Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Left Unity Conference: the Good and the Not-so-Good.

with 11 comments

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,

Like this,

“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.

Embedded image permalink


11 Responses

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  1. A good comment by Osler and there is more of the same in that Left Unity yesterday decided not to seek further left unity (!) by deciding not to build work with the Far Left. This was posed as a ‘distraction’, I think instead it expresses the dislike/distrust of the neo-Bennites (who have a big majority in LU) with us Trots. So I presume it will be a ‘no thanks’ to the good TUSC initiative to LU to seek to work electorally with other Left parties, but as LU isn’t standing in elections yet, it is all a bit academic for now.

    I would not read too much into each line of policy. I wasn’t there yesterday (but watched the live feed) but did get to the Nov conf and both days were flooded with endless, complex motions. I think people just vote for a general feel they have, maybe sometimes based on who is proposing something (e.g. I will back stuff I see from WP, CPGBWW, probably ISN – most of them will do the reverse) and, in truth, sometimes, I (and, I’m sure, many others) couldn’t understand what the vote was about.

    So your article above is poor – the large majority addresses perhaps the last 5/10 mins of conference time (my live tweet yesterday – retweeted by Seymour: “Arrogance of @leninology: “What he means by that” (i.e. let me explain 2 u proles); 10 mins left: “I’ll be concise” (No I won’t) #LeftUnity”). No-one was signing up for every phrase of that motion, just a general ‘anti-racist’ sentiment.

    There is no reason for any of you Left reformists who gather here not to join Left Unity. The politics are very similar to yours and you know that you are never, ever going to get anywhere in the LP (and indeed, will be shot for that membership, if we win). Who knows, if you join LU, you may even get to have a go witchhunting us Trots from LU at some future point – I know you would enjoy that.

  2. “Another glorious failure Mick” You would need to have seen the film Michael Collins to understand that quote and there is no body to say “It’ll be different next time” because there isn’t going to be one. There is nothing to the left of Labour and you may as well accept that.

    From the formation of the CP in 1920 to the collapse of all of the Trot fronts the working class have always voted Labour.


    March 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm

  3. Rubbish e.g. 1931 General Election, 3 or 5 ILP MPs (sources differ, but may include some of the 3 ‘unofficial Labour MPs elected). All without Labour support (they got 46 seats).

    And the future is unwritten. Don’t presume 2020 will be necessarily similar to 2010

  4. The cited passage on racism shows the real confusion that has to be addressed. It does not differentiate between, on the one hand, the idea that society is made up of people of all manner of different cultural backgrounds and manifestations and that these manifestations are continually shifting, intermingling and mutating, and, on the other, the official policy of ‘multiculturalism’ whereby every one is placed in a predetermined ‘cultural’ box, which is implied to be discrete and immutable. And the term ‘culture’ in this definition usually — indeed, almost always — means ethnicity or a very much ethnically-determined factor, as in the way the term ‘Muslim’ is used.

    It is the official policy that encourages ‘cultures’ to be different and to be separate, and it thus encourages the most conservative interpretations of these ‘cultures’ to be considered as the genuine version of them.

    On the one hand, official multiculturalism has failed for the ruling class because it has not helped to cohere a new national consensus based upon a country composed of people of different cultures happily coexisting around a national core focus, but has helped to fragment British society; on the other, for the left it has also failed as it has not reduced racial tensions but led to their mutation into other, new forms, and at the same time helped undermined the idea of class-based politics.

    The fight against racism necessitates a clear critique of official multiculturalism.

    Dr Paul

    March 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm

  5. Left Unity is the hottest thing on the left right now. In a few short months, it has attracted more than 1,800 members. With a new member joining every 10 minutes over the weekend, the party is going from strength to strength.

    On Saturday, Left Unity held its first national conference in Manchester. After a day of open, democratic debate around a series of motions sent in by branches and members around the country, the party agreed that it would launch its challenge to the Tory-led government and weak Labour opposition by campaigning against austerity, poverty pay, zero-hour contracts and privatisation.

    Left Unity is committed to introducing a mandatory living wage and a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay to support people struggling with their work-life balance.

    It will campaign to bring the railways and the energy companies back into public ownership, policies that big business-backed Labour will not even consider even though they are supported by the vast majority of British people. The best Miliband is willing to offer, despite rightly pointing to a cost of living crisis, is a temporary price freeze on energy bills. But neither the energy companies nor the railways – which could only ever be run as monopolies in private hands – have delivered the promised and overly vaunted choice and competition that the deified ultra free market philosophy would have us believe gives the best deal for consumers. Bringing them back into public ownership would not only allow such companies to be run in the interests of their workers, but also their consumers, the poorest of which are being crippled by soaring costs.

    The party committed itself to defending the NHS from creeping back-door privatisation, to campaigning against the bedroom tax and campaigning to build a million new affordable, spacious social homes while reigning in rocketing private rents.

    Conference supported a push not only for many more green jobs, but many more purple jobs as well. The term refers to jobs in the caring sectors which are being remorselessly cut by local authorities as a result of national government reductions in their funding. Left Unity not only wants to reverse those cuts, but significantly expand the public sector, ensuring that labour necessary for society no longer faces low wages and increasingly casualised and precarious conditions of employment. These are jobs which are critical to support disabled people, the sick and the rapidly growing numbers of older pensioners. They are also jobs in childcare, which the party agreed should be provided free to all those with children below school age. Fundamentally, the purpose of purple job creation is to free women from primary caring responsibilities which have led to their concentration in part-time work, discontinuous labour, and involuntary underemployment. Ending segregation of the labour market where women are consigned to low pay and underemployment to enable them to provide care for children, sick, disabled people and the elderly, these jobs will enable men and women to work in this sector. This is a step towards ending women’s unpaid personal labour at home, allowing their full participation in employment and their access to education, personal development and economic independence.

    Left Unity is opposed to fracking. As yet, the evidence for the safety of pumping chemicals into the ground to extract gas from shale is sketchy. And even if, in the fullness of time, fracking is proved safe, it ties us into further exploitation of fossil fuels, hampering efforts to bring carbon emissions down and distracting us from the need to be massively expanding renewable energy.

    Now that Left Unity has agreed a core set of policies, the hard work of campaigning can begin. The party has had an encouraging start for an organisation that emerged from nowhere to be built from the bottom-up by independent activists fed up with the political status quo. But for Left Unity to succeed, it will now have to turn outwards. It will need to campaign on the streets, in the workplaces and in the unions. It will have to support – not hijack – local campaigns across the country to save hospitals and libraries, to shut down fracking sites, to oppose the bedroom tax and to stop the racist EDL. Only when Left Unity has done all of these things, when it has actively tried to make a difference to the lives of poor, vulnerable and oppressed people, will it have the right to ask for their vote.

    Ukip may be making the headlines as we approach the European elections next month, threatening to steal thousands of votes from the Conservatives and forcing them to watch their right flank. But Labour will have to watch its left flank in the months and years to come. Because Left Unity is on the move.

    Salman Shaheen is Principal Speaker for Left Unity


    And Comrade Toby got elected: watch out Socialist Resistance!

    Andrew Coates

    March 31, 2014 at 4:12 pm

  6. Absolutely Paul.

    ‘Muslim’ is one of the most bogus categories you could possibly use in this context.

    Just to give some examples, amongst hundreds. How does it apply, for example, to the Alevi minority in Turkey (I write this because I know some Alevi Kurds) who are persecuted by Official Islam in their own country and disliked if not attacked by ‘Muslims’ in this one.

    How does it apply to conflicts between Bangladeshi secularists (many of whom are ‘Muslims’) and the racist thugs of the Islamist far-right?

    When we come to the state, and official multiculturalism – there were critiques of this by Sivanandan years ago.

    They have slightly backtracked on this since but this is the Institute of Race Relations position now,

    “Anti-racism is the element that infuses politics into multiculturalism and makes it dynamic and progressive. (Note that the Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976 were the result of anti-racist struggles of the ’60 and ’70s.)

    Remove the anti-racist element and multiculturalism descends into culturalism/ethnicism. (Witness the post-Scarman settlement that reduced the fight against racism to a fight for culture and led to ethnic enclaves.)”


    We shall see one of the results of official multiculturalism tonight on Panorama when they look at Tower Hamlets.

    Seymour has obviously neither read left critiques of official multiculturalism nor indeed any serious work on topics like Islamism.

    This document shows signs of a failure to think through the issues.

    I can’t help thinking that Callinicos was right when he described him as somebody who picks and toys with ideas

    Andrew Coates

    March 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm

  7. It seems that the groups which have broken away from the SWP have learnt nothing from the Respect fiasco; as far as I know, none has subjected the Respect experience to any form of critique. Indeed, from my experience, they have shown no differences with the SWP on the issue of official multiculturalism, and the SWP more or less goes along with it.

    Dr Paul

    March 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm

  8. The comments by Coates and Dr Paul above about the LU policy on racism are a very good example of the worst kind of Leftish abstentionist behaviour.

    They are an over-analysis of a very petty part of the LU policies, and which has probably been read by very few members indeed. But it is the sort of nit-picking detail that will be wheeled to justify all that is supposedly wrong with LU. I am reminded of one fellow union branch member who didn’t strike because he claimed the agenda for the branch meeting was not in order because it still had the name of the former branch administrator at the bottom

    You are entirely missing the whole picture, even when it is right in front of you . If a voluptuous women, naked apart from her trainers, ran down the street, I have no doubt you types would only look see what type of stripes she has on her shoes.

  9. SSP: You are supposing that a) ‘whoever you are addressing in your last paragraph’ is hetrosexual and b) they are male, and c) men have the right to oogle women.

    Sue R

    March 31, 2014 at 9:04 pm

  10. This male would watch anyone, of either sex, (or even ‘intersex’: I hope I have now covered all bases although I suspect there will be more along soon) who I happened to see walk naked down the road as, I’m sure, would near all.

    Wouldn’t you? Although as you appear to also suffer from that Left miniaturised disorder – focussing on the itsy-bitsy to the exclusion of the full package – who knows?

  11. Remember what happened to Peeping Tom. Anyway, are you telling me you would ignore the itsy-bitsy of a naked person?

    Sue R

    April 1, 2014 at 9:12 pm

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