End or new beginning?
This weekend is Left Unity conference. The central question should be the democratic revolution and the role of the working class and how this impacts on Scotland, Ireland, Europe (EU) and the Labour Party after Corbyn. Unfortunately this is not on the radar screen. The focal point is on what Labour can achieve and what role should LU play in relation to it? At least on paper this seems like a repeat of last year’s conference, as if LU is stuck in a rut.
Since last year LU has continued to lose members to the Labour Party and Momentum. Most recently Socialist Resistance has joined Workers Power and the CPGB in heading out the exit door and into Labour. The party of social reform has to decide whether to join Labour. The party of democratic revolution has to explain why republicanism and anti-Unionism is necessary in the UK and why we should fight for a republican United States of Europe if we are serious about socialism and not limited to British social reform.
It is worth standing back and remembering where LU began. At the founding conference in 2013 there were three alternative perspectives presented – identified with 1945, 1917 and 1649. The majority view saw the party standing in the traditions of British Labour – constitutional conservatism and social reform. The 1945-50 Labour government is remembered in popular culture for the formation of the welfare state, public ownership and the NHS. It reflected the popular clamour for social change as a result of the Second World War. Ken Loach, one of the prime movers for LU, produced a film, the “Spirit of 45”, to capture the politics of ‘radical’ socialism.
This was a magnet for many socialists alienated from New Labour, the Iraq war and austerity policies of the Tories and the Labour Party. The CPGB and Workers Power who joined the new party proposed an alternative perspective derived from the 1917 Russian revolution and the founding of the British communist party. They wanted Left Unity to become a Marxist party and thus a direct competitor with the SWP and the Socialist Party. Their involvement made Left Unity a ‘half way house’ of radical socialists and communists in the same party with the freedom to organise their own platform.
The third perspective was related to the democratic revolution in the seventeenth century. In 1649 the monarchy and House of Lords were abolished and England became a “Commonwealth”. In the Levellers and the Diggers we have the combination of republicanism and social or common ownership. The suppression of these movements by the Cromwellian counter-revolution is now commemorated at the festivals at Burford in May and Wigan in September. The struggle for democracy has continued in permanence, through the Chartists, Suffragettes, Irish republican socialism (James Connolly) and down to the present. LU must take up the cudgel.
In 2013 the strategic and programmatic choices were between building a socialist Labour Party, a Marxist or Trotskyist party and a republican socialist party. By 2016 politics has moved on as a result of the Scottish and EU referenda and the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn. All the Marxist groups have left to join Labour. So should LU become an external faction of the Labour Party or become a more independent party with much clearer lines of demarcation from Labour on democracy, the national question and Europe?
The real ideological problem for ‘radical’ socialists is that the Labour Party had discarded its traditional ideological clothes twenty years ago. LU bought them at the Charity Shop but now Labour has claimed them back again. This can be spun in two ways. Either LU was set up on the wrong foundation, or it was merely holding the fort until Corbyn arrived with massive reinforcements. Corbyn and Momentum represents either the failure of Left Unity or its triumph on a mass scale!
Left Unity will not survive as a radical socialist or socialist Labour Party. There is only one alternative at conference, to become a republican socialist party. You would find it difficult to compare these alternatives because bizarrely they are in different sections of the agenda. In section B of the agenda there is the future of LU and relations with Labour and at the end of the day is section G on building LU and relations with Labour. The ‘future of LU’ and ‘building LU in the future’ should be considered at the same time.
The main debate in section B will repeat last year’s conference. York branch has proposed that Left Unity disband and join Labour. Haringey branch argues that LU must continue doing what we have been doing, opposing all forms of discrimination and supporting progressive struggles for a just, democratic and equal society. South London argues that LU must continue not least as an insurance policy if Corbyn is usurped (or betrayed). They want constitutional changes, a new electoral strategy and a conference in spring next year. Wigan branch wants to support Corbyn more closely, whilst developing independent policies. It calls for an end to all bans and proscriptions from the Labour Party and applying for affiliation to the Labour Party (which the CPGB proposed last year).
In section G conference will address the future of Left Unity in the light of Corbyn. Haringey is calling for a Left Forum to make links with ex members who joined Labour and others inside or outside Labour. South London has a resolution, with amendments from Wigan, calling on LU to change direction and strategy and become a republican socialist party which campaigns for democratic revolution in the UK and Europe and makes an alliance with Rise in Scotland. No prizes for guessing which road we should be supporting!