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.