Free Julian Assange

The launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on Saturday 13 February 2021, as reported in Weekly Worker, may prove significant and timely. The conference, with three hundred participants, identified three major issues – the use of smears of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel, the imprisonment of Julian Assange to intimidate journalists who expose criminal acts and human rights violations and the defence of a democratic culture of open debate in the labour movement.

The following resolution was passed demanding freedom for Assange with overwhelming support.

1. This conference recognises that Wikileaks exposed secret communications and war crimes committed by the US and as a consequence Julian Assange is held as a political prisoner of the UK state. We recognise his treatment is a threat to the freedom of the press and right of citizens to know what is being carried out by the state

2. This conference opposes his extradition to the United States, condemns his cruel treatment in prison and calls for his immediate release from jail.

3. This conference supports the campaign to Free Julian Assange. We urge all participants to raise the demand for his immediate release in Labour Party meetings, trade union branches and community organisation and where possible to link it with the issue of defence of free speech.

I proposed this motion with Matthew Jones from Scotland. We stepped aside to enable Deepa Driver, a member of the UCU executive, Chair of Camden Momentum and a legal observer at the Assange trial to move the motion. The attacks on free speech led to Labour Party members losing their party membership and some losing the their employment. Important though these examples are, the most important cases are journalists losing their lives and or being locked up by dictators or by so-called ‘democracies’.

Chelsea Manning, like Assange, has lost her liberty and must be freed immediately. But the socialist movement in the UK has concentrate on the most important political prisoner held in isolation in ‘our’ high security jail at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Socialists have to convince the working class movement to demand his immediate release from jail and organise protest actions.

In exposing US state secrets, Assange has committed no crime that any democrat recognises. He has acted on our behalf by exposing the information we need as citizens. This case shows the true nature of the British Crown, which supports illegal covert action and masquerades behind a thin veneer of liberal values. Assange is being treated cruelly and inhumanly because he is a political prisoner and therefore cannot get a fair trial. The verdict was already decided by Trump and confirmed by Biden.

The new Labour campaign will take up free speech in the Labour Party but it will have to prove its worth by mobilizing the working class to demand the immediate release from jail. Securing freedom for Assange will be a major victory for the working class in the struggle for freedom of information, free speech and the freedom to publish the truth.

Letter to Weekly Worker 23 February 2021

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Open Letter from England

Radical Independence Campaign

To: Jonathon Shafi (co-founder of RIC)

9 February 2021

Dear Jonathan,

I am writing as a supporter of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) who came to Glasgow in 2014 along with other supporters from England including Tariq Ali, Hilary Wainwright and Adam Ramsey to support RIC activities. I organised a “London Says Yes” solidarity meeting in September 2014 with platform speakers and contributions from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales and a broad range of radical left organisations contributing their messages of solidarity. I spoke at RIC conferences where contributions from England, Ireland and Wales were invited in a spirit of internationalism.

I have always been welcomed at RIC meetings and treated equally as a member even though I do not live in Scotland or participate in the local RIC groups which are the backbone of the campaign.

I attended the recent recall RIC AGM and voted with the minority to maintain and rebuild RIC in new political conditions. I am convinced those who followed your lead to close RIC down have acted prematurely, without having made a serious or justifiable case.

Needless to say that you played a massive role in leading RIC along with Cat Boyd and others in a very active campaign in 2014. Although the 2014 vote was a defeat for Scotland’s democratic movement, it was a pyrrhic victory for Cameron and the Tories. They won with the help of Gordon Brown and a campaign of fear and false promises (e.g. Scotland remaining in the EU (Cameron-Osborne) and a new improved constitutional settlement (Brown). Winning this way is only a temporary victory until more Scottish people recognise ‘we wuz conned’.

Now in 2021 Scotland is out of the EU and no new constitutional agreement in sight, except Brown promoting more unionist devolution, no doubt rebranded. Not surprisingly public opinion polls are moving in favour of Scottish sovereignty. Closing RIC down in these circumstances is the political equivalent of Arthur Scargill closing down the National Union of Mineworkers a year or so before the 1984 miners strike.

RIC was defeated in 2014 but it did not fail. The objective of radical republican independence has not yet been achieved. The Scottish republic is still ahead of us and not in the rear view mirror. Closing it down is not a defeat or failure of policy but of leadership. As individuals we all get demoralised and tired of pressure or simply move on in life. There is no criticism in this. A healthy democracy has the answer, which enables continuity and change of leadership. This is how trade unions continue for decades or even centuries because their objectives of better pay, conditions and workers rights have not been achieved.

The case for radical independence and popular sovereignty is more relevant than ever. RIC has to be honest with the Scottish people and explain why a Scottish republic is the only way for the Scottish people to begin to take charge of their own affairs, by extending democracy, the public sector and workers rights. Making a Scottish Republic central to building a stronger RIC is surely not something you have abandoned or oppose.

The demand for a Scottish republic is not the dogma of a few ‘sectarians’ but a demand broadly agreed by all progressive democratic forces in Scotland. It is something, which distinguishes the left from the official nationalism of the SNP. It is one democratic demand the left can unite around and not a reason to shut down RIC. If there is a better plan for RIC members it was not explained either before or after January 31.

Preserving RIC archives is a worthwhile objective but can’t compare with an active radical independence campaign. It may furnish historians of the Scottish republic with the evidence of why RIC failed in 2021 because, although initiated by a small left group, it was still seen as its ‘property’ rather than belonging to the movement. Attempting to close RIC down without a wider debate among hundreds of those who supported RIC on the pro-independence left is damaging and divisive.

It might be thought that RIC supporters in England have no skin in this game. This is wrong. Queen Anne and her Ministers imposed the 1707 Act of Union on Scotland. It was and remains a denial of Scotland’s sovereignty and right to self-determination. English anti-unionists oppose bad constitutional law whether Scotland accepts it or not.

It is a mistake to think the Act of Union has no impact of politics and attitudes in England. It has made England a more imperial, conservative and indeed Tory voting nation. Holding back democracy in Scotland has its corresponding impact on English class-consciousness. English democracy has nothing in common with Greater England chauvinism. Support for RIC in England is not motivated simply by solidarity with democratic forces in Scotland. It is from the conviction that the English working class can only free itself from ‘Toryism’ by shaking off the stranglehold of the English chauvinism, promoting ‘British’ identity and waving the union flag.

A Scottish Republic is not simply a democratic advance for the Scottish people but the moment when England will have to confront its democratic deficit and the English left will have nowhere left to hide. The bigger picture of the working class democratic movement outside Scotland has not been taken into account in the attempt to close RIC any more than the wider RIC membership in Scotland has been consulted.

You can work to preserve the historical record of RIC whilst supporting those members of RIC who want to write a new chapter in that story. If RIC has no role in the future it will die from its own irrelevance. But if, as the opposition claim, it will meet the real needs of movement we should not stand in its way. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we should not condemn ourselves to starve by burning down the bakery.

It is in the interests of the Scottish and English people that the Scottish radical and republican left that united in RIC does not end up in acrimonious dispute. It is not too late for discussion between those who were in the majority and minority at the January 31st having consultations and comradely discussions about the way forward for RIC and the wider radical and republican movement. It is in a spirit of comradeship and unity that English anti-unionists would appeal to you and your fifty-seven comrades, who decided to leave RIC behind, not to oppose or hinder those who want to continue to build it. I hope if RIC is rebuilt you will re-join us in the struggle and as far as I am concerned would be very welcome.

Yours in comradeship

Steve Freeman

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RIC splits

On Sunday 31 January the reconvened conference of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) split into a RIC majority and RIC minority over whether the Campaign should continue and be upgraded or whether it should be closed down. In the 2014 Scottish referendum, RIC was the radical left wing of the Scottish democratic movement. It organised with the left of the SNP, Green Party, socialists and anarchists. It differed from the SNP in its orientation towards the working class voters not least in their voter registration campaign. After that defeat and with no prospect of another referendum the RIC had gone into decline with only a few active branches left.

The situation changed in 2016 when Scotland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave the EU. This showed that Cameron’s promise that staying in the union was the only way Scotland could stay in the EU was false. Until January 2021 the consequences of leaving the EU remained theoretical. Now that is about to change. The issue of Scotland’s constitution is moving up the agenda not least with the Holyrood elections this year. So naturally some RIC members decided it was time to revive the campaign and upgrade its policies. But when this conference began it became a fight over continuing or closing down

The conference ended in a stalemate. At the reconvened conference on the 31st the former leadership in Jonathan Shafi and Cat Boyd and their supporters who had become inactive in RIC proposed a motion to close RIC down. After a period of debate the motion was passed by 56 to 38 from the one hundred and twenty people present in the zoom conference. There were questions over the result and whether a 2/3 majority was required for closure. There was some dispute over whether everybody wanting to vote had been able. The abstentions were not counted which would have been a check on who voted. That aside there was now a RIC majority and RIC minority.

This was similar to the battle in the Socialist Alliance in 2004. Then the SWP majority wanted to move to the new green pastures promised by George Galloway’s Respect. The SWP decided to leave but instead of resigning decided to burn down the SA to prevent the minority from continuing. The scorched earth policy created much anger. The SA minority, however, refused to accept that result and resolved to fight on. They organised a provisional organisation and convened another SA conference deciding to carry on without the SWP.

The split in RIC goes deeper than the superficial dispute over the right to continue. Dig a little deeper and we can find a dispute between radicalism and republicanism. RIC was a radical rather than a republican campaign. It reflected the politics of the SWP transmitted through its former members. Radical socialism is the dominant trend in the English left. This is expressed in Corbynism, Left Unity and reformist politics peddled by the SWP when putting on a right populist face as it did in the Socialist Alliance. These are all variations of left ‘social monarchism’ which models itself on the ‘Spirit of 45’ whilst paying lip service to republicanism.

The radical politics of RIC demanded independence first, and only after would RIC call for a ‘modern republic’. Republicanism does not depend on having a referendum or even securing independence first. The declaration of a Scottish republic could occur before independence is achieved as James Connolly did in 1916 on the steps of the Dublin post office. The fight for a Scottish republic begins in the present struggles of the working class. It does not need a referendum to challenge the SNP aim of a Scottish ‘Free State’ in some continued relationship with the monarchy and Bank of England.

Recently a Republican Socialist Platform in RIC was set up to encourage the rebuilding RIC and to upgrade its democratic demands to include the demand for a Scottish republic. This makes sense in respect of the new conditions where opinion polls show a majority in favour of independence. This attempt to rebuild RIC led to the conference struggle between radicals and republicans, which was fought out through the arguments over closing down or continuing.
The leaders of the RIC majority are now winding RIC up. The RIC minority, however, have to decide whether to follow the example of the Socialist Alliance or simply surrender and give up the struggle. Lets hope they have the courage to continue as the RIC minority and take a lesson from the liquidation of the CPGB. Then a minority refused to accept liquidation and organised the ‘continuity’ CPGB around a provisional central committee and the Weekly Worker.

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Voting against the Tory Deal

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland left the European Union in February 2020 with a stay of execution until 31 December 2020. On the 30 December the country faced a dire emergency. Next day the Great Britain would crash out of the Single Market and Customs Union, leaving Northern Ireland in the single market for goods with a EU customs border with the rest of the UK. The only question in doubt is whether there would be the safety net of a trade deal to prevent a crash.

So with no time to work out what was really going on the Commons, Lords were reconvened to rubber stamp the deal and Her Majesty summed to give the royal assent. The ‘Brexit revolution’ (2016-2020) exposed many of the realities of the UK constitution through a series of crises. On the very last day another crisis confronted MPs. Parliament did not have time to properly scrutinise the Deal. It made a mockery of the idea of sovereignty coming back from the EU to parliament and the people. Democratic scrutiny and accountability was a sick joke and a national humiliation.

This was a reminder of another infamous bloody mess when the Commons was allowed to vote on the Iraq war with British tanks already on the Iraq border with their engines revving up. The issue was no longer about war or economic damage but the patriotic duty of MPs to support the Crown in its hour of need. The three pillars of the British constitution are thus ‘crisis’, ‘emergency’ and ‘rubber stamp’. Starmer duly delivered his MPs to back a rotten Tory deal and overturn the policy in the 2019 Manifesto, which promised the people a democratic right to ratify

The sovereignty of parliament is a fiction because sovereignty is vested in the Crown-In-Parliament, which shares power between the Crown and parliament. The lion’s share of power is in the hands of Ministers of the Crown, especially in the ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ that faced MPs on 30 December. Labour MP Clive Lewis expressed the frustration of many MPs. He said this situation “has shone a light on the deep democratic deficits in our arcane political system” where “power concentrated in the hands of a few, an over-centralised Government evading scrutiny to act in favour of vested interests and impose decisions from the top down”. (Norwich Post Angus Williams 30 December 2020)

Brexit highlighted the divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, which had grown out of thirty years of republican struggle by the IRA and Sinn Fein embodied in the Good Friday Agreement (1998). The Withdrawal Agreement reminded the Democratic Unionists of the new reality and forced them to vote against it and against the Trade Deal on constitutional not economic grounds. At the same time it exposed Scotland’s constitutional subordination to England because unlike Northern Ireland or Gibraltar there was nothing to recognise Scotland’s vote to remain.

The Brexit debacle has been a constitutional revelation for people who have been kept ignorant of the secrets of power. It has exposed a surprised public to the sham or pretence of democracy masquerading behind the ancient façade of the Palace of Westminster. At the eleventh hour neither parliament nor people had any control or indeed real knowledge of what the Crown was imposing. Taking back control was simply restoring the central power of the Crown and exposing more fully the democratic deficit.

The process of leaving the EU was a stress test for UK ‘democracy’. Now at the end of the road it is useful to review the whole process. Final ratification on 30 December was the last step in a three-stage process. The first stage started in parliament and led to the 2016 referendum. We have noted many times the exclusion of millions of resident citizens because it was inconvenient to the Tories to allow them to vote. The 2016 votes triggered the second stage of negotiation, which comprised of two parts, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade Deal. The whole process is completed by the third stage of ratification by parliament and the agreement of the people in a referendum. What began with a people’s vote, handed negotiating rights to the Crown, and must be completed with a people’s vote.

Anything resembling a democratic process ended in a parliamentary farce. Caroline Lucas MP in her Commons speech said “I believe it was right to campaign for a confirmatory referendum on the terms of any departure”. But she omitted to say along with the Liberal Democrats, Blair, Watson and Starmer they all conspired to split the working class and facilitate Corbyn’s defeat with the divisive slogan of a second referendum. Johnson won, Starmer replaced Corbyn, a second referendum went up in smoke, and Starmer and his MPs voted for a Tory hard Brexit.

In 2016 the Tories opportunistically handed sovereignty over the decision to leave the EU from the state to the people. Republicanism snuck into the constitution for one moment only. The EU referendum adopted the principle of popular sovereignty, which many liberal Tories and Labour, regretted. But they kept the real power to negotiate in the hands of the Crown, the political arm of the City of London, and the ratification to a subservient and supine Parliament, which would always do as it was told especially in a crisis manufactured by the government.

A ratification referendum was thus an important difference between the Johnson Tories and Corbyn Labour at the 2019 general election. Labour manifesto promised a ratification referendum on any deal they made with the EU. This had to apply to the Withdrawal Agreement and any Trade Deal. It was a manifesto commitment Labour should have stood by, continuing to argue for it with reference to good trade union practice. Labour should have opposed any deal that did not pass this democratic test. In the end only one Labour MP voted against it along with the smaller parties demanding constitutional change. That is surely what is now coming down the track.

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Free Julian Assange Now

Defend our democratic right to know

Free Julian Assange Now

I will start with three questions;

1. Will the defeat of Donald Trump and election of Joe Biden make any difference to the cruel and unjust treatment of Julian Assange

2. Why or how does the treatment of Julian Assange make the case for a Scottish Republic?

3. What can be done in Scotland to raise this case?

The Republican Socialist e-list provided some reading materials and through our zoom meetings we have our Youtube talk given by Deepa Driver, a UCU National Executive Member and chair of Camden Momentum and active supporter of Julian Assange. I listened to it today and would strongly recommend you watch this. I am not going to give a blow-by-blow timeline. Instead I want to concentrate on how we approach and understand this. Deepa identified four important points to be taken away.

The need to combat the smear campaign against Assange.
Reminding people he is the world’s most important political prisoner
Exposing Tories attack on civil liberties and changing law making torture legal
The importance of the role of the United States in the world as highlighted in this case.


I want to begin with the ideology, which dominates the left in England – Economism – which assumes or asserts that the class struggle is the economic or trade union struggle in the workplace. Other issues are not basically class struggle issues. They are outside the primary sphere of class struggle – as liberal or even civil rights issues. They may be important but are not primarily about the working class. Julian Assange is a middle class journalist and not identified with the working class movement.

Once we accept the economist thesis then we are going down the liberal, libertarian or individualist rabbit hole and away from class politics. Then we start to focus on Assange as an individual – Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is he the enemy of Donald Trump or an ally of Putin? Is he a rapist or falsely accused? This is the road to moral confusion where we try to weigh the scales of justice with some things on one side or the other. None of us are in a position to know much about his personal behaviour or put it on a scale of 1-10.

We know the state and media use personal attacks, smears and character assassination to divert people from the democratic issues and democratic rights we all have to fight for. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Julian Assange are being abused and slandered because one represents the socialist working class and the other the democratic right of a sovereign people to know what the state is doing. They are not the only people to represent this but the ones currently in the firing line today.

Democratic politics

Lenin attacked ‘Economism’ as a theory, which weakens democratic consciousness of the working class, undermines democratic struggles and denies the role of the working class as leader of the democratic movement. This is what distinguishes social democracy from trade union politics. Social democracy is the democratic politics of the working class. He says “A most characteristic feature of Economism is its failure to understand this connection, more, this identity of the most pressing needs of the proletariat with the needs of the general democratic movement.” (What is to be done? Lenin Selected Works 1 p161)

Many of today’s socialists jettison the term ‘social democracy’ because they think democracy is not relevant to the working class since we are already living in a democratic society. Left Reformism, Stalinism and Trotskyism feel indifferent to democracy seen as the property of the bourgeoisie. Lenin opposed this theory arguing the party of social democrats must be the ‘Tribune of the People’ – a republican concept – rather than limiting politics to the narrower concerns of a trade union branch secretary. This is not a ‘put down’ of trade unions but of the need for workers to become militant (or revolutionary) democrats.

The ‘Tribune of the People’ he says “is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it applies, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all the manifestation and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and democratic demands in order to clarify for all and everyone the world historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat” (What is to be done? Lenin Selected Works 1 p154)

Social democrats react to the unjust and oppressive treatment of Julian Assange. We oppose it and use it to show the real nature of Crown power. The working class is the only class that has an interest in defending the democratic rights and freedoms of all, regardless of what class the victim comes from. Defending the individual is inseparable from educating the working class in its historic role as leader of the struggle for democracy against bureaucratic Crown power. The pretence of liberal democracy is exposed by the victimisation of this political prisoner.

Wikileaks is about the democratic right of all citizens to know the truth about the crimes and corrupt practices being carried out against the people by the state. It is about our democratic interests and not the alleged personality flaws or smears against the leader of the organisation, which exposed war crimes of US imperialism. The more widely the facts are known the more people recognise the state serves the special interests of the ruling class and not the people. Extradition to America has nothing to do with the interests of working people and everything to do with protecting the profits guaranteed by the ‘special relationship’ with US imperialism.

This is a social democratic (i.e. political) class question not a trade union (i.e. economic) matter. By taking this case to the trade union movement the connection can be made between the struggle in the workplace, the right to know what employers are concealing, the smearing and victimisation of those who fight back and the pressing social need for democratic rights. The victimisation of Julian Assange is well understood by trade union activists who defend an individual worker as the embodiment of the collective rights of all workers to be treated fairly and with justice.

Free Julian Assange – the Scottish dimension

The Scottish (SNP) government should have recognised Assange as a political prisoner of the British Crown. They should have made statements in his defence and offered him political asylum in an independent Scotland. The fact they have not done so is a sign of the weakness of the national democratic movement. Comments made by SNP representatives show they supported his arrest, jailing and extradition (see Steve James World Socialist website 20 July 2019). James says “So hostile is the SNP to Assange that on the day he was illegally seized from the Ecuadorian Embassy – in defiance of the right to asylum and after years of incarceration – SNP chief whip in Westminster, Patrick Grady was praised by the Conservative government Home Secretary Sajid Javid for his helpful comments.” He explained, “It is right that nobody is above the law” instead of saying the Crown should not abuse its power to violate human rights or to deny Scotland a right to self-determination.

The SNP congratulating Tories denying democratic rights and civil liberties are applauding their own hangman. If “Free Julian Assange” embarrasses Scottish liberals and constitutional nationalists, it is a call to arms for all Scotland’s democrats and republicans. The Crown wants to bury Assange forever in one of the US state’s most oppressive prisons to intimidate any leaking of state secrets. The Scottish democratic movement must demand his immediate release, recognise his position as a political prisoner, and offer to match the actions of the Ecuadorian government, which gave him political asylum.

The democratic right for the sovereign people of Scotland to know about the war crimes, corruption and misinformation being committed by the Crown is part of the case for Scottish independence. It is a warning of the danger to our liberties posed by an SNP government with a monopoly of power in an independent country. “Free Julian Assange” should be a slogan promoted by any national democratic movement, which is independent of SNP control and ready to fight for democratic rights beyond Scotland’s borders. It is essential to show the connection between defending this US political prisoner and the fight to leave NATO and end Scotland as a base for US controlled nuclear weapons.

The struggle for democracy is not about abstract principles but concrete living cases of state oppression and injustice. The difference between liberalism and social democracy is that the latter sees the education and mobilisation of the working class as the only means of preventing such abuses of power. This case should be taken up jointly and separately by the working class through the trade union movement and by the national democratic movement. The working class wing of the Scottish independence movement should be in the forefront of raising this matter and linking it to our democratic-republican right to know in opposition to the oppressive nature of Crown power, the servant of US imperialism.

Summing up

The detailed story of the unjust treatment of Assange is not recounted here. We need to look at the evidence Deepa Driver provided us in her talk and in the articles she circulated. This is not about a minor or secondary liberal issue about one individual where we struggle with our liberal conscience, trying to weigh up whether he is good or bad. It is a general democratic question about our rights as citizens to a fair trial, against political prisoners, for free speech, freedom of information and our right to know about the crimes of the state. Whistle blowing should be the highest honour bestowed on citizens like Assange in a democracy, as it is a serious crime against the state in any aspiring dictatorship.

Crown power is state power not the personal power of the Queen – the power used and abused at the behest of the ruling class. This case shows the Crown will deny our rights, mistreat and psychological torture people as serves their interests.

This is a victimisation case – people are rarely tortured to extract information – they are tortured to frighten or indeed terrorise the democratic opposition. Assange is being treated exceptionally cruelly within the ‘limits’ of liberal democracy to punish him and teach all of us that the system is so corrupt it cannot bear the truth. We should remind ourselves of the cruel treatment of John MacLean.

This case shows the subordinate role of the British Crown (UK) to US imperialism. The UK is in effect the 51st state of the US without any of democratic advantages and with all the disadvantages.

A democratic republican Scotland would show their democratic credentials by demanding Assange is freed immediately and offering him political asylum in an independent country.

When Boris Johnson asks why Scotland wants to leave the ‘great’ democratic civilised Union state, the Scottish Indy movement should cite this as an example of the kind of oppressive state action that a democratic Scotland intends to leave behind.

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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.


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














35* (29 Unionist)























(UK General Election overview –

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





1974 February




1974 October
































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




Lib Dem




17 seats

46 seats

17 seats

47 seats

2 seats


15 seats

37 seats

5 seats

69 seats

2 seats


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




Lib Dem





















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




Lib Dem






















(Statista – Scottish election results 1918-2019

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




Lib Dem



























(Statista – Scottish election results 1918-2019

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









Nationalist Seats

























(Statista –Scottish election results 1918-2019

Scottish Parliament elections – Unionists and Nationalists


Unionist Votes

Nationalist Votes










80 seats

49 seats





57 seats

71 seats





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’.


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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