- Category: International
- Published on Wednesday, 17 September 2014
- Written by Steve Freeman
Today voters in Scotland will go to the polls in unprecedented numbers. Steve Freeman argues that a victory for independence is a step forward for the working class, towards international socialism.
The Scottish referendum is a test for all socialists and communists. What has become much clearer to socialists in England is that there is a major and historic political struggle going on between the British ruling class and a section of the Scottish people who have lined up to support a Yes vote. Of course the British ruling class would not be a ruling class if it could not mobilise a section of Scottish society too. What is now clear is that the ruling class is not confident of being able to win. A ruling class that cannot rule is a ruling class in trouble.
It is clear to me that ‘internationalists’ and democrats in England should be acting in solidarity with the national democratic movement in Scotland. But we should not simply follow the democratic slogans of the nationalists but put forward our own independent democratic slogans - hence the slogan of a Scottish Republic. If Scotland votes yes the question of a republic will arrive as one of the next items on the agenda. Then the British revolution will be arriving. Nobody will be more surprised by this than those who see themselves as revolutionaries.
There are two ways of looking at the referendum - from revolutionary politics or from trade unionist politics - the distinction which Lenin made in What is to be Done?
A revolutionary perspective sees the referendum as part of a bigger picture - the national question - of which there are many current examples across the world - Catalonia, Wales, Ireland, Ukraine, Palestine, Kurdistan and many more. These are all different cases, emerging in different places under different conditions; nevertheless the national question has revolutionary implications in the break up or rearrangement of state power.
The national question is a revolutionary democratic question. This is in the ‘family’ of democratic issues such as racism, civil liberties, women’s rights, political or constitutional reforms and gay rights etc. Within the subset of political-constitutional issues are found for example self determination, republicanism, constituent assemblies, provisional governments, federal republics, national independence etc. Nobody who studies the Russian revolution could fail to see all these matters in play.
The national question involves democratic struggle for democratic demands which has revolutionary implications for the power of the state. This does not mean that at any moment we will be confronted with a revolutionary struggle. For many years the struggle may be peaceful or even passive-absent. Marxism doesn't assess the revolutionary implications of any national question simply by looking the level of popular struggle or violence at any given moment.
Marxists are not, as Lenin explained “tailists”, who simply follow behind the latest events. Today it is violent therefore we are interested! Tomorrow it is peaceful therefore we ignore it! Revolutionary politics is guided by revolutionary theory which liberates communists from the tyranny of the latest events. Revolutionary politics is informed by the theory of ‘democratic permanent revolution’. The application of this theory to particular concrete historical circumstances enables us to develop the necessary democratic demands and revolutionary programme.
Revolutionary politics teaches us to see the revolutionary potential in the national question. I am not in this short piece to suggest a programme but point to the revolutionary method. Revolutionaries approach the referendum not as a single event that is going to happen next day, next week or next year. We approach it from the entire history of the class struggle in the modern epoch which includes what Marx thought about Ireland and Poland or how the Bolsheviks dealt with these matters in the Russian revolution etc.
The national question is a democratic question. As Lenin argued, more democracy is not socialism but takes the working class on the right road. This is because the working class is the only truly democratic class in modern society. The working class may not have fully worked out democratic consciousness or theory. It may not have worked out its democratic programme. But the longer the struggle goes on the working class will gravitate to one side. At the beginning, rich Scots were solidly for No. This has not changed. The referendum is now on a knife edge because more and more working class Labour voters have moved to the Yes side. If Scotland votes Yes, then clear the decks - it is 'game on'.