2021 National Conference Decisions

1. Beautiful World, where are we? – North London Branch

The contours of the multiple crises facing humanity are clear even if the details and the depth of those crises are sometimes hidden from our immediate view. From the environmental and climate catastrophe to the poverty and oppression faced by hundreds of millions of people, overlaid by the threat of war and economic collapse, few would deny that we face an existential emergency.

Our organisation Left Unity was founded in 2013 in response to the austerity programme of the Coalition government and the absence of a serious opposition on the left. These austerity policies sought to place the burden of the 2007/9 financial meltdown in the world economy on the backs of the working class while protecting the banks and the rich. The government’s austerity agenda had the support of the Labour Party, and the Labour leader at that time, Ed Miliband, went into the 2015 general election pledging to cut public spending.

Thousands of socialists recognised the necessity of building a political organisation that would challenge neo-liberalism rather than seeking to accommodate to it, as Labour almost always does.

More than 10,000 people responded positively to Ken Loach’s appeal to discuss founding a new party of the left, with around 2,000 joining the organisation in its first year.

In 2021 our membership hovers at around 500 and our active membership is considerably less.

The immediate reason for this decline in membership was the left movement that developed around the Labour leadership challenge of Jeremy Corbyn. This movement mirrored the rise of significant anti-austerity political movements across Europe and in the United States. It is not the intention here to examine the rise and fall of the Corbyn phenomenon in any detail but to try and understand where we are now in the wake of the defeat of the Corbyn movement. Corbyn is no longer a Labour MP and more than 150,000 of his supporters have either left or been witch-hunted out of the party.

Left Unity is not the first attempt to create a new party to the left of Labour; there have been several other attempts from Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party to the Socialist Alliance and RESPECT – however Left Unity has the merit of attempting to build such a party on a fundamentally democratic basis. It is not a new idea that the 1945 Labour government represented the highpoint of social democracy in Britain and that the Labour Party has long abandoned that ground. Ralph Miliband wrote about this extensively from the early 1960s; although his belief, writing in 1960, that ‘Labourism has now all but spent itself’ was premature, his analysis in most other respects was powerful and bears re-reading.

At every key point in the class struggle Labour has been found wanting and whenever necessary capitalism and imperialism have had willing support from the party – whether in the foundation of NATO in 1949, during the miners’ strike of 1984/5 or in the ‘war on terror’ from 2001. The necessary response to this is the creation of a mass party to the left of Labour which will articulate and win support for socialist policies. Many such policies did win mass support within the Labour Party during the period of Corbyn’s ascendancy but even at the high point of Corbynism there was no conception of going ‘beyond capital’ and resolving the underlying contradictions within the system as a whole. One of the main lessons of the Corbyn period – and one which has to be continually relearnt – is that one cannot sneak up on the system and change it through piecemeal reform. It has become clear to many of us that the establishment has no intention of allowing a repeat of the Corbyn period. That is the process that is now taking place in the Labour party. It may be that a ‘domesticated’ left will be allowed to remain within and occasionally shout from the sidelines but the return of a leader committed to the left will not be happening.

This begs the question about the way forward. Despite its many political weaknesses the Corbyn leadership of the Labour party was enabled and driven by a mass movement. For millions of young people it represented hope for the future and radical social change. Our focus now should not be on providing an autopsy of the Corbyn period, there are already many of those, but on finding a path to those now disenfranchised by the sharp rightward shift in the Labour party. This cannot be done by proclamation as some are now suggesting. The least effective response to the new situation would be to say ‘Corbyn failed now join the real socialists’.

Although Left Unity took the decision to maintain our organisational independence (for which we received much criticism) and our political commitment to going ‘beyond capital’, we also understood the necessity of supporting the Corbyn leadership and working closely with it for common goals. Despite – and perhaps because of – the vilification that Corbyn suffered and continues to receive from the political establishment and the media, he remains an important pole of political attraction for the radical left politics that Left Unity shares.

Our political strategy for the coming period must recognise the reality of this situation. Corbyn has unintentionally become leader of a new unofficial left opposition. It is often said that he, like Tony Benn before him, would never leave the Labour party. This may be true but it’s unlikely that Starmer will return the whip to Corbyn. He remains in political limbo having been half-expelled and having half set up a new political organisation in the form of the Peace and Justice Project. As a result, Corbyn is occupying new political ground even if he did not intend to do so. Everyone knows that if he were to call for a new party of the left then it would gain significant support, but most believe that he will not do so. We do not have the power to resolve this problem but we need to understand it and work out how we can be part of the process of moving forward. There is a mass basis in this country for a new party of the left, and many of the political elements for it to come to fruition are there. How to move forward requires broad and inclusive collective discussion.

So there are positive opportunities in the current situation but also very negative features: a political vacuum is trapping and immobilising the left as a whole. The absence of a realistic perspective for unified political struggle and class advance has weakened the left and is further organisationally splintering it. Of course, serious activity is taking place. The essential tasks of defending workers, opposing racism and fascism, defending the NHS, combatting the climate emergency and opposing Johnson’s new militarism are ongoing. These campaigns are vital but clear political direction and unity are indispensable; the numerous political projects that are emerging are to be welcomed but an overarching framework for collective theory and practice is essential.

Left Unity continues to work as effectively as it can: we are organising together with our sister parties in the European Left the No Pasaran conference in Berlin next March; Left Unity members are at the heart of campaigns to defend the NHS and social housing, and working against war and for peace and disarmament. Our members are active in the struggles for women’s rights, disabled people’s rights and LGBTQ rights. We are theorising the process towards the break-up of the UK, and the impact of Brexit on free movement, workers’ rights and international relations. We prioritise international solidarity and cooperation via our membership of the European Left Party and we work with other left organisations and campaigns to strengthen the labour and progressive movement as a whole. But the central political question remains to be resolved: an organisational realisation of the new left that was glimpsed in the Corbyn ascendancy must be concretised.

The systemic crisis of capitalism that we face has so far found its most powerful response in the politics of the far right and the growth of their forces, despite some successes for the radical left across Europe. Our task is to counter this by providing an alternative political path. In this conference, our strength lies in the maturity of our politics and in our understanding that those politics have a far wider resonance than is represented by the numerical strength of our organisation. A serious anti-capitalist politics is the order of the day. We will continue to reach out to others who share that political vision.

To that end, conference resolves to:

  • continue and increase Left Unity’s engagement with the left across Europe and internationally

  • continue to initiate and engage in discussions with other left forces and social movements in Britain on developing possibilities for political unity

  • prepare a relaunch of Left Unity and publicity based on our updated manifesto and the analysis above.

  1. Building Left Unity – Wales Left Unity

Conference notes that the current membership of Left Unity has remained stable despite the 100,000s that have left the Labour Party.

The working class and the planet face urgent global, interrelated and growing crises. The Labour Party has abandoned taking a lead to oppose the Tory onslaught in the UK: there is, as a consequence, a crisis of leadership and it is essential that a radical left ecosocialist alternative emerges to be a significant part in this role, especially in the face of danger of the extreme right taking advantage of the situation.

Conference supports the efforts being made to overcome the dangers of the radical left being fragmented in the current situation. It also recognises that, given the urgent need for the radical left to provide a coherent and coordinated ecosocialist alternative, that there is an early political organisational and policy outcome.

In the meantime, Left UK and in the nations where we have an organised presence will:

  • Prepare a Left Unity re-launch based upon our updated manifestos.

  • Emphasise linking the manifesto to transformative demands within campaigns that point toward fundamental system change and system reform. 

  1. Building a Broad Democratic Alliance around Left Unity – Midlands & East of England Virtual Branch
    (not moved – so not carried)

Conference notes:

  • Left Unity has a strong and activist membership base and a long tradition of support and involvement with other progressive movements and organisations across the Left-wing spectrum both in the UK and internationally. We work closely with CND, the Peace and Justice Project (set up by Jeremy Corbyn) and the Ecosocialist Alliance (which includes Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Green Left) to give just a few examples. Left Unity is also a full member of the Party of the European Left.

  • We are very fortunate in our ability to reach out beyond our membership base and enjoy a social media following of 15-16,000 people with a mailing list of over 10,000. (https://leftunity.org/more-thoughts-on-left-unitys-potential-in-the-current-political-climate/ )

  • Left Unity has enjoyed recent discussions (in October 2021) with the Breakthrough Party and Northern Independence (NIP) Party which attracted a large audience and were well received.

Conference believes:

  • Left Unity needs to build on these recent discussions together with our history of positive engagement with other campaigns with progressive movements and parties. Our future as a party depends upon on us working with other political parties that share our core values of socialism, feminism, environmentalism and anti-racism.

Conference resolves:

  • Left Unity commits to building a broad democratic alliance of progressive forces working with other left-wing parties that share our beliefs and values. We therefore welcome the recent discussions held with other parties and express our hope that this lays the foundations for future alliances at the local level and nationally.