigmatise any democratic demand for Scottish independence.

Others on the Left have dismissed the struggle for women’s emancipation (which could also be characterised as women’s self-determination) as ‘bourgeois feminism’. Now certainly, nationalists (both bourgeois and petty bourgeois) and bourgeois feminists will try to place themselves at the head of these respective struggles against oppression and emancipation [21].  Trade union bureaucrats also try to place themselves at the head of workers’ struggles on the economic front. We could even designate those current advocates of ‘social partnership’ as ‘bourgeois syndicalists’ (although the old IWW term ‘labour fakirs’ is undoubtedly better). However, communists should not throw out the baby with the bath water, but relate to all partial struggles against exploitation and oppression. We need to show how these are linked, and how human emancipation and liberation can only come about in a generalised struggle for a global commune.

Furthermore, when Barry dismisses any democratic struggle as mere ‘constitutionalism’, it is a bit like having to argue with those academic managerial theorists who dismiss workers’ strike actions as nothing more than a problem of ‘industrial relations’. Yet, when it comes to workplace and immediate economic struggles, Barry is able to comprehend their wider political significance, and to see their potential to bring about independent class organisation.

The RCN, however, does not just view our class as being created, maintained and becoming aware of itself in the workplace and through economic or socio-economic struggles. This seems a rather restricted and economistic view to us. We live, for example, within specific communities and states. We also have a desire to lead more fulfilled lives, not only materially but culturally.  This is why there are so many partial struggles, in so many arenas, involving workers and other oppressed groups. These can also act as ‘schools of struggle’ for a more generalised challenge to capitalist rule.

 

vi)            ‘Revolutionary passivity’ and the Jeremiahs of the Left

Barry also tries to get to grips with what he thinks could happen if Scottish political independence came about. “An independent Scottish state would not be independent of global capitalism. Its independence would be nominal especially if there is a shared currency and banking sector.” And later, ” If Scotland applied for membership of the EU, again the state would have to toe the neo-liberal line. Scottish Nationalists can no longer point to an arc of prosperous small nations such as Iceland and Ireland… What will be the effects on the working class in Scotland of a small capitalist state fighting for economic survival. It will be a race to the bottom for working class living standards as corporation tax is cut.”

Now these are all points that the RCN has already made. Whilst being prepared to participate in partial struggles, including national democratic struggles, we do not argue for a subsequent ‘freezing’ of existing class relations within any new national state; just as we do not argue for the suspension of other forms of class struggle in the preceding struggle for national self determination. Indeed, we see such struggles as supporting and mutually reinforcing each other. We advocate ‘internationalism from below’ to extend independent working class organisation internationally, the better to prepare ourselves for when a revolutionary situation develops, in order to spread the communist challenge to the existing order across the globe.

To illustrate his own position, Barry draws an analogy for Scotland. Yes, even Barry thinks “analogies” can be useful at times! He states that, “The powerlessness of the Greek government for its finances shows the hollowness of national independence” [22]. Now, that would certainly be true for any future SNP or pro-capitalist government in an independent capitalist Scotland. But the formation of any new Scottish state would not be the endpoint for workers in Scotland. There is a strong possibility that we would be confronting a considerably weaker and, as yet, not fully consolidated Scottish ruling class. This would open up new prospects. However, this possibility would depend largely upon the working class mounting its own independent campaign beforehand.

Now, of course, you could join the many Jeremiahs on the Left, who pinpoint the ‘inevitable consequences’, if the SNP achieves its ‘Independence-Lite’ through the Scottish independence referendum. And, if communists stand back and fail to contribute to an independent class campaign, this is certainly a possibility. However, given the current balance of political forces, a more likely result is a victory for British Unionism and its allies – but then the British Left does prefer to deal with what is familiar to it. The many years of Left retreat have led to growing pessimism and ‘revolutionary passivity’. Instead, some reassurance is often sought in making self-fulfilling prophecies.

Furthermore, what is not clear from Barry’s analogy is whether or not the Greek working class should ever take power on a national basis. A failure to do so would be a sure recipe to encourage passivity and allow others to impose their own ‘solutions’ on Greece. If though, you support an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy, then you would hope to see Greek workers taking power [23], and to use this as a base to spread the revolution internationally.

 

vii)            The class contested nature of the demand for Scottish self-determination

The RCN has argued that a major aspect of the current constitutional crisis in the UK is the British ruling class’s inability to satisfy the demand for national self-determination. Furthermore, we have also emphasised that the SNP government will face considerable problems satisfying this demand too. To do this effectively would take far more fundamental changes than the SNP’s leaders could ever contemplate. This is why the wider demand for national self-determination can not just be written off as simply an SNP ‘con’, or be viewed as mere ‘nationalism’. The RCN rejects the argument [24] that only sees struggles for national self-determination as conflicts between existing and wannabe ruling classes, or their political representatives – the British Unionist parties and the SNP, in the UK case.

The RCN has certainly long  highlighted how the SNP, in its attempt to place itself at the head of the struggle for Scottish self-determination, continues to accept the continued role of global corporate capital, the US/UK imperial alliance, the UK state’s Crown Powers, and the need to discipline the working class, including acceptance of the need to impose austerity measures in the face of the present economic crisis [25]. This is because the SNP leadership is desperate to create a wannabe Scottish ruling class, which needs constant reassuring that their interests that will remain paramount. Yet, the demand for more effective Scottish self-determination goes wider than the SNP. Even amongst many of its supporters, this is coupled to a very different vision of the future, compared to that of the SNP leadership and any wannabe Scottish ruling class backers.

However, Barry has decided to interpret the RCN’s thinking over this as amounting to “criticism {of} the SNP for not arousing the workers for Scottish independence… or {to} vote for Scottish independence even on a capitalist basis”. Now, the first part of this is another one of Barry’s straw men arguments [26], without any supporting quotes. The RCN has instead argued against those on the Left, who want a campaign to pressure the SNP into mounting a more effective campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. Such a campaign could prompt the SNP to make some more social democratic promises. However, these would have as little substance as all those other promises they have already ditched in government, at the behest of their big business backers. More likely, though, the SNP leadership could cynically use Left Nationalists to try to persuade enough workers that “things can only get better” after ‘independence’ [27]. In the meantime we should just ignore our own immediate needs, and confine our activity to placing an ‘X’ on the referendum ballot paper!

Therefore, our criticisms of the SNP (and their Left nationalist apologists) are addressed to the working class and to the Left, in order that we can act independently of the nationalists and develop the struggle for Scottish self-determination along a socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ path.

The second part of Barry’s argument, ruling out such democratic struggles, because they do not replace capitalism, flows from what appears to be a kind of economistic split in his thinking. This has been already hinted at by his limited notion of the extent of the class antagonisms resulting from the current crisis.

Thus, Barry’s stance allows him to promote or defend certain economic reforms or gains under capitalism (e.g. over wages and conditions), whilst he stubbornly resists any political reforms whilst capitalism remains. The immediate practical demand for the abolition of ‘wage slavery’ can be delayed, whilst we conduct our economic struggles, because we are not in the revolutionary situation, which could allow this (and here we would agree with Barry); but political struggles, with aims short of the overthrow of the capitalist state have to be vehemently opposed (which is where we disagree). At least the SPGB, which opposes all “palliatives” short of the abolition of money, is consistent on this.

 

viii)            Relating to all struggles against exploitation and oppression

The underlying question we have to address, when a particular struggle emerges, is whether it is really against exploitation and/or oppression. Then, we have to determine how the struggle can be advanced on a communist basis, i.e. developing independent class organisation and increasing unity across our class [28].

The struggle for greater Scottish self-determination has the ability to undermine the top-down imposed bureaucratic ‘internationalism’ of the British unionist state, with its formidable anti-democratic Crown Powers, at the same time as developing our own independent class organisations on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. For RCN members living in Scotland, this can only be done effectively by also opposing the SNP’s continued attempt to build its own ‘internationalism from above’ alliance of big Scottish business leaders and the global corporations. For they are determined to maintain as much of the machinery of the British state as possible, including the Crown Powers –  albeit draped in tartan.

Achieving meaningful gains can not be guaranteed in advance of any struggle. During revolutionary situations, partial struggles can become more generalised, leading to the possibility of a more fundamental revolutionary challenge. However, even in these  situations,  it is still possible to have ‘counter-revolutions within the revolution’. Those in the lead of a revolution may have intended to bring about wider emancipation and liberation, but either through an inadequate understanding of what they have to deal with, or through being forced back on to the defensive, they end up placing further constraints on the revolution, before finally emerging as a new ruling class themselves. Barry has promised members of the commune his take on the ‘Russian Revolution’ [29]. Hopefully, in the process, he will highlight the ‘counter-revolution in the revolution’.

Barry argues that the “attempts to link the national struggle with the workers cause resulted in historical defeats for workers movements”. As Allan has argued elsewhere, with regard to the followers of Rosa Luxemburg in Poland, and of the Bolsheviks in Finland and Ukraine, so also has the failure to link specific national struggles with the workers’ cause resulted in historical defeats for workers’ movements. Indeed this was one of the contributory causes of ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’ during the ‘Russian Revolution’. Allan has suggested that one of the reasons for this is that the majority of pre-First World War revolutionary Social Democrats and post-war official Communists failed to adopt an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy, which could adequately address the ‘National Question’.

Barry does not seem to appreciate that the criticisms he makes of those trying to link specific national struggles with the workers’ cause, because they failed to sustain any gains or encouraged new forms of inter-state competition, including wars, can also be made of many attempts to link struggles against exploitation with the workers’ cause. Capitalism still rules, and most gains are being snatched away from us. But, once again, the RCN has already addressed this type of argument [30].

 

ix)            Falling back on ‘abstract propaganda’ or fully engaging in the struggles of our class?

And this brings us to another argument used by Barry. “In Allan’s view… to restrict oneself to communist principles would be “abstract propaganda” [31]. Barry provides no direct quote, so let us see what Allan actually said. “What socialist propagandism seeks to do is to win over individuals to small organisations (e.g. SPGB), but is extremely wary of becoming involved in wider campaigns with others who might not agree with all their politics. One thing that socialist propagandists want to be able to say is that they have never betrayed their principles; but that is because they don’t engage in the actual struggles of our class”.

First, the RCN is very much in favour of communist propaganda. We are currently undertaking an organised discussion on how to put across the idea of communism more effectively [32]. Indeed, this is the reason why we co-sponsored the first Global Commune event – ‘What do we mean by Communism?’ [33] – along with the commune, held in Edinburgh on January 16th, 2010. This certainly enthused Barry.

We would go further still. Since one of the main jobs facing communists today is to develop independent organisations for our class, it would be a considerable step forward if, rather than communists just confining ourselves to episodic propaganda, more permanent schools of communist education could be set up – furthering the tradition established by John Maclean.

What Allan meant, though, by “abstract propagandism” is the failure to engage in the actual struggles of our class, around aspects of an Immediate Programme. We can be fairly sure, though, that Barry threw himself into the November 30th 2011 Pensions Strike, rather than dismissing this in advance, because of its obviously limited aims and its even more obviously treacherous leadership. Did Barry condemn the strike because it could not lead to revolution, or failed to place ‘abolish wage slavery’ on its banners? We doubt it. Nor do we think that Barry confined himself to cheering on the strike leaders, asking for more of the same, as the SWP and SP did. Therefore, it is quite possible to become involved in partial struggles in a non-revolutionary situation without going over to the other side. The real issue is what should communists try to achieve in such situations?

 

x)            What are the possibilities in non-revolutionary situations?

So what was possible in this non-revolutionary situation on November 30th? Well, communists could have tried to develop independent organisations for our class [34], and show how this could achieve the type of concerted action that might make some gains, albeit for a limited period unless class struggle developed on a much wider front.

But Barry appears to attack such an approach as believing “trade unions can be progressive and undermine capitalism, short of the revolution”. Once again, the wording is Barry’s, not ours. What we would say is that work within trade unions on a rank and file basis, coupled to militant action, can make limited gains for workers and undermine the position of the bosses. However, unless these struggles become more generalised, and that involves the creation of an ever-widening array of independent class bodies, leading to a revolutionary challenge to the whole capitalist class, then capitalism will recoup any such gains, and in the process break, neutralise or tame our own organisations.

Political polemics can have the effect of exaggerating differences. However, with regard to the socio-economic struggles of the working class, we suspect that Barry’s practical approach would not be very different from our own.

Quite clearly, though, the categories that Barry invokes to dismiss the democratic struggles of our class, do lead to a marked disagreement with us in this regard. Barry writes that for “the RCN nationalism can be progressive, even proletarian, without having any illusions that it can overthrow capitalism”. We know that Barry likes to avoid direct quotes, so it is not surprising that this is not our actual view.

What we would say is that certain national democratic struggles, especially those led by independent working class organisations, can help to remove sources of national oppression and division, and further widen independent working class organisation on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’. And, as in the case of militant action on the economic front, it may also be possible to make some limited democratic reforms, which are of benefit to workers and others. However, as with militant ‘industrial’ action, unless these struggles become more generalised, and are able to replace the capitalist social relations causing exploitation and oppression, then they too will be recouped.

Barry further adds that, “Most of the RCN theorising appears to have been elaborated prior to the crisis or does not make the crisis central to their politics”. The RCN was certainly elaborating a theory of ‘National Question’ for a considerable period before 2008.  However, the subsequent much deeper economic aspect of the crisis, heralded by the initial Credit Crunch, has badly damaged the USA and UK economies and their standing in the world. This deepening crisis has shown little sign of abating. It has helped to undermine the ideological credibility of neo-liberalism [35], which the political leaders of the US and UK (Republican or Democratic; Conservative or New Labour) have promoted for so long. However, the relative decline in these states’ economic positions has led them to resort to even more military force to compensate – hence the never-ending imperial wars. We have integrated the most recent aggravated phase of the capitalist crisis into our thinking.

Yet, as we have seen, Barry seems to hold a more limited view than us of what constitutes the current capitalist crisis. He does not seem to appreciate all the multifaceted class struggles we are confronting today, arising from the class antagonisms the capitalists face whilst trying to maintain their global corporate imperial order [36], including its increasingly stressed political framework.

 

xi)            John Maclean in revolutionary and non-revolutionary situations

It is good to see that Barry has some time for that very important Glasgow-born revolutionary – John Maclean. Barry does make some passing criticisms of Maclean, and more so, of that Edinburgh-born revolutionary James Connolly. It is not the RCN’s intention to create revolutionary idols, beyond challenge, although we would maintain that these two individuals still stand head and shoulders above their British Left contemporaries. Instead, we place ourselves in the tradition of ‘internationalism from below,’ which they developed to apply to the UK.

However, Barry creates some confusion, when he states that, “Maclean stood for a Scottish Workers Republic, nothing less”. Maclean only arrived at this position in the context of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. Indeed, it was not until the 1919 highpoint of this particular revolutionary wave, following Maclean’s visit to Dublin, where he witnessed the revolutionary potential of national democratic struggle, that he moved decisively to a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy.

During the non-revolutionary period, preceding 1916 [37], Maclean concentrated on providing Marxist education classes to Scottish workers. He was also involved in the everyday activities of the British Socialist Party (BSP) – participating in elections and supporting strikes. Of course, Maclean thought that this political work was still developing the independent working class party needed for the future revolution he passionately believed in. However, when a revolutionary situation did develop, he soon appreciated how wrong he had been about the BSP – and maybe that first initial ‘B’ had something to do with this! Thus, it was only the emergence of the international revolutionary situation that changed Maclean’s political thinking, and led him to promote “a Scottish Workers’ Republic, nothing less.”

The RCN does not make the particular analogy, Barry claims we do, between the non-revolutionary situation we face today and the revolutionary situation Maclean faced between 1919-23. What we would argue, is that the contradictions and tensions within the UK state (and British Empire), highlighted by the situation then, are very likely to reappear in a period of growing crisis. If this led to a new revolutionary situation, then you could attempt to create “a Scottish Workers Republic, nothing less”, coupled to an ‘internationalism from below’ perspective of having “a workers’ republic in every country and a World Council… to knit the various republics into one worldwide social organisation” [38].

Now, just as Barry does not appear to appreciate the political difference between Maclean’s approach before and after the emergence of a revolutionary situation, neither does he see the full significance of the defeat of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, for Maclean’s ‘internationalism from below’ strategy.  The British government was able to contain the developing revolution in Ireland through pogrom-induced Partition in the ‘Six Counties’, and by backing the anti-Republican Irish Free State forces during the Civil War in the ‘26 counties’. It was this, rather than the failure of Maclean (who died in 1923 as the result of his many privations at the hands of the UK state), that turned socialist and official Communist politics firmly down the old Hyndmanite ‘British road to socialism’.

‘The British road to socialism’ took the form of supporting a Labour Party seeking Westminster office, or of the newly founded CPGB, mesmerised by another unionist state – the USSR. The degree to which the most conscious workers abandoned Maclean’s internationalism from below’ break-up of the UK strategy, was the degree to which they accepted British reformism [39]. This political retreat followed the ending of the International Revolutionary Wave. As a result, a ‘British road to socialism’ strategy became hardwired into the British Left. It was not confined to the CPGB, who formally adopted a particular variation for the name of their programme in 1951. The SWP, Militant/SP, AWL and CPGB-Weekly Worker have all adhered to their own versions of a  ‘British road to socialism’ strategy.

 

xii)            The relevance of analogies drawn from Marx and Engels

Barry also highlights the fact that our own theory of the significance of the ‘National Question’ in the UK (which has addressed the situation in Ireland fairly comprehensively too) has focussed for some time on an assessment of the longer-term role of US imperialism and its UK ally in propping up the current global order. And Barry is quite correct in pointing out the historical precedent we make about Marx and Engels’ own understanding of the global order found in their day, and the central role of Tsarist Russia and Hapsburg Austria in upholding it. We do indeed argue that a similar role is currently played by US imperialism and its loyal UK state ally.

Barry is unhappy with this “analogy” and questions Marx and Engels’ understanding of the role of Tsarist Russia in particular. He makes some quite valid points about how the German Social Democratic Right later used Marx and Engels’ earlier reasoning to justify its participation in the imperial slaughter of the First World War. However, the Internationalist Left, which ranged from people like Pannekoek, Luxemburg, Trostky and Lenin to Yurkevich (a Ukrainian ‘internationalism from below’ advocate), was never taken in by such argumentation and strongly opposed it [40].

It is not widely appreciated though, that from the late 1860’s, Marx and Engels changed their previous understanding of the role of Tsarist Russia as the mainstay of reaction. They moved on from their earlier support for what Engels called ‘historic nations’ against those ‘historyless peoples’, whom they saw as allies of Tsarist Russia. In the process, Marx and Engels adopted a more ‘internationalism from below’ approach, and despite what Barry believes, they did begin to support the right of self-determination, or, as it was then styled in the First International, “the right of every people to dispose of itself” [41].

The “analogy” we invoke between the present role of US and British imperialism in upholding the world order, and that of Tsarist Russia and Hapsburg Austria, is confined to the period between 1815 and the late 1860’s. Barry claims that, “This focus missed the growing antagonism between German and British capitalist imperialism which resulted in world war.” However, this was hardly relevant in the period concerned [42].

Of course, our own assessment of the current role of US and British imperialism stands quite independently of this nineteenth century “analogy”. To undermine our stance, Barry would need to challenge our current political assessment of these two state’s roles in the world today, rather than our nineteenth century “analogy”. We invoked this comparison to demonstrate aspects of Marx and Engels’ approach, which we think could still be useful today, provided their context is fully appreciated.

 

xiii)            I’m British – so I can’t be a nationalist!

Lastly, bringing us up to date, Barry takes some heart from “polls {which} suggest that support for Scottish independence in recent events is still minority politics”. This is certainly the case at present, and is likely to remain so given the SNP government’s totally constitutional approach [43], and its desire to appease the Scottish and British establishments and US imperialism.

Barry began his reply by raising the paradox of ‘nationalism as internationalism.’ We have shown that the solution to Barry’s paradox lies in breaking out of his fixed category – ‘nationalism’ – which subsumes national oppression and the democratic struggle against it under the one term. It is certainly very important that we combat nationalism (both as an ideology and practice). Nationalism does either lead to working class disunity, or can see no possible future beyond the continued existence of nation-states. However, once you also examine the class antagonisms which national oppression (and repression) bring about, and the opposition and resistance this leads to, then you begin to appreciate the need for ‘internationalism from below’. You can also see why this is not, as Barry thinks, some variation of nationalism. Instead ‘internationalism from below’ offers a communist strategy that challenges both British unionism and Scottish nationalism, including its Left variants.

Many Left British unionists equate internationalism with the existence of a British Labour Party and British trade unions, or their preferred British Left political organisations. Barry does not take this particular British Left stance, although his comments, without further qualification, concerning Scottish workers joining British political parties and trade unionists, are ambiguous in their political intent.

More worrying, though, is Barry’s next comment that, “the failure {of the SNP} to win Glasgow in the recent local elections shows the high tide of nationalism might be ebbing”. If Scottish independence is indeed only supported by a minority in Scotland, as shown by the vote for the SNP on the May 3rd local elections, then the combined vote of the Labour, Lib-Dem, Tories and UKIP, shows support for British unionism and the UK [44]. Yet here, as with the rest of the British Left, Barry appears not to see British unionism as also being nationalist. This is probably why he thinks that  the ability of British unionism to outvote and contain the SNP’s advance represents the ebbing of nationalism. This is the as yet unresolved paradox in Barry’s own thinking!

But some of us in the RCN were once Left British unionists (we have members who used to be in the Labour Party, CPGB and IS/SWP) – so we are very familiar with the kind of arguments Barry and others use. The fact that we have changed our minds, and have been able to reconnect with the communist tradition of ‘internationalism from below’, which rejects both British and Scottish nationalism, means we are still confident that others can change too.

In the meantime, we thank Barry for giving us this opportunity to further develop our communist case for applying the strategy of ‘internationalism from below’.

Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, 17.5.12

 

[1]             Barry’s reply also deals with parts of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s  ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View” on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/ and Allan Armstrong replies to Eric Chester on             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

[2]             See Allan Armstrong and Bob Goupillot, communists and scotland’s referendum in the commune, no 29

[3]             This day school was jointly hosted by the RCN and the commune, and held in Edinburgh on May 22nd, 2010 – see Allan Armstrong, The Communist Case for ‘Internationalism from Below’ and David Broder, The Earth is not Flat, and the ensuing discussions involving Allan Armstrong, Clifford Biddulph and Joe Thorne on             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[4]              For our use of this term see 1. Confronting the Jeremiahs of the Left in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View.

[5]             There are others, particularly from an Anarchist background, who would also oppose the right of national self-determination, because it would mean setting up a new state. Anarchists oppose all states on principle. Barry appears to draw some support from such thinking. He has also used arguments found in some Marxist theories on the ‘National Question’. Rosa Luxemburg’s argued that ‘the right of nations’ (or any other ‘rights’, such as the ‘right to work’) is meaningless under capitalism. Bolsheviks such as Georgi Pyatakov and Nicolai Bukharin, and later many Left Communists, went on to develop a neo-Luxemburgist theory, which opposed any struggle for national self-determination, on the grounds that imperialism was now a totally integrated socio-economic and political system, which could not be challenged from a national base.

[6]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section  A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[7]             See Abstract Propaganda or Active Involvement in all Struggles of our Class:- Allan Armstrong replies to Clifford Biddulph’s ‘no nationalist solutions’ on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[8]              True, this argument is good for winding up a certain type of nationalist, who champions the historical continuity of their ‘nation’ back into the mists of time – Calgacus, Kenneth MacAlpine, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, matched of course by Boudicea, Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. For a detailed explanation of the development of the UK state, its constituent nations and national identities see Allan Armstrong, Why we need a Socialist Republican ‘Internationalism from Below’ strategy to address the crisis of the UK State on  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[9]             Other examples of ‘nations’ forming within unions can be found in France where, for example, Algeria was once a department of the French state, whilst a whole host of nations, e.g. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, developed within the Tsarist Empire and Soviet Union.

[10]              See section 4. Orthodox Marxists and the confusion between national oppression and national repression in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[11]             ibid.

[12]             Our exploitation and oppression are mediated through our alienation under capitalism, which takes various forms, with commodity fetishism being prominent. However, this important  aspect of capitalism is not central to the arguments developed here.

[13]              See A5, The significance of the separation of economic and political spheres under capitalism in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[14]              See Oleg Resin, no escape from theory: cuts and the state debate, in the commune, issue 17, also at http://thecommune.co.uk/2010/08/02/no-escape-from-theory-remarks-on-the-movement-against-cuts/#more-5603

[15]               See A.6. The fight against the cuts is important, but leaves us firing only on one (economic) cylinder in The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[16]             This theory of the economic aspect of the crisis seems to us a better explanation of what we are currently facing than say the theories provided by Stuart King, a theoretician for Permanent Revolution, and Arthur Bough of Boffy’s Blog, who both deny the existence of  any global capitalist crisis. They see the current troubles as either marking the awkward transition to a reinvigorated global capitalist order, buttressed by the emergence of countries like China, ushering in a new period of growth (King); or reflecting certain Right wing capitalist parties’ incompetence in handling the economic changes needed by large scale capital, despite capitalism entering a new (Kondratieff) wave of unprecedented growth (Bough). Nevertheless, their writings often provide much to think about, and are worth reading.

[17]              Our theory does not see the crisis coming about as the inevitable working out of the alienated categories of capital, but as the result of particular class struggles, conducted on several fronts. David Harvey has outlined such a historical, class struggle-based approach in his History of Neo-liberalism.

[18]             See, for example, John Bellamy Foster, Imperialism and “Empire” in Monthly Review, volume 53, no 7, on http://monthlyreview.org/2001/12/01/imperialism-and-empire

[19]             This is the type of approach that David Harvey also criticises in his History of Neo-liberalism.

[20]             Of course, there is a quite legitimate use of the term – ‘nationalism’. However, it needs to be defined more exactly, and not just used as a catch-all bogeyman word. Nationalism can only  conceive of a world constituted by nation-states (however defined, whether on an ethnic or  multi-ethnic basis). It can not conceive of a future world without nation-states, and often has problems understanding the dynamic of societies before the emergence of nation-states.

Today’s Nationalists seek what they see to be their nation’s rightful place (whatever they think that to be) in an already existing and permanent world order of nation-states. Communist internationalism, or ‘internationalism from below’  accepts that nation-states are a  reality under capitalism, and not merely a bourgeois ideological mystification, that can be dispelled by propaganda. However, to attain a future global commune without nation-states or borders, involves moving beyond capitalism and uprooting the material basis of nation-states, and hence of nationalism. There is also another non-communist tradition of  ‘internationalism from above’, i.e. between national elites.

[21]             And one way to aid them in this is for communists to abstain from participating in struggles for national self-determination.

[22]             The current Troika (EC, ECB and IMF) running of Ireland provides an even closer example of this.

[23]             Their failure to do so at present can hardly be blamed on Greek workers though. They have struggled heroically against the Troika and Greek ruling class’s attempted austerity measures.  But as yet, they can not see much evidence of effective wider international support. There is no Workers’ International, another indication of the current more general absence of  independent workers’ organisation.

[24]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[25]             Here are some examples – sections xv) The wannabe Scottish ruling class and the SNP will cooperate with the British ruling class and big business to prevent any radical break-up of the UK and xvi) The SNP will play their part in upholding the hegemony of US/UK imperial alliance in the global corporate order in Allan Armstrong, Why We Need a Socialist Republican ‘Internationalism from Below’ Strategy to Address the Crisis of the UK State on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[26]            See the section, The difference between nationalism and national struggle, and between  bourgeois ‘internationalism’ and working class internationalism in Abstract propaganda or Active Involvement in All Class struggles – Allan Armstrong replies to Clifford Biddulph’s no nationalist solutions, at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/08/25/the-communist-case-for-internationalism-from-below/

[27]             We seem to remember Left Labour supporters, and their ‘revolutionary’ outriders creating similar illusions in New Labour, back in 1997, in Tony Blair’s ‘Cool Britannia’.

[28]            Even in cases, where workers’ struggles emerge directly from their workplace situation, it does not follow automatically that these increase worker unity, as the ambiguous stance of the Lindsey oil refinery workers’ strikes showed in 2009:- see Mary MacGregor, Brown’s Appeal to Chauvinism on http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2009/03/20/browns-appeal-to-british-chauvinism/

[29]             Allan has pointed to the wider national dimension to the struggle in the Tsarist Empire, which the use of the term ‘Russian Revolution’ often disguises. We would also locate this revolutionary process context of the International Revolutionary Wave, triggered off by the Dublin Rising in 1916 and brought to a close by the crushing of the Kronstadt Revolt in 1921.

[30]             See Explaining Some of the Contradictions in Present Day Corporate Imperialism in Section A of The RCN replies to Joe Thorne’s “The RCN’s ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the  Case of Scotland: A Critical View”.

[31]             Barry is referring to Allan Armstrong replies to Eric Chester, in The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 2, at             http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

[34]             The RCN had already organised the third Global Commune event in Edinburgh on January  29th, 2011, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?’ – which discussed the possibilities of  creating such independent class organisation on the economic front:- see  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/11/report-of-the-third-global-commune-event/

[35]             Although, as we have argued within the commune, this has also led to a neo-Keynesian revival, including amongst the Left –  see Allan Armstrong, Beyond Props for capital on http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/08/30/beyond-props-for-capital/#more-3305

[36]              Indeed, we have just skimmed the surface of these contradictions. There is also the question of continued environmental degradation, leading to the possible collapse of vital life-sustaining resources and organic circuits. This aspect of the crisis of global corporate capitalism has been well covered by John Bellamy Foster’s The Ecological Rift – Capitalism’s War on the Earth.

[37]             Maclean, however, was jailed in 1916, and only freed as a result of the demonstrations held in Glasgow in support of the February 1917 Russian Revolution.

[38]             See SWRP Election Manifesto, November 6, 1923 on http://marxists.org/archive/maclean/works/1923-munic.htm

[39]             We have already addressed the issue of the appropriate territorial framework for trade union organisation in Allan Armstrong, Independent Action Requited to Achieve Genuine Workers  Unity in A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers’ Unity not Separatism on  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/04/26/a-reply-to-nick-roger’s-workers-unity-not-separatism/ and in Getting Over the Hee Bee GBs:- An ‘Internationalism from Below’ Critique of the British Left.

[40]            We have also had apologists for Imperialism, such as the late Bill Warren, resorting to selected writings by Marx, whilst a whole swathe of capitalist ideologues and  journalists have more recently invoked Marx’s early writings to justify their support for corporate globalisation.

 [41]             See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/04/26/a-reply-to-alan-johnstone-of-the-spgb-from-allan-armstrong/ now published in the RCN pamphlet, Getting Over the Hee Bee GBs:- An ‘Internationalism from Below’ Critique of the British Left. A fuller account can be found here of Marx and Engels’ changing ideas on the ‘National Question’. The second volume of  Allan Armstrong, Internationalism from Below, subtitled, The World of Nation States and Nationalism between the Communist League and the early Second International (1845-1895),  also addresses these issues in a lot more detail, and an electronic copy is available free on request.

[42]             It would have been very difficult for Marx and Engels to forecast this particular imperial clash in their lifetimes. The British ruling class did not anticipate this either at the time. For a considerable period, UK state diplomatic strategy promoted Prussia/Germany to counter-balance the more immediate perceived imperial threats from Tsarist Russia and France.

[43]              And of course, the UK constitution’s Crown Powers, which the SNP does not challenge, gives the British ruling class access to a whole host of coercive forces, without any public accountability,

[44]             It would need another article (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/31/what-do-the-may-5th-local-election-results-mean-in-scotland/) to assess to what extent the vote for the SNP represented current support for Scottish independence. Furthermore, our cursory comments about the council election results do not mention the Socialist vote (they are split over the issue of  Scottish independence). But, in any case this formed such a small proportion of the total vote  – so all the more credit to Jim Bollan, SSP, who did hold his council seat in West Dunbartonshire.

 

________________________________________

 

Below are three different viewpoints from the British Left on the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.

1) Defend Scottish Rights, Arthur Bough (Boffy’s Blog). This can also be found at:-

http://boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/defend-scottish-democratic-rights.html

2) Scotland: Independence or autonomy, Stuart King, Permanent Revolution, no. 22. This can also be found at:-

 http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/3395

 3) Climax of tartan nationalism, James Turley, CPGB-Weekly WorkerThis can also be found at:-

 http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004691

They all support the right of Scottish self-determination. However, none of these articles supports a ‘Yes’ vote, although they divided over what to recommend.

 

This is followed by a critique of these British Left arguments:-

 4) A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

________________________________________

 

1. Defend Scottish Democratic Rights, Arthur Bough 

 

The Liberal-Tory Government are trying to limit the right of Scots to determine their own future. Like previous British Governments, they are very good at advocating bourgeois democratic freedoms for people in far flung parts of the globe – so long, of course that they were not part of the British Empire, whose subjects were kept in abject slavery – including as recently sending British troops to fight and die for them, but very poor when it comes to allowing those rights to its own citizens. The Scottish people like every other nation has a right to self-determination, including separation from the rest of the UK if they so choose. That is no less a right than many in the Tory Party, or in UKIP or the BNP advocate in relation to Britain leaving the EU. The Scottish people have the right to choose the time, place and manner by which they decide if and when to leave the UK. Cameron and all other British Governments and Parties should keep their nose out of that.

The Scottish people have their own Parliament, and they have a right, to determine the timing and nature of the referendum on leaving the UK, through that Parliament. All British socialists and consistent democrats should insist upon that basic democratic right of the Scottish people, and should insist that the British Government, does not interfere with it in any way. When, Norway and Sweden separated, as Lenin says, the Norwegian Parliament simply passed a resolution saying that it was no longer a part of Sweden. All that should be discussed, after a decision to leave, are the terms of relations between the two sovereign states, and the settlement of outstanding affairs.

But, of course, a Marxist does not desire that Scotland should separate from the rest of Britain, any more than a Marxist desires that the UK separate from the EU, and for the reasons that Lenin sets out. The reality is that, more now than when Lenin was writing, small states are reactionary, and increasingly unviable, just as is the case with small Capitals against large Capitals. In the same way that Marxists are opposed to the break up of Monopolies and Trusts, and see in the latter a progressive development, so too we are against the break up of larger states into smaller states.

Larger Capitals, Monopolies and Trusts, represent a more mature stage of Capital, a step closer to its ultimate demise and replacement with Socialism. They also facilitate within them the collective organisation of the workers, their Co-operative production, the greater planning of output. In other words they begin to presage socialistic production. We do not want workers brought together in such ways to be broken apart, only for the Capitalists once again to be able more easily to divide them against each other. The same is true of the bringing together of workers within larger state structures.

Marxists defend the democratic rights of the Scots in determining their own future. Marxists, however, should argue that the Scottish workers should determine their future within a single British State, within a single European State alongside their British and European comrades, rather than by lining up alongside their own bosses.

 

12.1.12

 

2. Scotland: Independence or autonomy, Stuart King

The globalisation of capital exerts its power across not only nations but continents, and the ability to unite tens of millions of workers in the struggle for socialism across large states is not something to give up lightly. A workers’ movement fragmented and disunited across small states will be no match for international capital.

We are already seeing the whipping up of such disunity by the nationalists on both sides of the border. The SNP declares that the English are “stealing” its oil while the Tories declare the Scots a bunch of subsidised layabouts. Neither English nor Scottish nationalisms are a pretty sight and will be used in this campaign to poison relations between workers.

While we are opposed to independence we are, however, absolutely in favour of the Scottish people having a vote on whether to separate via a referendum if they so wish. Indeed, a question on full independence should have been included alongside the devolution question in 1997.

And if the Scottish people decide in the next few years that they wish to separate from the UK, it will be the duty of all socialists in England and Scotland to support that decision in everyway they can.

As socialists we also favour a high degree of autonomy, for the nations, regions and municipalities throughout the British state. Fighting for genuinely democratic and autonomous local structures, under the direct control of working people, is the best way to weaken the control of a ruling class directing matters from Westminster.

For that reason we are absolutely in favour of “devolution-max”, where the Scottish people are able take control of the ability to tax the rich, introduce social and economic programmes and public works to give unemployed jobs, to direct their economic development themselves and decide whether or not they want military and nuclear bases in their country.

The struggle for socialism and revolution in Britain could only be strengthened by such an outcome for Scotland.

Winter, 2012

 

3. Climax of tartan nationalism, James Turley

 

It is paramount for communists to support the right of Scotland to self-determination, and also to protect the hard-won unity of our class.

Squaring that circle means taking democracy seriously as a political task for the working class; and that means first of all pointing out that this merry dance between the SNP and Westminster is a sick parody of self-determination from beginning to end.

It begins with a referendum, which is in itself a profoundly anti-democratic manoeuvre, the favoured method of rule among Bonapartists, fascists and every other species of crooked demagogue. Inordinate power is granted to he who sets the question, the possible answers and the time and manner of the plebiscite – hence the bun fight between Cameron and Salmond over exactly those matters. It ends either with a sham ‘independence’ which is, in reality, junior membership of the EU, or a sham mandate for the continuation of the blood-soaked union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as presently constituted.

The only appropriate response to such a referendum is a spoilt ballot – combined with serious propaganda for a democratic federal republic in Britain, in which the Scotland and Wales have full national rights, up to and including the right to secession. Our job is not to provide left cover for the break-up of existing states – no matter how far up the imperial food chain they are – but to build the unity of the workers’ movement across all borders, and fight to place the workers’ movement at the vanguard of the struggle for extreme, republican democracy.

19.1.12

____________________________________

 

4. A reply to the British Left, Allan Armstrong

 

Many on the British Left claim to support the right of Scottish self-determination, but are opposed to any vote for Scottish independence.  However, they differ on what this means in practice.

Thus, Arthur Bough has used his blog [1] to argue that, “Marxists defend the democratic rights of the Scots in determining their own future. Marxists, however, should argue that the Scottish workers should determine their future within a single British State, within a single European State alongside their British and European comrades, rather than by lining up alongside their own bosses.”

To give Bough his due, he does begin his article by calling on “Cameron and all the other British Parliaments {presumably meaning Westminster, Cardiff Bay and Stormont} and Parties to keep their noses out…” (as if!), but his logic would appear to be, Scottish workers should still vote ‘No’.

James Turley for the CPGB – Weekly Worker also supports the right of Scottish self-determination, but argues instead for active abstention.  “The only appropriate response to such a referendum is a spoilt ballot – combined with serious propaganda for a democratic federal republic in Britain, in which the Scotland and Wales have full national rights, up to and including the right to secession” [2]. Given the CPGB’s inability to move beyond propaganda and to successfully implement practical activity over its desire to unite all British (or is that UK) Marxists into one party, highlighted by its dismal performance in the Campaign for a Marxist Party, it is doubtful that their “serious propaganda” will have much impact in Scotland.

Stuart King for Permanent Revolution (PR) also supports the right of Scottish self-determination, but takes a different tack. He argues that,  “While we are opposed to independence… as socialists we also favour a high degree of autonomy… For that reason we are absolutely in favour of “devolution-max” [3].

One problem with this, is that nobody but Stuart has yet argued that “devolution-max” (in effect – UK ‘federalism’) allows the “Scottish people to decide… whether or not they want military and nuclear bases in their country.” To achieve this you would need to have, as a minimum, the SNP’s proposed ‘Independence-Lite’. So maybe Stuart will have to change his mind about which option to vote for!

Furthermore, it is not clear whether Stuart would go beyond the CPGB’s “serious propaganda” approach to get his ‘devolution-max’, or whether he would be prepared to join in activity with those, such as former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry Macleish, in pushing for his “devolution-max” option on the ballot paper (something the current SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond, would also like to see).

The key thing uniting Bough, the CPGB and PR is that they see the existence of the UK state as historically progressive (Bough and the CPGB certainly); or at least responsible for creating a united British working class (Bough, CPGB and PR). Therefore, for them, the break-up of the UK could only represent either a historic economic step backwards, or lead to greater disunity amongst the British working class.

Ironically, elsewhere, Bough has argued that the anti-EU policies adopted by the Con-Dem Coalition, as current political representatives of the British ruling class, are more or less guaranteed to lead to further economic retrogression for Britain relative to other capitalist powers, and greater European disunity  [4]. He has also pointed out that significant sections of the British Left, who otherwise share his belief in the historically progressive, British working class unity-promoting role of the UK state and/or the ‘British nation’, have also adopted a profoundly anti-European attitude reflecting the currently dominant reactionary section of the British ruling class. This was highlighted by the CPB’s and SPs’ support for No2EU/Yes to {British} Democracy, with its thinly disguised racist call for ‘No to social dumping’. Not many signs of British progress or greater working class unity there!

When you examine more closely what form all three articles think British working class unity takes, then you soon see the problems of equating the continued existence of the UK state and the ‘British nation’ with greater working class unity. If working class unity is seen to be largely a reflection of, and reaction to, the British ruling class’s UK territorial state, and their creation of a ‘British nation’, then this comes at a very high cost.

British workers’ organisations adopting this framework have long accepted the legitimacy of capitalist social relations and the UK state. Thus, the British Labour Party and the TUC have never sought the abolition of wage slavery, but have accepted a social democratic desire to lift workers from a position of being capitalism’s ‘field slaves’ to being more privileged ‘house slaves’, through the promotion of better wages and conditions (including the state’s social wage). Today, under the conditions of capitalist crisis, this means begging for the UK state to create more wage slaves. This is also true of the British Far Left, with the SWP’s ‘Right to Work’ campaign and the SP’s ‘Youth Fight for Jobs’. They just can not see beyond capitalism, even when it is in severe crisis. They have no notion of building greater socialist unity in Europe beyond the current European Anti-Capitalist Alliance, an essentially electorally focussed body, which now amounts to little more than diplomatic stitch-up between the USFI’s and SWP’s European sections.

Furthermore, the British Labour Party and the TUC have never seriously contested the anti-democratic nature of the UK state with its Crown Powers, whilst they have frequently acquiesced in the maintenance of British imperialism. For, if your aim is to improve wages, then one way of achieving this is to try to maintain ‘your’ state’s position in the imperial pecking order.

In other words, far from the existing UK state and the ruling class’s ‘British nation’ forming a historically necessary building block in the construction of wider international working class unity, in reality they constitute a brick wall, which needs to be broken up.

10.5.12

Here the CPGB recognise “full national rights” for Scotland, which presumably means they have abandoned the position they held at the time of the 1997 Scottish Devolution referendum, when they denied that Scotland was a nation, but claimed that Scots were a particular nationality (ethnic group) living within the ‘British nation’. The CPGB have taken the reactionary implications of exercising self-determination on an ethnic basis, even further  with regard to Ulster Loyalists (termed British-Irish by the CPGB, which would hardly be welcomed by those ‘Ulster’-British Loyalists they hope to woo!). They have raised the possibility of further partition of Ireland, this time of ‘the Six Counties’ – an idea also advocated by sections of the (‘British-Irish’) UDA, only accompanied by ‘nullification’ or ethnic cleansing of Irish Nationalists.

_________________________________

To access the first two sections of the debate on the Scottish Independence Referendum go to:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

 

 

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Apr 26 2010

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism

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

Independent Action Required to Achieve Genuine Workers’ Unity

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

How to win effective union solidarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing records in trying to build socialist/communist unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The historical basis for ‘internationalism from below’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 __________

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

(Weekly Worker, no. 809)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Brit left’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 20 2009

Latinos: The US Election And The Immigrant Rights Struggle

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:59 pm

Dave Moore, a socialist in the US, reports on what an Obama administration means for immigrants’ rights. This is an updated version of an article Dave wrote for Red Banner.

In the spring of 2006, immigrant uprisings swept across the United States, sparked by a vicious bill to criminalize undocumented workers. In city after city, protesters held a sea of placards; one message recurred: ‘Today we march, Tomorrow we vote’.

On November 4th, that promise was kept – and it proved decisive.

Fast-changing demographics and massive voter mobilisation allowed Latinos to impact the US election as never before. Exit polls indicated that 3 million more Latinos took part than in 2004 – a leap from 7.6 to 10.5 million. Battleground states Colorado, Nevada, Florida and New Mexico were carried for Barack Obama by a surge of Latino votes; prominent anti-immigrant legislators were dumped.

This article traces the immigrant rights struggle from the marches to the ballot box and sketches the challenges it faces under the new administration.

From marching to voting

Latinos – interchangeably called Hispanics – represent the largest minority group in the United States at 46 million (15.4% of the population). History belies the stereotype: the border divided many Latinos following the seizure of huge tracts of Mexican territory by nineteenth century imperial war. Unwanted from the outset, Latino experience has long been one of persecution and expulsion.

Today, 60% of US Latinos are native-born citizens (a status conferred automatically to those born of immigrant parents). The rest, immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and other countries of Central and Latin America, mainly have legal status as naturalised citizens or permanent residents. Of an estimated undocumented populace of 12 million, Latinos comprise 9.6 million – approximately one fifth of all Hispanics. Their numbers expanded markedly through the economic dislocation wrought by NAFTA – increasing by more than 40% since 2000.

Two additional trends fuel the fires of the anti-immigrant right – internal migration and higher birth rates. Latino populations have been dispersing markedly from their historic focus in the southwest and major urban centres, reaching smaller cities and towns across the nation; they also now contribute more than half of all US population growth, the majority from births rather than migration.

Latinos are no homogeneous group, but the experience for most has been bitter in the post-9/11 era. Recast as a ‘national security’ threat, undocumented workers were soon faced with a sharp increase in raids and deportations. States and localities began enacting experimental laws designed to squeeze those without papers. Nativist groups grew in numbers and vehemence. All Latinos felt the chill.

Many Republicans saw electoral advantage in stirring the pot. Others, more strategically, saw opportunity to fundamentally reshape immigration law to better suit capitalist profit. They looked to a cross-party compromise that would include large scale legalization: 2005’s McCain-Kennedy Bill. While it floundered in the Senate, anti-immigrant Republicans in the House rallied behind a very different plan. It would criminalize not just the undocumented but anyone deemed to be assisting their presence in the United States. Menacing, if deeply unrealistic, it threatened capital with massive dislocation. Yet, at the year’s end, the bill passed – and it sparked fully-fledged Latino revolt: huge marches in Washington DC, then Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix, next a million on the streets of Los Angeles, on and on, city after city; by April 10th, a National Day of Action spanned over 100 cities; for May 1st, another immense wave of marches. International Workers Day – all but moribund in the US – was spectacularly revived as the ‘Great American Boycott’ – no work, no school, no sales and no buying.

It was an unprecedented high point for immigrant struggles, yet the upsurge was already faltering. April had brought a new Senate bill, far less punitive, that rehashed a clumsy mix of increased border enforcement, a temporary worker programme and, for those resident over 5 years, a protracted path to legalisation. Corporate to its core, the evolving bill addressed some of the movement’s demands and spurred hopes, debate and division. DC policy groups, national organisations and key union figures clutched at a fragile compromise – and feared an escalating movement would jeopardise it. They saw those building for May 1st more as threats than allies with their unequivocal demand for amnesty and rejection of the temporary worker programme. Thus, even as bolder action was being built, leaders tried to stand it down with a competing message of caution. The grass-roots response was still dramatic and widely halted production, but it was greatly blunted. The moment was quickly lost; legislation stalled and mobilisations waned. Raids and deportations increased, while the outgoing Congress pledged billions to militarising the Mexican border.

These events bolstered a voter mobilisation strategy for November’s mid-term elections across the movement, spurred on by foundations willing to fund efforts to raise historically low Latino civic participation and citizenship rates. Thus, groups immersed themselves in registering and turning out new voters, scrupulously non-partisan efforts that nevertheless impacted several key House and Senate races and contributed to the return of a Democrat inclined Congress.

Fresh offensive

Within days came a fresh government offensive: massive raids on meatpacking plants across six states, with over 1,200 workers arrested. In a new move, 270 were slapped with criminal charges. The message was designed for Democrats as much as the movement.

As the new Congress began, President Bush urged a renewed reform effort, calling for a ‘Grand Bargain’ that embraced business demands for an expanded temporary worker program. The resulting bill required yet more border militarisation, and offered only highly punitive and costly legalisation. On top, it demanded 600,000 annual ‘guest worker’ visas. These would establish large-scale indentured servitude: immigrant workers tied firmly to a single employer, on non-renewable visas, with no hope of permanent status and ripe for grotesque abuse. Amid the shifting sands of negotiations, sweeteners were added and some Democrats attempted to remove or blunt guest worker provisions. The mass marches were renewed on May 1st, smaller but still powerful. Amid fevered lobbying, the bill progressively worsened. Two months later, it was dead.

Many states and cities responded with a renewed push to legislate their own anti-immigrant measures.

Meanwhile, the Administration ramped up its attrition: more workplace raids and new schemes to force employers to purge workers with ‘flagged’ Social Security numbers; pursuit of individuals with unexecuted deportation orders became de facto community sweeps. Despite the rhetoric, none of the tactics could reduce the undocumented population, nor did they seriously strive to. Instead, they aimed to further marginalise and subordinate immigrant workers, appease anti-immigrant voters and keep Democrats marshalled behind a strong ‘enforcement’ agenda.

Such was the backdrop as the lengthy presidential race began. Immigration ranked as a consistent ‘top three’ concern for voters. Yet, by the time Barack Obama was confirmed to contest John McCain, it had become the elephant in the room, all but exiled from the campaign trail. As a past sponsor of immigration reform, McCain was the one Republican with a coating of palatability for Latinos and, despite a platform dragged rightwards for the party’s nativist base, he rejected using immigration as a weapon. This owed little to principle and much to the electoral map. In crucial contests, McCain needed significant Latino votes. Instead, they rejected him emphatically.

Obama carried Latinos more than two to one; amongst immigrant voters, he polled 78%.

But while Democrats reaped the dividends, they owed much to a vast array of Latino and immigrant groups who again worked tirelessly to register voters, mobilise turnout and encourage legal residents to pursue citizenship. It was a massive, year-long effort powerfully backed by Spanish language media. Even against 2006, the pool of potential voters had increased dramatically: hundreds of thousands of young Latinos, many with immigrant parents, were now of voting age, while pro-active campaigns, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the prospect of a large fee hike had combined to spur a record number of naturalisations.

Yet even while the movement celebrated success, the all-consuming pursuit of these new voters, with its exclusive focus on citizens, drained many immigrant rights groups, pushing them to neglect their base or give it an ancillary role.

Immigration reform and the ‘First Hundred Days’

When communities are terrorised by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it.

Barack Obama speaking to a pro-immigrant audience, July 2008

With the election concluded, and the Obama-era looming, the movement needed a rapid change of gear. Its first response was a mis-step. A coalition of national groups announced a march in Washington DC for the day after inauguration, aiming to draw 100,000 to the capital to remind Obama of his fine words and demand a moratorium on raids. This was rapidly scaled back and then diffused to small local actions, part caution, part logistics as the scale of attendance for the inauguration event became clear. Nevertheless, a strong humanitarian appeal to end raids has continued as the movement’s overriding theme, drawing considerable support from faith-based groups.

Yet this moral outrage squares off against a truly corporate monster. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is located at the very heart of the Department of Homeland Security, the Bush regime’s post 9/11 battering ram for a far-reaching assault on civil liberties and a domestic war on immigrants. It has constructed a massive immigration-industrial complex within its domain, recruiting thousands of well-paid, well-armed shock-troops to visit new forms of terror on immigrant communities; it received almost limitless budgets for immigration prisons and border fortifications, feeding obscene billions to Halliburton, Boeing and Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison provider. Over a five-year period, CCA was handed federal largesse to detain almost a million people in deportation, rising to 33,000 beds per day, while moves to press criminal, not civil, charges against many detainees had begun to offer even higher profits from longer, more lucrative incarcerations. On the eve of Obama’s victory, Virginia investors planned a new $21 million private prison to reap burgeoning federal contracts. Clearly they did not expect the trough to run dry.

Thus, while Obama quickly pledged to empty Guantanamo on taking office, those who hoped for boldness on raids and detentions were disappointed. Incoming head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, predictably ordered a departmental review. Early indications suggest it may bring a heightened focus on apprehending ‘criminal aliens’ (i.e. those with felony convictions), possibly relieving some pressure on the mass of the undocumented. Detention centres, the source of a growing catalogue of horrors and deaths, will be told to clean up their act. Tough gestures can also be expected, including the bolstering of some areas of enforcement. In short, the engine will be re-tuned, yet it may lose little of its familiar hum.

A similar outcome may await a second Bush legacy, E-Verify, an electronic system to check new hires and reject supposedly undocumented workers. Already in use in tens of thousands of workplaces, its ‘voluntary’ roll-out to businesses was increasingly turned into compulsion by both federal contracts and state laws. In February, Republicans demanded that businesses be required to adopt it as a condition for receiving funds from the stimulus package. Democrats rebuffed the attempt. But while the system is deeply flawed and notoriously metes out ‘collateral damage’ to many legal residents, it is far from clear that Democrats will halt funding for the pilot programme, due for renewal in March. Napolitano declares as a ‘strong supporter’ and well-organised anti-immigrant forces will mobilise their base to lobby Democrats, many of whom already believe it can be ‘improved’. Although union, civil rights and many business groups will join immigrant organisations in pressing for it to be scrapped, they will need to make a good fight.

Securing comprehensive immigration reform – including a path to legalisation for undocumented workers – remains the big goal of the immigrant movement. Before the economic crisis unfolded, Obama pledged a new attempt at major legislation during his first year in office. Immigrant advocates lobbying the administration believe that still holds good and hope for movement between September and March. They will contend that reform is inextricable from recovery and keep the administration mindful of the Latino vote. Although rising domestic job losses will disarm champions of a ‘guest worker’ programme, any emerging bill would likely be cut from similar cloth to past bi-partisan formulas and be deeply problematic for the movement.

More imminently, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act – the election payback sought by the US labour movement – would dramatically enhance immigrant rights, cutting loose a wave of new organising better shielded from union-busting attacks. Immigrant and Latino workers, already central to many recent union victories, would be both prominent leaders and major beneficiaries, while the push could also help re-energise the immigrant rights struggle at a crucial time. The bill’s champions include Obama’s pick for Labour Secretary, Hilda Solis, herself the daughter of Latino immigrants. However, at the time of writing, business interests were mobilising efforts to block her appointment – an opening shot in their determined fight against EFCA.

Obama’s ‘First Hundred Days’ end on May 1st. By then, the immigrant rights movement may have little to celebrate, but its activists are sure to be back, proud and determined, on streets across the United States.

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Mar 20 2009

Isolate ‘Apartheid’ Israel

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:23 pm

Nick Clarke analyses the latest stages of Israel’s war on the Palestinians and the role of the solidarity movement

As the media spotlight on Israel’s latest re-invasion and brutal bombardment of Gaza begins to dim, the Israeli state’s punishment of the Palestinian people continues. The explicit aims of the new year invasion were to stop the sporadic missile launches against the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon and to close the tunnels from Egypt that bring much needed supplies into Gaza. The primitive weaponry available to Palestinian forces in Gaza is no match for the high-tech, state-of-the-art hardware deployed by the Israeli state, supplied by their own weapons manufacturers or provided on generous terms by the US and Britain.

However, there was another agenda underlying these overt aims. Firstly, in October 2008, the ruling coalition government led by Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party had unravelled, hastened by the corruption charges facing the Prime Minister. A general election had been called and Tzipi Livni, replacing Olmert as leader of Kadima, found her party trailing Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the opinion polls, by some distance.

To give themselves a chance of beating Likud, Kadima turned to the Israeli state’s favoured scapegoats, the Palestinians. By launching the attack on Gaza, Kadima and its Labour Party partners pandered to the right by adopting Likud’s open hostility to the Palestinians and making it their own.

The fronting of this cynical offensive by Livni almost brought success as by polling day Kadima had eliminated Likud’s lead. However, it was not enough. While they won the most seats, Kadima’s electoral tactics backfired on them spectacularly. The IDF’s onslaught also increased the votes for the ultra right, in particular, Avigdor Lieberman’s party – Yisraeli Beiteinu. Lieberman’s party favours Israel abandoning territory on the West Bank inhabited by Arab families and annexing blocs of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. He is also proposing a new loyalty test for Arab citizens of Israel. In other words, he is an open supporter of ethnic cleansing.

Whatever the differences between these Zionist parties as to tactics and policy, they are all committed to their fundamental support for Israel as a ‘Jewish state for a Jewish people’. Again the Palestinians are used and abused at the whim of Israeli electoral politics.

The second, unspoken agenda item was to clear the decks before the Obama presidency began in the US. Using the hiatus following his election but before his inauguration on 20th January, Israel knew that the final days of the Bush presidency would cause them little trouble over the Gaza bombardment and they were not disappointed. Bush’s response, or lack of it, was predictable. Israel wanted the crushing of Hamas and the pacification of Gaza to be complete before Bush left office. This would enable them to negotiate with the US from a position of strength just in case Obama had different ideas about how to handle the Israel/Palestine situation from his presidential predecessors.

Predictable response

They need not have worried. Obama’s response was as predictable as all the others. During June 2008 he made some very friendly noises to the Zionist American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), describing himself as a true friend of Israel and stating

Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

So the Palestinians should not expect any equitable treatment from the Obama presidency.

And what of the Middle East envoy of the EU, US, UN and Russia – a certain Tony Blair? He was appointed to this role 2 years ago due to his ‘success’ in ‘resolving’ the Irish War, no doubt accompanied by a healthy remuneration. How could he ever be seen as a credible negotiator in the Middle East following his illegal and enthusiastic part in bloodbath of Arabs that was the Iraqi invasion? This was further compounded by his refusal to condemn Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006, while he was still Prime Minister.

In recent weeks Blair has been awarded the Dan David Prize, through Tel Aviv University for his leadership on the world stage and having shown exceptional intelligence and foresight, and demonstrated moral courage and leadership. Did it not occur to him how acceptance of this award might compromise his nominal role as ‘honest broker’? Presumably his vanity and the $1m prize outweighed this consideration.

Despite having his role as envoy for 2 years, it took Blair until 1st March 2009 to actually visit Gaza. On inspecting the devastation caused by the Israelis, his response was that it was shocking and enormous. That was obvious from the limited footage that came out of Gaza, despite Israeli censorship, during the bombardment in early January. As envoy for the EU, should he not be condemning the destruction by the IDF of projects funded by EU donations? It has taken him almost two months to call for the end of the blockade of Gaza. As with Obama, his silence in early January spoke volumes as to where his allegiance lies.

No imperialist solutions

So while the IDF’s military assault on Gaza has ceased for the time being, the siege being waged by the Israeli state against the Palestinian people has not. Gaza is a concentration camp. Israel still controls what goes in and out by land, sea and air (apart from that smuggled through the tunnels). They allow a drip of humanitarian aid to pass into Gaza. Convoys of food, medical supplies and other essentials such as fuel, including that being supplied by NGOs and the UN, are prevented from reaching the Palestinians who desperately need it.

The blockade, the Wall, the intimidation, the terror and deprivations imposed on the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza amount to an attempt to crush all resistance, eradicate all historical memory of Palestinian settlement and prevent a Palestinian nation from emerging. The continued second class status, the denial of equal political rights and the continued removal of Palestinians and Bedouin people living within Israel itself, highlights the apartheid nature of the Israeli state. This is reinforced by the banning, in the run up to the general election, of political parties traditionally supported by Arabs in Israel.

Political solutions to the conflict must not be based
on the interests of British/US imperialism or Israeli
expansionism. All bids at imperialist ‘peace’ settlements (Camp David, Oslo and the Road Map) have all failed because they have not addressed the aspirations of the Palestinian people for genuine self-determination, and accept the continuation of Israel as an apartheid-type state, with Jewish people remaining as the economically and socially privileged, dominant political force.

Likewise any attempts made to broker agreements made by the corrupt rulers of the undemocratic Arab police states have been designed to buttress their own positions and privileges. The only meaningful wider support in the Middle East will come from the oppressed peoples in these lands.

All Palestinian refugees who have been displaced since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 must have the right of return to their homeland. All forms of ethnic cleansing must be opposed and the only truly democratic solution is for a singular, secular, democratic state for all the people of historic Palestine. Such a state needs to guarantee the democratic rights of all minority groups, irrespective of religious beliefs, including the right to practice their religion of choice.

A few on the Left have opposed any effective support for the Palestinians in Gaza. They argue that Palestinians have given their electoral support to Hamas, an Islamicist party. Ironically, it was Netanyahu, who originally gave Israeli state backing to Hamas in Palestine, to undermine the then politically dominant, secular nationalist PLO. However, since the PLO has fallen in behind an imperially imposed two-state ‘solution’, it has become more and more mired in corruption, accepting political backing and money from Israel, the US and the EU. Many now see the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority as acting in much the same manner as those Judenrat officials who ran the Jewish ghettoes on behalf of the Nazis. It was the failure of the formerly politically dominant socialists in the Bund and communists in East European countries, to successfully defend Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught, that led to the political victory of the Zionist Jewish supremacists amongst the surviving European Jews.

Hamas can, in some ways, be considered as Moslem ‘Zionists’, who want to create a state in which Moslems dominate. They can provide no just and democratic solution for the peoples of Palestine. However, just as the most committed socialists tried to defend all Jews persecuted by the Nazis, so today, we should provide active solidarity with the people of Palestine. As socialists we have to establish our political credentials amongst the Palestinians and other people in the Middle East. This means showing that the international solidarity we offer can be, not only more effective than any pan-Islamicist support, but also offer all the peoples living in historic Palestine an escape from the many forms of exploitation and oppression they face. Socialists also give their support to those Israeli Jews who defend Palestinian rights, especially those who refuse to perform military service.

Practical action, including occupations, has already been taken by students in some of Scotland’s universities, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Dundee. Students have demanded that the universities boycott Israeli goods, as well as get rid of any investment in weapons manufacturers, such as BAE Systems.

The political atmosphere must be created in which workers also have the confidence to directly implement solidarity actions. The Viva Palestina convoy, which left London in February, with more than 100 vehicles driven by volunteers, is one action which shows the potential to raise wider support, including trade unions. This convoy eventually crossed into Gaza at Rafah on 9th March with £1.5m worth of aid including medical supplies, clothes, food and toys as well as 20 ambulances, two buses, a fire engine and a fishing boat.

The campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state must be supported. The instruments and methods of oppression used against the Palestinians, by Israel today, have echoes of those used against the black population in apartheid-era South Africa. This comparison was picked up by South African dock workers in Durban who in February refused to off-load an Israeli ship in solidarity with the Palestinians as part of a week of action against apartheid Israel.

We have a special duty, living as we do in the UK, given successive British governments’ support for the Israeli state. The role of socialists in Scotland must be to provide practical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and to support an international campaign to isolate Israel – economically, politically, socially and culturally.

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Mar 20 2009

Well, the Crisis of Capitalism has arrived – So, what do we do now?!

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:39 pm

Not just a ‘Credit Crunch’ – but a ‘Crisis of Capitalism’

This year’s SSP Conference takes place against the background of an unprecedented crisis for capitalism. Every day it becomes clearer that the problems in the economy are not just confined to the over-inflated world of finance, but are having a major impact on the productive sector, as factories face closure or short-time working. Furthermore, the large drop in government revenues, due to the big decline in economic activity, threatens huge cuts in social expenditure and provision too. Brown and Darling officially concede that we are living in an economic recession. Other analysts and commentators openly talk of a new depression, perhaps even deeper than that of the 1930’s.

Marxists have long talked of the crisis of capitalism, albeit often only amongst themselves. What is new today is that so many economic commentators agree.The difference now lies in their proposed solutions to deal with the current economic situation. For the mainstream economists, in the various corporate funded think-tanks and university economics departments, the debate is confined to what is the best way to get the capitalist system fully up and running again. In other words how can capitalist accumulation and profitability be restored?

What has changed, in the thinking of business executives and politicians, is the sharp decline in their earlier belief that everything could be left to the market. When the global economy was ‘booming’, millions of workers could have their real wages and social benefits cut, whilst being offered seemingly ‘limitless’ credit as an alternative. Many more millions of peasants, throughout the world, could be uprooted and forced to seek a ‘better life’ as transient migrant labourers. However, whenever workers and peasants made any calls for government funding to address their immediate problems, they were brusquely told by neo-liberals that this would only stall the engines of economic growth. Now, in the face of the economic crisis, which threatens the rich and powerful too, recent advocates of neo-liberalism are on the defensive, as they shamefacedly look to governments to bail out their system.

Neo-liberalism and neo-Keynesianism – the two faces of capitalism

This helps to explain the rapid rise of neo-Keynesianism, with its calls for greater government spending and state regulation of the economy. Keynesianism originally developed in the 1930’s as the ideology of the capitalist system in crisis. It became economic orthodoxy after the experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War. In 1971, the then Republican US President, Richard Nixon, could say We are all Keynesians now.

By then, the majority of capitalists were in agreement over the economic mechanisms needed to keep any economic crisis at bay. However, just as an earlier Gold Standard, free market, economic orthodoxy was dealt a fatal blow by the Stock Market Crash of 1929; and just as the recent global corporate, neo-liberalism has faced its nemesis in the 2008 Credit Crunch; so too, capitalist confidence in Keynesian panaceas came to an end in the mid-1970’s.

It had then become obvious that the maintenance of profit rates was incompatible with steadily rising wages and an expanding welfare state. Furthermore, after 1968, workers’ rising expectations led to large numbers taking strike action, and even to some workers occupying their factories, to defend and advance their interests. Squeezed between declining profits and rising class struggle, capitalism was once more under threat.

This is why big business turned to the previously marginalised, ‘free market’ economists, such as von Hayek and Friedman, to help them overcome their latest problems. These neo-liberals opposed government intervention in the economy and believed that it could be left to ‘the invisible hand’ of the market. However, it was only with the backing of the very visible hand of the state, that the ‘full freedoms’ of the market were restored. Thousands of Chilean socialists and workers were killed after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, whilst in 1980’s UK and USA, the Thatcher and Reagan led governments promoted mass unemployment and union-busting offensives to discipline the working class.

The Libertarian Right’s dream of a stateless society under the free market proved to be a utopian illusion built on the false notion that capitalism can thrive best without government interference. The application of neo-liberal policies certainly led to the cutting of government spending in the field of direct social expenditure. However, indirect taxes were increased and spending was diverted to the coercive arms of the state – the armed forces, police and judiciary – to undermine the power of the working class; or given directly to the corporations through military spending and other government contracts.

Imperialist interventions were stepped up once more, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East. Some of these had direct economic intent – to ensure corporate control over such vital assets as oil; others were demonstrations of raw ruling class power, to remind people just who was boss, and to promote favoured clients in the ‘Third World’. Even the elimination of the USSR-led ‘state socialist’ competition, after 1989, failed to reverse the rise in state expenditure in the West. ‘Free markets’ now depend on massive and continually increased government intervention and spending.

Thus, throughout the prolonged period of neo-liberal ascendancy, from 1979 to 2008, global corporations were benefiting from government promoted wars, and by military, police and security operations designed to break-up ‘communities of resistance’, thus creating pools of cheap flexible labour. Private capital also gained from the huge rip-offs of the tax-payer associated with PFI/PPP schemes; and from the state’s resort to the use of costly private agencies and overpaid consultants.

Far from renewing a ‘free market’ economy, with a much-reduced ‘night-watchman state’, the big corporations and their neo-liberal supporting politicians presided over the continued expansion of, and their dependency upon state power. ‘State capitalism’ was not confined to, nor did it end with the demise of the Soviet Union between 1989-91. It morphed into a new single global order with the definitive victory of the corporate executives over theparty bureaucrats. On a world scale, the global corporations were now the prime beneficiaries of state power.

Furthermore, the demise of the Soviet Union meant that, for a certain period, the US state, which fronted the largest collection of global corporations and had the most powerful armed forces in the world, could either pressure the ‘international’ UN to sanction wars in its interests (retrospectively, if necessary, as in Iraq), or just go it alone. After ‘9/11’, the US state also took upon itself the role of handing out ‘anti-terror licenses’ to supportive governments so they could crush their own troublesome oppositions, e.g. Israel and the Palestinians, Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Meanwhile the arms corporations in the USA, UK, Europe and Israel made billions.

Despite all their support from the state, super-confident and arrogant corporate executives opposed any public scrutiny of their activities. They pushed for the ending of all government regulation of the economy. They demanded the protection of private companies’ ‘commercial confidentiality’, even when undertaking publicly funded projects.

The net result of all this direct and indirect state assistance, combined with the lack of any meaningful public scrutiny and accountability, has been a massive switch of wealth to the ‘masters of the universe’. It also led to greatly increased incomes and perks for their supporters in the media, those they fund in various ‘educational’ institutions, and of course, for their apologists in government. So, by the 1990’s, Clinton’s Democrats and Blair’s New Labour Party could easily have said, We are all neo-liberals now.

However, the current economic crisis has shown that, even in the private, privatised and deregulated sectors of the economy, over which the corporate executives declared their complete competency, they have failed spectacularly. So now they openly demand, on top of all their earlier massive, if largely publicly unacknowledged, state support, mind-boggling financial government subventions – at our expense. This is not to be done for the wider benefit of the public, who have never figured in corporate executive concerns, but to ensure that their current staggering losses are socialised, and to restore their private profits in the future.

(Neo)-Keynesianism, national protectionism and the drive to inter-imperialist wars

As the current economic crisis deepens, even those publicly unaccountable transnational institutions, which corporate capital and its political backers have created or moulded to further their global interests – e.g. G8, IMF, World Bank, WTO, GATT, NATO and the EU – are being subjected to increased internal strains. An overstretched and badly bruised USA can no longer command automatic support for its imperial ventures – especially when they are unsuccessful. China and Russia, and possibly even the EU, or its bigger constituent states in the future, are pulling in different directions, opening up the even more dangerous prospect of inter-imperialist wars.

Faced with falling profits and the devaluation of their assets, competing national ruling classes are beginning to move away from their recent international capitalist cooperation and opt instead for ‘me first and devil take the hindmost’ policies. National neo-Keynesianism is linked to new protectionist drives, designed to uphold particular national capitalist interests, to set worker against worker, and to make future shooting wars between major imperialist powers more likely.

Furthermore, there is the chilling reality that, although several national governments pursued Keynesian policies in the 1930’s, these failed to end the Great Depression. Just prior to the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg had anticipated the choice facing humanity – Socialism or Barbarism. However, it took two world wars, with millions dead and the massive destruction of accumulated capital, to eventually give capitalism a new lease of life after 1945. Any future world war, however, brings the very real prospect of human annihilation, whilst the increased capitalist degradation of the environment adds another twist to Luxemburg’s warning. As the marxist philosopher, Istvan Mezsaros has said, the choice now lies between Socialism or Barbarism if we are lucky!

One worrying early example of the future likelihood of inter-imperialist wars has occurred since the last SSP Conference. The nasty little conflict, which emerged in South Ossetia, last August, highlighted the growing US/Russian antagonism. In this particular case, the US client government in Georgia, led by President Saakashvili, was unable to provoke the direct US intervention it sought on its behalf, despite the rapid Russian reaction to his bloody invasion of South Ossetia. The USA was too bogged down elsewhere to open up a new military front against such a dangerous adversary as Russia.

Saakashvili had to eat humble pie, as the Russian military took control of and guaranteed the ‘independence’ of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The notion that Medvedev and Putin did this for the benefit of two of the many oppressed peoples of the Caucasus would not impress many Chechenyans. Successive US governments, though, have had more success in promoting their imperial aims in the one-time Warsaw Pact countries, and even in the former Soviet Baltic states. These have been drawn into NATO.

US and Russian inter-imperial competition continues, and is now focused upon Ukraine. Its shaky coalition government has recently faced threats to Russian-supplied oil and gas deliveries. This represents a warning from the Russian state not to get any closer to the West. Yet, the lengthy Russian borderlands represent just one potential shatter zone, which could become the focus of a rapid escalation of inter-imperialist wars in the future.

Israel represents another US client state, only too eager to provoke wider wars, to provide cover for its leaders’ desire to ethnically cleanse the remaining Palestinians. During the dog days of the outgoing Bush administration, Barak Obama was keen to be seen to take initiatives to deal with the crisis-ridden American economy, but he remained silent over the Israeli invasion of Gaza. The likely formation of an even further Right Zionist government in Israel, under Netanyahu, seems only to have prompted the US government to attempt to further cripple the elected Hamas government in Gaza, under the guise of foreign aid, channelled through the US/EU/Israeli Palestinian Authority stooges.

President Obama’s new administration includes nobody even remotely connected to those misguided radicals so important to the success of his election campaign. This is because they were not so crucial to his future project – the re-branding of US imperialism – as those big business backers, who now determine the real direction of US state policy. Obama’s Cabinet now includes Republicans, Clintonites and avowed supporters of any Israel – no matter how belligerent and oppressive the government in power. He has, in effect, formed a national coalition. Obama wants to get wider international imperial assistance, after the disastrous gung-ho, go-it-alone record of Bush and his neo-liberal advisors.

After facing unforeseen resistance, Iraq is largely being given-up as bad job. Nevertheless, it has been left in a much weakened and balkanised state, unable any longer to play a role as a regional power. Where outright victory can not be achieved, then a legacy of massive destruction and dislocation has become the preferred US policy option. Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza follow the same pattern. This may still provide openings for non-state terrorist organisations to operate; but if they become troublesome, then massive all-out bombing offensives can be launched, with total disregard for the wider human consequences. Increased numbers of US troops are now being sent to a disunited Afghanistan to cause even more havoc and misery. Meanwhile preparations are being made for more draconian sanctions against Iran.

Thus, just as neo-liberalism was not merely an economic strategy, but was accompanied by massive US imperial interventions throughout the world; neither is neo-Keynesianism confined to purely economic measures. It can only lead to further imperialist wars and to increased inter-imperialist competition, with dire consequences for humanity.

Looking at the world through different SSP lenses

Our annual Conference is the time to take a close look at these latest developments, and to debate the policies needed to address the situation we face. The SSP is a broad-based socialist party, which includes different organised platforms as well as less clearly formed tendencies. Conference resolutions are a reflection of these different approaches. The fact that self-declared revolutionary socialists may often find themselves in a minority can easily be understood in today’s non-revolutionary conditions. However, as long as there is genuine democracy in the SSP, the possibility of winning members (and others) to consistent republican and communist politics remains open, in the changed circumstances of the future.

So, what are the political tendencies to be found in the SSP? After the split, overt Left nationalists have become a weaker force, with the departure of the SRSM and several former SNP members. Similarly, Left unionists are a diminished presence, with the departure of the CWI/IS, SWP, and the apparent demise of the Left Unity Platform (although one of their constituents, the Left unionist and social imperialist AWL, still has members in the SSP).

The once dominant International Socialist Movement (ISM) has fragmented, leading to the rise of a variety of Left nationalist, Old Labourist, Green Left, radical/socialist feminist, and pro-social movement, spontaneist ideas. Former ISM platform members still form the majority of the SSP leadership, but are less politically cohesive than they once were. This has allowed other politics, including republican socialist, to make headway in our party.

Although Frontline no longer considers itself to be organised platform of the SSP, in some respects this journal represents a kind of ‘Continuity ISM’, where debates between and beyond former ISM members continue. The former ISM’s international contacts were less extensive than those of the CWI, which they originally broke from, but are still valued by Frontline contributors. Perhaps the closest of these are to be found in the Australian Democratic Socialist Party/Green Left and those Fourth International members, some in the French LCR, and others grouped around the magazine Socialist Resistance in England and Wales. Socialist Resistance has replaced the SWP as the main organised grouping in the post-split Respect Renewal. Unfortunately, Respect’s leader, George Galloway, is a Left unionist. He used his Daily Record column to give support to New Labour in the Glasgow East and Glenrothes byelections. Worryingly, neither Frontline nor Socialist Resistance has publicly commented on this.

Orthodox Trotskyism claimed that nationalisation = socialism

Since the old ISM came out of the Trotskyist and CWI,/Militant traditions, it will be interesting to see how their view of the economic crisis develops. ‘Nationalisation of the top 200 companies’ was always a particular Militant shibboleth. There has been much loose talk in the media, following the effective nationalisation of several major banks by the US and UK governments. Some have even declared that, We are all socialists now.

This equation of ‘nationalisation’ with ‘socialism’ has been the hallmark, not only of neo-liberal economists, but also of official and dissident communists (or socialists as Trotskyists prefer to call themselves in the British Isles). The last vestiges of effective workers’ control of the Soviet economy had been eliminated in 1921, after the crushing of the Kronstadt Rising. After that, official and dissident communist claims that the USSR was still moving towards ‘socialism’, rested either upon the continuation of Communist Party rule, or the extension of nationalised property relations. The idea of socialism became separated from that of genuine democracy or effective workers’ control.

In the USSR, the reality was that the working class had no effective control over the economy, only the ability to passively resist top-down directives – They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. Indeed, in the West, during the highpoint of class struggle between 1968-75, workers exerted more effective influence over the private companies they worked for, than did those workers in the East over ‘their own’ so-called ‘Workers’ States’. This was because of the relative strength of workers’ organisations in the West, at that time, compared to the situation workers faced in the East, where they had no independent class organisations of their own.

We have to be on guard against any notion of ‘socialism’ that separates state control from effective workers’ and popular democratic control. Any nationalisation or large-scale government funding measures under New Labour can only be aimed at meeting the needs of Brown, Darling and Mandelson’s real class backers – the global corporations.

Therefore, all those parties, which just voted for the government bail out of the banks, behaved in the same manner as those First World War Social Democrats who voted to provide war credits for their governments. For the decision to give trillions of dollars, pounds and euros to corporate capital amounts to a declaration of war upon the working class. We are going to be called on to pay for this through a massive austerity drive and further wars.

What is socialism and communism? – The need for a widened debate in the SSP

Nick McKerrall (Frontline) has been arguing for some time, that the SSP has not yet really developed a programme, which can address the situation we face. The RCN disagrees with Nick’s advocacy of a temporary retreat from public politics, in favour of a period of internal education. We believe, not only that you can do both, but that theoretical and programmatic development stems from political practice as well as from internal party education. However, we do agree with Nick that a new SSP programme is required. To do this though, the SSP needs to undertake a serious analysis of exactly what we mean by socialism (and/or communism) and, in particular, what role we see for the state, both today and in any revolutionary transition to a new society.

This is why, following on from our well-received pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy, we intend to produce another later this year, which addresses the issue of Communism and Socialism. Istvan Mezsaros’ challenging new book, with its essay, Socialism in the Twenty First Century, makes a major contribution to the wider ongoing international debate on this largely abandoned area of theory. The RCN has also been following the interesting ideas put forward in The Commune, a new website magazine, which is also beginning to re-examine earlier ideas about what constitutes socialism/communism.

There have always been some in the SSP who hanker after the days of ‘Old Labour’ (albeit within a Scottish national framework). This is not surprising, given the historical strength of Labourism in Scotland, and the spectacular betrayals of New Labour. The sudden revival of officially sponsored Keynesianism could give some sustenance to those who claim that state ownership is inherently better than private ownership, regardless of who controls the state.

However, the renewed debate between neo-liberals and (neo)-Keynesians should be used as an opportunity to put forward a distinctive socialist challenge to both these variants of capitalist thought. If all we do is become Left Keynesians, championing the role of the capitalist state over the capitalist corporation, then this can only contribute to the rebuilding of the discredited Labour Left, and to the possible demise of the SSP. Over a decade’s hard work to create an independent socialist organisation will have gone to waste.

The political dangers of national protectionism – ‘British jobs for British workers’

If the war in South Ossetia heralded possible new inter-imperialist wars, then the politically ambiguous legacy left by the recent strike at the Lindsey oil refinery, highlights the dangers of the shift to the politics of national protectionism. The defence of hard-won national contracts for all workers, whatever their nationality, is vitally important, especially since Lord Mandelson is the main promoter of ‘drive to the bottom’ in the EU. However, the reactionary demand of ‘British jobs for British workers’ can not be glibly dismissed. The BNP may have been seen off the picket lines, but you can bet it will be their support that grows in the forthcoming EU elections, and not those of some socialist parties hailing a great victory. Furthermore, the claim that such specifically ‘British’ appeals have little purchase in Scotland, are also worrying, given the undercurrent of unionism and loyalism, which can still be found here. Union Jack caps were to be seen amongst the Grangemouth strikers.

At present, the main danger to workers in Scotland is not the BNP, but the revived credibility of such Labour Party trade union leaders as UNITE’s Derek Simpson. He jumped on to the ‘British jobs for British workers’ bandwagon to cover up his opposition to any rank and file control in the union, and to smother the recent exposes of his privileged fat-cat lifestyle, paid for by union members. It was the Broad Left leaders of UNITE who undermined earlier militant strike action by Heathrow cleaners – but they were largely Asian women workers.

There has also been the attempt by Bob Crow of the Broad Left led RMT to play the ‘British workers’ card. He is trying to form a ‘No2EU’ electoral challenge in the forthcoming Euro-elections, with a platform defending ‘British democracy’ and opposing ‘social dumping’, i.e. migrant workers. Much of this could be accepted by the anti-EU UKIP.

The only significant strike in the last year in Scotland was that conducted by Grangemouth refinery workers to defend their pensions. Their success was linked to their key role in the economy, and has not been repeated by other workers whose pensions are under attack. Although there have been other strikes, involving civil servants and post office workers, these have been the token one day strikes used by trade union bureaucrats to let off steam. This perhaps explains the lack of motions this year to Conference addressing industrial struggle.

Broad Left versus Rank and File

Broad Leftism, however, remains the dominant industrial strategy pushed by the SSP leadership. In this there has been little movement from the old Militant tradition. Broad Leftism sees the main job of socialists in the unions as being to try and replace Rightwing leaders with Left wing leaders, through winning leading posts within the union bureaucracy. The underlying problem with this strategy is highlighted by the appearance of new Broad Left campaigns to replace old Broad Left leaders who have themselves become the new Right.

The alternative Rank and File approach, advocated by the RCN, represents an industrial republican approach. We see union sovereignty lying not in the union HQs, but in the collective memberships in their workplaces. Socialists should not accept the union bureaucrats’ right to dismiss workers’ own actions as ‘unofficial’. When such activity occurs, this amounts to independent workers’ action. When action is extended by means of mass picketing, it should still remain under the effective control of the workers involved. Elected officials, on the average pay of the members they represent, should service not control rank and file union members.

Furthermore, there are now large swathes of non-unionised workers in the country. A debate needs to be opened up in the SSP about the possibility of building additional, new, independent rank and file controlled unions. Too often, socialists can become mere recruiting sergeants for the existing cynical dues-pocketing bureaucrats, who offer no real support to their new members. Here, the experience of the Independent Workers Union in Ireland could be valuable. Ireland is a country where trade unionists have been hamstrung, since 1987, by the bureaucrats’ support for social partnerships with the government and employers.

As with Derek Simpson’s posturing, we should also be on the look-out for other moves to hoodwink workers, who are increasingly questioning union leaders’ near total commitment to New Labour and ‘social partnership’. We could well be told that, We are all in this crisis together, and that ‘our’ union leaders intend to push for more widely-based ‘worker participation schemes’, so that our concerns can be aired. Remember, the irregular conjugation of the verb ‘to participate’ in government/corporate speak – I participate; you participate; he and she participates; we participate; you participate, but – They decide.

The real importance of trade unions is that they are a key part of working class self-organisation – well, when they are not the playthings of privileged officials, or instruments in the hands of the governments and employers, that is. We can exert no meaningful control over the wider economy and society if we have no effective control over our own organisations. So the strengthening of independent working class organisations is the most pressing task of all in the current crisis. It will be necessary to return to the Broad Left versus Rank and File debate in the SSP.

Socialist unity can not be divorced from ‘internationalism from below’ in these islands

If motions addressing industrial struggle are absent from the Conference agenda, a call for socialist unity has come from Renfrewshire branch. This, however, is largely confined to Scotland, with a nod and a wink to certain developments in England and Wales – such as the Convention of the Left and the RMT initiative. However, the geographical scope of this motion doesn’t cover the full extent of the UK state, which also includes the ‘Six Counties’. Nor does it address the problem of the shared British and Irish governments’ promotion of the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’. Together these policies are designed to maintain the best political framework for the corporations’ profitable operations in these islands. This common ruling class strategy has the backing of the British, Scottish and Welsh TUCs, and the Irish CTU. They are all locked into the ‘social partnerships’, which have turned union leaders into a free personnel management service for the employers.

Since 1992, the ‘Peace Process’, originally pioneered under Major’s government, has enjoyed shared Tory/Labour support. This reflects the widespread British (and Irish) ruling class agreement, in the face of their pressing need to pacify and reassert control over the republican ‘communities of resistance’ in the ‘Six Counties’. The disillusionment with the lack of any real ‘peace dividend’ has contributed to the re-emergence of physical force republicanism, with the killing of two British soldiers and a local PSNI officer by dissident republicans. In the absence of a wider political and social movement, such actions can only lead to further demoralisation and increased state repression.

It had already become clear that ‘British normality’had not been established in the ‘Six Counties’. Nevertheless, the UK government is now sufficiently in control that current Labour/Tory bipartisan support is fraying, as both parties develop their own strategies to preserve the Union in the face of the wider challenges.

Significantly, the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists have decided to form their own alliance to contest the next UK General Election. This represents the emergence of a new distinct and potentially dangerous Rightist strategy. The UUP is still heavily coloured by Protestant sectarianism, with many members active in the Orange Order. As yet, even after 87 years of the ‘Six County’ statelet and the UUP’s existence, it has not fielded even a single ‘Castle Catholic’ parliamentary candidate. This should be a wake-up call to the SSP, when Conservatives look for support in Scotland for their alliance with the UUP.

In the past, sections of the SSP, still influenced by the Militant’s old Left unionist traditions, were unable to make the distinction between the Irish republican struggle to end political and religious sectarianism, breaking the link with the UK, and the Ulster loyalists’ defence of Protestant privilege and the British Union. This was all dismissed as a ‘war between two tribes’. Gordon Brown’s call for ‘British jobs for British workers’ has been widely condemned for playing into the BNP’s hands. Now that the Conservatives want to give new life to Right Unionism in Scotland, it won’t only be the BNP who are given succour, but those supporters of the even more dangerous loyalist death squads, currently lying low over here.

Real headway has been made in the SSP over adopting a republican socialist strategy to break-up the UK and to end Irish partition, as opposed to a Left nationalist strategy for Scotland only. Nevertheless, the latter notion still enjoys some influential support in our party. The SSP initiated Calton Hill Declaration of October 9th, 2004, and the Republican Socialist Convention held last November 29th, were significant landmarks in the development of socialist republicanism. However, in the face of new reactionary pressures, we will need to stand firm in our commitment to democratic republicanism and to an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance with socialists in Ireland, Wales and England.

Such a strategy will be needed, not only to confront Unionism in all its forms, but to make any meaningful moves towards socialism in these islands. The failure of the ‘Peace Process’ to create ‘British normality’ in the ‘Six Counties’, along with the spectacular demise of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economic model, now offer socialists a real opportunity to put forward our alternative to both the unionists and the nationalists, if we can clearly see what is at stake.

The SNP retreats – the Republican Socialist Convention shows the way forward

The Republican Socialist Convention also drew the attention of visiting socialist republicans in England, Ireland and Wales to the political significance of the centrepiece policy of the SNP-led Scottish Executive – a referendum on Scotland’s independence. Although the various unionist parties have been quick to see the possible dangers this represents to the future of the UK, there has hardly been any discussion about this amongst the British Left. Their supporters in Scotland have probably put the issue to the very back of their minds, now that the economic crisis has taken the wind out of the SNP’s sails.

The SNP’s ‘independence’ project was based on the backing of key sectors of the Scottish business community, and tied to continued capitalist economic growth, led by a lightly-regulated Scottish-based finance sector. Indeed the Royal Bank of Scotland’s document, Wealth Creation in Scotland, provided the economic underpinning for the SNP’s proposed mild social democratic measures.

Alex Salmond, once keen to be seen in the company of the likes of Sir George Mathewson, now keeps his distance – at least in public. Whether Donald Trump’s proposed new business venture in Aberdeenshire survives the crisis remains to be seen. However, other SNP big business backers such as Brian Souter, Sir Tom Farmer and Donald Macdonald recently demanded to meet Salmond. Soon afterwards, the SNP’s other flagship policy, the abolition of the council tax, was dropped. It probably won’t be long before the independence referendum is abandoned too, in favour of the more ‘realistic’ ‘Devolution-max’ proposals emanating from the British unionists’ Calman Commission, which the SNP once scorned.

The RCN has long predicted that the SNP would fall fully into line with other constitutional nationalist parties, such as the Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence, the Basque National Party (PNV) and now ‘New’ Sinn Fein too (after taking ministerial office in her majesty’s Stormont government and voting in the Dail for government bailout of the Irish banks). An SNP, now holding office, will follow these constitutional nationalist parties in opting for gradual political reforms acceptable to the major imperial powers, the global corporations, and in particular, to their respective national business communities. The SNP’s recent, openly declared support for the British monarchy is a clear indicator of the very cautious road they have adopted. It also shows us exactly whose support they are courting.

If the SSP is to make its policy of the break-up of the imperial and unionist UK a reality, this means an end to tail-ending the SNP in such organisations as Independence First and the Scottish Constitutional Convention. These organisations are completely tied to the SNP leadership’s rate of movement – which could very soon be in a reverse direction. The precedent of the successful Calton Hill Declaration, and the new links to Ireland, Wales and England, made through the Republican Socialist Convention, offer the best basis for a campaign of radical constitutional and social change.

There has been general agreement within the SSP that any intervention in an ‘independence referendum’ campaign would be accompanied by clearly articulated economic and social measures, which would point to the type of society that we would want to help create. The fact that a Scottish Executive launched referendum is looking more unlikely does not lessen our need to develop a programme with such policies. Indeed the current crisis of capitalism makes it even more imperative, since it will increase the strains upon the Union.

Two things should be clear though – any calls the SSP makes for government intervention should be coupled with the demand for increased democratic control. Indeed, it is the republican demand for greater democracy, and not the nationalist desire to paint more British unionist institutions tartan, that should inform our campaign for political independence. Secondly, we can’t afford to confine such a campaign to Scotland. The various unionist parties are quite capable of whipping up British chauvinist feeling within the various countries constituting the UK, whilst warning an Irish government, which will be only too keen to comply, to keep its nose out.

The need for wider international contacts and campaigns

The ongoing economic crisis has created divisions amongst the leaders of the EU. We can take some cheer from the massive students and workers’ struggles, which emerged in Greece, and the mass strike action in France. The ‘unofficial’/independentworkers’ occupation at Waterford Glass has also given the trade union bureaucrats such a nasty jolt, that it has even prodded the Irish CTU into action. They called the massive 120,000 strong, Dublin demonstration on February 21st. Significantly, the wildcat actions of those fighting for ‘British jobs for British workers’, has not been seen by the TUC to represent a similar threat. The TUC and STUC remain bogged down in complacent inertia, pleased to hear a few sympathetic remarks from such government ministers as Alan Johnson and Peter Hain.

However, mounting resistance elsewhere will not stop European capitalists from trying to offload the cost of the current crisis on to workers’ shoulders. They are still trying to revive the neo-liberal Lisbon Treaty. Their attempt to browbeat the Irish into overturning their clear ‘No’ vote last year, should be met by an international campaign to back rejection once again. We hope that our Irish comrades in the Irish Socialist Network and Fourthwrite will consider seeking such support.

Unfortunately, the still divided European (and worldwide) Left is a long way from creating the new International we need to properly meet current challenges. This is one reason why the SSP must participate more fully in those wider international initiatives that do exist. To this end, the RCN has brought the formation of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, along with the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance (EACA), to the attention of Conference. We also offer a suggestion on how to improve their election platform for the forthcoming Euro-election.

Hopefully, the South Edinburgh SSP motion, which also advocates being part of the joint EACA campaign in the forthcoming Euro-elections, will also be adopted by Conference. Support for such policies would highlight the SSP’s active participation, alongside other European socialists, in promoting international solutions to counter the austerity and war-mongering drives being promoted by European capitalists, and by the Union Jack chauvinists of the BNP, UKIP, the Tories and sections of the Labour Party, as well as showing those SNP supporters committed to genuine independence that this can not be achieved on the coat-tails of the likes of Matthewson, Souter, et al. The purpose of the SSP is not to represent the interests solely of Scottish workers, but to act as an organisation representing all workers living and working in Scotland, whatever their nationality. This can only be achieved successfully in an active international alliance with others.

Despite the depth of the current crisis, capitalism could still yet be given new life, in a more barbaric form, and at the expense of the vast majority of working people. However, we shouldn’t underestimate its capacity, though, to bring about our complete extinction through nuclear war or man-made environmental catastrophe. Only socialists can offer an alternative future for humanity and the Earth. This is the bold challenge the SSP has to face up to at its 2009 Annual Conference.

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Aug 04 2002

Unfinished Business: 11 September, one year on

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 1:30 pm

Twelve months after the attacks on New York & Washington, Nick Clarke examines what their impact has been internationally

It is now one year since two passenger jets were piloted into the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, while another was diverted into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. The images of the attack were broadcast around the world, having a profound and disturbing effect. The fact that they were continuously played and replayed on national television added to the heightened sense of shock and foreboding of what was to follow. The Republican Communist Network, like many on the left, opposed these attacks. Our pamphlet September 11th and The War after the War put those events in context and explained why. It concluded with an assessment of what it would mean for global politics and particularly for the left in the UK and internationally. It is important to collate what has happened in those 12 months; what has the effect been on global politics and the anti-imperialist and revolutionary left. We need to be alert to immediate, and longer term, imperialist threats, and to develop our response.

In recent months, the imperialist alliance between Bush and Blair has succeeded in shifting the political and media focus away from Afghanistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Instead they are concentrating on how to rid Iraq of the usual Western scapegoat Saddam Hussein and his Baathist dictatorship in Baghdad. From the very outset the US was determined to link, no matter how spuriously, the September 11 attacks and al-Qaeda with Saddam, but none of their accusations held any credibility. In fact, prior to 9/11, the CIA probably had more contact with the Taliban than the Iraqi leadership. The US also tried to blame al-Qaeda and Saddam for the outbreak of anthrax attacks that swept across America almost a year ago. Now the evidence points to someone working at Fort Dettrick, the top secret US biological weapons establishment. Most of the briefings coming out of Washington are not about whether there will be a substantial attack on Iraq, but when and how. As a result of Blair’s determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush and the US, he has been publicly parroting the same line. However, it is clear that opposition to war with Iraq is appearing in military and ruling circles. Before dealing in any more depth with the imminent situation regarding Iraq, what has the War on Terror meant in the last 12 months?

What Bush’s New World Order and the ‘Coalition against terrorism’ have meant is the proliferation of state sponsored terrorism around the world. It has legitimised and sponsored the use of official death squads to eliminate internal opposition in all parts of the globe. Whereas before such activity was kept under wraps and the preserve of the darkest dictatorships or murky black ops teams, now we have those same dictators, along with democratically elected governments around the world in every continent, proudly and publicly announcing military action against their own citizens or their neighbours. Bush’s justification for carpet bombing Afghanistan and pursuing regime change in that impoverished divided country has allowed Russia to use the same tactics against the Chechens, India against the Kashmiris, Colombia against the FARC and of course Israel against the Palestinians. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given permission for US Special Forces to use lethal force in countries the US is not at war with. He has also sanctioned the boarding and searching of suspicious (sic) vessels in international waters.

So what has happened in the past year?

Afghanistan

The Taliban, the stooges of two US allies (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), were driven from power in Afghanistan by a combination of US carpet bombing, hi-tech surveillance and Northern Alliance forces on the ground. After years of warlordism and the Taliban, ordinary Afghans hoped things would change. What has replaced it? Hamid Karzai’s US-sponsored coalition government was formally endorsed by the Loya Jirga in June. The situation on the ground seems to be as volatile as ever. Tribal and ethnic warlords police their people, while vying for power and influence. The real scope of Karzai’s power goes little further than Kabul. Symbolic of the lack of unity and trust in his coalition government is his decision to replace his Afghan bodyguards with US Special Forces, following the killing of other government ministers.

If reports are to be believed then the main targets of the US, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, are still alive and active. So that’s one of the Coalition’s goals not achieved. This is a double-edged sword for the US. On the one hand eliminate them and claim victory. On the other keep them, and their myth, alive. This justifies US forces patrolling the world, stamping their imperialist prejudices and values with the alibi of making pre-emptive strikes against potential terrorists and enemies of the United States.

The view from Afghanistan is that the US and its local agents are rapidly losing any popularity that they had in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Promised international aid for the country’s reconstruction has been very slow in coming. Combine this with the rising collateral damage inflicted through continuing attacks on Afghan civilians and villages by US forces, and the post- Taliban euphoria and goodwill is draining away. The routine intimidation, humiliation and interrogation of Afghans by American forces continues. In June, the bombing of a wedding party in Uruzam killed 55. No wonder the backlash has started as Americans come under attack almost every night.

Palestine

Israel continues its ruthless occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Even the independent Bantustans, created by Oslo, have been shown to be worthless. The Israeli-biased Oslo agreement is dead. The US, with Israel’s goading, is attempting to get Arafat replaced, as the leader of the Palestinians. Although this is likely to backfire on them. While the US is unilaterally prepared to go to war with Iraq over a flagrant breach of UN resolutions, it positively condones and connives in Israel’s flouting of 30-year-old UN resolutions. Such hypocrisy is breathtaking. The last few months have thrown up example after example of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people: the attack on the Jenin refugee camp, the use of civilians as human shields by the IDF, continual destruction of civilian housing, the routine killing, maiming and brutalisation of Palestinian children, the daily assassination of militants and the exiling of relatives of militants. The list is endless.

At the end of July a 1 tonne missile dropped from an F16 into a residential area of Gaza City, killed 15 and wounded 145. Their target was Salah Shehada, the leader of Hamas’ military wing. The other casualties were just the collateral damage that the US and Israel tolerate, as long as they are Palestinian bodies and not Jewish or American. Sharon bragged that the operation as one of the great successes, stating that Israel cannot reach any compromise with terror; terror must be fought. As the worldwide condemnations of these Israeli actions started to fly, so even the US was sceptical of the shrewdness of this attack. Sharon, the butcher of the refugee camps and the racist leader of an apartheid state, had to apologise for the loss of life. However, this apology was small price to pay for his achievement in destroying a ceasefire that was about to be announced. It had been brokered by, amongst others, EU diplomats, who had got a commitment from the secular wing of the Palestinian liberation movement (the Tanzim militia and the Al Aqsa brigades) to stop using suicide bombers against Israeli cities. Even Hamas stated, before the missile was dropped, that they would do likewise if Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza and stopped targeting civilians. The F16 relies on components supplied from the UK, indirectly to Israel, via the US. Therefore the British government are complicit in these indiscriminate attacks on residential areas. Did anybody really believe Robin Cook, Blair’s first foreign minister, when he laid out the principles of Labour’s ethical foreign policy?

Since September 11 there is no pretence. Jack Straw, Cook’s replacement, does not even bother to try and throw up a smokescreen on this issue. At the height of the recent India-Pakistan tension he was happy to encourage British arms producers to supply the latest military equipment to either, or preferably both, sides – more profit to be made. British arms sales to Israel in the last two years have been £22.5 million – double what they were before the start of the current intifada.

Truth is the first casualty?

Objectivity in reporting and analysis is another casualty of the Twin Tower attacks. Journalists of the calibre of John Pilger, and Robert Fisk are rare gems in the reams and reams of mediocrity and the lazy parroting of government press releases and prejudiced conviction. Murder bombers seems to be the newly-spun term for suicide bombers. While not condoning the use of suicide bombers, it is important to understand the despair, the hopelessness, the alienation that drives young men and women to such ends. At least Cherie Blair tried to show some understanding of the issue and was widely condemned for expressing her thoughts. Steve Earle, the US rock musician, has recently released a song called John Walker Blues, which tries to give some understanding to the actions of the American Taliban, who was captured at Mazar-I-Sharif. Walker has been more vilified than Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed hundreds of Americans. There have been threats of organising a boycott of any radio station that dares play Earle’s song.

Spain

Another attack on opposition and dissent has been taken up in Spain. Echoing the British government’s gagging of Sinn Fein in the 1980s, as well as Franco’s oppression of the Basques, the Spanish government has banned Batasuna, the most radical of the Basque nationalist parties, because of their alleged links with ETA. In June, a law was passed outlawing parties deemed to be actively supporting terrorism. At the end of August, the Supreme Court suspended the party’s activities for 3 years: closing its offices, banning demos and rallies. This is a party that has almost 1,000 elected representatives at various levels.

Colombia

In Colombia Alvaro Uribe, the newly-installed, right wing president, is one of Bush’s newest and enthusiastic recruits to the War against Terrorism. Their joint aim, with the help of right wing paramilitaries, is to crush the FARC army, which controls large areas of the country and number at least 17,000, and the smaller ELN. Their strength, and threat to the Colombian government, was highlighted by their disruption of the new president’s inauguration ceremony, causing a great deal of embarrassment to Uribe and Bush. In standing shoulder to shoulder with Uribe, Bush has lifted restrictions on £1 billion of military aid from the US to Colombia, which was initially earmarked for the War on Drugs, to pay for the Colombian War on Terror and has pledged more if Colombia increases its own military spending. On August 13, the new president announced a state of internal commotion (emergency), an additional 3,000 elite troops, 10,000 new police and a million strong militia who will act as informers, in an effort to defeat the FARC. No doubt US arms manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee, knowing they will be at the front of the queue when new weapons contracts are handed out.

Colombia is also willing to play its part in the co-ordinated discrediting of anti-imperialist and liberation movements across the world. Following the arrest last year of three Irish men in Colombia accused of training the FARC, Luis Osorio, Colombia’s prosecutor general, has blamed the IRA for hundreds of deaths in the country. Sinn Fein has condemned his accusations as a disgrace, and Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein’s national chairman, has questioned whether the three can get a fair trial in Colombia. Very unlikely I would think. It seems as if the concept of a fair trial is becoming a thing of the past, as the Western bourgeois democracies suspend established civil rights and encourage, collaborate and pander to their totalitarian allies. There are a number of examples of the US delivering al-Qaeda and terrorist suspects to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, on the understanding that they will use torture to extract information and confessions from such hostages, which will then be passed back to the US. Thus minimising the US‘s direct human rights’ abuses, but getting the required confessions!

Venezuela

Venezuela has also received the unwelcome attentions of Bush’s administration. In April, a military coup led by the country’s business elite, with the backing of the US, overthrew the elected president Hugo Chavez. However within 48 hours Chavez was reinstated through the mass mobilisation of the country’s poor. The coup started with a protest organised by the country’s business federation, demanding the reinstatement of the pro-US management at the country’s state-owned oil company. A confrontation between the demonstrators and Chavez supporters, set up by the coup leaders, gave them the opportunity they wanted. As snipers opened fire on both sets of protestors, General Vasquez announced on TV that the military had taken over, claiming that Chavez supporters had opened fire on an unarmed crowd, and to give the coup legitimacy claimed that Chavez had resigned. Within hours, Pedro Carmona, head of the country’s confederation of business and industry, an oilman, had been installed as president. His first acts were to suspend elections and laws regulating big business, he dissolved the elected national assembly and the Supreme Court, at the same time declaring a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law. To the delight of the foreign oil companies, big business and the big plantation owners he scrapped 49 laws regulating big business. Following the mobilisation of the masses in huge street demonstrations and serious splits in the armed forces, 36 hours later Chavez was restored to the presidency. Carmona’s US sponsored government had been crushed.

Venezuela is a key supplier of oil to the US, and therefore its stability is vital. Linked with this is Chavez’ willingness to supply oil to Cuba, his opposition to both the free trade agenda of the World Trade Organisation, and the attempt by the US to draw South America even further under its economic control. It is not difficult to find the White House’s fingerprints all over this failed coup. Senior officials in the US government with experience of the Central American dirty wars of the 1980s include John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich.

These events illustrate the lengths that the US is prepared to go to prevent a critic such as Chavez from challenging their world view and economic interests. So the lesson for more and more countries around the world is that you can have a democracy but only if it coincides with US imperialist interests.

Russia

At the end of August Russian helicopters bombed villages in northern Georgia while trying to attack Chechen separatist fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. Their targets allegedly have links with al-Qaeda. So how did the White House respond: Ari Fleischer its spokesman, stated The US regrets the loss of life and deplores the violation of sovereignty he was deeply concerned about credible reports that Russian military aircraft indiscriminately bombed villages…resulting in the killing of civilians. The hypocrisy of such comments defies belief. What about Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Venezuela, Somalia, Panama, Grenada, Cuba, Vietnam…the list is endless. The harshness of the condemnation might also have had something to do with revenge for the recent signing of a large trade agreement between Russia and Iraq. Back to the Bush administration’s main focus on the War on Terror: Iraq. As with most of Bush’s policy initiatives he tends to open his mouth without thinking. He is committed to regime change in Baghdad.

Iraq

At present there is quite a debate going on amongst the higher echelons of government and the military both in Britain and the US. Bush states that America is prepared to go to war with Iraq alone. It does not need UN resolutions or an international coalition. Bush, with his eager and vociferous hawks, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, believe that the USA, as the world’s only superpower can thunder around the world, like a rogue elephant, imposing its will in any hemisphere or region it chooses, irrespective of international mandates, clear war aims or the chaos and carnage that results. However some caution is being sounded in some unexpected quarters and must go someway to showing the unease in a substantial section of the American ruling class to Bush’s warmongering. The following Republican Party heavyweights have made comments suggesting they are against unilateral US action to overthrow Saddam: James Baker, George Bush senior’s Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, Baker’s successor and Brent Scowcroft, Bush senior’s National Security Advisor, the current Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Norman Swarzkopf. In Britain, while Tony Blair publicly supports the Bush plan, opposition is growing. This includes significant sections of the government, the Labour Party, the military and public opinion polls: Robin Cook, Margaret Becket, Douglas Hurd, Clare Short, former chief of the defence staff, Lord Bramall and a large number of back bench MPs. Most importantly though is the swelling anti-war mood on the streets. In recent weeks there has been conjecture as to whether Blair will allow a debate in the Parliament, before any commitment of British troops to a war against Iraq. Under the Royal Prerogative, Blair, as Prime Minister, has powers that mean he neither needs to consult his cabinet nor parliament before declaring war. Internationally, apart from the Australian government (who have already pledged troops), most countries oppose unilateral, precipitative US action. In the words of Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, If you (US) strike at the Iraqi people because of one or two individuals and leave the Palestinian issue unsolved not a single Arab ruler will be able to curb popular sentiments.

There might be repercussions and we fear a state of disorder and chaos may prevail in the region.

Mubarak, considered one of the most pro-Western Arab leaders, spoke for most rulers in the region. King Abdullah of Jordan delivered a similar message to Bush in his summer visit to the White House. Pakistan’s Musharaf, an early convert to the War on Terror, warned against a unilateral US attack. Saudi Arabia is saying that Saddam should be dealt with diplomatically. These are all Usfriendly leaders. Their opposition to an attack is based primarily on the popular revolt such US aggression would unleash in their own states, against their despotic regimes.

It is not just the Middle East where official opposition is public. Many European leaders, including Chirac and Shroeder, see the danger of a US attack on Iraq without the fig leaf of a UN resolution. Even prior to any new Gulf War, Iraq is already devastated. Ten years of sanctions have meant premature death to more than a million Iraqis, due to lack of food, good quality water, medical supplies and drugs. Then there also the massive rise in numbers of cancer sufferers, brought on by the huge quantity of depleted uranium ammunition used by the coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf war. This spent, contaminated ammunition still pollutes the towns and cities of Iraq and is responsible for much illness. Due to the sanctions, the Iraqis cannot clean up these radioactive killers.

The role of communists, socialists and the international revolutionary left must be to build a mass, working class movement against imperialist aggression – military, economic and political. Here in Britain, it is not enough just to oppose and rail against Bush and US imperialism, the main focus has to be our own ruling class and its complicity with the New World Order. A mass movement has to be built in Britain, in Europe and worldwide to prevent the ruling classes in all states from engaging in such state terrorism in our name. Neither Washington, London nor Baghdad. It is not enough just to be against such aggression. The bottom line is that capitalism in its imperialist stage cannot act in any other way. It has to be replaced. We have to develop a positive, communist alternative. An alternative based on an emancipation from exploitation and a liberation from oppression, where humanity can really call itself civilised.

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