Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Socialist Challenge for Scotland

2007 marks not only the bi-centennary of the abolition of the British slave trade but also the ter-centennary of the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland, and the spirit of Scottish independence is in the air as the May elections approach. I came across a fine article about politics in Scotland the other day, entitled 'The Socialist Challenge', outlining the way ahead for the working class movement - and so I decided to put parts of it up on my blog. The article began by stressing the stakes ahead:

'The irresistable march of recent events places Scotland today at a turning point - not of our own choosing but where a choice must sooner or later be made. A resurgent nationalism which forces onto the agenda the most significant constitutional decisions since the Act of Union is one aspect of what even the "Financial Times" has described as "a revolt of rising expectations". But the proliferation of industrial unrest and the less publicised mushrooming of community action also bears witness to the sheer enormity of the gap now growing between people's conditions of living and their legitimate aspirations.'

The article goes on to list what it calls 'Scotland's real problems - our unstable economy and unacceptable level of unemployment, chronic inequalities of wealth and power and inadequate social services' and asks bluntly:

'Who shall exercise power and control the lives of our people? How can we harness our material resources and social energies to meet the needs of five million people and more? What social structure can guarantee to people the maximum control and self management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned co-ordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a co-operative community of equals?'

The answer is clear:

'Scotland's social condition and political predicament cries out for a new commitment to socialist ideals, policies and action emerging from a far reaching analysis of economy and society; a bringing together of the many positive insights, responses, and analyses to break through the deliberate separation of issues and the consequent fragmentation of people's consciousness; and a searching for the new social vision for Scotland which begins from people's potentials, is sensitive to cultural needs, and is humane, democratic and revolutionary.'

Indeed so. But there is more - we need to 'transcend that false and sterile antithesis which has been manufactured between the nationalism of the SNP and the anti-nationalism of the Unionist parties, by concentrating on the fundamental realities of inequality and irresponsible social control, of private power and an inadequate democracy. For when the question of freedom for Scotland is raised, we must ask: freedom for whom? From what? For what?'

The author continues:

'The social and economic problems confronting Scotland arise not from national suppression nor from London mismanagement (although we have had our share of both) but from the uneven and uncontrolled development of capitalism and the failure of successive governments to challenge and transform it. Thus we cannot hope to resolve such problems merely by recovering a lost independence or through inserting another tier of government: what is required is planned control of our economy and a transformation of democracy at all levels.

We suggest that the real resources of Scotland are not the reserves of oil beneath the sea (nor the ingenuity of native entrepreneurs) but the collective energies and potential of our people whose abilities and capacities have been stultified by a social system which has for centuries sacrificed social aspirations to private ambitions. It is argued that what appear to be contradictory features of Scottish life today - militancy and apathy, cynicism and a thirst for change - can best be understood as working people's frustration with and refusal to accept powerlessness and lack of control over blind social forces which determine their lives. It is a disenchantment which underlines an untapped potential for co-operative action upon which we must build.

The vision of the early socialists was a society which had abolished for ever the dichotomy - the split personality caused by people's unequal control over their social development - between man's personal and collective existence, by substituting communal co-operation for the divisive forces of competition. Today the logic of present economic development, in inflation and stagnation, and at the same time the demand for the fullest use of material resources, makes it increasingly impossible to manage the economy both for private profit and the needs of society as a whole.

Yet the longstanding paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment through the accumulative failures of successive Labour Governments.

More than fifty years ago socialism was a qualitative concept, an urgently felt moral imperative, about social control (and not merely state control or more or less equality). Today for many it means little more than a scheme for compensating the least fortunate in an unequal society. We suggest that the rise of modern Scottish nationalism is less an assertion of Scotland's performance as a nation than a response to Scotland's uneven development - in particular to the gap between people's experiences as part of an increasingly demoralised Great Britain and their (oil-fired) expectations at a Scottish level. Thus, the discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people and in raising people's awareness - especially outside the central belt of Scotland where inequalities are greater - about the co-operative possibilities for modern society.

Looking to the future, the author calls for 'A Planned Economy' as there is a 'necessity for social control of the institutional investors who wield enormous financial power both in fostering privilege in our social security system and in controlling the economy...public control of banks, insurances and pensions companies, could have a two-sided effect: creating greater social justice in the social services and providing substantial resources for industrial development':

'Such a policy could be enacted without compensation and would in itself constitute a major erosion of the power of the British upper class. Public control to end the manipulative stranglehold of the monopolies would require a strategy to end the power of the British, American and European multinationals over the Scottish and British economies and in the event would require controls over foreign investment and trade, accepting a disengagement from a committment to the free movement of capital in Europe.'

The author therefore advocates 'Worker's Power' as 'the demand for the economy to be directed according to people's needs requires that the need for meaningful work be prioritised':

That involves a new and creative relationship between work, education and leisure which breaks down the existing division of mental and manual labour and the extention of self management at the workplace. What has often been cited as the irreconciliable clash in socialist theory between regulating material production according to human needs and the principle of eliminating the exploitative domination of man over man can only be met through producers controlling the organisation of the productive process.

Thus it is precisely the surging forward of demands by trade unionists for real control over the decisions affecting their livelihood that will be the departure point for socialists...Workers' control on an international scale is clearly an alternative to nationalism...we would be wrong to underestimate the experience and the education which has led particularly the industrial workers of Scotland to reject implicitly if not explicitly the values of a capitalist society.

The article concludes with a look at The Way Forward.

'There are as many Scottish roads to Socialism as there are predictions of Britain's economic doom - but most of them demand three things: a coherant plan for an extension of democracy and control in society and industry which sees every reform as a means to creating a socialist society; a harnessing of the forces for industrial and community self-management within a political movement; and a massive programme of education by the Labour Movement as a whole.

Gramsci's relevance to Scotland today is in his emphasis that in a society which is both mature and complex, where the total social and economic processes are geared to maintaining the production of goods and services (and the reproduction of the conditions of production), then the transition to socialism must be made by the majority of the people themselves and a socialist society must be created within the womb of existing society and prefigured in the movements for democracy at the grass roots. Socialists must neither place their faith in an Armageddon or of capitalist collapse nor in nationalisation alone. For the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state), then the complexity of modern society requires a far reaching movement of people and existing conditions and as a co-ordinator for the assertion of social priorities by people at a community level and control by producers at an industrial level. In such a way political power will become a synthesis of - not a substitute for - community and industrial life.

This requires from the Labour Movement in Scotland today a postive commitment to creating a socialist society, a coherant strategy with rhythm and modality to each reform to cancel the logic of capitalism and a programme of immediate aims which leads out of one social order into another. Such a social reorganisation - a phased extension of public control under workers' sustained and enlarged, would in EP Thompson's words lead to "a crisis not of despair and disintegration but a crisis in which the necessity for a peaceful revolutionary transition to an alternative socialist logic became daily more evident."

But the dynamic must come from the existing layer of thousands of committed socialists in Scotland today, firstly through a more obviously democratic and accessible Labour Movement co-ordinating its work with the trade unions (beginning with factory branches) and with street committees, and secondly, through a concerted programme of political education. The early Scottish socialists believed that the bridge between their utopian ideals and the practical politics under which people suffered must be built in a massive programme of education and propaganda. Today in Scotland we have no daily or weekly specifically Scottish political newspapers, no socialist book club, no socialist labour college, no workers' university, and only a handful of socialist magazines and pamphlets. We need all of these now.

It is only within a reinvigorated socialist strategy that we can appreciate the possibilities of existing and proposed structures of government. Devolution has been all things to all people - the halfway house between Westminster rule and a Scottish independence that will take us from rigs to riches; the insertion of a sixth tier of government which threatens to make us the most overgoverned country in Europe; and a fundamental extension of democracy whose every detail is of prime concern and importance...

The question is not how men and women can be fitted to the needs of the system - but how the system can be fitted to the needs of men and women....Scotland's socialist pioneers, Hardie, Smillie, Maxton, Maclean, Gallacher, Wheatley and others, knew that socialism would not be won until people were convinced of the necessity for social control. The Scottish Labour movement is uniquely placed today to convert the present discontent into a demand for socialism: we will fail only if we ignore the challenge.'

The author of this fiery and eloquent argument for socialism? Perhaps Tommy Sheridan MSP, the leader of Solidarity in Scotland? Perhaps the Scottish socialist George Galloway? No, in fact (as some of you undoubtedly have already guessed) the author of this piece is in fact Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor and destined to be the new Prime Minister of Britain in a few months time. It was written in 1975, as the introduction to The Red Paper on Scotland, a collection of essays by Scottish socialists. I rather like his attack on Leninism, 'the Jacobin notion of a vanguard making revolution on behalf of working people relates to a backward society (and prefigures an authoritarian and bureaucratic state)' - thank goodness 'authoritarian' and 'bureaucratic' are not words which could ever be used to describe New Labour in power...

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At 8:35 pm, Blogger Charlie Marks said...

is this online in full?

At 3:51 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Not as far as I know - I had to type out what is there with my own fair hand. If anyone wants to go back and put up the whole thing (the rest of it was really quite dull) then they will have to pay me - I just picked out the interesting bits.

At 9:18 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...









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