In the past, I have alluded to, but rarely directly discussed, the importance of a correct line on the national question for Marxist-Leninists in any country. Because bourgeois democracy continues to provide some checks and balances in imperialist countries like the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and several other English-speaking countries where my blog might be read, the right to espouse “secessionist” views for minority nationalities is more or less protected. Because of this, many radicals don’t see the revolutionary potential in national movements in their own countries. This is a grave mistake. By the same reasoning, imperialist extraction of super-profits make it so that the bourgeois state does not regard union organisers in these same countries as an immediate existential threat, and indeed, by the same reasoning the labour aristocracy in charge of the unions is able to take a weak stance because it does not view the communists as a force among the masses. We must not deal with politics with our eyes trained only to what makes us look radical at present, but to our long-term goals*.
Two faces well-known on the Left in Britain, Harpal Brar, the Chairman of the CPGB-ML, and George Galloway, the most famous figure associated with the Respect Party, are extremely fond of posturing as radicals, occasionally together. Both defend various states which find themselves in conflict with UK and US imperialism, provoking the expected shrill cries of the Trotskyites and liberals. Additionally, Harpal Brar is well-known for his vigorous defence of Comrade Stalin, something which makes him popular by default with foreign “Stalinists”.
But what are their stances on “internal issues” of British politics, such as the national question?
Both of them uphold the correct line on the North of Ireland, condemning the British presence there as imposed to cement imperialist interests and contrary to the national aspirations of the Irish people. But such a stance is hardly controversial in the British Left. Indeed, it is expected.
Brar and his CPGB-ML take a stance on Wales and Scotland which runs totally contrary to the Leninist position on the national question. This is especially striking given their strong association with a defence of Stalin, who was responsible for the work “Marxism and the National Question”, the authoritative Marxist-Leninist answer to this question to this day**.
What is the CPGB-ML’s “Marxist” explanation for their patriotic defence of the maintenance of the bourgeois AND imperialist British state’s present borders on the island of Great Britain? It can essentially be boiled down to two parts, one of which refutes the other. Firstly: There are no such nations to begin with, as the bourgeoisies of Scotland, Wales, and England are unified. Secondly: The demands for greater cultural autonomy or independence are being pushed by the bourgeoisie (in Scotland and Wales?). The Scottish bourgeoisie is apparently simultaneously so totally unified in its interests with the English bourgeoisie as to present no contradictions between the two, but somehow also has contrary economic interests which may be pursued through a campaign for national independence!
The CPGB-ML’s stance on Wales stands in opposition with the views of almost the entire population of Wales. The CPGB-ML holds that the Welsh are more or less “British” in national character and are unified with other “British” people in speaking English. The majority of Wales’s population, bourgeois and proletarian, conceives of itself as having a separate Welsh national character, and considers its own language to be Welsh (even if British rule has beaten back the predominantly Welsh-speaking territory somewhat, the majority of Welsh certainly regard all attempts towards the restoration of their national language positively). Regardless of the questions of how to relate to Plaid Cymru or the Welsh Maoists’ attempts at building a Welsh Socialist Republican Party and Congress, there is a Welsh nation with its own Welsh language and territory, and this fact must be reflected in our politics, whether in Wales or in England.
There are both similarites and differences between the Welsh and Scottish cases. Similar to the Welsh, the majority of Scottish people still hold on to a specifically “Scottish” national identity. Whether or not they were “colonised” the way Ireland was is irrelevant: There is a separate nation, from the proletariat up to at least a certain section of the bourgeoisie (the national bourgeoisie, if you will), as evidenced by the bid for independence, which failed after the fanatical Better Together campaign by the Scottish wings of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories, and apparently approved of by the CPGB-ML!
It is however worth noting that unlike in the case of Wales, the people in Scotland are divided about a key feature of their national identity: Their language. In the Highlands, Gaelic traditionally predominated, and is having difficulty reasserting itself in part because of the Lowlands traditional use of Scots, which, being mutually comprehensible or close to mutually comprehensible with English, dilutes the strength of a campaign against English’s hegemony over all of Scotland. Could Scotland itself contain multiple nations? Perhaps. But even if there is an oppressed Gaelic nation within Scotland after independence, this independence would be a step forward, as it would qualitatively change the dynamics in the relationship between Scots and Gaelic.
But Harpal Brar and his CPGB-ML avoid all such questions, choosing to disregard the still-living languages of Great Britain entirely and insisting that all of Great Britain is one territory with one language and one people, claiming that the continuing unity of the bourgeoisies of Great Britain will bring about a greater unity of the peoples of Great Britain in struggle, and will hasten a socialist revolution (one which itself will apparently continue the trampling on the Welsh language in the name of unity of the now-socialist “British nation”!).
George Galloway praises Irish resistance to Britain, but, as an open reformist who does not even pretend to be guided by Marxism-Leninism, he does not need to prove that Scotland is not a nation. When the question of Scottish independence was raised, he informed us that the Scottish should continue to “choose” to be united with the English, that rather than splitting off from Britain, the Scottish ought to look to the EU to build a brighter future for Britain (why the Irish in the North cannot simply accept partition and live happily through the EU’s beneficence is not explained).
Fast forward to 2016:
Mocking Galloway’s inconsistency is almost too easy. But I do so to point something out: Like Galloway, the CPGB-ML seem to see salvation for the Scottish and Welsh peoples only within the borders of the current British state (minus the North of Ireland). Unlike Galloway, the CPGB-ML consistantly has said that the EU is an imperialist and bourgeois project (although just about anyone who follows Lenin could tell you that). But do they realise that the UK is an imperialist and bourgeois state?
We cannot tolerate the CPGB-ML’s lies about the non-existence of a Welsh nation on principle. But even ignoring principle, if the CPGB-ML’s members really seek to overthrow the British state (which I do not assume to be the case for all of them), do they not see that the panic of “their own” imperialist bourgeoisie during the Scottish independence referendum indicated the danger that Scottish and Welsh political identity pose to the bourgeoisie and the imperialists? Or do they subscribe to the Kautskyite view that inter-imperialist contradictions are of no consequence?
But we should expect nothing from the CPGB-ML, which is virtually silent on the national democratic revolution led by the progressive PYD, allied with real revolutionary Marxists in Turkey and Kurdistan, while breathlessly cheering on the Baathist regime in Syria, allied only with revisionist parties and defensible only against the pro-imperialist jihadist forces which, to their credit, the CPGB-ML do rightly condemn.
For internationalism, Marxist-Leninists in Britain, and in England in particular, cannot look to the CPGB-ML, with its infantile grasp of Lenin’s revolutionary writings and sensationalist attempts to insert itself into the political picture only to condemn everything which exists as a reformist trap. In all likelihood, a new organisation may have to be built.
It is my personal hope that the comrades of Red London, who have made contact with ICOR, the premiere international Marxist-Leninist organisation of our time, will attempt to learn from ICOR member organisations and reach out to others in Britain of like mind to begin the construction of a new revolutionary organisation for Britain. If any Red London comrades are reading this, I hope that they will consult the writings of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor (USA), the only ICOR member from a predominantly English-speaking country (unless South Africa is included), for a model of how to build a Leninist organisation in an imperialist English-speaking country. In particular they should note the importance that must be placed, especially in imperialist countries, on weakening the bourgeoisie’s power over the masses by calling attention to and building up resistance of minority nationalities, who, once they become nationally conscious, gain a special progressive potential in resisting the propaganda of the bourgeoisie of the dominant nationality. As Red London comrades know, organisations in ICOR take very seriously the cause of national liberation as part of their internationalist practice, unlike the patriotic “Stalinists” of the CPGB-ML.
Workers of the world – unite!
Gweithwyr y byd – unwch!
Wirkers o the warld – unite!
Obraichean den t-saoghail – tig còmhla!
*It is also for this reason that communists even in bourgeois democracies would do well to practise a certain amount of secrecy, in view of the long-term potential for the rise of fascism and the curtailing of bourgeois democratic rights.
**Indeed, it is so authoritative that even the Trotskyites feel the need to appropriate it. Isaac Deutscher famously claimed, based on nothing but his own irrational hatred of Comrade Stalin, that Stalin could not have penned such a work. The absurdity of such a claim aside, many Trotskyites follow Deutscher in claiming that Stalin was not the true author of the work, using this unfounded conspiracy theory to rationalise their own lip-service (not practical adherence) to the line espoused within.