Two years ago, our party conducted some thorough Marxist research into the question of Scottish nationalism. We took a scientific look at the question of Scottish independence in order to find out whether there is any truth to the assertion made by nationalists that Scotland is an oppressed nation in need of liberating from the English imperialist yoke.
This question is of vital importance for communists in Britain today. If we are serious about organising for the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism, we are going to need the maximum possible unity of the working class in order to achieve that. Everything that divides workers weakens our movement and undermines our chances of success in the class struggle – sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, regionalism … and nationalism.
What is nationalism?
Nationalism is a bourgeois ideology, since nations in the modern sense only appeared in the capitalist era. This can be confusing to understand, since there were feudal kingdoms and loose associations with the same names and similar languages in many parts of the world, but it is important to recognise that these were not nations in the modern sense. Some of these feudal communities went on to develop into modern nations. Others disappeared or were subsumed.
The true nation only appeared on the scene historically with the development of capitalism, as the expansion of commodity production and markets broke down the barriers between previously self-sufficient and isolated feudal fiefdoms and united them in the interests of trade and commerce – bringing a single infrastructure and language, a single set of laws, taxes and customs, and the massive expansion of the capitalist division of labour that made the average individual much more dependent on many others (spread across the entire national territory) for the necessaries of life.
The Marxist definition of a nation is quite precise: “A nation is a historically-evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture.” If a group of people lacks even one of these characteristics, they cannot be considered to be a nation. (JV Stalin)
That is why Marxists refute the idea of a ‘jewish nation’ or a ‘muslim nation’, for example. Because a shared religion among people spread across the globe does not make for a nation. There are jewish Americans, jewish Iranians and jewish Germans, and the jews in each of these cases share a language, territory, culture and economic life with their fellow Americans, Iranians and Germans. Likewise, there is no such thing as a ‘black nation’. Black Americans, black Congolese and black French people may share a colour of skin, but their language, territory, economic life and culture are those of America, Congo and France respectively.
Like everything else in human history, nations are a transitional phenomenon, and their lifespan is actually destined to be rather short in the overall scheme of things. Nation states are the form that capitalist class rule took in western Europe, while in the East, where capitalism arrived on the scene somewhat later, multinational states are the norm. Along with classes and the state itself, nations will gradually disappear after capitalism has been replaced everywhere with socialism.
Nationalism is therefore an ideology that has developed out of capitalist production relations, and which reinforces capitalist society. It encourages workers to identify their interests with that of their ‘country’, which means identifying more with their own exploiters than with the exploited peoples of other countries. That is why Marx famously wrote that workers have no country, and why the communists adopt the red flag of the workers rather than identifying with national symbols.
Nationalism and national-liberation
That being the case, one might wonder why we should ever give our support to a national movement. Paradoxically, in the era of imperialism, nationalism in the countries that are oppressed and superexploited by the imperialist powers can very often play a progressive role. It can encourage the oppressed to unite against their oppressors and rise up against them, since the national bourgeoisie is also suppressed by imperialist rule and stopped from developing. In these cases, the workers and the independent-minded national bourgeoisie (as opposed to comprador sections of the bourgeoisie who facilitate imperialist exploitation and oppression) have a shared goal and can become temporary allies, despite their class antagonisms as exploiters and exploited.
When Stalin wrote his famous work on the national question in 1913, his conclusions were endorsed by Lenin and by the international communist movement. He showed that in the interests of the maximum unity of the working class, the rights of oppressed nations to self-determination – ie, to be free to organise their lives and economies without interference from imperialist powers – must be respected and fought for. He showed that the struggle of the oppressed peoples for national liberation is a part and parcel of the proletariat’s struggle against imperialism.
He explained that only by recognising and fighting for the rights of the oppressed could workers in the imperialist countries free themselves from the superiority complex that kept them siding with their own exploiters and looking down on the superexploited masses – and that this attitude kept workers in the imperialist countries tied to their own ruling classes and separated from the exploited of the world, who ought to be their biggest ally in the struggle for revolution. This division was and is a major barrier to the development of a real revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries.
On the other hand, Stalin showed that only by having complete freedom to finally determine their own destiny would workers of the oppressed countries ever let go of their own national prejudices and come to see their common interests with workers from the oppressing countries.
National oppression is therefore a bar to the unity of workers and peasants all over the world against their common oppressors, and is thus an impediment to socialist revolution. That is why Marxists support the national-liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples, and why we demand their complete freedom of self-determination. We are supporting these national-liberation struggles because of their democratic and anti-imperialist content, not because we are in favour of encouraging nationalism.
We in the CPGB-ML take these lessons from history very seriously. Of all the people who call themselves communist in Britain, we are the only ones who really take our duties towards the oppressed of the world to heart. Ours is the only party that constantly seeks to show British workers the connection between the superexploitation of workers and peasants abroad and the strength of our ruling-class enemies at home.
Unlike the Trotskyists, we do not try to tell workers in the oppressed countries how they should conduct the struggle against imperialism. We recognise their rights unconditionally and give them and their chosen leaders unstinting support, no matter how they are demonised in the imperialist media. Alone among the British ‘left’ parties we opposed the wars against Libya and Syria from the very beginning – and supported the anti-imperialist leaders of those countries against imperialist vilification.
Unlike the revisionists of the CPB, we do everything in our power to expose the imperialist nature of the Labour party and break the working class’s illusions in social democracy. We do all we can, small as we are, to promote unity with the oppressed masses of the world and to break the connection between the working-class movement and the imperialist stooges who currently control it.
Unlike every other party and supposed ‘solidarity’ movement, we try to show workers in Britain what our rulers on no account wish them to understand: that we have the collective power to stop British imperialism from functioning – whether it is waging illegal wars abroad or making draconian attacks on the working class at home – and should organise ourselves to use it.
But the same seriousness we apply to our support for the oppressed peoples abroad applies to our waging of all other aspects of the class struggle. This is not a game or a passing popularity contest, but a deadly serious endeavour. We have no hope of winning in the long run if we refuse to take a scientific approach to all important questions; if we pander to popular prejudice and are scared to tell workers unwelcome truths.
The lessons from science and from history are clear. We support the independence movements of the oppressed nations because that weakens imperialism and enables workers to unite on the basis of equality. We do not support anything that divides the working class for no good reason. The coming struggles will be hard enough; we have no business making them even harder by allowing ourselves to be corralled into smaller and smaller groups.
Building for revolution in an imperialist country
Alongside the conclusions discussed above, Stalin also showed very clearly that to demand ‘self-determination’ for every group of workers that has fallen into nationalism is a backward and not a progressive step. He was adamant that unless a group really can be scientifically determined to be a nation in the modern, capitalist sense of the term – and can be shown to be being oppressed and superexploited by imperialism – there is no basis and no justification for dividing the working class.
At all times and in all cases, the paramount consideration for revolutionary Marxists must be the achievement of the maximum strength and unity of the working class. If the development of the capitalist state has already brought together various disparate groups of workers from pre-existing groups or feudal societies and welded them into a single nation (albeit with some differences in their historical backgrounds and local customs), it is not the job of the communists to go re-dividing those peoples along lines that were long ago obliterated in all meaningful ways. That is merely to help the capitalists in their aim of dividing in order to rule.
At the time when Stalin wrote his pamphlet on the national question, the working and oppressed masses in the Russian empire, just like workers today in Britain, were suffering from deep demoralisation. The 1905 revolution had been defeated, and this defeat had led many to believe that the revolution would never happen. After all, at that point, before the success of the 1917 October revolution, Marxism still seemed to many to be an untested theory. As the revolutionary tide receded, nationalism rose to take the place of internationalism and revolution.
In this situation, bourgeois ideology was in the ascendant. Marxism seemed to have been disproved, and many groups sprang up claiming that the solution for their particular group of workers was ‘national self-determination’. Essentially, they said, “Forget about the revolution, forget about socialism, forget about solidarity … if we can get language rights and ‘cultural autonomy’ for our little group, we don’t need to care what happens to anyone else.”
And before they knew it, workers who had been standing together in struggle one day were acting as strike-breakers against their fellows the next, because they had started to identify themselves as being from different ‘national’ groups. Alongside this, they were voting for ‘representation’ in parliaments and other talking shops not on class lines but on ethnic ones, supporting all kinds of anti-working-class scoundrels on the basis of a shared ‘national identity’.
Scottish nationalism serves imperialism
That is why, before coming to a conclusion on the question of Scottish self-determination, we conducted research into the question of Scottish nationhood. And the conclusion we came to was clear: there is no such thing, in the scientific sense, as the ‘Scottish nation’. There may briefly have been an ‘English nation’, which developed out of the feudal kingdoms of England, but that too is long gone. In its place there long ago developed the British nation – into which both English and Scottish rulers and workers alike were amalgamated. This has been an established fact for some 250 years.
There is no evidence to back up the claim that the Scots are being kept down as a nation and denied their right to self-determination in the United Kingdom.
The Irish, on the other hand, have clearly been oppressed for centuries – their people starved, their language and culture suppressed, their resources looted – with the native rulers expropriated and feeling the jackboot as well as the native workers and peasants. Hence the constant resurgence of armed struggle by the Irish people over the years. And hence the fact that the core tenets of the Irish peace process are all about redressing the basic inequality of treatment between the settler-colonial and native populations (protestants and catholics; unionists and nationalists).
There is an interesting point that no Scottish nationalist ever seems to have an answer to. If Scotland is a colony of ‘English imperialism’, how on earth has it managed to win its chance for ‘freedom’ without any kind of struggle?
Where in the world did a colonising power ever give up its hold on power and ability to loot superprofits voluntarily? Where in the world did an oppressed and colonised people ever win their freedom without mobilising a fierce struggle by the masses, usually including the use of arms?
We have seen centuries of armed and political mass struggle by the oppressed and superexploited masses of Ireland, but no such struggle has ever been remotely on the cards in Scotland. If the people of Scotland have really been oppressed and exploited by ‘English’ overlords for so long, we have to ask ourselves: why has such a struggle not materialised?
And then we have to ask ourselves something else: what kind of freedom fighters ever included in their list of demands that they should be ‘allowed’ to keep the key elements of their oppression intact after liberation?
And yet, these are precisely the ‘demands’ of the Scottish nationalist leaders. They wish to keep the British Queen as their head of state, keep the British pound as their currency (“The pound … is as much Scotland’s pound as the rest of the UK’s,” says Alex Salmond), keep the British army regiments currently based in Scotland (and soaked in the blood of the oppressed of the world) as their army, and keep their membership not only of the imperialist EU but even of the nuclear warmongering Nato alliance. Indeed, Alex Salmond has made it clear that the SNP’s commitment to a ‘nuclear-free’ Scotland is of secondary importance to a retained membership of nuclear-armed Nato!
Meanwhile, the Queen, the army and British financial control are precisely the bastions of British imperialist domination that centuries of Irish struggle have been aimed at removing from Irish soil!
It seems from this that what is on offer is not ‘national liberation’ or ‘independence’, but the division of the working class into hostile camps, alongside the continued unity of the exploiters. Business as usual for British imperialism, in fact.
What difference would it really make to workers in Scotland if Britain’s Trident missiles were shoved over the border to Berwick or Bowness? Would they be less likely to suffer the effects of nuclear fallout from such a move? Would a Nato-aligned Scotland be any less culpable for the use of nuclear weapons by the Nato alliance?
Those who imagine that they are ridding themselves of a large section of exploiters in voting for independence should consider carefully: Alex Salmond will not be the last representative of the British ruling class in ‘independent’ Scotland; only the most visible one. Just as in the case of ‘Westminster rule’, the real decisions will continue to be made by the British billionaire class behind the scenes.
The SNP leadership may seem to represent a less seasoned brand of exploiters, but, make no mistake, they and their replacements will simply be what all other British politicians are and have been for centuries – the public face of a very old, very experienced and very cunning ruling class.
All Alex Salmond’s statements about Nato, the Queen, the pound, the army and so on, are simply his job-interview promises to that class. In effect, he is telling his bosses: “Don’t worry, I understand what is required of me and will do the job you need me to do.” And just as in the case of Cameron, Blair and co, voting out Salmond would simply bring another Salmond clone into his place.
So what would the ‘independence’ that is on offer (as opposed to the imaginary castles-in-the-sky of various ‘left-nationalist’ illusion-mongers) really mean for workers in Scotland?
The reality, far from being the socialist paradise that is painted by the ‘left-wing’ supporters of nationalism in Scotland, will simply be a race to the bottom, as the governments in the two territories compete to ‘attract investment’ and to prove their subservience to monopoly capital by lowering wages, lowering corporation tax, removing workers’ rights, removing environmental protections and so on. The break-up of the union carries the prospect of an even faster erosion of the rights of the working class, helping our rulers to lower workers’ pay and rights more quickly than if they had to continue with a full-frontal attack on the entire British workforce in one go.
After all, breaking up the NHS into regional groups and attacking them with different levels of ferocity has been of great assistance in the work of reprivatising Britain’s health service. Workers in Scotland have been lulled into a false sense of security that if they keep voting nationalist the cuts will never come to them, while the workers in England have been left to stand alone against the worst of the attacks so far.
Of course, experience of such things teaches us that the ruling class is expert at picking us off bit by bit in order to achieve its aims. There is every reason to suppose that NHS privatisation will come to Scotland – and will be even harder to resist by workers in Scotland who have seen them happening elsewhere and will have been told that there is no alternative, and who will receive no back-up from their compatriots over the border in England.
The prospect of a destructive race to the bottom is perfectly illustrated by Alex Salmond’s proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland. Salmond has stated that: “Corporation tax rates remain an important tool for securing competitive advantage and for offsetting competitive advantages enjoyed by other parts of the UK, notably London.”
This is a law of economics under capitalism, and especially in times of crisis, when unemployment is climbing ever higher and workers are desperate for whatever they can get. Whichever side of the separation border has better protections for workers, higher taxes and so on, will be bound to be seen as less ‘attractive’ to ‘investors’ (capitalists), since anything that benefits workers cannot help but impact levels of profitability.
So investment will flock to the more ‘flexible’ side of the border, and the cry will go up on the other side … we, too, need to be more ‘flexible’ and ‘attractive’. Down will come the wages, the corporation taxes and other ‘barriers’ to profit-taking. Back will come the exploiters to reap the rewards … until the workers on the other side of the border can be forced to accept even worse pay and conditions in the interests of ‘job creation’ and ‘competitiveness’.
In effect, the implementation of the border will help to speed up the process of ‘persuading’ British workers to accept the same kind of pay and conditions as are standard in the oppressed countries – and to lessen their collective resistance. Such a future has appeal to the ruling class, but it is hardly the manifesto of a liberation struggle! Meanwhile, the Scottish nationalists are working hard to prove to the capitalists that this is a game they are more than willing to play their part in.
‘Progressive’ nationalism: a mirage
All the ‘progressive’ arguments in favour of Scottish independence ignore these facts, basing themselves in shallow, short-sighted and sentimental arguments that mistake wishes for truths and dreams for reality.
Here are just a few of the more widespread examples of wishful thinking by the independence supporters of Britain’s ‘left’:
1. The Tories will be decimated in Scotland, and this will be good for workers, who will finally get local powers instead of being ruled from Westminster.
This argument replaces the realities of class struggle with the illusions of bourgeois politicking. Anyone who knows anything about capitalism and the bourgeois state can tell you that there is no essential difference between any capitalist party in Britain today.
What good does it do to the workers of Scotland if they simply replace the Conservatives, Labour and LibDems with the SNP? They all serve capitalist imperialism. They are all parties of war and austerity. Recent history is enough to show us that any number of Labour or SNP landslides will still bring war, genocide and looting abroad, and privatisation, crisis and austerity at home, because these are built into the system that all the British bourgeois parties serve.
We are told that people in Scotland didn’t vote for the Tories and it’s a travesty of democracy that they should have to be ruled by them.
But workers didn’t vote overwhelmingly for the Tories in plenty of other parts of Britain. Most of the poorest workers didn’t vote at all. The first-past-the-post system and the constant changing of electoral boundaries (gerrymandering) mean that by upping their vote from 32.4 to 36.1 percent of votes cast (ie, a less than 4 percent rise), the Tories in 2010 were able to increase their number of seats in parliament from 210 to 307 (a 46 percent rise). Meanwhile, the LibDems, on whom so many well-meaning liberals placed their hopes in 2010, raised their votes from 22 to 23 percent but actually lost five seats.
Likewise, we are told that most Scottish people don’t support the policies being implemented by the Tory-led coalition, and this proves they are being ‘undemocratically’ and unfairly treated.
Once again, though, this actually applies to workers all over Britain, who overwhelmingly reject the wars and austerity of both the current ConDem and the previous Labour government. Should we therefore be arguing for the republic of Yorkshire or the republic of Merseyside? These regions, too, have large populations of disenfranchised workers, who never voted Tory, feel disconnected from London and have seen their industry and services decimated.
Even the hatred for ‘London’ is misplaced and confused. London may be where the City bankers are based, along with the Westminster quislings, but it is also home to some of Britain’s poorest people. And Londoners don’t generally vote Tory or UKIP either. Should they be given their own republic to free them from this democratic deficit?
Neither the separation of Scotland from Britain, nor a change in the voting system will fix these problems for workers. The capitalist parties will do what the capitalist ruling class requires them to do, no matter how people vote or how many of them take to the street to express their ‘peaceful opposition’.
If the Iraq war taught us nothing else, it surely taught us that. A landslide Labour electoral victory and two million marchers on the streets had absolutely no impact on the dominant section of the British imperialist ruling class’s will or ability to wage a genocidal war that the people of Britain – and even a section of the bourgeoisie – were absolutely opposed to. That is the truth about our much-vaunted ‘democratic’ system.
Progressive people should be using those facts to expose the institution of British bourgeois democracy entirely and to build a movement for its revolutionary overthrow, not as a justification for dividing the working class and propagating the (totally false) illusion of a ‘fairer deal’ for just a few of them. The truth is that the struggle for a better deal for workers will actually be much harder to wage in a smaller country with an even further weakened working-class movement, where workers have been turned away from class struggle and persuaded to pin their hopes on nationalist illusions.
Meanwhile, as far as local powers go, this is also a demand of workers everywhere, and fully supported by communists. We want ‘devo-max’ for every part of Britain, not just for Scotland or Wales. Indeed, local councils with elected representatives, which are actually empowered with tax-raising and decision-making powers, are one of the many concessions granted to workers – along with council housing, a health service, free education etc – that have been under attack in the years since the overproduction crisis took hold in the late 1970s.
The lesson of this is that we cannot trust the capitalist system to be run in the interest of workers. Everything we win in the course of class struggle can be taken away again if we let down our guard. The only way to keep hold of the gains we make is to get rid of the capitalist system and establish socialism. A lack of local powers is not an argument for nationalism; it is an argument for socialism.
2. The SNP is anti-war and will take Scotland out of Nato. No more imperialist wars for Scottish workers to fight in.
Replacing the Tories with the SNP will not change the requirements of the imperialist ruling class by one iota, and the SNP has shown that it understands this and is ready to serve that class just as faithfully as Labour, the Tories or the LibDems.
That is why, the closer it gets to the possibility of an ‘independent’ Scotland, the more of the SNP’s progressive-seeming policies (which were only ever there as window-dressing to attract voters) are being ditched. The promise to keep Scotland in Nato, along with reassurances about the importance of ‘Scotland’s’ British army regiments, are a sure sign that the warmongering requirements of the ruling class remain a key factor in who can and cannot get elected – and what they will have the power to do (or not) – north of the border should ‘independence’ come to pass.
Those who spread the illusion that Scottish nationalism is somehow ‘anti-imperialist’, and that an independent Scotland will see the Scottish ruling class opting out of imperialist wars altogether, are lying to themselves and to the workers. There might be disagreement between members of the ruling class over this or that war, but the overall policy of warmongering is not going to change, since that is at the root of the wealth of the British ruling class – both north and south of the border.
The French ruling class did not take troops into Iraq. Does that mean they stopped being imperialists and warmongers? One has only to look at the crimes committed by French imperialist troops in recent times in Libya, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and more by the ‘socialist’ government of Hollande to see that disagreement over one particular war doesn’t mean an end to imperialist war in general.
3. The SNP has a more progressive manifesto for education and health care in Scotland. Independence will allow them to carry these out.
It is true that the SNP, like Plaid Cymru and even the LibDems (until they were so deservedly exposed by joining the coalition government in 2010) have or had stated policies that were considerably to the left of the last Labour government on most social issues – hence their relative rise in popularity at a time when the working classes have been so thoroughly disillusioned with Labour and demoralised by the failure of the trade-union and social-democratic movements to represent them or struggle for their rights.
Both the Welsh and the Scottish national assemblies have been allowed some power to reject privatisation and cuts in these vital services. What is not clear is that this is a situation that would continue after ‘independence’.
On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that allowing the nationalists some financial scope to appear progressive on these fronts has objectively paid dividends for the ruling class. It has broken the unity of the fight to save services (since Welsh and Scottish voters think they are not affected) and given a massive boost to nationalist sentiments (thus keeping workers away from revolutionary ideology at a time of crisis, just when they need it most).
But the post-independence race to the bottom would be very likely to see these small gains eradicated. And, indeed, such petty gains are small beer indeed compared to the goal of a socialist Britain. Are we really prepared to sell ourselves and settle for so very little?
Not jobs, pensions, housing, health care and education with security, equality, freedom, dignity and the end of class exploitation and rule, but a slightly-less-buggered-up health service and slightly-less-shitty education policies? Frankly, we deserve a little better than to sell our birthright for such a mess of pottage!
4. British imperialism will be weakened by the departure of Scotland from the UK, and that will be good for workers at home and abroad.
There is no evidence that this is anything more than wishful thinking on the part of those who assert it. As indicated above, the Scottish nationalists, as represented currently by the SNP, have expressed their intention of setting up a ‘state’ that keeps all the important pillars of British rule intact – the army, the monetary union, membership of the EU and Nato, the Queen (spokesperson and figurehead of a united British ruling class).
Moreover, BBC propaganda has been extremely sympathetic to Scottish nationalism. It long ago changed the status of Wales and Scotland from ‘regions’ to ‘nations’ in its coverage, and it has given an open platform to nationalists from every walk of life to make their case most forcefully and without interruption. Given how infamous the BBC is for vilifying and misrepresenting every real opponent of British imperial interests – from Palestinian and Irish freedom fighters to the leaders of socialist and anti-imperialist states like Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe – this is strange indeed.
Taking the BBC as a barometer of class sentiment, this readiness to disseminate nationalist ideology is hardly the behaviour of a class that feels its interests to be threatened. On the contrary, the coverage has all the elements of a massive sideshow – a huge and fraudulent sleight of hand that is being perpetrated on the workers of Britain, with the same mock debates, fake ‘choices’ and personality politics that characterise all our electoral charades.
5. To campaign for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum is to side with the BNP, the unionists and the Orange Order, and therefore it must be against the interests of the working class.
This argument is as unscientific as all the rest, and has its roots in an emotive, tribal approach to class politics. While such instincts often serve progressive workers very well, they are not infallible and are all-too open to manipulation when not firmly rooted in a scientific analysis – just as a hatred of racism can turn into a hatred of all white people and a belief in black nationalism if the roots of racism are not properly understood.
Identifying ‘unionists’ as the enemy based on an allegiance to and sympathy with Irish republicans means ignoring the very real differences in the class positions of unionists in Glasgow and unionists in Belfast. The unionists in Belfast are a settler-colonial population who were for centuries granted significant material privileges in return for acting as local tools of the British imperialist ruling class – in much the same way as Israeli workers are rewarded for keeping the Palestinian people down.
Just as they did for the Israelis or South African whites, the material conditions of the Irish unionists produced a culture of racist supremacy and violence, which, alongside the well-deserved hatred of the native-Irish masses, pushed them to identify themselves with their own exploiters to such a degree that nothing short of destroying the sectarian northern-Irish statelet could open their eyes to their idiocy – by first removing the material basis for their supremacist ideology.
The tribal aspect of this ‘protestant-catholic’ or ‘unionist-republican’ rivalry has been transplanted wholesale to cities in Britain that have a sizeable Irish-immigrant population, and has been a very useful tool for the British ruling class in keeping workers divided. Glasgow, in particular has suffered from this, and seen it entrenched via the football terraces.
But, while the Irish have suffered the fate of every immigrant population into Britain in their time as cheap labour and easy scapegoats, the differentiation between these groups of workers, however real in the past, has its basis today more in perceived than in real differences, as the Irish have been assimilated and fresh waves of immigrants have arrived in Britain’s cities. Today, newly-arrived workers from eastern Europe or Africa are far more obvious scapegoats for working-class ire in Scotland as elsewhere, but the tribal identities of protestant vs catholic are kept alive in Glasgow in particular via the football rivalry of Rangers vs Celtic, just as the England vs Scotland divide is kept alive in the field of international football.
Meanwhile, our party has to take a position based on a clear understanding of the question, and not out of a fear regarding whom we might seem to be associated with.
There is emotive rubbish being talked by charlatans on both sides of the referendum campaign in Scotland, and working-class people are taking up the cudgels on both sides too – for a whole variety of real or perceived reasons. Our job as communists is to try to provide some clarity and some rational, class basis for taking a position. And our position must always be based on what is going to be in the long-term interests of the revolutionary movement.
Because UKIP are opposed to Nato’s war in the Ukraine, should we suddenly abandon a correct analysis and join the side of Nato? Of course not. We must demonstrate clearly the difference between taking up a position based on Little-England racism and one that is based in proletarian internationalism – and then do everything in our power to show workers why it is in their interests to accept our analysis and join the struggle for revolution.
The unionists want British workers to identify with the class interests and the national symbols of our oppressors. They want to divert the anger of workers down a blind alley and dissipate their energies into pointless activity. We communists, on the other hand, want to show workers that their interests lie in the maximum unity of all British workers against all British oppressors. We want them to identify their interests with the oppressed everywhere, to discard the blood-stained Cross of St Andrew along with the blood-stained Union Jack (the Butcher’s Apron, as the Irish so aptly refer to it), and to build a movement for overthrowing imperialism and building socialism.
But we will not do that without understanding clearly who are our friends and who are our enemies. The fact that good, well-meaning and generally progressive people have been misled must not prevent us from “seeking truth from facts”, as Mao so profoundly expressed it.
Nationalism vs communism
The fact that many progressive Scots wish to see British imperialism weakened, and hope that by voting for independence they will achieve this aim, does not prove that that is what will actually happen.
What we are witnessing in Scotland today has its echoes all over Britain. The outward appearance may be more progressive, since many left-wing workers support the call for independence, but it is essentially a mirror of the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment among impoverished and misguided English workers, arising from the same demoralisation and the same frustrations.
All over Britain, revisionism and the disappearance of a real, class-conscious communist movement left the most militant workers bereft of leadership and guidance. The Labour party, in which they had been encouraged to put their hopes, has proved itself irrevocably to be a tool of imperialism. It is clearly not in the interests of workers to continue voting for it or supporting it.
So as war and crisis bite ever deeper, workers have been asking themselves what the solution is. And into the gap left by the communists has crept nationalism. In England, this takes the form of anti-immigrant sentiment. That immigration is a ‘problem’ is a ‘truth’ so universally acknowledged that it is very hard to persuade workers that they have been duped on this issue.
In Scotland and Wales, a more progressive-seeming brand of nationalism has been offered up as the ‘answer’ to the problems of capitalism. But its effect is the same – it gives workers a scapegoat for the ills of capitalist society. “Don’t blame capitalism, blame the immigrants!” say the BNP and EDL to angry and disillusioned workers in England. And the media agrees. “Don’t blame capitalism, blame the English!” say the SNP and Plaid Cymru to the angry and disillusioned workers in Scotland and Wales. And the media agrees.
That people are in the mood to fall for this misdirection is a sign that they understand that something is wrong and that something must be done. They have understood that this society is not serving them, and given up hopes of a worker-friendly Labour government. So far, so good. But without a clear analysis and leadership, it can be very hard to understand where all the various ‘solutions’ on offer will really lead.
Back when Britain had a strong communist movement, nationalism among class-conscious workers was almost non-existent. This explains why there is such a generational divide amongst working-class voters in Scotland today – older people are far, far less likely to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum, because they belong to a generation amongst whom it was generally understood that class allegiances were paramount.
No argument has yet been put forward to convince us that Scotland’s rulers will cease to be imperialists after a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. Therefore all that nationalism does in such a context is to teach workers in Scotland to identify their interests with those of imperialism. This is an outcome devoutly to be unwished!
As communists, our job is to propagate a scientific understanding in order to help workers discard harmful popular prejudices. If we don’t do that, then there’s really not much point to our existence, since it is only through discarding the prejudices that keep us shackled to imperialist ideas that we will be able to build a movement capable of smashing imperialism and building socialism.
When we in the CPGB-ML argue against a ‘Yes’ vote at the coming referendum, we do so not because we wish to endorse the rule of the Westminster spivs or because we consider ‘rule from London’ a good thing, but because we wish workers to understand that it is not ‘the English’ who are their enemies, but the British ruling class. And because we wish to create a movement that is as strong and unified as possible that will have a fighting chance of overthrowing this wily class of bloodthirsty exploiters.
Say no to bourgeois nationalism, which ties workers to imperialism and turns us into tools of our own oppression. Say yes to working-class unity, yes to revolution, and yes to a socialist future for all British workers!
The following short piece was written by a CPGB-ML member in reply to a Facebook discussion on the usefulness of participating in bourgeois elections.
We should understand that democracy is not an abstract concept, but a class one. Democracy means imposing the will of one section of the population on another. In a class society, democracy is always democracy for the ruling class and dictatorship over the oppressed.
What Comrade N is really objecting to is bourgeois or capitalist democracy, which is democracy for the capitalists and a dictatorship over everyone else. That is why Marx called bourgeois democracy the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, in which workers are allowed to choose once every four or five years which representative of the ruling class should oppress them in parliament.
Our goal as socialists is to smash capitalism – the rule of the billionaires who control our industry, our media, our elections and our governments – and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is, democracy for the majority (for the first time ever in this country!), but a dictatorship over and strict repression of the exploiters and their hangers-on who want to get back their privilege and power.
The proletarian democracy ushered in under socialism will be the widest yet, with the broadest-ever real (as opposed to pretend) participation. But any democracy involves repression and coercion of those who do not agree to the decisions taken under its rule. The exploiting classes consider proletarian democracy to be the most dictatorial state possible, because they are the ones being repressed. And, through their control of the media and political institutions, they ask us to identify with their feelings on the subject.
Comrade N is absolutely right – we need to stop identifying with our oppressors and look with fresh eyes at what is really going on. This system does not serve us and cannot be made to serve us.
When real socialists and communists stand for parliament or other elections, they do so not to try to make the system work for ordinary people, but to expose it in their eyes, and therefore develop a revolutionary consciousness among those who still harbour illusions that a change of personnel can bring about a change in the nature of the system.
Sadly, I’m not aware of any real socialists or communists standing for election this time around. So all we can do is get on with building our movement to the point that it has the resources to put such candidates forward in a meaningful way.
All comrades, family and friends are welcome. You are also invited to join us from 5.00pm for a wake at Saklatvala Hall in Southall, where there will be food, drink, photos on display and a memorial book for anyone who wishes to write in.
The opening paragraph of Stop the War’s latest email to members in Bristol ploughs a familiar furrow:
Yesterday’s vote in parliament is welcome. MPs reflected the majority view in the country and rejected the government’s plans to join an attack on Syria. It represented the victory of mass anti-war opinion over the interests of the UK elite that has been enthusiastically participating in US-led wars over the last decade and more.
There can be no doubt that the hundreds of demonstrations, protests, rallies and pickets of the last twelve years have been central to bringing the war makers low and making it impossible for Cameron to join in another catastrophic attack.
But we need to resist such mutual congratulation over the alleged effectiveness of ten years of rudderless protest and remind ourselves of a few salient facts.
1. The vote at Westminster was indeed a breathtaking upset for British imperialism, reflecting as it did the panic and disarray of our masters faced with a choice between drinking poison (plunging into another Iraq or Afghanistan) or dying of thirst (seeing US hegemony crumble).
2. Open war against Syria is most likely still on the agenda anyway. Labour complains that war against Syria is being prepared “in a rush”, just as it used to complain that the cuts were happening “too fast”. Slacken the timetable a little and the objections melt away.
Labour complains only that the UN inspectors need more time, with the unstated corollary that an adverse report would legitimise missile strikes. All Miliband’s posturing amounts to is the demand for a bigger fig leaf to cover this criminal enterprise.
3. Under imperialism, though any given war may not itself be inevitable, war in general most certainly is, and the more urgently so as the capitalist crisis deepens.
Workers don’t need to be hearing right now that parliamentary democracy has proved itself a reliable bulwark against militarism. Least of all do they need to be hearing that Labour (or Labour ‘lefts’, or an anti-war movement dominated by social democracy) is going to deliver “peace in our time”.
4. We congratulate the government and people of Syria whose steadfast resistance to imperialist subversion has weakened and divided their enemies.
Saturday 3 March saw the first AGM of the Stop the War Coalition (StW) since its leaders had rescinded the affiliation of the CPGB-ML (let’s just call it what it was, an expulsion) by email on 23 September 2011 with the following message:
“I regret to inform you that Stop the War Coalition’s officers group today decided to reject the affiliation of the CPGB-ML. We have therefore refunded your recent card payment for the affiliation fee. This decision has been taken due to the fact that the CPGB-ML has been publicly attacking Stop the War Coalition in its publications. Kind Regards, Stop the War.”
Our party has been affiliated to StW ever since we formed seven years ago, so the rejection of our annual affiliation payment was a particularly shabby and undemocratic way of excluding us. But given that the leadership of StW is an unprincipled lash-up of social democrats, Trotskyists and revisionists, such underhand methods are par for the course.
Of course, we replied to this email, stating that there were no grounds for expulsion and that the self-appointed ‘officers group’ had no power to expel us either. Our reply was ignored.
The ‘attacks’ that the leadership claims were made by us on StW were real enough, but they were political criticisms of the leadership of StW, and at no time has anyone pointed out to us where it is written in Stop the War’s aims and objectives that such criticism is not allowed. As to the substance of the criticism, we did no more than our duty to the movement in pointing out that StW leaders had supported Nato’s propaganda war against the Libyan people and their government, and thus aided a criminal and unprovoked assault against a sovereign nation.
Aiding and abetting the destruction of Libya
At a time when the imperialist powers were finalising their plans for the barbarous attack on Libya, and throwing every possible support to their unpopular puppets in the ‘Transitional National Council’; at a time when the imperialist media was spewing forth wall-to-wall saturation propaganda aimed at demonising the Libyan government and preparing the populations of Britain, France and the US for another ‘righteous’, ‘humanitarian’ war, the leadership of StW sprang into action and called a demonstration in London.
Quite right, one might think. Just the kind of thing a good anti-war movement should be doing. Except that StW convened its demonstration not outside Parliament, Downing Street or some other office of the warmongers, but outside the Libyan embassy, against the Libyan government and in support of imperialism’s TNC stooges in Benghazi.
The fact that StW’s leaders are claiming in retrospect to have been ‘even-handed’ and only interested in convincing ‘our government’ not to bomb Libya is made a mockery of by that action. At the very moment that imperialism was trying to justify a war of brigandage, the leadership of StW helped things along by presenting the British people with an ‘across the board’ condemnation of the intended victim!
Whether or not all those who made this decision and carried it out had the intention of serving the imperialist cause is immaterial. In politics, where the lives of hundreds of thousands of people can hang in the balance, only the result of an action is relevant – and the result of the StW demonstration (the only demonstration that the coalition called in regard to Libya, even after the bombs were raining down on the Libyan people) was to support imperialism’s stated reasons for its dirty war and thus undermine opposition to the war among the British people. And that, whether intentional or not, makes the leaders of the coalition guilty of pro-imperialism.
This political characterisation of StW’s actions is an accurate one, and it must be made and understood if such a deadly mistake is to be corrected rather than repeated.
However belatedly, the mistake could still be corrected if StW was to clearly denounce not only the Nato imperialist puppet-masters, who have planned and directed the whole criminal destruction of Libya, but also their mercenary gangster puppets, who are currently rampaging through the country, lynching and ethnically cleansing black people in an orgy of racist violence, as well as targeting all those known to be loyal to the old government.
It might be too late to mobilise the British people to stop Britain’s forces taking part in the rape of Libya, but it is not too late to pull Britain out of the unholy alliance propping up the unpopular TNC. Nor is it too late to give support to the real representatives of the Libyan people – the Green fighters who are currently regrouping to defend their countrymen and resist the fascistic forces unleashed by Nato.
Aiding and abetting the war against Syria
Meanwhile, equally crucially, the anti-war movement must not allow the same mistake to be made in relation to imperialism’s next intended victim – Syria.
And yet, despite all the costly lessons that Libya could and should have taught StW’s leaders, we are once again seeing that, just as the British people are being bombarded with wall-to-wall propaganda lies that are aimed at demonising the Syrian government and justifying a full-scale war against the country, StW leaders are lining up … to denounce the Syrian government!
At last weekend’s annual conference, despite paying lip-service to the principle that the Syrian people should be free to determine their own future without outside interference, the self-styled ‘officers group’ members took it in turns to emphasise how much they personally deplored the ‘brutality’ of the ‘dictator’ Assad, who was ‘murdering his own people’ etc.
It’s a nasty trick: on the one hand pretend to care about the fate of Syrian people, while on the other you make sure that imperialism’s lies are reinforced, thus giving a helping hand to the imperialist cause of destroying Syria as an independent nation.
The duplicity is quite subtle too. How many people in the hall spotted the incongruity between the position that ‘Syrians should be free to determine their own future’ and ‘We cannot possibly give any support to Assad’? For the great unspoken truth of the day was that the majority of Syrian people are firmly behind their government (a broad, secular, anti-imperialist, national-unity coalition, by the way, not a ‘family dictatorship’ or an ‘Alawite dynasty’).
They wish their leaders to continue with its policies of independent economic and political development; with its policy of support for Palestinian self-determination and opposition to Israeli war crimes and occupation. Indeed, many of the valid criticisms that Syrians have of their government concern recent compromises that have been made with western finance capital at the expense of ordinary people. What the vast majority of Syrians don’t want is a West-imposed coalition of free-market flunkies and religious fundamentalists.
So if Syrians support the Assad government, should we not support their right to support that government? And should we not support the Syrian government’s right to defend itself against attack by imperialist-created militias? Under the pretext of ‘allowing Syrians to chose’, StW’s leaders are in fact telling all those on the left who might think of publicly backing the Syrian government that they must keep their support to themselves.
And when ‘leftists’ like John Rees, who has used his Islam Channel TV show to give airtime to known MI5 agents such as the spokesman from the ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ in order that they can denounce the ‘human rights abuses’ of the Damascus government, are agreeing with Cameron and Hague that the Syrian government is an evil dictatorship hated by ordinary Syrians, who is to blame the majority of British people if they are left with the impression that there is no fundamental reason to object to Nato’s stated aim of ‘regime change’ in Syria?
No right of reply in StW’s ‘democratic’ ‘broad front’
With such critical political questions in need of serious consideration and debate, it was no wonder that the bureaucrats in charge of StW’s annual conference had come up with two new ways to keep dissent at bay. First, only those sent as official delegates from affiliated organisations or local branches were allowed to speak, while other StW members attending had only observer status. Straight away, this put our comrades at a disadvantage, since, of course, the CPGB-ML was not allowed to send any delegates or propose any motions.
Despite this, at the very start of the day’s business, comrades from the CPGB-ML raised a point of order and objected to the party’s unconstitutional expulsion from the coalition, arguing that we should have the right to hear any charges against us and put our case to the meeting before such an expulsion could be accepted as valid. In the chair, however, that oh-so-mild-mannered and liberal darling of ‘left’ Labour Jeremy Corbyn was having none of it.
He refused our comrades the right to be heard, or even to question this decision, and so began the first shouting match of the day. Pretty? No, but with little other choice open to us than that of meekly accepting the chair’s ruling, anyone who cares to think about it from our standpoint (having been both illegally expelled and denied the right to question that expulsion) might accept that they may well have done something similar.
Having seen to it that most of the meeting had no idea what the fuss was about, the chair took a vote of the assembled delegates, who came down overwhelmingly in favour of giving us no chance to question our expulsion, or, equally importantly, to question the reasons for that expulsion. We were, however, given an assurance that we would be able to put our case when the subject was raised under proposition 16 on the agenda. This motion had been put forward by a hostile organisation, the CPGB Weekly Worker, but it did call for the reinstatement of our affiliation, so we accepted the assurance and retired from the fray.
The second, procedural manoeuvre was then sprung on the conference as a fait accompli, presented by Corbyn as a way to “get through the agenda”: only one person would be allowed to speak for or against each motion (and this despite the fact that delegates had been encouraged to put their names down on a list if there was a motion they wanted to speak to).
In practice, what this meant was that a whole lot of uncontroversial and very similar motions went through on the nod, with each speaker in favour making the same points and no-one speaking against them, while those motions that were controversial were rushed through with no debate allowed: the mover got their allocated four minutes, the leadership opposed and a vote was taken, with no further discussion and not even a right of reply against any slanderous or spurious argument the leadership might have chosen to put forward.
Seeing where this was leading, one comrade, during the break, sought a guarantee from the chair that a. proposition 16 would definitely be taken and not ‘accidentally’ fall off the agenda, and that b. our comrades would be guaranteed the right to put their own case for four minutes, rather than having to rely on the mover of the motion. The guarantee on the first point was given but only a commitment to “bear that in mind” was given on the second point.
Given the open manoeuvring to make sure that the reasons for our expulsion were not discussed, it was clear that there was no hope of a ‘peaceful’ settlement, despite the fact that another comrade had approached the Arrangements Committee and been promised that her name would be at the top of the list for speaking to proposition 16.
Early in the afternoon, during a ‘general discussion’ on organisation, one of our comrades did manage to force her way onto the list of speakers, and used her three minutes at the microphone to remind delegates of the need to work actively inside the trade unions in order to mobilise workers in relevant industries to organise collective action that could stop the imperialist war machine.
Every one of us has a duty to do what we can to prevent our country taking part in illegal wars of aggression, said our comrade. Individually we might be weak, but together we do have the power to change things. If British workers refused en masse to produce weapons, to serve in the forces, to transport the materials or to write or broadcast the propaganda needed to wage these wars, then the British ruling class would be forced to pull out of them, she reminded the delegates – and this speech was received with great applause.
The comrade also reminded those present that this most effective type of anti-war action (as opposed to the ‘keeping people busy’ activity such as petitions and lobbies of MPs favoured by StW’s leaders) was already official coalition policy, since CPGB-ML motions on active non-cooperation had been overwhelmingly adopted by conference at the last two annual conferences, but had never yet been implemented. [link here]
Finally, right at the end of the day, and with the assembly much depleted, came proposition 16. The CPGB Weekly Worker mover naturally focused on explaining why she thought her party’s front organisation Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) should be allowed to affiliate. She also spent considerable time pointing out her organisation’s disagreements with ours, which was just as well, since we would have hated anyone to think that we held many of the Trotskyist positions she put forward.
Once her four minutes were up, it was over to Lindsey German to oppose the motion. In her contribution she made reference to the last email that she had sent us following our positive reply to a letter the StW office sent us asking us to affiliate. Judging by her response, that affiliation reminder email was sent in error. The email we received from her on 27 February, just five days before the AGM, read as follows:
“Thank you for your request for affiliation. As you are aware, the officers felt that your reported recent characterisation of some of them, including our chair Jeremy Corbyn, as ‘pro-imperialists’ or ‘traitors’ was unacceptable from an affiliated organisation. We understand that sometimes debate on issues becomes heated, but feel that we could only consider affiliating you if there were assurances that you would not make such remarks in the future. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss this further. Best wishes, Lindsey German.”
From the podium, German again insisted that the problem was one of ‘unacceptable language’. But the idea that dear St Jeremy is so thin skinned that he needs cushioning from our upsetting accusations is ludicrous in the extreme. This is a man who tells us that he is a socialist, but who has no qualms about getting his pay cheque from serving a party that is drenched in the blood of innocents.
The Labour party that Corbyn is so loyal to has never yet refused to give full support to one of British imperialism’s wars, whether in or out of government. Indeed, the last Labour government was exceptionally active in galvanising support for Nato’s aggressive wars of destruction against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. To remain loyal to such a party is hardly a vocation for the thin-skinned.
Ms German’s performance over, Saint Jeremy moved to the vote, whereupon our comrades once more objected in a very noisy and animated fashion, and it was during this justified uproar that the honourable StW chairman proposed and took a vote denying us the right to speak in our own defence. And he was shamefully supported in this action by George Galloway, who had apparently forgotten that even the Labour party gave him a hearing before kicking him out!
Thus it was that the ‘democrats’ who make up the leadership of StW, who cannot refrain from condemning real anti-imperialist fighters like Colonel Gaddafi and President Assad at any and every opportunity on the grounds that these ‘dictators’ are alleged not to let their people have any say in their country’s affairs, showed that they are not averse to practicing a bit of dictatorship themselves when it serves their agenda.
Meanwhile, whatever the bureaucratic manoeuvrings of Corbyn and co, the struggle against imperialism goes on. While the Trotskyists, revisionists and social democrats that pass as the great and the good of StW drag the coalition further into the gutter, shedding ever-more members as they go, our party will continue to act as a pole of attraction for all those who are serious about destroying British monopoly capitalism’s choke-hold on workers all over the globe, and we will continue to hold out the hand of internationalist solidarity to all those in struggle against British imperialism.
The video below is taken from a meeting of anti-war activists in Birmingham and shows Comrade Harpal Brar talking about the role of the Labour party in stifling the anti-war movement’s ability to actually stop war.
By attempting to unconstitutionally rescind CPGB-ML’s affiliation to the Stop the War coalition, StW ‘leaders’ are behaving in a criminally sectarian and cowardly manner.
Cowardly, because the Labour party, Counterfire and CPB leaders who dominate our coalition’s executive seek, by unconstitutionally expelling the CPGB-ML, to silence criticism and avoid having their failed policies on Libya in particular, and lack of consistent anti-imperialism more generally, scrutinised and overturned.
They seek to avoid answering to the coalition’s membership and having the truth behind these failures exposed: that their cosy relations with ‘left Labour’ (German-Benn, Murray-Corbyn, etc) and their personal political stock-in-trade are more dear to them than the stated aims of the StW coalition they purport to uphold.
That is why, at the crucial moment, rather than leading British workers to oppose Nato’s genocide in Libya, their personally cherished ideas and relations led StW to parrot the predatory propaganda of British imperialism, which was hell-bent on waging war upon Libya and the devastating this beautiful, historic, cultured and formerly most prosperous sovereign African nation – all in pursuit of Nato’s strategy of capital aggrandisement, regional and world domination.
All of which begs the question: can an anti-war movement be effectively led by members and supporters of a party that condones and conducts those wars?
Libya – a betrayal
Throughout the Libyan crisis, the conduct of the Stop the War Coalition was shameful, bringing us nothing but ignominy in the eyes of the world’s oppressed and struggling masses.
Prior to Nato’s bombardment, when US/British/French intervention was a little less blatant (very much in the vein of its current plot against Syria), conducted via MI6, CIA and other covert operatives, and through the funding of motley feudal and criminal elements, StW organised a demonstration. But this ‘anti-war’ demonstration was not against imperialism and its mercenaries in Benghazi, but against the Gaddafi government!
Owen Jones wrote on the StW website: “Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive. In both his anti-western and pro-western incarnations, his record is that of a brutal and unquestionably slightly unhinged dictator. I will not caricature supporters of the bombing campaign as frothing-at-the-mouth neocons.”
Andrew Murray, wrote in the Morning Star, while Nato’s blitzkrieg was underway, that “it is wrong to assert that the rebellion based in Benghazi was some sort of pro-imperialist plot from the outset”.
Is that so?
CPGB-ML, a member of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception, did not fall for this pro-imperialist whitewash, and on 11 March 2011 we issued a leaflet calling for the defence of Libya and its government. This was a principled and coherent anti-imperialist stance, which has stood the test of time. We are proud to have promoted it, among British workers and activists – including those of the StW coalition – as part of our activity to oppose illegal and genocidal Nato wars, in Libya and elsewhere.
Further, in August 2011, we issued a leaflet calling on workers to “support the resistance” and “denounce StW treachery”.
It contained the following – remarkably restrained – criticism of StW’s position:
“Some people and organisations, such as Stop the War, have been bamboozled by the non-stop and ubiquitous Goebbelsian propaganda that has spewed forth from the imperialist media ever since Gaddafi’s regime was put in place into believing that he is some kind of a monster who must be overthrown at all costs. In view of his record in defending the interests of the Libyan people, such an approach is absurd.
“Stop the War, dominated as it is by organisations that devote themselves to spreading illusions in social democracy (ie, futile hopes that solutions for the working class and oppressed people are to be found within capitalism), still finds itself cheerleading for Gaddafi’s opponents: their only reason for opposing imperialist military intervention is that it may be harmful to the cause of imperialism’s local agents in Libya!
“Down with social-democratic treachery; down with imperialism!”
John Rees and the ‘Don’t Mention the War’ campaign
With the lack of political will to defend Libya from imperialist attack, there was a corresponding dearth of activity on the ground. What happened to ‘our’ alleged ability to mobilise 2-million-strong marches, like the one held in February 2003 before the invasion of Iraq, which is so often cited and trumpeted? This kind of capitulation before the Nato juggernaut has made us an increasing irrelevance to British workers.
As tomahawk cruise missiles, bunker busters, white phosphorous and depleted uranium rained down on Libya, pulverising Tripoli and Sirte, targeting all progressive Libyans, and in particular Col Muammar Gaddafi – whose infant grandchildren were among the early victims of Nato’s dark forces – John Rees apparently felt no shame, declaring (in a similar vein to Liam Fox and William Hague) on a YouTube interview that “nobody is going to shed a tear for the fall of this brutal dictator [Gaddafi]”.
He further advised the quisling ‘Transitional National Council’ (in reality a front for Trans-National Corporations) to gain credibility by “telling the major powers where to get off” – ie, to adopt his own tactic of dressing up an imperialist campaign in ‘anti-imperialist’ colours. No doubt this would have been convenient for Rees, but the heartless clerics had another agenda.
During the bombing campaign, StW leadership belatedly declared its half-hearted opposition to the imperialist bombing campaign – not because they disagreed with Nato’s aims, but because it believed their methods were not effective enough. Bombing, they said, “would merely serve to bolster Gaddafi’s position, and thus undermine the cause of the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime” – which principle aim of imperialism in Libya, ‘Stop the War’ leaders continued to cherish and support.
We published a statement on 8 September, pointing out that with ‘anti-war friends’ like these, the Libyan people might well ask, ‘Who needs enemies?’
StW leaders – as the 2012 national conference agenda attests – barely make reference to their betrayal of Libya, as despite some mild queasiness and reservations they remain broadly in support of Gaddafi’s lynching.
Nor is the struggle in Libya – like the struggle in Iraq – over. Resistance is regrouping, even after the wholesale slaughter of the flower of Libya’s anti-imperialist leadership. The Green flag has been raised in Bani Walid, Tripoli, Sirte and elsewhere – long after Hilary Clinton stopped cackling with glee over the gruesome imagery of Gaddafi’s murder.
For while the feudal thugs of Nato’s TNC run amok in Libya, committing mass violations of its citizens’ rights, including (among other things) kidnapping, raping and murdering Libyan women, and lynching anyone with black skin, while helping Nato bandits to help themselves to Libya’s oil and financial wealth, there can be no peace.
Let us all reflect – if there was previously any room for doubt – that these are not the actions of a popular-democratic revolution, but the pogroms of a decaying, imperialist-backed feudal movement attempting to divide and destroy the unity and progressive sentiment built over 40 years among the formerly free Libyan people. Their gains can only be temporary; their ultimate defeat is certain.
Genocide and ethnic cleansing have been perpetrated, a nation stolen, its resources subsumed into the coffers of imperialist finance capital. The issue for us to address is that all the criticism from our ‘anti-war’ group was directed, not against Obama, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Balls, or the hosts of retainers without whom the war could not have been waged, but against its victims.
A ‘broad’ movement – the cry was ‘Unity’!
StW leaders frequently call for unity. It is interesting to compare their words with their deeds. Their response to CPGB-ML criticism of their anti-Libya propaganda was not reason or even attempted justification, but sectarian bureaucracy.
On 23 September, the CPGB-ML received an email from the Stop the War Coalition informing us of a decision by the “officers group” to “reject the affiliation” of our party. We were told that this was on the basis that the CPGB-ML had been “publicly attacking Stop the War Coalition” in its publications.
Lindsey German sent a follow-up email clarifying that “the officers” felt that our “reported recent characterisation of some of them, including our chair Jeremy Corbyn, as ‘pro imperialists’ or ‘traitors’ was unacceptable from an affiliated organisation. We understand that sometimes debate on issues becomes heated, but feel that we could only consider affiliating you if there were assurances that you would not make such remarks in the future.”
But when did StW declare its ‘officers group’ to be above criticism – on pain of expulsion? In what statute or officers group meeting minute is this ruling secreted away? We are certainly not aware of it. And how is the policy of a broad coalition to be corrected, if it errs, without criticism?
“I personally support the call for victory to the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan – but I also know that the strength of our campaign comes from its breadth … And if this slogan puts off our affiliates – like the Quakers – then I am against it, and oppose the resolution.” (From memory)
Here is a fine thing. Counterfire leader John Rees opposing his own fervently held beliefs to hold a broad coalition together – for how can we have an anti-war movement without Quakers? (Incidentally, no Quaker we have ever spoken to – and we have spoken to a surprising number, although admittedly not at StW meetings – disagrees with the idea that an oppressed nation or people has the right to defend itself.)
Consistent anti-imperialism is just too far ahead of the curve, you see. Obviously, Rees is well up for the fight against British imperialism, but you know, these Quakers just aren’t gonna go for it, so – regrettably – the deal’s off. His speech, delivered to a carefully managed but highly spirited conference, was just enough to (narrowly) defeat the motion.
The choice: oppose Nato or compromise with imperialism
The real choice, of course, is not ‘Quakers or communists’, but whether the aim of StW can be reconciled with the class interests of the capitalists who wage these wars. If we are serious about actually stopping war, the CPGB-ML believes that we must oppose the capitalist imperialist system that on a daily and weekly basis engenders war – and campaign to raise British workers’ awareness of the actions of their own ruling class at home and abroad. This inevitably involves confronting groups and cliques that directly or indirectly support social democracy with the contradictions in their own political position.
Logically, that includes challenging the social-democratic ‘leaders’ of left Labour who talk of their opposition to war while in practice make their careers out of sitting in the parties of war and asking workers to support those parties at every juncture. We cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
Learning lessons for the future – defend Syria!
All this is not simply an academic exercise in point scoring. There are very real practical consequences for our work next week, next month and next year, which make it of vital importance that the coalition should learn lessons and correct its stance.
Since the fall of Libya, all Stop the War’s national efforts have been directed at pointing out the threat of war against Iran. And while that threat is very real, and must certainly be mobilised against, such activity cannot be allowed to act as a cover for ignoring the much more imminent threat against that other sovereign anti-imperialist nation in the Middle East: Syria.
As well as carving out an independent economic path free from the diktat of the IMF and World Bank, Syria is home to the headquarters of many Palestinian resistance movements, and a firm supporter of Lebanon’s anti-imperialist resistance movement, Hizbollah. Millions of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees have made their homes there, and the country is Iran’s strongest regional ally, as well as being an implacable foe of Israel. Although described by western media as a ‘dictator’, President Bashar al-Assad is actually the leader of a broad-based coalition government of national unity, which comprises many political parties, including communists. All of which makes the country a prime target for imperialism’s guns.
The aggressive war being prepared by Nato and its regional stooges against Syria is using all the same tricks that were applied in the case of Libya. Nato is funding, training and arming disparate opposition and terrorist groups and parachuting in covert special forces to give them vital support, while Nato’s leaders push through UN resolutions about ‘democracy’ and the ‘safety of the people’ and, of course, orchestrate a hysterical media campaign of lies and disinformation.
And while some people do seem to have learned a lesson from the carnage in Libya, the Stop the War leadership does not yet seem to be among their number. Yet again, the coalition’s leaders are failing to take a consistently anti-imperialist and anti-war position; yet again, they are failing to stand up against the media lies and declare themselves to be on the side of the Syrian masses against Nato imperialism.
Instead of standing firmly against war on Syria, Stop the War leaders prefer not to talk about it. The recent picket for Iran and Syria didn’t feature a single speaker for Syria on the platform, and its recent emails refer to Syria only in passing.
Instead of standing up to imperialist propaganda, the Stop the War website carries articles referring to “Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine” while John Rees uses his television show to consistently denounce the legitimate government and legitimise Nato’s stooges, including the MI6-backed ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’. Once more, Stop the War’s ‘opposition’ to Nato seems to be based more on tactical grounds than on any real ideological difference.
Let no-one be under any illusion: not only is a beautiful, cultured, independent country and its people under threat, but the illegal war already being waged by covert forces in Syria is a stepping-stone to even bloodier war against Iran, and from there to war against China and Russia. In a very real sense, Syria today stands in the same place as did the Spanish republic in 1936. British workers and progressive people need to stand side by side with the Syrian masses, demanding: Hands off Syria! Victory to Assad!
And above all, we must start to use our collective power to prevent the British ruling class from taking part in this criminal and barbaric conflagration.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 1 October
Under the tender care of US imperialism, Haiti is having a hard time recovering from the January 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the country.
So little has been done to alleviate the conditions in which the people are having to live that a major cholera epidemic has broken out in a rural area north of Port au Prince. The cause is thought to have been contamination of the Aritbonite river by a seepage of sewage from an encampment of UN ‘peacekeepers’.
No fewer than 420,000 people have been infected, of whom at least 6,000 have died so far. Yet it is not particularly expensive to provide clean water and/or cholera inoculations. It would seem, however, that much of the ‘aid’ to Haiti goes in providing ‘peacekeepers’ to restrain the anger of the population rather than to addressing the causes of that anger!
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 1 October
With effect from 3 September, the EU, which buys most of Syria’s oil, has brought in a ban on importing that oil with a view to crippling Syria’s economy and bringing about the downfall of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad.
Syria produces only about 400,000 barrels of oil a day, less than 1 percent of global production, and exports about 150,000 barrels a day, 95 percent of it to Europe. The exports provide about 25 percent of Syria’s income, which is already under pressure from the IMF. By denying the government this income, the imperialists are hoping to frustrate the attempts of the Syrian government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with such popular measures as fuel subsidies.
The US government is openly planning for the future of Syria after what they hope will be the certain downfall of Assad. While other imperialist countries have withdrawn their embassies from Damascus, the US in all its arrogance has left its ambassador, Robert Ford, in place, with a view to his liaising with opponents of the Syrian government.
According to one report, “In coordination with Turkey, the United States has been exploring how to deal with the possibility of a civil war among Syria’s alawite, druse, christian and sunni sects.” (‘US is quietly getting ready for Syria without Assad’ by Helen Cooper, New York Times, 19 September 2011)
Imperialism is desperate to overthrow the Syrian regime because of its alignment with Iran and Hizbollah, as well as its influence in Lebanon among those who battle for national independence and safeguarding their national sovereignty from imperialist interference.
While claiming, as in the case of Libya, to be intervening to prevent the regime from ‘killing its own people’, it is perfectly clear that US imperialism knows perfectly well that the overthrow of the Assad government poses a serious risk of unleashing a sectarian civil war in which tens of thousands will die and further tens, if not hundreds, of thousands will be forced into exile. Certainly the christian minority in Syria – about 10 percent of the population – is extremely fearful of the consequences of Assad’s possible overthrow.