The Republican Communist Network’s Allan Armstrong spoke at the 13th February Republican Socialist Convention
Allan Armstrong (SSP) welcomed the participation of the veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, a ‘republican in spirit’, to the Republican Socialist Convention. However, there was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic.
Back in the late 1960s, socialists (e.g. Desmond Greaves of the CP and those involved in Peoples Democracy) had been to the forefront of the campaign for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland – equal access to housing and jobs, and a reformed Stormont. The particular Unionist/Loyalist nature of this local statelet, and its relationship with the UK state, was largely ignored or downplayed, in an otherwise militant and vibrant campaign. Every repressive institution used by the UK state is prefixed by ‘royal’, e.g. the RUC, ‘her majesty’s, e.g. the prisons, whilst ‘loyalists’ is the name given to those prepared to undertake the more unsavoury tasks the UK state doesn’t want to own up to in public.
Socialists paid a high price for this negligence, when 14 people were gunned down in Derry by British paratroopers on January 30th, 1972. The socialist republicanism, which should have informed the struggle had been absent, and the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the combined physical force and political republicanism of the Provisionals. When Irish socialist republicanism did emerge, the leadership of the struggle had already largely passed to others.
Some of those earlier socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, recognised the need for a new socialist republican approach. However, the Provisionals were adroitly able to widen their political base, and keep genuine socialist republicanism marginalised by a resort to populism, through addressing some social and economic issues. Now that the Provisional leadership has made its deal with the UK state, under the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, these populist social and economic policies are being jettisoned.
There is a strong lesson in this for socialists in Scotland and the UK today. Scotland, with its valuable oil resources, and key British military bases, is far more central to British ruling class interests, than Northern Ireland was in the 1960s. There is a growing National Movement in Scotland. Many supporters link the idea of an independent Scotland to an anti-imperialist vision (opposition to participation in British wars and to NATO) and to defence of social provision in the face of ongoing privatisation. This National Movement is wider than the SNP. Meanwhile, the SNP is taking the road of parties like Catalan Convergence, PNV (Euskadi) and Parti Quebecois. Its leadership is seeking a privileged role for the Scottish business within the existing corporate imperialist order. The SNPis tied both to the ‘Scottish’ banks and to cowboy capitalists like Donald Trump.
The SNP’s election manifesto pledged support for an ‘independence referendum’ to address the issue of Scottish self-determination. Although, the SNP leadership has been in full retreat over this issue, it will not go away, since there is a wider National Movement, and the probable election of the Tories at Westminster will once more raise the political stakes.
The SNP has no way of achieving Scottish independence. It is too tied to Scottish business interests, which want no more than increased powers for themselves – Devolution-Max. Recently, Salmond has come out in favour of the British monarchy. What this means is that the SNP accepts that any future referendum will be played by Westminster rules.
In the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, when the British ruling class was split over the best strategy to maintain their Union, the non-political Queen was wheeled out to make an anti-nationalist Christmas speech, civil servants were told to bury inconvenient documents, mock military exercises were launched against putative nationalist forces, whilst the intelligence services conducted agent provocateur work on the nationalist fringe. Compared to the role of the British state against Irish republicans, this was small beer. However, given the timid constitutionalism of the SNP, a further resort to Crown Powers was not needed at this time.
Furthermore, the taming of the once much more militant Provisional Republican Movement, so that it now acts as key partner in British rule in Ireland, shows that the British ruling class has little to fear in the SNP.
Today, the British, American and EU ruling classes are united against any move towards Scottish independence, so will be even more determined in their opposition than in 1979. This is why any movement to win Scottish self-determination must be republican from the start. It must be prepared, in advance, to confront the Crown Powers that will be inevitably utilised against us. Because genuine and democratic Scottish independence represents such a challenge to British imperialism and the UK state, we need allies in England, Ireland and Wales too. We need to be committed to a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. We are socialist republicans and link our political demands with social and economic campaigns. This was the course advocated by two great Scottish socialist republicans – James Connolly and John Maclean. This is why the SSP is in London today seeking wider support.
10 thoughts on “crown powers and scottish independence”
I find some of the ideas here confusing. What could “Scottish independence” really mean, in the context of “internationalism from below”? Either the working class in united against capitalism across these fictional national borders, or it is not. Either you base your politics on working class internationalism, or you prepare to align yourself with bourgeois or petit bourgeois nationalists (the lessons of Irish republicanism seem to back this up, as in the examples cited by the writer).
I’m not claiming that the comrade is doing this, I merely seek some clarification.
“Either the working class is united against capitalism across these fictional national borders, or it is not”
I don’t really see what you mean by this. Workers could be contained within the same state and not united (UK, now); or they could be spread across different states and united (the First, Second, Third Internationals) – or a mix of these, in varying degrees. And when you say ‘against capitalism’, do you mean on-the-brink-of-revolution, or do you also mean against bad things capitalism does: which national oppression is obviously part of?
Surely ‘fictional national borders’ are also a very concrete way in which world capitalism/states are organised. Being for no states or borders does not necessitate seeing the national question as a side issue or irrelevance. Imperialism and the system of nation-states structures capitalism and are integral to the functioning of a world market.
Certainly UK nationalism, ‘Little Englandism’ etc. has characterised much of the history of the labour movement and indeed developed a strong sense of allegiance to the UK state for many. A labour aristocracy with its very own Labour Party has a profound effect on the class struggle, and even the mass of ordinary people’s consciousness of the world. Militant trade unionism is not a sufficient solution. This stranglehold must be attacked head-on and on its own terms.
After all, one would not simply say that women’s oppression is resolved by… getting rid of capitalism or that racism should be combatted by… getting rid of capitalism. This is too ‘flat’. Opposition to UK imperialism is in itself a class question, whether or not that means coordinating action together with workers in other countries. On the other hand – and to take a far more extreme example, to draw out a general principle – the right of the population of Afghanistan or Palestine to resist imperialism is hardly conditional on them having secured the support of workers who live in UK/US/Israel etc.
That does not have to mean supporting petty-bourgeois or bourgeois nationalists or saying one people are good and one people are bad. Opposition to imperialism in general, or a specific case/means of national oppression, does not have to mean support for any specific force who also happen to oppose it. Indeed, the RCN are opposed to alliance with the SNP and have argued strongly for such positions in the SSP. If I understand correctly then internationalism from below is aimed at (i) breaking up the UK state (ii) building real international solidarity – and not just in ‘these islands’ or Europe – rather than paper/bureaucratic union federations.
It is of course true that no ‘real’ self-determination is possible under capitalism. The thrust of Allan’s talk, however, was that the dismemberment of the UK, as such, would be a desirable end in itself.
The thrust of Allan’s talk, however, was that the dismemberment of the UK, as such, would be a desirable end in itself.
b) isn’t there a massive risk that this will basically just create illusions in a new national state?
Women’s oppression and racism certainly have to be fought here and now, because a) they are inherently horrible things, and b) they divide the working class. But I would say the same about nationalism of any kind, be it ‘little England’ oppressor nation patriotism, or oppressed nation patriotism (‘AfPak’, Iraq, the majority world). That’s not to say that the super oppressed don’t have the “right” to fight back and self-organise (in as much as talk of ‘rights’ gets us anywhere) but cross-class alliances could not end their oppression. If the RCN are not arguing for this…great.
But on Scotland specifically, I wonder with Communard why “the dismemberment of the UK, as such, would be a desirable end in itself”.
I share the scepticism expressed about whether scottish independence or self determination for scotland does represent internationalism from below. scotland is not an oppressed nation in the way that Ireland is. In terms of imperialism Scotland was historically a junior partner in British Imperialism. There is no comparison with Palestine. communism from below would break up the British State. Why scottish nationalism?
Over a decade ago I asked Allan armstrong what constituted the national oppression of scotland and he replied with a formal constitutional point. Scotland does not have the constitutional right to separation.
The inspriration for a scottish workers republic is John Maclean. But the context was the reformist and non revolutionary nature of the CPGB. He did not join and he knew he would be expelled if he did. So this left the option of a communist party in Scotland.
secondly he had a perspective which was common among communists at the time including commintern theorists. The rise of American imperialism and the decline of British imperialism would be likely to lead to a war between the two imperialist powers. This would leave the British empire vulnerable to break up.
Im am looking at the literature of the RCN and will provide some detailed comments shortly. But one noticable thing is the way the concept of democracy is used in a very broad stroke and ambiguous way. Does the democratic road to communism lead through workers power from below of the extension of constitutional democracy from above? It still has some of the theoretical weaknesses of the old RDG tradition.
Well said Alan, I agree with pretty much everything in this piece. Fighting against monarchical rule and for national self-determination are not only ends in themselves, but also are realisable goals which may free up more radical sentiments and possibilities.
The critics here who do not see some a priori road to communism laid out in the principles of a republican national movement probably need to accept that in the real world people fight for a number of causes which do not always align with the glorious ideal of working class internationalism–itself in a pitifully weak state to be taking on an a priori role of any sort.
For a start, all we’ve asked for is an explanation of why Scottish independence is desirable in itself – would anyone like to have a go at an answer?
Secondly, Alan’s whole point is precisely that Scottish independence can be aligned with working class internationalism, not that the later ought to be compromised for the former.
Thirdly, it is hardly the case that the Scottish “national movement” is an overwhemingly powerful feature of the subjective landscape of Scotland’s working class.
a priori road to communism laid out in the principles of a republican national movement
What?! Are you having a laugh?
a) as if there is any a priori road to communism, and…
b) if there was, how on earth do you locate it in “republican national” movements?
The article by Allan is thought provoking. The national question should be of particular concern to the communists and the wider labour movement today. Practically every revolution in the 20th century, including those in the Russian Empire, China, Yugoslavia and Cuba, was detonated by one or more national struggles. The national question has continued to inflame the world. We need only to look at crisis points in world politics today — Palestine, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Georgia, Tibet, the Tamils and the Basque land for example. For any communist seeking to develop a revolutionary perspective in a multi-national state such as the UK there is no avoiding it.
However there is a longstanding narrow mind set, particularly in our own labour movement which is permeated with economistic ideas, revolution is often seen as no more that a large scale of seizure of the workplaces and formation of a ‘workers state’. The communist revolutionary process is however an emancipatory social upheaval on a far wider scale across all spheres of life including national relations. In that regard I agree with the spirit of Nathans comments.
As the Ukrainian Marxist, Ivan Dzyuba wrote “the national question is always a social question as well as a problem of political class strategy.” We need to be developing a communist perspective for England and the UK which comprehends the nature of this multi-national state and how we consider nations should relate to each other.
The seizure of power and the overthrow of the ruling class does not in itself constitute a solution to the national question. It merely establishes certain favourable conditions for the beginning of a solution. The Marxists of dominant, old imperial nations do not have a good record on the question. This can involve an echoing of the views of the ruling class filtered through radical rhetoric of ‘class unity’ made reliant on the unity of the state or their avoidance of the question, as a diversion from the real struggle. In contrast, among the communists of oppressed nations, this question has always been a burning problem. Failure to come to grips with it has weakened the struggle for communism at key points of in the past and present.
Nations are not figments of our imagination – one mistaken response to globalisation has been to consider capitalism has rendered the nation-state a superfluous construct; this has fuelled a long existent trend in the labour movement which also views it as a non-existent question, a diversion from the real business of class struggle. Marx famously rebuked Lafargue’s attempt to declare the abolition of national differences:
The English laughed very much when I began my speech by saying that our friend Lafargue and other had spoken ‘en francais’ to us, i.e. a language that nine tenths of the audience did not understand. I also suggested that by the negation of nationalities, he appeared quite unconsciously to understand their absorption by the model French nation.
Global capitalism has institutionalised the system of inequality between nations. The nation-state has not been transcended – capitalist corporations remain largely tied to their home nation-states. Forms of national oppression continue to be a characteristic of capitalist society, of imperialist states and their subjects, in the inequalities within states and their subordinate nations and minorities. Regional and national inequalities of social wealth continue – including within the UK state. It is that sense we may possibly be able to make distinction between discrimination and oppression of nationalities, but there is not a wall between them and it is situation which may change. I would include Scotland in this kind of situation within the UK. This has led to an ongoing struggle in a number of states for greater freedom and democracy; communists should not only support the right of nations to self-determination but advance positive ways forward for national liberation.
In term of the UK state, it is the creation of certain classes for the purposes of their rule, symbiotically by the English aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Under whose hegemony the UK state and a British ruling class was forged and sustained by empire. British state-socialists who consider working class unity as undermined by a breakup of the UK are abandoning a materialist conception of history in this regard – for the state is not a multi-class institution. It cannot be the institution of benefit to wage slaves and capitalists simultaneously.
There certainly has been working class unity across the UK, but it has not been dependent on the territorial integrity of this state but the autonomous creations of the working class itself. Throughout the history of the capitalist UK, this working class unity has also seen the maintenance of national identity and repeated expressions of autonomy, from a separate Scottish Chartist Association to Scottish socialist and communist parties, trade unions. This is despite unified ruling class parties. This should confirm that communists and workers self-organisation on a national basis does not run against the principles of inter-national unity. This unity is internationalism from below.
The movements for national liberation and equality are a political response to the prevailing class/national relations. Communists should not in my view ignore the revolutionary potential inherent in these struggles. We should guard against nationalist ideologies takes the form of the demand for political independence without challenging the economic domination of imperialism. Communists need to separate these diversionary features from the revolutionary potential. But this is only possible if we are in the forefront, indeed are champions, of the liberation struggle.
What does that mean today in the UK?
The structural crisis of capital, regional disparities, national inequality and oppression will no doubt be accentuated. National democratic questions posed more sharply. The experience of revolutions has shown that in the ensuing conflict the greater danger is the nationalism of the dominant and not the subject nation. The means and ends of revolutionary struggle are dialectically related. If the working class is to come to power, then communists cannot afford to reproduce the national relations characteristic of the old society in the movement that prepares the new. In that regard I am more sympathetic to federalism of England and Scotland; however such a relationship can only be achieved Scotland deciding independently of the existing state.
Amongst communists I believe we should aspire to the creation of an organisation of communists which is based on federal principles between Scotland and England such as the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. The First International in the UK also organised on such principles advocated by Marx not a along state territorial lines. I also consider we need a communist party in England and should project this concept.
“What?! Are you having a laugh?
a) as if there is any a priori road to communism, and…
b) if there was, how on earth do you locate it in “republican national” movements?”
a) There is not.
b) I don’t!
Nathen argues that national self determination is an end in itself. This is Bourgeois Nationalism. Gone is the communist distiction between oppressed and oppressor nations and the link with workers internationalism which is counterposed as a feable ideal to the strength of the real world.
How can Self determination be an end in itself for communists? chinese nationalism or self determination was an end in itself for the thousands of communist workers butchered in 1926/7 by the fighters for self determination as an end in itself.The proletarian nature of the chinese communist party was ended by nationalism. Rather than facilitate workers power, nationalism has more often than not destroyed or prevented workers revolution.
Nathen’s realisable bourgeois goals as freeing up radical potentialities echoes the self limitation of the politics of reformists and stalinists just when these forces have lost ideological influence.
The nationalists of oppressed nations seen as objective revolutionaries or first the bourgeois democratic stage and then our turn. These are very old ideas which have led and will lead to more historic defeats. Self determination is not objectively revolutionary in the sense of facilitating internationalism or revolution from below. Dismemberment of the British state is not an end in itself for communists.
Instead of cheer leading it would be wiser to critically examine the assertions of Allan Armstrong.
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