Friday, 14 March 2014

A Cynical view of Scottish Independence.

"For us, as revolutionaries, meaningful action is whatever increases the confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and self-activity of the masses, and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, cynicism, differentiation through hierarchy, alienation, reliance on others to do things for them, and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others, even those acting on their behalf." (Maurice Brinton, About Ourselves)

This essay has been through many drafts  as my position has changed over time and become more nuanced. In my past when I held  a more parliamentary socialist view, I would have found voting yes simple..Too simple. For sometime as an anarchist I was comfortable to associate with Radical Independence despite my disagreements. Overtime  however those disagreements became an unbridgeable chasm which no amount of talk of 'left unity' can close. Real division exists.

 It bothers me greatly that a lot of energy especially of the left and in particular of those who consider themselves Radicals or revolutionary , is being misdirected  towards the referendum. I'm looking forward to the end of this debate considering how divisive it has been. Do not misunderstand me, I am not opposed to divisive debates but this one often ignores the wider context. Though in some ways this debate is interesting to see, in that it sharply clarifies those who favour state solutions in contrast to the anti- authoritarian left.

It's deeply important to me to be understood in what I'm saying and to be clear in expressing what my position is. anarchists are in a  unique position which few are hearing. Simply put,  I have no faith in either Better Together or  any of  the pro-Independence side. Regardless of the result, I fully expect to protest the Governments of Westminister and Holyrood and I despise both since I despise all governments in the world-  past, present and future.

I am disgusted by the nationalism surrounding the debate expressed by some. Nationalism is a disease. People are ultimately divided by class not by nations. I would rather betray my country than my class. Nationalism serves to push the idea of  mythic national unity.

against Nationalism reminds us, "We do not see a world of nations in struggle, but of classes in struggle. The nation is a smokescreen, a fantasy which hides the struggle between classes which exists within and across them. Though there are no real nations, there are real classes with their own interests, and these classes must be differentiated. Consequently, there is no single ‘people’ within the ‘nation’, and there is no shared ‘national interest’ which unifies heart, nationalism is an ideology of class collaboration. It functions to create an imagined community of shared interests and in doing so to hide the real, material interests of the classes which comprise the population. The ‘national interest’ is a weapon against the working class, and an attempt to rally the ruled behind the interests of their rulers".

Nationalism is reactionary whether it is fascist or  'Left wing nationalism'. I understand you don't have  be a nationalist to be pro-independence but the pro-Indy camp  holds it's own delusions.The problem we as anarchists are caught in is this: Whatever happens will not satisfy us. How do we register our dissatisfaction with the options offered without endorsing voting or elections , without appearing to make  the political system seem democratic or legitimate? What can anarchists do? Is Independence like voting for a set of reforms? or is it more like a general election?

Should we cautiously vote yes or vote no or should we spoil our ballots or something else?  anarchism is not a dogma and offers no easy answers. There has been much informal debate about this and I think it's possible for there to be good faith disagreement if founded on anarchist principles.

In this essay I will try to explore each of the sides and my own position. I write both for self clarification and to help others understand my thinking. This essay has emerged out of debates with others on the left- both  anarchists and socialists.

Don't vote.

 Potentially we could choose to not vote and do little else. This ends up being much like a No vote.  For those who care about working for a better society, this solves nothing. For those who are already politically apathetic it does not help them to work to improve their lives. Which is much like general elections , in truth.  This option still allows for the usual potential for working for reforms and/or revolution. I think we can quickly ignore this option.

Voting No.

Hopefully I shouldn't need to explain  the reasons why I consider  Westminster rule to be negative. The intended audience of this essay should be well aware of what I'm talking about.

To me ,rule by Westminster represents the most honest manifestation of capitalist right wing ideology in the UK, with it's onslaught against the welfare state, the NHS, and all those hard won gains of struggling oppressed people, which are now shrinking and increasingly ceasing to exist. The point being that even these most modest yet important gains are disappearing in our lifetimes.

Voting No will not change any of these things. It is probably 95% guaranteed nothing will change. If there was such a thing as certainty in life,  I would feel confident to describe this  95% likelihood of no change as certain.

Voting Yes.

 " In truth, I don’t feel strongly about people voting in the referendum. If they think it’s worth the chance of, for example, finally getting rid of the nukes, rather than buying into nationalism, then I can understand that. As anarchists, we obviously shouldn’t argue for voting but nor should we fetishize the act of not voting. Of far more importance is that we are outside of the narrative and critique all political managers"
-From  Independent and free? A Glasgow anarchist's take on Scottish independence.

I have to admit to having an emotional attachment to voting Yes and to being Pro-Scottish Independence. I have felt this way since I was 14 years old. For almost all of my life this is what I would've picked.

The direction of debate pushed by the SNP has been appallingly concentrated on the question of oil and the continual exploitation and utilisation of fossil fuels. The SNP have already demonstrated their 'left credentials' are only at a surface level, having shown a cosy relationship to millionaires Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. The SNP are merely the face of a very Scottish Capitalism. I feel justified in calling them nothing more than 'Tartan Tories' given Salmond's sniffing around in hopes he would give Scotland the lowest corporation tax in Western Europe. Like any other politicians ,the SNP will easily compromise when it's politically expedient to do so. They did a U-turn on Nato despite it a being long standing policy. There is no hope in them. I have deep concerns about what they will do having read the white paper they put out .

I wouldn't be so rash as to say we should  ignore the referendum but it must be put in a wider context. Too often recently I have seen  Radicals narrow their focus down to what sort of paradise could be after Scottish Independence, without the usual  requisite qualifications or denunciations of the Capitalist system and it's related oppressions( Some worst examples would be in RIC or the SSP) To the extent this is happening, then the critique of national liberation movements is being proven correct. The debate around the referendum is diverting energy in unproductive ways and co-opting seemingly radical people into blinkered thoughts on reform while any consideration towards real change through revolution is thrown out the window. I'm worried Scottish Independence is acting to make a whole group of self identified radicals into reformists.

I do not believe as others do (Particularly the Radical Independence Campaign) that Scottish Independence will usher in a brand new era of Scottish Democracy - I hold no such hope- and it makes me uneasy to mingle with such delusions. I would consider it politics as usual to tell the Scottish people that Scottish Independence will be a radical change if those who say it do not believe it in their heart of hearts. Those parties who identify as left wing inspire no optimism in me( as if they could anyway) As far as I can tell the parliamentarian Democratic Socialists offer nothing more than a return to Old Labour.

 As much as I am in favour of direct democracy, I am not enamoured with the form proposed by my fellows in RIC for example  and in any case do not for a second have any conviction that the capitalist state will adopt it( despite it being a vast improvement over the existing order and in spite of whatever public support there may be)

 Scottish Independence offers no guarantees of things getting better and no guarantee they won't get worse. All it offers is the promise, the potential. All it offers is possibility of reforms but only the possibility to make some things  slightly better. And given what we know about the state, about politicians, it's highly likely we'll be disappointed. We can't trust any politician ever.

It's by no means obvious that having the state closer to home will make it any more democratic. As The Glasgow Anarchist Federation has argued, "having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any more difficult. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist project championed by all apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and class relations and undermining the self-organisation of the working class in favour of its passivity and support for new forms of failed ideas".

The idea that the closer the government is to the people the more democratic it will be, ignores where the real power lies.Power is not exercised by governments but through them.  The real power lies with the capitalist class (domestic and international) - with bosses, with bankers, with multinational corporations, with landlords, with the WTO, with the IMF and  with the world bank .

My worry is that under independence things will get worse. My fear is that  Scotland will become as Neo-liberal as England or anywhere else. Consider Salmond's unification and centralisation of the police force under the motives of 'efficiency'. It's already beginning most likely. There is lots of risks involved.  Would Trident necessarily be scrapped if  the Scottish Government chooses to remain in Nato?  How confident can we be that the Tories would never get in again?

 There is no guarantees that the left would be in a better position. While Scotland definitely does have leftism in it's history to a greater degree than England , this doesn't necessarily manifest  in practical terms. Sorry to tell the people of RIC, SSP and others, but it is not merely Westminster which prevents Scotland being an anti-capitalist or socialist country. Even if the left did get in power we anarchists know clearly they would either be ignored, co-opted( voluntarily or by necessity) or killed like Salvador  Allende. And none of us wish to see the state capitalist society proposed by the SWP. We have no nostalgia  for the soviet union and no desire to see the 'Soviet republic of Scotland'.

Ultimately the Pro-Independence side offers the false hope and promise of "this time it'll be different" which is what politicians and political parties always say to revive hope in the dying belief in representative democracy.

It seems entirely clear to me that the Referendum debate is mystifying what the real problem is- capitalism and all systems of domination, exploitation and oppression- in favour of presenting the problem in Scotland as due to where the power is located. Throughout this debate there has been the pushing of ideas of 'national unity' and  'national interest'  which act to hide where the real problems and solutions lie. These ideologies further confuse and distract the oppressed from what is necessary.  Even 'benevolent' nationalism does this.

The referendum debate represents a debate between different degrees of kinds of capitalism. Most of the No side lean more towards private capitalism while those on the Yes side lean more towards state capitalism.

an article on Libcom Some Quick Thoughts on Scottish Independence puts it very clearly
"This all being said isn't an argument in favour of the union any more than the problems of the UK government are an argument for independence. Both camps ultimately represent class interests other than our own, no matter how much parliamentary leftists might argue otherwise. Even whether independence will make the lives of working class Scots (and Brits in general!) better or worse is a question of the degrees of capitalism"

Will Independence increase the likelihood of revolution and/or increase our potential for action, for effectiveness?  There is no clear answer. Independence gives a smaller political territory to work with but the resultant nationalism however 'benevolent' could get in the way of this.

With voting Yes ,there is very real danger of  ,if not buying into the mythology of a socialist Scotland, finally getting 'democratic government', belief elections are useful tools for social change etc.,  then at least propagating those ideas as if they were true. as anarchists we should not make it seem as if governments can represent us, as if governments are truly democratic, as if governments can truly improve society, as if elections are legitimate ,as if the state is  a legitimate institution, as if the only problem is WHO is in power not that there is someone in power at all .We should not give power to rulers of any kind ever.

"This support of the underdog state or state in waiting must be opposed. There is no essence of national resistance, no essential oppressed national spirit which is being channelled by the national liberation forces. They are real organised forces with their own aims and goals – to set up a particular form of exploiting state, with particular factions in control of it. The nation is not something primordial to be repressed, but a narrative constructed by the capitalist state in the course of its development. Though the imperial structure comes to be part of the apparatus of exploitation over the working class in the territory affected, the rearrangement of this exploiting apparatus in favour of a ‘native’ state is a reactionary goal. As we have seen, the logic of nationalism is an inherently reactionary one, in that it functions to binds together classes into one national collectivity,.The problem is that the tendency to see the world in national rather than class terms is deeply engrained in the psychology of the left, as much as it is in wider society. Though leftists may be capable of criticising nationalism in their own back yard, they are incapable of doing it when faced with exotic foreign movements. "-against nationalism.

Spoiling your ballot.

One of my comrades suggested we could spoil our ballots in attempt to register our dissatisfaction with the options we've been given. Initially I found this convincing but no longer do. In UK, spoilt ballots are counted but it doesn't seem obvious what that would achieve. we can safely be ignored as cranks by them.

My  Conclusion.

" Nationalism is packaged and sold as another commodity, it is a spectacle of participation in a society that is defined the separation between our needs and desires and the reasons for our day-to-day activity. The idea of being part of a community, having a heritage to claim and something above and beyond immediate reality to take pride in is very powerful. As a result, nationalism can overlay and distort class struggles"-against nationalism.

 We neither wish to claim voting will led to meaningful social change nor do we want to start claiming voting is immoral.

 Our objection to voting is that it does not overcome the political system, that it enforces The Spectacle that Guy Debord spoke of , that it encourages the passivity of the masses while creating the illusion they are doing something useful and that the system is responsive to people's needs . We oppose voting not because it's immoral but because it's not effective and infact  is counter productive to the end we seek.

The answer to what to do still remains.

What is abundantly clear however, is that nothing less  than the destruction of Capitalism, The state and all forms of domination for ever and always, that  nothing less than revolution( from the grassroots with mass participation without vanguards or 'dictatorship of the proletariat') will improve the world.

As Mikhail Bakunin said, "Every state power, every government, by its very nature places itself outside and over the people and inevitably subordinates them to an organization and to aims which are foreign to and opposed to the real needs and aspirations of the people. We declare ourselves the enemies of every government and every state power, and of governmental organization in general."

as to what I will do? I suggest we refuse to vote in this whole pageantry  of lies. It seems to me to be a waste of time. However, different to the option I rejected above, I am not arguing we do not vote and do nothing else - as anarchists I would hope that would not be possible in anyway.

 I propose the slogan "Don't vote, organize!" **

   We can work to demystify both sides of the debate and suggest anarchism as the alternative while actively working to help build resistance movements across  society.

 Don't vote, organize

 Neither London nor Holyrood Rule !

 Freedom, Equality and Solidarity !

 No Gods, No Masters!

The people themselves should run their own society. We demand nothing less. No compromise !


there is no alternative!

** I don't claim this is new idea, other groups propose similar things or have used this slogan.
Further Reading:-

What is Anarchism? by Alexander Berkman.

Against nationalism - Anarchist Federation

Anarchist communism - an introduction

Capitalism - an introduction

The state - an introduction

Direct action - an introduction

Introduction to Anarchist-Communism

Let’s all vote Labour without illusions

Labouring in vain - a critical history of the Labour Party

Independent and free? A Glasgow anarchist's take on Scottish independence

Some quick thoughts on Scottish independence

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