Arguing that Left Unity should be a broad socialist party that reflects revolutionary as well as reformist views

leftunity

Left Unity has a very important founding conference on 30 November in London. After a fairly long period of democratic debate (since the call for a new left-wing party was made by socialist film director Ken Loach in March), Left Unity (perhaps renamed) will finally have some sort of constitution, including aims and structures, campaigning priorities (including opposing racism and austerity) and policy on standing (or not standing) in elections. A further conference (which will probably be delegate-based rather than one-member-one-vote) will be held in the spring to come up with more policies.

During the last few days, I’ve submitted the following 4 posts onto the LU website (http://leftunity.org) to influence the direction it goes, before, during and after the November conference. The light-touch moderation on the website, with submissions for articles accepted from people with a very wide range of views, together with a forum on which messages appear immediately, is a very healthy sign, almost unheard of on the left! This must continue after the conference!

As the subject to this blog post indicates, I am trying to ensure that the fully launched party is broad enough to encompass reformists and revolutionaries, but that it does so without being based on lowest common denominator reformist politics, which has been a major reason for the failure of some other similar initiatives.

I posted the following on 10 October to http://leftunity.org/pre-conference-timetable-for-left-unity-founding-conference/ (the 3 subsequent posts are also on the same page):

The issue of what name to adopt (I understand Left Party is an alternative) does not appear to be on the provisional founding conference agenda, but since Manchester Left Unity passed this motion I proposed at our meeting last week, I’ve submitted it (to the “content” email address):

Due to Left Unity having name recognition (with over 10,000 people signing Ken Loach’s appeal), expressing our desire for it to unite the majority of the left (rather than being just one more of the “57 varieties” of far left organisation), taking into account the unpopularity of the word “party” among young people in particular, and with there being no obvious drawbacks of keeping Left Unity as a name, we resolve that the name Left Unity should be kept.

Having seen a few posts in favour of “Left Party” rather than “Left Unity” I posted the following yesterday:

The issue as to whether Left Unity (or whatever the party is called – using “Left Unity” for a party newspaper/magazine and “Left Party” on ballot papers could be a good compromise, as Rob suggested) is less important to me than what sort of party we become. I also put forward the following motion at the Manchester Left Unity meeting, which wasn’t passed (partly because mentioning “violent confrontation” and “foreign armies” in the constitution could be hostage to fortune, and partly because it’s not clear how it would fit in with the platform statements/other motions). We will consider it at a later meeting, as an amendment (or amendments). Patrick’s complaint about me using the term “far left” is really an issue of semantics – I in fact use the term “broad socialist party” below. It is impossible to determine what caused the lack of momentum from Ken Loach launching the statement in March to the 700-odd members now, but allowing people to join at that time or soon after (also being useful in terms of providing funding), or re-organising the website earlier to move the platform statements to a different part of the website earlier, could have played more of a role than the influence of “far left sectlets”. Democracy is vital!

We resolve that Left Unity should be a broad socialist party reflecting a wide variety of views in our literature and on our website and forum. Left Unity should welcome:

a) reformists in favour of gradual change to benefit the masses through to revolutionaries who believe some sort of socialist revolution is necessary.

b) those who believe in change through elections and/or extra-parliamentary activity. Those who want to join Left Unity but only take part in one of those types of activity would be welcome.

c) pacifists who would never condone violence through to those who believe that it will be impossible to achieve socialism without violent confrontation with the existing capitalist state (or foreign armies) at some point (though perhaps encouraging peaceful struggle until provoked).

Further down the page, Salman Shaheen of the Left Party Platform asked Nick Wrack of the Socialist Platform:

Did you not move the motion at Doncaster to allow the creation of platforms that could submit motions to the founding conference? Had I been at Doncaster, I would have voted against this. But we are where we are and I look forward to being able to move beyond November with a focus on building Left Unity as a whole, not platforms.

Earlier this afternoon, I responded:

I think it should be noted that the decision Salman refers to is actually reflected in the preamble to the Left Party Platform Statement on this website (at http://leftunity.org/left-party-platform-statement/): “At its meeting in June, Left Unity’s National Coordinating Group decided that platforms of ten or more people can put resolutions to the founding conference on the same basis as local groups.”

However, at the last NCG in Birmingham (the first I attended and Salman was there too), somebody from the LPP argued that because their platform is so large it would be impracticable to have a meeting to discuss resolutions, so platforms could only put forward statements. Although there wasn’t a vote, it was my understanding that this was agreed.

Now, lo and behold, the LPP has arranged a meeting (albeit a public meeting rather than an internal one) on Thursday in London – as advertised on this website and in the LU mailing which I presume has gone out to the 10,000+ who have signed Ken Loach’s statement – and they have come up with a much better statement of aims agreed via email – http://leftunity.org/left-party-platform-submission-for-the-aims-section-at-the-founding-conference/.

Don’t get me wrong – this is actually working out for the better because LU will have a much better statement of aims than would have otherwise been the case if the initial LPP statement was adopted, and the self-destruction of the Socialist Platform due to the attempted takeover by the CPGB makes it almost certain to be (perhaps with amendments from local groups). Indeed, I intend to propose an amendment via my group to improve the section on trade unions to mention strikes, particularly general strikes, as I’ve suggested in a comment on the new LPP submission for the statement of aims page. Nevertheless, such flip-flopping on democratically taken decisions is far from ideal.

Others have pointed out the similarities between statements initiated by “far left sectlets” and suggested that the main aim of at least some of them is to recruit. The Socialist Platform had the potential to be something much better, similar in many respects to the “Revolutionary Platform” I called for (but later abandoned in favour of the Socialist Platform) – see https://thatcheroftheleft.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/call-for-a-revolutionary-platform-of-left-unity/ – but I always wanted LU to be a broad socialist party, albeit one that reflects the true views of revolutionaries as well as well as reformists in its literature, and on its website and forum, rather than always putting forward reformist lowest common denominator politics (unlike other “broad” organisations).

After the conference, some sort of regroupment between the revolutionary groups/individuals would make a lot of sense (just as the International Socialist Network, AntiCapitalist Initiative and Socialist Resistance are pursuing already). I’ve been arguing for such revolutionary platforms within broader organisations, starting initially with the Scottish Socialist Party, since 2006. The point is to cooperate around shared goals rather than compete with each other for new recruits, in preparation for a massive economic crisis when a socialist revolution could be on the cards (and actually, the current problems in the USA never mind the Eurozone, could precipitate one much sooner than most people think).

I posted the following (to http://leftunity.org/left-party-platform-submission-for-the-aims-section-at-the-founding-conference/) yesterday evening:

Let me first of all welcome point 3, copied and pasted below, as a good description of what socialism is – in particular, saying “democratically run by and for the people as a whole”, rather than talking about just the working class being in control of society (which used to be called by Marxists, and still is occasionally, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”). We should aim to get most of the 99% (including middle class people) on our side against the 1% (big business aka the ruling class), and they should have a say under socialism. [My preferred form of socialism is with some degree of workers’ (and users’) control, a government elected by proportional representation, and direct democracy perhaps like in Switzerland – see https://www.facebook.com/groups/verydemocraticsocialism. Talking about “the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught” suggests fighting for reforms (which revolutionary socialists as well as reformists do) but implies revolutionary change may not be necessary – when it will!

3. We are socialist because our vision of society is one where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth, productive resources and social means of existence will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.

The biggest weakness in the submission looks to be point 7, copied and pasted below. The ability for a worker to withdraw his/her labour by going on strike, and potentially bring down a government via a general strike, is completely ignored! You could argue that being “strong” and “effective” implies they sometimes take strike action, but the weakness of point 7 is surely due to the influence of reformists within the LPP.

7. We work for and support strong, effective, democratic trade unions to fight for better wages and salaries, for improved living standards, for better working conditions and stronger, more favourable, contracts of employment. We believe that the strength of the union is the people in the workplace; that what each person does at work matters – to make the job better, to make the service provided more effective, to persuade workers to combine for greater strength.

As someone who is an open revolutionary socialist, but wants Left Unity (or whatever the party is called) to be a broad socialist party, I very much welcome this much improved statement of aims – but will consider proposing amending it via my branch.

3 thoughts on “Arguing that Left Unity should be a broad socialist party that reflects revolutionary as well as reformist views

  1. I later posted responses to a posting by Mike Wayne at http://leftunity.org/no-to-a-vote-on-the-platforms-at-conference complaining about the many platforms proposed for the Left Unity conference on 30 November and arguing that they shouldn’t be debated and voted on (which incidentally goes against democratically decided decisions of the National Coordinating Group with delegates from branches):

    I can understand the antagonism of Mike and some who have commented above, from the point of view of someone who is a revolutionary socialist, and did regard himself as a Marxist and Trotskyist when a member of the Socialist Party (and Militant Tendency before that) from 1990-98. However, not having platforms wouldn’t stop people with Marxist views from expressing them, or keep such people outside Left Unity. Some of the platform’s statements may not have been up for debate at the conference, due to not getting sufficient support in any branches; others would have support from at least one branch and it would be those “in the know” who are aware of what political organisation they come from.

    Unlike many revolutionary socialists in LU, I want it to be a broad party, as expressed in my blog item [above].

    However, let me be clear – reformism wouldn’t work. Gareth argues “We need to begin re-nationalising the industries stolen from us.” We need a majority in parliament to do that, I suggest you mean! And if we do have that majority, why stop at the privatised industries? Why not implement a complete socialist revolution? And what about compensation for shareholders – none, just to pension schemes, on the basis of proven need?

    I suggest that massive economic crisis (perhaps due to the current one in the USA or further developments in the Eurozone) could create something on the lines of a second credit crunch, which would present great opportunities for us to seize power (after which I’d argue we should call a general election held under proportional representation to provide legitimacy for the insurrection). And I’m arguing that revolutionary socialists within Left Unity should regroup in one platform to prepare for such an eventuality and cooperate around shared goals rather than compete with the main aim being to recruit to a particular far-left sect.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t argue and campaign for reforms – LU should indeed prove ourselves in practice as the best party fighting for reforms, and internal democracy (in stark contrast to the mess the SWP has got itself into) is part of that.

    Writing the above in the early hours of the morning was perhaps not the best idea in the world, so some points of clarification would be useful.

    I didn’t fully explain why (left) reformism wouldn’t work. There are multiple reasons for this: Reforms in the interest of the masses that can be afforded during booms cannot be afforded during booms or recessions. Trying to implement such reforms in one country would be frustrated with the ability of capitalists to use overseas tax havens and move their assets overseas (their assets must be seized and the revolution spread internationally so capitalists have nowhere to run to). The state is not neutral and would furiously act in the interests of capital if a left reformist government came to power.

    I’ve just read a very well-argued article by Ed Rooksby (a member of Left Unity despite the article’s publication in the SWP’s theoretical journal International Socialism which came in the post today) in favour of “left governments” at http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=913. The SWP has (prematurely) written off Left Unity as “left reformist” and (in my opinion as well as Ed’s) we should definitely aim for election victories, even though they are difficult under the misnamed first-past-the-post electoral system in the UK. Ed points out that even in countries in which socialism appears particularly credible, there is no sign of the workers’ councils (soviets) the SWP argues for, whereas Syriza’s call for a left government achieved mass support and nearly led them to being the biggest party in parliament. Although there are big pitfalls in the parliamentary road (in particular joining coalitions and making cuts) but our enemies won’t just roll over and let us take power by some sort of insurrection either! My main argument against achieving change by parliament is that elections may not come at precisely the best time to launch a bid for power – particularly with 5-year “fixed term parliaments”.

    In my above post, I mentioned “great opportunities for us to seize power” – maybe I should have argued for the masses to take power (or primarily the working class through a general strike), with Left Unity in the leadership, rather than implying our party should launch some sort of coup/insurrection on our own. I particularly approve of the Occupy movement’s 99% versus 1% formulation, as well as recognising the working class has the power to change society by withdrawing its labour. However, as the revised aims of the Left Party Platform argue for, “The natural wealth, productive resources and social means of existence will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole”, rather than society being controlled just by the working class, in soviets (as Marxists call for).

  2. Nick Wrack, the main instigator of the Socialist Platform of LU (and incidentally the former member of the Executive Committee of the Militant Tendency, now the Socialist Party, with responsibility for my region, and later editor of our newspaper) wrote a good response to the new submission of aims from the Left Party Platform, online at http://www.independentsocialistnetwork.org/?p=2556.

    I posted the following reply to Nick on that website (which appeared immediately without going through a moderator):

    You make some very good criticisms of the new Left Party Platform statement, Nick, which I agree is better than the previous one. My only reservation about your article is the insistence on representing ‘the interests of the working class’, rather than ‘the people’, but I realise I’m in a small minority within revolutionary socialists on that point. Sometimes talking about the interests of the 99% against those of the 1% (or 0.1% which more accurately reflects the ruling class that we are fighting), as put forward by the Occupy movement, is in my view better, especially in a society where so many people regard themselves as ‘middle class’ (and middle managers, small businesspeople and the self-employed shouldn’t be ignored). The big danger of just representing the working class is trying to cling on to power for too long after an insurrection without holding a democratic election (which I argue has to be held under a form of proportional representation nowadays – if we don’t have majority support in society for socialism at that time, the revolution is doomed anyway).

    Since the issues surrounding the CPGB’s attempted takeover of the Socialist Platform are in the public domain (in their paper the Weekly Worker for example), I thought I should give my take on it. My main criticism of most of their amendments (which now make up the Communist Platform) was the emphasis on the working class (in all but the last 3 which I voted for in the indicative votes at the Socialist Platform’s internal meeting). As a result of the schism(s) within the Socialist Platform, I have come to the conclusion that the Left Party Platform’s new statement of aims will form the basis of that part of the constitution, but I am confident that it can be amended into something very good.

    Just before seeing the above article, I posted the following message (including link to a blog entry of mine) containing some of my views on the way forward for Left Unity (I note that I criticised the paragraph on trade unions in omitting strike action, particularly general strikes which are a key method in taking power but you didn’t mention that issue above at all):

    The (British) SWP have prematurely written Left Unity (LU) off as a “left reformist” party, even though the conference to decide the aims and strategy of the party (amongst other things) won’t take place until 30 November, and there are many revolutionaries (including myself) as well as reformists in the party. In the following blog entry by me, I argue for a broad socialist party, but not one in which revolutionary socialists have to hide their views. LU members/supporters have not refrained from an open democratic debate so far, on our website and forum, in the run-up to the conference and this should continue afterwards (in marked contrast to certain “democratic centralist” organisations/parties).

    Ironically, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition? (TUSC), of which the SWP, as well as the also-revolutionary Socialist Party (SP), is a part is actually more reformist since it puts forward a series of “transitional demands” at election time. LU’s other advantages over TUSC will include it campaigning in its own name between elections (rather than the SWP and SP concentrating on recruiting to their own parties) and LU having a more democratic structure (with a constitution yet to be decided) than TUSC in which leaders of its component parts can veto proposals they don’t like.

    [Link to this blog entry]

  3. After a fair amount of discussion, which resulted in Manchester members of Left Unity agreeing the much improved amendments to the Left Party Platform that I put forward based on the idea expressed in this blog post, of a broad socialist party that reflects revolutionary and reformist views (and are thus much more likely to be agreed by the Left Unity founding conference on Saturday 30 November, for which you should register, and become a subs-paying member, at least a week in advance – go to http://leftunity.org/lufounding-conference/) below:

    AMENDMENT TO LEFT PARTY PLATFORM STATEMENT OF AIMS (paragraph on trade unions)

    Add to the end of paragraph 7: “Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.”

    AMENDMENT TO LEFT PARTY PLATFORM STATEMENT OF AIMS (new paragraph)

    Add new paragraph (11): “In line with the party being a broad socialist party, it should reflect a wide variety of views in our literature and on our website and forum. Our members will include:

    a) reformists in favour of gradual change towards socialism and revolutionaries who believe some sort of (preferably peaceful) socialist revolution is necessary while supporting such reforms in the short term (and of course those who don’t know how socialism can/will be achieved).
    b) those who believe in change through elections and/or extra-parliamentary activity. Those who want to join the party but only take part in one of those types of activity would be welcome.

    You can find the LPP statement of aims that the above amendments apply to, plus some comments, at http://leftunity.org/left-party-platform-submission-for-the-aims-section-at-the-founding-conference/

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