Socialism First!

Welcome to Socialism First!

We'll keep the red flag flying here.

We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

This is the first blog post for a loose grouping of Labour party members, socialists, and other left-wingers.  We are entering the debate on the 2014 Scottish referendum with a fair degree of reservation.  We are not against independence in principle, but feel that the arguments being put forward for it are misguided at best and dangerous at worst.  As socialists, we reject both the reactionary stance of the Better Together campaign but also, and just as importantly, we reject the supposed “radicalism” of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in the Scottish independence debate.

We are No voters, but do so out of socialist principles, rather than Better Together’s scare-mongering threats of Scottish society imploding under the burden of independence. We also believe that a Yes vote, as championed by RIC, is nothing more than a will-o’-the-wisp: a seemingly alluring proposition that will ultimately lead us further away from where we, as the working class, want to be.

We will deal briefly with the two stances and in subsequent posts we will flesh these out further (along with other various other matters) and propose some genuine alternatives.

Better Together

This will be relatively brief, because the faults with the campaign are only too plain to see.  Labour sharing the platform with Tories.  A campaign based on attempting to threaten the electorate rather than inform it.  A warm embrace to flag-waving, militarism and patriotic tub-thumping.  Renewing Trident and continuing the austerity experiment…  

You don’t need to read between the lines to grasp that this is not, in any way, shape or form a “progressive” campaign, or one that inspires or provides vision.  It doesn’t offer any alternatives for society that will advance the interest of working people   It is nothing more than a vote for Things as They Are. With such stark structural inequalities in the United Kingdom this is clearly unacceptable for a socialist. And, as socialists, it is unacceptable to us.

Surely breaking up the oppressive state that creates, regulates and enforces this unjust system is the answer?  Why on earth would anyone vote the same way as a consortium of the obstinate, bitter, old-guard?

Radical Independence Campaign

A recurring refrain from the radical Yes activists is that a vote for No is a vote for the British Establishment. The reason so many high-profile right-wingers are coming out in droves, and in such an aggressive manner, is a sign of their fear; a fear that the breaking up of Britain is a breaking up of their interests.  That in itself provides grounds for a Yes vote.

 If nothing else, this should set alarm bells ringing about the intellectual rigour of the RIC arguments.  If my enemy doesn’t like it, then I do: the enemy’s enemy is my friend.  Except, of course, that at various times in modern history the British Establishment has stridently and wholeheartedly opposed fascism and militant Islamism.  If the British Establishment opposes these things then should we side with these corrupt and false ideologies?

Obviously, those examples are considerably more repressive than petite bourgeois nationalism, but be under no illusions, independence is not a step towards socialism, nor is it an “opportunity” for socialism to emerge.  What independence does present is an opportunity for the people resident in Scotland to (theoretically) increase their political control.  Pass laws for a welfare state from cradle to grave; legislation to ensure workers rights; make nuclear disarmament central to a new constitution.  What’s wrong with that?

Well, nothing, of course.  We want all that too. But much like human rights, you can have a list of aspirations and demands as long as your arm; pass as many laws as you want; draft a constitution as profound as it is insightful, but if you don’t have the means to enforce your rights and the funds to do so, then they remain nothing more than that: aspirations and demands.  The RIC campaign has only developed – in the most rudimentary form – the argument that Scottish independence will extend beyond increasing political control to increasing economic control.  

For example, there is no outline for how we would found a nationalised Scottish Central Bank or establish a separate currency.  There are no suggestions for how we would protect a fledgling economy from currency speculators.  The SNP and Yes campaign seem to have meekly accepted that we retain the Sterling.  As such we would have no control over our monetary policy (the amount of money in our economy) and would only have fiscal (tax-raising) powers.  No monetary control would leave us at the whim and mercy of the home of bourgeois finance capitalism: the City of London.  

Do RIC accept that Scotland will be a client state of rUK if we retain the Sterling, and if so, would they abandon their demands for independence if a nationalised economy were not a founding principle of an independent Scotland?  This lack of detail or explanation on the fundamentals of the economy is deeply troubling.  The vast majority of the literature and rhetoric from the far-Left on independence is based on “anti-imperialism”. This, we suspect, is simply a convenient sleight-of-hand.  RIC and others on the far Left, whether knowingly or not, are using these arguments to misdirect attention away from their lack of detailed economic argument (which would be necessary for creating “opportunities” for  socialism, never mind actual, full-blown socialism…) towards the broader and vaguer aim of “breaking up the British state”. 

Where Next?

While breaking up the Establishment or posturing as anti-imperialists may sound attractive, it is based on false or inadequate theory and reasoning.  We have adopted a No position, and while it is the same voting intention as the Better Together campaign, it is for radically differing reasons.  

The class struggle for the democratic control of the means of production is difficult enough without having signed away many of the financial mechanisms necessary for control of the economy.  There is, in short, no prospect for socialism from either Better Together (due to its regressive politics) or the Radical Independence Campaign (due to its utopian politics).  In subsequent posts we will expand on these ideas and lay out some genuine alternatives; of why we must relegate nationalism until we achieve Socialism First.



  1. Connor

    So, to recap what you’ve said under the “Radical Independence Campaign” sub-heading: independence is bad because it could leave too much power with the British state, so we should instead leave all power with the British state? That makes no sense. You appear to concede that independence represents an empowerment of the Scottish electorate and Scottish working class, and that the goals of the leftists campaigning for independence are generally desirable, but that they aren’t achievable. Your entire argument against independence is founded on defeatism and pessimism. Do you think we are more likely to achieve nuclear disarmament, or a restoration of the welfare state, or indeed socialism itself as part of the UK? Judging by your pessimism in this piece, I would not be surprised to learn you believe these are unattainable in all contexts. I, personally, continue to believe that these goals are best achieved through independence – and you need a much stronger argument than “it’ll be difficult” or “it’s unrealistic” to convince myself and many others otherwise, because socialism itself has faced far too mant accusations of being “unrealistic” for it to dissuade us.

    • socialismfirst

      Independence may result in some short term gains (though it’s unclear how many) but what our long-term goal should be is the democratic control of the economy. As it stands just now, there is no suggestion that independence will result in that; instead, we will be left reliant on rUK for parts of control of our economy.

      Perhaps if nationalisation and monetary control were central to the independence debate it genuinely would be worth backing. As it stands just now though, it looks like for every step forward that a Yes vote would get, there would be two steps back for what it means in terms of actually controlling our own wealth.

    • Vince Mills

      Connor, optimism and pessimism are psychological states not political positions. Assessing whether we are most likely to move towards socialism by supporting independence or remaining as part of Britain does not need either. If you are a nationalist and believe that achieving ‘the nation’ is an end in itself you needn’t bother with this assessment. If like you and I your purpose is liberating the working class and challenging capital, it is crucial. The argument being put is that the British working class is in a much more powerful position to challenge capital in Britain if it remains united and focuses its fire on where the power of capital is concentrated – London and the bastions of finance capital. Here is how Richard Leonard put it recently:
      “But the problem is this. If socialism means anything at all it is the extension of democracy into the economic as well as the political system. If we want to make our economy socially accountable, challenge the over-accumulation of extreme wealth, and where required extend common ownership then we need to act at the level where that economic power lies. It does not lie in Scotland. That is not to talk Scotland down, it is to talk the hard facts of the Scottish economy today.
      The commanding heights of the Scottish economy are dominated by wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and London Stock Exchange listed joint stock companies with little of their stock owned or controlled from Scotland.
      The government’s own figures show that by 2012 fewer than 18 per cent of all businesses in Scotland employing over 250 people were Scottish owned. In manufacturing the figure is even starker.”
      I would be interested in the strategy you are advocating as to how we challenge this based on the assumption that your position is successful in the referendum campaign.

  2. MS

    First, your claim that ‘the British Establishment has wholeheartedly and stridently opposed fascism’ – that would be the British Establishment who wholeheartedly and stridently lauded and appeased fascism for some considerable time prior to that, right up into the upper echelons of what is a class system it seems strange for a purportedly socialist blog to be defending. Second, to be clear, it’s not Britain we’re leaving. In independence Scotland will be a British state, that’s a question of geography. We are voting to leave the Westminster political system, a system which has spectacularly failed and if you think you are going to achieve socialism through that system you are the ones who are in cloud cuckoo land. Over 100 years after Westminster itself passed an Act that the House of Lords would be determined by popular vote and despite it being in all three main parties’ manifestos that it would be reformed, it has just failed to happen, again, and instead is spiralling out of control heading for 1,000 members. Harold Wilson spoke of “one of our socialist peers” in a clip I saw, an indication of where and how horribly wrong things went, cos there ain’t no such animal. In independent Scotland there will be no House of Lairds. Done. And the poisoned core of Westminster, what it was actually built for and so many of its precedents and traditions have evolved to protect the interests of, rituals and, oh what they love, protocols that belong in a museum rather than a 21st century outfit portraying itself as a democracy, the absolute antithesis of democracy and socialism – monarchy. The SNP are running scared of ‘senior figures in the British Establishment’ (Who?) who ‘will go to the wire on the issue of the monarchy’ (What do you mean by ‘go to the wire’?) and seem to wish to appease and laude rather than tell them they can’t invade our democracy, but this is only a stupid tactic. The truth is something else as football supporters at Wembley the other night were quite clear on when they chanted “We’d rather have a panda than a prince!” We do not have another 100 years to waste. Scotland leaving will undermine and weaken this outdated Westminster system, hopefully fatally. Already people are looking with envious eyes and saying “We want that too”. It could be the very catalyst. As for being held to ransom by the City of London, leave them to their stolen wealth from nations of the world, we should want to get as fast and as far away as we can from such a murky, corrupt and ultimately truly worthless place.

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