On the Scottish question

The following was a reply made by Comrade Choppa to a comrade from London, who was opposed in principle to Scottish independence. :

We need to ask one question right at the start. If Scotland is such a pile of useless crap as Westminster makes it out to be, why are they so determined to keep hold of it?
And why are they suddenly throwing concessions and money at it?

Asking that question and stepping away from the doomsday atmosphere created by the English media and politicians, we next need to lay out what the National Question actually is.

Why? Because no-one bloody knows. Just because it has been clarified well by Lenin and Trotsky in their work with the early 3rd International, and by Trotsky in relation to Spain, for instance (and Ukraine, for that matter), doesn’t mean it’s been resolved for ever or that the consciousness of the working masses has stayed at the level L and T were able to raise it to. T didn’t even succeed in raising the consciousness of the Catalonian revolutionaries above the nationalist level during the Civil War to any great extent. And if Trotsky couldn’t do it in such a situation, we have to be very clear to ourselves that we aren’t Trotsky, and the workers of Britain are nowhere near as politically conscious as the workers were in the Spanish state during the Civil War.

The National Question is a democratic issue, not a socialist one, and we need to spell out for our readers just exactly what this means. Explicitly, and not indirectly as we do if we point out that the present referendum is to a high degree an internal fight between different sectors of the capitalist class. In fact, there are still democratic issues that are unresolved in the most advanced imperialist states, and many of them are connected with the position of ethnic or language or cultural groups as disadvantaged and discriminated minority groups within the big state while occupying a majority identity and position locally or regionally.

And modern history shows us that democratic issues can’t be ignored by anyone – they are the most powerful social engines of change we have seen – the right to vote, gender rights, national (etc) rights. After world war 2 the imperialists (with the aid of world Stalinism) were able to curb the socialist mobilization of the working class in most of the world, and at least contain it within bureaucratic chains where the class succeeded in overthrowing capitalism. But they were completely helpless in the face of the masses rising against them in the anti-colonial revolution. They did of course succeed in diverting the revolutions into democratic nationalist channels, but only at great cost to themselves and their colonial empires and direct economic control.

India is the great example of this process, of course. with the African and Asian anti-colonial wars a close second.

But – and this is the most important thing for us – the democratic revolution grows over into the socialist revolution, the two are inseparable (except abstractly and statically). And given the way forces change their relationships over time – there are ebbs and flows – the process can proceed both forwards towards more socialism, and backwards towards less democracy – a rolling back of democratic gains.

But the social forces fuelling all this don’t roll back or ebb away… Their leaderships and mass consciousness does the ebbing and flowing, not the fundamental social foundations of life in human society. Which is to say that on the one hand the democratic revolution didn’t just end when nationalist forces gained independent power with a state of their own. And on the other, the fusion of democratic and socialist needs is growing all the time as all sections of the bourgeoisie turn away from democratic ideals to devote all their energy to salvaging what they can of the capitalist system, leaving (as we can see more and more plainly) only the working class and its most immediate social allies as champions of democratic progress.

The continuation of the democratic revolution is best seen in the eruption of North Africa and the Middle East over the past few years. And is very clear in the demands for greater rights and autonomy within the established imperialist states – Ireland, Catalonia, the Basque country, Quebec, the rights of aboriginal peoples worldwide, etc etc.

And none of these mobilizations are any respecters of established sovereign borders. The Voice article mentions the “disintegration of the old social structures) and this is seen very clearly in the disintegration of the old nation state boundaries and jurisdictions. Developing social forces (the unstoppable onward march of the productive forces) – the world market, the imperialist bourgeoisie and the international working class – are making old social containers (like nation states) as antiquated and obsolete as the feudal aristocracy and its privileges were in the 18th century.

But of course these containers don’t disappear of their own accord. Revolution – conscious human action on the level of each society and the whole world – is needed to dismantle or demolish them and replace them with new more adequate political and social structures.

Right – so where does that leave us in relation to Scotland and the referendum?

I think we need to dismiss the “either/or” approach to the referendum for a start. The Voice writes that “nothing is in the interests of the working class” and we have to start from this. It’s like the question of Free Trade versus Protectionism. Purely bourgeois concerns – okay, some of their effects impinge on us too, but the question of state and class power isn’t raised at all. It’s just a question of which capitalist faction gets most from the present capitalist society.

And we have to use Trotsky’s (the 4th International’s) Transitional method a lot more deliberately and consciously than we have before. We need to place demands before the class that are winnable, and raise its consciousness by perceptible steps during the struggle for these demands.

Which means the United Socialist States of Europe, while necessary, needs to be built up to as a power slogan. The suggestion of a federation of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland is a lot more manageable.

And we have to raise the question which none of the left does about where the current consciousness of the working class stands.

If the struggle for more autonomy or even independence for Scotland can be combined with a struggle against capitalism then we can move forward to a struggle for more explicitly socialist demands. Which means less reformism which is good.

This isn’t the same as the Socialist Party’s call for a critical yes vote, which is abstract phrase-mongering since it lacks any transitional awareness of where the class is now and where it might be led during the course of the struggle.

The thing is, that our tasks are monumental regardless of how the vote goes.

As Galileo said of the earth, “Eppur si muove”, “it moves, regardless (of what you inquisitorial bastards would like to think)”. And we have to pursue our transitional Bolshevik-Leninist policies regardless of the way different capitalist governments and regimes move the goalposts every now and then.

Marx in his early years (till the 1850s roughly) leant heavily towards supporting the bourgeoisie against any other competing social force (except of course for the revolutionary working class). The bourgeoisie was the highest expression of development of the forces and relations of production over against slave-owners, feudal despots or petty tribal societies. He later saw that this was abstract and against the nature of social change, and that the cause of socialist revolution might just as well be forwarded from within some seemingly archaic social structures from pre-capitalist ages, like the Russian communal village, the mir. Or that real social mobilization against the oppressive ruling class might well move things on, regardless of obscurantist and mistaken leadership. After some slight initial hesitation due to the anarchist and inadequate leadership of the Paris Commune he nonetheless gave it his wholehearted support despite the fact that it might easily have broken up the unity of France and with it the French working class.

I think we’re at risk of being a bit abstract and anti-change ourselves if we appear to be defending the real imperialist unity of the United Kingdom while waving a very abstract banner of a Workers’ Unity to justify this when there is no concrete unified socialist consciousness to give our banner any reality.

The truth is concrete, and our way of dealing with the fluidity of concrete class realities with their ebb and flow is the transitional method.

Our problems grasping the nettle of nationalist opinion and mobilization in Britain (Wales and Scotland really – Ireland is better catered for in this respect) are largely due to our losing focus on what really agitates people and gets them mobilized rather than what we think should agitate them and get them on their feet.