from syriza to scotland

26 12 2012

Eric Chester provides an analysis of the Scottish Radical Independence Conference within the context of Syriza.

Greece has become the flashpoint for Europe. The Greek economy has collapsed, but Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even Italy are also spiralling downward. Nevertheless, only in Greece does there seem to be an organized political response that can directly challenge for power.

RIC

SYRIZA began as a loose coalition of parties and organization that sought to present a non-dogmatic left-wing alternative to the mainstream social democratic politics of PASOK. As the crisis has deepened, SYRIZA has snowballed in strength to the point that current opinion polls show it with more popular support than any other party. At the same time, SYRIZA has been evolving into a unitary organization with a recognized leader Alex Tsipras.

From the start, SYRIZA has been dominated by those coming from the Eurocommunist tradition. It has always pursued a reformist path to socialism, but, as it has grown to become a significant player in Greek politics, it has modified its program to demonstrate that it could govern Greece in a “responsible” manner. SYRIZA insists that further austerity cuts are not possible, and that the memorandum of understanding imposed on Greece by the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission) should be rejected. Still, SYRIZA is also adamant that Greece must remain within the European Union, and, if possible, in the Eurozone. This contradictory perspective is tenuously held together by the fervent belief that the European Union, and specifically the German government, will accept a significant renegotiation of Greece’s debt leading to a substantial reduction in payments, accompanied by a further round of loans at a low interest rate.

Underlying the specifics of the SYRIZA program is the conviction that capitalism can be reformed, and that the European Union is an organizational structure within which structural reforms can occur. Thus, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, SYRIZA has failed to advance a program that could move Greece toward socialism.

As the economic crisis worsens, many young people are being radicalized, correctly understanding that only fundamental change can create the prerequisite for a positive future. Some of them are attracted to the anarchist milieu, but others, looking for a more organized response, gravitate toward ANTARSYA. As with SYRIZA, this  is a loose coalition, but one composed of radical organizations. ANTARSYA does not garner the electoral support that SYRIZA receives, and yet it has become a significant factor in Greek politics. ANTARSYA has not formulated a detailed transitional program that will move the country toward a socialist transformation. Still, it has stated clearly that Greece can not remain within the European Union, and that the enormous sovereign debt must be repudiated in its entirety. These represent a starting point for a revolutionary program, one that represents a sharp break with the current situation, rather than a vain effort to ameliorate the crisis.

Of course, the Greek disaster can only be understood within the context of the overall crisis within the European Union, and its member states. As the parties of the Second International drift further into the corporate center, fully accepting the necessity of cuts in social services as a consequence of the economic crisis, new formations have emerged that seek to hold the line, to block further cuts while maintaining current wages and working conditions. Often, these parties idealize the welfare state as a golden period of prosperity to once again attain.

In several EU countries, parties similar to SYRIZA have achieved considerable success. These parties have siphoned off enough of the traditional working class vote from social democratic parties that they can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. The Left Bloc of Portugal, the Front Gauche of France and Die Linke of Germany are loosely interconnected parties parties that share a similar political perspective.

Obviously, this is not a socialist perspective. In spite of vague rhetorical references to socialism, these parties hold a  liberal reformist perspective, that is the belief that capitalism can be regulated by the state so that its worst features are overcome. With globalization, and the current downturn, there is no longer a place for liberal reformism. It is a failed strategy, not only because welfare state capitalism is still an exploitative and hierarchical social system characterized by massive differences in income, wealth and power, but also because the welfare state can not be sustained when capital has the power to transfer immense productive resources overnight to more profitable locations around the globe. Furthermore, transnational corporations manipulate their accounts to evade taxes, while the wealthy few individuals who own the corporations live in protected tax havens.

In reality, despite their protestations, parties in this tendency have, at times, accepted austerity budgets. Die Linke has joined with the German Social Democratic Party in several coalition governments at the state level. Once in power, their representatives have then signed on to cutbacks in social services in order to maintain the unity of the coalition.

In line with developments in Western Europe, new political formations to the left of mainstream social democracy have begun to appear in England and Scotland. In northern England, RESPECT is eroding the support for the Labour Party in working class districts. RESPECT proudly proclaims that it is the true heir to the heritage the welfare state programs instituted by the Labour Party decades ago. In addition to opposing further cuts in the provision of social services, RESPECT looks with nostalgia to the welfare state of the 1950s, when the National Health Service was more generously funded, and universities were opened up to aspiring children from working class backgrounds.

The first past the post system used to elect the British Parliament has hindered the polarisation of the political landscape. Still, the enormous stresses caused by the economic crisis are undermining support for the major parties. Already, the Tory’s electoral base has been significantly reduced by UKIP, while the Lib Dems have seen their constituency nearly disappear. It is very possible that RESPECT will have the same impact on the Labour Party vote that UKIP has had on the Conservative’s support. The global crisis has not hit England as hard as it has Greece, but the same fissuring of the political system can be seen, although on a lesser scale.

Scotland operates within a significantly different political context than England. The two parties in the governing coalition in Westminster have become insignificant factors in Scottish politics. Furthermore, right-wing politics, in the form of UKIP or the BNP, has gained little traction. Instead, two centrist parties, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, dominate Scottish politics.

Nevertheless, even in Scotland the first signs of a political polarisation are beginning to appear. In a desperate attempt to demonstrate that it is a ‘responsible’ party that can be trusted to defend the interests of transnational capital, the SNP leadership has antagonized its more left-wing members. Specifically, Alex Salmond’s decision to ram through support for NATO has made many question the direction being taken.

The recent Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow, attended by nine hundred, could well mark the formative stage of a broad coalition that encompasses those coming from the left-wing of the SNP, dissidents leaving the Labour Party, and the remnants of the Scottish Socialist Party, along with other left groupings. This is a coalition that does not even pretend to be based on the goal of socialism. Indeed, this emerging coalition is very much in the  tradition of the welfare state politics at the core of labourism that has dominated working class politics in Scotland and England for a century. One of the two main plenaries at the conference featured speakers from SYRIZA and the Front Gauche, a clear indication of the underlying political perspective. An article in the New Statesman covering the conference took it for granted that it had been convened as an initial step toward the formation of a new political party on the left-wing outskirts of the two dominant parties.

For the next period, the RIC will provide the SNP and its ‘yes vote’ campaign with a convenient patina of progressive politics. Still, the effort is not likely to succeed. Polls show the independence referendum being defeated by a margin of two to one. In the likely possibility that the referendum is defeated, more dissidents will be ready to bolt the SNP to join a new formation that can pose a progressive alternative to the mainstream policies of both the SNP and Labour.

Of course, this raises the question of whether socialists who do not believe that capitalism can be reformed, and who do believe that a socialist transformation is an urgent necessity, should join this new formation as a left-wing opposition. Few socialists are eager to join RESPECT, given Galloway’s unsavory record. The situation in Scotland is more complex.

It has been argued that the large size of the Radical Independence Conference makes it necessary for socialists to join it, and yet the size of a political formation does not provide a sufficient basis to join it. Over the decades, socialists have repeatedly joined the Labour Party with that as a rationale, only to be either absorbed into the bureaucracy, or spit out as troublemakers. This is even clearer in the United States, where socialists have been repeatedly sucked into the Democratic Party on the basis that this is where the working class can be found. In my view, entering into the Radical Independence Conference, and its successors, would be entering into a liberal morass, one where policies are determined undemocratically, and where radicals are marginalized and silenced.

I believe that the developments in Greece show the way forward. Just as ANTARSYA has begun to present a radical alternative to SYRIZA, we need to build a radical socialist alternative to the political perspective represented by both RESPECT and the RIC. In addition to presenting its political perspective through a variety of formats, including journals and public forums, a radical organization will focus its energies on direct action, in the streets and in the workplace, with electoral politics being reserved to a secondary place. Forming a militant opposition to union bureaucrats, especially those in public sector unions, will need to be an important component of this strategy.

This is a critical period for socialists. The deepening crisis creates the objective circumstances in which a significant segment of the working class may be drawn toward revolutionary politics. We need to hold firm to our principles, and to avoid the easy and illusory short-cuts.

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4 responses

26 12 2012
commie46

As Eric points out the idea of Radical Independence is based on the Social Democratic politics of welfare capitalism. They are campaigning to give Scottish Independence,Scottish nationalism,a left twist,a Social Democratic content. Well its a gamble that an independent Scottish Capitalist state can be steered left in the interests of the working class.

But whatever rhetoric you dress it up in, the campaign is a nationalist campaign. It sees an independent capitalist Scotland as a step forward.How can a Capitalist state in Scotland be in the interests of the working class? How can the nationalist form be given a Social Democratic content in the context of capitalist crisis and austerity ? And how can a Capitalist state in Scotland be independent of global capitalism?

As Eric observes the SNP is posing as the responsible party that can be trusted to defend the interests of transnational Capital.How else could a capitalist state in Scotland be created? You would have to make it attractive to global investors. So the SNP proposes a competitive corporation Tax of 20% and lower business rates than England.

The logic of other anti working class measures would follow to establish the new capitalist state And you will not receive the support of big business or European institutions for a welfare state nationalism. A new Capitalist state needs the support of people such as Brian Souter, boss of Stagecoach, or George Mathewson, hedge fund manager, former head of RBS. They are not friends to workers.

Colin Fox, the national spokesman for the SSP Claims ‘independence means we can at least manage our own affairs and determine our own future’ the nationalist “we” assumes the identity of Capitalist and workers interests as well as the illusion of self determination in the context of global capitalism. A Capitalist Scotland would be no more independent of the powerful Capitalist states than Greece.

Colin Fox claims he is inspired by Maclean’s vision of of a free nation. But Maclean’s vision was not a Scottish capitalist state. For Maclean Scotland could only have real independence under Communism and the control of workers committees,the co-operation of all under communism. It would be independence from Capitalist economics and the Scottish workers republic would seek unity with all British workers.

Whatever the merits or shortcomings of Maclean’s vision it has very little in common with the Social Democratic views of Colin Fox.

26 12 2012
Roy Ratcliffe

There is much I agree with in this article. Particularly the comments on some of the left having a nostalgic regard for post-second world war welfare-state provision, which is devoid of any practical post-capitalist perspective. In this sense such ’socialism’ is a recipe for rescuing capitalism from its own continued implosion – at the expense of some capitalists – but maintaining the capitalist mode intact. As it did under Labour in the 1950’s and 60’s. This also raises the question of the continued use of the term which to my mind only serves to confuse. As long ago as the 19th century serious anti-capitalist ceased using the term ’socialist’ because it had been so terminally diluted and discredited and adopted the term ‘communist’.

Perhaps it has only been resurrected in the 20th and 21st centuries because Stalinism had rendered the term ‘communist’ into a universal label for rabid sectarianism and authoritarianism. However, for most left people I know ‘socialism’ still means welfare-state capitalism. To my mind there is a task of education to be done among the working and non-working class (including the ‘left’) in this regard to make clear the difference between the need for non-profit-making forms of production (imperfect examples being early nationalisations and welfare services) and the politically dominated hierarchical forms they took under these variegated bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ‘socialisms’ [eg. Under Stalin, Mao, Tito, Mubarak, Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Gaitskell, Hollande etc, etc.] I also agree that what is needed is a radical (preferably revolutionary) alternative, but I would caution against fetishising the word ‘socialist’ and therefore continuing to use the confused and confusing term to identify that alternative.

Regards,

Roy (at; http://www.critical-mass.net.)

29 12 2012
commie46

The use of the word radical in radical independence Conference by the organisers, seems to have been part of the organisers “youth strategy”.The words Socialism and Communism are regarded to have too many negative connotations.

Socialism is associated with nationalisation and state bureaucracy and Communism is associated with state dictatorship. But the word radical is also tainted. The Thatcherites and Blairites were self styled radicals and the Liberals were always radicals. The word radical is not rooted in working class history and action to fundamentally transform capitalism.

Since most political terms have been corrupted by various political traditions,rather than search for an historically and politically innocent label, it is surely better to recover and reclaim the meaning of Communism. we could be Marxists,but that would lean towards the cult of one individual, however talented.

From the different perspective of Scotland on Sunday(27/12/12) and from the RCN, the predominant politics of the Conference were welfare capitalism or to put it another way, a Social Democratic version of Capitalism.

For Scotland on Sunday, the long wish list on public spending, put forward by the conference, was particularly unrealistic for an independent Capitalist Scotland. There was a blunt message to the Conference from the fiscal commission of eminent economists, including Joseph Stiglitz, tasked by Alex Salmond to provide a blue print for independence : they argue that an independent Scotland would have to keep a tight grip on Public Spending.

Alex Salmond welcomed the Conference and its support for the yes Campaign. Dreams of Keynesian pie in the sky will help with turning out the voters, rather than the realities of fiscal discipline.

The declaration by Robin McAlpine had a Communist sounding phrase of “we believe Scotland belongs to all of us and that neither this land nor its people should be exploited only for the profit of the few” But also expressed a nationalist sounding phrase, which Scotland on Sunday would probably agree with; that a Scottish people would share the burden of the bad times and enjoy the success of the good times. So sharing the burden of Austerity,not very radical!

The New Statesman (30/12/12) saw the conference as a revival of the left with the old generation passing on the baton to the new. But lets hope the new generation do not take the baton, because its passing on an old Labour vision of an independent Capitalist Scotland “where from Cradle to grave society cares for all regardless. Where delivering better services is the national priority not Austerity”.

But nostalgia for post war welfare capitalism is not an alternative to today’s Capitalist crisis.

Nor is George Cambells (posted on Jimmy Reid Foundation) suggestion for a “green” alternative of putting the city and town unemployed to work on the land producing food for some kind of profit. It reminded me of Liberal calls in the 1880′s to send the unemployed to work in colonies in the countryside. But Jim Bennett has a better recollection. He did not want to run around in the countryside wearing a wee Mao suit.

There was nothing new either about too many speakers and not enough time for debate from the floor. In workshop 2 there were four speakers and there were complaints that the issue of an alternative to grass roots democracy was only raised from the floor. Nor does the Campaign appear to have broken from string pulling from behind the scenes. There does not appear to be an autonomous local branch format with members formulating policy.

30 12 2012
sandy

The campaign for an independent Scotland is anti working class.That is the reality and all the left verbiage in the world wont change that fact. Those “socialists” and “communists” who support the campaign for an independent Scotland reveal themselves to be neither socialist or communist. RIC is made up of the desperate, the deluded, the deceptive and the daft. and this campaign is going no where positive. Communists seek to increase the cohesion, strength and class consciousness of the working class. The campaign for Scottish independence seeks to do the exact opposite- it seeks to win workers to nationalism and break the actually existing unity of the working class in Britain created over 200 years of common struggle against Capital.

There is no democratic content to the “struggle” for Scottish self determination led by the SNP. It is an attempted con job and any socialist or communist who gives it support should be branded as a fool or a knave. We should fight for the political independence of the working class from the forces of Capital and that concretely means opposing those lefts who try to “big up” nationalism in whatever form. What is needed is a British wide socialist party which promotes working class unity in struggle against the bosses and seeks to build European wide working class unity against the austerity offensive we all face

sandy.




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