Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Scotland, Marxism, and Self-Determination: a Luxemburgist Stand.

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Some on Scottish Left Dance to Nationalist Tune. 

“The formula of the “right of nations” is inadequate to justify the position of socialists on the nationality question, not only because it fails to take into account the wide range of historical conditions (place and time) existing in each given case and does not reckon with the general current of the development of global conditions, but also because it ignores completely the fundamental theory of modern socialists – the theory of social classes.

When we speak of the “right of nations to self-determination, “ we are using the concept of the “nation” as a homogeneous social and political entity. But actually, such a concept of the “nation” is one of those categories of bourgeois ideology which Marxist theory submitted to a radical re-vision, showing how that misty veil, like the concepts of the “freedom of citizens,” “equality before the law,” etc., conceals in every case a definite historical content.

In a class society, “the nation” as a homogeneous socio-political entity does not exist. Rather, there exist within each nation, classes with antagonistic interests and “rights.” There literally is not one social area, from the coarsest material relationships to the most subtle moral ones, in which the possessing class and the class-conscious proletariat hold the same attitude, and in which they appear as a consolidated “national” entity. In the sphere of economic relations, the bourgeois classes represent the interests of exploitation – the proletariat the interests of work……

There can be no talk of a collective and uniform will, of the self-determination of the “nation” in a society formed in such a manner. If we find in the history of modern societies “national” movements, and struggles for “national interests,” these are usually class movements of the ruling strata of the bourgeoisie, which can in any given case represent the interest of the other strata of the population only insofar as under the form of “national interests” it defends progressive forms of historical development, and insofar as the working class has not yet distinguished itself from the mass of the “nation” (led by the bourgeoisie) into an independent, enlightened political class.”

Rosa Luxemburg The National Question. 1909.  

There is a mountain of articles about the Scottish Referendum.

Many on the left are increasingly rejecting the nationalism of a large part of the Scottish left.

Today this is a another, relevant,  article on the Scottish ‘national question’  (extracts),

SCOTLAND’S TORY MENACE

24 hours before the referendum vote in Scotland, Maria Fyfe presents the case for NO and the unhelpful influence of unhelpful Tories. (Chartist Magazine

There have been times when I thought we would lose it.  The gap was down to single figures when Cameron and Osborne managed to get hackles up.  They were explaining a simple truth,  but saying it in a bossy way.  Why would England, Wales and Northern Ireland want to be the lender of last resort to what had become a foreign country?  So yet again we heard Salmond’s refrain: anything any opponent says is either bullying, bluffing or scaremongering.

The deceit by the Nationalists has been staggering. Salmond claimed to have legal advice that Scotland would have no difficulty with continued membership of the European Union.  This turned out to be completely untrue.  There never has been any such advice and the Scottish taxpayer paid for the legal bills arising out of a successful Freedom of Information challenge. Currently they are claiming the NHS will be privatised in Scotland if the No vote succeeds.  This, despite the fact that our NHS is wholly in the hands of the Scottish Parliament, and no party at Holyrood has ever proposed doing that. They claim no-one in Westminster will deliver extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, because having the parliament at all was rejected in 1979.

No mention that Labour campaigned for it for years, and it was won when Labour came to power in 1997. They even lie about Scottish history.   You can amuse yourself counting the number of factual errors in the film ‘Braveheart’, which some regard as inspirational for the struggle for Scottish freedom.  But my favourite is the one about the Scottish Parliament.  It came into being in 1999,   created by an Act of Parliament whose first line was, ‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament’.  Not according to the Nationalists.  As they will have it, even although 300 odd years have passed since it was abolished (as was the English parliament too) in 1707,   it has actually been ‘re-convened’.”

“They have been promising a land of milk and honey. But with no tax rises promised as well, and a cut in corporation tax of 3p in the £ below whatever George Osborne sets it at, people then ask how they are going to pay for all this.  And doesn’t it follow that with big business paying less, the rest of us will either pay more, or see cuts imposed in social services?  Do people in England realise this policy is expressly intended to draw businesses and jobs away from England?  It’s a race to the bottom.  Not only that, it is hardly the action of a ‘good neighbour’ which Salmond goes around England promising to be.

They even pretend to have Labour’s interests at heart.  Oh yes.  In an independent Scotland Labour will be free of the shackles imposed by right wing Labour in England, and could compete with the Nationalists as an alternative social democratic party.  Just in case any reader is fooled by this, note that for years it has been the SNP’s intention to destroy Labour, because that is the only party that can stand between them and their goal of independence.”

“I fear that if it is a narrow win for a No vote, the Nationalists will not respect the result, but keep on in a new  referendum like Quebec.   To stop that happening Labour has to regain trust amongst voters that fell away, in all parts of Britain, and at least achieve and stay in power for a good while to come.”

Rosa Luxemburg’s position was shaped by her opposition to Polish nationalism.

She was clearly wrong to downgrade the importance of the fight of the Poles for freedom from Tsarist tyranny. (1)

But the questions she posed remain relevant: how can we talk of a ‘collective will’ of nation, even ‘a‘ nation in a a globalised world?

Clearly these ideas are more than an “imagined community”, they have a more material ground in the interests of a national, Scottish, class fraction of the bourgeoisie and its political expression, the SNP.

A new nation state in Scotland, whose economic programme rests of “competitive undercutting” of corporation tax,  would leave deep scars in the labour movement.

It divides people on the basis of their nationality.

It is  a fantasy that it will be more progressive than the United Kingdom, the history of new small nation states in Europe (from the Balkans to central Europe) shows that such states are more dominated by the flows of international capital than larger entities.

It is a delusion to think that once separated a new Alba can simply join a new federation of the ‘Isles’.

It will be a set-back for those who aim for a  a European social republic, a federation of the peoples and the working class .

It is a the height of arrogance to pretend that an independent Scotland will be a beacon for the left.

Those on the Scottish Left who back a Yes vote have become gillies for Alex Salmond and SNP.

They are loyal to their ‘ain folk’ and the project of their ‘ain’ nation.

This is the kind of nationalist politics that the ‘Yes’ side have got mixed up in.

Let us hope that they are defeated.  

Update: Rosie has written a stirling attack on Salmond’s leyal subjects, Neverendum Land, from near the heart of auld reekie.

Phil’s An Open Letter to Yes-Voting Socialists is also essential reading.

 

(1) The point is made in Rosa Luxemburg and the national question. Tony Cliff. From his book on Luxemburg (1959/69)

He added,

Rosa Luxemburg’s strength regarding the national question lies, as elsewhere, in her complete devotion to internationalism and her independence of thought. This led her, via Marx’s method, to see how the position of Poland had changed vis-à-vis Russia between Marx’s time and her own. It caused her, contrary to Marx, to oppose the national struggle of Poland, but at the same time, and again contrary to Marx and Engels, led her to support the national movement of the South Slavs against Turkey. Marx and Engels had argued that to halt the advance of Tsarism the unity of the Turkish Empire had to be defended; and the national movements of the South Slavs, which were engulfed in Pan-Slavic ideas, and were blind weapons in the hands of Tsarism, had to be opposed. Rosa Luxemburg made an excellent analysis of the new conditions in the Balkans since the time of Marx. She concluded first that the liberation of the Balkan nations suppressed by the Turks would rouse the nations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The end of the Turkish Empire in Europe would also mean the end of the Hapsburg Empire. Secondly, she argued that since Marx’s time the national movement of the Balkans had come under the dominion of the bourgeoisie, and hence any continuation of Russian influence was due only to suppression by Turkey. The liberation of the Balkan peoples from the Turkish yoke would not enhance the influence of Tsarism, but would weaken it, as these peoples would be under the leadership of a young and progressive bourgeoisie which would clash more and more with reactionary Tsarism. Thus, in the case of the Balkan nations, Rosa Luxemburg’s attitude to their national strivings differed greatly from her attitude to Poland.

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