Marx, Modernity and Makeovers: What Next For the Scottish Left?

2015-08-17-1439818732-8880646-slp-thumbLike many others across Scotland, it was the energy of the referendum that enticed me into engaging actively in politics. Throughout the Yes campaign trail and in the months leading up to the 18th September 2014: something special happened. Scotland became an astutely politicised nation – we witnessed a surge in participatory politics within those working class communities most affected by the current UK wide austerity agenda. Up and down the country, people who would once have been sat watching brainwash TV on a Wednesday night were suddenly holding political meetings and passionately engaging in debate with their peers. Formerly disenfranchised sections of society found hope – for a fairer, truly egalitarian system that lends a hand of support to those who are currently under attack from a network of elitism, corruption and inequality.

The referendum changed our political landscape for good – and those who were detached from the enthusiasm and vibrancy of Yes found themselves not only struggling to understand it; but they were quite terrified by it. “Working people aren’t supposed to be politicised! What is going on up there?” The ruling class completely freaked out; Westminster politicians were dispatched en masse to save the union (they suddenly cared, it seemed), an army of vicious mainstream journalists began to tear apart all things Scottish, Cameron and his troupe of banker buddies began shouting about economic crises, mortgage hikes and armageddon. In short; the people of Scotland suddenly woke up and began to collectively mobilise for some serious change, the elites got a fright and used everything they could to crush a momentum. I’m sure if Boris Johnson’s water canon could have reached George Square on the eve of the referendum result – they’d have probably tried to drown us too.

Whilst I could write all day about the role that a conspiring gang of elitist thugs and their sidekicks played in disturbing the democratic process during an important referendum: I won’t, because that’s almost as bad as constantly whining about a relationship that ended years ago. It happened, it’s done – it’s time to look forward.

In that spirit: there’s something else that happened in Scotland over the past couple of years. Left wing arguments suddenly became popular and socialism started its comeback. Whilst they’ve reaped much of the benefit: this initially wasn’t the handiwork of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – they weren’t talking about social justice, food banks or austerity at the beginning of the Yes campaign. It was grassroots groups such as Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and their mass canvases that really threw Leftist principles and arguments into the mix. In engaging working class communities across the country, teams of activists managed to mobilise the disillusioned. All of a sudden; we were all angry that working families were visiting food banks, we couldn’t believe that we were still putting up with the Lords – and so many people suddenly became aware of their class, their position in society and their collective power.

But there’s a bit of a problem: the Yes campaign was undoubtedly Left natured – but many Yes voters wouldn’t (and still won’t) identify as socialist, for whatever reason. People like my Grandad, for example: total socialist – from values to views – but would never consider himself one: because he “isn’t a commie”. Most of my friends: all suddenly talking about social justice, inequality, class divides – blissfully unaware that they were using socialist rhetoric to argue the case for a Yes vote. By all accounts, and from my understanding of their political opinions – they are socialists, but that self identification didn’t come for them. You’d not see any of these people joining nor voting for a socialist party: but they share our values.

It became clear quite quickly for me that the Left needs to rebrand a little bit. Jump into modernity. Update our language, style, visuals. Think of it as a makeover. Can we move away from the fist? The overused little red stars? The aggressive, shouty speeches that have typified us for way too long? We won’t mobilise or engage the working class in Left wing politics by quoting the Communist Manifesto or insisting that people get angry and vote red.

I’ve been quite fortunate to get involved with a new venture that is attempting a fresh electoral alliance for the 2016 Holyrood elections. The Scottish Left Project (SLP) was born from the referendum, and many of the activists behind it are like minded, progressive, strong people who are serious about tapping into the momentum that Yes created and building a people’s movement from it. Everything about SLP is sleek, professional and trendy: its a breath of fresh air for the Scottish Left, and I’m very enthused by the stimulus here for a new style of politics. Meetings, dubbed “Policy Platforms”, have been held across the country – I’ve been to a few, and they’re exciting. A host of people are coming along with real issues and we’re collectively thinking of policy solutions. We’re offering an outlet with the Left Project for real people to get engaged in Scottish politics – a true people’s movement where we can collectively rise for a better future – and this is why it is so vitally importantthat we don’t start alienating people by shouting about modes of production and how Marx’s use of vampiric metaphors in Das Kapital when describing capitalism is “quite clever: what do you think, comrade?”

Since the now notorious and still problematic drama of 2004-06, the Scottish Left hasn’t really got anywhere in an electoral sense. So let’s try something new. Let’s tap into that postmodern, exuberant, colourful, sleek, professional, trendy, youthful momentum that the referendum created: let’s identify that our political landscape has changed, inject some modernity into our argument and see where it takes us. My friend and partner in political activities, Liam, summed this entire thing up best for me when he said, after a few gins and a late night conversation about our new political era, that what the Scottish Left has to do is “nod to the past, but keep our eyes firmly fixed on the future”.

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  1. john young says:

    I always thought that the socialists should drop the “brothers this comrades that” I was for a short time a member of the ssp but found it a bit claustrophobic in thought and action,I go along with what you are hoping to achieve,conversation not confrontation,in holding these meetings you will I hope reach out to all members of society there is so much this country has to offer but we need free radical thinkers with a vision of a better future,dare I suggest getting the likes of mortgages/travel/energy e.t.c. under control and reduced in the amount people pay freeing up some much needed money for people to spend.

    1. Scott Macdonald says:

      The SSP’s programme is almost exactly as you stated. Housing, energy, transport.

      “We should be spearheading an ambitious home-building programme, because it not only reduces the social housing waiting list, it creates skilled jobs and means less public money wasted on private landlords.

      We should be investing in sustainable energy and a fully comprehensive, free public transport system, not building nuclear power stations and motorways.” – https://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/policies/

      Bread and butter socialist ideas. And we can and should fight for them, because we can win them.

  2. Clive Scott says:

    I have supported/voted SNP since turning 18 in 1968 and have moved steadily from the right to fairly left wing social democrat as the decades have rolled by. What troubles me about “the left” is the nonsense from the seventies and power crazed union leaders in many cases leading “the workers” and their industries to oblivion. From an Independence supporting point of view I get irritated with assorted splinter groups purporting to support YES who get picky about this or that SNP policy rather than getting over themselves and vote SNP at every opportunity until Independence is achieved.

    1. Campbell McNab says:

      I a agree, go for the main objective, otherwise it will never be realised.

      Splitting the pro independence voice ensures the union persists.

      The SNP are credible, tested, trusted, steer clear of the extremes and occupy a moderate left of centre position.

      This is the position to strike for independence. Once independence is achieved then the people can decide where to next. Until independence is achieved, the English people by sheer numbers decide for us where to next.

      A movement divided will never succeed!

    2. cyril mitchell says:

      Absolutely agree. Let us all remain united and get independence first then splinter off if we wish. Splntering off now is only going to water down the goal of independence.

  3. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I would like to see a real party of the left; not on of many splinters; not trying to recreate the communist party but a group that believes business has to make a profit but the workers need a fair deal and owners and CEOs of companies take or get paid no more than a good multiple of the lowest paid employee.

    The present system is about exploitation without any regard to what is reasonable. If the SLP if it can form a cohesive group that avoids the old “free beer for all the workers” rhetoric, I’d be happy to vote for that sort of party on the list while still voting SNP for my constituency.

  4. Alan says:

    “…and this is why it is so vitally important that we don’t start alienating people by shouting about modes of production and how Marx’s use of vampiric metaphors in Das Kapital when describing capitalism is “quite clever: what do you think, comrade?””

    I’d have to agree with you given that I’m one who supports Scottish independence and is vehemently opposed to neoliberalism (better characterized as anti-liberalism, in my opinion) but is equally certain that socialism isn’t the answer. The Scottish Left could do worse than give a nod to the Scottish past by taking the moral philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment seriously, in particular the writings of Smith and Hume, bearing in mind that Smith’s arguments have been widely misrepresented by modern economists and politicians to promote their own nasty ideological purposes. Much of Smith’s trenchant critique of mercantilism and the politics of his day is equally applicable to the corrupt economic policies of the current British state.

  5. john young says:

    Socialism should be about everybody contributing,nobody who is of a healthy body/mind should expect their share without 100% contribution.

  6. Frank says:

    I regularly read articles about socialism which talks about a need to ‘rebrand’, or ‘reinvent’, to stop using class, even to stop referring to arcane Marxist phraseology – the socialist left has been exploring these themes for the best part of three decades now. But the focus on style, on language, partly influenced by the post-modern critique, and without doubt the experience of Communism – is superficial. The socialist left’s crisis is deeper. For example, socialism, as conceived by Marx required an agent – the working class, yet that agent failed to harbour in a new era. Moreover, neo-liberal reforms have resulted in a deep penetration of the human psyche of market values and practices. The market economy is now a market society. Foucault, once wrote that just as a fish cannot live outside of water, Marxism cannot live outside of the 19th century. There is a lot in this. I guess what I’m saying is that the crisis of socialism runs far deeper than mere rebranding.

    1. Alan says:

      Quite so. Neoliberalism long ago out-flanked both socialism and Marxism. Foucault’s 1970s and early 1980s work, especially The Birth of Biopolitics, is the entry point into the most significant current critiques of neoliberalism. This was work that developed out a dissatisfaction with the French Left and Marxist analysis as it existed in the 1960s. For a recent short and accessible discussion of some of this work see Foucault, Weber and Neoliberal Governmentality. For recent critiques that use Foucault as a key point of reference see for example Mirowski and Harcourt.

      1. Frank says:

        Hi Alan,

        Thanks for these links. Foucault’s The Birth of Bio-politics is one of those books which I can genuinely say changed the way I think about the world. Dardot and Laval’s 2013 book On Neo-Liberal Society, is also worth a read. Again, thanks for the links.

        1. Alan says:

          Yes, it changed my thinking about the world as well. The earlier volume, Security, Territory, Population, is also worth reading, especially the first 3 chapters, for insights into surveillance practices which are different from those described in Discipline and Punish. I haven’t read the Dardot other Laval book yet but it is on my list. Thanks.

  7. muttley79 says:

    In that spirit: there’s something else that happened in Scotland over the past couple of years. Left wing arguments suddenly became popular and socialism started its comeback. Whilst they’ve reaped much of the benefit: this initially wasn’t the handiwork of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – they weren’t talking about social justice, food banks or austerity at the beginning of the Yes campaign.

    The SNP have campaigned for decades upon decades for independence. It is laughable that some people believe that the independence referendum was not their handiwork. News flash: the SNP delivered the referendum with their massive victory in 2011.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      And RIC went into the Schemes and woke the people up and gave them reasons to get registered, we all carried registration packs and frequently ran out on canvasses. We sold the people on a fairer, more equitable Scotland where the people matter. We were the ones who provided the SNP with reasons to vote Yes beyond the operational. And we gave them a constituency.

      It was those people who formed much of the mass of extra votes for the SNP in the GE. Yet the SNP constantly deny history and try to airbrush us out of it. Well we are still here and we are not going quietly. Last RIC meeting here in Dundee we had someone like you, first time there, no idea of all this who said we should not criticise the SNP. Well I’m not in the SNP and so I’m perfectly free to criticise them and I’m not having her or you telling me that I and the others in RIC did not do what we did. I spent a day inside one of the panda suits for RIC, I sweated for Yes and you are not going to deny that, or anyone else.

      BTW the get the vote out campaign on the 18th was witless. In the morning with service entry buttons working in multis a car load of us were send to a leafy suburb with long driveways to large houses with three cars to wonder if anyone needed help getting to the polling station. We got 97% voter registration but only 84% voted. Partly because there was too much euphoria and many thought it was in the bag as a result but also because nobody reminded many of them to vote. Nobody chapped their doors in the multis, there were no loudspeaker vans driving around the schemes urging people to vote. Because the SNP was a middle class party and they ran the get the vote out like an election campaign.

      Next referendum I’m going to push for RIC to run their own get the vote out campaign. It’s too important to leave it to the SNP.

  8. Will says:

    The way I see it is the SNP is the bus driving towards Independence onboard are the the passengers and they are different people of all poitical persuasions the thing they all have in common is they are all getting of at the last stop which is independence. After arriving at Independence the passengers notice a new landscape and they go their separate ways, politics is different and new in Independence but one thing is constant the great progressive work of the SNP continues.

  9. Fran says:

    We need the Scottish Left as long as the SNP are entertaining the likes of TTIP. Our independent Scotland wouldn’t have much independence.

    1. Campbell McNab says:

      I don’t understand this argument, it’s the argument ukip used regarding Scottish independence and Scots wishing to remain in the EU.

      Will the French, Danes or Austrians not have much independence under TTIP as you suggest a Scotland wouldn’t?

      Of course they will be independent and they have the sovereign right to remain, renegotiate terms or leave, they are sovereign.

      Scotland under the uk, has no option other than to do as the uk does, Scotland follows, not leads.

      TTIP, EU, UN, NATO or Commonwealth, not an exhaustive list, are examples of international organisations or alliances “independent countries” can join or leave. TTIP is but one of many, currently we will go in regardless of Scots opinion.

      So back to my point above, obtain independence and then you can pick and choose what clubs you join. But don”t suggest we we wouldn’t be better of independent and in TTIP, as this position suggests we should support the status quo, remain under ritish rule and never have the gumption or confidence to make decisions for ourselves.

      Independence is the foundation for freedom, union is a constraint.

  10. Will says:

    When I think about what next for the Scottish Left it makes me want to dig out my book about Jimmy Reid and It makes me think that’s what we need loads and loads of Jimmy Reid’s great man of the left and a great supporter of Scottish Independence. Jimmy I salute you.

  11. Flower of Scotland says:

    Just read your article and was debating on the Facebook page. I asked some to read your article and copied over some replies as examples of us all working together.
    I have never been abusive on Facebook, in my life. However there has been some debate about tactical voting and differing views.

    It’s absolutely outrageous that they have banned me for having an opinion. I contributed to your crowdfunder and have been a member of Bella for a long time now. The administrators on your Facebook page are going to put people off a Independence site that is absolutely essential to the people of Scotland.
    I’m furious!

    1. Will says:

      Its a shame that that you have been upset I don’t know what happened but maybe you are a wee bit too sensitive, this online communication lark can sometime be taken the wrong way it’s not the same as talking anyway have a cup of tea and I hope you might feel better.

      1. Flower of Scotland says:

        Will.

        I am upset because Bella Facebook banned me ( meaning that they have unfriended me) for putting up another opinion. I have never been abusive in my life. I thought we were having a decent debate, but obviously some did not.
        I have donated on this site and was bewildered by their attitude!

        1. Will says:

          Flower, I have not been on facebook and don’t know why you have been unfriended but everybody should be able to have their say even if you don’t agree with them providing it is not over the top and offensive. If your comments were not offensive then I don’t think you should have been chucked of the site that’s not fair, is there anyway you can contact whoever monitors the workings of the site to find out what’s going on. I think that when Scotland becomes Independent you won’t have any bother as everybody will be very happy at least I will be and who knows maybe you too good luck.

  12. john young says:

    Left/right /centre political parties,why do we need the political agendas?we are a small nation of 5mill souls that have huge resources/potential not least the people,political parties of the above always finish up hidebound/hogtied by party ideology/agendas though in NS I would imagine “this lady is for changing” she will I think listen and that is a huge plus,we should all be pulling to-gether for the betterment of all who live and work in this country,I favour an elected assembly drawn from all walks of life radical/free thinking inovators,I would favour the nationalisation of our utilities that would help and encourage businesses to grow and employ more people by reducing cost,I would favour a much easier cheaper housing market instead of stiffling young people financially,whether these ideas are airy/fairy or not,they could be discussed in an open forum and decided upon,isn,t that true democracy?.

  13. John says:

    “In that spirit: there’s something else that happened in Scotland over the past couple of years. Left wing arguments suddenly became popular and socialism started its comeback. Whilst they’ve reaped much of the benefit: this initially wasn’t the handiwork of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – they weren’t talking about social justice, food banks or austerity at the beginning of the Yes campaign.”

    Is it really THAT important who gets the credit for these ideas? Maybe if you stopped the pointless SNP bad rhetoric you might not “need to rebrand a little bit”.

    Whether you like it or not we all need the SNP to help us get independence. And once we do you will at least have a chance of getting some of your ideas implemented in a new Scotland.

    1. Will says:

      I agree who does what where when etc does not matter it is a common cause Independence so let’s just get there first and then have a conflab.

      1. Broadbield says:

        “they [SNP] weren’t talking about social justice, food banks or austerity at the beginning of the Yes campaign.” No, I think they were talking about Independence. I’m a little suspicious about claims from the left to have contributed substantially to creating the Yes vote and then going on to berate the SNP for not being left enough. The SNP are a rainbow coalition whose raison d’etre is to achieve Scottish Independence. They have (perhaps unexpectedly) formed the Scottish Government for the past few years and have had to develop policies and function as an executive with both hands tied behind their backs.

        Once we have Independence we can then decide whether to continue supporting them, depending on their manifesto. But what of the 3 Unionist parties under Independence, whither them? Will Labour ever again be Socialist? Will there be a credible Socialist alternative that would achieve majority electoral support? However, I’m pretty certain of one thing, until we get Independence there will never be any socialism in this country under the UK parties.

        The tragedy of the current slavish fashion for neoliberalism is that it is founded on nothing but dogma based on erroneous theory and the complete denial of contrary evidence. Socialism that followed Marx suffered the same problem. Blair “modernised” Labour by evisceration, removing any last vestige of Socialism.

        What the Left needs now is a visionary to create a new manifesto that will address the failures, inequities and iniquities of the neoliberal project and point the way forward, not by using tired cliches of the past, such as class, or doctrinaire ideology, but by showing how the principles of fairness, equity, social control of vital industries, free public services for all, progressive taxation, sharing of wealth etc can be implemented.

  14. Brian MacLeod says:

    Keep the principles and policies and call it the Humane Party

  15. Kimberley Cadden says:

    Whoa ‘muscleguy’ this anger is highly divisive and wholly unnecessary – if you are wondering what the biggest threat to the yes movement is – it’s this kind of mentality surely…..

    I am an SNP activist and everyone I have come across and everything I have heard from the SNP, including its politicians publicly, has been extremely complimentary and full of gratitude for all the hard work of all yes campaigners (I don’t just mean the official yes campaign – I mean all who campaigned for a yes vote). And I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t recognise and value the massive contribution RIC made, especially when it came to registering and encouraging those who hadn’t voted in years to get out on the day and make their voice heard.

    But this doesn’t negate the fact that without the SNP not only would the referendum never have happened, but without the majority SNP government doing their best too, we would never have got to 45%. I am not in the business of comparing contributions – for one it would be idiotic – but we should be clear the different parties/groups etc all made different and important contributions; yes we also made mistakes within that so lets learn from them rather than make them worse by bringing a divisive attitude.

    And we should note that the SNP has never tried to take full credit for the yes movement – quite to the contrary; the fact that so many groups sprung up and that the movement was about way more than the SNP, gave the movement itself far more credibility by revealing it was a genuine Scottish movement and not just an SNP exercise/project. Of course the SNP celebrated this.

    ‘Muttley79’ is right to highlight that the author’s comments about the SNP with re to austerity, social justice and food banks are plain wrong. The SNP have been actively campaigning against Osborne’s austerity since his first cuts were implemented (highlighting, among other things the disgraceful increase in use of foodbanks) and anyone with an internet connection and the ability to use a search bar function can visit the SNP website and quite easily qualify this for themselves. And the comment regarding social justice is just daft – this is not just a value inherent to the SNP but also to centre left social democracy; social justice arguments are anything but new for the SNP.

    I am sure the SLP won’t get people in the SNP arguing that they aren’t really socialists or indeed attempting to misrepresent their views and values (people I know in the SNP are much like myself and celebrate the emergence of other pro-indy parties of the left – I am especially excited at the prospect of an indy Scotland with lots of left voices in parliament); so seeing the lack of the same kind of solidarity with us, and with an increasing regularity from people in the SLP, is very disappointing to say the least. The author should remember that when you wrongly allege the SNP only became an anti austerity party after it became popular with yes supporters you belittle all the work that everyone within the SNP has done, including activists, on these issues for years now….this isn’t progressive on any measure…..

    Same goes for the point made by ‘muscleguy’ that the SNP were just taking middle class voters to polling stations. I have many friends who spent that whole day taking people to vote, people who all needed the help and wouldn’t have got there otherwise, so for you to misrepresent this just to be able to slag off the SNP is..well.. I’ll let you fill the rest in…..

    The author also seems to think that people who hold egalitarian values are basically socialists – when that isn’t the case. Social democrats have the same values, however where we mainly differ with socialists is when it comes to our views re how to best deal with capitalism.

    With that all said I will quietly hope for more solidarity, and that parties whose aim is to be progressive in policy will also be progressive in the way they practice their politics ….there are some wonderful people involved with the SLP so these are quiet but nonetheless high hopes….

  16. Handy Orten says:

    By Gavin Falconer One of the results of the independence referendum is that it makes all of us, whether we like it or not, gradualists. This weeks Hysterical Neighbours Prize is a three-way draw.

  17. Dick Wignall says:

    Jack Ferguson reports for Bella. By Darren Loki McGarvey When you grow up in a housing scheme it becomes very apparent to people when you start dropping strange words into your vocabulary.

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