Sep 22 2017

WHAT’S BEHIND THE ESCALATING CONFLICT BETWEEN THE USA AND NORTH KOREA

Category: Russia and ex-USSR,US imperialismRCN @ 1:48 pm

Below we are posting an analysis of the North Korean state, written by Mike McNair, first posted at:-  http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1170/not-enforcing-juche/ 

 

NOT ENFORCING JUCHE

 

On September 11 the United Nations security council adopted a new set of sanctions against North Korea (formally the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), with the aim of forcing an end to its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development. These are extended from the very extensive, already-existing sanctions, and now ban North Korean textile exports and the sale of natural gas to the country. But they are substantially less that the United States’ original proposals, which would have banned all exports of petroleum products to North Korea, imposed a full naval blockade, and authorised the use of force to enforce this blockade (1). Donald Trump said on September 11 that the new sanctions are “nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” (2).
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Aug 17 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 3

 

This is the third part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. The first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/and the second part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/11/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy-part-2/

 

3. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNISM

AND A POLITICS BASED ON EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF DETERMINATION

 

Contents of part 3

 a.     The limits placed on social democracy during a crisis of global capitalism

 b.     From revolutionary democratic social democracy to existing state-accommodating reformist social  democracy

 c.     A further shift in the meaning of social democracy; the brief emergence of an alternative revolutionary democratic communism; and the descent to state-backed official communism and dissident communism

 d.     Social democracy and official communism morph into social neo-liberalism

 e.     From social liberalism to populism

 

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a.     The limits placed on social democracy during a crisis of global capitalism

i.       We are living through a period of unprecedented global crisis – political, economic, social, and cultural. This means that ideas will be tested continuously. A democratic party used on the exploited and oppressed will have people from a whole number of tendencies – communist (as outlined 2.f.iii), republican socialist, social democratic, movementist, green socialist, socialist feminist, environmental, etc. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 3”

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Aug 11 2017

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

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

 

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

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

INTERNATIONALISM FROM ABOVE

 

Contents of Part 2

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

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

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

 d.     Autonomous organisations

e.      International organisation

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

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

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

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Apr 07 2017

SOME OBSERVATIONS UPON ‘THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND’

Allan Armstrong makes some observations on The Commonwealth of England written by Steve Freeman (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/04/07/the-commonwealth-of-england/). He examines the likely role that federalism will play in IndyRef2, drawing on the historical precedents for its use in the UK and USSR.

 

SOME OBSERVATIONS UPON THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND

There is a great deal I agree with in Steve’s article. In a later contribution to this discussion I would like to develop Steve’s historic analysis, going back to the days of the Levellers, through the Chartists and on to the Suffragettes. However, in these observations, I will confine myself to the issue of federalism.

The politics of federalism, whenever it has been raised within the UK, has always represented a last ditch unionist attempt to preserve the UK. The political origins of the idea of British federalism go back to the first attempts to hold together the British Empire in North America, when faced by the challenge of American republicanism. It failed. A federal UK has been Liberal Party policy for over a century, with no obvious effect on the UK constitution. The challenge of Irish republicanism and the War of Independence from 1919, led to a Westminster Speakers’ Conference. This recommended a federal solution for the UK. It too failed. Although the UK state did instead, after Loyalist pogroms and reactionary Partition, come up with the earliest form of political Devolution in the UK – Stormont. No wonder it was difficult for others later to win support for devolution in Scotland and Wales, when Stormont formed the precedent!
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Apr 07 2016

THE CENTENARY OF THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

As part of our celebration the 1916 Easter Rising, we are posting two new articles.  The first is by Allan Armstrong (RCN), and addresses Lenin’s response to in his Irish Rebellion of 1916 (which is also posted). The second comes from the latest issue of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) and looks at the situation in Ireland today, 100 years after the Rising.

 

1. LENIN AND THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916

The Dublin GPO during the 1916 Rising, painted by Robert Ballagh

 

In the midst of the First World War, following the Dublin 1916 Easter Rising, Lenin returned to the issue of national self-determination. He had already addressed this at the beginning of the year in The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination. Immediately before the Rising, he had also gone on to write The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up.
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Apr 03 2015

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION

On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in England, Richard Barbrook calls for a new debate on the conception of citizenship.

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

Richard Barbrook, lecturer at University of Westminster

 

“Government founded… on a system of universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man … interests not particular individuals, but nations, in its progress, and promises a new era to the human race.”

Tom Paine, Rights of Man

 

In the second decade of the 21st century, citizenship is defined not just by the people being able to choose the political leadership of their nation through regular elections, but also by the legal protection of their human rights, such as media freedom, personal privacy, fair trials and religious toleration. Enshrined in both national constitutions and international treaties, these democratic precepts ensure that individual citizens can express their views and campaign for causes without fear of persecution or discrimination. Yet, when they were first codified during the 17th and 18th centuries’ modernising revolutions which overthrew aristocratic and priestly despotism in Western Europe and North America, these fundamental freedoms were initially restricted to a minority of the population: white male property-owners. Despite the universalist rhetoric of the English 1689 Bill of Rights, the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the USA’s 1791 Bill of Rights, men without property, all women and the African slaves who were property remained outside their constitutional protection. In this pioneering liberal iteration, political and civil freedom was founded upon economic exploitation. Human rights were the privilege of the few not the emancipation of the many.

Continue reading “DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: FROM LIBERAL PRIVILEGE TO DEMOCRATIC EMANCIPATION”

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Mar 06 2014

SECULARISM, SOCIALISM AND RELIGION

The issue of secularism was discussed at the RCN weekend away in Fife on 22nd February. Allan Armstrong introduced the session using the presentation he had made to Edinburgh RIC. The following discussion extended beyond the scope of the introductory talk, and brought up issues which Bob Goupillot had written about when the RCN was a platform in the SSP. Below, is an updated version of this, first published in Emancipation & Liberation, no 14, Spring 2007.

th-4 

A Marxist understanding of religion

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

 Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Marx understood the religious impulse to be a human response to a world that is sometimes scary, terrifying and out of our control.  Thus the religions of hunter-gatherer people focus on asserting control over their prey animals, the religious festivals of farming peoples focus on marking the passing seasons and placating the gods and goddesses of the earth and sky.  Religion is a human, spiritual response to an uncertain world.

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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

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’. Eventhe 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 thedeparture 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, 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 all 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 torepresent 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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Jul 25 2002

Hooray for Hollywood

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 9:42 pm

Steve Kaczynski looks at September 11, Hollywood and the portrayal of war and terrorism

The cinema, like other forms of entertainment and the media, is a powerful means of reflecting what goes on in society. It, like other forms of entertainment and the media, is also used by the powers that be to shape public perceptions in ways congenial to the ruling class. Hollywood and politics, at this point, is essentially the same system; it’s the monolithic corporate state. (Oliver Stone, quoted in the Spring 2002 issue of the US film magazine Cineaste, p.64.) And the system exerts its influence not just economically and politically, but culturally as well.

This article will examine how this has been done in America, with specific reference to events since September 11. But to start with, it cannot yet be said that September 11 has seen a dramatic change in American cinema and the way its movies portray foreign politics, especially with regard to the Middle East. This is, in part, because the destruction of the World Trade Center and the damage to the Pentagon happened only seven months ago. Films often take as much as two years to go through all the steps from conception in the mind of a screenwriter to their ultimate appearance on the screen at a multiplex near you. So in the Spring 2002, it is simply too early to say whether S11 will trigger a dramatic change in US films. Before I return to this subject, I want to devote some time to examine how cinema has been used to shape public perceptions, especially but not exclusively in the USA.

While this aspect of the cinema being used to influence the public never goes away in peacetime, it is particularly relevant in times of war or special stress. The USA entered World War I in 1917, a relatively late date, but the US path to the Western Front was smoothed by various films portraying the barbarity of the Hun.

Cinema used for propaganda

The Second World War saw cinema used for propaganda by all the belligerent countries. Nazi cinema showed The Eternal Jew, which compared Jews literally to rats, and contributed to dehumanising them so that their extermination would spark as few protests as possible. Meanwhile in Hollywood, especially after America entered the war, movies played their part in keeping the home fires burning. Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, is reported to have admired the 1942 American film Casablanca as an expert piece of enemy propaganda.

After the war the American film industry could hardly escape the consequences of the cold war. The HUAC imprisoned some communists or excommunists who had been active in Hollywood, and drove many more out of the industry or into foreign exile. Studios made anticommunist films, generally of poor quality, and partly as a guarantee that the HUAC and similar bodies would leave them alone. When the Korean War broke out, it was reflected in Hollywood’s output.

John Ford’s 1951 film, This is Korea! , has appalling footage of napalm, no less horrifying for having been staged in part. Over one scene with a flame-thrower the commentary (read by John Wayne) simply says: ‘Burn ‘em out, cook ‘em, fry ‘em.’
Korea: The Unknown War, Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Viking, 1988, p.166.

The favourite villain of Hollywood tended to be reds of one kind or another, up until the latter half of the 1980s. However, a recurrent problem of using entertainment as propaganda is that it has to remain entertainment. This to some extent limits the capacity to use them as propaganda tools to make people see the world the way the government and ruling class want. People go to see films in large part for escapism, not necessarily to be told what to think. For example, it is noticeable that Hollywood tended to avoid overtly portraying the Vietnam War while it was actually going on. The main Vietnam film during that period was John Wayne’s The Green Berets, made in the late 1960s, and it did poorly at the box office and was savaged by just about every critic who was to the left of J. Edgar Hoover. The film MASH, which came out in 1970, cast a cynical eye on the Korean War, though it was often seen as a coded reference to Vietnam. This lack of a clear propaganda message (despite attempts by the government to influence the industry in that direction) reflects the real confusion and revulsion engendered by the Vietnam conflict in
US society.

Still, despite setbacks the US government and establishment has continued its efforts in various channels to influence Hollywood. For example, the US military extends facilities, often free of charge, to the making of films which portray the US armed forces in a positive light. It withholds such facilities from films that are critical. For example, the 1992 film A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, was hardly a radical clarion call, but because it suggested that Marines at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba use illegal forms of discipline, the US Marine Corps refused to cooperate with the film.

Demonising Muslims

The Reagan years saw a drift back to a more propagandist America’s back style, with radical and fundamentalist Islam beginning to take over as the bogeyman. With the collapse of the
USSR in 1991, this trend was reinforced.

A good example is the 1994 film True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. This features a set of mainly Middle Eastern baddies, whose leader is played by Art Malik, a British actor of Pakistani origin. They belong to something called Crimson Jihad (perhaps to mix the red threat with the Muslim peril). They are evil and fanatical but also inept and ridiculous: in one scene their attempt to make a threatening video message fails because they are too incompetent to operate the camera properly. When I watched this film, I wondered whether members of other religions or ethnic groups could be lampooned so freely in Hollywood as Muslims could be. There is a Muslim lobby in the USA, but clearly it is not as powerful as others out there. There have been surprisingly few films about the Gulf War, perhaps because it was relatively short, and the 1990s, on the whole were relatively peaceful for Americans. But where a cinematic villain on the international stage was needed, Muslims and Arabs have tended to be chosen.

The film from the year 2000, Rules of Engagement, starring Samuel Jackson, tended to demonise Arabs, while even more recently Black Hawk Down did the same with regard to Somalia, referring to a real-life American military fiasco in 1993, in which a number of US soldiers were killed. Black Hawk Down was released after S11, though made before it, and since Somalia is a possible target for the USA as part of the war on terrorism, the film has some political and propaganda significance. However, in style and treatment it is not very different from trends that have long been established in US cinema and are hardly unique to that country’s films. US troops are in Somalia for good, altruistic reasons but evil warlords are there to foil and frustrate them, etc. So, in summary, trends that appear at first glance to have S11 written all over them were in fact established well back in the last century.

Impact of September 11

Coming back to S11’s potential or future impact on US cinema: after it, British TV’s Panorama examined whether Hollywood could have averted what had happened, since many of the more extravagant scripts and completed films are not unlike the events of that day. It is very probable that many Hollywood screenwriters do indeed have more imagination than CIA or Pentagon planners and analysts, but for me that was not the most interesting part of the programme. What was interesting was some of the interviews. In particular, one screenwriter or producer said that there had been some criticism of the way Muslims had been portrayed in American films, but that American cinema’s earlier use of Muslims and Arabs as villains and bogeymen had now been vindicated by S11.

Because of the long lead times for making films, as explained at the start of this article, post-S11 trends have yet to reach full fruition, but what we are likely to see is an intensification of terrorism, especially Muslim and/or Arab, as a threat woven into the plots of US films. The Panorama remarks I have mentioned strongly point in that direction. That would please US policymakers and the Zionist lobby, and might do well at a box office, which has for a long time tended to have villains of a carefully selected kind dangled before it.

Considering how many films shown in Britain are of US origin, such trends are likely to have an impact in Britain. The left will need to respond in some way. It will need to picket cinemas, which show particularly revolting films of the kind I have described. But this will be a real test of the British left’s anti-imperialism and internationalism.

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