Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Left Unity Party Founded.

with 28 comments

Like many on the Left the Tendance has been following the debates around the creation of a new left party – from the statement  calling for Left Unity – with interest.

Yesterday they held their founding conference with over 500 people attending (Liam’s estimate), and over 1,000 signed up.

The result of the ballot at today’s Founding Conference on the name of our new party was as such. This means we will be “Left Unity” as a new radical force on the left in the UK.  Left Unity. *

Some of us watched the debates through live streaming.

Richard Seymour comments,

A great deal of the conference was necessarily consumed by procedural minutiae and constitutional refinements.  This was exhausting.  The chair was a trembling wreck at the end of it.  I know I wasn’t the only one who, at a certain point in these discussions, began to check out.  There is a reason God made the smartphone, people, and this is it.

The upshot is, we have a party.  It has over 1,000 dues-paying members thus far, 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, thirty seven branches, and now a constitution and a basis for action.  What can be done with this?

I have participated in two previous attempts to build a left-of-Labour party: the Socialist Alliance, and Respect.  Both crashed against unforgiving structural limits, notwithstanding the strategic errors made by the leaders of those formations.  These limits began with the severity of the defeats inflicted on the labour movement and the Left in Britain during the 1980s; the collapse of that symbolic space where a certain type of hard Left made sense; and the sweeping completeness of the Blairites’ victory within Labour, such that our main social democratic party was already fully committed to neoliberalism before taking office.

He notes,

The UK has no significant communist or far left parties equivalent to those in Greece, France or Portugal.  It is therefore impossible to do what Left Unity wants to do unless there is a realignment in which a sizeable chunk of the Labour Party, including MPs and councillors, splits.  Moreover, Left Unity is not coming up on the back of some great social movement, and the wider left in which it operates is historically weak.  To all appearances, it has emerged at a most inopportune moment.

The Left Party Platform, won, with some amendments.  It got about three quarters of the votes. Around another quarter aligned with other platforms,  such as the Socialist Platform.

Given that the Weekly Worker describes the Left Party Platform as “Marxism Today” style politics we can expect the damp squibs  of opponents to splutter on and on.

Overwhelmingly it is a positive thing that radical left groups are now organised in a party that can sit down and think out ideas and strategies.

They are also free of the dead hand of the largest groups, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Socialist Party.

There are many people involved in the Left Unity party who have much to contribute to the creation of a vibrant creative left.

Naturally there are others, veterans of the grotesque ‘Respect‘ party – some of some of whom quit it  in the not so distant past – who appear not to have seen fit to publish a balance sheet of that experience.

The Left Party Platform draws inspiration from other European lefts, such as ” Syriza and Front de Gauche.”

The latter is a ‘bloc’ rather than a party, with obviously far greater social and political resources to draw on. Syriza is also a bloc, a party that is an alliance of different platforms, also with a wide social appeal.

Despite these differences some ideas of these groupings could be relevant to the United Kingdom.

But nobody in the Left Unity Party seems to have taken seriously the Front de Gauche’s anti-racist secularism and support for “métissage'” (cultural mixing)  – a very different project to the communalist ideology and practice  of Respect.

Then there is the issue of how the left could win the mass (if minority) support other European lefts have, or, at the very least, serious political representation.

Phil makes a fundamental point,

…the single biggest thing, the challenge I think LU will find insurmountable is, as always, Labour. Only the most blinkered pretend it is fundamentally the same beast as it was in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010. It might be more complex than the rigid schemas of the far left allow, but Labour has shifted back to social democratic politics. It has cottoned on that living standards are being hammered and, as a result, the party is the only one addressing those concerns. When the two main parties find themselves on opposite sides on the bedroom tax, NHS privatisation, house building, energy prices, apprenticeships, economic strategy, care for the elderly, breaking up the banks, and workplace rights, it’s obvious who should form the next government. And while LU is something looking to become something else, so is Labour. Who, for instance, is going to listen to LU when Labour has a realistic chance of putting its policies into practice? Who will be tempted to support LU when it will be massively squeezed by the next election’s high stakes?

The People’s Assembly is an attempt, often with solid results,  to create grass-roots with the aim of stiffening Labour’s resolve in this direction.

It is far from clear that it will be, in this respect, successful.

But the People’s Assemblies have been left unity in practice.

It is to be hoped that the Left Unity Party will continue to join in this work.

* Result of party name:

Left Unity Party 47
Left Party 122
Left Unity 188
Democratic Voice 44

Second ballot
Left Party 139
Left Unity 235

28 Responses

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  1. AWL:

    “The conference on 30 November of the Left Unity group launched a year ago by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson (after they quit Respect) voted to support the “Left Party Platform” and to adopt “aims” in line with it.

    The explicitly working-class, common-ownership Socialist Platform was defeated by 216 to 122 votes with 28 abstentions.

    Another comrade will write a proper report of the conference. Here are a few points.

    • The dominant type in the conference, so far as I could judge, was the “ex-member” – of Respect, of the SWP, of Workers’ Power, of Militant or the SP, sometimes of the Labour left or the Green Party or the CP.

    • Those “ex-members” wanted, on social and economic issues, something “broader”, less sharply left-wing, than their old organisations.

    • The conference was a long series of votes after very brief debates on the rival political platforms and on many constitutional amendments. The Socialist Platform (which AWL backed) had the support of about one third of the conference, but got just one three-minute speech to explain itself.

    • Despite the unsatisfactoriness of debate, I think the LPP victory represented a real political majority, rather than a stitch-up.

    • The conference opened with an attempt to get it to endorse a 14-page “Safe Spaces” policy, circulated only a few days before, with a short speech for and no debate. Ruth Cashman of Lambeth Left Unity was able to challenge the standing orders committee, get a speech, and get an overwhelming majority to remit the policy.

    • A move to elect a new National Coordinating Group fell by 110 to 228. The old NCG remains in office.

    • The Left Party Platform was moved in a speech by Felicity Dowling which said nothing about the specific content or angle of the platform, but was very like the “general-socialist” speeches which she would have learned to make in her youth as a cadre of the Militant group (forerunner of the SP).

    • The LPP’s movers cannily accepted amendments to their platform from Camden LU, moved by Ken Loach, which incorporated many (not all) of the left-wing ideas from the Socialist Platform somewhere or other into their (long) text. They thus gave themselves an answer to people who will say LU is not clearly enough socialist. The LPP as amended was passed 295 for, 101 against, 12 abstentions.

    • However, an amendment from the (left-wing) Lambeth LU group to designate the platform adopted at the conference as only a platform, not a statement of aims, had been passed by 172 votes to 167. This had the perverse result of giving priority to a statement of aims proposed as part of the LU constitution which codified all the least left-wing trends of the LPP and defined LU by a “belief in the benefits of cooperation and community ownership” and “a democratically planned economy… within which all enterprises, whether privately owned, cooperatives, or under public ownership, operate in ways that promote the needs of the people”.

    • Another statement of aims from Hackney and Tower Hamlets LU was also passed, 173 to 121 with 46 abstentions.

    • The most vehement debate, mobilising sentiments which remain in the “ex-members” from their old groups, was on two constitutional amendments. Women who opposed a rule demanding at least 50% women for LU committees were denounced as echoing “far right” arguments and wanting to set up structures which would “ignore rape”. The angry speakers, who won a big majority, had forgotten that the SWP Disputes Committee which dealt badly with (not ignored) rape charges had a majority of women. A constitutional amendment to bar LU from organising in Northern Ireland even if people there want to join was passed by a big majority after fierce denunciations of such organising as “imperialist”.

    • A constitutional amendment to have directly elected national council members in addition to representatives elected by postal ballot from (non-existent) regions was carried 125-113-47. One to have the council constituted by representatives from the 34 or so LU branches rather than postal-ballot reps from regions was lost 115-142-33. A clause to allow individuals (not just groups) to initiate motions in LU structures was carried.

    • All debate on campaigning and electoral strategy fell off the agenda as the other debates overran. It is genuinely not clear what LU plans to do now – not even (though LU leaders see it as very much an electoral project) what it will do in the May 2014 elections.

    http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2013/11/30/left-unity-conference-rejects-socialist-platform

    Andrew Coates

    December 1, 2013 at 12:58 pm

  2. I watched a bit of the live stream after my “Saturday chores” but I found the whole affair amateurish and the contribution fro “Richard of Southwark” about the “anti-socialist” nature of the LU constirtution a bit “Life of Brian-ish”. My take on it was therefore somewhat more dismissive:

    http://howiescorner.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/left-unity-has-full-argument-and-calls.html

    I’ll stick to Labour for all it’s faults and flaws!

    Howard Fuller

    December 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

  3. I wouldn’t join.

    But it was democratic.

    There are odd people in the mainstream Labour Party as well.

    Not to mention the Tories.

    One well-known local Tory activist, is an enthusiast for the Richard lll Society, and he gets worse from there on.

    That’s apart from citing the views of ‘Holy Roller’ Kevin Algar that is – the man who compared the Suffolk People’s Assembly public meeting to a Nuremberg Rally, and himself to a Jew at one such .

    Both have been candidates for the Council.

    As for the Liberals, well.

    The words, “don’t”, “started” “me” and “get” spring to mind.

    And UKIP – blimey, they’re the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought of today.

    Andrew Coates

    December 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

  4. Trouble is Andrew that as a trade unionist I want this damned Coalition Government gone as soon as possible. All these people (most, but not all have good intentions) are wasting so much time and energy in these distracting projects. My union (PCS) is dominated by the “sects” and their fellow travelers which has led to the union being isolated, sidelined and ignored. Even by most of it’s members. So many tell me that they only remain members because local reps are very good at helping those that fall foul of our ever hardening Management.

    As for anything else. Forget it.

    Yes there are “weirdo’s” in every line of life, politics included, but far too many take good people and either “burn them out” a-la-SWP or take them in a direction that leaves them on the fringe outside the mainstream and ineffectual. In that sense these projects are damaging as well as divisive.

    Pink Floyd’s mantra “I don’t need no thought control” seems ever more relevant to me as time passes.

    Free thinkers to the fore!

    Howard Fuller

    December 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm

  5. I was there yesterday and it was in no-way ‘amateurish’ – Left Unity is typified by its good style and organisation (subject to resources) – the only stumbling yesterday was about some very complicated business regarding amendments.

    There was perhaps 500 present (about 40% of the total membership) and there was a pretty comradely atmosphere throughout with none of the bad grace, warfare or walkouts that I might have expected.

    The typical person was 50 year ex-Trot man who had moved rightwards since his days in the SWP. There was an over-representation of people late 40s and up, but with fair few in their teens and 20s (and not much else), very few black people or disabled people and women being perhaps a third of those present.

    There was a welcome number of people who did appear to have not been in any organisation and many who came from a general anti-cuts, ‘Save the hospital’ type background in provincial England.

    Groups-wise there was about 20 from the WW (CPGB) and lesser numbers from Workers Power, AWL and Socialist Resistance with a fair part of the conference in support of the Socialist Platform (which includes Nick Wrack.)

    My general view is that the (dull, but necessary) constitutional stuff generally went the right way towards more democracy whereas the politics went the way of those more to the right e.g. the adoption of the Left Party Platform. I thought Richard Brenner (from Workers Power) was on the ball when he attempted to reject the final constitution because it commits Left Unity to a mixed economy (and more). He was right but the majority was very clearly with the LPP.

    As the party was started in this democratic way, despite this politics, I will be sticking with Left Unity and helping to build the party. I urge other socialists to join.

    Southpawpunch

    December 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

  6. I don’t wish to be a kill-joy, but anything having ‘unity’ or ‘united’ in its name is bound to have a split; it’s courting disaster.

    Dr Paul

    December 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm

  7. Reblogged this on .

    aboriginalpress

    December 1, 2013 at 11:48 pm

  8. Well Howard I just spent a couple of hours leafleting for the local Labour Party (though not a member I am a trade union activist) – so on the initial point I agree.

    But I am a left-wing democratic socialist and I’d like some clear policies in this direction.

    We haven’t got them.

    That is why I don’t mind some people trying to work some out.

    Liz Davis, who chaired the sessions I watched, is somebody I know and who I consider will attempt to move in this direction.

    Andrew Coates

    December 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

  9. A left party which has barely come into existence but already has three (?) Trotskyite factions within it? The prognosis is not hopeful.

    Francis

    December 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm

  10. Yes there is also the Republican Communist Network (Steve Freeman – who withdrew his motion, for the moment ) Francis, and no doubt more..

    Andrew Coates

    December 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm

  11. Is that a one-man network, Andrew? I’m intrigued by the political topography of such a phenomenon…

    Francis

    December 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  12. Update on figures, Liam now writes that there were around 400, and the party has 1,200 members: http://socialistresistance.org/5678/left-unity-launched

    Francis, I got the name wrong, Steve Freeman is (or was) the “Republican Socialist Alliance”.

    There is a larger group in Scotland called the Republican Communist Network.

    They have some links see: http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/08/11/republican-socialist-alliance/

    Personally I am opposed to any form of nationalism, including the ‘republican’ so-called ‘left-wing’ ‘ Scottish nationalism, so that rules out any sympathy from the Tendance.

    To discover the world of the groups that continued to exist after the Socialist Alliance dissolved – that si the SWP hitched up with Galloway, see this,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Alliance_(England)

    The Wikipedia entry is the tip of an iceberg.

    Better comrades than me have lost the will to live trying to follow these debates.

    Andrew Coates

    December 2, 2013 at 6:09 pm

  13. Southpaw Punch, I mean, SouthPawPunch, is not a one-man network, but a one-man International (with Search Engine Optimisation).

    SPP: if you are serious about this LPP, then will you be offering it your advertising expertise?

    dagmar

    December 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  14. This kind of thing, I mean. “FORWARD, Comrades! For bigger tellys and cheaper booze! Forward to 3D tellys for the workers!

    dagmar

    December 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

  15. Well yes, as I think I have uniquely identified, promises of abstract ‘equality’, ‘respect’, ‘security’ etc. as endless focus groups direct politics, is all so much bunk.

    I didn’t support the LPP platform (it was the most right-wing on offer) but I will certainly argue for ‘populism’ (if you like) in LU e.g. build a million councils houses; cosmetic surgery on the NHS, free public transport (if true for NHS, why not true for buses?), remove all taxes on booze and (and all regressive taxes e.g. VAT, such as on TVs). Soak the rich. Our majority will,be 200. – it is all so very simple

    Southpawpunch

    December 2, 2013 at 11:43 pm

  16. Free (at the point of use) public transport? You soft reformist. Even the German Greens (in Berlin) have just adopted that in their programme.

    Seriously. they have. Narrow regional conference vote, against the ‘advice’ of their leadership. Until now only the Pirates had called for it. But the Greens’ vote means it is now part of a ‘serious’ political agenda, lots of reasonable ‘taking the demand seriously while not coming out totally in support (but also not propagandisng against it, they must judge the demand to be too popular)’ coverage in the local Berlin tabloids (and I don’t mean the ‘taz’).

    dagmar

    December 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

  17. Although the Left Party Platform (for a broad socialist party) was victorious in the debate, I proposed (from Manchester) and spoke on the following amendment, which passed by 164-116 votes (I didn’t catch the number of abstentions). It makes Left Unity much less reformist and electoral than it would have been with the wishy-washy position of trade unions – talking vaguely about strong and effective unions without even mentioning them going on strike – in the statement the LPP put forward. [I only had two minutes to propose it and a much more complicated amendment, and the other one failed (perhaps influenced by a Weekly Worker supplement article by Mike Macnair that ridiculed it and distorted its meaning).]

    AMENDMENT TO LEFT PARTY PLATFORM STATEMENT OF AIMS (paragraph on trade unions)

    Add to the end of paragraph 7: “Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.”

    ——————————————————

    It’s a bit misleading you using the title “Left Unity Party Founded.” when Left Unity Party (and indeed Left Party) were overwhelmingly defeated in the vote on party name – if you insist on using the word “party” you could at least use a lower case “p”. The victorious motion on that was also proposed in Manchester by me, although another (very new and very keen) member spoke on it at the conference. We were allowed 50 words to justify it and I put forward the following:

    LU has name recognition (over 10,000 signed the appeal), we want to unite most of the left (not be another of the “57 varieties” of left-wing organisation), the word “party” is unpopular particularly among young people, and with no obvious drawbacks, Left Unity should be kept as our name.

    thatcheroftheleft

    December 3, 2013 at 10:50 am

  18. There is an election to win. Hope LU doesn’t get in the way.

    Mellelleu

    December 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm

  19. Comrade Tony Greenstein’s unique contribution to this debate concludes,

    “To get 500 socialists in a conference hall, without a solitary Socialist Worker seller, is an achievement. However I fear that Left Unity has already reached its apogee and the way from now on will be down. Left Unity has been set up on the basis of a false analysis of the problems facing the socialist left which is not that we don’t all come together but that there is no shared strategy.

    This is, in turn, the product of a working class that has been defeated and restructured (atomised) with a consequent weakening of trade unions. The problem with Left Unity is that the debate on the Constitution prevented any discussion or debate on strategy or elections through lack of time. This was a serious, if not fatal mistake.

    Tony Greenstein “Left Unity Conference”

    http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/left-unity-conference.html

    Also of interest are his comments,

    “There were 4 platforms – Class Struggle, Socialist, Communist and Left Platform.”

    And, ” there were some recognisable seasoned cooks, from the left groups like the perennial Alan Thornett, who the last time we spoke berated me for having opposed the SWP’s move in the Socialist Alliance to create Respect. Nothing it would seem has changed for this veteran of the Workers Revolutionary Party. And his Socialist Resistance is one of the better groups on the far left.”

    And, “All hell broke out when I had the temerity to oppose positive discrimination. Apparently that made me a member of the far-right, according to one hysterical woman that followed me.”

    Andrew Coates

    December 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  20. I think Tony is prescient, to a degree, in his comment that ‘the problem facing the socialist left (is not) we don’t all come together but that there is no shared strategy.’

    The trouble is that there is, to most people with unshuttered minds, no proven successful strategy – both the Bennite/LRCish/CPBish left (albeit opposed to Labour) and who had the majority at LU Conference, through to the Trots (such as me) have differing ideas on what we should do but no-one can claim we can prove our magic formula works – we have all been losing for decades.

    So I’m happy to engage and work with those I don’t agree with on building a Left of Labour party until such point as it may have influence and when there would then need to be a parting of the ways – but who knows when or if that would happen.

    So, for example, my view is that whilst I am not in favour of the positive discrimination that the majority supported, it is not a pressing issue – the Chair used positive discrimination in often calling speakers but still, because of the membership of the reporting commissions, the white males still got the most speakers, so, in that action, I think she was right. And we do both have a shared determination to better ensure the role of women, young people, ethnic minorities and more but some disagreement about tactics – and maybe I am wrong.

    I would be interested in reading here the views of others on why they may or may not support or join LU. I appreciate that those in Labour will be opposed (but frankly, if you are in the Labour party, your viewpoint is of no interest) but what about those to the Left of that party?

    I do hope they will join.

    And for those with a dislike of Trots, I assure you that (sadly) we are but as small minority of LU. Indeed the assumption in LU is against Trots; a woman sat next to me at the Conference was venting her spleen against the ‘nutters’ (i.e. Trots) to me throughout, maybe mistaking me for someone else. I did not reply but was mentally sizing her up for her funeral shroud that would be a necessary consequence when socialist revolution arrives in this country – but I will work her, until then.

    Southpawpunch

    December 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

  21. Sorry – a typo has distorted the meaning of my last sentence – I will work WITH her, until then.

    Southpawpunch

    December 3, 2013 at 11:57 pm

  22. There is a wider problem Southpaw: some of us are not Leninists either!

    This creates a distance, unlikely to be bridged, between democratic Marxists of a far wider stripe, and groups like the ISN, Socialist Resistance, (the Left Unity majority) not to mention the Weekly Worker etc.

    Andrew Coates

    December 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

  23. It’s not a matter of disliking Trots – just of recognising that within broader left parties they, and other Leninists, almost invariably play a highly destructive role. Organised Trotskyists are attracted to broader left projects for exactly the same reasons that cymothoa exigua are attracted to fish.

    Francis

    December 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

  24. Hmm. I’m sorry to hear that there is this resistance to supporting LU.

    From my good knowledge of who is what, I’d say ‘Trots’, on a broad basis (so including the wet ones, like Socialist Resistance and ISN) may well have been in a minority (if at least a third of the conference) – the LPP platform passed through getting the support of lots of unaligned people, I reckon. The harder ‘Trots’ e.g. WP, WW (CPGB) were no more than 10% of those there (and also remember, Trots are always over-represented at conferences compared to the membership.)

    You really would find many of your co-thinkers there and none of the right-wing scum you deal with in Labour (come now, who is more of a mortal threat to you, and with much bigger resources – these reactionaries or us revolutionaries?)

    As I really think LU is the best chance since the Socialist Alliance, and as I’m so keen to see it grow, if ten of you general Lefty types confirm here that you have signed up to LU, I will resign – one less Trot there to deal with!

    Southpawpunch

    December 4, 2013 at 3:09 pm

  25. How are the Weekly Worker crowd not democratic Marxists? And frankly, what’s the point of building a party that isn’t Marxist in content if not necessarily in name or official theory? (That is, there’s no need for a vote on dialectics or the labor theory of value or what have you.) I see no point in building another social democratic party to replace Labour; if successful, it’ll end up just as lousy as current Labour…

    jschulman

    December 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm

  26. Sounds like Socialist Alliance minus SWP.

    Not George Sabra

    December 4, 2013 at 8:19 pm

  27. Not George Sabra is too kind. If it was the Socialist Alliance minus SWP (and with a consensus not to let the SWP get involved), I would have siginificantly more enthuasism for this venture.

    dagmar

    December 5, 2013 at 2:30 am

  28. Reblogged this on JOURNAL LE COMMUN'ART.

    franckmicha

    January 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm


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