Wrong way round

In an otherwise succinct summing up of the positions I put on the Scottish question, at the Edinburgh SSA/Red day school (Weekly Worker June 12), Nick Clarke states the following: “[Allan] advocated the break-up of the UK state along nationalist lines” (my emphasis). Oh no, I did not. I advocated the break-up of the UK state along national lines. This is a crucial difference, which the CPGB-PCC’s current confused theory seems unable to cope with.

Just as communists arguing for women’s emancipation do not become feminists, neither do communists arguing for the break-up of a particular reactionary state become nationalists. A fuller explanation of this is argued in section 10 of the Republican Workers Tendency’s Fight for the right to Party and It’ll be alright on the night! - comments on Jack Conrad’s ‘Without Partyism there is no struggle for communism’.

Furthermore, as the CPGB-PCC becomes committed to actively campaigning for Scottish self-determination, it is essential that it ditches its reactionary theory that there is a British nation, but only Scottish and Welsh nationalities (ie, ethnic minorities). There is a British or, to be more accurate, a UK state, which is a unionist state covering the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland. The existence of these nations is recognised under the unionist and monarchist constitution of the UK, but their right to genuine self-determination is denied. All four nations found on these islands are multi-ethnic. For example, few would deny Sean Connery or Shireen Nanjiani to be Scottish. The author, William McIllvaney, was loudly cheered when he called Scotland “a mongrel nation” at the 30,000 Scottish democracy rally held in Edinburgh in December 1992.

As long as the current CPGB-PCC theory of viewing Scots as an ethnic minority prevails, there is a decided ambiguity in championing Scottish self-determination. There is a small reactionary wing of Scottish nationalism, represented by organisations such as Siol nan Gaidheal and Scottish/Settler Watch, which also tries to emphasise the ethnic Scot as the basis for their proposed Scottish ‘nation’. Similar reasoning is also used by others to arrive at a ‘two nations’ theory for Ireland. We should be clear that when we advocate territorial self-determination, it is for nations, not ethnic groups. Scotland is a nation, not a nationality.

Another point I have raised with CPGB-PCC comrades, on behalf of the RWT and also the Republicans group in Edinburgh, is the need for the Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination to be constituted as a genuine united front organisation, where platforms and tactics can be fully discussed. The RWT believes the CPGB-PCC’s emphasis is the wrong way round, putting tactics before principle. We believe the organisation should be set up to campaign for a Scottish republic (with the ability to make links - eg, federate with any other nation(s) of its choice), and that the Blair referendum should be used as an opportunity to build maximum support for this. Although we also support a boycott (with the production of Scottish Republic stickers for general use and on the ballot paper), we think the CPGB-PCC have elevated the boycott tactic above the republican principle. Indeed it would probably be best to try and involve people who have not made a final decision on this tactic yet, but who want to campaign for a Scottish republic, at least until the Blair government has shown its complete hand. Joint work with such people over the Scottish republic would be the best way to win them over.

Allan Armstrong

Well ’ard

The democracy meeting on June 14 was a defeat for rank and file democracy in the SLP. It makes no difference whether you were at the meeting or not. Every member’s rights are affected, including those who opposed the meeting, even if they do not yet realise it. Comrade Scargill ambushed the meeting and took all the participants prisoner. We will wait to see whether he gives them a slap on the wrist or puts them in front of a firing squad.

A few comrades met at McDonalds on the way to the meeting. We got word of the ambush, discussed the situation, and decided not to attend. Mark Fischer and Simon Harvey are clearly annoyed that we escaped. Whilst it might serve the narrow interests of the CPGB if a few more SLP members are expelled, this won’t serve the interests of democracy in the SLP or the wider movement.

Had our attendance made the difference between defeat and victory, then we would indeed be open to criticism. But that was not the case. Had we attended, Scargill would simply have captured more prisoners.

In last week’s paper (June 17), Mark and Simon were having a good laugh at our expense. I suppose cracking jokes at a funeral helps to ease the tension. We were called “MacDonaldites” and “softer elements”. We were “timid” and had “buckled” in the face of Scargill’s threats. We were urged to “take serious stock” of our role in the SLP.

All this tells us more about the politics of these comrades than it does about us. Apparently walking into an ambush is a point of principle. It shows how ‘hard’ you are. Going to the meeting ‘proves’ to Arthur and anybody who reads the Weekly Worker that we ain’t frightened of him. We are not just ‘hard’ - we are ‘well ’ard’. It sounds like a caricature of Red Action’s supposed tactics. Hard proletarians met in the rooms of the South Place Ethical Society and the middle class wankers went down McDonalds - or perhaps more appropriately would have been Pret à Manger.

If being macho is how the Weekly Worker decides or assesses its tactics, then god help us. One defeat will surely be followed by another. Next time you lead us into an ambush, if we could have more warning, we’ll go to Burger King.


Missing the boat

Jack Conrad’s article on the ‘crisis of expectations’ in Blair’s New Labour government begged more questions than it was able to answer. As a rationale for the CPGB’s refusal to call for a Labour vote in any circumstances it had a certain logic, but that logic was to dissect the dual-sided nature of the problem and present a filleted, schematic answer. Rather than theory being used as a guide to action we are presented with the following:

“The bourgeois pole of the contradictory equation has become increasingly dominant. Every Labour government has added to the trend. With Blair and his expected internal constitutional changes in October, what has been quantitative looks set to become qualitative.”

There are two things wrong with this statement. In the first place, the class nature of the Labour Party is not reducible simply to the politics of its leadership or that of a Labour government. Secondly, it assumes that events occur independently of the struggle of real political forces. This is a form of determinism which has nothing in common with the Marxist method. For a Marxist, an analysis of the class nature and development of political forces is a basis for political choices about how to relate to them in a living struggle.

There can be little disagreement that the Labour leadership is composed of people who are continuing the Tory agenda. However, to suggest that they have the unqualified support of the rank and file of the party or the people who voted for them is blatantly false. I could quote you numerous examples from personal experience, but I won’t bore you.

Comrade Conrad dismisses too lightly the analysis of the Labour vote made by the SWP to support the fact that it was a class vote. There were important shifts amongst white collar workers, teachers and nurses in the general election based on their experience of downsizing and the market. To reject such evidence hands over these people to the forces of disillusion and cynicism. They do have expectations that “things will get better”.

What the SWP failed to also point out was that there was evidence of low voter-turnout in traditional working class areas. These people went through the experience of casualisation in the 1980s. They are more likely to already live under Labour councils which have implemented cuts and were clearly not enthused by Blair’s message. But this is actually an argument against the view that the electorate endorsed Blair’s politics. What happened on May 1 was the wholesale rejection of the Tories rather than a wave of enthusiasm for New Labour. Despite this, the evidence is quite clear that Labour’s vote remains a class vote.

The Blairites are on a collision course with their voting base, the rank and file of the party and with many in the middle level leadership. That is why it is important to relate to this level of consciousness rather than just abstractly proclaim the alternative. The fact that the level of trade union struggle remains weak and fragmented is all the more reason to do this. The central tasks are to differentiate the socialists from Blairites in the Labour Party, to build socialist forces in the unions to prepare for the coming wave of resistance and to prepare the forces that will be the socialist alternative to Blair.

I regard the decision of the SLP to exclude the Socialist Party and others from their general election campaign, and of both parties to refuse to call for a Labour vote, as thoroughly sectarian. This is no way to appeal to the broad mass of the population who wanted to get rid of the Tories. A combined vote of only 70,000 is hardly anything to write home about and was the price both organisations paid. If these 70,000 people represented the working class, I might accept that the Labour Party had become just another bourgeois party. But they don’t. There are still massive illusions in reformism and no organisation with the social weight or political authority to offer the alternative yet exists.

In reality the forces of the revolutionary left remain weak, divided and lack the organisational coherence and discipline needed to work together in a common organisation, each defending their precious patch, each with their own jealously guarded shibboleths. In a word - sects. Earlier in this century, it took the impact of the Russian Revolution to unite such sects into the early Communist Party of Great Britain. It will need something of an equally momentous nature to bring about such a union today.

Until such time as revolutionaries are in the majority, it will continue to be necessary to relate to the broad layer of reformist workers, encouraging them to struggle against their leadership. This is the quintessential difference between how we relate to Labour in power, as opposed to an openly bourgeois party such as the Tories. The struggle to remove Blair from the leadership of the Labour party or to curtail the power of the bourgeois Labour leadership will always be a progressive struggle that socialists should support. The struggle around the leadership of the Tory Party or the democratic rights of their ‘rank and file’ is an utter irrelevance to us. That is the difference.

In the final analysis those political forces which abstain on these issues (the same ones who refused to call for a Labour vote in the elections) are in danger of missing the boat when there is real mass disillusion with Labour. You may be satisfied with 70,000 - I’m not.

John Laurence