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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