Relating to the left as it is

The Communist Platform met on November 2 to prepare for the Left Unity conference in two weeks time. Daniel Harvey reports

The Communist Platform meeting in London over the weekend saw a thoroughgoing discussion in preparation for Left Unity’s November 15-16 policy conference.

Mike Macnair got the ball rolling by painting a picture of where he thought the organisation was heading after he had spent several hours reviewing the 112 pages of motions for the conference. It seemed to him that, in view of a number of resignations and disagreements, the core leadership was beginning to break apart. LU has an unworkable constitution and is being hampered by the increasingly corrosive impact of intersectional politics, which has, for example, paralysed the disputes committee.

There has been a number of complaints, some of which involve leading members, he said. Some of these have been of a relatively trivial nature, as in the case of a member who posted a picture of Kate Hudson in a swimsuit on Facebook, but most have been quite obviously political disagreements dressed up as disputes. This was the case in several branches - in Glasgow, which has split into two over the question of Scottish independence; in Leeds, where there has been a dispute between the International Socialist Network and various ‘moderates’; and most recently in Haringey, where there have been divisions over the leadership’s response to the controversy around one of the principal speakers (now resigned), Bianca Todd.

And a Communist Platform member, Laurie McCauley, has been suspended. He originally faced spurious charges of “bullying”, but in reality he has been targeted for writing a report about the problems within his Manchester branch in this paper. In comrade Macnair’s opinion, what lay behind the cases of both comrade Todd, who has been criticised over her role in a dispute over unpaid wages in her workplace, and comrade McCauley was anger over their refusal to lend support to the campaign against Steve Hedley, who stood as a local election candidate for the Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition despite having been accused of domestic violence.

Turning to the conference agenda, comrade Macnair noted that the disastrous draft ‘safe spaces’ policy, which was referred back at the last LU conference in March and has undergone as many as 10 redrafts, has been relegated to the very end of the agenda. It had previously been given pride of place right at the start of proceedings, and comrade Macnair wondered how Felicity Downing, who had put in most of the work on it, would react to the strong likelihood that the policy will not even be discussed this time around. Even if it were to make it to the conference floor, it seems likely that it would now be defeated. The Communist Platform’s alternative proposal for a simple code of conduct may well appear attractive enough by comparison to make many overlook the fact that it is the ‘hard left’ that has put it forward.

The leadership seems to find it impossible to propose serious policies to campaign on, as we approach the 2015 general election, and this is reflected in many of the submitted motions, which have a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ quality about them. For many leading individuals and groups like Socialist Resistance, the most important thing was adopting policies that everyone could accept and avoid anything controversial.

Comrade Macnair stated that most of the economic proposals put forward do not even meet the standards of the watered down ‘transitional’ Trotskyism adopted by much of the left. They do not ‘bridge the gap’ between future aims and the current needs of the movement. Most would be routinely voted through in the Labour Party, even if they were subsequently ignored by the leadership, he said.


Comrade Yassamine Mather, a member of the LU national committee, kicked off the discussion by saying that, although the picture appears bleak, it was important that we continue to actively engage within Left Unity.

She agreed that the ‘safe spaces’ dogma, if it were ever adopted, would almost certainly lead to paralysis and the disputes committee would not be able to handle the competing claims being put forward. At the same time it was clear there was a degree of “subsidence”, as people have left the organisation - she mentioned those in Scotland who have gone over to the Radical Independence Campaign. She thought that there is an air of unreality among some members of the executive, who claim that the difficulties LU is experiencing are really a sign of success and growth.

She reiterated that we are not in LU to make ourselves popular, but to fight for the kind of party that is really necessary. And, while Left Unity is probably the most dysfunctional of all the so-called ‘unity projects’ previously experienced, it does actually give us a space to put forward our Marxist politics.

Jack Conrad stated that he thought the chickens were coming home to roost for LU, and compared the situation to the one in the Scottish Socialist Party before its implosion. He said that, although we did not predict the timing and nature of the scandal that triggered the SSP crisis, we had more or less predicted accurately the underlying issues. It was the same with LU, he said.

In general he thought that the crisis of bureaucratic centralism amongst the left, and in the Socialist Workers Party in particular, has been resolved negatively rather than positively. Instead of politics being used to overcome organisational failures, we are seeing splits on utterly trivial issues - he thought this was the case in the accusations brought by Simon Hardy and co against Bianca Todd. He agreed with Yassamine about the need to stay and fight, but also stressed the need to put some distance between ourselves and those driving this project. We should not try to “fill in the gaps” opening up in the organisation or try to save it from its own inbuilt deficiencies. Our aim was to deal with the underlying politics, to keep pointing out that the real problem lies in the very nature of broad party formations.

Sarah McDonald compared her past experience in the SSP to what she saw in LU. In the former, the major issues were at least debated out, with a large chunk of conference time given over to them. It was possible, she said, to have a drawn-out debate on the national question, for example. But in Left Unity this is precluded by the fact that the conference agenda is so crammed that all we will see is a couple of two-minute speeches on every question.

Peter Manson felt that it was more a case of the bureaucratic incompetence that is intrinsic to the attempt to ‘do politics differently’ than any deliberate policy to suppress controversy. For his part, Moshé Machover backed up the various statements made at the meeting about the unevenness of LU’s organisation. He had been through three branches, two of which had collapsed. He said that he had been pessimistic about the organisation from the start, but that it was important not to appear arrogant, hostile or too pugnacious. He thought there was a need to keep some allies on the left of the organisation and prepare for the likely failure of LU.


The most pessimistic contributor was Simon Wells, who questioned whether there was any purpose in remaining within LU - he thought it might be worth thinking about pulling out completely. LU was not like the broad parties that it sought to emulate: it had no possibility of becoming a Syriza. In his view LU had become a “bear pit”, where it was almost impossible to learn anything or make any real impact.

To this comrade Mather responded by stating that this was completely premature and it was crucial to deal with the left as it actually exists. We could not get away from the fact that the left is in a mess, both in and out of LU. She agreed with comrade Machover that the tone we take is very important, and criticised the way some Communist Platform members had communicated on Facebook, which she said had been too abrasive.

Paul Demarty thought the left that survived if LU collapsed would be truly “terrible”, as it would have given up even on its already very weak commitment to a political party of any kind. Intersectionalist politics would be much stronger and this would accelerate the decay. He thought we should point out that the only way to make a success of LU was to win it to Marxist politics.

Comrade Conrad came back to say that things were not quite as bad as what was being made out. He said in his experience on the left since the 60s there had never really been an atmosphere conducive to genuine debate and in that sense LU was no different. He responded to comrade Wells by pointing out that if we “run for the hills” we would learn nothing - it was essential to play our part in overcoming the problems of the left from the inside. He said that a year earlier he would have been much more optimistic because there was a group of comrades who seemed sincere in the Socialist Platform, but the SP had collapsed. Nevertheless, LU is not entirely negative - the majority seem to share our position on Europe, which has been adopted as LU policy, and this question is central to our whole strategy.

In his summing up Mike Macnair first of all agreed on the question of tone and suggested comrades should pause to reread what they have written before posting comments on the internet. In general he thought that the culture within LU, like that on much of the left, was one of comrades “shouting past each other” rather than engaging in serious debate. He stated in passing that the prospect of an electoral alliance between LU and Tusc had floundered because Tusc had been demanding LU subordinate itself, especially on the question of Europe.

The problems on the left went very deep and long-term, he said. The Trotskyist left had mostly decayed into the same state as the ‘official communists’ in the 80s. A bureaucratic and anti-political culture had developed - in LU this is epitomised by Socialist Resistance, which refuses to propose policy based on the positions it claims to hold for fear of creating new divisions.

Intersectionalism, he said, was a product of the earlier popular-frontism of ‘official communist’ parties. Because the popular front tactic was based on the existence of a petty bourgeoisie which equivocated and could be won to a more working class-friendly position, it would be even more disastrous now than it was then. Today the petty bourgeoisie is not equivocating, but is actually helping to drive forward a rightwing agenda. Intersectionalism, said comrade Macnair, is a form of popular-frontism that is searching in vain for cross-class alliances on the basis of race, gender, etc.

Despite this less than optimistic prognosis, he thought the suggestion that we should “cut and run” was a very bad one and agreed it did not offer any better prospects for the coming period.

After this general discussion, the meeting went through the lengthy process of examining each individual motion to be put to the November 15-16 conference. It was agreed that a detailed document laying out our recommendations would be published beforehand. The CP will abstain on many motions, as it will be impossible to either amend them or explain our attitude on the day in relation to such a large proportion of them. It was generally accepted that even for a two-day conference the agenda was far too packed to facilitate any genuine debate.