Class, Nation and Socialism

Issue section: 
(388)

Edited by Pauline Bryan and Tommy Kane, Red Paper Collective, £7.99

Class, Nation and Socialism represents the third Red Paper on Scotland and, following the previous volumes, charts both the failings of the country's capitalist development and the potential for an alternative economic strategy.

As such it provides valuable detail of the extent of social inequality, poor housing, health and welfare that will be of interest to socialists, trade unionists and activists.

Written in short pieces by 25 authors from across the working class movement - including an MP, an MEP, a councillor, full-time trade union officials and those involved in NGOs and academia - the book is divided into sections on the economy, government, ownership, class and political challenge.

The key point the book seeks to address, but is in fact missing from many of the specific chapters, is the role of independence. Instead John Foster and Richard Leonard rehearse a traditional argument that Scottish capitalism has been structurally under-developed due to foreign ownership, a lack of indigenous manufacturing capital and an over-emphasis on financial capital.

This is a contemporary version of the Nairn/Anderson thesis suggesting that the Scottish bourgeois revolution is still to be completed. Most readers will recognise this argument in relation to the failings of British capitalism and the dominance of the City of London.

When applied to Scotland, however, this means that it was "English" capitalism that proved to be more dynamic than Scottish capitalism, and the union represented the subordination of the Scottish ruling class to a wider British ruling class.

Surprisingly perhaps the logic of this viewpoint - that independence could "complete" the bourgeois revolution - is not followed through. Instead the authors argue that independence would "break the class unity of working people across the nations of Britain without breaking the chains of economic control that bind them".

The reason for this disjuncture between the theoretical underpinnings of the book and the conclusions is that the authors' interpretation of "class" is more accurately identified as "parliament".

Class struggle is not a focus unless it demonstrates the need for political change or provides a mechanism for the parliamentary reforms to be instituted.

For it is in parliamentary change rather than class struggle that reforms are to be achieved. Independence in this sense means an inability to see the Westminster parliament to achieve reforms, and therefore independence should be opposed.

Indeed, the co-operative movement is held up as a model of alternative economic development, with Spain identified as providing examples of such successful structures.

While it would be unfair to criticise a book for events that occurred since its publication, it is nevertheless worth considering how the union defeat at Grangemouth oil refinery and the collapse of the Co-operative Bank fairs in terms of the arguments contained within the book.

Neither the nationalisation of Grangemouth nor the continuation of the mutual model of banking would have been possible without raising the level of class struggle.

In the section on Political Challenge, it is military defence, Europe and constitutional change rather than building a fight back to austerity that is the focus of attention.

Socialists involved in the independence debates over the next nine months need to draw out the arguments of class above that of nation.

But if class is identified as parliament (and even more so the Westminster parliament) the opportunity to challenge the SNP's nationalist arguments contained within the independence movement will be lost.