Being the extreme left in Left Unity

CPGB members debated our work in Left Unity at its latest aggregate meeting. Daniel Harvey reports

Members of the Communist Party of Great Britain met on December 14 to discuss our perspectives for Left Unity, as well as how we organise ourselves. Proceedings were begun, however, by a report from Yassamine Mather, a member of LU’s national council, of a meeting of the NC which had taken place the day before (see opposite).

After this Jack Conrad gave a general overview of the history and outlook for Left Unity. He began by saying that he thought it was useful to compare the mood at the LU conference in November 2013 and its latest conference last month. In his opinion the contrast between the optimistic mood a year ago - what he called the “enthusiasm of the naive” - and the more sombre proceedings in November 2014 was very stark. Attendance at the latest conference was about 260, where it had been around 450 in 2013.

He noted that the predictions we made about LU’s constitution had been proven correct. In practice it is simply being ignored because it is too cumbersome and bureaucratic to be implemented - reportedly national treasurer Andrew Burgin has called it “just a piece of paper” at the moment. Requirements for branch meetings to be quorate had been more or less abandoned - the last conference would no doubt have been inquorate, if the ‘model standing orders’ contained in the constitution had been applied, since there were far fewer than a quarter of members present.

The politics of the organisation were very incoherent, he said - very important questions seem to be decided on the hoof. Because of this, the party is actually passing motions which contradict each other and its four principal speakers would surely be in trouble if they ever came under serious scrutiny in the media.

Comrade Conrad reminded the meeting that one of the names put forward for the organisation at the start had been ‘Left Party’ and one leaflet he had seen had fused together LU’s logo with that of Podemos. The inspiration for LU was quite clearly the reformist leftwing parties on the continent. This was now becoming quite embarrassing, when the actual practice of these parties is considered. For instance, Die Linke has adopted an appalling position in support of Israel, while Podemos has just excluded from leadership positions Izquierda Anticapitalista, the group central to its founding, and ditched most of the programme that made it popular with its base in the indignados movement. At the same time Syriza has watered down its commitments on the Greek debt and other economic issues to such an extent that even the Financial Times now believes it to be relatively safe.

LU is such a fragile construction because it was based on the belief that members would automatically agree on most issues, but it has turned out - predictably - that they do not. Comrade Conrad previously thought that LU might be able to regain some of its momentum in the May 2015 general election, but this would not be the case - it looks like there will only be a handful of candidates. None of them will be famous personalities, as was the case with Respect and George Galloway. There might be a candidate in Wigan, but that branch seems to be considering standing under a different name. This indicates a real lack of belief in the project.

Reflecting on the decisions taken by CPGB members, he said that we had decided to put almost all of our members into the new formation. We never shared the wild optimism of the founders and we do not believe LU in its current state is the sort of party we need. For that reason a pole of extreme opposition is needed and we stood a full slate of candidates in the initial elections in order to present a coherent alternative. The way things are going in terms of the disputes within LU, it is likely that any major test would break the organisation apart.

In spite of these weaknesses, comrade Conrad thought it was right for us to deepen our involvement in LU. We would do this by publishing a series of articles on strategy that could form the basis of a pamphlet. But what LU really needs is a totally different approach. It needs to ditch its current unworkable constitution, which should be replaced with something much simpler and shorter. To this end we should engage with individuals who have a similar outlook.


Mike Macnair’s contribution to the debate had two parts. The first concerned the overall political dynamics against which LU was operating. He said that there was a long-term strategy in the media to try and deLabourise the Labour Party. At the last election ‘Cleggmania’ was promoted, but this time around there is systematic campaign to drive down Miliband’s popularity to a point where Labour cannot emerge as the largest party in a hung parliament. At the same time Labour had very tentatively revived class politics through, for instance, its cost of living proposals and statements on public schools, and this is not the optimal situation for a party like LU, he said.

Secondly, he thought it important to consider why there has been no mass movement against austerity to speak of in the last six years. The unions were incredibly weak and the workforce was now very stratified. Despite the targeting of claimants, he said, the Tories have not yet made the kind of cuts which would create a new resistance movement. The opposition in the form of, say, the People’s Assembly is dominated by the trade union bureaucracy, and therefore overwhelmingly geared towards getting Labour elected - again, not useful for LU.

Comrade Farzad thought the absence was also a result of the fact that Britain is in a slightly better economic position than other countries. Whether the Conservatives or Labour are elected she said there would be deep cuts that could change this situation. Nevertheless, a lot of people will still vote Labour out of a desire to limit the attacks. She thought the UK Independence Party would not make the inroads into the working class vote that are claimed (this point was also emphasised by Sarah McDonald and Paul Demarty later). The SNP, however, could do well, said Farzad - austerity has been used as a means to mobilise people for nationalism. She thought the plans being talked about in LU of campaigning on council estates were unlikely to build Left Unity in the circumstances. Comrade McDonald expected LU to win the usual 1.5% of the vote gained by left candidates, while others commented on the fact that LU was proposing to spend just £25,000 on its 2015 election campaign - Jack Conrad pointed out that the CPGB had managed to raise £30,000 when it ran four candidates in 1992.

Some speakers thought that the Communist Platform was not seen as the main concern by the LU leadership, mainly because other groups had created more of a problem: members of the International Socialist Network had gone over the top on ‘intersectional’ issues, for example. There was a disagreement about the approach of the CP, with Simon Wells warning against being seen as destructive. We should not be seen as “throwing bombs”, as the CPGB did in Respect, but we should build support in branches through our commitment to party work, he said.

Peter Manson thought the CP was not necessarily seen as “extreme” - for example, our proposed code of conduct was regarded as reasonable by many, he thought. However, a number of contributors made the point that our political positions must naturally make us an extreme opposition, and that if we were not achieving this then there would clearly be something wrong in our approach.

Jack Conrad in his summing up compared the situation with that in the Socialist Alliance, where we were considered “nutters” for suggesting the SA put forward 30 candidates in the 2001 general election. We got defeated on that, but managed to win the position that branches should decide for themselves what to do. The SA ended up contesting in 98 constituencies.

He concluded that many in LU have supported some CP proposals despite who is putting them forward - that was certainly the case with the code of conduct, he said. And we should keep pushing for what the party clearly needs.


After this first session the meeting moved onto a fairly eclectic discussion loosely based around the motion proposed by the Provisional Central Committee, which called for the first CPGB aggregate of each year to be an annual general meeting.

This motion actually originated in a proposal put forward by myself, and supported by comrades Tina Becker and Maciej Zurowski. It had been finalised in negotiations beforehand and all involved were happy with the final version. It proposed that the AGM would feature a financial report, a discussion of our perspectives for the next year and a formal process for re-electing the PCC annually (this has been done on an ad hoc basis previously).

In her introduction in support of the motion, comrade Farzad talked about the difficulties that the PCC has had over the years in trying to facilitate the development of members, so that they can take on leadership positions themselves. She wanted this motion to be a catalyst for change, so that the composition of the PCC becomes a topic for annual review - although PCC members can be replaced at any aggregate, in recent years elections have only occurred when it has become apparent that it needs new or additional members.

Comrade Farzad also used the discussion to talk about one major change that will be discussed at the first such AGM early in the new year - the possibility of broadening the scope of Hands Off the People of Iran into a more general campaign against western intervention in the Middle East. She said that the current cooperation between Iran and the United States had made Hopi seem less relevant, at least temporarily.

Since it was clear that the motion was entirely uncontentious - it was carried unanimously at the end of the aggregate - the discussion evolved into a general debate on the development of cadre: training members to make telling interventions at meetings, deepening their theoretical understanding, and so on.

There were mixed feelings about comrade Farzad’s proposal on Hopi and it was agreed to look at this in more depth at the AGM.