Left Unity’s ‘modest flutter’

austerity isnt workingThe second section of a two-part article from a senior figure in the labour and trade union movement who joins the debate on Left Unity and urges those involved in Left Unity to consider that we might be wrong.

Impact of the Crisis

However, it could well be argued that the economic crisis changes the calculations and has, or will shortly, create the elusive “political space” for a new party of the left.  In a sense the answer to this has already been supplied.  The strength of the left in all countries in Europe is less than it was in easier times a generation ago, as measured by election results.  It is, of course, a reconfigured left with some of the old polarities superseded.  But the old saw that economic crisis favours the right before the left appears to have some merit still. 

In fact, the assumption that economic slump equals a boom for socialism has little historical evidence to support it.  The last crisis of this severity in Britain saw off, inter alia, the last party of substance which remotely corresponded to the two-and-a-half initiative Left Unity is championing – the Independent Labour Party.  Squeezed between the Labour Party, with no socialist head but a substantial trade union body at the time, and the Communist Party advocating revolution, it incrementally disintegrated.

Crises impact variably on politics, depending on the state of the political landscape at the time.  The oil price slump of the early 1970 was met by a united and fairly self-confident labour movement, which was able to defend its own organisations and working-class living standards and, politically, secure the re-election of a Labour government, but which ended by capitulating before the demand of the International Monetary Fund.  That unity and confidence was already crumbling (as a result) by the time the Thatcher offensive opened up, coinciding with the big economic slump of the early 1980s.  The left, within the Labour Party and without, believed the space was opening up for a radical left programme; but the main political consequence of the crisis was the breakaway of a considerable chunk of the Labour right to form the Social Democratic Party.  This split had the support of more than 30 sitting Labour MPs, the covert backing of some trade union leaders and the overt support of significant sections of a panicky establishment, of course.  That is worth remembering as constituting the sort of “weight” required to get a new party off the ground as a serious force.  By contrast, not a single Labour MP left over the Iraq War, despite 142 voting against it (Galloway was expelled); and no MP is contemplating such a departure now.  As for Britain today, the Labour Party has, as already described, recognised the possibility of space opening up to its left and has moved to close it, to an admittedly limited and timorous extent, by shuffling leftwards. 

But the “crisis” argument also reflects more profound political weaknesses, a sort of bastardisation of the view that politics is nothing but concentrated economics.  This leads much of the left to be almost overcome with excitement when a crisis hits, at the same moment that most working-class people (and even their organisations) risk being overcome with anxiety.  It is a close relation to the view that strikes and mobilisations against poverty are “real” class struggle, while anti-war or other “democratic” campaigning is all very well for filling in time until a slump bites but not the real work of socialists; and to the view that revolution emerges from economic misery.

Other views have been advanced, of course.  “We cannot tell…how soon a real proletarian revolution will flare up [in Great Britain] and what immediate cause will most serve to rouse, kindle and impel into the struggle the very wide masses who are at present dormant…It is possible that the ‘breach’ will be forced, ‘the ice broken’ by a parliamentary crisis, or by a crisis arising out of the colonial and imperialist contradictions…”

Thus Lenin in 1920.  Not a word about slumps or strikes, but in a time when the two political issues which have gripped the masses over the last ten years are a “parliamentary crisis” (MPs expenses) and an “imperialist crisis” (the Iraq War) he may not have been so wide of the mark.  And certainly he saw the masses making their own political space.

Lenin is all very well, it could be argued, and he certainly doesn’t figure in the Left Unity scheme of things.  But the rigorous focus on anti-austerity politics as the gateway to electoral rewards does not seem to me self-evidently correct.  What is right is Left Unity’s critique of the feeble nature of the Labour response to the crisis to date, and the requirement for it to stand far more clearly and unequivocally on the side of the poor in the face of this onslaught, allied to developing an alternative around which the movement can rally. 

It is far from certain, given the prevailing level of combat in the movement, that any of these things will happen, and raising the level of struggle is the aim of the People’s Assembly against austerity, uniting trade unions and activists fighting on a range of issues, and the campaign it needs to generate around the country.  Introducing a new Left Party into that struggle as an attempted electoral vehicle, when no mass organisation is calling for it and the voters are not flocking to others offering it (TUSC, Respect, SSP etc) risks not only being merely irrelevant but also almost (well-intentioned) sabotage through division.  There is no need – indeed, no possibility – to make the People’s Assembly a pro-Labour vehicle, but to turn it into an anti-Labour one, as Ken Loach at least appears to desire, is the route to undermining the developing movement.  It is a mass campaign to unite people locally and nationally in opposition to austerity, and the present indications are that it will be a big step forward towards providing the united front against the politics of ruling class social aggression that is sorely needed.  The Left Party project will be used – is in fact being used – to inhibit the formation of that front.


What sort of Left Unity

The next and final issue to be considered before turning to directly positive proposals is the particular nature of the new Left Party being proposed, beyond the points already made.  This would appear to still be in formation.  Some of its defining parameters are explicitly negative – the Loach remarks cited above, an attack on the “brutal” structures of the existing left – and some of it is implicitly negative:  it is not Respect, TUSC, the Socialist Alliance etc.  Obviously some of those left organisations are presently still available to be joined, and indeed most of Left Unity’s promoters have been in one or other of them fairly recently and some have been in all of them.  So we can assume that they are all regarded as inadequate vehicles for Left Unity’s ambitions, because of charismatic leaders, the affiliation of existing far left groups etc.

Other proposals could be described as inconsistently positive.  Opposition to war is by some way the most important political issue of this century to date, so the Left Unity Draft Statement’s rejection of imperialism and war is right and essential.  However, it can only be vitiated by the fact that the Comment is Free (Guardian)  piece which has been the project’s most significant public statement to date does not mention a word about the issue, doubtless because it is co-authored by Gilbert Achcar, a supporter of “humanitarian intervention” and NATO’s mission to protect.  A diplomatic silence on the most important issue in order to form an expedient alliance marks a retreat from the politics of Respect and TUSC etc.

Other negatives:  as in the tradition of all two-and-a-half formations, the Left Party will be non- or even anti-Leninist.  One may infer that this is designed to make it easier for the new Party to scoop up those refugees from the Socialist Workers Party who believe that their party’s problems are due to a “Leninist” regime. The “brutality and distortions of traditional left structures” are rejected without qualification as, more justifiably, is the “reproduction of…gender domination” within the left.  Presumably this is a nod towards the drama within the SWP over the handling of an allegation of rape against one of its leading members.

This is ridiculous. The experience of Leninism is the story of the world’s first successful socialist revolution, of working-class state power, of the construction, defence and ultimate disintegration of world socialism in the twentieth century, of parties which led masses in the struggle against capitalism, fascism and imperialism, and of millions who died on the battlefields and in the dungeons of the bourgeoisie as partisans of a world movement for a communist future, all with its historic achievements and imposing crimes and errors.  To imagine that anything can be added to the analysis of this experience (essential for any serious socialist organisation) by studying the goings-on in small and marginal groups mainly peopled by the petty-bourgeois is merely testimony to the capacity of some of the left to depart from the real world into their own self-referential Truman Show.  Pace Professor Callinicos, there is absolutely nothing that can be adduced for or against Leninism from the arguments inside the SWP, any more than the results obtained by the Large Hadron Collider need verifying by observing the Duracell Bunny.

Marxism fares a little better in the Draft Statement – it is to “inform” the Party but not “define “ it, presumably meaning membership is open to Marxists and non-Marxists alike, which is curious since more people are now turning to a Marxist analysis of society in the wake of the slump than has been the case for many years.  Its actual centre of ideological gravity will be considerably lower – opposition to austerity, support for welfare; opposition to racism, support for equality; democratic, pluralist, green etc.  “Normal” social democracy in effect.

Now,  if we acknowledge a great deal of truth in Left Unity’s founding premise that the left is feeble and atrophied in Britain today, we still need to ask whether this sort of Party, with the experience of Leninism discarded, and that of Marxism muted,  is the solution to this incapacity.  And can it be woven out of the existing left-of-Labour left?

That left is an agglomeration of organised groups, some of which style themselves “parties” and which range from the small through the very small to the miniscule and a number of individual “independent socialists” who have mostly passed through one or several of the aforementioned organisations and have suffered thereby.  Beyond that, the project aims to appeal to a much larger diaspora of people of progressive views who feel disenfranchised by the present parliamentary parties – mainly, of course, the Labour Party.

This left (individuals and ‘parties’ both) reflects several pathologies which have in part conditioned not only its failure to make much of the economic crisis but its effective abstention from serious political intervention (with some significant exceptions) for the last generation or more.  One of the most obvious is the obsessive identification with the symbols, structures and strategies of the past (be it 1917, 1968, 1971-74 or all of them); to the point where the Jacobins of the Paris Commune appear as futuristic speculators.  We know that “the traditions of all the generations of the dead weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living”, but even Marx could not have envisaged the brain of the British left of 2013.

Second, and connected, is the treatment of the idea of socialism as if it were unproblematic for the mass of people today.  Experience and opinion polling does indeed indicate broad support for what might be termed socialist values and sometimes policies, but the systemic socialism that has been advocated by the left does not properly account for the widely-held belief that it has been tried and, in both the main variants understood as socialism by most people (Soviet socialism and Labourite social democracy), failed.  The left generally addresses that problem by disassociating itself from the consequences of the past even as it perseveringly seeks to replicate that same past in its own proceedings.  “That wasn’t socialism” it is argued (in relation to the USSR and Harold Wilson alike) by comrades who then seek to establish organisations replicating in detail those which created and presided over this “non-socialism”, whether it is to be a new revolutionary party or a new trade union party. 

The product of this contradiction is an “offer” to the working people of the 21st century which amounts to “we want to re-run the twentieth century but this time get it right.”  The appeal of this pitch is unsurprisingly negligible, since no-one can take seriously the proposition that if the Soviet Union and/or Labour governments were indeed disasters, it was only because Peter Taafe/Ken Loach/”comrade Delta” were not in charge.  Nostalgia for 1945 (imperialist-funded social democracy in essence) is no basis for a 21st century political intervention, that much is clear

Third, the contemporary left is almost entirely isolated from the working-class it seeks to speak for.  More prosaically, it has limited engagement with “ordinary people” in general.  The Left and the working-class have never been the same thing of course, but the divergence has only widened over the last generation as the working-class has seen its institutions and organisations reduced to near-rubble, and the political left has retreated into a self-referential sub-culture from which it only emerges to address the class through propaganda, rather than as a living part of the whole.  Every failure sends it not deeper into society but back into the garage to further fine-tune its ideological principles and proposals.  Next time we will get it right!  As the Arabs say, the dogs may bark, but the caravan has moved on…

Any left project has to address these problems.  The list of them could be extended.  Left organisations tend to be heavily male-dominated and to have only barely absorbed the insights of feminism.  They can be uncomfortable in working across cultural differences in an increasing diverse working class.  They obsess about maintaining the ”tradition” appropriate to their own group, apparently oblivious to the historic irrelevance of most of them and their very slight impact on the course of events over the last fifty years or so.  And so on.  These shortcomings apply pretty much equally to those organisations of the Left which operate within the Labour Party as to those outside.  Some of them apply to the new Left Party project with greater force than others, but they all need to be explicitly addressed if there is to be the remotest chance of progress.

Making something straight of this crooked timber is challenging.  However, the negatives point towards a positive.  What left politics today lacks is that union of socialism with the mass movement which can be the only real foundation of a social transformation.  That is to say serious campaigning and propaganda within the working-class, first of all for an alternative to capitalism, and an explanation of the means of struggle needed to achieve that objective.  That must include both an attractive, 21st century, presentation of socialism, and work within the existing organisations of the working class in a persevering way, learning as well as lecturing.  The estrangement of the left from the “agency” it has historically prioritised cannot be overcome by creating yet another external organisation offering itself as a solution to their problems – at least not if the aim is to politically organise and mobilise the working-class as the vanguard of human emancipation. 

If on the other hand the crying need is to establish a new more-reformist-than-Labour party, then the assistance of socialists is scarcely essential. Indeed, the whole “Left Unity Draft Statement” reads like a putative manifesto for a trade union party.  More-or-less the whole of it could be passed at a Unite policy conference without anyone batting an eyelid.  To be fair, the points outlined by Nick Wrack in the speeches he has been making on the subject do include an explicit recognition of the need to engage in mass struggles and to raise the aim of socialism alongside an emphasis on electoral work by this new “working class party”.  This on its own does not overcome the problems identified above, not least the fact that this is a project relying on the organisation of fractious groups mainly or entirely external to the working-class movement intent on bringing a gift (better electoral representation) that the latter shows no signs of desiring.  Nick’s prospectus is close to a call for the reconstitution of a Communist party of the 1960s/1970s, without addressing the reasons for that party’s collapse, or the insufficiency of the forces available for its recreation.  That would have to include a reflection on the failure of the many efforts to set up such a Party, or some variation on it, over the last fifteen years.

It would seem, in summary, that the Left Party proposed will be a gathering of well-meaning individuals, some Marxist, others not, organised primarily around electoral interventions on a fairly broad common-denominator of anti-austerity pro-equality policies.  It will have very limited working-class support.  It will almost certainly not secure significant support at the ballot box, and it will absolutely certainly not achieve socialist revolution, because it will not be organised for that.  It will likely hover between being another left electoral alternative to Labour and being another attempt at far-left regroupment, while succeeding at neither. “What right has anyone got to say that such a political formation cannot or should not be built?”, its promoters have asked.  No-one at all, of course, but  we should also pause to consider the possibility of a better use of the left’s time and energy.


Working-Class Politics

The centre of any strategy for socialism has to be the working class – not an abstract working class assigned a particular political role because that is what it ought to perform, but the concrete, actual working class of today, in Britain and internationally.  Only the working class can emancipate itself, and thereby open up better prospects for the world.  The sober fact, already briefly argued above, is that the labour movement in Britain, and to varying degrees in other countries, has been reduced over the last generation to the point where it scarcely articulates an independent political project.  It has degenerated to the point of being perceived as simply one interest groups among many in a sociologically spliced-and-diced society that is unquestionably capitalist but where the class struggle has been at a very low level for a fairly long time.  It has to a certain extent internalised that perception as self-perception. That has both caused and further conditioned the state of the trade unions and other working class organisations, and of course its historic vehicle for electoral intervention, the Labour Party.  A class for itself?  Not so much right now.

It is trite to observe that the working-class has changed.  Women have always constituted around half the working-class, but no longer can they be treated as a sort of auxiliary detachment in the struggle, backing up the main industrial army.  Likewise, heavy manual work, or employment in manufacturing of any sort, are now fairly small minority occupations.  Globalisation has given further impetus to the migration of labour and the consequent transnationalisation of the working class, a historically progressive but politically challenging development.  In a nutshell, surplus value is created by a greater diversity of people working in a wider diversity of situations across all remaining boundaries.  These changes make it all the more essential that socialists engage with the actual organisations of the working class, rather than simply invoking the class as an abstraction as if nothing had changed.  Thousands of individual online socialists are no substitute, however well-intentioned.

Reconstituting the labour movement so that it becomes a powerful expression of the working-class interest, and thereby a means of the working class giving a lead to everyone interested in a new and better society, is therefore the main task for socialists to address.  Without it, there is no prospect for advancing beyond specific and limited single-issue interventions, with at best local/partial successes that cannot change the fundamentals of the prevailing system.

What does this reconstitution mean?  Not going back to the labour movement of the past, obviously, since that is neither possible nor, as that movement never achieved socialism, necessarily desirable.  But some of the objectives that have to be set include the strengthening of trade union organisation numerically, in the workplace and ideologically; the reconnection of organised workers with the wider working-class community, where the links of work-union-community have atrophied or disappeared; the elaboration of campaign goals and policies which prioritise the capacity for the working-class to stabilise and strengthen itself (in the fields of employment, housing etc); the fighting and winning of strikes which build collective confidence; the creation of unity between British-born workers of various ethnicities and immigrant workers; special attention to reaching out to the young and connecting with campaigns which already mobilise youth (anti-war, students, UK Uncut etc) and the reassertion of socialism as the only real solution to society’s crises, with a fresh elaboration as to what such a system would look like.

The labour movement then (and in parallel, these tasks cannot be sequential) has to use its immense potential capacities to lead struggles which point towards an alternative society across the board – that is anti-war/anti-imperialist struggles and democratic struggles for social equality.  It is a fact that the ruling elite in Britain is more discredited than it has been since 1940 perhaps, there is a growing sense of the unfitness of the ruling class to rule – yet there is no (or little) confidence in the capacity of ordinary people to take over the running of society themselves.  Only a revived labour movement can give the leadership to fill that political space as it expands. 

The role of socialists in all this is clearly essential.  There have been examples in the last few years of the left making a big impact in society – the Stop the War Coalition in one way, and Ken Livingstone’s Mayoralty in London, in another.  Neither was perfect but lessons can be learned from both as to how to intervene in a purposeful and effective way, as well as from their shortcomings.  The main limiting factor, which affected both in different ways, it could plausibly be argued, is the very weakness of a strong labour movement able to take the fight to a higher level. Socialists who intervene in the movement with a view to raising its political capacity (definitely not just a question of building bigger organisations alone) are playing a central role in developing the only force able to challenge and overturn capitalism.  In different ways, and with their common and different limitations, the Communist Party, Counterfire, Socialist Action and of course individuals in other groups can be found playing that sort of role – building the movement, seeking to shape it politically, setting new challenges for the organisations of the class and then working to meet them.  Greater unity among such forces would really be a “left unity” worth having.  And there may indeed be scope for the creation, not of new competing groups, but of new campaigning organisations which can help and strengthen the movement politically and ideologically.  Of course, this cannot be left to trade unions alone with their own limitations.  The key element is the orientation towards the labour movement, which is to say towards the working class and its organisations, rather than a form of substitutionism which, while acknowledging the role of the working-class in the abstract, avoids engagement with it in practice and instead exalts the role of individual progressives.

Labour-poster-from-1909-001It is in this context that we should return to the question of the Labour Party.  Under circumstances of a stronger and developing working-class movement, can it be turned into an instrument of deeper social advance – not a revolutionary party but one which can contribute towards opening up the way to socialism?  The only honest answer at the moment is – who can say for sure?  The main working-class organisations have set it as their task to try to accomplish that transformation after the disastrous New Labour episode – the first, and successful, step, being to work for the election of the best of the possible leaders on offer, Ed Miliband.  Since then, some progress has been made away from the worst positions of New Labour but it has undeniably been uneven and incomplete – pretending New Labour is dead is as wrong as pretending nothing has changed since 2010 (the Left Party position in effect).  No-one can assert that it is likely that a 2015 Labour government will master the economic crisis in the interests of ordinary people, although it could certainly be an arena of struggle over its direction which could bring benefits in itself in terms of strengthening the movement, and could create circumstances for the working-class to recover a measure of confidence.  That is the task that the major organisations of the class (Unite, Unison, GMB etc) have democratically set themselves and the chances of them now abandoning it in favour of a new Left Party are zero.  That can only be held as inconsequential if one regards the working-class and its organisations as mere fingerbowls at the great socialist buffet.  The fact that almost no individual socialists presently in the Labour Party (still far greater than the number outside) and absolutely no Labour MPs, even among the 44 who recently revolted over the front bench’s workfare capitulation for example, are prepared to sign on for the Left Party merely underlines the point.  And any “UKIP of the Left” (unattractive formulation!) would need to reckon with the fact that it is much easier to cut with the grain of bourgeois ideology and media prejudice to secure electoral success than it is to fight against it, particularly if one does not have the trade unions alongside one.

It is certainly possible that the working class will learn through experience, over the next few years, that the struggle to “reclaim Labour” (not a great formulation, I would agree) is not going to work.  If it doesn’t then that will be because of one of two factors – the working-class itself lacks the “social weight” in the here-and-now to sustain its own political project, at least on that scale, in which case the necessity for socialists to redouble their efforts to rebuild the strength of the class is obvious (and a new mass socialist party, resting on a serious and durable foundation, may eventually come out of such an endeavour) but we would be in for a definite period of bourgeois political domination at the parliamentary level at any event.  Or, the effort will be thwarted by establishment manoeuvres, with what has been termed the “Blairite undead”, supported by a frightened elite, obstructing democratic and constitutional efforts to transform Labour.  Under those circumstances, the creation of a new class Party might be higher up the agenda, because the class is already fighting for it, although it would not look very much like the Left Party we are presently discussing.  Time will tell, and probably before very long, but in the meantime to stand outside the general objective of electing a Labour government as the only alternative to the Coalition by engaging in separate and marginal electoral interventions is profoundly self-defeating.

It is not the case that trade unionism should therefore be the sole focus of socialists’ work, still less that unions alone can achieve a socialist society.  Indeed, the feebleness of the trade union political intervention during the Blair-Brown years will have given rise to an understandable skepticism about their capacity or willingness to confront the weaknesses in the Labour Party. But that is clearly starting to change, and it also remains the fact that the unions are far deeper-rooted in society, and the working class in particular, than the socialist left, and that they alone have the heft to rebuild the labour movement as a plausible alternative to capitalist class rule.   Any left political intervention which does not partake of that strength and those roots is either very narrowly focused (ie aimed at attaining some specific short-term objective) or it is inconsequential.  Nor is it necessary (luckily, because it is clearly not possible) for all socialists to join the Labour Party to take part in the work of reformation of the class “for itself”.  Most of what is needed does not require a Labour Party card to be delivered, but it does require a focus on the matter in hand rather than speculative political ventures.  Homes can be created for the “politically homeless” in movements and non-electoral interventions which bring people together rather than dividing them.

Socialists and the unions need to reach out to each other more, integrate their work more closely where possible and elaborate common projects, of which the People’s Assembly is an example.  Certainly, only Socialists can set out “the line of march”, but they can only do so if they are themselves marching with the body of the troops.  Engage with the movement as it is in order to make it something better!  That may not arouse the excitement of setting up yet another new Party, but winning five per cent of the vote a few years down the line (I am being extremely generous here) should no more be the stuff of socialist dreams than it  would be of bourgeoisie nightmares. 

In summary, the project for a new Left Party

a) is based on a flawed assessment of how socialist political parties can emerge and sustain themselves;

b) prioritises “left unity” over class unity, to the detriment of the latter;

c) misreads European experience and its applicability to the situation in Britain;

d)  fails to seriously address the Labour Party and working-class support for it;

e) ignores the failures of numerous similar initiatives and, indeed, the actual problems of the left in Britain today;

f) draws a causal connection between economic crisis and political radicalism which is at best questionable;

and therefore

g) cannot best direct the efforts and resources of socialists at the present juncture – indeed, it risks being an impediment to making the most of actual opportunities for advance and reconstruction.

I hope the comrades involved will address these points and consider the possibility that they may be wrong.


50 responses to “Left Unity’s ‘modest flutter’”

  1. Stuart says:

    Nothing could have been easier than to write a similar piece back in 2011 explaining why a small demo of the usual suspects and childish ultra-left anarchists marching to “Occupy Wall Street” was a waste of time, doomed to failure, it’s all been tried before, etc. Then it exploded and changed everything. Even if it must ultimately be judged a failure (discuss), who could doubt that it entirely changed the political landscape, the conversation, what was deemed possible? Perhaps it will prove an embarrassment to compare this fledgling project with Occupy. But I’d rather risk the blushes.

    • Terry Crow says:

      But Occupy Wall Street isn’t an alternative political party, is it? It is a campaign drawing support from all sorts of individuals and political groups.

      IF Left Unity sets itself up as a political party opposing the Labour Party indiscriminately on the elctoral front (and I hope it doesn’t, as a LP member without illusions in the LP and also expressing an interest in Left Unity), this will look counter-productive and divisive (ironic, eh?).

      IF Left Unity works with socialists inside and outside the LP, in campaigns like the ‘Occupy’ movement, then it will be a positive.

      • Brian S. says:

        Hi Terry – I have a lot of sympathy with your views. I fully support the building of a political force to the left of Labour, but to set the starting point for that in the construction of an electoral challenge to Labour is to get things the wrong way round. First we need a powerful extra-parliamentary movement against austerity and labour’s capitultions to it. That is most likely to peak not in the run-up to the next election but in the aftermath of it – whether Labour wins or loses. I don’t believe that you can win Labour for the left; but I also don’t think you can build a mass left alternative by going around the Labour Party. I’ve been in and out of the Labour Party over many years – but I am beginning to think this is the time to bite the bullet and go back in again.

      • Larkin says:

        I agree Terry. Occupy Wall Street was an echo internationally of the Tahrir events which reverberated around the globe. But it came up against the iron fist of militarised cops and did not have the politics to deal with it. Non-violent direct action has its limits. It was like a wave created by the downfall of Mubarak which eventually dissipated. It could still revive given the right issue but it rejects parties and socialism. The events in Egypt are still evolving. There is a danger of a looming coup there as the West deliberately allows the economy to deteriorate. They want a tighter grip on Egypt and are planning to install another Mubarak.

        I agree with the poster that there has to be a strong relationship between the left outside the Labour Party and the left within it. Even in its sorry state, it is the only substantial organisation of working people and trade unionists. The CPGB in the 1920s requested affiliation to the Labour Party and even though this was rejected, it maintained close relations with the Labour left through the National Left Wing Movement. I believe that was the right approach. Likewise in the unions it built the Minority Movement (affiliated to the Red international of Labour unions) which was built around the programme of the Communist International.

        A Left Party needs to have maximum firmness in principles but also maximum tactically flexible in relation to the Labour Party–entering it and intervening internally where possible, practical and/or fruitful–but at the very least maintaining contact and co-ordination with the best of the Labour left especially its trade union members and most of all Labour youth. Like the poster says, this does not mean everyone being in the Labour Party (it is untenable at present). It means maintaining a presence, an influence, a Labour Party fraction.

        I sometimes wonder whether a federal approach to membership would be best for Left Unity–allowing left parties (SWP, SP etc.) to affiliate to the Left Unity project with representation on the leading bodies. This could include organisations of the Labour Left too. Setting up a Left Party focussed primarily on elections standing candidates across the board against Labour before it is strong enough to be successful would cut across this. Why not try to bring on board Labour Representation Committee, Socialist Appeal, etc as well. That would be real Left Unity and not just the unity of the small left groups outside it.

      • Larkin says:

        Some more points. In a federal set up, people in Left Unity who are not members of affiliated organisations should be able to set up their own recognised tendencies with representation on the leading bodies. This should be on the basis of proportional representation according to votes received at annual conference.

        And lets not be afraid of debates. Disagreement about policies and tactics is a natural and normal human condition. The constitution needs to facilitate dealing with disputes in a civilised way. We will only ditch the Stalinist stigma attached to the left by the Right by showing that we can disagree and not be treated each other like lepers.

  2. Tom says:

    Left Unity is to be commended in posting this comprehensive critique. If we are to make progress we need to address our critics in the labour movement, and take on their strongest, not most feeble arguments. In the process of trying to counter these arguments, we will harden and polish the tools we need to demolish the likes of Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman when they decide they cannot get away with pretending we don’t exist. And we can differentiate different trends within Left Unity because we are all here being tarred with one brush whereas the reality is we are not singing from the same hymn-sheet, not yet, not to the extent that I for one would like.

    • Terry Crow says:

      If that hymn sheet means standing candidates against the Labour Party, for my money that cuts across the very essence of ‘Left Unity’.

      As an unaligned ‘Marxist’ (for want of a better tag), expressing an interest in Left Unity, but a member of Eastleigh Labour Party, I would like to see a ‘Left Unity’ grouping that engages with socialists inside and outside Labour with the aim of co-ordinating and campaigning, recruiting generally to the ideas of socialism, enabling ideas to be openly discussed to find the best ways forward.

      And yes, I agree with you, Left Unity is to be commended for posting this comprehensive critique. And why not from the Right, too? Disagreements bring out more clearly the issues, don’t they? All singing from the same hymn sheet can be deadly dull, not to say, unreal. Presently, this is one of the attractions of Left Unity, isn’t it?

  3. Edd Mustill says:

    why the anonymity?

    • Larkin says:

      I am guessing that if he is a prominent member of the Labour Party, he doesn’t want to needlessly expose himself to being booted out for talking to a potential electoral competitor.

  4. Dave K says:

    I think it reflects the confidence and maturity of the forces currently building Left Unity that our website is prepared to publish such a lengthy polemic against the project. I wonder whether this ‘senior figure in the trade union and labour movement’ would accord Left Unity similar space in the hallowed organs which this coy figure inhabits. It says something for his/her confidence in their political positions that they remain anonymous. Indeed it probably confirms that they cannot really argue for a radical political line precisely because they have become so embedded in the institutions of the labour movement. It probably does reflect the position of the Morning Star, Socialist Action and to a much lesser extent Counterfire since these groups are approvingly mentioned in the second article. Hence it is important to respond since if LU is going to be a serious party it will have to engage with these positions.

    The basis argument is that we are engaged in some sort of ultra-left repetition of the Respect/Socialist Alliance experience,not engaging seriously in the patient day to day united front work necessary to prepare the splits or developments that can build a real alternative.
    A longer article would be necessary to refute all the analysis but here is a rapid response to the summary points at the end of the article:

    a) “is based on a flawed assessment of how socialist political parties can emerge and sustain themselves;”
    There is no blueprint today for how socialist political parties can emerge. For a start we have the whole stalinist experience of Russia, China and elsewhere that repels working people. Similarly we are not in the 1890s where the trade unions and basic organisations of the class were rising. There has been an experience of social democracy, the communist party (both stalinist and eurocommunist) and the mainly trotskyist post68 left. Any new socialist party will emerge from people coming out of those traditions and with entirely new radicalised people. Indeed the concrete experience of the nascent LU local groups confirm that sort of mix. The writer appears to dream of another starting point that will result from successful united front struggles over a long period. He/she also tends to ignore the new ways people have become radicalised – the experience of Occupy, UK uncut, the role of the social media. I mean who would have thought a film would help propel the formation of 80 odd local groups.

    b) “prioritises “left unity” over class unity, to the detriment of the latter;”
    If by class unity we mean all that activists have to do is to build the Peoples assembly or make sure the Tories are defeated then he is limiting what activists (including his beloved marxists) should be doing. Yes LU will be among the best builders of the Peoples Assembly but the other key question of class unity is to build a political alternative now to one nation Labour not to postpone it. Left unity is one of the preconditions of successfully building class unity because the class unity the one nation people, or even the better trade union leaders like McCluskey are building, is essentially one about either getting Miliband elected or reclaiming Labour, pushing it to the left. Although the writer is very strong on purely negative balance sheets of left of social democratic projects such as Respect or Rifondazione he is very reticent to analyse the historic ‘success’ of pushing labour to the left or CP type pressure on the LP.

    c) “misreads European experience and its applicability to the situation in Britain;”
    What the European experience confirms is that the major social democratic parties no longer have unchallenged hegemony over working people’s votes and even less over the more radical class struggle activists. It also reflects a rather insular approach to political analysis. The Front de Gauche just held a rally of over 100,000 in protest against Hollande’s austerity policies. Rifondazione ultimately failed but few of its activists would say that it was wrong to get involved in the project and it it did lead resistance for a number of years. No doubt if our anonymous writer had been writing a few years ago he/she would have condemned the rather thin ranks of the Syrizia for confusing left unity with class unity. Even formations that are not of the left like the M5S movement in Italy reflects the volatility of politics and the possibilities we have of building new formations.

    d) “fails to seriously address the Labour Party and working-class support for it;”
    If LU in its statements or practice was sectarian to LP activists then this point may have some weight but no one is suggesting that we pretend the LP does not exist. We will work alongside Owen Jones and others in the Peoples Assembly and we will work in trade unions to defend workers interests. The big question though is how do you break the LP hold over the working class? Do you do it in 2013 purely through united front campaigns around the cuts, the bedroom tax, imperialist war etc or do you also begin to pose today the question of a political alternative that starts to challenge it electorally too.

    e) “ignores the failures of numerous similar initiatives and, indeed, the actual problems of the left in Britain today;”
    I think a big advantage of some of the people involved in LU is that precisely they have drawn some of the lessons of the weaknesses of previous initiatives. For example we think that it is no use having an electoral intervention based on a cartel of political organisations even if supported by a trade union. We believe you have to build an individual membership organisation and to build consistent local bases from which you can construct some electoral success. The actual problems of the left in any case apply as much to the forces supporting his/her political project as it does to LU. I mean the CP,Socialist Action or even Counterfire – are they setting the political situation ablaze?

    f) “draws a causal connection between economic crisis and political radicalism which is at best questionable;”
    This is barely worth answering since I fail to see any catastrophist analyis anywhere in stuff written by LU supporters. In fact the very project recognises that the subjective factor is very important. You cannot rely on events powered by economic crisis to build a socialist alternative, you have to patiently build it. I think his/her analysis is much more predicated on waiting for the big events that will unlock the situation combined with much greater illusions in the mainstream left leaders in the unions or the LP.

    g)” cannot best direct the efforts and resources of socialists at the present juncture – indeed, it risks being an impediment to making the most of actual opportunities for advance and reconstruction.”
    This really takes the biscuit. The LU supporters, by actually raising a discussion among thousands already around the need for a socialist alternative and organising action on the ground, is somehow an impediment for the advance of the movement. I fail to see how we are more of an impediment that the sort of forces that this writer is so much attached to.

  5. tim says:

    “a senior figure in the labour and trade union movement”

    this is very strange. since when have debates in the labour movement been anonymous like this????

    are we under marshall law or something but no one has told me??? should we all be anonymous now? i really can’t understand why ‘a senior figure in the labour and trade union movement’ needs to be anonymous like this!


  6. Jimmy Haddow says:

    I do not know if the editors of Left Unity are being mischievous here by not putting the name of the author to this critique to the development of another Left wing project; but this article is several weeks old and has been on at least two left blogs to my knowledge and the author’s name has been openly depicted on both occasions. I will say no more and give the benefit of doubt……

  7. Patrick N says:

    If we have to be subjected to a lengthy piece rubbishing the Left Unity initiative that claims the authority of being by a “senior figure in the labour and trade union movement” then I think that we are entitled to know the identity of this august personage. Or is that too presumptuous for us mere plebs?

    Sorry, but this really seems to be going contrary to the whole spirit of openness and “let’s cut the bullshit” that most of us involved in Left Unity seem keen to want to build.

  8. John Penney says:

    I understand from the Socialist Unity website reproduction of this overlong, dull and all too predictable article that the author is Michael Ford. (Is he a “senior figure” ?)I really don’t know why this utterly negative piece is given space on our website. What next, an article by Ed Miliband on the importance of keeping to the Austerity Strategy under the next Labour Government ?

    Cut away all the overlong guff and all that remains are two points of (negative) note:

    1) Any movement to the Left of Labour is a waste of time – we all need to spend our valuable political acrtivity once again trying to “push Labour Left”. So of course the career Labour politicians can have yet another term in personally rewarding office – and sell out the working class to their capitalist paymasters AGAIN ! Why would we do that Michael ?


    2) The author is yet another of those sad old dyed in the wool Stalinists, so common around the Labour Party now as in days gone by . The author still seriously thinks that :

    “The experience of Leninism is the story of the world’s first successful socialist revolution, of working-class state power, of the construction, defence and ultimate disintegration of world socialism in the twentieth century,”

    Sorry Michael, the disastrous historical experience of “Leninism” is of a big gamble in October 1917 , against the entire then theory of Marxism, which led to a very short lived workers and peasants revolutionery state in 1917, soon isolated and demoralised by the forces of massive capitalist counter attack and encirclement, and eventually falling prey to takeover by a brand new form of capitalist oppression, the bureaucratic state capitalist class represented initially by the Stalinist dictatorship. This , and its copycat regimes in Eastern Europe and China were some of the most murderous and oppressive regimes in world history for their working classes.

    And the author looks back to these monstrous historial abberations with fond memory ! Even after these Stalinist regimes can now be clearly seen to have acted historically as a sort of caretaker collective “proxy bougeoisie, prior to the eventual full conventional bourgeois restoration now achieved in most previously Stalinist states – China now well on the way too.

    We have NOTHING to learn from such an “analyst”. Hopefully Left Unity will not only escape from the dead clutches of “Leninist” modes of organisation and thought, but also will be able to reject the illusion of Stalinism ( misnamed as “Communism”) as anything to do with real democratic Socialism and workers power. Fail to do so, and our potential support base amongst ordinary people will ignore us in droves.

    On to the building of a radical , democratic Left Party which can replace the politically bankrupt Labour collaborators and all their ideologiocal spin doctors and apologists.

    • Terry Crow says:

      //And the author looks back to these monstrous historial abberations with fond memory ! \\ – I cannot and do not speak for the author, but I am going to suggest that you might want to re-read the article, since the author is, self-evidently, not a Stalinist.

      • Terry Crow says:

        On re-reading the article and further reflection, I’m not so sure that the author isn’t a fellow traveller of the CP of old, so I take back my post of 8th May, John, and apologise.

        For example, whilst I agree Scargill was a working class leader and fighter, demanding huge loyalty at one time, his Achilles heal was his Stalinist tendency; that is to say, he couldn’t put his faith in the miners to vote for all out strike action which resulted in the damaging split, played to death by the media. It’s something that was not openly talked about at the time (that is to say, being critical of Scargill) since it would have served no useful purpose but would have added to demoralisation of the striking miners (who I supported). Now though there is no point in maintaining a myth that he was one of the ‘greatest’ leaders.

        And nor did we ever witness what the author describes as “World socialism” – given with the rise of Stalinism we neither had real workers internationalism nor workers democracy anywhere. This idea that we had witnessed ‘World socialism’ (rather than what we actually saw, namely World Stalinism) distorts the reality, seriously detracts from the ideas of socialism giving it a bad name (to put it mildly), and if taken seriously would demoralise anyone who wants to see a World where our destiny is decided by us, not for us.

        Lenin was a great contributor to the ideas of socialism (not perfect by any means, no one is), as was Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Luxemburg and a host of others. Stalin certainly was not. And if Left Unity ever felt that the old USSR, or the DDR, or China or Cuba or Yugoslavia, etc, etc, etc, were models to support and follow with the murder of socialists and anarchists in Spain, the murder and exile of Left & Right Oppositionists in the Soviet Union, the murder of Trotskyists in Vietnam, the putting down of workers uprisings in the DDR, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and so on and so forth, it would be about as far as you can get from my idea of Left Unity, and pretty much any sane person, I would imagine.

  9. Tom says:

    He was called Michael Ford when the article was released previously. Not sure if that was a pen-name. I am pleased that Labour Party socialists who want to keep the white flag flying over Ed Miliband’s graveyard of socialism feel the need to put in so much effort to try to strangle Left Unity at birth. I think it is good that Left Unity supporters are given an insight in to some of the best arguments that can be deployed in defense of those who want to surrender to ‘comrade’ Miliband.

  10. Tom says:

    I disagree with John Penney on many points. I am very pleased that Left Unity feels confident enough to open up its website to such an articulate critic within the left to have their say. That gives us a chance to tackle the issues he raises. Doing that successfully will allow us to create a scalpel sharp enough to cut through the umbilical cord strangling the likes of Owen Jones and John McDonnell. Many of the arguments used here are ones that Left Unity does need answers to. John Penny says the arguments deployed here are Stalinist. Not sure I agree with that. I definitely disagree with John’s dismissal of the Russian Bolsheviks. Left Unity is going to attract those who support Lenin and Trotsky. No amount of John’s attempted defense of those anti-Marxists who opposed the Russian Revolution, then went on to drown the German Revolution in blood is going to go unchallenged. Left Unity built around the anti Marxist currents that John Penny seems to want to defends is not genuine left unity. Left Unity has to become a space for the supporters of Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci, both of whom died defending the Russian Revolution and the leaders of that revolution.

    • John Penney says:

      You’ve really got to stop setting up “straw men”, ascribing entirely bogus positions for people you are arguing against Tom ! All too common a practice on the Far Left.

      The IS/SWP tradition of which you are part – and so am I as it happens (IS/SWP 1971 to 1981) , clearly recognises and explicitly states that the huge hopes of the Russian revolution of October 1917 were within a few years (how many years depends on your political position) destroyed by the emergeance of a new state property based bureaucracy – the “Stalinist” dictatorship. What existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, for most of the period that the world’s Communist Parties claimed there were “Socialist” regimes in existence , were in fact vicious dictatorships, run entirely for the benefit of the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracies in these states. Therefore the October 1917 Revolution wasn’t in the end a “great success” , we can now see from nearly a hundred years further on, that it was actually a catastrophic failure. Today there is full orthodox bourgeois capitalist resoration in nearly ALL the supposed “socialist” states – with China well on track for same. What kind of “success” is that?

      “Suck it up” Tom. That’s what happened. I admire Trotsky and Lenin for their genuine commitment to socialist internationalism too. But their 1917 “revolutionery coup” gamble FAILED. Yes, because of the betrayal of German Social Democracy in particular. I’m sure in 1917 I too would have supported the Bolshevik position too – on the basis of the apparent evidence of an unstoppable revolutionery wave sweeping Europe – potentially able to rescue a revolution in the socially and economically backward Russian Czarist Empire from isolation and degeneration. But the gamble actually resoundingly FAILED. What eventually emerged in the Soviet Union was one of the most viciously oppressive anti working class regimes in history.

      So, knowing what we know now, with 20/20 historical hindsight, and the damage to socialism’s credibility with ordinary people the Stalinist experience represents, as well as the unquantifiable suffering caused, and the worldwide betrayals implemented by the Stalinist bureaucracy, it would have been historically better for socialist advance if the German High Command had never facilitated Lenin et al getting to the Finland Station in that sealed train.

      I happen to be a fan of Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci, and Leon Trotsky too, Tom, and no fan of the treachery of Social Democracy. I can however “move on” from historical admiration to grasp that these political figures all failed in the end to achieve socialism anywhere. We need to move on too, recognise their failings, and stop relating every political analysis to the ultimately disastrous period for socialists of 1917 and its surround era. Many of the early 19th century revolutionery groups , Bolsheviks included, were similarly obsessed with the French Revolution – and similarly almost every conclusioon they drew from endlessly dissecting the French Revolution and the actions of the Jacobins turned out to be misleading when applied to their political era.

      You come across as a particularly blinkered “upholder of the true faith” and “reader of the true scriptures” Tom, (even using an “iconic” image of the SWP’s Chris Harman with your posts !)not as someone prepared to look afresh at where we are today as socialists trapped in headlong retreat, set aside the historical and ideological luggage of the past, to build a new, open, democratic party of the radical Left.

  11. Steve says:

    When I started reading this article it seemed to be a well argued and intelligently put together (if badly edited) piece of writing, but it deteriorated quite rapidly. The nadir was this:

    “The main working-class organisations have set it as their task to try to accomplish that transformation after the disastrous New Labour episode – the first, and successful, step, being to work for the election of the best of the possible leaders on offer, Ed Miliband.”

    Frankly, anyone who claims that crowning Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party is a progressive step towards reclaiming the Labour Party for socialism is either taking the Mickey or is living in some parallel universe. However, there were some interesting points made (not least because of the responses they elicited from others). The assumption is widely made that this Left Unity initiative will necessarily and rapidly become an attempt to launch a new party (whether Left Reformist or Revolutionary Socialist).

    I find this assumption quite depressing, not because I am opposed to a New Left Party to bring together the fragmented socialist left in the UK but because any headlong rush into establishing the formal structures of a new party without going through the painstaking work of building the working alliances and the experience of unity in campaigning and struggle that is necessary will result in almost certain failure.

    I understand (and I share) the impatience of people to have some real alternative to the left of the Labour Party and I have no doubt that the task of all socialists is to work to sever the ties (largely corrupt in any case) between our unions and the Labour Party, but there are reasons (and not just clashes of egos and personalities) why we are fractured and divided and simply wishing for Left Unity in the abstract does not make these go away or cease to exist.

    The author correctly states the case for the centrality of class politics (and therefore a class analysis) for any New Left project and he/she also describes (reasonably accurately in my view) how our working class organisations have been enfeebled over the past three decades. I would actually argue that this process started much earlier than Thatcher’s accession – in the run up to the 1979 election Tony Benn addressed Southwark Trades Council and told us that we were all much stronger and more influential after five years of Labour Government and I was not the only one who vociferously disagreed with him. Workplace and branch organisation and participative democracy in the unions had already started to suffer grievously by 1979 and this process has continued and accelerated since then to the point where many unions have little or no effective branch or shop stewards structures left, even in swathes of the public sector where employer-based branches made these two largely co-terminous (a decline encouraged by the disastrous bureacratisation of many UNISON branches and the removal of shop stewards from the collective bargaining process).

    However, correctly identifying the fact that we are seriously weakened does not automatically offer any insight into the way forward. This must be informed first and foremost by both analysis and principles. This anonymous writer is flawed in both areas.

    As for the anonymity -0 I understand why some figures in the Labour Movement might want to write under a pen name but it was a serious error by the (self appointed) Left Unity organisers to bill this as an article by a leading Labour and Trade Union Movement figure to give it some extra weight and supposed gravitas (and since when has Michael Ford – if it is indeed he – been a leading figure in the Labour Movement anyway?).

  12. Tom says:

    No one knows who Michael Ford is? Does that suggest this is a made-up name? What politics is on offer here? Could it be Socialist Appeal? Do they have “a senior figure in the labour and trade union movement”? Not sure they do. A lot of it is very well written. One name comes to mind. I also think I can work out why he doesn’t want to give his real name. He is worried that what happened to Ted Grant may happen to all sellers of Socialist Appeal. If I am right, that is the problem with entryism inside the Labour Party. Owen Jones as an individual is allowed to mouth off because he has no organized faction that can put their votes where his mouth is. But try to act as a disciplined and effective ‘party within a party’, and you are witch hunted out of the party.

    • Larkin says:

      There are different tactical approaches to Labour Party entryism:

      * Short term shallow entry where a revolutionary organisation joins en masse and openly sets up shop in the LP (it was possible in the early 80s), sells its paper openly in the wards (been there done that), wins over some of the LP youth and eventually gets booted out as it is seen as a growing threat.

      * Long term deep entry (what Socialist Appeal is doing now) means being more strategic and tactical to stay as close as possible to the Labour left–such that it is.

      * Then there is Labour party fraction work where a minority of a Left Party encourages say 20% of its membership to join the Labour party. The relevance of this varies over time depending on the conditions in the Labour party itself.

      A correct evaluation of the conditions inside the Labour Party and maximum tactical flexibility is crucial. The British left will always have diverse views about how to approach the Labour Party. These not matters of principle but of tactics.

      • pete b says:

        like larkin, I think that socialists in the labour party are socialists. i would like left unity to consider if it really wants to unite the whole left, or only those who believe in the tactic of ‘left of labour’.
        some comrades seem to see left unity as more fuel for their determination to stand candidates against/to the left of labour.
        this is a particular schema for many of the far left groups.
        larkin mentions the advantages of a fraction inside the lp.
        there are socialists in the lp already, in lrc, in socialist appeal etc. could we not seek to build an alliance with them. are they not already a fraction of the left which is in the lp.
        to do this would require a fresh look at the reality of left of labour candidates in recent years. galloway excepted ?(not so clear that brighton greens are socialists and mp?). tusc is not on the brink of a breakthrough. how will left unity currently break the mold? we will see but it depends on its development. i dont think starting off with electoralism is a good way.
        im suspicious of that.
        bourgeois elections are sham democracy. we need to build the left by demanding workers democracy and in fighting for the support of the rank and file in the labour movement.
        we need to fight in workers organisations.
        its a tactic to stand in bourgeois elections. its not neccasarilly a good tactic to expose ourselves as being able to get no more votes than the monster raving lp , nf or political christians.

  13. julie forshaw says:

    After reading this eloquently written article last night, I have had chance to mull it over, and decided to comment. I am a lay person who has had no political affiliations to any thing left in the past, so I talk from a less academic background of left thinking. The main argument, it seems to me, that is the continual theme running through this piece is this:

    ‘Creating a party such as Left Unity is pointless and distracts from the Labour Party. We would all be better concentrating our efforts into revitalizing the Labour Party and returning this back to its socialist roots (because it is the only party that has a chance of being elected).’

    What I do know is this, and I can comfortably speak for at least thirty others who share my opinion and who have also never been affiliated to any party or movement before. WE NEED LEFT UNITY!!!! THE LABOUR PARTY is a CORRUPTED institution which is capitalist in its thinking and many of us believe could never be brought back to the left from the inside. But maybe just as UKIP are making the Tories move to the right, so could Left Unity bring Labour over to the left. (I’m personally not interested in moving Labour anywhere!!)

    However I still – and I know many others who feel the same – can never think of a time when I will ever vote Labour again. You cannot trust Labour. It never repeals anything that the Tory party puts into place, all the parties are just a continuation of each other mostly run by greedy MPs and outmoded systems.

    Left Unity has the ability to be structured in a new way. A way that can be more inclusive of the people it will represent. One where (this is in the future hopefully) MPs are not allowed to be courted by Corporate Business, Whipped and Lobbied. Left Unity has a chance to refresh the political process, which many of the population, who are societal in their thinking, have lost faith in. I know what I have said is very simplistic but for me and many other voters it is simply the truth. I think the writer of this article knows this, this is why so much effort has gone into his 2 part article.
    I also wish to say that I don’t think anyone is naive enough to think that we can turn back time and go back to an era of past socialism if it ever really existed. We are all aware we live in 21st century Britain. We need a new party and we need a new structure. This might change the parliamentary process that many of us are absolutely sick to the back teeth with. LEFT UNITY BE BRILLIANT!!!! work it out and get us what we need A FAIR, EQUAL AND HUMANE SOCIETY. ONE THAT CARES!!!

    • John Penney says:

      Absolutely Julie. Your contribution hits the proverbial nail on the head. Hopefully there are enough people involved in the Left Unity project (and enough in attendance on Saturday 11th) to sweep usdecisively past all the “old political lags” and their political baggage” forever trapped in the mistakes and arguments of the distant past.

    • Terry Crow says:

      I absented myself from Left politics for more than 15 years when I settled down with a family in Hedge End. I had been a member of Southampton LP, and locally, a leading Militant supporter. I missed the split and all those shenanigans.

      The only thing that really stirred me in those 15 years was the Iraq War (I still have my one & only cartoon depicting the inevitable invasion, signposting the death and destruction to follow) – Blair’s role ended my voting for Labour, so I was disenfranchised. Given this was Eastleigh, it wasn’t as if I was letting in a Tory by not voting.

      But with redundancy from Zurich in 2008, the banking meltdown, the rise of the BNP, and the election of the Coalition, I rejoined Labour, even though I didn’t vote for it. I did vote for John O’Farrell in the by election as he seemed to me to be something of a socialist (an accidental candidate, I think).

      I am in Labour as a socialist, arguing for a radical alternative to capitalism. I have also expressed an interest in Left Unity, because this will hopefully bring a wide array of socialists together as well as new layers looking for a way forward. So my question is, why be dogmatic towards the LP? As the author says, we can’t predict what’s going to happen. But in the meantime, let all those claiming the mantle of socialism work together and openly argue their point of view, with a view to working out what will work best to grow the movement for a credible alternative to ownership and control of the economy by big business.

      • Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko says:

        Fair play Terry. If you think that there is a possibility of (re)claiming Labour for the left then you can go for it.
        Many of us don’t.
        Re. Uniting with Labour left, sure that’s what things like the People’s assembly are for.
        We should support that, but given that some of us think it’s not possible for Labour to be steered left from inside isn’t it fair enough for us to want to united together in our own party?

      • Ray G says:


        Your story is familiar to me as I also had a break from any left activity from 1992 – 2009, having been in Militant from 1974-1985 and ‘around’ it for a couple of years after that.

        There is no reason not to work with Labour Party people in any local or national campaigns agains particular Con-Dem policies. We need, of course, to have the broadest possible campaigns to defend ordinary people against this all-ouit attack from the rich and their representatives.

        The difference is that Left Unity people, after having played a consistent and humble part in each campaign, can offer a step forward to POLITICAL action to build a united left party to really challenge capitalism rather than administer is in a kinder or softer manner.

        Any LU candidates should only stand as a result of a locally-rooted upsurge in community or workplace activity. Empty ballot-crossing is not the way forward, but a local active campaigner taking on the Tories and the hypocrisy of Labour could build the forces for a fairer society.

  14. ed1975 says:

    What an incredibly long winded way of saying “wait for Labour”. The writer critcises left unity for not learning the lessons of previous efforts like this then goes on to point out exactly where we have learnt those lessons. I’m tired of waiting for some bureaucracy to come good. Without pressure from below they never will. The reason I have become involved in Left unity after twenty years of scowling from my sofa is because it’s the first time I’ve felt like an organisation has come along that is being built from the bottom up. You know, they working class organisations should be.

    • julie forshaw says:

      that’s similar to what i feel Ed. something to be built from the bottom up!!! that we ordinary people might be able to have a say in, be heard and actually represented.

  15. Jimmy Haddow says:

    The quandary about this Left Unity project is I do not know what it wants to achieve. To me the ‘About’ statement is just a rhetorical piece of twaddle that any middle class pro-capitalist one nation Liberal would support and agree too. So how can that be a Left-wing belief and creed, I just do not know? The vast majority of contributions/comments I have read on here are just an eclectic amorphous mish-mash of how bad capitalist Britain, and its political institutions, which includes the Labour Party, is and Left Unity is the way to end it due to it being something new. There have only been a small number of perceptive comments relating to the reality of building a Left project.

    The quandary I have about this ‘new’, (but in reality not that new, if one reads the history of Left projects over that past 70 years), Left project is the lack programme, policies, and strategies that are being to put forward by the eclectic contributors as a means to challenge the austerity programme of the capitalist class, in reality a planned poverty as a means to fulfil Thatcher’s promise from the 1980s of going back to the Victorian period. Does this Left Unity project intend to fight ALL cuts for example; or to bring into public ownership the banks and major companies that own and control the economy?

    I feel from the many contributions here that Left Unity ‘party’ will be a panacea to the problems of the lack of a mass ‘left force’ force in Britain today. Actually as one of the leading members of the Independent Socialist Network, Nick Wrack, who said in the Weekly Worker, which was partially reprinted on this site last week, “One thing that I am absolutely convinced about is that a new socialist party cannot emerge fully formed and fully armed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Zeus, of course, got a terrible headache, his forehead split open and out sprung Athena. That is not how a new party will emerge. “ If this Left Unity project is to succeed then the twin pillars needed is to be programme that brings the commanding heights of the economy into public ownership under democratic control and management of working people; and for its members/supporters to build the project by going into the housing estates, onto the street, standing at the stalls on a Saturday/or any other day, organising public meetings and so on, in other words the “cult of activism”; and reading the comments/contributions on this website I do not see any indication of either programme or activism. I feel that if this is not done then the Left Unity project will just be a do-gooder group with a political sway to the Right of the Labour Party.

    • Ray G says:


      ” Does this Left Unity project intend to fight ALL cuts for example; or to bring into public ownership the banks and major companies that own and control the economy? ”

      Yes. It does.

      Just suppose we are right. Wouldn’t it be great? Why not give it a go and see what happens?

      We are a bit shapeless, and new and not yet clearly defined in every policy but we are different in terms of the sudden, impressive interest shown in the appeal, and because we see ourselves as a united party of individual members, not a squashing together of a few pre-existing left parties. The detailed policies and programme will come in time. Come on in and join the process.

  16. ed1975 says:

    Jimmy, I think both some sort of programme and getting involved in housing estates etc is exactly how most supporters see Left Unity progressing. Where Left Unity differs for me from other similar projects is the programme and plan of action is not preformed by existing organisations or well known left figures but is being discussed in groups up and down the country right now.
    Left Unity seems very much striving to avoid top down organisation be be genuinely bottom up. This means in the early days it takes a little while to work out where we have common ground, if we have insurmountable differences and what we see the next steps as.

  17. Terry Crow says:

    If Left Unity is serious about left unity, it cannot be right to divide off from it those that are socialists within the Labour movement – anyway, I read here on the pages of Left Unity that the majority of those expressing an interest were members of the Labour Party, so were it to do so, you can imagine the numbers staying with Left Unity dropping markedly.

    If it were to stand against the LP in elections, this would be a problem. I’m not saying under no circumstances should a new Left Unity grouping ever do so (there are always exceptions to rule), but I just cannot see the point if this were to become it’s objective.

    I think it was 67 votes that the TUSC recently garnered in my constituency, Eastleigh. Sure, Labour only marginally moved forward with about 10% of those voting (in what is substantially a working class constituency). But the TUSC got less than one vote in a thousand of the electorate, which is of course minuscule. Why would Left Unity see itself as doing much better? And even if it did, wouldn’t that simply be divisive?

    I think Left Unity could deliver a campaigning/pressure group and/or forum for socialists of whatever persuasion to come together, argue you out their ideas, and look outwards to getting the youth and working class (in particular) interested in radical Left politics.

    But if there are people in Left Unity in Eastleigh, why not get stuck in with the socialists already there within Labour? The LP membership is small – perhaps 150, tops? It is solid working class but aged. It could be transformed. And transformed it would carry a much bigger clout than a small, unknown group. You can see the logic can’t you?

    And what happens down the road? Anyone’s guess….

    • John Penney says:

      Terry, I suggest you have a closer historical look at the utter failure of the Labour Left of the last 30 years or so to have any success in “moving the Labour Party Leftwards”. Total failure in return for a lot of work by dedicated socialists. The Labour Party is now completely corrupted , both individually (the majority of its MP’s are straightforwardly bought by Big Business via a host of business relationships / paid advisory posts/ donations / promises of future lucrative sinecure jobs, hopes of knighthoods and seats in House of Lords, etc, etc,) and politically – with its wholesale adoption of neoliberalism. You are wasting your time in the Labour Party if you want radical change – face up to that stark fact.

      So we’ll pass up on your recommendation to join the Labour Party and help give it a spurious “left face” and to do the thankless local grunt work for its next election campaign – so that once elected it’s well remunerated , sleazy, corrupt, professional political elite can betray the working class , AGAIN !

      Time to abandon that corrupt wreck of a party to the neoliberalist career politician wide boys and their big business backers, and work with genuine socialists to build a radical Left party which can tap into and build the growing resistance to the austerity offensive, which Labour has every intention of continuing should they return to the personally remunerative trough of government office.

      • Terry Crow says:

        I agree with pretty much all you say about the present state of the Labour Party, John.

        I saw first hand the lack of democracy over the selection of our LP candidate in the Eastleigh by election. If you are interested in detail, see below.

        The point?

        Things are really bad things in Labour. The older members are literally, and sadly, dying off. There is, however, a sprinkling of new members and a revival of some activity.

        But there is nothing else in Eastleigh, either! Sure TUSC stood, and got 67 votes – less than 1 in 1,000 of the electorate (O’Farrell got marginally more than Labour’s candidate in 2010, with just under 10% of the vote – whilst UKIP surged to 28%). And a TUSC candidate stood in one ward in the County elections getting 22 votes – that is, 7 votes less than the Official Loony candidate.

        If Left Unity can bring something to the table it can identify the socialists in the area, of whatever hue, and help found a campaigning group to go out and recruit to the ideas of socialism – does it matter if they decide, tactically, it is better to stay within Labour or not? I’m a Marxist (I think) in Labour, but doesn’t stop me one bit doing work outside of Labour and saying what I think in Labour. In fact I waste little time within Labour on stuff that isn’t going to make any difference to the World. But it gives me greater access for socialist ideas and a little bit more influence (as in my intervention at the selection meeting).

        The immediate challenge is then to recruit new blood – to find new layers who are searching for an alternative. Probably out of events. I see Left Unity as potentially being able to help this process in an unsectarian way – I don’t care if people do or don’t join Labour as a result. Labour is far from being electable in Eastleigh, and anything else on the Left has a chance approximating to zero. So it cannot be about electioneering.

        So what we need is a groundswell of support for change in terms of numbers and in terms of ability to go out there and win the battle of ideas. Ones and twos in area like Eastleigh would be good! UKIP’s ideas are day in day out spoon fed from the gutter press to the masses to distort their thinking, and we cannot compete on that scale. But bit by little bit, we can begin to build up a force for change for the better…….

        One more thing – if Left Unity becomes the “Left Party” with a defined set of aims, it will likely, more or less instantly see a falling away of thousands who have expressed an interest, because it will divide off all those who don’t see the point of leaving the Labour Party or those who don’t fully agree with its aims. And it will then just be a watered down version of the SP or SWP or whatever else is already out there. And even 8,000 ‘expressing an interest’ is self-evidently nowhere near big enough in a country of more than 63,000,000 to stand a chance of arising phoenix like as a real force on the political scene.

        INSIGHT INTO EASTLEIGH BY ELECTION SELECTION PROCESS (for those that may be interested)

        There were at least 8 interested in being the candidate (Guido had it that that Labour were desperate to find a candidate – simply untrue, Tory propaganda).

        Of those, one was Alan Lloyd, a socialist in neighbouring So’ton LP, who was also Eastleigh’s candidate in 1997, getting 26.8% of the vote. He got a letter from Labour’s hierarchy to the effect of ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

        Nearly all Eastleigh LP members were unaware that he had not been long listed, let alone short listed (or that he was even interested in being the candidate).

        I attended the selection meeting – there were a total of 47 LP members rounded up for the occasion – even I was cajoled with at least 2 phone calls to go, & I’m sure this was because of a fear that the attendance might be embarrassingly low. My age is 58 – the average age was a good deal older.

        We were presented with a panel of 3 candidates. One a lecturer at So’ton University (from up north). A youngish woman, ex-BBC if memory serves, who came across as though she was at an interview for a position with a multinational corporation, and comedian writer John O’Farrell.

        The questions were all pre set by the officers. I immediately had a major and public row with the chairman, John Denham, Labour MP for So’ton Itchen, about this. No follow up questions allowed, either. The whole process was over in less than an hour.

        I suspect John O’Farrell was shortlisted simply because his name was out there, and had he not been, this would have caused the media spotlight to fall on Labour’s selection process, etc.

        The upshot is that this stolid working class and aged LP selected John on the first ballot, and I think it fair to say, John was the most ‘socialist’.

        Nonetheless, you can see the whole set up is Stalinist in nature, start to finish. We got a reasonable candidate by accident.

  18. louise125 says:

    Interesting. This argument for me encapsulates everything i’ve heard over the last two years from labour party unite members who argue that the labour party is like it is because people like me aren’t in it pulling it to the left. In reality it’s the same argument i’ve heard for years. What people don’t ask is , if you were ever in the labour party in the past and what was your experience? I did start off in the labour party at 16 after the miners strike lost. My dad was a miner, but my mum was the activist, involved in women against pit closures. I walked in the meeting and saw posters supporting the steel strike on the wall from 4 years ago, not one poster supporting the miners. Pits surrounded the local labour party. I questioned it, but it wasn’t until the young socialists were disbanded by doncaster party hierarchy for being to militant, that it dawned on me what was going on. This was 1986, and after that I have watched the labour party abandon towns like doncaster, year after year after year and they are still doing it. So what do we do?

    The articles right, new labour hasn’t disappeared; the labour party are paralysed from stopping any of the heartbreaking cuts in our area. We have lost thousands of public sector jobs, services and 14 libraries; all our public swimming baths have been taken over, prices have rocketed and youth unemployment is sky high. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST RATES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -18 PHONE CALLS TO THE POLICE EVERY DAY – ON AVERAGE A WOMAN IS HIT 35 TIMES BEFORE SHE REPORTS IT. We have the highest child abuse cases for all of yorkshire and alcoholism. And this situation can only worsen with how deep the cuts are coming.

    Anyone who knows the activists in donny, like Dot Gibson, Bob Crow and Tony Benn, know we are ordinary people, completely a part of the working class; we work, we lose jobs, our kids go to state schools that have all been taken over and turned in to academies. Our sixth form centres are offering less courses and young people regularly get their benefits cut. We struggle to pay bills, we worry about the future, we worry about our neighbours future. People’s lives are changing for the worst on a daily basis. We have no option to do something. We have the right to do something. The tories are leaving us know room to move, we have no choices, we are knackered.

    I want to ask the person who wrote this article, what choice do you think we have? People like me, my family and friends.
    Many of them are trade unionists, in UNISON. Many of them are thinking why do they pay their subs!!!! Does the labour party say anything to them, when their child’s school is academised, NO, why because labour is for academisation. Does labour say anything to them when they go on strike for their pension. no because ed believes we should work longer!!! What do the unions do? Well, let’s look at the NUT, the union that doesn’t pay to labour, but you would think they did! No action when teachers vote for it??? Why do you think that is, waiting for a labour government, i’d bet my life on it.

    In Doncaster we have started to rebuild the left, it has been extremely successful. Many people are involved from many organisations, interestingly the only people who have a problem with decisions made by the broad left are the few who are in the labour party.
    When push comes to shove, membership of the party and allegiance to it overrides anti cuts work and moves them to the right, often acting in a sectarian and bullying manner; we see this in unions all the time, if you’re not in the labour party you won’t get on, your campaign to save a library will be scuppered, you’ll be forced out of a union position. We all know it’s true and it’s crippling the movement and fight back in towns like doncaster.

    What people have gone through has been a complete eye opener in our town, we are totally alienated form the labour party. Why do you think we got the first English democrat mayor. labour has only scrapped in this time due to the tories, it’s not because of their policies.

    I’ll make a deal with you, you come back to me or us by the next election. Let’s see what a labour mayor and majority labour cabinet had done for us in donny. Will one library be re opened? Will our baths be publicly controlled again? If labour puts up a fight in our town and around the country, i”ll think of leaving left unity.

    • Dave K says:

      Louise your reply cuts through all the pedantic recycled arguments of the anonymous senior figure better than anyone else. Great!

    • I think what rebuilds confidence and the left is actually doing something, and offering an alternative. In Doncaster it became glaringly obvious that the slight material advances we had made under new labour, like sure starts, new deal in community money that built outdoor play areas, regeneration money for ex mining towns, expanding public sector jobs that dealt with some of the major problems we face as a result of years of poverty and inequality were vanishing at a rate of knots after the banks were bailed out. So. we had to think on our feet and try new things. The traditional left were not much help, after virtually collapsing under the weight of thirty years of thatcher politics and the rightward march of the labour movement.
      I don’t blame the left they’ve campaigned tirelessly whist new labour took us to war, wrote books on how to prosecute poll tax evaders and visited thatcher when first getting in office; as well as attacking the disabled and single parents whilst “things can only get better” was still playing.
      I don’t think we really have to think to deeply about what we have to do, doing anything is radical in the face of “our leaders” pathetic response to austerity.
      We first and foremost owe it to ourselves and our families to say enough is enough. Which is why I find the posing of the people’s assembly against forming left unity a strange argument. The two aren’t mutually exclusive and there is a place for both. The first however relies on individuals having money to get down, If you listen to research done on families and holidays, many cant afford the kids school trip!! Which if people don’t know is hardly subsidised anymore by the local school in poor areas. Building locally and regionally is all people can afford and really is quite helpful. We’ve just had the wonderful Richard wilkinson (slight crush) to speak on inequality. We have also started to get more local speakers too. We have to believe in ourselves.
      In Doncaster we have a tremendous amount of women active , attending meetings and doing stuff, that as not been an easy road to go down, we have had to tackle sexism and have been left with a group of men who are “made of quality and not afraid of equality!!” :-)) We also have people coming who are “out” , LGBT, which is a fantastic compliment to how open the group is and ordinary people who dont have positions in unions. everyone in our group is equal. for too long i felt you were only important if you held a tu position, which is often male.

      Most importantly, in doncaster we are trying to build an alternative to the paralysis of labour. If you were in a union supportive of labour like me, you were told not to use union stuff to protest at public funds being spent on thatchers funeral!! what an insult. Ed Miliband and Rosey Winterton MP’s went to her funeral.
      We had a great week of street protests and meetings against thacherism!
      It’s very important we believe, that doncaster is seen and supported as an town that argues for an alternative. Nothing good is going to happen to us in donny because ed miliband won’t let it! He couldn’t even help save our libraries!!!! shame on him. I’m really pleased two anti cuts candidates stood against labour. we wish there would have been only one, but glad we could get the argument out.

      i think things like left unity, jerry hicks and our two anti cuts candidates is worrying labour, sadly it seems to be worrying the left in labour too, who are doing the rights job by verbally bashing those who are trying to offer an alternative. my fear is that the left in labour will get louder at pointing the fingers at people like me and not at ed, we ll wait and see. but i dont think we should go away.

  19. louise125 says:

    We can build left unity and the peoples assembly. the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I just wonder why buses aren’t being put on by unison and unite to take members down, to help with costs, if both union leaders are speaking?

  20. jamescoles says:

    It’s funny: I find myself reading the literature in support of Left Unity but only ‘tapping my foot to its rhythm’, then when a terrible critique comes along I’m suddenly eager to get involved.

  21. Philip Ward says:

    These articles – in a very long-winded way – rehash the failed political line of “The British Road to Socialism”, adopted by the Communist Party in 1951, of “pushing Labour to the left” in order to bring about socialism. I don’t think the LP is any more likely to do that now than it was in 1951.

    The author of this article uses the cloak of anonymity to slander Gilbert Achcar. He or she should be named and held to account for their statements.

    • Richard says:

      Yes agree with the points made that this article can be summed up quite simply: go back to sleep and wait for Ed and the gang to come and humanise the age of austerity.I think most people know that the career politicians in Labour (remember, by and large the same ones who staffed the Blair/Brown governments)will not be up to this challenge either because they don’t have the policies or because they are primarily interested in politics for what they can get out of it.

      Ultra-left sects with a self-perpetuating leadership, culture of activism-on-acid that puts off or burns out ordinary people, intolerance of anyone who doesn’t follow the leaders line and a political perspective based on a desire to re-enact the 1917 Russian revolution are never going to appeal to most left-wing people today, especially younger ones. Who wants to be ruled by the Central Committee and permanent General Secretaries?

      I think its worth stepping back now and remind ourselves what is (and will increasingly as the years pass) be driving a call for a new democratic community based left party other than the failure of Labour and the ultra-left sects to move us forward:

      1. capitalism, especially in the west, is now in a systemic crisis. The age of social democracy is over and we are going to see ever-more cuts in wages, conditions, public services and privatisations – back to the 1930s. This process has hardly yet started in the UK but the fact is that in free market terms economically this country is in seriously trouble for all the reasons that other people have explained: bankrupt and insolvent banks, reliance on state spending and private borrowing to fuel demand, energy crisis, shrinking profits, deindustrialisation etc etc.

      2. meanwhile the by-products of consumer capitalism are progressively destroying eco-systems and threatening climate change. Personally I believe that this really is the issue of our times that will shape our children’s lives and pose risks of war above all others, economic breakdown and energy/food/resource shortages.

      People,communities and trade unions will resist or find new ways of organising to try and protect their living standards, maintain basic services.But we will have to be canny if we are to build from this a viable, democratic, bottom-up left movement that can do more than simply protest

      So I feel we need to be working to a medium term perspective. In 2015 labour is very likely to be elected, and given the way the electoral system punishes divided votes (eg UKIP and Cons competing for same votes)could well have a massive majority. This will be its PASOK moment and some united left-green party will need to be ready to step up to the challenge. So I feel everything we do over the next two years should be about building up a wide base of support in the community and trade unions. At the same time we don’t want to alienate the Labour Left who will rapidly peel away once they see what Miliband, Balls etc are about in office. The ultra-left sects are irrelevant and I agree with posts by John Penney and others that their only real significance is that they could cause damage when LU was in its early stages and still has relatively small numbers.

      So ‘yes’ to a new party but above all lets keep its message positive. By which I mean we don’t just protest and call for an end to austerity but also offer a vision of something better. Something that can offer hope to individuals and groups now and in the years to come. Above all, a realistic and credible explanation of where the resources and money is going to come from to fund decent public services, promote equality and transform our economy, housing and communities

      A while ago the Huddersfield group posted an attempt at this under the title ‘Stuff we can unite around’. No doubt there are problems with bits of it, maybe most of it, but at least its a start(should declare an interest here – I’m from Huddersfield and helped write it so perhaps I would say that!). So please have another look at this draft document and think about what you feel should be part of our positive alternative message.

      • Ben McCall says:

        Nice one Richard – and greetings from Doncaster!

        I agree and have said so in a few posts, that we should be in long term rebuilding mode. This does not mean we do nothing. We must be very active in local and national campaigns, BUT in a different way than at present (as Jasmin AH says): non-sectarian, open, honest, better language & behaviour and fun (as Mark P says).

        As part of this, we should not rush to stand in elections. As Ray G says above “Any LU candidates should only stand as a result of a locally-rooted upsurge in community or workplace activity.” I think that should mean the exception rather than the rule in 2015, unless there has been a spectacular development of LU, in every way. More likely is a 7 year plan to have by 2020 a really sizable organisation, deeply rooted in as many communities as possible; and – by our track record of commitment to working with our neighbours to improve local lives in many ways, not just to build our own party – persuaded a large proportion of the 30-80% of people who do not vote in local and national elections, to vote for us.

        I agree that “the ultra-left sects are irrelevant and [should be prevented from causing us] damage when LU was in its early stages” by you, me and all others who agree with this doing everything possible locally and nationally to stop it.

        I also agree the “by-products of consumer capitalism [etc…] are the issue of our times”. It is not a separate issue from class, as some would have it, but central to class – as it impacts most on the poorest, locally and globally, and will get worse unless we all take it as seriously as you do.

  22. Ray G says:

    Richard – your analysis and perspectives for future activity are spot on. Well said mate.

    The Huddersfield document to which you refer was a bit wooly and rambling etc but things like that can be the basis for debate in the local groups.

    Ben – You are also right – of course.

  23. Phil Hearse says:

    This long article deserves a serious and lengthy reply that will doubtless be forthcoming. But two things about its presentation should be questioned straight away.

    1) There can be lots of good professional reasons for people not to give their real names; but not being explicit about their organisational affiliation is different. The author is clearly a supporter of the CPB/Morning Star. That is relevant, for example, in the statement that unity between the Morning Star/Socialist Action/Counterfire would be a good idea, as opposed to the bad idea of Left Unity. It puts everything the author says in perspective.
    2) The article is highly polemical (at least) but what it says about Gilbert Achcar is a smear. It says:

    “Other proposals could be described as inconsistently positive. Opposition to war is by some way the most important political issue of this century to date, so the Left Unity Draft Statement’s rejection of imperialism and war is right and essential. However, it can only be vitiated by the fact that the Comment is Free (Guardian) piece which has been the project’s most significant public statement to date does not mention a word about the issue, doubtless because it is co-authored by Gilbert Achcar, a supporter of “humanitarian intervention” and NATO’s mission to protect. A diplomatic silence on the most important issue in order to form an expedient alliance marks a retreat from the politics of Respect and TUSC etc.”

    The idea that Gilbert Achcar is a supporter of humanitarian intervention and NATO’s mission to protect is a smear, pure and simple. Anyone who knows anything about his politics knows that. But it is also a smear to imply that Ken Loach and Kate Hudson somehow colluded with Gilbert not to include Iraq in this very short article. Also absurd is that the Guardian comment is free article ‘vitiates’ Left Unity’s anti-imperialist position. Ans out Morning Star author knows it.

  24. Terry Crow says:

    The anonymous author (aka the unknown ‘Michael Ford’) of the article concludes by criticising Left Unity for: “draws a causal connection between economic crisis and political radicalism which is at best questionable”.

    I disagree. The more I think about it, the more I disagree.

    The rise of Blairism within Labour, although attributable to various factors, must at its core have had the seeming advance of capitalism over the years of his premiership. Marxism took a back seat. But even the author recognises that Marxism is back in vogue (relatively speaking). He contradicts himself.

    When job security is threatened, unemployment is high and there is a general uncertainty about the future, sure, industrial action is likely to be curtailed.

    But industrial action does not equate with political radicalism, necessarily. I’ve led a small office workers strike (back in the day) where the 2 other Labour Party members scabbed and some of the most militant were Tory voters.

    Even if the numbers involved may be low (who can read the minds of people to know), there is evidence that there is a political radicalisation.

    And the first reason for this is precisely the economic crisis. If there were no crisis, Labour may not have been booted out. The Blairists in the LP would easily hold sway, too, since why would anyone bother to be a socialist if capitalism was working.

    Socialists are bolstered in the strength of their views because capitalism is not working. This hard fact is at the foundation of a growth in radicalism, be it Left Unity, UK Uncut, more socialist activists in and around Labour, or even the determination of TUSC to stand candidates despite the miniscule votes that most receive.

    In a negative way, those refusing to vote is an act of political radicalism. I admit I couldn’t bring myself to vote Labour (or anyone else) in 2010. As is the determination of others to vote UKIP to ‘send a message to Westminster’.

    It is a misreading of the political climate to fail to see what is happening beneath the surface.

    We have George Galloway and Caroline Lucas elected – because there is an underlying radicalisation.

    John McDonnell and Owen Jones attract widespread support because they are radical socialists.

    My own experience is that of a political reawakening, which would not be sustained but for the economic crisis.

    And those in my wider family who have traditionally voted Labour but now mistakenly turn to the likes of UKIP or the English Democrats or even the BNP, albeit this is a backwards move, do so through the lack of a credible socialist alternative.

    And Eastleigh constituency, where I reside, although and despite its substantially working class mix, seeing no electable Left (socialist) alternative, has lashed out with the rise in the UKIP vote (bear in mind it came across as left wing on issues like the NHS compared with the national LP).

    And Labour’s John O’Farrell, as a socialist candidate (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt), did marginally increase Labour’s Eastleigh vote over 2010, despite the invective on his comments about Thatcher played to the full in the local Echo which disrupted his campaign early on – not a bad achievement with the surge for UKIP alongside a bland and uninspiring Labour leadership, offering no radical alternative, and stopping John (should he have so wished)being more outspoken.

    So the more I think about this central comment by this senior Labour and TU figure – who I would guess (and why we are having to guess is a shame, because we need integrity, and integrity means being open and honest) is someone like Len McCluskey if the description is to hold up, the more I think that he is self-evidently and completely mistaken.

    It also reflects a lack of faith in the working class.

    However, as much as I disagree with this key criticism of Left Unity, I still think we need to find a way forward that does not alienate socialists within Labour (who, can I be clear about this, do not necessarily have any false hopes of transforming Labour, but recognise that others do), so that initiatives can combined those socialists whatever their political membership.

    I am literally looking for “Left Unity”.

  25. Jim Denham says:

    I’d be very interested to know what Andrew Murray thinks about this.

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