The roots of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) are to be
found in the “open turn” decided by the majority of the Militant Tendency back
in 1991. The first step in this turn was the setting up of Scottish Militant
Labour, a separate and open organisation for Scotland. This later went on to
become the SSP. In the process the majority of the Scottish Militant comrades
broke from the rest of the Militant in Britain.
Throughout its existence the SML/SSP has revealed a tendency
to compromise with Scottish nationalism. This tendency has grown over the
years. Back in 1992 Ted Grant wrote the document we are making available now to
our readers. In it he already outlined the tendencies taking place.
Ted quotes at length from the articles written by the
promoters of the SML/SSP to show that they had already broken with the basic
principles of Marxism on the National Question and on this basis predicted that
this would lead to a disaster. As he wrote at the time: “This opportunism will
have the same fatal consequences for the future SML organisation as that which
befell Maclean's party.”
In the light of the latest developments inside the SSP we
are publishing this document in the hope that it will provide all thinking
workers and youth in Scotland
and beyond with a basic Marxist understanding of the fundamental reasons for
the present crisis. [Editor’s note, September 4, 2006]
Note: full text also available on the Ted Grant Internet Archive.
National question re-emerges
The collapse of Stalinism, the impasse of capitalism internationally, and
the weakness of the forces of Marxism, has resulted in the re-emergence of the
national question. Linked to the genuine desires of oppressed nationalities for
emancipation, the national question – far from being solved – has become
exacerbated under the crisis of both capitalism and Stalinism. The growth of
national antagonisms, spilling over into civil war in a number of countries,
illustrates the explosive nature of nationalism in the epoch of capitalist
decay. As a result, in a whole number of cases, petit-bourgeois and bourgeois
nationalism threatens to throw back the workers' movement by undermining the
essential unity of the working class in the struggle for the socialist
In the modern epoch, only the socialist transformation of society can offer
the solution to the national question – a task left over from the bourgeois
democratic revolution. That is why it has occupied a central place in the
writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. These ideas, in turn, have been
extended and developed by the British Marxists, around the journal Socialist
Appeal, over the past four or five decades. The attitude of the Labour
Movement to the national question is, in reality, a life and death issue. Any
mistake on this vital question, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, will be
paid for at terrible cost by the working class in the future.
The national question, which has largely lain dormant for decades, has
re-emerged in Scotland
over the last few years. Its first revival in the late 1960s, when the SNP won
by-election with a 46% swing from Labour, was largely a product of the
disillusionment with the counter-reforms of the Wilson Government. This failure
of Labour to satisfy its supporters, after thirteen years of Tory Government,
provided the social and political conditions for the rise of nationalism.
Again, the discovery of North Sea oil in 1970,
gave added impetus to the nationalist cause. By the time of the 1974 General
Election, the vote for the SNP had increased to 22% in February, and to 30% in
It was just before this that we published a document The National
Question in Scotland and Wales [May 1973] dealing with the principal issues
from a class point of view. It is worth recalling that at that stage the
leading Scottish comrades refused to accept the existence of a national problem
at all, and even the existence of a Scottish nation. Events have subsequently
demonstrated the correctness of the principled position that was taken by
ourselves at that time.
Unfortunately, the Scottish comrades who have recently established the
Scottish Militant Labour organisation (SML) have begun to largely water down
these principles and are bending under the pressures of petit-bourgeois
nationalism. In an attempt to find a short-cut to those youth who are flirting
with nationalism, the leaders of the SML are, in an opportunist fashion,
adopting a nationalist coloration. The very establishment of a separate "Scottish"
organisation is proof of this, repeating the tragic mistakes of John Maclean's
Scottish Workers' Republican Party of the early 1920s but without even its
basis of support. This opportunism will have the same fatal consequences for
the future SML organisation as that which befell Maclean's party.
The crisis of British capitalism has had a devastating effect in both Wales and Scotland. In Wales manufacturing industry has
been drastically undermined over the past decade, with the virtual destruction
of its prime industries coal and steel. Although 16,000 are still employed in
steel, mining is all but finished – just three pits are left. Welsh
unemployment is nearly 10% officially while the Welsh wage rates are the lowest
Male earnings are 87% of the national average and female earnings 88%. As one
commentator explained recently, "In Wales today the people are more
impoverished in terms of disposable income than any other part of Britain – in terms of the capacity to spend and
refuel the economy Wales
is worst placed than any other area." (Daily Telegraph, 24/2/92) These
social and economic conditions have resulted in the Tories being reduced to six
out of 38 Welsh MPs. On the other hand, it has resulted in increased support
for greater Welsh autonomy, which was reflected in a recent NOP Survey
indicating 47% support for a Welsh Assembly – double the 1979 referendum
after nine years of "boom", unemployment stands at over 300,000. Forced
emigration over the last decade has reached around 150,000. The latest
announcement of the closure of Ravenscraig will mean economic devastation in
Lanarkshire. Many parts, with the closure of manufacturing industry, are facing
depression. On top of this a further 54,000 manufacturing jobs are expected to
go by the turn of the century. (The Scotsman, 22nd January) In the inner
city areas dysentery and rickets have reappeared – as in other cities
nationally – a direct product of the decay of British capitalism.
These social conditions have resulted in the collapse of support for the
Tories, who in the 1950s were the largest party in Scotland. Over the past decade they
have been reduced to a rump of only 9 MPs. The poll tax, used as an experiment
by Thatcher in Scotland,
was seen by many as the final nail in their political coffin and has resulted
in the Tories being regarded largely as representatives of a "colonial power".
Their electoral prospects appear even bleaker as further splits have emerged in
their ranks over their attitude towards devolution, resulting in the recent
resignation of Brian Townsend, the head of the Tory's information department in
According to Scotland
on Sunday (16/2/92) a third of Scottish Tory MPs and prospective candidates
are opposed to the party line. Both Major and Lang have taken a hard stance
against any form of devolution, which given the current feelings in Scotland,
will result in a further loss of Tory seats. Major believed this would polarise
the issue between those supporting independence and those for the union, hoping
to boost Tory support. With only around 20% favouring the status quo, he has
miscalculated badly, threatening the very break-up of the UK. It demonstrates the
short-sightedness of the political representatives of the bourgeoisie. In the
event of a Tory victory they will be forced to introduce some kind of
Over the past decade the main beneficiary of this social crisis has been the
Labour Party whose parliamentary representation has risen to 48 out of 72
seats. In the Regional and District councils they have an even greater
domination. Unfortunately, instead of using this support and authority to
launch a struggle against the Tory Government, the Labour leaders in Scotland
have failed to offer the working class any real alternative. On the contrary,
they have capitulated and carried out the dictates of the Tories.
This has resulted in growing frustration in the working class, and even
middle class, who are desperately looking for a way out of the impasse. The
failure of the reformist leaders has allowed the Scottish nationalists to fill
this vacuum and demagogically outflank – in words – the Labour Party. This ‘left'
nationalist rhetoric is an attempt to make a breakthrough into Labour's urban
strongholds where they have no representation apart from Sillars' victory in
Govan in 1988. This "radical" face of nationalism arose out of the victory of
the Salmond/Sillars wing of the SNP in the early 1980s whose strategy was to
abandon the "Tartan Tory" image, and tackle head on Labour in its heartlands.
The growth of Scottish nationalism over the past few years was born out of a
frustration with the role of the Labour leaders, whose actions have added grist
to the mill of the nationalists. How should Marxists view this situation?
Although we support the aspirations for greater autonomy, and can understand
the reasons for a layer of youth and some workers looking towards the demagogy of
the nationalists, we must nevertheless take an implacable stand against
nationalism, which seeks to divide the working class and its organisations.
There can be no compromise on this issue. There can be no attempt to
accommodate Scottish nationalism. Although the Scottish nationalists have
jettisoned their "Tartan Tory" image for a more radical one, it would be fatal
to make concessions to a political trend that threatens the unity of the
Unfortunately, the leaders of SML, far from sharply criticising nationalism
are attempting to tail-end its pseudo-radicalism. "This upsurge of national
discontent should not be dismissed as a reactionary development or a diversion
from the class struggle", states Alan McCombes, the editor of Scottish Militant.
(13/12/91) We can agree it is not a question of simply dismissing nationalism.
But how should Scottish nationalism be concretely viewed or characterised?
According to Alan McCombes, "It is closely linked to a sense of class hatred
against the Tories and everything they represent." The only conclusion you can
draw from this position is that Scottish nationalism is essentially
progressive. Many leaders of the SML have gone as far as to falsely
characterise Scottish nationalism, as distinct from bourgeois nationalism, as
merely being the "outer shell of an immature Bolshevism". (Quoting Leon Trotsky
completely out of context.)
Although we would look differently on workers who had been influenced by
nationalism, in contrast to bourgeois and petit-bourgeois sections,
nevertheless we would not in any way pander to their prejudices. The talk of an
"immature Bolshevism" is simply an attempt to do exactly that.
Incidentally, just as Marxists would have a sympathetic approach towards
workers influenced by nationalism, we would be sympathetic to those influenced
by syndicalism and other false ideas. However, we do not recognise it as "immature
Bolshevism" or pander to it.
The quote itself is from the History of the Russian Revolution and
refers not to nationalism in general, but to the specific experience of the
Lettish workers and peasants who came over to the Bolshevik position as early
as May 1917. "In these circumstances", relates Trotsky, "the national
antagonisms whenever they coincide with class contradictions became especially
hot. The age-old hostility between Lettish peasants and the German barons
impelled many thousands of labouring Letts to volunteer at the outbreak of the
war. The sharp-shooting regiments of Lettish farm hands and peasants were among
the best troops at the front. As early as May, however, they had already come
out for a Soviet government. Their nationalism was only the outer shell of
an immature Bolshevism." (History of the Russian Revolution, page
902, our emphasis).
In any case it is a complete exaggeration to compare, as the leaders of the
SML are attempting to do, the national oppression of the Scots with that of the
nationalities in Tsarist Russia, "the prison house of nations". In reality,
this is an attempt to use Trotsky as a cloak of respectability to disguise
their succumbing to nationalism.
Although we are sympathetic to those with genuine illusions in Scottish
nationalism, the way to win them away from the SNP is an implacable stand
against this trend. We must above all expose its reactionary divisive character
which poses colossal dangers for the working class movement. While supporting
the genuine national aspirations of the Scottish people for greater control
over their lives, the task of Marxism is to combat the fundamentally divisive
nature of nationalism.
According to Alex Salmond, "The SNP is not a hard-left or Socialist Party."
(Socialist, 10/3/92) He is correct, the SNP, like its Welsh counter-part
Plaid Cymru, is a bourgeois nationalist organisation. The fact that it has
certain ‘radical' policies is neither here nor there. That does not determine
its class character.
The fundamental programme of the SNP is not the overthrow of capitalism, but
of working within the confines of capitalism, while blaming the problems of the
Scottish people on "the English". Despite the rhetoric of Sillars, the SNP
stands for a capitalist Scotland.
In its 1987 Manifesto, it talks about "an independent Scotland [being] governed by a
democratic parliament…The head of state [will] remain the Queen in a limited
constitutional monarchy." Their present policies talk about "a Scottish
currency in the ERM, bolstered by strong exports and oil revenues." It stood
for "Tax Reform which will remove the higher business rate burden that is
crippling Scottish business." It goes on about setting up "a Scottish Exports
Unit to work in conjunction with our embassies and consulates abroad to promote
Scottish exports." It wants to set up an "Industrial Equity and Investment
Fund, initially to the value of £160 million, to stimulate new investment in
industrial expansion…" Finally, they are determined to pursue a policy to "ensure
stability for Scottish business."
Under these circumstances it is no accident that they have attracted a whole
layer of industrialists and gentry. They have also recruited a whole number of
disaffected Tories. One such prominent Tory, Ian Lawson, ended up as a
vice-chairperson of the SNP.
the SNP parliamentary group have voted with the Tories, and supported a host of
anti-working class measures, such as the anti-trade union laws. Where they have
been in power in Angus Regional Council, they have carried out fully the
dictates of the Tory Government, even implementing the poll tax. In other
regional councils, such as the Grampians, they have frequently voted with the
Tories, again including the poll tax. A Tayside SNP councillor, George Allan,
when challenged, retorted they were "here to represent the rich as well".
Marxists must tell the workers the truth. And the truth is that nationalism
(no matter how it is dolled up with pseudo "socialist" phrase-mongering)
represents no way forward for the working people. Only by uniting with the
workers of England and Wales,
in a common struggle against their oppressors, can their basic problems be
Marxists defend the right of the Scottish people to
self-determination. But, in the first place, this does not mean that we take it
upon ourselves to advocate separation. On the contrary, we must fight against
it. It is necessary to explain forcefully that the establishment of a separate
Scottish state on a capitalist basis would be a disaster for the workers of Scotland, England
In the second place, it is necessary to wage an implacable struggle to defend
the fundamental unity of the Scottish, English and Welsh working class.
That was always the standpoint of Lenin and Trotsky who resisted every attempt
to divide the organisations of the working class on national lines.
Despite the "principled" stand of the SML for the right of
self-determination, Lenin never considered the right of self-determination as
an absolute principle, regardless of time and place. It was always subordinated
to the general interests of the proletariat and the struggle for world
socialist revolution. "We are not obliged to support either ‘any' struggle for
independence or ‘any' republican or anti-clerical movement," he wrote in 1918.
(The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed up)
Lenin insisted that the workers of oppressor states must defend the right
of oppressed states to self-determination. But on the other hand he
explained many times that the first duty of the Marxists of nationally
oppressed states was to fight against nationalism, stressing the need for working
"But in all cases he must fight against small nation narrow-mindedness,
seclusion and isolation, consider the whole and the general, subordinate the
particular to the general interest." (ibid.)
It is entirely wrong for "Marxists" in Scotland to tail-end the
nationalists, to prettify their ideas and echo their prejudices. But this is
just what recent articles on Scottish nationalism have done in Militant
and Scottish Militant.
The article on 13th December last year, which covers the centre pages,
attacks extensively the policies of the Tories and the Labour leaders, but
fails to take up in any real way the arguments of the Scottish nationalists!
All it has to say is that "nothing much would change" in an independent
This is no mere slip, but a consistent failure throughout every
article dealing with the national question. The centre page article of 20/9/91
contains hardly a word of criticism of the SNP. On the contrary, Scottish
nationalism is pictured in glowing terms, and illusions are deliberately built
up in the nationalists: "The sense of national identity remains more powerful
than ever"; "In recent years, as part of the general revolt of youth against
the regimentation and uniformity of capitalism, there has been a revival of
Scottish culture"; as opposed to England, "Scotland where the mood has swung
relentlessly leftwards…It is the SNP which stands on a radical, left wing
programme." The article contains a picture of Sillars with the glowing caption:
"A majority of under-24s now support the SNP."
Apart from a side-swipe at the class origins of the SNP, it lamely
criticises the nationalist idea "that the Scottish economy can be regenerated
through small businesses." Without a publicly owned economy, the article
continues, "an independent Scotland
would become a colony of US, Japanese and German multinational capitalism."
These are the few scant lines devoted in total to a "criticism" of
The articles on 27/9/91 and 4/10/91 completely fail to deal with the SNP. "How
left they are compared to Labour" seems to be their main thrust! Far from
exposing nationalism, they are fostering illusions in the "radical" SNP. Again
the article dealing with the lessons of the Kincardine by-election (Militant
15/11/91), while attacking Labour is soft on the nationalists. It concludes
with the hollow phrase: "We will strive to draw back those young people and
workers enticed by the SNP." How you do this by pandering to nationalism is not
clear. In the full page article on the SML (7/2/92) there is not a single word
of criticism of the Scottish nationalists!
Again the article on the closure of Ravenscraig by the editor of Scottish
Militant (24/1/92) is nothing more than a diatribe against the Labour
leaders, while letting the SNP off the hook. "The Ravenscraig fiasco has given
a powerful impetus to the SNP", states the article. "Further advances in SNP
support now look likely elsewhere." It was a wonderful advert for anyone
interested in joining the nationalists!
The whole slant and tone in the article that appeared on 20/9/91 is
pro-nationalist in character: "From the underdeveloped societies in
Asia to the advanced economies of the West and now in Eastern Europe
and the Soviet Union, nationalism is on the march." The author
deliberately mixes up all kinds of different national movements,
bothering to distinguish what is progressive from what is reactionary
concrete conditions, in order to paint a general picture of
"nationalism on the
march". He gives credence to the quoted phrase "Western
Europe ablaze in an inferno of national rebellion." The whole
phenomena is portrayed as "progressive", "anti-capitalist" and
The growth of the SNP is also posed in the same light: "the sense of
identity remains more powerful than ever…In recent years, as part of
general revolt of youth against the regimentation and uniformity of
capitalism, there has been a revival of Scottish culture."
author misses the point entirely. Precisely in a situation where
was sweeping Europe, it would be essential for
Marxists to remain absolutely firm, not to capitulate to nationalism
firmly raise the banner of socialist internationalism.
In any case, there are national movements and national movements. Lenin
explained many times that the national question, of all questions, cannot be
dealt with in the abstract:
"The categorical requirement of Marxist theory in investigating any social
question is that it be examined within definite historical limits, and,
if it refers to a particular country (e.g. the national programme for a given
country), that account be taken of the specific features distinguishing that
country from others in the same historical epoch." (The rights of Nations to
Self-Determination, emphasis in original)
In all their material, these comrades have forgotten some of the fundamental
ideas of Marxism. The starting-point for Marxists is the fact that, in the
present epoch, the productive forces have outgrown both private ownership and
the nation state.
For a temporary period capitalism managed partially to overcome these
contradictions through the development of world trade. This gave a further
impetus to the integration of the world economy, which, in turn, has interacted
upon world trade, creating an upward spiral of economic growth. But this
process is reaching its limits and, at a certain stage, will turn into its
opposite. This is shown by the crisis of GATT, where the seven big imperialist
powers are finding difficulties in compromising over the future of world trade.
A symptom of the impasse of world capitalism, of its senile decay, is the
re-emergence of the national question and national antagonisms in developed
capitalists countries where it seemed to have been overcome long ago. Thus we
have the problem of Corsica in France,
the explosive national problem in Belgium,
and the re-emergence of the national problem in Scotland
Added to this is the long standing national problems in the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia.
On the other hand, the failure of Stalinism to solve the national problem
has been revealed by a whole series of bloody conflicts in Eastern Europe and
the former Soviet Union.
All these developments were predicted in advance by the Marxist tendency
nearly twenty years ago. In May 1973, we wrote the following:
"The victory of proletarian bonapartism in Eastern
Europe, Cuba, China, Burma
has resulted in the abolition of capitalism and landlordism – an immense step
forward. But it has left these countries within the confines of the national
state. The interests of the bureaucracy, ruling in these countries, results in
an undemocratic concentration of power in the hands of a tiny elite. They rule
remote from the masses of workers and peasants. Power is concentrated in the
centre. The ruling elite rules with a chauvinistic mentality. There is no
de-centralisation of power to the peoples on the periphery. The minorities
within their borders have been nationally oppressed – in China by the dominant Han and in the USSR
by the Great Russians. Thus the limited character of the national state,
revealing itself in military police dictatorships, has raised anew the national
question in these deformed workers' states.
"One of the contradictions of the modern epoch is that at a time when the
national state is revealing its baleful limitations the national question, far
from being solved in these countries, becomes a festering and chronic problem."
(The National Question – Scotland and Wales, page 1)
The document then goes on to point out the mistakes of the sectarian groups
on this question. Unfortunately the SML is beginning to emulate them by
capitulating to Scottish nationalism.
"The Marxist tendency must devote the same scrupulous care and attention to
the problem as was evinced by Lenin. One of the conditions for the victory of
the proletariat in Russia
was Lenin's contribution on the national question. The brilliance of the
dialectical method of Lenin and Trotsky is shown by the mistake of the petit
bourgeois tendencies, masquerading as Trotskyists at the present time, in their
attitude towards the national question.
"In fighting against the national oppression of the blacks, Puerto Ricans,
Chicanos and other minorities in the USA, the [American] SWP has
capitulated to petit bourgeois nationalism. They have fought for the separate
organisation of these nationalities, instead of fighting for one
centralised party, united trade unions and other workers organisations.
"Thus they have committed the elementary error of capitulating to
nationalism – even the nationalism of the oppressed. They have also contributed
to the undermining of Marxism among the oppressed minorities." (ibid., emphasis
in the original)
The fight of self-determination is not a socialist, but a bourgeois
democratic demand. It has its place but is always subordinate to the needs of
the class struggle.
In any exposition of Marxist policy for Scotland
and Wales the unity of the
workers interests with those in England
must be emphasised and re-emphasised. Class solidarity and community of
interests in the struggle against capitalism – English, Scottish and Welsh
capitalism is paramount.
There cannot be a separate struggle for socialism or a workers' government
in Scotland separate and
apart from that in the rest of Britain.
That was the utopian idea of John Maclean, put forward in the early 1920s – an
idea which was derided by Lenin and Trotsky as fundamentally false.
John Maclean was a prominent Scottish Marxist who played an outstanding role
in promoting the ideas and cause of Marxism before and after the Bolshevik
revolution. Dubbed the "Scottish Lenin", Maclean worked like a Trojan to
promote the principles of Marxism amongst the working class of Scotland:
at street meetings, pit-heads, work-gates, anywhere workers would gather. He
epitomised the "Red Clydeside" that emerged after the first World War, and gave
a concrete expression to the mass movement of that time. Repeatedly arrested
and imprisoned for his revolutionary stand against the war, Maclean became an
outstanding figure-head of the revolutionary movement in Britain. To Lenin, Maclean was one
of the "heroic forerunners" of the Communist International; when the Bolsheviks
took power he was appointed the Russian consul in Glasgow in January 1918, and as honorary
president of the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets, along with Karl
Liebknecht. In this way Maclean's courage and determination will remain an
inspiration to class conscious workers of every generation.
However, Maclean also made a number of serious mistakes in terms of tactics
and strategy. This is not the place for a thorough criticism of those mistakes.
Nevertheless his fundamental error was to succumb to the pressures of Scottish
nationalism. Maclean refused to join the newly created Communist Party,
advocating instead a Scottish Communist Party. When this failed to materialise
he turned towards the idea of a Scottish Workers' Republic and the
establishment of the Scottish Workers' Republican Party.
could not produce the World Revolution," stated Maclean shortly before his
death in November 1923. "Neither can we in Gorbals, in Scotland, in Great Britain. Before England
is ready I am sure the next war will be on us. I therefore consider that Scotland's wisest policy is to declare for a
republic in Scotland, so
that the youths of Scotland
will not be forced out to die for England's markets.
"I accordingly stand out as a Scottish Republican candidate, feeling sure
that if Scotland had to
elect a Parliament to sit in Glasgow
it would vote for a working class parliament.
"Such a Parliament would have to use the might of the workers to force the
land and the means of production in Scotland out of the grasp of the
brutal few who control them, and place them at the full disposal of the
community. The Social Revolution is possible sooner in Scotland than in England…"
This unfortunate turn of Maclean towards nationalism, reflected a
frustration with the current political situation. The revolutionary tide that
followed the war began to ebb after 1920. The revolutionary movement on the Clyde revealed the revolutionary potential of the
Scottish working class. Maclean grew increasingly impatient with the struggle
which had been largely side-tracked by the Labour and trade union leadership.
It was out of this impatience and frustration that Maclean began to look
towards the short-cut of a socialist revolution in Scotland
as an example to the rest of Britain.
This was a fundamentally false perspective. Within a few years the whole of Britain
was shaken by the 1926 General Strike.
Our task is not to emulate Maclean's mistakes, but to learn from them and
inoculate the youth against impatience and short-cuts that could lead the
movement into the swamp of nationalism. Unfortunately it is precisely John
Maclean's errors that are used to justify the creation of the SML. At its
founding conference in February, attended by about 200 people, Alan McCombes quoted
approvingly a commemoration to Maclean: "The inscription says: ‘To John
Maclean, a man who forged the Scottish link in the golden chain of world
socialism.' So the setting [for the conference] is appropriate." (Scottish
Militant, 6/3/92) To emphasis the achievement of Maclean as forging the "Scottish
link" is precisely to underline his fatal nationalist mistakes. The whole tone
emanating from the SML is "the Scottish working class", "redistribute Scotland's
wealth", "interests of Scottish workers", etc, etc. "Setting up SML has been
the most important political initiative in Scotland for many, many years",
reports Scottish Militant. This whole emphasis and slant
represents a capitulation to nationalism, despite lip service to
Without class unity, there is no way forward for the Scottish workers. That
should be our starting point. Any section of a Marxist tendency, set up in any
part of Britain must set out
from the common interests of the workers of Britain,
Europe and the entire world. It should stress
the unity of interests of the workers of this Island
in a common struggle against the common enemy – the Scottish, English and Welsh
This is not for sentimental reasons, but because the economies of Scotland, Wales
are indissolubly linked. A separation of these countries would bring about a
disaster for all of them, but the heaviest price would, as always, be paid by
the working class.
Domination of monopolies
The idea that Scotland
would be able to enjoy a genuine independence under conditions of modern
monopoly capitalism is false to the core. Big capital would continue to
dominate, as before. Of the two remaining Clyde
shipyards, Govan is owned by a Norwegian company and Yarrows has been taken
over by the multinational GEC combine. At the present time, nearly 40% of the
top 100 companies in Scotland
are foreign owned. Whereas 80% of Scottish workers were employed not so long
ago by companies based in Scotland,
today 80% are employed by firms based outside of Scotland.
The fear of an isolated Scotland
has forced the SNP to come out with the slogan "Independence
in Europe". However, the idea of a viable
independent Scottish economy in Europe is
false. In today's modern capitalist economy 500 monopolies control 90% of world
trade. A mere 25 monopolies account for 35% of total industrial production
worldwide. The largest multinational corporations have annual turnovers greater
than the state budgets of even major countries. On a capitalist basis, with the
economy owned by the monopolies and banks, "independence", even in Europe, is an illusion.
Europe, far from being a solution, would result in a debacle for an
independent capitalist Scotland.
According to a Labour Party report based upon European Commission figures, "the
creation of a single European market in 1992 initially will destroy more than
14,000 jobs in the Scottish economy and cut output by £237 million."
An independent capitalist Scotland
would be an economy of declining living standards for the working class. At
present Scotland receives
between 10.5% and 11% of all UK
public spending, but provides between 8% and 8.25% of total tax revenues. The
gap is estimated at around £4 billion, which would be a catastrophic blow to
the economy. If you added the SNP's spending programme the deficit would rise
to a massive £8 billion. The nationalists say this gap could be overcome by the
oil tax revenues. To begin with oil and gas revenues from the North
Sea are estimated this year to be only £1.2 billion. An
independent Scotland would
face an immediate dispute over the location of the English/Scottish sectors of
the North Sea – with a significant proportion
of the oil fields remaining in English waters. Even the SNP admit that only 70%
of the oil would be likely to come to Scotland. The fact also remains
that oil revenue is very volatile, varying according to the oil price,
production levels and tax write-offs by the oil companies. These are the
economic facts of life of a capitalist independent Scotland, despite the attempts of
the SNP to ingratiate themselves with the oil monopolies.
The Scottish economy remains fully integrated into the British economy. That
is the prime reason why Scottish business is opposed to independence. As the Financial
Times (14/2/92) explained, "While the idea of devolution gathers some
support, few senior members of the Scottish business community approve of
outright independence." According to Brian Stewart, Chief executive of Scottish
who expresses the fears of the Scottish bourgeoisie, "independence or
devolution may reduce the access of Scottish companies to the English market.
The planned single European market is not regarded as an adequate solution
either, because it will for many years be much less integrated than the UK market."
Our opposition to independence is based on a class opposition. An
independent capitalist Scotland
would not solve a single problem facing the working class and would have grave
social and political consequences. More importantly from the point of view of
the unity of the working class, enormous national hatreds would be kindled by
separation. Given the collapse of the economy, the spectre of racial and
sectarian divisions, compounded by the rise of individual terrorism, would be a
nightmare for the working class, north and south of the border. The cause of
the working class in Scotland,
England and Wales,
would be put back. That is why it is utterly irresponsible to adopt a
light-minded attitude to this question.
The unity of the Scottish, English and Welsh workers has been forged in
common struggle and organisation for generations. It is a fundamental reality
not only of economic but political life also. Despite the fundamental errors
and deeds of the reformist leaders, the unity of the Labour and trade union
movement in this Island remains a colossal
historical conquest which Marxists must defend with all our might. Yet in the
recent articles of Militant, the idea of workers' unity is added on at
the end, as if it were an afterthought.
The whole thrust of these articles is in another direction altogether. It is
absolutely clear that a number of the leading comrades in the SML have
developed illusions in the idea of a Scottish assembly. While we stand firmly
for the idea of a Scottish assembly with real powers, as one of our democratic
demands, we must honestly explain to the workers, that such an assembly, on a
capitalist basis, would not be able to resolve the fundamental problems of the
Scottish people. To foster illusions on this score would be entirely false.
In his article, however, Alan McCombes actually puts forward the perspective
of a "Scottish workers' government" coming into existence through the Scottish
"Such an assembly (in which genuine Socialists have a majority) would in
effect be a workers' government acting with the backing of the one million
organised workers and the millions of unorganised women and young people in Scotland."
This idea is a complete departure from Marxism. There is no separate "Scottish Road to
Socialism". It is the false demagogy of the "left" wing of the nationalists,
put forward by Sillars in the Govan by-election: "a Workers' Parliament in a
Without the support of the workers of England,
Wales, and also Ireland,
such an assembly would be doomed from the start. Faced with a direct
challenge to their class rule the British capitalists would not hesitate to
dissolve the assembly, if necessary putting down the movement in blood, by
sending in the army. There is too much at stake to allow such a threat to
materialise. The history of Scotland
illustrates this fact. In 1919, fearing a social explosion, the Government sent
in tanks and troops to occupy Glasgow.
The more recent example of Northern
Ireland shows the lengths to which the
ruling class is prepared to go.
The comrades might reply that they have no illusions in the possibility of
converting the Scottish Assembly into a "Scottish workers' government" (though
their statements prove otherwise), but that they see the Assembly as a forum
from which to express the struggle of the working class in Scotland.
In reality, a Scottish Assembly would no more do that than the present
Parliament in Westminster.
But on the other hand it would foster dangerous illusions about a so-called "Scottish Road to
Socialism." We are in favour of a Scottish assembly, but we have to understand
its limitations and not glorify it.
Despite their protestations to the contrary, the comrades were reflecting
the pressures of nationalism, of Macleanism, when they wrote in their draft
Constitution for the SML, that their aim was "a workers' government in Scotland",
without making it clear that a so-called "Scottish workers' government" is
impossible without a workers' government throughout Britain. It is the position
of the "Scottish Workers Republic".
Again the SML states it will "explain in detail how a democratically planned
economy would transform the lives of every working class Scot…It will explain
how the top 15 banks and financial institutions in Scotland are sitting on top
of a mountain of wealth of at least £125 billion." This is none other than a
recipe for the "Scottish Road
to Socialism". It shows how far the leaders of the SML have abandoned the
Marxist attitude to the national question.
If one could imagine a situation where the Scottish workers took power –
which they could only do by means of an uprising – without the support of the
workers of England and Wales,
it would inevitably end up like the Paris Commune. Without a powerful movement
of support by workers in the rest of Britain, it would be swiftly
crushed. The Scottish working class cannot win in isolation, but has to forge a
close unity with the workers throughout Britain, and internationally for
that matter. Only then can British capitalism be defeated.
Even the Bolshevik Revolution, which took place in a massive country like Russia, would have been crushed by imperialism
without the support and solidarity of the workers of Europe
and the whole world.
This fundamental mistake is only explicable as a result of a vain and
misguided attempt to compete with the nationalists on their own ground. Quite
apart from the utopian character of these ideas, they can only serve to add
grist to the mill of the nationalists.
Only by constantly raising the class issues, and emphasising the need for
class solidarity, can we hope to combat the poison of nationalism in the
working class and the youth. This does not mean that we "ignore" the national
question in Scotland
now, any more than we did eighteen years ago. We will fight for any
national-democratic demand which has the slightest progressive content. But
we will fight for it with the methods of the proletariat, defending the class
point of view of the proletariat and ruthlessly combating and exposing the
false and harmful demagogy of nationalism.
While defending the right of self-determination for Scotland, Marxists must stand
firmly for a Socialist Britain, a Socialist United States of Europe and a World
Socialist Federation. That is what should have been emphasised in the
Constitution of any organisation in Scotland,
or anywhere else, which claims to be Marxist.
It is true that the comrades added, as an afterthought, that the aim of a
Scottish workers' government was "part of the fight to defeat capitalism in Britain
and capitalism and Stalinism throughout the world". But this does not make the
formulation any more correct. The fact remains that a "Scottish workers'
government" is a completely utopian idea, unless as part and parcel of a revolutionary
movement of the workers of Scotland,
Wales and England. It is this which can lead
to enormous practical and theoretical mistakes, and even the abandonment of
Marxism for nationalism in the future. The danger of a nationalist deviation,
moreover, will be multiplied a thousand fold by the policy of trying to recruit
large numbers of new, politically raw recruits, as envisaged by the SML, unless
they are educated in the fundamentals of Marxism, especially in the idea of
Socialist Internationalism, in the spirit of implacable struggle against
nationalism in all its manifestations.
Role of Stalinism
For decades, the Stalinist "Communist" party played a pernicious role in Scotland.
In reality, they re-introduced the cancer of nationalism into the Labour and
trade union movement after the Second World war, when the collapse of
Macleanism had largely driven it out of the organised working class.
The Labour movement had been healthily inoculated against nationalism, and
through it the mass of the working class, before the Pandering of the "Communist"
Party to nationalism, added to the desperation of the Scottish masses, caused
by the ruin of Scotland by capitalism, led to the re-emergence of nationalist
prejudices among certain layers of the workers and youth.
Instead of combating these prejudices, the SML is pandering to them. The
very foundation of a "Scottish" Militant organisation, and a "Scottish" Militant,
is a clear indication of this opportunism. Its creation is to stress the
nationalist side of the new organisation. There is no other explanation.
Likewise, they confuse the question of autonomy with independence. According to
the SML "we will take up the fight for national rights, including the
right to self-determination." "We are opposed to narrow nationalism", states Militant
(13/12/91), but in the next breath states "if a majority of Scots choose
independence we would fight to ensure the will of the majority was
respected by Westminster."
The main task of Marxists under these conditions is not to fight for
independence, but precisely to fight for workers' unity. This is the central
question. Despite all the protests, it is clear that the SML is being drawn
along the road of nationalism.
"If Labour fails to win the General Election", states Militant
(31/1/92), "simmering nationalist sentiment could become active revolt against Westminster rule…" The
Labour Movement must urgently take up socialist policies "to roll back the
nationalist tide." But what else should they do to accomplish this?
According to Militant, if the Tories win the next election, "then the
call must go out to make Scotland
ungovernable…It should be linked to a boycott of Westminster by Labour and SNP MPs."
(13/12/91) The article then goes on to quote Charles Gray, the leader of
Strathclyde regional council ("for once we are in agreement with Gray"): "They
must be prepared to break away from Westminster
and form a breakaway parliament." What is this if not a call for
independence? How else will the workers see it? How will they view Labour
MPs linking up with the Scottish nationalists, boycotting Westminster and then establishing a separate
Scottish Parliament? How does this further the cause of the working class? The
boycott of Westminster would reinforce the
Tories and be a blow to the workers in England
It is nothing more than a capitulation to a pseudo-radical nationalism.
The problems of the Scottish workers flow not from being linked to England and Wales, as the nationalists argue,
but because of the crisis of capitalism which weighs just as heavily on the
workers and their families South of the border. Rickets, dysentery and
malnutrition also occur in the poor inner-cities of England
on a par with Scotland.
The oppression and exploitation of working people is a product of capitalist
society and can only be removed by the socialist transformation of society.
This, in turn, requires the unity of all workers, irrespective of nation,
colour, creed, sex or language.
That is why the idea of workers' unity must be to the forefront – not just
put in as an afterthought. Anything else is a deviation in the direction of
Lenin and Trotsky fought all their lives against the oppression of small
nations. But they also detested what Trotsky described as "a small nation
Philistine mentality", and everything associated with it.
Even the Scottish nationalists appeal demagogically for an independent "Scotland within Europe"
(whatever that means). Why is this? Because the workers are dubious about the
prospects for an isolated Scotland.
And they are not wrong.
The arguments of the comrades about national "culture" is wafer thin. Alan
McCombes in Militant, is positively euphoric about "The phenomenal
success of the Gaelic rock group ‘Runrig', the biggest selling group in Scotland."
What the comrade fails to mention is that the lead singer of this group,
reflecting the pressure of the working class, is advocating a vote, not for the
SNP, nor the SML, but for Labour!
There certainly is a national Scottish culture, but the appeal to "national
culture" on the part of these comrades (mainly in the form of rock groups and
football) is not at all in the spirit of Lenin and Trotsky, but comes direct
from the stables of Otto Bauer, the Austrian "Marxist" theoretician of "national
cultural autonomy", who was sharply criticised by Lenin.
Marx explained, over 150 years ago, that the historically progressive task
of capitalism was to create a world market, to which all national states no
matter how big and powerful, are subordinate.
The last four decades have seen a colossal intensification of the
international division of labour, and the unification of the entire world into
one single, indissoluble unit. That is why the nation state has become a
reactionary barrier to development of the productive forces. It is the task of
Socialism and the working class to sweep away the national barriers, not erect
This is how Marx presented the process of capitalist development, with
brilliant foresight, in the pages of the Communist Manifesto nearly 150
"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given
cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the
great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the
national ground on which it stood…
"In the place of the old national seclusion and self-sufficing, we have
intercourse in every direction. Universal interdependence of nations. And in
material, so in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of
individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and
narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from numerous national
and local literatures, there arises a world literature." (Communist
Manifesto, our emphasis)
The present epoch, more than any other, is the epoch of the giant
multinationals, world economy, world diplomacy, world politics, and world
Polemicising against Otto Bauer the "Austro-Marxist", Lenin wrote:
"The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind
into small states and national isolation, not only to bring the nations closer
to each other, but also to merge them. And in order to achieve this aim, we
must on the one hand, explain to the masses the reactionary nature of the ideas
of Renner and Otto Bauer concerning so-called ‘cultural national autonomy'."
Nowadays, it is increasingly difficult to see a difference between young
people from any industrial country. In the way they dress, in the kind of music
they listen to, in their cultural and sporting activities: all have become to a
greater extent "internationalised", leaping over the old national borders.
The whole thrust of the argument of Alan McCombes and the SML follows the
spirit of Otto Bauer, not Lenin, in his approach to "national culture". This
pandering to petit-bourgeois nationalism reflects precisely the kind of "small
nation Philistine mentality" which Trotsky dismissed with disdain.
There is a high degree of volatility at the present time in Scotland.
This was reflected in a Scotsman/ITN poll in January which claimed over 50% of
the population were in favour of independence. This has subsequently dropped to
around 30-odd % in a series of recent polls. As a counter-balance, it should be
noted that in January the ICM research poll rated independence, home rule and
devolution as joint sixth [greatest concern], behind unemployment, the NHS,
poll tax, standard of living, the economy, and financial help for the needy.
This shows how "independence" is perceived at the present time. Nevertheless,
this latent qualified support for "independence", represents the real danger
that is posed by nationalism in the future.
The factors that gave a recent boost to nationalism was the defeat of the
Tories in the Kincardine and Deeside by-election, which reduced their MPs to
single figures, as well as the early closure of the Ravenscraig steelworks.
For Marxists it is essential not to lose one's bearings and get carried away
by ephemeral moods. We must look at the underlying processes developing in
society. The swings in the opinion polls reflect a general underlying
volatility in society. The support for independence has fluctuated widely.
However, on the basis of the further crisis of capitalism, and the bankruptcy
of reformism, there is a danger that a section of the workers and youth can
swing over to nationalism, as we foresaw almost two decades ago. For that
very reason, it is necessary to stress the need for class unity.
Above all, it is essential to wage an implacable struggle against any
attempt to divide the workers' movement along national, religious or sectarian
lines. As Trotsky wrote: "one form of organisation may be better, the other
worse: but above all organisational forms stands the necessity of the unity of
class organisation." (Trotsky, The National Struggle and the Unity of the
Proletariat, emphasis in original)
In the recent period, the SNP vote has risen considerably from its 1987
level where it got 14% of the vote and five seats. At present the opinion polls
put it on around 25-28% – double their 1987 performance. According to Alex
Salmond, the SNP leader: "The Scottish people's demand for independence is
But where has the nationalists' support come from? In the main it has not
come predominantly from Labour support, but from the Liberal Democrats and the
Tories. Whereas Labour has maintained its 1987 share of the vote, the Liberal
Democrats have fallen by 10 points. To date, apart from Govan, the SNP have
failed to make a breakthrough in the Labour inner-city strongholds. In the
General Election the SNP may possibly take one or two seats from Labour, but
that is all. The fact is there are very few seats where the SNP are a threat to
Labour. Where the nationalists are more likely to score is against the Tories
and they have a prospect of taking a couple of seats from them. As the Scotsman
(29/1/92) pointed out, "The electoral system is a formidable barrier to any SNP
breakthrough at Westminster.
Even if Jim Sillars were to retain Govan, the SNP would probably win no more
than 8 seats."
The decision of the SML to stand a candidate against Labour in the general
election is a fundamental break with the methods pursued by Militant in the
past. It flies in the face of the desire of the working class – North and South
of the Border – for unity to defeat the main political enemy, the Tories, who
represent Big Business.
Admittedly, the policies of right wing Labour leaders in Scotland, as elsewhere, has
provoked a feeling of revulsion and frustration in sections of the youth and
advanced workers. But the Marxists have a duty, in the words of Lenin, to "patiently
explain" the need to transform the existing mass organisations, the trade
unions and Labour Party, and not to be carried away by these same moods of
frustration and impatience. The attempt to create a breakaway "independent"
movement in the form of SML is a adventure, doomed to failure, and will not
have the desired effect of preventing the growth of nationalist moods among
sections of the youth and workers. On the contrary, the type of arguments now
being advanced by these comrades, which in effect pander to nationalist
prejudices will have the opposite effect.
In reality, there is a fundamental change in the strategic orientation of
these comrades. In the past, Militant had a proud record of patient work in the
Labour and trade union movement which achieved great results. Now, in their
search for new layers outside of the Labour Movement, all this is being thrown
The trade union question
Nowhere is the result of this more glaring than in the trade union field. It
is an axiom of Marxism that you do not encourage the splitting of the trade
unions, the basic organisations of the working class. It was never the policy
of Militant in the past to support moves to separate the advanced workers in
the unions from the rest of the class. Marxists have always opposed tooth and
nail adventures like the setting up of the Pilkington Glassworkers' union. Now
Militant has capitulated to the temporary moods of frustration of the Militant
oil workers. As a result of their experience in the recent strikes, these
workers feel betrayed by the union leaders. Many of them have refused the offer
of a compromise in the form of a joint committee of all the unions, similar to
the CONFED, which would undoubtedly have represented a step forward. Instead, a
section of the oilmen have set up their own union, the OILC. The argument in
favour of this step was to "organise the unorganised oil workers." Incredibly,
at the national Editorial Board of Militant, when a leading Scottish
comrade put forward this position, there was not a single word of dissent from
the "leaders" or any other members. Articles duly appeared in the pages of Militant
promoting this short-sighted position.
"Militant urges every offshore worker to join OILC," states the paper
(14/2/92), but adds shamefacedly, "while at the same time holding on to their
official union cards." How is this a viable option? Most workers would not be
interested in supporting/financing two
unions. Also the bulk of unions would not allow its members to hold two cards.
It is simply an unsuccessful attempt to cover their backside from their
previously held position. The article then concedes, "some workers may still be
reluctant to join the new organisation", and so urges the OILC to "call for the
establishment of a joint union confederation offshore, bringing workers from
all unions together."
The OILC has been supported by the SNP for purely opportunistic reasons. According
to an interview in the Socialist (10th March), "Salmond accepts the SNP
lacks a trade union base, but stresses its support at shop steward level. The
OILC's struggle for recognition is an example where, he claims, his party could
take a more progressive line than Labour because of its lack of institutional
links with union officials."
However, not to be out-done by the SNP, Militant has followed suit!
They have done a volt-face and completely abandoned their past position, ending
up tail-ending the nationalists. They are on a slippery slope that will lead
them to abandon further their principles.
The Militant comrades should restudy the writings of Lenin, and especially
Trotsky on the Stalinists' "Third Period", dealing with the trade unions, and
the impermissible tactic of splitting these organisations. In relation to Scotland,
they should take note of the experience of the United Mineworkers of Scotland,
which was artificially created by the "Communist" party in the early 1930's
arising out of its policy to create "revolutionary" Red trade unions.
This split-off from the Miners Federation of Great Britain created many
difficulties in forging a national mineworkers' union, particularly in face of
Spencerism. The split away finally dissolved in 1935.
These ultra-left adventures in the trade union field were roundly condemned
by Trotsky as going against the fundamental interests of the workers' movement.
In 1956, the Marxists opposed the actions of the "Blue Union", which
represented the stevedores, when it attempted to split the Transport
General Workers Union, and organise amongst the dockers generally. At
the T&G was under the complete domination of the right wing. The
sects supported the "Blue Union" as a more left-wing trade union. This
adventure resulted in the emergence of non-unionism on the docks in
Manchester, Liverpool, Hull and elsewhere. Whereas thousands left
the T&G and joined the "Blue Union", thousands left to join no
all. In Liverpool, which was previously 100%
unionised, non-unionism rose to as high as 20%. Later, the "Blue Union"
to the right and the T&G to the left.
Lessons of Pilkingtons
These comrades have forgotten these important lessons of working class
history. A betrayal by the leaders of the GMWU in the 1970 strike at
Pilkingtons glass works and the indignation over the victimisation of some of
the leaders led them to the setting up of a new Glassworkers Union. This was
enthusiastically supported not only by the Socialist Workers Party, the
Healeyites and the other sects, but also by the Tribunites and the "Communist"
Party. Only the Marxist tendency, while consistently supporting the struggle of
the glassworkers, firmly and tactfully advised against such a course. What was
worked out theoretically very quickly became apparent in practice. It ended in
a disaster. The GMWU officials collaborated with the employers. 130 Militants
were sacked and victimised, the Glassworkers Union disintegrated, and the GMWU
bureaucracy together with the employers gained from the outcome. These workers
– misled by the sects – had not understood that it was necessary to work in the
union and fight for a milit