Dissolve or split
Last week I suggested the Left Unity conference was about “To be or not to be”. Having read Sarah McDonald’s report of the national council meeting (Weekly Worker 1082) I think the choices are not so stark. They are not either continue or fold but rather dissolve or split. Left Unity will survive the conference. But without a radical break or change of direction it will continue to decline into irrelevance, with fewer and fewer members.
It is fashionable in the English left to think all splits are a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. This is wrong. Sometimes a split is necessary to purge parties of outdated programmes and ideologies which are a barrier to progress. It is better to have a radical break in which the future breaks from a past which is holding militant struggle back.
A good split is one in which there is political differentiation and a clear division on grounds of policy. Many splits are premature because the political lines are unclear. But a split that has matured to the point of crisis and clarity is part of the political education of the militant section of the working class. So as far as LU is concerned if I had to choose between dissolving or having a good split I would choose the latter. The problem is that LU is not ready for a split because lines of demarcation remain blurred.
Left Unity is founded on two fundamentals. The first principle idea is the recognition that in the present conditions the working class needs a militant party which unites social democratic and communist workers. This is what the CPGB condemns as a “Half Way House”. The second principle idea which follows on is that LU is a socialist not a communist party. LU therefore naturally adopted the obvious ideas of ‘trade union socialism’ or Labourism. Promoting Old Labour views rooted in the 1945 social monarchy were seen as a way of uniting the left and mobilising working class support. In the general election, left Laborism made LU and TUSC into natural allies.
The Scottish referendum and the Corbyn movement have thrown a spanner in the works. The SNP took Scotland and Corbyn has retaken the Labour Party and made it more successful than Left Unity could have imagined. All those comrades in LU who embraced Labourism now are being pulled into the orbit of Corbyn. The whole of LU is now in danger of being sucked down that plug hole by the liquidator-affiliators. Labourism, which seemed to be LU’s best weapon, has now become its deadly poison.
In reporting the national council Sarah notes that “comrades Shahen and Bluston both jokingly said they wanted to join the CPGB, as they agreed with everything our comrades said”. A line up between comrade Shahen, one of the main advocates of liquidation and the CPGB, champion of affiliation, makes sense. The rise of Corbyn has transformed these unlikely bedfellows into the best of friends as Left Unity’s right wing. In Left Unity there is now a ‘hard right’ and a ‘soft left’.
Richard Farnos was quoted by Sarah as saying “the left’s response to the Labour Party was like a child playing football: chasing round after the ball but with no thought for positioning or strategy play”. It is not just the Labour Party they are chasing after. In general the left in England does not think ahead. It prefers to follow anything that moves. Lenin would have condemned this as the ‘worship of spontaneity’.
The Scottish referendum has begun to redefine the future not only for Scotland, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. If we are not simply going to run after the ball we have to position ourselves in relation to the national and constitutional questions. In Left Unity this translates itself into the battle between ‘left Unionists’ and Anti-Unionists on one hand and between the Labourites and republicans on the other.
Sarah reports that Jon Duveen wanted to invite the new Scottish party-alliance (Rise) to LU conference. The CPGB opposed this and the national council agreed not to invite them. Inviting Rise to send a representative does not change the policy of left Unionism or left nationalism one jot. But it does mean we are ready at least to have a dialogue. The CPGB’s opposition to inviting Rise is directed internally in support of Glasgow south branch and against all Anti-Unionists in LU.
Left Unionists and Anti-Unionists cannot be in the same party. That much is obvious. It is also clear that Labourites and republicans should not be in the same party. We have mixed and matched these politics in one organisation for a while. That time has now come to an end. Objectively it is time for a split. I do not see this happening at Left Unity conference. The most likely outcome is that the hard right will defeat the soft left and LU will agree to try to affiliate to the Labour Party. This will prove one more step on the road to dissolution. Better to have a clean break.