This was delivered to the National Conference in Liverpool on 29 June 2019
We meet in conference at a time of complex change. Left Unity is a party set up to be socialist, internationalist and feminist, committed to anti-racism, anti-fascism and to climate protection. We are a transformational party, one committed to ending, not the crisis of capitalism, but ending capitalism itself.
Traditionally socialist and left parties have had three distinct challenges. One is to keep the ideas of socialism alive, and to develop and spread them. Secondly to organise protest against the depredations of the ruling class. And thirdly to work within the working class, at work and in the communities, and within tides of resistance, in the hope that there will be a time when the movement will come that is strong enough to challenge the whole existence of capitalism. In June 2019, we are far from that situation but once a mobilisation starts it can be rapid.
Winning whole sectors of our populations to the ideas of transformational resistance and societal change is not the work of months but of years.
We have seen waves of popular involvement and protest, some of which, like the Gillet Jaune in France, go deep into the communities. The Women’s strike in Spain on March 8th, which involved millions, is a beacon of light
Sudan has seen first a wave of protest, then harsh repression and then a still deeper wave of resistance. Bodies of the women of the revolution are being found dead in the river. Algeria too has seen waves of resistance. The working class internationally is not quiet and passive but resistance comes in waves. We mourn their dead.
Capitalism is ever more global. Britain probably the most globalised of countries. There are forces at work who have decided democracy is not required. According to Oxfam, eighty-two per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest one per cent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth. In a world like that, democracy may well seem an irrelevance to the one per cent. For us democracy is crucial.
This time the far right is not the rise of a bunch of cranks with nasty ideas, but a well-funded, well-resourced and well-researched movement with international cooperation. The street fighting fascists are still there but there are men in expensive suits too some of whom are presidents.
The rise of the right is only possible because social democracy is discredited by the implementation of vicious austerity policies, allowing the financial crash to be rested upon the shoulders of the children, the elders and the women of our working-class communities across Europe. That crisis still simmers.
The young climate warriors proclaim there is no planet B. We applaud them and give them full support as one of the freshest elements in politics.
Europe has experienced huge political and economic changes since the 2008 crisis. The disaster of EU support for the bankers who caused the crisis at the terrible expense of working people, and especially of women. The financialisation of capital, which led to the banking crisis, has not been eradicated and we face the risk of further crashes.
Equally, there is no second European continent. Battered and broken though much of politics is, and though many of us have seen dramatic falls in living standards, European workers have in the past won a standard of living, not currently matched in any other continent. We are well placed to be part of a global fight back against capitalism and its climate disaster.
Much of our work has been about combatting the rise of the far right.
The European election results show that the dangerous advance of the far right in Europe was stalled, overall performing little better than at the previous ballot in 2014. You will recall that the European Forum and the European left parties expected the far right to make greater gains. Some of the work to counteract this seems to have had some effect. Whilst the far right have performed well in France, Italy, Hungary and Poland, in some areas they have faced setbacks, and near collapse in Denmark. Significantly, they have failed to make the breakthrough to European-wide predominance that they expected. There have been welcome advances for green parties – in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the UK – and for some social democratic parties, such as in Estonia, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
Even where the far right has performed well, the results were below their expectations. In France, for example, Rassemblement National took 23.5%, finishing first, but even this was slightly below their vote in 2014, and they are likely to have two fewer seats than in the last parliament. In Germany, the AfD was up on its vote at the last European elections, from 7.1 to 10.8%, but it is down 1.8% on its last national election result. In Spain, where there was fear of a far-right breakthrough, Vox only took around 6% of the vote with the left-wing ruling party PSOE performing very well.
Great concern about the rise of the far right is likely to have been responsible for the increased turnout in these elections, with voter participation across Europe around 51%, up from 43% in 2014. We played our role in raising awareness of the dangers of the far right.
The work of socialists is an ongoing conversation with working-class communities, with women in struggle, with the climate warriors, with the social movements. We have to say another world is possible and the route to that world is solidarity and the power of socialist ideas and working-class action.
Left Unity responded to the election of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, by offering support, agreeing not to stand against labour whilst the Corbyn project thrives, but not by folding our organisation. Many members chose to join Labour and to fight for socialism inside Labour.
We fear the tactics being used by Labour, on Brexit, on responding to the misuse of anti-Semitism allegations to harm Corbyn, and on Labour’s passivism over austerity.
The rise of the right, reaction nationally and internationally, including the Brexit phenomena, has meant we and other socialists have had to respond to unprecedented times. The old trade union and labour movement used to be a bulwark against some aspects of reaction. Much of that strength here in the UK has waned; there is still strength there but it is little used.
Working hard in our own countries and regions and working across Europe is a complex task. So we need both steady work, in building the parties, and in building links across Europe. But we also have to be fleet of foot in intervening in events.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Ireland too is damaged by Brexit, as is Gibraltar. Scotland is passionately “Remain”. The drop in living standards inflicted on the UK by Austerity has been profound. Fewer of our workers are in unions.
There has been privatisation on a scale unique, we think, in Europe and the privatised entities have made a complete mess of the services. From prisons to railways, from hospitals to schools, we are in crisis.
The best thing that has happened is the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. He is a radical left social democrat and a man of considerable personal integrity. Despite the influx of members and the popularity of his ideas the right of Labour in parliament never cease to attack him. They seem to fear his election to government more than they fear losing an election.
Left Unity described Brexit as a project of the far right. We link it to the rise of Trump and Bolsonaro, of Orban and Salvini. The referendum provided the opportunity to give the government a kicking and some people took that opportunity. Some though are right-wing voters. Free Movement across Europe and a profound distrust of the politicians behind Brexit made the youth and the big cities vote to remain. There is at present no solution. Perhaps we will get another referendum, perhaps we will indeed leave the EU.
A new organisation called the Brexit Party, with no constitution, no policies, and no members, just took the largest number of votes in the EU elections in the UK. Labour sank to 14%. This result was reversed just days later in a parliamentary by-election in Peterborough. So, all hope is not yet lost.
Left Unity has decided not to stand against Corbyn, but to keep its organisation going. We work closely with labour’s membership but we disagree with Labour on key issues.
We support free movement;
we oppose austerity which labour councils are imposing still;
and we oppose nuclear weapons and NATO.
We profoundly disagree with the characterisation of the working class as being white male and Brexit supporting. The workers in field and factory, in hospitals and hotels, in schools and in social care, who have come here from the EU are workers, economically socially and politically part of the working class. London, Liverpool and other Remain areas are working class areas as well as those in the northern towns and swathes of the south who voted leave. Yes, there is support for the idea of Brexit amongst some workers, but they will not forgive us in the future for not standing firm on our position if the worst of Brexit happens.
We are a transformative party, wanting fundamental change and the end of capitalism. We still hope for, and will work for, a radical Labour government, but need to keep our alternative, internationalist and transformational narrative alive.
This is the background against which we work.
What have we achieved this year?
We have been recognised as a full member of the European Left Party, making internationalism very real. We took part in The European Forum meetings. Joseph Healy spoke at the Summer University of the European Left.
The crowning glory of our work this year was the No Pasaran conference, an international conference against the far right with both big name speakers and grass-roots activists from Hungary, from Spain, from Poland and from Italy. Grass-roots anti-fascists from the UK also led a session, together with Polish anti-fascists.
We have intervened in the Brexit issue through our materials, our intervention into the huge anti-brexit demonstration where our materials went like hot cakes.
We had a presence on the big anti-Trump demonstration, and a lesser one in the smaller one more recently.
Our comrades have played good roles in the NHS struggles, in disability resistance, in the women’s struggles, in anti-fascist actions and in political response to mass redundancies, such as the work Len Arthur is doing around Fords.
Left Unity members work with others in the movement, sometimes originating the struggle, sometimes joining in support. Campaigns around Freedom of Movement, in support of These Walls must Fall, against migrant charges in the NHS, and against Islamophobia, our comrades have been active.
We have been with Another Europe is Possible. We play a role in the journal Transform. We discuss with other organisations on the Left and work in our respective unions. We have a good website and six facebook pages with reasonable followings.
So, we have been very active and achieved a great deal. However, we have more to do. Our membership is not growing. Our national members who have no branch have little to do to link them to the party or to the campaigns the established branches are involved with. We don’t have an up to date internal communication systems. Later we will discuss in more detail how to do this but groundwork has been done this year.
We do have the ideas and the courage to fight back and present an alternative. And in a time of hegemonic despair we have to provide the answer to it.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Left Unity is a member of the European Left Party.
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