Posted in Russia, scotland

Soviet Burns

I recently spent Hogmanay back in Scotland, and being there in January meant I witnessed the preparations for Burns’ Night. One thing that you can’t escape in the UK is the ruling class’s sycophantic fawning towards the USA. We’re led to believe that anything we produce only has value if the Americans approve. Robert Burns is no different, and so the BBC have commissioned a documentary about how much Americans love Burns. The subliminal message being that the Yanks like him so we can too, no Scottish cringe required.

Burns, however, had a massive impact all over the world. Its undoubtedly true that Burns did have a huge impact in the States – but he was also hugely influential in that other 20th Century superpower; the Soviet Union. Did you know that Burns was on the school curriculum in the USSR? I’ll admit that I didn’t know this until my Ukrainian mother-in-law told me. I’ll also admit to being quite annoyed – the BBC will spend a fortune to inform us of a tenuous link between Burns and Elvis Presley, but nobody thought it worthwhile to mention a very unambiguous fact about our national bard’s legacy? The political bigotry of the British ruling class becomes only too apparent under the microscope of facts.   

It’s not only a question of the classrooms of the old Soviet Union. Right across the region Burns’ influence is undeniable. Many of the soundtracks to iconic Soviet and post-Soviet movies use translations of his poems as lyrics, and many artists have had chart successes using his songs – from this punky effort in Moldova to this more folky sounding Russian artist.

Burns popularity in the region predates the Soviet Union of course. We know that the great Russian poet Pushkin admired Burns, but had found his poems extremely difficult to read because of the Scottish dialect. Other great Russians also professed their admiration for Burns, including celebrated novelists Lermontov and Turgenev. Why was Burns so popular among these pre-Soviet people? That is perhaps best answered by another poet, this time the Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko who when explaining Burns popularity remarked that, “to know people, you have to live with them – and to know their life, you need to be them.” What Shevchenko had realized in Burns was of the utmost importance – proximity to the people. That was the appeal of Burns, he spoke to the common man about the concerns of the common man. And in pre-Soviet Russia those concerns were revolutionary.

In the same period we find the first serious attempts to translate Burns into Russian, by the revolutionary critic and publicist Michael Mikhailov. Mikhailov was someone who translated many poems from English into Russian. He selected poems that were close to himself in spirit, and the revolutionary Russian saw in Burns the same rebel. In his translations Mikhailov gave Burns’ freedom-loving poetry a life affirming humanism and the spirit of struggle and action which is characteristic of his best works. Unfortunately Mikhailov only translated about a dozen of Burns poems: imprisonment and exile soon put an end to his translating and political activities.

As things moved towards the end of the 19th Century, and the 100th anniversary of Burns’ death, a new upsurge of interest in the poet was observed in Russia. In the pages of Russian magazines such as “Russian Wealth“, “Russian Thought“, “Education” and “Herald of Europe” there was a steady stream of articles about Burns and translations of his work. In one such article, from the journal “Idea”, the writer says of Burns: “The people will repeat his songs because in them they find the expression of their feelings, their thoughts, their life.” The article emphasizes that Burns, in his poems, expresses all the grief that has accumulated over the centuries in the hearts of people who exclaim, “We have a right to a better life!

However, at this time translations of Burns were known to be of poor quality – Burns was actually considered by many to be untranslatable, primarily because of his use of Scottish dialect. In the first half of the 20th Century the work of one man would change all of this and elevate Burns to new heights of popularity within the Russian speaking world – which by now was the Soviet Union.

Samuil Marshak was a successful poet in his own right, and was one of the few translators in the Soviet Union who had actually studied abroad. In the UK Marshak studied not only philosophy and English Language but also Scottish dialects. He actually travelled around the country collecting Scottish folk ballads and songs. This was key to the success of his translations – he understood Scots in way that all those who came before him, including the great Pushkin, could not. Marshak was to become a prolific translator on his return to the USSR, going on to translate not only Burns but also William Blake, Rudyard Kipling and William Shakespeare – but it was for his translations of Burns that he was to win most recognition with Soviet readers. “Marshak made Burns a Russian, leaving himself a Scot!”, wrote the poet Alexander Twardowski.

Beginning in 1930, Marshak would translate some 216 of Burns’ poems and songs, although lamented that his translation work remained unfinished. Marshak delivered Burns poetry in a foreign language with the same amazing freedom and engaging simplicity as the original. He smashed the myth of the supposedly untranslatable Burns. He expressed, with unusual strength for translations, all the features of Burns’ poetry. He managed to capture accurately the thought, the musicality of the verse and the combination of natural conversational speech with melodic power. He captured the satire and the jokes, as well as the deep intimacy of the works. The result is an illusion that Burns wrote in Russian.  

Marshak thought that what was most important was to convey the true image of the translated poet, to faithfully reflect his era and the national identity of his works. Marshak believed that the poet translator should be like the reincarnation of the author – he should fall in love with him, with his manner and with his language. It is heartbreaking, therefore, to see Marshak so maligned by the liberal intelligentsia as they attempt to remove from Burns any notion of his revolutionary character in order to “sanitise” him and make him safe for their own consumption.

Anti-Soviet scholars, such as Natalia Vid, have deliberately misinterpreted Marshak and his work in order to reject the notion of a “Soviet Burns”. Vid ties herself up in knots trying to slander Marshak through a combination of lies and her own obvious ignorance of the subject. She actually accuses Marshak of changing the title of “A man’s a man for a’ that” to “An Honest poverty” – allegedly Marshak did this for sinister ideological reasons as part of the Soviet dictatorship of the arts! Clearly Vid is unaware that the original title of the poem, as given to it by Burns himself, was “Is There an Honest Poverty”. In other words, Marshak’s translation of the title is actually closer to the intentions of Burns than the more common title that most of us use and are familiar with. Similarly, she claims that the Soviets banned all translations of Burns other than Marshak’s, which ignores basic checkable facts such as the 1963 publication of Burns poetry by the publishing house “Soviet Russia”, in which all the poems were translated by Fedotov.

Burns, through the great work of Marshak, became the people’s poet of Russia. As they did with McLean, the Soviets honoured Burns with a commemorative stamp. It is believed that there are more celebrations of Burns night in Russia than any other country outside Scotland – with evenings from 22nd to 25th January being taken up with music, dancing, poetry, whisky tasting and traditional Scottish meals. But to really grasp the importance of Burns in Russia I would like to leave you with the words of Marshak, who could answer that question better than anyone:
The poetry of Robert Burns is part of [Russian] daily life. Our young people quote him in their love letters. Our best composers have set his lyrics to music and these songs come over the radio intermingling with the hum of our work-days and the merry-making of our holidays. Volumes of his poetry are found in the studies of our intellectuals, the cottages of our farmers, the apartments of our workers and the tables of our students. Burns creates links between people in defiance of all who would keep our nations apart. And it must not be forgotten that it is in human hearts, not museums or monuments, that his poems will be preserved.

ABELLIO PREPARING FOR WAR USING SCOTRAIL SCABS! by Richie Venton

No tactic is too low for Scotrail as they mount their attacks on workers.
Richie Venton, Scottish Socialist Party TU Organiser, wrote about their scab army on Saturday.

Dutch-owned Abellio, who run Scotrail services for profit, have been caught red-handed coercing and conscripting an army of scabs to defeat industrial action by guards/conductors that are trying to defend public health and safety from these cost-cutting butchers.

Read Richie’s full article here.

Posted in Scottish Politics, World Politics

Krushchev’s Lesson

Nikita Krushchev, who led the Soviet Union from 1953 until he was deposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964, is perhaps the least celebrated of the Soviet leaders. Certainly, many of his policies are viewed as erratic and were often ineffective. Regardless, he is generally looked upon favourably for his denouncing of Stalin and ushering in of a less repressive era in the USSR. Ironically, it was this “success” of his that would lead to his downfall, when hardliners in the Kremlin supported Breshnev and brought the Krushchev era to an end. Krushchev recognised as much when the day following his removal from the Kremlin he commented to a friend and colleague:

“I’m old and tired. Let them cope by themselves. I’ve done the main thing. Could anyone have dreamed of telling Stalin that he didn’t suit us anymore and suggesting he retire? Not even a wet spot would have remained where we had been standing. Now everything is different. The fear is gone, and we can talk as equals. That’s my contribution. I won’t put up a fight.”

What Krushchev knew was that his own reforms had sown the seeds of his own downfall. But rather than hastily try to undo his reforms he instead took pride in them. Breshnev had been able to overthrow him because Brezhnev had been able to talk to others about a change of leadership. No-one would have been brave enough or stupid enough to have spoke about a change of leadership during the Stalin era. Krushchev’s defeat was also his victory.

One would hope that in our supposed “enlightened” and more “progressive” Western democracies that Krushchev’s Lesson would be a rather unquestioned element of democracy, whereby those who seek to champion and further spread democracy into more and more areas of our lives would be comfortable with the fact that the same democratic expansions could lead to them being removed from their positions. How many leaders of left wing parties, for example, have claimed that theirs is the most democratic party in their country – only to go on and suspend their party’s constitution when they fear they won’t get their own way? Or in Scotland, where we see RISE claim that everything they do is democratic, yet they put people in key full time paid positions without even so much as a vote or an explanation of how they are to be held accountable.

Thankfully we’re now entering a post-RISE political landscape in Scotland, although no doubt they will refuse to disappear completely and will revert back to some sort of middle class student group much like the ISG was. They do warrant further mention here however as they are a fairly unambiguous example of those who have failed to learn a “Krushchev lesson”. As I mentioned, their leaders continually preach about democracy while refusing to implement anything that could lead to their leadership positions being challenged. Their failure to learn a “Krushchev lesson” is also apparent in their attitudes towards non mainstream media.

During the Scottish referendum campaign it was blindingly obvious to everyone that the Scottish mainstream media was massively biased in favour of the NO campaign. This resulted in a massive growth in popularity for “alternative media” in Scotland during this period as those who supported independence, and even just those who only wanted more reliable information, turned to alternative sources. One such source which rose to prominence (or notoriety) during this period was Wings Over Scotland. Wings popularity seems to be based on the fact that they hold the Unionist media and parties to account. They scrutinise them heavily, and the result is a website which is a treasure trove of evidence regarding the Unionist media’s lies and spin.

During the independence campaign, and pre-RISE, many of the current RISErs enthusiastically supported Wings, regularly sharing posts from the site across all social media platforms. Many gave up their spare time to deliver copies of the Wee Blue Book to potential YES voters. How things have changed now though! No longer are RISE fans of Wings, instead regularly throwing insults that way from their social media accounts. Any insult will suffice, although they seem to like the labels of homophobe and misogynist in particular.

The thing is: what attracted them to Wings and what led them to promote alternative media in the first place is the exact same thing that now leads them to denounce Wings and alternative media with such an intense hatred. They promoted alternative media because they were attracted to the platform it provided to write about and scrutinise the unionists, something which the mainstream media was completely failing to do. What they failed to grasp was that the same platforms could also be used to write about and scrutinise RISE. Once they realised this they turned against these platforms with a vengeance.

They have failed to see alternative media writing about and scrutinising their election campaign as a victory in the growth of alternative media, one which they played a part in. Remember RISE are an insignificance in Scottish politics. They only gained 0.47% of the popular vote. They polled below Tommy Sheridan’s party and even below the Scottish Christian Party – Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship (clicky for analysis of their performance). They are barely mentioned in the mainstream media at all, with almost the only exception to this being Cat Boyd’s column in the small circulation The National. But rather than view the fact that they are getting any coverage at all as a success, or their success in as much as they helped promote alternative media, they are now doing their damnedest to discredit this alternative. Even this site, which putting it generously is “modest” compared to Wings, hasn’t escaped their vitriol with numerous slanders being launched across the internet. In an ironic way the greatest success of the RISErs also ensured their total defeat in the recent election, a defeat that they won’t recover from. Rather than display the peace of mind that Krushchev demonstrated, RISE seem intent on doing as much harm as possible to any source that criticizes them. They’ve totally failed to learn a Krushchev Lesson.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics, Scottish Politics

John MacLean and Inverclyde

On Friday 30th November 1923 a stunned working class population of Scotland read in their newspapers that their great leader, John MacLean, was dead. He was only 44, but years of selfless toil in the service of the people coupled with the hardships he had suffered during successive terms of imprisonment had seriously undermined MacLean’s health. MacLean’s death was a blow to the working class movement, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. The esteem in which he was held was reflected at his funeral which was attended by over 10,000 people. The poet Hugh MacDiarmid recalled MacLean with the following words, “Scotland has had few men whose names matter, or should matter, to intelligent people. But of these MacLean, next to Burns, was the greatest, and it should be of him with every Scotsman and Scotswoman to the end of time, as it was of Lenin in Russia. When you might talk to a woman who had been a young girl in 1917 and find that the name of Stalin lit no fires, but when you asked her if she had seen Lenin her eyes lit up and her reply was the Russian word which means both beautiful and red. Lenin, she said, was “krassivy, krassivy”. John MacLean too was “krassivy, krassivy”, a description no other Scot has ever deserved”.

At times it seems like everyone in Scotland claims to be following in the footsteps of MacLean, from the Communist Party on the left to the SNP on the right. This has led many to ask the question, was MacLean a socialist or a nationalist? To those who have studied the man, it is obvious he wasn’t a nationalist. His desire to see Scotland independent was not based on a narrow parochialism, but on a much broader understanding of the necessary eventual failure of the British capitalist class and on a belief in internationalism. In fact, the stand that MacLean took on the topic of Scottish independence in the first few decades of the 20th century are remarkably similar to the stance that the Scottish Socialist Party takes now in the first few decades of the 21st century. While this is now regarded as the obvious moral position of any true socialist, in MacLean’s day it was the opposite and led to many criticisms of the man from people who should really have stood by him. As the referendum has shown, history has proven MacLean to be correct, and so we see many people who were always dismissive of MacLean’s politics on independence (such as the ultra London centric Socialist Workers Party) now try to claim MacLean’s name.

While John MacLean’s legacy belongs to the whole of Scotland, he did of course have a special relationship with Inverclyde, and Greenock in particular. Early in 1908 MacLean issued his first pamphlet, The Greenock Jungle. In this early piece of writing MacLean displayed his characteristic concern for the plight of the working classes and anger at the selfishness and insidiousness of the profit chasing classes. The pamphlet itself was a strong indictment of the slaughterhouse methods and trade in diseased meats that was being carried out in Greenock at the time. This pamphlet was a result of the tireless campaigning MacLean did in Greenock. He could often be found at the gates of the slaughterhouse in what used to be Crown Street, addressing the workers as they arrived for or left work. One such worker is prominent in MacLean’s pamphlet, and I’m certainly interested in finding out more about the person.

The Greenock worker who featured so heavily in Maclean’s pamphlet was a Mr Houston. He plays a central role due to the fact that he was the one who exposed many of the practices being carried out by the owners of the slaughterhouses, which included selling diseased meat for human food. It was a practice that targeted poor people, as any diseased meat would be made into “cheap sausages” for being sold to the working classes. MacLean argued that this was a direct cause of tuberculosis among the working class, and as a result of his campaigning a government inspector was appointed to investigate the slaughterhouse conditions.   

Mr Houston deserves further mention for his role in these events. As a socialist, he was fully aware that he was risking his own job by exposing the practices of the slaughter house owners, but he did so anyway as he was driven on by a desire to protect his own class from disease and death. Mr Houston, after 31 years of service, was forced out of work as a result of his whistleblowing. His employer was a broker, who the owners of the slaughterhouses boycotted until they got rid of Mr Houston. When the pamphlet was published, Mr Houston had already been unemployed for 8 months, and MacLean makes an appeal in it to the good people of Greenock to assist in finding Mr Houston new employment. They certainly owed much to him, given his selfless defence of their health to his own detriment. So while the guilty owners continued to enjoy the profits of their enterprises, for only protecting others Mr Houston ended up in poverty. MacLean commented, “Why should the guilty one enjoy such a great privilege, while the innocent one must suffer the worries of unemployment, and the fears and forebodings accompanying the prospect of immediate financial ruin”. MacLean is commenting here on a theme that continues to this day, when we think about the persecution of the likes of Snowden and Manning. I don’t know what eventually became of Mr Houston, if anyone does know I would be delighted to hear from you.

Of course, this affair was not the only time MacLean would visit these parts. We find many references in the history books to MacLean coming here to address the working class. One such reference captures perfectly MacLean’s attitude and enthusiasm for politics. A member of the Scottish District Council recorded, “I stayed with John MacLean and I must say he is the most earnest worker for socialism I have ever met. He has just spent his seven weeks’ holiday preaching socialism in the North of England and Scotland. On my last day he arranged a sail down the Clyde, getting back to Greenock in time to give my last address. After I had left to catch my train to London, MacLean stepped onto the platform and went on with the meeting.”

MacLean also gave up much of his free time to give education to working men and women, and was often giving evening classes in Greenock on the topic of Marxist economics.  

For many though, MacLean will always be remembered as a great anti-war hero, and it is probably for this reason more than any that his memory is so dangerous to the British ruling class, to the extent that his name doesn’t even appear in the approved school text books from which our children learn about the first world war. There is as much a need today for MacLean’s message as there was during that terrible war. As we see our country drift closer and closer to militarism, we need those voices who speak out, those who see the working class as more than mere cannon fodder to be used by our imperialist masters in their illegal wars. The poppy, once a symbol of remembrance of all those wasted lives is now being used by right wing politicians as a symbol of British exceptionalism. We have TV adverts from companies such as Sainsbury’s portraying the First World War as a rather pleasant experience. And now we even have the Royal British Legion attempting to sanitise the war by releasing heavily edited versions of an anti war song, The Green Fields of France, which omits any criticism of the war.

What MacLean knew was that, despite the jingoism and propaganda from the British state, the First World War was not fought to keep us safe. It was a war for colonies, for spheres of influence, for markets. In other words, it was a war for profits. A great Scot and contemporary of MacLean said: “If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for freedom for their class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?” These sentiments were shared by MacLean.

In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, Britain had seen a great deal of left wing activity, and MacLean was certainly recognised as one of the stalwarts of the left. Between 1911 and 1914 trade union membership had doubled, and Brits were increasingly active in the internationalist socialist circles as well. At the Internationalist Socialist Congress in Copenhagen British socialists were amongst those who agreed that “should war break out, their duty is to intervene to promptly bring it to an end and with all their energies to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers and to hasten the fall of capitalist domination”.

Instead, and much to MacLean’s dismay, when war did indeed break out, many of these same socialists entered their national governments to help the war effort. Leading British socialists, such as Hyndman, actively and enthusiastically supported the war – including speaking on recruitment platforms. While a majority of socialists in the country didn’t sink this low, many did argue that the war could be supported on grounds of defence, to keep us safe from supposed German aggression.

MacLean had no time for either position. He argued right from the start that the war couldn’t be defended on any terms. “Plunderers versus plunderers with the workers as pawns. It is our business as socialists to develop class patriotism, refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism”. MacLean was clear that only socialists could bring about an acceptable end to the war. He insisted that a capitalist settlement of the war could only lead to further wars between the capitalist powers. His position stood out like a sore thumb at the time, but has proven to be correct as the settlement reached at the end of that war lead directly to that other great war of the 20th century – the second world war.

When we look back at the First World War through the eyes of the British state and its propaganda machine, the main stream corporate media, we would be forgiven for believing that there was universal and enthusiastic support for the war in the country. We’re told that “conscientious objectors” were widely hated and considered to be cowards. This of course is a complete misrepresentation of history. The war was in fact deeply unpopular with the population, and there were massive anti-war demonstrations all over the country. In fact, the anti-war movement during the First World War was even larger than what greeted New Labour when they made the despicable and illegal decision to take us to war in Iraq. The greatest threat to Lloyd George’s terrorist regime in London was not the German troops, but the anger of the British working class, which in Scotland was lead by MacLean. In order to impose their will and ensure their monarch got his war with his German cousin, the London government had to enact a series of emergency draconian laws to control the workers, which included suspending many civil liberties and making it illegal to strike.

To MacLean they were even more severe. For speaking out against their war, the British ruling class twice had MacLean jailed in Peterhead. The treatment he received while he was locked up was horrendous, he was drugged and force fed, and this time inside had such an adverse affect on his health that it contributed to his early death in 1923. That the ruling class would turn on MacLean is no surprise. He was after all, according to their own head of military intelligence Basil Thompson, the most dangerous man in Britain. Basil Thompson, we now know from declassified documents was involved in a deliberate campaign to smear MacLean by spreading rumours about his sanity.

The British State knew fine well that MacLean was sane, but the British left were only too keen to jump on this particular bandwagon. MacLean stood for an independent Scotland, which has earned him an everlasting vilification by the British left. All the British writing about MacLean declare him to be insane. Even today, the Socialist Workers Party continues to vilify MacLean due to his stance on independence.  Their reasoning is easy to understand, as due to their own political bigotry they are unable to view any Scot who does not want to be ruled by London as anything other than insane or fascist or racist. Any slander will do.

While the British left vilified MacLean, to the Scottish left he was a hero. Beyond this island he was held in the highest regard by international socialists. In recognition of his principled stand against the mass slaughter of ordinary people in the First World War the Bolsheviks elected MacLean an Honorary President of the First All Russian Congress of Soviets, along with Lenin, Trotsky, Liebknecht, Adler, and Spiridonova, which was ecstatically received on his beloved Clyde; an area which had become known as Red Clydeside due to the likes of MacLean and many others. He became Lenin’s man in Scotland when the Soviet leader ordered that the Russian Consul be handed over to him. He was refused a visa to visit Russia; he could have travelled illegally but decided not to.

It was a tactical error on MacLean’s part and one which only increased his isolation in British politics. As it transpired, a certain Willie Gallagher took the opportunity to meet Lenin which MacLean had passed up. Like other revolutionaries of the period, MacLean hadn’t fully grasped the significance of the Bolshevik Party, even after the October revolution. With the encouragement of Lenin, Gallagher became instrumental in setting up the Communist Party of Great Britain, largely funded by Moscow wealth. The Bolsheviks regarded MacLean as the authentic voice of the revolution in Britain but he never joined the new party, although he remained a convinced revolutionary and supporter of Lenin.

His own party would never enjoy the success that MacLean’s popularity seemed to indicate it should. Party membership never amounted to more than a few hundred, and votes never more than a few thousand. His tactical errors in failing to meet with Lenin or secure funding from the Soviets were fatal to his political career. He continued to campaign for the Scottish working class right up to his death, but sadly left nothing behind in way of a Bolshevik style political organisation.

Rather than fade into political obscurity, however, MacLean remains every bit as relevant today as he was to those countless working class men who were sent to their unnecessary deaths during the Great War, or to Mr Houston whom he personally campaigned for when the bosses turned on him. Today, MacLean’s message about the necessity of revolution appeals to a new generation who are clamouring for real political change.

In May 1918, when facing jail for inciting the workers to transform war into revolution, he made his famous speech from the dock:

“I am not here as the accused – I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot. In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments must turn more and more to the markets of the world to get rid of their produce. And in fifteen years time from the close of this war we are into the next war – if capitalism lasts we cannot escape it. My appeal is to the working class. I appeal exclusively to them because they, and they alone, can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a reorganisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world and retain the world.”

MacLean stood for internationalism, socialism and independence. That message is relevant now more than ever. We must keep the memory of MacLean alive, to ensure that the message did not die with the man.

Posted in Political Philosophy

On Arguing About Racism

My purpose in writing this piece is to try to offer a way to move beyond a current impasse in anti-racism dialogue. The problem arises when the question of whether or not white people can experience racism is asked. On one side are those who argue that white people can not experience racism because racism involves “power plus privilege”, and as we live in a “global white supremacist hegemony” then by definition it is impossible for white people to suffer racism. On the other side we have people pointing out fairly regular occurrences of white people being targeted for abuse simply for being white, which to them is ample evidence of white people actually suffering from racism. The two sides are locked in disagreement, which often descends into nonsensical arguments and accusations of the other side “being part of the problem” of racism. As a result, genuine action against racism is almost zero while student types control the discourse demanding that everyone else accept their definition of a word and verbally abusing anyone who disagrees with them.

I’ve experienced the arrogance of these (usually) white middle class anti-racists recently. The type who with no sense of irony demand that we adopt the definitions they learned on sociology degrees at white middle class first world universities, while simultaneously accusing anyone who rejects these definitions as being part of the “global white supremacist hegemony” problem. For full disclosure, I think white people can suffer from ‘racism’, but that is just because I recognise a rather mundane aspect of the English language – words can have more than one definition. So when we say a black person in America suffered from racism and then also say a white person in Scotland suffered racism, although we have used the same word (racism) we are not equating the two situations. Unfortunately this is not enough for some. I was previously told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome in either the SSP or RISE because I identify as a Marxist. That has now been followed up with me being told by members of the Executive Committee that I am no longer welcome because I don’t share the stance that the “power plus privilege” definition of racism is the only acceptable definition. So as it stands I am currently in a state of limbo, I don’t actually know whether I’ve been expelled from SSP and/or RISE for not thinking in the way dictated that I should. I await an official communication from them to settle this one way or the other.

As I said above, I think white people can suffer racism. What usually happens when I say that is I’m then challenged to explain how this can be so, when white people have the privilege. This response misses the point, I tell them, I’m speaking from a different definition of racism. Call the “power plus privilege” definition racism-Φ, and call white people being abused for being white racism-Ψ. We can then see the mistake more clearly: I say “white people can suffer racism-Ψ”, to which it is argued “white people have privilege so can’t suffer racism-Φ”. It misses the point, they are talking passed what I said. When I point this out, that there is more than one definition in play here, they challenge me to explain why my definition should be used instead of theirs. Again, this misses the point. Words can have more than one meaning. These meanings don’t compete with each other, neither is independently more valid than the other. Competent users of a language can more often than not easily deduce what meaning of a word is being used based on the context. If we are talking about a black person in America we are using the racism-Φ meaning; the power plus privilege meaning. If we are talking about a white person in Scotland we are using the racism-Ψ meaning.

My hope here is that we can start to make progress, and get beyond this artificial barrier created by an inability of certain people to accept that others use language differently. Neither side is right or wrong in their usage of the language, they are just different. Certainly, if someone interrupts a discussion about police racism against the African-American population of the USA by saying something like, “yeah, but white people also suffer racism”, then that person is mistaken. Their mistake, however, was in the use of the word ‘also’ not in the use of the word ‘racism’. The word ‘also’ here conflates the different meanings of the word racism, it deliberately equivocates racism-Φ with racism-Ψ in order to shut down a discussion. These people need to be challenged, but it does not follow from this that every person who says that white people can suffer from racism also need to be challenged. To do so just leads to a situation where various injustices are competing with each other to demand our attention, with certain people claiming that only the genuinely ‘racist’ injustices should be tackled. We should reject this position, and to paraphrase Che, we should shake with indignation at EVERY injustice, not try to be clever about which ones deserve our attention and which ones don’t.

This problem finds it roots in the identity politics which currently infects most of the left. As with many modern feminists, the modern anti-racist movement has also lost any sense of class consciousness. This common problem between the two is most visible in the question of domestic labour, which is now largely understood in terms of “unpaid labour” and income for housework. Income is a matter of consumption; class is a question of production. Rarely do modern feminists or anti-racists struggle against the existing labour relations based on the hegemony of global capital. The few exceptions were the historical-materialist feminists and anti-racists of the 70’s and 80’s, who engaged the class consciousness of gender, race and sexuality. Unfortunately this work has largely been abandoned and cut off by the modern feminists and anti-racists due to the rise of identity politics amongst the left.

Racism, contrary to Foucauldian theory, is not simply a matter of asymmetrical power relations. Nor is gender, nor is sexuality. Racism (even understood as only racism-Φ) is not simply oppression, it is not simply the exercise of power by whites over blacks. There is a lot more going on here than simply white versus black. Power is the social and political manifestation of the ownership of the means of production. Clearly the means of production are overwhelmingly owned by whites, but it is a failure of logic to conclude from this that all white people are therefore part of the “global hegemony”. The vast majority of whites don’t own the means of production either. This gives the modern anti-racist a problem if they get this far: it appears that if they are intent on demanding the “power plus privilege” definition of racism be the only one permitted then they are going to have to accept that the vast majority of whites can not be racist, as they have neither the power nor the privilege that comes with ownership of the means of production.

At this stage they play what they believe to be their trump card. All dialogue, they claim, is created by the “global white hegemony” to protect itself, so by taking part in this dialogue all white people are in fact talking from a position of power and privilege as they are talking from the position of the white supremacists. Now I’m no stranger to the argument that the media and politicians use language in a certain way to protect the power of the ruling class, I made that very argument in a previous contribution to this site. However, in claiming that it’s not only the media and politicians but the population at large who take part in this sort of power preserving dialogue, the ‘white middle class-ness’ of these sorts is painfully apparent. Remember, the people I’m talking about here include EC members of the SSP and prominent members of RISE (Scotland’s Left Alliance). They are supposed to represent Scotland’s working class, but comments like these create the impression that they have never actually conversed with anyone from the lower classes. Our language in no way whatsoever resembles the language of the ruling class. If a Rupert Murdoch or Prince Charles were to find themselves in a housing estate in Glasgow or Inverclyde or Dundee they would find the locals totally incomprehensible. The language used by the working class has often evolved through conflict with the ruling class, not to protect it. The language of the working class is rooted in our working class communities, not in some hidden conspiracy to protect the capitalists. And this language which evolved independently and in conflict with the capital hegemony also includes the way many working class people use the term racism (i.e. racism-Ψ). Nothing could be more hegemony protecting than demanding we drop our working class usage of the language in favour of a usage supplied by first world white middle class university students.

Posted in Scottish Politics

The Youth Fetish of the Left

It’s often said that the SNP lost the referendum because they failed to convince the people of Scotland that they had a plausible vision for independence. There is certainly a lot of truth in this. Their arguments were at times perplexing and self defeating. They wanted independence but not independence from the monarchy; independence but not independence from the Bank of England; independence but not independence from NATO. This was the SNP’s undoing and something I hope, but don’t expect, they will address for any future independence referendum.

It is, however, overly simplistic to say that the SNP alone lost the referendum. There were many groups campaigning as part of Yes Scotland, and SSP and RIC activists were easily the match of their SNP counterparts in terms of commitment and input to the cause. Importantly, these groups were anti-monarchy, anti-NATO and in favour of a new Scottish currency (although perhaps in the long term rather than immediately after indy). So while the SNP’s self defeating stance would certainly have cost the YES vote considerably it can’t be the whole story. On the left we must also look at what went wrong and what we need to address for any future vote.

The reasons are of course complex and many of them have been discussed at length elsewhere. There is one problem with the left’s campaigning during the indy ref that hasn’t been discussed much, and that problem was the over-reliance on young activists. On the left we don’t enjoy large donations from millionaires from which to finance our campaigns. This is just a fact of life, and during the indy campaign as with any other it meant that we had to work with what we had; and what we had was a lot of excellent motivated and intelligent young activists. Every party in the country would love to have our activists, it’s the one thing money can’t buy. Just look at the Scottish Labour Party, funded by millionaires but during the recent election had to rely on paid staff to deliver leaflets through the doors because of a total absence of activists.

An over-saturation of young activists becomes a problem, however, when they are required to talk to older generations. Many of them just haven’t developed those skills yet. It’s a combination of a lack of life experience and that irritating habit teenagers have of thinking they are right about everything. We’re often told that the current politicians need to be replaced because they are out of touch with real life. That argument isn’t very convincing if it’s being made by a 16 year old who has never had a proper job and doesn’t intend on getting one for about another 10 years (once he gets his gap year, uni and post grad out the way).

This isn’t just an exercise in hindsight; it has become a genuine problem for the left that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge. Within a couple of weeks, the Scottish Socialist Party, with a handful of other individuals, will officially launch a new left wing alliance for Scottish elections. As of now, the SSP are the only credible group in this alliance but we hope to attract more to it as time goes by. Indeed, we’re already talking with some other groups. There are a number of things that need to happen for this alliance to be successful, but one of those things is that we must not inherit this “youth fetish” from RIC and the left of the YES movement.

During the indy ref the strong youth element that the left brought with it certainly won the argument among the younger generations. The statistics show that young people voted for independence. On the other hand, the older generations voted overwhelmingly against and we have to accept that the reason for that is our message failed to resonate with them. It failed to do so primarily because it was being delivered mostly by teenagers and young people, who were just unable to connect with the older generations.

The challenge for the left in the future, not just for any future indy referendum but in general, is to ditch this youth fetish. On the left we have a lot more to offer than just a lot of young faces, but a belief has crept in from somewhere that all we need to do is connect with the “youth” and we’ll be victorious. The result of the indy ref should have ended this belief but for some reason it still persists. Let’s just quickly examine the demographics here: the youngest generation eligible to vote is also the smallest in terms of numbers (and therefore potential votes). Further, it is the generation whose members are the least likely to vote. So while there are undoubtedly votes to be won in that demographic, it isn’t hard to see why pinning all your hopes on the youth vote isn’t exactly a strategy for success.

I should point out that I am not anti-youth. In my younger days I was the youth organiser for my branch of the SSP, so I can totally appreciate the hard work all our young activists put in. I’m certainly not calling for an end to their activism or criticizing their commitment. We can’t, however, expect everyone to be convinced by them. In a recent debate about the EU I was told by a teenager that I just don’t “get it” because I’m too old but that if I listen to him he’ll explain it to me. Now let me get this off my chest. I’m not too old! I’m 34. Older, but not old. Am I to seriously accept that someone who believes being in your mid-thirties is akin to having zero intellect is somehow “more in touch with real life” than New Labour or Lib Dem MP’s? I can’t believe many in the electorate will be convinced. That approach (the “thinking you know best about everything just because you’re a teenager” approach) might work when speaking to other teenagers (who of course share the belief that teenagers know best about everything and that no one else’s life experience is ever relevant to political debate), but it only annoys older people. Older people who, let’s not forget, make up a much bigger proportion of the electorate than the youth.

Posted in Political Philosophy, Scottish Politics

Socialism for a Modern Scotland

Socialism

Socialism was an alternative to free market fundamentalism throughout most of the 20th century. Its influence on world development is enormous. Over the past decades, the world has changed dramatically and continues to change rapidly. However, the rapid development of technology has not made the world more just, or freer, or more united. There are millions of people living in extreme poverty, and a continuing trend of deepening social inequality. The processes of globalization have shown even more clearly the barbaric nature of capitalism. Global free markets have created a new injustice, and their “invisible hand” is increasingly transformed into an iron fist. The world economy is divided, into affluent centres and poor peripheries. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Whole countries have been turned into raw material appendages of the multinationals.  There exists a huge gap between rich and poor countries and it provokes conflicts such as the ugly phenomenon of international terrorism.

The inefficiency of the current market, which rules via an unchallenged monopoly, was apparent even in the middle of the last century. Capital is becoming more speculative as money turns into more money without being tied to production. Hundreds of billions of dollars are carried around the world in search of profit. The pinnacle of the liberal “creativity” became the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession. This is the third large-scale economic crisis in the last quarter century.

To socialists, the current catastrophe being suffered by the international financial system was obvious long ago. The world pyramid of fictitious capital has reached such proportions that it threatens to collapse and crush beneath it the real sectors of the economies of many countries.

Now even the most orthodox adherents of the free market are beginning to speak the language of social democracy, although the need for state intervention in the economy has not even been discussed. What the discussion should really focus on is how to make government regulation of the economy most effective.

The world lives today, not just in times of change, but at the time of the change of epochs. Financial, economic, social and environmental issues should be part of a single progressive political plan, and its priority must be the interests of the people.

The Scottish Socialist Party recognises that in our modern age there exist not only serious threats, but also a huge opportunity. To take advantage of this opportunity requires the active use of public resources to stabilize the markets, which is unacceptable from the ideological positions of liberalism. Therefore, the alternative to the old world order can only be a socially oriented economy and a rejection of liberalism. The economy must be subordinate to the interests of society.

Only the socialist and social-democratic parties are able to take current global processes under public control, as well as protect the social rights of the common people and the national interests of their countries. Only they can create a more just and secure society, a society in which the interests of the people come first.

Socialism is not an abstract project; it is a necessary tool with which to reconstruct reality. Its current agenda is the humanization of the social and economic life of the community; ensuring public control over the use of the natural resource potential of the planet; respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens; improving living conditions for present and future generations. Socialism is based on the huge cultural and historical experience of mankind, and on the national, historical and spiritual heritage of each country.

Socialism in Scotland 

The party firmly believes that the economic model of neo-liberalism, implicit in the manifesto of all the major parties, has proven to be a complete failure and cannot continue to be the dominant economic structure in Scotland. Especially since the discovery of North Sea oil, but arguably for the entire history of the union with England, the country has failed to realise a significant part of its potential development. The current economic structure has been systematically unable to solve any social problems and has resulted in further alienation of the people.  

As a party, the SSP is deeply concerned about the situation in the country, the threats and challenges faced by the Scottish society and by every person. Social stratification and increasing inequality have become rampant. A recent report described Scotland as facing a “humanitarian crisis” caused by poverty.[1] Insecurity has lodged in the hearts of millions of people. The human resources of Scotland are being depleted, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively, as our people are forced to move abroad to find work. This is viewed by the party as not just a problem that must be solved immediately, but as a large scale threat to Scottish society and the future of our country.

The Scottish Socialist Party believes that socialism, as a conscious democratic choice in a fully independent Scotland, is needed to protect the long-term interests of Scottish society. Socialist ideas firmly anchored in the spiritual and moral values ​​of the people of Scotland. The party have been instrumental in developing the socialist idea so that it meets the challenges of the 21st century as well as the traditions of the Scottish people and culture. This is what I mean by a “new socialism”.

A “New Socialism”?

The term “new socialism” may be misleading, but not intentionally. I do not mean that socialism has been reinvented in Scotland, just that it has been “revamped”. The core values of our Scottish socialism are the same as they always have been, and are the same as values of other socialists in other places. There is no doubt, however, that the campaign for independence has injected freshness into the Scottish socialist movement and displayed on centre stage the relevance of socialism to 21st century politics.

Socialism can be understood as a promising socio-economic model for the modern age. It inherits all of the previous experience of human civilization, including market experience, but adds our advanced technology, social programs, democratic rights and freedoms. In the modern age, the basic condition of the people is achieved via education. Therefore, new socialism aims to provide free access to knowledge for the betterment of the basic conditions of human life, strengthening the autonomy of the individual. Access to free education is a guarantee of prosperity and security, for the individual and the society.

Socialism should also be understood as a workable government, based on the choice and confidence of the people, which is under rigid democratic control. The state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens and the citizens are responsible for the effectiveness of the state. The people do not exist for the state; the state exists for the people, ensuring full respect for their legitimate rights. The state is primarily a service provider to the people. The most important task of the state is to ensure that one part of society cannot dominate another (for example, to ensure that the media cannot dominate and influence the legal system).

Our socialism would actively use the state for the preservation of the spiritual traditions and values ​​of the people, and the protection of the national culture and languages.

The above ideas may not sound new, and serve to highlight that the “new socialism” I am discussing is in many ways just a continuation of previous socialist movements. However, there are some new ideas which socialism for our modern age must accommodate if it is to appeal to the population. A new socialism must also mean that there is no more “right” or “wrong” socialism; there is not a single ideology which is to be realised on the implementation of the socialist project. There are values ​​that unite the world socialist movement. The European social-democracy focuses on the implementation of democratic alternatives to the private market economy. Latin American countries and China implement socialist principles in the framework of their chosen model of state capitalism. Russians socialists study the Soviet Union and decide what to leave to historians and what to take with them into the future. We cannot build a socialist country in isolation, but that does not imply that we must build the same socialism everywhere. In Scotland we can choose our own path!

So what is it about this new Socialism that will win us support in Scotland? New Socialism involves an active state social policy of social security for its citizens. Basic social guarantees include minimum wages and pensions of at least legislatively mandated social standards, free medical care for all, free education for all, the right to social housing, the normalized cost for utilities and ease of access to the cultural heritage of the nation. This is not about handouts from the state; it is about caring for the main wealth of the country – the people. These are the obligations of any state to its people. The fate of the Soviet Union, amongst others, has demonstrated that if the state is not fulfilling its obligations to the people, then the people will relieve themselves of responsibility for the state.

Our socialism is also to be understood as a socially oriented market economy. The term “market economy” should not be understood in any way that is contrary to socialist ideals, and should definitely not be confused with capitalistic ideas of a free market. Although it does accept one truth that the capitalists got right, that competition is one of the most important aspects of economic justice. As opposed to the capitalists understanding of this truth, however, we use competition to empower the workers, not to forcibly reduce their wages and living conditions.   Socialism, so understood, essentially empowers people to engage in business, and stimulates private initiative and business activities. It allows workers to use their skills to take control of their own labour, which will result in more small businesses and self employed workers.

Acting most fiercely against this competition today, against the “fair rules of the game”, is the government in alliance with the multi-nationals who control capital. Public interest should prevail over the interests of the capitalists. If capitalists ignore the social consequences of their activities, then they have no right to continue in those activities. New Socialism does not accept the rule of unbridled market forces and instead redistributes power over the market; from the capitalists to civil society and the state. By implementing this new Socialism we will strengthen the institutions of civil society that can become a real force, as opposed to excessive government intervention and the unlimited power of the free market.

We are for a market economy but not a market society! The spread of market relations outside of the economy destroys the moral atmosphere in society and hardens people. There can be no market between the people and the government. Important spheres should also be kept beyond the power of the market, such as medical research. Likewise, the national culture should not live by the laws of the market.

Socialism must also embrace a variety of forms of ownership. Any form of property ownership, if law-abiding and competitive[2], has a right to exist. By socialism we do not mean the elimination of private property, but political regulation of property rights and the establishment of state controls over the ownership, disposal and use of the property. Private property is only to be abolished, and replaced with common ownership by the people in the spheres of natural resources, industries of national importance and the cultural heritage of the country.

Socialism in Scotland is now inseparably connected with democracy and can only be developed by relying on the democratic process. The Scottish Socialist Party places particular importance on consolidating all forms of participatory democracy, so that the working classes have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process, to take part in state affairs so to speak. A true representative democracy is a participatory democracy! Our socialism promotes the development of all levels of government and increases the participation of regional and local authorities in solving the pressing problems of life. Our Socialism gives impetus to the development of civil society institutions and promotes community based initiatives that form a proactive stance of the people to protect their interests. In this way our new socialism will be developed in close cooperation with other left wing parties and trade unions.

Another important aspect of our new socialism is respect for the environment. Throughout the world, it is left-wing parties that have elevated environmentalism to the rank of national policy.

Our policies are carefully thought out and offer a realistic path for Scotland to take in the future as a way of establishing the country as one of the leading countries in the world, a country that acts as a beacon to other progressive people around the world. Every great country should have great goals. This “new socialism” of the SSP, socialism for the 21st century both in theory and in practice, is able to respond to real threats and challenges posed to Scotland in our modern age.

Justice and Freedom

Our party shares with the Scottish people the core values ​​of justice, freedom and solidarity. For us socialism is a constant movement to a society of social justice. Justice is to be understood as equality for all people in terms of political rights and freedoms, and the distribution of benefits in accordance with the labour input and the abilities of the person. In short, each person has the right to a decent and dignified life regardless of their place of origin, place of residence, property status or age.

The pursuit of justice is firmly rooted in our national consciousness, in the values ​​passed down from generation to generation through culture, traditions, and historical memory. The party believes that the state has an obligation to ensure that justice is in fact pursued. Therefore the purpose of the development of democratic institutions is to achieve political and social justice. Without this goal, democracy is nothing more than an empty slogan.

Violations of social justice are the main obstacle to the development of the country. Such violations include government corruption and the obscene wealth of the super rich. We reject as arrogant the judgment that success is measured by adaptability to existing free market relations. A person’s potential can only be truly revealed, not in the current harsh conditions of survival, but in reasonably organized economic and social relations which are based on justice.

Within the manifesto of our party there are various policies that are the result of this conception of justice. The gap between the rich and the poor is to be tackled, everyone is to have equal access to educational resources and the health care system, while there is also to be targeted social assistance to poor people. For the Scottish Socialist Party, the idea of ​​justice is not a political slogan, but our main goal. It is evident in each line of our party’s manifesto. It is the common theme between the ultimate goals of the party and the specific tasks that must be addressed today.

Freedom in the socialist tradition is understood as man’s power over circumstances, freedom from exploitation and oppression of man by man. Freedom requires overcoming abject dependence, poverty and fear. Freedom enhances self-determination of the individual and his right to defend his own political position. It is not only the goal of social development, but also a means of building a truly civil society.

Freedom without justice is always and only freedom for the few. Such freedom is nothing but a vulgar selfishness. The Scottish Socialist Party does not believe that freedom can be achieved in the free market. An essential precondition for individual freedom is social security. The free market cannot deliver social security. To have true freedom, freedom for everyone, we must have social security.

The freedom of man is inseparable from his personal responsibility for what is happening around him. A freedom that ignores the rights of other people degenerates into tyranny. Freedom can only be realized in a legal state, with a well established system of justice which is completely impartial. Legal safeguards should be used to provide reliable protection from violence and humiliation, and from the dangers of abuse, fraud and arbitrary power, and to guarantee freedom of conscience, speech and political choice. We firmly believe that freedom and justice are the measure of the development and modernization of the country.

[1]  Press release 4 March 2014, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

[2] “competitive” in this sense means everyone having an equal shot at ownership