I’m sorry that, as Gregor Gall pointed out (Letters, July 31), I missed his 2013 book, Scotland the brave? Independence and radical social change, when preparing the article, ‘Exeunt Scots, stage left’ (July 21) on Scottish left nationalist arguments. If my search through the available sources down here in London had disclosed its existence, I would certainly have discussed it, since, if you read it in conjunction with those other writings covered in my Weekly Worker article, it becomes clear that this book stands out from them as a piece of measured critical analysis, and comrades should take note of it.
Rather than considering the author’s views exhaustively point by point, let me give a few quotations which indicate various strands of thought, plus a few comments. Gregor argues that a non-nationalist advocacy of Scottish independence is possible, which would “give expression and representation to the social values that underpin a radical notion of national identity - ie, what it means to be ‘Scottish’ - by creating the political space for this to happen through the establishment of an independent state in Scotland. In doing so, the hope is that localised action can be part of a more global trend towards ending the domination of capital and its ideology of neoliberalism” (p41).
This reminds me of Thomas Masaryk’s social democratic expression of Czech nationalism in 1918, but in a more radicalised form - aiming at the supersession of capitalist rule and the inauguration of a new mode of production, which I assume is what Gregor Gall means. In that case, another quote could be juxtaposed to this one: “given that ownership of the economy and the locus of its control is increasingly outside the geographical boundaries of the British Isles, it is not convincing to say that a British state - under instruction from the left - could do any more or less than a Scottish state - under instruction from the left - in regulating capital” (p11).
Here we have the problem sharply posed: it is necessary to start somewhere, but support for revolutionary change has to spread beyond these shores as well. This is underlined in another contribution to the debate: namely observations by Hillel Ticktin in the most recent issue of Critique (May 2014), where he writes: “One has to look to the fate of two social democratic French presidents who gave up even the idea of limited concessions to the working class, and went over to so-called neoliberalism and austerity (Mitterrand and Hollande). The fact is that there is a world division of labour that can only be pushed aside at a suicidal cost, as became very clear in the case of the USSR. Today, the cost is far higher than even 40 or 50 years ago. A socialist or social democratic party will have to pay global prices for its imports and charge global prices for its exports. It will have to structure its economy according to the global division of labour. If it does not pay managers and highly skilled workers global rates, a proportion will leave the country. It will have to remain a capitalist country, in other words. Scandinavia is now ruled by parties that are either conservative or on the right of social democracy. In Scotland much is made of the Scandinavian example, forgetting the particular conditions under which Scandinavia was able to introduce social democratic reforms, and the shift to the right” (pp152-53).
An independent Scotland, therefore, would not have carte blanche to decide its fate. However, if it is a matter of indifference whether the current British or a newly independent Scottish state is the jumping-off point in terms of what territorial space the working class will have and what power they could really exercise, then it seems logical to prefer a greater territorial area to a smaller. But for the moment the question is off the agenda (though it is likely to return), thanks to the referendum result and the immediate surge in English (as opposed to British) nationalism, now being championed by our bold buccaneer prime minister. Here again Gregor Gall has something pertinent to say: “competition already exists between the various areas within Britain to attract investment or retain production (especially by offering concessions on work practices)” (p43).
Hence regionalism and localism appear as political cards potentially playable by the bourgeoisie alongside nationalism in its various forms. But at least one beneficial effect of the vote on September 18 was to catapult constitutional issues into the immediate political arena: a response from the left in Britain and in Ireland is urgently needed. There is an early 20th century Irish song which contains the lines: “Let Englishmen for England fight, Tis just about time they started, o.”
English people now need to fight against the whole weight of imperial and nationalist traditions which have beset us since the time of the Tudors, and they need to do so in alliance with their brothers and sisters outside England and on the continent of Europe, regardless of any boundary changes opted for or imposed.
A number of friends and comrades will have been highly surprised to have found my name and that of the Durham miners linked to the UK Independence Party’s national conference. A number of nationals and the TV news ran the story on September 27 that we were speaking at a Ukip fringe event.
Let me say from the outset that I have no problem discussing and debating my principles and politics with anyone on a public platform, and that includes Ukip. I don’t consider them ‘fascist’ or even particularly ‘racialist’ and I don’t buy into the ‘no-platforming’, ‘safe spacing’, ‘ban them’ or ‘bar them’ anti-democracy of some on the far left.
The Campaign for Clean Coal asked me if I would enter a debate on energy and the energy options and put the case for coal. Originally, they were talking of lining up some academic bods and environmental campaigners in some academic setting. I said: “Of course, nay bother”. I was therefore a bit surprised when they told me they had organised a fringe meeting around these subjects at the Ukip conference, which was in Doncaster.
In the last few weeks, the British coal industry had been reduced to three deep mines, and two of them were up for closure due to the government refusing to advance a loan to them to ensure their survival. I should say, by the way, the problems are not at the pits, which have an ocean of coal reserves and ready markets, but in the international financial situation, the strength of the pound and the fact that the USA is now self-sufficient in oil and is moving dramatically away from its coal market, leaving masses of US coal to be dumped on the international coal market at break-even prices. The company had asked the government to advance a loan of £15 million, which would be paid back, and they were told they could have £10 million to close them. So the mines are planned for closure next year.
Hatfield, my own colliery, is the last of the line, hit by a sudden face gap and therefore no coal coming out. They had no revenue to pay their loans, the banks withdrew their credit and the pit could have closed in a week. The National Union of Mineworkers had the courage to loan the pit, which is a cooperative, £4 million on normal commercial terms. Again, the mine has some of the largest coal reserves in Britain and is capable of accessing literally hundreds of years more, given the finance and will to do so.
We need political decisions and energy policies which will give our last mines the chance of surviving. In this endeavour, we have talked to government energy ministers and I have spoken on three platforms in the last year with Labour’s energy spokesperson, Caroline Flint. Hatfield mine is in Ed Miliband’s own constituency and we have held public meetings with him. We have lobbied and shouted.
Ten years of TUC conferences have confirmed support for clean coal developing but, at the end of the day, nothing comes of it. There is a conspiracy of silence among the establishment parties and, of course, utter hostility from the ‘greens’, who hate us as much as they do.
So, with that in mind, yes, I would speak at the Ukip fringe. My theme was to be against carte blanche fracking, against new nukes and for British deep mined, clean coal.
However, the plan was that the fringe meeting would be external to the conference and open to the public and other unions. I only learned the morning of the meeting that it was actually in the conference venue and restricted to Ukip delegates. Worse, Farage was using the presence of ‘the miners’ at the conference, in Miliband’s own constituency, as two fingers to wave at him. Needless to say, I was suddenly in the eye of the storm. Then it got worse. The Durham miners never were speaking at the event; the NUM NEC had decided to have nothing to do with it, but the organisers assumed me to be a member of the Durham area and billed me as such. Not too chuffed. The Durham miners weren’t alone, as I was blanket-bombed by phone calls from comrades, friends and the media. I would not speak at the fringe in these circumstances, as that wasn’t what I had agreed to. A debate I don’t mind. The front of a publicity stunt aimed at embarrassing Ed, and promoting that lot? Not bloody likely.
So I attended instead the anti-Ukip march and rally organised by the Socialist Workers Party’s Stand Up To Ukip in the centre of Doncaster and spoke on their platform, making it clear I had never agreed to address a meeting of the sort they had organised and had no intention of being used to further the fortunes of a party whose politics couldn’t be further away from my own. I also made the point on behalf of the Durham miners that they were never attending in the first place and their listing was simply false.
Ee well, that old tale about the road to hell seems sound. Will it shake up the debate on coal? Well, getting it mentioned would be a start. Time will tell, although Ed’s conference speech spoke only of ending fossil fuel generation by 2030, so it doesn’t look like it will come from that quarter.
Ian Donovan writes that “Tony Greenstein is obviously worried enough about his role in this dispute to tell the obvious falsehood that I have called him a Zionist” (Letters, September 25).
What Donovan has written is quite explicit: “Greenstein mixes his criticism of Israel with a communalist agenda, and falsifies quotations to smear people” (Letters, September 11). Who else but a Zionist would adopt a (Jewish) communalist agenda? He continues: “I do not capitulate to identity politics, whether it be the kind that makes Greenstein join with Zionists to defame Atzmon …”
Who else joins with Zionists to ‘defame’ Atzmon, adopts a communalist agenda, etc, but a Zionist? You don’t have to call someone a plagiarist or liar directly in the libel courts. It’s the ‘sting’ of what is written, the innuendo meaning, that is just as important.
However, if Ian Donovan is happy to issue a statement making it clear that I am not a Zionist, I am happy to withdraw my allegation.
Paul Demarty ends his article on the Scottish referendum saying: “The crucial insight of Marxism - that these questions are themselves ‘working class issues’… is seldom grasped” (‘Proceeds of crime’, September 25). Left Unity’s Scottish Republic Yes tendency has fully grasped this in opposing the trend of ‘economist abstentionism’, which has paralysed Left Unity and the working class in England.
The Scottish referendum was a victory for the British ruling class and a defeat for the working class. This “crucial insight of Marxism” applies here too. Of course for unionist-socialists like Sandy McBurney it is the other way round. The working class won the referendum and the British ruling class lost it. No wonder Sandy turned his microphone off and opted for diplomatic silence when he saw Cameron beaming with pride and heard the queen was ‘over the moon’ at the result.
The democratic movement of the working class throughout the UK suffered a defeat. When Glasgow and Dundee vote ‘yes’ and 30% of Scottish National Party supporters voted ‘no’, then even the most dumb ‘Marxists’ should be able to work out that class was the most important factor in the outcome.
So it was significant that in two long articles comrades Demarty and Eddie Ford managed to say everything apart from the issue of which class led the ‘no’ campaign to victory and which class was the backbone of the ‘yes’ campaign, suffered a defeat and had its hopes of change dashed. You can skirt around it until ‘economist abstentionism’ declares it irrelevant to the ‘class struggle’ or pronounces it a score draw!
I read Paul Demarty railing against Stalinism with a sense of ironic amusement. Sadly Paul has come to “expect less and less from comrade Steve over the years”, which is a terrible shame. This is because I have continued to promote the necessity for a republican socialist party. As Paul says, “he endlessly tries to kick-start his dead-on-arrival republican Labourite halfway-house idea”.
I plead guilty to “endlessly” advocating a ‘communist-labour’ party, or united front party, involving both democratic socialists, or Labour lefts, and communists. The CPGB have endlessly rejected this in theory, but decided to support it in practice. They more they support it, the more “endlessly” they reject it. This is a smokescreen and a dangerous game.
Left Unity is a “halfway house” party. It is ideologically left-Labour, linked back to the ‘spirit of 1945’ and the great days of the social monarchy. Communists supported its founding conference and put forward their views. There is a communist platform or tendency in it. There is a member of the CPGB elected to the national leadership. It is a classic “dead-on-arrival” communist-Labour party, critically supported by the CPGB.
My point is that this united front party, with its open communist tendency, cannot succeed unless it becomes a republican socialist party. Unless and until it makes the transition to a republican socialist party it is “dead on arrival”. The Scottish referendum has shown it is dangerously close to political extinction, because a majority supported ‘economist abstentionism’. In Scotland Left Unity was irrelevant to a campaign that mobilised millions. It is now virtually as dead as a duck there.
Despite my endlessly supporting Scottish Republic Yes in the Weekly Worker, Paul accuses of me of “enthusiastically advocating a vote for a constitutional arrangement that includes the queen”. There are two obvious points here. There was no republican option. Whether you vote ‘yes’, or ‘no’, you ended up on September 19 with “a constitutional arrangement that includes the queen”.
What about ‘abstaining’ or ‘boycotting’ the referendum? Did this mean that on September 19 you would no longer have a monarchy? In reality voting ‘yes’, ‘no’ or abstaining does not change “a constitutional arrangement that includes the queen”. The idea that not going to the polling booth is morally superior or more republican is laughable.
The ‘yes’ case is not that it delivers a republic any more than ‘no’ or ‘boycott’. Rather a ‘yes’ majority delivers conditions in which republicanism can grow. The soil in a ‘Scottish free state’ is more fertile. The queen understands this, because she is a better politician than all the unionist and abstentionist ‘Marxists’ laid out end to end.
The CPGB seem to argue that they are boycotting all and every referenda under a bourgeois regime because the ‘correct’, communist-approved questions are not being asked. Trying to hide behind some ‘principle’ you have just invented is surely the sign that a failed position has very thin arguments. Boycott is a tactic, not a principle. The CPGB supported a ‘yes’ vote in the ‘alternative vote to save Nick Clegg’s bacon’ referendum. This would have resulted in “a constitutional arrangement that includes the queen”.
The Scottish Republic Yes tendency openly advocated a republic and urged the Scottish working class to take the high road to a republic. The slogan, ‘Scottish republic yes’, was the most advanced, democratic slogan to be put forward in England and Wales during the referendum. It stood out against the unionism and ‘economist abstentionism’ of the working class movement in England.
It is easy to kick the crap out of left national arguments. But the best slogans have to be dealt with and not ignored or dismissed.
LU Scottish Republic Yes tendency