Lair Of A Squirrel Red

Marxism, Mao and Politics by Rob
January 18, 2008, 4:59 pm
Filed under: China, Maoism, Marxism, Rob, Theory

Over at Splintered Sunrise an interesting conversation was developing on Badiou, one to which I tried to make a contribution. Anyway some of the points that were made got me thinking a bit, so here I just want to say a few things. Central to this discussion was the question of why the Cultural Revolution might form an important event for some people on the left; my explanation as to why it might follows below, and segues into some more general considerations on Marxism.

My general contention here is that the Cultural Revolution and Maoism more generally, appealed to the late 1960s and 1970s left for a series of interconnected reasons. My key argument is the inadequacy of a Marxist theory of politics, and of the ‘superstructure’ more broadly conceived. In the period after the World War One and the 50s and 60s the state of Marxism – and certainly of ‘official’ Marxism – was pretty moribund. Despite a supposed adherence to Lenin, what we tended to see was a certain mechanical Marxism. In this schematic conception of history, what drove social change was contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production. This conflict is ‘resolved’ by class struggle, which eventually replaces one mode of production with another.

So in this conception politics and political action is conceived of as being determined or as actualising economics. This type of Marxism doesn’t really have a theory of politics strictly conceived. But this approach brings numerous problems with it. The first problem for this conception is how to explain the relationship between economic and political action. How is it that class struggle can move (as Gramsci put it) from an economic-corporate phase, to a hegemonic phase? And this itself brings the problem from the other direction why is that the contradiction has not yet been actualised. This is of course the classic starting point for a lot of contemporary Marxist theorising – why in the advanced capitalist countries has the working class not taken power?

The answer to this question can’t be found purely in economistic considerations (e.g. the dull compulsion of economic relations) because to look at it this way basically forestalls social change forever (or until the next crisis). In response to this you get the (thankfully long dead) Trot line about a ‘crisis in leadership’. But even the crisis in leadership line is making a grasping attempt to go beyond certain economist lines and move to a more political explanation of the crisis. Basically, then, it seemed that the situations on the ground demanded an examination of the role of ‘superstructure’. But not just as a ‘reflection’ of the base, but in its capacity as decisive. Because the entire issue necessarily must move outside of the economy and onto political and cultural grounds.

And it is here that the Mao becomes central. Mao’s heterodox Marxism represented a fairly innovative intervention into this impasse. This can particularly be seen in Mao’s On Contradiction. Basically, Mao argues that any social totality is a complex of interacting contradictions, all of which contribute towards development and change. However, in every social totality there is a principal contradiction, which serves to give a specific character to all of the other contradictions:

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions. For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction.

Such a position is a very interesting one, and we can find echoes of the argument in Althusser’s notion of a totality structured in dominance (and of course we would since Mao is an acknowledged influence on Althusser) and even in Lukács earlier discussion of the role of totality in Marxist thought. The point here is that one can immediately recognise Mao had constructed a theoretical edifice which might be able to bridge the impasse described above. Here we can see a way to articulate the primacy of the contradiction between the forces and relation of production; without having to rely on that for change. The point here is that as a principal contradiction it could shape political ‘contradictions’, even these contradictions became vital.

However, Mao goes further than this. He also argues that every contradiction has a principal and subordinate aspect. It is the principal aspect which will (eventually) supersede that subordinate aspect and so bring change. But further to this Mao argued that in a given struggle around a contradiction, things would develop to the point where what was the principal aspect could become the subordinate aspect and vice versa:

We often speak of “the new superseding the old”. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe. The transformation of one thing into another, through leaps of different forms in accordance with its essence and external conditions — this is the process of the new superseding the old. In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing. It can thus be seen that the nature of a thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction, the aspect which has gained predominance. When the principal aspect which has gained predominance changes, the nature of a thing changes accordingly.

So the vision Mao here articulates is one which – in contrast to ‘official Marxism’ is a dynamic one; emphasising struggle. But the coup de grace, and what I would argue made Maoism so attractive to (particularly) the French left is the following passage:

Some people think that this is not true of certain contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect … in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, the economic base is the principal aspect; and there is no change in their respective positions. This is the mechanical materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” When a task, no matter which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also — and indeed must — recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.

Obviously, this is long, but I think it basically helps to illustrate the attraction Maoism held for certain people. The whole point is Mao has seriously broken with ‘official’ Marxism, and has attempted to theorise the political. Although Mao presents this as somewhat limited, the implications of this passage (particularly from where we sit) are fairly wide-ranging. Key to my argument is the notion that:

When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive.

But the whole point – at least so far as Marxists were concerned with in the West – is that it is always the ‘superstructure’ which obstructs the development of the base. Because if we are talking about the standard economic conditions which make things ripe for revolution (in the schematic sense) – well they’ve been here for God only knows how long. So what is the allure of Mao for him politics and culture become central. It thus seems that – quite accidentally – Mao addressed the central concerns of the left in Western Europe, since he attempts to theorise the primacy of the political/cultural whilst remaining a materialist. No matter what people think of Mao (and obviously opinions are not high), this particular theoretical position seems interesting.

Now, with this in mind, we can make a few other considerations. Firstly, it might be argued that this position – which stresses the importance of conscious, political action is a ‘Leninist’ one. Well, yes, I’d agree with that entirely, and it’s certainly something that Lenin articulated rather well. But the point is that Leninism – especially in the time period in question – was associated with the ‘Marxism’ of the USSR, which – to all intents and purposes – had reverted back to the Marxism of the second international. Secondly, insofar as Leninism was taken up by the Trotskyist movement it was (1) not always that great and (2) not likely to be taken up by people inside of the official communist movement. That is why Maoism managed to sink its roots into France, I feel. The milieu from which these people came from was one in which official communism (in the form of the PCF) was all powerful – both politically and philosophically – for a time, Maoism seemed to represent an critique of official communism from within the official communist movement.

Another point to bear in mind is that very similar philosophical positions are put forward (in whatever way) by the early Lukács and Gramsci. It’s no coincidence that interest in these two only began to grow around this period – they address precisely the same issues which I’ve outlined above. But Lukács had the great misfortune of being alive at the time; reconciled with the official communist movement and he had of course basically renounced much of History and Class Consciousness. Gramsci, had not yet been translated (I don’t think), and again, he had the misfortune to be placed at the service of the PCI, which even before its explicit Eurocommunism had started moving in such a direction.

So, my point about Mao is that he seemed to address some of the central problems of the time, in an innovative way. This was only reinforced by the fact that the events of the time seemed to suggest political action needed to be theorised. Because not only did the inaction of the working class need to be theorised – but also the action that had sprung up in the late 60s. So in particular, it proved quite difficult for ‘official’ Marxism to theorise les evenements of May ’68, and its response to what was a pretty huge moment was risible to say the least. This is also where the importance of the Cultural Revolution comes in. The Cultural Revolution appeared to be an actualisation of the theoretical positions outlined above. Here politics and culture were assuming the decisive role in transforming China. The emphasis on mass mobilisation obviously chimed with what was happening in ‘the West’ in a way that the experience of the Soviet Union could not.

It also strikes me that there are some other interesting threads that could be picked up (although I will decline to do so for now). Firstly, this concentration on the political (whilst maintaining that these struggles were ‘coloured’ by the principal contradiction) helped provide a way to explain struggle amongst groups not traditionally mobilised by the left (e.g. people who weren’t the manual working class). Secondly, Mao of necessity assumed a crucial role in the attempt to articulate a Marxist understanding of anti-colonialism and development. The inter-twining of the language of Marxism and decolonisation led to some very odd attempts to theorise these issues. Furthermore, most Marxists seemed (and pretty much still do) to accidentally condone mass death in the Third World – which is never a good way to make friends and influence people.

I rather look forward to seeing Splintered post on diamat.

Cross posted to my other abode (which I am determined will regain its readership!)


Fidel hints of retirement from power by korakious
December 21, 2007, 3:25 pm
Filed under: Cuba, Fidel, Socialism, Theory

Sovietological conventional wisdom in the academic Anglosphere revolved, and to a lesser extent still does, around the paradigm of “Totalitarianism”. With the exception of scholars like Lewin and Cohen, academics believed that in the USSR, and by extension, in all Actually Existing Socialist states that followed more or less the same organisational principles, power rested on a single centre of authority with a stranglehold over all levels of society, the Party led by a supreme leader. In “Totalitarian” states, all initiatives came from the top and made their way to the bottom through successive layers of privileged bureaucrats. Change at the top was impossible as long as the leader was alive, because of his absolute power, while there was also no chance of oppositional political initiative coming from the bureaucratic middle class (which bourgeois social scientists tend to regard as a force for change by some bizarre logic) because it had a vested interest in preserving the system. Apart from its inherent methodological ineptitude – lumping together the special case of the USSR, the Eastern European states that were established after the war and those that were built after successful national liberation movements as if they were all one and the same – the Totalitarian paradigm came to be empirically discredited as well for as we all know, or should know, the fall of the USSR was the – immediate – result of an initiative from the very top and the power struggle that followed it at mid level. This brought to the fore the various bizarre ideologies held by the nomenklatura, a product of the bizarre nature of the Soviet system, from gang-ho pro-Western neoliberalism to corporatist nationalism, all of which are represented at different degrees in present day Russia’s political spectrum. It was certainly a far cry from the uniform, religious adherence to “Marxism-Leninism” which Totalitarianism analysts would have us believe.

On Monday, Totalitarianism was dealt a further blow when in a letter to Cuban national television, Fidel Castro hinted that he may soon be leaving the President’s office;. Fidel wrote that:

My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people, but to share experiences and ideas whose modest worth comes from the exceptional era in which I lived

This could very well mean that Fidel does not intend to stand for the Council of State, which the National Assembly will have to elect some time before the 5th of March. The most likely successors are Raul Castro and Cuba’s 42 year old Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque. I do not favour any of the two, but I do admit to having a preference for younger leaders. Indeed, a young President would go a long way to fixing State Socialism’s gerontocratic image. In any case however, it is certain that both Fidel and Raul, as well as the rest of the Revolutionary generation will retain strong influence over politics, as do all well respected and popular leaders. And long may they live for their experience is an invaluable asset to the whole of the anti-imperialist wave that is currently sweeping Latin America.

The importance of this is that it is the latest in a series of developments that have included Raul’s encouragement to public debate on various issues, indicating a move towards grassroots democratic developments in Cuba. This is not the result of evil Castro’s withdrawal as various outlets seem to think, but rather the result of Cuba managing to survive the Special Period against all odds, a powerful demonstration of the resilient spirit of the Revolution. The Bolivarian process in Venezuela has also provided vital breathing space for the formerly isolated island, providing Cuba with cheap oil in return for doctors and teachers.

I personally welcome the coming to power of a new revolutionary leadership. I hope that Cuban communists have learned from history that there are many snakes amongst well meaning reformers and that any structural/institutional changes that may be implemented in the future do not in anyway harm the socialist character of the economy. It is very likely that a struggle for power will break out between the reforming elements of the bureaucracy, the Ligachev like conservatives and the Yeltsinites. The latter are the prime enemies of peasants and workers alike. As for the Cuban people – fully behind the revolution in their vast majority – it is necessary that they involve themselves in Cuba’s popular power organs to infuse any reforms with a true grassroots element and prevent those who wish to see capitalism restored from gaining even the slightest influence.

It is certain that the beacon of anti-imperialist resistance that is Cuba will soon be going through interesting times. Of course, there has hardly been an uninteresting time in Cuba following the revolution. The difference here is that in the not too distant future we will soon see the withdrawal of the revolutionary generation from the political stage.The power of the revolutionary spirit will be judged by the actions of those who did not live through the revolution itself, who do not remember the Batista years and the Bay of Pigs invasion. The nature of the revolution itself will also be reflected by the extent to which people who are not emotionally attached to it by personal experience are willing to defend it and deepen it. In short, what will be shown in the following years is the extent to which the revolution was successful in becoming a long term process, an everyday part of people’s lives, a true revolution, rather than merely an institutional change. I am quite confident that this is the case.

The State of Official Marxism in China Today – David Kotz by korakious
December 13, 2007, 12:03 pm
Filed under: China, Communism, law, Marxism, Neoliberalism, Theory

The following is from the archives of Monthly Review. David Kotz, author of “Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System”, one of the best works on the fall of our Soviet motherland, gives a report on the various views aired at a conference on property rights held in China. The similarity of the terms of the debate to those in the late USSR is striking

During November 13–14, 2006, I participated in an “International Conference on Ownership & Property Rights: Theory & Practice,” in Beijing. This was not just an academic conference, it was related to a sharp debate taking place in China at that time over a proposed new law on property rights.1 Although none of the presentations at the conference made any direct reference to the proposed new law, everyone knew that it was the subtext of the conference debate.

The positions put forth by the participants in this conference provide an interesting window into the ideological struggle over the direction of social change in China. They illustrate the ways in which Marxist language and Marxist propositions, intermixed with ideas drawn from mainstream Western neoclassical economic theory, are used today in China to support the completion of China’s shift to private property and a market economy. Below I will reproduce some of the statements and positions voiced (and written) at this conference. But first some background information will help to place the statements in their historical context.

The supporters of the proposed property rights law were arguing that further economic progress in China required that private ownership of business enterprises and other assets must be made more secure. To achieve this end, a new law was needed specifying, and more importantly guaranteeing, the rights of owners of private property.

Critics resisted the proposed new law, charging that it represented a step toward abandoning the socialist system. They argued that guaranteeing private property rights, and elevating them to the same level as public property rights, would undermine the key role of state owned enterprises (SOEs) in a socialist system. To make matters worse, critics charged, the new law could potentially even safeguard the ownership claims of those who ended up in control of former SOEs that had been privatized through a corrupt insider deal.2 This would encourage further fraudulent privatizations of SOEs. Further, they argued, it would legitimize the exploitation of labor which occurs in private enterprises.

Such political debates are normally difficult to observe in China. This debate had been taking place in various locations in Chinese society, including academic institutions and various Communist Party and state institutions. The above conference provided a way for an outsider directly to observe, and even participate in, this debate.

The main sponsor of the conference was a little-known bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) called the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau. The conference was cosponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany, which is attached to the Party of Democratic Socialism. The latter is descended from the Communist Party of the former German Democratic Republic.

While there were a few foreign participants, most were from China. The Chinese participants included professors from various Chinese universities, researchers from the Academy of Social Sciences, and some party and state officials. Among the latter there was one from the Development Research Center of the State Council, which provides policy advice to the prime minister, and one from the Central Party School. The foreign participants were quite diverse intellectually and politically, with most of them selected by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. I am known in China as a critic of neoliberalism in general, and privatization in particular, and I was invited to present a Marxist analysis of ownership and property rights in the United States that might be relevant to the property rights and privatization debate in China.

It has long been commonplace to read in the mainstream media that political debates in China are typically conducted, not just behind the scenes, but in a kind of Aesopian language. In this conference Marxism was the official language of discussion, at least for the Chinese participants. Despite the enormous transformation of China’s economic and social system since the beginning of what is called the “market reform and opening” in 1978, a kind of “official Marxism” remains the formal state ideology and the language for discussion of economic issues. Thus, most of the Chinese speakers at this conference, whichever side of the debate they were on, couched their views in Marxist language and often used traditional Marxist propositions to buttress their claims. However, Western neoclassical economic thought has become dominant in the leading economics departments at universities in China, and in many cases it was neoclassical ideas that underlay the comments of the speakers, whatever the language used to express them.

A final relevant piece of background information concerns the class structure of China today and its relation to the CCP. Originally membership in the CCP was open to workers, peasants, and intellectuals. The rapid development of private business starting in the early 1990s created a class of indigenous capitalists who, while wealthy and increasingly influential, were at least officially barred from membership in the ruling CCP. Then a few years ago, after a sharp political struggle, the CCP membership rules were changed to open membership to “entrepreneurs.” Reverberations of that political battle, as well as the one over property rights, could be heard in some of the conference presentations.

Readers can now appreciate the remarkable statements and positions put forward by various participants in this conference. In a few cases I provide a direct quotation, but most of the statements below paraphrase the main theses or points made by various Chinese speakers at the conference. Each statement below was made by at least one Chinese speaker, and some were repeated, with variations, by several speakers. In some cases I have added interpretive or clarifying comments in brackets. I begin with statements by participants who favor the current direction of social change in China—which represented the vast majority of speakers—and end with pronouncements by the few who either oppose China’s march to capitalism or are at least resisting the distortion of Marxism to justify that march.

Statements and Themes from the Conference

  • When an SOE is turned into a joint stock corporation with many shareholders, it represents socialization of ownership as Marx and Engels described it, since ownership goes from a single owner to a large number of owners [among others, this was stated by someone from the Central Party School].
  • If SOEs are turned into joint stock corporations and the employees are given some shares of the stock, then this would achieve “Marx’s objective of private ownership of property.”
  • In dealing with the SOEs, we must follow “international norms” and establish a “modern property rights system.” [As in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the terms in quotes were euphemisms for capitalist norms and capitalist property rights.]
  • Enterprises can be efficient in our socialist market economy only if they are privately owned. [This statement, voiced by several people, comes directly from Western “neoclassical” economic theory.]
  • SOEs exploit their workers and are state capitalist institutions, and SOEs often have a very high rate of exploitation. [The point was that privatizing SOEs will not introduce exploitation or capitalist relations since both are already present in SOEs.]
  • The nature of ownership of the enterprises has no bearing on whether a country is capitalist or socialist. Enterprises should always be privately owned and operated for profit. What makes a country socialist is that the government taxes the surplus value and uses the proceeds to benefit the people through pensions and other social programs. [Along with justifying privatization, this implies that, as China’s economy becomes much like those of the United States and Western Europe, China is not abandoning socialism since, by this definition, all of the industrialized capitalist countries are actually socialist.]
  • The United States has companies with millions of shareholders, which is a far more socialized form of ownership than anything that exists in China.
  • “[After the Second World War] Capitalism not only gave up its fierce antagonism to labor, but even began combining with labor….Modern capitalism…is gradually creating a new type of capitalism that is more like socialism.”
  • The CCP followed the correct approach, in line with classical Marxism, during the period of New Democracy [i.e., the period directly following the 1949 liberation, when the party said it was completing the bourgeois democratic revolution but not yet trying to build socialism]. The change in policy after that period [when the party shifted its aim to building socialism] was an error, and instead the New Democracy policy should have been continued. [This was spookily similar to the widespread argument in Moscow in 1989–91 that the Soviet Communist Party should have stayed with the New Economic Policy of 1921–27, which called for a mixed economy with a significant role for private business and with market forces playing the main coordinating role.]
  • Besides current labor and past labor [the latter the Marxist term for the labor required to produce the means of production], there is a third type of labor, namely “risk labor.” Marxist theory should take account of this third type of labor, which is expended by those who take risks through entrepreneurship. [The obvious point was that “entrepreneurs,” i.e., capitalists, are a type of worker, and hence it is correct that they are allowed to join the Communist Party.]

As I listened to these themes—and as I raised questions about them in the question/discussion periods—I had a strong feeling of déjà vu. Many of them were the same themes I had heard (and had argued against) in Moscow in 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, coming from Soviet academics and party and state officials.

Now for some comments by Chinese conference participants that swam against the private property and privatization tide:

  • A thorough study of the original German versions of Marx and Engels’s writings on communism shows that they clearly viewed communism as involving the abolition of private property. Those who have argued that this idea arose from a mistranslation of Marx and Engels’s works are mistaken. We should not distort Marxism to justify current policies. [Some “Marxists” in China have been arguing that Marx and Engels never actually wrote that communism would involve abolition of private property.]
  • Privatization is not the right solution to the problems of the SOEs. The right to use capital should belong to the workers and serve their interests.
  • “Informal privatization” [in which an SOE’s director illegally turns it into his private company] creates capitalist enterprises and should not be permitted.
  • While some SOEs may have low profit rates, profitability is not a good measure of an enterprise’s contribution to social and economic welfare.
  • The many Chinese economists who support the theories of Ronald Coase [a rightwing British property-rights theorist who is known for opposing any significant state regulation of private business] are mistaken. The Chinese followers of Coase claim that Marx had no theory of property rights and that Coase supplies the property rights theory that China needs. On the contrary, property rights are the legal manifestation of production relations, a relationship which Marx analyzes at some length. Contrary to Coase’s view, private property is not necessary for efficiency. Public ownership should be primary. [This older leftist academic economist cited at some length statements by the well-known U.S. left-of-center economist Joseph Stiglitz condemning the work of Coase. The reliance by a leftist Chinese economist on the pro-capitalist—yet somewhat heretical—U.S. economist Stiglitz to make a criticism of Coase reminded me of 1991 in Moscow, when the few leftist Soviet economists struggled to criticize free market theory by citing people such as John Kenneth Galbraith.]

1. The new “Property Rights Law of the People’s Republic of China” was passed by the National People’s Congress on March 16, 2007.
2. After such corrupt insider privatizations, the newly privatized enterprise is often then sold to a third party, who at least officially was not involved in the original privatization process. Opponents charged that one of the provisions of the proposed new law (article 106) would hold the final owner blameless and secure that person’s right of ownership, as long as the final owner could claim that she or he obtained the property with “benign intent.”

Whatever happened to the independence election? by korakious
December 6, 2007, 11:47 pm
Filed under: independence, republicanism, Scottish politics, SSP, strategy, Theory

The following is a pamphlet produced by the Republican Communist platform of the SSP of which I am a proud member. It was included for free in the latest issue of our journal, Emancipation & Liberation. I reproduce it here for the pleasure of the Lair’s loyal readership


Whatever Happened To ‘The Independence Election’?

The ‘National Conversation’ prepares the way for further reform of the UK

What do the results of the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, and the Irish Dail, mean for the future of the UK? What is the political significance of Salmond’s ‘National Conversation’?

This is a contribution by the Republican Communist Platform in the SSP to the debate. It questions the SSP leadership’s approach through an examination of two Frontline articles – Scotland’s Independence Election by Andrew Grey, and Celtic Tigers? The SNP In Government by Nick McKerrall, both members of the former ISM Platform.

The ISM and the SSP

How does the SSP leadership view the current situation in Scotland? Since the old ISM platform folded, in March 2006, you have to look to key articles in Frontline to find out more about their underlying thinking. ISM members formed the majority of the past leaderships of the old SSA and the SSP. Ex-ISM members form the majority of the current SSP leadership. Frontline represents an ISM political afterlife of sorts – a ‘Continuity ISM’.

ISM politics have dominated the SSA, the united SSP and, despite the ISM’s demise, still dominate the post-split SSP. They also still inform Tommy Sheridan’s views about Scotland. He is the only public voice of the 2006 SSP breakaway, Solidarity, when it comes to their line on Scotland. This remains the case, despite any reservations held by his current CWI and SWP allies concerning Tommy’s Left nationalism.

Left nationalism sees any moves to devolve power from Westminster as a useful step towards an independent Scotland, whatever class makes the proposals, for whatever reasons. Left nationalists claim that an independent Scotland would allow the Scottish people’s more left-of-centre politics to naturally assert itself, leaving the way open for a ‘Scottish road to socialism’.

ISM splintered over the years of its existence for a number of reasons. One reason, of course, was that, since it dominated the SSP leadership, some of its prominent members felt no need for a distinctive Platform to argue their politics. Another, though, was the political trajectory of those who had come from the Militant/CWI tradition.

Originally, Militant had rooted itself in the Left Labourist milieu. It proclaimed itself – in public anyhow – to be in the tradition of the ‘good old Labour Party’, as established by Keir Hardie (1). Not surprisingly, this placed Militant within the wider Left unionist camp, which equated the unity of a British working class with the unity of the British state. They followed a ‘British road to socialism’.

Later, influenced by the struggle against the poll tax and the movement for greater democracy in Scotland, Militant moved away from Left unionism – in Scotland at least, if not in Wales, and certainly not in Northern Ireland. The CWI adopted the formally Left nationalist position of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’.

For the CWI leadership, however, this was only ever a paper policy to be wheeled out for propaganda purposes, whenever the SNP appeared to be gaining significant political influence. Nevertheless, the CWI’s initial approval of Scottish Militant Labour, followed by the setting up of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, in 1996, eventually led to the breakaway ISM being formed in Scotland, in 2001. This was led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, and was supported by the majority of former Scottish CWI members. The new ISM took the CWI’s ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan more seriously.

The political move away from Left unionism began a process, which pushed the old ISM leadership towards more fully Left nationalist positions. It is difficult, though, to move coherently from Left unionism to Left nationalism. The trail is strewn with individuals, stuck at various points between these two poles. The CWI rump in Scotland, which didn’t follow the ISM majority, is still to be found at the Left unionist pole, notoriously so with regard to Northern Ireland (although quite a few former ISM members still hold on to aspects of their old CWI training over this issue.)

Furthest away, at the Left nationalist pole (not counting Kevin Williamson, who has quit the pro-party ISM tradition altogether and become a prominent spokesperson for the non-and-cross party, ‘Independence First’), is Tommy Sheridan of Solidarity. He, more than any other key individual, from the now defunct ISM, looks to the SNP to open up the road to socialism in Scotland. Despite his own shattering personal defeat on election night, Sheridan welcomed the victory of the SNP. One of his closest advisors is ex-Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr. Back in 2005, Kerr raised the prospect of the SSP standing down in the first-past-the-post seats, in the forthcoming Holyrood election, in favour of the SNP. He backed down when he saw how unpopular that was going to be amongst SSP members. Nevertheless, the 2005 Conference went on to ensure that such a political course was specifically rejected.

Ironically, both the Left unionist CWI (and SWP), and the Left nationalist Sheridan, are now to be found together in Solidarity. The majority of ex-ISM members, though, have remained in the SSP. Their members are still to be found at various points along the Left unionist/Left nationalist line.

Colin Fox perhaps best represents those few ex-ISM members who still look back to Kier Hardie and the old Left Labour tradition. Sometimes Colin invokes the notion of a ‘British Republic’; at other times, he goes along with the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ line. Colin knows, however, that he must now look outside the ranks of the old ISM to find much political support for his views on the National Question.

Alan McCombes, the SSP’s key political strategist, most clearly represents those ex-ISM members, still in the party, who have moved furthest along the Left nationalist line. Alan acknowledged the influence of the avowedly Left nationalist, Scottish Republican Socialist Movement upon his thinking at their Convention, held in Glasgow, on August 3rd. Also present was Carolyn Leckie, one of our former MSPs (although never in the ISM). She is a passionate believer in the Scottish nationalist road to socialism. Left nationalist thinking, along the lines adhered to by Alan and Carolyn, dominates Frontline, when it comes to addressing the situation in Scotland. Other writers, though, do express some reservations about how far the SSP should accommodate the SNP.

Although Frontline usually adopts a Left nationalist stance, it does make an occasional nod towards a sentimental republicanism. The RCN has undoubtedly played a key part in dragging republicanism from the margins towards the mainstream of the SSP ’s thinking – if not so much the SSP’s practice!

It is significant that, when a choice had to be made between pursuing a Scottish internationalist republican, or a Left Scottish nationalist strategy, at the SSP’s last united conference in 2006, both Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan (despite having fallen out personally over Sheridan’s egotistical, anti-party behaviour) got up to support the latter course of action. Alan and Tommy both opposed the RCN’s continued defence of the SSP’s republican strategy enshrined in the Calton Hill Declaration. This strategy had been agreed, by a large majority, at the 2005 SSP Conference. Instead, Alan and Tommy argued for the SSP to fall in behind the liberal nationalist, Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) (2). Conference followed their lead.

When key SNP members put the SIC on hold, the SSP leadership’s next port of call was ‘Independence First’ (3). This populist organisation, which has support from the Communist Party of Scotland on the Left, through the Greens, to the neo-liberal, Scottish Enterprise Party and the Right militarist, Siol nan Gaidheal, campaigns for an independence referendum. ‘Independence First’ is led by those nationalist fragments, which the SNP leadership wants to keep firmly at arm’s length.

Despite the now profound and often intense personal divisions between leading figures in the SSP and the breakaway Solidarity, both Carolyn Leckie and Sheridan shared the ‘Independence First’ platform at its March 31st pre-election rally, earlier this year. When it comes to Left nationalist thinking, leaders in the SSP and the leader of Solidarity still share a common approach.

Frontline on the ‘Independence Election’ and the SNP ‘Celtic Tiger’

So, how does the present, ex-ISM dominated, SSP leadership view current developments in Scotland? The front covers of the two recent issues of Frontline, Volume 2, nos. 3 and 4 (pre and post May 3rd Holyrood election) are quite revealing (4).

The pre-election, Frontline 3, is bold and confident. It has a socialist red masthead, and a cover photograph from the very successful republican Calton Hill demonstration held in Edinburgh on October 9th 2004. It shows an SSP banner depicting John Maclean – the leading advocate of a Scottish Workers’ Republic as part of a new world communist order. Behind the banner is shown ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’, the uncompleted Parthenon-style monument on Calton Hill, meant to celebrate Britain’s imperial victories over France in the Napoleonic Wars. (Today it’s not the British war memorials, which remain uncompleted, it’s the ‘victories’ themselves which are unachievable.)

In contrast, the post-election Frontline 4 has a more subdued Scottish nationalist blue masthead. The photograph on the cover shows two supporters, from an ‘Independence First’ demonstration, holding a banner depicting Scotland’s royal standard – the lion rampant. Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel (the old North British) is in the background.

However, if you examine the political lead articles, highlighted on the covers of these two consecutive issues, it becomes easier to understand how Frontline’s change of tone came about. Issue 3 proclaims, Scotland’s Independence Election – no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’ – and certainly no question mark. Issue 4 is more tentative and questioning – Celtic Tigers? The SNP In Government.

The attitude the SSP should take towards, what was then, the still forthcoming Holyrood election, is shown by the Editorial in Frontline 3. Many in Scotland may not have come to conclusions about socialism yet many feel that Britain doesn’t work for them and want to see radical change. For them, to vote for independence is an expression of that. The Editorial is immediately followed by the article, Scotland’s Independence election, written by editorial board member, Andrew Grey. It looks forward to what the May elections will mean for Scottish politics.

Andrew’s introduction begins with Sir James Ogilvy’s famous quote, made upon the signing of the Act of Union, in 1707. Now there’s ane end of ane auld sang. However, Andrew goes on to look forward to the 2007 elections to Holyrood, which may prove to be the first note in {the Union’s} long-delayed swan song.

Andrew follows this with an assessment of the SNP’s electoral prospects – SNP Surge. His prediction of the SNP emerging as the largest party, but not winning an overall majority, has turned out to be accurate. He then goes on to examine the likelihood of the SNP being able to form a coalition government, seeing this possibility as being dependent on the Lib-Dems. Over both these predictions, Andrew draws similar conclusions to the RCN before the election (5).

Andrew continues with his third section – The SSP. This takes on the SSP ’s Left unionists, although here he seems to be mainly addressing the arguments of the ex-Socialist Worker Platform. Their members have now decamped to Solidarity, where, as long as they continue to sing Tommy’s praises in public, they can openly operate as the Socialist Worker Party.

The question Andrew poses to the Left unionists is, Does a call for Scottish independence advance or hinder the movement for socialism? He answers this question affirmatively in his fourth section – The End of the Union? Andrew builds up the argument. When {not if} a referendum takes place, the majority of the Scottish electorate would incline towards the dissolution of the Union. Every poll taken since June 1998 has shown a lead for the pro-independence position. But how many of those polls gave other options, such as more devolved powers or a federal UK? And, what does Andrew now make of the September 2nd TNS System 3 poll on independence, which only gave this option 35% support, despite the SNP itself riding at its highest levels of support ever (6)?

This section of Andrew’s article does express the reservations he then held about the SNP’s immediate electoral prospects. But Andrew can’t restrain his euphoria for long. It is surely odds on that the May election will signal the start of a seismic shift in the Scottish political landscape. Serious debate about constitutional arrangements will… become a live issue for a wide layer of the working class. Independence, so long the subject of abstract argument, is beginning to look like tangible reality. Yes, the earth is beginning to move for Andrew!

SNP electoral advance – Left gain or setback?

The problem here is that Andrew equates the working class’s future prospects with significant SNP electoral gains. Now the SNP did make progress on May 3rd, but most of this was at the expense of the Left (and Independents) rather than of Labour. Furthermore, a Right-moving SNP has every interest in ensuring that the independence issue remains an abstract argument, perhaps supplemented by resort to such New Labour-type platitudes as ‘modernisation’ and ‘greater prosperity’. If the SNP were to link the issue of independence to any programme, which seriously addressed working class needs, its new-found big business support and funding would disappear more quickly than sunshine in Dunoon last summer!

Andrew moves down a gear in his fifth section – Independence and Socialism. Arguing for the much greater prospects that Scottish independence would bring, he cites the case offered by that New Labour creation, the Holyrood Parliament. Devolution, while very limited, was a clear democratic advance that the SSP was able to exploit, building the party into a vibrant progressive force both nationally and on the wider European stage.

Then Andrew’s buoyant enthusiasm spills over once more. The rupture of the union {represented by Scottish independence} would be a political earthquake, calling into question the legitimacy of political institutions that have seemed set in stone, and creating fertile ground for a party offering radical ideas about the transformation of society. Yes, it’s a ‘second coming’ for Andrew!

The major gains, made by the SSP in May 2003, were against the background of massive international anti-war demonstrations, not least the 100,000 who marched in Glasgow on February 15th that year. Just as importantly, the SSP had united nearly all the Left in Scotland in one organisation – no mean achievement.

The failure of the Anti-War Movement to prevent the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent defeats of the FBU-led firefighters, and the UNISON-led nursery nurses in Scotland, have all contributed to an overall decline in working class confidence and consciousness. With or without ‘Tommygate’, 2007 was going to be a hard year for the Left in Scotland. Just look at the setbacks for Left and radical-appearing parties elsewhere, without such internal problems. On May 27th, Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party lost his seat in the Irish Dail. Sinn Fein also lost a seat and their vote fell back badly in Dublin. In Scotland, the Greens did not fare too well either on May 3rd.

In his final section, Fighting for Votes, Andrew does make an important observation. As a result of our earlier Holyrood successes, At times we have come close to falling by default into a unconscious parliamentary left-reformist position. However, Andrew misses a key point, which helps to explain some of the SSP’s electoral decline. The degree to which our individual campaigns, whether over the council tax or free school meals, develop a popular appeal, is the degree to which such policies are taken over, in watered down form, by Labour, the Lib-Dems, or the SNP. Therefore, the SSP has to win wider support for its full socialist aims, if we are to extend our base more effectively.

Andrew half recognises this when he approvingly quotes an old Militant pamphlet. The way to the masses is through unconditional and determined support for every partial reform movement… all the time posing the general socialist alternative to the piece meal gradualism of the reformists. Our socialist, ‘People not Profit’ campaign is designed to perform this role. The problem, though, is that unless this is supplemented by an active campaign over the SSP’s other Conference-agreed, policy, ‘Citizens not Subjects’, the field is still left clear for the constitutional politics of the SNP.

The SNP’s version of independence can appear to be all things to all people, but in reality it is designed to advance the interests of Scottish business in a world dominated by the executives of the global corporations, whose priorities must be accepted. Without fighting for key democratic, secular and republican demands in the here and now, independence remains either somewhat abstract, or a populist cover for continued dependence on business tycoons and NATO, clerical interference in the affairs of the state and hence and our lives, and subjection to the UK state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers.

Moreover, the Left’s failure to end the war by means of independent mass action has led many one-time SSP voters, (and voters for other radical parties, elsewhere) to look to softer parliamentary options. This May, the SNP were able to take advantage of that shift. They hoovered up the protest vote. The SNP did well because they weren’t New Labour, just as New Labour did well in 1997 because they weren’t the Tories. This also helps to explain the gap in the polls between support for the SNP and for Scottish independence. Significantly though, both the SNP in 2007, and Labour in 1997, had previously won significant business backing. With plentiful funds, both parties were able to campaign as the party most likely to defeat the discredited incumbent government. In the absence of any wider movement other parties fell by the wayside.

In 1997, the newly founded Scottish Socialist Alliance knew it was fighting against the New Labour tide (and most of the rest of the Left) when we put up candidates. Nevertheless, we confidently looked to the future, and reaped our reward in 2003. In 2007, we still put up candidates, but the SSP never attacked the SNP’s political strategy. We ended up tailing their call for an independence referendum. Our Conference policy of ‘Citizens not Subjects’, got a brief airing in Scottish Socialist Voice (7), but was then dropped without trace. Many in the SSP appear to share similar illusions in the SNP today to those once held by the rest of the Left in New Labour – remember Vote Labour without illusions!

The SSP split and the politics of denial

Lastly, whilst Andrew does mention certain difficulties, such as the SSP is not in as good shape as it might have been, he never once mentions the disastrous split, which entirely undermined a large part of our appeal in 2003 – the SSP’s ability to unite the Left. Furthermore, if soft electoral options appear to be one choice for a demoralised electorate, another is voting for would-be saviours – be they ‘Tommy’, or ‘Gorgeous George’ in England. The SNP also played upon the cult of the personality, with its ‘Alex Salmond for First Minister’ to head the ballot papers.

Solidarity is responsible for the split which decimated the Left vote in May. Nevertheless, Solidarity’s populism and personality-cult polled better than the SSP’s socialist politics. As yet, the SSP has not properly addressed the woeful politics behind populism, and why, as a consequence of its appeal, it was the SSP which apparently ‘took the most hits’, in terms of electoral support, as a consequence of ‘Tommygate’.

As it turns out, although the good ship SSP lost all of its above deck fixtures in the May 3rd electoral conflagration, it will probably survive. The crew’s main loyalty lies with the ship. The gaudily decorated, end-of season, cruise boat Solidarity, initially looked less damaged, but suffered much more lethal damage ‘below the waterline’, when Sheridan failed to get re-elected. There are already signs of some of its crew taking to their ‘Party lifeboats’ before Solidarity goes under.

However, the SSP has to fully address its own weaknesses too. The current departure and likely future demise of Solidarity will not solve our problems. Anyone who looks to the state’s police enquiry, or to the News of the World’s court appeal, to restore the SSP’s fortunes, has little understanding of how these events will be understood by the working class. Instead of the SSP being exonerated, many workers will only see a legacy of unprincipled division and back-biting on the Left, and either lose interest in politics, or offer their support to other parties like the SNP.

Andrew’s article is able to finish off on a note of optimism by not taking the consequences of the hugely damaging split into consideration. He claims that the forthcoming Holyrood election can be used to consolidate {our} potential support {in the communities and workplaces} and recruit a proportion of its members to the party. At least Andrew doesn’t try to invoke a climax akin to Scotland’s away win against France in Paris – more like a win in Kaunas against Lithuania. Yet, when SSP members woke up on May 4th, it felt far more like a drubbing by the Faeroes at Hampden Park!

After the election – new doubts …

By the time Frontline 4 appeared, ex-ISM members had time to take stock of the new political situation. Another editorial board member, Nick McKerrell, quickly glosses over the massacre of the SSP vote, concentrating instead on the SNP’s (still limited) ability to muscle into traditional New Labour territory.

Nick downplays the source for many of the new SNP votes – one-time SSP supporters. Perhaps he adheres to the notion of an anti-unionist alliance, where the only significant voting shift is from unionists to nationalists. Yet, there is no political reality behind the idea of a shared anti-unionist alliance. Back in 1997 the newly-founded SSA did not believe it held anything in common with New Labour and the Lib-Dems, just because we too were recipients of the anti-Tory vote. New Labour already bore much more similarity to the detested Tories; just as the SNP today has more in common with the discredited unionist parties. The SNP has been quick to form Local Council coalitions with the unionist Lib-Dems.

The striking feature about Nick’s article – Celtic Tigers? The SNP in Government -compared to Andrew’s, is its more measured tone, reflected by that question mark in the title. It looks at the prospects for Scottish society and politics as the Scottish National Party take power for the first time in the Scottish Parliament. Nick’s hesitation shows up throughout his article. He chronicles the Rightwards moving trajectory of the SNP with its business backers.

Nick’s introduction mentions the new political situation created by the formation of a minority SNP/Green administration, which nobody, including the RCN, predicted. Salmond’s government has enjoyed a honeymoon period, with press providing plaudits for his promotion of a new consensus politics. Back in 1997, New Labour enjoyed a similar honeymoon period, with press and celebrities giving their public backing for the new politics in ‘Blair’s Britain’ – remember the embarrassing ‘Cool Britannia’ hype!

The SNP has also quickly introduced a number of welcome measures, particularly the saving of the Accident and Emergency units at Monklands and Ayr, in response to strong grass roots campaigns in the area. However, back in 1997, the incoming New Labour government at Westminster also introduced the minimum wage. The first New Labour-led Scottish Executive scrapped the homophobic Section 2A, and introduced the Land Reform Act, upholding the right to roam.

However, as with New Labour in the past, so with the SNP’s own reforming measures today, they do not alter the true nature of the new administration. Despite those small concessions made after 1997, New Labour knew that its real job was to continue the Thatcherite offensive, after the Tories had lost all credibility. Its business backers demanded as much. The SNP has yet to win as much heavyweight business backing as New Labour, and have a long way to go before they win over Murdoch’s media in Scotland, but they are following a similar neo-liberal trajectory nevertheless.

Nick’s contribution is good when it outlines the early danger signs already shown by Salmond’s actions and words. Nick makes the following astute observations. Salmond’s populist election campaign has been followed by a Scottish Government with an element of Bonapartism in it… At one level this is very similar to Blair’s style of leadership. Salmond’s first Parliamentary address was littered with phrases like, ‘We see barriers to business as barriers to national progress’. And, perhaps most worryingly of all is his allegiance to the monarch, which gained him the support of Ian Paisley.

If Gordon Brown can have tea with Margaret Thatcher in September, Salmond seemed quite comfortable joking with the Queen, at the royal opening of Holyrood in July – much to New Labour’s chagrin! (8) He has already met the queen at least half a dozen times. Back in June, Salmond received a letter by royal command… graciously ask{ing him} to join the Privy Council (9). This is the body with the power to run the UK when Parliament is suspended. Another recent member is Ian Paisley!

… and renewed illusions

Yet, despite all his warnings, Nick still falls back on, There is a radical element which the SNP leadership cannot escape and this is the struggle for independence. Although Nick mentions the SNP’s attempt to dampen expectations, he goes on to argue that, If the SNP leadership seek to back down on the {independence referendum} or water {it} down… this could spark a revolt within the party and the broader struggle for independence.

Well, Salmond has done exactly that. The independence referendum has been watered down to become the ‘National Conversation’, outlined in the Scottish Government White Paper, Choosing Scotland’s Future (10). Yet, there is little sign of a revolt within the party. Both the party’s rank and file ‘independistas’, and the non-Party ‘Independence First’, need an SNP government a lot more than it needs them. Salmond’s sights are quite deliberately focussed elsewhere. He knows the more he ignores the wishes of his ordinary party members, the more support he will get from big business and key sections of the press. It’s a trick he has learned from Blair.

Salmond is currently the smartest political operator to be found in Scotland. He has run rings around New Labour here. He also knows, though, that his high personal ratings cannot last forever. But it took ten years before Blair was ousted as New Labour leader. That’s a long time in politics. This could allow an ‘independence-lite’ SNP, committed to running the local economy on behalf of global capital, to take deeper root. But, if any internal opposition does emerge in the SNP, Salmond can take heart from the failure of John McDonnell to mount a challenge to Gordon Brown, or the Scottish Labour ‘Campaign for Socialism’ to even find a candidate to challenge Wendy Alexander! Any real opposition to the ‘New SNP’ project will have to be formed outside the SNP.

Salmond knows how to handle any potential internal party dissent. He made sure that there was a definite manifesto commitment to introduce a White Paper with a promise of a later independence referendum in the first hundred days of an SNP government. That was enough to stop any dissident SNP figure addressing the ‘Independence First’ demonstration on March 31st in Edinburgh. It turned out to be smaller than their first demonstration held on September 30th, 2006, and a tenth of the size of the Orange Order’s demonstration, held the previous week, on the same streets, to celebrate 300 years of Union (11).

Salmond’s ability to check the SNP’s ‘independista’ wing was further demonstrated at the SRSM’s August 3rd Scottish Republican Convention. Dr. Bill Wilson, one-time Left nationalist contender for the SNP leader’s post, sent his diplomatic apologies for not being able to attend. Since then, ‘Independence First’ has welcomed the ‘National Conversation’, seeking only to organise a new referendum – in order to push the government to hold the referendum it promised! Is this the “spark” Nick thinks will set the heather alight?

The build-up of anti-independence referendum forces inside the SNP

With few exceptions, the only forces now calling for an early independence referendum are those hostile in their intentions. Both the former Tory Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth and the current Labour MEP, David Martin, want a referendum now because they believe that independence would be defeated (12). SNP financial backer, Sir Tom Farmer, also thinks it would likely be defeated, but wants the way cleared for the SNP to get on with its real job – showing ‘responsibility’, or enhancing the position of Scottish business in the global economy (13).

Salmond has dismissed the prospect of any early referendum, saying there will only be one, when he thinks the time is right. He has gone on to reassure the British Establishment that he doesn’t want to run endless referenda. If defeated, independence would be set aside for a generation (14), whilst the SNP got on with managing the local economy.

Of course, being in a minority at Holyrood, and facing New Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem opposition, Salmond has a quite reasonable excuse for not delivering the SNP’s independence referendum electoral pledge. This is quite convenient, since it disguises the extent of the opposition to this policy within the SNP itself. This opposition comes from a number of sources, and not only from the SNP’s influential new business backers. Their views are reflected in the SNP leadership. This includes the neo-liberal Right, Michael Russell, the SNP’s ex-Chief Executive. In May, Russell regained the MSP position he had lost in the 2003 election, and was immediately appointed the SNP’s new Minister for the Environment. Opposition has also come from former SNP firebrand, Kenny MacAskill. He is now a thoroughly tamed social democrat, as well as being Depute Leader of the Scottish Parliament and Minister for Justice.

This political convergence, between Russell and MacAskill, reflects social democratic capitulation internationally to a world run in the interests of US imperialism and the global corporations. It is certainly not Russell who has changed his political stance. He has long been quite open in his espousal of neo-liberalism and support for NATO. Any independent Scotland, which he could support, would have to create an even more favourable political environment for big business, whilst offering more crumbs to Scotland’s small businesses too, and continue to be a haven for US armed forces, ‘when necessary’. Russell has linked up with Canadian businessman, Dennis Macleod, to write a Scottish neo-liberal manifesto, Grasping the Thistle (15). He opposes any independence referendum, seeing this as a diversion from advancing his pro-business agenda.

MacAskill has also written a manifesto, Building a Nation – Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland (16), which seeks to woo perplexed social democrats in Scotland, who are beginning to question Labour’s lack of national, as opposed to personal, ambitions. MacAskill also accepts a world dominated by US imperialism and, like Russell, wants Scotland to remain a member of NATO. He wants not to abolish, but to renegotiate, the Union. Therefore, he wants to delay any independence referendum to a second term of SNP government. US imperialism, the UK state, and the global corporations all have to be persuaded first of the SNP administration’s ‘responsibility’. In other words, the SNP has to offer all these forces a better deal than New Labour!

A parallel, to this mounting internal opposition to the SNP’s official independence referendum policy, is that which grew inside the Labour Party before the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum. These divisions helped contribute to the failure of that particular referendum. It took the experience of 18 year’s of Thatcher rule before this internal opposition was overcome. By then the political situation was very different and Devolution-all-round had the support of the majority of the British ruling class, the better to preserve the UK, in changed circumstances.

The missing global context

One thing that has been missing, from nearly all SSP leadership considerations of the National Question in Scotland, is any attempt to locate political developments within their wider global context. The RCN criticised the SSP leadership’s own acknowledged separation of its campaign for an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ from the opposition to the ‘New World Order’, at the time of the anti-G8 protests in Scotland in July 2005 (17). There is a similar oversight in both Andrew’s and Nick’s articles.

Since ‘9/11’, the world has been dominated by Bush’s gung-ho US imperialist politics and wars. He combines neo-liberal economics with neo-conservative social policies. These are best encapsulated in ‘The Project for a New American Century’. However, this attempt, to project unilateral American power throughout the world, is currently being buried in the sands of Iraq. It is facing mounting opposition within the USA itself. The unbounded selfishness and greed of US corporate leaders, highlighted by the Enron affair, and by Dick Cheney’s links with the Halliburton Corporation, is also now being questioned by millions of Americans. The crisis facing poorer American home-buyers is adding to all of this.

Instead, serious consideration is being given, by significant players, to a project to adopt a more ‘liberal’ imperialism. Global financial speculator, George Soros (18), and former World Bank, Chief Economist, Joseph Stiglitz (19), want considerably more reform of the ‘New World Order’ to establish a more convincing looking, liberal imperial world.

One thing which would have to change is the failing policy, of unilateral military intervention, that the US state has imposed through NATO. This means NATO fully reforming itself into a two-tier ‘Partnership for Peace’. NATO’s organisation would then more closely match that of the two-tier UN. Here, US interests are safeguarded by its domination of the Security Council and its veto. In a two-tier ‘Partnership for Peace’, the US would still remain in overall control of any modified NATO Allied Command. This body, though, would seek prior agreement from the other imperial participants in the UN Security Council before any new military interventions.

At present, the SNP leadership is ‘burdened’ with a policy, which could cut it off from any participation in this particular imperial reform. Party policy is to withdraw Scotland from NATO. However, to ditch this openly would be like New Labour coming out against the National Health Service. Labour leaders have got round their ‘difficulty’ though, by ensuring the principal funding for the NHS remains in state hands, whilst offering private business a veritable bonanza of profitable contracts, guaranteed and paid for by the tax payer.

If a future SNP government could get an undertaking to remove NATO’s nuclear bases from Scotland, then its leaders could persuade Conference to sign up for the ‘Partnership for Peace’. Scottish regiments, wearing saltire-flagged blue UN helmets, could then serve imperialism’s interests, just as Irish troops did in Congo and continue to do in Lebanon. The SNP is very proud of Scottish regiments’ past imperial exploits. A commitment could still be made to allow NATO’s first-tier military forces to use Scottish bases in an ‘international emergency’, in much the same way as the Irish government currently lets NATO use Shannon Airport.

A ‘No nuclear bases in Scotland’ agreement could be made acceptable to US imperialism. There is no longer the same strategic logic for these bases’ current location, compared to the period of the old US/ USSR Cold War. However, British governments, whether New Labour or Tory, are not likely to accept the threatened closure of nuclear bases in Scotland. Continued possession of nuclear weapons is linked to their desire to maintain the UK as an imperial power.

Although British nuclear weapons can no longer be deployed independently, successive UK governments have tried to bolster British power in the world, by taking on a junior role, acting on behalf of US imperialism. Therefore, the UK maintains nuclear and non-nuclear forces considerably in excess of those held by other larger and similar sized states. As a result, the UK state has been awarded the North East Atlantic ‘franchise’ by successive US governments. The UK can offer the best political ‘tender’ to maintain global corporate interests in this area, backed by the most lethal and up-to-date military technology. As part of the ‘deal’, the UK state is also allowed to retain certain ‘concessions’ elsewhere in the world, dating from an era when it was ‘top gun’.

Faced with any prospect of having to directly confront British imperial interests, the SNP leaders will probably back down over their Party’s current anti-NATO policy, despite the internal opposition. The SNP leadership’s current strategy is to slowly win more powers from Westminster, holding out the promise of this leading to eventual ‘independence’ for Scotland. This means trying to persuade both the global corporations and a future US government that a ‘Scottish Free State’ could still protect their interests.

In order to further this, SNP leadership will have to get the Party either to ditch, or to downgrade, its ‘withdrawal from NATO’ policy. Rebranding NATO as the ‘Partnership for Peace’ is designed to facilitate this process. It could be hinted that withdrawal from NATO still remained an aspiration for the future, just as SNP leaders used to hint that the abolition of the monarchy could be achieved in a ‘post-independence’ Scotland. The ground is already being prepared for a future climbdown over NATO. Opposition to membership did not appear in the international section of the SNP’s Raising the Standard document, released on St. Andrew’s Day, 2005 (20).

Apart from Scotland’s continuous participation in imperial wars, there is another problem for socialists and democrats, associated with continued membership of NATO. Being a member allows even more direct US intervention in Scotland’s affairs to ensure that its imperial and corporate interests are protected. This is why the new American consul-general in Edinburgh, Lisa Vickers, attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy. I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’. It doesn’t work like that – a not so veiled threat! (21)

The SSP is committed to active opposition to US and British imperialism, and to NATO and its wars. There is a parallel between NATO’s suggested ‘Partnership for Peace’ and the ‘social partnerships’ between government, employers and trade union leaders. The SSP understands that ‘social partnerships’ are merely an alternative way to control the working class. ‘Social partnerships’ are New Labour’s substitute for the Tories’ many direct confrontations with our class. Just like ‘social partnership’, ‘Partnership for Peace’ is an attempt to move beyond gung-ho, confrontational politics, but its purpose is the same – to protect the interests of corporate capital and imperialism. And just as those Tory anti-trade union laws are still held in reserve, so too are those nuclear weapons!

Therefore, the SSP must also be to the forefront of the opposition to the ‘Partnership for Peace’ and other attempts to reform imperialism’s key institutions. We must never become a pressure group to push the SNP leadership to do what it is incapable of doing – fundamentally challenging imperialism’s ‘New World Order’.

There are several kinds of unionist and they are not all intransigent

ISM members have fallen back on another argument to get the SSP to tail-end the SNP’s political strategy. They equate unionists with deep reaction. Hence, they think that being on the same side as the ‘anti-unionist’ SNP automatically places the SSP on the side of the angels. An image is conjured up of unbending unionist intransigence. It is almost as if, when faced with any challenge, unionists will automatically dig their heels in and just say ‘No’ to any changes.

Therefore, Nick, in order to justify linking the SSP to that radical element which the SNP leadership cannot escape… the struggle for independence, falls back on the hoary old argument first put forward by Alan McCombes during the 1998 Devolution referendum campaign (22), and raised again at the time of the G8 gathering at Gleneagles (23). He claims that the majority of big business leaders and unionists are intransigently opposed to constitutional reform. Following Alan’s earlier examples, Nick focuses today on the current opposition of Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, leaders of the CBI and finance capital to any changes in the present constitutional set-up. Mind you, after ‘Northern Rock’, Mervyn’s star is waning!

Unionism, however, takes more forms than intransigence. The truth is the majority of the British ruling class, and most Scottish editions of the press, gave their support to Blair’s 1997/8 Devolution-all-round proposals, whether enthusiastically or not. They gave their loudest support to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, because the UK state had been challenged much more fundamentally by Republicans in ‘the Six Counties’ than anywhere else. A measure of Welsh devolution was, however, only grudgingly accepted to give the appearance of constitutional symmetry. This was because divide-and-rule politics, setting Welsh and English speakers against each other, still seemed a viable political option in Wales. In Scotland, though, Dewar’s devolution campaign, ‘Vote Yes, Yes’ completely outgunned the hapless intransigent Tories’ ‘Think Twice, Say No’ campaign. On May 28th 2002, the queen herself endorsed the ‘unity through diversity’ approach under devolution, when she addressed the Scottish Parliament, then meeting in Aberdeen, whilst on her golden jubilee tour (24).

Today, most Tories support Scottish devolution. Some want to go further. Scottish Depute Leader, Murdo Fraser, and the renegade, Brian Monteith, have both considered a tactical alliance with the SNP to win fiscal autonomy for Scotland (thus paving the way for major tax cuts for the rich) (25). Only the UK Independence Party wants to scrap the Scottish Parliament – name one widely-known Scottish member!

Also, look at Ian ‘No Surrender’ Paisley, that figure who most appears to represent total Unionist intransigence. Even he has cut a deal with Sinn Fein, in order to become the First Minister of his beloved Stormont. More than a quarter century of Republican resistance meant there was no going back to the pre-1972 Stormont. Paisley very reluctantly decided that some reform was necessary, if Stormont was ever to be re-established. A DUP/Sinn Fein-led Northern Ireland Executive became possible after the Paisley had pressured the UK government to overturn some key features of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which they considered too generous towards Irish nationalists. The last prominent intransigent unionist, Robert McCartney, former UK Unionist Party MP for North Down, who opposed the Paisley-negotiated, 2006 St. Andrews Agreement, was trounced in all six seats, where he stood, in the recent elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Certainly the intransigent UVF and UDA are still in business, continuing their sectarian and racist attacks. Yet, they have now largely succumbed to bitter internecine feuds. One reason for their continued influence is the financial and political life-support they receive from the UK government. However, the UDA has plans in reserve, should they ever feel totally abandoned by ‘Britain’. They would go for an Ian Smith, Rhodesia-style, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, followed by repartition and the ‘nullification’ of Catholics in order to create a ‘perfect’ little, white Protestant ‘Britain’ in Ulster – utterly reactionary, yes; but hardly intransigently unionist!

The British ruling class have come to learn the high price they paid for earlier unionist intransigence. Tory and Ulster Unionist opposition to Irish Home Rule, before the First World War, eventually led to the loss of twenty-six Irish counties from their Union. Tory and Labour refusal to enforce the kind of Civil Rights reforms in Northern Ireland, that even US governments were prepared to make in the American South, in the 1960’s and 70’s, led to civil war in ‘the Six Counties’ and bombs on the streets of England.

Thatcher’s imperial intransigence, in 1982, over some ‘rocks’ in the South Atlantic, may have politically paralysed Labour leader, Michael Foot, but was no help in the prolonged negotiations to protect the City’s financial interests, when the much more valuable Hong Kong left the Empire in 1992. This required the flexible negotiating skills of Chris Patten.

Thatcher may have faced down the Irish Hunger Strikers in 1981, but the election of Bobby Sands MP, and the ensuing Sinn Fein electoral breakthrough, was hardly the outcome she expected. As a consequence, it was Thatcher who made the first tentative steps towards New Unionism, in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Her successor, Major, developed this further, by bringing the Irish Republicans onboard, through the Downing Street Agreement of 1991. Blair arrived at the fully developed New Unionist project of Devolution-all-round, for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. New Labour delivered this between 1997-8. Blair even wheeled out that flexible Tory Patten, once more, to dangle the prospect of a reformed and nationalist-friendly RUC/ PSNI before the eyes of Sinn Fein. Making the necessary changes to preserve the Union is now hard-wired into the consciousness of the British ruling class.

By 2007, Blair had certainly lost much contact with reality. He did seem to think that Scotland’s 1998 Devolution settlement was a final event, not part of a process. John McTernan, Blair’s witchfinder-general, was sent up north during the Holyrood campaign, in order to stymie any autonomous Scottish Labour activities. This led to outrageous, over-the-top, ‘Nat-bashing’ behaviour by New Labour and its supporters in the media.

So, at first glance, New Labour’s approach to the 2007 Holyrood election appears to buttress the notion of continued unionist intransigence. This behaviour, however, mainly reflected the attitudes of all those Labour time-servers, whose careers were entirely tied up with the offices they held, whether at Westminster, Holyrood, or in Local Government. But when New Labour do want reform, e.g. of Scottish Local Government, they have showed that they can come up with the necessary measures to smooth the transition, i.e. ‘financial inducements’ to silence the ‘intransigent’ opposition.

In their handling of this year’s Holyrood elections, Labour blew it and they soon knew it. Blair could not bring himself to congratulate Salmond after the SNP’s election victory. Brown quickly congratulated Salmond, though, when he became the new First Minister (26). Back in January, Brown showed some hesitation over which team, England or Scotland, he wanted to win the World Cup (27). On September 13th, he was quick to congratulate Scotland after its victory over France (28).

Labour in Scotland has also begun to do some serious soul-searching. New leader, Wendy Alexander, initially adopted a very cautious approach, seeking only to rebrand ‘New Labour’ as ‘Scottish Labour’. There can be little doubt, however, that intransigent defence of the current Union status-quo, will not be Labour’s final contribution to the ‘National Conversation’. Gordon will give Wendy the nod and wink, enabling her to move on.

The ‘National Conversation’ – building a ‘reform the Union’ alliance…

The world situation is changing – and fast. Brown knows it, Alexander knows it, and Salmond knows it. They all want to defend the interests of big business, so they also know that further constitutional changes will need to be made. A robust, but where necessary, flexible political framework is needed so that the global corporations can maximise their profits on these islands. The current balance of political forces means that any likely resolution of the apparent ‘stand-off’ between New Labour at Westminster (along with their Scottish allies) and the SNP at Holyrood, will most likely lead to the further reform of the Union.

The most politically coherent constitutional reform, to maintain the Union, ‘Devolution-max’, would be a move from Devolution-all-round to Federalism all-round. The Westminster Parliament would be retained for imperial affairs, ‘defence’ and some all-UK domestic matters, whilst Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England would have parliaments with the powers to address their most of their own domestic issues. This could help to deal with the problem of any ‘English backlash’ directed against MPs from outside England, who can vote at Westminster on English issues, despite MPs representing English constituencies not being able to vote on matters reserved for the Scottish Parliament. A federal solution for the UK constitution is the policy of the Lib-Dems, and has even received recent support from the Tory Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster (29).

Two significant political commentators, Will Hutton, of The Observer (30) and Ian MacWhirter of The Herald (31), both supporters of the Union, have suggested political courses for New Labour, that would involve using the SNP’s current political strength to isolate Labour’s own ‘intransigents’ and to advance further reform of the UK. Hutton pushes for the federal option, using Canada as a precedent. Hutton takes the SNP’s ‘National Conversation’ middle option, ‘Devolution-max’, as his starting point. He argues that, repatriating more fiscal powers to a strengthened Scottish Parliament, would in effect create a Scottish state within Britain rather like Alberta or Ontario within Canada.

MacWhirter argues for the new Scottish Labour-anointed, Alexander, to take the chance offered by the recently British Labour-crowned, Brown. Brown is making the most radical constitutional reforms to the UK in a generation. Alexander needs to call for a second cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention… The SNP should, of course, be invited. Alexander should also be given the freedom to develop an independent political agenda, and the authority to ram it down the throats of the unionist old guard – those unionist intransigents again! Then, looking to the SNP as potential allies of a sort, MacWhirter claims that, the threat of an independent Scotland is actually a source of strength for Wendy Alexander. If Scotland broke away, the UK would lose a lot of its clout in international forums, and it would also lose valuable oil and renewable energy reserves. Why should it be left to Alex Salmond to play the Scottish card.

There are real material grounds underlying these proposals for reform of the UK constitution. Yes, many in New Labour (especially those already safely placed on the career-ladder) saw the 1997 Devolution measures as the ‘final solution’ to the nationalist challenge. People holding such views include George Foulkes, Baron of Cumnock, and the Defence Secretary, Des Browne. They will continue to put up an intransigent defence of the unionist status-quo – until ordered otherwise, if they hold significant government office.

Before May 3rd, when New Labour also managed the ‘local branch offices’ in Scotland and Wales, loyalty to the Westminster ‘head office’ could be assumed and any further ambitions dismissed. Ten years on from 1997, though, some junior managers are hungry for new career advancement. These people are neither loyal to Westminster nor to Millbank House. New Labour no longer controls Holyrood and has had to share office with Plaid Cymru, in the Cardiff Bay Assembly.

The grounds are being prepared for a possible Labour/nationalist rapprochement. There are Labour-supporting junior managers, whether involved in national politics, the Scottish Office, local government, the various quangoes, or elsewhere, who see the current devolution set-up as a training opportunity for further ‘career advance’. This is also the SNP’s attitude.

‘Devolution-max’ is Salmond’s real political goal. The ‘National Conversation’ is designed to build a ‘reform the Union’ alliance. Intransigent unionists will be politely dismissed. Republicans and anti-imperialists will be vigorously excluded, or if that becomes impossible, vehemently denounced – and worse!

A key part of Salmond’s strategy is a political offensive to peel off of those Scottish Labour figures who believe that ‘devolution is a process not an event’. This means winning the support of those Labour nationalists, who have further ambitions and are irritated by metropolitan condescension or dismissal.

Salmond’s decision to open the third session of the Holyrood Parliament with a programme, which included the National Theatre of Scotland’s superb production of Black Watch was a clever move. First, as well as the performance provided for politicians and their friends, there were two other free showings, one for the public and one for pensioners. Secondly, Salmond showed that it was the SNP, which could take up the baton, and build upon one of Holyrood’s success stories – the National Theatre of Scotland. Thirdly, Black Watch is politically ambiguous, being both anti-war and pro-Scottish soldier. It chimes perfectly with the current liberal imperialist mood to pull back from gung-ho Bush/Blair style imperialism, but still leave the way open for Scottish regiments to play another role.

There are already signs that some Scottish Labour politicians are entering into the spirit of Salmond’s ‘National Conversation’. When Labour’s Henry McLeish was ousted from his position as Scottish First Minister, he began ‘to go native’. He has been working alongside the SNP’s Kenny MacAskill to cultivate Scottish expatriate business support in the USA (32). He welcomed the ‘National Conversation’. His latest book advocates extensive reform of the Union (33). McLeish describes himself as a nationalist with a small ‘n’. He has been invited to join the SNP-initiated Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

Even Jack McConnell has let his dissatisfaction be known over the behaviour imposed on Scottish Labour by Blair during the elections. McConnell is also beginning to come out of the closet as a Labour nationalist. Salmond has been astute in cultivating potential Labour nationalists. But the end-game is quite clear, i.e. the renegotiation of the Union, not its abolition, or making a reality of the slogan coined by Scotland’s initial New Labour First Minister, Donald Dewar – ‘Independence in the Union’! … and dealing with the ‘excesses’ of neo-liberalism.

There are also signs of movement on another controversial New Labour policy, largely inherited from the Tories – Private Public Partnerships (formerly Private Finance Initiatives). These have allowed big business to rip-off the public in big style. The latest of many scandals is the PPP Metronet contract covering the London Underground. This £17 billion contract, pushed through by Chancellor Brown, in the teeth of London Labour Mayor, Ken Livingstone’s opposition, has now ‘overspent’ by a staggering £2 billion. Livingstone is getting closer to his original wish of raising money through floating bonds, a lot less costly policy (34).

The SNP, are also known to favour this method of funding. They dropped the PPP proposals to fund the new Low Moss Prison at Bishopriggs. Scottish nationalist, Alex, has met anti-Scottish nationalist, Ken, to discuss future cooperation over the use of public bonds. The decision to abandon the compulsory tendering process for the Highlands and Islands ferry services, and to retain Calmac as the provider, is another indicator of the SNP’s more flexible approach towards neo-liberal shibboleths.

There could well be competition between the SNP and New Labour to see which party can project the cuddlier capitalist image. Will SNP Finance Minister, John Swinney, drop his flat tax proposals, which favour the rich, and hit instead the massive pay awards for senior managers of, and consultants to, public bodies? Will Gordon Brown continue his love affair with big business tycoons, or will he instruct Alistair Darling to take action against the tax-dodging activities associated with equity capital, and the very loose financial arrangements pursued by certain mortgage companies?

Both the SNP and New Labour may even try to compete over a reactionary social agenda? Which party is more committed to promoting the educational apartheid favoured by the influential Archbishop Mario Conti and by increasing numbers in the Islamic business community? Or will they try to compete on a fluffy environmental agenda? Which party can promise to reduce carbon emissions by the greatest percentage – sometime in the distant future? Adopting Right or Left populist measures could be useful to either party, when trying to ease the transition to a less obviously malignant capitalism.

There are definitely grounds for cross-party cooperation to get round the embarrassing economic and social disasters bequeathed by the worst excesses of neo-liberal, free market, turbo-capitalism. The SSP must ensure that the crimes of global capitalism are located at source, and not just allow the sacrifice of a ‘few bad apples’ to give the false appearance that all will be well in the future.

Salmond seeks wider allies to renegotiate the Union

The SNP will retain a sentimental attachment to the idea of an independent Scotland – sometime in the future – just like the Labour Party once had a sentimental attachment to Clause 4. Increasingly though, the future prospect of an independence referendum is only seen by some party leaders as a way to keep the support of the SNP rank-and-file, whilst a Scottish Government gets on with the real job of increasing Scottish business participation in the global economy. This is why they wanted to delay any independence referendum. Even if a referendum was finally to be organised, some SNP leaders would be privately unconcerned, if the independence option went down to defeat. They could use this excuse to abandon any real commitment to seeking an independent Scotland and avoid any awkward ‘scrap Clause 4’ moment at Conference.

Salmond still represents the ‘Kinnock/Smith’ phase of SNP leadership. The SNP has yet to become a full-blown ‘New SNP’. Nevertheless, the political trajectory is clear enough. Quebec, Euskadi and Catalunya have long had nationalist administrations, some enjoying absolute majorities. Parti Quebecois, the Basque Nationalist Party and Catalan Convergence leaders have all accepted their role as local political managers for global and small business capital. These parties now push for constitutional reforms acceptable to the dominant ruling class and state parties. The SNP, given its constitutional nationalism, will follow the same political path.

Salmond knows that Devolution-all-round enjoys the support, not only of all the main UK unionist parties, but also of successive US administrations and the EU. He knows that the political conditions do not exist for a tame constitutional party, such as the SNP, to win an independence referendum, against all these forces. However, if a majority in the British unionist parties could be persuaded of the need for some further reform of the Union, then the way could be open for a new constitutional deal. The actual measures adopted could be fine-tuned to meet the different political situations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Salmond has congratulated Plaid Cymru for joining with New Labour in a coalition government for the Welsh Assembly (35). He met both Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness, at Stormont, for mutual support in negotiations with the Westminster government, to enable Northern Ireland and Scotland to adopt more favourable tax regimes for big business (36).

Salmond is a shrewd political operator. He does enjoy increased support from junior managers in public bodies, and even from some ambitious Scottish business figures, eager to get a bigger share of global corporate booty. He also has the continued support of most SNP members, buoyed up the SNP’s electoral victory (and probably Scotland’s recent football victories!). Beyond this, though, the SNP’s support is more fragile, since it remains largely a protest vote.

Salmond is also a known gambler. He knows when to cash in his chips. He can see that the British government has largely tamed both the one-time revolutionary nationalist Sinn Fein and the intransigent unionist DUP. He will try to maximise support from Labour nationalists, Lib-Dem federalists and Tory mavericks, as well as from the parties leading the administrations in the other devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. Renegotiation of the Union is Salmond’s best hand. However, depending on the play made by his main unionist competitors, he may still have to settle, not for his ‘Devolution-max’ jackpot, but for small change.

The retreat from republicanism to nationalism

The SNP has never been a republican party. However, in the past, the leadership has given the republicans amongst its membership the impression that the SNP would initiate a further referendum on the future of the monarchy, after it had first won an ‘independence’ referendum.

Salmond has now openly rejected that possibility. He wishes to maintain the Union of the Crowns, even after any SNP Government-initiated abolition of the Union of the Parliaments. In effect, Salmond is now both a Scottish nationalist and a Scottish unionist! Thus, he is moving closer to those Labour nationalists with a small ‘n’, who arrive at the same point, but from the opposite direction!

Many people do not understand the real meaning of republican opposition to the monarchy. To them, anti-monarchism only means opposing the dysfunctional, snobbish and over-privileged royal family. However, the royal family is not the central issue. There could even be circumstances under which a genuinely reforming government allowed the continued existence of the monarchy through its privatisation. The queen and her family could be encouraged to form a private company, supported only by the funds from her loyal fan-club, backed by advertising in a royal fanzine like Majesty.

When republicans oppose the monarchy, however, the focus is primarily on the UK state’s Crown Powers. These provide the British ruling class with a whole number of anti-democratic means to get round either popular, or even parliamentary, sovereignty. It is these Crown Powers, which the ruling class would place at the disposal of unionist opposition to counter the threat of political independence in any possible future independence referendum.

The Crown Powers were used to ditch the mildly reforming Labour government of Gough Whitlam in Australia in 1976. He was considering denying US nuclear warships access to Australian ports. The Crown Powers were also used to derail the Labour Government’s own earlier Devolution proposals which, after 1977, no longer enjoyed majority support from the ruling class. By 1979, they had also been used to completely marginalise the hapless nationalist ‘opposition’ represented by the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP.

By accepting the continued role of the monarchy, Salmond isn’t ‘boxing clever’, to bring the queen on board for a return of the pre-1707 Union of the Crowns (help ma boab!). He is signalling his intention to abide by the UK’s constitutional rules. Furthermore, he is indicating his intention not to take the sovereign powers, needed by a genuinely reforming government, to begin a real challenge to the power of big business.

For the SNP leadership, the idea of republicanism was mainly associated with ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Therefore, as a thoroughly constitutional party, republicanism needed to be kept at arm’s length. This even led to the total ignoring of the brutal activities of those Scottish regiments occupying ‘the Six Counties’. It is only with the ending of ‘The Troubles’ that the SNP has begun to hold up the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy as a model.

Ironically, it is now the Irish Republicans, who look to the SNP to provide the political model for their own future approach, after Sinn Fein’s setbacks in the Irish Dail elections, held on May 24th. Jim Slaven, of the James Connolly Society, wrote an article, in An Phoblacht, to try and persuade the Sinn Fein leadership to see the importance of developments in lowly Scotland (37). This is because they usually look up to the governments of the USA (hopefully Democrat), the UK (especially Labour), and Ireland (preferably Fianna Fail). The SNP’s idea of a ‘National Conversation’ on Irish unity has now been taken up Sinn Fein strategist, Tom Hartley (38).

Following this approach, republicanism gets put on the back-burner, the better to form a pan-nationalist alliance. Such an approach could lead no further than reform of the Union and closer cooperation between the UK and Irish governments, within an accepted US/British imperial framework. Hartley has already tried to politically rehabilitate those Irish soldiers who fought for British imperialism in the First World War, following the call of John Redmond, leader of the Irish Home Rule Party (39). This gets dangerously close to the position of those Irish revisionist historians and pundits, who argue that Irish independence was a bad idea, and that Irish unity could have been maintained by Home Rule under the Crown!

How should the SSP relate to the new situation in Scotland?

The SSP is still in a weak state and no longer represents a united Left in Scotland. This partly reflects the poor state of the working class movement, not only in Scotland, but throughout the UK, Europe and the USA (40). In addition, ‘Tommygate’ has reduced our electoral influence to that of the sects. This means that the SSP itself cannot immediately organise large-scale opposition to retreats the SNP will make over its own declared policy of seeking political independence for Scotland, or to the forthcoming attacks on services, jobs and conditions, emanating from the Scottish Government.

And attacks there will be. We got the first taste of these when Edinburgh City Council’s Lib-Dem/SNP coalition tried to get approval for major cuts. They proposed the closure of 22 schools, even before any local ‘conversation’ took place. The ‘hoi polloi’ (41) of Edinburgh thought that the SNP had already made its opposition to the previous Council’s education cuts quite clear in the run-up to the May 3rd Local Council elections. As it turned out, it needed the strident ‘shout’ of a one day UNISON strike on August 23rd, followed by further parent protests and school student strikes, before SNP councillors could hear the message and back-off. A genteel ‘conversation’ it was not!

The forthcoming Westminster-imposed Budget Review will force the SNP-led Scottish Government to make similar unpleasant choices. Several important lessons were learned in Edinburgh. Lesson 1 – ordinary members of the public are not given an invite to join the SNP’s ‘conversations’; Lesson 2 – only widespread mass action can make our voice really heard. Lesson 3 – New Labour will go to every length to appear to be the ‘opposition’!

Behind New Labour politicians will be Labour-supporting, local government trade union officials, ready to call off action, if it helps to re-establish their ‘social partnership’ with restored New Labour-dominated councils. The SSP will have to both ‘shout loudly’ to challenge New Labour hypocrisy, and act patiently to regain our credibility with both rank-and-file trade union members and community activists.

However, the SSP must aspire to more than building up the party once more, by means of consistent trade union and community work. We must challenge the SNP’s political agenda too. ‘Citizens not Subjects’ is as important as ‘People not Profits’. One thing that has becoming increasingly clear, is that throwing our forces into organisations with other political agendas, whether it be the imaginary ‘anti-unionist alliance’ of the Scottish Independence Convention or Independence First, will not build support for the only strategy which has a chance of breaking-up the UK and challenging British imperialism.

Renew the movement for the Calton Hill Declaration – ‘Citizens not Subjects’

We need to patiently build an anti-NATO and anti-Crown Powers alliance. The Calton Hill Declaration was based on firm Scottish internationalist and republican principles. Its further development should have been the first step in this process. The SSP leadership, however, abandoned the Calton Hill Declaration, in favour of chasing after ‘anti-unionist’ chimera.

What would a renewed Calton Hill Declaration do? The chance, provided by the queen’s opening of the new Holyrood Parliament, on October 9th 2004, to organise the very successful counter-demonstration, will not necessarily be offered again soon. Furthermore, the post-split SSP has far less political clout now, when it comes to initiating such a demonstration.

In the days of reaction, following the failure of Labour’s Scottish devolution proposals in 1979, opposition to the Tories and to their intransigent unionism, initially took on a cultural form. There was a veritable renaissance in Scottish cultural activity, much of it socialist and/or republican in its political inspiration. Figures as diverse as Alistair Gray, James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Irvine Welsh came to the fore. Maybe some of these writers, and others today as well, could be persuaded to become involved in cultural activities organised under the principles of the Calton Hill Declaration. In addition, there are many other artists, including musicians, who would probably be interested.

Colin Fox has already shown the potential for this type of alternative cultural approach with the excellent work he has done in reinstating the People’s Festival in Edinburgh. The very successful 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution night, held at The Stand, on October 9th, was a good example. Colin’s plans for Edinburgh SSP to organise educational/cultural visits to places as varied as the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre in Aberdeenshire, the Robert Burns birthplace in Ayrshire and Robert Owen’s New Lanark, is a further example of the approach required.

But, of course, any long-term success for an organisation, based upon the Calton Hill Declaration, eventually means taking to the streets too. One possible opportunity could be provided by the SNP’s reneging on its promise to introduce a November 30th St. Andrews’ Day holiday. Now, as socialists, we should want nothing to do with St. Andrew. However, November 30th is also the anniversary of the death of John Maclean. Socialists in England had to make May Day a symbol of international socialism, by providing an alternative to the maypole and morris dancers. The SSP should do the same with November 30th, renaming it John Maclean Day.

Given our small forces at present, a start could be made, by organising a Calton Hill Declaration, John Maclean contingent on the STUC’s anti-racist demonstration held on or near St. Andrew’s Day. However, the longer-term aim would be to get people to take November 30th as a holiday, whether officially sanctioned or not, and to organise a whole array of activities on that day.

Last, but certainly not least, the SSP needs to look to what is happening elsewhere in these islands. The British ruling class has strategies and plans, to maintain its control, which involve the cooperation of governments and parties in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland. Even the nationalist SNP has started to make links beyond Scotland, including Livingstone and Paisley! The SSP needs to build on the principle of ‘internationalism from below’ and work with socialist republicans in Ireland, Wales and England too. This is why the RCN has put forward a motion to the October 2007 Conference calling for the SSP to organise an international conference inviting socialist republicans from each of these countries.

Many socialists beyond Scotland looked to the SSP for inspiration, after our success in uniting the Left, and our tremendous electoral breakthrough in 2003. The recent big collapse in SSP influence has also been passionately discussed and debated by socialists beyond Scotland, particularly in Ireland. The SSP split has also encouraged the forces of sectarianism and petty division once more.

The SSP needs to take a lead once more. Providing a focus for those forces of socialist republicanism, throughout these islands, would be a higher-level political achievement, than merely being the unity icon for many on the wider Left, before the split. An opportunity was missed then, as the political path followed by the SSP became increasingly Left nationalist.

When we change course, it should not be a return to the Left unionism of Kier Hardie’s Labour Party, spawned in the heyday of British imperialism. We need to follow a Scottish internationalist and republican course. John Maclean and James Connolly are the figures in the ‘internationalism from below’ tradition we should take for our inspiration.

October 9th, 2007


  • 1. All Hail the Workers’ Republic and the Struggle for a Communist World – A contribution to the debate on Scotland in the Scottish Socialist Alliance (AHtWR) pp. 3-23, The Communist Tendency in the Workers Republican Movement, 1998
  • 2. The SSP and the Scottish Independence Convention – A Scottish internationalist and republican response (SSP and SIC) – Republican Communist Network, 6.5.06
  • 3. The SSP , ‘Independence First’ and the Scottish Independence Referendum – A Scottish internationalist and republican response (SSP and IF), Republican Communist Network, 2.12.06
  • 4. Frontline, An independent Marxist voice in the SSP , Volume 2, Issues nos. 3 & 4
  • 5. SSP and SIC, op. cit., pp 5-7.
  • 6. Referendum: 50% would vote No 35% Yes, Paul Hutcheon, The Sunday Herald, 2.9.07
  • 7. Scottish citizens not British subjects, Mary McGregor, Scottish Socialist Voice, 23.3.07
  • 8. Salmond’s speech angers Labour, The Herald, 21.7.07
  • 9. Blair makes contact with Salmond, The Herald, 15.6.07
  • 10. A National Conversation: Independence and Responsibility in the Modern World, Scottish Executive, 2007
  • 11. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication of the relative strengths of support for independence and the Union. Salmond had persuaded most party members that mobilisation for an independence referendum was unnecessary. The Orange Order, on the other hand, fears any reform of the Union, and detecting further unwanted changes, took to the streets. It was the only force in Scotland to mobilise and publicly celebrate 300 years of Union. Grand Master, Ian Wilson, addressed the rally. Our parade today will be led by Scotland’s ancient saltire, and the colours of the Union. It is Scotland that put the blue in the Union Flag. See
  • 12. Why England must heed the skirl of the pipes, Magnus Linklater, The Times, 15.8.07
  • 13. Farmer calls for immediate independence referendum, The Herald, 21.8.07
  • 14. Independence referendum is now “once in a generation”, Kevin Schofield, The Herald, 26.4.07
  • 15. Grasping the Thistle, Michael Russell and Donald MacLeod, Argyll Press, 2007
  • 16. Building a Nation – Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, Luath Press, 2004
  • 17. SSP and SIC, op. cit., pp 14-15
  • 18. The Bubble of American Supremacy, Correcting the Misuse of American Power, Public Affairs, 2003, and The Age of Fallibilty: Consequences of the War on Terrorism, George Soros, Public Affairs, 2006
  • 19. Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz, W.W. Norton, 2006
  • 20. Raising the Standard – There shall be an independent Scottish Parliament – A consultation paper on Scottish Independence, SNP, 30.9.05
  • 21. Source for reference 21
  • 22. Scottish Independence and the Struggle for Socialism, Alan McCombes, Scottish Militant Labour, 1998 and reply in AHtWR, op. cit., p. 20.
  • 23. Two Worlds Collide – power, plunder and resistance in a divided planet, p. 55, Alan McCombes, SSP, 2005, and reply in Two Words Collide – Nationalism and Republicanism, Allan Armstrong, Emancipation & Liberation, no. 11, p.12
  • 24. Surprise as Queen endorses devolved power, Murray Ritchie, Robbie Dinwoodie and Graeme Smith, The Herald, 29.5.02
  • 25. Tory MSP in party breakaway call, and Comment, Brian Monteith – Tories must change or die, Sunday Times, 8.9.06
  • 26. Brown congratulates Salmond, stresses commitment to union, The Herald, 17.5.07
  • 27. Brown tripped up by Auld Enemy Question, James Kirkup, The Scotsman, 20.1.07
  • 28. PM praises Scotland victory, The Herald, 13.9.07
  • 29. Tory MP wants federation of UK parliaments, The Herald, 9.9.07
  • 30. How Scotland could end up with the best of both worlds, Comment, Will Hutton, The Herald, 15.8.07
  • 31. Alexander must take on the city state of London, Iain MacWhirter, The Herald, 26.8.07
  • 32. Wherever the Saltire Flies, Kenny MacAskill and Henry McLeish, Luath Press, 2006
  • 33. Scotland – The Road Divides, Henry McLeish and Tom Brown, Luath Press, 2007
  • 34. It’s what happens when the Iron Chancellor’s big idea hits the buffers, Torcuil Crichton, The Sunday Herald, 9.9.07
  • 35. Salmond congratulates Plaid Cymru on joining Welsh government
  • 36. Salmond in Stormont for talks
  • 37. British state is in constitutional flux, Jim Slaven, An Phoblacht, 23.8.07
  • 38. National conversation on Irish unity, Tom Hartley, An Phoblacht, 6.9.07
  • 39. Republicans must recognise reality of Irish who fell at Somme, Tom Hartley, An Phoblact, 16.3.06
  • 40. SSP and IF, op. cit., p. 2-3
  • 41. Jenny Dawe, the Lib-Dem leader of Edinburgh City Council, wanted the council leaders to “set themselves apart from the hoi polloi” by reinstating the ceremonial robes. This was at the height of the Lib-Dem/SNP coalition’s moves to close 22 schools. Set us apart from the hoi polloi, Brian Ferguson, Edinburgh Evening News, 29.8.07

Declaration of Calton Hill, 9th October 2004

Historical Materialism Conference – Part 2 by korakious
November 12, 2007, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Historical Materialism Conference, Marxism, Palestine, Rob, Theory
Wow. Apparently my notes on the fisrt plenary session were pretty long. The notes for the next session ‘Islam and American Imperialism’ are a bit less so. Not becuase the talks weren’t interesting, but because I’d already sat through one long session and the lecture theatre was rather sophorific, owing to the temperature and layout.

The backdrop to the talks is the increasing resistance to American imperialism and the lack of a clear socialist alternative to it. This leads – on the part of the Socialist Register, who organised the plenary – to a crisis of agency. It therefore becomes necessary to analyse the new movements that have arisen so as to conceptualise the current conjuncture.

Gilbert Achar – Imperial Uses of Islam
Achar began his talk by examining the ‘clash of civilisations’ paradigm, one which he described as pervasive on both a conscious and unconscious level. This view basically suggests that Islam and the West are engaged in a clash of civilisation and there can be no middle ground between them. This view is common to both Western Islamophobes and Islamic fundamentalists – who tend to characterise Islam and ‘the West’ is implacably in conflcit with one and other, and view this conflict as defining our current age.

But Achar notes that this is not the view of Western governments. Western governments tend to differentiate (in their rhetoric) between ‘good’ Muslims and ‘bad’ Muslims, they don’t view things as a clash with Islam but a clash within Islam. Achar also argues that Huntington himself doesn’t hold with the way in which his theory has been interpreted. Achar argued that Huntington is in fact a ‘global multiculturalist’, insofar as he thinks it’s a good thing to have different ‘civlisations’ existing worldwide, he opposes mutliculturalism nationally because he wants to preserve Western culture in its heartlands. Furthermore, Huntington dismisses universalism as imperialism (in the perjorative sense) and argues that a project of imposing Western values will end in disaster. In other words Huntington appears as a traditional realist.

Achar argued that it is this realist Huntington that has informed US policy towards Islam. His first (and very good) example is the United States’ alliance with Saudi Arabia, a state which is in fact the US’ oldest ally in the Middle East. It has historically (and still does) served as the cornerstone in the US global stratey, particularly in combatting anti-imperialist nationalism. But of course Saudi Arabia is probably the most ‘fundamentalist’ state in the whole of the middle-east. In fact the US supported Saudi fundamentalism in Afghanistan. He further notes that plenty of fundamentalists were willing to colloborate with the US invasion of Iraq.

The point for Achar is that the US has used fundamentalism for its own ends and fundamentalism has often been (and is still) willing to colloborate with US imperialism when they had the chance. He then listed the examples of the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted other instances.

Achar’s basic point here was that at best we can call Islamic fundamentalism ‘anti-Western’ but it is only sporadically and inconsistently ‘anti-imperialist’. This of course has implications for how Marxists should approach Islamist resistance to US imperialism. At the very least when struggling with them it is necessary to view them with ‘distrust’ and attempt to spread our own ideas within their ranks.

One person’s attempt to critique Achar’s approach was based on the argument that notwithstanding our ‘subjective’ opposition to the domestic policies of the fundamentalists, they might nonetheless be ‘objectively’ anti-imperialist, since they are fighting imperialism. I wasn’t there was the response, but surely Achar’s argument is not about the political programme’s of Islamists, it’s about their record of supporting imperialists when they think it is to their advantage. Such a position of course means that while they may be ‘objectively anti-imperialist’ in a given instance the question is whether they will consistently hold this position. Achar’s analysis seems to suggest they won’t (and also that the imperialists won’t consistently target them either) so this has to be the position to proceed from.

Bashir Abu-Manneh
For my money Abu-Manneh’s speech was probably the most interesting of the lot, particulary because he engaged in some interesting theoretical anaylsis. Abu-Manneh’s speech was composed of three arguments:

  • The Palestinians have been in a state of seige since 1991
  • The Palestinian elite has collaborated with the Israeli state
  • The above two factors have led to the emergence of a specific form of resistance, one which has entrenched militarisation and depoliticisation

The first thesis is simple enough to understand. Israel has continuously interevened in the occupied territory, denying the right of freedom of movement throughout the West Bank and Gaza strip and within Israel itself. This process has culminated in the creation of the apartheid wall, which has formalised the process by physically closing off vast swathes of the West Bank. This – of couse – is all very uncontroversial stuff. But Abu-Manneh further argued that this has destroyed any meaningful sense of spontaneity amongst the Palestinians. It has tended to eliminate any proper sense of the Palestinians as a collecitive entity who are capable of collective action. Palestinians have been alienated into individuals, families etc.

The second thesis is another one which I think is uncontroversial. It seem incontrovertable by now that the Palestinian Authority has collaborated with and legitimated the occupation – corrupting and nearly destroying the Palestinian’s national aspirations. Abu-Manneh related an anecdote whereby the PA would always be there to stop attacks on settlers but would be mysteriously absent when there was an Israeli attack in the occupied territory. In line with this Abu-Manneh argued that the PA has consciously undermined any attempts to organise outside of the PA. To top it all off, when the PA did stop collaborating it was attacked by the Israeli authorities.

The combination of the two above factors leads to Abu-Manneh’s third argument. The point of these factors is that they have pushed Palestinian strategy towards militarisation. Firstly, this is because any meaningful political resistance seems impossible. The Palestinian’s traditional representation – Fatah – has been collaborating since Oslo. Furthermore, it is difficult – if not impossible – to develop political positions and mobilisation when freedom of movement is physically restricted. Furthermore, political action seems so difficult precisely because the Palestinians have lost their faith in their own capability for collective action. This depoliticisation means that solutions based on mass action seem impossible, which naturally seems to lend support to the idea that small acts of military resistance are necessary.

But it is not just the content (military acts) that are shaped by these social conditions, it is also the form. This is because the small military action per se is – in some respects – a collective political act. This would certainly seem to be the case when one considers the links between militants and political parties. The ultimate culmination of the tendency towards atomisation is the emergence of the suicide bomber as a ‘weapon’ in the struggle against of Israel. This of course makes a lot of sense, because the suicide bomber is the precisely opposite of a collective political struggle. Thus, the tendency towards atomisation and depoliticisation, combined with the concomitant process of militarisation tends to produce the ultimate individualist military act – the suicide bomber. Although, as Abu-Manneh points out, we shouldn’t exaggerate the degree to which suicide bombing has become the norm, and ultimately as a tactic it has proved counter-productive, since it tended to fit the Palestianian struggle into the discourse of terror.

What I really like about this analysis is the way in which it traces the particular configuration of Palestinian resistance back to the social conditions in which it operates. This is a much better position to take than just ‘condemning’ particular forms of resistance without understanding why they gain popularity or the opposite but related one of just saying ‘it’s understandable because they endure so much’. It’s therefore good to see someone take a materialist position on this issue. What’s also interesting is the degree to which Abu-Manneh’s position dovetails with Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness. This is because capitalism itself has a natural tendency towards depoliticisation (reification), alienation and fragmentation, of course these tendencies are often counteracted.

I think invoking Lukacs is useful for another reason. Abu-Manneh’s preferred solution to the problem is to replace this strategy of individualised militarisation with one of collective self-mobilisation. Well, this is fine in practice, but the whole point is that the situation Abu-Manneh outlined has already shown precisely why this collective self-moblisation is going to happen, and certainly not spontaneously. This is where Lukacs is especially relevant. Because Lukacs core insight is that the proletariat can’t just spontaneously organise against capitalism. What is needed is something that can take the viewpoint of the proletariat but do so in a way that transcends the reifying tendencies of capitalism. That is to say a vanguard party. In the Gramscian analysis this Party is composed of the organic intellectuals who arise from the class in the midst of struggle. And this is what Abu-Manneh’s analysis really seems to lack – the need for a conscious organising element of the Palestinian people able to mobilise them against the Israelis. But of course the other problem is that the people who you would expect to be able to fulfil this role in Palestinian society are – as Abu-Manneh argued – completely compromised. This – perhaps – is why he didn’t delve into this question, as it is one to which there doesn’t seem to be much of an answer.

Unfortunately I missed the last talk because I needed to get home, so I can’t comment on that. More stuff will follow over the rest of the week. This will reveal how horribly theory-obsessed I am, however, and no doubt I will be much looked down-upon for it.

Historical Materialism Conference 2007 by korakious
November 12, 2007, 12:13 am
Filed under: Historical Materialism Conference, Imperialism, Marxism, Neoliberalism, Rob, Theory
As you probably already know, this weekend was the annual Historical Materialism Conference, which I had the good fortune to attend. Unfortunately I missed Friday’s sessions (prior commitments) which meant I didn’t get to see Zizek (damn, damn, damn, damn) but the rest of the Conference was pretty damn good. The first thing to say is that despite the current poisonous climate on the left (and particularly as between the SWP and everyone else) the atmosphere at the Conference was really good (bearing in mind there was a mix of people from different traditions there), everything felt very comradely (although of course the interventions were occasionally slightly cutting) and everyone seemed to get along well enough. So, as is usual in the old blogosphere I thought I’d give a [not so brief] summation of those sessions which I did attend.


I rolled in a bit late on Saturday, so I missed the first session of the day. Not that I would really have listened to it much. The next session I attended was on ‘Marxism, Pashukanis and the Law’. In this session I actually ‘presented a paper’ on Pashukanis, Legal Nihilism and Legal Strategy, which I will probably put up here at some time (once I’ve cleaned it up a bit – the notes were really only intended for my consumption only). There weren’t too many people here (although there were a few), which was kind of predictable, as law is not a particularly glamorous topic for Marxist analysis. There were two other contributors aside from me – Andreas Harms presented a paper on ‘Commodity Form and Legal Form’ and Bill Bowring presented a paper on ‘International Law, Lenin and Self-Determination’. Both of the papers were of high quality and we got some good discussion in as well. It feels kind of weird summarising this session, so I’ll leave it for the atendees to do so (hopefully some of them blog).

There weren’t any more ‘sessions’ for the day, as it extended into a ‘meet the editors’ session and a lunchbreak, I did have some pretty interesting conversation during this period, so it was all to the good.

The next ‘session’ was a plenary one, featuring some rather big hitters, the talk was on ‘Neo-liberalism and Neo-imperialism’ and the speakers were Alex Callinicos, Robert Brenner and David McNally.

Robert Brenner
The central thrust of Brenner’s argument was the relationship between the war in Iraq and the US’ geopolitical strategy. Brenner argued that the Iraq war was a puzzling phenomenon which represented a real rupture with previous US strategy in content if not form. Brenner argued that during the 2000 election no one would have predicted that the Iraq war would come around in the time that it did. The Republicans seemed to have a fairly low-key foreign policy, certainly not the type of messianism that seemed to characterise them post-9/11. Furthermore, it was argued that the US had fulfilled its three key strategic aims (which it had held since World War 2); these aims were

  1. To freeze and weaken ‘communism’, third world statist nationalism and statism more generally so as to allow the free movement of [US] capital throughout the globe.
  2. Consolidate US hegemony in Japan and Europe – depriving them of their ability to disrupt the framework of international capitalism; key to this aim was depriving them of their military power and compensate them for this by providing them with security.
  3. As a consequence of the above two aims the US intended to implement a neo-liberal agenda throughout the world, with all the consequences thereof

Brenner argued that the US was willing to do this since US capital was so powerful that it didn’t require the formal protection of the US state. So on this reading the US had – according to Brenner – recognised the essential validity of the Leninist critique of imperialism – namely that monopoly-capital imperialist states vying for domination of the world’s resources inevitably culminated in war, which was not conducive to the continued position of the US and global capitalism. To combat this the US entered into a ‘radical Kautskyite’ project of restructuring the global situation as above – the only question was whether the US was disciplined enough to continue enforcing the consensus.

All of this was encapsulated in the term ‘New World Order’ as used by Bush et al. This meant that there was a new approach to the international use of force:

  • Don’t use force unless you can use massive amounts of force
  • Other conflicts should just be ‘policing’ or assymetrical conflict
  • Avoid committing ground troops if you can – use cruise missiles, bombs etc.

All of ths as summarised in a phrase by Madeline Allbright that ‘military force’ but not war should be used (which got a big laugh from the audience, but really the distinction isn’t as ridicoulous as it first, certainly international law tends to distinguish between the use of military force and an armed attack or war). This was basically a neo-liberal form of imperialism and one in which generally states toed the line (the thrid world accepted the neo-liberal consensus the [not yet] axis of evil was going to the table, etc.).

So US policy in Iraq has to be understood in relation to this. It is therefore necessary to view US policy towards Iraq in this context. What the context what seem to suggest is that no US adminstration would really want regime change in Iraq, as this would be internationally counterproductive – it would be costly, destabilising and could whip up Arab resistance across the Middle East. Futhermore, the Shia could not be trusted to serve as a counterweight to Iran. This is why Saddam was not overthrown following the first Gulf War and a policy of ‘containment’ was pursued in relation to Iraq.

Against this backdrop the recent war in Iraq does seem to be a break (and to a lesser extent so does Afghanistan). Brenner’s next task is to explain how this could happen. Brenner traces the strategic rupture to the ascendence of the neo-conservative movement within the American state apparatus and their huge influence within the State Department. It was only with 9/11 that they were able to gain control over foreign policy.

Brenner then gave an internal examination of this movement. According to Brenner the key theoretical position for the neo-conservatives is the ‘fungibility of force’. By this they mean that American military domination can be used to do anything, and the neo-conservatives were interested in ‘harvesting the fruits of military dominance’.

It is then necessary to understand how the neo-conservatives gained this power. Brenner roots the neo-conservative movement in the Republican far-right, who had taken over Congress in 1994. They had always had trouble gaining power and were only able to do so by pushing the foreign policy aspect. Once they had gained power they acted as a ‘Shadow Cabinet’ that pushed Clinton into all sort of things (like passing the Iraq Liberation Act) but they could only achieve limited success and certainly couldn’t impose their domestic agenda. But 9/11 changed all of this and gave the neo-conservatives the pre-text they needed to actualise both their domestic and international agenda.

Brenner’s analysis was pretty damn interesting (he’s also a very good speaker). I quite liked his focus on concrete, ‘micro’ US politics and the way in which they interact with the global sphere, a Gramsci quote seems particularly relevant here:

Do international relations precede or follow (logically) fundamental social relations? There can be no doubt that they follow. Any organic innovation in the social structure, through its technical-military expressions, modifies organically absolute and relative relations in the international field too. Even the geographical position of a national State does not precede but follows (logically) structural changes, although it also reacts back upon them to a certain extent (to the extent precisely to which superstructures react back upon the structure, politics on economics, etc.). However, international relations react both passively and actively on political relations (of hegemony among the parties). The more the immediate economic life of a nation is subordinated to international relations, the more a particular party will come to represent this situation and to exploit it, with the aim of preventing rival parties gaining the upper hand (recall Nitti’s famous speech on the technical impossibility of revolution in Italy).
Gramsci, The Modern Prince

So I actually thought that Brenner’s analysis was a niecly dialectical one, similar in the way that Gramsci presented it. I also see nothing a priori wrong with the ascription of such a decisive role to a ‘subjective’ factors. Especially as these subjective factors are in a dialectical relationship with the objective situation (Lukacs comes immediately to mind on this point). This isn’t to say that I think Brenner is entirely right, but I don’t think we dismiss his analysis out of hand.

Alex Callinicos
Callinicos delivered another pretty awesome speech (you will hear this a lot, because I thought the quality of this session was absolutely stellar, even if the sweltering heat of the lecture theatre left much to be desired!). Alex presented his argument as one diametrically opposed to Brenner’s. He argued that Brenner had only given us description, but no analysis – we can’t just see Iraq as a random event we need a larger perpective and so must look at the historical connection between liberalism and imperialism.

Callinicos noted that the US has always eschewed formal imperialism – and continuously legitimated itself with reference to this. He looks back to the ‘imperialism of the open door’ – in which the role of military power was only to enforce the conditions of a liberal world economy, this of course should not – as a rule – involve the use of ground troops. The predecessor of this type of imperialism was the ‘imperialism of free trade’ practiced by the British Empire in the 19th century and Britain relied heavily on informal empire in Canada and China. The US has a consistent, radical version of this.

Following World War 2 the US dominated the advanced capitalist world and built up a series of institutions, but this liberalism was only ever transnational. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the US was able to convert this transnationalism into global liberalism. This means that for Callinicos there was no fundamental break in the project – and it was one vigorously pursued by the Clinton administration. For Callinicos therefore, Clinton was the true pioneer of the fungibility of military power.

But of course hegemony is always about force and consent, and they are always combined in different ways. The manner in which these methods are combined is what differentiates the neo-cons from Clinton. Thus, for Callinicos this is a matter of quantity not quality there is no rupture. Callinicos further argues that the Bush administration was radicalised post-9/11 and that in this context the neo-cons cannot be considered ‘mad’. He argues that in the face of the increasing threat of China’s economic power a rational argument could certainly be made out for the US using its only comparative advantage in this conjuncture that of military force. Iraq was therefore important because rising captialist powers were dependent on its oil and the US needed to assert this.

The question Callinicos thinks we need to ask is ‘what are the interests of US imperialism’? When we do this we understand that the US ruling class is complex and the best strategy is always a contested question – we have to look at te question of the imposition of ideology on a world scale, and the geo-political is central to this.

All well and good – but I think Brenner responded pretty well by saying ‘we don’t really disagree on much’. I think this is probably the case – all they really disagree is whether there is a qualitative or quantitiative difference between Clinton and Bush (which sounds big but – meh – scales). Brenner just helps us to understand why it is that one side won the argument. But I’d actually go further than this. Callinicos seems to argue two contradictory things. On the one hand he argues that there is no rupture between Clinton and Bush, but on the other hand he seems to argue that China posed a qualitatively new threat to the US. Because of course post-WW2 there has been no capitalist power that posed a threat to the US in the way China has (although I guess the state-cap people would argue the USSR was a rival capitalist power, so maybe change the reference to post-1989?), since every other ‘threat’ was pretty damn friendly to the US, and were happy to allow the US maintain Pax Americana. So, on this reading, Alex seems to be arguing that the emergence of China has disrupted the ‘radical-Kautskyism’ of the US, since it doesn’t accept the US’ managerial role. But surely this would indicate a rupture, in line with Brenner.

David McNally
Although I really liked the first two talks David McNally’s was far and away my favourite (I think much of the audience agreed with this too). In contradistinction to the first two McNally’s position was to start from a general theoretical analysis and proceed from there. So for McNally the central point of depature was that of Marxist value theory. We need to begin from this perspective – so McNally argues – because we live in a world of alienated social relations and theory must de-fetishise them.

McNally’s talk revolved around 5 arguments:

  • Neo-liberalism involves radically extending and intensifying the commodity form
  • This is achieved through ‘monetarising’ more and more aspects of human life
  • This involves the extension of primitive accumulation
  • This occurs on a variety of levels and entails imperialism
  • World money becomes decisive

So McNally’s basic argument is that the phenomenon we call ‘neo-liberalism’ must be understood as the extension of the commodity form – not a conscious project of the capitalist class but a result of the value form itself. It is fundamentally connected to new forms of discipline, and is primarily exercised through the discipline of money – the IMF, the World Bank etc. This leads to a reversal of the partial decommodification of labour.

Dispossession is also fundamental to this (hence the importance of primitive accumulation) because land has to be converted into capital. But since this land is occupied by other people, they have to be turfed off. For this reason there is a nexus of land, violence and dispossession – which gives rise to new enclosures and modalities of class struggle arise against this. Furthermore, ecological disaster is incorporated into this, so disasters which displace people are taken advantage off (Hurricane Mitch was used to get rid of the Honduran indigenous population).

McNally further linked this process to militarisation – war is of course central in ‘clearing out’ areas of land, be that through death or fleeing. All of this has also led to a great rise in the industrial reserve army, which has grown massively as people have been forced out of their land in the process of dispossession.

McNally went on to criticise the approaches of David Harvey and Rosa Luxemborg, who he thinks failed to properly elaborate the ‘laws’ of this economic process – meaning they cannot properly theorise it. Instead they often remain at the level of (very powerful) description. [He also made a really interesting point about dialectics and subjects positing their own presuppositions – but I’ll ignore that]. Further, his problem with Rosa’s approach is that she assumes this form of imperialism requires permanent occupation, which is clearly not the case, as the discipline of money suffices to compel national elites to implement dispossesion.

McNally then went on to focus heavily on what he called ‘world money’. By this he means the currency which serves as the ‘global’ medium for exchange. He argues that there has beeen an intensification of unequal currecny exchange, with the global South losing out on this. But the concept has been under theorised, and it is important, because the state that issues ‘world money’ will get the surplus on exchange, and so can appropriate value. This means that different nation states struggle over who is to issue world money.

McNally argues that this can be illustrated by the Euro project in the European Union, where the states of the European Union have tried to create a currency with all the characteristics of world money. McNally describes this as a form of inter-imperialist rivalry and denies that such rivalry need be militarised.

McNally ended with the argument that we need to emphasise anti-neo-liberalism and anti-imperialism highlight the need for a de-commodification of labour – that is to say the socialist revolution (which earnt him a rousing cheer).

What I really liked about McNally’s talk was the way that he was able to articulate linkages between his theoretical paradigm and our practical trajectory. His analysis does explain rather well a lot of contemporary phenomena in a basic theoretical way, and I think this is to be welcomed.

Ultimately, I think all of these talks worked well, and frankly if we could have combined them all into one big talk it would have been awesome. So David sets the economic-theoretical scene for us, Alex embedded it in a broader historical context and Bob examined the specific way in which ruling classes responded to the broader need for the expansion of value. Each therefore had the merit of contributing to a totalising perspective, and with a little work we could trace the analysis of value directly into Alex’s and Bob’s talk. Of course this is the inherent weakness of the short talk format, but nonetheless I was impressed by this session.

OK, I’ve clearly gone on long enough, so I’ll stop now, and do something else. Tomorrow (maybe?) I want to at least outline the talk on ‘Global Flashpoints’ that was also on Saturday, particualrly as I felt it offered a really interesting perspective on the Palestinian resistance.

Jack Straw, Human Rights and the 21st Century by korakious
October 25, 2007, 11:24 pm
Filed under: law, Marx, Rob, Theory, UK politics

Just heard a speech by Jack Straw on ‘Human Rights in the 21st Century’, although by virtue of his position as politico the talk was of course slightly incoherent it was nonetheless interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the speech has to be read with the recent government announcement on a ‘Bill of Rights and Duties’, secondly the speech’s tone and structure give us some idea of the general government position on rights, thirdly I think Straw’s inchoate theoretical probings actually provide a useful foil for people like me. So – seeing as I had nothing else to do – I thought I’d give a rundown of what Straw said and my own opinions on the matter.The first thing that Straw was keen to stress (and something that is quite telling about his attitude towards the Human Rights Act (HRA)) was that historically and culturally Britain is a country that has been at the heart of the human rights project. He rightly pointed out that British lawyers were at the heart of developing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Further, he put forward the position that ‘human rights’ are a tradition that has been rooted in British life since the Magna Carta. Whilst I agree with the latter point as far as it goes I’m pretty sceptical about it. Although it seems clear that Britain’s rights tradition does coincide with the content of the ECHR it certainly does not have a content of positively enumerating rights and then ‘balancing’ these rights with exceptions. Rather, the British tradition of ‘liberty’ is of one where one can do whatever is not forbidden. However, the effort to ‘domesticate’ human rights is one that speaks volumes about Straw’s position, clearly Straw is attempted to combat the typical accusations of the press the the HRA and the ECHR are alien impositions foisted on Britain by an ever-expanding Europe.

However, as was rather predictable, Straw begins to move to our present ‘context’. For Straw the post-Cold War situation has been marked with the growth of an ‘enabling state’ and the spread of democracy to most of Europe. But simultaneously with this there still remain a number of authoritarian states and (dum dum dum) the growth of an international terrorist movement that operates outsides the bounds of ethics and leality. He further noted that this terrorism was qualitatively different from previous forms of terrorism because:

  • It is truly international, with non-national terrorists operating from foreign states with foreign backing
  • The terrorists have access to large and powerful weapons (biological, chemical, nuclear etc.)
  • The aims and scope of the terrorists are very different from preceding forms of terrorism

Now, I will refrain from immediately commenting upon this particular assesment of the threat of international terrorism, at least until I discuss the relevance that Straw attributes to this. What is particularly interesting is that Straw (unlike certain members of the Government and the Opposition) doesn’t seem to think that the HRA is inadequate in dealing with terrorism. In fact Straw thinks the HRA is absolutely necessary in order to ‘establish and marshall the lawful bounds of our [the government’s] response [to terrorism]’. Straw did seem to have some problems with particular decisions by the court – particularly concerning deporting people to places where there is a real chance they will be tortured (he prefers a substantial chance) – but in general he seems supportive of their overall approach. Personally, I actually found this to be quite gratifying, especially after hearing Dr. Reid’s ranting for as long as I had to. However, Straw did note that although he wishes to maintain the ‘principles’ of human rights, he thinks there are some issues with the applications.

Straw proceeded at this point to utterly demolish the Tory analysis of the Human Rights Act, this was awesome and very little needs to be said on it. The most interesting part of Straw’s lecture came in his amateur sociological examination of modern capitalism. Basically, Straw argued that there has been much deeper structural changes than just 9/11 which influence Britain’s culture of rights; basically he pinpoints two key features:

  • There has been an increase in the heterogenousness of the British population and he links this to the problem of communities ‘separating’ out etc., obviously this would lead to a decline in a national/collective/public life
  • Globalisation has made people much less deferential, independent and empowered; but this has also turned people into ‘consumers’ peoples’ primary identity therefore is not as the citizen but consumer

Straw then argued that this ‘consumerism’ is incompatible with ‘politics’ – as politics requires people consider their long-term interests, make some sacrifices for the social whole and engage in meaningful public participation. According to Straw the result of this process has been that our rights have become ‘commoditised’ (what a hideous, hideous word – has the man never heard of the term ‘commodified’!?). Rights are exercused so as to injure others, with no concern for the ‘public good’ or our collective right. Furthermore, people become covetous of the rights of others, which they view as a type of ‘possession’.

Whilst this is all very interesting I really don’t see why we need to tie it in with globalisation. The critique that Straw advanced is one that has been advanced countless times pre-‘globalisation’, in fact here is a rather famous analysis which bears remarkable ressemblence to Straw’s:

It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to iberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections, and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims (Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow men and from the community, and that indeed it repeats this proclamationat a moment when only the most heroic devotion can save the nation, and is therefore imperatively called for, at a moment when the sacrifice of all the interest of civil society must be the order of the day, and egoism must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights of Man, etc., of 1793.) This fact becomes still more puzzling when we see that the political emancipators go so far as to reduce citizenship, and the political community, to a mere means for maintaining these so-called rights of man, that, therefore, the citoyen is declared to be the servant of egotistic homme, that the sphere in which man acts as a communal being is degraded to a level below the sphere in which he acts as a partial being, and that, finally, it is not man as citoyen, but man as private individual [bourgeois] who is considered to be the essential and true man.

And who made this critique? Why it was Karl Marx in his On the Jewish Question. The basic structure of this critique has been voiced by conservatives, liberals etc. What I would argue here is that the vision Straw presents to us – of civil society as a collection of egoistic individuals whose main form of contact is through clashing rights – is one which is constantly reproduced by capitalist society. The whole point is that this can’t really be overcome by simply cementing new political forms over it, since these forms don’t tend to touch the social relations which produce certain forms of social life and since – as Marx notes – politics is conceived only as a means of guaranteeing or affecting one’s private, egostic sphere.

I would further argue in this vein that actually the whole idea of rights-based politics and rights-culture presupposes this state of affairs. This is where Straw really screws up in my view, the idea of rights being ‘commoditised’ (arrrgh!!!!) really seems to miss the point that the very right-form is grounded in the notion of an egoistic, individual man with an inviolable area of space, that is to say that the right-form is bound up with the commodity form:

None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man, he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-like itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence. The sole bond holding them together it natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation of their property and their egoistic selves.

All of this means that Straw’s solution – reminding people that rights also entail duties towards others – is kind of lame. I mean, he makes a really interesting critique (or at least I read him as doing so) but simply can’t go beyond the right’s based framework. But the point is that unless you go beyond the rights-based framework you can’t possibly transcend the notion of man as a ‘consumer’ as the defining characteristic of life. Inga Markovits traces this quite well in her examination of the differnce between ‘bourgeois’ and ‘socialist’ rights, as she first argues:

As individual entitlements, bourgeois rights confer autonomy in a limited area, which then can be exercised at the discretion of the rightholder. In a way, all bourgeois rights are modelled after property rights: they map out territory, set up fences against prospective intruders, or, to quote Marx, they delineate the elbow room of the individual capitalist.(Socialist vs. Bourgeois Rights: An East-West Comparison; (1978) 45 University of Chicago Law Review 612-636 at 614)

She then fleshes out this conception arguing that it results in a focus on dispute, precision and individualism. This critique dovetails nicely with Marx’s, and seems a hammer in the coffin for Straw’s analysis.

So, ultimately, my real issue with this bit of Straw’s speech was that he tried to present this phenomenon as something ‘new’, whereas it is one which he plagued capitalism since its outset. Further, his proposed solution is uniformly rubbish, and in facts would result in no change whatsover. Though actually this is something Straw seems to love to do. As a lawyer he oftens realises what the law is but then proposes some change to the law which is not a change at all.

Ok, I’ve written way too much, and it’s all got rather rambling, but on the plus side, at least it’s not about RESPECT!