Left Unity Conference: the Good and the Not-so-Good.
As Dave Osler has said, Left Unity is a party created not by deals between left groups but primarily by the hard work of activists alone.
Its Manchester Conference is to be congratulated on opening up a space for real debate on the left.
Many of the policy positions of the group, on Europe (it rejects the ‘No’ stand), and on economic policy (firmly anti-neo-liberal), are real steps forward.
“Left Unity opposes all programmes and demands for a British withdrawal from the European Union. By the same measure we oppose the EU of commissioners, corruption and capital. However, as the political, bureaucratic and economic elite has created the reality of a confederal EU, the working class should take it, not the narrow limits of the nation-state, as its decisive point of departure.”
We are for joining with others across Europe to campaign for a different form of European Union, a ‘socialist reconstruction’, as called for by the 4th Congress of the European Left Party.
Left Unity, we learn, would not take a position on the Nationalist left campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Referendum.
There are a host of other good policies on green issues such as fracking, Housing, and defending welfare.
In these areas some serious work has borne fruit.
There are wider topics, about the role such a party may take, and its relation to the broader labour movement and the left, that many will not agree on. Above all “coming soon to a Ballot Paper near you”.
These will be discussed here (as no doubt many others will do) but not today.
But for the moment we have to signal that some material passed by the Conference is less than appealing to every internationalist and socialist. (see here).
The text of the Anti-Racist Commission begins well. It talks of the need to defend migrants, and to fight all forms of racism.
But this is extremely confused, when it is not plain wrong.
Racism against Muslims has deep roots in British history, extending into the colonial era. Its most recent manifestations can be traced to the period after the ‘Rushdie affair’ when Muslims were increasingly identified as a ‘security’ problem, and a menace to national ‘values’. Following the riots in northern cities, the government extended this attack to British Asians in general, alleging that they were ‘self-segregating’.
In the context of the ‘war on terror’, these discourses about British Asians were focused on Muslims in particular, and a neo-Powellite argument took hold that ‘multiculturalism’ had failed. Politicians and media outlets claimed that by allowing diverse ‘cultures’ to ‘do their own thing’, Britain had tolerated islands of extremism in its midst. This counterinsurgency narrative validated a series of high profile attacks on the rights of Muslims, such as the Forest Gate raids in 2006 or the long-term imprisonment without charge and subsequent deportation of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan – only the most severe examples of the day-to-day state repression and racism experienced by the Muslim community.
The language of this ‘new racism’ blames racially oppressed groups themselves for failing to ‘integrate’ or ‘confront extremism’. In so doing, it both validates racist repression and simultaneously instils fear and discourages resistance to racism.
The fact that it is culture and creed, rather than colour and breed, which is the ideological focus of these measures allows politicians to pretend that they are not racist. Yet, there is a long history of ‘cultural racism’, which has become especially dominant in the aftermath of Britain’s colonial era. Even the most biologistic forms of racism have always been supplemented by essentialising cultural stereotypes. The representation of Muslims as a monolithic bloc embodying the most hateful characteristics belongs to this tradition.
As an account of the Rushdie affair its stupidity and reductionism, not to mention the failure to defend Rushdie’s right to free speech, is reactionary in the extreme.
The rest is a completely jumbled up account of this aspect of race-cultural-relations in the UK.
There is not a word for a strategy that is opposed Islamism.
Islamism may as well not exist.
No words are written on the Sikh, Hindi, or other religious communities (you can guess the obvious absence, it begins with ‘J‘).
Or indeed to defend secularism and advance secularist policies of equality as the only basis on which a coherent anti-racist position can be built.
Then, while well-intentioned, this is their unreadable conclusion,
For all the negatives in the British situation, there are grounds for optimism. Popular views on immigration and race are actually far more complex and ambivalent than opinion polls would suggest. The ambiguities of popular opinion are, moreover, not a concluded fact but raw material which can be worked with by those seeking to draw out the best instinctive responses of ordinary people. Anti-racism actually forms part of the common sense of millions of working class people who, thanks to decades of large-scale immigration, experience a ‘lived multiculture’ that is remote from the stereotypes of ‘failed multiculturalism’. A left political articulation that operates on such lived experience, linking a popular anti-racist politics to a wider critique of class injustice, can begin to shift the balance, and offer a counterpoint to the racist Right which the mainstream parties cannot.
Now Tendance Coatesy wholly endorses this aspect of their policy,
Left Unity must challenge racist ideas in the labour movement, and even sections of the socialist movement. Some openly support or implicitly endorse the idea of “British Jobs for British Workers” – the supposed need for greater and “tougher” immigration controls to defend worker’s rights. Left Unity must contest this wherever it appears.
But the previous material on religions and multiculturalism?
It is no surprise that we learn that Richard Seymour was behind this confused document – and indeed moved it at the Conference.
He’s obviously been flipping through those 1980s Stuart Hall articles or old Paul Gilory stuff.
And observed nothing since – notably the latter’s critique of multiculturalism,
“The fundamental challenge of our time, asserts Paul Gilroy, is to imagine an ethical and just world that truly fulfils the promise of humanism and enacts the idea of universal human rights.”
Update Seymour Addresses the Popular Masses: Pic of him reading out in support of above Motion.
Written by Andrew Coates
March 30, 2014 at 10:57 am
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