Reclaiming the revolutionary legacy of Rosa Luxemburg

To celebrate the 150th birthday of Rosa Luxemburg, we publish an extract from the introduction to ‘The Revolutionary Heritage of Rosa Luxemburg’, a new look analysing the life and ideas of this great revolutionary Marxist.

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John Hume (1937-2020): Watching through the window

John Hume — founding member of the SDLP in Northern Ireland, and key architect of the Good Friday Agreement — died this month, on the 3rd of August. Despite posthumous praise from the establishment, Hume’s lasting legacy has not benefited the working class.

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Orange Reaction

By Shaun Morris, Glasgow Marxists

The shadow of sectarianism loomed large this summer, as the annual Orange Order marches drew criticism and outrage. In Belfast and other parts of the North of Ireland, loyalist mobs clashed with police and intimidated nationalist communities when bonfires were removed on safety grounds. In Scotland, a Catholic priest was spat on by a passing Orange parade.

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Abolish The Monarchy: For a Workers Republic!

By Alex Johnson, IMT Edinburgh

With the recent announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the upcoming wedding, we call not for celebration of but the abolition of the monarchy. The royal family is a feudal relic and symbol of national chauvinism which, along with the House of Lords, reveals what our so-called ‘democracy’ really is – a system designed and run to serve the interests of the ruling class. The monarchy is a drain on the public purse, receiving handouts of £35.7 million per year on top of countless other expenses. The upcoming royal wedding is an excellent example of this. While the royal family will pay for the wedding ceremony, reception etc., the taxpayer will foot the bill for the policing, security costs and public order arrangements around the event. Kate and William’s 2011 wedding saw £15 million spent of policing alone, with 5000 officers deployed. This time we can expect the same arrangements, if not even greater measures following the recent increase in terrorist attacks.

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100 years on: remembering the Representation of the People Act

By Max Wright, IMT Edinburgh

A century ago, on 6th February 1918, the historic Representation of the People Act was passed. Importantly, the 1918 Act allowed 8.4 million women and 5.6 million men in Britain to vote for the very first time. As Marxists, it is important to examine the victories – and shortcomings – of one of the first steps towards universal suffrage.

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Catalonia and Caledonia

By John Webber, Glasgow

The violent repression of Catalan voters by theSpanish police inspired instinctive feelings of solidarity in people around the world. The shocking brutality of the Guardia Civil against completely unarmed civilians only wanting to cast a ballot was considered unthinkable in a European country. In a few days, the events in Catalonia exposed the anti-democratic nature of both the EU and the Spanish State as the unity of Spain was ensured by force. In Scotland, hundreds of people attended protests in Glasgow and Edinburgh called by the Radical Independence Campaign. In the eyes of RIC and many supporters of Scottish Independence, Catalonian Independence is an inspiration and a fraternal cause. The SNP conference also heard speeches condemning the actions of the Spanish Government and moderate messages of support for independence activists.

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The Hetherington Occupation: Memories and Lessons for The Student Movement

by Michael Allan

The 1st of February this year marks the 5-year anniversary of the beginning of the Hetherington Occupation at Glasgow University. Coming in the midst of the militant 2010-11 UK-wide student movement against fees and cuts, it marked a peak in political activity on campus and served as a rallying call to thousands of students across the UK. What lessons can we take from this? Continue reading The Hetherington Occupation: Memories and Lessons for The Student Movement

The Socialist Legacy of Robert Burns

Today the name Robert Burns is associated primarily with food and festivity. His poems have become party pieces and his individual Scottish identity in literary history has been skewed to the extent that he has now come to be valued by many only as a Scot and not as a great universal voice for people of all countries. Burns has become for many the ideal Scot; someone any true Scottish person should appreciate, and he is now appreciated precisely for his Scottishness far more than for the political and philosophical value of his poetry. Many critics and historians would have us believe that Burns was a bourgeois nationalist. On the contrary, Burns believed in the international unity of working people against their oppressors.

Burns was born into a family of poor tenant farmers. The farm his family worked on would provide enough to scrape through each year provided every family member worked as long and hard as they could. Burns’s upbringing was one of hard labour and little leisure. His early teenage poems, written in his own Scots dialect, reflect the life he lived and are concerned only with the people and places he knew, not, as with popular contemporary poets, the triumphs of mythological heroes or the achievements of great classical civilisations. For Burns, poetry was not work, but a way of understanding life and of comprehending the beauties and evils he saw around him. In his life of labour and poetry, Burns came to develop philosophical understandings of the world around him. His poem ‘To a Mouse’ Shows this:

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!

This is of course the most famous example of Burns’s unique poetic understanding of life and humanity. The sympathy he has for the mouse whose house he has turned up while ploughing the field is developed into a reflection on his own lowly position and the now ‘broken union’ between living things. Whilst this poem is undoubtedly famous for its unique handling of Scots, its incredibly important and valuable message of compassion and unity is often ignored.

Burns lived through the time of the French Revolution of 1789. The events of the revolution and the philosophical ideas that had influenced it had an effect all across Europe. All of a sudden it seemed that the entire political establishment of the civilised world was being put into question. Through a development of consciousness, mankind could completely alter the shape of society. Those who benefited from the old regime didn’t stand a chance. For the bourgeoisie, the revolution was a step forward in the establishment of capitalism and the withering away of the powers held by church and nobility. But for the generation of thinkers Burns belonged to, the revolution was a display of the power held by the masses, and an example of how philosophical ideas could manifest themselves in revolutionary action. Unlike the slightly later romantic poets, who praised the revolution from their perspective as classically trained scholars, seeing it in comparison to the great achievements of classical civilisation, Burns instead saw the revolution from the perspective of the oppressed masses. As a poor worker himself, Burns saw poetry not in the efforts of the great lawyers and politicians of the revolution, but in the mass of revolutionary workers, who defended their demands of liberty, equality and fraternity, even after the bourgeoisie established their rule over France. His poem ‘The Tree of Liberty’ reflects the mood the revolution inspired in him:

‘For Freedom, standing by the tree,
Her sons did loudly ca’, man.
She sang a sang o’ liberty,
Which pleased them ane and a’, man.
By her inspired, the new-born race
Soon drew the avenging steel, man;
The hirelings ran——–her foes gied chase,
And banged the despot weel, man.’

The ideals of the revolution were those that Burns naturally harboured as a working man. He had confidence in the working class and hope that the legacy of the revolution would continue and that the fight for equality would never cease. Burns’s social consciousness and faith in humanity are reflected in his poem ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’, a poem that focusses on the divide between rich and poor and the need for systematic change across the world. the final stanza goes:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Burns’s meditation on poor folk and their worthiness as human beings comes to a firm conclusion in this passage. Though the poor are beaten up and torn apart by the system, they will undoubtedly band together across all countries in realising their ‘Sense and Worth’ over the world. Burns was not a widely travelled man, but he was aware that the world was not limited to Britain, and that all over the planet there were other human being facing the same problems of poverty while the rich lived in luxury. Burns was a believer in mankind, and this is something invaluable to anyone wishing to understand and learn from him.

The poetry of Burns has lasted the test of time because what he had to say remains highly relevant. We live in a world of class oppression, where people are violent towards each other. It’s clear there is a need for systematic change, and that capitalism is the problem. The world Burns imagined is not an impossible ideal, but the destiny of mankind. Burns understood that the poor, conscious of their own power in the world, would inevitably band together in revolutionary action. And so this Burns’ Night we should truly carry on the legacy of Burns and look to the future rather than the past.

The Highland Clearances: A Marxist Analysis

The highland clearances was a huge event in Scottish history, fundamentally changing class relations forever, and breaking the last remaining ties to the feudal system. However, this was not being carried out by a revolutionary class; rather it was the old landowning class becoming absorbed into the new British bourgeoisie. It resulted in the end of the clanship society, as well as migration, both nationally and internationally.

What were the Highland Clearances?

The highland clearances were a series of mass evictions from the highlands carried out from 1760 – 1860. They were carried out by the landowning class, who were trying to make their land more profitable through moving people to make way for large-scale sheep farming and through forcing their tenants to give up subsistence farming and instead become part-time crofters and part-time fishermen or kelpers. The clearances themselves occurred in three main stages.

The first stage happened from around 1760 to 1815, where the landowning class forced their tenants to move off the land their families had lived on for generations and to move to the coast. They were moved into crofting communities, where they were given a small piece of land, which would not be enough to survive on. This forced the crofters to take up fishing and kelping. The landlords did this in search of profit – clearing people freed up more land for sheep, which was a very profitable business at the time. The crofting system was arranged so that the crofters would have to fish or collect kelp, a kind of seaweed which at the time was very valuable because it couldn’t be imported (due to the Napoleonic War). While this new system resulted in large profits for the landlords, it was very exploitative for the crofters, and many left instead of struggling to make a living on the crofts. However, this was not at all in the interests of the landowning class, who passed the Passenger’s Vessels’ Act in 1803, which raised the price of a ticket to Canada from £3 to over £10, an amount that no ordinary crofter would be able to afford, in an attempt to stop so many people leaving.

However, this all changed in 1815, with the end of the Napoleonic War. Not only did the price of kelp plummet but the whole Scottish economy went into recession. The only industry that remained profitable was the sheep market. The crofters suffered greatly, they were living on very little land, built to only sustain half an income. Yet due to the collapse of kelp, this was their only income. We see a bigger population than ever in the highlands, due to the Passenger Vessels’ Act and improvements in medicine, however they are living on less land than ever, as the land they used to live on was now inhabited by sheep. This resulted in a very low standard of living and an over-reliance on the potato.

Then, in 1846, blight comes to Scotland, resulting in the Highland Potato Famine. In 1846, crops failed in around ¾ of crofting villages, which was catastrophic, as people were dependant on the potato, as kelp and other industries barley contributed to the crofter’s income. Church records show that around 200,000 people were at risk of starving. However, widespread starvation was largely averted, due to an aid effort, providing the crofter’s with food and tickets to Canada and America. Blight continued to affect the potatoes up to 1857, however after 1850 aid had largely stopped as the crofters were victimised and their own ‘laziness’ blamed for the famine. As this aid dried up, people were left with no way to make a living, resulting in mass migration abroad and to the lowlands.

What were the causes?

The fundamental cause of the highland clearances was the change in class relations, as Britain moved from a feudal to a capitalist society.

Previously people in the highlands lived in a clanship society. Most people were subsistence farmers who lived in clans; where a chief would protected them from raids and in return they would have to fight when the chief called up the clan. This relationship was not as exploitive as feudalism was in other countries, yet it was still a feudal relationship. However, this clanship system had been in decline since the 1600s, due to commercialisation. The highlands started to be integrated into the monetary economy with cattle being driven down to sell in Edinburgh. This increased throughout the 17th century, as the highlands became a place where commodities such as fish, deer, salt and wool were harvested to supply to the rest of the UK.

The driver of this commercialisation was the integration of the clan chiefs into the British bourgeoisie. This really began in 1609 when the Statutes of Iona were passed, making it law that the first born son of every clan chief had to be educated in a Protestant, English speaking school in Edinburgh. This fundamentally broke the relationship of chief and clansmen, as the chiefs moved off their land and down to Edinburgh, where they became integrated into the British bourgeoisie. By the 1700s the chiefs were all living in Edinburgh and London, no longer on their lands fulfilling their traditional roles and duties. There was also a change in how they viewed themselves, no longer as chiefs, with a duty to protect their clansmen, but as commercial landlords. With this integration into the new British establishment, they absorbed the idea of ‘improvement’, of making your land more profitable. This importance placed on profit resulted in the chiefs relocating the people so they would have land to farm sheep on, and also led them to use their money to buy capital and invest in industry. Ultimately, they were leaving their roles as traditional feudal chiefs and becoming capitalists.

There was also a change in how the highlands were viewed by the British establishment. In the early 1600s, the highlands was viewed as a sort of colony at home, an area that should be used to extract resources for the rest of the UK, but that could be left in its own clanship system. However, this changed with the Jacobite risings, especially that of 1745 where a large proportion of the Jacobite army was made up of highlanders. Showing that they were opposed to this new elite, highlighted that the highlanders could be a threat to the new ruling class. This resulted in large scale repression in 1746 with traditional clothing, music and the Gaelic language being banned. The idea was that this traditional society was dangerous and could not be left as it was, but needed to be integrated into a British nationality, and into capitalist society.

What were the consequences?

There was resistance by the crofters, in what is known as the Crofter’s War, which took place in the 1870s and the 1880s. This mostly took the form of riots and battles with landlords and the police, in response to rent racking, where the chiefs-turned landlords would raise the rent year on year, beyond what the crofter’s could afford. Inspired by the Land League in Ireland, their demands were the three Fs – fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. Crucially they were not calling for a return to subsistence living and re-instatement of the clan relations; rather they were trying to limit their exploitation in the new commercial society. Their demands were largely met in the Crofter’s Holding Act of 1886.

As has been previously mentioned, the main consequence of the Highland Clearances was the end of feudal relations. The chief-clansman relation based on war and protection had changed to a commercial relationship between landlords and tenants. Land becomes something that was owned, bought and sold. The clanship system was also destroyed, and with it much of highland culture. Many aspects of culture and language were repressed, as they excluded the new anglicised elites and rejected a British identity which was dangerous, both militarily to the bourgeoisie and to the formation of a British national market.

Another consequence was mass emigration, especially to Canada and the USA. In Cape Breton alone 30,000 highland Scots arrived between 1775 and 1850. Many highlanders were given land grants in the USA after fighting in the 7 years’ war and the American Revolutionary war, and brought their families over to live with them. There was also significant migration to the lowlands. Seasonal migration continued and increased, but more importantly there was permanent migration; even by 1835 there were 20,000 highlanders living in Glasgow. This, combined with Irish immigration provided the concentrated labour in the cities that was needed for the creation of capitalist society.

The highland clearances changed Scotland forever. The clanship system of society broke down and was replaced by capitalism. The old clan chiefs themselves became part of the bourgeoisie as they merged into the British elite and became commercial landlords. A huge number of people were displaced, some of who emigrated abroad, while others moved to the lowlands where they became the industrial proletariat.