I thought long and hard about a title for this post as it's probably the most important thing I'll write this year. In the end I settled for a quote from Bakunin, the father of anarchist theory, as I felt I needed some truly heavy-weight backing.
The reason I need that backing is that I'm not a particularly 'good' libertarian socialist, I've compromised with statism throughout my life and continue to do so, much to my own disappointment. So I'm no Ammon Hennacy, that much is clear, but I am, still, at heart a libertarian socialist and, in my own flawed way, I try to be guided by libertarian principles and to oppose coercive force, hierarchical structures and the empty promise/farce of Parliamentary democracy. Those of you who follow this blog will, hopefully, be aware that I am an industrial relations representative in my workplace and a trade union activist, and that, such faith as I have, is placed in the hope of reforming the Trades Unions to become genuine vehicles of workers' power and social change.
Ok, so what's all this confessionalism leading too, you're probably wondering. Well, on Saturday I attended, along with 900 other delegates, the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow. The Conference was called to draw together socialists, feminists, trade unionists, greens, peace movement activists, anti-poverty campaigners, anti-racists groups, community activists, civil liberty campaigners, the equalities movement and more. These representatives, from all across the progressive movement, have united to build an extra-parliamentary conference in support of Scottish independence. The aim of the conference, and the campaign that will follow, will be to maximise grassroots involvement, which is the key to winning public support for independence in the run-up to the referendum in 2014.
I have to admit now that, my own emotions about the conference were that, for anyone involved in progressive politics in Scotland, this event was truly momentous. I honestly think that, those of us who are still around, will look back on this day in 20, 30, even 50 years time and say, "This was the day that the Scottish left finally got its act together and became part of the global struggle against international capitalism".
Pause to let that sink in.
Yes, that's right, I'm advocating that an essentially nationalist movement, and one that asks us to participate by, in part, voting is a key element in Scottish workers' part in the growing, and increasingly intense, struggle against corporate fascism.
Let me explain.
Firstly, let's deal with the Nationalism issue. I know that many anarchists (yes you, Neil!) will be rolling their eyes at the naïveté of thinking that replacing one state with another is any kind of answer but I'd ask them to consider the following;
Scottish nationhood is part of a process, not an end point. If we break up the state that most of us were born into and have lived in our whole lives, we thereby illustrate to the populace, who have been cowed/fooled into believing otherwise, that true power resides with them and that change IS possible. Thereafter, an empowered population can move towards other goals as it sees fit.
This referendum is about nationalism either way. Whoever wins, we are going to have either the Scottish or UK version of it. The Saltire or the Union flag - hold your nose and take your pick. However, do bear in mind that a Yes vote and a new constitutional settlement allows us to rewrite everything. That's right, everything. We could have a constitution that seriously limits politicians power, protects workers' rights, properly respects our obligations to refugees and asylum seekers, curbs the power of capital, promotes green and environmental issues and gives real equality to ALL. These are all concepts which were endorsed by Conference on Saturday. This really would make us a 'beacon for other nations' in a real and meaningful way, but only if a united left starts working now to educate the public and make the alternative case to the SNP's wishy-washy neoliberalism. If we do, we could effect REAL change. If we don't, we are left with the status quo. That is, the UK. The nation that brought genocide to North America and Australasia, the nation that raised the idea of 'the market' to its current fetishistic position in world economics, the country that created, by force of arms, the world's largest ever Empire (covering a quarter of the globe and enslaving, murdering and exploititng the people who came under its control), the country that has deference to unelected wealth and privilege running like an unbreakable chain through its unwritten constitution, a country that invented the concentration camp, a country responsible for famine, torture, foul play and deceit at home and all over the globe in pursuit of its own ends, the country that has been involved in 100 years of aggressive oil wars and destruction of the natural environment . The UK is a country that at its inception was ruled by an elite class of wealthy, authoritarian, racist, snobbish parasites and right now is ruled by... well, you get the picture.
So, you want to smash the state? OK, let's start with the UK. And there is one huge, as yet unmentioned, reason that I am behind the Radical Independence Campaign, and it is that, if we win the day, we can UNILATERALLY DISARM THE UK OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS!
Imagine that. Imagine the global repercussions. And we really CAN make this happen as Leonna O'Neill of Faslane Peace Camp made clear at the conference. Indeed, we've already started. The No to Nato Coalition and Scottish CND have called for a national day of action against Trident nuclear weapons to take place in Spring 2013. The Radical Independence campaign is throwing its full support, and its hundreds of activists, behind this. We can make this the biggest demonstration at Faslane that we have ever seen. If we unite everyone in the independence movement and the whole peace movement: we can shut down Trident. This campaign can be about direct action if we make sure events like this are on the agenda. We can only do this from inside the campaign. Think about it.
And that brings us to my second point. Some anarchists/libertarians will continue to have objections to engaging with political parties and the electoral process (yes, you again, Neil!) and may claim that 'Voting for freedom is like fucking for virginity'. Those people may well be right, I cannot deny that engaging in the political process in Britain is like dancing with the devil. For those whose conscience won't allow it, I accept that and wish them well. I accept that many take the view of Emma Goldman that voting is useless at best and dangerous at worst, providing an illusion of participation while masking the true structures of decision-making. For those who believe that voting can be a tactical weapon to supplement the armoury of direct action, or who are undecided I offer the following:
Anarchists can and do vote. History shows us that prior to the Spanish Civil War, in the municipal elections, which had precipitated the departure of King Alfonso XIII, many anarchists had gone to the polls, against their publicly-proclaimed principles, for the tactical reason that a republic seemed more favourable to their aims than a monarchy. You're maybe thinking that the Spanish Civil War didn't end too well for the anarchists, but consider this; it wasn't that vote that really led to the elevation of Franco within the Right but, instead, the C.N.T.'s vigorous abstentionist campaign in 1933. The lack of the million votes which it controlled meant defeat for the Left and two years of reactionary right-wing government, as well as the crushing of the October 1934 rebellion in Asturias. This operation earned Franco the nickname "Butcher of Asturias". The rest is history.
More recently, and closer to home, Irish anarchists voted NO to the Twenty-fifth Amendment Bill (2002). This was a second attempt to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion. It was submitted to a referendum on 6 March 2002 but was defeated. Leading up to the vote, members of the Workers Solidarity Movement, and most other Irish anarchists, were out in the streets putting up posters, delivering leaflets, raising funds, organising meetings and convincing their neighbours, friends and family to also vote NO.
Most anarchists vote to elect shop stewards in their workplaces, they vote for a secretary in their local residents associations, they vote where small local groups make direct democracy possible. Voting in itself is not wrong, the process of finding out how many and how few people want to do something is essential to acheiving consensus and getting organised. If we fail to do this, we risk leaving all the decisions that effect us to a few leaders or to powerful vested interests.
Remember too, that the vote in 2014 is a referendum. You will not be voting for the half-baked/half-hearted policies proferred by a career politician or party hack who upon achieving office will swiftly renege on all pre-election promises. No, this is about an idea; a referendum is an entirely different beast. Your vote will count. Direct action and activism will be necessary too but the pragmatic approach is, I believe, to see this referendum vote as supplementing that. Bear in mind too that this is something that is likely to happen once in your lifetime. Will you engage with hope in a progression (even a tiny step) towards something better or will you disengage in a spirit of cynicism or otherworldly purity? Please give it some thought. And once more, as Bakunin said:
"Any action leading towards the revolution is moral, every inaction criminal"
If you are interested in learning more about the aims of the Radical Independence Campaign then have a look at the declaration read out on the day of the conference. The campaign will be taking to the streets over the next two years. It will only succeed if it engages in direct action. It will only succeed if it engages with Scotland's blighted communities, for so long ignored by the politicians. It is vital that these communities, currently being targeted by the fascists of the SDL, are given an alternative narrative to the race-hate scapegoating being fed to them by Scotland's new Right. A representative of the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza,spoke to the conference on Saturday. He urged us to get organised against the rising spectre of European fascism. The radical groups on the left in Scotland must unite. To my mind, the Radical Independence Campaign is about internationalism not nationalism. Let us recognise this. Let us unite now and argue about our differences once we have won.