Treason and Mutiny with Long John
This trio are ‘revolutionary communists’ and are enthusiastically introduced as ‘three of the most compelling voices to emerge during the Scottish referendum’. They tell us that their radicalism comes from Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxembourg, Jean-Jaques Rouseeau, Simone de Beauvoir, Theodore Adorno, Edmund Palmer Thompson (and more).
The name-checks and endless quotes are relentless. There’s a lot of ‘roch winds’ (a lot) and Gramsci, Marx (Karl), Voltaire, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Cherneyshevsky, Hannah Arendt, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy (‘something of a communist’), and Walter Benjamin all make an appearance. Even Long John Silver pops up. At times it’s a bit like Slavoj Žižek meets Rick Mayal.
All their references are dead.
For all the Rochin all oer the world and passing mentions of Tom Nairn this seems like a book only passingly aware of 21st C Scotland. At no point in the 177 pages do the authors make any reference to any live current or previous political movement campaign or action. It is as if they have not been in the world. It is a pure abstraction. This is not to deride theory or undermine thinking, it’s just that this is devoid of praxis.
For all that their critique of ‘social nationalism’ and their challenging of the insipid moribund nature of Holyrood and their account of ‘Kirstification’ all hit home.
But the idea that the referendum wasn’t a revolutionary situation or that the SNP aren’t a vanguard workers party or that politicians are captured by compromise aren’t really revelations. Each ‘treacherous’ ‘mutinous’ declaration has the response: ‘uh-huh’?
“The three moments of radical action are therefore treason, interruption, and mutiny” we’re told, without any reference to this actually happening anywhere. Rory is “fiery” and Amy is a “sans-culotte” at heart, but nowhere is this given practical expression. Are our revolutionary communists taking part in direct action against austerity and sanctions, fighting TTIP, battling exploitation in the workplace or on the frontline of solidarity that might be an expression of “treason, mutiny and interruption”? We’re not told.
What then is the answer for revolutionaries? Comrades it is to vote Labour.
“Corbyn’s Scottish allies could revive a tradition that can inject new kind of struggle into a politics stultified by a social nationalism. Labour should not limit itself to acting through parliament but should also cut through the extra-parliamanteary combination of those committed to replace the system with another.”
The idea raises several questions. What tradition is being ‘revived’ here? The authors seem to have a wide and expansive historical reading but they seem to have bypassed the bulk of Labour history including their role in the social struggles of the past thirty years, their capitulation and collusion and their “Kirstification” on a grand scale. This is ahistorical delusional revisionism.
Eight years before the authors were born the Labour Party deserted the striking miners and nothing in the intervening thirty-two years gives any evidence that the party is the suitable vehicle for Cailean, Rory and Amy’s political project, not least of all their role as dutiful allies of the British State in the referendum. And this is where a real weakness lies, not only is there a huge void in this book (from people who had a role in establishing and then rejecting the National Collective, there is very little about the relationship between culture and politics). But so too is there a yawning gap about power and the state. For writers so well versed in Marxist theory there is very little about the state and its role in undermining the movement for democracy in Scotland.
They write: “We are more interested in experience than ideology”. That just doesn’t seem to be true in any way whatsoever.
It’s all very treacherous but I’m not sure it’s coherent.