29 March #LeftUnity conference: The ongoing struggle between revolutionaries and reformists

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Me at founding conference in November

As some of you will know, I was unable to attend the Left Unity (LU) policy-making conference in Manchester on 29 March. I did attend and speak at the founding conference in London on 30 November 2013, getting one of my amendments passed making LU much more revolutionary on trade unions, as described in my blog entry Compromise between the Left Party Platform and Socialist Platform: Justification for my amendments to LPP. However, after the Manchester conference, it is even more clear that there is an ongoing struggle between those who advocate a more revolutionary approach and those who want LU to limit itself to reformist demands (even though some of the latter are actually revolutionaries or are in organisations that claim to be).

There is a concerted effort by many within LU (as well as those outside like the SWP) to portray the party as “reformist” or “left reformist”. Indeed, in opening the discussion on the economics commission document, Pete Green said that the programme in the document is reformist. This is despite the fact that when I went to the meeting to discuss the document in London, it was described as “a transitional programme” (I can’t remember whether Pete himself used that term but he certainly didn’t object).

There is a big difference between putting forward a set of demands, many of which cannot be implemented under capitalism, that is the transitional approach of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant, that I was in from 1990-98), and simply presenting a set of moderate reforms (the approach of other “left unity” approaches including the Socialist Alliance, before its abolition largely by the SWP in favour of Respect, and Respect itself as an even more moderate party that generally avoids even mentioning socialism at all). In truth, the demands on tax in the document are indeed left reformist but some demands in other sections can more accurately be described as transitional and amendments passed at the conference make LU’s economic policy even more so.

To be charitable towards Pete, part of the point of “transitional demands” is to appear reformist even if you aren’t! If you actually argue publicly (in front of those in the room and on the live stream if it was working at the time, but wasn’t, and later appearing on YouTube) that the point of those demands is to bring capitalism down, then that undermines the point of being “transitional”! Arguably a reason why LU has got much more publicity in the mainstream media than the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is that we come across as more moderate.

As far as I’m concerned, we are a broad socialist party rather than a reformist party, which is very important because gradual reforms cannot bring capitalism down, and ending capitalism (which was explicitly added to the Left Party Platform statement of aims by a Camden amendment, and accepted by the founding conference) is vital since reforms in the interest of the masses that can be afforded during booms cannot when there is a recession or slump.

It is good that both amendments I put forward (via Manchester) to make our policy on the economy more radical were accepted.

Making the explicit point that “shareholders (capped at a certain level so that large shareholders lose most of their investments)” when shares are converted to government bonds as compensation for nationalisation, rather than adding to the national debt, was actually accepted into the document anyway – presumably because we discussed exempting those on companies’ boards from compensation at the meeting but didn’t come up with good wording and my proposal is clearly better.

My other amendment, on nationalising “companies that attempt to destabilise a Left Unity government, by a ‘strike of capital’ or by trying to transfer assets overseas” (1D) was presented by a different LU member in Manchester, Laurie McCauley, in my absence and “overwhelmingly carried” at the conference. However, it is clear from reports of the conference, at Left Unity Policy Conference: a further small step forward, but…… by Pete McLaren of the Independent Socialist Network and Left Unity: ‘Moderate’ party takes shape by Peter Manson in the Weekly Worker, that Laurie got confused when presenting the amendment and argued for “the public ownership of other essential services, including the giant supermarket companies, which dominate the retail trade and much of the agricultural and food industry in this country” which was actually in the original document! This may have been my fault, in including the text of that paragraph of that document before the amendment, but Laurie was at the Manchester meeting at which I proposed it. At least the latter link above does mention “companies that attempt to destabilise a Left Unity government” so Laurie must in part of talked about what he was supposed to be proposing!

Some of you will be wondering why I have to speculate about what Laurie actually said now that the videos of conference have been published on YouTube. However, the video at Left Unity National Conference 2014 (04b) – Peter Green-Economic Policy Report 2/2 jumps from the proposer of amendment 1C to debate from the floor, skipping entirely past Laurie proposing my amendment (1D)! A speaker, who didn’t give his name, did say in the debate from the floor that in support of 1D that it should be uncontentious that we nationalise a company that “opposes the government”.

It certainly appears that the jump in the video was deliberate (and the same may well be true for the live streaming). Even glitches in software that appear random usually have some underlying cause, especially when there are important issues at stake like in this case. It is more likely to be caused by artificial intelligent algorithms as part of PRISM than a random glitch! I will leave it to readers to assess whether a human censor is responsible!

[EDIT 6/4/14: Without evidence that deliberate censorship by whoever edited the videos is responsible, I withdraw the final accusation. I also regret that those who have already read this post may have come to that conclusion. I encourage readers of this blog entry (particularly those who are members or considering becoming members) to read comments I have posted below for an alternative explanation (on the lines of what I said above about PRISM but more convincingly and with evidence). I do think that a lot of things that happen in the world are planned, by a combination of computers and human minds, and that those who think that important interactions often happen randomly are naïve.]

4 thoughts on “29 March #LeftUnity conference: The ongoing struggle between revolutionaries and reformists

  1. I put a link to this blog post on google groups for both Manchester LU and the economics commission (I didn’t want to wait for a response from Laurie McCauley as to what earth-shattering points he made that may have been censored before posting since there was a possibility that the economics commission group could have been closed down after conference).

    In the event, Laurie replied: “I’m flattered Steve, but I strongly suspect that the NSA have bigger fish to fry than little old Laurie here, and that this is in fact due to my cheeky dig at Salman Shaheen.

    John Penney replied (on the economic commission group): “Come on Steve, reality check, there no chance whatsoever that there has been a conspiracy of selective Conference video deletion going on ! Our new party really isn’t like that so far.

    I would like to think so, hence I suggested computer glitches. As someone who repeatedly tried tuning in for the live stream, I know that a hell of a lot more coverage appears now on YouTube than was viewable on the day.

    The top of http://leftunity.org/all-video-from-left-unity-conference/ says: “Left Unity’s conference on Saturday was recorded… here you can see all the debates as they happened. There is some editing to avoid long waits, eg. during the counting of votes.” The strong implication is that the live streaming problems were not reflected in the videos. I have seen a comment by Mark Anthony France on that page about the non-appearance of part of the discussion on Scotland/internationalism, so knew that editing out (due to whatever cause) was not limited to the section of the debate on LU’s economic programme I was referring to.

    John Penny blamed “cock ups” and I don’t want to cast aspersions without concrete evidence, but even if it’s just somebody’s subconscious influencing that person to make our policy sound more reformist than it really is, the world isn’t random! I suggest that there are far greater conspiracies involving computer programs interacting with human minds to model the world to quite a high degree of accuracy – read https://thatcheroftheleft.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/budget2014-alan-turing-institute-for-big-data-algorithm-research-towards-fascism-forever-turing-stopped-in-ww2/, including the comments at the end of the page for discussion of a website about a possible Marxist conspiracy to oppose the likes of the NSA (with its PRISM programme) and GCHQ, that I have started having with somebody involved with it!

    Pete Green (in the economics commission group) replied: “As for what counts as reformist – transitional demands will be looked at differently by people with different perspectives. To my [sic] the demands were left reformist in that by themselves they would not suffice to abolish capitalism but transitional to the extent that capital’s rejection of them would put in question it’s own right to exist. It’s not about covering up revolutionary goals in other words.

    Well, the official report of the conference on the LU website, by Tom Walker (at http://leftunity.org/a-raft-of-solid-left-wing-policy-conference-report/), omits all mention of any revolutionary proposals in the accepted economics programme (including my two amendments). Combined with what is described as “All video from Left Unity conference“, it results in a situation where anyone who didn’t attend the conference (and hasn’t read this blog post or scrutinised the document and amendments passed in detail) would clearly come to the conclusion that LU is a reformist party.

    I’m reasonably happy with the economy commission document as amended. Hopefully it will be uploaded to the LU website in the near future…

  2. Salman Shaheen (in the economics commission group) replied to my post above: “I thought his [Laurie McCauley’s] cheeky dig at me was quite funny, I certainly never asked it to be censored and do not believe anyone would censor it.

    I know Salman reasonably well and certainly wouldn’t have thought that he would stoop to the level of encouraging censorship, but not knowing what Laurie actually said is extremely frustrating!

    Laurie had previously emailed me replying to whether the amendment was passed saying “It did! Not sure my speech had anything to do with it, though I did get in a cheeky Andrew Neil reference. Good initiative on that comrade.” [NB: Salman Shaheen was interviewed by Andrew Neil on The Daily Politics the day before the conference.]

    I deliberately chose someone who is a revolutionary and prepared to say so to propose my amendment. Those who say there are no conspiracies ignore the fact that Laurie is in a revolutionary organisation (the CPGB) which conspires around revolutionary goals, even if it is only by having internal meetings, although they are less secretive than other “democratic centralist” organisations (some of which participate in LU) due to them publishing reports of some such meetings (“aggregates”) in the Weekly Worker. [They don’t publish reports of discussions of their leadership body, the Provisional Central Committee.]

    Laurie avoided telling me anything else about his speech, perhaps because he is embarrassed at misreading what he was supposed to be talking about! Maybe I will find out at Manchester LU’s next meeting on Wednesday evening, but if anyone can let me know in the meantime by posting a reply to this blog entry, contacting me at http://www.facebook.com/socialiststephen or emailing steve.wallis2460@gmail.com that would be even better!

  3. I posted a comment in the early hours of this morning to http://leftunity.org/all-video-from-left-unity-conference/, pointing out the skipping past Laurie’s speech in one of the videos, giving the full text of the amendment and saying that it was “overwhelmingly carried”. It has now been accepted via a moderator and therefore viewable on that page. Since that amendment is now much more prominent than it would have been in the midst of all those videos, that particular problem (however it came about) has been overcome.

    I included something in that comment from the economics commission discussion group: “It has also been brought to my attention that Susan Pashkoff’s summing up bit in the Economic debate on the Citizens Income amendment debate is missing too.

    Laurie replied to my points as follows:

    Oh lord Steve. Salman seems nice enough and I wasn’t accusing him of anything. But who are the most sectarian and outrageous in the swp for example? Not the CC but the middle cadre who want to prove their loyalty. Some LU functionary probably thought they’d spared Salman a few blushes this way. Or there WAS just a technical fault.

    I mean, look at the left dude. We couldn’t threaten a hamster, let alone the state machine.

    And I don’t think I was confused. I briefly mentioned that the motion ‘expanded LU’s policy of nationalisation’ before getting stuck into the meat of the motion. If that had already been accepted into the document, then yeah I got it wrong.

    Laurie shows signs of the pessimism common in his organisation (the Communist Party of Great Britain), and even though we don’t pose much of a threat to the state now, the whole point is to create a party which does in the future! That in itself is enough for the state to target us – but, as I suggested in a debate in the blog post and comments at https://thatcheroftheleft.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/budget2014-alan-turing-institute-for-big-data-algorithm-research-towards-fascism-forever-turing-stopped-in-ww2/, the left conspires too using similar methods to our enemies in the state – and a combination of a huge amount of circumstantial evidence during my life (especially in recent years), and my knowledge and expertise in artificial intelligence and computer modelling (with my language SDML), lead me to believe that “the world is planned” (as one of my songs argues) rather than operating in a random way.

    It was not just Pete McLaren (whose report is linked to above) who got confused by amendment 1D that you spoke on, in thinking it was something to do with nationalising supermarkets, but Peter Manson in your own organisation’s paper, the Weekly Worker (linked to above): “Some useful amendments were carried: the nationalisation of ‘other essential services’ (apart from those privatised over the last three decades) and of ‘companies that attempt to destabilise a Left Unity government’ ” – that amendment does indeed “expand LU’s policy of nationalisation“, to those carrying out a “strike of capital” or “transferring assets overseas“, but no other amendment or that one extends it to any “essential services” except for those already specified in the document.

    [Maybe the lack of a blank line between the original paragraph and amendment to it caused confusion. There were also no blank lines in my amendment 21A (to Lambeth’s on the EU). In both cases, I included blank lines when submitting them to the Standing Orders Committee.]

  4. I’ve written another blog post on the Left Unity conference, about the economy again and also the European Union. It also talks about the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which had a “recall conference” (which I attended and made a controversial intervention) two weeks before Left Unity’s conference. I have submitted that post as a letter to the Weekly Worker (partly because it addresses some points made in an article in that paper). Read it at https://thatcheroftheleft.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/peoples-assembly-and-leftunity-conferences-debating-the-economy-and-european-union-be-radical-but-strategic/.

    Nominations have reopened for vacant seats in the national council. I am standing for one of four remaining seats representing the North West of England. For my election statement, go to https://thatcheroftheleft.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/my-statement-as-a-candidate-for-the-national-council-of-leftunity/.

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