Vote 'no'

In order to justify the CPGB refusal to call for a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum on independence, Eddie Ford invents a second question, which he claims is implied on the ballot paper (‘Both campaigns are US allies and friends’, June 12). But it is simply not true that a ‘no’ vote signifies support for the status quo and capitalist austerity. Many workers who intend to vote ‘no’ are doing so because they reject Scottish independence as the way forward and instead look to the British labour movement to deliver pro-working class reforms.

It seems that the CPGB do not accept that the establishment of an independent capitalist Scotland would be a blow to working class unity in Britain. If they did accept this, would they not be obliged, as communists and partisans of the working class, to call for a ‘no’ vote rather than simply boycott the question? Those socialists and communists who campaign for a ‘no’ vote to the actual question on the referendum ballot paper - “Do you want Scotland to be an independent country” - do so on the basis of defending the achieved unity of the working class in Britain and on the perspective of fighting for a reinvigorated and transformed labour movement capable of producing a government that can transcend the rule of capital. By defending the unity that exists, which is under attack from the Scottish National Party-led independence movement, we aim to deepen workers’ unity by promoting a united British-wide fightback against never-ending austerity and the growth of militarism.

Of course, socialists disdain and refuse any joint work with the Better Together campaign and the British establishment. We defend the unity of the British working class, not the unity of the British state. Our campaign for a ‘no’ vote is based on the belief that Scottish independence will weaken the working class movement in Britain and its historic struggle to achieve a workers’ government. Our campaign for a ‘no’ vote is, in essence, a campaign for socialism.

Unlike the erstwhile socialists of the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party, we have not given up on the socialist potential of the working class movement in Britain - indeed we see increasing the strength of that movement as the only successful way to combat the neoliberal offensive on our living standards. Of course, we don’t only wish to defend the unity of the working class movement in Britain from the attempt to split it along nationalist lines, but we also wish to unify our organisations and struggles with the labour movements of Europe and beyond. The fight to repel the nationalist attack on the unity of the British working class is part and parcel of the fight to unite the labour movement of Europe and beyond in the struggle for socialism. You don’t move towards the unity of the European working class by splitting the labour movement in Britain, and elsewhere, along nationalist lines.

The CPGB position of boycott would be understandable if the outcome of the referendum vote was irrelevant to the working class movement. However, a ‘yes’ vote will obviously increase the dynamic towards the split-up of the British labour movement along national lines. Scottish nationalism will have succeeded in winning workers in Scotland to its banner and away from their tradition of support for the British labour movement. The potential for a common fightback against austerity will be weakened and national antagonism will increase on both sides of the border, especially during the negotiations on how assets and liabilities will be divided between the two establishments. In such a situation, the 2015 Westminster elections could quite conceivably see a carnival of reaction on both sides of the border. On the other hand, a clear rejection by Scottish workers of the SNP neoliberal independence project will help preserve and deepen the potential for a united working class fightback against austerity.

The CPGB’s call for a federal republic is irrelevant to the struggle to defend and deepen working class unity in Britain and is simply a CPGB shibboleth with no purchase in the real world. For all socialists, the call for a republic is obvious and obligatory, but why a federal republic? British federalism is supported by the Liberal Democrats, and increasingly by free-market Tories, who see it as a way of cutting taxation and the welfare state and thus implementing further austerity. A federalism where 85% of the population of Britain live in England seems rather unbalanced, to say the least, and totally abstract. Are you really fighting for Scottish, Welsh and English parliaments (the six counties of Ireland too?) with full powers, which you argue should then decide to federate and declare a republic? This is fantasy politics which, if it ever gained any traction, would simply add more grist to the mill of nationalism.

Any serious working class struggle in Britain against capitalism will be British-wide (if not European-wide) and pose the political question of the need for a workers’ government in Britain as part of the struggle for a socialist Europe. Centralising such a struggle will be of the utmost importance and calls for separate states in Scotland, England, Wales, etc will be a diversion and, if raised at all, will be raised by the right. Can anyone doubt that the call for an English parliament with full powers is a reactionary demand which, if it gains any support, can only aid those seeking to fragment the working class movement in Britain into nationalist pieces?

Scottish nationalism is toxic, but it is as nothing to the reactionary potential of English nationalism. A democratic demand is only supportable by Marxists if the fight to realise it tends to increase the strength, cohesion and class-consciousness of the working class. The call for a federal republic does none of the above. It is an obvious sop to Scottish nationalism and has no purchase on reality.

Eddie Ford claims that you fight for a federal republic “as the main means of addressing the national question and promoting the maximum unity of the peoples of Britain”. As socialists we fight for the maximum unity of the working class in its struggle with the British capitalist state. The formulation, “the maximum unity of the peoples of Britain”, suggests that you are prioritising national conciliation over class struggle. It could be read as support for a form of British nationalism. Surely, our aim is working class unity in the fight against all nationalism and not simply conciliation between nations or nations. We are not liberals.

A ‘yes’ vote in the referendum will signal a setback for the fight for working class unity in Britain. That is why socialists should vote ‘no’, while campaigning to build a reinvigorated working class movement in Britain which can take on and defeat the offensive against our living standards.

Sandy McBurney
Left Unity Glasgow South


It is bizarre for Steve Freeman to posit a ‘yes’ vote in the current Scottish referendum as part of a “struggle for democracy” and talk of the “darker side” of democracy being represented by those arguing for a ‘no’ vote (Letters, June 12). Surely, in terms of the Scottish people having a say as to whether or not they want to be a separate country and state, the referendum itself is an exercise of a democratic choice, whichever way they vote? For someone to imply that only a ‘yes’ vote is democratic is an attack on the free exercise of that democratic right by the people of Scotland.

If the Scottish people do vote for separation in September, and there is some kind of attempt to deny this right, it would be the duty of the labour movement south of the border to support the Scottish working class if they were to launch their own war of independence, with political strikes and more. On the other hand, such a refusal to accept the result of the referendum by the British state is not very likely: having allowed a referendum to take place at all, to flatly refuse to accept an unwanted result would have a political cost that intelligent ruling class strategists would no doubt consider much too high.

Steve Freeman’s references to the “darker side of the struggle for democracy”, however, are a sign that he is preparing to refuse to accept the results of the referendum if the Scottish people vote not to separate. Thus, his dismissal of anyone who talks of anti-English sentiment being expressed in Scotland as “playing the anti-English race card”, and his smears implying that those on the left who have not capitulated to Scottish nationalism, but are instead campaigning for a ‘no’ vote on a working class basis, are agents or dupes of the security services.

His call for a “united front” of the “progressive section” of the working class on both sides of the border to combat “anti-English racism” is pure cant. For him, only supporters of Scottish separation are ‘progressive’. So it appears that pro-Nato, rightwing types who want rid of Scotland would be welcome in this ‘progressive’ bloc, while leftists who oppose Nato and imperialism, and want to preserve the historically constituted working class on a Great Britain-wide basis, are smeared.

What is pernicious are the references to the 400,000 or so English people in Scotland, as well as to other ethnic minorities - Muslims in Bradford, Jews in north London. Why Bradford in particular, and not say Glasgow - the first city in the UK to elect a Muslim (Labour) MP?

I cannot avoid the conclusion that the reference to Muslims in Bradford is also a reference to George Galloway, who has a following and authority among Muslims in Britain as a defender of their rights - one that does not stop at the Scottish border. The innuendo that left reformists like him - as well as revolutionary socialists like Sandy McBurney - who oppose separation are gangsters and agents of the British state is a sign of how those who capitulate to the nationalist ideology in Scotland become reactionary nationalists like any other.

Steve Freeman’s innuendos about the English in Scotland, and also about Muslims, is nasty dog-whistling: it appears to slyly be saying that, if the Scottish nationalists do not win their referendum, then it is the fault of ‘foreigners’.

The idea that it is a principle that socialists should oppose outright the 1707 union between Scotland and England, and that this is in some way equivalent to the union with Ireland, is hokum and charlatanry. The union with Ireland was forced on that colonial, oppressed nation by both the Scottish and English bourgeoisies. The union between England and Scotland was basically a voluntary agreement between two rising bourgeoisies to pool their resources as part of consolidating Britain as a modern nation in the early period of rising capitalism. As it industrialised, it grew into the monster of British imperialism and the Scottish bourgeoisie were full shareholders in that endeavour.

Communists seek to overthrow both bourgeoisies, not rearrange their relations with each other. The attempt by ‘left’ Scottish nationalists to appropriate imagery and language of the Irish struggle for themselves is a deception and a deceit - Scotland is just as much an oppressor nation as England historically, not a victim of colonialism, as was Ireland.

It is to be recalled that even before the union with England, the Scottish ruling class had their own project to establish a Scottish colony in the Americas: Darien. And Scottish settlers were likewise involved in oppressing Ireland even before 1707.

There is no principled reason for socialists to oppose any form of union between Scotland and England. What is a principled matter is opposition to the monarchy, support for a federal solution to the national question that includes the right to secede for all component nations, and opposition to imperialist military alliances like Nato.

I would note that Alex Salmond and the SNP support both the British monarchy and Nato, whereas those left reformists and revolutionary socialists Freeman is smearing oppose these things on principle. An independent Scotland under the SNP, or even under some more left-talking social democratic leadership, would represent the birth of a new minor imperialist power. Hence the dog-whistling of Steve Freeman against nasty foreigners becomes completely explicable - this new form of imperialist nationalism is, amazingly enough, pretty similar to the more familiar types.

Ian Donovan

Big theory

Having listening to the comments on your recent podcast, I believe you might be interested in a little more information on the National Union of Teachers. The union has not pulled out of the July 10 strike - not that most members would know that, as they received an email recently from NUT general secretary Christine Blower informing them that the strike agreed at annual conference (due to take place in the week of June 24) has been cancelled in the hope that Michael Gove might finally decide to turn up to negotiation meetings about the issues in dispute.

This confusing and demobilising move is typical of Blower’s incompetent and conservative leadership, which has led to a situation of one of the most highly unionised professions facing more than 15% real-terms pay cuts since 2010 and a workload of around 60 hours a week on average (department for education’s own figures). Despite some tokenistic support for causes such as Stop the War Coalition and Palestinian solidarity (mostly not actively supported by Blower in person, but not blocked from taking place under her leadership due to pressure from the left), the NUT has not decisively broken from its historic international politics: patronising, charity-type campaigns still massively outweigh efforts at genuine international solidarity in the union’s official structures.

Blower cannot really be said to be part of the union’s left, even though she is standing on a slate with Kevin Courtney of the Socialist Teachers Alliance, the genuinely left candidate for deputy general secretary. This slate represents a tactical error by the comrades of the STA, which stems from the opportunism so often present in electorally focused, broad left union groups. The error should not be endorsed by the CPGB.

The alternative left slate is arguably no less opportunist, comprising as it does a rotten bloc between the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, balanced on the edifice of the politically and numerically very limited ‘rank and file’ group, the Local Associations National Action Campaign. However, the very weakness of that group indicates there would be little opportunity to control or enforce a line on candidates nominated by it who miraculously won union positions; we can safely assume that, for better or worse, it would be SPEW-type politics, industrially and internationally, that would be pursued in the event of a win for general secretary candidate Martin Powell Davies.

Poor though these policies undoubtedly are, they represent some version of socialist politics and are clearly better than what Blower offers. The correct position in the elections is therefore the one taken by the RS21 comrades: Martin Powell Davies for GS, Kevin Courtney for DGS.

There is a serious debate to be had in the NUT left about the relative value of the ‘broad left’ model, the ‘rank and file’ model or (the SWP’s latest odd theoretical fudge) the ‘hybrid’ model. Perhaps the CPGB would be best off engaging with the union on the level of that sort of ‘big theory’ rather than rather haplessly throwing in its tuppence-worth on the minutiae of strike dates and internal union elections.

Sean Carter
South London


To develop a Marxist animalism, we must situate non-humans within the labour theory of value, building on the intellectual groundwork laid by anti-speciesists like Barbara Noske and Bob Torres.

The vegetarian socialist, George Bernard Shaw, reportedly argued, “I don’t need a theory of value to tell me the poor are exploited.” I’m sympathetic to such anti-intellectualism. But the truth is that for animalists to effect the species politics of Marxists, who have a disproportionate ideological influence on the far left, we must learn to speak their language. While I am very far from an expert on the minutiae of communist theory, this is what I have attempted to begin doing.

Domesticated animals, like slaves, are distinct from proletarians, in that they do not sell their labour-power under the pretence of free choice. Rather, they themselves are commodities. Their labour-power is sold all at once, unlike that of proletarians, which is sold in increments. “The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer,” Karl Marx said. “The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once and for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity.”

Within Marxism, necessary labour is that work needed to reproduce the exploited’s labour-power. In the human context, it’s the work slaves or proletarians perform to create the equivalent of their livelihood. All work over and above this is surplus labour, unremunerated toiling, which creates profits for the slavemaster or capitalist. Domesticated animals also perform necessary and surplus labour for their owners. When an animal exploiter purchases a non-human, he is not only purchasing the animal herself, but a lifetime of her labour-power, which is used to create commodities, including - among others - her offspring, her secretions and her own flesh. Her necessary labour would be that required to create the equivalent of her food and shelter. Her surplus labour would be everything beyond this and is used to enrich her owner.

Within Marxism, there are two different methods with which slavemasters or capitalists can increase the surplus value their labourers produce. Absolute surplus value is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time labourers work in a particular period. For instance, a slavemaster or capitalist might increase the length of the working day or allow fewer days off a year. Meanwhile, relative surplus value is created by lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labour in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labour. For instance, a slavemaster or capitalist might reduce what constitutes their labourers’ livelihood or increase their labourers’ productivity.

Domesticated animals’ surplus labour can also be divided into the generation of absolute and relative surplus value. For instance, when a carriage horse’s working day is increased from six to nine hours, absolute surplus value is produced for the animal exploiter. In contrast, relative surplus value is created when chickens’ productivity is increased through genetic manipulation and the introduction of growth drugs. Similarly, relative surplus value is produced by lowering the cost of chickens’ livelihood through intensive confinement.

Of course, what constitutes liberation for slaves or proletarians is different than what constitutes liberation for domesticated animals. Whereas the ultimate economic goal for human labourers is social control of the means of production, domesticated animals, were they able, would presumably not want to seize, say, a factory farm and run it for themselves. They would want to be removed from the production process entirely.

I hope there are no theoretical errors here - besides the intentional subversion of classical Marxism’s anthropocentrism. But, again, the intricacies of theory are not my strongest suit. I have no doubt others can radically expand, and where necessary correct, this brief outline of a potential Marxist-animalist analysis. In this era of Occupy Wall Street, Kshama Sawant and Fight for 15, I believe it will become increasingly relevant.

Jon Hochschartner

Greens OK

What a mess, and one that gives me no pleasure (‘Left Unity: What “safe spaces” lead to’, May 15).

However, as dubious as I am about over-fetishisation of intersectionality, I don’t think it’s the real problem here and thus the headline is fairly misleading. The problem seems centred round personalities, whose importance is exaggerated in small parties.

Happily, Manchester Green Party, second in many wards and across the city, are at least doing OK, but I won’t evangelise any more than to say that.

Steven Brightlight

Faraway galaxy

I felt like I was in a galaxy far, far away when I read about Left Unity and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition standing in the May elections (‘Once again a sorry joke’, May 29). In Poland there were no left forces that played any role in our elections.

The Labour Party didn’t contest, while a few Socialist Party members ran on a Green Party ticket (the Greens fielded candidates in only five regions, scoring altogether 0.33% of the vote on a turnout of 22%. The IST (Workers Democracy) called for support for the Green Party, but the Polish Committee for a Workers’ International didn’t make any call - they just noted the results of their fraternal organisations abroad afterwards.

Soviet Power (www.1917.net.pl) called for a vote for the Alliance of the Democratic Left in order to stop the “fascists from the New Right Congress”. Don’t they know that supporting Blairite-style social democracy is actually the quickest way to fuel support for the “fascists”?

Andzrej Wicinski


Tony Clark has the most bizarre view of Karl Marx (Letters, June 5). I can only put it down to his Stalinist past - or perhaps he has imbibed continental anti-clericalism. But he seems to believe that Marx was in favour of the last aristocrat being hung by the neck by the entrails of the last priest. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Marx described religion as being the opium of the people. Yes, that contains a suggestion that religion can confuse the mind, but in those days opium was the most effective painkiller that medicine possessed. In the same paragraph he refers to religion as being the heart in a heartless world. People turn to religion because they suffer class oppression and historically there had been no escape for the majority from that suffering except through the shared experience of religious faith and practice.

Because of this there is no possibility of getting rid of religion without first getting rid of class society. Marxism offers an understanding of the mechanisms of capitalism and through that the means of its replacement by the planned society of the associated producers. Not the same as public ownership of the means of production, which in most people’s minds amounts to nothing more than state control. Not communism

Marx was for the self-liberation of humanity via the agency of the working class. Nowhere did he claim that they all had to be atheists before they could free themselves from exploitation. True, Marxists are materialists and there is no room within that world view for belief in gods. Religion is all too obviously the invention of humanity. So we campaign to free ourselves from superstition and from reactionary views that take a religious coloration. But the oppressed who are religious also need the Marxist programme to achieve emancipation - “to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land,” as William Blake put it.

A final point from modern anthropology. Humanity thinks, feels and acts through symbols. Religion also expresses itself through symbols, but frequently in a fantastical manner. Liberated humanity will still experience life through symbols and ceremonies, but without the dogma of religious bigotry.

Phil Kent