An Organisation that is Afraid to Campaign
Left Unity was formed last year with the many of the members coming from the fall-out in the SWP over Martin Thomas and the question of rape/sexual harrassment. Others are relatively new to politics and of course there are those who are members of existing left groups – Socialist Resistance and the Communist Party of Great Britain.
At the Conference I attended in London 30th there were some of the same hard-boiled cooks that had played a role in other prominent left groups. Andrew Burgin as Chair of Stop the War Committee, Liz Davies, who Blair stopped from standing in Leeds and who became Chair of the Socialist Alliance, acting as a cover for the SWP as it proceeded to destroy the SA, Kate Hudson of CND, ex-Respect. LU has about 1,500 members but it is doing nothing with them other than involving them in interminable intra party elections and affairs.
I therefore send an Open Letter to LU members making my criticisms clear. I have had a favourable response from a number of members but it is doubtful that the central leadership understands it. Despite submitting it to the website a week ago, it has yet to appear
There is, of course nothing wrong with internal elections, quite the contrary. For ex-members of the various left sects it’s probably a novel experience. But the intricacy and complication of the election process are self-imposed burdens. Instead of simple elections, weighted to ensure that minority political opinion is represented there is a full-blown PR system. Women won’t be elected of course in accordance with their politics but simply because of the biological fact that they are women. We have yet to go down the UNISON road with every minority of a minority being represented (except the working class) but no doubt that that is a delight to come as the Left Unity confuses its own organisation with the society it is seeking to create. No better example of the contempt for democracy that this breeds is the statement: ‘There is no obligation on individual members to vote for at least 50% women in any section though members may of course choose to do so.’
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I can remember when the demand for positive discrimination first raised its head, in the student group of which I was a member, the Socialist Students Alliance, in the 1970’s. The SSA was dominated by the International Marxist Group (now Socialist Resistance) which had abandoned working class politics for ‘movementism’. Positive discrimination encouraged clichés, slogans and a superficial support for socialism, in place of any deep commitment to opposing this system or involvement in campaigns at the sharp end of the battle with this capitalism. Most of those women either became supporters of New Labour (Blair was a particular supporter of positive discrimination and all-women shortlists) or dropped out of politics. This was not true of all the men – especially the Irish and anti-fascist activists. We had 101 women (New) Labour MPs, who 75% of whom voted in favour of the Iraqi war (as opposed to 40% of men who did so).
Coupling this with the fact that the 30th November Conference devoted the whole day to drawing up a constitution and it appears ever more obvious that Left Unity is like the Malaysian Airline plane – destined to crash but we know not where, at least yet.
Left Unity is an organisation with a small number of members, yet it has a Rolls Royce constitution fit for an organisation of hundreds of thousands. Indeed, until New Labour took over, it could be said that our constitution is more complicated and cumbersome than the Labour Party’s.
Some people are losing sight of the fact that the purpose of Left Unity is to make a political impact in and away from elections that the mass media and the establishment cannot ignore. One thing that UKIP and to a lesser extent the Green Party have shown is that it is possible for parties that are determined and dedicated to succeed, even electorally, despite First Past the Post elections. To translate the ideas and desires of the working class and chunks of other parts of society, into a vehicle for socialism. A thoroughgoing debate on how to achieve it, what issues to prioritise, the targeting of resources on particular areas, the concentration on campaigns that epitomise everything which is wrong with market capitalism. I’m thinking of the NHS and Welfare ‘reform’ in particular and above all steady and solid work over the lifetime of a parliament, with a possible focus on by-elections, are just a few example of this. This will lead to steady but slow recruitment. A weekly paper (no not Socialist Resistance revamped!) But this hasn’t even been subject to any debate, nationally or in the local branches. Instead the focus has been wholly internal. The first thing you see on LU’s website is the absurd and trite slogan ‘Coming soon to a ballot paper near you!!’ with a picture of a cross on a ballot paper and the top three articles are concerned with internal elections and then an equally trite article ‘A budget for UKIP not ‘hardworking people’ which, apart from anything else, is nonsense.
The term ‘hardworking people’ not the working class or marginalised or unemployed, is in itself a reflection of New Labour ideology. Are the disabled ‘hardworking people’? Does it matter?
What is or should be the target for the website? New Labour of course. It is the beneficiary of the working class vote. Articles hammering away at this would at least suggest that LU has some coherent strategy other than, as at present, being a mishmash of left and not-so-left ideas. Attacking Miliband for support for the Benefits Cap, for following Gordon Brown’s strategy of engineering a boom via house prices inflation, the selling of council houses, privatisation of the NHS, the fact that the pension reforms will inevitably lead to growing poverty among the elderly, the pathetic suggestion of a 20 month prices freeze in utility bills when the real issue is nationalisation. These are examples of what a focused and aimed political strategy might aim at. But instead we debate the constitution and focus on internal elections!
There is also the absurd name – Left Unity. What does it mean to people? That the left is disunited? Perhaps if we hadn’t faced a Hobson’s choice at the Conference, when suggestions could have been taken from the floor, we might have had ‘People Not Profit’ or something that sums up what LU purportedly stands for.
It is telling that no candidates came forward for the elections from Scotland, the North-East or South-West. What does this say about LU’s present political trajectory and appeal? Even the Socialist Alliance, before the SWP took it over and destroyed it had more political weight and substance.
One suggestion would be that national leaflets on renationalisation nd the NHS, Welfare attacks, the contrast between Bob Crow and the present TU leaders and privatisation, racism (G4S). This would mean that LU becomes a vehicle moving in the same direction together. How does LU achieve momentum and a critical mass? This is of greater importance than interminable internal elections. LU has a year at most before stagnation and decline set in. It can either move forwards or backwards. If it doesn’t start focusing on society out there as opposed to its own internal structures, it will lose any chance to do so.
I write a column every other week in the local free paper, the Brighton Independent, which has over 3 times the circulation of the daily Argus, a paid for paper, My articles have focused on disability, benefits, the closure of a children’s centre, Tony Benn and Bob Crowe, the parasites that Osborne represents, housing etc. At present I would be loathe to even mention LU as I would be plugging a group that is unlikely to be around long and which is unable to live up to its own hype and pretensions.