War of Position, War of Attack
|Antonio Gramsci's Fingerprints, November 1926.|
In this post I have brought together revolution, history, politics, punk, Scottish independence and Brexit through an anarcho-Marxist matrix inspired by Friedrich Engels and Antonio Gramsci, the number 69 and the colour red.
Part 1 : A Failed Revolution
In the summer of 1842 in Manchester an English Revolution, more bloody and world changing than the French Revolution, almost began. Manchester/ Lancashire was where an Industrial revolution had started 50 years earlier when steam engines were first used to power textile making machines. Conditions for the children, women and men who lived and worked in this region were appalling. Simply to survive the new industrial workforce had to struggle against the new industrial factory owners.
By 1842 the industrial system had spread far enough for the idea of a ‘general strike’ to emerge. Instead of actions being directed against individual millowners who cut wages /laid-off workers/ increased hours, the aim was to force a general reduction in hours worked and/or increase pay. If workers in all the factories and workplaces went on strike, this would force the owners as a group or class to respond to the demands of the workers acting as a group or class.
|Strikers shot, Manchester 1842|
At the same time as this new approach to the economic struggle was being attempted, the central committee of a political organisation, the Chartists was due to be held in Manchester in August 1842. The Chartists were heirs to a much older struggle, one with its roots in the revolutionary ferment of the seventeenth century. The question then was ‘Who makes the laws- king or parliament?’
Charles I had inherited from his father James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland) the argument that since there were kings before there were parliaments, kings had the right to make laws and parliaments had the duty to put them into practice. There was a religious element to this argument which justified the power of kings by God worked his magic on the world back in Bible times through kings not parliaments, which do not feature in the Bible.
But by 1649 God seemed to have changed his mind and Charles I lost his head to Parliament. No doubt this bit of history was remembered by his son James II (and VII) in 1688. Rather than find out if God was really on his side, Roman Catholic James fled to France rather than confront his Protestant son in law William of Orange. It was called the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
Forward/ back to 1842. The fight between Parliament and King was long over, but the fight for a representative/ democratic Parliament was not. The Chartists proposed six modest demands to make Parliament more representative/ democratic. Unless you were a woman.
1.A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2.The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3.No property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice.
4.Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
5.Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
6. Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period.
One of my local heroes, Peter McDouall from Newton Stewart in Galloway, managed to persuade the Chartist’s central committee at their meeting in Manchester in August 1842 to pass a motion in support of the general strikers.
The next step would have been for the Chartist’s committee to declare themselves a provisional government, call upon the troops sent to suppress the general strike to defend democracy instead… and by now we would be happily living in the Revolutionary Year 174.
Instead as August 1842 gave way to September, the Chartists delegates left Manchester to report back to their local branches, the new railways were used to rush troops to the striking districts and pacify them and the fires of revolution which had been lit from London to Dundee were extinguished.
It was in the wake of this failed revolution that a young German arrived in Manchester in November 1842. On 30 November he jotted down his first impressions of the August events ...
…the whole thing fizzled out; every worker returned to work as soon as his savings were used up and he had no more to eat. However, the dispossessed have gained something useful from these events: the realisation that a revolution by peaceful means is impossible and that only a forcible abolition of the existing unnatural conditions, a radical overthrow of the nobility and industrial aristocracy, can improve the material position of the proletarians.From http://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1842/12/09.htm
They are still held back from this violent revolution by the Englishman’s inherent respect for the law; but in view of England’s position described above there cannot fail to be a general lack of food among the workers before long, and then fear of death from starvation will be stronger than fear of the law. This revolution is inevitable for England…
He fired off this report to the editor of a German newspaper who published it on 10 December 1842. The young man was Friedrich Engels and the newspaper editor was Karl Marx.
Part 2: The Next Revolution Has Been Delayed
Was an English revolution inevitable? Apparently not, although it may be too early to tell. In the article quoted above, Engels had anticipated that competition from rapidly industrialising France and Germany would damage the British economy. The Engels’ family business in Germany and Manchester was cotton. What Engels missed was that the cotton was only one of the industries which had been revolutionised in Britain. Iron was another
Iron was essential for a global transport revolution pioneered in Britain- railways. The boom in railway construction across Britain, then mainland Europe and the rest of the world led to a huge demand for iron rails, iron bridges and iron horses. This was followed by the development of iron steam ships, again another development pioneered in Britain. The growth of these industries along with coal mining created new jobs. For example, in 1842 about 216 000 children, women and men worked in the coal industry, producing 40 million tons of coal per year. By 1913 a mainly male coal industry employed 1 128 000 workers and produced 287 million tons of coal. At the same time, wages had risen and working hours become shorter than they had been in 1842.
After 1845 the price of bread was kept low by allowing imports of wheat. As railways and steamships opened up whole continents to trade, Britain was able to import food and export manufactured goods. The British economy was therefore able to grow throughout the nineteenth century.
Through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth parliamentary democracy was also extended.
This combination of economic growth and political concessions allowed the British nobility and industrial aristocracy to keep the revolution Engels had thought inevitable at bay. But why should the workers who produced the wealth and who formed a majority of the population accept these limited gains? Why give up the revolutionary struggle which had the potential to liberate themselves and future generations from an economic and political system which offered them only ‘crumbs from the table’ as Lenin was later (see third quote below) to put it?
Part 3: From ‘False Consciousness’ to the Manufacture of Consent
By 1893, Engels had come up with one possible reason which was extended and developed by 20th century Marxists. It is ferociously complicated but the quotes below should help. I will then move on to the 1960s and 1970s via the Situationists and punk. Finally I will look at the present and the fallout from the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and 2106 EU referendum.
Here are the quotes, starting with Engels and ‘false consciousness’ in 1893, then its development by Lukacs and Marcuse. Marcuse’s book ‘One Dimensional Man’ who brings in a counterculture angle. Finally there is Gramsci’s development of ’false consciousness’ into the more subtle idea of ‘hegemony’ aka ‘the manufacture of consent’.
|UK coal production|
"Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. Because it is a process of thought he derives both its form and its content from pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought material which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, he does not investigate further for a more remote process independent of thought; indeed its origin seems obvious to him, because as all action is produced through the medium of thought it also appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought."
"In 1920, Lukács introduced the notion of “false consciousness” as a necessary concept in order to understand how it is that all working class people are not ipso facto, socialist revolutionaries. He defined “false consciousness” in contrast to an “imputed consciousness,” meaning what people themselves would think if they had sufficient information and time to do so properly. In his famous essay on Class Consciousness, Georg Lukács commented as follows:
“It might look as though ... we were denying consciousness any decisive role in the process of history. It is true that the conscious reflexes of the different stages of economic growth remain historical facts of great importance; it is true that while dialectical materialism is itself the product of this process, it does not deny that men perform their historical deeds themselves and that they do so consciously. But as Engels emphasises in a letter to Mehring, this consciousness is false. However, the dialectical method does not permit us simply to proclaim the ‘falseness’ of this consciousness and to persist in an inflexible confrontation of true and false. On the contrary, it requires us to investigate this ‘false consciousness’ concretely as an aspect of the historical totality and as a stage in the historical process.”
and Lukács continued always to use the inverted commas whenever he used the term ‘false consciousness’.
It was Herbert Marcuse who revived the use of the term ‘false consciousness’ in the early 1960s, as part of his analysis of the stability of capitalism after the post-WW2 settlement.From https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/f/a.htm
“To the degree to which they correspond to the given reality, thought and behaviour express a false consciousness, responding to and contributing to the preservation of a false order of facts. And this false consciousness has become embodied in the prevailing technical apparatus which in turn reproduces it.” [One-Dimensional Man, Chapter 6]."
False consciousness and hegemony
"False consciousness, in relation to invisible power, is itself a ‘theory of power’ in the Marxist tradition. It is particularly evident in the thinking of Lenin, who ‘argued that the power of ‘bourgeois ideology’ was such that, left to its own devices, the proletariat would only be able to achieve ‘trade union consciousness’, the desire to improve their material conditions but within the capitalist system’. A famous analogy is made to workers accepting crumbs that fall off the table (or indeed are handed out to keep them quiet) rather than claiming a rightful place at the table.
The Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, imprisoned for much of his life by Mussolini, took these idea further in his Prison Notebooks with his widely influential notions of ‘hegemony’ and the ‘manufacture of consent’. Gramsci saw the capitalist state as being made up of two overlapping spheres, a ‘political society’ (which rules through force) and a ‘civil society’ (which rules through consent). Gramsci saw civil society as the public sphere where trade unions and political parties gained concessions from the bourgeois state, and the sphere in which ideas and beliefs were shaped, where bourgeois ‘hegemony’ was reproduced in cultural life through the media, universities and religious institutions to ‘manufacture consent’ and legitimacy."http://www.powercube.net/other-forms-…/gramsci-and-hegemony/
Hegemony is a class alliance by means of which one, leading [hegemonic] class assumes a position of leadership over other classes, in return guaranteeing them certain benefits, so as to be able to secure public political power over society as a whole.From https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/h/e.htm#hegemony
The term was then developed and popularised by Antonio Gramsci who demonstrated that every nation state requires that some class is able to establish a hegemony capable of unifying the nation and resolving its historical problems…Gramsci associated the term hegemony with the idea that the working class had to establish “intellectual and moral leadership” of an “historic bloc” of classes, capable of forming a new state. He accused Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky of underestimating the depth of resources of the capitalist state, which required a protracted “war of position” in order to undermine it, remove from one social position after another, and eventually overthrow it, rather than a rapid “war of movement”, by which the revolutionaries could hope to smash the bourgeoisie's defences and demoralise them all in one blow: rather, the working class had to build a new hegemonic bloc.
Get the picture?
Yes we see… or perhaps not.
Part 4: The Authentic Spectacle of Punk
The Situationists’ ‘Society of the Spectacle’ is perhaps a more familiar example of ‘false consciousness’ and an illustration of how ‘hegemony’ works.
# 59 Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from…The smug acceptance of what exists can also merge with purely spectacular rebellion; this reflects the simple fact that dissatisfaction itself became a commodity as soon as economic abundance could extend production to the processing of such raw materials.
This quote takes us neatly on to punk. Was it a ‘purely spectacular rebellion’? Or was it an ‘authentic’ rebellion? But if the first wave of punk was an example spectacular rather than authentic rebellion, was anarcho-, which emerged from 1979 onwards, the real ‘revolutionary’ deal?
As a rationale for starting Crass, Penny Rimbaud claims that when ‘the Pistols released “Anarchy in the UK”, maybe they didn’t really mean it ma’am, but to us it was a battle cry' [Rimbaud, 1982] Implicitly this classifies The Sex Pistols as poseurs – a horrific crime in subcultures – and Crass as the real punks. When a member of one punk faction criticises other elements within the same subculture – for selling out, promoting violence, or defending different political views – they demarcate themselves as the authentic punks. Other punk movements retaliated against the anarcho-punks’ righteous attitude. The discourse of authenticity is rife in these relationships. [Ana Raposo in ’The Aesthetic of Our Anger’ 2016 pp 57/8.
Before answering these questions, we need to work out where the belief that punk could be ‘authentic ‘ rather than ‘spectacular’ came from. Here is what the SAGE Dictionary of Cultural Studies (2004, p 9) has to say about ‘authenticity’ and ‘spectacular youth subcultures’.
The question of authenticity can be grasped through consideration of the study of youth within the field. Here cultural studies has tended to explore the more spectacular youth cultures; the visible, loud, different, avant-garde youth styles which have stood out and demanded attention. These activities have commonly been understood as an authentic expression of the resistance of young people to the hegemony of consumer capitalism and arbitrary adult authority. Subcultures have been seen as spaces for deviant cultures to re-negotiate their position or to ‘win space’ for themselves. In particular, youth subcultures are marked, it is argued, by the development of particular styles which, as the active enactment of resistance, relied on a moment of originality, purity and authenticity.
Aha! The reference to the ‘hegemony of consumer culture’ gives us a clue. I turns out that in the 1960s, British Marxists Tom Nairn and Perry Anderson writing in the New Left Review adopted Gramsci’s work to analyse and critique the ‘archaic’ political structures of the United Kingdom. Raymond Williams and E P Thompson ( author of ‘The Making of the English Working Class, 1963) also found Gramsci useful.
Although the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, founded in 1964 was careful to distance itself from Marxism, Gramsci’s theories became a useful and much used tool as the centre engaged with popular and youth culture. In 1979, Dick Hebdige of the Birmingham CCCS released what was to become the foundation for all (well, nearly all) later studies of punk- ‘Subculture the Meaning of Style’
By page 15, hegemony has already put in an appearance, preceded by a quote from Marx.
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 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 grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling class, therefore the ideas of its dominance. (Marx, 1845)
This is the basis of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony which provides the most adequate account of how dominance is sustained in advanced capitalist societies. [Hebdige, 1979, p. 15]
But is Hebdige right here? The subtlety of Gramsci’s ‘hegmony’ or the Situationists’ ‘spectacle’ is that what we take to be our own ideas are in fact the ideas of the ruling class. We do not see the ideas of the ruling class as being imposed on us. If we did we could reject them.
Hebdige goes on to say-
We can now return to the meaning of youth subcultures, for the emergence of such groups has signalled in a spectacular fashion the breakdown of consensus in the postwar period… However, the challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent is not issued directly by them. Rather it is expressed obliquely, in style. The objections are lodged, the contradictions displayed (and, as we shall see, ‘magically resolved’) at the profoundly superficial level of appearances: that is, at the level of signs. [p. 17]
|My review of Hebdige/ Subculture from KYPP 4 Sept 1981|
Part 5: That Option No Longer Exists
The ‘breakdown of consensus’ is the subject of John Medhurst’s book ‘That Option No Longer Exists Britain 1974-176 (Zero Books, 2014).
As one reviewer noted, it-
recalls a febrile period when the left came close to implementing a radical socialist economic strategy. Medhurst’s absorbing essay argues that the first few months of that Labour government were the pivot on which post-war British politics turned, the point at which the social democratic consensus broke and neoliberalism moved in. It could have been different. Had the ‘Alternative Economic Strategy’ (AES) pushed by Benn been implemented, even in part, the centre of gravity of British politics might have shifted to the left rather than the right.http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/labours_alternative_economic_strategy_40_years_on
The AES sought to extend the democratic principle beyond the sphere of politics in the belief that sovereignty over the direction of the economy should rest with the elected government rather than global markets, and that the balance of power within industry should be recalibrated towards workers. For Medhurst, Labour’s abandonment of the strategy opened the way for the right to set Britain on a wholly different course.
Where does punk fit in here, in the 1974-1976 period out of which it emerged? Was the ‘postwar consensus’ the mainstream, that is hegemonic, position? Was the 1974 Labour manifesto an attempt to break with that consensus, or strengthen it? The 1974 Labour manifesto was a response to the 1970-74 Conservative government which started off with a shift to the right but then had to back track -the original ‘U-turn’ Margaret Thatcher later derided- under pressure from organised labour/ trade unions.
This would place Labour within the consensus so that the pressure from the right which led to the election of Margraet Thatcher in 1979 can be described as ‘counter-hegemonic’- designed to break the postwar consensus.
Part of Medhurst’s argument is that the right-wing press helped to manufacture a sense of crisis during the 1974-79 period. If punk acted as a symbolic representation of this crisis, then it was counter-hegemonic; that is it helped the right gain power by supporting a ‘this country is going to the dogs’ narrative.
Part 6 : Punk as Counterculture
Alternatively, punk can be seen as emerging out of what was still a vibrant and dynamic counterculture in the mid-1970s. Richard Dudanski was part of the west London squatting scene and a drummer for the 101’ers 1974-76. In his book, Dudanski describes the day Joe Strummer said he was leaving the band and Bernie Rhodes came round to their squat…
If punk meant anything, to me it came down to a simple postulation: "Think for yourself, act on the conclusions that you come to, and don’t be put off by the powers that be"
But there was nothing particularly new in that. Isn’t it a fact that this was exactly the unwritten precept that had under pegged any free thinking person from time immemorial through to us squatter/musos who were there and then attempting to create our own world? The point was that Bernie [Rhodes, manager of the Clash], following in the close footsteps of his former friend Malcolm Maclaren, realized that to achieve success on a wide scale a new movement had to be created, in the same way that, say, the 20th Century art movements such as Dadaism and Surrealism had been founded. To create a new movement the dialectic demanded replacement of an old one, and looking around I suppose the remnants of the 60’s Hippies were the only young person cultural group that they could find to fill that role! Rather pathetic really, couldn’t have chosen a weaker more ineffectual opponent. Besides which I don’t think that in 1976 the notion of a Hippy had much meaning for more than a miniscule percentage of young people. Richard Dudanski, 'Squat City Rockers Proto-Punk and Beyond' (2013, p. 117)
In her Introduction to ‘Goodbye to London- Radical Art and Politics In the Seventies’ (Hatje Kantz, 2010, p. 10) Astrid Proll, former member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang wrote an appreciation of the pre-punk counterculture she encountered in London.
Before fleeing to London [in 1974], I was not particularly interested in the English left; now I experienced their solidarity. The great majority of comrades were far more pragmatic than the leftists in germany. They did not lose themselves in theories; they wanted to put concrete projects into action. German idealism and the German predilection for ideologies was not for them…
The rebellion against the Vietnam War and against capitalism was not as strong or as militant in London as it has been in Paris or West Berlin.; the sixties in London were ‘swinging’, they were first and foremost pop, not politics. However, the alternative subculture in seventies London exceeded, in size and diversity, what had emerged in other Western cities. Women’s and gay rights groups, food -coops, the Poster Collective, All London Squatters, film collectives, underground magazines.
In the collective memory, the counterculture of the seventies has taken a backseat between the revolt of 1968 and the appearance of Punk in 1976; unjustly, in my view , since the counterculture of the seventies was decisive in the liberalization of British society. The counter culture had a strong appeal for a long time for society at large…
Solidarity was the precept of the counterculture. The squats were the material basis and precondition for the emergence of political activism, art and alternative life. These houses, removed from the circulation of capitalist valorization [valorize- to give value to], were open spaces for experimentations of all kinds towards a life lived without economic constraints.
In his chapter on anarcho-punk (which emerged in 1979) fanzines in ’The Aesthetic of Our Anger’ (2016, pp. 157-8) Matt Grimes draws on another aspect of Gramscis’s work - the organic intellectual
A useful way of investigating the role and practices of zine editors/ producers is through the Gramscian concept of the ‘organic intellectual.’ Antonio Gramsci, writer, Marxist politician and philosopher, argued that every social class forms its own group of intellectuals whose role is to develop and maintain a model or pattern of ideological thoughts, that functions as a means of directing and giving purpose to that class.
He further posited that what emerges from society are two types or groups of intellectuals. The first are ‘traditional’ intellectuals such as teachers, priests, politicians; people who are bound to the institutions of the hegemonic order and serve to legitimate that current system or order. Although at times they articulate the voice of dissent, by asking probing questions of the existing hegemony and its functions, they can never lead the revolutionary class, for them there is no power for revolutionary change. The second type is the ‘organic intellectuals’, those
individuals whom naturally emerge from a social group, or whom that social group extemporaneously creates, in order to advance its own self-awareness and to ensure the interconnectivity and cohesive unity within that social group. The ‘organic intellectual’ must break with the traditional intellectuals of the current hegemonic society and, in doing so, must form his or her own hypotheses to fulfil his or her purpose in providing a revolutionary ideology to that movement.
This suggests that if Hebdige had applied a different Gramscian model, a different understanding of punk could have emerged. In this version, the Year Zero rhetoric of |Malcolm Mclaren and Bernies Rhodes is set against the influence of organic intellectuals from the pre-punk counterculture who passed on their experiences, understandings and values to the punks, facilitating the emergence of punk’s own organic intellectuals.
But then, as we all know, punk is dead so lets us move on from necromancy to the present.
|IT Punk is Dead February 1977|
Part 7: The Wars of Position- Gramsci In Practice
The “war of position” implies a multi-dimensional conception of political radicalization. Since political subjects are constituted by all social relations not just class ones, political struggle must be waged around all these social relations–race, sex, residence, generation, nationality, etc.–to the extent that they embody relations of oppression and domination, in addition to the class struggle which has a primary role in relation to all the others in the Gramscian system. And since the integral State has bastions of defence throughout civil society, the struggle against the State must be carried on throughout civil society; to isolate the State from without and exacerbate its internal contradictions.
At the same time, for Gramsci the ability of the working class to develop into a hegemonic force capable of successfully challenging capital depends entirely upon its capacity to develop a new political practice which is not symmetrical with that of the dominant classes. This is to say that, under capitalism, bourgeois politics in a broad sense is the practice of reproducing relations of exploitation and oppression. It is a bureaucratic practice which seeks to enhance the power of the dominant class at the same time that it reduces the dominated to objects, passive actors or supports, accepting subordination or actively consenting rather than providing leadership.
The working class, if it is to reorganize itself into a hegemonic nucleus and rally around itself the popular forces, cannot simply reproduce within its own institutions and discourses this practice of bureaucratic politics and forms of anti-democratic leadership and organization. Instead, it must consistently produce relations of democratic control and mobilization wherever possible, together with institutions of direct democracy which are consciously antithetical to bureaucratism in all its aspects.
Only by preparing this asymmetrical practice of politics well before the “war of movement” can the working class insure that once the proletarian State is established it will not degenerate from a leadership of the masses to a dictatorship over the masses.From https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/theoretical-review/19833101.htm
Part 7.1 : Scotland
Over the past four years the future of the archaic United Kingdom has been fought over with a ferocity unseen since the emergence of the neoliberal consensus nearly 40 years ago. As occurred in the seventeenth century, the first phase of the struggle occurred in and with Scotland. The second took place across the UK and its full consequences are as yet unknown.
In Scotland between 2012 and 2014 the reality of ‘hegemony’, the manufacture of consent, was revealed as the full weight of media, politicians and business was directed towards ensuring that Scotland did not vote for independence. Significantly though, support for independence actually grew by about 15% during the campaign and, in the closing days, a Yes vote became a real possibility. In response the No campaign suddenly and unexpectedly offered a whole range of new powers for Scotland. Wavering voters were told ‘ Vote No and Scotland will have so much autonomy it will be virtually independent anyway.’.
On the 18 September 2014 the result was 55% No, 45% Yes. Scotland remained in the UK, but the result was close enough to leave the door open for a second referendum. This possibility has seen a huge surge in support for the SNP. In the 2015 UK general election, the SNP gained 56 out of Scotland 59 Westminster constituencies. The once dominant Labour party were reduced to one MP in Scotland.
During the 2012-14 independence campaign, the SNP, via their influence over the ‘official’ Yes campaign were very careful to keep a lid on the more reactionary/nationalist elements of the independence movement. This created a space where radical non-nationalist support for independence could develop.
The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in particular, with their slogan ‘Another Scotland is Possible’ argued that independence offered Scotland an alternative to the neoliberal austerity policies of the then Conservative/Liberal Democrat UK government.
RIC saw/sees the independence movement as process (war of position) which builds up the strength of the social foundations of a future Scotland by creating alternative institutions and alternative intellectual resources within existing society.
But during the 2016 Scottish election campaign the SNP slogan was ‘Both Votes SNP’. Former allies now became enemies. This ‘bureaucratisation’ of Scottish politics has led to a resurgence of reactionary nationalism which proclaims ‘Independence First’ and argues that parties like the Scottish Green Party or groups like RIC are divisive elements aiding the Unionist cause.
In Scotland then, there are two fronts in the war of position. One front is the struggle is to secure independence. It is a counter-hegemonic struggle directed outward against the UK state and aims to break-it up. This in turn requires building up solid support for independence among the doubtful, people who voted No in 2014 but are no longer certain if that was the right decision. It also requires keeping the ’non-nationalist’ Yes voters on board, especially the more active ones who campaigned for a Yes vote 2012-14.
The second front is the runs parallel with the first. Here the struggle is internal and is another counter-hegemonic struggle, directed against the forces of reactionary nationalism. This struggle ’ must consistently produce relations of democratic control and mobilization wherever possible, together with institutions of direct democracy which are consciously antithetical to bureaucratism in all its aspects.’ The aim is to ensure that, when it comes, will involve substantially more than simply hauling down the Union flag and raising a Saltire in its place.
Part 7.2 : Brexit and the UK’s Internal Crisis
I will leave our old friend Friedrich Engels to have the last word. With a bit of editing, what he had to say in 1842 could easily be applied to the Brexit crisis as moves towards actuality. Of course Friedrich got it wrong in 1842, but if there is a ’hard Brexit’ leading to economic meltdown, could he be right about 2020?
Is a revolution in England possible or even probable? This is the question on which the future of England depends. Put it to an Englishman and he will give you a thousand excellent reasons to prove that there can be no question at all of a revolution. He will tell you that at the moment certainly England is in a critical situation, but thanks to her wealth, her industry and her institutions, she has the ways and means to extricate herself without violent upheavals., that her constitution is sufficiently flexible to withstand the heaviest blows caused by the struggle over principles and can, without danger to its foundations, submit to all the changes forced on it by circumstances.
He will tell you that even the lowest class of the nation is well aware that it only stands to lose by a revolution, since every disturbance of the public order can only result in a slow-down in business and hence general unemployment and starvation. In short, he will offer you so many clear and convincing reasons that finally you will believe things are really not so very bad in England, and that people on the Continent are indulging in all kinds of fantasies about the situation of this state, which will burst like soap-bubbles in face of obvious reality and a closer acquaintance with the facts.
And this is the only possible opinion if one adopts the national English standpoint of the most immediate practice, of material interests, i. e., if one ignores the motivating idea, forgets the basis because of the surface appearance, and fails to see the wood for the trees. There is one thing that is self-evident in Germany, but which the obstinate Briton cannot be made to understand, namely, that the so-called material interests can never operate in history as independent, guiding aims, but always, consciously or unconsciously, serve a principle which controls the threads of historical progress. It is therefore impossible that a state like England, which by virtue of its political exclusiveness and self-sufficiency has finally come to lag some centuries behind the Continent, a state which sees only arbitrary rule in freedom and is up to the neck in the Middle Ages, that such a state should not eventually come into conflict with the intellectual progress that has been made in the meantime. Or is that not the picture of the political situation in England?
Is there any other country in the world where feudalism retains such enduring power and where it remains immune from attack not only in actual fact, but also in public opinion? Is the much-vaunted English freedom anything but the purely formal right to act or not to act, as one sees fit, within the existing legal limits? And what laws they are! A chaos of confused, mutually contradictory regulations, which have reduced jurisprudence to pure sophistry, which are never observed by courts of law since they are not in accord with our times; regulations which allow an honest man to be branded as a criminal for the most innocent behaviour, as long as public opinion and its sense of justice sanctioned it.
Is not the House of Commons a corporation alien to the people, elected by means of wholesale bribery? Does not Parliament continually trample underfoot the will of the people? Has public opinion on general questions the slightest influence on the government? Is not its power restricted merely to isolated cases, to control over the courts of law and administration? These are all things which even the most obdurate Englishman cannot totally deny, and can such a state of things persist?
But let us leave aside questions of principle. In England, at any rate among the parties which are now contending for power, among the Whigs and Tories, people know nothing of struggles over principles and are concerned only with conflicts of material interests. It is only fair, therefore, to do justice to this aspect as well. England is by nature a poor country which, apart from her geographical position, her iron and coal mines and some lush pasture-land, has no fertility or other natural riches. She is, therefore, entirely dependent on trade, shipping and industry, and through them she has succeeded in rising to her present heights. By the very nature of things, however, a country which has adopted this course can remain at the heights it has reached only by constantly increasing industrial output; any halt here would be a step backward.
Further, a natural consequence of the premises of the industrial state is that, in order to protect the source of its wealth, it has to keep out the industrial products of other countries by means of prohibitive import duties. But since the home industry raises the prices of its products in step with the import duties on foreign products, this makes it necessary also to increase import duties constantly, in order that foreign competition shall continue to be eliminated, in accordance with the accepted principle.
Hence the result would be a two-sided process going on to infinity, and this alone reveals the contradiction inherent in the concept of the industrial state. But we do not need these philosophical categories to show the contradictions in which England is enmeshed. Other people besides the English industrialists have something to say on the question of the two kinds of increase — production and import duties — that we have just considered.
In the first place, there are the foreign countries, which have their own industry and do not need to turn themselves into an outlet for English products; and then there are the English consumers, who refuse to reconcile themselves to this endless increase in import duties. That is precisely how matters stand as regards the development of the industrial state in England. Foreign countries do not want English products since they themselves produce what they need, while English consumers unanimously demand the abolition of the protective tariffs. From the above, it is clear that England is caught in a twofold dilemma which the industrial state as such is incapable of solving; this is also confirmed by direct observation of the existing state of affairs.http://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1842/12/09.htm