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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Any action leading towards the revolution is moral, every inaction criminal

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.



  1. Lots to chew on! Thanks. I'm glad to have some clearer insight into the forthcoming Scottish independence question. As a libertarian socialist, I do believe that replacing one power with another is part of a tragic and futile cycle of history. But as a realist, I see the refusal to vote as a cop-out. Surely, you're generally choosing between "a turd and a douche", but why not take 20 minutes to push a lever to least support a mainstream agenda more amenable to your aims? An anarchist can live outside the system, but cannot blindly refuse to acknowledge it. Especially when, as you say, inaction can lead to far worse systems.
    Similar questions arose here when some local office candidates tried to pick up the Occupy mantle. Many saw this as an attempt by the liberal mainstream to co-opt OWS and bring it into the fold, while others felt that establishing a connection to the mainstream was good, or even essential. It never came to anything, except in some of the rhetoric of the presidential race, where issues of income equality played a more dominant role, and where "1%" and "99%" became household expressions nationwide.
    Like you say also, referenda are votes where things really count - direct, no interpersonal b.s.. It played out well this past election when citizens of 4 states directly approved gay marriage and legalized marijuana.
    With 2014 approaching, it sounds like an exciting time there. It's definitely great that people are taking this rare opportunity to try to change some heavily entrenched fundamentals of government.
    As Thomas Paine said: "We have the power to begin the world over again"
    It seems like the iron is hot for Scotland. Solidarity from NY!

    Enjoying your blog, as always

  2. Hi, Matt. Always good to hear from you and thanks for such a considered response. Yes, 2014 is an exciting prospect and can be the spark that reignites the left in Scotland. Currently, our biggest problem with disseminating our message is the MSM but then I hardly need to tell that to an OWS activist!
    Peace and comradeship,


  3. Wow, that's a big post!
    i like the idea of "market fetichism", well, i mean i like that description which is right not only for UK.
    I don't have opinion on Scotland's independance (and it's none of my business), but i keep track of it with some curiosity and interest.
    My questions are: do you think you could change things you couldn't change in UK? would an independant Scotland be more representative of your values? because you would still have to compose with other values.
    Is it about changing things or staying apart of them (a good start anyway)?

  4. Hi Pierre.
    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, the point of radical independence is to use independence as a tool towards changing things which we've not been able to change in the UK; the obvious example being the chance to remove nuclear weapons from Faslane naval base, which is in Scotland. This would effectively disarm the UK of nuclear weapons as there is no other suitable site for the nuclear submarine fleet in the rest of the UK.
    It also appears to be the case that there is more of a consensus for a just, social society in Scotland compared to, for example, the south of England. So, yes, an independent Scotland would, hopefully, reflect those values as you suggest. And, yes, it would have to be about 'changing things'. Replacing one authoritarian, neoliberal government in London for one in Edinburgh would not be a satisfactory outcome.


  5. I really appreciate Griff's post! Thanks to TheShiteKnight for tweeting^^

    I think we, as self-proclaiming anarchists, should support the cause for an independent Scotland, as the recent event has united rather than divided the 'New Left'.

    A common slogan among us, we shall all remind ourselves again and again, states: 'Together We Stand or Divided We will Fall'. This statement is so true and I believe that for the past 30 years the left has been divided and split into its sectarian little group therapy meetings, with not having achieved a successful backlash against neoliberalism. The Free Hetherington, Millbank, and yesterday, was only the start for uniting the left and beyond.

    As Anarchists, we should draw on theory, reflect, observe and then act, and I think it is time we have a little come together to discuss this among us.

    I also believe that reflecting on the works of Foucault, Agamben, Zizek etc... will be more than useful to understand the world around us. Foucault's understanding of power, e.g., is manifold and I believe it is important to understand its axioms for actions of resistance.

    I propose a discussion forum on libcom, our 'youth organisation', and make use of the networks already existing instead of investing our energies in building constantly new ones.


    looking forward to your thoughts,

  6. Hi Alexio. Nice to see you on here and thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    Yes, a discussion forum, and/or meeting, where people can give their interpretation of recent events in Scotland based on theory would be excellent. That's exactly the sort of response I was hoping to provoke. I posted a link to this article to Annarky's excellent blog, which we are all familiar with, in the hope that I could get some interesting feedback also.

    I'm really happy to post follow up articles for and against my own original view here as well. If you want to expand on your perceptive comments above and put them into a short article that would be great. Your grasp of theory is much greater than mine and I'd be interested to hear your take - I'm sure others would as well. Also, posting something up on libcom would be very useful. Please send us a link to that.



  7. Excellent post Griff. Plenty to chew over. I'd say I'm on the fence with this vote (which is unusual in itself). I'm an ardent socialist (really, who isn't up here?), and have voted for the SNP when they've put forward the most left-leaning (see also "fair") policies. Ultimately though I've always felt the shortbread tin brigade have only 1 core belief, and these socialist policies are purely political opportunism. Despite occasionally voting for them, I've always been sceptical about the bigger question of independence.

    The biggest plus is obviously that we would get the socialist governments that we've been voting for since the dawn of the Left, and not the a**ehole Westminster governments we've had to endure in recent decades (I'm including even the bastardised versions of Labour post-97). The biggest minus for me is that I've always thought socialism was inclusive, like a previous comment stated "together we stand..." - so what about our comrades south of the border? People just like us only they happen to live on the other side of an imaginary line? I feel like a vote for our independence would ensure that those people get screwed indefinitely with English Tory governments, whereas while we're still involved there is always a chance that over time the Left can be organised UK-wide, embracing the green, feminist, anti-nuclear and humanitarian issues. Actually even writing that, I realise how ridiculous that sounds - our brightest chance is now, as a reaction to Cameron, Osborne etc. but I don't see the Left mobilising at all and I'm not convinced either about the Labour party.

    As much as I hate nationalism and think a "no" vote could put a nail in the coffin north of the border, I think as long as we're unified, like America we're doomed to end up with watered down Tory and bastardised Labour (Democrat) governments trying to appeal to Middle England (America) into the distant future. That might be for the best for all those folk we'd be abandoning, but there would be no way to break the cycle and get a proper unified Left.

    The problem with legacy is that yes, I see what you're saying about leaving a better Scotland for future generations, but there's no guarantee that our kids, my kids and their kids are going to see it that way. We're probably going to be poorer on our own, right? Or not right? There's another problem - nobody seems to be able to give us definitive answers to half the independence questions. Currency? Military? Division of UK debt? Break up of North Sea oil? To me, there's an element of a gamble here, a once in a lifetime throw the dice and see what happens. I'm not saying I'm NOT going to throw them, but it's a lot of responsibility and it makes me decidedly uneasy knowing that a Nationalist party are leading the charge.

    Oh, I dunno. My guts are telling me to stick to what we know - a "safe" and disappointing battle of two parties who are at times virtually indistinguishable. Minor victories like we've previously seen under Labour, or the SNP in Scottish elections. Have we been making progress? Maybe, but if so, then it's been slooooow. Or do we pick up the dice? Roll into uncharted territory, where anything is possible, for good or ill...

    Got a LOT of thinking still to do on this, so thanks again for the post. Definitely think more than anything else I've read over the last few months that it has swayed me to gamble. Keep up the good work.

  8. Hi Smally. Thanks for the comments I enjoyed reading them as they were quite stream on consciousness - it was almost like I could hear what you were thinking. Probably not a good thing most of the time ;-)

    I'll answer what I can. Firstly, I think the idea of the rest of the UK becoming a permanently Tory fiefdom if Scotland leaves have been well explored elsewhere and shown to be false. See here, for instance :
    In fact, analysis demonstrates that it's the other way around and that Scotland often gets the government it doesn't vote for.
    Secondly, we can still be internationalists whatever state we live in. I already support workers' causes in Palestine, Greece, Ireland and elsewhere. I don't need the UK or Scotland to absorb those countries to support them. Perhaps I could support them even more practically if the UK didn't exist?

    As regards the financial question, I agree that good reliable information is hard to find in our terrible media. I did a bit of, probably ropey, analysis myself which I can email you if you want. I, ultimately, though, don't ncessarily think this should be about money. Would you live in Texas for an extra £1,000 per year? Would you live in Israel for £2,000. Would you live in Saudi Arabia for £3,000. I'm guessing - No, NO and NOOOO! I hope the above demonstrates that sometimes we go with our principles even if it costs us financially.