Address to Republican Socialists

 

For the party of democracy and social justice

 

Dear comrades,

 

In 2014 the Scottish people had the opportunity to break the mould of British politics. Forty five percent voted to leave the Westminster system. The historic moment in which the people began to lever open a more democratic future came and went. The majority, who voted ‘No’, gave victory to the conservative political Establishment at Westminster and denied themselves a democratic future.

 

Cameron’s government survived but only just. But the Unionist victory has not ended the crisis of Westminster ‘democracy’. The general election will confirm this. Republican socialists have to reflect on the lessons from the massive popular mobilisation that shook the Westminster establishment and apply them to reshaping working class politics over the next year or more. The general election is a golden opportunity for republican socialists to put those lessons before the people. We in England have to nail our colours (Red, Violet and Green) to the mast by standing at least one candidate.

 

The ‘forty five percent’, led by working class voters and activists in Glasgow and Dundee, rejected the Westminster system. Many people in the rest of the country feel the same for good reason. The Westminster system, and constitutional arrangements which the Crown-in-Parliament embodies, is not democratic. It is little more than a facade for unaccountable bureaucracy. Behind the screen of official secrecy, government is conducted by an oligarchy in the name of the Crown. Political power is corrupted in the service of the City of London and the major corporations.

 

Without radical democratic change power will remain out of reach. Politics will continue to disappoint, dash hopes, fail the people and prove incapable of securing social justice. The Scottish people came close to breaking the mould and freeing their democratic energy. They did this not by electing Westminster MPs, but by using the opportunity presented by the referendum for popular mobilisation in every city, town or village. Scotland took the first steps on the road to democratic revolution.

 

For three hundred years the British constitution has been infinitely flexible and resistant to democratic change. It has minimised the influence of the working class in the political life of the country. It has kept the people divided. It has had a remarkable capacity to incorporate, neutralise or suppress struggles for democratic change. Now ending the Union would have enabled the democratic revolution to grow and spread. It is the political mobilisation of millions outside parliament that is decisive.

 

Ireland has its own long experience of democratic revolution. Since the early 1970s republicans and socialists fought to break out of the British constitutional jailhouse. Without denying the effectiveness of their struggles, and sacrifices so many made, the republican movement was defeated by the incorporation of Sinn Fein/IRA into the very structures they fought against. The lessons from Ireland are part of a republican socialist perspective.

 

Over the last decade the front line of opposition to Unionism shifted to Scotland. This trend has grown with the economic and banking crisis of 2008 and the imposition of austerity by the Westminster establishment (Tory, Liberal Democrats and Labour). Austerity politics, “we are all in it together”, steadily reveals the corruption at the heart of the Westminster pantomime. Yet the hope of a democratic alternative has been encouraged by the international Occupy movement, the ‘Arab Spring’ and the demands for democracy in Catalonia, Spain and Greece.

 

The referendum was the moment when the Scottish people could record their level of alienation from the Westminster system. At the same time the Yes campaign had significant support amongst working class people in England and Wales despite the efforts of the national press to deny or avoid reporting it. The more people saw the reaction of Westminster politicians the more they felt sympathy with the Yes case.

 

The 2015 general election is a time to take the political lessons from Scotland and apply them to the rest of the country. In Scotland working class opposition to Tory austerity policies took the political form of a rejection of Westminster government and the Act of Union. During the campaign a growing number began to think that a different system of government and constitution was possible and necessary. The involvement of people in a national debate over the future Scotland and the mobilisation of the voters turned Scotland onto the path of democratic revolution. The politics of the advanced part of the Scottish working class, represented in the Radical Independence Campaign, must be generalised.

 

Republican socialists are not simply following in the wake of Scotland’s nascent democratic revolution, trying to jump on a popular band wagon. We have our own definite aims. We are fighting to establish a democratic secular and social republic. Social rights not just democratic rights will be written into the new constitution (or “Agreement of the People”). Of course the exact nature of a social republic will be decided in practice by popular struggles.

 

In January 1649 England was declared a ‘Commonwealth’. It was destroyed by Cromwell’s counter-revolution. Yet it remains an historic marker for democratic revolution and an inspiration for today. Our aim is a true Commonwealth for the 21st century. This is not something imposed on the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. On the contrary, the democratic principle of national self determination must be at the heart of what we do. The working class of England want close and friendly/comradely relations with the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales – a voluntary relationship based on the sovereignty of the peoples.

 

Republican socialists in England have not given up our opposition to the Acts of Union just because of a No majority. Our opposition to the Acts of Union does not depend on having a ‘live’ referendum. It is a matter of democratic principle, standing alongside opposition to the House of Lords or the monarchy. In this sense the border does not divide republican socialist policy in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. On the contrary we are united by our internationalism.

 

The No vote was a set back in Scotland. But it is far from fatal as the growing membership of the SNP, the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party has shown. The No vote enabled the Tories and UKIP to seize the political initiative. ‘English votes for English laws’ became the mantra of the right. It is not a time to go into hiding. We have to come out with a different solution to the lack of democracy in England.

 

Finally we have the party question. Scotland provides us with another vital lesson. The Radical Independence Campaign was a movement not a party. Whilst this was a huge step forward it presents a problem as soon as elections approach. RIC cannot become a party without self destruction. Nevertheless there needs to be a ‘RIC party’ standing outside and independent of the RIC movement. This party has a vital task of presenting a working class political alternative. Without it the Scottish working class will be drawn towards the pro-capitalist SNP.

 

Republican socialists recognise the need for a working class party with a base amongst workers in England, Ireland Scotland and Wales. We need a new kind of party - a party of democracy and social justice - able to build a broader movement like the Chartists did in the 19th century and RIC did in 2014. It has to be an anti-Unionist party which fights for republican and socialist policies. It has to stand against the policies of the British Labour Party and the Scottish National Party and reject the ideologies of Labourism and nationalism.

 

The general election is a time to put our ideas to the working class and make the case for a new kind of party. It is not a time to be waiting around for something to turn up in the future. It is time to take political action. This is difficult because we do not have a party. Republican socialists are in different organisations or none. Nevertheless we have to take a step forward from where we are. Ideally we should stand four candidates, one each in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. [Unfortunately we do not have a party registration for Northern Ireland]. But one candidate is an absolute minimum.

 

How much progress we will make in 2015 depends on what we do now in this election. You can help republican socialism in the next six weeks by expressing support for my campaign, raising money, holding meetings, circulating leaflets, promoting our republican flag, or using social media. Let us fight together and we can change the trajectory of socialist and working class politics for ever. Onward and upward!

 

Steve Freeman

Republican Socialist candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

email: steve@republicansocialists.org.uk

Website: http://www.republicansocialists.org.uk

 

A PDF of this document is available for download PDF   Here

 

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