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. Continue reading