Workers' Liberty
Sept 1 2014

Scottish independence will weaken global ruling class?

By Dale Street


Oh dear.

The magazine "Critique" - formerly a "Journal of Soviet Studies and
Socialist Theory" with a specific focus on Stalinism, but now an
all-round "Journal of Socialist Theory" - has decided to back
independence for Scotland!

"Critique" has always prided itself on having a better grasp of
Marxism, a deeper understanding of the nature of the transitional
epoch, a clearer analysis of the decline of the law of value, and a
more profound insight into the application of the Marxist method and
political economy than the rest of the left.

But now, having boldly decided to confront a real issue in the real
world, the mighty theoretical endeavours of the "Critique"
Kathedersozialisten have brought forth an article which would be an
embarrassment to the most theoretically lumpen member of the Radical
Independence Campaign.

"Scotland is in principle no different from other parts of the world
subjugated by British imperialism," discovers the bemused reader from
the opening paragraph of the article in question. (1)

Apart, one might say, from the fact that Scotland was an integral part
of the British-imperialist metropolitan centre which subjugated other
parts of the world. Historically, Scotland has been an agent of
imperialist oppression, not a victim of it.

The same paragraph deals with the Treaty of Union of 1707 in a single
sentence: "The English bourgeoisie at the beginning of the eighteenth
century virtually forced the Scottish bourgeoisie to join with England
by threatening economic and other sanctions."

And the impact of the collapse of the Darien Venture, which
demonstrated Scotland's inability to establish a colonial empire of
its own? Or the long history of pro-unionist thinking in Scotland
which preceded the Treaty of 1707? (See, for example: Colin Kidd's
"Union and Unionisms".)

(On a brighter note, at least the reader is spared any suggestion that
Scotland was bought and sold for British gold by a parcel of rogues -
even if such an argument would certainly not jar with the overall
politics of the article.)

After some brief but inchoate ruminations about "John McLean"
(presumably a reference to: John Maclean) the article trots out the
"Scotland today, the rest of the world tomorrow" line:

"If indeed the break-up of the UK would lead to the break-up of a
number of countries, and so the power of the ruling class in those
countries, and possibly, therefore, a weakening of the ruling class in
general, one might consider it an additional reason to support the
independence of Scotland."

Yes indeed!

All those quaint nation-states created in the nineteenth century which
were so admired by Marx and Engels as integral to the development of
capitalism and the creation of a unified working class - what a good
idea it would be to restore them to their preceding pristine state of
feudal particularism, and thereby "break up" the power of their ruling
classes!

And the same logic should surely apply to the existence of the
European Union as well. Which means: UKIP has got the right line on
Europe, but the wrong line only on Scotland.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Far worse:

"The SNP has tried to argue for independence on social-democratic
grounds. They have made higher education, medical prescriptions and
care for the elderly free. The Labour Party opposes these
concessions."

Not quite.

Labour, not the SNP, introduced free care for the elderly and scrapped
tuition fees. Labour also voted in support of free prescriptions.

(In 2012 Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont certainly floated
the idea of re-introducing charges, although that has (so far)
remained a dead letter. And any attempt to adopt them as party policy
would certainly generate major ructions in the Party.)

Equally surprising is the article's failure to challenge the SNP's
social-democratic pretensions.

The SNP has opposed Labour calls for an energy prices freeze, a 50p
higher income tax rate, and rent controls. It has also blocked Labour
calls for an enquiry into police actions during the miners' strike,
and the inclusion of payment of a living wage and a ban on
blacklisting as a condition of securing public contracts.

The one specific policy commitment given by the SNP in the event of
independence for Scotland is that corporation tax will be lower in
Scotland than in England. This is certainly not social-democratic. But
it does not even merit a passing mention in the article.

There then follows a lengthy piece of text covering the experiences of
French social-democracy in power, the world division of labour,
Scandinavian post-war politics, the chimera of market socialism, the
falling price of oil, the experiences of post-colonial countries,
Quebec, and the failures of nationalist governments.

Despite virtually ruling out the possibility of a post-independence
Scottish government engaging in the necessary "large-scale investment
in and through the public sector", the articles concludes:

"(An independent) Scotland might manage to manoeuvre its way through
the next twenty years or so without too much trouble, or at least with
less trouble than if it was part of the UK."

This conclusion is surprising in three respects.

Firstly, it has emerged from nowhere: nothing which precedes it
provides a basis for such a conclusion. In fact, much of the preceding
argument appears to be heading for the opposite conclusion.

Secondly, what we have here is a socialist magazine which consistently
emphasizes that capitalism has reached a dead end and that society is
now in the epoch of transition to socialism 'bigging up' the prospects
for an independent capitalist Scotland - as part of the socialist case
for a 'yes' vote on 18th September.

Thirdly, it is not even consistent with a position stated later in the
same article: "The political economy of the present context dictates
that bourgeois solutions [such as an independent Scotland????] at a
time of historic capitalist decline, when that decline is reinforced
by a depression, are unlikely to work."

The article concludes with a foray into the "socialist history of the
question of independence". This is, after all, an article published in
the pages of "Critique".

Lenin receives a passing mention, but it is Rosa Luxemburg (who would
never have even dreamt of supporting independence for Scotland) who is
the hero of the hour.

Although "Luxemburg was right, in the abstract, when she said that
independence was impossible under capitalism and irrelevant under
socialism", this did not prevent her from "supporting national
independence in Turkey, in the Ottoman Empire, particularly for the
Armenians."

As the article explains, this was because:

"Where, as in Turkey, there is no working class movement, there can be
no question but that independence will help to right an historic
wrong. ... Both on the grounds of civil rights, as it were, and to
correct a historic wrong, independence is a reasonable solution, as a
first draft, as it were."

Yes, that's right.

The position of Scots in the UK in the twenty-first century is being
likened to that of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire of the early
twentieth century - who were victims of genocide in Luxemburg's own
lifetime.

The argument that independence is justified (or at least is "a
reasonable solution, as a first draft, as it were" - whatever that
might mean) where there is no working class movement is used to back
up a call for independence where there is a working class movement.
(Ever heard of "Red Clydeside"?)

And where a "historic wrong" was allegedly committed 307 years ago,
the answer is turn to back the clock of time a full three centuries in
order to "correct" that wrong. (But why, indeed, go back only as far
as 1707?)

Finally, for any readers who have not yet lost the will to live and
who have struggled on to this point in the article, the crucial
question is now posed: "How should one vote?"

The article explains: "The demand has to be for national autonomy
within a united socialist framework. Clearly, this is not on offer."
Since a socialist solution is not offer, and even though ""abstention
may have the strongest case", the article recommends, however
tentatively, a nationalist non-solution:

"It is a fact that the British bourgeoisie is strongly opposed, and
indeed that the global bourgeoisie is worried by it. On that basis
there may be a marginal reason to vote 'yes', without any illusions,
and [with] many regrets."

It is indeed a cause for regret if any socialist votes 'yes' on 18th
September. But not half as much a cause for regret as ploughing one's
way through an article that seems to have been written by someone who
personally thinks its arguments are singularly unconvincing - and is
quite right to hold that opinion.

One final added element of piquancy about the article is the curious
contrast which it forms with comments on the Russian annexation of
Crimea contained in the preceding issue of "Critique".

"Abstractly considered, the annexation of territory of another country
has to be opposed," explains "Critique". But as far as the annexation
of Crimea is concerned: "Looked at from the point of view of the left,
or the working class, it is not something over which to fight."

Perhaps "Critique" would benefit from having more Crimean Tartars and
less Scottish nationalists on its editorial board?


DALE STREET

1) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03017605.2014.949046#_i8
http://www.workersliberty.org/node/23651