People’s Assembly and #LeftUnity conferences: debating the economy and European Union – be radical but strategic

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This blog entry (that I am also submitting as a letter to the Weekly Worker, which as usual will undoubtedly cut it significantly but without distorting my points) is about uniting much of the left in the new broad socialist party Left Unity – with the People’s Assembly Against Austerity which also held a conference recently going some way to uniting the left in a single anti-cuts organisation. I argue that we should not just put forward radical (and sometimes revolutionary) demands but consider the implications rather than dogmatically taking up positions which make a socialist revolution less likely.

In (“‘Moderate’ party takes shape”, 3 April), Peter Manson writes about the policy-making conference of Left Unity in Manchester on 29 March: “the obsession with political ‘broadness’, with anti-democratic constitutionalism, risks disabling the project from the start.” As CPGB members in the Weekly Worker have made clear many times, they are in favour of a solely Marxist party (which they sometimes call a “Communist Party”). Apart from the word “Communist” putting people horrified by the crimes of Stalinism (with “Marxist” having similar connotations to many), such a party could never gain mass support. When they actually put that theory into practice, uniting with the Democratic Socialist Alliance and the Critique journal, in setting up the Campaign for a Marxist Party, that campaign completely failed to take off.

I have argued for “a revolutionary platform” within Left Unity, and supported the Socialist Platform, but to make LU more revolutionary and unite together revolutionary socialists in preparation for a potential huge economic crisis (that could even be more severe than the 2007-8 credit crunch) rather than to totally take over LU, which is not practical anyway even if we tried to. I want a “broad socialist party” involving reformists as well as revolutionaries, with at least some members openly mentioning their revolutionary views. Apart from other significant political differences, including the emphasis on “the working class” suggesting that middle class people like Russell Brand (who incidentally plugged Left Unity via Twitter a Guardian article by Ken Loach on the eve of the Manchester conference contributing to the quick recruitment of 200 new members) should be disenfranchised, I wouldn’t be keen on joining the Communist Platform due to its name.

The CPGB want a Marxist/Communist party to operate on the basis of democratic centralism as explained in the “Draft rules” at www.cpgb.org.uk/home/about-the-cpgb/draft-programme/draft-rules. I also have problems with that, since I think it important to put forward my own views in public, rather than being limited to the collective decisions of a party (with that party’s leadership being particularly powerful).

I actually got myself in a fair degree of hot water at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity recall conference (on 15 March) by speaking against a point in a motion (4.1 – go to www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/recall_conference for all motions, supplements and amendments) from the CPB (linked to the Morning Star newspaper) which said that we should “continue to demonstrate that there is no economic need for ANY austerity measures”. I argued that there is a need for austerity under capitalism (and there is a possibility of a much greater crisis than at present as I said above) which means that a socialist revolution is the only solution. The continually increasing national debt makes the sort of lofty reforms proposed throughout that conference unaffordable. No-one had mentioned the word “socialism” before me (and it was only during an esoteric speech about canal boat direct action at virtually the end of the conference that it got mentioned afterwards). [Last year was even worse, without socialism being mentioned at all in either of the two plenary (main) sessions, and with Labour MPs (plus that party’s members Tony Benn and Owen Jones) and trade union leaders speaking but with LU co-founder Ken Loach refused permission to speak in those sessions.] I was actually a delegate from Left Unity nationally at the recall conference and I made two mistakes, in not clarifying that they were my personal views rather than those of LU as a whole, and that I’m in favour of public ownership (which was the subject of that section of the conference). However, I disagree with LU’s Terry Conway who told me later that I should have limited what I said to the collective viewpoint of LU, and that if I was a trade union delegate I should just put forward views of that union or union branch. Such “broadness” would have led to a situation whereby only revolutionary organisations could have mentioned socialist revolution, and quite possibly the only one was Counterfire, the main organisation behind the People’s Assembly who want a broad organisation anyway!

Returning to the LU conference, I put forward two amendments via Manchester. The first argued for compensation to be “capped at a certain level so that large shareholders lose most of their investments” when shares are converted to government bonds during nationalisation, and this was accepted into the economics commission document before conference. It had been argued at the commission meeting in London that I participated in that those receiving share bonuses on company boards should not be compensated, but my proposal is surely better, and this “transitional demand” makes our policy on the economy significantly more radical than it otherwise would be.

The other amendment, which the CPGB’s Laurie McCauley spoke in favour of, since I couldn’t attend conference, argued for the nationalisation of “companies that attempt to destabilise a Left Unity government” (as Peter pointed out) “by a ‘strike of capital’ or by trying to transfer assets overseas” (as the amendment stated) was carried overwhelmingly. [There is a minor mistake in Peter’s article, where he states that amendments were carried for “the nationalisation of ‘other essential services’ (apart from those privatised over the last three decades)”. The document already included “all the major British owned banks, building societies and insurance companies” andthe giant supermarket companies, which dominate the retail trade and much of the agricultural and food industry in this country”, and there were no other amendments for “essential services”.]

Peter mentioned Lambeth’s motion on Europe, which stated that “demanding withdrawal from the EU … is a British nationalist position, which misidentifies the enemy as ‘Europe’ rather than the ruling class”. The clause Peter omitted, between “EU” and “is” in that quote, was “or opposing British entry into the European single currency”, which clearly is not “a British nationalist position” but vital (if any politicians were stupid enough to propose it) for reasons given in a Manchester amendment I wrote: “We oppose British and/or Scottish entry into the European single currency, since the European Central Bank is unelected and unaccountable, nationalisation of it is not a serious option this side of a socialist revolution across the EU, there are considerably different economic conditions in countries that have adopted the euro, and it is part of the troika that has enforced extreme levels of austerity on some countries in the eurozone.” In the conference debate, Pete Green called the idea that opposing joining the euro was “left nationalist” is “ridiculous” and argued strongly that you only need to look at what’s happened in Greece, Spain and Portugal to see that joining a single currency “under the current regime not in some potential future” is to submit ourselves to “the austerity measures imposed on behalf of the European banks” – my only qualm about what he said is that the “potential future” may lie “decades ahead” rather than there being serious potential for mass revolutionary movements in the coming period that could bring down capitalism (perhaps starting in Britain but spreading across Europe and the rest of the world very quickly).

The Lambeth motion (and therefore my amendment too) was remitted for consideration by the National Council, ostensibly due to a referendum on the other aspect of that motion, about a referendum on withdrawal from the European Union due to such a referendum being years away (somewhat strange because it would still be years away if the National Council considers it!) Although I think that the alternative composite from Milton Keynes and Sarah McDonald, originating from the CPGB, wasn’t perfect (in its emphasis on “the working class”), it’s good to have such a radical position on Europe, which doesn’t include the terrible position in the original Milton Keynes motion of abstention on joining the Euro that was obviously deleted during the compositing process.

For more about the LU conference, concentrating on the discussion around the economy, read my blog entry 29 March #LeftUnity conference: The ongoing struggle between revolutionaries and reformists.

 

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