Opposing the Imperial and Corporate Plan for the North Atlantic Region
G8 protestors will visit a ‘strange state’ and a ‘peculiar country’
This July, socialists and communists will figure prominently amongst the international visitors coming to Edinburgh and Gleneagles to protest against the latest G8 summit. Many will pass through ‘her majesty’s passport control as they enter the UK. After reading these two particular archaic labels, visitors may well be confused. They will now be in the state of ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, better known as ‘Britain’. However, upon reaching Edinburgh, they will soon realise that many of the inhabitants prefer to think of themselves as Scottish, rather than British – or god forbid, English!
Is there any significance to this confusion of identities? Does it demonstrate the growth of divisive ethnic politics in Scotland? Or, does it merely add a touch of local colour to spice up a visitor’s stay in the latest city hosting the opposition to G8? After all, one of the greatest features of the protest actions surrounding G8 summits is their genuinely international flavour. This time it will be the turn of Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh residents of these islands to link arms with other Europeans, Africans, Central, North and South Americans, Asians and those from Oceania, in a common challenge to corporate globalisation. Socialists and communists amongst their number will raise their red flags, the very symbol of internationalism. UK, Great Britain, Britain, Scotland, England – what’s the difference, what’s the fuss?
Visitors walking along Princes Street will find, alongside GAP, Macdonalds and Starbucks, or next to British Home Stores, HMV and Marks & Spencers, shops selling kilts, sgean dhus, replica claymores, bagpipes, ‘nessies’, whisky, shortbread and White Heather Club DVDs. That longstanding British tradition of marketing ‘local’ cultures is pursued with great vigour in Scotland, as even the most casual visitor can soon see. Under the ‘beneficent rule’ of her majesty’s imperial government, Scotland has long been allowed to deck itself up in some local finery – ‘Britain in a tartan coat’. The once outlawed, distinctive garb of the Highland peasant was first rehabilitated for the use of her majesty’s Scottish regiments fighting for the British Empire. The British monarchy has adopted Scottish titles and used ‘highland dress’ as an alternative form of court attire!
‘Union Jocks’, proud of their Scottish-British identity, were the most significant political, social and cultural force in Scotland whilst the British Empire maintained its worldwide influence. This particular legacy, although increasingly questioned, has greatly influenced the major parties of government in Scotland – Liberal, Conservative and Labour. It has also left deep scars upon the SNP, as its campaigns to defend Scottish regiments show.
Some of the visiting international G8 protestors may even stumble upon the new Scottish Parliament building opposite Holyrood Palace. Nevertheless, as participants in the anti-war movement, they will be aware that official Scotland still plays its full part in Bush and Blairs’ imperial ventures. Her majesty’s Scottish regiments are to be found in southern Iraq. Scotland is also host to the UK’s Royal Navy nuclear submarine base at Faslane; whilst Scottish airfields at Kinloss and Leuchars are central to Royal Air Force strategy. All three branches of her majesty’s armed forces play a prominent part in NATO, which is headed by one-time SNP supporter, and former New Labour war minister, George Robertson.
What future for the UK – greater integration or break-up?
The prevailing economic and social trend in the world appears to be towards even greater integration. It must seem strange to many visitors that the once ‘Great’ Britain, which claimed millions of British subjects, far beyond the shores of these ‘British Isles’, should now show signs of fragmenting into smaller units. Many even deny their ‘Britishness’. In a world dominated by the global corporations, would an independent Scotland have any international clout? So why is there a potential break-up of the UK?
Even those descendants of the once, supremely confident, British ruling class, have long felt the need to pursue their interests through greater international cooperation – either in alliance with the USA or, somewhat more reluctantly, as partners with the EU. Why then, was a new deal cobbled together in 1998, which gave greater political recognition, not only to Scotland, but to Wales and Northern Ireland, as well? Scotland got a new parliament; Wales got a new Assembly; whilst Northern Ireland reopened the doors of Stormont to continue business. Yet, Scotland lost its very socially-restricted parliament in 1707; Wales never had a national parliament; whilst Northern Ireland’s politically discredited, sectarian Stormont was suspended in 1972. How did that old nineteenth and early twentieth century slogan – ‘Home Rule’ – get a dusting down in the 1990’s and become official government policy, only now with a new name – ‘Devolution’? And where does this all fit in with the global corporations’ plans for a ‘new world order’?
The imperial origins of the United Kingdom and ‘British’ identity
To begin to answer all these questions you have to examine the development of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British Empire. Even today, the British ruling class still has imperial ambitions. British imperialism is trying to find a niche for itself in a world dominated by US imperialism. The UK state is being reconstructed to better fulfil this role. Moreover, the UK is a British unionist state encompassing the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and six counties of a partitioned Ireland. It is also a constitutional monarchy with extensive Crown powers. These allow the British ruling class, when necessary, to summon up a whole battery of extra-parliamentary forces, by invoking the royal prerogative. This is very handy when they need to take drastic actions, such as dismissing an awkward Premier, like Australia’s Gough Whitlam in 1975; or sending the state’s military forces to a particular theatre of war, such as the Gulf, long before parliamentary sanction has been obtained – by deception!
The historical development of the UK went hand-in-glove with the growth of the British Empire. Its once dominant role in the world has long since gone. However, the British ruling class has been very reluctant to abandon an imperial role. It has sought continued legitimacy by desperately clinging on to its monarchist and unionist state. Continued attempts have been made to prop up the existing order, with its many outdated political features. As a result, the UK has become a somewhat brittle state, in need of frequent constitutional tinkering.
The British Empire’s continued decline has undermined that ‘British’ identity, which once united most English, Scots, Welsh and, in its mid-Victorian heyday, substantial numbers of Irish too. The various unionist attempts to deny genuine self-determination to the constituent nations of the UK gives the national question a particular potency here. Since the 1960’s Irish, Scottish and Welsh democratic movements have, to different degrees, questioned the continued existence of the UK or ‘Great Britain’. In the process, they have revealed the distinctive cultural, social and political roots of each of the nations trapped within the UK’s antidemocratic, constitutional straitjacket. A large amount of time has been taken up at Westminster, Whitehall, and in other UK state bodies, trying to deal with the problems caused by the national movements in these islands.
The role of the New Labour/trade union partnership in the ‘New Unionist’ political project
It is also necessary to appreciate the central role of social democratic politics, as represented by the Labour Party and trade union leaderships, in maintaining the political, economic and social order in the United Kingdom. Although the Conservatives and Labour (along with the Liberal-Democrats) both support the union and the monarchy, New Labour is better positioned to deal with the present crisis in a more dis-United Kingdom. New Labour has further developed the ‘New Unionist’ politics, first advanced in the early 1990’s by the Tories, to meet the republican opposition in Northern Ireland. They have shown a greater willingness than the Tories to address the broader challenge to the UK represented by national movements in Scotland and Wales.
These new dangers became clear when massive opposition arose against the poll tax, which the Tories first tried to impose on Scotland in 1987. Labour-run local authorities in Scotland were placed in the position of acting as detested tax-collectors for the Tories. Scottish national democratic, and even republican, sentiment soared. There was the prospect of another powerful challenge to the state, like that of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland in 1969. The mixture of economic, social and political demands made for a heady brew. This threatened to eclipse the very milk-and-water Scottish Constitutional Convention proposals, adopted in 1988 by the liberal wing of the Scottish establishment, but ignored by Scottish ultra-unionists in the Tory government. Labour in Scotland quickly abandoned its pre-1979 devolutionary scepticism and began to push more vigorously for a new Devolution settlement, to head off this challenge.
Despite being fundamentally British institutions, moulded by the imperialist and unionist politics of the past, both the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracies, have shown themselves more adept at playing-up the Scottish and Welsh components of their hybrid British identities. Labour’s ‘New Unionist’ politics are designed to maintain the unionist state by means of top-down reforms which avoid fundamental change. ‘Devolution-all-round’, particularly for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is central to the ‘New Unionist’ strategy. English regional devolution was added on to provide the semblance of an integrated overall UK strategy, but this remained an optional extra.
The growing political partnership between the UK and Irish governments
Another important development has been the growing political cooperation between the UK and Irish governments. The initial driving force behind this was the challenge to both states by the Irish Republican movement. However, the UK and Irish governments have recently taken this cooperation much further. They now pursue policies to provide a secure political, social and economic environment for global corporations in these islands.
Since 1997, both governments have followed a policy of social partnership between government, employers
and trade union leaders. Social partnership was originally pioneered in Ireland by a Fianna Fail government in 1987. In the UK, the Tories remained in office for another decade. Social partnership was not part of their political agenda. Indeed they initially attempted to pursue US-style union busting. However, their attack on GCHQ workers’ union rights in 1984, and their attempt to end the trade union political levy, proved to be a pyrrhic victory in this regard. Wider trade union organisation survived. But, as far as the union leaders were concerned, this meant a concentration on protecting their own privileges, mainly through bureaucratic amalgamations.
When New Labour eventually took office, these union leaders were eager to embrace a social partnership which, hopefully, would bring them closer to the government. Social partnerships have not just involved trade union leaders in coercing their members into acceptance of a shared government/global corporation economic agenda, becoming, in effect, a personnel management service for the employers. They have also been used to promote the ‘New Unionist’ political settlements too. These have been pushed by the Scottish and Welsh TUCs. In Ireland, both the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and its virtually independent Northern Irish Committee, have helped the Irish and UK governments to sell the ‘Peace Process’ to their members. This is an attempt to establish a more comprehensive ‘New Unionist’ political settlement for the whole of Ireland. This was made necessary by the greater Irish Republican opposition to the previous political order.
The emergence of a corporate plan for the north east Atlantic
An examination of how the ‘Peace Process’ came about, and how it has been transformed to serve even wider purposes, takes us closer to an understanding of the ‘grand plan’ of imperialism for its operations in the north east Atlantic arena. A clear strategy has emerged to create the political conditions necessary to maximise corporate profits in this region.
However, it has taken two decades before the various ad-hoc political developments in these islands have coalesced into an identifiable overall imperial and corporate strategy. The major political force in the world pushing such regional plans is, of course, US imperialism. The best-known of these, Plan Colombia, was originally developed during the Clinton Years in 1999. South America has been the site of major struggles against US imperial and corporate interests. To counter this, Colombia’s right wing Pastrana regime was given massive US political, financial and military backing. Colombia was meant to become the ‘Israel’ of South America. Plan Colombia led to large scale repression, directed against FARC and ELN rural guerrilla bases and against the independent trade unions struggling against such corporations as BP-Amoco and Coca Cola. It also provided the USA with a base for wider intervention.
Although, Colombia is the most repressive regime in South America, this has not deterred continued antiimperialist convulsions, in nearby Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. It is only in Brazil, that significant sections of the official trade union leaderships have given their backing to the capitulation of Workers’ Party, President Lula, to IMF demands. ‘Korporate Amerika’ will only (reluctantly) incorporate social democratic parties and trade unions into their plans if they accept a neo-liberal economic agenda.
Another notorious plan, Project for the New American Century, was originally thought up by Republican neoconservatives in the late 1990’s. It became the basis for the new Bush Presidency’s National Security Strategy after ‘9/11’. Whilst this particular plan has global ambitions, it was first tested out in Iraq, as part of a concerted attempt to give the US complete domination of the Middle East. The US-led occupation is meant to pave the way for US corporate control of Iraqi oil resources and the wider economy, as well as providing military bases for further imperial ventures in the area.
However, US plans are not confined to the world’s obvious hotspots. US-based corporations have serious economic, strategic and hence, political interests in the ‘British Isles’, covering both the UK and Irish Republic. British politicians can not be treated in the same dismissive manner as Latin American or Middle East politicians. The latter are just told where they have to fit intoUS ‘regional plans’ – or else! British politicians represent a ruling class, which has its own executives on the boards of large UK-based and joint US/UK-based corporations.
Nevertheless, given the dominant position of US corporations in the world, British politicians are well aware that their role is very much one of junior partner. And, of course, those political leaders in the Irish Republic, a non-G8 member, have to act, in their turn, as an infant partner to the junior partner! Irish corporations are small by international standards and prone to takeovers by bigger British and American companies. One after another, financial scandals involving government ministers and prominent businessmen have shown that this ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy has only arisen by means of the most blatant ‘crony capitalism’.
British and Irish trade unions, though, have been safely neutered through partnership deals. They offer no real opposition to the neo-liberal designs of the global corporations. They only seek crumbs from their masters’ tables. Therefore, most major corporations have accepted the UK and Irish governments’ policy of bringing the trade union leaders on board, albeit in a very junior and subordinate role.
Combating the national democratic challenge to the UK state
Since the late 1970’s, the most fundamental challenge to the existing political order in the UK has come from national democratic movements, particularly in Ireland. When Thatcher came to power in 1979, she resorted to an ultra-unionist strategy to maintain the UK and promote its wider influence in the world. This approach was partly built upon the previous Labour government’s Ulsterisation and criminalisation policies, aggressively pursued by Northern Irish Minister, Roy Mason. It also involved continued state backing for the reactionary Ulster Unionists, whilst leaving effective control of Northern Ireland in the hands of the security services. This strategy was designed to smash the Irish Republican opposition to British rule in the ‘Six Counties’.
Thatcher’s ultra-unionist policy was also meant to cement the gains represented by the defeat of Labour’s liberal unionist devolution bills for Scotland and Wales in 1979. These bills had been designed to meet the new challenges represented by the rise of the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. However, these parties’ mild constitutionalist, and essentially, parliamentary politics, made them easy targets for a reactionary unionist counter-offensive. The British ruling class, with its extensive imperial experience, knew how to deal with such an opposition.
They had already subordinated the constitutional nationalists of the SDLP in Northern Ireland to their plans to isolate the real opposition – the armed struggle of the IRA. Lord Gerry Fitt, former civil rights activist, Republican Labour and SDLP MP for West Belfast, was ‘elevated’ to the House of Lords in 1983. This was a clear example of the seductive charms of the British ruling class. This particular path was also followed by another one-time nationalist firebrand, Dafydd Elis-Thomas – former Welsh language activist, leftist Plaid Cymru MP, and mover of the writ for the parliamentary by-election following the death of Irish hunger-striker, Bobby Sands MP, in 1981. He also rejected his past and joined the House of Lords in 1992. It is little wonder that Alex Salmond is currently opposing the appointment of SNP lords. The knighthood and tax-exile status of leading SNP supporter, Sir Sean Connery, is embarrassing enough, without one-time MPs being seen on camera, snoring in the upper chamber!
One-time contradictory policies weaved into an overall political strategy
However, it is really only since New Labour came to office in 1997, that several earlier, sometimes contradictory policies, have merged into a more coherent strategy for the domination of these islands by the global corporations. For example, in the early 1980’s, both Thatcher’s Tory and Fitzgerald’s Fine Gael-Labour governments, were locked in combat with the IRA. There was considerable inter-state cooperation between their security forces. But when it came to political ‘solutions’ there were wide disagreements, so there was no common political strategy.
Thatcher began office as an unquestioning supporter of the deeply reactionary, Ulster Unionists. She also had strong links with the ultra-Right elements in the British security services, who, behind the scenes, had helped her to power. Fitzgerald’s Fine Gael-Labour Coalition was also known for its hard-line approach to Irish Republicans. However, he wanted to buttress the moderate nationalist SDLP in the North and gave his support to the New Ireland Forum Report proposals in 1984. These advocated much closer UK-Irish government cooperation in the North to build up a Catholic middle class, which would be a counterweight both to sectarian loyalism and to republicanism. When Thatcher was made aware of the contents of this report, she famously dismissed it with the words,
Out! out! Out!
Thatcher’s arrogance stemmed from the belief that she had seen off the last remaining, but nevertheless, still powerful national opposition to British rule. She had faced down the Irish Republican hunger-strikers in 1981. This proved to be a grave political misjudgement. After the election and death of Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Sinn Fein began to make more electoral gains. As a result of continued republican strength, dramatically demonstrated in the 1984 Brighton bombing, Thatcher performed an uncharacteristic U-turn. Much to the disgust of the Ulster Unionists, she signed up to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. This was an attempt to bring the SDLP and Irish government onside, the better to smash the Republicans. However, instead of the comprehensive political cooperation advocated by the New Ireland Forum report, the Irish government was awarded a minor role, and given a small office to house its Secretariat at Hillsborough, near Belfast.
Although political differences remained between the UK and Irish governments, the way was now paved for a new approach. When it became clear that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, had only put a temporary halt to the rise of Sinn Fein, and that the IRA had maintained its ability to strike, the Tories took the difficult decision to try and bring the Republican Movement itself on board. A succession of Fianna Fail governments, more amenable than Fitzgerald’s, were also prepared to deal with the Republican Movement. This led to the Downing Street Declaration of 1993. This sought for the first time, not only the involvement of the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Irish government, but also the Republican Movement, in an agreed political process. The Tories, hamstrung by their small parliamentary majority and their need for continuing Ulster Unionist support, were unable to follow this New Unionist’ initiative through. However, the incoming New Labour government of 1997 did precisely that.
They broadened the scope of the proposed ‘New Unionist’ settlement, to cover Scotland and Wales too. The momentum achieved by the successful Devolution referendum vote in Scotland in September 1997, was followed two weeks later, with another in Wales – albeit just by the skin of its teeth. More significant was the majority gained in the simultaneous Irish and Northern Irish referenda approving the Good Friday Agreement in May 1998. The Irish government had already set the ‘mood music’ by announcing its support for the ending of Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Constitution, which laid claim to the ‘Six Counties’. Tony Blair bent over backwards to reassure the Ulster Unionists of his continued support for the Union. He was able to take advantage of their refusal to sit with Republicans, to make separate promises to their leader, David Trimble, which contradicted those made elsewhere. Blair’s propensity to duplicity and spin was evident long before the Iraq war!
From cultural diversity to consumer choice – the depoliticising of the national democratic struggle
However, apart from the clear centrality of the ‘New Unionist’ project for ‘Devolution-all-round’, to stabilise imperial rule, there was another important strand, which has contributed to the current corporate strategy for these islands. The New Ireland Forum had attempted to depoliticise the conflict in Northern Ireland. Instead of addressing the blatant UK state-backing for Ulster Unionist sectarian ascendancy, it emphasised the diversity of ‘cultural traditions’ in Ireland which deserved government recognition. The British army occupation, the SAS shoot-to-kill policy, the security force/loyalist paramilitary collusion and the Diplock Courts, were all conjured away. Orange Order parades suddenly became quaint folk festivals!
The promotion of state-managed competition and the, hoped for, cooperation between each ‘cultural tradition’ had the effect of placing the UK state in a position of neutral arbitrator above the sectarian or sectional fray. The state was then able to pursue the politics of divide-and-rule more effectively, through targeted funding and behind-the scenes manipulation of the representatives of each approved ‘cultural tradition’. Struggles took place over Irish-medium classes and education, particularly in West Belfast. The British government backed Catholic/SDLP projects over those run mainly by former IRA inmates of the ‘Gaoltacht’, where the language was used as a tool of resistance against the unionist prison officers.
Thatcher and many of her key supporters, such as Norman Tebbit, remained ‘Little Englanders’ at heart. Nevertheless, a number of new challenges, highlighted by the 1981 Brixton Riots, gave the politics of multiculturalism, with its policy of ‘cultural identity’ promotion, increasing purchase on the institutions of the British state. Indeed, some of the more inclusive ‘British’ Tories had already recognised the potential of cultural divide-and-rule politics in Wales. They had adopted this new approach to weaken Labour in its traditional South Wales heartland, and to win over sections of the Welsh national movement, who had prioritised the Welsh language struggle.
Keith Best, the new Welsh language speaking and promoting MP, for Ynys Mon in 1979, first appeared to be a Tory maverick. However, Plaid Cymru leader, Gwynfor Evans’ threatened hunger strike to save the promised Welsh language TV channel, highlighted the Tories’ need for a new political approach. They bowed before Evans’ threat and set up S4C. Yet, as the 80’s progressed, the Tories found themselves under much less pressure in Wales (particularly after the defeat of the North Wales slate quarry workers’ strike in 1983). So, it was not until 1993 that they passed a new Welsh Language Act, with a Welsh Language Board, headed by Lord Elis-Thomas! This cultural promotion of the Welsh language has helped to build up a largely, UK state-supporting, and compliant, middle-class ‘Taffia’, particularly in education, the media and local administration. However, government economic policies, pursued over the same period, have wreaked havoc in the traditional Welsh-speaking small farmer and working class communities.
This Tory-promoted strategy of ‘cultural identity’ promotion has been taken over, almost unchanged, by New Labour. This May saw the passing of the Gaelic Language Act by the Scottish Parliament, with the setting up of a Gaelic Language Board. Now, some consideration has also been given to the wider economic environment needed for Gaelic language survival. Former West Highland Free Press founder and ‘Nat’-bashing, Labour MP, Brian Wilson, has been to the forefront of this policy. Thus, community buy-outs of land have become well-established, particularly after the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003. However, this measure is not that radical, since Irish peasants gained the right to buy-out landlord-owned land, a century ago under the Tories’ 1903 Wyndham Act!
If the promotion of ‘cultural identity’ politics began as an attempt to build up a state-supporting base amongst the nationalist opposition, it has now taken on a much wider role. With the rise of neo-liberalism, consumerism has replaced politics. People are told they can adopt any national life-style identity, merely through buying the right commodities and services. They just have to make the appropriate purchases in specialist ethnic craft, book or music shops, eat in ethnic restaurants, drink in the right themed pubs, spend time in their chosen national culture-based tourist facilities or book themselves on residential language and history courses. By such means, the global corporations have marginalised the politics of self-determination. They want to replace political choice with consumer choice. They offer marketing strategies to help governments, or approved ethnic or cultural organisations, to sell specific identities.
US imperialism asserts its political and economic hegemony over British imperialism
A key feature of the first stages of the ‘Peace Process’ was the role of US President Clinton. He provided Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, with the credentials for his new statesman role. He lobbied all the parties to the Good Friday Agreement. He personally visited Belfast to show his public approval after the successful referendum vote. Nothing highlights the junior partner role of British imperialism better than its ruling class’s acceptance of US involvement in the internal affairs of the UK state. The American ruling class would never tolerate such outside interference in the running of the US state. But neither would the British ruling class have accepted such a state of affairs during the heyday of the Empire. US power has waxed in the world, whilst British power has waned.
The Republicans have now replaced Democrats as the political leaders of the US state. Since ‘9/11’ the neoconservatives behind Bush’s administration have felt more confident about adopting a gung-ho approach in the world. Yet, this has not lessened New Labour’s poodle-like dependency on US imperialism.
Many people find it hard to comprehend the current Bush-Blair/Republican-New Labour alliance in world politics. After all, when it comes to social politics, the Bush Republicans are neo-conservatives, deeply in hock to American Christian supremacists; whilst New Labour remains social liberal, albeit with somewhat tarnished liberal credentials. However, when John Kerry, the Democratic Presidential candidate, made a very lame liberal challenge to Bush’s Republican neo-conservativism, he came unstuck. In contrast, when Tory General Election challenger, Michael Howard, toyed with the religious Right, he was subjected to ridicule.
When mainstream parties try to win elections, their social politics have to adjust to the dominant cultures of their host country. Indeed, when carefully manipulated, such politics provide a useful smokescreen for the real economic programmes of these parties. These programmes have been forged by the dominant corporations. However, they prefer to use populist politicians, invoking the language of ‘social morality’ to advance their cause. They do not publicly promote their economic policies of labour ‘flexibility’ and cuts in the social wage – at least, not during elections!
Whereas social politics appear to divide Bush and Blair, it is political economy which unites them. Both favour a world where corporate power is in control, financial capital is dominant and where privatisation and deregulation have eliminated state ownership, economic direction and most social provision. Neither would Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister make much difference. Brown’s first action, upon becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, was to abolish any remaining government control over the Bank of England. This left the bank completely free to act as an agent for the global corporations.
Far from being committed to Old Labour’s social welfare vision, Brown is a social marketeer. His ‘social’ provision is entirely dependent on the state of the market, offering only marginal tax benefits and miserly improvements in the social wage for the working class. Indeed, Brown is known to prefer the American market monopoly to the European social market model. Whatever ‘social’ supplement to the market Brown still upholds, it is obviously pretty restricted.
New Labour finds a suitable role – spear-thrower for US imperialism and spoiler on behalf of US/
UK corporate interests
Blair has not disguised his admiration for Thatcher. He has continued her neo-liberal offensive. However, even he is aware of Thatcher’s major weakness, despite her undoubted commitment to ‘British Imperial plc’. She was quite unable to prevent the further shrinkage of the Empire. From Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe to Hong Kong, British colonial territories continued to contract. It became increasingly clear that the UK state could only react to wider developments in the world. It was unable to take its own independent initiatives. Indeed, Thatcher’s final political legacy was to bring the UK state itself into question, due to her dogged pursuit of ultra-unionist politics in ‘Great Britain’.
Furthermore, despite a very public Euroscepticism, fuelled by fears of German and French economic competition, Thatcher still had to sign ‘Britain’ up to the EU’s Maastricht Treaty in 1987. Whatever the dreams of the Tories’ ‘Little Englanders’, a British economy outside the EU did not appear credible. Blair appreciated this, and devised a new strategy for the UK government. This involved a greater commitment to the EU. However, unlike The Tories, who tried to wreck later EU initiatives by refusing to sign up, Blair hypocritically signed up to the ‘Social Chapter’. This placed him in a better position to block any further development of a ‘Social Europe’ from the inside. His recent attempt to wreck the Working Hours Directive shows this. In relation to the EU, Thatcher was Ian Paisley, whilst Blair is David Trimble!
Blair is now aggressively promoting the American neo-liberal model in Europe. He sees allies in Berlusconi, and for a time, in Aznar, in his fight against Chirac and Shroeders’ support for a more ‘Social Europe’. In the future, Blair may even be able to ally with a possible new UMP leader, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, and with a new Christian Democratic Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Germany. Both favour more neo-liberal economic policies, albeit with the aim of building a more competitive Euro-imperialism, rather than tailending the US.
However, Blair’s strategy is not confined to the promotion of a neo-liberal economic model. Quite clearly, Blair opposes French and German moves to develop the EU as a new imperial power. He wants the EU firmly subordinated to US imperialism. These differences have led to the very public clash over the Iraq war, between the USA and UK, on one side, and France and Germany, on the other. Blair (along with Aznar and Berlusconi) committed troops to this US-led war; Chirac and Shroeder declined.
Both Bush and Blair favour the continued territorial expansion of the EU to incorporate the more pro-US, east European nations, with their new markets and cheap labour. TheEU should not be allowed to develop a coherent political identity, a significant independent military capacity, or any independent access to key resources in the world. This would block the path to ‘the New American Century’. Blair strongly supports a US-dominated NATO. He has found a role for the UK state as spear-thrower for US imperialism and spoiler on behalf of US/UK corporate interests!
Although the long-standing ‘Special Relationship’ between the USA and UK has been much overplayed, there have been increasing signs of a shared understanding. In effect, the UK state has been licensed to manage corporate affairs in the north east Atlantic region. Thatcher managed to get US approval for her distant Falklands War, but this was probably a product of a unique set of circumstances at the time. However, US governments appear to be happy to sub-contract their operations in the north east Atlantic region to UK governments. Indeed British corporations might even be allowed a few contractual crumbs, in other regions, where they have helped US interests, in a more subordinate capacity, such as Iraq.
The UK state has also gained one particular privilege, by being given the official US stamp of approval for its ‘New Unionist’ strategy in these islands. Whenever the UK has reneged on its shared international treaty commitments in regard to the Irish Republic, US governments have turned a blind eye. There have been many suspensions of the Northern Ireland Executive as the result of ‘local difficulties’ over the implementation of the Good Friday Government. However, Irish governments also know their place in the world pecking order, so they hardly raise any objection. But then, in this post-’9/11’ world, the problems can all be put down to
terrorists. This excuse can also be used to ‘explain’ the continued occupation of Northern Ireland by a British military force larger than that in Iraq!
The Irish Republic within the EU and ‘without’ NATO
However, could the traditionally more pro-European Irish ruling class not act as a barrier to full Irish government support for a shared corporate ‘plan’ in the north east Atlantic region? There has always been a strong pro-American strand in Irish politics, shared by political forces as diverse as the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Fein. This reflects either acceptance of US neo-liberalism or strong links to the Irish-American diaspora. But sentiment is not enough to forge binding links.
As long as the EU’s CAP, Social and Regional Funds provided valuable subsidies to the Irish economy, particularly for Irish farmers, then Ireland remained one of its keenest supporters. The recent accession of ten new states to the EU, most with larger agricultural sectors, and all with lower standards of living than Ireland, has raised the prospect of the significant reduction of EU subventions for Ireland. The recent Irish government-backed referendum, which put new racist, constitutional barriers to (mainly east European) immigrants and their families becoming Irish citizens, highlights the beginning of moves to a greater Euroscepticism in Ireland.
Moreover, Ireland’s traditional support for neutrality, and opposition to membership of NATO, now reflects a brand of politics long abandoned by the major Irish parties. Membership of NATO was traditionally opposed because it implied support for the UK’s continued occupation of the ‘Six Counties’. The UK was, of course, the second most significant member of NATO after the USA, with several military bases, missile sites and radar tracking stations on its soil. Yet, military cooperation between the British and Irish governments continued throughout ‘The Troubles’, and remains the one aspect of North-South cross-border cooperation supported by Ulster Unionists! Since the dropping of Articles 2 & 3 of the constitution, the Irish government has been keen to promote visits by the British royal family. The queen is titular leader of all her majesty’s armed forces; whilst family members are official commanders-in-chief of particular regiments, including the notorious Royal Irish Regiment.
However, the clearest indication of the direction of current Irish government policy has been the use made by US forces of Shannon Airport, during the Iraq war. Therefore, it can be seen that the Irish government is cooperating fully with US/UK imperial plans for the north east Atlantic region.
Current weaknesses of the Left
Once visiting socialists and communists have become more aware of the political situation in Scotland, the UK, the ‘British’ Isles and the wider north east Atlantic region, what strategy should they support? One thing must be acknowledged from the start – the Left here, like most places, is weak. This was highlighted in the Scottish Socialist Party’s recent General Election results. However, even where the Left has developed into a stronger political force, as in France and Italy, there have still been considerable problems. The capitulation of the majority of the French Left before Chirac in the last Presidential election is a case in point. So is the recent bowing of Rifondazione Comunista before the Olive Tree Coalition’s electoral challenge to Berlusconi’s government next year.
In the UK and Ireland, the Left mainly tries to recreate itself as Old Labour, rather than creating a new, specifically socialist party. They look wistfully to the days of Keynesian economics and the welfare state, forgetting these were largely a product of capitalism’s post-Second World War expansion. In the case of the UK, its continued imperialist role with its brutal exploitation of the ‘Third World’ has largely been ignored by the Left. Often the Left also advocates a complementary Broad Left electoral alternative to replace existing New Labour-supporting trade union leaders. The Left has failed to promote a wider political challenge to the so-called ‘awkward squad’ amongst the union leaderships, most of whom merely want to reform the Labour Party. They have also failed to democratise the trade unions and place them in the hands of the rank and file membership.
A partial alternative to this approach has been to find a new political base amongst Muslims alienated by the war. This strategy has been promoted by the SWP in the Respect coalition in England. Such a strategy has won some notable electoral gains, particularly in the recent General Election, where it has stripped New Labour of much traditional Muslim support, particularly in London and Birmingham.
However, this strategy is very unlikely to create a new socialist party. The new Respect MP, George Galloway, ex-Old Labour, like Ken Livingstone before him, is far more likely to come to a future deal with Labour, after it has abandoned Blair. Meanwhile, many of those Muslims, often led by political Islamicist promoting imams, will probably demand a new deal for Muslims within British society, including their own state-funded schools. Those of us living in Scotland have experience of an earlier, Labour-promoted, deal for immigrant Irish Catholics. The many compromises made, before the Catholic hierarchy, ensured that the majority of these poor immigrants and their descendants were won, not to socialism, but to a socially conservative Labourism.
In Scotland the overwhelming majority of the Left, has been united in the SSP. This unity represents a very important gain, as does the party’s generally democratic culture. However, the SSP is not without its own contradictions and problems. There is a constant tussle between those from the more traditional British Left, particularly those in the Socialist Workers and CWI platforms, and those from the dominant, but fragmenting ISM and the SRSM. The former pair are still wedded to a left version of British unionism; whilst the SRSM and a section of the ISM are pulling in a more overtly Scottish nationalist direction.
The British unionism of the SWP and CWI-affiliated SP is even more obvious in Northern Ireland. Both maintain separate ‘colonial’ satellite organisations in the Six Counties, which are effectively partitioned from their nominal Irish parent bodies. The SWP, in particular, has used the traditional Leninist justification for having an all-Britain party ‘on the mainland’ – ‘one state, one party’, They do not seem to notice that Northern Ireland is part of the UK state. But neither the SWP, nor the SP in Northern Ireland, seem to have noticed the continued British military occupation there – at least not in their election manifestos! Both also place their faith in trade unions, utterly dominated by the leaders wedded to the narrowest economism, who act as special advocates for the fragile ‘New Unionist’ political settlement in the North.
One very obvious characteristic of British Left unionist organisations is how they mirror the bureaucratic practices of the UK state. Top-down political manipulation is preferred to genuine democratic debate. One reason for the ‘go-it-alone’ tendency of the current SSP leadership is their reaction to this debilitating British Left culture. Another reason is their adaptation to Scottish nationalist politics, and towards the SNP.
The SNP has no anti-imperial credentials. Indeed, its leaders would be satisfied with being given the local franchise to take over the UK state machinery in Scotland. They would then settle for a good lick of ‘tartan paint’ to cover up the state’s most glaring deficiencies. In the meantime, a new accommodation would also be sought with US/UK imperialism, and in particular, with NATO, over the continuation of military bases. These pressures on the SNP are already apparent and the merest hint of US approval would pull them into line. We only have to look to the SNP’s current favoured national model – Ireland, to see the way the wind is blowing. Leuchars and Kinloss would continue their current role, just as Shannon has taken on a new imperial function. The Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ is also the inspiration for the SNP’s key economic policy – the promotion of Scotland as a tax-haven for the global corporations. If necessary, an SNP-run Scotland could be awarded its place in the corporate plans for the north east Atlantic. However, the most likely development would be the SNP settling for the regional manager job in the UK’s devolved administration in Scotland, in a similar manner to the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties in the Spanish state.
The need for an ‘internationalism from below’ approach
Our particular platform in the SSP, the RCN, offers another approach. This is ‘internationalism from below’. We oppose both the ‘Union Jock’ tradition of Scotland’s subservience to British imperialism and the Scottish nationalist tradition of seeking a new accommodation for Scotland with corporate globalism. We seek to build an alliance of socialist republicans from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales to challenge the UK and Irish governments’ ‘New Unionist’ project to make these islands safe for the global corporations. We fight for a socialist republican strategy to challenge the continued existence of the imperial and unionist UK state. In particular, we promote a republican socialist strategy to counter the UK state’s anti-democratic Crown powers. The RCN has been to the forefront of the struggle to make the SSP a republican socialist party. One significant step on this road was the SSP’s initiation of the Calton Hill Declaration last October (see Emancipation & Liberation no. 8)
We strongly oppose all US and British military ventures, from Baghdad to Belfast, as well as the Irish government’s compliance in these. We oppose New Labour’s backing for British corporate interests and Fianna Fail’s crony capitalism. This also means a break with any social partnerships between trade unions, government and the employers. We count James Connolly and John Maclean as part of our socialist republican and internationalist tradition.
We also see ourselves as very much part of the new anti-capitalist forces challenging global capitalism. New Labour’s strategy links the fortunes of British imperialism with those of US imperialism and the EU. We want to further develop the European Anti-Capitalist Left, so that we can provide an effective organisation to counter this. We want our class, the working class, to benefit from the recent constitutional setbacks to further EU capitalist integration, not the various petty chauvinists and racists. We want to unite workers, whether native or migrant, across borders. We make no distinction between ‘economic migrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ – they are both common victims of corporate globalism’s economic and political policies.
We also offer our solidarity to those anti-imperial movements throughout the world. This means giving particular support to the Iraqi resistance, the continuing Palestinian Intifada, and the popular struggles in Venezuela and Bolivia. In all these cases we want to build direct links with those advocating a democratic, secular and internationalist strategy. Only this can lead humanity towards international socialism. This also means support for serious attempts to build a new International.
As Scottish internationalists we welcome all those who have come to oppose G8. Together we want not only to ‘make capitalism history’, but to offer an alternative which can end all exploitation and oppression, through our complete emancipation and liberation. This means building a new and genuine communist world order. Such a society needs to be organised on the basis of
from each according to their ability; to each according to their needs; and where
the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all. Greetings to socialists and communists from all over the world. Our day will come!