The EU: neoliberalism and democracy – part 2

images (10)An argument was made a long time ago by right wing ideologue Frederick Hayek that Europe could only be united on the basis of the free market.  Generally speaking, unity by state power can be achieved by conquest, or diplomatic alliance and compromise which would be slow, messy and prone to threats of resort to the former method. The Left supporters of Brexit also pose the unity being attempted by the EU as one underpinned by, in fact essentially and intrinsically comprised of, neoliberalism and its child austerity.  This approach is presented as a policy choice at the national level but essential to the EU, which doesn’t add up.

The imposition of austerity in the Eurozone for example is a policy choice determined by the conservative leadership of Germany and some other Northern European countries. In large part this is a reflection of the interests of their particular national capitalism, or its perceived interests, so not an inevitable feature of European capitalist integration.

The imposition of this particular national capitalist regime across Europe cannot work so it involves the subordination of weaker capitalisms such as the Greek etc.  The ultimate subordination is expulsion from the Euro club, whereupon the Greek state is free to reflect its weakness through devaluation, have greater freedom to preserve or expand crony state ownership and decide which sections of its population it wants to throw to the wolves and which to protect. What it could not do on its own is reverse austerity and develop a strong capitalist economy.  A separate Greek socialism is out of the question.

The refusal of the strongest national states within the EU to seek an alternative to austerity that addresses the needs of all member states is grounded on refusal to implement fiscal transfers between states, common and pooled debt and greater regulation.  This would involve not less but more European integration but will not be accepted by the conservative led national states without their much greater control of the EU.  The question then becomes one of democracy.

For the nationalist opponents of the EU, on the right and left, democracy can only be national.  The Irish People’s Movement repeats this again and again:

“The EU is most accurately seen as a supranational anti-democratic system that deprives Europe’s diverse living peoples of their democracy while serving the interests of its big state members, as mediated through their ruling politico-economic elite, interacting with the Brussels bureaucracy. The project of EU and euro-zone integration is at bottom an attempt to overturn throughout much of Europe the democratic heritage of the French Revolution: the right of nations to self-determination, national independence, and national democracy.”

“. . . This right to national self-determination is the foundational value of all modern democracies and of democratic politics within them. But it is anathema to the EU elite. . . . The core illusion of the EU elite is that the peoples of the euro zone will consent to abandon their national independence and democracy, reversing centuries of European history . . .”

Today the increasing lack of democracy across Europe is sometimes put down to a lack of accountability of the governing elites in Brussels to the electorate, but it is notable that this complaint is widely expressed at national level as well.  The Irish State for example has long had two major parties periodically alternating in office that have had no ideological differences and which have provided no meaningful political choice.  In the last election the electorate voted against the incumbent main party and got it back in government.  In some other counties there has been more appearance of choice but it has been obvious for years that even social democratic parties have embraced neoliberalism, so it is not an EU only phenomenon.

It is argued however that it is worse in the EU and, unlike at the level of the individual state, nothing can be done.  It must be noted however that this malaise at the EU is partially a result of the processes at national level and made worse by being filtered here first. If pressure from below is stifled by the national political system there is much less to transmit upwards to the EU’s bureaucratic machinery.  At this EU level there are no European political parties, the trade unions at a European level are a shell and there are no other vehicles for protest except protest itself and its campaigns that put pressure on institutions but fundamentally do not threaten them.

The organisation, or rather the lack of organisation, of workers at the European level is not something that can be rectified by more democratic arrangements at the EU, although this would obviously help.  It is a task for workers themselves and seeking the nationalist way out is not a solution but rather running away from a problem that cannot be escaped.

The nationalist nonsense that posits democracy rising from the nation ignores the existence of nations that have had precious little democracy and ignores the process of struggle that imposed on ruling elites what democracy there is.  The idea that centuries of European history were devoted to the development of national democracy is as fatuous as the idea that these nations were generally independent states. War and subjugation has been a feature of the history of European states as much, if not more, than any sort of mythical independence, which no longer exists even for large European states never mind the smaller ones.

What is true is that the development of capitalism took place at the national level and that this involved the creation of classes which had a material interest in forms of bourgeois democracy and which fought for them as a result.   The state form within which this development took place has been elevated into the development itself but it is capitalist economic development and the political struggles that it generated that are the real foundations of bourgeois democracy.

That capitalist economic development has burst the bounds of nation states has created problems in relation to the forms of democracy that have taken root at the national level.  At this level the machinery of the state has legitimised capitalism through nationalist ideology and the exercise of state power that has educated, subordinated and reformed the society in which everyone has grown up in; making nothing more natural than the idea of belonging to a nation.  From this ideology and the state’s power to mould society has come the view that rights, freedoms and politics in general can only be framed at the national level with anything above this simply being political relations between the states and therefore not actually above them.

History is further perverted in this nationalist version by declaring that the ideals of the French revolution were purely national, ignoring the proclamations within it relating to the rights of individuals, the freedom of individuals and the equality of individuals.  In the first part of these two posts it was noted that for some Irish nationalists these “are not unequivocal concepts. There is no Union-wide consensus on what constitutes a higher or lower standard of protection of rights; there is no consensus on the source of human rights, such as the theory of natural law, whether secularly or religiously based, that would permit a rational analysis and evaluation of conflicting positions.”  But we are expected to believe such problems of unequivocal definition, consensus on source and application of rights, disappear within the nation, with all its minorities subservient to whatever the national ideal of these happens to be.  Most important of all, the national definition of these non-unequivocal concepts is assumed to be superior to the different understandings of these concepts that arise from the class divisions within society.  Instead these are assumed to be erased by unity behind a mythical ‘national interest’.

This understanding of the world as fundamentally structured by nations within which coherent, consistent and valid interests are formed and expressed reaches its height when we are told that:

“Although the EU has most of the formal features of a state, and Euro-federalists aspire to it becoming a United States of Europe, comparable to the United States of America, outsiders hesitate to regard it as a state in its own right. They think that if it were such it must surely have its own people, who would identify with it and insist on endowing it with some meaningful democratic life. But such a people does not exist.”

If this means anything it means that democracy can only exist for a relatively homogenous people, defined by nationality, which is the worst sort of ethnic-centred nonsense to which all nationalism is prone to fall into. It condemns those states that are multi-national in composition, which must presumably not expect to have any sort of democratic political arrangements.  This also of course absolves the EU, because it too cannot be expected to be democratic.  In fact no future unity of peoples can be expected to be democratic either. The more one reads this short paragraph the worse it gets.

But for a socialist it is precisely the identity of interests within the nation that must be exposed and rejected a false.  In contrast it is the identity of the interests of working people regardless of nationality that is the essential socialist argument and historically the nation state that has been the last barrier to the creation of the new society that expresses these common interests.  Workers of the world unite! is the clarion call of socialism.  If capitalism seeks to unite Europe on its own terms it is not the job of socialists to seek to reverse its progress but to fight for creation of the socialist society on these foundations.

If the nationalist left does not know how democracy, workers unity and a socialist future can be fought for except within the realm of separated national states then it should step aside because whatever the problems posed to socialists by the EU they will continue to exist, in fact worsen, in the nationalist rat race that implementation of their policies would involve.

concluded

Back to part 1

 

 

 

The EU: neoliberalism and democracy – part 1

EU-TWEET-2Both right and left supporters of leaving the EU see it as some sort of emerging Super State, a bureaucratic Leviathan sitting on top of a population of so many Joseph Ks, captured by its labyrinthine rules, in a state of helpless and woeful ignorance of the malevolent plans to which they are subject.

Within its confines there is no way out, there is no solution.  Nothing is familiar.   It is foreign in every respect.  There is no democracy and you can do nothing to change it.  For the Left it cannot be reformed – its essential character is neoliberal – although it can be defeated, or rather it can be escaped from.  And this is what Brexit offers.

It offers release from a putative empire and its recognisable emperor – Germany.  The very breadth of the alternatives presented as possibilities outside its walls is testament to the potential freedom existing beyond its bewildering restrictions, its Treaties, Guidelines, Regulations and Directives. The natural territory of democracy is the nation and the return of national democracy will free Europe’s very different peoples to make their own decisions.

The differences between the British, the Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks and Italians etc. are simply too great.  No cultural commonality or elements of unity can be found and therefore no common political architecture can accommodate their different views, aspirations, values and demands.  Lack of democracy within any project that attempts it is therefore inevitable.

The ‘Peoples Movement’ in Ireland, which opposes the EU and supports Brexit puts it like this:

“The supposition in the EU Treaty that member-states already share a common value system is, moreover, a disingenuous fiction. The principles of “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law” which are stated in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union to be the foundation of the EU, are not unequivocal concepts. There is no Union-wide consensus on what constitutes a higher or lower standard of protection of rights; there is no consensus on the source of human rights, such as the theory of natural law, whether secularly or religiously based, that would permit a rational analysis and evaluation of conflicting positions.”

——

Such an analysis is not one that any socialist can endorse or support.  In fact socialism rejects every substantive claim made above.

The EU is not even a State never mind a Super State.  If we begin with the understanding that the state consists above all of armed bodies of men and women then the EU has no army and no police with which to assert the class interests of European capitalism.  It often cannot unite politically even if it did have a single and coherent state apparatus to command. It had no such view when Yugoslavia disintegrated and it was NATO that went to war.  That it is not a Super State became clear in its failed intervention in the Ukraine, where it lacked the economic power, political unity of purpose and military prowess to counter Russia.

The illusion of a united, efficient and increasingly powerful bureaucratic apparatus reveals a view of bureaucracy as a predominantly rational and rules bound organisation that is internally coherent.  But not only is this not the case with any bureaucracy it is certainly not true of the EU.  Even its critics, or at least some of them, are not so much forced to acknowledge this but see it as a primary feature of the EU – that its rules are as often observed in the breech as in the observance.

There is apparently a remarkable level of non-compliance within the EU and its member states, in which EU Directives are not transposed into national law, rules are not adhered to, decisions at summits are not respected and European Court of Justice rulings are not enforced.  In other words the state machinery necessary to impose laws is not in place.

So the Maastricht rules dealing with debt and deficits were first broken by Germany and France while such rule breaking by Greece is anathema.  Much has been made of the Greeks fiddling statistics to get into the Euro but what they did was simply to follow what the Italians had done before, and everyone looks the other way when this is mentioned.  Bank stress tests are taken seriously by no one. The Eurogroup, the body that decides on these economic matters, that determines the economic policy in the Eurozone, has no legal standing and therefore doesn’t legally exist.

The incoherence of much of the bureaucratic machinery is illustrated in the inefficiency and corruption that besets the EU.  It lacks effective financial controls so that it has failed its own Court of Auditors for over twenty years.  In 2003 only 10 per cent of payments by the European Commission “faithfully reflected budgets and expenditure”, while the rest could not be accounted for and over 10,000 cases of larceny were uncovered in the year before. When the Chief Accountant reported that the EU budget “was an open till waiting to be robbed”, Neil Kinnock fired her. He also smeared another whistle-blower after she reported improprieties at Eurostat, a statistics agency whose figures were employed in allocating the EU budget. It has been investigated six times, during which shell companies, slush funds and “rake-offs” were all uncovered.

In his latest Book – ‘And the weak suffer what they must’ –the ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, rips into the failed design of the Euro and the rules it is based upon but admits that these rules are often in large part made up by the EU as it goes along.  This includes as a result of the struggle between the Bundesbank, its German ordo-liberals and the Draghi-led European Central Bank and its commitment to ‘do whatever it takes’ to save the Euro.

This is not some sort of all powerful juggernaut or all-powerful emerging German empire.  The GDP of Germany in 2015 was over €3 trillion while that of the EU as a whole was over €14.6 trillion, so the German share was around 20%.  Germany also lags behind Britain and France in terms of military capacity so whatever about its economic strength this is not basis for a fourth Reich.  Germany can lead but it cannot on its own determine the future of the EU.

The EU therefore lacks the scope and depth of function required of a state while aspiring to both, the difference for its critics often obscured by its declarations of intent and its bombastic and arrogant approach to what it does control.  It is not therefore easily identified, categorised and summed up so, when its more obviously nationalist critics denounce it, the simplicity of their analysis is often embarrassing. So the People’s Movement can’t help but notice that the EU has no army and police but “Their absence makes it all the easier to hide from ordinary citizens the reality of Europe’s hollowed-out nation-states and the failure of their own mainstream politicians to defend their national democracies.”  The People’s Movement declaration of hollowed out national states fails to register its admission that the EU proto-state is also empty of crucial functions.

The simple story of EU power also includes the declaration that the EU cannot be reformed as it is intrinsically a neo-liberal construct, one that enforces this economic policy on its members.  But as we have noted, such enforcement is not uniform.  The progenitor of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, was not a vehicle for the free market but a cartel arrangement for oligopolies. The EEC/EU was part and parcel of Europe-wide Keynesian policies in the 1960s and is now part of the neoliberal turn that was to be consolidated in the European Constitution but became part of the Lisbon Treaty when this constitution was rejected.  It is also strongly in evidence in the austerity agenda mandated by the Maastricht Treaty and enforced during the Eurozone crisis.  It has not therefore always been part of the EU and there is good reason why it may not remain part, including that it is not working, for example irrecoverable debt cannot be repaid.

While the EU has introduced state aid rules that restrict state subvention of private capital it does not prohibit it.  The Lisbon Strategy of 2000 called for it to be phased out but the reality became more rules that explain how it may be permitted.  In the years 2000 to 2011 its level didn’t change, amounting to 0.7 per cent of GDP, so argument continues as to whether public procurement in the EU is more or less open than its competitors in the US or Japan.

The EU is made up of states, which jealously guard not only the interests of their national capitals but also their own interests as states. This includes protection of state owned capital.  For example in the field of energy, where the EU has some competence i.e. it has some control, many components of this industry are still state owned. Even in the Irish State, at the depths of the crisis and diktats from the Troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, the state retained ownership of much of power generation through ESB and the electricity transmission and distribution system through EirGrid.

Those on the Left who regard the interests of nation states, and their powers of discretion, as the alternative to the neoliberalism of free markets have a lot of explaining to do, in particular how these states that barter and trade off the perceived benefits of trade to themselves, and the big capitalist businesses they seek to protect, are any sort of alternative.  The seeming obsession of the EU with competition rules is in part an inevitable result of any inter-state cooperation, which is undoubtedly more involved in the EU, but which would not disappear outside of it, that is if progress on trade and investment deals is to be made.

The emphasis on free markets and competition arises not just from a general and obvious commitment to capitalism by all the European capitalist states but from the desire to create a free trade area across Europe in the same way that there is generally free trade within the national states themselves.  This is not because the individual states do not want to intervene to bolster the position of national champions but because they must have rules and mechanisms that limit the same intervention by the other states that may be to the detriment of their own capitals.

The developing logic is to create not national champions but European ones, which leads to a similar process at the world level.  The US and Japan etc., like the EU, seek trade and investment deals that will allow the growth of their capitals without discriminatory barriers put in their way by other states.  Each therefore has to strike deals that limit such practices, not only between but also within their borders, and which protect their own big capitalist businesses. The confidence to exploit and exchange commodities that exists at the national level is sought at the European and world level through a single European market and world trade and investment deals.  To see these deals as the problem and not the system of exploitation and commodity exchange that is taken for granted at the national level is to forsake a socialist for a purely nationalist perspective and fail to understand the roots of what is going on.

A contradiction thus exists between the rhetoric of free competition and the state and EU interventions that seek to strengthen particular capitalist concerns.  From this also arises the repulsive system of lobbying by big business that is such a feature of the Brussels scene.  It brings to light the crony and corrupt interface between politicians and capitalists which has grown organically at nation state level and because of this is much better hidden from public view.

The contradiction is also expressed through the fact that the state at a national level not only provides for a level playing field that privileges the workings of capitalist competition, which finds expression through the market, but also intervenes positively to support groups of, or individual, capitalist concerns.

This not only involves what might be considered purely economic measures, such as grants, subsidies, and taxation arrangements but also purely political interventions that for example provide for or foreclose market access.  The rules and the wrangling in the EU are the outcome of the attempts to do this at a supra-national level.  Such activities would continue were Europe to revert to a world of separate nation states – the world beloved of nationalists and a left no longer confident of the future but hankering for a supposed golden age of social democracy, i.e. a particular form of capitalism.

What does change in the EU framework is acknowledgment that the state’s intervention in support of capitalism is no longer adequate if confined to the national level and that the political interventions required also have to take place at the European level.  The logic is creation of a political vehicle that can do this adequately, a European State.  If you don’t like this the answer is not to attempt to turn back the clock to an earlier form of capitalism that the development of the system has outgrown but to make the alternative to capitalism also international.

Forward to part 2

Fighting terrorism after Paris

_86692951_86692950One expression of the dogmatic campaign that has followed the terrorist attacks in Paris is the near hysterical reaction of politicians and media in Britain to Jeremy Corbyn’s reply to a question on support for a police shoot-to-kill policy, that he ‘would not be happy with it’.

This has evoked an opportunist and cynical moral outrage that seeks to marginalise opposition to repressive measures by making everyone feel that, of course, the very idea of opposition to such an idea is crazy.  Yet when you look at the question asked, Jeremy Corbyn would have had to be crazy to answer it in any other way – ‘would you be happy to order the police to shot to kill.’

So a politician orders the police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy, a licence-to-kill, that, if it were to mean anything other than incoherent frothing at the mouth, would mean rewriting the law by simply ignoring it.

All obviously in the course of defending our liberties and the rule of law.  Giving the police the prior authority to kill in advance ‘of split-second decisions’ (what a contradiction that is for a start) is held up as defence of western civilisation.

Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station on CCTV........pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 07917221968

Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station on CCTV……..pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 07917221968

Has the name of John Charles de Menezes slipped from everyone’s memory already?  Isn’t it revealing that the same BBC that only five months ago was reporting the tenth anniversary of his murder are demanding  that just such an approach to policing is made the benchmark of a rational response to terrorism. Have the police ever shown any reluctance before to do anything other than shoot-first-ask-questions-later?  How many are languishing in jail for having murdered innocent people?

The great British liberal establishment once again demonstrates every criticism made of its hypocritical self-righteous arrogance to be completely true.  These liberals will wrestle with their conscience and their conscience will lose.  They will defend democratic and civil rights, except when they are under attack.  And they will defend our freedom by ridding us of as much of it as they can get away with.

What has been staggering has been the sheer stupidity of some of the contributions to this ‘debate’, a debate in which no one is allowed to present a different opinion.  One can almost still hear the BBC Radio 4 presenter raise his voice to exasperated levels asking why Corbyn didn’t answer a different question from the one he was asked.

We have a Labour MP saying, and I paraphrase: ‘we have bombed Iraq why can’t we bomb Syria – it would be like bombing Hamburg and not Berlin in the Second World War.’

They’re different bloody countries you idiot!

When you bomb a country you are declaring war on it.  (This blog by Boffy explains.)  Not hard to understand but easily proclaimed by the politically hysterical in the safe and secure knowledge that as long as you bare your bloated chest in moral outrage and demand more repressive measures you will be saved the cross examination meted out to Corbyn or, last night, to Ken Livingstone.

So the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme had some Tory MP and ex-Brit (as we put it in this part of the world) saying that, just like the Prime Minister, we ‘shouldn’t look back’, which was in response to another interviewee pointing out the disastrous consequences of western intervention in the Middle East in the past.  The latter of course is called learning from history, or ‘evidence based policy’ as it might also be called nowadays.

For the educated and discerning liberal, with the memory of a goldfish, there is this article in ‘The Guardian’ which says – yes the west has screwed up the Middle East but (and this is the bit where you need a goldfish memory) Corbyn’s argument is “mangled history without a conclusion, half an argument, the sound of one hand wringing.”

So we begin with this “mangled history”:-

“The charge sheet against western policy dating back a generation is easily drafted. It takes moments to weave a tale of counterproductive geopolitical vandalism, starting from US support for the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, via the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq, pausing to condemn blind eyes turned and arms sold to Saudi Arabia, whence the theology of infidel-murder pullulates.”

Only for all this to be simply “selective history that adorns jihadi propaganda” at the end of the short article.

This is not unlike some commentary on the Left which, recognising the thoroughly reactionary nature of Islamic fundamentalism and the attacks in Paris, seeks to deny that these acts are at least partly the result of imperialist intervention; as if this rather obvious fact necessarily lends some little bit of legitimacy to the terrorists’ actions.

So they echo in left phraseology the claim that the Paris attacks were solely motivated by a barbaric and obscurantist religious fanaticism, which at the very most uses western actions as cynical justification.

That it was indeed inspired by the former does not exhaust its motivation or that of those who join it.

With a liberal understanding of politics, of moral absolutes that get applied relatively- depending on the circumstances, but rolled out as absolutes again when it suits, it is easy to see the logic.  (A good article pointing out the hypocrisy is here.)

With a Marxist approach it is not.  Those who seek the development of a working class movement don’t have to think twice about denying anything legitimate in, or any progressive impulse within, movements that would happily destroy any manifestation of socialism in societies they control.

The reason all this is important is not really that we must demand fair and balanced coverage from the BBC.  If you’re waiting, hoping or something like expecting that, you must also be expecting a new ten-part series on massive welfare sponging by a long-established German immigrant family in a palace called Buckingham.

The class bias of the BBC is part of its DNA.  While we can expose it and condemn it and even demand it stop, the answer does not lie in expecting this to happen.  Its blatantly biased treatment of Corbyn will become a vaccine to more and more people, and will prove to be the case when the British labour movement builds its own mass media to counter the BBC and the gutter press who manufacture many of the stories it regurgitates.

The real importance of this analysis is the fact that the state that is the author of  the ‘mangled history’ is now presented as our only protector against unmerciful violence.  And the working class movement is in no position to present an immediate and live means of defence as an alternative.

An armed mass labour movement does not exist and will not forseeably for some time so our alternative means of defence starts with political argument.  And prime among these is a fact already apparent to many, that western imperialist intervention in the Arab region has fertilised the soil of Islamic fundamentalism and must share responsibility for the monster it has both directly and indirectly created.

To expect this imperialist state to place the needs of working people above its own needs is a political innocence that needs to be shaken off and renounced.

To win an argument that working people cannot rely on the armed forces of the state never mind agree it be allowed vastly increased powers is a difficult one where we are under direct threat and direct attack.  We should therefore not accept its exculpation of its own sins on the basis that we must simply damn the reactionary terrorists.  The depths of this terrorist reaction is testified not only by the barbarity of the attacks on ordinary working people but by their objective of seeking to make all of us part of the undifferentiated ranks of western decadence and aggression.

This is not the West that really exists just as Islamic fundamentalism is not the Arab world that exists.  There is a unity between the peoples of both that stands separate and above the alliance of western imperialists and reactionary rulers of the Arab peoples.

However far away this might now seem there will be no justice for those murdered through surrendering our own freedoms and cheering the imperialist acts of violence that brought us to where we now seek to escape from.

 

The UK general election part 3: sectarianism and democracy

SF 1 downloadIn the final post on the UK general election I want to look at the results from my own little polity and the political slum that is Northern Ireland.  Like all slums the blame for its condition lies with the landlord, the British state.  As usual all the tenants hope and expect that the landlord will clean it up. But it never does.

There the analogy should rest.  The most recent election was notable for what the front page of the Northern nationalist paper, ‘The Irish News’, described as ‘Nationalists turn away from the polls’.  Their parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, collected 38.4% of the vote while the DUP and Ulster Unionists captured 41.7%.  The latter figure does not include the various other unionist parties such as Traditional Unionist Voice and UKIP which brings the unionist total to 46.6%. If we include the Alliance Party, which is a unionist party in all but name, the unionist vote was 55.2%.

The message?  There isn’t going to be a United Ireland any time soon.  The Sinn Fein vote went down slightly by 1% even while the SDLP vote declined by 2.6% and it lost the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat, not the way they wanted to enter into the historic hundredth anniversary of the 1916 rising.  ‘The Irish News’ explained that the nationalist vote had declined to its lowest level since the 1992 Westminster vote, which is before the ceasefires. That is, before the current peace process ‘strategy’ of republicans was/is supposed to deliver a united Ireland.

None of this fits with the accepted story of a rising Catholic population and a more and more demoralised Protestant one.  Sooner or later, the story goes, there will be a Catholic majority that will vote in a united Ireland. The truth of this is accepted by many and, I would hazard a guess, by many who would deny it vehemently in public.  I remember my aunt, a Shankill Road Protestant, remark about 25 years ago that there would eventually be a united Ireland, but not in her lifetime.  And she was at least half right in that.

Socialists have always supported self-determination for the Irish people as a whole, as the only democratic response to the Irish national question.  Not of course universally.  The Militant Tendency/Socialist Party tradition with its notoriously statist view of socialism, which incidentally has nothing to do with Marxism, has always managed to get it wrong.  Its statist view has seen it join left nationalist formations in Britain such as NO2EU, and it led the rightward collapse of the left in Scotland into Scottish nationalism.  In the North of Ireland on the other hand, entirely consistent with its accommodation to whatever nationalism is strongest, it has capitulated time and time again to loyalism and the British State.

This general response of socialist to the national question remains correct but the growth of nationalism in the North of Ireland, which now appears halted, has demonstrated that democracy is not a classless construct.  Bourgeois democracy in a society which has always been characterised by sectarianism has definite limits.

These limits are demonstrated in the more and more sectarian expression of northern nationalism.  This means that the expression of democracy by the working class can only be of a non-sectarian character, or it would fail to be a particular expression of the working class.  In other words the expression of a democratic alternative to partition must come from the working class and not from any nationalist formation.  It must therefore be non-sectarian, not in an unconscious sense, in which to be anti-imperialist is somehow also to be ‘objectively’ anti-sectarian, but in a conscious sense that this is the key objective – of uniting the working class.  Just like Scotland so must this be the case in Ireland, that socialism cannot be derived from what happens to be bad for the UK state but from the political unity of workers.

The degeneration of Sinn Fein and Irish republicanism demonstrates that fidelity to the belief in a united Ireland is no guarantee of progressive politics.  It used to be said that Irish republicanism was largely confined to Catholics because of sectarianism and this also remains true but it is also now the case that the Irish republicanism of Sinn Fein is confined to Catholics because it is sectarian.

Once the Provisionals stopped fighting the British and decided to join in the governance of its system, and started asking the landlord to sort out the slum – the landlord responsible for its creation – it stopped having any claim to progressive status.  It then became the most militant and vocal champion of Catholic rights, not civil rights, but sectarian rights.  This has been exposed in the case of a prominent Sinn Fein Minister and also in the recent election.

In North Belfast Sinn Fein put out an election leaflet that included a graphic showing the Catholic and Protestant proportions of the constituency, the none too subtle message being that the majority Catholic constituency should be electing a Sinn Fein MP.  But of course that also means that Protestants must vote for the sitting Unionist MP.

The Sinn Fein excuses for it only bury it deeper in the sectarian mire.  First the excuses arrived only after it spent weeks defending the leaflet.  Then it wanted, it said, to use the terms nationalist and unionist but the Post Office said census figures had to be couched in terms of Catholic and Protestant.  So what it is saying, after trying to blame the Post Office, is that  instead of rejecting the graphic it decided that yes indeed substitution of Nationalist and Unionist by Catholic and Protestant was fine.  Now we know what it means when it uses the former terms in future.

Oh, and one more thing.  It regretted its decision to include the graphic – as Mr Gerry Kelly said “I think, in retrospect, the decision then should probably have been to withdraw the graph, because it did give an argument to our opponents, whether that was the SDLP or unionists.”  Yes Gerry, you’re right about that.

SF2images (10)

The reactionary position of Sinn Fein was also demonstrated in another graphic used on its leaflet for their candidate in South Belfast.  Having misleadingly described the candidate as ‘the poll topper’ – in fact the sitting MP was from the SDLP – it then said he was the ‘only Progressive Candidate who can win’ – clearly not the case since the SDLP were not listed by the leaflet as one of the five parties ‘united for austerity.’

These five parties were the Conservatives, DUP, UUP, UKIP and Alliance Parties. One of these parties stood out from the others – the DUP.  Why? – because Sinn Fein is in permanent coalition with this party.  And at the time the leaflet was put through the doors the Tories looked like they might be relying on the DUP to get them into power.

Wouldn’t that have looked lovely – the so-called anti-austerity Sinn Fein in Government with the DUP who were keeping the austerity-inflicting Tories in Government.  Don’t bother to try to work out how Sinn Fein would have justified it, they have been justifying inflicting one of the most right wing parties in Europe on this part of the continent for years.

‘The Irish News’ front page has reflected the disorientation of Northern nationalism following the election.  It produced some commentator to explain what had gone wrong.

Apparently  there is a ‘growing number of nationalists who appear switched off from the electoral process (reflecting) a community more at ease with Northern Ireland.’

The commentator said that “I think unionism is more highly strung about identity issues.  Nationalism is more happy in general with the status quo and there is a lack of competition between the parties.  Nationalism is suffering a retreat.”

Almost all of this is rubbish.

Yes, nationalism is suffering a retreat, it’s been retreating for years, and now endorses the legitimacy of partition and its institutions, the British nationality of Irish Protestants and the unionist veto on a united Ireland.

Contrary to its assertion, there is no lack of competition among nationalist parties and unlike unionism there was no electoral pact between the SDLP and Sinn Fein during the election.

Relatively high unionist participation in the election is not because they are more highly strung about identity; in fact the lack of unionist voter participation has been remarked upon for years.  Did they suddenly get a fit of the nerves just recently?  Newspapers have recently reported increasing numbers of parents from what is called ‘a Protestant background’ refusing to designate their children as Protestant at school.

The fall in the nationalist vote is not because nationalists are happy with the status quo but exactly the opposite.  The stench of nepotism, cronyism and corruption from Stormont is all the more repelling on the nationalist side given the claims to radical politics and progressive change from the nationalist parties, particularly Sinn Fein.

Instead the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition Government has been beset by crisis, incapacity, incompetence, secrecy, arrogance, lack of accountability, lack of transparency and financial scandal.  The simplest of questions don’t get answered for years (perhaps never) by Government departments with dozens of communications staff.

The latest such offerings are the revelation of the extent of the employment of Special Advisors (SPADS) employed by all the parties in office without any public recruitment process.  These SPADS are supposed to bring special skills to their political masters, the most prominent of which appears to be their close connection to the parties and their ability to hide any special skills.

freedom of information request revealed that in one financial year the Stormont Executive spent almost £2m on these SPADS, more than the Scottish and Welsh governments combined.  In 2013/2014, the pay bands and grades for these special advisers varied across the UK, going from £36,000 up to £91,000.  In Scotland, three of them were in the top pay band while at Stormont all 21 posts were.

The second is the scandal around a contractor to the Housing Executive which we reported on before here and here.  The SPAD at the centre of the controversy, far from being dumped has been promoted while it is reported that the DUP member who took a more principled stand is being subject to disciplinary action by the party.  At the end of an editorial dripping with scorn ‘The Irish News’ declared of the Stormont regime that “it is increasingly doubtful if the institutions are worth preserving in the first place.”

When the main voice of constitutional nationalism expresses exasperation with the peace process institutions it really does mean a lot of nationalists are thoroughly disillusioned.  This is one of the main results of the election.  In itself it is not a positive but it is certainly a prerequisite for one to develop.

 

The Paris attacks

paris imagesWhen the events in Paris unfolded last week I initially thought that I was witnessing marginalised and alienated young people involved in acts of reactionary medieval brutality.  However the terrorists, and that is exactly what they were, employing the weapon of violence in order to terrorise into silence critics of their religion, were not young.  Nor was their inspiration.

Perhaps this does not matter.  Seeing them as marginalised and alienated adults is not so very different from seeing them as disaffected youth who are rebelling against an authority they despise.  It does however make it easier to appreciate that not every act of the marginalised and alienated is a distorted expression of progressive impulses.  For the second half of my initial view can hardly be challenged – that the Islamic fundamentalism expressed by the attackers is reactionary and characterised by medieval barbarism.

The forces mobilised by fundamentalism in such attacks should no more be seen as potential candidates for enlistment in the socialist cause, but who have unfortunately been led astray,  than are those who normally make up the ranks of the lumpenproletarian supporters of fascism.  Not all victims of capitalism are candidates for its socialist opposition.  That has never been the case, nor will it ever be the case.  The basis for socialism is not the most angry, desperate or oppressed but the working class and particularly its most enlightened sections.

These are not people who seek a failed or counterproductive means to an end with some progressive content.  The victory of Islamic fundamentalism over imperialism in countries with a Muslim majority is no sort of victory for the working class.  The enemy of my enemy is not by this fact my friend and the view that the greatest enemy is imperialism does not relegate to minor status the reactionary forces that seek to take society backwards.  This is especially true for socialists in those countries in which fundamentalism is strong and who do not have the luxury of seeing these forces as second order opponents or worse, genuine expressions of some sort of anti-imperialism.

The Anti-Capitalist Party in France states:

“This murderous violence comes from somewhere. It’s created in the heart of the social and moral violence which is very familiar to large numbers of the young people who live on the working class estates. It’s the violence of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and the violence of unemployment and exploitation. This barbarous violence is the monstrous child of the social war that the right and the left are waging in the service of finance. On top of this there are the wars they have started against Iraq, in Afghanistan, Libya, Africa and Syria. . . .”

But we can identify the ‘somewhere’ more accurately, for there is a direct connection between the murderous violence and reactionary social forces in what is called the Middle East, reactionary forces that are the enemy not only of French workers but of young people and workers in the countries of the Middle East.

The Anti-Capitalist Party also says that “there is no answer to the social decomposition of which the crime against Charlie Hebdo is a dramatic expression unless we fight the politics which make it possible.” But this social decomposition has taken the form in this case of Islamic fundamentalism, which must be fought.

The argument that the enemy is imperialism and the task is to oppose it as the root cause of the Paris events cannot excuse the need to respond to these attacks in the appropriate way, to identify the actions as wholly reactionary – the acts themselves, their motivation and their consequences.

In any case imperialism and fundamentalism are not opposites.  State sponsors of Islamic fundamentalism, such as Saudi Arabia, are often supported by imperialism and no general distinction can be drawn between the two such that opposition to one can be fundamentally separated from opposition to the other.  The forces of Islamic fundamentalism are at least partly the direct and indirect result of the actions of imperialism.  That they are only partly the result means that while opposition to one cannot be separated from opposition to the other neither can opposition to one be reduced to opposition to the other.

While some of this fundamentalism now pretends to an anti-imperialism this is the purest opportunism behind which lie reactionary class and ideological interests.  That first great fundamentalist state, Iran, now collaborates with imperialism in fighting a separate fundamentalist movement in the shape of the Islamic State.  The Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan were for long dismissed by the Pakistani people as the B-team for the army that was the solid ally of the United States.  And we all are aware of the alliance between fundamentalism and the US in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Above all Islamic fundamentalism is an enemy of democracy and socialism.

It is therefore appropriate that the terrorist attacks have been used by the security agencies of western imperialist States to seek greater powers.  Even while the terrorists were known to these agencies and they failed to prevent the attacks.

Ordinary citizens cannot rely or place their trust in these agencies.  Their original sponsorship of Islamic fundamentalism in the war against the Soviet Union cannot be dismissed as a ‘mistake’ nor, as noted, can their continued collaboration with the most barbaric regimes that support various branches of fundamentalism be ignored.  “Saudi Arabia Launches Huge Arms Buying Spree; France to Net Most Orders” is one headline that shows both ugly faces of this alliance.

The restriction of democratic rights in France, Britain or Ireland will not come from these fundamentalists who do not have the power to implement their political programmes in these countries but from security apparatuses demanding greater powers.  It is not that the terrorists seek the implementation of repression in some misguided belief that this will stir resistance.  They do not seek resistance to the restriction of democratic rights because they do not support such rights themselves.  The whole idea of such a motivation would not cross anybody’s mind.

The reactionary character of these attacks is widely understood, which is why in France there has been widespread expression of the view that the division that the attacks seek to create must be opposed.  The latter is a progressive impulse that can only be consistent if it expresses complete opposition to fundamentalist terror and any racist or anti-Muslim response.

The indiscriminate murder of writers and journalists and any person that was in the Charlie Hedbo offices can also therefore only be seen as an attack on the right to freedom of speech, in this case the right to criticise Islam.  The attack was not an attack on Islamophobia or on racism.  The political programme of Islamic fundamentalism does not care for the equality of religious affiliation but regards non-believers in its faith as infidels.

In this sense statements that express the view that the “cartoons such as those published by Charlie Hedbo do nothing to advance the cause of freedom of speech. Rather, they amount to hate speech” do not change the nature of the attack.  In this situation it is necessary to identify clearly what has happened without fear that it compromises some political standpoint, which by virtue of being compromised demonstrates its misconception.

Such rights are purely bourgeois democratic rights?  Of course they are.  Is France not a capitalist country?  Bourgeois freedom of speech leads to the expression of views we dislike, even abhor?  How could it be otherwise?

But is it not better, much better, for French workers of all religions and none to have such democratic rights?  Are we only to defend freedom of speech when it is to our taste?  And for how long would that position be taken seriously?

The anti-Islam cartoons did not advance freedom of speech?  But were they not an expression of it?  And if there were no more cartoons ridiculing Islam, what would that be an expression of?  Is the Marxist critique of Islam also to be subordinated to the view that the oppression of Muslims means that the religious sensitivities of that people must not be offended lest their oppression be enhanced?  Where then are these peoples’ route out of oppression?  How are socialists in ‘the West’ to point out the hypocrisy of Christian support for war if religion is above criticism?

Perhaps it is only the religion itself that should be spared criticism but not its institutions?  But what of states where there is no separation?  Like many where Islam is the majority religion.

So the immediate response must be that of defending democratic rights and opposing the terrorism that seeks to destroy such rights.  It requires opposition to the security agencies of the State and the attempts to turn the actions of fundamentalists against every adherent of the Islamic faith through attacks on mosques and individual Muslims.

Such a defence must raise the banner of democracy against the fundamentalists that would destroy it, the repressive agencies of the State that would subordinate it to their control and to its false friends in the capitalist parties for whom it is accepted only in so far as it does not develop to threaten their system.

Does all this get to the root of the problem?

Is this root the alienation of capitalism or more specifically the imperialist domination and war against countries that are mainly Muslim?  Is it Islamic fundamentalism or religion in general?

I have mentioned a number of times that socialists are defined by what they are for but knowing what you are against is not a small thing either.  In Ireland we have socialists who are sanctimonious in their opposition to religious sectarianism but studiously avoid determining its exact concrete nature.

So yes capitalist alienation is expressed in the acts of desperate people who engage in barbarous acts of violence but we know that this alienation arises from the rather more concrete circumstances of imperialist domination and war in certain Muslim countries.  It would be impossible to effectively fight the violence of the Paris attacks without also opposing imperialist violence in these countries.  But the fundamentalist response to this imperialist violence in Paris and in these countries themselves is itself barbaric and must be opposed, in the interests of the potential victims of terrorism in France and in the Muslim world.

But if we know the causes of this alienation we also know how it has come to express itself in the backward form of Islamic fundamentalism.  We are therefore required to fight this reactionary, obscurantist ideology and programme.

Fundamentalism has grown not just because of the actions of imperialism, and the failure of nationalist and leftist programmes and movements in many Muslim countries, but also because it can more readily gain acceptance due to the fact that the populations are already deeply religious.

Combatting this is no easy task and, while opposition to religion must be a principle, its prosecution can only be carried out with regard to ensuring that those who want to fight for a better world in the here and now are not rejected for their belief in a hereafter world.  Such a fight will involve opposition to the material privileges of religion through its support by the state and through an alternative to the social programmes of well-funded fundamentalist movements.

In ‘the West’ it also means fighting the privileges of religion and for complete separation of church and state, in circumstances where it is rather easier to fight the material and ideological basis of religion.

As in all struggles it is necessary to be with the workers, in this case in their genuine expressions of revulsion at the terrorist attacks and their sincere advocacy of democratic rights, even, if not especially, when these are cynically and hypocritically appropriated by the likes of the dignitaries of such imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism who took part in the million person march in Paris.  At the same time it is necessary to put forward the equally sincere and honest programme that such violence can only be ended by opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, the imperialism that is its partner in barbarism and the irrational belief systems that so easily sanctify both.

Is Scotland an oppressed nation?

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‘Is the a Scottish Road to Socialism?’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2007.

‘Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2013.

I remember having a brief chat with a left nationalist who argued that, in the context of a reference to Ireland, that there are degrees of national oppression. And so undoubtedly there is. What is demonstrated by the Scottish independence debate is that the measure of it, if it even exists, is very small. We know this because there is no real demand for change.

What we have had are references to “bluff, bullying and bluster” by Alex Salmond over leaders of the Labour Party, Tories and Liberal Democrats, rejecting use of sterling by a new ‘independent’ state. But even here the essential nationalist case is not that Scotland is being told what it can and cannot do but that all this is bluff and bluster, a pure negotiating tactic and not meant to be taken seriously.

Not strong grounds to claim oppression.

A couple of arguments have been raised to demonstrate the national oppression of Scotland. These include the prevention of devolution after the 1979 referendum despite the nearly 52% yes vote on an almost 64% turnout. This was indeed a denial of national democratic rights. It was changed very quickly when the New Labour government of Tony Blair took office in 1997, a new referendum held within six months and the Scottish parliament set up two years later.

It is claimed that Conservative Governments are elected in Britain without a mandate from Scotland. In the 1989 Euro elections Scotland became, for the first time at any elected level, a ‘Tory-free zone’ and in 1992 they were elected for a fourth term with just 25% of the Scottish vote.

Yet governments are elected all the time in Britain without a majority of the vote. English and Welsh workers have suffered the depredations of Conservative Governments no less than Scottish workers and the Tories do not devise policies aimed specifically at the Scottish people. In 2010 the ‘no mandate’ argument became weaker when eleven Liberal Democrats joined the single Tory as Scottish representatives of the new ConDem Government.

It is claimed that the introduction of the poll tax a year earlier in Scotland than England represented national oppression. If it did it obviously didn’t last long. Let’s also forget that one of the two authors of the tax was himself Scottish, dubbed “father of the poll tax.”

The referendum in itself, whatever its limitations, is a demonstration that Scotland has the right to self-determination and can exercise this right.

In this exercise there is no question of nationalists having to face questions of oppression – of the national language; the teaching of Scottish history; the right to fly the Scottish flag; discrimination in employment in favour of English colonists; the mass arrest and detention without trial of political opponents; of English police or an English army called in to police demonstrations or protests; the widespread inflicting of torture on political opponents; the shooting of demonstrators demanding civil rights or the creation of armed gangs to intimidate and terrorise those demanding independence.

If there were any of these or anything like it the referendum debate would be very different; not only the terms of the debate but also the methods of struggle.

The exploitation and oppression that does exist has been displaced and subsumed within a debate within which they cannot be clearly articulated, at least with any honesty, and certainly with any perspective that provides solutions.

Solutions to unemployment and poverty; to chronic insecurity and stress; to ignorance and powerlessness cannot be found in any nationalist programme, either left or right. They arise from the nature of the economic system not the nationality of the state apparatus that presides over it.

Class grievances are portrayed as those of a people, of Scots against ‘London’ or the ‘British state.

Through nationalism the class exploitation of workers either disappears or is rendered secondary to the more immediate demand for national ‘freedom’.

As I have said before such ‘freedom’ does not exist; there are always restrictions and external limitations, which means that pursuit of it, which requires that the demands of workers are postponed, means that they will always be postponed. Nationalism acts as a permanent brake on the aspirations of the working class.

At a certain stage the true class character of nationalism becomes clearer when the new nation trumpets its cause as competitiveness with other nations in the battlefields of lower wages, lower business taxes and willing workers. Such at least has been the Irish experience.

So Scotland is not an oppressed nation but ironically it is nationalism that has the potential to take it in such a direction and the referendum debate has demonstrated how.

Alex Salmond has made much of the “bluff, bullying and bluster” coming from leaders of the Labour Party, Tories and Liberal Democrats. But these parties are very aware that they cannot engage in too open a form of bullying because it has the potential to alienate voters and upset the legitimacy of the state they seek to rule. So their bullying has limits. A separated Scotland would provide less restrictions.

Salmond has portrayed all the decisions that will arise from separation, such as sharing the pound sterling and financial regulation, as ones that will be easily agreed to his satisfaction but in such negotiations the UK state has no reason not to flex its muscles with the smaller state. Such actions by the UK state would, within Scotland, no doubt strengthen SNP nationalism and scotch the illusions of the left that after independence nationalism would suddenly dissipate to be replaced by a left-right divide. Real bullying by the UK state would feed Scottish nationalism and further its growth within the Scottish working class while increasing the divisions between Scottish, English and Welsh workers.

So the rump British state would have every reason to want Scotland to use sterling but enough reasonable arguments to place more or less onerous conditions on Scotland in order for it to happen. It is well known that currency union must involve severe limits on monetary policy within Scotland and there is no reason why the rest of Britain should consider Scotland’s interests as equal to that of England and Wales. If burdens have to be borne there is no reason to make them equitable.

It is also clear that currency union would limit the fiscal policy of a separated Scotland so that its taxation and expenditure policy would also be subject to limits, again set at least partly by the UK state. As the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, put it: “in short, a durable, successful currency union requires some ceding of national sovereignty.”

Scottish debt might find itself being owned by UK institutions demanding a premium from the new state and any new financial crisis arising within Bank of Scotland and RBS etc. would all too clearly demonstrate the respective powers of the two states.

Financial regulation will also come from London and there is no reason why this regulation would be to the benefit of anyone other than the City of London except with nationalist hopes or assumptions that what is good for the City is good for Edinburgh – exactly the sort of attitude now so scorned by these Scottish nationalists.

Only recently the BBC reports that the siting of Trident in Scotland is one of many areas that would be up for negotiation. Only a fool believes Salmond when he claims all these negotiations will give the SNP what they want in all of the issues, and he will be first to call out the fools when they complain about it after the negotiations are over.

The BBC states that ‘a dozen high-ranking defence veterans have written to Mr Salmond claiming a proposed constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland “would be unacceptable for NATO”.’

“Were the Scottish people to vote for independence, then Scotland, as a new small nation in an uncertain world, would need international partners to help secure its economic and social objectives and allies to provide national security.”

“NATO, as an alliance with nuclear deterrence as a central part of its strategic concept, could hardly be expected to welcome a new member state whose government put in jeopardy the continued operation of the UK independent nuclear deterrent – a deterrent which protects not only the UK but all of NATO as well.”

Those putting their names to the letter include former chief of the general staff General Sir Mike Jackson (he of Bloody Sunday), Admiral Lord West of Spithead, and former chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire. This was followed up the next day by another political intervention, this time by a serving member of the top brass, Admiral Sir George Zambellas.

How comforting is it to know that NATO will help secure the economic and social objectives of the new state? Whose security does NATO seek to protect? Why is the SNP not denouncing the political interference of the armed forces?

Such a political intervention by those recently and currently in uniform portends the future pressure put on the new separated state should it seek to have its cake of being in NATO and eating it by frustrating its operation. Of course the British monarchy, with all its disguised powers, will also continue to preside over the newly separated state.

So, while Scotland is not currently an oppressed nation, the law of unintended consequences might conceivably shift it in that direction. Just as Thatcher’s policies strained the bonds within the British state she so loudly championed so Scottish nationalists might deliver their separated state into a new partnership of subordination with the rest of Britain.

But perhaps this doesn’t matter to the left nationalist case. After all as I noted right at the start, this case is based on the difference between Scotland and England and the view that socialism or moves towards it are more easily achieved through a separate state. I’ll turn to this in the next post.

PS. In his comment on my previous post Boffy correctly states that even where a nation suffers some form of national oppression within a larger state entity the “priority should still be to defend the unity of the workers.”

This should always be the case. The issue is how this might be achieved.

It might be necessary in certain circumstances not only to champion the right of a nation to self-determination but also to advocate its exercise through separation.

This will depend on the degree of national oppression and related to this (more importantly) whether the socialist movement would place itself outside of a real democratic struggle that dominated politics if it did not advocate separation (by so doing isolating itself from the working class).

Even where this is the case the role of socialists would be to warn workers about the limits of national separation, whether called national liberation or not; to separately organise the working class under its own banner and prosecute the class struggle not only against imperialism but against native capitalism.

Its role would be to draw out the class nature of working class oppression and exploitation and warn that nationalism has no solution to these. It would warn that a new capitalist state will not address working class needs, will not empower it but will be set up to enforce the power of the native capitalist class.

None of this applies to Scotland. It does not suffer such national oppression and the Scottish working class has throughout its history fought its greatest class battles in unity with English and Welsh workers.

The nationalist left in Scotland has not prioritised workers unity or, as the two books under review have made clear, prioritised exposure and condemnation of Scottish nationalism and the future to be offered by a capitalist Scotland. What they have done is attempt to argue the priority of supposed national restrictions on Scottish workers and to conflate opposition to class oppression with that of the nation claiming ‘freedom’.

The need to support separation because of national oppression, which I see as sometimes necessary, entails recognising the need for a retreat from a more open and clear class struggle against capitalism and should be the subject of bitter regret for socialists should they consider it necessary.

The opportunistic championing of Scottish nationalism by sections of the Scottish left is therefore doubly mistaken for it is assisting creation of the barriers to the fight for socialism and a united working class that they should be seeking to destroy.

Yes to self-determination for Scotland

alexapldev1I was in Glasgow a few weeks ago and was talking about the upcoming independence referendum to my daughter and sister who both live in Scotland, are eligible to vote and are keenly interested in the debate.  They had just watched the latest referendum debate on BBC Scotland during the previous week and we were discussing what they thought about it.

They are both undecided, one having been strongly No, and the other expressing the view that while her heart said Yes her head said No.  Neither had found the contributions from the two sides of the debate wholly convincing or even very enlightening and the claims and counter-claims had caused some confusion as to who was telling the truth.  All this in my view is an inevitable result of the proposal being put forward, which I will come to in a later post.

What was clear to both was that the Yes side was perceived as putting forward something positive, appeared to be expressing optimism and confidence, proposing something apparently constructive and forward-looking.  Whether it was at all persuasive was another matter but inevitably it is compared to the arguments of the No side, which are seen as almost purely negative.

I have written before that a political programme can only truly be judged on what it is for, not what it is against, and this appears as a problem primarily for the No side, which is composed mainly of the Labour Party and the Tories who can hardly present a coherent positive message together that goes much beyond the banal.  On the other hand the Yes side is dominated by the Scottish National Party.

It might be possible to argue that the first principle of politics should be that of the Hippocratic oath – to never do harm.  Thus if one thinks that Scottish independence is wrong that should be good enough to vote against it.  And so it should, except such an outlook would also have to have some view of the thing that is good which is impaired by independence.

The debate has revolved around the nature of the new currency, possible membership of the European Union, the strength of an independent Scottish economy and the view that an independent Scotland would in some sense be a fairer one.  There are a host of other reasons that again I will come to.

For a socialist the reason to support independence must be that in some way it is a move towards socialism, makes it easier to achieve socialism or at least results in a less onerous form of capitalism.

Since, not surprisingly, the debate has assumed no revolutionary change to the existing economic system, and those advocating independence as a route to socialism are very much a minority in the Yes camp, it is on the last ground – that independence will involve a less onerous form of capitalism – that it might seem most necessary to come to a view.

In my view this would be wrong.  Not because the immediate impacts for working people of independence of a still capitalist Scotland are unimportant but because socialism is necessary for workers even while it is not currently any sort of immediate possibility given the current weakness of the socialist and workers’ movement.  This is obviously, after all, a decision with long term consequences.

This weakness only demonstrates its importance negatively, through the fundamental problems of capitalism being essentially unaltered by the particular national form that capitalism takes.  This has been demonstrated by the effects of the financial crisis on a wide variety of countries and the political crises in the various parts of the world it has given a major impulse to, including most recently the Ukraine.  The financial crisis impacted on all capitalist countries and if one believes, as one should, that the underlying causes have certainly not disappeared but in fact only grown then the nature of the economic system remains the fundamental question regardless of the form of the state.

In this respect it is amusing to hear both sides’ claims in the referendum debate about the risks that would exist in an independent Scotland – when the Yes side point to the oil and the No side points to the very large banking industry that the Scottish state could not afford to bail out should another financial crisis break out.

What both sides do is invite comparisons which show how fundamentally similar the Scottish and wider UK economy are.  Oil could provide a larger revenue base for a Scottish State (at least for a while) and another financial crisis has the potential to blow it out of the water. The UK state would have a proportionately smaller revenue base from oil but would be proportionately less blown up.  What a choice.

A few days ago I came across another striking comparison of the Scottish and UK states here .

So it is on the basis that independence must in some way be a move towards socialism or makes it easier to achieve that a view on the independence vote must be taken, at least if one is convinced in some way by the need for socialism.  And this task involves raising the horizon of the debate in such a way that events that seem very far away, such as the Ukraine, can be incorporated into an understanding of the issues at stake.  It is commonplace to say that we live in an interconnected world, but just how is this world interconnected and how should it be connected?  At least it is obvious that the question of national independence raises these issues.

The standard view as understood by Marxists was recently set out in Boffy’s Blog here, repeating the words of Lenin about the view of Marxists (here called Social-Democrats) on the rights of nations to determine their own future, which applies to Scotland today:

“The Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice. However, our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination.”

“As the party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities, and it is only in isolated and exceptional cases that we can advance and actively support demands conducive to the establishment of a new class state or to the substitution of a looser federal unity, etc., for the complete political unity of a state.”

The Scottish people therefore have the right to self-determination and the referendum gives them the opportunity to exercise that right.  How they do so is another matter and it is entirely possible for the exercise of the right to self-determination to mean continued unity with Wales and England.

The creation of a separate state is only one possible means of expressing self-determination and it would be a mistake to seek to measure the degree of independence attained as if some absolute and complete independence could be achieved.

This is not possible and seeking it only sets one off on an impossible nationalist quest for ‘real’ independence for a new Scottish state, which is doubly impossible for a small nation.  In other words absolute state self-determination is impossible, which means it can both permanently be put it on the agenda of nationalists, especially left ones, and leads to permanent failure.

Alex Salmond of the SNP has criticised the “bluff, bullying and bluster” coming from leaders of the Labour Party, Tories and Liberal Democrats, particularly their rejecting use of sterling by a new independent state.  The intervention of the later is of course all these things but Salmond and other nationalist are in no position to complain too much for this is also a ‘welcome to the world of nation states’ where bluff, bullying and bluster is the name of the game and the name of the game they seek to join.  Figures from the European Union have also weighed in to exercise their right to bully and the nationalist campaign seeks to be fully paid up and contributing members of the bullying club.

The meaning of the second part of Lenin’s argument – the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations – has been explained on this blog again and again and again.  It involves rejecting the view that socialism is the result of action by the state through, for example, it taking ownership of production or taxing the rich or spending more.  An examination of this approach in Ireland is set out here , here and here.

Self-determination of the proletariat means the creation of independent trade unions irrespective of workers’ nationality so that they can more forcefully mitigate the bullying and exploitation of capitalism – Scottish, British, Irish or otherwise – and the national divisions of workers promoted.  Such organisations are the means by which they can gain some control over their working lives.

This is taken further through the creation of workers’ cooperatives in which workers can free themselves of the bluster and bullying of owners and managers over whom they have no control and instead build the foundations of a new society based on equality of ownership and power.

It means creation of a political Party through which they can educate themselves about the bluff, bullying and bluster of current politics and find within it a basis for struggling for the creation of a new society that fulfills their desires because it is their creation.

It should therefore be obvious that the self-determination of nations, which is defined and relies on the independent power of the state, is not at all the same as the self-determination of the working class, which is not divided by nationality and is not subordinated or defined by the state.  Not only are they not the same by definition but they cannot be reconciled.

The experience of Ireland is that even the most militant nationalist movement does not lead to socialism even when it is based on a struggle against oppression.

So where does this leave the socialist argument for Scottish independence?  Well, the relationship between independence and the self-determination of the working class involves a number of questions and I shall take these up in future posts.