Arguments about Greens

Here we present two reports about Left Unity's debate around the "anti-asuterity alliance". First Peter Manson reports from Greenwich and Lewisham branch

The Greenwich and Lewisham branch of Left Unity has probably been amongst the most successful - in terms of the numbers attending its meetings and the debates it has held, at any rate.

When the national officers announced their call for an electoral alliance with the Green Party on February 12, it just so happened that we were holding one of our fortnightly meetings that evening. Unsurprisingly, this dominated the discussion and relegated items of branch organisation off the agenda. In the end the eight members present voted unanimously for the following motion:

“This meeting is appalled by the ‘Appeal for an alliance against austerity’ statement from Left Unity national officers, which goes beyond conference and national council decisions. It advocates an electoral arrangement with parties or groups that, by implication, are not working class. Left Unity should support all working class candidates who agree to oppose all cuts to services, and try to ensure that no such candidates stand against each other.” The motion was sent to the national office and will hopefully be discussed at this weekend’s national council meeting, while similar protests have come from Lambeth and Hackney.

Subsequently two absent comrades - both members of Socialist Action, as it happens - stated on our email discussion list that, had they been present, they would have opposed the motion. For them the central question is precisely austerity, and the formation of a broad alliance to oppose it. If this means, as it does, that anti-capitalism, and the propagation of working class independence and a new society, is dropped (temporarily, of course), then so be it.

Anyway, the organisational questions - not least the need to elect new officers, following the resignation from Left Unity of national council member Gioia Coppola - were held over to an additional meeting the following week, and on February 19 a young ex-Workers Power comrade, Brad Atkinson, was elected secretary, while Tony Aldis was re-elected treasurer (we agreed there would be a rotating chair). Comrade Atkinson is keen to push LU more forcefully within the local movement.

We also discussed branch nominations to national positions. Following the departure of comrade Coppola, Toby Abse is the remaining NC member from Greenwich and Lewisham branch and he is seeking re-election. Meanwhile, I too declared I would like to stand for the NC. There were 10 comrades present and, of the eight voting members, six supported my nomination, while Toby’s was unanimously agreed.

The two who opposed me were Nick Long - who almost 20 years ago joined in the witch-hunt against CPGB comrades in Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party - and Richard von Abendorff from Socialist Action. Comrade Long said that he was against the “ultra-left” CPGB, which is renowned for entering broad parties in order to split them and recruit to itself. He pointed out that supporters of the Communist Platform all sit together at conference and vote as a bloc - in itself proof of our nefarious intentions, obviously. He stated that unnamed people have been complaining about my reports in the Weekly Worker, which breach comrades’ confidentiality. If I was elected to the NC, declared comrade Long, I would abuse the position to behave in exactly the same way.

However, I was strongly supported by José Maria Martinelli, the Argentinian comrade whose motion on working class independence in South America was unfortunately not reached at the November policy conference, while a couple of others said that all trends should be represented on the leadership, including “the Communist Party”. Comrade von Abendorff from SA interjected to point out that there are several organisations which use the name “Communist Party”, but that did not mean they were the genuine article.

Replying to these points, I said that, yes, we have the name, “Communist Party of Great Britain”, but at the same time we say that there is no Communist Party. Far from wishing to split LU in order to recruit to ourselves, we want to win it to the idea that we need a Communist Party - one that brings together all the best elements from the existing divided left (including comrades from the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Action ...) on the basis of Marxism.

As for reporting the affairs of Left Unity, including the branch, in the Weekly Worker, I pointed out that we are in politics and it is normal for our ideas to be discussed and challenged. I ridiculed the notion that I would target some hapless newcomer in my articles or jeopardise anyone’s security. What is needed is precisely openness - not the “confidentiality” that the LU disputes committee insists upon when it comes to its own deliberations, for instance, to justify the pledge of secrecy it imposes on comrades accused of daring to politically criticise LU branch office holders and experienced activists.

In his own reply, comrade Abse - a regular writer for the Weekly Worker on Italy - said that he had his “differences” with us - for instance, he thought that “at this stage” a “halfway house” was precisely what we need. But he voted for me, as did comrades Atkinson and Aldis.

We also unanimously nominated comrade von Abendorff for re-election to the standing orders committee, despite his support for the national officers’ February 12 call. During the meeting he put forward Socialist Action’s priorities during the election period. An alliance against austerity (and racism) was the key issue and that had to colour our intervention in the May elections. While it was right to stand some LU candidates, he said, they would not get elected, but fortunately there was a chance that some Greens would be. As well as voting for the Green Party (plus Sinn Féin if you happen to be in Ireland), we should throw all our energies into the People’s Assembly and Stand Up To Ukip. Apparently, that is the way to build opposition to austerity and racism.

Peter Manson


Mini-fiasco and basic democracy

Sarah McDonald reports on latest developments in Hackney

On the agenda of Hackney Left Unity’s February 19 meeting was, among other things, a discussion on a left candidate (or lack thereof) in Hackney South for the May 7 general election. Left Unity’s Terry Stewart was initially nominated as the joint LU-Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate, but then Tusc comrades suggested that he stand down in favour of a New Era tenants campaigner, Lindsey Garrett, who is deemed to be more popular (if less political). When it turned out that Lindsey did not wish to stand after all, things got heated.

At the February 10 meeting of Hackney and Islington Tusc, some had been agitating for another New Era protestor to stand, whereas the majority felt that comrade Stewart now ought to be confirmed as the Tusc candidate. But Terry decided he was no longer willing to stand - and neither was anyone from the New Era campaign! It is rumoured that Brian Debus of the Socialist Party in England and Wales will now be adopted as the Tusc candidate in Hackney South. Sadly, Terry resigned from Left Unity at the end of our Hackney branch meeting. All pretty petty stuff.

Following the discussion on this mini-fiasco, I moved the motion first passed by Greenwich and Lewisham branch (see above) and then adopted by the Communist Platform. This opposes the ‘Appeal for an alliance against austerity’ statement undemocratically issued by Left Unity’s national officers. The motion was received in the manner one would expect from certain comrades - how could anyone possibly advocate no vote for Green candidates? As all “young people” know, the Greens are the obvious progressive force to the left of Labour these days (not a petty bourgeois organisation that has done deals in local government and is committed to the system of capital). According to Liz Davies - once a left member of the Labour Party’s national executive - the idea of not supporting Green Party candidates is the “height of sectarianism”. Didn’t we know that ‘anti-austerity’ is the fault line in European politics these days? (Not that class doesn’t matter, she quickly added.)

Pete Green asked repeatedly what we meant by “working class candidates” (the motion called for support only for “working class candidates who agree to oppose all cuts to services”) - but seemed agitated that I heckled an answer to his question! Odd that such a seasoned activist of the left would genuinely find the term confusing. Anyway, he said our motion was “badly worded” (ie, it talked about class politics).

However, there was some discomfort with the fact that the national officers had sent out an appeal to the membership that had not been agreed by either conference or national council - indeed we argued that it actually contravened LU policy, as determined by the November policy conference. So, while our motion was defeated, with only comrade Stewart supporting the Communist Platform comrades, an alternative, one-sentence motion was passed without opposition and only two abstentions (Dave Kellaway from Socialist Resistance and Liz Davies). This made the point that the statement should have gone to the NC for discussion, as per the constitution, rather than going directly out to the public.

Also on the agenda were nominations for the forthcoming elections to the national council. Unanimously nominated by the branch were Liz Davies and Guy Harper for the national list, myself and Louise Coleman for London regional list and Pete Green as a principal speaker.

Jack Conrad's article on the appeal can be read here.