Part 1 Corbyn, Left Unity and Republican Socialism

Part 1 Corbyn, Left Unity and Republican Socialism

We might start at the beginning. In 2013 I attended the founding conference of Left Unity debating the merits of different platforms. I spoke about the three historical reference points behind the platforms identified with 1945 and 1917 and 1649. This last date was a surprise and the audience laughed. We could all relate to the twentieth century, but surely not the long forgotten seventeenth? There was, however, a small section at the back from Wigan who gave an ironic cheer. They had been involved in organizing the annual Diggers festival. The year 1649 was the high point of the English revolution, when the republic was proclaimed and the monarchy and House of Lords abolished. The Diggers occupied land at St Georges Hill in Surrey and began producing food before being finally driven off by local landowners.

The Digger movement grew from the seeds planted by the new Republic. Ending the autocratic rule of the Stuart Kings and the landowners, the Commonwealth, a constitutional revolution, gave inspiration and freedom to a few farmers to occupy land and feed themselves. This was made possible from 1647 with the emergence of rank and file democracy in the New Model army and the growing influence of the Levellers, the republican party of the revolution. The achievement of a republic created conditions for the socialization of land. Between the Leveller party and Digger movement we have the origins of a republican road to socialism before the industrial revolution and the working class made the democratic case stronger. This is a story long forgotten because it ended in defeat. We have been living ever since under the shadow of that defeat.

Left Unity conference voted to become a new party. The official name “Left Unity Party” expressed the intention of the majority to unite the left outside the Labour Party. It described itself as a “radical socialist party”. The conference made two strategic decisions. The main decision, or the first fork in the road, was whether the new party would be a broad left party (social democrats and Marxists) or a Marxist-communist party. Conference attention was focused on this. The second fork in the road was just as strategically important for the success of the new broad left party, to choose between ‘radical socialism’ and ‘republican socialism’. This decision was taken almost by default.

In “The potential for Left Unity” (2020) comrade Andrew Burgin starts reviewing what went right and wrong. His critical assessment concentrates only on the first fork from 2013 in the Marxist party, reignited by the reappearance of Socialist Resistance in the Anti-Capitalist Resistance (ACR). He does not recognise nor address the second strategic decision between radical and republican socialism. The question is how ‘radical socialism’ performed in relation to subsequent major political developments such as the 2014 Scottish referendum, the 2015 Corbyn movement, the 2016 EU referendum and Brexit, the 2017 and 2019 general elections, which ended in Corbyn’s defeat.

Left Unity’s democratic process

Left Unity was formed through a democratic process with the support and encouragement from Ken Loach’s ‘Spirit of 45’. Founding members were invited to submit proposals for debate and decision. We were all agreed to set up some kind of socialist party but did not agree on what kind it should be. The following platforms were put forward roughly in order of estimated support – the Left Party Platform, the Socialist Platform, the Communist Platform, the Class Struggle Platform and finally the Republican Socialist Platform.

These platforms can be sub-categorized as ‘broad left’ supporting a party with social democrats and communists (Left Party Platform and the Republican Socialist Platform) and the Marxist-communist platforms, which wanted some kind of Marxist party (Socialist Platform, Communist Platform, Class Struggle Platform). Today seven years later, in a smaller and weaker Left Unity, there are still ‘radicals’ and ‘republicans’ in Left Unity. Supporters of the three Marxist platforms went off to join the Corbyn Labour Party. Some have now re-appeared outside Left Unity in Anti-Capitalist Resistance.

Left Unity had an important advantage in its democratic approach – the open competition of trends and a democratic process to decide the majority and minority and then a continued democratic process of correction. If the majority is wrong, or in error, the democratic process provides opportunities for this to be recognized and minorities to grow and replace the previous majority. A healthy democracy enables a process of successive corrections.

The danger arises if this cycle of democratic self-correction doesn’t continue and is replaced by bureaucratic degeneration and substitution. If the bureaucratic mind-set takes over then the founding programme becomes set in stone. Defeated minorities are seen as an irritant and not a source of future change. The 2013 policy and subsequent manifesto would not simply be the starting point for political change but the end of it. In bureaucratic regimes the majority liquidates the minority and liquidates the possibility that any of the minorities might have better answers and thus politics is ‘frozen’ at the moment of birth.

There are merits for the wider left of a democratic process, which invites a section or sample to openly put forward its proposals. It provides an historic record of where the socialist left was in 2013. What were they thinking back then? How has the subsequent evolution of the class struggle proved or disproved these platforms and how did they relate to future unexpected changes? Of course, the conference votes to decide which of these five platforms will become the face of Left Unity. This does not guarantee conference will make the best choice but merely the one that can gather the most votes.

The democratic process is open to new politics but still has some in-built bias. The founding conference was no equal contest between different trends because naturally the founders were in pole position to gather support for ‘their’ project. But the democratic method had the merit of allowing other voices or outsiders to get a hearing. This was how the republican socialist platform entered by the open ‘back door’ with its supporters in favour of left unity in a broad left party. At the same time the majority of the English left was still shaped by the dominant ideas of Labourism, Stalinism and Trotskyism and not ready for republican socialism.

Gather a random sample of the post Thatcher-USSR-Blair left in one conference. This will bring all the mistakes in one place and ‘unite’ them on the basis of the lowest common denominator of the average mistakes. If Labourism, Stalinism and Trotskyism are in error in some way then we are likely to bake this into the new cake. So there is a danger of conservatism in continuing to do the kind of politics, which has been failing and thus not preparing us for a future, which although unseen is just around the next corner. If republican socialism is on the right lines it will be able to cope with unexpected political tests, for example, of the Scottish referendum, Corbynism and Brexit.

Working class theory is the best guide we have to predicting the next direction rather than continuing on the last road that was already leading us in the wrong direction. The democratic method doesn’t prevent us from repeating the past. What we can say is that the majority Left Party platform had little theoretical rationale. It was a nod to the practical-empirical method valued by English culture. Get some bullet points together of the obvious things we all agree on, like a better NHS, and that will be the programme but only one without any theory behind it.

There is a real danger of theory-lite and well-intentioned opportunism, which flows from trying to construct a programme, which maintains the broad unity of the coalition built by the founding ‘fathers’. This is encouraged by the need to take short cuts because of the desperate state of the pre-Corbyn left and the need to do something, indeed anything being better than nothing, in the face of Tory austerity and New Labour. Theory-lite politics is encouraged by the false idea that only communist parties need theory and broad left parties are liberated from all that boring stuff. On the contrary broad left parties can only survive or succeed if they rest on strong theoretical-historical foundations.

Reformism, republicanism and ultra leftism

Among the English socialist left we can discern three trends – reformism, republicanism and ultra leftism. Republicanism stands to the left of reformism and to the right of ultra leftism. By far the dominant ideas are reformism, associated with Corbyn and ultra leftism represented by the SWP. If the battle between these terrible twins is thesis and antithesis then republicanism is a synthesis of ‘reforms with revolutionary implications’. Neither Corbyn nor the SWP were present at the 2013 founding conference so their shadow teams fought it out. The reformists claimed that that ultra leftism was too far removed from the reality of working class life and incapable of winning a mass audience and mass support. The ultra lefts countered that reformism was a compromise with Marxist principles and thus opportunism in search of members and votes.

Tony Benn, the most prominent advocate of republicanism on the English left wasn’t present either, but his shadow stretching back to 1649 hung over the republican socialist platform. Of course Benn comes from the reformist tradition of the non-republican Labour Party. Equally there are republican Marxists who have come from the ultra left SWP for example from the Revolutionary Democratic Group, the Republican Communist Network in Scotland and from the CPGB tradition as the Weekly Worker group. [The differences between these republican socialists are outside the scope of this paper.]

Reformists argue that republicanism is too extreme for the English working class and will not be popular enough to justify supporting it. If the working class is enthralled by monarchy it is better to avoid any ideological confrontation. Ultra lefts come to the same conclusion from the opposite direction. They argue that republicanism is bourgeois and too trivial to bother with. They demand ‘revolution not reform’ and the full Monty of a socialist workers state not a democratic republic. Working class republicanism, therefore, confronts a pincer movement from reformism and ultra leftism, a united front of hostility to the republican socialist programme.

‘Radical socialism’ does not exist outside this framework. It is not a new theory but a flag of convenience for those who reject the ultra leftism of the SWP type and the republican socialism of Tony Benn and republican Marxism. Radical socialism may try to claim it is something new. In fact it was the form or disguise taken by reformism in the epoch of New Labour. It was therefore a trend naturally sympathetic to the Corbyn movement. Whilst republicanism can form a united front with the Corbyn movement on the basis of clear political differentiation, radical socialism cannot because it is not programmatically distinct and thus likely to liquidate. In 2020 radical socialism hopes that with the end of Corbyn’s attempt to revive the 1945 social monarchy, the time for LU’s resurrection from near death has arrived.

Not Republican Socialist Parties (NRSP)

Comrade Andrew’s critical assessment of Left Unity begins by considering the whole range of ultra left sects. He says the left is littered with “organisations that are trapped in the routines and formulas of past decades. There are periodic attempts to unite them in a new project or campaign but these reunification projects are invariably unsuccessful, largely I think because their component parts do not interface with the reality of working class struggle”. This “reality” depends on the objective reality in which it takes place – capitalist economic relations under the political power exercised by the state – not the French, German or Chinese state but the long evolving UK state combined with changing forms of international capitalism. Reality is not, or should not be, a narrow understanding of every day economic and social life but politics, democracy and the state, culture, national identity and internationalism. This seems directed at revolutionary groups like Anti-Capitalist Resistance.

Left Unity was not founded as one of these ultra left sects. The founding conference decided what LU was and what it was not – broad left but not a republican socialist party. Negatives are as revealing as positives. LU should have been called “Not the Republican Socialist Party”. It did not, therefore, adopt the strategy of a republican road to socialism. It did not make the English revolution its historic reference point nor recognise the relevance of the Leveller party and the Digger movement or Tony Benn for today. It did not have a republican social democratic programme. Left Unity was not, however, the only attempt to build a broad left party based mainly in England to reject republican socialism.

Andrew cites other failed attempts to form broad left ‘Not Republican Socialist Parties’ (NRSPs). He says “several attempts to unite parts of the left through different models, beginning with Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, then the Socialist Alliance, followed by RESPECT, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and ending with the Corbyn movement in the Labour Party expressed via Momentum”. There are two conclusions from this experience. The first is that the perspective of broad left parties is incorrect and doomed to failure. In which case, all Marxists should proceed directly to a communist party and not waste time in these ‘half way’ houses. In which case the ACR is a better prospect and LU is doomed and has always been a waste of time. The alternative view is that there is a need for a broad left party but these series of NRSPs are misconceived projects. The English patient is sick and the doctors prescribe leaches. Now the patient is close to death and the doctor prescribes more leaches! Nothing has been learned in twenty four years.

NRSPs have failed time and time again. Occam’s razor suggests that in seeking the solution to a problem the simple and obvious answer is more likely to be true. The answer to NRSPs is staring us in the face and yet remains unseen. The leaders of Left Unity have to find a radical answer to the decline of Left Unity, which is not simply waiting for refugees from the Corbyn movement to turn up and save our bacon. There is one thing of value that Left Unity has – the idea of a broad left party linked to the European Left. A republican socialist version of Left Unity would maintain or indeed strengthen these links by rejecting the ‘reformist’ politics of ‘radical socialism’. [The failure of “the Corbyn movement” expressed in Momentum is connected but different and addressed later.]

Andrew passes a scathing verdict on these NRSPs and ultra left communist sects. He says these “broader groupings eventually do disappear and fade but the small groups, which are in essence parasitic on the wider movement continue to exist in a Zombie-like state, always on the look out for their next political snack”. Since 1996 every attempt to form a broad left parties ended in failure and the communist sects haven’t made progress either. Strangely, Left Unity is missing from Andrew’s list. It has to be included because its success or failure needs explaining. All these NRSPs had basically the same or similar programmes. There is no programmatic justification for separate organizations. Sometimes this reflects leader-cults, like Scargill and Galloway, or sectarian attitudes of component communist sects (e.g. SWP) or the disorientation of disillusioned ex-members of various sects.

TUSC and Left Unity were the last in a line of attempts to build NRSPs before the arrival of the Corbyn movement in 2015. TUSC and Left Unity had more or less the same programme with different constitutions. LU had a democratic membership structure and TUSC had a federal structure with no members. These differences in organization are real and important but not fundamental. As rivals they appear like two bald men fighting over a comb, each with the self-justification of having more members, more activity, better organization and more seats won in parliament etc. Both suspended electoral activity after 2015.

Serious criticism of the multiple attempts to build NRSP’s has to start at the level of programme and strategy and not petty squabbling, hurt feelings, violations of democratic process, and the cult of leader-personality that characterize sect-like parties and groups. The defense of LU and the reason it deserves to exist, even in a very weak form, comes down to the theoretical validity and rationale for its programme. This does not exist in splendid isolation but has to relate to the objective conditions, which govern “the reality of working class struggle”.

Programme first

What distinguishes a party from a sect is in its programme. A party is the organization of part of a class united around a programme, which articulates its short term and long-term interests. In the Marxist tradition this is not simply a list of policies or bullet points but has a structure (for example minimum, transitional and maximum), which embodies a strategy for winning power. As Trotsky said, when addressing various small sects, “Programme first, your political passports please” as if he was standing at the border post demanding to see the bona fides of various sects before letting them in.

Republican socialism is a programme built on the strategy of a republican road to socialism and not the British road. We would happily show Trotsky our passport and he would have stamped it as a real one, even if he disagreed with some of it, and waved us through. Left Unity as a party is no stronger or weaker than the strategy and programme it is founded on and is fighting for. By contrast sects are built around the charisma of leaders and wanna-be leaders and their particular shibboleths, for example theories of the USSR or attitude to the EU, which are set as the acid test for true believers. The question of whether Left Unity is a party or just another sect lost in its own hubris has to go back to a critical appraisal of its 2013 programme as reflected in its 2015 Manifesto.

Left Unity did not invent the differences between reformism, republicanism and ultra leftism. They can be seen in the previous attempts to found broad left parties. This merely registered the pre-existing state of ideological disintegration and fragmentation of the post war left. So what was the Anglo-British left thinking in 2013. The majority supported the social monarchist programme of Old Labour for a variety of motives. Some exiles from Labour believed in it. For others it was consistent with traditional trade union politics of steering clear of constitutional matters. Then others simply thought this was the only way to get a mass following. For ex-Trotskyists this was a kind of transitional politics. The more orthodox ultra lefts were, however, having none of this. Their aim was to set up a communist party to rival the existing Marxist parties such as the SWP and the Socialist Party and end the SWP-SP duopoly.

The republican programme

Republican programme is a minimum programme of immediate reforms now. This is not the republican equivalent of Labour’s socialist Clause IV, which kicks the republican can down the road and over the long distant horizon. It is a programme of democratic and social reforms to be carried out or achievable through a democratic republic. This radical extension of democracy provides the political means of carrying out these social reforms. The republic represents a shift in the balance of power and influence to the working class majority.

How far this extension of democracy can go cannot be known in advance because it depends on the class struggle. Democratic power is not handed down but grows before the republic is declared. Its arrival is a qualitative shift or transitional moment from a growing democratic movement to a new epoch of democratic change. This will make social reforms more achievable ‘by and with the working class’ rather than the reformist promise to act ‘on behalf of the working class’ with social reforms ‘from above’ through the state bureaucracy of the old regime protected by the existing antiquated constitution.

We can give three examples of republican programmes beyond the Levellers ‘Agreement of the People’. The programme of the communist party in Germany (1848) begins with the slogan “Proletarians of all countries unite” and then the first demand is “1. The whole of Germany shall be declared a united, indivisible republic” and demands (2) and (3) are democratic demands and (4) is that “Maintenance of justice shall be free of charge” and (11) is that “All means of transport: railways, canals, steamships, road posts etc. shall be taken in hand by the state. They shall converted into state property and made available free of charge to the class without financial resources”. (Demand of the communist party of Germany – Marx and Engels March 1848 – source German text from Marx and Engels Werk Vol. 5 East Berlin 1975)

Another example is the 1903 programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. At the end of the introductory section we arrive at the demands which say “Therefore, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party takes as its most immediate political task the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy and its replacement by a democratic republic, the constitution would ensure: 1) sovereignty of the people – that is, concentration of supreme state power wholly in the hands of a legislative assembly consisting of representatives of the people and forming a single chamber”.

At first sight Trotsky’s “Programme of Action for France” published in 1934 is an example of a transitional not a republican programme. But appearances can be deceptive. As an application of his transitional program he calls for “the abolition of business secrets” and “Workers and Peasants control of Banks, Industry and Commerce” and the “nationalisation of banks and key industries”. However towards the end, in Section 16 “For a Single Assembly” he addresses supporters of a “Workers and Peasants state”, which “will take power from the exploiters”. (Wither France Leon Trotsky New Park publications 1974 p156). He tells them to wait because something must be done now.

He says “Meanwhile” and then proposes a republican minimum programme, which is important because “as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeoisie democracy we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie”. Yet this ‘defense’ is not presented as a defensive struggle. Trotsky appeals to social democratic workers and demands “that they draw inspiration for ideas and methods, not of the (current) Third Republic but the Convention of 1793”. This was the National Assembly of the France’s First republic, the equivalent of the England’s first and only republic of 1649. He defends bourgeois democracy with more radical democratic demands, which aim to replace the Third republic by a Fourth. This is expressed through the slogans “Down with Senate” and “Down with the Presidency of the republic.”

Trotsky’s new republican constitution is based on “A single assembly”, which “must combine legislative and executive powers. Members would be elected for two years by universal suffrage at eighteen years of age, with no discrimination of sex or nationality. Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker”. He is clear about the strategy here that “A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers power” which is another way of describing a French republican road to socialism. (Wither France Leon Trotsky New Park publications 1974 p156)

This is not an argument that we should copy these examples and transpose them from different times in different countries. They merely show there is nothing peculiar about the idea of a republican programme in the socialist tradition. The problem is English exceptionalism, which thinks that radical democracy isn’t relevant here because of the “world beating” Mother of All Parliaments. The republican programme is not a single issue or a single bullet point but the summation of a whole set of democratic and social demands, which sum up what the party is fighting for. The demand for a republic is the first demand or headline news about the party’s aim to change the political system and the constitution of the state. As a working class party, this is more like the Chartist party whose six democratic demands were seen as a prequel to radial social reform and the very opposite of Labour Party economism.

Conclusion

In 2013 Left Unity was set up as another in a line of pre-Corbyn broad left parties. On the plus side, it was established through a relatively democratic process and became a pro-European party linked the European Left Party. It adopted an ideology of radical socialism, which drew on ideas from Labourism (social monarchy), Stalinism (the British Road) and Trotskyism (transitional demands). None of these ideologies understood the centrality of democracy and republicanism in the self-emancipation of the international working class.

If England is to become an advanced democratic country and reclaim a place at the heart of European democracy as the starting point for socialist transformation then we must look not to Russia but in the democratic revolution from the 1640’s. This is what Trotsky pointed out in his Writings on Britain where he goes back to Oliver Cromwell, the Lion of the seventeenth century. He wasn’t saying ignore the experience of the Russian working class, but take serious notice of your own history. In 1649 England became a republic before the Levellers and Diggers were defeated. Cromwell robbed the English republic of its democratic potential and the counter-revolution ended with the victory of the Whigs in the ‘Glorious Revolution’. Republicans have inherited the defeat of 1649 and the Labour Party inherited the victory of the Whigs. Now it is time to reverse all that and turn England and the world upside down.

17 October 2020

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Labour’s historic defeat in Scotland

You may remember the famous Monty Python sketch about a parrot returned by a dissatisfied customer, John Cleese, to the pet-shop run by Michael Palin. As Cleese enters the shop, Palin says, “We are closing for lunch”. Cleese says “Never mind that, my lad, I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.” Palin replies “oh yes, the, ur, the Norwegian Blue. What, uh, what is wrong with it”. “I tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad,” says Cleese, “E’s dead, that’s what is wrong with it”. “No, no e’s uh…. he’s resting” claims Palin.

“Look matey,” says the increasingly irritated Cleese, “I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I am looking at one right now”. The argument over whether the parrot is dead or only resting then descends into farce. “This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! E’s stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace”….’Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory”.

So we must turn to “istory” to understand how the Labour Party in Scotland has expired and gone to meet its maker. The ‘Labour Together’ Report (LTR) on the 2019 general election says the party suffered “an historic defeat”. But in Scotland the picture is far worse. Labour was wiped out and now has only one MP. The Labour Together Report says, “Labour retained just 51% of its 2017 vote and collapsed to its worst ever vote share. As well as losing six of its seven seats in Scotland, Labour is now the third party in Scotland with the Tories taking second place”. (‘Labour Together’ Report)

Is the Scottish Labour Party dead or merely resting? No doubt members of the Scottish Labour Party will be arguing, like the dodgy shopkeeper Michael Palin, that revival is possible. If British Labour has suffered a ‘Historic Defeat’ as the LTR claims, it is in Scotland that the radical nature of that defeat is most sharply and clearly posed. The roots of Labour’s historic defeat in Scotland go back over three hundred years, long before there was an industrial working class or a Labour Party.

The ‘Glorious’ revolution (1688-1707) created the basic foundations of our present UK state and constitution. It created the financial structure to build the British Navy, supervised the slave trade and extended the British Empire. In 1940, threatened with Nazi invasion, the UK and its Empire was facing an existential crisis. It survived the ‘Battle of Britain’ and by 1945 had become a major power in Europe in alliance with the US and USSR.

Nevertheless the UK lost an Empire and became a ‘social and constitutional monarchy’. The rise and fall of this ‘social monarchy’ after World War II forms the background to the current crisis. In 2008 a massive financial and economic crisis marked the beginning of an epoch of Degenerated Social Monarchy. This new period is a political crisis in the constitutional settlement (1688-1707) whose life was extended by the 1945 social contract, which was destroyed by neo-liberal policies.

Act of Disunion

The 1707 Act of Union was the last part of the Glorious revolution, the final piece in the jigsaw. The UK was made a centralised union state with a single parliament, not a federal state, like the USA or Germany, with nations or regions having their own local law-making parliaments. Sovereignty was vested in the Crown-In-Parliament with the monarch as head of the protestant Church of England.

Queen Anne and her Ministers demanded the Union with Scotland to ensure the Protestant succession, intended to pass to the protestant Elector of Hanover. It was to make sure Scotland could not become a base for the archenemy, Catholic Absolutist France. It completed the process of securing the UK as a Protestant state whose rule would extend over Scotland, as well as England, and Wales. Ireland was finally brought into the Union state in 1801.

The Union with Scotland was achieved by a combination of bribery of Scottish MPs and a considerable dowry for Scottish commercial, financial and imperial interests. It gave them access to English imperial markets and colonies and the lucrative slave trade. The Scottish ruling elite was won over by a combination of golden ‘carrots’ and the big ‘stick’ of an English army waiting at the border just in case.

The Act of Union was neither popular nor democratic. It was made without the votes or agreement of the Scottish people. Many resorted to rioting, the normal means for the lower classes to show their great displeasure. It was imposed on Scotland by the English ruling class with the help of their influential Scottish allies. The Union stands alongside the monarchy and the House of Lords as one of the anti-democratic pillars of the present state.
If the Union were likened to a marriage of nations then we have a shotgun wedding with a large dowry paid to bribe the father of the bride. There could be no divorce. The marriage would last forever. By abolishing the Scottish Parliament the bride had nowhere to complain if the marriage became oppressive. There would never be a democratic assembly to rival Westminster.
The Union remained unpopular and unstable over the next sixty years. It was finally secured by the suppression of the Jacobite uprisings in 1715 and 1745 and by the growing prosperity of the British Empire and colonies providing material benefits for Scottish upper and middle classes. The Union and Empire made the ruling classes of England and Scotland, partners in crime, very wealthy. Their ill-gotten gains transformed Scotland into ‘North Britain’.

The North British industrial revolution created an industrial working class in mining, shipbuilding and engineering exploited by an industrial capital and an organised trade union movement. From the end of the nineteenth century the Labour Party became the voice of the majority of the Scottish working class within the Union. The First World War and the 1916-21 Irish revolution shook the Union, but Scotland and the Scottish working class remained loyal through the 1930s and the Second World War. In 1945 Labour won its largest majority in Scotland.

Social Monarchy

The 1939-45 war was the beginning of the end of Britain’s colonial Empire on which the industrial economy depended. Yet the Union remained strong through the creation of the post war social monarchy. The Scottish Unionist Party was main centre right party in Scotland from 1912 to 1965 with more than half the popular vote in 1931 and 1951 and providing two Prime Ministers in Bonar Law and Alec Douglas-Home. In 1965 it merged with the Tories to become the Conservative and Unionist Party.

Between 1945 and 1970, the two main Unionist parties, Conservative and Unionist Party and the Labour Party, secured the majority of the seats in a two party contest. In 1951 they matched each other. The Tories won a majority in 1955, but the trend was towards Labour, who by the 1960s had two thirds of Scottish seats. The Liberals remained a small, but significant minority Unionist party.

General elections in Scotland 1945-1970 in seats won

 

Conservative

Labour

SNP

1945

27

37

0

1950

31

37

0

1951

35* (29 Unionist)

35

0

1955

36

34

0

1959

31

38

0

1964

24

43

0

1966

20

46

0

1970

23

44

1

(UK General Election overview – en.wikipedia.org)

During the 1970s the social monarchy descended into crisis as a result of the civil rights and republican movement in Northern Ireland, a political struggle between the miners and the Tory government in 1972 and 1974 and an oil crisis in 1974 followed by a world recession. In 1970 the SNP won its first seat in a general election and in 1974 won ten more. In 1974 the Labour government set out to resolve the crisis, overcome a militant working class and head off growing support for the SNP.

The Labour government was eventually undone by the strikes of low paid workers, known as the ‘Winter of Discontent’, and by the failure to carry its Scottish Devolution proposals through Westminster despite a majority in Scotland voting for it in a referendum. These problems exploited by the Tories paved the way for Thatcher to win the 1979 general election.

The new Thatcher government began to carry out its programme of dismantling the social monarchy through ‘free market’ policies of privatisation, deregulation and anti-union laws. The key to their success was the Ridley Plan to take on and defeat the National Union of Mineworkers. The Tory victory in the Great Miners Strike 1984-5 had a massive impact on the trade union movement and the industrial base of Scotland.

General elections in Scotland 1974-2005 in seats won

 

Conservative

Labour

SNP

1974 February

21

40

7

1974 October

16

41

11

1979

22

44

2

1983

21

41

2

1987

10

50

3

1992

11

49

3

1997

0

56

6

2001

1

56

5

2005

1

41

6

The Tory neo-liberal revolution in the 1980’s saw their support in Scotland begin to shrink. In 1979 and 1983 they held more or less the same number of seats as they had in the 1960s and 1970s. Then in 1987 they lost half their seats and all of them by 1997. They did not recover in the next two elections (2001 and 2005) as Tory support collapsed from around twenty seats to zero or one. Scotland became virtually a Tory free zone.

Thatcher’s success in dismantling the social monarchy created its own ‘crisis of democracy’ as Scotland rejected Thatcherism. Now, spurred on by hubris, Thatcher decided to impose a poll tax and use Scotland as the testing ground. Scotland responded with a militant anti-Poll Tax campaign. This mass democratic movement was about more than local taxes. It was about who ruled Scotland and inevitably strengthened the demand for a Scottish parliament, soon incorporated into Labour’s 1997 election manifesto.

There were important economic factors behind the rise of Scottish democracy in the 1990s. The ending of the British colonial empire removed some of the Union glue. The growth of a North Sea Oil industry brought a new prosperity. The UK became part of a much bigger and expanding European Union. Scotland had new opportunities, which did not depend on England alone. Neo-liberal economic policies destroyed Scotland’s industrial base and alienated Scotland’s social democratic majority.

Reform – from decline to degeneration

Over the last thirty years there have been two major reforms to the Act of Union by Blair (1998) who restored the Scottish Parliament and Cameron (2014) who permitted an independence referendum. These reforms did not establish the sovereignty of the Scottish people nor the right to self-determination. But they introduced new contradictions into the constitution. These did not make the constitution democratic, rational or consistent. They made a semi-Unionist and semi-federal pottage.

The UK is no longer a full Union state but not quite a federal state. There is one central Union parliament, but each nation, except England, has a national parliament. Northern Ireland, although not a nation, is given nation status with a reinvented Stormont parliament. The 2014 referendum introduced the idea there could be a democratic and peaceful separation of England and Scotland. What the Act of Union made impossible became practical politics when the Crown granted this a ‘once in a lifetime’ concession.

These two reforms could have been made at any time over the last three hundred years. But from the mid 18th century, support for the Union state grew, with the rising prosperity and opportunity afforded by the Empire. In 1913 a Scottish Home Rule bill passed two readings in the Commons before being suspended by the First World War. Reform was staved off by the 1945 social contract and arrived in the wake of the crisis in the mid-70s and the descent into neo-liberalism triggered by Thatcher.

The 1998 Scottish Parliament was recognition of the strength of the democratic movement opposing the Tories. It would be bought off by the government, which would engineer a constitutional settlement as a barrier to the SNP and more radical democratic demands. Blair, however, had no intention of breaking with Thatcher’s neo-liberal politics. If the majority in Scotland wanted to restore the social monarchy they would have to look elsewhere.

The Blair reforms were intended to strengthen the Union by conceding a degree of Home Rule. The liberal tradition favours the devolution of power because it maintains what is essential. Power is retained at the centre, in the hands of the Crown and HM Treasury. It is a ‘historic compromise’ between the Crown and popular ‘republicanism’. This ‘reform’ was counter-revolutionary, a gift made to the democratic movement with the intention of dividing, delaying or halting it.

Blair’s counter-revolutionary reforms worked for twenty years in a contradictory way. They satisfied the popular sentiment for Home Rule and at the same time raised expectations. Queen Anne understood that if Scotland had its own parliament it wouldn’t be too long before the Scots started getting up to mischief. This is why Blair felt cautious, if not reluctant, to make this concession and had to be encouraged to see it as necessary for Labour’s 1997 election victory. So it proved. Labour won fifty-six seats in 1997 and 2001 general elections and then forty-one seats in 2007 and 2010. The SNP won only six, five, six and six seats in the same elections.

Degenerated social monarchy

However, in 2008 things were about to change with a massive financial and economic crisis whose consequences were to tip the UK moved from a declining social monarchy into the epoch of Degeneration. The neo-liberal chickens came home to roost as the deregulated global financial system crashed and major British banks went bankrupt. The New Labour government took action to protect the banks by nationalising their debts and transferring them onto the public purse.

In 2010 the Tories won the general election against a discredited Labour government by promising to cut public spending and share the costs across society. Cameron’s Tory government imposed austerity on public services and forced the working class and the poorest sections of society to pay the high cost of bank failure. Their programme of cuts and privatisations did more serious damage to the remnants of the social monarchy. The Tory solution to the crisis was to administer more of the poison that had virtually killed the patient in the first place.

This new epoch drained confidence in the pantomime politics of Westminster. If people lose trust in the political class and their parties, they will turn to more radical answers. The extension of a social crisis into a crisis of democracy raised fundamental questions about the nature of democracy and the political culture that supports and maintains it. It raises questions about the UK constitution and the very identity of the British nation.

The post 2008 epoch was not simply an extension of the decline of the social monarchy. It was a qualitative change from decline to degeneration. The characteristic of this new epoch was the transformation of a social crisis into a constitutional ‘crisis of democracy’. It was not simply that people looked back the world war two and the 1945 social contract but to the settlement of 1688-1707. In Scotland the ‘crisis of democracy’ took the form of a crisis over the Union.

In 2011 Cameron was made aware, with the growing support for the SNP, the Union was again under threat. He decided to adopt Blair’s liberal approach with a new reform. The Act of Union made divorce illegal and now the 2014 referendum made it possible. The Cameron government gambled that by agreeing to a Scottish referendum they would defeat the nationalists and derail the democratic movement for another twenty years. But in a time of degeneration any reform soon becomes out dated or overtaken by events not least because trust between rulers and ruled has worn thin.

The Cameron 2014 victory was soon overtaken by a crisis in the Tory Party, the 2016 EU referendum and the UK’s descent into a Brexit crisis. The victor of 2014 was out of office before he had chance to milk the applause. Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU by sixty five per cent put self-determination back in the driving seat. The further England sunk into a swamp of reaction, the more essential it is for Scottish democracy not to be dragged down with it. Blair’s reform delayed radical change for thirty years, but Cameron’s rose like a rocket and sank like a stone.

In 2016 the European Union referendum made this more obvious when Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. In 2014 Scotland’s majority vote to remain in the UK contained a promise voting No to independence was the only way Scotland could remain in the European Union. After 2016 this ‘broken promise’ became electoral fraud when Scotland was denied the right to vote on the Tory Brexit Agreement.

England’s majority for leave swamped the votes of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU. This goes to the very heart of self-determination. Northern Ireland was given a special deal to allow it to remain part in and part out of the single market and customs union. Scotland was denied this opportunity. Labour failed to support Scotland’s right to a ratification referendum (not to be confused with a ‘second’ or repeat referendum demanded by English liberals).

Scotland’s right to a ratification referendum on the Tory Brexit Agreement is the recognition of the right to self-determination and the sovereign right of the Scottish people to decide, given their vote to remain. The Scottish people should have been asked, “Given you voted to remain, do you now accept or reject this UK agreement?” If Scotland refused to ratify the UK agreement then they should have had the right to a referendum on independence (i.e. self-determination) rather than be forced to follow England and Wales into the wilderness of US free trade.

The reforms of Blair and Cameron could not create a stable constitution but the seeds of disorder and sources of further conflict. The Scottish Parliament secured more influence over political power but not popular sovereignty nor self-determination. The Blair and Cameron ‘reforms’ undermined the fundamental principles of the Act of Union. But they did not end the democratic deficit over sovereignty and self-determination. Yet they opened a path to both, and new reasons why Scotland should not follow the reactionary path taken by England.

Labour’s Unionist crisis

In Scotland the degeneration of the social monarchy into a political-constitutional ‘crisis of democracy’ took the form of a growing crisis in the Union with England. In 2007 before the financial crisis, Labour and the SNP took more or less equal seats in the Scottish parliament with the SNP becoming the largest party for the first time. This might seem to contradict the idea that the real switch to nationalism came after 2008.

However, Euan McColm argues in the Scotsman that in 2007 the SNP won seats by playing down their demand for independence, seen to be, as yet, too radical. He says, “When the SNP won its first Holyrood election in 2007, it wasn’t swept to power on a wave of nationalist fervour. There were no bold promises about independence or claims that the Union had had its day.” He explains that the “Then leader Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon assured small c conservative voters that a vote for their party was not necessarily a vote for independence.” (Euan McColm The Scotsman 9th August 2020)

The 2011 elections were therefore the first elections fought in the new conditions of austerity and democratic political crisis when the SNP demand for an independence referendum came to the fore. This saw a big swing the SNP. The party won 69 seats compared to Labour’s 37 and the Tories 15. The SNP was able to form a majority government. It was a signal that Scotland was on a different trajectory.

Scottish Parliament elections before and after 2008

 

Tory

Labour

Lib Dem

SNP

Green

2007

17 seats

46 seats

17 seats

47 seats

2 seats

2011

15 seats

37 seats

5 seats

69 seats

2 seats

2016

31 seats

24 seats

5 seats

63 seats

6 seats

(House of Commons – Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2011 Research Paper 11/41 and Briefing Paper CBP7599)

Scottish Parliament elections in shares of votes

 

Tory

Labour

Lib Dem

SNP

Green

2007

15.8%

31.8%

14.3%

33.2%

2.2%

2011

13%

29%

6.6%

44.7%

2.2%

2016

22%

22.6%

7.8%

46.5%

0.6%

The big swing to the SNP was maintained in 2016. But then the Tories increased their vote share to match Labour’s falling share. Although both parties were neck and neck, the Tories ended up with seven more seats. The Liberal Democrats saw nearly a ten per cent fall. The significant factor here was in the rise of the Tories in Scotland to become the second largest party.

The growing alienation from Westminster was not the rejection of parliament as such but rather the appeal for more power and sovereignty to be vested in Scotland. The 2011 election was not the end of Scotland’s disillusionment. The Cameron government, seeing which way the wind was blowing, decided to meet the nationalist threat head on. The British Crown granted Scotland the right to have a referendum.

The 2014 Scottish independence referendum was won with the intervention of Gordon Brown. Cameron and the Tories had little credibility in the Scottish Labour fiefdom. Brown was a big beast in the Labour jungle and his promise of more devolution if the SNP no doubt helped to swing the ‘undecided’. Yet it associated Labour with another broken promise, dishonesty unlikely to be forgotten by Labour voters who voted Yes.

Scottish Labour lost its way not merely because of Gordon Brown but because the campaign itself was transformative. Mass participation, mobilisation and engagement showed something significant was happening. Although Scottish Labour was the main voice for the fifty five per cent who voted ‘No’, Tory Unionism would become the main beneficiaries. Labour lost many working class Labour voters among the forty five per cent voting for independence and this put an indelible mark on the future.

Westminster parliament general elections in Scotland 2010-2019 in seats won

 

Conservative

Labour

Lib Dem

SNP

2010

1

41

11

6

2015

1

1

1

56

2017

13

7

4

35

2019

6

1

4

48

(Statista – Scottish election results 1918-2019 www.statisat.com)

The trends in Scottish politics are clear in general elections. In 2010 Labour was still the dominant party and Scotland was still voting on the choice between Labour and the Tories. Scotland did not trust the Tories to sort out the banking crisis and wanted a Labour government. By 2015 this had all changed. The 2014 referendum had transformed Scottish politics and the SNP went from 6 seats to 56 seats.

In 2016 the degeneration of the social monarchy appeared in the guise of the EU referendum. The ‘crisis of democracy’ in England was expressed in the vote to leave the European Union. It was a turning point for the Tories in Scotland whose number of MPs rose significantly from one to thirteen. Scottish Labour won an additional six seats, attributable to a Corbyn ‘bounce’, which in England brought Labour close to victory over Theresa May.

Westminster parliament general elections in Scotland 2010-2019 in shares of votes

 

Tory

Labour

Lib Dem

SNP

Green

2010

16.7%

42%

18.9%

20%

0.7%

2015

14.9%

24.3%

7.5%

50%

1.3%

2017

28.6%

27.1%

6.8%

36.9%

0.2%

2019

25.1%

18.6%

9.5%

45%

1.0%

(Statista – Scottish election results 1918-2019 www.statisat.com)

The losses of the SNP and Labour’s revival in 2017, seen in voter shares, put Labour and the Tories within 1.5% of each other. This translated through first past the post voting into Tories holding almost twice as many MPs. In 2019 the Tories slipped back slightly whilst Labour lost another ten per cent of the votes. The SNP recovered its position as the dominant Scottish voice in Westminster.

Overall the SNP increased its vote share by thirty per cent between 2010 and 2015. It declined in 2017 before beginning to rise again in 2019. Meanwhile the Tories have increased their voting share by ten per cent whilst Labour shrank from forty two per cent in 2010 to nearly nineteen per cent in 2019. It is important to recognise that Labour’s big drop in support took place between 2010 and 2015 before Corbyn became leader.

British Unionism and Scottish Nationalism

The degeneration of the social monarchy after 2008 brought a shift in class politics in Scotland from the traditional format of ‘Conservatives versus Labour’ to a new political framework of ‘Unionism versus Nationalism’. Scottish politics began to look more like Northern Ireland, long divided in this way, although not on the same historical or sectarian lines. This is not to deny the connection between Scottish Unionism and the Orange Order.

Scottish nationalism, in the twenty first century, has its own distinct roots and culture. Like Irish nationalism, it was always about political and constitutional change. But in Ireland, nationalism took both constitutional-legal and republican-revolutionary form (see United Irishmen, the Fenians and the 1916 republicans and republican socialists etc.). Scottish nationalism, as represented by the SNP, is a constitutional-legal movement.

The 2016 EU referendum showed the UK divided, with Northern Ireland and Scotland voting to remain in the EU and England and Wales voting to leave. This reinforces the idea that politics in Scotland and Northern Ireland work around Unionism-Nationalism polarity compared to England and Wales. There is an All-Ireland majority and a Scottish majority in favour of the European Union. In the wider context this is a struggle between a narrow British nationalism and wider pro-European nationalisms.

The following information on elections in Scotland is based on aggregating the votes of the Unionist bloc of Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats against the Nationalist bloc of the SNP and the Green Party.

Westminster parliament general elections – Unionists and Nationalists

 

Unionist

Votes

Nationalist

Votes

 

Unionist

Seats

Nationalist Seats

2010

77.6%

20.7%

 

53

6

2015

46.7%

51.3%

 

3

56

2017

62.5%

41.1%

 

24

35

2019

53.2%

46%

 

11

48

(Statista –Scottish election results 1918-2019 www.statisat.com)

Scottish Parliament elections – Unionists and Nationalists

 

Unionist Votes

Nationalist Votes

 

Unionist

Seats

Nationalists

Seats

2007

61.9%

35.4%

 

80 seats

49 seats

2011

48.9%

48.6%

 

57 seats

71 seats

2016

52.4%

47.1%

 

60 seats

69 seats

The shift from ‘Tories versus Labour’ to ‘Unionists against Nationalists’ goes some way to explain the rise of the Tories in Scotland. The Tories reinvented themselves as the most militant Unionist party in Scotland, not least under the leadership of Ruth Davidson. Politics polarised between the Tories and the SNP, with the Labour Party squeezed without a credible idea about the Union. The Tories gathered up the majority of the Unionist and Orange votes in 2017 and 2019 and won more votes and seats than Labour.

In 2020 these trends have continued. On the 5 July 2020 the Daily Mail reported there is now 54% of Scots in favour independence whilst 46% opposed it. Professor John Curtis, polling expert, highlighted the 6-month average of all polls had ‘Yes’ at 51% and ‘No’ to Independence at 49%. For the first time in history supporters of independence were a majority.

Degenerated Union and English nationalism

The Glorious Revolution created a Union state not a democratic state. Its historic legacy has been a long struggle for democracy between three broad tendencies – conservative, aiming to preserve the constitution, liberal, to save it by reform and revolutionary which seeks to scrap it and start again. With the exception of the Irish revolution (1916-22) and the Northern Ireland based republican movement from the 1970s and 90s, the revolutionary tendency has been marginal and confined to the fringe of mainland British politics.

Mainstream politics has been contested between conservatives and liberals in a binary choice of ‘Tories versus Whigs, ‘Conservatives versus Liberals’, and from the 1920s as ‘Conservatives versus Labour’. The rise of Labour in the twentieth century was recognition of the political importance of the working class. Labour was the means of incorporating organised labour, the trade union movement, into the state and its constitution.

In the epoch of the degenerated social monarchy, two new binaries have emerged in the form of ‘Unionism versus Nationalism’ and ‘Leave versus Remain’. Although different in aim, they reflect and represent the present disintegration of UK politics and rise of Scottish nationalism and its alter ego, English nationalism. Both nationalisms reflect a popular concern for the failure of ‘democracy’, in one case traced to Westminster and in the other to Brussels.

English nationalism is a reaction to perceived threats or injustices from the EU and nationalisms in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is being defined as reactionary by the authoritarian populism of the right with their theories of England as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation with a proud chauvinist history of imperialism and war. This is a measure of the ‘crisis of democracy’ and decline and degeneration of the British nation.

The Unionist-Nationalist framework in Scottish politics is sign of the crisis of democracy and the degeneration and disintegration of the Union. But it is at the same time the rise of the politics of constitutional change and democratic revolution. The rise of Scottish nationalism and support for remaining in the EU is not a contradiction because Scottish public opinion is identified with a more European civic nationalism and not with narrow isolationist chauvinism, which characterises English nationalism.

In the 2019 general election the Tories successfully incorporated the ‘revolutionary’ impetus of the leave campaign – taking back control and breaking up of the EU – to secure their election victory. In England, class politics was squeezed back into the traditional binary of Tory versus Labour with the help of UKIP. This time the hostility of English nationalism to the EU divided the working class to the benefit of the Tories. It enabled the Labour Right to wreak Corbyn’s chance of victory on the rock of a ‘second referendum’.

Conclusion

The degeneration of the social monarchy after 2008 is more than simply the continuation and extension of the destruction of the ‘welfare state’ since Thatcher’s neo-liberal revolution. The rot goes to the very foundations of the British state from 1688-1707, which annexed Scotland, abolished the Scottish Parliament and locked Scotland into a permanent marriage with England without divorce. Scotland is now facing a ‘constitutional crisis’, which may be delayed but not avoided.

The British Labour Party suffered a historic defeat in the 2019 general election. It ceased to be British and became, in effect, an Anglo-Welsh party with no seats in Northern Ireland and one in Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party was more or less been wiped out in the Westminster parliament. British Labour, without Scotland, is a ‘dead parrot’. It has ceased to be, gone to meet its maker.

Of course the Scottish Labour Party is not literally dead because it still exits with members, political funds and MP’s. It is, however, ‘dead’ in the political and historical sense that it can no longer represent the social democratic working class when the state on which it depends is at the end of its life. The Union of 1707 and the social monarchy of 1945 have now degenerated beyond repair. Scotland’s ‘crisis of democracy’ meant the Corbyn programme of restoring the social monarchy and saving the union was not too extreme but simply too little and too late. Corbyn drove his ambulance to Scotland only to find the patient already dead.

The historic defeat of the British Labour Party in Scotland has little to do with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 or even the campaign of character assassination waged against him by the state and the billionaire press. Scottish Labour was already on a downward trajectory before he became leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Indeed in 2017 Scottish Labour had an upturn in votes before resuming its downward trend in 2019.

Scottish Labour can be resurrected from the dead by becoming Scotland’s republican party. It would have to shift from the Unionist to the Nationalist camp and then occupy a position as a republican socialist party to the left of the SNP. But given the nature of Scottish Labour and the politics of its leaders and members this prospect is more or less impossible. Scottish Labour suffered a historic defeat because history has overtaken it.

Steve Freeman 12 August 2020


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Labour Left Alliance – social monarchism or republicanism?

Republicanism in the Labour Party is the ‘dog that doesn’t bark’ argues Kenneth Morgan, with reference to Sherlock Holmes who deduced from the absence of a fact who carried out the crime. Today the Labour Left Alliance may be the ‘mad’ dog of Starmer’s Labour, but only if it starts barking. A good starting for anybody trying to learn the appropriate canine noises would be Tony Benn.

In the forward to ‘Common Sense’ Tony Benn (with Andrew Hood) in 1993 asks what is the nature of Britain – a constitutional monarchy – He says “there is now a rapidly growing cynicism about these ‘great’ institutions – the Crown, Parliament and the civil service, the mass media and the financial establishment…The public confidence on which their authority has hitherto rested has been thoroughly shaken”.

“This cynicism is dangerous because it breeds arrogance on the part of those who govern without popular consent and defeatism and demoralisation in those whom the government and its agencies ignore. Such an atmosphere of defeatism could easily prepare the way for a very unpleasant authoritarianism in which demagogues seek to fill the moral vacuum with appeals to sweep away the apparatus of this ‘decadent democracy’”.

Hence he concludes “The time has come to refound our public institutions upon principles of the common weal, democracy and an internationalism more in tune with the needs of the 21st century”. He sums up his proposals as follows; “the most important change in law and practice would be that every Briton would become a citizen of a democratic federal and secular commonwealth dedicated to the welfare of all and with fundamental human rights enshrined in a charter dealing with political, legal, social and economic dimensions.”

The LLA is debating and deciding its programme for the coming period. There are two versions on offer. Both aim for some future of socialism or communism, but the major decision is which path are we going to take to get there? We have Version 1 about rebuilding the 1945 social monarchy, which Corbyn lifted from obscurity, and version 2 to fight for a democratic social republic.

There are problems with both of them. Neither may be the best versions of the strategic and tactical road they are trying to represent. But we shouldn’t let the detail get in the way of choosing one broad path or another. The republican road has Keir Hardy, Tony Benn, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels on it. If we take the social monarchist road then we have the ‘success’ achieved by Ramsey McDonald, Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, and James Callaghan. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown abandoned the social but not the monarchy.

I don’t think that those who want to continue on the social monarchist road, which Corbyn revived, are monarchists who love royalty. Far from it. I don’t think they would have to leave the LLA on some point of principled support for the Crown. It is just that they may think Labour’s Faustian Pact with the ruling class, whereby the ruling class keep their monarchy and right to rule and we get more houses and better health care, is a price worth paying. It is a social contract long since broken by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.

The social contract of 1945 was the outcome of a World War with the revolutionary upheaval in Europe. We don’t need another war but a democratic transformation mobilised by extra-parliamentary political action. It is not necessarily about the content of a new social contact, which is at the heart of Tony Benn’s programme, but the means of getting there, which was his and is our main point.

Many on the left think monarchy is merely a symbol or ideology or even like a statue not worth time or effort to get rid of. Why pull down the statue of a long dead Bristol slave trader? It is only a symbol after all! Thatcher proclaimed that class was only an out-dated idea, which could be gotten rid of if we stop thinking about it. Yet these are ideas with a material reality and force behind them, which cannot be abolished by thinking differently. Benn understood the UK monarchy is a symbol of class rule and the power of the Crown-state in an antiquated constitution designed to defend property against the working class and the likes of Corbyn. No serious class politics can avoid it.

The LLA conference should make a basic choice between an immediate (or minimum) programme, which is on a social monarchist (i.e. accepts the constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament) Version 1 or republican road Version 2. If the conference votes to take the latter road then there will have to be much more discussion and education for all of us. There is no reason why we couldn’t work on a second draft or even a drafting commission involving both sides in this debate. This conference is a choice between continuity Corbyn or going back to the lessons learned and conclusions drawn by Tony Benn, who understood the reality of political power from his earlier experiences as one of Her Majesty’s Ministers and as a left wing socialist.

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English nationalism

In Weekly Worker (12 March 2020) Bob Smart criticises my comments on Royal Socialism and English nationalism by saying I “attack(s) Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales. It is certainly true that this demand does not feature anywhere in the programme presented to the founding conference of the Left Labour Alliance in Sheffield. But then nor do women’s rights or the fight against austerity”.

He continues “On the other hand, it is a fact that John Bridge did explicitly raise this demand in a short speech, which defended the motion opposing Scottish independence moved by Matthew Jones. True, that was not mentioned in the Weekly Worker report. But, on the other hand, comrade Freeman was there – he was a visitor at the conference.

However, comrade Freeman now opposes the Marxist perspective of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, in which Scotland and Wales have the right to self-determination. Instead he supports a separate Scotland, a separate Wales and a separate England”.

He ends by saying “Apparently, this break-up of Britain would be progressive. Rather like the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. In all probability such an outcome would result in a carnival of reaction, as workers are divided along petty nationalist lines. Surely the task of Marxists is to warn against that possibility and seek the maximum unity of the working class that objective circumstances permit”.

My reply on the question of a federal republic

Bob Smart (Weekly Worker 12 March 2020) says I “attack” rather than criticise Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right for Scotland, Wales (and Ireland) to self determination, that is, to oppose the Union. Ending the monarchy, House of Lords and the Union is an “attack” on three reactionary pillars of the present constitution and an “attack” on those, like Bob, defending one or more of them.

Royal socialism is as stupid and ignorant as Unionist socialism. They might seem different but are branches of the same tree – the United (or Unionist) Kingdom. Hence the Labour Left conference can happily vote for a socialist United (Unionist) Kingdom. In Ireland it has long been obvious that republicanism and unionism are mortal foes in the battle for democracy. Scotland and Wales are on the same road a hundred years later.

Bob has no time for the Tory monarchy but clings to Tory Unionism for dear life. He admits that “It is certainly true that this demand (for self determination) does not figure anywhere” in the programme presented to the Labour Left alliance in Sheffield.

Last time I looked Sheffield was in England and this was a gathering of the English Labour Left with Bob and Matthew representing Wales and Scotland. Such an event in Cardiff or Edinburgh would not have been so forgetful.

Why should a gathering of the English left have such poor memory. It was politics not forgetfulness. Bob says John Bridge mentioned it in his speech. But then Weekly Worker ‘forgot’ to mention it in their report on the conference, which is why I wrote my letter.

It reminded me when German Social Democracy (in the 1890s) ‘forgot’ to include the demand for a republic in their programme. Engels and Lenin condemned this as opportunism, or lack of social democratic principle. It is the same allegation of opportunism against the English Labour Left. As soon as the going gets tough, this will suddenly bite them on the bum as it did when Corbyn was asked whether Scotland had the right to hold a referendum on self determination.

Next Bob makes a false statement about federal republicanism. I am in favour of a federal republic of Europe, otherwise identified as a republican united states of Europe. Of course I am in favour of the United Kingdom being dissolved into this republic. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be equal nations in a European multi-nation state.

I am not in favour of a (British) federal republic inside a (European) federal republic. The very idea of a democratic Europe transcends any notion of a British state and renders the slogan of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales historically obsolete. Bob would, however, be right to say that leaving the European Union resurrects his idea of a Great British Republic, only to see it crash on the rocks of the referendum and sink.

Marx’s approach to Ireland is instructive. At first he was in favour of England and Ireland being federated in one state. He changed his mind. He was then in favour of Ireland becoming independent. He thought that breaking the Union was revolutionary not simply for Ireland but for England too. He did not, however, rule out an independent Irish republic becoming part of a federal republic with England.

Marx was not dogmatic. First was the federation of England and Ireland rather than independence. Then he saw independence as a possible step to a federal republic. It would be for the Irish people, as a sovereign nation, to decide whether to join a federal republic with England or not.

So whilst leaving the EU has resurrected the idea of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales it has shown the only road to a republican future is through a reunification of Ireland and an independent Scotland. This should be obvious from the fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave.

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Royal Socialism

As reported by Stan Keable in “A vision of royal socialism” (Weekly Worker 27 February 2020) the Labour Left Alliance (LLA) conference on 22 February 2020 was a significant event in the evolution of the Labour left, revitalised by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. Stan reports that 130 delegates at the conference represented about 36 local and national Labour Left groups.

The Labour left in England has long been ‘social monarchist’ or Old Labour as it was known under the reign of Tony Blair. Social monarchism is the programme based on the 1945 Labour government which established a version of state capitalism with a ‘welfare state’ under the governance of the constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament, which Stan calls the “constitutional monarchist system”.

Corbyn’s social monarchist programme was to seen as a move towards ‘socialism’ by restoring some public ownership, the NHS, the welfare state, council housing and progressive taxation etc. Social monarchism is the trade unionist politics of the British working class. Its aim is to bargain with the ruling class and the employers for better terms and conditions for the working class. Labour and the trade unions are thus two sides – political and economic – of a better social contract agreed within the framework of the constitution of the UK ruling class.

Momentum was launched as the support group for Corbyn’s social monarchist programme with Jon Lansman becoming its unelected monarch after his 10 January 2017 ‘bureaucratic coup’. Left social-monarchists became increasingly disillusioned with him. This discontent was crystalised after he called for expulsion of Chris Williamson MP. Over two years later the Labour Left Alliance is a potential alternative Momentum.

Left social monarchism has no republican democratic programme. It conceals its ‘democratic deficit’ by concentrating on or prioritising economic and social reforms. It is ‘republican’ only in a token way, as a long term goal when socialism is won. In the meantime workers should bargain for social improvements and not seek political change.

A classic example of left social monarchism was in the motion from Cheltenham Labour Left which called for a “socialist UK”. This was passed by 63 to 53 votes. It is not just that a socialist Kingdom is a contradiction in terms. It shows the blind spot or lack of self awareness of the English Labour left. There is a complete absence or ignorance of the militant democratic republican politics of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly and MacLean etc.

The Cheltenham Labour Left seems to consider the United Kingdom only as a geographical territory which can be filled with capitalist or socialist content. The UK is a state and law through which the ruling class exercises its control over a given territory. In law it is an undemocratic union state, comprised of different nations. This is not the means through which the working class can socialise the economy.

A combined and uneven democratic transformation or democratic revolution will not leave the current Union undisturbed. The 2016 referendum on the EU has already shown that Ireland and Scotland are on a different trajectory. English left social monarchists haven’t noticed this, much less drawn any political conclusions.

It is significant that of the ten bullet points with which Stan sums up the political achievements of the Sheffield conference, nine were organisational and only one set a strategic political goal. This stated that the Labour Left Alliance stands for the “free movement of people”.

It seems that the Labour Party Marxists played an important role in supporting the organisation of left social monarchists. Their aim was to win the Labour Party to communism with the London Labour Left Alliance (London LLA) as a vehicle for a united front of communists and left social monarchists. With this in mind the London LLA, under the influence of the Labour Party Marxists, proposed that communism should be the aim.

This is in the resolution from London LLA on aims and principles. This called for “opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism and militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet… a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class”. This would move towards full communism as “a stateless, classless moneyless society” who carried out the communist principle of “from each according to their abilities ….etc”

The communist programme from London LLA was voted down by about two thirds to one third of delegates. The influence of social monarchism runs deep in the Labour left. Stan fails to mention that hidden within the London LLA aims was a democratic republican programme.

This calls for “achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections”. Whilst this is supportable it falls down badly in its implicit acceptance of English nationalism (i.e. Anglo-British nationalism).

England is by far the dominant nation in the British Union. No revolutionary working class republican would ignore the right of Ireland, Scotland and Wales to self determination. Neither would militant republicans give any support whatsoever to the anti-democratic Acts of Union. Supporting British Unionism is the litmus test of English social chauvinism.

The conclusion from Sheffield must be that the Labour left is disorientated by Corbyn’s defeat but is still following the political programme of social monarchism. Counter posing the communist maximum programme to this simply lets Labour left reformism off the hook. The immediate task is not about communism but taking the only road towards it through consistent working class democracy which means winning the working class to the minimum republican programme.

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Hong Kong

I thought Corbyn did well against ‘All Mouth and No Trousers’ in the Great Debate. He had the best one liner about suffering nine years under the Tory ‘Coalitions of Chaos’. We nearly went ‘all constitutional’ when Johnson said the institution of the monarchy is above reproach and Corbyn said it needs improvement. Both swore to defend the Union by opposing another Scottish referendum. Johnson will never allow it and Corbyn kicked it somewhere into the long grass and nobody quite knows where.

Republicans call for the monarchy to be scrapped and support Scotland’s right to self determination. The Scottish people must have the right to decide if they want a referendum on independence. It is not for a Johnson or Corbyn government to deny people their democratic rights. Republicans should oppose the whole of the UK leaving the EU (British Exit) but as democrats recognise the referendum result and as socialists recognise the significance of a divided working class.

Republicans understand the mandate from England and Wales to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voting to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union. There is no mandate for that. Listening to how people voted and delivering those mandates leads to a ‘Denmark-Greenland’ (one state-two nations) deal. This or any deal must be put to the people in a ratification referendum which allows all resident EU citizens and all sixteen and seventeen year olds to vote.

Corbyn has not adopted the republican position on the EU (or the monarchy or Scotland) but is not far away. He was weakest on the EU where he lacked a clear answer. On Brexit he has a good story to tell. He is a ‘remain-democrat’ who campaigned for remain but accepted the majority (in England and Wales) voted to leave. As a socialist he is right to make the issue of a divided working class central to his position. He has fought every Tory Brexit – the May Deal, No Deal and the Johnson Deal and played a major role in stopping the UK leaving on 29 March and 31 October.

If Johnson wins a majority and can get his deal through the Commons then the demand for a ratification referendum is a valid democratic demand. Republicans should continue to oppose a second referendum or a remain question. If Corbyn wins a majority then Labour has a mandate to negotiate a soft Labour Brexit and then offer a referendum with a remain question.

Corbyn appears to be boxed in by a hypothetical question of how he would vote if he became PM and then negotiated a softer Labour Brexit. He cannot simply say “remain” since this would destroy the credibility of his negotiating plan. But he should say he intends to negotiate a “Great Deal” which can win a majority in the country. Then he will recommend voting for it as the best way to unite people.

However if it turns out he only achieves a “Moderately Good” deal he can tell the people to vote against it. That is what trade union negotiators can do. Once a deal is done and the fine print is clear any honest trade union negotiator could urge workers either to support it or reject it depending on how good it is. Hence Corbyn can say what he will recommend either Deal or Remain which cannot be known until the negotiations are complete.

Neither this TV debate nor even the royal crisis over the ‘Prince and the Paedophile’ is the most significant event this week. The most important is the heroic struggle by young democrats in Hong Kong. They have put up a brave and tremendous battle against the violence of the Hong Kong police fully armed with gas and guns and every possible weapon.

It has been inspiring to see their revolutionary democratic struggle against overwhelming force. It looks like they have been defeated. However it seems they have kept the continuing support of the majority of Hong Kong people who are still coming out on the streets in solidarity and bravely shouting abuse at their brutal police. Hong Kong workers are the key to victory. What starts in Hong Kong cannot stay there. The Tories sold Hong Kong to China without democracy and the right to vote. Hong Kong’s ‘crisis of democracy’ has led to the brink of a democratic revolution which needs actions by millions of working people to win.

20 November 2019

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Grenfell Election

The Tories want this to be the “Brexit election” and in one sense it will be. But it must also be the Grenfell election. It is the first general election since the tragedy on the 14 June 2017. Seventy two people were killed in a death trap, which had been waiting for an accident to happen. This was the biggest single loss of life in London since World War Two.

The politics of Grenfell should be front and centre of this campaign. The election is a democratic opportunity to make the Tory government accountable. It should be one of the central issues raised in every election meeting and by everybody canvassing on the door step. A good starting point was Corbyn’s speech in the Commons on 28 June 2017 attacking the policies which contributed to the disaster, including forty percent cuts in local authority budgets and the failure of building inspections.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, hit back saying that dangerous cladding and lax inspection began under the last Labour government. Of course the allegation of criminal negligence goes beyond the policies of one party or one government to the Crown-state itself as represented in this case by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

May was correct when she told the House of Commons that Grenfell was a “failure of the state – local and national”. Even here a cover up was already going on. She admitted the state had failed to help the victims but only after the fire. She said “that people were left without belongings, without roofs over their heads, without even basic information about what happened, what they should do and where they should go to seek help” (Express 22 June 2017).

The state had failed long before that. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is a bureaucracy protected behind a wall of secrecy. It depends for its funding on HM Treasury. It is not democratically accountable for its actions or its failures. It failed to invest in housing and in fire safety and to regulate landlords and building firms making money out of renovations or ensure that the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea worked to protect its tenants and residents.

The Grenfell disaster is the responsibility of the Tory government and its policies and behind this the failure of the bureaucratic state. In a crisis, the Crown-state reaches for its Standard Operating Procedures. Set up a public inquiry headed by one of Her Majesty’s ex Judges and divert attention away from those responsible at the very top. Then build a non-political monument to all who died.

The government set up the Grenfell Memorial Commission in September 2018. The Secretary of State for Communities, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, said: “The government has always been committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial, with the Prime Minister giving her personal commitment that the bereaved, survivors and community will decide what happens to the future of the Grenfell Tower site”.

At the same time the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been put in the frame by the Grenfell Inquiry. There has been a drip feed of stories pointing to the LFB and what happened after the fridge freezer on the fourth floor flat burst into flames. Before a single fire-engine has arrived everything that brought disaster was already in place, months or years before.

There were no extra high ladders, sufficient breathing equipment, sprinkler systems, strong fire doors and necessary training were all missing. Covering the walls with flammable cladding made the building into a death trap. Most of these factors are down to insufficient investment in public services and failure of the state to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the people. It was the failure of the state to regulate and inspect the safety of buildings. Without real democracy there is nothing to compel the state to listen or act.

The controversial question focused whether more people could have escaped on the night? Here the finger is pointed at the ‘stay put’ policy. If flats are sealed concrete shells it is safer to stay and be rescued. Going down whilst fire-fighters are coming up could disrupt fire rescue and most deaths come from deadly toxic smoke and fumes.

‘Stay Put’ was a national not a London policy. Similar fire-hazards were awaiting ignition in tower blocs throughout England. Over one hundred and ninety local councils across the country had fitted fire-dangerous cladding to their tower blocks. The problem is in the bureaucratic failure of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government so far avoiding all scrutiny.

‘Stay put’ was the story that Jacob Rees-Mogg blundered into, reminding the country that class is at the heart of it. He displayed the ignorance and crass insensitivity of his class. As Stormzy said “this isn’t about politics it’s about the people who govern us lacking the most basic humanity or empathy”.

This disaster shines a powerful light on contemporary Britain. It shows the consequences of thirty years of failed economic policies. It is a powerful reminder the UK is a deeply class divided society and that life’s chances depend on which class you are born into. It brings out the nature of political power in the UK’s broken ‘democracy’.
Unaccountable political decisions, taken by national and local government in England, were paid for by death, injury and life changing trauma.

6 November 2019

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Election at last

In Weekly Worker back in July (1) I argued that “The election of Johnson as Prime Minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election”.

How could this happen? “We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May-deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course Johnson will have to throw the DUP under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn”. (1)

In October the Sunday Times editorial came to a similar conclusion – “A Prime Minister who has delivers Brexit would be in a strong position to inflict a heavy defeat on a hopeless Labour leader, particularly one around whom the vultures in his own party are already circulating”. (2). The birds of prey, Swinson, Watson, Blair, Starmer, Thornberry and McDonnell were seen in the skies squawking for a second referendum to finally finish Corbyn off.

Rachel Sylvester (3) noted that “most Labour MPs would prefer to have a (remain) referendum first. Some of them hate the idea of campaigning for a hard-left Labour leader to become PM, others fear that the party’s position on Europe is so confused that they would haemorrhage votes”. So the last battle in the Commons had Corbyn securing Labour backing for a general election not a second referendum.

It is perhaps no coincidence with Corbyn’s victory came in the same week that the Peoples Vote campaign split. The underlying or unseen tension is between two polar extremes – a democratic demand for a ratification referendum and the liberal demand for remain question in a ‘second referendum. The democrats confront the liberals.

The demand for a second remain referendum has no majority in parliament and no majority support in the country. The liberals are trying to overthrow the 2016 referendum without the backing of the majority of the working class. This is straight from the anarcho-liberal playbook of Swinson-Watson etc. The only purpose of this nonsense on stilts was, like the Zionist campaign, to undermine or destroy Corbyn.

The tension between the more democratic and more liberal sides of People’s Vote campaign burst out into the open this week as confrontation between millionaire business man Roland Rudd, who wants an ultra remain campaign, and James McGrory, Tom Baldwin and Patrick Heneghan who want to appeal to leave voters (which a second referendum slogan cannot!)

It is a long time since Prime Minister David Cameron told Corbyn he should resign -“For heaven’s sake man, go!” Every day since then the main stream national media attacked Corbyn as the worst Labour leader ever, opposed even by his own MPs, many of whom say he is not fit to be PM. Yet Corbyn has seen off Cameron and May and had a central role in keeping the UK in the EU by the absolute deadline of 29 March 2019.

Then Labour led the fight to stop No-Deal by building a giant barricade. Despite Johnson getting his deal by selling out the DUP, he was blocked from his ‘die in a ditch’ total absolute deadline of 31 October. Thwarted again, Johnson was forced to get an extension until 30 January 2020. If Labour wins the general election we will still be in the EU by September 2020.

This is surely the greatest example of guerrilla warfare since Fidel Castro, with only nineteen supporters, more than Corbyn has in the PLP, conducted a brilliant campaign in the Sierra Maestra mountains. No wonder Corbyn hailed Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice” (4) whilst Boris Johnson compared Corbyn “to Fidel Castro, Goldilocks and Count Dracula”. (5)

By pretending to be useless, Corbyn has lured or even forced the Tories into two general elections in two years despite having a law which only allows it once every five years! He held his nerve and has now come out fighting for an election. While he is doing that, he has at least a chance with an army of close to half a million ready to go to war against Tory Brexit and their anti-working class austerity policies.

Who would have a chance against the combined leadership of Castro, Goldilocks and Dracula? Not many. So the last word belongs to the Tory, Andrew Gimson. “Corbyn, the disregarded Corbyn, may turn out to have greater affinity with Middle England than opinion polls suggest. He could be the underdog who was underestimated”. (5) Soon we will find out the next twist in the Brexit revolution.

30 October 2019

1. Weekly Worker 1261 25 July 2019
2. Sunday Times13 October 2019).
3. Times 15 October 2019
4. Independent 26 November 2016
5. Conservative Home – Andrew Gimson 30 October 2019

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No Surrender – a republican case against British Exit

Ireland and Tory Brexit

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender consider the importance of Irish republicanism in the fight against Tory Brexit and how we should answer Tory populist slogans about ‘parliament versus the people’.

The Tories had set the coming general election as a confrontation between the ‘parliament and the people’. Boris Johnson planned to represent the ‘will of the people’ and champion the fight against the liberal elites blocking Brexit. Her Majesty’s Government will deliver Brexit and pump money into the police and the NHS and order the employing class to raise the living wage offering to bribe us with billions of (our own) taxpayer’s money. The Queen read the Tory Brexit manifesto from the throne.

The essence of Tory Brexit is to leave the single market and customs union. Nobody voted for this. It was not on the ballot paper. Yet the Tories stole the mandate and refashioned it into a weapon for their master-plan of neo-liberal ‘global Britain’, for trade war against the EU and class war against the working class.

Leaving the single market and customs union opened up a fundamental contradiction between an open border within Ireland and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This peace treaty accepted Northern Ireland would remain in the UK with a peaceful economic and social integration of Ireland through the institutions of the European Union. Ireland has always been the major stumbling block for Tory Brexit.

Theresa May’s version of Tory Brexit was defeated by the combination of Irish republicanism and Her Majesty’s Opposition. Corbyn took away May’s majority in the 2017 general election and put her government in hock to the Democratic Unionist Party. Since Sinn Fein is absent from the Commons, Irish republicanism appears in the guise of its mortal enemy, as a party whose raison d’etre is opposition to Irish unity. Theresa May invented the all-UK Irish backstop to placate them before they finally sank her.

The Johnson government faces the same problem – Irish republicanism and Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is trying to marshal his rebellious MPs behind a ‘Labour Brexit’ which addresses a divided working class. His stance, as a ‘remain-democrat’, recognises this. His victory at the Labour conference offers the best chance of keeping the Parliamentary Labour Party sufficiently united to prevent any Tory Brexit before 31 October, if Labour is to have a chance of winning the general election.

Irish republicanism

Irish republicanism has long opposed British Crown powers used in Ireland. The fight for popular sovereignty, the rights of nations to self determination and the right for the Irish people to ratify constitutional treaties was recognised by the Good Friday Agreement. This might seem irrelevant in the rest of the UK, but it is part of a wider European democratic republican culture with relevant experience for England, Scotland and Wales.

Republicanism informs a democratic approach to the problems posed by the 2016 EU referendum not least in recognising the rights of nations to self determination. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU and England and Wales voted to leave. These mandates represent the sovereign ‘will of the people’ and form the parameters for any negotiated settlement.

Any agreement along these lines, or indeed any other agreement, must be put back to the people in a ratification referendum. The people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have democratic reasons to oppose Tory Brexit on different grounds from the Labour Party.

This republican case is not in itself a demand for a united Ireland or an independent Scotland. However, it rejects the assumptions and presumptions of British Unionism. It is based on democracy, internationalism and solidarity as the only means of bringing nations closer together. Hence the working class in England must not participate in, or give any support whatsoever, to the imposition of an Anglo-British exit on Ireland and Scotland.

Social republicans go beyond a purely democratic case against Brexit by recognising the interests of working people. The EU was set up in the interests of European business and finance. Trade unions and working people have no illusions in the EU and oppose any measures which worsen working class rights and conditions. Hence, there is both a democratic and a social case for the Northern Ireland and Scotland remaining, while the whole of the UK stays in the single market and customs union.

New Irish Deal

The Johnson government’s new proposals to leave the single market and customs union have made Northern Ireland a special case. This has been dubbed “Two borders for four years” with a ratification vote, initially to confirm the deal, but repeated every four years. Northern Ireland would remain in the single market with a regulatory border down the Irish Sea. It would leave the Customs union and this would necessitate a customs border between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland with customs checks in multiple locations away from the geographical land border.

Johnson had added the proposal that Northern Ireland is not subject to the EU’s so-called ‘level playing field’ requirements, which ensure minimum standards on workers’ rights, social conditions and environmental standards. This confirms the free market ‘race to the bottom’ aims of Tory Brexit.

This shift was not the end of the Tory compromise. The meeting between Johnson and Leo Veradka showed Johnson on a slippery slope to a predictable reality. (There now seems to be a new proposal to keep the whole of Ireland in the customs union). According to the Sunday Times “Johnson has been influence by Sedwell (Sir Mark Sedwell, Cabinet Secretary), who is also national security advisor, and by Michael Gove who had received security briefings “which he is said to have found sobering”. It is Irish republicanism not the DUP that has shaken them. (Sunday Times 13 October 2019)

The Johnson plan is significant from a republican perspective. The DUP backed the Crown’s original proposals and thus ‘sold out’ its previously declared principle that Northern Ireland could not have any agreement different to the rest of the UK. This ‘fear of republicanism’ party has shifted ground, perhaps belatedly recognising no-deal would alienate its business and farming base and increase support for a united Ireland.

Northern Ireland would now have unique arrangements. This is a concession to secure a deal in the interests of the City of London. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has now recognised that Northern Ireland has a right to ratify the withdrawal treaty with the EU. This right is confined to the Northern Ireland executive and Assembly rather than the Irish people. But there is no reason why the people of Northern Ireland and indeed the rest of Ireland, as in 1998, could not vote to ratify any deal.

Northern Ireland is a ‘special’ case owing to the long struggle for a united Ireland and because, in 2016, a majority voted to remain. The republican case is that these rights should be extended to Scotland which like Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Every national parliament (Scotland and Wales) should have the right to ratify and should extend this right the people. Although there is no English parliament, the people of England should have the same right to ratify any agreement.

Crown versus Parliament

Since 1945, UK politics centred in Westminster has been a contest between two class based parties, Tory and Labour, under the unionist constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament. Between 1975 and 1998 this changed as the UK joined the European Economic Community, agreed the Good Friday Agreement and set up devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. The 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 EU referendum brought ‘the people’ into the constitutional equation further exposing the democratic deficit and the ‘crisis of democracy’.

The Brexit crisis took shape in the struggle between the Crown and Parliament. Disputes have ranged over triggering Article 50 and whether the Crown or parliament has the right to ratify treaties with the EU. It led to battles over the rights of the Speaker and the House of Commons to control the parliamentary agenda with echoes from 1642. The Roundheads fired off the Benn Act and the Royalists replied with a volley of prorogation.

This has raised issues about the inner workings of the Crown. Did Johnson mislead the queen into legitimising an unlawful prorogation? Did he tell her the truth and she simply supported it. Did she know or suspect this was unlawful and undemocratic and do nothing about it? If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them?

Royalists always shield the monarch from criticism by claiming she had no choice except to do as she is told by her First Minister. If this is true, the monarch would, like the King of Italy, give legitimacy to an elected Mussolini acting to remove, or end, democratic rights. If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them? In any serious political crisis, constitutional monarchy reveals itself as useless or dangerous.

The depth of the crisis is indicted when the Queen is drawn into political controversy which normal politics seeks to avoid at all costs. The UK is shrouded in a constitutional fog where secrecy and oaths of loyalty conceal most of what is really going on. It reminds of the role of the third ‘parliament’, the Privy Council, along with the more well-known Commons and Lords. The monarch intervenes through her Privy Council of the ‘Great and Good’.

Jacob Rees Mogg described the process. It begins with the Prime Minister giving the Queen ‘Advice’. For all we know it may be discussed in the Queen’s weekly audience with her PM (chief executive). However, the monarch normally approves the ‘Advice’, but could reject it with serious constitutional implications. In practice, decisions are worked out before hand between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, through the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.

As a Privy Councillor, Jacob Rees Mogg went to Balmoral Castle for a Privy Council meeting with the Queen. (LBC Nick Ferrari 15 October 2019). He simply asked her if she agrees (to the use her Crown powers) to prorogue parliament. She replied “Approved” and then it became legal to implement the decision. Rees-Mogg did not lie to the Queen because this is a ‘rubber stamp’ process with no discussion. It was a significant precedent when this rubber stamp decision was overruled by the Supreme Court.

Parliament versus the people

The democratic struggle between Crown power and Westminster over their shared sovereignty has been the major battle. The Tories, both May and Johnson, have tried to flip this into populist demagogic terms about ‘parliament versus the people’. Johnson has set the coming general election as a confrontation between these two institutions

The Crown is not a democratic organisation. Johnson is not a representative of the people because they did not elect him. He was elected MP in one constituency and then chosen by his party which represents the interests of big business and the City of London. The Tories do not have majority of votes but a majority of seats. Johnson is selected by the monarch if the Tories have a majority and then inducted into the power structures and secrets of the Crown through the oaths of allegiance.

The responsibility for the ‘Brexit crisis’ has to be placed fairly and squarely with the Crown, not least with its chief executives, Cameron, May and Johnson. Negotiations have been conducted without consultation or transparency. So far, bad deals with the EU have failed to win a majority in parliament. After three years, nothing has been brought back to the people for democratic ratification.

Boris Johnson has appropriated English nationalism, appointing himself ‘Minister of the Union’, and adopting populist rhetoric about “people versus parliament”, in which the Crown represents the ‘will of the people’ to ‘get Brexit done’. This is designed to scapegoat parliament for the failure of the Crown to deliver a democratic agreement supported by parliament and the people.

Republicanism is the democratic answer to Tory populism. The socialist movement must warn the Tories that dabbling in authoritarian populism opens a can of worms. Working people must not vote to give the Crown more power to act as an elected dictatorship. The answer is to take power and become sovereign and liberate parliament from all monarchical institutions and Crown powers.

The Brexit fiasco is exposing the power of the Crown and the weakness of parliament within an antiquated unwritten constitution. This is creating the conditions for more authoritarian government to take over or for some kind of a popular democratic revolution. A political crisis is brewing which demands democratic answers with citizens’ assemblies, a parliament for England, a republican written constitution with the right of constituent nations to self determination.

14 October 2019

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Crossing the Rubi-con

Jack Conrad makes many useful insights and observations on the crisis faced by Corbyn and the socialist movement. (Weekly Worker 3 October 2019). But he ruins it with his central theory that “Communists reject referendum. These are a con – a means of fooling the people”.

The first statement is untrue or worse a lie, that is an untruth repeated when it is known to be false. The second statement is true. But it doesn’t mean all people are fooled all of the time, unless you think the masses are biologically ignorant or stupid. Even then, a communist answer to ignorance is participation in struggle not the principle of boycott.

I won’t repeat all the evidence on boycott except to remind readers that the Bolshevik programme advocated a referendum as a means of a (relatively) peaceful and democratic resolution to the national question. The right of nations to self determination without the right for a nation to vote on separation is a ‘con’. To put it simply the Bolsheviks preferred and advocated a referendum to having a civil war between nations.

Jack’s fundamental mistake is to raise one way of voting in liberal democracy as uniquely bad as “a means of fooling people”. This is the method of anarchism or ‘con-munism’. The list is massive. Capitalism (con), general elections (con), Labour Party (con), universal suffrage (con) are all means of “fooling the people” and not forgetting my favourite the ‘republi-con’.

Politics, in capitalist societies, in all its guises is designed as “a means of fooling people”. No communist should disagree with this. But anarchists believe that boycott is the answer, unless they change their minds. They would boycott the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion. They would change their minds if it seems a good idea or is not worth being condemned as a reactionary. As Groucho Marx said “these are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others”.

Now we turn to poor old Jeremy, who is doing better than most ignorant and stupid people imagine. He is in a hole. So he turns to Labour Party Marxists for advice. He believes they are a voice of the working class and not a con. He might ask “what is the road to socialism”? Labour Marxists might say “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you?” They might say “give up because con-munism is the only answer”.

Alternatively they might say “lets fight together to defeat Johnson with a working class strategy and tactics related to the actual balance of forces”. Should Corbyn call for a referendum? (No) Should he demand a general election now (No) or sooner or later (No)? Should he try to remove the dangerous Johnson from office? (No) Should he call a vote of no confidence? (No) Should he become a Caretaker PM? (No) Should he support another MP as Caretaker PM? (No) Should he call for a government of national disunity? (No) Is there anything else that makes sense? (No)

Jack has blocked and barricaded up every escape route and not just the blind alleys. The LPM seems no better. They have no answers and no way out of the cul-de-sac, having blocked off all the exits. Since it is easy to argue against every option, it is only fair to rise to the same challenge.

The Tory referendum has given the mantle of ‘democracy’ to the Right. The democratic answer to these reactionary ‘democrats’ who are ‘fooling the people’, is to listen to the people.

In 2016, the collective view of working people through their majorities was for England and Wales to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scottish to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or customs union. This is what every democrat should demand. This deal or any other deal (including a no-deal ‘clean break’) must be put to the people in a ratification (Yes/No) referendum.

This is simple, democratic and easy to understand. But it is impossible to fathom if your head is full of English (or Anglo-British) chauvinist and unionist crap which of course swamps the Labour Party. Corbyn was moulded politically in the same swamp.

Yet the interesting point is that it is close to, but different from, the position he and the Labour Party have taken. Corbyn has ignored the voters on Northern Ireland and Scotland. He hasn’t fully embraced the single market including EU free movement. Corbyn’s instinct is for the trade union idea of a ratification referendum, but as Jack says, he “has been dragged into adopting a second referendum”. As Jack recognises it is a big mistake to feed red meat to the reactionary ‘democrats’.

Of course the main task is to defeat Tory Brexit including the danger from No-Deal. Stopping Tory Brexit – whether defeating a Johnson deal or stopping no-deal – is the key to a Labour government. He could be ousted by a temporary caretaker government to call a general election or defeated in an election he calls.

The caretaker option is extremely unlikely because the liberals and reactionaries fear Corbyn more than Brexit or Johnson. Of course there can be no support for anybody other than Corbyn while he is leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition. If by some miracle Johnson gets a deal that must be put for ratification to the people, because parliament might agree with a section of Labour MPs voting for it.

So far because of his principled opposition to all referendum, Jack has failed to recognise the distinction between a ratification and a second or repeat referendum with remain option. However he says “while opinion polls show a clear majority wanting a “say” on any final Brexit deal, the result of a second referendum is far from certain”.

This tells us everything that we need to know. The people want to ratify or reject any deal (having a “say”) but are divided over the wisdom of re-running with a remain option reinforcing divisions in the working class.

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