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.Continue reading Reclaiming the revolutionary legacy of Rosa Luxemburg
Dialectical materialism is often described as one of the three main pillars of Marxism, along with historical materialism and Marxist economics. These three complement each other in forming an excellent way of describing society and the physical world, as well as how they relate to one another. While historical materialism analyses history from a materialistic perspective and Marxist economics obviously deals with the economy, dialectical materialism is the philosophical and scientific outlook which underpins Marxism. It is the language and method that Marxists use to analyse the world and as such, it can be applied to virtually any area of thought or research; be it the historical development of society or a specialised area of science. This makes dialectical materialism a very powerful tool which can be used to understand current events, from how they arose to how they might be resolved. So to a Marxist a proficient understanding of the philosophy of dialectical materialism and how it should be applied in different situations is critical.
The ideas of dialectical materialism, based on the best traditions of philosophical thought, are not a fixed dogma but rather a system of tools and general principles for analysing the world materialistically and scientifically. Words like materialism and materialistically are used a lot, and in a Marxist context materialism means that it is generally the material world and current physical conditions that influence both the actions and ideas of individuals and groups as a whole, rather than the other way about. The roots of dialectical materialism can ultimately be traced to the ancient Greek natural philosophy of atomism of Epicurus and Democritus and can be derived from that fact that everything that exists is material and is derived from matter, and that all matter is interconnected and interdependent.
There are many ways and viewpoints in which dialectical materialism can be understood, as befits a dialectical understanding of the world, but the main principle behind it is that nothing is static. Everything is in a constant state of change and flux no matter how stable or motionless it may seem, and over an infinite amount of time everything will, and must, transform or degrade. So according to this mode of thought, the idea that something is constant and will remain unchanged permanently is unmaterialistic and ultimately impossible. This can be seen in the realm of astronomy, a field where the tenets of dialectical materialism seem to be constantly verified. Objects such as stars, which were once thought to be infinite in time, were eventually shown to have lifetimes and are indeed not infinite.
Within a more terrestrial scope, this idea of constant flux can be applied to societies and regions around the globe. There is no country in the world where the working class is not in a continuous state of variation. In a single country at times it may be strong and proactive and at other times it may appear dormant and almost invisible on the surface; but in all periods there are ebbs and flows in the working class movement which will be influenced by certain events and the material conditions at certain times, such as an economic recession. The state of the working class may then go on to affect the conditions which affect its current state through actions such as mass strikes and so on; the processes and interactions between both can continue to influence each other. This is the essence of the dialectic nature of society and this also connects with historical materialism.
Dialectical materialism when viewed as a form of logic is always opposed to the more widely used and accepted mode of thought of formal logic that is prevalent among the bourgeoisie and general academia. Formal logic itself can ultimately be related to Aristotle of ancient Greece and this dogmatic way of thinking, in its rigidness, is a product of the time of its creation and its development in capitalist society. In formal logic an object A will always equal A. Whereas with dialectical materialism A will only equal A in the limit of abstraction, which we often enter into for the sake of functionality and simplicity in areas such as mathematics and physics. In dialectical materialism, however, we realise that despite this simplification, in reality A never equals A no matter how narrow you make the time interval between observations of it. This comes back to the idea of constant flux, where everything is in constant motion and as such is always changing, even if this change is almost undetectable. So in reality A equals A and at the same time it does not equal A, as A is constantly in the process of becoming something other than A, and it is this idea which formal logic in its stubbornness finds almost impossible to understand and implement in analysis. As such, when using formal logic one will always come up against contradictions in reality that cannot be easily solved and when these contradictions are finally overcome, they inevitably lead to even greater contradictions. When, however, using dialectical materialism the contradictions are not so much of a problem, rather they are expected due to the dialectical nature of the material world in which we live. This is a main reason why dialectical materialism is superior to formal logic when being used to understand the processes that are occurring all around us.
Aside from the ideas of everything having a materialistic basis and being derived from matter, that all matter is interconnected and interdependent, and that there is a continual flux of processes that at all times influence each other where necessary, there are three basic assertions that dialectical materialism makes that in many ways sum up these ideas and allow them to be applied to the physical world.
This first of these is: The Law of the Unity and Conflict of Opposites. In a very literal sense this law describes a situation seen in many dialectical processes of two or more opposing ideas or physical objects. Examples of this idea could be opposing class interests within society, such as those of the proletariat and bourgeoisie which will naturally be forced against one another. Or in the field of physics it could be used to describe the phenomena of electromagnetism, where there are positive and negatively charged particles which will attract oppositely charged particles and repel similarly charged particles which then leads to the creation of an electric current in closed circuits. The unity part of this law denotes the view that the opposites from various situations, once certain material conditions are met, can effectively remove or annihilate one another. Such as in society, following a successful revolution of the working class and the creation of the dictatorship of the proletariat (a commonly misunderstood phrase which means the working class democratically controlling society); with the eventual withering away of the state, the opposing class interests would also wither away due to the end of class society itself. In the case of physics, with the removal of any physical or potential energy barriers, equally and oppositely charged particles will collide to create a new particle or annihilate each other alongside the creation of energy. This effectively removes the influence of the opposite charges. This principle can also be applied in the opposite direction, in the creation of opposites in different situations and again with the correct material conditions.
The second assertion of dialectical materialism is: The Law of the Passage of Quantitative Changes into Qualitative Changes and Vice Versa. As this law states, quantitative changes can result in qualitative changes and in turn, qualitative changes can result in quantitative changes. A good example of this in practice is the process of boiling water. When boiling a body of water the temperature of the water must be raised to 100°C, or 373.15K, at the barometric pressure at sea level if you want to be specific. This is a quantitative change in the properties of the water. Once this temperature is reached the water undergoes a phase transition from a liquid to a gas. This can be considered a qualitative change in the properties of the water, and so this completes a cycle of this law.
The third law of dialectical materialism is: The Law of the Negation of the Negation. This statement neatly contains the idea of the constant change and flux of objects and processes mentioned previously. The negation of an object or property, usually caused by the said object’s or property’s antithesis, can in turn be negated itself so that the whole system can move on to a completely new state. This occurs due to the ever changing and dialectical nature of the world and events. The effects of certain incidents, such as an economic boom in capitalism, can cause living conditions of the working class to improve due to the more relaxed nature of the bourgeoisie towards reforms that the working class demands. So the working class will in itself become more relaxed and layers could possibly become less class conscious. If, however, the antithesis of an economic boom, an economic depression, causes the material conditions of capitalism to be almost reversed such that the bourgeoisie are forced to take away any reforms granted to the working class, then the living conditions of the working class will deteriorate accordingly and as such layers of the working class will become more radicalised and class conscious, and so on. This process will then continue according to the changing materialistic conditions of society and the confrontation of class interests, which will in turn influence each other.
These three laws of dialectical materialism and their associated concepts and applications form the backbone of the Marxist way of thinking. In the modern period, we as Marxists would say that formal logic is no longer able to progress science, or philosophy any further, as the contradictions that it has built up due to its very nature are becoming greater and greater. In a very similar way to the fact that Capitalism can no longer progress society forward as a whole due to its inherent failures. A good example of this is in the realm of cosmology. In cosmology, and in the physics community as a whole, the idea of the big bang dominates the general consensus of what created the Universe as we know it. While the idea of a massive explosion resulting in the Universe we see today is consistent with nearly all the observational evidence we have, formal logic breaks down when we try to explain what happened before the big bang. The idea that all the mass and energy in the Universe came from nothing more than the big bang, with nothing causing the big bang itself doesn’t feel like a satisfying answer. That’s because it isn’t materialistic at all. From our everyday experience we know we can’t get something from nothing and so as Marxists we would argue that obviously something must have existed before the big bang.
Formal logic in its rigidness finds it very difficult to link our current knowledge of physics with any new possible theories to explain the physical laws that could have existed before the big bang. This isn’t implying that dialectical materialism would allow us to answer these big questions easily, of course not, but it does allow a much easier theoretical link to be made due to its emphasis on change and its more flexible nature compared to formal logic. From a purely scientific point of view that’s where the strength of dialectical materialism lies; it allows the connection of seemingly disparate theories and ideas in a deeply profound and material basis.
One of the best demonstrations of the applicability of dialectical materialism and of the powerful insights it can give into physical processes is in the field of general relativity and gravitation. This area of science has been in the news a lot recently due to the first observational evidence of gravitational waves that was announced on Thursday 11th February.
The person who came up with our current understanding of general relativity and the force of gravity itself was Einstein. Einstein was able to do this through several factors. One of course was the material conditions into which he was born: a fairly wealthy middle class family that could afford to give him a good education. Another was the fact he possibly had a natural aptitude in science. This, however, is beside the point. The main factor was the analysis he employed when considering his thought experiments on gravity. Being a theoretical physicist he relied on theory more than observation and so having a good analysis of his ideas was vital. Of course he used dialectical materialism. Einstein wasn’t a Marxist but he did have many Socialist views and he did speak out against capitalism and the free market, so it’s no surprise he employed dialectical materialism in his work.
In general relativity, what Einstein brilliantly deduced in his field equations, that are a part of a larger set of partial differential equations, was that the force of gravity is paired with the energy and momentum of both matter and radiation; and it should be noted that the pairs of energy and momentum as well as matter and radiation and also interconnected and interdependent. The theory of general relativity states that gravity is paired with energy and momentum in that in the presence of matter or radiation, the curvature of spacetime is bent. If we can imagine such a thing as an empty universe, which of course dialectical materialism tells us is impossible, then spacetime would be perfectly flat and time and motion would move and change everywhere uniformly. Of course this isn’t the case and so every piece of mass and radiation in the universe is bending the curvature of spacetime. So that gravity is changing in our presence and as a result of this, the movement of matter and radiation is changing as well. Of course you need massive amounts of mass, like that of stars or black holes to see these effects easily but nonetheless it’s still occurring all the time.
Even more remarkable is that, as the name spacetime would suggest, even something as fundamental as time is affected by this process, as a consequence of the finite and unalterable speed of light in a vacuum in our Universe. So as mass or radiation moves, which both constantly do as a necessity of their existence, they not only change the gravitational field in their vicinity but also the passage of time for themselves relative to their surroundings. Another consequence of this is, is that as a mass moves it appears contracted and hence shorter relative to a stationary observer, and equivalently radiation appears gravitationally redshifted or blueshifted depending on the situation. Again this is happening to us all the time but we would need to be moving very close to the speed of light to noticeably see these effects, but they do happen and in the decades since Einstein first proved these effects theoretically, they have since been proven experimentally.
So we can see very clearly here that the most fundamental physical aspects of the Universe such as mass, radiation, the force of gravity; as well as other forces, energy, momentum and time are all interconnected and interdependent as dialectical materialism suggests. It is also thought now that the four fundamental forces in the Universe, which are, in order from weakest to strongest: gravity, the weak nuclear, the electromagnetic, and strong nuclear forces; are all different aspects of one singular force and are tied together in the hypothetical and aptly named Theory of Everything. These connections are things that dialectical materialism pointed towards long before formal logic acknowledged them.
Dialectical materialism is the language that Marxists use to communicate their ideas and utilise them to analysing the world and the material universe. Its universal applicability and flexibility make it an incredibly powerful tool and ultimately it is necessary for bringing about an international socialist revolution and an end to capitalism.
Is it true then that we are doomed to live in a state that resembles nothing more than barbarism – an unstable economic system that will forever go through booms and busts, with the dictators passing their money around amongst themselves while the vast majority of mankind has to suffer for it?
The world of art, cinema and music, however, show us many things that contradict the idea that people are self-centred and care
nothing for unity and human solidarity.
Freed from the fetters of feudalism
In the towns the bourgeoisie established for themselves a system of trade and business that could exist independently of the Church and Crown. And with the rise of the bourgeoisie there came a huge advancement of the arts. No longer was art purely designed to display the majesty of God. Now art was a way of displaying one’s position in this world. For the bourgeoisie of the Italian Renaissance, art was directly linked to intellectual knowledge of the classical past, the beauties of nature, and the importance of the individual in the world. We see this in various works such as Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Primavera, the portraits of Raphael and Titian etc.
Amongst this new breed of intellectual artist, probably the greatest was Leonardo da Vinci, a man who sought not glory and fame, but rather an understanding of the material world and its intricacies. Perhaps Leonardo’s greatest contributions to art were his scientific drawings. Here we see an artist who really saw a value in his work. These drawings were not made for money, and were never made to be seen by anybody apart from Leonardo, and yet they possess something which is fundamentally understandable to all humans: a need to observe and understand the essence of life.
The most striking example of this is his anatomical drawing showing a foetus in the womb. To call this a purely observational and scientific work is to misunderstand what Leonardo wanted to capture in his study: the fundamental beginnings of all human beings, the state in which mankind exists before it enters the world; something every human being has to go through.
When we are told by bourgeois collectors and critics that art is something beyond everyday human life, in a realm of ideals of beauty, they ought to be reminded that Leonardo, one of the greatest artists of all time, never sought to reflect anything but the most fundamental human life in his works. Even in religious works Leonardo offers us humanity first and foremost. In the Virgin of the Rocks we see a mother looking after children. In the Last Supper we see a group of individuals eat a humble meal.
The Golden Age
In Golden Age Holland, people of all different social standing were buying art of different varieties. The poorer folk could buy etchings or cheap paintings showing ‘genre scenes’, which usually depicted comic depictions of quack doctors, drunkards, prostitutes etc. as well as still life paintings, which displayed all the fundamental material requirements for the good life. This was art that could be understood by anyone, and the Dutch people took pride in being able to own individual works of art.
The more wealthy class could have their portraits painted, reflecting their belief in their own self-worth. Among the portrait painters of Amsterdam was Rembrandt van Rijn, a man who revolutionised the way we see each other. Rembrandt painted in a style of thick impasto and dirty colours, determined to capture the essence of his subjects rather than painting an exact likeness.
Amongst his most intimate and touching works are those he made of the women and children he knew. The portrait of his son
Titus is a great example of this.
Here we see a boy stare directly into the eyes of his father. As a portrait, it is miles away from the flamboyant and over-complimentary style of Rembrandt’s contemporaries like Rubens and Van Dyke. Rather than create an image of an ideal,
Rembrandt has sought to show us directly the connection he feels to another human being. It is not only in pictures of people he loves that Rembrandt does this, in almost all his portraits, commissioned or not, Rembrandt attempts to show us the humanity of his subjects.
Vermeer and the Old Masters
Vermeer’s work is notable in that unlike contemporaries like Jan Steen, he does not attempt to present the people he depicts in a humorous way, but attempts instead to show them in their apparently most dull and uninteresting moments. He paints a lady reading a letter or a child playing on the street with as much intense care as any other artist would paint a mythological scene.
For Vermeer at his most profoundly beautiful and touching we should look at the small painting known as The Milkmaid. Here we have a women at work, doing something she must have to do every day. Seeing something like this in real life we would be forgiven for being uninterested or bored. And yet this painting is anything but boring. It shows directly the beauty of everyday life most people will miss if they do not pay attention.
Here Vermeer seems to be calling for us to appreciate the little things that go on every day. It is miles away from what a working class person might understandably think of the art of the Old Masters. Who could fail to see why Vermeer has felt the need to use Lapis Lazuli, an expensive blue pigment, to create the stunningly beautiful apron around her waist? The bourgeois historian may (wrongly) point out that these works reflect humanity only due to Dutch Protestant materialism (Vermeer converted to Catholicism). In reply to this we should examine some of the Catholic art of this period and see if we find anything different
Caravaggio and the Church
Caravaggio painted everyday reality; the people he saw on the streets of Rome – prostitutes, beggars, criminals – and the religious aspects of his works are always linked to the poverty and deprivation Caravaggio saw all around him.
Caravaggio was not a slave to the power of the Church. Many of the works he produced were rejected by those who commissioned them because of his insistence on using real life models for his religious figures, particularly his use of famous Roman prostitutes as models for his Madonnas. Many bourgeois art historians have depicted Caravaggio as a straight foreword thug (he famously killed a man in a duel). Yet what they forget is that Caravaggio lived in a time of extreme poverty and crime, from which he could not escape. He saw the world around him was full of horrors, and yet he was able to look through these horrors and see the humanity that connects us all.
Take for example his altarpiece The Seven Acts of Mercy. Here we have a religious work, based upon a Christian ideal of mercy. Yet where is the work of God? Where is the authority of the church? The angels and the Madonna and child do not appear any less human than the rest of the figures. On the right we see a woman feeding an old prisoner with milk from her breast, on the left a man taking off his cloak to give to a naked beggar. What could be more human than an image like this? Here Caravaggio reflects how our worst moments we can still rely on our fellow man to help.
A reflection of humanity
Marxists have absolute confidence in the working class. Art has the power to influence people, and so it should not be seen as a useless luxury reserved for those who have too much time and money. Art reflects better than anything else the beauty of human existence. Art is not necessary in the way food and shelter are, but rather it is there to offer us consolation and give us reason to live, and this is something we all need. Without some means of understanding life artistically, we would be left with a hollow kind of existence.
Art is at once a reflection and a driving force for life. Under socialism, the alienation of working people from art and culture will be destroyed and art can finally take the place in society it should have.
Like many you may feel shame when you put paper in the plastic bin but why is this? Its because you’ve had an individualist form of environmentalism thrown at you every where you turn. The ruling classes have managed to cement their ideology so firmly in your psyche that you feel guilt for environmental failings which are currently outwith your control. They’ve done it so successfully we think that our personal failings are some how leading to environmental failures across the world.
Your actions are of course well intentioned and stem from a progressive instinct to preserve our planet. However whilst big corporation and their stooges in national governments do what they need to do for the sake of profit, these individual changes are like minnows swimming against a tidal wave.
The problem is not that you put clear glass and green glass in the same bin at the dump. The problem is that the dominant economic system, capitalism, is a destructive all encompassing brute. So your feeling of guilt when you put plastic in the paper bin is really symptomatic of the problem. Its symptomatic as it shows us the deep rooted nature of the ruling ideology.
Karl Marx famously comments in The German Ideology: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”
This deeply embedded environmental individualism Is therefore a form of what Marx would call the ideology of the ruling classes. Although this is a micro example of how well engraved the ruling ideology can be, it nonetheless highlights the validity of Marxism today. This deeply seated ideology does not just span the things we recycle but also to products we buy.
We feel we can ‘ethically’ consume. Ideas like ‘fair trade’ and other corporate ‘green washing.’ (By corporate green washing I mean sponsoring which makes a company seem ‘green’). We can be gregarious consumers and can feel a bit better for the poor plantation owner because we’ve paid an extra fifty pence and bought a specific product. If we can’t afford this we feel that bit worse. We’re filled with individual guilt and a feeling that we need to ethically consume when the problems are systematic not moralistic or individualist.
We are certainly not telling you to stop recycling, gardening or buying fair trade fruit. Like many you will be disgusted by the barbaric practices of capitalism and will do what you can to remove yourself from it even slightly. However, we must recognize these flaws are symptoms of our socio-economic system and also recognise that environmental safety and preservance ultimately cannot exist under capitalism. These are achievements which only socialism can deliver. Acknowledging this is relatively small but significant step towards true emancipation.
As Slavoj Zizek points out we live in a society were we are in constant search of “beer without alcohol” and “coffee without caffeine” but the reality is capitalism will never be ethical. You may cite social democracy but essentially this is just diluted capitalism and cannot solve the looming environmental catastrophe.
After the Paris Climate Talks it is clear we need a change . Not just an individual change but a systematic change, to put the needs of profit before people. We may believe we can some how stop the ice caps melting. We can but not as individuals. Imagine a world the toiling masses of the world take the wealth they create into their own hands and controlled democratically.
At the very least, the fact that acts such as recycling and fair trade are carried out by masses of people show their is a powerful force thriving for such change. Under socialism our natural environmental instincts can be harnessed and our plant truly saved.
As the old adage goes, “We need system change! Not Climate Change!”
“Active bourgeois public opinion is composed of two parts: first, of inherited views, actions, and prejudices which represent the fossilized experience of the past, a thick layer of irrational banality and useful stupidity; and second, of the intricate machinery and clever management necessary for the mobilization of patriotic feeling and moral indignation, of national enthusiasm, altruist sentiment, and other kinds of lies and deceptions.”
Trotsky, Between Red and White, 1922
Over 90 years later this quote is still very relevant. Unlike in 1922, Britain no longer has its empire and is now a third rate world power. What they retain are their skilled methods of indoctrination accumulated over centuries, which still have a powerful effect on mass consciousness. Without it, the ruling class could not rule.
In school history we’re taught that the battle of Dunkirk was a Great British victory, whilst events like The Russia Revolution, The German Revolution or even the 1926 general strike are often reduced to a bullet point, if that. Last year, Michael Gove, Tory cabinet MP (of varying posts), talking about the “Great” War, said that “Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”.
This statement reflects Gove’s stupidity. It is a normal function of our bourgeois politicians to try to perpetuate nationalism, chauvinism and all ideologies which work in favour of the ruling class. Gove’s proud jingoism is very stupid, but such stupidity is a useful and inevitable part of bourgeois politics’ game of illusions.
The problem for the ruling class is that the establishment, not least its mass media outlets, does not quite have the clout it used to as the following quote from the Financial Times shows,
“The public seems to think there is something rotten in the establishment. In 2010, a Policy Exchange poll found that 81% of Britons agreed with the statement: ‘Politicians don’t understand the real world at all’. The British Social Attitude Survey reported that only 18% trusted governments to put the nation’s needs above a party’s, down from 38% in 1986. Banks fare worse.
In 1983, 90% thought they were ‘well run’, compared with 19% today, perhaps the most dramatic attitudinal shift in the report’s 30-year history. Britain’s views of its institutions wax and wane—ask Her Majesty. But the successive scandals hitting banking, parliament and the media have the feel of an almost operatic collapse of faith in those who exert power in the country… There is a profound ignorance among the powerful as to the depth of anti-elite sentiment, in Britain and beyond.”
This also extends to the traditional workers’ parties. The Labour Party have played a treacherous role, summed up by their slogans borrowed from the Tories such as “One Nation Britain”, and mugs saying “Controls on immigration, I’m voting labour”, slogans that for the record also found very little resonance in England. In the recent election, leadership candidate Liz Kendal vowed to back “white working class youth” in a disgusting attempt to appeal to UKIP voters. The reality is that such people do not represent any part of the working class, including the “white working class youth”, but only represent themselves and their big business masters. The Blairite pro free-marketeers were quite rightly seen for what they were with Corbyn’s overwhelming victory.
The previous Labour leader, Ed Milliband, was according to polls more unpopular than David Cameron before the General Election in Scotland! The Scottish conservatives, unlike their counterparts in the rest of the UK, are generally seen to be harmless idiots who have very little influence. Their chauvinistic role in the NO campaign was nothing unexpected. However the Labour Party had influence in Scotland and formerly was looked to and trusted by the working class, a trust which it betrayed, debatably the final kick being the British Nationalist “Better Together Campaign” which they led.
When the capitalist system is in deep crisis, a crisis felt most acutely by the working class and the most poor and vulnerable part of society, it can only be a matter of time before such people en mass start to question things. Massive political shifts like we’ve seen in Scotland with the referendum, and now throughout the UK with Corbyn, become common. The stunning successes of the SNP represent not just a rejection of austerity politics but also a rejection of the rotten British as a whole. Whilst socialists in Scotland have a duty to expose and fight against Scottish nationalism, we nevertheless unashamedly welcome the mass rejection of the politics and ideology of our most reactionary establishment.
However, we are living in turbulent times. Less than half a year after the Labour Party was rejected en mass we saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Days later saw his seemingly small but significant gesture in declining to sing the national anthem during Battle of Britain commemoration. For this he was met with a predictable barrage of vile slander.
Whilst inciting disgust amongst the British establishment and its Daily Mail reading reserves, he also, deliberately or not, incited a small spark of delight in the brains amongst millions of people throughout the British Isles.
A poll on The Mirror’s website currently shows that 81% of over a thousand readers support Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem. The Metro, a paper owned by “The Daily Mail and General Trust”, asked its million plus daily readers to send in their views of the queen after her reign became the longest. Two thirds of the responding letters expressed negative views. Such facts in and of themselves do not tell the full picture, but when coupled with recent signs of anti-establishment and anti-jingoistic feeling including the impressively big “Refugees Welcome” demonstrations they suggest rapidly declining support in the ideology of British nationalism not just in Scotland but in England and Wales also.
Alex Salmond made an uncharacteristic error in criticising Corbyn for not singing the National Anthem. The SNP’s recent peak of success came on the back of the mass YES campaign, a campaign fuelled by an indignation to Westminster’s austerity and British jingoism. In criticising Corbyn he aligned himself and the SNP with the British establishment, so hated by the SNP’s base of support.
Last week a TNS poll showed the SNP 35 points ahead of labour. It’s clear that it would take much more than a Corbyn victory to spark any kind of significant return to the Labour Party in Scotland. However that is not to say that his victory has had no effect. According to The Guardian a third of SNP voters would vote labour in a General Election under Corbyn. This is a very contradictory, complex and dynamic situation. However it is fair to assume that although many sympathise with Corbyn and the movement behind him, they have thrown their eggs into the SNP’s basket and will not abandon it within a matter of months.
The SNP is a very contradictory party. It undoubtedly has a left wing layer of support who see beyond narrow nationalist lines and want to be part of a serious challenge to poverty, inequality and British imperialism. It is no surprise that the Corbyn victory was greeted by a significant layer of the left leaning SNP supporters. To the left of the SNP in the SSP/ RISE/RIC it has been very warmly welcomed with some even registering to vote for him.
On the other side of the coin the party also contains a very strong current of Scottish nationalism. On the right of the SNP, Corbyn is seen simply as a unionist and criticised vehemently for his stance on independence. This amongst other things has exposed the contradictions of the YES campaign. Corbyn’s approach to the national question in Scotland is clumsy and self-destructive. The left of the YES campaign are obviously aware of this and on this point are critical of Corbyn, but at the same time are able to look past it enough to be welcoming to Corbyn’s leadership overall, and are hence antagonised by the attitude of the old school SNP “nats” who see nothing but a unionist enemy in Corbyn.
This is classical in movements for national self-determination. Unity can only be temporary and eventually, in one form or another, a split along class lines will occur. Differences that can be glossed over or at least discussed friendlily during a peak of mass political activity become unbearable in a movement’s ebb and the cracks begin to show. But mainly this is the music of the future. Despite the weakening unity of the YES movement and despite the powerful developments in the Labour Party, desire for independence amongst the population has not gone down but in fact reached 54% last month.
As German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht said, “The main enemy of every people is in their own country”. In Scotland we have two main enemies, that of British imperialist ruling class and its close cousins, the Scottish capitalists and landlords. Socialists in the YES camp must patiently explain to those awakening to political life that to really defeat British imperialism and its rotten establishment it is not enough to turn to Scottish nationalism. The British ruling elite cannot be overthrown without the working classes throughout the British Isles, especially England.
Even when it is awkward, even when we’re laughed at or shouted at or worse, socialists have a duty to be very clear that the fight is not simply for independence but for a Scottish Workers Republic as part of an international socialist federation. Marxists take a long view of history. The class struggle is back on the agenda everywhere, and our programme of socialist revolution will grow into a mass one.