Policies of other organisations
Within the limits of principle everyone in Left Unity must have the right to put forward their own politics, writes Tina Becker
Needs to avoid witch-hunting
In the run-up to Left Unity’s national conference, it is worth taking a closer look at motion 17 from Leeds North and East. Thanks to the well-meaning, but impractical, “priorities ballot”, which asks all branches to nominate the five motions they would most like to be discussed, this “witch-hunters’ charter”1 might not make it to the floor on November 21-22.
Nevertheless, the sectarian ideas within it need to be challenged and thoroughly defeated if the left ever wants to be able to convince the majority of the working class that real socialism equates not to Stalinism (and witch-hunts), but transparency, openness and democracy.
The motion is misleadingly entitled ‘Code of conduct’, but it is far removed from what, for example, the Communist Platform is putting forward and which aims to deal with real disputes in LU. The Leeds motion, on the other hand, is designed to create problems where they really do not exist - apart from in the minds of the motion’s main sponsor, Matthew Caygill, and a few other people in his LU branch.
LU Leeds North and East was borne out of a sectarian split orchestrated by Caygill and his co-thinker, Nick Jones, in 2013. They found it “intolerable” to continue working alongside a handful of local members from Workers Power and split the Leeds branch in two. Utterly irresponsible, seeing as the city has less than 50 LU members - with the majority being merely paper members, of course, as in all other branches.
There has been no attempt to produce evidence of any wrongdoing by the WP comrades. Presumably because there is no such evidence - just a general feeling that ‘we don’t like it’ when members of an organised group turn up in a branch and start to behave, well, like members of an organised group: ie, arguing for the same things in a more or less coherent manner. We had the same non-complaint in Sheffield and we hear similar stories from other branches. But Leeds is the only branch where the right has gone so far as to organise a split on purely political grounds.
Caygill and co have since rejected various ‘mediation’ attempts by the LU leadership to reunite the two branches. Unfortunately, the LU executive has now accepted a stalemate of sorts (with the naive idea that the branches will be redefined geographically and new members allocated accordingly).2
Probably feeling sufficiently bolstered by this recent cave-in by the leadership, Caygill now wants to put motion 17 to conference (see below). It is very similar to one he presented to a recent Leeds aggregate where it was not discussed on the insistence of the chairs of the day, national secretary Kate Hudson and membership officer Simon Hardy.
If accepted by conference, it could be used against any LU member who is also a member of another organisation. In reality, of course, Caygill does not have the rightwing Socialist Resistance or even Nick Wrack’s semi-detached Independent Socialist Network in mind. The motion is mainly aimed at his local adversaries in Workers Power and annoying revolutionaries like the Communist Platform. Both failed, to his dismay, to uncritically cheer Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections and instead pointed out the dangers of taking office and they did not call on LU to opportunistically copy the dubious ‘expanding circle’ method used by the rightward-galloping, strangely apolitical Podemos in Spain. Needless to say, their status as much-celebrated ‘sister parties’ of Left Unity has now quietly been dropped. But Caygill and his ilk have not given up so easily.
While begrudgingly admitting that Left Unity’s “constitution does not exclude party members from membership of other organisations”, the movers of the motion complain that “other models of organisation (eg, what is usually called ‘democratic centralism’) at times conflict with the ‘one member, one vote’ democratic mandate of our broad socialist party”.
Matthew Caygill and co want to “help” members of those other organisations “to participate honestly in Left Unity” by establishing a “code of conduct, separate from, but supported by the safe spaces policy”. As an aside: what a brilliant attempt to bring the much-derided ‘safe spaces’ policy in through the back door, when it has already been voted down twice at LU conference. It is not even down for debate at the forthcoming conference, as Felicity Dowling apparently forgot to find a seconder for her very strange motions on the topic.
The Leeds North and East motion demands that, “when engaging in Left Unity activity (in branches, in public and in open social media), members do not promote the policies and practices of another political organisation or party or seek to represent their policies as the policies of Left Unity. Left Unity meetings, stalls and activities are not to be mistaken for vehicles for the promotion of the politics or materials of other political parties or organisations.”
What contradictory nonsense. On the one hand, he says his motion wants to aid “honesty” in Left Unity, but on the other, he demands that LU members are forbidden to ‘honestly’ circulate the materials of any other organisations they are involved in. Presumably that does not include materials distributed by the “members of various social movements and civil society organisations”, whose LU membership “we welcome” (whoever those people might be).
Those with a minority viewpoint have the absolute right to “promote” their own politics and principles, while engaged in LU activity “in public, in branches, in the social media”. As long as it does not disrupt an agreed action, what is the problem with handing out the Weekly Worker at a branch meeting or displaying Workers Power on a stall? (It goes without saying that they must not be presented as official LU publications). Surely, this is part and parcel of a key aspect of a democratic organisation: that the minority is allowed to fight to become the majority.
Having said that, of course the Weekly Worker and Workers Power does not only contain material that is critical of the official positions of Left Unity. Quite the opposite: the majority of articles deal with matters on which LU does not even have a position. So, what if somebody comes up to a LU stall and wants to talk, for example, about Corbynomics. Should we not be allowed to refer to the various, wide-ranging articles that have appeared in the Weekly Worker? Especially as Left Unity does not even have a regular publication.
Caygill and his local co-thinkers constitute a small minority in LU themselves, of course. They are to the right of most of the leadership and the members, but have not managed to cohere around a proper programme (though some of them are members of the Podemos Tendency). They are united mainly in their hatred of the organised left, as previously constituted. In truth, this motion is aimed at protecting the likes of themselves from the much better organised and coherent left within LU - by weakening and disempowering the revolutionaries. If we on the right can’t manage to organise in LU, we’d better try and stop the left from organising.
Of course, this sectarian method must fail. If not in the run-up to or on the floor of conference, then on the ground. Rather tellingly, the motion does not propose any sanctions against those who might break the proposed ‘rules’ on dual membership. That is because they would be unenforceable - without changing the whole nature of Left Unity (there’s a clue in the name).
The Communist Platform will, of course, continue to circulate its materials at Left Unity meetings. And, no, we “do not seek” to present our “policies as the policies of Left Unity”. We presume that comrades in Workers Power do not do so either.
And, unlike members of Socialist Resistance, for example, we always “declare these connections publicly when making representation to and for Left Unity” and “participate in open tendencies inside our party”: ie, the Communist Platform. In fact, there tend to be plenty of raised eyebrows when we state our CP membership before making interventions, when we vote together at conference or branch meetings and then openly report about such matters in the Weekly Worker.
Oh wait, that is a bit too much honesty for comrade Caygill, who has called our paper “an instrument for the bully”3 and even managed to convince the LU executive committee to pass a motion criticising the Weekly Worker for a “personalised attack” on him (our crime was to openly report the shenanigans in Leeds and his role within it)4.
Caygill is quite well known to our organisation. For years, he was something of a - loosely connected - fellow traveller, attending many of our events. In 2006 he spoke at our Communist University North5, in 2004 he supported the appeal against our exclusion from the organising group of the European Social Forum,6 an exclusion initiated by Socialist Action and the Socialist Workers Party in response to our open reportage of their backroom deals in the Weekly Worker. And in 2002 he supported the CPGB’s call for a Socialist Alliance paper7 - which was, of course, based on our “dual membership” of the SA and CPGB.
But he is no Tony Benn. Sadly, in every new organisation where we have encountered him, he has moved further to the right.
Motion 17. Code of conduct
1. Left Unity welcomes the participation of members of other organisations drawn from across the political spectrum on the left. In particular we welcome the membership of members of various social movements and civil society organisations, who want to take their place in a party of the broad left.
2. The Left Unity constitution specifies a ‘one member, one vote’ basis for participation in the party, in contrast to a coalition of different parties and groups. However, the constitution does not exclude party members from membership of other organisations.
3. Nonetheless, problems can arise where members hold ‘dual membership’ with other political organisations or parties with aims and directives that go beyond or diverge from those of Left Unity. Other models of organisation (eg, what is usually called ‘democratic centralism’) at times conflict with the ‘one member, one vote’ democratic mandate of our broad socialist party. Left Unity does not want to proscribe such members, but wants to see all members abide by the spirit as well as the letter of our constitution.
4. To help members of other organisations to participate honestly in Left Unity we shall establish a code of conduct, separate from, but supported by, the safe spaces policy. It is agreed that, when engaging in Left Unity activity (in branches, in public and in open social media), members do not promote the policies and practices of another political organisation or party or seek to represent their policies as the policies of Left Unity. Left Unity meetings, stalls and activities are not to be mistaken for vehicles for the promotion of the politics or materials of other political parties or organisations.
5. Those holding membership of other political organisations and parties are asked to declare these connections publicly when making representation to and for Left Unity. One way to respect the democratic norms of Left Unity is to participate in open tendencies inside our party.