Monday, January 16, 2012

False Hope

Will “independence” make the Scottish workers better off and happier? Is it “London rule” that is responsible for the problems faced by workers in Scotland, or is it capitalism?

Independence solves none of the problems resulting from exploitation. Poverty in the midst of a potential for plenty remains, and massive disparities of wealth continue to exist. It can be seen in retrospect that independence for the vast majority of the people has simply meant the exchange of one set of exploiters for another. The realisation of " political independence " by a country leaves the workers' conditions untouched (or actually worsens them in some cases). As socialists, we don't take sides in this inter-capitalist argument. We don't support one section of the capitalist class or the other, and we don't have any illusions about the "sovereign power" of Parliaments to pass reformist legislation that can make capitalism work in the interest of the exploited class of wage and salary earners. Capitalism just cannot be reformed to work in this way; so transferring some of the powers of the House of Commons to a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh makes no difference.

Nationalist movements are not just movements to secure independence from the foreign governments that kept them in subjection, for even after achieving independence they continue to preach the same anti-foreign doctrines as before. Nationalism has been and is everywhere the form in which each capitalist group tries to carve out a place for itself in the world of warring capitalist states, where politicians who have used nationalism to gain independence from a colonial power need it just as much afterwards in order to persuade the workers to go on fighting capitalism's battles. It is an illusion to think that nations can be friendly in a capitalist world provided that they are all “independent” and it is equally an illusion to think that the Powers, great and small, could dispense with nationalism.

If the worker is to be won for socialism, it is by getting him to understand the principles of socialism. When other countries have achieved independence, little changed except the functionaries of the state machinery. National independence is good for local politicians, manufacturers and business men; it opens up careers and money-making opportunities for them, as also for local holders of government civilian posts who may have found their advancement hindered while a foreign or central administration had control. Workers have nothing to gain from the re-drawing of the border, but some regional entrepreneurs and bureaucrats certainly do have a chance of making good if only they can persuade the electorate to back them. Scotland like every other country in the world, is a class-divided country where the two classes - those who own and class and those who work and produce - have diametrically opposed interests. The bonds which bind worker with worker, irrespective of nationality, are those of class solidarity.

Yet capitalism knows no boundaries, money has no accent. Independence is just not possible within the context of globalized capitalism. Certainly, formal political independence, or sovereignty, is possible, where states have the full power to make decisions without reference to any supra-national rules or decision-making procedures. But there’s a difference between the mere legal power to do something and what can be done in practice. In practice all states, when exercising their sovereign power to make decisions, have to take into account the economic reality that there exists a single world market economy on which they are dependent. A state can exercise some degree of influence on how the world market operates in relation to it - it erect tariff walls, subsidise exports, devalue its currency - but this depends on its economic clout (such as the productivity and size of its industry and the extent of its internal market). Over the years capitalism has become more and more international, more and more globalised. This has tended to reduce the margin of manoeuvre open to states, i.e. has reduced their "sovereignty". The vital decisions affecting the local economy have little to do with Holyrood or Westminster. The inexorable process of globalisation has increasingly made redundant the question of "national sovereignty". Yet regional nationalists imagine they can buck the trend without even being against capitalism.

The nationalists emphasise a Scottish Parliament's "constitutional right" to control the economy, completely ignoring the fact that experience has shown this to be a purely paper right. The capitalist economy works according to certain economic laws which no government or legislative body can over-ride. So the argument about sovereignty is not really about what the constitution may or may not say. It's about the effective power that a capitalist state can exercise within the capitalist economy. Capitalism has always existed within a framework of competing states, none of which is strong enough to impose its will on all the others. States, as weapons in the hands of rival groups of capitalists, intervene to further the interests of the capitalists that control them. They do this by using state power to set up protected markets, raw materials sources, trade routes and investment outlets. In normal times their weapons are tariffs, taxes, quotas, export rebates and other economic measures. When they judge that their vital interest is at stake their weapons are . . . weapons. They go to war. The extent to which a capitalist state can distort the world market in favour of its capitalists depends both on its industrial strength and on the amount of armed force at its disposal. This is why all states are under pressure to acquire the most up-to-date and destructive armaments that they can afford. In the jungle world of capitalism might is right. "Sovereignty"—the margin of independent decision-making that a state has—also depends on might.

The interest of the wage and salary working class in all countries is to reject all nationalism, to reject in fact the very idea of “foreigner”, and to recognise that they have a common interest with people in other countries in the same economic situation of being obliged to sell their mental and physical energies in order to get a living. That interest lies in working together to establish a world-wide society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit. Independence will not give the people of Scotland effective control over their own affairs. The only change that will do that is a change in the whole social system, replacing competitive production for profit and minority ownership by co-operative production. Neither devolution nor an independent Scotland (nor a United Kingdom, because we point out that no state today can be independent of the capitalist world market does not mean that we therefore favour the union) can achieve this. It is only feasible in a moneyless, frontierless society which, for those with vision, is the next stage in human social evolution. It is for the Scottish workers to see that their position demands that they should fight only for their class emancipation, and that nothing, constitutional reform or national independence, should draw them away from their determination to fight for the realisation of socialism. What is the “independence” some Scots yearn after, if it means being trapped inside of the bigger prison of capitalism?

“It’s a truism, but one that needs to be constantly stressed, that capitalism and democracy are ultimately quite incompatible.” - Noam Chomsky

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