International Republican Socialism – 2013
1 January 2013
When it was formed in 2005, the International Republican Socialist Network declared its purpose to be the building of support for a republican socialist analysis within the revolutionary movements of those nations confronting both a national independence and class struggle, and helping to build solidarity amongst republican socialist movements and individual activists across national boundaries. It is appropriate, therefore, that we take the occasion of the coming New Year to reflect on the current circumstances confronting the national movements upon which the IRSN is especially focused.
Since late 2009, the revolutionary socialist movement for Breton independence has been represented by Breizhistance-Socialist Party of Brittany. This new party absorbed all but a small rump of Emgann, but also incorporated other elements of the Left in Brittany. It has shown a willingness to work with the broader independence movement in Brittany and has done an excellent job of enunciating its envisioning of an independent socialist Brittany in its document, 100 Proposals for an Alternative Brittany.
Breizhistance was included among the eight candidates of the independence-supporting Breton left in 2008-09, during which the candidates averaged about 5% of the vote, with the candidate from Breizhistance receiving the second highest number of votes among the eight candidates.
The "44 = BRZH" campaign has attracted widespread support for a campaign to assert the continued existence of the Breton nation, despite the French state's attempt to fragment it into 44 separate political entities.
Since 2009 support for Catalan independence has been surging and a clear majority of Catalonians now support independence. The 11th of September saw the largest demonstration in the history of Barcelona, with 1.5 million people taking to the streets in support of independence. A series of non-binding and unofficial referenda held around Catalonia between 2009-2011 all resulted in a strong "yes" to independence and everywhere the Catalan flag with the blue star of the independentistas predominates.
The Catalan Republican Left made the biggest gains in the elections this year, which resulted in the majority of those elected in Catalonia being party's who support independence, represents the socialist current within the independence movement, but the term "revolutionary" cannot be applied to the party. In its platform, the party describes its views on the economy as:
"Esquerra defends the welfare state, one of the historical struggles of left-wing parties, by supporting a social market economy in which the private sector —driving force of a productive economy— is as important as the state sector, which guarantees equal access to basic services —education, health, culture, social care, transport....— and redistributes wealth to ensure a fairer society and a sustainable development."
In both Navarre (Spain) and the North (France), Batasuna represents the socialist tendency within the Basque independence movement. The party is legal within France, but outlawed in Spain. Batasuna is the political party associated with armed organization, ETA, which is now on cease-fire.
Because Batasuna is illegal in Spain, its members and supporters participate in an electoral coalition, the Euskal Herria Bildu, which this year became the second largest political group in the Basque lands, taking a quarter of the vote and winning 21 of the 75 seats in the regional parliament. Nationalist and separatist parties won the regional elections in Spain's northern autonomous region of Basque Country, with the winners expected to call for a referendum on independence.
The Irish National Liberation Army is no more, but the Irish Republican Socialist Party continues on. The party has gained numbers and increased both the youth of its membership and the representation of women within its ranks, however, it has not yet reclaimed its former stature in its capacity to provide cutting-edge leadership to the working class revolutionary movement in Ireland. Far too often reports from the IRSM include either the undertaking of yet another commemoration of past actions or sacrifices by the INLA or joining in a demonstration called by some other political entity.
The founding of the Independent Workers Union in 2003 re-introduced the revolutionary syndicalism of Larkin and Connolly to the Irish landscape. While the union has a long way to go, ten years after its founding it has seven branches established in Ireland and a membership of over 1,000 workers.
Perhaps the most active republican socialist entity in Ireland today is éirígí (which means "arise" in Irish). Last year éirígí decided at its Ard Fheis that it would intervene in local elections in the six counties, stating that it "has no illusions about the nature of electoral politics in the Six Counties and, indeed, across Ireland. The Six Counties is an irreformably corrupt, sectarian state. No amount of elections to local councils, assemblies or foreign parliaments can change that fact.. We believe there is a real appetite for a radical voice to emerge from working class communities that will forcefully challenge the British occupation and economic exploitation and deprivation. Ultimately, the cuts that are being implemented by the British government and its puppet administration at Stormont will have to be defeated on the streets, in our communities and in people's workplaces. éirígí will be making the case for this course of action throughout the forthcoming election campaign." éirígí also has a councilor in Dublin, Louise Minihan, who was elected as Sinn Fein, but switched her allegiance to éirígí and who was convicted of pouring red paint on the Minister of Health to protest cutbacks in services. Another defector from Sinn Fein, Dungannon councillor Barry Monteith, is now a member of éirígí.
The IRSN has long had congenial relations with Mec Vannin, though the party cannot be described as a socialist organization, but it does articulate a compelling voice for Manx independence, advocate green policies, advance a program at least as left as that of the Catalan Republican Left, and the party's President, Bernard Moffatt, was a member of the short-lived Manx Republican Socialist Party in the early 1980s.
Mec Vannin was formed in 1962 and remains active. While not socialist, Mec Vannin "remains fundamentally opposed to the presence of the international finance industry in Mann" and "believe it to be morally dubious for both ourselves and for its effects upon the Third World." The party also supports "the aims of the Industrial Common Ownership Movement and would encourage the setting up of co-operatively run businesses in Mann through grant aid and advice services."
The organization in Puerto Rico with which the International Republican Socialist Movement has long worked is the MINH (Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano). El MINH was formed in May 2004, by a merger of the National Hostosian Congress and the New Puerto Rican Independence Movement, both of which were organizational descendants of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party. The MINH is not an electoral party, nor does it seek to become one. Instead, the MINH was organized to operate in Puerto Rican civil society an autonomous entity engaged in community organizing, anti-colonial work, and defending and promoting the ideal of Puerto Rican independence.
The MST (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores) is a Puerto Rican revolutionary socialist organization, formed in 1982, also by the merger of two important (and previously rival) groups, the Maoist Partido Socialista Revolucionario and the Guevarist Movimiento Socialista Popular. In 1984, the Liga Internacionalista de los Trabajadores also dissolved into the MST. In 1990, the MST founded the Socialist Front along with the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Puertorriqueños-Macheteros and the Taller de Formacion Politica, an alliance of Puerto Rican left groups, however, while the Socialist Front continues, the MST is no longer a participating organization within the Front.
The MST describes itself as democratic socialist revolutionary and calls itself "Dialectical Materialist" rather than Marxist (which is perhaps why they didn't realize that Marx used the phrase Historical Materialist). The MST is a multi-tendency organization (a political orientation long advocated by the IRSN) and describes its membership and leadership as including anarchists, Anti-Revisionists, communists, democratic socialists, Maoists, revolutionary socialists, syndicalists, and Trotskyists, with a common commitment to revolutionary action and worker's self-emancipation.
This year Puerto Rican voters were asked to vote on two questions:
• Whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico's territorial status
• Whether they preferred statehood, independence, or "a sovereign nation in free association with the United States."
A majority (54% --958,915 votes) voted "No" on the first question, with an additional 65,863 having left the question blank. 480,918 voters left the second question blank. Of those who answered on the second question, 61.1% chose statehood, 33.3% chose free association, and 5.6% chose independence. The results were disappointing for supporters of Puerto Rican independence, but it should be borne in mind that many in Puerto Rico are presently dependent on various forms of financial assistance from the US government and those opposed to independence focus on the people's fears of losing these benefits.
Québec Solidaire, founded in 2005, is the largest organisation of the Quebecois socialist current within the independence movement. The party took an important step in defining itself as being devoted to Quebec's independence in 2009. It succeeded in having Amir Khadir elected to the National Assembly in 2008 and added Françoise David this year.
Quebec Solidaire has addressed the legitimate interests of the First Nations peoples in a manner far superior to any prior party organized in support of Quebec's independence. Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, was a keynote speaker at their 2009 convention and he has praised Québec Solidaire as the only party in Quebec that addresses native concerns. Again, however, Quebec Solidaire cannot be called a revolutionary socialist organization, although there are many socialists within its ranks.
Outside of the confines of the specific struggle for an independent Quebecois socialist republic, the working people and students of Quebec demonstrated an impressive capacity for struggle during the past year. The university students, with broad popular support beat back proposed increases in tuition following the longest student strike in Quebecois history, which saw 200,000 mobilized in a demonstration in support of the students and against the tuition increases. The government dismissed and derided the students, meeting their protests with batons, teargas bombs, and mass arrests, but the students and their labor allies were tenacious and, in the end, victorious.
Like Ireland, Scotland today has a wealth of republican socialist organizations. The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, with whom the IRSN has long been in solidarity, remains active and continues to provide an important function as the group with the deepest roots feeding from the republican socialist current in Scotland. Not only does the SRSM remain an active force within the John MacLean Society, but they have developed an excellent archive of historical republican socialist publications on their Web site, including: Saorsa, National Liberation, Clydersider, Scottish Week, 79 Group News, Firinn Albannach, Destiny, Siol, Red Clydesider, Scottish Breakaway, Crann Tara, Scottish Worker, Scottish Vanguard, Forward Scotland, The Patriot, Wee Red Rampant Lion, Stri, Workers Party of Scotland Manifesto, Scottish Workers Republican Party Manifesto, The Scottish Separatist, The Scottish Marxist, Socialist Scotland, and a number of others. The SRSM on-line archives also provide excellent resources on the 1797 Insurrection, the 1820s Radicals and Thomas Muir, the Tartan Army, the suspicious death of Willie MacRae, and many other topics in the history of Scottish republican socialism.
The Scottish Socialist Party and its spin-off Solidarity (which now sub-titles itself "Scotland's Socialist Movement) remain active as well, both as active components of the "Yes" campaign for the Scottish independence referendum to be held in 2014 as well as on broader issues effecting Scottish workers. The Scottish Republican Socialist News is a Web site supporting the SRSM and broader Scottish republican socialist concerns. Saorsa and its periodical Spàirn appear to have emerged only to fade away again, sadly, as they represented a new Scottish republican socialist presence in the highland region. The Republican Communist Network is also still active as one of the platforms within the SSP. The renewal of an active presence for the IRSP in Scotland (IRSP Alba) should also be noted. All of the Scottish republican socialist groups mentioned are primarily active in supporting the "Yes" campaign, so it may seem unfortunate that the unity witnessed after the initial founding of the SSP has spawned so many different organizations, but the IRSN does not believe unification of all republican socialists in a given nation into a single organization is necessary, as long as the various organizations can avoid falling into sectarian sparring and instead demonstrate genuine solidarity with other activists engaged in the same struggle.
The election of Leanne Wood (who was once expelled from the Welsh assembly after calling the Queen, "Mrs. Windsor") as the leader of Plaid Cymru represented a definite left-turn for the largest party support Welsh independence. For some, her election to head the party provides support for the belief that Plaid Cymru can become a genuine Welsh Socialist Republican Party. The new party leader describe herself as both a republican and a socialist and said of the party she now heads, "Plaid Cymru has socialism in our aims, to create a decent socialist world. That's the direction we are going to continue in."
That said, this has not been a good period for Plaid. The party had been governing in coalition with Labour, but during the last assembly election Labour won half of the assembly's 60 seats and set up a minority government. Wales is in serious economic decline and, separated from the UK, would be the second poorest country in western Europe after Portugal. The per capita income in Wales compares unfavourably with that of Greece.
The Welsh Socialist Republican Movement was formed in 1979-80, but was short-lived. After its collapse, some leading members joined the Communist Party, while others returned to Plaid Cymru, however, its core survived and continued to publish Y Faner Goch (The Red Flag) and then transformed themselves into Cymru Goch (Red Wales) in the late 1980s. Cymru Goch survived another 20 years, continuing the publication of Y Faner Goch until 2003 and establishing the Red Poets' Society, an annual poetry magazine that is active today. Since that time, members of Cymru Goch re-entered Plaid, after efforts to launch a new party failed to gain traction. A long-time comrade of the IRSN is among those who have subsequently been elected to council seats for Plaid Cymru.
"The Great Unrest 2012 Organizing Group for A Welsh Socialist Republican Party" emerged this year with a call to convene a Welsh Socialist Republican Congress in June 2012, but the call produced little in the way of results. From the perspective of the IRSN, it remains uncertain whether Plaid Cymru can be transformed into a republican socialist organization, but we support Leanne Wood's faction within the party having advanced to its leadership and support the revolutionary socialists within the party.
The Way Forward
The world has come to look very different, as we have entered the 21st Century. The once narrow stream of republican socialism in the nations sketched above has grown and divided into many streams all coursing towards the objective of socialism through national liberation. The question, however, is whether this development has lead to the republican socialist current having cut a deeper channel for itself?
Given the severity of the economic crisis of capitalism around the globe and the drive for austerity underway throughout Europe and North America, the immediacy of the need to directly challenge the continued existence of the capitalist system could not be greater and yet in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Mann, Brittany, Catalonia, Euzkadi, Puerto Rico, and Quebec most republican socialist organizations and activists have largely focused their efforts into work for independence campaigns without real emphasis on the specific need to obtain national liberation through the creation of workers' republics. As the movements in Scotland and Catalonia have begun to appear finally capable of mobilizing majority support for independence, many republican socialists appear to have forgotten the entire reason for their distinct organizations having been formed in the first place. The International Republican Socialist Network remind our comrades in those two nations, as well as all of those discussed, that national liberation is not obtainable in any meaningful sense for working people, other than through the toppling of capitalism and the creation of independent workers' republics. The era of globalization has rendered the possibility of a national bourgeoisie capable of challenging the interests of imperialism impossibility; if capitalism remains, national liberation is unobtainable.
Moreover, a certain naiveté appears to have swept through the republican socialist tendency in many of the nations discussed. There is no evidence that either Scottish or Catalan activists have recognized that neither Britain nor Spain is likely to simply accept the result of a referendum favoring national independence. Britain's entire nuclear arsenal is based on Scottish soil and all of the North Sea oil wealth lies in Scottish waters, does anyone actually believe that that the British government will simply remove its bases or relinquish its hold on that petroleum wealth because a majority of Scots vote for independence? Likewise, should we believe that the same Spanish state that has brutally suppressed the Basque's aspirations for independence for decades will simply walk away from wealthy Catalonia amidst the crisis of Spanish capitalism, if its people vote for independence? Does anyone believe that the predominate nationalist parties in Scotland and Catalonia, the Scottish Nationalist Party and Convergencia i Unio, are prepared to actually fight for independence? For that matter, would the Scottish Socialist Party and Catalan Republican Left be prepared to fight for independence? So, why is there such boundless enthusiasm for these efforts to vote ones way to independence?
Republican socialist activists in both of these nations, as well as the other nations discussed, must begin to forcefully put forward the reasons why national independence can only be achieved in any meaningful way through the creation of workers' republics and efforts should be underway to prepare for armed confrontation with the British and Spanish states. This is not an advocacy for immediately (and, in our view, prematurely) adopting the tactic of armed struggle in these two arenas; it is a simple recognition that the British and Spanish ruling classes will be prepared to use physical force to retain the controls that matter to them over Scottish and Catalan territory and that this requires a preparedness to meet such tactics with a response in kind. Moreover, it is a reiteration of the understanding that the capitalist ruling class stands ever prepared to use armed force to maintain its domination of the working class and that this necessitates that revolutionaries committed to the struggle to restructure society in the interests of working people be prepared to defend those interests by yielding similar force of arms.
In Ireland, Quebec, Puerto Rico, Brittany, and elsewhere, republican socialists must remain mindful that participation in electoral politics, like participation in armed struggle, is not a question of principle, but a question of tactics. Intervention in either arena should only be undertaken when it serves the interests of the revolutionary movement. There can be no parliamentary, nor guerilla, road to socialism. Socialism can only be achieved through mass revolutionary action and it remains true that the working class's greatest power is exercised at the point of production—it is the capacity of the working class to bring the system of capitalist production to a halt that provides workers with their greatest weapon against the ruling class; but this requires the ability to move beyond simple trade union actions to the wielding of organization in the work place as a weapon of revolutionary action.
Finally, the IRSN advocates to republican socialist revolutionaries throughout the world that they liberate themselves from the shackles imposed by the Leninist model. Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and John MacLean, those great historical figures of the republican socialist tendency, all shared an orientation towards what has come to be called Council Communism, even if they did not employ the term. Both Larkin and MacLean lived long enough to demonstrate their support for the Communist Workers' International convened by Dutch council communist Hermann Gorter and Connolly's participation in the Socialist Labor Party and Industrial Workers of the World signaled this same orientation. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of the People's Republic of China into the capitalist sweat-shop of the world have provided ample cause to reexamine the debates within the international revolutionary socialist movement between the Bolsheviks and the Council Communists and it is long over-due that contemporary activists come to recognize that the tactics and organizational structures developed by Lenin and his party for use in the backward hinterland of Russia are ill-suited to the working class in highly developed capitalist nations. The tired debate between Trotskyists and Maoists must be transcended, but so too must the reactive rejection of Marxism in favor of anarchism that has often followed disillusionment with the caricature of communism created by the Russian and Chinese revolutions. What is necessary is the rediscovery of the revolutionary current that presented itself during the first two decades of the 20th Century, but was actively crushed by the Bolsheviks thereafter. Only a view of socialist struggle rooted in the reality of the working class in highly developed capitalist nations offers a means of challenging the continued existence of the system of capitalism.
Comrade, International Republican Socialist Network
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- International Republican Socialism – 2013
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