Left Unionism and Anti-Unionism
Last week the final shots were fired after the battle at Left Unity conference between the ‘Labourites’ and ‘Independents’ The ranks of the ‘Labourite’ liquidators – those joining Labour or seeking affiliation – shrank when the Independent Socialist Network voted to follow Workers Power into the Labour Party. But the ‘Indies’ chalked up their own victory when the CPGB decided their Communist Platform would remain on board.
At the subsequent CPGB aggregate Yassamine Mather summarised her assessment of Left Unity after Corbyn. It was experiencing “a certain disintegration, it was far from certain that the LU project was finished”. Left Unity emerged from its conference by losing members to Labour. Yet it is still in tact. The next stage is redefining the party’s strategic direction. It cannot carry on as the true ‘spirit of 45’ and hope to survive.
I welcome the CPGB decision to stay. It gives support for the pro-party ‘Independents’ against the ‘Labourite’ liquidators. Of course I am still fond of my old friends in the CPGB. But they are the main enemies of republican socialism in Left Unity and dedicated defenders of the anti-democratic Acts of Union. They backed the Labourite TUSC-LU lash up in the Bermondsey election against Republican Socialism. They have been the most vociferous in calling for my expulsion. This is politics and in politics we are deadly opponents. I expect nothing less.
So whilst I support the CPGB decision to remain, I do not believe we will be nor indeed should be in the same party for more than a few months longer. With all the various resignations, the Communist platform is now the undisputed leader of the pro-Labour wing in Left Unity. With Scotland and Corbyn, the struggle against Labourism and for Republicanism must sharpen to breaking point. In 2014 the Scottish referendum transformed the prospects for republican democracy. The national question provided the best opportunity for the working class to fight for the democratic future across the United Kingdom. The class struggle shifted with the creation of a national democratic movement. But its impact and implications are not limited to Scotland.
The Unionist parties, Tories, Liberal Democrats, Labour and UKIP, won the referendum battle but lost the war. The ‘Scottish’ general election showed this when a defeated SNP swept the board. But in UK politics, Cameron and the Tories were the main beneficiaries of the No victory and Labour the big losers. After 2014 we are in a different world. The British Union had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not put humpty together again.
Republicanism and Anti-unionism go together like a horse and carriage. They are central to the programme of working class democracy. No party can be serious about republicanism if it supports the British Union. The CPGB’s claim to be republican is vacuous, empty rhetoric. It is all window dressing. The CPGB had to make a political decision in the Bermondsey election about supporting a Labourite lash up or a Republican Socialist and anti-Unionist. Practice conformed with theory.
Scotland shows in clearest form the future of the socialist movement in England (and Wales). In Scotland the socialist movement is sharply divided between left Unionism and Anti-Unionism. On one side is Scottish Labour’s Unionism which under Corbyn has become left (or social democratic) Unionism. On the other side is socialist Anti-unionism taking shape in Rise -Scotland’s left alliance. Rise will not be sucked up by the Corbyn movement because it has distinct political-constitutional objectives. Whilst Left Unity continues to support the Acts of Union it will continue to dribble into the Labour Party until it has nothing left.
The left in England is ‘economistic’. Politics is seen through the narrow prism of trade union action and social protest movements. The question of power, government and constitutional change, which is central to Scottish politics, does not figure much in the politics of the English left. So whilst the same divide between left Unionism and anti-Unionism can be found in Left Unity, most are happy to avoid hard choices. In Labour’s Unionist quagmire, we need to pull away sharply before we sink beneath the mud.
So the next stage in the battle for an independent party is to upgrade the programme. Those who worship spontaneity will run round like headless chickens in search of the fox. For those who take a leaf from Lenin’s book, it is back to (social) democratic consciousness and hence policy and programme. Left Unity is a left unionist party by default or accident. Now that has to change and sooner rather than later. It is time to reject any idea that we should kick it in to the long grass or set up a Royal Commission to look into it.
Steve Freeman (Left Unity and Rise)