Why Vote for a Scottish State ?

17 12 2013

Barry Biddulph takes a critical look at, The National Question-Some Basic Principles, by John Molyneux in the Irish Marxist Review and the application of these principles to Scotland by Keir Mckechnie in the same issue.vol 2 Number 8


John Molyneux provides the theoretical framework for the claim that voting yes for independence in Scotland, is not necessarily a Nationalist  vote. In recommending a yes vote Keir Mckechnie maintains that a vote for national independence can paradoxically become a vote against nationalism. Molyneux sets the dogmatic tone : “Marxists support the Right of Nations to self-determination and the National Liberation struggles of oppressed Nations”. (1) In other words,Lenin’s views on the national question are assumed to be true. Yet many Marxists do not support the bourgeois demand of self-determination or regard “National Liberation” as a step to working class emancipation. Rosa Luxemburg  regarded the demand for self-determination as a utopia in the context of imperialism. Indeed,  Marx himself did not support the Right of self-determination as a general principle, even in the case of Poland.

In the words of Michael Lowy, “Marx and Engels supported Poland, less in the name of the general principle of self-determination of nations, than because of the struggle of the Poles against Tsarist Russia”. (2) Nor did Marx support the right of self-determination for the Southern Confederacy in the American Civil War. Engels ruled out the principle of self-determination for nations he regarded , in dubious terms, as ” non historic” or not viable on national or racial grounds.  Keir Mckechnie has a very uniformed  opinion that, “where there is genuine national oppression,then both workers and bosses will benefit from independence”. (3) National unity of bosses and workers is presented in a positive light as if class power and inequality did not exist. This this was not the case in China and many other national struggles in which the worker’s movement and communist organisations were repressed or destroyed. Modern nationalist movements in Zimbabwe and South Africa have not liberated the masses.

There is also a difficulty in Molyneux and Mckechnie attempting to drape themselves in Leninist orthodoxy on self-determination: they accept that Scotland is not and was not an oppressed nation. The division between oppressed and oppressor nations is at the core of Lenin’s position. Then again, the  Leninist Right of Self determination is  rather overcomplicated for a principle.  The right to self-determination does not always apply, and sometimes has to be subordinated to the exigencies of class struggle. So it has the appearance of a principle, but might not apply  in specific conditions. In a sense, it is not a general right. A general right is asserted,  but in a sense you do not have a right,  and  you might ditch it. For instance, Lenin did not always stick to the principle of self-determination following the Russian revolution in the Ukraine ,Georgia and elsewhere. Nigel Harris is clear,that for Lenin : “the issue was still a tactical one has it had been for Marx…. not a matter of general principle” (4)

 Lenin prided himself on what he regarded as his historically specific account of the time and place for the demand for Self-Determination. He situated the demand in the context of what he called the Democratic Bourgeois Revolution .   In Lenin’s view, the period of these revolutions in Western Europe was roughly 1789 to 1871 : ” in England (in Britain excluding Ireland ) the bourgeois revolution has been consummated long ago”.(5) His  historical context for the bourgeois revolution for  self-determination did not apply to Scotland. For Lenin at the time ” it is precisely and solely because Russia, and her neighbouring countries are passing through this phase that we must have a clause in our programme on the right of self-determination”.(6) He saw self-determination  and a radical bourgeois revolution  as  the future in Russia and Asia.These perspectives were proved wrong by historical developments.

Despite all the political rhetoric of revolutionary democracy, the Russian revolution took a different turn. If the spectre of the French revolution influenced the bourgeoisie in a conservative non revolutionary direction in the spring time of people’s in 1848 and after, then the fear of the revolutionary events of 1917 was  also a conservative lesson for the world bourgeoisie . Moreover, the Bolsheviks rooted their regime in the ‘ Party- State’ rather than the Soviets. As a consequence, Bolshevik state building in the “Soviet Union” led to dictatorship over workers. As early as March 1918, Lenin described the international revolution as a fairy tale, and the Soviet State set about establishing  normal relationships with other states. The treaty of Brest Litovsk was part of an overall strategy of consolidating the Bolshevik State rather than a gamble on international revolution. Neil Davidson cynically states that they “decided to survive rather than go down to glorious defeat along the lines of the Paris Commune”. (7)  Communism from below was not given a fighting chance to succeed. Instead, the ‘party- state’ counter-revolution called itself communism.

 Lenin wanted a proper state, a proper army, proper managers in the factories, and proper diplomacy. Defence of the Russian state went hand in hand with  the false perspectives of 1913-14, that the route to socialism in Asia, and other areas dominated by imperialism would be through bourgeois nationalists and bourgeois democracy . Lenin’s address to the All Russian Congress of Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East,in 1919, made it clear “you will have to base yourselves on  bourgeois nationalism”. (8) The Italian Communist, Amadeo Bordiga described this as revisionism in terms of class struggle.  Hillel Ticktin notes that the Soviet Union came to terms with the bourgeoisie on its borders, and there was a real conflict between the interests of the USSR as a secure entity, and the needs of Socialism. (internationalism) (9) Neil Davidson wants to minimise criticism of the Bolshevik regime prior to Stalinism and puts it in an understatement,”what did not exist at this stage was a consistent policy of privileging Russian state interests over those of the international movement” (9) But there was nationalism,even if it was inconsistent.

Lenin’s Support for bourgeois nationalism in China, whatever the  qualifications placed on it, proved disastrous for the communist  movement. In China the nationalist army,   trained and armed by the Bolshevik state, inflicted a historic defeat on communism, as a worker’s movement in 1927, from which it never recovered. Nigel Harris who is very much part of the IS/SWP  tradition makes the obvious point : How could the Bourgeois Democracy be so foolish as to allow communist parties to direct independent mass class based movements”.(10) The falseness of the Leninist theses on national liberation can be seen from Trotsky’s Leninist view from 1924 : there is no doubt whatsoever that if the Kuomintang party in China succeeds in uniting China under a national democratic regime,the capitalist development of China will make enormous strides forward” (11) Tragically,capitalist development strode forward  over the bodies of thousands of communist workers in Shanghai, in 1927.

M.N Roy, an Indian Communist, corrected Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International. His  forecast was that the local bourgeois would not play a revolutionary role due to their links with imperialism . Even today some Trotskyists  and Leninists   still support National Liberation movements when the only liberation taking place is of an elite. Surprisingly, Alex Callinicos makes the main point that Lenin did “not however resolve the problem of how the demands of the national struggle against imperialism-bourgeois democratic demands,since they could in principle be met without overthrowing capitalism related to the specific working class struggle for socialism” (12) Yes spot on.

How does an independent Capitalist state in Scotland relate to the struggle to overthrow Capitalism ? Kier Mckechnie is not entirely confident that a Scottish State will advance the class struggle: “there is no guarantee that in itself an independent Scotland would benefit ordinary people”. So why vote yes? The explicit reason given is that it will be a vote to break up the British State, but still preserving the unity of workers North and South. But, if no national antagonism exits between workers North and South, why support a separate Scottish State?  If the border can be ignored what is the point in erecting a new barrier which might generate national hostility or national exclusiveness? In any case, the yes vote will not establish a fully independent state or break up Britain. What is on offer is a shared Monarch, and  Bank of England. The new state will remain part of NATO and the European Union . In any event, as Hillel Ticktin observes,  national independence in imperialism is formal (13)

This judgement echoes Rosa Luxemburg conclusion that “so long as capitalist states exist, so long as imperialist world politics determine and regulate the inner and outer life of a nation,there can be no national self-determination either in war or peace”. (14) Recent events in Greece support this view.  We are left with the SNP policy on trident. If there is no trident in Scotland this will hardy be a body blow to imperialism.  Although NATO membership will probably result in any SNP government ditching the no to Trident policy.  As Mckechnie writes : the SNP are committing a future independent Scotland,not only to remain in an imperialist nuclear alliance dominated by the US ,but to potential foreign intervention in yet more countries”.  This is what Mckechnie describes as the right face of the SNP. Its right face was shown in the alliance with billionaires including links with Rupert Murdoch. There is likely to be  a low corporation tax, and  harsh cuts to help a small capitalist state fighting for survival. So why vote yes ?

Underneath the Leninist justification, the underlying reason for voting yes is what Mckechnie describes as the left face of the SNP; it’s social democratic public face. Alex Salmond has stated that while independence is our idea, our politics are social democratic. The SNP promise to abolish the bedroom tax among other reforms. Advocating a yes vote is a tactic to push the SNP and the new capitalist state left. The entire project is reformist, since Scottish nationalism is not Revolutionary. The hope is  for some  state reforms despite the reality of Capitalist economic crisis and the difficulties for a new Capitalist class at the head of the nation.

Despite the desire to avoid calls for unity with scottish bosses the yes vote is precisely that. If the no vote   helps British nationalism,the yes vote helps Scottish nationalism. Kier Mckechnie asks the question : will a future Scotland be a society of equality and social justice or a low wage pro free market economy which panders to multinational business? He gambles that the Scottish state will provide the national framework for the former ,but the latter is more likely as the social content of Scottish nationalism. Abstention is not on his political horizon.  We should say no to both a British capitalist state and a Scottish capitalist state. A continuing struggle for working class interests  should not sacrifice its independence by dependency on nationalism.

1 John Molyneux, The National Question-some basic principles, Irish Marxist Review.(vol 2 Number 8 )

2 Michael Lowy, Marxism and the National Question,in Revolution and Class Struggle,Edited by Robin Blackburn,Harvester Press, 1978.p.137, see also Kevin Anderson, Marx at the Margins, university of Chicago, 2010, p.151 “At no time however did Marx make National Self Determination into an abstract principle”

3 Keir Mckechnie,Yes to Independence-no to Nationalism,Irish Marxist Review. (vol 2 number 8 )

4 Nigel Harris,National Liberation,Penguin Books,London 1990,p.60

5 Lenin, The right of Nations to Self Determination,Progress Publishers,Moscow ,1971,p.83 Lenin stated that in putting forward the demand for self-determination he was not putting forward the ideal of small states. On the contrary,”other conditions being equal the class conscious proletariat will always stand for the larger State”. p.33

6 Lenin, ibid, p.50 see also the Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx, in Lenin : Revolution, Democracy, Socialism edited by Paul Le Blanc, Pluto Press ,London, 2008, “The West had finished with Bourgeois revolutions.The East had not yet risen to them”. p.220

7 Neil Davidson,How revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Haymarket Books Chicago 2012, p.245

8 Lenin,address to the Second all Russian Congress of Communist Organisations of the People’s of the East, November 22 ,1919. And again “the task is to wage a struggle against medieval survivals and not against Capitalism” He had already stated in May 1913 in Backward Europe and advanced Asia,that the mighty democratic movement in Asia will show that collectivism lies through democracy,”the Bourgeoisie here is as yet siding with the people against reaction”His position at this point and later was the bourgeoisie might vacillate and, we must put pressure on them. Although there was flexibility and qualifications about independent proletarian activity this was a two stage theory.

9 Neil Davidson, ibid ,p.245. The Bolshevik State supported Turkish Nationalists during the repression of communists and workers between December 1920 and January 1921. Radek and other Bolshevik leaders claimed the  Nationalists were objectively revolutionary in the first phase of the National Revolution.

10 Nigel Harris, ibid ,p.123.

11 Neil Davidson ibid ,p.217

12 Alex Callinicos,Marxism and the National Question,  in Scotland Class and Nation, edited by Chris Bambery, Bookmarks,London,p.44

13 Hillel Ticktin, Marxism,Nationalism and the National Question,after Stalinism, Critique 36-37, June 2005, p.21

14 Rosa Luxemburg, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, Edited by peter Hudis and Kevin B Anderson,Monthly Review Press new york ,2004,p.325 (The Junius Pamphlet )

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28 responses

17 12 2013

All the Marxist and pseudo-Marxist argumentation on this matter is trivial. Nonetheless because all mentioned thinkers are either rootless or belonging to well established central imperialist nations like England or Russia. We’d have to look at revolutionary thinkers of oppressed nations in order to understand what is at stake, for example Abdullah Oçalan or, to use a more European reference, those of Basque revolutionary ideologue and armed fighter Argala, which you can read in excerpt here: http://forwhatwearetheywillbe.blogspot.com/2012/12/basque-and-red-excerpts-of-argalas.html

Of course the situation of Scotland is different from that of the Basque Country or Kurdistan or even nearby Ireland. One of the key differences is the weakness of the Left National(-ist) movement. This seems to be changing fast but a few years ago Scottish Revolutionary Nationalists still “whined” to me that they’d wish to be able to gather even a fraction of the numbers that Basque Revolutionary Nationalists were able to muster.

But, regardless, national oppression like racist apartheid or gender discrimination or so many other forms of oppression not strictly tied to class oppression (but also not strictly different either), is a form of oppression that must be overcome. You can support national emancipation or remain relatively indifferent but you can’t be against it because there is absolutely no reason to oppose it in most cases.

You say that it’d be just another border. But who cares: there are so many already. Are maybe you proposing the merge of England, France and Germany, for example? Not at all. You’d probably be against it at least to some extent in fact. Would you oppose the end of apartheid in South Africa or Palestine just because it falls short of outright communism? That’s ridiculous! Would you oppose the independence of Algeria? Would you oppose the formal equality between men and women?, full rights and respect for homosexuals?, formal equality regardless of skin color? Not at all. They all fall short of our central revolutionary goals but they are still very legitimate demands and in many aspects part of our overall road to human emancipation.

Argala wrote:

As result of both factors –study of Marxism and national Basque awakening–, I reached clear conscience of the existence of the Basque Country as differentiated nation.

Oh, caramba! So study of Marxism in conditions of national oppression can bring people to nationalism. Yes, it happens. As with Biblical scholars, you just need to look at the right quotes and ignore the ones that you don’t like.

And then:

It was not the Francoist dictatorial State with its extreme centralism and imperialism the only reason of the existence of the independentist option, but also the historical incomprehension demonstrated by the Spanish worker parties towards the Basque question. The independentist option was the political expression of national affirmation of the popular sectors with a national consciousness, which were expanding every day. The Basque People had the opportunity to check along the history that a socialist revolution at state level is not any automatic solution for their national oppression; that Spanish worker parties are too impregnated of the Spanish bourgeois nationalism.

And so it seems to me it’s happening in England/Britain: the Anglo-centric “British” working class forces are, it should seem obvious from this and other The Commune articles, impregnated of English bourgeois nationalism, which is imperialist.

My later relationships, as representative of E.T.A., with representatives of diverse Spanish worker revolutionary parties, did only confirm this vision. Such parties did not understand the Basque question but like a problem, an inconvenient problem that should be made to vanish. I always felt that the unity of “Spain” was for them as sacred as for the Spanish bourgeoisie. They never came to understand that the national character of the class struggle in the Basque Country was a revolutionary factor; on the contrary, it was for them nothing but a discordant note in the Spanish revolutionary process that they hope to orchestrate..

It seems to apply, mutatis mutandi to Britain and its several nations.

In the context of the state of Spain in any case, this kind of lack of mutual comprehension still exists. Is the problem an arbitrary border? Probably: that of Spain, which is completely arbitrary and anti-democratic, not respecting the free will of many of the peoples included in it by force. It’s not the non-existent border between the Basque Country and Castile what creates problems for the worker struggle and internationalist solidarity in both nations but the border between Spain and France right in the middle of the Basque Country the one it does. The fact that Spanish (Castilian) and French worker movements are impregnated of bourgeois imperialist chauvinism harms internationalist solidarity.

This we also see in the Turkish state, only this very year 2013, after the quite multiethnic popular uprisings (the Kurdish role in Istanbul has not been often explained, but it was quite central), both nations’ workers movements, the Kurdish one and the Turkish one, being able to finally establish a praxis of collaboration and even a joint electoral party, on the principles of mutual respect and the right to self-determination and self-rule – and of course all the socialist and democratic demands that this year’s uprisings have put in the forefront.

It’s only from mutual respect and on the basis of the right to self-determination that the workers can overcome (within their differences) the artificialities imposed by bourgeois nationalism, which is typically imperialist (i.e. more related to English/British nationalism than to the Scottish self-defense one).

Argala again:

But what is worker internationalism? Does being internationalist demand to the workers of a divided and oppressed nation to renege of their national rights to fraternize that way with those of the dominant nation? Not in my opinion. Worker internationalism means class solidarity, expressed in mutual support, among workers of the various nations, but respecting each other in their peculiar ways of national being. If the relationships between the Spanish and Basque patriotic worker forces have not been better, it is not because of the just demands of the latter but to the incomprehension and opportunist acting by the former towards the Basque national question.

And for whatever it may happen in the near future in Scotland, where Left Nationalism is advancing:

Today, before the double solution —Basque petty-bourgeois or Spanish socialist– that was offered to the Basque People in the first third of century, a sector of the Basque working class is in condition of offering a third way: the Basque socialist revolution.

As I reckon, Scotland is still behind the advanced stage of the Basque Country (one of only two nations in Europe where the revolutionary Left is strong, the other being Greece). But this won’t be the case always and a locally rooted class movement, with (also) locally specific goals and structure is much more likely to make gains than one with a foreign imperialist centrality.


Among the Spanish People we have found also true revolutionaries who were able to acknowledge the existence and rights of our people; but sadly very few of them. If the Spanish worker parties would have been like them, maybe today we who defend the independence of the Basque Country would have chosen a more unitary solution. In any case, the peoples walk towards their economic and political integration and workers must impel the international solidarity and unity as long as that does not force us to sacrifice our national personality.

It is these kind of true internationalist revolutionaries, which we, the oppressed peoples (nation-peoples) of Europe look for as allies in a joint struggle. Those who deny our rights take the side of the imperialist bourgeoisie and become (unconsciously but willingly) enemies of the revolution, by means of becoming enemies of the peoples.

17 12 2013
Roy Ratcliffe

It is clear that the SNP’s whole existence was created because of a rift between a section of the Scottish bourgeois elite along with its political representatives. The Scottish Labour left political elite being fully integrated into UK PLC, along with personality clashes, left little room for other eager candidates for office. The SNP campaign for further partial independence is so this elite can determine – as far as possible – their own neo-liberal ‘benefit’ programme within the existing capitalist mode of production.

To do this they have chosen to promote some reforms, with which to ‘appeal to the working classes’, simply because they need their vote. Whilst these ‘reforms’ may temporarily benefit some sections of the working class, those implemented can and will have to be removed as the international crisis deepens. They simply cannot be sustained for any length of time under the capitalist mode of production.

This 21st century crisis is systemic and covers commodity production, banking and finance, state funding for public services, ecological destruction and the collapse of any pretence at bourgeois morality. Any diversion from this unfolding reality, by promoting illusions in a more caring nationalist bourgeoisie and the fiction of national ‘independence’ to solve the systemic problems facing the international working class, to me is a betrayal of Marx’s original revolutionary-humanist perspectives.

To utilise the failed revolutionary programme of Leninism, if true, to justify supporting this petite bourgeois aspiration for a morsel of independence reveals a complete lack of critically evaluating the history of the international class struggle. Lenin in his own words, merely introduced a form of ‘state capitalism’. He maintained his and the other Bolshevik leaders chosen socio-economic structure via totalitarian state oppression, a structure within which he repeatedly promoted Stalin.

That scenario should be enough to confirm that Marx’s maxim ‘a criticism of everything that exists’ is still a necessary task for present anti-capitalist activists. For anyone on the revolutionary left to continue to promote illusions in the bourgeois and petite bourgeois nationalists along with future guaranteed handouts by the state is further evidence of a lack of theoretical rigour. But worse than that it is in effect championing a policy to disarm and distract the activists amongst us from the really important tasks facing us.

Regards, Roy

18 12 2013

As usual I am in agreement with Roy. Although I agree with Maju on many things,we do not share the same view on the National question. I will not repeat the points I made to Maju in a previous debate on the issue of Scottish independence (see the paradox of Nationalism as Internationalism on this site) Maju Assumes Scotland is an oppressed nation and believes there is a general right to self determination. The issue of Basque independence differs from Scotland which was and is not an oppressed nation.

Maju-you claim that all mentioned thinkers in the above are either rootless or belonging to well established central imperialist Nations like England or Russia.

First of all imperialist England. I think you mean imperialist Britain which includes Scotland. I have already given substantial historical illustration of the role of Scotland in British imperialism on a previous post.

In response to your points about the thinkers.

1 Callinicos is, and Molyneux was an academic based in England. Although they have a long record of activity in the Socialist movement. But these thinkers do support the right of self determination for Scotland and do support the yes vote for independence.Belonging to a well established central imperialist power has not stopped them taking for what you would see as a principled stand.

2 Marx was born in a small province that later became a united Germany.He fought for what he saw as revolutionary democracy from below. He spent most of his life in England. This did not stop him from exposing the roots of Capitalist Barbarism outside the central imperialist nations. Nor did it prevent him opposing slavery in the American Civil War.

3 As far as I am aware Hillel Ticktin is South African or from South Africa,spent some time in the Soviet Union and has lived in Scotland for many years.His Trotskyism did not prevent him thinking independently about the economic weakness of nationalisation and the economy in Russia.He predicted the fall of the Soviet Union.

4 Rosa Luxemburg did as you put it ” belong” to a central European power Germany, but she was from Poland and opposed Polish nationalism for various reasons. Again the Nation where somebody was born or spent many years in does not determine their politics. That is of course a nationalist view. Rosa is famous for her writing which drew attention to the barbarism of Capitalism outside the European powers.

19 12 2013
Roy Ratcliffe

A few further thoughts on the issue of Scottish independence. I suggest my response would be different if the workers of Scotland had formed a mass movement which demanded separation from England/ UK in order to institute some anti-capitalist measures. But they have not. The campaign for ‘independence’ is led by the aspirations of a nationalistic political elite – and not headed by a mass movement. If it were then our approach might be different. The task for revolutionary-humanists and other anti-capitalists, in such circumstances, would be to argue for an appeal to the English/UK workers to act in solidarity and support them by forming their own anti-capitalist movement. But even then such a development would by its very essence preclude separation and instead champion co-operation, communal organisation and federation on both sides of the present largely tokenistic borders.

Why? Because the type of organisation which springs from working class economic and social experience does not engender nationalism, elitism, competition, or institutions such as political parties. Workers therefore do not automatically champion centralism, nationalism, elitism or intra-working class competition. These ideologies have to be imported from outside the class – by what and by whom? By the circumstances of the competitive capitalist mode of production and by the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois elements of society. The former primarily by exporting jobs to low-paid economies and importing low-paid labour from other countries. The latter by the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois elements who are the promoters and instigators of nationalism, centralism, elitism and for that matter – political parties. This is because their practical needs and purposes – elite participation in a hierarchical division of labour and wealth based upon a continuation of the capitalist mode of production sheltered from the crushing weight of big-capital – give rise to such ideologies.

Capital long ago leapt over the boundaries of the nation-states and large-capital no longer resides exclusively within any particular national boundary. This also means the means of production continue to be international and that workers in each part of the world rely upon each other for the basic elements of life – food, clothing and shelter etc. Furthermore, promoting nationalism in the 21st century as it did in the 20th means explicitly accepting the continued existence of the state – the existence of which is even being challenged by some capitalists. [See ‘The State: for or against’ at http://www.critical-mass.net. It also means promoting competition between workers to attract capital by lowering wages and conditions and by thus taking jobs away from other workers. By doing so it in no way challenges or interferes with the current race to the bottom instigated by the present neo-liberal crisis phase of the capitalist mode of production. Revolutionary anti-capitalists should be making this clear to those among the working and unemployed classes who have not yet arrived at these observations themselves. Regards, Roy

19 12 2013

Gregor Gall in the Scotsman,18December 2013,argues that being Scottish today is at the same time being Social Democratic, and this is a step,forward compared with England and neo Liberalism. This view is the same view as the Leninist left in Scotland and England. So a vote for independence is a vote for welfare reforms.

The implication is that the SNP has obtained political office and votes by giving the workers or promising to give to the workers various reforms and to that extend represents the working Class. This is what the SWP comrade called the left face of the SNP. But the SNP represents Capitalist interests so that’s its right face.

So a Scottish State and Scottish nationalism can represent the workers in the sense of responding to the working class electorate. But this ties workers to the state and nationalism which has it’s own anti working class logic. And in any case electoral considerations will not ultimately determine the policy of an SNP government, Managing Capitalism will come before working class needs. Promises will be broken. There will be, as some commentators have said, some tough choices to be made by the SNP on welfare.

Fundamentally,the tactic of pushing the SNP left is illusory. Its not about left face and right face but the pro Capitalist nature of Scottish Nationalism. Also, the working class is split over voting for independence as the polls discussed by Gregor demonstrate. And the entire premise of the support for independence is trapped in a nostalgia for Social Democracy or looking to a lesser evil to support. Where is the link to an alternative society. As Roy says if it was a question of a Communist Republic in Scotland then that would be a different matter.

19 12 2013

Look guys: it is irrelevant whether the Scottish state would be red or blue because, unless there would be an ongoing revolutionary process in all Britain, that debate is meaningless. Scotland in the 2010s is not Poland in the 1920s but, regardless, even Poland would have to get recognized their right to self-rule once the war was over.

Caging peoples into artificial polities is NOT communist, and it is not democratic either: it is a bourgeois praxis which we call imperialism and chauvinism.

I posited a challenge for you above but you have ignored it: under your way-too-abstract premises of “internationalism without nations”, why not to promote the full integration of all European states, for example, including Britain into a single one? That is what I gather from your ideas: no differences, everything must be the same, no self-rule, no self-determination, no local democracy.

Are you really willing to carry your way-too-abstract ideas to reality.

Also, as addendum, notice how Marx, etc. referred to Germany, even if in his age that nation did not yet exist as unified polity. Whatever the case, educated people of often bourgeois extraction, sometimes Jewish (a very cosmopolitan and rootless community), have a very different vision about “nation” than do the file and rank workers, the vast majority of whom have marked roots somewhere and ethnic identities they do value to at least some extent. We cannot, we must not, construct the sociological dimension from the abstract, we must do it from socio-cultural reality, otherwise, we’d be just an intellectual camarilla detached from grassroots reality.

(Let’s see if this time the comment goes through).

20 12 2013

Maju- there is an ongoing class struggle which is uneven and in Britain not very extensive or deep at the moment. But this struggle does have a potential and logic to move in a revolutionary direction. And ,of course, the alternative to Capitalism has to be posed otherwise no communist or alternative movement would develop.

What is artificial is starting from the cage of nations and Nation States. This is a nationalist assumption. When you look at how you define a nation it is the most abstract thing imaginable.There is no satisfactory definition. And ultimately can be the most subjective conception. National identities are often no more than elaborate myths.

To associate internationalism with Jewishness is a very dubious argument. Internationalism is rooted in the fight against a world system of Capitalist States and imperialism.

Historically the bourgeoisie have been nationalist or have used nationalism. It’s the demand for the right self determination which is bourgeois. It was the banner of Woodrow Wison and American imperialism at the beginning of the twentieth Century. Self determination was used as a weapon against colonial empires. It was used to gain economic access to the markets of America’s imperialist rivals. German Social democracy supported the first world war under the flag of self determination.And so on.

Yes the struggle for an alternative to Capitalism would be European wide rather than caged into each nation state .Even the bourgeoisie has managed some collaboration across borders. After all capitalist economics are not national. As Roy has said Capitalism has long outgrown the nation state.Any struggle against Capital does require.international solidarity.

Also please note. To stop a huge problem with spam comments now have to be approved. So a there will be a delay in publishing views.

20 12 2013

You talk of nationalism as if it was some sort of well-defined universal ideology. It is not. You speak of it as if it’d be only associated to bourgeois reaction. Again it is not.

Nationalism or Patriotism is not an ideology but the general feeling of ethnic belonging that people experience more or less naturally since always (nation ~ tribe). The so-called nation-state concept has appropriated this feeling usually to bourgeois advantage, and usually causing the oppression and destruction of less powerful nations, nation-peoples I mean because nation is people, not state, which can only be a particular political anifestation of this people. This way the nation-state England/Britain oppresses and executes a cultural genocide on non-English nations, and similarly the nation state Castile/Spain does the same over here.

However Britain is indeed more advanced than Spain because it has evolved to the point where self-determination of smaller nations (“internal decolonization” as Krutwig would put it) is acceptable. In Spain or France such evolution is still unthinkable.

Patriotism is not necessarily a bourgeois ideology. I would say it’s in fact more a bourgeois demagogy because there’s nothing more globalist and internationalist (in the bad sense of the term) than Capitalism. Workers have to be internationalist because Capitalism is first and foremost (also because of humanism but that’s a more ethical and therefore non-materialist reason, surely less powerful that the brutal reality of Capitalism).

But we have no reason to yield that advantage to our bourgeois class enemies. In fact we have all reasons to take back the nation (the worker people, the people nation) and be in symbiosis with it. Actually it’s quite common in real life: Fidel Castro speaks of “Fatherland or Death”, the same did Chavez, and even his regional internationalism speaks of the Greater Fatherland, that of Bolívar: the unification of Latin America. Similarly in Nepal, the workers are first and foremost primarily concerned with what happens in Nepal, at most in the wider Indian subcontinent; in Greece people may think European but their problems and challenges are largely very much Greek and there’s no reason to yield the patriotic Greek banner to the Far Right, please! In Turkey as well their immediate concern is Turkey itself, but there they have to face the issue of two nations trapped in the same state and therefore they also need to deal in equal terms with Kurds and their long-lived revolutionary and nationalist struggle.

Well understood nationalism or patriotism can be revolutionary. In fact some of the most dynamic revolutionary movements of today are nationalist (what does not mean “anti-internationalist”, not at all). That does not automatically equate nationalism and revolution but, please, let’s not equate nationalism with reaction either, because that’s absolutely false. Only imperialism is invariably reactionary but patriotism can perfectly be an expression or tool for revolution.

“To associate internationalism with Jewishness is a very dubious argument”.

Askhenazi Jews spoke traditionally a dialect of German (Yiddish), that was the case of Marx (who assumed Germany as nation long before it existed as state) and that was the case of Luxemburg (who rejected Poland as nation for reasons that nobody with a cool head can share). While there may be an element of linkage between Jewishness and Internationalism (and one that I generally appreciate positively) in this case what I’m spotting is rather an element of German chauvinism and of anti-internationalism, by abandoning in the name of grandiose empty arguments, the solidarity with the weaker nations, with the weaker peoples such as Poland, Czechia or whatever, in favor of a German imperialism and in general in favor of the imperialist nations (England, France, Russia, etc.)

This taking sides for the winner is totally anti-communist, which is largely taking sides for the underdog and trying to reverse the situation in favor of more equality and direct popular rule.

In this sense, in the issue of nation and patriotism, Marx, Engels and Luxemburg are clearly much less advanced than Lenin, although all them are contradictory and need a deep critical revision on this matter because, after all, all them were members of major nations and not of oppressed nations. Therefore we must look to members of oppressed nations like Oçalan or Argala to understand what is at stake here.

But, unlike in other issues, Lenin is much more interesting than his predecessors on this matter. For example Lenin considered (especially in his more mature thought) the struggle of the oppressed nations as integral part of the global struggle of the working class for its emancipation. F. Krutwig (Basque in spite of his German surname), who freely amalgamated Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Anarchism and Basque nationalism with a pan-European vision in the context of the mid-20th century, used the term “revolutionary nationalism”, slightly distinct but never opposed to the raw concept of class struggle, of which is allied and vector.

Anselmo Lorenzo (another Basque thinker) says: “Workers are born, live and want to live in a place and watch how their children or those of their comrades are born and live. Preferably in that same place… They do not want to emigrate, nor anything foreign to be imposed on them (…). And they do not want either to impose anything onto others either. Nothing that the others don’t choose freely. Workers, like everyone else, do not have anything innate because nobody has. Class consciousness, just as national consciousness is something acquired. (…) And they are acquired (…) especially through feelings and emotions. That is: by personal experience. (…) Human beings acquire that way some sense of the need of social and collective justice”.

I don’t want to overquote but he basically explains (and in my experience, and probably that of every member of an oppressed nation, is true) that both processes of conscience acquisition are similar and often parallel. The injustices against the class and those against the nation are largely similar and often even hard to discern. After all, I add, for a Basque, Kurd or Scot, the state that first and foremost protects and enables capitalist oppression is not the non-existent Basque, Kurdish or Scottish state but the imperialist powers that exert control over those territories against the will of the peoples.

“Historically the bourgeoisie have been nationalist or have used nationalism”.

Depends. The petty bourgeoisie maybe but the great bourgeoisie, which is the real capitalist elite and the true head of the enemy, has always been internationalist, globalist, imperialist. Their “nationalism” is at most a mask, a pretext, mere demagogy. Because for them states and nations are nothing but tools for their bottomless greed. The stand of the petty bourgeoisie may be more ambiguous: they may want the tools for national development (often a state) because they do not have the ability to be global as their elites do, but then again their priority is making business and for that they need first and foremost capitalist stability, and this is often guaranteed by the imperialist power. Therefore they may make patriotic rallies but then negotiate whatever subordinate status quo that allows them to keep their share of the cake, more or less.

In all our discussions on the role of the Basque bourgeoisie the conclusions are clear: the great bourgeoisie is Spanish nationalist and the petty bourgeoisie is de facto regionalist even if they demagogically appeal to patriotism. They either are hypocrites or cowards (or both). They are bourgeoises and therefore have too much too lose and won’t lead the way to sovereignty in any effective way.

“Yes the struggle for an alternative to Capitalism would be European wide rather than caged into each nation state”.

I can’t but agree with this 200% (and it is a point I emphasize often). But this new Europe must have room for the nations as self-ruled entities, at the very least as in the USSR, or more probably in some even more advanced form. But what can’t be is that the current states, self-called “nation-states” but in fact usually imperialist entities, remain existing as they do in the current bourgeois EU. In a post-revolutionary Europe, Scotland, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Sardinia, Brittany, etc. must have their own personality and self-rule, not mediated by London, Madrid, Paris or Rome, not subordinated to that of third parties other than the whole (and even that up to a point only).

“Even the bourgeoisie has managed some collaboration across borders”.

Of course: they have an imperial globalist project. The bourgeoisie is extremely globalist (just not to use the term “internationalism”, which has a solidarity and humanist meaning that their project does not). Claiming that nationalism is bourgeois is so extremely simplistic and largely incorrect that no wonder you are so confused. The bourgeoisie is primarily globalist, very especially the great bourgeoisie, who have no qualms about moving their money to tax heavens (largely British, I must underline) or delocalizing their industries to third countries and leaving “their nation-states” devoid of resources. For them nations are mere tools, not their real ideology. Their only ideology is wealth (and the associated power).

“As Roy has said Capitalism has long outgrown the nation state”.


“Any struggle against Capital does require.international solidarity”.

Of course. But notice that internationalism means “between-nations”, not “beyond nations”. Nation originally and still means nation-people rather than the so-called “nation-state”, so internationalism means solidarity between nations, between nation-peoples and cannot or at least should not be used as a weapon against these nation-peoples, because it can only backfire debilitating that internationalist solidarity we preach but do not so much make real.

Internationalism in this case means being solidary with whatever decision that the Scots take. Support their self-determination is the only truly internationalist option, all the rest is mere residual bourgeois imperialism.

21 12 2013
Roy Ratcliffe

For me there are two contentious points arising from the above discussion on ‘nationalism’ which for me are worthy of further consideration. The first is with regard to the term ‘naturally as in Majus point that ‘Nationalism or Patriotism is not an ideology but the general feeling of ethnic belonging that people experience more or less naturally…’

It is too easy to use such terms to try to strengthen a point of view firmly held. However, there is nothing ‘natural’ about such ideas as nationalism or patriotism. Nature does not produce ideas at all. Only human beings create or produce ideas such as nationalism, socialism, god, etc, etc. This is obvious from our own childhood and that of our own children where we have them. At birth and for a considerable period of time a child is conscious only of ‘self’ and ‘other’, the other normally being parent and immediate family. Even later it is the extended family, neighbours and school which form the social landscape of childhood thinking. As children human beings have to be compulsory introduced by adults to ideas such as god, nation, etc., and these concepts have to be continually reinforced because they lack a real material basis. They therefore they become idealised abstractions accepted under social pressure and reinforcement. The power of social pressure to ‘believe’ in the importance of such ideas is considerable and enables children to believe in fairies, father xmas and God. The social reinforcement of these forms of ideology are such that for many they last into adulthood and seem ‘natural’ to them. In the same way the capitalist mode of production seems ‘natural’ to most people, when it clearly is not if and when you think about it in a historical, critical and reflective way.

To me that is exactly what occurs with concepts such as ‘nationalism’. I remember it starting at primary school here in the UK. ‘Land of hope and glory…..’ was rammed into our little brains with very little effect for some of us. We even changed the words to ‘Land of soap and water, mother wash us clean’ for which were reprimanded by the deputy head. Added to school, was Sunday school, cubs, scouts – all adults who had it banged into their own – banging on about the importance of the nation. Despite teacher training and higher education – controlled not by the working class – not one teacher or other significant adult – if they knew – ever informed us that nations were practically a new invention and that most states in the world were only formed when European colonialism and imperialism started invading continents and drawing lines on maps. Why not? And how natural was that imperialist cartography? So my contention is that it does not arise naturally but socially and driven not by workers but originally by the bourgeoisie and now primarily by the petite bourgeoisie.

It is interesting in this respect that most of the left ‘intellectuals’ who have used this term and linked it with other abstractions such as revolution have been from the bourgeois and petite bourgeois classes or those immersed in the naturally seeming assumptions of these classes. Lenin, Stalin, Castro etc.

However, the only question remaining to my mind is when and where has this concept and its associated ideology ever assisted the working class in terms of their alienation from the means of production? Secondly can it aid this project in the future, particularly given the current systemic crisis of the capitalist mode of production and the international nature of the production of goods and services which workers would wish to maintain in the future? Nothing I have read anywhere has convinced me that it has this potential. However, as with everything, whenever I am sure of something I maintain it with doubt so as to be able to accept new evidence which I have not yet considered.

The second area worth considering is the comments on the use of abstractions. I question the often presented assumption that there are abstract and concrete forms of thought or ideas. You are being abstract – I am being concrete. I see comments such as that (usually polemical) as a false dualistic propositions. To my understanding, all thoughts, ideas, language and writing by definition are abstractions. The brain appropriates the real external world by means of the senses and assembles these perceptions within its interconnected grey matter. The brain in this way has abstracted from the real world those elements it finds interesting/useful and which our senses are capable of perceiving aided or not. Thought cannot be the same as reality by definition. At best it can only can only approximate to it.

The real question for revolutionary-humanists and other revolutionary anti-capitalists resolves itself into at what level of complexity and to what degree of diligence is observed when formulating abstractions (knowledge) of the world in general and the class struggle in particular. The most accurate and closest approximates arise from detailed study and careful consideration. Even then care must be taken for as the real world constantly changes even the most accurate approximations can become out of date. Obviously the most inaccurate approximations are those gathered from a less than rigorous study, borrowed approximations from others and not letting go of outdated approximations we have uncritically adopted or otherwise accepted.

Regards, Roy

22 12 2013

The idea that there is a natural unhistorical bedrock of human feeling called ethnic belonging or nation- people is a nationalist prejudice or simply a dangerous misconception. Human nature and humanity have changed and seen many transformations in History. If we could not get beyond nations and nationalism there could be no internationalism only racial and ethnic superiority,imperialism, and wars. Ethnic belonging can only lead to lack of sympathy for the rest of humanity.

I made numerous points against the notion of a natural nation- people in the last discussion on Scotland and Roy does above. I will try to compress the main points here. But it might be better to look at the original discussion.

Scotland was not a nation people prior to the Act of Union 1707. There was a divide between highland and lowland Scotland. The borders had historically changed in the lowland area as well. The division was based on the development two social systems. In the highlands there was a pre capitalist agriculture. The semi feudal clan system. Following the battle of Culloden some highland chiefs became agricultural Capitalists and “their nation- people” were replaced by sheep which were more profitable. The battle itself was not a fight between English imperialists on the one side Scots on the other. Their were more lowland Scots fighting with the English.

After the failure of Scottish imperialism the Union gave Scotland (the elite who made decisions) a joint partnership in Britishness and British imperialism, This is symbolised in the Union Jack or Union flag, which is a combined saltire and the cross of St. George. Scots were at the cutting edge of British imperialism. The Tartan cult was invented, or the Jacobite cause was romanticized to find some regional identity given the similarity of Britishness. The Jacobites were not a nation- people. There were the subjects of an Aristocratic family and a man who wanted to be a king.

You say Rosa Luxemburg did not have a cool head on Plolish Independence. This is completely wrong. Marx had supported the Polish Nationalism of the Nobility who were not agricultural Capitalists, but old fashioned Aristocrats as a stick to beat Russia. But this stance became outdated with the reactionary unity of Germany and internal developments in Russia. Marx views on Russia at the time were to some extent even racist with some very dubious comments about the backwardness of the Russian nation -people to use your phrase.. Certainly historical materialism and class struggle played little part in the Tactics of Marx in relation to Russia and Poland at the time Rosa wrote her PHD on the economic links between Russian and Polish Capitalists.

Nations of self ruled entities in the USSR? Lenin and the Bolsheviks suppressed Ukrainian and other attempts at self determination and put Stalin in charge of their nationalities policy.

I would like to take up numerous other points, but I will leave it there.

22 12 2013

@Roy: Your explanation about patriotism being learned and not innate is more in agreement with Argala’s than with mine. So you two are probably right and I explained national feeling wrongly. However notice that kids and even more grown up people would probably mock even The International if they perceived it as some sort of meaningless imposition (and I know some cases from experience). So, as Argala suggest, both types of consciousness (class and national) are acquired largely through empathy with one’s comrades and both express the same kind of feeling in different forms.

However there are different kinds of patriotism, depending on the status of one’s nation. It’s not the same belonging to the core ethnicity of a nation-state (or having no problems about being assimilated into it, like may happen with an assimilating immigrant) than belonging to a minority ethnicity deprived of sovereignty of any sort and whose specificities and rights are systematically being denied by the foreign oppressor.

So your experience as English is very different in key aspects than my experience as Basque and what you mention about nationalist indoctrination in the educative system is certainly something I have never experienced from my nation but only from the oppressor nation, in my case Castile-Spain. For example when studying history at school, we would spend long time studying the history of Castile-Spain but our own history was dispatched in two tendentious paragraphs (most of it not even mentioned at all). I had to learn it all in adulthood on my own, and I did so because the daily contact with other people of my area gradually impelled me to do so. You want to understand why other people feel so strongly about this issue of nation and nationalism, even to the point of kill and die, even to the point of facing tortures and prison, and eventually you learn that they have very good reasons (centuries of oppression and denial, much of it very recent or even present): some of them are ethnic-national reasons, some of them are class reasons, and together they make a comprehensive whole.

I cannot expect you to understand this without personal experience. A member of a dominant nation is definitely not in the same situation as a member of a minority/oppressed nation. But I can and must ask you to open your mind and ask yourself why many different peoples through the world, and particularly in Europe, have all the time fought for their national sovereignty and, if achieved, never looked back.

Even if, say, Finnish independence is not at all communism, it is still far better than being oppressed as nation by a foreign power, be it Sweden or Russia. Even if South African post-Apartheid system is very far from ideal, it is in any case not worse than the Apartheid system. One could, I guess, take the very abstract stand of rejecting the South African transition as pointless because, after all, the result is so far from ideal, the capitalist system continues untouched and all that. But ask South Africans if they want to go back to the Apartheid system. You know the answer, don’t you? There is a difference, even if there’s a lot still to be done.

In fact what happens in South Africa or in any other nation where sovereignty is not foreign or in the hands of a colonial minority, is that the class struggle becomes more apparent in its own terms, removing the noise.

Achieving conquests, levels of emancipation, in other aspects of oppression that are not the central issue of class struggle (such as ethnic/racial oppression, gender oppression, etc.) is also important and, even in the worst case, not opposed to class struggle nor to the unity of the worker class. One can be indifferent, I guess, but how can one oppose the most fundamental rights?

22 12 2013


I can’t judge the issue of Scotland because I’m not Scottish. But neither are you. All we can do is to respect what Scots decide themselves. It’s their fundamental right, exactly the same that it’s a woman’s right to decide whether she goes ahead with an unwanted pregnancy or aborts. All the man can do is to stay by her side, whatever her choice (unless he’s a total jerk). Exactly the same, the members of the oppressor nation (England in this case) do not have any legitimacy to intervene in Scottish affairs: they must respect their decision or become oppressors. You can also become oppressor in the name of socialism or communism, we have seen that before and it’s clear that it is extremely undesirable.

As for Poland, well: regardless of Luxemburg’s motivations, the fact is that we can’t build our stand on her opinions in this issue. She was clearly taking an oppressor stand and that must be denounced for what it is. I think Luxemburg was very lucid in other aspects but here she just went over the road because she was denying fundamental rights that cannot be denied to any people. Poland has the right to self-determination and nobody can oppose it as such. Another thing is to support the revolutionary factions within Poland versus the reactionary ones but denying a whole people’s most fundamental collective right to self-rule is deplorable.

As for the USSR federal format, with all its shortcomings and quasi-bourgeois bureaucratic betrayals, it was very much advanced for the time. We are talking of a century ago! Countries like Scotland, Brittany or the Basque Country would just love to have anything similar to such status of federal republics with formally recognized right to self-determination. Of course this formal recognition was not enough (when it was effectively denied in practice for long) but it is, as in South Africa, something that we still do not have.

In any case I find quite ironical that someone who is so actively rejecting the right to Scottish self-determination is bothered by what Lenin and Stalin did in Ukraine (a nation that never existed in political format before the USSR, that once hosted the capital of Russia and that neither Luxemburg nor Marx even considered at all, because its very existence was dubious at the time, at least from their viewpoint). This should not be taken as any sort of questioning on my part of the rights of Ukraine as nation-people, of course, I just wish to point that, for historical accident, many nations now recognized as sovereign states in Eastern Europe have arguably less solid historical and ethnic foundations than many unrecognized nations in Western Europe: Finland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Iceland, etc. have no or very weak historical precedents, yet it is their right as peoples to self-rule and self-determination. Same in the West.

As Krutwig said decades ago: it’s about time that Western Europe faces its internal decolonization process.

22 12 2013

“Nationalism or Patriotism is not an ideology but the general feeling of ethnic belonging that people experience more or less naturally since always”

What utter and complete anti scientific romantic crap. Nationalism is an historic development and should be studied in this context.

“It is clear that the SNP’s whole existence was created because of a rift between a section of the Scottish bourgeois elite along with its political representatives.”

I am glad that is clear to someone!

24 12 2013

Maju-you keep repeating Scotland was an internal colony of England. This is totally unhistorical. As I have said before,your nationalist concept of nation- people is a timeless category.I think he discussion has exhausted itself.

24 12 2013

Hi! There are some further issues I would like to take up but accept a cut off here. Instead, I will take them in my next article at my http://www.critical-mass.net blog in a week or so. Best regards everyone. Roy

25 12 2013

I don’t see interest in the sons and daughters of the imperialist nation to understand the members of an oppressed nation and their always legitimate and almost necessary demand and right to self-rule. That imperial-chauvinism is a kind of nationalism also and of the worst kind.

Not all nationalisms are equal, the same that not all nations are equal (although they should). Imperial-chauvinism, no matter if you hide it under a pseudo-internationalist pretext, is what stirs all international conflicts between stateless nations and imperialist states.

You can’t put in the same league the imperialist nationalism of, say, Hitler and the defensive nationalism of the Basque Country. But that’s what you guys do when you dump all them in a single category (“nationalism”) that you say you don’t like but that you do practice all the time against Scotland.

It is irrelevant if Scotland is a colony or a province (same thing): it is a nation-people and they have all the right to choose their destiny without any snotty English meddling with it.

You are insulting all the peoples of the world by denying them their right to self-rule on the name of Marxist literature and imperialist narratives. I’m flippant that someone by the name “commie” insists once and again on discussing the murky details of the act of union, several centuries ago, when no of today’s Scots were alive. Neither that was democracy nor democracy is settled once forever in a vote. In real democracy all decisions must be revocable, as well as all deputies.

If you are not friend of stateless nations, you are not friend of mine and IMO you are not communist either but a charlatan.

I’m quitting this blog because the same you can’t deny human rights to people based on gender, race, etc., you can’t deny them to peoples based on nationality (English have rights, Scots not, etc.)

Have a good journey through the desert. You will arrive nowhere with such a chauvinist stand.

26 12 2013

I have tried to reason rather than insult. Imperialism means nations cannot be equal. The solution is Communism or a classless, wage labour free society based on co-operation not competition. Nationalism cannot provide a solution to imperialism, because nationalism has imperialism as its second nature. The example of Vietnam shows that an oppressed nation can become imperialist. Vietnam was oppressed by the USA, but became the oppressor in Indochina and Cambodia.

The act of union is still historically relevant, and a significant section of the Scottish working class still sees themselves as British. Scottishness was formed in the same period as Britishness. Scotland is not a nation people, but might become one. But a small capitalist state will be subject to imperialism so the people will not determine their future. And what working class can determine its own future in a class divided capitalism? Historically,prior to the Union Scotland was a kingdom not a nation- people.

If people in the imperialist heartlands cannot understand or fight imperialism then internationalism and Communism would not be possible. I prefer to identify with the working class in Scotland, England,Europe and ultimately world wide. Some decades ago the working class in Britain was given a vote for or against the Common market or what is now known as the European Union. Do you choose a capitalist Britain or a capitalist Europe. neither. You campaign against both. Ditto. A Capitalist Britain or a Capitalist Scotland neither.

30 12 2013
Herbie Destroys the Environment

I agree with Maju that supporting self determination is an important part of anti imperialism, and can be justified, I think, on Marxist grounds. But why?

Well, 50 years ago capitalists, the ruling classes of the dominant economies could reproduce their power and fortune via more direct means of expropriation, i.e. killing and robbing nations of their riches. Through this, monopoly power and collaboration of classes.

The breaking up of the old colonial empires, via nationalistic revolutions was a great development that made it harder, though not impossible, for this direct expropriation to continue. The continued fight against imperialist domination is an important part of social development and absolutely critical to the development of the class struggle.

Get rid of the direct thievery and you are left, pretty much, with the exploitation of the worker, in the classical Marxist sense, and then you have the real development that Marx imagined.

31 12 2013

This is a restatement of the Leninist view almost as if the above discussion, and the discussion following the article Marxism against Nationalism had never taken place. A debate should mean engaging with the points made.

To repeat. The Social Democratic or Leninist schema which separated economics from politics and claimed Bourgeois politics was associated with democracy, which would advance working class interests to the point of establishing state socialism as the second social phase after the national revolution, has been disproved by historical development.

The end of colonial empires and the rise of nationalism in the old colonial empires did not propel the working class towards liberation.Firstly nationalism destroyed or derailed working class movements and steered workers struggles into safe channels. Secondly the economic dominance of imperialism continued. National elites were tied to imperialism . The only liberation that occurred was that of a National elite at the expense of the working class.

Supporting bourgeois nationalism led away from working class liberation. Self determination was the slogan of American imperialism against the old colonial empires and imperialist rivals. Self determination was the banner of the revolutionaries in Europe in 1848, but the assumption that the capitalist class was revolutionary and democratic was proved wrong as national unity took a reactionary form as a passive or top down “revolution” in Germany and Italy.

The schema of supporting bourgeois demands such as self determination rested on the mistaken assumption that the bourgeoisie was an agent of revolution,but in most cases this turned out not to be the case. So the class collaboration involved in supporting nationalists did not have a revolutionary dynamic, but a counter revolutionary logic.

If you provide examples of where you think nationalism has facilitated class struggle we can discuss individual cases.

31 12 2013
Herbie Destroys The Environment

But I think we are still in the middle of this process and therefore I think anti imperialism still has a fundamental part to play in Marxist politics.

Workers attitudes to war is slowly changing, no longer will the lies wash as easily, the links that bind classes in the imperialist core are weakening. But the imperialists can still dominate other nations indirectly and sometimes even directly still. But the anti war movements have helped to curtail this I think.

We can see that surplus value is now the prominent method of the ruling class reproducing itself as we can see the establishment of transnational organisations for this very purpose. But still national rivalries persist. My view is that the left should side against the imperialist core, as this is revolutionary position. In the same way as Marx described on the free trade question.

We also see the affect of the advanced nations losing the ability to loot and rob the weaker nations, in that we see the rise of financial criminality and the creation of asset bubbles in the domestic arena. These are all schemes at making easy money. they show a ruling class demoralised and decaying.

I do not accept your view that the period of anti imperialism has passed. I believe you are on the side of reaction and anti imperialism brings the social question more quickly to the fore.

31 12 2013
Roy Ratcliffe

Hi There!
I have posted an article entitled ‘Humanity, Class and Nationalism’ at http://www.critical-mass.net which takes up some of the issues and criticismsin the comments discussion prompted by Barry’s article above. Regards, Roy

1 01 2014

Since capitalism and Nationalism are inherently imperialist the way to eradicate imperialism is to destroy Capitalism.The grass roots struggle for workers self emancipation or freedom from below is the revolutionary way to overthrow the imperialist heartlands or what amounts to the same thing,the Capitalist core of the leading Capitalist/imperialist nations.

The schema of stages does not lead to any fundamental challenge to Capitalist imperialism. Supporting non working class or anti working class forces does not advance the class struggle to the point of working class liberation. On the contrary,

Take the ANC. First the national democratic revolution then-more exploitation and oppression. A short cut of supporting ‘anti imperialists’ leads to a historical detour of disappointed hopes and defeat.Historically there are many examples.

But the empirical history is irrelevant for anyone who takes the early ‘Communist International’, Leninist tactics of stages ( which was rooted in the theories of Kautsky and German Social democracy ) as a dogma.

The history of modern Chinese nationalism shows how disastrous these tactics were. The Leninist and Stalinist version of the two stage ‘theory’ were an aspect of Russian nationalism, state building, and seeking nationalist allies.

1 01 2014
Herbie Destroys The Environment

I do not take anything as a Dogma. I believe the actual development of the last 50 or so years points to anti imperialism as part of the development of the social question. Your ideas fail to take into account the affect of nationalist struggles at the periphery on the imperialist core. They also fail to look at things dialectically. A nationalistic or anti colonial revolution in India will have an affect on the whole global development, and in my opinion a progressive development.

Therefore I would argue that worker and peasant movements in the developed nations should provide qualified support to anti imperialist struggles in their own nation. I would argue that without this their schemes for bottom up communism will be doomed to failure and they will remain pawns in the games of advanced nations.

But I would probably go further and support movements that aimed at uniting continents, a development we have seen in Latin America, where leftist leaders have sought to unite Latin America as a genuine economic block, in the same way as the EU. The same was tried in the Arab nations, which imperialism crushed.

2 01 2014

We are discussing how to overcome capitalist imperialism. Its not a question of anti imperialism verses pro imperialism.

Nationalism is certainly progressive in terms of nationalist elites advancing their own privileged interests.I don’t know why you restrict yourself arbitrarily to the last fifty years.

Currently in Egypt the Nationalist Army is playing a Bonapartist counter revolutionary role towards the working class. The army generals are tied to Neo liberal capitalism and imperialism. Supporting the army as an organisation of national salvation has undermined the revolution from below.

Again if you look at Libya and Gaddafi, despite his disputes with some imperialist powers, his independence regime was not independent of imperialism and was not progressive towards workers. His nationalist regime did not help develop the class struggle.

By the way, the Commune blog (see the debate ) opposed imperialist intervention in Libya,but did not support nationalism or Gaddafi’s regime as anti imperialist. This kind of “anti imperialism” where even fascist or reactionary regimes can be critically supported, but supported, goes back to the early Leninist communist international.

These anti imperialists are associated with tyranny of one kind, or another. The politics of this anti imperialism with reactionary dictators as progressive was formed in the Soviet union when state building was a dictatorship over workers.

The philosophy underlying your view of Capitalist progress seems to be un-dialectical materialism. It’s more an evolutionary theory of Capitalism evolving progressively. So for example, even the Capitaist States of the European union are progressive. There is assumed to be some objectivity going on bringing the working class together.

But as Roy as pointed out, what is crucial is revolutionary subjectivity. What matters is a fighting tradition against the ruling class, not critically supporting the European Capitalist class against the British Capitalist class. Your political horizon seems to be the lesser capitalist evil rather than an alternative collective society from below.

2 01 2014
Herbie Destroys The Environment

I am aware of the politics of the commune in relation to Libya, iraq etc. I wouldn’t bother having a debate with someone from the AWL! So I regard this as comradely discussion.

The discussion for me is and is always ending capitalism, not capitalist imperialism. I don’t think capitalist imperialism can be eliminated until communism has been established and I expect it to persist in a transitional period. But how imperialism develops is crucial to the overall development of the class struggle.

I think you are misunderstanding my position or horizon is you prefer that term. My horizon has nothing to do with lesser evilism but has everything to do with the social question as envisaged by Marx and Engels. (wage labour against capital). I contend that anti imperialist struggle hastens the social revolution. The development of the latter part of the 20th century was in particular a struggle against the looting and plundering of the weaker nations. As Engels said, Africa was conquered for the Stock exchange! The growing hostility at the imperialist core to the war like adventures of the ruling classes has played a vital role in making it more difficult for the advanced nations to simply loot the weaker ones. That didn’t happen by accident, the hard work of anti imperialists changed minds, just as anti racist campaigners have made great strides also.

It doesn’t help mentioning individual cases, such as Gaddafi, because this focuses on the man and his record and less on the actual development of imperialism and capitalism, from direct to more indirect methods of control and coercion. By missing the bigger picture you obscure the actual development with moralistic tales. The fact that Gaddafi wasn’t or was progressive towards workers is not really the point at issue, the point is that he was part of a revolutionary development that fundamentally and progressively changed the way advanced nations related to weaker ones. The consequences of this development are playing out today. And the imperialist core is all about holding onto as much supremacy as they can, the classic work of anti imperialist is not over!

Instead of recognising these developments you come at it from a Utopian blanket oppositional position. Not from concrete reality but from idealism. Not the Marxist method!

A dialectic view does not preclude seeing a trend toward more ‘progress’ in human development. In fact it absolutely requires it. The stupidity would be thinking this development was a nice straight line and was ever complete or absolute.

Revolutionary subjectivity is absolutely built on the concrete conditions. And the concrete conditions meant that workers in the imperialist core felt their interests and those of their masters were the same. That has weakened because of the anti imperialist struggle and only an anti imperialist struggle can break it.

3 01 2014

You assert that you stand for the class struggle of labour against capital. But it is clear from your argument that this is not your position. (inconsistent?)

Your argument is that workers in the imperialist core or the most powerful Capitalist nations somehow identify with Capitalists (bought off?) This stands Marx on his head.

It is also contrary to modern European history where there have been many challenges to capitalism from revolutionary situations to the ongoing class struggle. For example,Germany 1918,and 1923, the Capitalist crisis in Germany in the 1930′s,the great unrest in Britain 1910-14,Spain 1936 and so on.

And according to you,only anti imperialism can break this assumed class collaboration in advanced capitalism. The implication is that political opposition to the foreign policy of Capitalist States and nationalist opposition to imperialism outside the Capitalist heartlands is the first stage to destroying Capitalism.

As I have already said these politics are not based on the international fight of exploited workers, but Leninist politics giving priority to the consolidation of the USSR after the Russian Revolution. This nationalism led to imperialism and the crushing of workers revolutions. For instance, China 1927 Hungary 1956.

For Leninists and later Stalinists the revolutionary dynamic was not in the class struggle internationally or in the most powerful Capitalist States, but on the nationalism of oppressed nations as a lever to weaken rival states.

You claim that Gaddafi “was part of a revolutionary development that fundamentally and progressively changed the way advanced nations related to weaker one’s. This comment is completely unhistorical. Only the form of oppression and domination changed as Luxemburg predicted in her debate with Lenin.

In Libya the regime of the army did not free the country from imperialism and the recent imperialist intervention had striking resemblances to old fashioned colonialism. Not gun boats and red coats, but bombers and the SAS. The outcome was determined by imperialism. No new relationship between weaker and stronger states. (utopian ?)

Lenin himself did not argue that “revolutionary nationalism” would make a fundamental change, but change only at the political level. His separation of the political from the economic (which is your method) was based on Kautsky and Social democracy. So although there would be no fundamental change at an economic level, a victory by the “revolutionary nationalists” would clear the ground for an open class struggle.

This did not happen either. Take the recent example of Egypt and its Nationalist army. This has blocked an advance of class struggle:both physically and ideologically. The army is the nation and is on the people’s side and so on.


5 01 2014
Herbie Destroys The Environment

My problem with your position is that you deal with affects rather than looking at the actual historical development. Or to put it another way, you focus on the micro and miss the macro, you focus on the small picture and miss the bigger one. This is why you claim my position is unhistorical while making the absurd argument that the anti imperialist struggles have achieved nothing concrete. You cite as proof the situation in Egypt and Libya, and condemn an entire revolutionary development as nothing more than one form of exploitation replacing another, quite a bold proposition!

I contend that the revolutionary struggles of oppressed nations have fundamentally changed the way the world market works and fundamentally transformed the relationships between, not only advanced to weaker nations, but also between advanced nations themselves. I.e. The form imperialism takes has been transformed in a revolutionary way. For you it seems that the only real and true revolutionary struggle can take place within a nation, between the classes of those nations. Makes you wonder why Engels focused so much on the military writing!

Because you have this narrow view I think you fail to understand the dialectical relationship between imperialist struggles and internal class struggles. In the other examples you provided – Britain in 1910 – 1914 and Germany in 1918, what you should recognise is how imperialist struggles contributed to these crises.

I would argue that the domestic revolutionary struggles in Egypt and Libya, and many other places on the periphery, were heavily influenced by previous anti-imperialist struggles, and are heavily influenced by the reality of developments that exist today, which anti-imperialism helped to bring about. The anti-imperialist struggles do not just impact on the imperialist core but also fundamentally alter the social relations and dynamics in the oppressed nations. These internal class struggles also influence the development of imperialism. My fundamental point is that weakening the ability of the advanced nations to nakedly exploit, loot and plunder the weaker ones hastens the revolutionary struggle, in a Marxist sense.

The idea that workers at the imperialist core identify with the capitalists, or as I would say, see their interests as being aligned, is not contrary to Marxism. For a start it is true and for another Marx and Engels both recognised the problem. In their writings on Ireland, among others, they point out this reality. But again, it is dialectical, is contradictory, changes as circumstances change. So for example, a worker on strike with an individual capitalist can support the capitalist state and can see in the nation a common cause with capitalist. Undermining that relationship has long been a goal of the left! And not just for moral reasons.

Finally, developing international ism is problematical, as Marx and Engels found out when modestly trying to unite workers from only a few core nations. I don’t see how any modern internationalist organisation could be founded without a clear condemnation of imperialism.

7 01 2014

You should make more of an attempt to engage with the points made rather than substitute for a reasoned debate polemical exaggerations. You falsely claim i do not see the bigger historical picture. Look again at the points I make and see the original article above and Marxism against Nationalism and the long discussion following its publication. What you find in all these words is an overview of the National Question.

There is nothing bold about pointing to the historical fact of nationalism turning to imperialism and new forms of exploitation. The German national revolution from above under Bismark led to imperialist war. The bloody and barbaric record of British nationalism is well known. Nationalism in the USSR and China became a dictatorship over workers and imperialist.There is also modern Russian imperialism.

The nationalism of the Union (USA) in the American civil war became a modern system of imperialism. Still profoundly reactionary despite your empty phrase about the new form of imperialism taking a revolutionary way. The imperialist interventions in Iraq and Afganistan have been barbaric and mock your phrase about nationalism weakening the ability of advanced nations to exploit and plunder the weaker ones.

Marx and particularly Engels were caught up in the nationalism of their time, but that was when the working class and capitalism were undeveloped even in Europe. Today in China and throughout the world the working class has a massive presence. Why base your politics on nationalism ?


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