Left Unity’s first national meeting: a report

Mike Scott and Liz Silver [Nottingham], Cetia Frietas [Surrey] and Iram Awan [High Wycombe] at the meeting yesterday

Mike Scott and Liz Silver [Nottingham], Catia Frietas [Surrey] and Iram Awan [High Wycombe] at the meeting yesterday

A report from yesterday’s first national meeting of Left Unity local group representatives by Stuart Watkins from the Leamington Spa group.

Back in March of this year, the film maker Ken Loach issued an appeal in The Guardian newspaper for a new party of the left – one that would fill the gap in Britain that leaves us without a political party committed to defending the welfare state and transforming the economy so that it meets the needs of ordinary people. The response to the appeal was – by the standards of previous such calls and considering the weakened, divided and demoralised left, not to mention the general population – a success. To date, more than 8,000 people have signed the appeal and more than 90 groups have sprung up around the country. Some of those groups, like ours in Leamington Spa, have just a small handful of members. Some are even one-person-bands. But others are already very healthy and lively and growing – the Brighton group, for example, has over 200 participants.

This Saturday marked the next step forward – Left Unity’s first national meeting, convened by a provisional organising committee, to discuss and agree how to take the project forward, and to elect a new committee to organise the group’s day to day affairs prior to a founding conference.

Prior to the meeting, there was a lively discussion on the group’s email discussion list, and, as well as many positive contributions, and a feeling of excitement and possibility about the new group, there was also a lot of fear, anxiety and distrust – partly about the scale of the task facing us, partly about the history of previous such projects weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

As it turns out, the excitement was more than justified; the anxiety and fear, to my mind at least, assuaged.

The meeting started with good introductions by the chair, Bianca Todd, and Kate Hudson, one the original group’s main movers, emphasising the scale and seriousness of the tasks facing us. Then there was open discussion from the groups around the country that had been able to send representatives – about 55 groups sent representatives, and, of the 8,000 people signing the original appeal, about 1,000 had so far been in contact with a local group.

The reports from the group’s representatives were all hugely inspiring and uplifting and, to a large extent, mirrored the experience and the views of our own group. Some of the people attending the groups were already members of existing left parties; some were campaigners, old and new, active and inactive, who were prepared to give the whole unity thing another roll of the die; others were entirely new to politics, including many – especially from the north of the country, and the disabled – who had been thrown into it by the viciousness of the government’s attacks on them (and there is much more viciousness to come). All were full of enthusiasm for the new project, but many were also wary: the majority of the meeting did not want yet another left project that was a stitch-up between the existing sects, or that could be dominated and destroyed by a group that used the project for its own purposes before pulling the plug, or that was democratic in name only.

Nathan Rogers from the organising group that prepared the conference.

Nathan Rogers from the organising group that prepared the conference.

After lunch, this discussion continued for some time before moving to the first motion. The meeting had originally been called partly in order to agree a statement of the group’s broad intentions and aims and principles, and many amendments and alternative statements had been proposed. But the first motion discussed by the meeting called into question the real democratic nature of our opening gambit. Most groups were newly formed, most had not had time to consider or discuss let alone vote on the statement, most had not seen at all any of the amendments or proposed alternative statements. Some of the representatives at the meeting could properly be considered democratically elected delegates of groups, others were just individuals, or had come from a group but with no mandate for voting. And, of the 8,000 people who had signed up to have a discussion about the new party, most had still not said a word or seen a single document. What democratic right did the meeting have to decide anything? To that end, it was moved (as amended):

This meeting resolves not to take any votes on any of the statements, resolutions or amendments except for those, or those parts, which deal with 1) the election of the new national co-ordinating group [to be dissolved and replaced with a properly elected body at the first conference] 2) the process of debate and discussion 3) the dates of the next national meeting and the founding conference and 4) the principle that the new organisation should be based on ‘one member, one vote’.

This passed by majority vote, and, to my mind, was a heartening start to the whole project. We would not start out by pretending to represent more people than we really did, we would not take any decisions out of the hands of future or indeed present members of the local groups, and the new party would be based on individual membership, with every member having equal power over decision-making. These last two points were especially important in assuaging fears about takeovers or undue influence and interference from existing groups and sects. A member of a left sect in the meeting moved that the new committee should invite observers from all existing left groups; others argued that existing groups should be allowed some kind of affiliation or group membership. On the basis of past experience, such notions were rejected by an overwhelming majority of those present. Members of existing groups would be welcomed as individuals, and their views would be treated with respect and given due consideration. Invasions by groups and parties with agendas of their own would not be.

The debate on this question and the subsequent voting got at times fairly heated, and, in the absence of previously agreed structures and mechanisms, pretty chaotic. It even perhaps teetered on the brink of disaster. But this was in itself pretty inspiring stuff. It’s what real democracy is like: it ain’t always pretty, it can sometimes descend into aggression and frustration, and it can be very hard work. But the results are worth it: a decision is eventually reached that satisfies most people if not everyone, and that has authority on that basis. After a debate and a vote like that, there is a certain quiet satisfaction in a job well done if the vote goes your way; a humble acceptance if it doesn’t. At least there should be.

Then followed a short speech by Ken Loach that soothed frayed nerves and reminded us why such hard work was necessary. It was a lovely, quiet, considered talk, that laid out in very few words his vision of what the new party should be. It should be anti-capitalist. (Here Ken semi-apologised for his use of what can often seem to the uninitiated confusing or alienating language. But as he rightly pointed out, this is the language that we on the left have developed so that we can talk accurately about the world we live in and what needs to be done. We should be against a world in which human needs are only met if doing so nets a profit to private individuals. That’s what capitalism means.) It should be socialist. (The only alternative to the chaos of capitalism is a planned economy, and an economy can only be planned if we collectively own and control it. That’s what socialism means.) It should also,  on the basis of painful past experience, be fully democratic, and do without ‘charismatic’ leaders.

Of course, that’s just the vision of one man. What the party will actually be like and stand for is the point of the national discussion, which is ongoing, and will be decided at the group’s founding conference in November 2013. For what it’s worth, Ken’s basic vision is also mine.

Doug Thorpe from Haringey Left Unity helping out on the queries desk

Doug Thorpe from Haringey Left Unity helping out on the queries desk

The meeting then proceeded to vote for the provisional organising committee that will organise the founding conference, and we, the representatives of the Leamington Spa group, voted for those people who had  been on the first committee, as they all came across as lovely, decent, committed people, who had clearly done a great job so far; otherwise, for others who had made good contributions on the day and spoke in way that revealed they were committed to democracy; but mainly and specifically for no one who was a member of a current far-left sect.

We came away from the first national meeting feeling more exhilarated and excited about politics than we had in a decade. Of course, the sheer scale and seriousness of the tasks lying ahead of us would be enough to calm anyone down from their high and sober them up. But we return to our local group in Leamington Spa full of hope for the future, and inspired to begin as soon as possible the hard work of deciding what we want a new left party to be, how we can work to make it a success, and how to win people to its banner in defence of their own interests, those of humanity, and of future generations.

If you haven’t already, please go to the website and sign Ken’s appeal. Get in contact with your local group. And let’s start the hard work of creating a world fit for human beings to live in.


58 comments

58 responses to “Left Unity’s first national meeting: a report”

  1. Kenneth J Budworth says:

    Sounds wonderful to me!

    • Alison L says:

      I have read the whole thread and agree that, overall, it all sounds as though LU is heading in the right direction. BUT I do not like the idea, as suggested by Stuart Watkins, that aggression is a healthy thing. Quite the reverse. it is off-putting to most people, and especially women.

      Firm, passionate debate where we thrash things out is great; I suspect and hope this is what you mean. Please clarify.

      • Stuart says:

        I did not mean to imply that aggression is healthy – apologies. I said that sometimes discussion ‘descends’ into aggression, hoping to imply by that that although predictable it’s to be avoided! Thanks everyone for the comments, positive and otherwise. All the best

  2. Toni Gill-DeVito says:

    I wish I had been there! I sensed it would be a harmonious, friendly gathering, as all the participants share the same ideology. I am a ‘one man band’ here in Sussex, but I will get to the next Brighton meeting if I possible can. Great news everyone! It is really encouraging.

  3. Jonno says:

    sounds great, can I suggest the new team urgently contact the 8000 signatories to the appeal and ask them why they haven’t engaged with the local groups, in some cases as noted on the FB site, it may be that they haven’t been able to contact anyone.

  4. Rich Will says:

    Very informative and encouraging, as you say a certain amount of friction is very necessary and a sign that we’re openly confronting the kinds of issues we will need to address as we develop. I think the fact that the meeting decided to constitute LU on the basis of individual membership is highly significant and as you say very heartening. The unsavoury sight of sect-like groups machinating for power is one that has turned so many people off radical activism in the past and Left Unity exists to do things differently.

  5. Liz Gray says:

    Thanks for that report. It was a great meeting overall, I thought, though a little fraught in the middle! Thanks to all who organised it.
    What was the outcome of the election for the temporary committee/steering group or whatever we’re calling it? I was standing and it would be good to know

  6. Tom says:

    This report is a disgrace. This gathering has usurped the 8,000 signatories who came together to express discontent with the Judean People’s Front alphabet soup of candidates at by-election. That is why Ken Loach was applauded so loudly when he last appeared on Question Time. By voting to exclude the bulk of the SWP, the SP, and the rest of the activist group membership, the latter are given no option but to stand candidates against Left Unity. In other words, those who claim to speak on behalf of the 8,000 voted yesterday to add just one more sect to this tragic left DISunity. Those who voted to deny Dave Nellist observer status at the meeting, to see which of the delegates was serious about left unity and who was a diehard sectarian, clearly have no idea what the meaning of genuine left unity is all about. The 7,000 who have not been consulted in any sense need to see to it that all these sectarian shenanigans end asap. If Kate Hudson and co won’t see sense, then they have to be voted out. The sooner the better.

    • Andrew says:

      Tom there was no vote to exclude Dave Nellist from the meeting.

      • Terry Crow says:

        Just for information, Andrew, I found this tweet from Dave Nellist: Dave Nellist ?@davenellist 14h
        ‘@Girl_Paradox Actually I did ask to wait for Ken, but was told that the “no observers” vote meant I couldn’t. So I waited outside the hotel

    • colin piper says:

      Hi Tom,

      I’ve followed your posts on this site with some interest and, whilst I haven’t always agree with you, have thought you always made contributions that were honest, thoughtful and intelligent. I think you have let your anger and disappointment cloud your judgement on this occasion however.

      For a start this report is absolutely NOT a disgrace. Indeed I was going to congratulate Stuart on giving us the bare bones of the decisions taken and a flavour of the mood and atmosphere, and to do it all with an appropriate level of brevity. Something other contributers (some who understandably preferred to remain anonymous, given the twaddle they were peddling) have found difficult.

      What you are disappointed by is the decision to go for one member one vote. I too am disappointed and would have preferred a federal structure but it is hardly a matter of principal over which to throw a tantrum.

      Suppose that the majority of people present on Saturday were attending their first political conference. It is hardly surprising that they would naturally support the idea of one man one vote, indeed they would probably think any alternative a little perverse. Such people didn’t go through the experiences of the Socialist Alliance, as you may have done.

      This is all extremely early days. A conference has decided on the principle of one member one vote but we don’t even have any members yet! My tongue clefts as I say this (since I’ve just heard Cameron say it) but don’t throw in the towel just yet!

      Best wishes,

      Colin

  7. Alan Story says:

    I echo the earlier comments…and compliment Stuart on a very good writing style.

  8. Luke Atterton says:

    Sounds very encouraging, how many people have signed the appeal?
    Is there a counter somewhere?

  9. Sal says:

    I was keen on this when I saw ‘Spirit of 45’. I still believe in the spirit. From the description of the meeting, though, it sounds as though some less welcome ghosts from the past have joined in, too. Motions and motions about motions, undefined democratic processes getting in the way of democratic participation, respect for powerless individuals, but none for groups of individuals who agree with each other…. It sounds like a hybrid of SWP and localised Labour – pomposity, sloganising and power struggles draining away the faith, the joy and the vision.

    Sad. I thought, maybe, there was another way being tried.

    • Ray G says:

      Sal – I’m sorry but you could not be more wrong. It was an, admittedly fuzzy and confused, victory for the spirit, joy and vision. Anyone, in or out of a group can join and play their full part, but being in a group does not give you EXTRA rights to be heard.

      The meeting agreed specifically NOT to set up processes which get in the way of participation, but to allow more time for everyone in every area to properly discuss the principles we should adopt, and the way forward, and to meet local friends and co-workers and get active. THEN we can have a better representative democratic stucture.

      It has NOTHING to do with the internal structures of the SWP or the Labour Party. It is something new. Come along and find out!! You are most welcome!

    • Stuart says:

      Hi Sal, if you have a better way to suggest, please do go along to your local group and suggest it. I’m sure you’ll be very welcome whether as a powerless individual or as an individual member of a group. The only alternative I know of to motions and so on is Occupy style consensus. This is great, creative and very good at building solidarity. Is this what you had on mind? I’m not convinced it would be appropriate for Left Unity but would be open to hearing the arguments. All the best

    • Darren Cahil says:

      Ebil sects and the pot calling the kettle black:

      Apparently this is a ‘Left-Unity’ initiative that excludes the sects. Apparently the sects are sectarian, but left-unity in its angelic formation somehow avoids sectarianism in their exclusion of the sects. Contradiction much? What does excluding other parts of the left have to do with unity?

      The approach towards the left-sects will effectively guarantee their continued sectarianism. This irony is no doubt lost on them. The last thing we need is another witch-hunting Labour party.

      • Iram says:

        Darren how does allowing everyone to join regardless of their membership to other existing parties/sects be exclusionary? If anyone wants to join they are welcome but they just can’t join as a ready made group. Why is this such an issue?

  10. Tim says:

    Perhaps using the word “sect” to describe existing left parties isn’t very helpful. Otherwise all sounds very positive.

  11. JS says:

    I wonder how Sal imagines it is possible to have democratic participation without agreed procedures? how does a meeting of that many decide anything without motions? What democratic participation was stopped by deciding to have individual membership? How do you, can you combine represntation of groups and individual members?
    There have been several attempts to build broader alliances etc over the last while. It sounds to me as if the people there were trying to learn some lessons. Perhaps they made mistakes but on the whole I don’t see much pomposity or sloganising in this report. As for power struggles (I wasn’t there) you’d have to be on the spot to judge.

  12. Bazza says:

    Sounds like a wonderful start.
    Perhaps the root cause of distrust between the far left and the left is that they want to win a socialist socirty FOR the w class and we want to win a socialist society WITH the w class. The best thing we can all bring is independent critical thinking.
    There is hope!
    X & Peace!

  13. Tom says:

    Looks to me like the only people who are going to be allowed to leave comments on this website now are yes-men and women who tell the leadership exactly what they want to hear. Well, you can count me out of that. I do not think they have any mandate to exclude members of the SWP, SP or any other socialist. Everyone who voted yesterday knew that the SWP, SP et al are not going to be intimidated into dissolving their organisations after decades of building them. It was Arthur Scargill’s decision to exclude supporters of Scottish Militant Labour that forced the latter to start an alternative in Scotland: the Scottish Socialist Alliance, an organisation that morphed into the highly effective Scottish Socialist Party, with six seats in the Scottish Parliament, an affiliated trade union (the RMT), and 3,000 members in a country with a tenth of England’s population. By telling the SWP and SP that they must liquidate themselves to be allowed to join Left Unity on an individual basis, Kate Hudson et al is replicating the same sectarian mess that lead to the destruction of the Socialist Labour Party in Scotland and elsewhere. Are all dissidents in Left Unity going to all be gagged from here on in? All 7,000 of us? Has democratic debate in Left Unity ended at the stroke of a pen?

    • Ray G says:

      Tom, Tom! For the thousandth time they are NOT excluded, nor do they have to liquidate their organisations. They can all STAY members of SWP, SP or any other random set of initials AND join Left Unity. OK??!

      There is no witchhunt. The Arthur Scargill reference is therefore totally irrelevant.

      What some (not all) the left groups wanted was to have a direct representation on LU party bodies, rather than winning support in local groups. They did not get that. Good. They have absolutely no more and no less right to influence the party than anyone else.

    • Rupert says:

      Tom
      I agree with so much you say. Terribly, Left Unity misses the notion of “unity.” LU cannot wipe out years of our history to prclaim a ‘new path’ precisely because this is no unity, no spirit of 45 without our struggles. And who is LU appealing to? Certainly not disillusioned Labour activits. With LU’s largest membership in Brighton (some 200) I suspect LU now appeals to disaffected Green Party activists. I want to be proved wrong. More than this, I want LU members and supporters to become active in our Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign, our DPAC campaign, NHS fightback, PCS strikes, NUT campaign… only through activity will left unity be forged. Sadly, Left Unity isn’t it (and I will be most happy if I’m proved wrong)

      • Merry Cross says:

        Another way IS being tried! The fact that 6 women and only 4 men were elected by the meeting to form the National Coordinating Committee means that those old ways are NOT going to prevail. Yes some people there clearly hoped they would, but they were outvoted.

  14. One member one vote can lead to block voting and those nasty little sects making deals with each other in order to take it over or have undue influence. Keep it Federated!. Decisions should be made by delegates voted by and representing the local groups.

  15. p.bloomer says:

    Hi,
    Welcome the first national meeting and look forward to building a group in Birmingham.
    Not sure about the report given or its line.
    To encourage supporters to vote against every organised group seems a little short sighted as you may at times agree with what they are saying.
    I think though that it is right to want left unity to not be the political property of any particular group, who then seeks to exclude its competitor group.
    So I will be happy to listen to what people are saying, say what i think and vote for what seems best to me. I think that is a democratic position.
    If left unity is a success then many far left groups will come along. I think maybe what this left unity initiative has got is a shared hope for real unity!
    We should demand this of all groups involved and try to make them change their practice.

  16. Peter Burrows says:

    I was not at the meeting ,so i will not attempt to discuss what was said etc. Its a huge task that EVERYONE is embarking on ,its essential that the groups take the opportunity to use the months ahead to discuss /debate their respective view/vision of what left unity should be in terms of structure ,values & map out a political path ,then feed that input into any interim body (if there is one).

    It serves no purpose whatsoever for anyone to delve into the plot,counter plot theory ,it only serves to aid the detractors & put off potential radicals from starting up other groups ,or playing a part in some way .

    LU is a work in progress ,it needs time to develop & will need patience & tolerance as the political path unwinds in the months ahead .

    Peter………….

  17. Mark Perryman says:

    Thanks Stuart

    In many ways most encouraging. A non-representative meeting having the good sense, after a LOT of cajoling it should be admitted, not to pass spurious motions.

    And a recognition of the primacy of one person one vote rather than delegate structures in a smallish group of the sort Left Unity is.

    Any attempt by the Far Left sects to occupy a privileged position in the organisatiin has been firnmly rebuffed.

    HOWEVER there are is a major concern I hope the organising group will address urgently.

    According to this report just 1000 of the 8000 are in touch with any local groups. Thats just 12.5%, have we lost 87.5% of signatories from involvement already? It makes the membership audit more necesary than ever, this traditional model of involvement clearly isn’t working. We’ve ended up with a massive draining of enthusiasm and at this rate are scarcely bigger than one of the larger sects. We need forms of direct participation and an honest accounting of what the 8000 amounts to.

    This is crucial if a foundng conference is to take place in November. Balancing participation being there in person, on the basis of one member one vote, facilitating participaton, including votes, online too.

    If it is true participation is already down to just 12.5% then the urgency of addressing this couldn’t be more serious. A party that privileges traditional forms of Left activism we already know will be far smaller than the potential for such a party, we shouldn’t be at all satusfied with that outcome.

    Mark P

  18. Anya-Nicola Darr says:

    OK no process is perfect but this sounds like a good start. Its understandable that people who have been activists for years in their local groups should be wary of deserting them to just join another Leftist group before even knowing what they represent. The fact remains though that all these individual smaller parties have little or no election success and very little influence on political thinking outside of their own activists circles. What we need is a Left wing party that bases its activities on the needs of people and in language that ordinary people understand. It seems to me that if the SWP, SP or CPB were going to attract voters in large numbers on their own, they would have done so by now. Our ONLY hope it seems to me is to pool our resources and people power and find a reasonable compromise that we can all unite behind. Not to do so will allow the right to go on peddling their damaging view of society unhindered. As far as consulting the 8,000 who showed an interest goes, surely if they were THAT interested in the nitty gritty they would have said so by now? Its impossible to run everything past 8,000 people! I am know a draft of the proposed party statement is being circulated now in our local groups for discussion. Nothing is set in stone yet. Still time to contact them all again and invite them to get involved at an organisational level. Someone will have to explain to me in simple English though, why if we set up as a Federated Party like Syriza we couldn’t still have one member one vote?

    • Ray G says:

      Because in a federated party there is no membership of the party as such. Each party has its own structures and policies and they only come together on a national committee. An individual membership party allows individuals whose first loyalty is to LU to have as much say as any member of a left group.

      If the proposal to allow observers/delegates from other left groups to national committees etc had been passed, they would have had more chance to have their voices heard than other members.

      As it has been decided, they can, of course get involved in each local group, and if they impress other members with their work, dedication or analysis they can be elected delegate from that branch to national bodies.

  19. Jimmy says:

    Without a root and branch analysis of how the automatic subject – capital – works, there will be no renaissance of radicalism anywhere.
    The automatic subject works behind the backs of the very people who produce it.
    The commentators on this thread are mistaken if they think that this is a question of numbers. Far better if Left Unity puts ‘activism’ on the back burner and works hard to build up a theoretical comprehension of how the system actually works.
    A series of Marx’s Capital reading groups should be initiated. Another great thing would be to see an initiative whereby people are given the tools to comprehend the daily financial news as well – that way, the foundations are built for developing a caucus of people who can beat the mainstream commentators at their own game.
    Something similar operated in the 1930s, in the format of the Left Book Club.
    I suspect such an initiative won’t become a reality until the economic crisis is at an even worse stage – when ordinary people will have no choice but to look to each other for solutions to their everyday problems. That isn’t happening at the ‘critical mass’ stage yet.

    • I really agree with this. A couple of years ago, when I realsied that hardly anyone |I know understands even the basics of capitalism, a friend and I turned the chapter in ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’ called ‘The Great Money Trick’into a play and, at a workshop on understanding classism, we broke down the group into small groups of 8 people and gave them a script (and a loaf of bread) to act out. It was a fantastic learning tool. I have often thought it needs doing everywhere,or something like it. Not everyone reads books.

  20. Mark Perryman says:

    Anya-Nicola

    Sorry I have to disagree about the ‘8000’.

    For me this is what more than anything else disringuished Left Unity from previous failed efforts.

    8000 is a decent basis for a party. From most of the comments on here and the Brighton meeting I attended many seemed not to be from the pre-existing Left. By sheer weight of numbers that seemed obvious.

    The move to local groups is encouraging but not if 87.5% of the 8000 are already no longer involved!

    Is not a question of every proposal needing the approval of all 8000, one member one votes means there there will be majority decisions where appropriate. But to move blindly on wihout going back to those 8000, finding out of they are stll interested and on what basis would be to ignore our most obvious resource. I really cannot understand why no such survey has been acted on yet and hope the new organising group will now do so immeditely. To write off the non-involvement of 87.5% of the signatories would be incredibly short-sighted.

    And if 87.5% have decided taking Left Unity forwardisn’t for them tht should be telling us something too. Lets find out, not in a few months time, now!

    Mark P

    • Rupert says:

      Mark

      8,000 Guardian reader signatories does not a party make. How many in the room is ALL. 1,500 attended the opening Rally which ushered in Respect. Six at UL meeting in norwich. no one has stated the number at the LEFT UNITY National meeting yesterday? How many?

      Also, no one here has mentioned the work of TUSC, supported by the RMT. It is as if Left Unity wants to wash away the past – and the active present.

      LU members and supporters MUST be involved in activity or LU is dead in the water. Chris Nineham of the Coalition of Resistance wrote recently on Counterfire that “left unity” will be forged through activism against austerity and I entirely agree with him. LU has yet to include anything on ‘activity.’ Indeed, ALL you go on about is being different from the “other” lefties without proposing anything to stop the Bedroom Tax and the assault on our welfare state. If this is the spirit of 45, I’m a Bear

      • Merry Cross says:

        Rupert, we were exactly encouraged during the meeting to support all the campaigns and actions and we will be and some already have been (e.g. Leeds LU). The numbers at the meeting is a red herring since it had to be restricted to 2 reps per group. Take heart! A very large number of those who have signed up are people who have never been members of any party before, not least because they don’t feel that any of the existing parties speak for them. It isn’t and wasn’t as you are depicting it. I woz there!

  21. Jimmy says:

    Something that should be tackled is a certain ‘anti-intellectualism’ that permeates leftwing milieus.
    People should be encouraged to attend ‘schools’ and ‘seminars’ where actual learning takes place! We are at the stage where knowledge and learning should be ‘carouselled’ to anyone able to disseminate and devolve it. We need to cut back on the tub thumping, inane SWP like rhetoric and party building, and instead develop peoples’ knowledge and comprehension of the world around them.
    I don’t think the movement should be ashamed of developing a core theoretical basis of ideas. For what its worth, everyone involved should have a basic grasp of knowledge along the lines of:
    – where does profit come from?
    – what is value and why it matters
    – what could a socialist society look like?
    – what could a socialist education system look like?
    – art or advertising
    – socialism and religion
    – what is a ‘citizens’ income’ and is it achievable?

    Until the Left Unity project gets to grips with the ‘knitty gritty’ of theoretical problem solving, it would be going anywhere.
    The trouble is, the miriad left wing sects already have their ‘educators’ and they aren’t going to move out of their own particular trench anytime soon.

    Be honest: have many people have Left Unity got on board who are capable, bright and able to work as educators and diseminate theoretical ideas? This is a serious problem that needs to be faced. Cut your cloth according to what is achievable, be careful not to overdo the ‘activism’ – ‘activism’ burns people out and before you know it your organisation will be reduced to a defensive rump. Build your theoretical base first, but beware of going down the trotskyist route of ‘manna in heaven’/’the glorious working class will solve all our problems.’ The SWP and Counterfire have got that particular stategy covered, and it is a dead end.

  22. Gary B. says:

    Few points.
    This is a good start.
    1) Mark P. is obviously right that there is an urgent task to contact those signatories who have had no contact so far.
    2) Calling other left groups ‘sects’ is not helpful.
    3) Members from other left groups are joining as individuals. The objection to blocks joining is that they assume they get positions on a leadership,which is obviously not democratic. Members need to earn a position of leadership within the organisation.
    4) The one feature which I think LU is getting right is not trying to set up campaigns but inviting existing campaigns to speak at meetings etc. This, at least, is what is happening in my local group. In this way we are trying to be fraternal not just wanting to dominate.
    5) Yes, it might not work and the whole thing might go down the toilet but I don’t think we’ve reached that stage quite yet.

  23. Pete Mclaren says:

    Having been to the meeting yesterday, I would like to make a couple of comments on some of the above observations. No decision was taken to exclude left organisations – or to include them! The only decision was to eventually accept the Procedural Motion moved by Nick Wrack and Simon Hardy as included in Stuart’s report – elect an Organising Ctte, continue the debate, plan for a further national meeting followed by a Founding conference, and to adopt the principle of One Member One Vote (OMOV). Yes, that is not a federal structure, but it does not mean left organisations will not be able to be part of LU and, as I argued yesterday, i really hope we find an acceptable way to encourage socialist, left environmentalist, feminist, trade union, tenant and community groups etc etc that support the project – there’s the key – to come on board. We just need to build in mechanisms to prevent what happened with the original Socialist Alliance in 2001 when the SWP used their numerical majority within the SA to take it over. Surely we can find ways to prevent anything like that happening again and remain inclusive. We should strive for One Party of the Left as Stuart mentions – and that really must include all the left if we do not ourselves want to appear sectarian. Those few hundred in each left group – many less than 100 – will quite rightly not be prepared, especially at this early stage, to abandon their traditions and backgrounds, and nor should they.

    And i confirm there was no vote to exclude Dave Nellist – the Organisers kept (wrongly in my view) to their strict policy of not allowing anyone else to address the meeting. That was a wrong decision, I feel, because Dave was there in his role as National chair of TUSC, and we do need to work with TUSC in a collaborative way if the left is to contest elections as well as campaign year round, again as I argued yesterday. We can not, and should not, pretend other left organisations don’t exist. TUSC is a Coalition, not a P{arty, set up to provide a socialist voice at elections. It should be encouraged to become part of the LU as it develops

    Finally, as important as theory is, it is only some people who want to study it and develop it. I hope LU will be broader than a Marxist party, but develop as a Party where marxists are welcomed. By all mean organise political education sessions/groups for those who want them

  24. Richard Brenner says:

    Just to clear up a small but important misunderstanding. There was no call at the national meeting for existing socialist groups to be given privileges or for anything other than one member one vote. The proposal, made by Tina Becker, was for the socialist groups that support the Left Unity project to have non-voting observers on the incoming national coordinating group. That is not a demand for a veto or a vote and nor, as the article above suggests, did it apply to all groups, just those that back LU.

    I voted for that because I want LU to reach out to the rest of the left. Nevertheless the proposal was defeated and, since personally I think minorities should respect majority decisions, I think that decision should stand.

    However, there was discussion about the existence of two other large socialist groups. Clearly we need to coordinate with them in the struggle against the Tories and at elections. The incoming National Coordinating Group, which incidentally includes a member of another existing socialist organisation (Tom Walker of the International Socialist Network), should consider how best to pursue this.

  25. Rich Will says:

    Obviously it is a wonderful thing that 8,000 or so people (has this number stopped growing then?) have seen fit to sign an appeal calling for the establishment of a political organisation to the left of Labour. We must accept however that signing an online appeal, much like joining a Facebook group or following someone you generally agree with on twitter, is not the same as joining a political party. It is silly to talk of 7,000 ‘no longer being involved’, and it is laughable to suggest that those people who have not yet got involved in building their local groups are somehow ‘dissidents’ opposed to the national leadership. Our task now is to get stuck into building those local groups and encouraging as many people as possible to do likewise, whether they have signed the original appeal or not. All local groups need to get involved in the work being done by local anti-cuts groups, anti-bedroom tax groups, anti-deportation campaigns, etc etc etc, all the time making the point that if we really want to challenge the right-wing, racist, pro-austerity, environmentally and economically suicidal neoliberal agenda we urgently need to unite the energy, anger and imagination of all those campaigns and build an effective and popular political force independent of the Labour Party.

  26. Bazza says:

    I still feel the conference made a good start and 60% of women on the temp committee is a good sign.
    I kind of feel like someone who has a dream job but it doesn’t start for 6 months and the job decription is trill being written and the process is slow plus you wonder what your colleagues are like and what do they think?
    You may also have to leave old colleagues and feel some guilt.
    Also what you are thinking of doing, will it really help the people you care about?
    You are given some clues with some inspiring comments but others give you serious doubts.
    After the structure /constitution etc perhaps we can get down to progresive policy which is what we care about.
    Perhaps the sad news of a poor w class woman in London killing herself over the bedroom tax, the daily loss of life in Syria, working people dying in factories in Pakistan because of poor health and safety may focus our minds.
    I’m an independent w class socialist and have read a lot, Marx was good on capitalism, Paulo Freire on humanity, and the music of John Lennon on power and love plus peace.
    I would love a democratic socialist World and beliieve we can achieve this without harming one hair on one head.
    I finish with 2 quotes, ‘Rise up with me against the organisation of misery” – Pablo Neruda and ”First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then we win’ – Ghandi.

  27. Steve says:

    Are the contributors above who claim to see no contradictions between opting for one-member-one-vote, but also opening membership to existing members of other left parties, really so naive? Is it really necessary to explain the blindingly obvious fact that members of Democratic Centralist parties (eg. the SWP, SP. CPB etc.) are required to operate and vote as a bloc within any other political organisation they join (or which they are told to join by their party leadership)?

    The LU National Meeting has done pretty much what was signalled by the previous posts in the various debates on this site. Rushed into the project of setting up yet another new ‘Left’ party based on no clear cut political or ideological analysis or policy framework – in fact based on nothing more than a general desire for us all to “get together” to fight the awfulness of the Lib-Tory coalition. Given that many of those involved in this initiative are experienced people with memories of many past Left Unity attempts and with their own political baggage (and ideologies) I am afraid I suspect that the inexperience of some is being exploited and manipulated by others.

    A new party based on OMOV, which excludes existing groups from affiliation, means that local groups can be taken over by any organised group who are sufficiently numerous and disciplined (and in many areas just a half dozen or so regular attenders could be enough to dominate). Members of centralised and disciplined parties who join LU will be required to caucus with each other and agree a line, or simply follow a line that comes down from their leadership. They cannot join and participate and vote as individuals and anyone with any political experience knows this very well.

    In my own case, my political organisation is not Democratic Centralist and I will not be under firm instructions as to how to vote and who to caucus with if I decide to join LU, but I know damn well that any SP or SWP members who are sitting alongside me in LU meetings will be under such instructions. Hardly a recipe for trust and comradeship is it!

    A federal structure does not exclude OMOV and the East Yorkshire Formula (devised thirteen years ago to ensure that a Socialist Alliance group could not be taken over by either of the two affiliated political parties – the SP and the SWP) is just one example of how individual members and affiliated groups can work in the same organisation without fear of being dominated by a disciplined and well organised group mounting a takeover.

    What the National Meeting has apparently opted for is probably to consign the LU initiative to fail within a year or so.

    As to whether it is worth persevering with, just in case it turns out better than I expect – well I shall take advice and from my comrades and I will abide by our collective view on it. However, I expect that we will make that view public and announce it in our Newsletter. The decisions of the SWP and SP Central and Political Committees will not be published except in confidential members’ briefing (unless they adopt a position of outright hostility and denunciation and tell their members to have nothing to do with it at all).

    The so-called 8,000 supporters were never anything more than “Facebook friends” who clicked on “Like” or signed up for an e-mail list. If a thousand people have been attracted to attend meetings around the country then this is still significant but at my local meeting (attended by eighteen people) over half were members of existing left groups (including several SWP members and some Labour Party members) and some of the non-aligned individuals there were not exactly serious. My suspicion is that the numbers of new people (political virgins) who have been attracted to this initiative actually number no more than a few hundred. Not a number o0t be sneezed at but hardly an earth-shattering movement in the political landscape of the UK.

    I am not hostile to the LU initiative and it may be worth persevering a little longer to see if it improves on this disappointing start, but so far it has lived up to my fairly low expectations.

    • Toni Gill-DeVito says:

      Steve – you seem to think you’ve got it all worked out. Give LU a chance, anything can happen, and probably will. But prescribing people’s attitudes and dwelling on past mistakes is really not helpful. I personally thought that LU should have opted to be as nclusive of left parties as possible. That didnt happen. But my understanding is that this first meetings views should not be cast in bronze. We have to be hopeful and positive, otherwise, what do we have to offer folks?

    • Ray G says:

      Steve,

      I sympathise with many of you conerns, but the trouble with the following the structure designed for the Socialist Alliance is what actaully happened to the SA. Where is it?

      While I agree with the decision to have only individual membership, I do take your point that small branches in some places can very easily be taken over by a left group. However, this problem cannot be solved either by a federal structure or by witchhunts and bans.

      The issue is our size and our activity. If we stay a small, inactive group, not participating in the actual workplace and community stuggles facing ordinary people then we will be ripe for take over. If we recruit much larger numbers of people who are out there looking for a real alternative to the government and the sell-out merchants of the Labour party leadership, and the membership takes off, then the far left groups will be welcome because they will not be able to dominate (though they will still try).

  28. Neprimerimye says:

    That members of self proclaimed Leninist groups will vote as one is not a reason to exclude them from Left Unity. That such comrades will vote as one is not a danger to a growing workers party. Rather the opposite is true if LU is rooted in the working class and our struggles it will grow and the Zinovievite groups will become either irrelevant or will be transformed.

    What will destroy LU is a failure to connect with the working class. Which means LU groups must be involved in struggle and clear that we are not homogenous but include comrades from many different political traditions. What must unite us is a belief in class struggle and the centrality of the working class to the fight for socialism. On other secondary issues we can and must disagree.

    But to be frank this still means that sectarianism and reformism will remain as additional dangers for LU. It’s all well and good electing a leadership that has equal or proportional representation, in fact this is not the case, of any given group but if that leadership consists of reformist shits so what?

  29. Bazza says:

    Oh dear. So what don’t sectarians get about LU members going to meetings and thinking for themselves?
    If they don”t like it they can always practice their hobbies in their own clubs.
    I wonder how many of the 8,000 have been put off by some comments on this site.
    Would be interesting to have a like, dislike button.
    Socialists should be independent critical thinkers who discuss the pro’s and con’s of ideas.
    For example I believe in free public transport – why do working people subsidise employers by paying to go to work? This would help the transport poor, attract people out of cars, mean less stress on bus drivers, make safer, quieter roads with less CO2 emissions, would encourage more people to cycle, we could even have couriers on buses to help passengers – win win win! Anyone with me?

    • Rich Will says:

      I certainly am! And I think a great deal of people will agree that public transport should be free. I grew up in Sheffield where as a kid I paid 2p a journey. Now it costs more than £1.50 to take a bus into the centre of town.

      Wrt the tone of debate on the site I think there are very many considered and constructive contributions, including some of the critical ones, however we do seem to attracting quite a number of very strident voices and even a couple of trolls. At the same time it gives us a chance to confront the more difficult aspects of what we are trying to achieve. Perhaps nonetheless we do need to have some sort of out-in-the-open posting policy which makes clear that posters should not indulge in petty and personal abuse and should try to contribute to discussions rather than trying to derail them.

  30. Terry Burns says:

    Brief Points, numbered so I can keep control of thoughts
    1. In the hope of being transparent a brief outline of my political background Ex Lab Party, Militant, SLP, ; presently Tusc/ISN (independent socialists linked toTusc) LU signed up, IWW. Not speaking for anybody but myself.
    2. Welcome this and other reports of the national meeting,hope others are posted.
    3. From what I have read so far seems to have been a useful event that is helping to clarify what LU is, where it hopes to go etc.
    One problem that has taken up more space than it warrants is that around Comrade Dave Nellist, a mistake in my view not to have just let him in but lets not build it up to a status it doe not deserve.
    4. The meeting was correct it not making major decisions but restricting itself to some, if my reading of the event are accurate, general points and basic ideas of policy and programme plus some structure and organising issues to see LU through to a National Confence that is representative of a membership that has been able to involve itself, I for example could not be a delegate as we have yet to meet locally. But I welcome the holding of the national meeting on the basis of striking while the ironis hot.
    5. The attitude to the organised left is something that needs careful thought. Exclusion of organised groups/parties may be the best way to go in terms of structure, avoiding parties within parties etc. But the development of factions, some based on these groupings/parties will be inevitable (should they wish to join as individual members) and any attempt to stop factions forming will lead to discussion/effort/energy being wasted on internal structure issues and policing them rather than the real task of building a party able to challenge the Tories -blue and yellow and what now calls itself Labour.
    6, I was optimistic when I joined the SLP but it was thrown away in the struggle by the Leader to retain central control, which was achieved but the result was infanticide with the corpse being dragged out at election time. I am once again optimistic as I always am at the prospect of a new vital force being created on the side of the workers. Our task is support all the things that wrk toward that end.
    7. For me that is the creation of a mass party based on the active participation of working people and others from the downtrodden and marginalised. It will need a programme/policies that is able to generate maximum support, while maintaing a honest approach.

  31. Steve says:

    Ray G asks what happened to the Socialist Alliance. The answer is that a mixture of foolish naivete by some, and dishonest manipulation by others, persuaded a majority at a National Meeting in Brum in 2001 to turn what had been a loose federation of local groups (which may eventually have coalesced into a political party or a firmer alliance) into an instant political party based on OMOV. This was then carved up by the two largest organised voting blocs (the SWP and the SP). As the SWP were larger they decided that they could dominate the SA without having to reach an agreement with the SP and the SP walked out, leaving the SWP as the dominant bloc and in firm control of the national office (some of whose whose staff took their orders from the SWP and ignored any non-SWP elected officers). When the SWP decided to jump ship to join the Gorgeous Georgites and the Islamist MAB in Respect they unilaterally closed down the SA – after some of the funds had been removed by simply forging the (non SWP) Treasurer’s signature (this is substantiated and a matter of record).

    It is precisely in order to avoid this scenario that a political enterprise which seeks to involve members and existing organised groups on the left needs a structure which prevents this kind of abuse. The East Yorkshire Formula was devised for the Hull & East Yorkshire Socialist Alliance (ironically at the request of the local SWP and SP branches) and had a structure like this been applied nationally then the SWP takeover would have been impossible – but they could have remained as active participants in the SA had they wished to.

    By rejecting any kind of federal structure and opting exclusively for OMOV LU has effectively said to other left groups “you are not welcome in LU” – but by opening the membership to individuals from other parties it has also said that centralised groups can organise as blocs and impose a party line within LU (as they will) and thus have more sway and influence. This will inevitably result in some local LU groups being controlled by this or that left party. I was told in my local LU group meeting tonight that one Yorkshire City already has an LU group specifically set up by another party precisely so they can have the controlling influence from the start.

    I am not arguing for sectarian witch hunts against the SWP or the SP or the ISN or the CPB or anyone else. By all means let us have these groups involved, but let them participate openly through a federal structure or an open alliance arrangement that is transparent to everyone.

    I do want to see this initiative succeed but political parties cannot be conjured out of thin air and a political programme cannot be built on nothing more than opposition to austerity and welfarism.

    Socialism is an ideology, not just a slogan. I suppose the comrade who demanded that LU organise readings of Marx’s Capital around the UK was joking (at least I hope he was) but it is true that pandering to the infantile and moronic contempt for political ideology that characterises the Labour Party is idiotic (although in reality the Neo-Liberal economic project which New Labour threw itself behind, and which Miliband also goes along with, is in fact a political ideology – they just pretends otherwise).

    I understand the impatience and I sympathise with the desire for open and democratic decision making, but if LU rejects any kind of formal and open alliance or federation with existing left groups and parties then it will exclude many of the experienced activists it needs, while opening its doors to some that it could do without.

    • Ray G says:

      Steve, thanks for that. I was not involved in SA myself and I find your account useful and informative. Still, we seem to be caught between having individual membership and possibly allowing some branches to be flooded and taken over by a disciplined core of ‘cadres’, or allowing a federal structure which will just give such groups too much of a say over the style and policies of the group, and alienate other, newer people.

      When I try to sell LU to friends and fellow campaigners the first point they raise is ‘Oh no! not another far-leftie stitch-up – how long will that last!!’ We HAVE to be different.

      As I said above, the main point is size. If we don’t recruit wide layers of campaigners from anti-cuts, save the NHS, Peoples Resistance etc, by being seen as good, reliable, humble co-workers, then we will be taken over by on set of initials or another, and we will deserve what we get. If we DO, then the far left groups will not take us over and, more importantly, many of their less sectarian members (and there are very many really good people in these groups) will actually come over to LU proper. After all, why go to two meetings when you can go to one!!

      • Steve says:

        I don’t quite see why having some kind of federation gives affiliated or associated groups “too much of a say over the style and policies” of the LU. What exactly is “too much”? Surely a federal or associate membership or allied organisation structure could give other parties who wished to join and support LU, but keep their own policies and organisation, just as much say as the LU rules determined as appropriate.

        Clearly, in some people’s eyes it is illegitimate for existing left parties and organisations to have any say at all – and this is the problem. If LU wants to exclude the existing organised left (weak though it is – but with a lot of experience and still useful activists and organisers) entirely and rely on new people, or those who are unattached to any party or group, then it will severely weaken itself. Of course LU may well attract some people to leave existing organisations, but until it has a clear political and ideological basis then what is going to attract such people apart from opportunism? And of course LU may well have to face some organised entryism – but how? By ignoring it or with bans and proscriptions?

        Of the 99 people present last Saturday how many were like the South London representative whose political experience consisted of following the Occupy Movement online and watching Parliamentary debates on TV? I do not say that this comrade’s views are invalidated by her lack of actual political experience, but to found a new party, with no ideological basis (sorry I keep labouring this point but it is crucial) requires an enormous amount of faith, and I am getting old and cynical. I do not know of an example anywhere in the world where an effective and principled socialist political party has been formed without the organised involvement and participation of pre-existing groups or cadres of activists. There are however examples of populist movements whose ideological weakness and opportunism has led them down some very dark paths. Some parties founded as supposedly socialist movements have degenerated into nationalist or even fascist parties within a couple of decades (the Iraqi Ba’ath Party, ZANU-PF).

        I repeat – welfarism and opposition to austerity does not equal socialism, or indeed a political programme of any kind. Activism is what will bring in new people and to organise this you need activists with some experience who understand the need to focus activity on key priority issues.

  32. Ray G says:

    Steve,

    I accept many of your points. I don’t want to exclude valuable people. I DO believe that many individual members of the existing left groups are essential because of their experience and because of the links that some of them (though by no means all) have in the trade union movement and other campaigns. Also, if they are not on board then LU risks being just ANOTHER left wing party, a new set of initials, and frankly we have plenty of those already.

    When I say ‘too much say’ I mean that they will have more say than individual members and it may give people the impression that we are primarily a collection of left parties and that the individuals are incidental and able to be marginalised. Perhaps the non-party people should caucus as well!!

    Like I said, size is the most important point. We need to start actually campaigning, joining working class people defending their rights and conditions and, from this, actively recruiting. If we become a real force, with lots of people new to political parties, or fleeing from Labour, or tired of the existing ‘Leninist’ structures, then the existing parties will not play such a central role.

    We do, of course need to reach a sensible accommodation with TUSC, for example. Standing against each other would invite ridicule and condemn us in the eyes of ordinary people as just another ‘sect’.

    Perhaps it is now time to focus less on structures and focus more on what we offer in terms of our ideas and vision of a better society, and how we can attract new layers of support to the ‘party’.

    • Steve says:

      Ray,

      The most important factor in attracting members and achieving a higher visibility (in the face of a media which will simply ignore LU unless it can find excuses to demonise or marginalise it) is activity – and, as you rightly say, this has to be on issues at the heart of the Working Class struggle. But this requires firstly; that enough people in LU have some understanding of the class nature of society, if not a detailed ideological analysis, and secondly; that the leading comrades in LU have the tactical sense to pick a limited number of key issues and urge supporters to concentrate on them. If LU just encourages its supporters (it doesn’t seem to have actual members yet) to throw themselves into each and every political campaign going then they will be spread far to thin (unless there are far more than I think likely to join soon).

      You also say that LU must “of course” come to an agreement with TUSC (whose main political driver is the SP) but why just TUSC? There are other leftist groups who stand in elections – the AGS, the SP (under their own electoral title: Socialist Alternative), the CPB etc. I would also argue that it would be sensible to approach the Green Party about an election understand (even though they are not socialists – they will probably reject any proposal for an electoral non-aggression pact but the failure should be seen to be because of their intransigence).

      Relations with all of these other organisations and parties will be determined by tactical considerations (needing people with some experience and political nous) and by political principles and policies (which LU has yet to develop). It seems to me that LU defines itself, to some extent, negatively (ie. by saying what it is not) rather by positively stating what it stands for and what its organisational and political principles are. It will be interesting, and hopefully not too depressing, to see how LU copes with these challenges in the coming months.

      • Ray G says:

        Steve,

        Thanks – I agree with all of that.

        Perhaps on these blog comments we should focus on which campaigns should be our priority as a PARTY.

        Coalition of Resistance (People’s Assembly) first I suppose, including the bedroom tax stuff.

        Campaigns on NHS ‘reforms’ also essential.

        Stop the war, I think.

        What else??

  33. Deb says:

    Hello everyone. I’m new to this and a supporter of Left Unity as a potential movement/organisation to counter capitalist interests which are now having devastating consequences for the vulnerable in our society, allowing employers to impose unilateral conditions on the contracts that they employ workers and on the other hand commissioning the private sector (at vast expense) to ‘substitute’ for this.It’s possible that parliament could repeal the Human Rights Act next- what right would we have in this? NONE.

    This is a CRISIS!!!!!!! So don’t go squabbling about sects.

    For now, and desperately, we need a united front.

  34. J9 says:

    Please don’t spoil the positive attitude of the people who put their energy into this by bringing the diverse Left together. Infighting before it gets going will just play into the hands of the Right wing.


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