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Crises Capitalism and Independence Doctrines

Gordon Asher and Leigh French

“The interest of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed not the situation which oppresses them.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968)

Intended as an opening up of dialogue focused on participation as empowerment, this contribution aims toward a critical intervention or provocation to much that has passed for public debate amongst progressives and leftists on Scottish independence in the context of the build up to the 2014 referendum.

It centres on the need for praxis – for theoretically informed, critically reflective action which is oriented towards social justice across the integrated economic, political, cultural, kinship and ecological spheres of our existence.

Social justice is a contested concept, open to contradictory interpretations. Here, in redressing forms of injustices, our conception is of an integrated approach that simultaneously encompasses both a politics of redistribution and a politics of recognition, without reducing either one to the other nor immortalising the assumption of a false antitheses; an approach oriented to “changing both the economic structure and the status order of society”[i] (Nancy Fraser). Recognising the integrated nature of the injustices of contemporary society – also between societies – our conception of social justice is one oriented towards the transformation of all spheres of society in the interests of liberation/emancipation.

Without a recognition of modern societies as integrated structures of political, economic and social power and inequality, it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to consider strategies to advance social justice in a discernible and lasting manner. Thus the strategy of participatory change proposed here necessitates exposing and addressing intersectional oppressions – how biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, ability, class (its status component), etc., interact on multiple often simultaneous levels with capitalist economic relations to contribute to systemic inequality.

Our motivation is the concern that while the independence referendum could be an opportunity for dialogical participation it is instead functioning as a process of closure, where independence is posited as ipso facto ‘progressive’ – as if “independence (give or take all the known variables) is a known quality”[ii] (Gerry Hassan). This habit of thinking serves to co-opt struggles and movements working for social justice in ways that demand critical attention.

Rather than taking a pro- or an anti-stance to voting (if at all) in the referendum, here we seek to problematise the central terms, narratives, limits, assumptions and promises of the independence campaigns, in a spirit of critical dialogue foregrounding the evolution of an empowered and engaged populous. This cannot occur in isolation – an abiding concern is the importance of acknowledging wider contexts, influences and consequences such that we cannot separate the assumed ‘interest-bearing unit’ of Scotland from its global socio-economic contexts.

For meaningful debate of what ‘independence’ could mean, in attempting to move beyond any simplistic yes/no approach, we ask:

–       What is meant by independence, by whom, and what kind of society is any given positioning likely to produce? What kinds of independence are under discussion?

–       How might people go about working towards social justice through these debates/ communicative processes – if indeed it is possible within a nation state framework, especially one so intimately and comfortably tied to capitalism – and through what communications technologies?

–       What is the role of nationalism(s) in the campaigns?

–       What of the (progressives’) appeal to notions/ claims of ‘self-determination’ and of social democracy?

–       What of other intersectional concerns than those of ‘Scottish’ ethnicity/ race/ nationality (‘ethnogenesis’)?

Much independence rhetoric across the ‘Yes’ campaign(s) is superficial and internally contradictory – insisting that ‘Scots’ should vote yes whatever our competing conceptions of a desirable future society. ‘Independence’ here functions as a utopian category into which people pour their desires, hopes and aspirations – such as for freedom/ equality/ democracy. This condition is to be achieved, it seems, not through struggle but passive support for hierarchical campaigns derivative of parliamentarians and electoral strategists. As such, campaigning organisations assume and entrench the alienation of people’s own capacity to effect transformation, affirming the empty paradigm of capitalist/ nation state/ representative ‘democracy’ – with power, wealth and resources consequently continuing to be determined by capitalist relations, and thus the perpetuation, indeed likely intensification, of oppressions.

1. ‘Democracy’

Representation is a mythical form of ‘democracy’. Indeed ‘representative democracy’ is neither representative of (or accountable to) those whom it claims to be, nor is it democratic; in that it does not lead to the people of a given state being the decision makers – to people having the ultimate power over policies to the extent that they are affected by them.

Rather, it tends towards hierarchical, authoritarian, centralised rule through a set of institutions, systems and relations – electoral systems, political parties, constitutional structures and powers, limits on political ‘debate’, voice and participation etc. These, as we see across much of the supposedly democratic world today, leave real power in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations both internal and external to the states in question.

The fundamental ‘legitimising’ institution of representative democracy is the electoral system. Voting (usually only every few years) serves to elect politicians from within parties, proposing policies within an increasingly limited spectrum. The people themselves do not engage in politics; they do not directly propose or decide policies and their role between elections is predominantly passive. (Which is not to deny the contested nature of a system that reflects gains/benefits towards greater participation/democracy through reforms won through struggle – from extension of the suffrage to the recognition of limited human rights.)

Further, as outlined elsewhere in this piece, it is vital to recognise that ‘representative democracies’ are set within (and indeed serve to maintain and evolve) much wider formal and informal, internal and external networks and structures of institutional and relational power that serve to further foreclose notions of legitimacy, accountability and participation.

Discussing contemporary British foreign policy, Mark Curtis notes: “Polyarchy is generally what British leaders mean when they speak of promoting ‘democracy’ abroad. This is a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites.”[iii] ‘Particracy’ is a de facto form of government where one or more political parties dominate the political process, rather than citizens and/or individual politicians. The tendency is to deteriorate towards an oligarchy (rule by elite) or plutocracy (by wealthy elite).

Even within this ‘representative’ paradigm, if tomorrow ‘contains only that which we put into it today’, Scotland has yet to attain and/or maintain ‘normative’ levels of European democracy: “At the local level Scotland is the least democratic country in Europe. The state of local democracy in Scotland means that it is virtually impossible for any community to make any decision about itself”[iv] (The Silent Crisis, Reid Foundation 2012).

Debates around a sovereign parliament for Scotland tend to neglect the contemporary culture of intense corporate lobbying at Holyrood, as David Miller asserts: “For some on the left discussion of the power of Westminster may well be code for the power of the Transnational Corporations, but it is not enough to leave matters there. Big business does not just rule Scotland via Westminster, it also rules by direct if often low profile and covert engagement in Scottish politics.”[v]

Moreover, such critical oversight for informing debate has been further foreclosed by the increasing neoliberalisation of the Scottish education system. Alongside corporate media influence, this has led not merely to the curtailment of holding power to account but – exemplifying how corporate power is accomplished through integration into governance – ‘education’, including its research roles, is being more thoroughly folded into facilitating a hegemonic model of contemporary capitalism. Indeed, the dominant policy trend is to regard education as an ‘industry’ driving national economic growth.

Returning to conflations of voting with participatory politics, it seems important to emphasise referenda are not liberating acts of direct democracy. Capitalism isn’t actually being threatened here; it’s accepted with the hope of greater left-field[vi] state intervention and welfare. Campaigning merely for a ‘Yes’ vote at the referendum displaces and forestalls current popular struggle for transformation against current very real threats onto an underdetermined yet supposedly more promising future territory.

Campaigning rhetoric proposes that we should vote ‘yes’ to distinguish ourselves from, indeed to break from governance by Westminster. Yet the Westminster bar is set so low (and being taken lower by the day) that this represents little beyond a replacement of the race-to-the-bottom with a race-to-stand-still. Clinging to the vestiges of Welfarism (portrayed as Social Democracy, or the ‘Nordic Model’; as though it is what it was) within an increasingly neoliberal and globalised capitalist paradigm, these ‘civic nationalist’ reformist positions operate within discourses and policies of competition, markets and growth.

This is made obvious by the SNP and others’ corporate agenda-setting (e.g. the policy of cutting Corporation Tax, drawing on the boom-time image of Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy), the consensus around ‘competitive nationalism’ (where aspects of life and identity, including education, arts, sports and culture, are harnessed as marks of distinction; as competitive factors of national economic advantage), and on the continuity-exploitation of oil and imperative of infinite growth on a finite planet (their claims to creating an ecologically friendly Scotland are clearly exposed by such unsustainable policies in practice).

Such agenda setting is buttressed by the content and structural realities of a corporate-commercial and corporatised-public media. Seemingly in contradiction, this overwhelmingly pro-unionist media opposes independence while promulgating the SNP’s underlying stance as to neoliberal political economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the individuals involved comprise aspects of the very elite of whom they claim to hold to account.

The progressives’ appeal to the paradoxical doctrine of ‘self-determination’ maintains a referent to a state-foundational individualism– that is, where the presumed free will of the individual and that of the people are conflated as one-and-the-same; as a ‘collective individual’ possessing its own sovereign free will, realised at a societal level through the single discourse of the nation. As such, these appeals to ‘self-determination’ serve to legitimise pre-conceived claims by the residing ‘self-appointed’ political elite to “act under the assumption that their own sovereign free wills can not but be identical with sovereign free will of the people and therefore with sovereign free will of the individual”[vii] (Zlatko Hadžidedić).

So how can any progressive appeal to ‘self-determination’ be distinguished from the nationalist position of ‘popular sovereignty’ problematised here? Is it not the case that through a conflation of scales that presupposes a seamless continuity between individuals and nation – an assumed oneness of will – it buttresses the nationalist position(s), further masking relations of power? As Hadžidedić states: “Such shifts [onto the concepts of which the discourse of the nation was composed] have created the illusion of two fundamentally opposed – civic-individualistic and ethnic-collectivist – concepts of the nation. In fact, these are only minor modifications in the counter-elites’ adaptation of particular societal givens to the projected discourse of nation.”

Actual self-determination concerns individual and collective autonomy as articulated through participatory democratic decision-making – the difficult process of changing what the reproduction of life means in both pragmatic and phantasmatic terms – none of which is conspicuous in the campaigns thus far. Democracy, when conceived of as the theory and practice of collective freedom, is central to addressing intersectional oppressions through the transformation of society in the interests of social justice. Democracy here is a value (self-management), a means (participatory), and an objective (collective freedom), where change occurs through a process of participation and empowerment oriented towards achieving a just society as an iterative process of being and becoming. Praxis, then, involves a prefiguring or foreshadowing – a reflection of the values espoused and goals hoped to achieve – in the struggles of the present. This is not what’s presently proposed as the route to, and subsequent realities of, independence. Further, the content and form of independence is purposefully being left as unproblematised, and thus as myth. In consequence, if not always intent, current ‘progressive’ assumptions of independence support the status quo, providing a continuity of capitalist and other relations of oppression. In contrast, we affirm that political, economic and social transformation has to be communicated, contested, struggled for – as transformation is not inherent to ‘independence’ as a matter of fact.

2. ‘Cultural Intimacy’ & ‘Imagined Communities’

A ‘national citizenry’ is not a fixed, static, coherent and indivisible entity but composed of different people with different positions and interests, with the state’s functionaries also reflecting internal divisions of composition. ‘Cultural intimacy’[viii] (Michael Herzfeld) refers to the often seemingly contradictory ways in which state and local practices interact in creating and institutionalising national imagery and sentiment in the construction of nation-state formations – the processes of the organisation of territory (national boundaries), ethnos, and government apparatus.

‘Cultural intimacy’ emphasises a complex co-existence of ideologies and actions between various elements of the state and its citizenry – a symbiosis of actions such that each side’s ‘life’ is constantly challenged or contradicted by the other, and in doing so their very existence is mutually based upon and reinforced by each other even when they appear to stand in opposition. This includes ‘unpalatable phenomena’ – aspects of national feeling, Herzfeld argues, that may cause ‘external embarrassment’ – which is why at the same time it is these features through which the nation-state often secures the loyalty of its citizens.

For example, Homecoming Scotland 2009 was a (then) Scottish Executive initiative to develop business networks and Diaspora Markets, with its TV ad seen “by over 60% of the Scottish population in the week over St Andrews Day 2008”[ix]. Homecoming used ‘traditional’ culture (such as Highland games, a largely Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances) whisky and golf themes as a pretext to define an export brand geared towards its main, white, North American ancestral diasporas. The invitation ‘to come home to the old country’ was noticeably not colour blind. “No-one from Jamaica was officially invited to any festivities although many view themselves as part of the global Scots Diaspora.” As Stephen Mullen argues: “…the Homecoming initiative had no option but to exclude the Scots Diaspora in the Caribbean considering the denial surrounding Scots’ involvement in slavery.”[x]

It is through these interactions and conflicts that cultural intimacy and national conscious are manifested, contested, and reformulated. Processes resulting in nationalist feelings lodging in social consciousness, with disparate groups often invoking similar rhetoric/ images/ tropes to justify contradictory actions or ideologies – e.g. the state’s use of a language of kin, family, and body to lend an immediacy of proximity to its pronouncements, from which both the state and citizenry derive their persuasiveness in striving to naturalise affective ties with the national community.

‘Cultural intimacy’ thus recognises the nation as an imagined thing – including ideas about language, common origin, blood, and various conceptions of ethnos – emotively shaped through cultural self-imaging and self-narrativising processes, with state-entities eventually containing opposing sides within the most intimate metaphor based on family and bloodline.

Zlatko Hadžidedić also has the nation as a paradoxical, contingent event, but where “the discourse of nation attempts to permanently press individuals to abandon their multiple identities and opt for the single, national one”. For Hadžidedić, “these individuals are permanently being suggested by the omni-present discourse of nation that the nation is the only proper unit within which they are to calculate their interests”. Yet individuals only occasionally “massively behave the nation” and then “only in times of social crises.” The nation’s ‘main enemy’, then, is not ‘alien’ symbolic content or its assumed non-national carriers, “the main enemy, which dissolves the singleness of the nation into the multiplicity of other identities, is political and social stability. … Conversely, in times of political and social unrest … the nation (to paraphrase [Elie] Kedourie[xi]) is offered – and, indeed, may seem to arise – as the key to salvation.”

And this is where we locate crises capitalism and concomitant capitalist restructuring as ultimately informing affective attachments (intersubjective relations, feelings and emotions) as the aspiration for transcendental securitisation – be that ‘martial culture’ and a deepening militarisation or the re-assertion of the politics of Fordism (‘re-industrialisation’, “though not in any actual material sense”, as Angela Mitropoulos states, “since the [local/global] conditions which made that possible have long been surpassed by various struggles”[xii]).

The appeal to nationalism involving the construction of a nostalgic and mythical, homogenous ‘Britishness’ – be it Royal Weddings, ER II’s Jubilee or 2012 Olympics, to be sold at home and abroad, and wielded as a disciplinary and marketing tool for the manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent – is replaced by a terribly similar ‘Scottishness’. As such, it’s a sterile nationalism, remaining firmly within the dialectic of coloniser-colonised, portrayed as a wish “to throw off imperialist rule in order to assert already established national identity, whose only flaw is to have been contaminated and repressed by the presence of the colonialists”[xiii] (Terry Eagleton), avoiding both local and global realities.

Benedict Anderson maintains all communities are in fact ‘imagined’ political communities: “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”[xiv]. Indeed, can ‘true’ authentic communities with which to juxtapose to nations exist at all? – if as Anderson claims communities are to “be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined”. It is this ‘imagining’ that helps ‘create’ symbols, history and values that make a community of any size appear ‘real’.

3. Geographical Communities

Focusing on nationalism – on national/ethnic identity – homogenises and flattens our multiple, complex and mutable identities thus masking oppressions, repressions and exploitations centred on them – as these axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Surely this is dangerous territory indeed for those of us focusing on social justice?

This flattened discourse on oppressions has a strange, strangled even, way of representing ‘power’; always just out of view, as if the political class and its interests were merely just so ‘geographically’ bound, and spatial proximity was the real concern. The SNP have clearly decided that a ‘spatialised’ discourse is more palatable than alternatives; thus it’s about bringing power ‘home’, and ensuring decisions concerning Scotland are taken ‘in’ Scotland. The protectionism of the ‘globalisation’ spectre appeals to ‘national intimacy’; and is more akin to rallying behind the ‘national interest’ (in reality the short-term economic interests of an elite few) than any self-reflective analysis of the situatedness of power in intersectionality. Is there any sense of how to ‘politically’ redistribute power or hold it to account? Instead this spatial cleaving sets up a disingenuous ‘location’ of the interests of the co-ordinator/political class – and so also locationally legitimises them closer to home as the ‘solver’ of the internal effects of now ‘external’ problems. Is it thereby fundamentally anti-political? A post-politics for post-independence? Erik Swyngedouw explains “the post-political condition is one in which consensus has been built around the inevitability of neo-liberal capitalism as an economic system” – that is, “a political formation that actually forecloses the political”[xv]. Swyngedouw insists “that this post-political condition in fact annuls democracy”, as we are presently seeing in Ireland, Italy and Greece: “the forefront of a growing global power grab: a ‘technocratic revolution’ in which even the trappings of formal democracy are pushed aside in favour of a government subservient to unelected councils of supranational institutions and global financial interests.” A future of increasingly predatory finance capital, repressed surplus populations, militarised green zones, universal precarity, and widespread economic depression is already here. “Recovery,” for most of us, means “a new round of social devastation,” as Naomi Klein makes clear[xvi]. Post-independence, understood in these terms, becomes an exercise in managing conceptions of governance – claiming consensual participation and community democracy for a process that delivers a de-composed, once-dissensual public to neoliberalism, limiting public debate and influence to how such policies will be implemented within a prefigured ‘end of history’ acceptance of TINA (Margaret Thatcher’s widely repeated assertion/dictum that “there is no alternative”) with regard to both capitalism and European/US ‘representative democracy’.

Regarding scale, and an assumption of familial proximity; having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any easier, never mind challenging the idea of a political class per se – as outlined in ‘A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish independence’[xvii]. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist-centred independence project championed by much apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and oppressive relations and undermining self-organisation through their replacement by a passive support for – for a inter-causal link between the discourses of independence and liberalism, joined under the umbrella-concept of ‘the nation’.

We stress, the proposed reforms are not new forms of ‘failed’ ideas; as Naomi Klein explains, neoliberalism never failed[xviii] – it is better understood as an evolving form of governmentality and re-organisation of the state itself: “a mode of intervention that profoundly re-shapes social forms by acting on the conditions, especially the legal conditions, under which society operates”[xix] (Benjamin Noys). Who is offering actual alternatives to the disaster capitalism of continued and entrenched ‘austerity’ – in reality, the rapid-fire corporate-state re-engineering of societies reeling from shock? Alternatives to the privatisations (of public services, utilities and jobs, including frontal assaults on what remains of a welfare settlement), enclosures of the commons (a continual precondition for capitalist accumulation), deregulations, tax cuts/exemptions for the wealthy and corporations on top of corporate-welfare ‘bailouts’, accompanied by state and corporate securitisation/ militarisation and concomitant rise of a ‘surveillance society’. Thus attacks on the remnants of the limited freedoms and rights achieved through struggle – on free speech and assembly, and wider workers’ and human rights – are being ‘justified’. These reflect the debt-creating, extractionist, sovereignty-destructive, race-to-the-bottom, neoliberal ‘structural adjustment’ polices of the Washington consensus enforced on much of the Global South for decades. These are now selectively brought to bear ‘at home’ with a vengeance, under the cover of ‘necessary responses’ to contemporary crises. Crises they will inevitably continue to exacerbate in a downward spiral of deepening poverty, inequality, and oppressions.

4. Incidental heirs?

Nation states are not natural but historically contingent, ongoing political constructs, reflective of power struggles of empire and colonialism. ‘Scots’ have been and are both the foot-soldiers for, and leaders and beneficiaries of, empire and neocolonialism in the present, not just historically. Scotland’s institutions, systems of law and governance, its pursuance of economics and politics, sit within that, not aside separate from it, but as fundamental functioning, reproductive participants in it. Scotland is not simply some colonially-tainted otherwise-bastion-of-virtue that can be removed from the history upon which where we are today is contingent – it is a product of and participant in both producing, being produced by, and reproducing the effects and conditions of contemporary capitalism. A view of ‘independence’ as mystical ‘release’ per se won’t change that, ‘we’ have to change that.

Scottish nationalism is presented as a civic form of nationalism. ‘Civic Nationalism’ – differentiated from ethnic nationalism where citizenship is characterised by jus sanguinis (law of blood) in contrast to jus soli (law of the soil) – is an ideology premised on ‘social partnership’ – a governance arrangement predicated upon new formal and informal institutional configurations managing the appearance of public participation within a wider ‘liberal’ notion of a territorially based ‘social contract’. If this is what occurs it seems more about delivering people to policy – to the imperatives of neoliberal capitalism. If independence is ‘achieved’ on these terms we will merely have replaced one set of post-democratic political governors/managers with another.

In international law, sovereignty means that a government possesses full control over affairs within a territorial or geographical area or limit. Scottish nationalists’ claim to sovereignty is posed as political decentralisation in wresting further jurisdiction from Westminster to Holyrood, which in turn gets equated to civic empowerment. Yet such perceived ‘decentralisation’ at one scale retains and even becomes the means for its centralisation at another. What’s actually proposed is the re-territorialisation of the burden of risk the public continues to bear in a strong continuity of formal and informal (i.e. corporate) state institutional powers/relations. Moreover, if ‘Scotland’ remains as fully within and reproducing international capital relations, then to what extent can it be ‘sovereign’ (within the realities of a nexus of powerful governments, institutions and financial interests: US, EU, NATO, UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO)?

At the risk of stating the obvious, Scotland is part of the capitalist and neocolonial order. Its institutions and systems of law and governance operate within the logic of that order, which did not ‘happen to’ some hitherto-undefiled Scotland after 1707. Scotland participated in, and reproduced, modes of oppression many nationalists would like to externalise as ‘alien’ to claimed core national social democratic values, the remedy to which figures ‘independence’ as mystical ‘release’. It is therefore not about converting alleged shame or inferiority into pride; following Lauren Berlant, “it requires a hard confrontation with and a very difficult process of changing what the reproduction of life means in both pragmatic and phantasmatic terms.”[xx]

We are therefore left asking if it is at all possible to seek transformation for social justice through voting for independence if any campaigning for any new nation state is ipso facto nation building?

Beyond State and Capital?

Does social justice contraindicate Nation States/ Scottish Independence? If a world without borders and without capital – a vision of a worldwide federation of free peoples without oppressions (classless and stateless), of self-governing communities where production based on need is more conducive to our environments – is conceived of as ultimately constitutive of social justice, then it is incumbent to ask: What roles, if any, can exist for notions of independence/ national self-determination?

If such roles are possible (thereby raising transitionary issues), can a conception of independence for a Scotland provide a useful opportunity in struggles for social justice? Further, if it can be, is it at present? And if not, how could it be – what would such a process look like?

How can a process for and beyond independence take an anti-imperialist/ anti(neo)colonialist stance – one that acknowledges the realities of historic and contemporary projects of empire and neo-colonialism? One that is also necessarily anti-capitalist/anti-corporate? For the oppressions both produce (throughout, across, between societies) are intertwined. As post-Soviet ‘new’ states exemplify, multinational interests can and do thrive on smaller ‘centralised’ interdependent states, as well as through the old concept of the powerful nation.

Must such stances lead to a position, in the here and now, that rejects states and nations or do/can/should such stances accept the tactical or strategic necessity/ desirability of transitional arrangements (perhaps even viewed as necessarily pre-conditional) that encompass the (re)creation of nation states?

How, if at all, do such considerations play out with regard to actual and potential moves towards independence for a Scotland? If social justice is the vision, what strategies and tactics, based in our contemporary contextual realities, can get us from this here to those there-s?

How pertinent is the claim of Iain McKay et al that “a new national state would not bring any fundamental change in the lives of most people, who would still be powerless both economically and socially”?

“…looking around the world at all the many nation-states in existence, we see the same gross disparities in power, influence and wealth restricting self-determination for working-class people, even if they are free ‘nationally'”, if a “major problem with national liberation struggles is that they usually counterpoise the common interests of ‘the nation’ to those of an oppressor, but assume that class is irrelevant. Although nationalist movements often cut across classes, they still seek to increase autonomy for certain parts of society while ignoring that of other parts.”[xxi]

What we perceive in much of the contemporary framings is a separating out or division appearing between state-building (the political classes and continuity of their privileges/interests) and securing a referendum ‘win’ through identitarian myth building. What is to be the relationship between the state and society? Who is to decide? How? – and if not in the ‘doing’ then when?

It would be a bit pointless ‘breaking’ the British state only for it to come back in multiple forms of itself, replicating the self-same interests/ powers/ privileges. So it’s not just a case of voting to dismantle a British state structure, while leaving concurrent interests intact, but of politicising the processes and realising the participatory potentials of actually disassembling state power. Taking an active role, as agents in these processes, cannot be postponed out of perceived/projected ‘fragility’ in the present, nor in the name of ‘unity’. ‘Independence’ is not a ‘moment’ to vote for, but a process of state formation to participate in (or be excluded from) or to resist: that thorny question posed by Holloway, amongst others, of, “how to change the world without taking power?”[xxii]

Alternatives…

Alert to Chomsky and others’ complementary holism[xxiii] – an acceptance of integrated spheres of society: polity, economy, kinship, culture, ecology, international relations – means that to achieve social justice we must ensure we work towards transformation in all spheres. Bearing in mind the likely consequences were independence as proposed by much of the ‘Yes’ campaigns to occur, what instead needs to be achieved with regard to each sphere? What possible visions of social justice might we have for these spheres if we create and evolve that which we have called for here: a participatory democratic process of empowerment through engagement with ‘independence’? A process that prefigures the very values and objectives that it espouses – of solidarity, diversity, equality, participatory democracy/self-management and sustainability.

In replacing authoritarian electoral politics, what might a politics based in genuine participatory democracy look like? One where everyone has a voice in decisions proportional to the forseeable effects of that decision upon them, where hierarchical arrangements and relationships are replaced by processes and outcomes based on autonomy and collective self-management for individuals and communities. A politics without political hierarchies, a politics without ruling and being ruled.

In replacing capitalism, what might a just economics look like? One where production, allocation and consumption are fairly influenced by all. Where the needs of all, not the dictates or advance of a few should guide processes and outcomes. Where social and ecological impacts are assayed. Where divisions of labour as well as considerations of ownership and earnings feature in conceptions and understandings of class, are addressed in working towards a classless society. An economics without class rule and without exploitation and alienation.

In replacing patriarchy, what might just gender, sexual and family relations look like? A society in which we procreate and nurture, socialise, explore sexuality and relate justly across genders, ages and preferences such that no groups are subordinated to any other. A kinship without denial and denigration, without sexist hierarchy.

In replacing community hierarchies/oppressions based on culture and identity, what might a genuinely intercommunalist society look like? One which encourages autonomy/self-determination within solidarity and encourages diversity, where identities and cultures co-exist, evolve, hybridise. Community without rigid boundaries and identitarian oppressions, culture without subordination and superiority, without cultural hierarchies.

In replacing ecologically unsustainable practices and ways of living, what might relations with(in) our environment that place the needs of people and planet as paramount look like? Relations in which ecological and social practices accept humanity as with and within an ecosystem, taking account of the ecological implications of our options.

In replacing relationships between nations and communities based on war, conflict, colonialism and competition, what might just international relations look like based on co-operation and relations of solidarity? Relations in which the many are no longer impoverished, excluded, exploited and oppressed.

In significant part, these are broadly conceived educational tasks and opportunities – as centred on critical conscientisation (Fanon, Freire[xxiv]) and praxis, on considered action in an iterative, critically-reflective process informed by theory and previous experience. Education as concerned with evolving understandings of self and others, and the relationships between them; allied to an appreciation of our individual and collective agency, and an orientation to act in and on the world to change it in the interests of social justice.

In evolving educations intended to globalise social justice – equity not poverty, equality and fairness not oppression and injustice, solidarity and empathy not anti-sociality and selfish exploitation, diversity and democracy not conformity and repression, sustainability and ecological balance not environmental degradation and destruction – what might such alternative, critical educations look like?

A central factor in supporting the hegemony of our contemporary capitalist paradigm is the mainstream media’s manufacture, maintenance and evolution of consent. (To what extent does a Holyrood-identified crisis of Scottish media both reflect and shape a non-critical naively conscious citizenry?) To challenge this ownership/transmission model of media, to diversify and democratise communication, replacing them with genuine opportunities for critical dialogue, what might such alternative medias look like?

Yes?

Alert to falling prey to vague clichés about in-between spaces and multiplicities, we acknowledge the compellingness of John Holloway and others’ advocations to act “in, against and beyond” both capitalism and the nation state.

Our concern with the ‘Yes’ campaigns’ consensualism (‘optimism’, ‘confidence’, and forced positivity generally), and significant sections of progressive positionality, is the consequences if not always intent of their proposals; if they were successful, they should leave us in, with, and for the nexus of capitalism/ nation-state/ representative ‘democracy’.

Our proposal is for a clearer orientation of not just ‘against’, but ‘beyond’ – speaking to a society and world that is post- both capitalism and nation state (a dissolving rather than a devolving of the state – which may include independence). A proposal for the evolution of processes of collective grass-roots empowerment, of praxis for social justice, that include dialogues of engagement with the issues of independence, nationalism and self-determination allowing for the divergences and possible futures on the way. Processes that continue whatever the results of the referendum. These debates need to be about being and becoming, rather than accepting a flattening assertion of who ‘we’ are as premised on a mythical, ‘natural’, homogenised and non-conflicted past and promised future. It is not about envisaging/imagining a better capitalism – though non-reformist reforms will be essential to achieving transformational change – it is about working towards a post-capitalist society. It is about other, better, worlds that are possible, necessary and under construction.

Yes, against the plodding redundancy of positivism

Yes, to something more than a contingently agreed upon consensus only

Yes, to concerns that political action is denied any space for critical self-reflection

Yes, to the interrogation of existing circumstances and contexts

Yes, to going forward in terms which do not confirm the social status quo

Yes, let dialogue and discussion proliferate, disrespectful of authority

Yes, against merely reproducing the categories which underwrite existing alienations – the existing order of social things

Yes, let’s undermine the hegemonic ‘common sense’– that which appears obvious beyond question

Yes, to politicising a social or ‘public’ world, thinking through and articulating the changes before us

Yes, to the free exchange and dissemination of ideas, to processes always alive to the circumstances of change, to possibilities and potential – to hope

Yes, to practical reflexivity, to place at issue anything and everything

Yes to exposing the power of language and to education for social justice and democracy

Yes, not as a seamless monolith but as the movements of contradiction and tension

Yes, to propagation of critical thought, to unearth the hidden, the obscured, the mythical

Yes, to questioning the adequacy of traditional political theory and practice, to the status of the law, and to the supposed benefits of the capitalist social democratic state

Yes, to a recognition of our individual and collective agency

Yes, to participatory democracy, and to an anti-capitalist stance to the economy

Yes, to an intercommunalist stance to community, culture and identity, and to a queer/feminist one to patriachy and gender/sex relations

Yes, to sustainable ecology and to relations between nations being peaceful and just

Yes, to praxis, to new ways of thinking, talking and acting, living and relating – of being and becoming

———————

We would like to additionally acknowledge the influence of the ideas and writings of: Michael Albert[xxv], Stephen Brookfield[xxvi], Glasgow Anarchists[xxvii],Common Sense journal[xxviii], and everyone else unreferenced in our brevity.)

 

A version of this text appears on Ground Left :

https://groundleft.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/crises-capitalism-and-independence-doctrines/

 

We would like to thank Scott Hames for his dialogical encouragment and contributions – a shorter version of this text will appear in Scott’s forthcoming collection on Scottish independence and self-determination, to be published by Word Power, November 2012.


[i] Nancy Fraser, ‘Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation’, in Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition: A Political-Philosophical Exchange, p.22, London: Verso (2003)

[ii] ‘We need to have a One Question Referendum. It is that simple!’, Gerry Hassan, January 28th, 2012: http://www.gerryhassan.com/uncategorized/we-need-to-have-a-one-question-referendum-it-is-that-simple/

[iii] Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, p.247, London: Vintage UK Random House (2003)

[iv] The Silent Crisis: Failure and Revival in Local Democracy in Scotland, The Jimmy Reid Foundation, April 2012: http://reidfoundation.org/portfolio/the-silent-crisis-failure-and-revival-in-local-democracy-in-scotland/

[v] David Miller, ‘Corporate power, institutional corruption’, September/October 2003, Scottish Left Review/ Spin Watch: http://www.spinwatch.org.uk/blogs-mainmenu-29/48-lobbying/96-corporate-power-institutional-corruption

[vi] Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State’, Variant, issue 32, Summer 2008: http://www.variant.org.uk/32texts/bourdieu32.html

[vii] Zlatko Hadžidedić, Nationalism and Liberalism: The Paradoxes of Self-Determination, Ljubljana, 23 July 2010: http://www.ifimes.org/default.cfm?Jezik=En&Kat=10&ID=544

[viii] Michael Herzfeld, Cultural intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State, New York/London: Routledge (1997)

[ix] Scottish Executive, Written Answers Monday 19 January 2009; Homecoming Scotland (S3W-19374) Jim Mather: http://archive.scottish.parliament.uk/business/pqa/wa-09/wa0119.htm

[x] Stephen Mullen, ‘Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever!’, Variant issue 35 Summer 2009: http://www.variant.org.uk/35texts/AeFondKiss.html

[xi] Elie Kedourie, Nationalism, Hutchinson: London (1960)

[xii] Angela Mitropoulos, ‘From precariousness to risk management and beyond’, eipcp (01, 2011): http://eipcp.net/transversal/0811/mitropoulos/en

[xiii] Terry Eagleton in his introduction to Kristin Ross, The emergence of social space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune, University of Minnesota Press (1989)

[xiv] Benedict Anderson, ‘The Nation as Imagined Community’, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London and New York: Verso (1983): http://www.nationalismproject.org/what/anderson.htm

[xv] Erik Swyngedouw, ‘The Antinomies of the Postpolitical City: In Search of a Democratic Politics of Environmental Production, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 33.3 September 2009 601–20: http://www.scribd.com/doc/56913989/The-Antinomies-of-the-Postpolitical-City-In-Search-of-a-Democratic-Politics-ofEnvironmental-Production

[xvi] Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctine, New York: Metropolitan Books (2008): http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/

[xvii] Glasgow AF member, ‘Independent and free? A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish independence’: http://libcom.org/library/independent-free-glasgow-anarchists-take-scottish-independence

[xviii] Naomi Klein, ‘Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism’, Democracy Now!, 6th October 2008: http://www.democracynow.org/2008/10/6/naomi_klein

[xix] Benjamin Noys, The Grammar of Neoliberalism, ‘Accelerationism Workshop’, Goldsmiths (14 September 2010): http://chi.academia.edu/BenjaminNoys/Papers/285622/The_Grammar_of_Neoliberalism

[xx] ‘Affect & the Politics of Austerity : An interview exchange with Lauren Berlant’, Gesa Helms, Marina Vishmidt, Lauren Berlant, Variant, issue 39/40, Winter 2010: http://www.variant.org.uk/39_40texts/berlant39_40.html

[xxi] Iain McKay (primary contributor and editor), Gary Elkin, Dave Neal and Ed Boraas, An Anarchist FAQ, Edinburgh: AK Press (2008): http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/index.html

[xxii] John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today, Pluto Press (2002): http://libcom.org/library/change-world-without-taking-power-john-holloway

[xxiii] Michael Albert, Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Robin Hahnel, Mel King, Lydia Sargent, Holly Sklar, LIBERATING THEORY, Boston: South End Press (1986): http://www.lifeaftercapitalism.info/downloads/read/Political-Economy/Other-Authors/Liberating_Theory-Albert_Cagan_Chomsky_Hahnel_King_Sargent_Sklar.pdf

[xxiv] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970); Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press (1968)

[xxviii] Common Sense: Journal of the Edinburgh Conference of Socialist Economists: http://commonsensejournal.org.uk/

 

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