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Once again on Scotland

 by D.R.O’Connor Lysaght.

14 February 2015

“My worthy friend, gray are all theories, and green alone life’s golden tree.”

Although spoken by a demon, these words from Goethe’s “Faust” are true, as Lenin recognised when he quoted them to justify his revolutionary perspective in April 1917 against those who believed that the Marxist method justified a policy of critical support for the (decreasingly) reformist Provisional Government. It expresses well Lenin’s dialectical analyses of the concrete circumstances of any situation as acknowledged by Comrade Ed McLaughlin in his last letter.

Sadly Cde.Ed.McLaughlin does not seem to understand Lenin’s approach. He appears to be wedded to a narrow interpretation of the concept and strategy of the Permanent Revolution in away that Lenin would not allow himself to be imprisoned by any formula. Of course the strategic formulae of our great predecessors are there to guide their heirs but they can be interpreted too loosely (Bukharin, the ‘Euro-Communists’) becoming purely pragmatic and, ultimately opportunist, or, as with Cde. McLaughlin, too narrowly, leading to them becoming a cage for their advocates rather than a stimulus for effective action.

This affects the first, and most important part of Cde.Ed’s recent contribution, and is therefore the part that requires most examination. This has to be said as he gives as his title ‘Norway and Scotland: does the analogy hold?’ though the Norwegian question takes up only the second half of the work which is composed overwhelmingly of unexceptionable quotations from Lenin, praising the Swedish workers’ movement for its internationalist support for the Norwegians.

In the first part, however, Cde.Ed. allows himself to be exposed. As he writes,”the question then is would the struggle for independence advance the workers’ consciousness? The implication of saying yes to that is that the demand for independence is transitional, that the demand of the Scottish working class should be independence, that the demands of the Scottish bourgeoisie are unrealisable and that the theory of permanent revolution explains that the proletariat must fulfil the historic task a (sic) Scottish bourgeois revolution which will be overtaken by the demand for a socialist republic. Otherwise it is simply Scottish nationalism.

As I am sure the comrade agrees this is obviously not the case when the Scottish bourgeoisie have from the very beginning of the capitalist era, already achieved their position as an integral part of the Empire and enjoyed its benefits following the agreement of the Articles of Union in 1706 (sic) which allowed the Scottish bourgeoisie full trading access to the colonies of Britain (sic). It is only now during the decline of that empire that a section of the bourgeoisie, and as the election shows, a vacillating section, jealously seeks the control of local raw materials and wealth.

The belief that it “does not follow” that splitting the bourgeois parliamentary union must split the working class within it is understandable and correct in some circumstances, especially in the case of Norway which the comrade uses. But the concrete differences between the two situations  must be taken in to account. The relationship between Scotland and England is not colonial and is much more than a Parliamentary union., it is a completely integrated economy with a centuries long political integration of the working and ruling classes.” 

So the comrade restates his case. Permanent Revolution is impossible because the Scottish bourgeoisie signed up to the parliamentary union three centuries ago. It got the benefits from it and now its demand (more accurately, the demand of a section thereof) for an annulment has no progressive potential. In itself, this argument does not convince. Circumstances alter cases and there is reason for the junior partners in an enterprise to seek to break from that concern when its commercial position has changed from that of field leader to that of struggling competitor. No doubt it is disloyal, but it could be good business. Indeed, breaking the connection with England will occur at a time when the Scots workers are in a far stronger position to use independence for themselves than they were, insofar as they existed as a force at all, in1707.

Indeed, the comrade’s depiction of the position of the Scots working class is even more factually egregious. As this writer tried to show in his last contribution to the discussion, its members were never quite as deeply merged into any single British nation as Cde. Ed. would have us believe, or indeed as were the Scottish bourgeoisie. The reason for this was, of course, that the union was not just about granting Scots entrepreneurs access to English colonies, but about granting them access to the resources of the stronger English state in their task of modernising (eighteenth century style) their own country, as they had not been able to do even with the reformation. This meant crushing recalcitrant plebeians and proletarianising what was left. Scotland was industrialised in a far shorter period than England, with a greater degree of oppression accompanying it. The Scots workers saw that they were oppressed not just by their own capitalists but, and decisively, by the united state apparatus of England and Scotland. It should be said that the balance of forces meant that they would have been smashed eventually by an independent Scottish capitalist state, but it would have taken much longer. 

To this should be added the 1919 experience of Red Glasgow; the comrade invokes an imaginary parallel “Red Oslo”; if this had existed, he suggests that the working class case for Norwegian separation would be weakened if not destroyed altogether. If actual Glasgow is put in the place of the mythical Oslo, the argument falls. The fact is that, although heading a state wide engineering strike, the Glasgow workers stood almost alone. Only Belfast matched them, mainly because the government’s Unionist majority treated it with kid gloves lest these islands’ strongest group of conservative workers be alienated. The English strikes crumbled in days; Glasgow held out for two weeks, before being smashed by British troops on the Green. If this was not the basis of the idea of the superior militancy of the Scot workers, it was a major contribution to it. 

It can be said the Scottish worker could be considered integrated into a British nation only under the welfare state from 1945 to about 1980. Thatcher encouraged the class to examine its roots. They moved towards the S.N.P., once petit bourgeois in membership as in aspirations. At the same time, sections of the bourgeoisie moved from support for declining British capitalism into giving the said party its support. A number of the latter (but not enough) have been satisfied with Home Rule, while a large part of their class, possibly a majority and almost certainly a majority in terms of capital, remain loyal to the union. As usual in petit bourgeois politics, the bourgeois nationalists exercise weight disproportionate to their numbers; the core of the Scottish separatist cause remains a plebeian one. This is why, Cde Ed., it can be said that “Scottish national demands [not just “independence”, as misquoted by the comrade] amount to more [not “is greater”] than the SNP. This is why Permanent Revolution is possible in Scotland.

There are parallels between the Irish and Scottish independence struggles. Of course the Irish experience was less extreme; the island did not have the benefit accruing to it of a relatively peaceful merging of its crown with that of England and the resulting relatively smooth amalgamation of the states’ parliaments. Similarly, the Famine could not supply proletarians for Ireland’s new industries outside Ulster as Irish mineral resources were inadequate to power them. Nonetheless, its history did produce a strong pro- British  bourgeoisie, defined by religion, though including Catholic elements, another part of the bourgeoisie ready to be satisfied with Home Rule defined as a provincial assembly, and a petty bourgeoisie and small peasantry, with some proletarians, that did the fighting. Today, the capitalist class in the twenty-six counties are uninterested in completing their duties by uniting the country, their nationalist counterparts in the six counties, are ready to settle for religiously-defined share in running that territory and it is left to the “men of no property” , petit bourgeois and proletarian, to take up the burden.of struggling against that slight majority of the Northern Irish population which clings to the British connection and opposes Irish unity. 

From this statement it would appear that Irish unification is as much a diversion from the class struggle as Scottish separatism. Yet SD takes some pride in what it has been able to do for Irish unity and intends to do a lot more. Is it not likely, as the reformists (and honest Unionists) argue, that this struggle must divide the workers on this island, by denying the Ulster Protestants their right to self-determination. Is it just that the future lies with unitary multi-national states?  Is it that the categoric imperative must be to oppose imperialism, even by anti-democratic means? In fact ,the difference between the two islands lies in the existence of Scottish nationality as an historic phenomenon developed over centuries of changing class relations, while the nature of Orangeism was from the start simply a tactic to divide the workers and peasants of Ireland and still, today of Northern Ireland. Scottish nationalism has a progressive kernel that it does not share with the Orange Order. In a previous contribution, Cde. Ed. links the Catalans and the Italian Northern League in their applause for the Scots’ near miss, as both being similar causes of working class schism. He misses the point. The Catalans are as the Scots, a long-established nation, though more oppressed than their northern brethren; the Northern League is a booster for “Padania”, a mythical entity sucked from Umberto Bossi’s thumb three to four decades ago. Independence for Catalonia will open the way to better relations among the Iberian workers; independence for “Padania” can only divide their Italian comrades. The suppression of genuine national minorities is what divides; so is the creation of artificial ones.

But, Cde. Ed. will object, Scots independence means a struggle between regions for supplies. This is happening already. The capitalist state does not need an independent Scotland to do this. However, this does raise an important question; that of the nature of the state. He uses the S-word only once in pointing out that “two reactionary (sic) not a step forward” for the workers. Abstractly, this is true; concretely, two weak reactionary states can be a step forward from a single strong reactionary state (the, after all, one of the strongest states in Europe). Inadequate though it be, the achievement of independence under the SNP can provide opportunities for its local class opponents, not least because it must fail to fulfil its promises. 

Will class-consciousness be divided along the border? There are two points involved here. Firstly, there is the question of organisation. Can a genuine British revolutionary Socialist party be built opposing separation? This seems unlikely. On the other hand, the one positive outcome of the Scottish No vote is that it gives the left the opportunity to build an organisation that will oppose both the S.N.P. and the great British chauvinists. If it fails to do so it will be for the usual subjective factors, notably labour bureaucracy and the endemic disunity of the revolutionary left. The Scottish and English workers seem unlikely to pose a problem here. The referendum vote showed perhaps a majority of Scots workers confident that they would not be alienated from those south of the border. They are likely to be more confident as austerity continues. As for the English, they seemed to the writer to be pretty unconcerned by the whole issue, apart from their apparachiks. This does not mean they can be ignored. In this connection, the all-island Anti-Austerity Alliance can be of help, if it ever gets off the ground, quite apart from its value in its own right. The only quibble is that it should be at least the nucleus for an all European movement to cure what is an Eiropean disease. Sill it has to be started somewhere. It should be added that counterposing such an alliance to Scottish independence may not block that claim, but it will handicap the growth of the alliance in Scotland.

Finally, a word on the possible effect of Scottish independence on the Irish struggle. It may have a beneficial, if small effect. Orangeism claims to be based on “Britishness”, but what Britishness? Scottish  or English? Just as the unity of the crowns allowed Ulster to be planted, so parliamentary separation could contribute to the confusion and ultimate liquidation of that plantation’s negative after-effects.

Footnote. The writer was about to Email the above when he discovered Cde.John MacAnulty’s somewhat intemperate attack on him. There are some points in this that require replies. Firstly, the one point that Cde. John gets correct is the writer’s misunderstanding of P. Flanagan’s contribution to the discussion. His explanation for this as he has told the contributor, is that the satire was just too clever for him, and, it would seem most of the other readers; only one other person explained it to him. Secondly, Cde. John complains about the writer’s describing S.D. as a sect. Sadly, the description is all too accurate; S.D. is to his knowledge by far the smallest cross-border political organisation in Ireland, though he likes to think it boxes above its weight. He does fear that this group’s smallness will lead it to go the way of so many such sects into taking positions because they distinguish it from the rest. Moreover, while he appreciates the openness of the present discussion, he repeats his criticism that the Scottish line involves a major changes in S.D’s orientation and should have been discussed among all comrades before the call was made for “a resounding no”. The third point is the accusation of the writer’s historical inaccuracy.  The writer’s accuracy is his most serious contribution to our cause and to cast doubt on it is, therefore to cast doubt on the cause itself. This is particularly objectionable when no actual inaccuracies are sited and when, for all comrade Ed’s insistence on the need for concrete evidence, his camp’s case relies only on the facts that the Scots bourgeoisie supported the Union and that the S.N.P. is a bourgeois sell-out and the dubious prophecy that independence will split the British working class. Finally, Cde.John insists that only when the Scottish Workers’ Republic is established will it be possible to say that it is possible. He places the bar too high. The writer can see plenty of obstacles to achieving that goal, some of which he has listed above. He would add one point however; even if  a workers republic for the whole of Britain were to be achieved, it would still have to decide how to deal with the Scottish question (and possibly, though less likely with the question of Wales, as well).

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