Indies and Chartists
Left Unity is in transition, we know not where. The conference was a battle between the “Labourites” and the “Independents”. The former, led by the CPGB, wanted LU to turn to the right and liquidate as a party and become part of the Labour Party whether as individuals or affiliates. The latter, led by Kate Hudson and Andrew Burgin, wanted to carry on as an independent party. Republican Socialists critically supported their resolution as well as proposing the only viable alternative strategy of aligning with Rise, Scotland’s new left alliance.
Reporting Left Unity conference Peter Manson (Weekly Worker editor) highlights two important points. First he says I was the only mover of a resolution who was “not really interested in Labour”. Obviously, now is not the time to spread illusions in the Labour Party. It is the time to redouble our efforts to build an independent party. So I am not interested in joining, affiliating or following the rear end of the Labour Party.
So whilst CPGB is trying to sell us an adventure in the Labour Party, in which they try to turn it in a global version of the CPGB, my resolution was the very opposite, at the extreme end of the ‘Indie’ spectrum. Labour has moved left and LU must turn left by shifting its politics. If we have no interest in joining Labour, we have every interest in combating the ideology of Labourism which has undermined Left Unity and almost destroyed it.
Labourism is the British form of social democracy – the programme of the social monarchy which created the Elizabethan welfare state. Better housing, more public ownership, improved social welfare and higher taxes on the rich, all laudable aims, were implemented by His Majesty’s Labour government after the war. Labourism is a combination of social reform and constitutional conservatism.
The central pillars of Labourism are support for the British constitutional monarchy, the Crown-in-Parliament and the union of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Labour Party is thus a loyalist and unionist party. Left Unity was founded on nostalgia for the post war social monarchy symbolised by the ‘spirit of 45’. It was a front for Trotskyist groups and many ex Trotskyists of various kinds, alienated by New Labour. Now it has to change.
Labourism supports Left Unity as a rope supports a hanging man. At conference I alluded to Left Unity’s constitutional conservatism. Peter reports my comment that it was paradoxical that conference was “not interested in the democracy of the country” and everyone only wanted “to talk about Labour Party democracy”. In my version it was disinterest in the “constitution of the country” compared with the focus on tinkering with the “constitution of Left Unity”. It doesn’t matter which version you remember, the paradox is explained by Labourist thinking.
Peter explains his version of the paradox as “That’s because the debate was about the Labour Party, Steve!” No, I was in a debate called “the future of Left Unity” and it was the “Labourites” who thought it was all about their new love. If Left Unity is to have a future it has to address the gaping hole in its politics. It is embarrassing to have to point it out. But it is definitely relevant to the future of Left Unity as it is to the question of why Labour will fail.
Ignoring the UK’s failing democracy and dangerously broken constitution makes Left Unity more like a tennis club, or now a fan club, discussing its own rules ad infinitum and not a party that aims to govern the country. In the latter case it would need a clear policy about how the system of government and its political laws should be transformed by the mobilisation and politicisation of the working class. We need a democratic political movement of the working class like the Chartist movement and the Chartist party in the 19th century.
Left Unity began life as an ideology in search of a party. With the rise of Corbyn it has become a party in search of an ideology. In Chartism, as Trotsky pointed out, we have an alternative conception of mass working class democratic politics. In Republican Socialism we have its upgrade for the 21st century. In Rise we have the opposition of Anti-Unionism to Left Unionism albeit confined to Scotland. In Rise and Left Unity we have the possibility of alternative programme to Labourism which reunites socialists in England and Scotland – a different kind of left unity.
Steve Freeman (Left Unity and Rise)