[EDIT 1/12/13: The founding conference of Left Unity, on 30 November 2013, has just taken place. I will shortly write a report of it on this blog, including mentioning that one of the two amendments proposed by me (and included below) on considerably strengthening the paragraph on trade unions, by mentioning striking (including mass/general strikes), occupations and solidarity, was passed. My proposal on keeping Left Unity as the party name (proposed by another member of my branch) was also passed, which could prove important in encouraging people of autonomous/anarchist views (preferably non-violent as most of them are) due to such people disliking the word “party”. Most of the comments below the article were from a debate I had with Felicity Dowling of the Left Party Platform (and a former member of the Liverpool 47 surcharged councillors and one of the Militant Tendency “entrists” within Labour before Militant’s “open turns” in Scotland and then England and Wales). There is also a reply to my article by John Penney, to which I have posted a reply having just seen it after the conference. The conference is over but debates go on…]
[EDIT 8/12/13: I have now added a comment below containing details of a report by Pete McLaren from Rugby (of the Independent Socialist Network and Socialist Platform) plus two responses from me – being more upbeat about the fact that the conference decided to adopt a combination of revolutionary and reformist politics, which was basically my aim with the amendments below (one of which was passed), and that forthcoming economic crises will provide great opportunities for revolution.]
One of the problems of the debate between platforms is that it has, at times, become polarised between those who favour an electoral road to achieving socialism (with some such people accused, rightly or wrongly, of being content with positive reforms to capitalism) and those who favour a socialist revolution. The Left Party Platform (LPP) is in favour of a broad socialist party encompassing both (but some members particularly favour elections and others hide some of their politics to accommodate them), whereas the Socialist Platform (SP) is much more openly revolutionary.
Most revolutionary socialists, including myself, also agree with standing in elections, but think it impossible or highly unlikely for socialism to be achieved solely by electoral means. We should also welcome participation from those with autonomous/anarchist views, such as many in the AntiCapitalist Initiative, although I have used the phrase “(preferably peaceful) socialist revolution” in the second amendment below. We should not encourage the participation of people who encourage violence for the sake of it, as counterposed to defending themselves if attacked by the forces of the state – which the LPP’s Kate Hudson (general secretary of CND) informed us at the foreign affairs commission at the policy conference in Manchester is consistent with CND’s position on violence.
Discussions around the formation of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party) in France included people of an autonomous/anarchist persuasion, and although they didn’t participate eventually, we should welcome members of the AntiCapitalist Initiative into LU (especially because they are involved in merger talks with two organisations that are more keen – the International Socialist Network and Socialist Resistance). I have therefore included a paragraph in the second amendment below saying that those just interested in extra-parliamentary activity rather than helping with election campaigns (or vice versa) would be welcome.
The extremely undemocratic (misnamed) first-past-the-post electoral system, which would have only been slightly improved if the Alternative Vote proposal (that only the Liberal Democrats campaigned for and which was an awful compromise from the much more proportional single transferable vote system that they advocate) had been passed, makes it extremely unlikely that socialists can make as much headway as socialist parties/coalitions on the continent, particularly Syriza in Greece. The ConDems have also passed legislation for fixed term parliaments of five years – without LU playing a key role in massive extra-parliamentary action forcing a capitalist government to resign, or otherwise forcing them from office by a general strike leading to “dual power”, we would be betraying the masses who look to us to provide a lead.
If there is suddenly another massive economic crisis, on the scale of the 2007-8 credit crunch or worse, which some financial experts predict, such as Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert in The Keiser Report, viewable on RT (Russia Today) or YouTube, or the MoneyWeek magazine’s video/letter entitled “The End of Britain” (nothing to do with Scottish independence!), it would be vital for socialists to respond by leading a revolutionary movement – if not, the far right will have a field day. Waiting for another general election is not an option!
It should also be emphasised that the massive gains in support Syriza achieved, which led to it almost becoming the largest party in the Greek parliament in 2012, could not have been achieved without the mass movements of ordinary working and lower middle class people, including strike waves, demonstrations and particularly general strikes – in which members of Syriza played important roles.
I am in favour of standing in elections in situations where we can create an impact – but we must avoid becoming the polar opposite of UKIP standing against Labour everywhere (or in most seats at a general election), with the serious possibility of letting the Tories back in (perhaps in a coalition with the Lib Dems or UKIP). In general, we should stand in “safe” Labour seats (a strategy which has been extremely fruitful in getting George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob, Tommy Sheridan, Dave Nellist and Michael Lavalette elected for example, though mostly at a council level or in a by-election where far less is at stake). We should avoid clashes with other socialist organisations and the Green Party, in situations where local agreements can be made. [Rushing into a highly expensive and almost certainly unfruitful intervention in the 2014 European elections, where our vote would be massively squeezed, particularly due to “No2EU – Yes to Workers’ Rights” and the Greens planning to stand everywhere (which is necessary for them to get an electoral broadcast) would be a big mistake in my opinion.]
The combination of standing in elections and extra-parliamentary activity would be a big advantage of LU over the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), whose main participants, the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party (SWP), prefer to campaign under their own name between elections, with a major motivation being recruitment to their own parties, and with TUSC only being used at election time.
A major problem with many previous unity projects (and those that still exist like Respect) is that they have been based on lowest common denominator reformist politics, with organisations and individuals within such projects hiding many of their true views (particularly if they are revolutionary socialists). This has been the main criticism of members of the SP when arguing against the LPP.
However, LU has already operated in a very inclusive way, with nearly all comments on the website approved by a moderator and with a forum on which contributions appear immediately without waiting for moderation. Part of the motivation for the second amendment below is to ensure this continues. We should also have publications, such as a newspaper/journal (preferably called “Left Unity” if the party decides to adopt a different name at the founding conference), in which free and open debate between people with different political viewpoints is welcome, rather than making it a bland publication which doesn’t satisfy the incredible thirst for ideas amongst the population of Britain – particularly after Russell Brand’s article in the New Statesman and debate with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, on the subject of “revolution”, that have both received massive numbers of views on the internet.
Paragraph 7 of the LPP statement on trade unions is extremely vague, and contains nothing that even the Labour Party would disagree with! There is no mention of strikes (and certainly not general strikes which have a key role in changing society) or occupations or solidarity between workers in different unions or workplaces. The unamended version reads as follows:
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.
The amendments passed by Left Unity in Manchester, and submitted to email@example.com before the 16 November deadline, are as follows:
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.