Regrettably ‘Myths of Scottish Nationalism’ (Socialist Standard, August) ended on a low note as no matter how flawed nationalism is, it is not responsible for the prevailing opinion that the Covenanters were freedom fighters. It is a widely held view.
The current SNP would be strange bedfellows with a Covenanting movement, as according to Professor Alan MacInnes the Covenanters had a radical view of Britain that was federal and constitutional.
The article commented on the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, omitting that the majority of Covenanters there made public declaration that they wanted a free General Assembly and free Parliament. The monument to the battle, which was erected by public subscription, is quite clear that the Covenanters stood for Civil and Religious Liberty.
What resulted from the sacrifice and sufferings of so many ordinary Scots and others was not an inquisition but a democratic Church that was acceptable to the majority, a free Parliament and a Bill of Rights that gave us liberties and freedoms much in advance of the rest of Europe. These were the foundations on which our democracy has evolved. That Bill of Rights was a foundation stone for the evolution of our European Human Rights, which ensures liberty of expression and assembly for minority political and religious groups. Fortunately history shows that totalitarian systems are doomed to failure be it long or short term.
David Bryce, Hamilton.
The purpose of the series was to demonstrate that a Scottish national history is invented and the image presented of the Covenanter movement is one such an example. The Covenanter Movement was not a unified movement and was riven by schisms, not unlike the current Islamic Movement but, for sure, the article was not making the claim that the SNP’s and its nationalism are the legitimate heirs to the Covenanters. It is possible to argue that the details of the 1707 Union fulfilled much of the Covenanter demands and ended any future of the Scottish Kirk being the base for radicalism, its low point, a call for the deportation of Irish catholic immigrants during the 1930s.
As the article acknowledged, there are many who argue that the Covenanters were progressive and revolutionary but by no means is it a universal endorsement, as you would seem to suggest. Gerard Cairns on the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement website, arguing from a ‘catholic gael’ perspective, could write:
‘It may seem very Marxist to argue that the Covenanters were class warriors, a mass movement against an absolutist regime. That really would be an example of the mechanical Marxism which tries to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Can we really turn bigots into revolutionaries? …A movement from below led by pedagogues on high who wanted a monolithic Scotland and/or Britain based on Presbyterianism. Everything else was secondary.’ (www.scottishrepublicansocialistmovement.org/Pages/SRSMArticlesTheVictorsantheVanquished.aspx)
‘Whereas, Allan Armstrong on the Republican Communist Network website, considers the Cameronian wing of the Covenanters as a proto-Red Army’ (republicancommunist.org/blog/2003/08/03/beyond-broadswords-and-bayonets-2/#SectionFiveSix)
Alistair Livingston, however, writes more objectively of this period:
‘In Scotland Charles I managed to piss off both the nobility, who had gained huge chunks of church lands – by threatening to reclaim all previous ‘gifts’ of such lands, and the reformers, by trying to re-impose what they saw as the ‘corrupt’ religious practices of Catholicism on the Reformed church. The result was an unholy alliance between landowners who wanted to hang on to the huge tracts of church land they had got their paws on and the religious types who wanted a spiritual reformation of Christianity. This unholy alliance led to a Holy Covenant between the people of Scotland and God. (There were two Covenants – a National one and a Solemn one)… The belief held by some Muslims that a ‘Godly state’ can be created is not some weird un-British aberration – it was a belief strongly held by thousands of Brits – Scottish and English in the 17th century and created a bloody and violent civil war in which tens of thousands died.’ (greengalloway.blogspot.com/2005/08/martyrs-religion-politics-terrorism.html)
On 12th July at Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) held a meeting titled ‘The only war which is worth fighting is the class war’. The subject was the First World War and at 8 minutes 21 seconds in, the speaker representing the CWO stated ‘I won’t go into the various British ones today but the only group – and it was a group rather than an organisation – that can claim to have had any real anti-war policy completely was the Socialist Labour Party’.
In Revolutionary Perspectives issue 4 (Journal of the CWO) dated Summer 2014, the article ‘Social Democracy, the First World War and the Working-class in Britain’ starting on page 14 discusses ‘The Response of Socialists in Britain’ even discussing the Socialist Labour Party (De Leonist) on page 18.
For all the CWO airbrushing of consistent SPGB opposition to the First World War, it is ironic the same CWO speaker once debated the SPGB accusing the SPGB of being ‘schooled in Stalinism’.
Jon D. White (by email)
Strange indeed, and for two reasons. The first being the clear and principled opposition to the war from the SPGB (on the basis that it was a capitalist war and not in the slightest about the interests of the working class). Second, the SLP was split into two factions, one pro-war, the other anti-war (with articles in their paper The Socialist reflecting this division at the start of the conflict). It was only some months into the war that the anti-war faction won out and the SLP clearly stated its opposition to the slaughter. We know that the CWO as ‘left communists’ venerate the SLP because after the conflict the majority of its membership left to join the pro-Bolshevik Communist Party of Great Britain at its foundation, but the SLP’s attitude to the war has been well documented and there is no excuse for such shoddy historical revisionism. – Editors.