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Issue 54

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Issue 54, March 2001

How can capitalism be successfully overthrown?

    A socialist programme
    Cloudly formulas
    Breaking the power of the capitalists
    Why Stalinism triumphed
    The case for a revolutionary party
    Internationalism and the struggle for socialism

PETER TAAFFE reviews Imagine: A socialist vision for the 21st century, (Rebel Inc, £8-95) the new book by the Scottish socialists, Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan.

IF THIS BOOK had been written by socialists who were evolving towards the left and a Marxist position it would deserve fulsome praise. Tony Benn, for instance, broke with the tradition of Labour leaders moving from the left to the right. A 'right of centre' minister in the Wilson government of 1964-70, he shifted under the mighty impulse of the events of the early 1970s to become the leader of the left wing within a radicalised Labour Party. Consequently he occupied, and still does, a special place in the affections of the socialist core of the labour movement. While criticising him for not going further in adopting a rounded-out Marxist programme, we (then Militant, now the Socialist Party) nevertheless supported him in the struggle against the Labour right-wing.

Unfortunately, the evolution of Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, on the evidence of this book alone, is in the opposite direction, away from a clear Marxist/Trotskyist perspective and programme which they once advocated. This is not to say that Imagine is not in many respects a very useful book. In a well-written, simple and accessible style, it will be particularly beneficial in introducing the new generation of workers and youth to the brutal reality of modern capitalism and in posing the alternative of socialism.


Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, as well as being talented individuals, received their training and education within the ranks of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). Unfortunately, there is no recognition of this in Imagine nor the role played by Militant (now the Socialist Party in England and Wales) or Scottish Militant Labour in shaping them and their views. They may object that the book is primarily about ideas and aimed at a new audience. But for Marxists ideas are organically connected to how they are formulated, through parties or organisations, and then carried to the mass. Otherwise they become equivalent to a knife without a blade. Even a book which seeks to popularise also needs to draw general conclusions and provide a way for the readers to follow through and implement the ideas which they have read. This book fails to do this and it is not an accident. Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, and their supporters in Scotland, have recently separated themselves from the CWI.

top     A socialist programme

A CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE was their decision to dissolve a distinct Marxist-Trotskyist organisation into a broader formation, the Scottish Socialist Party. A careful reading of this book shows that the present method and analysis of the authors differs considerably from their previous positions. There are many woolly formulations which flow from woolly thinking, which is a marked retreat from the clear analysis and programme which the authors held in the past. This programme was different to that of the left reformists and centrists, who the Marxists nevertheless collaborated with over a long period, both within and outside of the Labour Party, in broad left organisations in the trade unions, as well as on the shop floor and in trade union branches.


On the economy, for instance, Tony Benn famously proposed the nationalisation of the top 25 companies in Britain. We supported this; in fact, the vote of a Militant supporter on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee was decisive in this policy attaining a majority in 1973. This was despite our criticisms, because it represented a big step forward in the policy of the Labour Party, a searching by the Labour Party membership for a general socialist alternative to the Labour right wing. The right accepted the 'reality' of a continuation of the 'mixed economy', of capitalism.

Nevertheless, we still subjected this policy to positive criticism. We pointed out that even if implemented, this measure would not break the economic power of the capitalists. Indeed, the experience of Chile - which the authors refer to but without, unfortunately, drawing all the necessary lessons - shows that a 25% or a 40% 'revolution', when it comes to the economic and state power of the ruling class, is inadequate. Salvador Allende was enormously heroic and self-sacrificing. Yet the policy of his government of half-measures and tinkering irritated the Chilean ruling class without satisfying the masses and gave counter-revolution time to mobilise sections of the middle class and armed forces as a club against the workers' organisations. This left the marvellous Chilean working class defenceless in the teeth of Pinochet and his totalitarian and fascist methods.

If one could envisage a government formed in Scotland by the authors of this book, they would unfortunately be in danger of treading in the same footsteps as Allende. Militant put forward a clear demand for the taking over of 250 (now 150) monopolies which constituted about 70% of the British economy. Our opponents, like Kinnock in his infamous Labour Party conference speech in 1985, caricatured this as 'just say socialism'. In reality, this overall general demand for the economy was connected with fighting for day-to-day demands such as the minimum wage, a shorter working week, big increases in state expenditure, and defence of workers against attacks on the welfare state.


The demand for the nationalisation of the top 250 monopolies was never postponed to the 'mists of the future' but organically connected to our everyday agitation and propaganda, to the ongoing struggle of working-class people, with its implementation always linked to the mass mobilisation of the working class outside parliament. We were able to do this even in the 1970s and particularly the 1980s because the crisis of capitalism meant that the serious introduction of reforms was incompatible on a long-term basis with the system, capitalism. It could no longer deliver the rise in living standards evident in the major postwar economic upswing of 1950 to 1975. Despite the lopsided boom of the 1990s this is even more the case today.

At the same time, the Marxists were the best fighters for every reform, for every increase in living standards, as well as defending every past gain as the experience of the mighty Liverpool battle between 1983 and 1987 demonstrated, and the defeat of the poll tax. But on all occasions we linked this to the need for the socialist transformation of society and, when occasion demanded it, summed up the main step towards this goal as being the 'nationalisation of the monopolies'.

Tommy Sheridan, as one of the leaders of the anti-poll tax movement in particular, managed to link the struggle on this issue to the general programme of Militant. At the same time, we never dressed up reality by painting the poll tax victory as anything other than what it was: a temporary victory but, nevertheless, a magnificent example of what is possible if Marxist ideas, strategy and tactics are organically connected to mass consciousness and the mass movement of millions of working class people.


We also fought for the demand, prominently put forward by the reformist left, of a 'wealth tax'. Because of the present weakness of reformism, we are virtually the only ones who still support such a demand and the more limited one advanced in this book for a Scottish Service Tax to replace the Council Tax. But we opposed the exaggerations made by the reformist left in the past and which are now, unfortunately, the method of the authors. We pointed out that a wealth tax would not mean a fundamental redistribution of wealth. The Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax introduced by the Wilson government in 1964-65 merely trimmed the fingernails of the British bourgeoisie. Yet, as The Economist commented at the time, it led to denunciations of the government in the City of London as a 'Bolshevik' one, with Wilson pictured as the 'Lenin of the British revolution'. Wilson backed away and completely watered down these taxes, so they became perfectly acceptable to the City and big business.

top     Cloudly formulas

EVEN IF 'DRACONIAN' taxation is introduced, the capitalists can always find 1001 ways of avoiding it. This does not mean that we don't fight for such a tax and other restrictions on the huge accession of wealth of the rich but we always point out the limitations of such measures within the framework of capitalism. Unfortunately, this is not done by the reformists nor by the authors of Imagine when it comes to the Scottish Service Tax, which was described by Tommy Sheridan in the Scottish Socialist Voice as the "most significant redistribution of income since world war two" (3 March, 2000). Responding to our criticisms, the authors have partially retreated from this exaggeration, but in putting it forward in the first place that way they served to underline their retreat from a clear Marxist/Trotskyist position.


This is particularly made clear when it comes to the concrete proposals outlined in Imagine of what precise economic measures should be taken to break the power of big business. The authors write: "A Scottish socialist government could at least begin to move in the direction of socialism by taking control over key sectors of the economy". This is exactly the type of cloudy formula used by left reformists in the past, and which will be employed by similar formations in the future. It avoids clearly posing the need to take over what Lenin called the 'commanding heights of the economy'.

The comrades have countered our arguments on this issue by outlining a list of industries to be taken over, such as North Sea oil. But they have never answered our questions, either about their programme or that of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), by clearly answering that their programme is to take over, swiftly and decisively, the 'commanding heights of the economy' in Scotland as a means of breaking the power of big business and its ability to resist a socialist government.

Without full access to the books of big business, there can be some doubt as to the exact number of firms and monopolies it would be necessary to take over. If the figure of the number of monopolies is not known, then the general formula of the 'commanding heights' should be used. But it is ambiguous, to say the least, to refuse to pose the issue of taking over not just the 'key' sections but the giant monopolies which would allow a government to cut the Gordian knot of capitalism - through the nationalisation of the monopolies - and begin to introduce a democratic, socialist planned economy. Unfortunately, this book is extremely vague on the issue and represents a moving away towards a left reformist or centrist position from the programme of Marxism.


The same muddled approach is evident when they seek to map out of the forms of administration of a future 'Scottish socialist government'. Ambiguous formulas, such as "workplace and community democracy" are used. They also state: "A new socialist economy would be based on a range of different types of enterprises with emphasis on social ownership. Large scale industry, oil, gas, electricity, the national railway network, could be owned by the people of Scotland as a whole and run by democratically elected boards in which workers, consumers and a wider socialist government were all represented. Where practically possible, socially owned enterprise could be broken down into smaller sub-units to enable closer scrutiny by the wider public. Social ownership could also include community owned and municipally owned enterprises". This is followed by: "Another form of social ownership that could be encouraged through the provision of cheap loans and other incentives would be workers' co-operatives. Repeated studies have shown that when employees own and run their own companies they work harder and more efficiently".

For Marxists, the last statement is quite wrong, implying as it does that isolated 'workers' co-operatives' would be more efficient than state ownership of industry, with democratic workers' control and management at every level of industry and society. The 'workers' co-operatives' which are sometimes reluctantly resorted to under capitalism by workers to avoid redundancy are not superior to a socialist planned economy with real workers' democracy. On the contrary, all the same social relations and tensions between the 'management' and the workforce ultimately re-surface. Moreover, these 'islands of socialism' are subject to the laws of capitalism and although some have held out for a considerable period of time, inevitably these laws manifest themselves and in most cases have either resulted in failure or the same boss/worker relationships being re-established. It is possible for the middle section, small businesses for instance, which would not be nationalised by a socialist government, to collaborate through co-operatives. But the authors aren't speaking about this. They are clearly refering to sizeable industry and workplaces.


Of course, we give critical support to such efforts by workers when there is no other option, but without sowing any illusions. The authors envisage these 'workers' co-operatives' existing under socialism. But the idea that in a democratic planned economy workers would 'own' their factory or industry is not a Marxist but a syndicalist idea. Industry would be owned by a democratic workers' state. The proposals in Imagine would represent the fragmentation of a democratic, centrally planned economy and open up the possibility of the stronger sections of the working class who control their factory or industry holding the rest of society and other workers to ransom.

The way to avoid such pitfalls was shown by the example of the Russian democratic workers' state between 1917 and 1923. The economy was democratically and centrally planned with workers' control operating in the individual enterprises and in separate industries, and workers' management on the general level of a town, city, region and nationally. If, as put forward by the authors, you have the conception of an economy where the power of big business is not decisively broken, then the kind of intermediary enterprises outlined in this book may exist. But such a state of affairs existed in Spain in 1936-37, in Portugal in 1974-76, and in Chile, where the Allende government was forced to take over 40% of industry.

If the authors deny that they envisage this kind of state in Scotland, why do they state: "Some larger companies, too, may even remain in private hands on the grounds of expediency. For example, there are now almost 40,000 workers employed in Scottish call centres, most of which have been set up by outside companies based in England and abroad. Attempting to take a call centre into public ownership is likely to be a futile gesture: it would literally stop functioning overnight, leaving banks of silent telephones. Similarly some branch assembly plants, particularly in the electronics sector, are individual links in an international production chain. In these instances, a socialist government would enforce certain basic standards of wages and conditions. Companies which refused to meet these conditions would forfeit their assets". This position is reinforced by a statement to the 2000 SSP conference by Alan McCombes which stated: "Nor would it be practical, in the short term at least, to take into public ownership those factories that are essentially branch assembly plants for products originating elsewhere, eg in the electronics industry, or call centres dedicated to serving external companies".


top     Breaking the power of the capitalists

AS WE HAVE pointed out to the comrades in debates and discussions as they were preparing this book, these ideas are a concession to the widespread sentiments which exist amongst ex-lefts and ex-Marxists, particularly in the neo-colonial world. They believe that globalisation, the power of the multinationals, makes it impossible now to fight for socialism and wholesale nationalisation in their own countries, particularly because of the scale of the 'branch assembly factories' located by the multinationals throughout the world. In many of the even more developed sectors of the neo-colonial world, a significant section of the economy, sometimes a majority, is composed of 'branch assembly plants'. If the working class in these countries wished to break from capitalism and the iron grip of the multinationals, they would have to take these assembly plants over. They would not then be able, in isolation, to begin to construct socialism. The enormous integration of the world economy now, the world division of labour - even more than in 1917 when the Russian working class took power - means that any movement towards socialism in one country has, from the outset, to be seen as the spark for igniting a continental and world socialist transformation.

The implicit rationale of the authors in justifying their 'self-denying ordinance' - a future Scottish socialist government would exclude some monopolies from being nationalised - is that there will inevitably be a lengthy pause before the example of a socialist Scotland spreads to other countries. They have argued that, in relation to the electronics industry for instance, it is 'impractical' to expect that workers in Scotland, "could simply issue an appeal to workers in Silicon Valley, California, for example, and wait for them to seize their companies". They maintain this can "only disorientate, miseducate and disarm the working class in Scotland". In effect they rule out support for decisive measures by a new workers' state in Scotland, at least in the immediate sense, from workers outside of Scotland. We believe that this is a major error and is a concession to reformist ideas of a so-called 'step by step' road towards socialism. It is a concession to the idea of a 'minimum' and a 'maximum' programme rather than a transitional programme which links today's tasks and demands to the socialist transformation. Many of the parent companies of Scottish call centres are based not in California but in England and Wales. The authors seem to rule out that workers who are within what is still one state on an all-British scale would act in support of workers a few hundred miles away.


A Marxist policy in Scotland and elsewhere does not mean fighting for a halfway house but for the working class to take power in one country and seek to spread its example on a continental and worldwide basis. Any other approach will lead to the catastrophes that we saw in Chile, as well as the more recent example of Nicaragua, in which precisely such arguments were put forward. This led to the derailment of the revolution there.

The authors also are mistaken on their estimation of the balance of forces in Scotland today. They write: "In Chile, the right-wing pro-CIA parties were able to muster 40% of the vote even in the early days of the Allende government, when his popularity was at its height. In contrast, despite the decade-long retreat of socialism, the traditional right-wing party in Scotland, the Tory Party, has been reduced to just 15% of the popular vote". This shows that the authors wildly overestimate just how radicalised is the present situation in Scotland compared to Chile in the 1970s and grossly underestimate the potential forces of counter-revolution and what parties this would involve in the event of a similar situation occurring in Scotland. Are New Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP to be weighed on the scale as radical, socialist, 'anti-CIA' forces in Scotland? This is what this statement implies.

In reality, an examination of the experience of the workers' movements in the 20th century shows that they have been defeated not just through outright bourgeois, right-wing fascist governments. Sometimes this reactionary role has been played by the social democratic leaders (ex-social democratic leaders today) of the mass workers' parties and the trade unions. For instance, in Germany in 1918 it was the social democratic leaders who beheaded the revolution, particularly through the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It was the social democratic and Communist Party leaders in Western Europe who came to the aid of capitalism and headed off the revolutionary wave of 1944-1947. Counter-revolution in this situation was initially expressed in a 'democratic' form, either through the leaders of workers' organisations coming to office, in Britain in 1945 for instance, or serving in capitalist coalitions as in France or Italy. More recently, the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 was derailed by the leaders of the traditional workers' parties, particularly by Mario Soares, leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party, which was financially aided by the West German capitalists through the medium of the German social democracy.


top     Why Stalinism triumphed

THE SAME ONE-SIDED presentation of issues is highlighted when an explanation is attempted on historical questions such as the Russian Revolution and its subsequent fate, and on the 'character of the Soviet Union', as well as their definition of Stalinism. On the isolation of the Russian Revolution, the authors write that following the victory of 1917, "outside Russia, the forces opposing capitalism lacked the strength, the cohesion, and determination to win. The Russian Revolution was left isolated". This is a regrettable statement for anyone who claims to be a Trotskyist, as the authors still do, and comrades who previously played a prominent role within the CWI, the most effective Trotskyist organisation internationally. It is necessary sometimes to try and express things in a simple fashion, even when dealing with complex issues from history, especially when speaking to new audiences who could be won to socialist and Marxist ideas. Simple statements are one thing but simplistic arguments which sacrifice scientific accuracy and provide ammunition to the opponents of Marxism like the foregoing can give a totally misleading impression of what took place.

Every stripe of reformist has argued that the working class in 1917, in Russia and outside, was politically 'immature' and 'not ready' for socialism. The isolation of the revolution, however, did not arise from the 'lack of strength, cohesion, and determination to win' of the workers of Western Europe. On the contrary, they struggled with all their might in the German Revolution of 1918, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, in the Italian occupation and sit-down strikes in the factories of September 1920, to both come to the assistance of the Russian Revolution and to emulate their example. What prevented the victory of the revolution in Western Europe was not any 'weakness' in the strength of the working class but the treacherous role played by the social democratic leaders such as Noske and Scheidemann in Germany. It is to do a disservice to the Trotskyist analysis of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath to carry statements like this even in a book aimed at a popular audience.


A similarly simplistic analysis is made of the origins and causes of Stalinism, which is not just of historical or academic importance but can skew our view of the prospects for socialism today. The authors link their analysis of this issue to an overemphasis on the role that information technology can play today in avoiding a repetition of the experiences of Stalinism. They write: "An essential precondition for totalitarianism is mass ignorance. Every totalitarian state in history has relied upon thought control. Only when people are kept in the dark can they be controlled".

This and the rest of their analysis is inadequate in relation to explaining the causes of the rise of Stalinism. Nowhere is there a clear explanation of the role of the working class, of workers' democracy - democratic workers and peasants councils, the election of officials and the right of recall, no official to receive more than the average wage of a worker, etc - in checking the rise of a bureaucratic, totalitarian elite. It was not 'thought control' which initially led to the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia. It was the cultural backwardness, re-inforced by the isolation of the revolution caused by the betrayals of the social democratic leaders in the West and, to begin with, the mistakes of Stalin and Co, which laid the basis for the gradual rise of Stalin, culminating in the triumph of the bureaucracy. It was the discouragement of the Russian workers at the failure of the international revolution as well as the wiping out of the Old Bolsheviks in the civil war, which helped Stalin to emerge 'victorious' over Trotsky. Even then the bureaucracy was so afraid that the Russian workers would rise and overthrow it that it had to resort to a one-sided civil war between 1936 and 1938 as a means of destroying the last remnants of the Bolshevik Party and the memory of the egalitarian principles of the October Revolution.


Despite this, it was not 'mass ignorance' which alone helped Stalinism to maintain its grip for a lengthy historical period. A massive repressive apparatus, involving suppression of all information, together with the crushing of all opposition, played its part. Even then the rise in the cultural level of the masses of the USSR meant that they increasingly understood and opposed the bureaucracy. What held them back was historical inertia, a consciousness of the gains of the Russian Revolution, the planned economy, and a fear that a movement to overthrow the bureaucracy could open the doors to capitalist restoration. This was particularly the case when Stalinism was playing a relatively progressive role in developing industry and society. The absence of what Marxists call the 'subjective factor', a revolutionary party, was also a major factor in the maintenance of Stalinist totalitarianism for decades.

top     The case for a revolutionary party

NOR WAS IT 'mass ignorance' which allowed Pinochet to triumph in 1973; the mass of the Chilean working class were quite aware of what was coming, with a general acceptance that a coup was being prepared by the army. What was missing was not the knowledge of this situation but the consciousness of what to do and the lack of a party and a leadership with roots amongst the masses which would not only warn of the coming danger but actively prepare - through the arming of the masses, fraternisation with the rank and file of the army, navy and air force, etc - to prevent the catastrophe which took place.


The authors write: "The Internet has become the first international bastion of free speech and free thought. It is transforming the balance of forces between the powerful and the powerless. Without the Internet, the Mexican government would long ago have militarily crushed the Zapatistas". This is an echo of the arguments of those involved in, for instance, the anti-globalisation struggle at the moment, that the 'old Marxist idea' of the need for a party, for a workers' press, for mass mobilisation and action to defeat capitalism, is 'outdated'. This is an exaggeration. Any new development of technology is utilised by the working class. The Internet is important but it is an auxiliary - not a substitute - for the main weapons of the working class, mass mobilisations, strikes, etc.

The Internet has played an important co-ordinating role in the recent struggles of the youth and the working class. In the anti-globalisation protests it was used to co-ordinate action. In the recent overthrow of Estrada in the Philippines, the bourgeois and middle class opposition used this on quite a large scale. However, it was the mass mobilisation of the population and the fear of where this was leading that prompted the top army officer caste to move against Estrada and remove him from office.

In the case of the Zapatistas it is entirely wrong to write: "Without the Internet, the Mexican government would long ago have crushed the Zapatistas". It was the support of the Mexican people, particularly the working class, which stayed the hand of the Mexican capitalists. The Internet helped in this process but it was not decisive. The implication of the above statement is that prior to the Internet, whenever a radical or revolutionary movement took place in one area of a country or in another country, the masses, kept in ignorance, were unable to prevent the ruling class from acting with impunity to defeat such movements. How then to explain the massive pressure of the European working class - including the actions of the London dockers in refusing to load the ship, the Jolly George, which was taking weapons to defeat Russia in the war with Poland - which enormously weakened the armed intervention of imperialism against the young workers' state in 1917-20, and eventually helped to secure their withdrawal? This was at a time when there was an almost complete news blackout in the capitalist countries and a massive dissemination of lies against the young Russian workers' state.


Today, barely 2% of the world's population of six billion is linked to the Internet. Most people on the planet have not even made a telephone call. There are more telephone lines in a big city like Tokyo than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In the USA, Internet access costs to the user are only 1% of average monthly income, whereas in Uganda it costs more than a month's average (per capita) income. This does not mean that the Internet can be dismissed as an unimportant aid to the struggle for socialism.

But for the authors to declare that it is "transforming the balance of forces between the powerful and the powerless" is an overstatement. It could also lend weight to the idea that an amorphous 'spontaneous' movement of millions sitting in front of a PC and exchanging information is the key to the struggle for socialism and even in defending a 'socialist Scotland'. Yet the alienation of human beings from one another, a certain passivity and a belief that 'nothing concretely can be done' in the teeth of the post-Stalinist ideological offensive against socialism and the labour movement, is one of the problems which confronts us today. Individuals sitting at millions of terminals throughout the world will not in themselves recreate a powerful labour movement and the increased socialist consciousness that goes with this. It will be through intervention, the personal 'interface' between workers at the workplace, in debates and discussions in the trade union movement, in mass demonstrations, that the working class will feel its potential power and cohesion. This is an indispensable step towards the flourishing of a new mass socialist consciousness, which will develop on the basis of the mighty events that impend in Britain and worldwide in the next period.


top     Internationalism and the struggle for socialism

ONE OF THE main weaknesses of Imagine is what is clearly perceived by the authors as a strength: their position on nationalism and the national question in Scotland. They have an imbalanced approach. They write: "For those fighting back against capitalism, the disintegration of the United Kingdom should be a cause for celebration rather than for mourning". However, in general, socialists and Marxists are against 'Balkanisation', the splitting up and separation of multinational states.

The break-up of states, even capitalist states, while sometimes unavoidable, can carry big overheads. One of these is the possible fracturing of the working class along national lines, the separation of their organisations, parties and unions, which can weaken the struggle against the common enemy, the capitalists, which is not restricted to the borders of one country. It is for this reason, amongst many others, that Marxism in the past, including the authors of Imagine, opposed the SNP's demand for independence for Scotland. Even then we emphasised the right of self-determination of the Scottish people and our preparedness to defend their legitimate national aspirations. We did this at a time when significant sections of the Scottish left opposed any 'concessions to nationalism'. We, on the contrary, with Lenin and Trotsky, emphasised that a new socialist world could not be built with the slightest compulsion against a nation or even grouping in society. We therefore put forward the idea of a socialist federation of Britain, with the right of autonomy for Scotland and Wales.


However, the development of events, with the increased growth of national consciousness in Scotland, meant that in common with the authors of Imagine we were compelled to change our position. We have no difference with the demand which is put forward for an independent socialist Scotland. But we have profound differences with the way this issue is posed in this book and in other publications of the tendency which is now represented by the authors.

On capitalist 'independence', the authors even write: "Socialists should be prepared to support such a step, even on a non-socialist basis as promoted by the SNP. At the very least, the creation of an independent Scotland would begin to dispel the illusion that Scotland's problems could be solved simply by swapping the Union Flag for the St Andrew's Flag and replacing a right-wing pro-market British government with a right-wing pro-market Scottish government. Democratic socialism, stronger today in Scotland than in any other part of the UK, would then be poised to become the main opposition force and eventually the dominant force within an independent Scotland".

This formulation is suspiciously close to the Communist Party's idea of a revolution in the neo-colonial world of 'stages'. First comes independence and 'democracy', then later on socialism. The qualification which the authors make about independence on a capitalist basis, in the above statement, is totally inadequate. They also write: "The truth is, neither Labour nor the SNP are in a position to predict with any degree of certainty the future prospects for an independent Scotland. There's a saying that if you laid every economist end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. Even with detailed facts and fingers at their fingertips, the average economist is about as reliable as the average racing tipster. Attempting to predict the future economic health of a nation-state which does not yet exist is like trying to predict which horse will win the Derby in five years' time".


This method is not Marxist. A refusal to try and work out what the likely future economic consequences of an independent capitalist Scotland will be is pure empiricism: 'Let's suck it and see'! Instead of the evasive statements of the authors it is necessary to state bluntly, and now, that independence on a capitalist basis will not solve the massive social and economic problems of the working class or even the majority of the Scottish people. That is the reason why it is necessary to fight for an independent socialist Scotland.

However, this is not enough. It is also necessary to show that even on a socialist basis those problems could not be solved in isolation within the borders of Scotland. In parts of Imagine it is true the idea of linking Scotland with the rest of the world is posed. But this is separated in time whereas the situation today, with the integration of the productive forces on a continental and world scale, means that socialist transformation in a national context must immediately or very quickly assume an international dimension. Yet, the authors state: "In the mists of the future there will be new multinational arrangements, including federations and confederations where resources are shared and integrated on the basis of international common ownership". The reality is, however, that a socialist Scotland would not be able to remain isolated for any length of time without being brought to its knees by economic and military means.

The example of Cuba, which is invoked by the authors, is entirely erroneous. Left to its own devices, Cuba would also have eventually fallen to the might of world capitalism, particularly US imperialism, probably through economic measures alone. What saved Cuba was, on the one hand, international support but also, crucially, the existence of the Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe. They provided a market for its products and a source of economic and military sustenance. This was possible because, at bottom, the Cuban regime was ultimately reconcilable with the Stalinist regimes in these countries. A democratic socialist Scotland could expect no such source of support. It would, therefore, be a question of life or death, as with a socialist revolution in England and Wales, that it would either spread or quickly succumb in probably a relatively short time. It is therefore entirely wrong not to pose the question of an independent socialist Scotland as a step towards a confederation of England, Wales and Ireland, which would then be linked to a socialist Europe and world.


Any viable struggle for national independence, let alone socialism, has to pose from the outset linking up with the struggles of the working class throughout the world. The authors do not do this but instead they go overboard in stressing the 'unique position' of Scotland, how far it is ahead of the rest of Britain and the world.

In their concluding comments, Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan write: "Some of the detailed arguments set out here will no doubt be picked over like fishbones and criticised". A hair-splitting discussion on arcane points must be avoided in the workers' and socialist movement today. We seek instead, through discussion and debate, to correct the analytical and programmatic deficiencies in this book. Only in that way will we prepare for the rise of a new socialist movement, but one which this time will be victorious in the struggle against capitalism.

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