Left Unity & IOPS

blogJohn Keeley (Left Unity supporter & IOPS member) contributes to the debate.

One of the biggest challenges we face is convincing people that we are different to the capitalist political parties. That we are not just another group of politicians seeking power to rule over the people.

After 18 years of Tory government, Blair & Brown did little better. Inequality continued to rise. The best that can be said about Labour is they are not as bad as the Tories. That’s not saying much. Some people, especially students, then got their hopes up that the Liberals were offering something different, only to find that they were like all the other politicians – just after power for its own sake!

So how can Left Unity send out a clear message that they are different? I suggest one way is to link up with IOPS (International Organisation for a Participatory Society – http://www.iopsociety.org). It offers a vision of a society where people have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives. The general principle is people have a say in proportion to the extent that the decision affects them. Its core values are:

  1. Self-management
  2. Equity/Justice
  3. Solidarity
  4. Diversity
  5. Ecological stewardship
  6. Internationalism

Analysis is divided into four spheres:

  1. Community/culture
  2. Kinship/gender
  3. Polity/power
  4. Economy/class

These four spheres have two contexts:

  1. Ecology
  2. International Relations

The institutions of the four spheres generate relations of power, wealth, privilege & status. Economics is just one of the four spheres & the two class analysis of Marxism (capitalists & workers) is rejected in favour of a three class analysis that includes a coordinator class. These are the people who have the empowering jobs, such as bankers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc. The argument is that these people, although not capitalists, are an obstacle to a classless society. Taking the means of production away from the capitalists will not create a classless society unless the empowering work is not shared out along with the repetitive, mundane tasks. It is not just about removing private property but abolishing the division of labour.

IOPS is very much aware of the importance of language. Being labelled a communist is currently a handicap. The same goes for the terms Marxist & anarchist. These words become obstacles to the central message of participation & having a real say over the decisions that affect us. Hence the emphasis on transcending 20th century central planning & not having an ideological driven blueprint. Rather to promote a revolutionary organisation that is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist & anti-authoritarian. It aims to win a better world by:

  1. Flexibly exploring & advocating long term vision
  2. Building the seeds of the future in the present
  3. Empowering the lives of its members
  4. Organising in an internally classless & self-managing way
  5. Winning changes in society that better the situations

Much of this should find favour with supporters of Left Unity. IOPS don’t reject electoral politics but they do emphasise the vision of a society where people participate directly in decision-making. A vote every 4 or 5 years is not democracy. This means arguing for an alternative system, not just being an alternative party to vote for. It also means trying to build that alternative system that allows participation & equality of decision-making now. This is what IOPS are trying to with the structure of their website & the chapters that have been set up. Their meetings are a breath of fresh air, tolerant of alternative strategies, but united in a vision of a better world.

I hope Left Unity & IOPS can work together & convince people that we really do offer an alternative.



9 responses to “Left Unity & IOPS”

  1. Emil Christian says:

    From the little I know about IOPS, it seems to inhabit the new spirit of consensus that has proven surprisingly effective for the pop-up and student occupations and movements in recent years. Excellent opportunity for mutual learning – the trick is to balance leadership (not hierarchy or control) with consensus, a nuanced but possible task. I don’t know how well IOPS does this but I hope both LU and IOPS can provide some sort of (inter)national model to point to. Chomsky, on the board of IOPS, has been advocating this kind of activity from at least the 80s (there’s a 20 page summary of all the radical discussions we can have in the back of Liberating Theory). A luta continua!

  2. ed1975 says:

    I’ve never heard of the International Organisation for a Participatory Society before. It sounds like a very interesting organisation. Welcome to Left Unity. I agree that language is very important. We need to be careful not only avoid the usual cliches about “stuffing the tories” etc but also try and avoid the endless references to obscure ideological differences, unless anacronyms and and all the other things that make left wing debate so impenetrable. having said that I don’t think we should hide what we are. We need to stand proud and make the arguments.

  3. Tom says:

    Marxists have never claimed there are just two classes. The third class mentioned here is not very useful. Many placed into this third category are clearly part of the working class, with others part of middle classes and still others part of the ruling class. Left Unity should be fighting for the unity of the working class, seeking to win hegemony of the working class over the middle classes (which is possible), and stopping them falling into the role of tools of the ruling class at its most reactionary, with scapegoating of the most vulnerable victims of capitalist crisis. Doing all this means pointing the way out of the crisis. That means posing the alternatives as socialism or barbarism. You don’t control what you don’t own. Capitalist profit derives from surplus value extracted from the wage slaves. Welfare, not warfare. Tax the rich. Universal benefits for all. If capitalism cannot afford the 99%, we can’t afford capitalism. Workers of the world unite.

    • ed1975 says:

      While I basically agree with your points Tom you have illustrated one of mine
      “seeking to win hegemony of the working class over the middle classes”
      “socialism or barbarism”
      “Capitalist profit derives from surplus value extracted from the wage slaves”
      May all be valid points but they are phrased in such a way that would have most people looking them up on google to work out what you’re on about.

    • John Keeley says:


      As a Marxist I’m actually somewhat sceptical of the concept of a ‘co-ordinator class’, at least in the sense of it being given the same status as working-class & capitalist class.

      Michael Albert (of IOPS) & others use it as an easy way to explain away the Russian Revolution. They argue Lenin & the Bolsheviks got it all wrong by forgetting about the importance of the division of labour; if only they had had the correct theory things would have been fine. But this is too simplistic. However, I don’t want to start off a long debate on why the Russian Revolution went wrong.

      So I’m not an uncritical supporter of IOPS. But they at least draw attention to the much forgotten importance of not only tackling ownership of the means of production, but also the division of labour. It seems a fair point to me that allowing some people to have empowering jobs whilst others have to do mundane, repetitive tasks, risks the re-establishment of classes. If we really want a classless society then we need to tackle the division of labour. Explained properly I think this would appeal to a lot of people.

  4. Tom says:

    Ed, you make an important point. Someone argued in a piece on Left Unity that we should be forced to write in very short contributions, I think 200 words was the suggested limit. This is a problem. Marxists are ‘scientific socialists’. You can place E=MC2 on a teeshirt but that doesn’t prove you understand why it is so. The point of Marxists is to get the message across and googling may not be the best way to do that. There is no Marxist search engine that weeds out articles written by the enemies of Marx, Lenin Luxemburg, Gramsci and Trotsky. Prior to Tony Blair’s ripping up of Clause Four, it was easier to find a platform to explain why workers cannot win the full fruits of their labour under private ownership of the means of production. Now socialists are treated like Galileo under house arrest. Left Unity needs to appreciate that and work to get our message out there once more. We need to help an ever growing section of our class adopt the point of view of anti-capitalism on every question. That will allow us to challenge the media’s crap that lets them scapegoat immigrants, Muslims, travelers, single mothers, benefit scroungers or whoever. It will allow us to win converts to defending all those who take industrial action that shifts the balance of economic power from the exploiters to the exploited. And it allows us to make the case for a more general, political approach to industrial muscle: where the chains of capitalism are forged, there must they be broken.

  5. arranjames says:

    I remain a little concerned about the reneging on nominations. Communist and anarchist might have been smeared but that is no reason to abandon those names out right. Impression management might mean that we could seek clarify these names, or we could use entirely new ones….until we get accused of “being the same old bunch of socialist/communists/loony lefties”. The problem isn’t the words, it’s our aversion to them, and our enjoining in a thought that makes them unthinkable things to utter. While I’m not suggesting a new organisation should brandish the names, I don’t see why it should hide them; if for no other reason, if people suspect we’re hiding something beneath shimmering PR tactics they will not tolerate it. Being aware of how we present ourselves is one thing, following into some kind of public relations trap is another.

    • John Keeley says:


      Things change. Not so long ago being a anti-capitalist wasn’t so popular, now it’s not a problem. To some extent being a Marxist isn’t such a barrier as increasing people are open to the idea that Marx could have been right all along. But being a communist is still a big handicap due to the history of the 20th century. For many people communism is Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or the Kim communist dynasty in North Korea. The closest to a positive example, arguably, is Cuba. But all of these are one-party dictatorships. None are communist as none have the people commonly owning the means of production. As much as many of us know what communism really is & that it has never existed, being so overtly a communist puts a big hurdle in your way in trying to explain your vision of an alternative to capitalism. Sending out a participatory message that includes abolishing the division of labour to counter the misconception of one-party dictatorships is crucial if we are going to get anywhere.

      • arran james says:

        Actually, point taken. I was letting a theoretical, and personal, position get in the way of a pragmatic, and collective, concern. Discussing this with a friend a few nights ago, I was of the opinion that the most important thing is for us to be appealing and joyful. The left is too often seen as grim, dour, unnecessarily intellectual, or too carnivalesque. I am happy to be corrected though, as what I wrote above is out of kilter with the need to actually resonant with people and, against my own point (haha!) was also too caught up in image! Hahaha! Oh well, I’ll keep blundering on anyway. :-)

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