Party Notes

Jack Conrad looks at 'Bob Crow and Scotland'

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, has announced that his union is donating £5,000 to the Scottish Socialist Party. A token sum to help finance the drafting of a Holyrood bill calling for the renationalisation of the rails. Comrade Crow puts his mouth where his union’s money is too. He has been actively out campaigning for the SSP and is now counted as an associate member. His message is that, while our class is “totally unrepresented” in England, it is represented “by the SSP” in Scotland (Scottish Socialist Voice September 26).

Comrade Crow also appears to have become a vicarious Scottish nationalist, albeit of a leftwing variety. Not that that invalidates everything he says - far from it. According to comrade Crow, the Scottish people ought to have the right to choose whether or not to establish a breakaway class state: “If Scottish people want to be independent, then it’s up to them,” he states bluntly. That democratic approach is both principled and pertinent; we communists certainly recognise that over the last couple of decades or so there has been palpable national dissatisfaction in Scotland which devolution has only partially satisfied.

The United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy system permits no right to self-determination, of course. It embodies the hereditary union of crowns, not the union of sovereign peoples. Raising the demand for Scottish self-determination therefore highlights a profound underlying democratic deficit; and comrade Crow should be heartily congratulated not only for daring to question auto-Labourism but the monarchical constitution through which the rulers rule the ruled.

Shamefully much of the left considers such questions - ie, high politics - to be of little or no importance. Instead they - Socialist Workers Party, International Socialist Group, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, etc - prioritise building the next big demonstration or excitedly supporting the latest industrial dispute, kidding themselves that somehow this sort of limited and essentially circular activity inexorably leads to socialism. It does not.

However, comrade Crow, offers the opinion that if he were Scottish he would “be voting for independence”. Why adopt this particular solution? After all, there are other demands to be found in our programmatic armoury which would foster, not disrupt, working class unity - the CPGB calls for a federal republic. Echoing the garbled arguments of Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, the comrade insists that Scotland, like Wales and Ireland, has never benefited from the union. He even recruits Karl Marx for the cause of Scottish separatism: “You’ll never be free so long as one country enslaves another,” he is rendered as saying. Finally comrade Crow claims that by building a real socialist alternative in Scotland, we “provide an incentive for England”.

Comrade Crow is frequently spoken of as a potential saviour in certain Socialist Alliance circles. Communists would certainly welcome him if he took out membership. However, we would demand safeguards and accountability too. Besides being an asset, comrade Crow would present a danger. He now inhabits the rarefied and privileged atmosphere of the top trade union bureaucracy and his politics remain thoroughly Stalinite.

In the mid-1990s he decamped from the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain - a rump which doggedly defends a British reformist road to national socialism - and landed himself an executive committee seat in Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. He did not openly explain or fight out his differences with the CPB. Nor to his eternal discredit did he object when Scargill arbitrarily voided the membership of oppositionists, fixed conferences and treated the entire organisation as his private property. His subsequent departure from a sinking SLP was characteristically quiet.

Comrade Crow’s chilling ideal continues to be the ‘socialism in one country’ created in the Soviet Union by Stalin’s bureaucratic counterrevolution within the revolution and carried on nowadays by besieged outposts such as North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

Sheridan and McCombes undeniably come from a different tradition. But, though their origins lie in the Militant tendency of Peter Taaffe and Ted Grant, they have arrived at almost the same conclusion as comrade Crow. Under their direction the SSP voted to officially designate Cuba a socialist society - despite its complete absence of democracy and working class rule.

Marxism by contrast consistently stresses extreme democracy and socialism as an international act of working class self-liberation. Socialism is understood as taking off from the highest achievements of capitalism - undeniably a global metabolism. Hence we put the voluntary merging of nations and above all global working class unity at the forefront of our programmes. In general that means simultaneously advocating the right to self-determination but militantly opposing the break-up of existing states.

Indeed Marx and Engels famously wanted a democratic centralist greater Germany out of Prussia and Austria - besides mopping up the various petty kingdoms, electorates and city states. And, following that political method, Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg together fought against the Polish Socialist Party’s demand for national reunification and independence (from the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires). Instead of merely weakening existing states, they envisaged something much more worthwhile - working class unity in order to overthrow them.

Marxists only raise the demand for national separation in exceptional circumstances - if, for example, state unity actually retards or prevents unity of the working class. Following the defeat of Chartism and the rise of the labour aristocracy, the Marx-Engels team advocated Irish independence, true. However, at different times and under different circumstances they also called for complete merger or towards that end a federal republic of Britain and Ireland.

Members of the SSP - including comrades Sheridan and McCombes - have been doing their utmost to paint the history of Scotland in the colours of national oppression. Of course, even if it were true - and it is decidedly not - that would hardly justify their call for separation.

Needless to say, since 1707 there has been a unified British state, a state which not only suppressed the popular masses at home but systematically embarked on a course of empire-building, which went hand in hand with the colonial plunder of Ireland, India and whole tracts of Africa. Scottish merchants, industrialists and aristocratic and middle class career politicians benefited no less than their avaricious English and Welsh partners. Scots if anything were greatly overrepresented proportionately in the British officer corps and the empire’s bloated bureaucracy.

Describing Scotland and Wales as colonial victims of England is not only counterfactual. Equating the historic experience of Scotland and Wales to that of Ireland, or even India and Africa, is almost criminal in itself. Workers in Scotland are wage slaves, yes, but Scotland is no slave nation.

Karl Kautsky - when he was a Marxist - raised the slogan of a republican united states of Europe. This bold perspective was taken up again in the early 1920s by Leon Trotsky and the Communist International. And today the CPGB responds to the concrete reality of the European Union and capitalist unity of the most undemocratic kind they can get away with, not by demanding a halt to expansion and dead-end national withdrawals. Rather we advocate a democratic social Europe and, to bring that aim to fruition, the organisation of the advanced part of our class into a single revolutionary party - its correct, scientific, name being the Communist Party of the EU.

The world revolution is a combined but uneven process. In all probability Europe will proceed ahead of America. Tradition, consciousness and organisation in Europe is qualitatively higher. And, come the day when state power passes to the working class in this powerful salient of some 380 million people, it is surely only by taking forward the unity already achieved - albeit by our class enemies - that the forces of socialism can realistically hope to withstand the military and economic might of US superimperialism.

An SSP breakaway ‘socialist’ Scotland cannot possibly do that. It is improbable, to say the least, that it would act as an “incentive” for anywhere. More than likely it would serve as yet another dire warning. An independent ‘socialist’ Scotland - with Tommy Sheridan as first minister and Alan McCombes the brains behind the throne - would either succumb to internal counterrevolution, suffocate under British and EU economic sanctions or, failing that, be swiftly crushed in a ‘war against terrorism’. Neither Scotland’s “long coastline” nor its “moderate climate” would do much to save it.

The US working class would certainly be inspired and spurred on by their brothers and sisters in Europe coming to power - especially as the flame spread to Russia, the Ukraine, Korea, Japan and the impoverished countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Given the present balance of world forces, the first decisive chapter of the world revolution can only but be written in Europe. The working class movement in the USA will though have the honour of writing the final chapter, thereby opening the gates of communism and general freedom. What Europe begins America shall complete.