Taking our politics forward

Left Unity’s new National Secretary, Doug Thorpe, writes: We are in a dynamic and volatile political period with a number of crises unfolding at the same time.

The pandemic continues. 130,000 deaths (conservative estimate) in the UK and more than 3 million deaths worldwide. Despite the incompetent handling of the pandemic response and corrupt award of contracts to cronies by the Tory government, they are not suffering as they should in the polls, partly due to the relative success of the vaccine roll-out and partly the lack of effective opposition from the Labour Party. Internationally other countries that had right-wing populist leaders have fared worst (USA, Brazil, India). Free distribution of vaccines, cancellation of patents and sharing of technical knowledge to all countries is essential. Left Unity has adopted a Zero Covid approach and affiliated to the Zero Covid Campaign. The effects of the pandemic: health, poverty including food poverty, jobs, income will continue to be a major priority for our work.

Economically the effects of Covid come on top of the continuing effects of the 2008 financial crash, and Brexit. Historically low interest rates mean that there is no need for austerity, and the priority is to build the economy, support those suffering economically, and tackle climate change, including the creation of Green jobs. Making the argument against the rationale of austerity remains central to our work.

COP26 in Glasgow will be a focus for our environmental work. We have had an initial discussion with activists from the Democratic Left (a partner organisation of the European Left) in Scotland about joint work, and have affiliated to the COP26 Coalition.

Brexit will make the recession worse and the prospects of recovery more difficult. It has already devastated the seafood trade and trade with the EU in January was 40% down. In the northern counties of Ireland Brexit is contributing to Unionist unrest, increased unionist paramilitary action and rioting on the streets of Belfast. The effects of Brexit are a ‘do not mention’ subject for much of the Left and the Labour Party. We must continue to spell out these effects in our analysis.

The effects of Brexit bring forward the likelihood of a border poll for Irish reunification being raised as a live issue, and increase the dynamic towards a referendum for independence in Scotland. In Wales the issue of independence is beginning to gain more support and Left Unity Wales has developed a manifesto for Wales, demands on the Senedd, and members are participating in Yes Cymru. We need to deepen our discussion about constitutional issues in conjunction with our members in England, Wales and Scotland, and the Democratic Left and other organisations in Scotland.

Despite Covid restrictions a number of social movements have carried out protests in public. BLM, environmental and housing activists carrying out demonstrations found the police using Covid regulations against them. This escalated with the police response to the Sarah Everard vigils and particularly demonstrations in Bristol but also elsewhere. Coinciding with the second reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill this has led to a protest movement against the bill and we have been working in one of the Kill the Bill coalitions bringing together activists and groups from all these social movements and some trade unions.

The Labour Party under Starmer has continued to move to the right with over 100,000 leaving the Party. Those left activists that have not left, or been expelled have substantially been silenced. Corbyn remains excluded from the whip and no Campaign Group MPs have publicly opposed commissioners being sent in by the Tories to run parts of Liverpool Council. The Labour Party is no longer a pole of attraction for new activists coming into politics.

In the Unions, the NEU had mass attendance at meetings to oppose the premature reopening of schools during a pandemic. But Unison has elected the most right wing of its candidates for General Secretary following a split vote on the left. The outcome of the Unite leadership election is uncertain but may also result in a shift to the right. The British Gas strike against ‘fire and rehire’ was lost despite valiant strike action. This marks a failure of the TUC on this issue. The most militant unions are often the smaller unions representing precarious workers.

The threat to the NHS through the White Paper is a major concern which needs to be opposed. Our members Bob Williams-Findlay and Sandra Daniels’ work on Independent Living and disability has been an important contribution to the debates about Social Care, but disability is still often not given sufficient (or any) prominence in campaigning by left organisations.

There is a political space on the Left outside the Labour Party. Of those leaving the Labour Party or who had looked to the Corbyn Leadership, some have joined existing Left organisations (including some to Left Unity) and some have started to form new organisations of which the most significant in terms of numbers may be the Northern Independence Party (NIP). Corbyn launched the Peace & Justice Project, the launch of which was viewed by 40,000 people. This had the potential to be a significant break with Labourism, but now seems to be settling into a think tank rather than organising supporters. We have had discussions with Thelma Walker a former Labour MP who has spoken at one of our public meetings and who is actively calling for the formation of a new mass democratic socialist party. Thelma is standing as an independent candidate on a socialist platform, backed by the NIP, in the Hartlepool by-election. Left Unity’s National Council has given our support to Thelma’s individual candidacy (but not to the NIP more widely and we have not taken any position on Northern Independence).

We have discussed (and oppose) the recent Integrated Review, the commitment to increase Britain’s nuclear arsenal and the increasing military build-up directed at China. Internationally, the rise of the right suffered a knock-back with Trump’s defeat and eviction from the White House, but he registered the second highest vote in history for a Presidential candidate and the threat of the right remains. Marine Le Pen is mounting a serious challenge for the French Presidency.

Our membership of the European Left remains central to us and we are progressing plans to build for the next No Pasaran conference in Berlin in 2022, as well as another European Forum later this year. Our connection with other European left parties remains a feature that differentiates us from other left organisations and is one of our key strengths.

In all these circumstances we cannot act in Left Unity as if it is business as usual. We have had a long period of struggling just to maintain the existence of Left Unity while the majority of progressive forces looked to a Corbyn leadership. But with the end of that possibility in the Labour Party, and within the political context of intertwining crises for Capitalism, new possibilities are opening up. Continuing our existing work in the campaigns we are active in is essential. This is long term and serious. We need to reflect this work with articles on our website and promote them on social media. We should also explore new possibilities for promoting our politics, such as podcasts. Where we can, we will recruit new members. But to keep new members we must also revitalise and renew our structures to make the organisation more useful to those who join and more connected throughout. We have agreed proposals to connect with new members and to create virtual branches for those existing members not in a functioning geographical branch.

We must also relate in an open, non-sectarian, and agile way to new social movements, those leaving the Labour Party, and others who are coming into political activity against austerity, violence against women and black people, and the climate crisis. In my view, what is needed is a new mass democratic eco-socialist party although many young activists are not convinced of the merits of party organisation. I do not believe the organisation we need can arise purely through the linear growth of Left Unity (desirable as this is), or through recombinations of the failed existing fragments of the British revolutionary left. Rather, it will necessitate being open to discussion and cooperation with emerging radical formations and movements in order to play our part in the eventual creation of a mass democratic eco-socialist party. This may initially take the form of a movement rather than a party, and sometimes exploration will lead to dead ends, but if we don’t explore and engage with those possibilities, we risk being bypassed entirely.


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