Impressions of Left Unity Founding Conference

Felicity speaking at the founding conference

Felicity speaking at the founding conference

Felicity Dowling from Liverpool Left Unity gives some initial thoughts about the party’s founding conference

It took till the small hours to drive home from Conference and I am still tired so apologies if this is short and sweet.
Even while we met in Conference further horrors from the Tories came to light. By profession I am a SENCO (a special needs teacher in a mainstream school). At Conference I met up with Richard Reiser, someone I know from NUT, who told me of Tory plans to dismantle the basic policy of integration of pupils into mainstream schools. That’s been my life’s work and now it’s under real threat. So more than ever we need a political movement to defend our kids and more. We already have to fight sanctions on benefits, Atos, privatisation of the NHS, job cuts, the terrible curriculum imposed on schools, benefit tax and so much more
On Saturday we founded a political organisation with strong socialist, feminist, environmentalist and internationalist intentions. We hope to help defeat the Tory Austerity policies by giving a voice to the opposition, by linking with campaigns and putting forward alternative policies and helping develop this opposition into a mass movement.
Conference was overwhelmingly democratic; very complicated at times and the politics struggled to be heard over the din of sub clause this and that but it was a founding conference so that could be excused. Let’s hope the next conference is a policy discussion and a platform for different struggles.
The gender balance was not bad; there were many women, many people with different physical and invisible impairments and a number of young people, some of whom had a key role in the progress of conference…
What did I like?
• The conference was overwhelmingly friendly and comradely.
• The Left Party Platform statement that was amended but retained its message “The ………. party stands for equality and justice. It is socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. We stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism, Islamaphobia and fascism. Our goal is to transform society: to achieve the full democratisation of state and political institutions, society and the economy, by and for the people”
• We recognise that support for our party will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support
• The acceptance of Safe Spaces into the constitution
• The recognition of the rights of women and the need to organise among women
• The vote to ask the existing ten elected members of which I am one to continue until the next conference when the formal leadership will be elected.
• I was also pleased we voted to stay as Left Unity and not to change our name.
What didn’t I like?
Tactically what happened with the reference back of safe spaces? Conference Business committee thought it would go through uncontroversially so gave a limited time. No debate was planned but one happened and I was not given right to reply. It’s not critically important because it is in the constitution and further drafts are needed but it was the start of several political divides on women’s issues. For example Ken Loach, as Camden, deleted this in paragraph 8
” To the mutual respect and tolerance for different s of analysis; to the rejection of the corruption of conventional political structures and their reproduction of the gender domination of capitalist society. We recognise that economic transformation does not automatically bring an end discrimination and injustice and these sites of struggle must be developed and won openly and together”
So gender politics is still controversial even though 75% of Austerity cuts are aimed at women.
The final speech said that everyone at the conference, and those who could not make it, each had a role to play to build this organisation. Let’s go out and recruit people; let’s get involved in campaigns. Educate agitate and organise.
Felicity Dowling


15 responses to “Impressions of Left Unity Founding Conference”

  1. Philip Foxe says:

    Disappointed not to be there due to illness. The streaming was pretty good though. Glad we(Haringey) got the two thirds majority to change the constitution amended to a simple majority for now. I think people have woken up now and will think much harder about the next one! I never believed that conference would allow us to cut loose our comrades in Northern Ireland and am bemused that if could ever have been put forward! This I think may well be altered in the future when people are better informed. Also the 50% womens places on national bodies etc is so undemocratic as to be unbelievable. Conference heard good arguments against it and frankly reactionary and abusive ones for it so I am a little concerned as to why it was won. (guilty liberal males I suspect) Not the end of the world and we can look forward to a challenging but interesting future.

  2. Stuart says:

    Great report, thanks Felicity. Just one thing (there had to be didn’t there?!):

    “Tactically what happened with the reference back of safe spaces?”

    I don’t know if it’s a matter of tactics. For me it was primarily a matter of democracy. My understanding is that the policy commissions DRAFT PROPOSALS that are then circulated to local groups to be discussed, amended, or even rejected and alternatives proposed. These then all go to Conference for further discussion, then vote. What happened with Safe Spaces was that this process was short-circuited: the policy commission proposals were not circulated with the rest of the Conference documents, so our branch didn’t discuss it, and we were given a “take it or leave it” vote at Conference. I’m delighted, as a democrat, that the vote was overwhelmingly to “leave it”.

    This is not to say anything about the contents of the policy – I’d have voted against even if I’d agreed with every word (unless what we were voting for was politically uncontroversial, boring admin measure or somesuch).

    If Safe Spaces had passed, we’ve have set a worrying precedent: that policy commissions write policy, to be rubberstamped by conference. Very glad we have not gone down that road.

    All the best

  3. Stuart says:

    PS To be clear, I’m not complaining about the state of our democracy generally, or that there was any bad intent on anyone’s part. What happened with the Internal Democracy and Constitution Policy Commission was absolutely fine with me, democratically speaking. Cheers

  4. David says:

    ” To the mutual respect and tolerance for different s of analysis; to the rejection of the corruption of conventional political structures and their reproduction of the gender domination of capitalist society. We recognise that economic transformation does not automatically bring an end discrimination and injustice and these sites of struggle must be developed and won openly and together”

    Good move to delete this!

  5. David says:

    Safe Spaces sounds interesting. Is this where captitalists, bankers and other class enemies are kept in the weird and wonderful world of class struggle?

  6. Susan Pashkoff says:

    Couldn’t agree more Felicity. Also add the amendment to paragraph 4 all of which are factually indisputable and yet somehow were eliminated, which eliminated a socialist feminist definition of women’s oppression:

    “We fight to advance this goal in the current political context, against the increasing divergence between men’s and women’s incomes, against the increasing poverty among women, against the “double burden” of waged work and unshared domestic labour, and against the increasing violence against women in society and in personal relationships, which is exacerbated by the economic crisis.”

    I would love to know what is contentious in this socialist feminist statement and why the definition of feminism was gutted by the Camden amendments?

  7. Stuart says:

    I voted against all the Camden amendments, but the rationale for deleting that sentence, given by Camden delegate Ken Loach, was to improve the balance of the statement (ie, there were very many words about women’s oppression, not so many about all the other kinds). Cheers, Stuart

  8. Liz Gray says:

    Nice summary. I agree with you about almost everything

  9. Ray G says:

    Just one correction to Felicity’s article.

    The Standing orders committee (responsible for the agenda, timings etc) certainly did NOT think safe spaces would go through uncontroversially. On the contrary, it missed both the deadline for motions AND the deadline for amendments, and as such should not strictly have been discussed at all.

    As a compromise we allowed it to be moved and allowed for a quick vote to either a) accept it outright or b) remit to a later conference after members could have a chance to consider it properly, discuss it and amend it. Conference chose the latter, as we suspected it would.

  10. Stuart says:

    Good to hear that Ray – good move, good result. Cheers

  11. Fallbreaker says:

    Left Unity’s biggest failing and which what could cause it’s demise is that it’s not a federal organization. The Left will never be united by a Popular Front party, only by a United Front is this possible. There will never be a new mass-worker’s party if the different sections of the Left can’t be united under one banner, one program, but with the democratic allowance of inner-party critique and criticism and the ability for each part of the federation to function as their own individual bodies, as long as they all fight for and agree on the main program. When parties like these arise, non-federated ‘broad left’ parties it will merely attract only those who do not feel like they can fit in with any of the existing parties, not because the party itself is the party for them. Then the splits will come, because without federation, disagreements cannot function properly and it will end up with people leaving, instead of merely being able to voice their factions opinion as one can in a federal party.

    • John Penney says:

      United Front, federated, Left movements actually have a pretty dismal record, Fallbreaker – with a lot more time always spent scoring points off each other than building the struggle. There is also the pretty fundamental point that Left Unity has now been confirmed overwhelmingly at the Founding Conference as a radical Left REFORMIST political party. Therefore there is no basis for a “United Front” around this aim with the avowedly “revolutionary” Marxist groups on the Left.

      Some of these groups are currently independently discussing various alliance/merger arrangements around their supposed “shared” revolutionarty politics. However since the groups operating within Left Unity from the Revolutionary Left seeking to put together a single “Socialist Platform” ended up with three quite separate “platforms” ,only separated by the finest of textual differences, the prospect for revolutionary “united Fronts” is not good !

      The tiny groups on the revolutionary Left, though welcome to participate in Left Unity on the basis of its agreed radical reformist “Transitional” aims, are so few in total numbers, as to be completely irrelevant to the future prospects of the Party acquiring a mass base. It is whether Left Unity , with a broad, inclusive, radical left programme of transformational reform and unstinting opposition to the Austerity Offensive can break out of the tiny bubble of the radical Left, to a mass membership of ordinary working class people, that is the really important issue.

      • Frank Fitzmaurice says:

        John Penney. you state that Left Unity is a reformist party. On what basis do you assert this? I would hazard a guess that a lot of the votes for the Left platform came from the state capitalists of the SWP and the International Socialist network who, as far as i am aware, still consider themselves as revolutionaries.
        Another question, what are ‘radical reformist “transitional” aims?
        A transition implies a change of system, while a reform means altering the system but leaving its basic features intact. This seems very contradictory to me.

  12. John Penney says:

    Left Unity IS a radical reformist , not a revolutionary, socialist party, because of its clearly stated adopted Aims, Frank. I attach the Aims below (minus the amendment para) ;

    a) to unite the diverse strands of radical and socialist politics in the UK including worker’s organisations and trade unions; ordinary people, grass root organisations and co-operatives rooted in our neighbourhoods and communities; individuals and communities facing poverty, discrimination and social oppression because of gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, unemployment or under-employment; environmental and green campaigners; campaigners for freedom and democracy; all those who seek to authentically voice and represent the interests of ordinary working people

    b) to win a mandate to govern and introduce radical and fundamental changes in British society based on our belief in the benefits of cooperation and community ownership instead of the chaotic competition of capitalism; universal human rights, internationalism and peace; social, political and economic equality for all in the fullest sense, without which true democracy and mutual respect cannot flourish; a democratically planned economy that is environmentally sustainable, within which all enterprises, whether privately owned, cooperatives or under public ownership operate in ways that promote the needs of the people and wider society; an inclusive welfare state which operates on the principle that each will contribute to society according to their ability to do so, and society will in return meet their needs.

    c) to above all promote grass roots democracy in the understanding that fundamental and radical change can only come with the support and active involvement of the majority of people and that the way we organise today is a pointer to the kind of society we want to see in the future

    In addition, the two Statements, by The Left Party Platform, and Hackney/Tower Hamlets (available in full in an earlier “Conference Decisions” item, are radically transformative in aim – but not “insurrectionary revolutionary” in the sense of the usual Far Left’s “the only way to achieve any rollback of the capitalist austerity offensive and achieve any significant gains for the working class is by the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state” political line.

    Many (but not all) Revolutionaries within Left Unity have been able to vote for this set of objectives for Left Unity precisely because they understand that Left Unity isn’t intended to be The Revolutionary Party, and that at present in a period of unremitting working class retreat the only way to build mass resistance to the capitalist offensive is by building a radical reformist Left mass movement – based on radical but essentially reformist demands. Or more precisely ,what in times other than profound capitalist crisis would be reformist demands. The point is that , unlike the “its total socialist revolution – or nothing” exponents of some of the Far Left, those Far Left Groups in tune with the Left Unity project know that at present this actually means “we’ll do NOTHING then – but spout “general Strike NOW!” at a bemused working class – whilst the Austerity Offensive rolls ever onwards.

    The whole point about adopting a strategy of building around essentially reformist “Transitional ” demands is that whilst some of these undoubtedly can be won in the UK today (perhaps not in an economic basket case like Greece) – through mass action and the electoral process, we still accept that the capitalist crisis itself cannot be “solved” via purely reformist “Keynsian” tinkering. The road to transformative socially transformative action however runs through the process of building a mass movement and mass radicalisation based on basic, limited “bread and butter ” struggles.

    In an era of global systemic capitalist crisis there will come a point for the radical reformist party where capitalism cannot or will not concede more reforms, That is the point where revolutionary politics and radical reformist politics reach the “fork in the political road” ,where only the presence of revolutionaries in substantial numbers within the broad mass radical Left reformist party can ensure that the mass movement takes the Left fork – towards fundamental socialist transformation. Read Trotsky’s “Transitional Programme” – that’s the basic strategy in a period of systemic capitalist crisis where the working class might be willing to fight on limited defensive issues, but are as yet fundamentally ideologically and organisationally unready for revolutionary action of any kind – like now.

    Too many on the Far Left , after years of isolation from mass working class support, are trapped with an almost “mystical” vision of the “socialist revolution” as simply a series of defining cathartic social explosions (“The storming of the Winter Palace” vision of social transformation) – after which “socialism” is put in place by a revolutionary working class – and some sort of “quasi religious “End of Days – Coming of the Kingdom of Heaven/Socialism on Earth” occurs . Unfortunately revolutionary transformation is a complex, long PROCESS, NOT a limited series of cathartic EVENTS. For instance the Russian Revolutionary “process” – from 1917 through to the decisive defeat of the Russian working Class – with the definitive victory of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, covered something like 10 to 12 years – with many a twist and turn and cathartic event in between. Socialist social transformation will be just as tortuous a journey in the UK – with hopefully a very different outcome ! The first steps on that journey is through building a radical but initially reformist mass socialist movement

    • Ray G says:

      As set out above John, I agree with your analysis and the possible route to achieve socialism. I must say, however, that using over and over and kind of glorifying in the word “reformist” is not helpful to any side in the debate.

      The way you use the word is very clearly defined but you know the problem with the baggage that words retain. To many good people, not hardened revolutionaries but those quite active in the movement, “reformism” is Wilson, Kinnock, Blair and Miliband ie the project to manage capitalism on behalf of the rich and powerful while trying to soften it sometimes when the “system” decides it can afford it or is willing to offer temporary concessions under pressure.

      I don’t want to be associated with that at all, and I am certain that you don’t want to be either. There are ways to differentiate out party from the old “bureaucratic centralist” Leninists without confusing people with such toxic words as reformism.

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