How can you support a united Ireland and not support Scottish independence? Part 1

Celtic snp2_310902033This week I had a conversation arising out of Jeremy Corbyn’s interview in the Andrew Marr show on the BBC.  Like others I have spoken to who saw it I can’t remember ever making a point of watching until I knew it featured this interview.

The basic issue that arose was how Corbyn could claim to support a united Ireland but oppose Scottish independence.  Surely if you support the independence of one you should support it for the other?

Given that I agree with Corbyn I answered this question by pointing out that in both cases we were talking about removing borders (or stopping them being erected) and thereby preventing barriers to unity.

Through a united Ireland the unity of Irish people would be advanced, and by opposing the separation of Scotland from England and Wales you would support the unity of British people.  Since unity of the working class irrespective of nationality is a basic socialist principle it would require some argument to trump it.  None has been advanced for Scottish separation that isn’t either factually incorrect (like Scotland is an oppressed nation) or exceedingly weak (it would also be good for the English!).

An obvious response would be – does that mean you are also in favour of unity of Britain and Ireland?   And the answer is yes.  Provided the unity was one of equals, then there could be no objection to political arrangements that would further the erosion of national division and increase the grounds for united action by the working classes of the nationalities involved – English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.  Previous unity of the islands involved British imperialist domination that was rejected by the majority of the Irish people and history demonstrated that no unity of the peoples was possible under these conditions, at that time at least. As I pointed out in this discussion – I am in favour of a united Europe.

The independence of Ireland has not been an over-riding principle for socialists and this is something that divides us from republicans, including those describing themselves as socialist republicans, or more bizarrely, republican socialists, whose socialism is in reality a variety of republicanism.  So much so that their socialism is not a means to overcome national division but a means of emphasising their nationalism: ensuring what they believe will be effective independence as opposed to nominal independence under a neo-colonial yoke.

What matters to socialists therefore is the unity of people, particularly of the working class, which is the bearer of a new socialist society, and not particularly the unity of state formations.  This is why socialists support self-determination so that unity is the voluntary unity required to overcome national divisions and not the forced unity of foreign rule and occupation.

As I have said before the absence of violent repression by English armed forces in Scotland stands in stark contrast to British repression in Ireland.  So while socialists support self-determination for Scotland we believe it should be exercised by continuing voluntary unity with the rest of Britain.  That the majority of Scottish people decided this in the referendum is therefore to be welcomed.

But if this is the case why do I support the unity of the Northern and Southern Irish states when quite clearly the majority in the north do not favour unity with the south?  Surely that would involve the coerced unity that you have just said you oppose?

Let’s leave aside for the purposes of this argument that unlike the Scots the population of Northern Ireland is not a nation and therefore not subject to the right of self-determination.  Leave aside also the argument that even if we restrict ourselves to the Protestant population it too, while being an identifiable people, are also not a nation and any purported right to self-determination on their behalf is transparently a means of frustrating the right to self-determination of the Irish people as a whole.

We’ll also ignore the historical fact that any declared separateness of the Ulster Protestants is inaccurate because it does not refer to Ulster but a truncated part of it and did not seem to arise when the whole of the island was ruled by Britain, when the Protestant population in the North was quite happy to consider itself Irish, the specifically ‘loyal’ part of the nation.

It’s much harder to put aside the coerced separation of partition and the continual violence needed to maintain it even if this is usually, but not always, ‘merely’ in the form of a threat to the majority of the Irish people residing south of the border.

We will however also ignore the visceral opposition to considering themselves Irish that some Northern Protestants express when the idea of a united Ireland is proposed.  Down this road leads capitulation to the most deranged bigotry – I recall being told by my father that my uncle refused to eat off a white plate with a green trim in a bed and breakfast in Blackpool, such was his sectarian impulses.  He even apparently showed some ambivalence about supporting the Northern Ireland football team because they played in green – much better the red, white and blue of Linfield and Rangers.

While it is of no interest of socialists to impose national identities on peoples against their will it is necessary for such identities to have some grounding in reality to be considered seriously by everyone else.

On this basis however it might seem that Irish Protestants in the northern state have some grounds to claim separate political rights since they obviously are in some senses a separate people.  It might appear that it doesn’t matter whether this is a nationality, defined as ‘Northern Irish’ or as simply British inhabitants of part of Ireland, or both.

What matters however again is the objective basis for claiming rights to self-determination because some of the argumentation above is really beside the point.

And the point is that (some) Irish Protestants have been provided with what they can consider self-determination, exercised as unity under the British state, which they chose to participate in through rampant and systematic sectarian discrimination; itself reflecting the objective fact that their claims for national status were based primarily on sectarian self-identification as a colonial population in what they considered, when it suited them, was (26/32 of) a foreign country.

Since for socialists national rights are democratic rights, which are reactionary if without democratic content, it would appear that the right to self-determination of the Irish/Ulster Protestants or Northern Ireland, however one wants to put it, is a reactionary demand that cannot be supported.  And it cannot be supported because not only does it not facilitate the unity of peoples but it furthers their disunity along sectarian grounds, plus the division that arises from living in two separate Irish states.  The violent and sectarian history of this self-determination is cast iron proof of the thoroughly reactionary nature of Irish unionism.

John McDonnell’s IRA apology

Brent-Hosts-Question-Time-1If you relied on the mainstream media to know what was happening in the world you would be mightily confused.  Some bearded, deluded and dishevelled guy has just become leader of the Labour Party.  Even worse, the BBC Six O’clock news led its programme with the announcement that he had just named a guy called John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, someone, the voiceover immediately told us, who once supported the IRA.

Who he was, what he had previously done that made him qualified for the job, what his economic policies were, none of these were the foremost issue for the BBC.

Now, John McDonnell has apologised for saying “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.”

He explained the remarks by saying that  “I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.  There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.”

A number of things should be said about this.

Firstly, there’s little point complaining about the obvious bias that pervades not only the Tory press but also the BBC.

This is fuelled by the social background of those in the organisation and their political views.  Their commitment to a view of objectivity and balance embraces such a narrow conception of what is acceptable that Corbyn and his supporters are clearly beyond the pale and don’t fall within the normal rules.

Along with this there is an inability to fully comprehend their politics, partly as a result of their limited experience of political debate that doesn’t stretch back beyond the Thatcherite consensus imposed on society during the 1980s.This means for example that the idea that the leader doesn’t make all the decisions is not seen as an example of democracy but as a weakness, causing confusion and division. And of course, there is fear of the Tories who have put the squeeze on the BBC as an organisation.

Complaining about bias is not going to change any of these.

What would change the situation is the British labour movement building its own mass media which, given modern technology, does not need to immediately seek to replicate the scale of the capitalist media.  Within the hundreds of thousands who voted for Jeremy Corbyn and the many more millions who support him there is the basis to do this.

The second thing to note is that the media presentation on this issue is only one example of a barrage of attacks that reveal not only bias but the current weakness of the Corbyn led movement.  It is not a surprise that Jeremy Corbyn and his support have not been prepared for the tasks of leading the opposition to the Tories.  They will obviously for example have to build a team to deal with a hostile media.

The greatest weakness however is not in this lack of media preparedness but in the weakness of their support among the mass of careerist Labour MPs.  It is this that has allowed the media to present the new leadership as shambolic.

There’s nothing that can immediately be done about this either.  In one ironic sense it is to be hoped that this right wing shower are actually motivated by careerism and not ideological fidelity to their rotten right wing politics.  If they are simply careerists they might understand that if they attempt to destroy Corbyn they will in all likelihood so damage their party that they would scupper their own careers as well.

In contrast the great strength of the Corbyn phenomenon, which put him where he is, is invisible, or invisible to the mass media anyway.  While appearing to recognise his mandate the media presents the world from ‘the Westminster bubble’, the same bubble it claims everyone else is outside of, although not apparently themselves.

Even in the case of John McDonnell’s apology on ‘Question Time’, the reporter in the local BBC Northern Ireland news noted that his apology seemed to go down well with the audience.

This support will be tested and its cohesion and growth depends not so much on Jeremy Corbyn himself but on what these people do.  In order to resist and fight the media as part of rebuilding the labour movement they must organise for this objective.  The arguments and political activism of hundreds of thousands will be the only effective response to a hostile media.

What Corbyn and McDonnell’s are now in a position to do is deliver political leadership, with arguments that can effectively galvanise, educate and rally their supporters.  Organisation of their support is the number one objective because only this support can convince the millions who can be won to their cause.

When it comes to the question of Ireland their position needs to be better.  The original political position of McDonnell arose because he put solidarity with the political leadership of the resistance to British rule before opposition to his own country’s oppression of Ireland.  And he did this at a time when this political leadership was surrendering its opposition.

So McDonnell claimed that armed struggle forced the British state to the negotiating table.  So it did, but once it got there this armed struggle showed how useless it was at getting anything from it.  It also showed that there wasn’t going to be any real negotiations unless the armed struggle stopped.  This is always the demand of the British and they get their way.  In fact it is more accurate to say that armed struggle gets them to the table which only becomes a negotiating table when they stop it.

But even in the recent ‘peace process’ this is to overstate its importance.  The Provos had to make significant political concessions before the British would get into substantive political talks, including accepting the supposed neutrality of the British state.  This is before we even consider the capitulation required before unionists would talk to them.

The result of these negotiations and the so-called peace process is something that the British Labour Party should not support.  It should reject the argument that an end to political violence is predicated on a sectarian and increasingly corrupt political settlement.  The political deal, one that has been in crisis since it was born, appeared after the ceasefires.  Of course the rotten nature of this settlement will pass the vast majority of British people by, but then so did the North of Ireland for decades before 1968.

The primary role of a Labour party is to support the independent organisation of workers and this is true of the Labour Party in the imperialist country.  This can best be done by solidarising with Irish workers’ own attempts to do this and campaigning to remove the foreign state presence that frustrates this.

In the North of Ireland the British state does this in a number of ways, including the sponsorship of loyalist paramilitaries and political policing of republicanism, where it has found ‘good’ republicans in the form of the Provos, for whom it will attempt to cover up violence, and ‘bad’ republicans who are labelled dissidents. (See here )

But even if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister he would be able to do little to prevent the British military continuing its criminal conspiracies.  It swears loyalty to the Queen not parliament and certainly not to the people and it does so for a reason.  Marxists make the distinction between being in Government and being in power, between sitting on the top of a state and controlling and directing it.  The example of the British state’s operations in Ireland is graphic proof of the difference.

And there is yet another problem, as a comrade of mine put it last weekend at a rally in support of the refugees: Corbyn is more left wing than anyone in Ireland.  Who would be his political allies here?  Even if he wanted a united Ireland there is no significant political force in Ireland demanding it never mind in a position to do anything about it.

And don’t give me a response of ‘what about Sinn Fein’.  We have been at the stage for some time that when Sinn Fein politicians appear on TV claiming that they’re ‘for a united Ireland’ the reaction is one of – what?  Really?

What Sinn Fein does, its support for sectarian partitionist institutions and its ideological capitulation to unionism, betrays what it sometimes says about being republican.

The truth is that today there is no significant political force fighting for an end to imperialist rule.  Sinn Fein ‘support’ for a united Ireland is on a spectrum of such support declared by every nationalist party in the country and just as empty as the rest.

The task for Irish socialists is therefore very like the one for British socialists – rebuild a working class movement committed to democracy and socialism independent of their respective capitalist states.  That these are essentially the same is why socialists are internationalists.

For British socialists a democratic policy on Ireland is nothing to apologise for and nothing to hide from the British people, but it does not involve hitching their banner to the failed organisations of Irish nationalism including Provisional republicanism.



The scripted reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s victory

corbynwinsimages (12)The scripts say it all.  Boffy’s blog has recorded two Tory spokespeople giving identical responses on television to the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.  Looking at the BBC web site the SNP leader gave two identical answers to two different questions.  They’ve worked out their script beforehand and they’re sticking to it and it ain’t that impressive.

The Tories now know they have an opposition as opposed to competition.  Warning about the dire consequences of some things that many people actually agree with opens up the debate beyond the previous claustrophobic confines of what passed for politics.  They, the Labour Party, are a “serious risk” say the Tories.

Well so much for having no chance of being elected.

Watching the BBC and its litany of Blairite talking heads warning of the problems ahead isalmost amusing – picking a shadow cabinet, prime minister’s questions – how will he cope?; no experience – like has he ever helped pump up a credit bubble; and – the bit I’ve just watched – printing money!!  “The voters don’t understand the technicalities but they know it doesn’t make sense” says a Blair advisor, and you can be sure he doesn’t want them to know either.  Let’s just forget the Blair government’s presiding over a deregulated city that allowed banks to create massive amounts of money that dwarf the Corbyn plans for useful investment.

The BBC questions his ability to keep the Labour Party together after getting almost 60 per cent of the vote, while letting the potential right wing splitters off the hook.

The answer of the SNP leader was also scripted and like all good career politicians she stuck to it, regardless of the question.  She wants a progressive alliance with Labour against Tory cuts, which admits the initiative is really with Labour and only it has the power to defeat the Tories.

Still, while saying she wants an alliance she manages also to say the opposite – “it is clearer than ever that the only credible and united opposition to the Tories, actually north and south of the border, is the SNP”.

Does anyone think that makes any sense?  United – north and south of the border? The Scottish National Party?

All talk of the SNP wanting the Labour party to succeed in opposing the Tories is obvious nonsense. Where would the nationalist platform stand if the Labour Party actually defeated the Tories?

To be fair Nicola Sturgeon explains why it’s nonsense in the short 1 minute 18 second interview – “if Labour cannot quickly demonstrate that they have a credible chance of winning the next UK general election, many more people in Scotland are likely to conclude that independence is the only alternative to continued Tory government.”

Which is of course exactly what the SNP wants.

What about the SNP quickly demonstrating that it will oppose austerity once in office in Scotland?  Or are we to forget they have actually been in it for over 8 years?

So “we no longer have Red Tories” the journalist said – ouch! So Sturgeon repeats the BBC line – “the reality today is that, at a time when the country needs strong opposition to the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn leads a deeply, and very bitterly, divided party.”

So does the SNP want Jeremy to defeat the right wing of the party?  Or would it suit its purposes better for it to remain divided?  But since only a British Labour Government could scrap Trident as opposed to just shift it down the road where does that leave the apparent radical credentials of the SNP?  If nationalism sees itself getting stronger on the back of the working class movement failing isn’t it maybe time the left supporters of nationalism had a rethink?

Texting away to my daughter today I warmly welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn, said there was hope and quoted an old socialist slogan ‘lotta continua’ –the struggle continues.  But perhaps this is not quite right.

Jeremy Corbyn is not a revolutionary and his platform of ‘people’s quantitative easing’ is not that radical (see here and here) as he himself admits, and getting corporations to pay their taxes while saying the current taxes on the banks are about right, is not earth shattering.

But what it may be is eye opening and the beginning of something bigger.  So it’s not that the struggle continues but that in an important way it is beginning, and beginnings always bring hope.

Of course the left is always characterising whatever it does as the beginning, often to hide the fact that what it is doing is the same as before and it is failing, or it is actually the end and has already failed.

But you can’t really say that about the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour party.



Scottish socialists debate independence 2

scottish_independence_sol-471450Neil Davidson argues that Scottish independence and separation would weaken British imperialism.  For Davidson, loss of nuclear weapons that might occur if they were no longer allowed to be sited in Scotland, might mean, for example, that (1) its permanent seat at the UN Security Council might go to India (also armed with nuclear weapons); (2) might weaken its usefulness to US imperialism and (3) presumably weaken the ideological hold of imperialist (i.e. nationalist) ideas on British workers.

Let’s look at these in turn.  Davidson refers to an excellent article in the ‘London Review of Books’ on the British experience in Afghanistan, which actually shows, not the usefulness of the British to the United States military but rather how bloody useless they really were, with overblown pretensions to ‘punch above their weight’ being demolished in the deserts of Helmand.

He fails to explain how replacing the declining imperialism of Britain with the rising capitalist power of India would be progressive, unless he thinks giving more legitimacy to the thieves’ kitchen that is the UN Security Council is some sort of advance. If removal from the Security Council would be a blow to the prestige of British imperialism and weaken its nationalist ideological hold over its people (approx. 63 million) does he not think that this might be balanced by an increase in the legitimacy of reactionary Indian nationalism and its reactionary ideological hold over a population of over 1.25 billion?

As pointed out before, British imperialism has been in decline for some time even with Scotland’s contribution, and will decline further with or without it:  “The strength of British imperialism has already declined by much more than Scottish separation could possibly achieve. Has the prospect for socialism increased during this time?  Has the strength of the working class increased as a result?  The answer is no and rips apart this ‘non-nationalist’ argument for Scottish independence.”

Davidson advances a number of arguments I have taken up before but it would appear that this bogus ‘anti-imperialist’ argument, that really defends a nationalism that has been knee-deep in imperialist blood-letting, is one he comes back to.

Davidson makes it clear in this debate that there is a range of arguments that others on the Scottish left advance in backing independence that he cannot support, including “claims that the Scottish are more democratic or radical than the English”, which he describes as “nonsense”.   This however is contradicted by his second major theme in support of independence, which is the supposed radically progressive character of the movement for independence, even though it’s pretty hard to ignore or deny its dominance by the right-wing SNP, a dominance rammed home after the referendum by the large numbers joining it.  If Davidson were correct we would have seen large numbers of the SNP leaving it to join the left, not traffic the other way (as Sandy McBurney points out).

Davidson, no doubt drawing on his role as a historian, also describes as “idiotic” the view that Scottish national identity existed in the 13th century, at Bannockburn and declaration of Arbroath, and he similarly describes the idea that Scotland is oppressed as also “historical nonsense”.

In fact, it would appear that Davidson finds it hard to swallow much of the nationalist case but that in spitting some of it out he is left with not very much to chew on.

He responds to Sandy McBurney’s analysis of the SNP by saying that it “is assumed that if independence happens, it will be all about the SNP.  But a yes vote on the basis of a mass, collective insurgency which is doing this for left-wing reasons would change the actual context in which the SNP come to power.  It’s not as if they could sail in and just do what they like, in that kind of context.”

But then, having invented an SNP led separate Scottish State that is beholden to a radical insurgent population (why would it still be led by the SNP then?) – an invented fantasy radical Scotland – he says about McBurney’s prognosis of a SNP led Scottish State that it is abstract: “This is a totally abstract argument, it wouldn’t face the actual situation we’d be in if Yes won.”

In other words if Yes had won it would inevitably have been a radical insurgent movement that achieved it so we should continue to make this our goal ignoring the very real unabstracted truth that the neoliberal SNP led and dominated the Yes campaign and, had it won, would have had masses of political credibility to do what it wanted.  Don’t believe me?

Well just look at it now.  It’s implementing austerity, as Sandy McBurney noted, yet tens of thousands of people opposed to austerity are not only voting for it but joining it!

Such is the nature of ideology that can blind people to what is happening in front of their eyes, because what is happening in front of their eyes has to be interpreted.  In a situation of a ‘charismatic’ leader, constant phrases about opposing austerity, constant declarations of the necessity for such austerity by the Tories, and lots of verbiage about the ‘Red Tories’ from left nationalist supporters, it is not altogether surprising that the SNP gets away with rank hypocrisy.  Nationalism is good at this sort of thing in quite a lot of places, including where I live.

So, while accusing McBurney of being abstract, it is actually Davidson who abstracts from the real world to build a political perspective that is not grounded in reality.  So he says that “neoliberalism has to be fought and we have to begin that fight somewhere.” But you always begin from where you are, i.e. with the working class and its organisations as they are.  Not by trying first to create a new capitalist state that for some unknown reason will make the job of opposing austerity easier.

And in fact while Davidson says that “you have to start from the situation you’re actually in”  he doesn’t actually do that.  While hundreds of thousands are joining the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn, Davidson supports a new Scottish Left Project on the basis of a view that the fight for Scottish separation is left wing, when its advance has proved the opposite.  It is the SNP which has mushroomed as a result of the independence referendum despite previous claims that it was being led from the left.

Davidson appears to regret this and describes it as a problem but unfortunately the left nationalism he has hitched up to, albeit comparatively belatedly, bears some responsibility for this.  So when he asks whether it would have been better for the Scottish left to have “just sat around waiting”, “just sit back” and “fold our arms”, the answer is, in the absence of their doing something better like fighting nationalism, Yes.

To take up one last argument.  Davidson and others note that the British establishment, the US President and big business all support the unitary UK state while Sandy McBurney and others, like this blogger, accept the UK state and oppose Scottish separation.

We do so because, as Sandy McBurney states, this provides better conditions to defend and deepen working class unity.   Davidson’s challenge is that “they can’t both be right.”

The bigger sections of the capitalist class support the UK state, and also the European Union, because it provides the widest area within which they can advance their interests of accumulating capital with minimum obstacles to this process.

Marxists accept the UK state because it is the widest area within which the working class can currently organise relatively freely without the divisions caused by national borders and the attendant nationalist politics and ideology which divides it and its organisations.

While capitalism needs the state to defend its interests, and small capital might favour small capitalist states because they appear to better fit its narrower horizon (represented politically for example by the SNP or UKIP), it also seeks to internationalise its activities and have international state bodies that can support it in a way that a small nation state is less able to do.

The interests of the working class however lie in international unity of the class irrespective of nationality.  While those who wish to reform capitalism seek to get their hands on governmental office through operating the levers of the capitalist state, and sometimes see opportunities to achieve this more easily by making the state smaller – by having a separate Scottish state for example – this is not socialism.

Socialism by definition is international and Davidson knows that there is no such thing as socialism in one country – so why create new capitalist states to make the process of breaking out of nation states more difficult?

Marxists therefore have no allegiance to any capitalist state formation and wouldn’t shed any tears if a UK state was replaced by a European one that made the political and organisational unity of British, Irish, German, French and Polish workers etc. easier.

So, when both most of the capitalist establishment opposes Scottish nationalism and socialists do so as well and Davidson says “they can’t both be right”, the answer is – yes they can.

Just as the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend so it is that the political position of the enemy does not require me to take up an equal and opposite position.  The simple minded propaganda of ‘Scotland more radical’ or ‘Scotland oppressed’ or the fanciful claims of the Radical Independence Campaign that Sandy McBurney points to, and Davidson makes no pretence to defend, are no guide for Scottish workers and neither is the attempt at apparently more sophisticated arguments in favour of independence advanced by Neil Davidson.

Political propagandists and political murder in Belfast

Feeney 1imagesAs the political crisis generated by the killing of Gerard McGuigan by IRA members threatens to spiral out of control the politically weary population is invited to pick sides on what is to happen next, with seemingly everyone in favour of keeping Stormont while everyone knows it’s rotten.

This appears to put the onus on being able to blame someone else in order to defend a sectarian corner and the particular rights assumed inside the settlement.

The ‘right’ attitude to the killing has therefore to be asserted first, although it is of the least concern to the parties involved in yet another round of talks.

As a result a notable feature of reaction to the murder of Gerard McGuigan has been the propensity of nationalist commentators to ventilate on the synthetic character of unionist outrage at the murder.  In other words the outrage is fake – they don’t care about dead ex IRA men.

If that were the only point being made the response should be one of agreement.  Yes, unionists have ignored state and loyalist violence and have collaborated openly with paramilitary groups so their condemnation of republican violence is hollow.  They don’t care about dead IRA men and their actions since the latest killing is guided by purely party political calculations.

But that isn’t all there is to it.  The point being made by these nationalist commentators is that what has happened shouldn’t be allowed to upset the current political arrangements because the outrage is phoney.  Just as I pointed out in the previous post on this (that the new peace institutions are now the justification for ignoring the killing of others) so expressing outrage at the killing is also to be discounted because the main unionist complainants are insincere.

And the fact that this outrage is insincere means that this is a purely manufactured crisis that originates in unionist bad faith.  This bad faith is therefore the problem.  The perfidious British however have turned this around, as they usually do, in order to appease unionism.

So nationalists are invited by these commentators to believe that what must be discussed now is not what the danger is to those who fall foul of the Provisional IRA but how the institutions can be saved.  The British are happy to go along with this but add that this involves giving the unionists confidence.  But since this a purely subjective thing we are in the world of Humpty Dumpty – confidence means just what unionists choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

So yes, nationalists have a point about pandering to unionist hypocrisy but they have a problem when they allow this hypocrisy to become their moral compass by replying to unionist hypocrisy with their own.

They have a problem when they excoriate British pandering to unionist violence while turning a blind eye to Provisional murder.  So the outrage at the latter is fake – let’s ignore both it and the event that occasioned it.  Then we can have our equal and opposite hypocrisy.  Unionists complain about Provo violence but we will turn a blind eye to it and complain about loyalist violence.

In this way the sectarian perfect circle of hell attempts to trap everyone within it, everything and everyone is to be defined by sectarian division.

A prime example of this capture by sectarian division, involving capitulation to acceptance of reactionary political violence, can be seen in the regular political columnist in the largest nationalist paper in the North, Brian Feeney in yesterday’s ‘Irish News’.

So the police fingering of Provisional IRA members for the murder of Kevin McGuigan was “ill-considered”.  As I also pointed out before – I wonder would he therefore have considered well-judged the previous failure to finger the loyalist UVF for the attempted murder of a young woman in the same area.

Feeney had a previous column on the unionist invention of the 1960s civil rights campaign as an IRA plot, a fiction of course, but what had this to do with the real IRA plot to kill McGuigan, unless he wanted to claim it too was another unionist fiction?

Instead he goes along with the Sinn Fein line that what this is all about is unionist refusal to live in equality with nationalists: “This refusal to accept mere equality prevents them seeing themselves in the same light as nationalists and republicans.”

He appears totally oblivious to the fact that with this attitude of Nelsonian ignorance of IRA responsibility in murder he should really be writing that nationalists should now see themselves in the same light as unionists, united equally in the same light of sectarian blindness.

By such a descent into sectarianism are nationalist claims for equality to become nationalist equality in sectarianism, which is indeed the political project of Sinn Fein.

He then makes hay with silly and insensitive remarks about “the futile and fatuous attempt to abolish the IRA.”  How would anyone know “if someone has left the IRA? . . how would anyone prove they’d left?”

So does Feeney not want to see the end of the UDA and UVF?  Would Feeney be questioning as futile and fatuous calls for an end to loyalist paramilitaries if they had just killed someone?

Sure how would you know whether they or the Provisional IRA had gone away or not?

Well here’s a start.  You might have a chance of convincing someone they had disappeared if they didn’t kill those who fall foul of them.

Feeney complains that the leader of the DUP Peter Robinson needs to feel that he is “not bound by any constraints that apply to normal relationships.”  Leaving aside what counts for normal in the North of Ireland, does he not think such a remark might also be pointed in another direction?

It was bad enough when the British so openly overlooked and colluded in political murder by loyalists but their shameless excuses for the Provisional IRA and its supposed peaceful intentions complete the circle that working people in the North have to break from.  In this case nationalist workers should see through the muck apparently thrown at the British and unionists because it’s really being thrown in their eyes.  Who else is expected to listen to Feeney?


Scottish socialists debate independence 1

RCSO_I_43_02_COVER.Qxp_RCSO_I_43_02In this post and the next one I review the arguments employed in a debate carried out by two socialists in Scotland on Scottish independence carried in the latest issue of the journal ‘Critique’.  The debate between Sandy McBurney and Neil Davidson is entitled ‘Marxism and the national question in Scotland’ and can be found, with a bit of looking, for free on the net.

The Scottish question remains important and will gain in importance if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership of the British Labour Party.  It is one thing to reject a right wing Labour party for the fools’ gold of Scottish nationalism (although Miliband was to the left of the SNP) and quite another to reject a groundswell of radicalism in favour of division.

If Corbyn wins it will not be the end of that particular struggle but only the beginning. If the left in Scotland rejects this movement in favour of continued division and alignment with the SNP in prioritising independence they will have to deepen their capitulation to nationalism in order to insulate themselves from the reality of a radical movement made up of those whose passivity has been the purported reason for seeking a separate state.

This review of the arguments therefore doesn’t make any pretence to impartiality with regard to the competing claims and differences.

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Sandy McBurney starts his argument from the need to deepen and defend the unity of the British working class in order that it to move forward and he obviously sees Scottish nationalism as an impediment to that unity.

This nationalism is dominated by the Scottish National Party, which he recalls being labelled ‘Tartan Tories’ in the 1970s and 1980s.  He notes its record in office as one of enforcing austerity and notes that it opposes a 50p tax on the rich; opposes rent controls (although there is a promised change on this) and an energy freeze; voted against a motion by the Labour Party in the Scottish parliament that a living wage be paid to those working on Scottish government contracts and did not support the view that blacklisting of union militants should be outlawed.

He therefore points to the disparity between nationalist rhetoric and actual practice.  He says that the working class was split in the referendum but that its most organised sections were right to reject the independence con-job.

He rejects as ridiculous the idea that the SNP is in any sense anti-imperialist and therefore rejects the left nationalist argument that the pro-independence movement is by virtue of this left wing and progressive.

He sees no upsurge in radical and socialist politics in Scotland as a result of the referendum campaign but has seen a big growth of tens of thousands joining the SNP. The recent Scottish Socialist Party conference, he says, had 140 people at it and quite a few leftists have left their organisations to join the SNP. “I’ve been on recent anti-war and anti-austerity demonstrations in Glasgow and to recent left meetings and they’re smaller than they were 10 years ago.”

Instead the effect of nationalism on much of the Scottish left is that “many erstwhile socialists in Scotland now oppose a British-wide socialist party on principle and do all they can to stop one developing.” Some of this nationalist left now call for support for the SNP and Sandy McBurney notes that Tariq Ali called for this at a Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference.

[It may be noted here, as I mentioned in the introduction, that the development of the campaign around Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Party leader thus exposes the real divisive politics of nationalism.  Instead of being part of this reawakening of mass leftist mobilisation across Britain the pro-nationalist left will be forced to explain their hatred of the ‘Red Tories’ after having written off workers joining these ‘Tories’.  A Labour Party led from the left, even a quite moderate left, would undercut all their arguments and every purported justification for Scottish separatism from English and Welsh workers.]

Despite the illusions of Ali and the RIC the plans of the SNP would not lead to an end to austerity but massively more austerity as the gaping hole in its budget plans has demonstrated.  The SNP is not therefore a Scottish Syriza or Podemos, which were products of the workers’ movement, but is more like the nationalist movements in Northern Italy, Catalonia or the Flemish movement in Belgium, which claim they are being held back by the poor – not a very socialist argument.

Left nationalists in the RIC on the other hand have claimed that ‘thousands of jobs’ in a ‘re-industrialised economy’ would be guaranteed by a Yes vote in the referendum. This, McBurney says, is lying to working class people that even the SNP refrained from, including the claim that the minimum wage would be a living wage, which the SNP had not promised, notwithstanding the invention of the RIC.

Neil Davidson in response starts off by stating that his conception of the working class internationally doesn’t stop at the English Channel.  His claim is that his support for Scottish independence is therefore more internationalist in outlook than those like McBurney who support unity of the British working class.  His conception of internationalism “also extends to Basra, Gaza and places Britain has bombed in its imperialist alliance with the US over the last 20-30 years.”

The impression given is thus of a more internationalist orientation.  But this is only an impression, because what Davidson actually says is not that he is in favour of greater international working class unity but that his conception of this unity is determined by who Britain has bombed in the last 20-30 years.  As I shall show, what this is meant to do is not explain how workers unity internationally can be better created by taking a wider view of it, within which a separate Scottish state would play a role, but to provide some internationalist gloss for support for Scottish nationalism and Scottish separation.

Of course, as said and commented on before, Davidson is at pains to claim that his is not actually support for nationalism – supporting Scottish independence does not mean supporting Scottish nationalism.  As also noted before, he attempts to turn the tables on such a claim by saying that if this were so then supporting a unitary UK state would equally be nationalism.  However since he believes that supporting Scottish independence is not nationalism he must therefore himself believe that supporting, or at least accepting, a continuing UK state is also not nationalism.  As I have said before I agree with the latter point but not the former:

“He (Davidson) complains that supporters of Scottish independence are marked as nationalists but those supporting the status quo are not.  Why are those who want to maintain the current British state not British nationalists?  If they can detach their support for the British state from British nationalism why can’t supporters of Scottish independence divorce their support for an independent Scotland from Scottish nationalism?”

“There are two reasons.  Firstly Marxists can advocate a No vote, not by supporting the British state but simply accepting that it is a better framework to advance what they really value, which is the unity of the working class across nations.  On the other hand supporters of Scottish separation are compelled to defend the claim that Scottish independence, by itself, is progressive. . . supporters of independence are reduced to calling for creation of a new border and a new capitalist state.  What is this if not nationalism?”

“The second reason is to do with the consequences of separation.  The argument presented on this blog before is that these would be wholly negative.  A new capitalist state would increase division where uncoerced union existed before.  It would strengthen the forces of nationalism by giving them a stunning victory that they would be stupid not to exploit.  A new state would engender competition, for example on reducing corporate taxes, and give nationalists many opportunities to demand support for ‘our’ new Scottish state and ‘our’ Scottish government.  A Yes vote would strengthen nationalism.  That’s why supporters of Scottish independence are accused of nationalism.”

Davidson argues however that Scottish independence would be a blow against British imperialism by weakening it.  It should be noted that if this argument were true it would be true even if the new Scottish state was led by the SNP, which is why Sandy McBurney rejects the argument that the SNP are in any way anti-imperialist – only the British working class are such a force.

As we have seen, Davidson frames internationalism in terms of who British imperialism has bombed – “maybe we should be thinking about them when we consider these arguments about imperialism.”  So even internationalism becomes part of a Scottish nationalist narrative, in which a rather simplistic anti-British rhetoric allows its speaker to elide the Scottish contribution.  Maybe we should also be thinking of this Scottish contribution to the bombing when we consider the arguments and whether a Scotland with NATO membership, as the SNP plan, would be any different.

irqdownload (1)So, along with a number of left nationalists he places great emphasis on the difficulties that would be involved in the British state retaining nuclear weapons if they were forced to move them from Scotland.

It’s hard to resist pointing out the illusions involved in this approach.  Davidson notes the contradiction between SNP support for NATO and opposition to nuclear weapons on the Clyde.  But why on earth does he think a right wing neoliberal party would resolve such a contradiction by retreating on the right wing policy and not on the left one?  Perhaps he discounts the possibility that the SNP would use up political capital gained from achievement of independence to do a U-turn on nuclear weapons, rather like they have already done on membership of NATO itself.

Likewise it’s relevant to point out that this nationalist talisman is not that progressive.  While opposition to nuclear weapons at the British level is a demand for their scraping and if successful would involve this; the demand of the nationalist left is that they be moved, presumably to England.  In other words it isn’t a demand to scrap them but simply shift them to those who should be allies in getting rid of them.  Even if successful this nationalist demand far from guarantees their abolition while in the meantime it can only divide on nationalist lines any pan-British opposition.

Jeremy Corbyn’s economics 2

o-JEREMY-CORBYN-THE-FACTS-facebookIt would appear that Newton Emerson doesn’t buy the view that quantitative easing might be about investment in real activities that promote growth but his disdain for the economic rationality of Corbynomics and his arguments opposing it are full of contradictions and holes.  So for example while he appears to see it Corbyn’s approach as dangerously radical he notes other, apparently more radical, alternatives such as giving out unfunded tax cuts or rebates, which have come from decidedly mainstream quarters such as George Bush or the head of the Financial Services Authority, who noted that the Bank of England had considered something similar.

The rationale behind Corbyn’s proposal is that the British economy needs sharply rising investment to boost economic growth.  This would produce higher levels of employment with people paying more taxes and taking fewer benefits, in the process reducing the public sector deficit and debt while realising better public services.

Newton Emerson however sees only the prospect of increased inflation because it would mean printing money and giving it to the government who would waste it, leading to rising prices.  He compares this unfavourably with simply handing out money through unfunded tax reductions (characterised as dropping money from a helicopter)or the Bank of England’s own quantitative easing explained in the first post, although he favours each of these for totally different reasons!

So, simply handing out money is good because “it is spent immediately on the high street” while the existing quantitative easing is even better because it “is a more effective and responsive version of the helicopter drop, where the cash is handed out under circumstances that ensure it will be hoarded by the banks.”  So if it’s spent that’s good and if it’s not that’s even better!

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out very much by saying that most commentators think that the banks not lending the money but hoarding it, as explained in the last post, is a problem with quantitative easing as practised by the Bank of England and not a plus.

Of routeing the money through the banks, he says: “Better still, the moment prices start rising, the made-up pounds can be recalled and lending will instantly shrink by a factor of 20, reversing inflation in its tracks”.  Yes indeed, monetary policy usually takes around 18 months to two years but one that works instantly would be even better, except that if it worked by reducing lending instantly and by a factor of 20 the effect would be a catastrophic depression.

Emerson is right when he says that capital investment projects might take two to five years to get off the ground while the money paid on wages and to suppliers starts to be spent right away but this is an effect of any investment, state or private, so why is this only a problem with state investment?

If there were already an investment boom and a cyclical upturn that might shortly lead to overproduction and a glut of goods that cannot be sold profitably because of saturation of the market there would be a point to Emerson’s objection.  But preventing this would require some sort of economic planning, basically an end to capitalism, and he definitely doesn’t favour this.  In circumstances of a meagre upturn after a long recession it is unlikely there is constrained capacity that would lead to rapid inflation if additional money was pumped into the economy in the way proposed.

Emerson shines his Tory credentials by recalling the economic crisis in Britain in the mid-1970s in which deficit spending by the Labour party Government in 1976 led to the IMF being called in to give Britain a loan.  This shows that this sort of Keynesian policy leads only to inflation.  Four decades on, he says, the Corbyn supporters dismiss this lesson.

But his problem is two-fold.  What exactly is the lesson to be learnt and is the situation today the same as that in the mid-1970s?

The lesson drawn by certain advisors to city traders in the mid-1970s was that too much money was being created which was causing inflation and that Governments should target measurements of money supply to ensure that they do not exceed predetermined levels.  This monetarist policy was taken on board by the new Thatcher Government and dropped when it didn’t work.

But even his quoting of Labour leader Jim Callaghan in the 1970s ignores the admission in it that this policy had previously worked.  Post war recessions were shorter and less severe because of Keynesian policies.  Today’s critics of these policies now proposed by Corbyn ignore this, while Keynesians forget that it cannot solve underlying problems.  So yes these policies did lead to inflation, which increased over the post war period and eventually took off, but this brings us to the second question whether conditions today are the same as those of the 1970s?

The ‘money printing’ carried out by the Bank of England etc., which Emerson supports, is not free of inflationary consequences itself, it’s just that he fails to notice because they appear in rising property, share and other asset prices.  The policy of investment by the state at least promises investment in activities that support real production.

The Corbyn alternative is not madcap economics and is more supportive of working class interests than stuffing money into banks whose Directors were only yesterday appearing in parliamentary hearings explaining how they didn’t really know what they were doing.

Nevertheless the Corbyn policy of infrastructural investment by the state is limited in two senses and isn’t itself socialist.  First it’s investment in infrastructure where private capitalist initiative has failed.  The investment proposed is not therefore the sort that would be in competition with private capitalist production and in so far as it will be private capitalist concerns that pick up the contracts, such state investment will be a big boost for them.  Emphasis on state investment in infrastructure is something Corbyn shares with the many left electoral alternatives that have decried the desertion of old labour from its past.  They are pretty naked now it may be back.

The second way it isn’t socialist is that it is the capitalist state that is increasing its role in the economy not worker owned cooperative production, in which workers can democratically take the initiative and learn to run things themselves.  This could lay the economic and social grounds for a political challenge to the system as a whole where workers to decide they should own and run the whole lot.

There is nothing very democratic about current state ownership and the workers within it still answer to a boss.  The success of state led investment in efficiency terms is very much dependent on the developmental capacities of the state itself but when private capitalist intervention has failed it’s not a very strong argument for the likes of Emerson.

Like the rest of the shrill and desperate attacks from the right the local criticism of Corbyn doesn’t hold much water.  Others in the mainstream have recognised openly the limited radicalism in what is being proposed, which may actually be understood by those venting their disapproval.

Their opposition may therefore be motivated by fear that what is being proposed opens other more radical vistas for those seeking an alternative to austerity.  That this may well be the case is a reason why Corbyn should be supported.