Dismissing the national question

Around the left

For a useful lesson in how not to tackle the national question in Scotland, read the latest issue of International Worker,paper of the Socialist Equality Party.

In a report - which for the most part appears to be factually accurate, at least - on the second annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Alliance held two weeks ago, comrade Tony Hyland denounces “the political bankruptcy of Scottish Militant Labour” (June 28).

The comrade bases his accusation on the grounds that SML “pioneered the formation of this unprincipled alliance with various Stalinists, middle class radicals, Greens, Scottish nationalists and ex-Labourites” (June 28) - in other words, just about everyone is marked with the sign of Cain, as far as the SEP is concerned.

Which is not to say that comrade Hyland does not make many correct criticisms of the SSA and its policies, even if he is being a bit inaccurate - or even economical with the truth, perhaps - when he claims that the “SSA’s stated aim is Scottish separatism”. However, the comrade is not far off the mark when he comments:

“Only a year after the SML founded the SSA on the pretext of providing a socialist alternative for the working class, their nationalist perspective has led them back into the arms of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy. They would serve as the loyal opposition with any future bureaucracy.”

Quite correctly as well, after discussing SML’s horse-trading over the minimum wage, comrade Hyland observes: “On every question the SML tailors its demands to what is acceptable to the Labour and trade union bureaucracy.” This is something we have pointed out ourselves on numerous occasions.

So what is the SEP’s answer to the Scottish question then? Simple - it has not got one. Or, to be more accurate, in a typical leftist fashion it denies that there is one. How very convenient for the SEP, if not the Scottish masses.

Apparently, “the call for self-determination in Scotland was always a complete distortion by the Stalinists and radicals of the support of the right to self-determination as it was historically understood by the Marxist movement”. Where have we all gone wrong? Comrade Hyland then delivers his supposed trump card: “Scotland is not an oppressed nation but part of an oppressor nation.”

In just one facile sentence, comrade Hyland airily dismisses the democratic aspiration of the masses. The fight to remedy the democratic deficit is brushed under the carpet and the SEP end up doing an SWP - ie, lecturing Scottish workers on how they are exactly the same as English and Welsh workers.

Excuse me if I am underwhelmed by the sheer power of the SEP’s analysis. Yes, comrade Hyland, we agree that Scotland is not a nation - but that is not the issue. Is it?

In a shameless piece of economism, comrade Hyland is reduced to quoting an article written by someone called Howard Fielding who is described as a student of Scottish history at the University of Dundee. In the opinion of this article, “despite a certain amount of depreciation in people’s perceptions, the Scottish economy is in a state of upturn beyond a lot of the rest of the UK”.

‘Stop all your silliness about self-determination,’ says the SEP. ‘You’re better off than the rest of us!’ Lenin described this approach as “imperialist economism” - ie, abstractly and impatiently waving aside the national question in the belief that it is historically redundant and that all that matters is the fight for ‘socialism’.

Comrade Hyland’s espousal of “imperialist economism” leads him to the most absurd and deeply reactionary conclusions.

As part of his report on the SSA conference, comrade Hyland points out:

“The only opposition to the support for Labour’s referendum and entering Scotland Forward within the SSA came from the ex-Stalinists of the Communist Party of Great Britain/Weekly Worker group, who called it a betrayal of the struggle for self-determination.

The alternative put forward by the CPGB was to achieve this through the independent mobilisation of the working class - to develop the movement of the working class along national lines. Such talk of ‘working class nationalism’ does not belong to the lexicon of Karl Marx, but of Benito Mussolini. It would only hasten the development of a fascistic movement in Scotland”.

Welcome to the crazy world of the SEP - and also to the philistine mire that passes for its ‘theory’. Our fight to gain hegemony over the mass movement developing in Scotland, and to divert it away from the fatal attraction of nationalism/separatism, is described as hastening the “development of a fascistic movement”.

In reality of course, it is the SEP which is abandoning the Scottish workers. Like the ruling class, it tells them that they are part of the ‘union’ like everybody else and to knuckle down. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Don Preston