The latest issue of Red, publication of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, makes worthwhile reading. While most of the articles have little intrinsic interest – despite improvements in its presentation, the journal continues to be characterised by a scrappy eclecticism – I detect a definite lurch towards an even more left nationalist stance. This underlines the correctness of our warnings against the national socialist swamp waiting to suck down the SSA, Scottish Militant Labour, and others.
For example, Bill Bonnar of the Communist Party of Scotland gets us off to a bad start with the first article in the magazine, ‘A settled will, but a settled constitution?’ (Red winter 1997-98). Comrade Bonnar suggests the “main division” in the coming Edinburgh parliament will be “between those who will draw a line under the parliament and say ‘no further’ and those who will see the parliament as the beginning of the process of separation”. No prizes for guessing which side of the line Bill and his ilk will be on.
SSA national secretary Allan Green reinforces the point in his ‘After Paisley South, let’s build socialist unity’. He suggests that as Scotland “rejected Thatcherism yet ended up with a Labour government with the same old policies” (and England and Wales didn’t, comrade?), it now “appears the most realistic radical alternative on offer” is to “demand … a socialist Scotland”. Apparently, “it is much easier to envisage a future Scottish parliament ending up with the powers to scrap Trident and the anti-union laws (and actually doing so) than picturing a Westminster majority taking such steps”.
John McAllion, Labour MP for Dundee East and an influential figure in Scottish politics, writes that “the establishment of a Scottish parliament can and will act like a democratic catalyst which will begin the break-up of an authoritarian British state”. Such a development “can and will transform the way in which we [are] governed”.
Characteristic of all nationalist discourse – even in its left variant, as displayed in Red – is a vocabulary that tends to submerge class differences, to meld the ‘people of Scotland’ into one. Thus, all three writers cited so far speak in terms of “the Scottish people” versus “Westminster” (Bonnar); of how the “political agendas” of “England and Scotland” are drifting “further and further apart” (Green); and Scottish nationhood condemned as “heresy” by the “sovereign-mongers in Westminster” (McAllion). This is not to deny the existence of a Scottish people of course, or to belittle their sense of alienation from central government. However, the tone of the journal underlines how correct Communist Party comrades have been to raise the alarm against the reprise of ‘socialism in one country’ – this time, farcically, the country being Scotland, not the USSR. Indeed, as Nick Clarke of the CPGB and Dundee SSA correctly notes in a letter published in the same issue: “Considering the tragic failure of the Soviet Union’s attempt … it is our duty” to point to this danger.
This is the key point. Comrades in SML and the SSA should understand that their flirtation with nationalism has profound programmatic implications. There is a certain philistine philosophy amongst sections of the left that tells us we should concentrate on the 80% of issues we agree on and ignore for the time being the 20% we do not. The dangers of such an approach are manifest in this issue of Red.
Even if we presume that what unites us constitutes “80%” (not true, in my opinion), the remaining 20% must be clarified and fought over. The reason why the CPGB has raised the charge of national socialism specifically against SML has been to highlight these fundamental differences as starkly and dramatically as we possibly can.
Revolutionaries within SML and the SSA must take a long, hard look at the direction of the Alliance. The notion that ‘socialism’ or anything remotely resembling it could be built in Scotland alone is a reactionary nonsense, made all the harder to stomach given the tragic history of such attempts this century. Have the comrades learned nothing from the horrors the Soviet Union endured, the hell-holes that places like Cambodia were under a ‘socialist’ regime? Socialism is international, or it is not socialism at all.
Comrades should be pleased that this debate will not remain in the field of esoteric theory or ‘obscure’ and arcane tussles over the history of our movement. It is set to assume concrete organisational shape via one of the campaigning initiatives our Party is debating for 1998.
Our draft Perspectives ’98 document states that the CPGB will launch a national Campaign for a Federal Republic early in 1998. Given the political circumstances of Scotland, the campaign would assume a particularly sharp form there. Our comrades would present themselves as the most intransigent enemies of all attempts to divide the proletariat of Britain along national lines. We would fight tooth and nail for the unity of the working class.
In effect, this would be the cutting edge of the Party’s fight against all manifestations of nationalism, for international revolution and socialism. Our opponents are marshalled in front of us, comrades, and the lines of demarcation in the looming struggle are already clear.
Bill Bonnar is quite right: we do indeed “live in interesting times”. The coming year for example will see the forces of working class socialism and international revolution ranged against stiff opposition from comrades in the SSA poisoned by nationalism – comrade Bonnar included, I’ll bet.
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